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Two Storms, Ample Warning

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  • Pat N self only
    ... Two Storms, Ample Warning By William Raspberry Tuesday, September 6, 2005; A25 Last week brought us one big story -- and one almost incomprehensibly huge
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 6, 2005
      ---------- Forwarded Message ----------
      Two Storms, Ample Warning

      By William Raspberry
      Tuesday, September 6, 2005; A25

      Last week brought us one big story -- and one almost incomprehensibly
      huge one. The huge story, of course, is the still-unfolding
      devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The merely big one was a report out
      of the Census Bureau that the number of Americans falling into
      poverty has increased again, for the fourth straight year.

      If the two stories have anything in common it is the willingness of
      Americans -- the political majority, the politicians and the media --
      to ignore clear portents, right up to the point when disaster strikes.

      Back in June 2004, Walter Maestri, chief of emergency management for
      Jefferson Parish, La., was lamenting in the New Orleans Times-
      Picayune that the president's budget was transferring money meant for
      reinforcing the levees that were keeping the waters of Lake
      Pontchartrain out of downtown New Orleans to homeland security and
      the war in Iraq.

      The Institute for Public Accuracy found at least nine articles in the
      Times-Picayune about the unavailability of federal money for
      hurricane and flood control projects -- including a five-part 2002
      series on the threat of a major hurricane. It was titled "Washing

      That is to say, while no one could have predicted the ferocity of
      Katrina -- a storm of unprecedented fury -- it was known that New
      Orleans was in jeopardy from deteriorating levees.

      And back in 1998, former senator Fred Harris and Alan Curtis,
      president of the Milton S. Eisenhower Foundation, the private-sector
      continuation of the 1968 Kerner Commission, were warning of resurgent

      "If anything, the numbers out of the Census Bureau underestimate the
      problem of poverty in America," Curtis said in an interview last
      week. "The bureau's definition of the poverty threshold is $19,300 a
      year for a family of four. But a lot depends on where you happen to
      live. By one scale I'm familiar with, that family of four -- if they
      lived in Baltimore -- would cross the poverty threshold at $44,000 a

      "But the major mistake is to take the census report as a one-year
      phenomenon. This is the fourth straight year of increasing poverty,
      following a seven-year decline, from 1993 to 2000. Shouldn't wise
      journalists be asking why?"

      But the why may not be as simple as Curtis's comment implies. He said
      his foundation has identified programs that demonstrably reduce
      poverty -- from Head Start ("the most cost-effective poverty-
      reduction program we've ever devised'') and full-service community
      schools to the Delancey Street Foundation for ex-offenders and job
      training programs. The trouble, he says, is that we don't fund these
      efforts at a level sufficient to meet the problem. And so another
      million people have slipped into poverty.

      Peter Goldmark, director of climate and air at Environmental Defense
      and a former president of the Rockefeller Foundation, offers a
      similar explanation for the potential devastation of global warming,
      which, according to many scientists, accounts for the increasing
      frequency and intensity of hurricanes -- though he warns against
      concluding that Katrina (or any particular hurricane) is the result
      of global warming.

      "We know the chief sources of the warming -- fossil fuels and, in the
      tropics, the burning of trees for cooking -- but we haven't moved to
      stop it," Goldmark said. "It really isn't that difficult to begin
      reducing carbon emissions, as Europe and Japan are doing already. We
      could certainly put a cap on the quantity of greenhouse gases
      industry can emit."

      The easy thing is to blame the politicians -- as both Curtis and
      Goldmark implicitly are doing.

      But politicians like being reelected. And the one sure bet is that
      the politician who proposes that we sacrifice our personal
      convenience and pay higher taxes in the long-term interest of society
      will be turned out of office.

      To put it another way, the politicians do what the voters want done.

      It occurs to me that a real-time video of the inundation of New
      Orleans -- not of the hurricane itself, but of the disappearing
      barrier islands, misapplied engineering and political inattention --
      might, if played back very slowly, provide a visual approximation of
      the potential effects of global warming on the lower-lying coastal
      areas of the world.

      And maybe if we could videotape the growing chasm between rich and
      poor and the persistent increases in our nation's poverty and play
      that back at high speed, we might be shocked into doing something
      sensible about reducing poverty and inequality in America.




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