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Politics and the absence of foresight

By August 23, 2006Uncategorized

I was reading Jason Berry’s review of three books about Katrina, and couldn’t suppress a snide chuckle when I read a quote from Jed Horne’s book, Breach of Faith.  Horne interviewed Bob Harvey, a controversial local figure who used to head the Orleans Parish Levee Board, and was reputed to have used his position to the fullest political advantage (i.e. not to the advantage of the citizenry who assumed that the levees were actually safe).  Here’s the passage:

"Brooding about the failed levees, Harvey, who escaped from his inundated neighborhood behind the 17th Street Canal in a boat, utters deep truth: "But if you want to kill the Orleans Levee Board … that might not be such a bad idea."

That’s the thing about politicians.  An unacceptably low percentage of them have real vision; most politicians only use ‘vision’ to assess events bounded by the next election cycle.  Unfortunately, our biggest social problems have something much longer than a 4 year event horizon.  Katrina is but one example.  The strange thing about Katrina is that we don’t seem to really be able to admit that the hurricane was not the root cause of the worst problems.

I watched Spike Lee’s 4 hour documentary on HBO on Monday and Tuesday and it made me sad and angry at the same time.  People will have different views of the film, and not everyone will like it.  But it definitely captures much of the Katrina experience, at least from the view of those of us who live here (and especially those who stayed after the storm, which I did not).   The documentary raises questions about how effective our ‘leadership’ was in preparing for and in responding to the crisis.  I think it’s safe to say we did a piss poor job.

Everyone likes to feel proud of the country where they were born and grew up, and the United States is obviously a great country.  But we have an intricate political structure and we rely on our politicians to solve very intricate problems, many of which require thoughtfulness and earnest attention.  I wonder if the great democratic model exemplified by the United States is at its zenith.  Is our political system really functioning at its best now? 

I’d like to believe that our political system is still improving, but I can’t bring myself to do that.  Maybe we’re living in an age where the power of democratic nation-states is on the decline.  I’m not the only one who wonders about this.  In the old days when the Church was powerful people believed that God was going to solve all their problems.  Now, we live in the Age of Reason.  And we think that science will solve our problems (even the ones that we have created ourselves).  Maybe it’s time for us to become a little more realistic. 

I hope no one is counting on the government to solve our big societal problems.  That would be delusional.

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  • Francis Puertos says:

    actually here is the Sophie link I wanted to post, this one has to do with Shell oil and Human Rights.


  • Francis Puertos says:

    You nailed it! If you want to build or rebuild something, start with the democract nature of society. We marvel at Dutch levee systems and ask ourselves why our government has not done this for us. What we fail to realize — and it is very powerful paradigm if you think about it — is that there is an intimate and intricate relationship between ‘human rights’ Democracy and the environment. If we can protect human rights and Democracy we will protect our the environment, they go hand in hand. Norway, just like the Netherlands understands this relationship, it is the foundation and cornerstone of a a good levee system and a good environment. Norway is the home of the sophie prize think about it and see if you can help answer some of these questions asked of the sophie prize:

    By the way levees are not the only thing protecting people there. They have the best education system, the best health care, longer vacations and the best public transportation systems.

    ‘Discussing the economy in terms of a prosperous society opens up the debate to a more inclusive and accurate picture of what Americans want. If our goal were to be the most prosperous nation, we’d be forced to grapple with the fact that the United States ranks the highest among the highly developed countries in each of the seven measures of inequality the index tracks. While we enjoy the second highest GDP in the world (excluding tiny Luxembourg), we rank dead last among the 20 most developed countries in fighting poverty and we’re off the chart in terms of the number of Americans living on half of the median income or less.

    Among industrialized nations, the United States is at the bottom in functional literacy, even as only about a quarter of Americans graduate from college. Despite spending twice as much per capita on healthcare as most developed countries, only Ireland and Denmark have lower life expectancies. We’re number one in the percentage of population without access to healthcare. One of eight Americans don’t survive to reach age 60, which leaves us at the bottom of the pile in terms of life expectancy in the developed world.

    We’re overworked, underpaid, and with little or no financial security. No wonder that the National Institutes of Mental Health found that in any given year, 10 percent of Americans suffer from depression and over 13 percent from some type of anxiety disorder.

    We may be rich as hell as a nation, but a great many of us are struggling just to keep it together. A truly prosperous country, on the other hand, ensures the greatest benefits to the greatest number of people.

    Prosperity is Competitive

    Here’s the kicker…..

    Ernie, is there a Progressive Democratic Party in New Orleans? You can email me at ‘leapinleopard at’ or find me online in the New Orleans community here :

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