Thursday, 24 April 2008

Biloxi, Mississippi

I’ve heard several references to the supposed fact that the war in Iraq had slipped down into fourth place in importance to the Pennsylvania primary voters, replaced by something called ‘the economy’. Given that the failed conquest of Iraq is now burning a half billion of our debased dollars a day, I don’t see how the two things can be so neatly separated either by the commentators, the voters or most of all the candidates.

This Gulf city is the other Katrina story, less known than that of New Orleans, but with similar storm damage and recovery problems. Two colleagues and I were here for other reasons, but by chance got the opportunity to attend a FEMA informational meeting open to the public one night.

We were surprised to hear horror stories and complaints very similar to those reported in the months after the storm, surprised because it happened THREE YEARS ago. The tangle of programs and benefits is far too confusing for an outsider, but the overall message was pretty clear: there’s not enough money to really do things properly and get people back on their feet. Some are muddling through, but those who were struggling to make it before the hurricane aren’t getting the help they need. And they won’t.

Furthermore, a lot of the rebuilding and other relief work is being handled by private charities and sustained by the ongoing presence of volunteers. Government funds are also present but more constrained by guidelines and rules and also limited in quantity. Some people just don’t qualify for the government programs, and even if they do, the maximum is quickly reached and often absorbed just in getting by day to day.

The main reason there’s no money to spend on people’s needs, here in Biloxi and everywhere else, is because George W Bush decided he wanted to play soldiers with it instead. That isn’t stated very often, but it’s the glaring, obvious truth. I’d like to see someone pound that message home in between discussions of Hillary’s laugh and Barack’s middle name.

No comments: