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Katrina: Now It's Personal

Below the Belt: A Biweekly Column by NOW President Kim Gandy

September 2, 2005

All right. Now it's personal.

I'm from Louisiana, as you may know. I lived and worked for 14 years in New Orleans, and spent all of those years as a NOW activist. The flood pictures that have been, well, flooding my TV and newspapers the past few days are almost more than I can bear. Like many of you, I am flooded with emotions - worry, hope, grief, and now, anger.

And now they're using government resources to direct cash contributions to Pat Robertson's Operation Blessing, which is one of the top three groups listed for cash donations on the Federal Emergency Management Agency ( website.

How dare he? Or, rather: HOW DARE HE? How dare George W. Bush try to turn this tragedy into political gain, not to mention enriching his right-wing friends like Pat Robertson? He was the one who cut FEMA funding and slashed budgets for our first responders here at home while spending hundreds of billions of dollars waging a pointless, unnecessary, and increasingly bloody war over in Iraq. It was his administration's decision to shift around money and priorities so that the Army Corps of Engineers couldn't complete their work on the levees needed to protect New Orleans.

Seeing tens of thousands of hungry and desperate people jammed into the Superdome days after the hurricane, without even a semblance of an organized federal relief effort made me want to scream. It's just such a classic case of needing nine stitches to make up for the one that wasn't in time.

And adding insult to injury is the outrageous situation of FEMA refusing to send available buses to the Superdome and the Convention Center, where 80,000 people are stranded. Instead they've instructed their charter buses to only pick up people at the airport in the predominantly-white suburbs, miles away. That's why a lot of the people you see in news reports getting on the buses look more like tourists than like people who have been living in squalid, desperate circumstances for many days.

Bush is loudly enumerating all the help the federal government is sending (rescue teams, hospital beds), but so far nobody is talking about how his war (and tax cut) contributed to this terrible situation. And now he has the gall to ask us to open our "hearts and wallets" to help fix this horrible situation. And yes, of course we should, and we will — but the point is that we shouldn't BE in this situation, George. You wasted our tax money on your war and your tax cut, and then you cut the Corps of Engineers funds that would have shored up the levees in New Orleans — and lessened the devastation. Now you have the gall to ask us (and most of us didn't get a tax cut to speak of) to pay the cost of fixing a mess that was at least partly preventable?

And speaking of serious lapses in judgment (and government), Bush's buddy over at the FDA has also taken my breath away this week with his sheer arrogance and dishonesty. Lester Crawford's nomination as FDA chief was held up for months by two women Senators, Patty Murray and Hillary Clinton. They finally agreed to let his appointment go through, after the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Mike Leavitt, promised that the FDA would rule by Sept. 1 on over-the-counter status for the emergency contraception (EC) pill. Despite the recommendations of two panels of experts, the FDA was still dragging its feet on allowing women to purchase EC without a doctor's prescription, while pretending that its decision was about "protecting" young women and girls from the "dangers" of EC (what, like pregnancy is a preferable alternative?). Crawford got his title, and promptly gave the senators and all of us a huge raspberry — by again delaying the decision. So much for Sept. 1st! I tell you, don't trust these guys any farther than you can throw 'em.

So if this is what Bush's nominees will do to get into the seat of power — just make and break promises and say whatever will get them what they want — why should we believe anything John Roberts is saying right now? Not that he's saying much that sounds good anyway. I can't understand why so many people seem to think he's "not that bad." At our press conference yesterday, I pointed out that Roberts' views are not merely conservative, they are backward. If you haven't contacted your senators yet, please do it now! If you've written already, write again! Make the message loud and clear: A lifetime appointment for John Roberts on the Supreme Court would spell decades of disaster for women and girls.

And even as I wonder how to wrap up this column, my thoughts go back to the thousands still trapped in my old hometown, sleeping on roofs or sitting in the Superdome desperate for fresh water. The headlines about Bush's "massive efforts" to respond are maddening. If I were writing the headlines, they would read: "BUSH APOLOGIZES TO THE PEOPLE OF LOUISIANA AND MISSISSIPPI," and "PUBLIC OUTCRY FORCES IRAQ WITHDRAWL AND REDIRECTION OF WAR FUNDS TO REBUILD NEW ORLEANS." We've spent the last three years building bunkers in Iraq, but not rebuilding our own levees here in New Orleans. Mission NOT accomplished, Mr. President.

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