||Issue No. 280||09 September 2005|
The Perfect Storm
Interview: Polar Eclipse
Industrial: Wrong Turn
Unions: Star Support
Workplace: Checked Out
Economics: Sold Out
Politics: Green Banned
History: Potted History
International: Curtain Call
Review: Little Fish
Poetry: Slug A Worker
The Locker Room
What Poor People?
The Perfect Storm
The breakdown in American society that has been on display stands in stark relief to the response to the Asian tsunami. In Aceh the disaster stopped a civil war, in America it came close to starting one.
Experts are calling it a toxic gumbo - and who could argue? A potent mix of small government, federal funding starved by the War in Iraq, race-based wealth disparity, lax gun laws all set alight by what looks suspiciously like global warming.
There is no joy in saying that this is a case of chickens coming home to roost, but this looks more than a little like the end game down the road of rampant individualism.
Think about it; a society built on 'freedom' from government, where 'tax relief' is a self-evident good, 'gun ownership' is a right and prosperity is something enjoyed by the individual not the group.
And when that society faced an external threat, what happened? The rich fled, the poor had nowhere to go, the infrastructure collapsed and there was no effective 'state' to respond.
And in the void, the people who stayed starved, waiting for help to arrive as gunshots and looting rang out across the city, meaning the people who fled now have little to return to.
America now faces a challenge every bit as confronting as the aftermath to 9/11; while the insecurity felt after the terror attacks could be salved by military action, what will reassure those who have seen how brittle America's internal structures have become?
While it may be fun for us to watch the President try to spin and squirm his way out of this one, the big question is not who to blame, but how America can rebuild not just the damaged cities, but the damaged sense of self.
As American academic Thomas Kochan observed this week, the response needs to go beyond the rebuilding of the levee and the draining of the low lands.
Bush's tax program needs to be trashed and his social security 'reforms' put on hold, replaced by a commitment to invest in services, jobs, infrastructure - an FDR-style New Deal for a new time of crisis - overseen by a national unity council of business, government and labour.
As for Australians, we can't be too smug. After all, we are about to head down a path of labour relations that not just follows America, but leapfrogs the US model of individualism.
The question we must ask ourselves is: are we really prepared to take this journey? Is this the sort of society we want to build? Is it too late to blow the whistle and appreciate what we are about to lose?
We are luckier than the poor people of New Orleans; at this point we have a social safety net, a set of entrenched employment rights, a fair minimum wage, mechanisms that protect us - if not from Acts of God, at least from the reactions of our fellow humans.
As America comes to terms with Katrina and her aftermath, as the President dodges blame, as local officials cop heat, and as the people shake their heads in disbelief that the American Dream has become a nightmare, it should give us some pause to reconsider the path our own leader is taking us on.
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