Benny's World

Friday, September 02, 2005

Calm Explanation Amidst the Storm

E-mail I received from JRE this afternoon:

Dear Benny,

During the campaign of 2004, I spoke often of the two Americas: the America of the privileged and the wealthy, and the America of those who lived from paycheck to paycheck. I spoke of the difference in the schools, the difference in the loan rates, the difference in opportunity. All of that pales today. Today - and for many days and weeks and months to follow - we see a harsher example of two Americas. We see the poor and working class of New Orleans who don't own a car and couldn't evacuate to hotels or families far from the target of Katrina. We see the suffering of families who lived from paycheck to paycheck and who followed the advice of officials and went to shelters at the Civic Center or the Superdome or stayed home to protect their possessions.

Now every single resident of New Orleans, regardless of their wealth or status, will have terrible losses and life-altering experiences. Every single resident will know and care about someone who was lost to this hurricane. But some, ranging from the very poorest to the working class unable to accumulate a cushion of assets to rely upon on a very, very rainy day, will suffer the most because they simply didn't have the means to evacuate. They suffered the most from Katrina because they always suffer the most.

These are Americans some of whom who left everything they possessed behind in order to save those they loved. These are Americans huddled with their children or pushing a wheelchair between rows of those too beaten or weak to stand. In this moment, we have to remember they are part of us, Americans who love their country and are part of our national community. In this moment, it is hard because our hair is clean and our clothes are washed and our eyes are not glazed with hopelessness. But these are our brothers and sisters, and we have to remember this not just for them, but for us. We must finally recognize that when any of us suffer, we are all weaker; it affects us all.

Commentators on television have expressed surprise, saying they think that most people didn't know there was such poverty in America. Thirty-seven million Americans live in poverty, most of them are the working poor, but it is clear that they have been invisible. But if these commentators are right, this tragedy can have a great influence, if we listen to its message.

The people most devastated have always lived on a razor blade, afraid of any setback, any illness, any job loss that could disrupt the fragile balance they achieved paycheck to paycheck. They didn't leave New Orleans because they couldn't leave. Some didn't leave their homes because they wanted to protect the hard-won possessions that made their lives a little easier.

The government released new poverty statistics this week. The number of Americans living in poverty rose again last year. Thirteen million children -- nearly one in every five -- lives in poverty. Close to 25 percent of all African Americans live in poverty. Twenty-three percent of the population in New Orleans lives in poverty. Those are chilling numbers. Because of Katrina, we have now seen many of the faces behind those numbers.

Poverty exists everywhere in America. It is in Detroit and El Paso. It is in Omaha, Nebraska and Stockton, California. It is in rural towns like Chillicothe, Ohio and Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Nearly half of the children in Detroit, Atlanta and Long Beach, California live in poverty. It doesn't have to be this way. We can begin embracing policies that offer opportunity, reward responsibility, and assume the dignity of each American.

There are immediate needs in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, and the first priority is meeting those, but after that, we need to think about the American community, about the one America we think we are, the one we talk about. We need people to feel more than sympathy with the victims, we need them to feel empathy with our national community that includes the poor. We have missed opportunities to make certain that all Americans would be more than huddled masses. We have been too slow to act in the face in the misery of our brothers and sisters. This is an ugly and horrifying wake-up call to America. Let us pray we answer this call. Now is the time to act.

- John

Perhaps it is that I have become cynical each time our President speaks on TV, but his words did not feel reassuring. I think he is sincere in his wish for New Orleans to rise again, but it's as though he is so far removed from the horrors of poverty that truly is in that other America JRE speaks of.

The people in NO have experienced ultimate neglect. I would too if I had little means to get out of the city. While W says the response to them is "unacceptable", it's more than that. It's downright shameful..and negative thinking.

Yet, when JRE says we have been slow and we can do better, I perceive he means "we apologize, and we will do better." It's more positive and uplifting.

I will close with part of a spiritual quote that I cannot find a handy attribution:

"he will calm you down so you can bear the storm with a peaceful heart.."

The storm will clear eventually, and thanks JRE for your reassuring words, while reminding us poverty must be dealt with if we are to rebuild New Orleans to become better than Katrina found and left it. I agree and I said it a few days ago on the OAC blog that we have an opportunity to deal with this immoral issue. We have to convince others this immoral issue led to desperation we've seen in NOLA that was quiet until now.

UPDATE: JRE's post was acknowledged on The Chris Matthews Show on Sunday.

Good Humans!

From KRON-TV--Bay area:

HOUSTON-- Wondering what happened to the pets as Gulf Coast residents fled Hurricane Katrina?

It turns out a lot of hotels have relaxed their policies and are allowing people affected by the storm to check their furry friends in too. Resorts and kennels have also made extra room for cat and canine refugees.

One example was found in the lobby of a downtown hotel in Houston where a Great Dane, a poodle and a hound dog roamed around. A spokeswoman for the downtown Hilton Americas hotel said there were more than 100 animals, including birds, hamsters and rabbits.

A resort owner turned her two-car, air-conditioned garage into expanded kennel space for about 20 dogs kept in crates.

From the Longview News-Journal, a snippet:

Three meals a day will be provided for those at the center. Games are available for the children and the Longview Exhibit Center is open for those who want to stay with their pets.

Iris Wilson, of New Orleans, her daughter and her terrier, Buster, spent Monday night at the Exhibit Center.

"We were on the road for 16 hours, and then my car stopped," Wilson said. "We were trying to make it to my daughter's house in Fort Worth, but ended up being stranded on the side of the road in Longview. A state police officer picked us up and brought us here. Everyone has been great, and we thank Texas very much."

Wilson, 56, said relatives from Forth Worth will pick them up from Longview sometime this week.

Josey's Ranch in Marshall is also taking in evacuees: both two-legged and four-legged.

"If we didn't have a place for the animals, we don't know where we would have gone. Me and another guy came with three trailer loads of three donkeys, four ponies, two colts, 11 horses, two goats and seven dogs," said Mickey Hess about the outpost owned by world champion barrel-racer Martha Josey and her husband, R.E. Josey.

It took an entire day for Hess, his friends and family to board up their houses, catch the horses and other animals and evacuate Houma, La.

Martha Josey said she and her husband couldn't fathom charging friends or even strangers to stay at their spread during such a disaster. She estimates about 200 people took advantage of their facilities, along with more than 60 horses, several dogs and other livestock and at least one rabbit.

By Kim Campbell Thornton
Special to
Updated: 2:54 p.m. ET Sept. 2, 2005

In Katrina’s disastrous wake, animals are suffering alongside people, many lost, disoriented and on the brink of death. Humane organizations, dog clubs and veterinary associations are working frantically to help rescue stray pets and free those trapped by the floodwaters.

Volunteers are also struggling to find pet-friendly shelters for people who evacuated with their dogs, cats and birds, and reunite people with their lost pets.

At Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, the Louisiana SPCA, the Louisiana Veterinary Medical Association, and the Louisiana Animal Control Association are working with the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine to set up and coordinate shelter for animals affected by the hurricane. (my note: LSU VM is taking donations for 24/7 care of pets who belong to Katrina evacuees staying in Red Cross shelters).

LINK to article

Caregivers--you get a blue ribbon.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

First World Status? Depends on the Eye of the Beholder

From today:

By Lolis Eric Elie

Years ago, a young South African scholar told me about his trip to America, to Boston, specifically.

I don't know who was in charge of his trip, but either they failed to give him his script or he failed to memorize his lines.

He was supposed to tell me about how wonderful our country is. He was supposed to have been impressed with the vast wealth of this place and with the quality and quantity of the latest technology here.

He was supposed to envy our First World status.

He didn't.

What he remembered from his trip was not our wealth, but our poverty. He was shocked by the slums of Boston.

He wondered about American aid to poor countries. How can you send aid to these places, he asked, when you need such aid in your own poor communities?

What we are watching in New Orleans now is an indictment of our nation.

I can understand why we see refugees in Liberia walking miles in the hope of finding sustenance or safety; often there is little of either in that country. But why are we seeing these same images here?

Do we lack the trains, planes and automobiles to move our people to safety?

I can understand why it takes so much time to get aid halfway across the world, but why does it take so long to get aid to our own Gulf states?

I can understand why lawlessness rules the streets of many poor countries in crisis, but we have a huge standing army. Do we lack the soldiers to police American streets?

I am used to seeing images of desperate people hindering the very relief efforts aimed at saving them. I have seen news reports of refugees looting food shipments. I've even heard of warlords in some countries looting the shipments and then trying to sell food to those so desperate and poor as to be scarcely able to afford it.

But why are we seeing these images and hearing these reports of wanton looting — by at least one police officer, no less —in an American city?

I make no excuses for the looters.

What may have started out as a legitimate attempt to secure the most basic of necessities has quickly turned into a nightmarish free-for-all.

But we shouldn't be surprised that the criminal element that terrorizes New Orleans and just about every other major American city, declined to alter its behavior in the midst of this crisis.

I am surprised, however, that our leaders have failed to provide a more adequate and timely response to all of this.

I am surprised that, in light of the current crisis in New Orleans, that the United States of America can be seen to have so much in common with the poorest and most wretched places on earth.


When you get caught in a storm and ask the universe for help, It will answer you in one of two ways: Either asking for help will calm the storm down, or it will calm you down so you can bear the storm with a peaceful heart.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Please Give to the Humane Society

I donated to the Humane Society yesterday to support rescue efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Here was the e-mail I received from them today.

Dear Benny,

First off, I want to thank you for your early response and generous donation to help our disaster relief efforts as we respond to Hurricane Katrina. Your donation will directly impact our ability to provide disaster relief to animals and their caregivers in the next few days and during future disasters affecting animals.

As you read this, our highly-trained Disaster Animal Response Teams are heading to Mississippi to begin a multi-state animal rescue and recovery effort. Our 38-foot Disaster Response Unit and other rescue vehicles affiliated with our teams are fully stocked and on their way.

Even at this early stage, Katrina promises to be one of the most devastating hurricanes on record. Please keep the human and animal victims in your thoughts and thank you again for your emergency contribution.


Remember that animals and pets are very helpless, very much like children. They are competing with humans for food, shelter, water, and basic medicines. Please donate if you can.

Jonathan Harvey rescues his dog Cuddles in Gulfport, Mississippi,
on Monday. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Monday, August 29, 2005

Positive Thoughts for Survivors of Katrina

My thoughts are with those who are enduring the wind and rain lashes of Hurricane Katrina. There are reports of massive flooding in Louisana, Mississippi, Alabama, and some in Florida. I also hope the pets are safe and those who were abandoned will be rescued soon.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Dove Messengers: We Need Peace but With a Plan

With admiration, I have been observing via the blogosphere and some newspapers American patriot Cindy Sheehan and her fellow campers who are peacefully protesting the war next to W's vacation home near Crawford, TX. She feels strongly that it is time to pull the troops out of Iraq and to bring them home since there doesn't seem to be a just cause to keep them over in Iraq, and our brave soldiers continue to be killed or injured as we continue our occupation and fighting a never-ceasing insurrengency.

This protest is not quite like the ones about Vietnam. For starters, there are counter-protests this time to support the President and the military leaders who continue to make blunders in strategy. Second, the anti-war movement demographic tends to be mainly those of my age or a little older(who have been anti-war from Vietnam), not those in their teens or twenties. Third, the media has been very slow to catch on to this movement, which started a couple of years ago, and now are just beginning to pay attention to it.

Sheehan's protest was timely for the media as Congress was recessed, and the polls show that the American public who answer surveys disapprove of the way the President is handling the war. Forty years ago, the media was eager to cover such stories; now, the media is mainly owned by Republicans or Democrats who really care about their pockets. I've noticed several reporters are no longer liberal, especially with the advent of Faux News and its terrible and unbalanced reporting.

I support Cindy in what she is doing. I think she is right to raise the awareness of the casualities of the war and question the motives and tactics of this administration.

However, I don't think we can pull out now. Pulling out now would counteract what many of us said last year in the elections: we need a plan, a strategy to begin pulling out the troops. University of Michigan Juan Cole expressed the best reason not to pull out immediately:

"Personally, I think "US out now" as a simple mantra neglects to consider the full range of possible disasters that could ensue. For one thing, there would be an Iraq civil war. Iraq wasn't having a civil war in 2002. often allege that the US military isn't doing any good in Iraq and there is already a civil war. These people have never actually seen a civil war and do not appreciate the lid the US military is keeping on what could be a volcano."

I agree with Cole. We haven't seen an outright civil war as of yet. It could happen if we left without a plan. I signed a petition that Barbara Boxer circulated on the Internet, as I think she is right. We need a good plan--not continual ambiguity.

On the Talking Points Memo (TPM) blog, Josh Marshall pointed to a 10-point plan that Cole published in terms we should demand of Congress. Below are the 10 points:

1) US ground troops should be withdrawn ASAP from urban areas as a first step. Iraqi police will just have to do the policing. We are no good at it.

2) In the second phase of withdrawal, most US ground troops would steadily be brought out of Iraq.

3) For as long as the elected Iraqi government wanted it, the US would offer the new Iraqi military and security forces close air support in any firefight they have with guerrilla or other rebellious forces. (I.e. we would replicate our tactics in Afghanistan of providing the air force for the Northern Alliance infantry and cavalry.)

4) With the agreement of the elected Iraqi government, the US would prevent any guerrilla force from fielding any large number of fighters for set piece battles.

5) In addition to the service of its air forces, the US would offer targeted military aid to ensure the stability of the Iraqi government. It would help protect key political figures from assassination, and it would give the Iraqi government help in preventing pipeline sabotage so as to increase Iraqi petroleum revenues and strengthen the new government.

6) The US would help rapidly build an Iraqi armor corps. The new Iraqi military's lack of tanks is almost certainly because the US is afraid they might be turned on US troops in a crisis. Once US ground troops are out, there is no reason not to let the Iraqi military just import a lot of tanks and train the new Iraqi army in using them.

7) The US should demand as a quid pro quo for further help that elections in Iraq henceforward be held on a district basis so as to ensure proper representation in parliament for the Sunni Arab provinces.

8) The US should demand as a quid pro quo for further help that the Iraqi government announce an amnesty for all former Baath Party members who cannot be proven to have committed serious crimes, including crimes against humanity. Former Baathists who have been fired from the schools and civil bureaucracy must be reinstated, and no further firings are to take place. (This step is key in convincing the old Sunni Arab elites that they won't be screwed over in the new Iraq.)

9) Congress must rewrite the laws governing US reconstruction aid to Iraq so as to take out provisions that Iraqis must where possible use US companies or materiel. All of the reconstruction money should go directly to Iraqi firms, so as to help jump-start the economy.

10) The US should join the regular meetings of the foreign ministers of Iraq's neighbors, with Condi Rice in attendance, along with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, employing a 6 + 2 diplomatic track to help put Iraq back on its feet through diplomacy and multilateral aid.

Professor Cole's plan is a good place to start. Where I disagree though is that all but point 10 suggests unilateral moves. It should be a coalition, and made to help others understand that the sooner we can get the Iraqi's to defend themselves and thus, be more productive, the sooner we and they don't have to occupy the place in perpertuity.

Cindy, you go girl. But bear in mind, as messenger, be a messenger. Congress needs to take Sheehan's baton and carry the message and use it to pressure the administration to get their act together. Or else, more will die needlessly. Iraqi's are ready for us to leave, but with some semblance of trusting us to not leave them in 3 dictatorships or vulnerable at the mercy of some of its neighbors, such as Iran.

And I don't think Bush wants to leave this cavalier legacy. Bush needs to be an eagle though, not a hawk, and bring us out of Iraq soon.