Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Let's Talk about FEMA

Mitt Romney doesn't want to talk about FEMA anymore. Of course, he doesn't. What he wants to do is very unpopular, especially at times like this, because it would benefit only a very, very few. He wants to downsize FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) and outsource it, make those ever-more-frequent weather disasters into another profit-making opportunity for the 1 percent, which of course means that it wouldn't work very well, if at all, especially not for the 47 percent that it's not his job to think about.

Romney, Ryan, and the rest of the Drown-Government-in-a-Bathtub folks don't believe in FEMA. To them, natural disasters like the one we experienced this week are just a way to reduce the surplus population. They don't have a stake in what happens to anyone else. Their only stake is what happens to themselves and maybe a few of their cronies.

What they don't understand—refuse to understand—is that living in a civilized society has to mean that we have have a vested interest in what happens to each other. It means acknowledging that your well-being, or lack of it, affects me, and that I'm willing to invest in our collective well-being. Because we all do better when we all do better. Our communal well-being compounds our individual well-being, and our individual well-being depends on our communal well-being.

The plundering plutocrats and corporate kleptocrats among us believe that their well-being is separate from and paramount to ours. They believe that having so much means that they deserve more. They think somehow they can horde it, like a mound of jewels in a dragon's den, and that somehow continually adding to their collection will enhance their well-being. But just like the junkies that they are, they can never get enough, and the more they get, the more they want. They will never be satisfied.

In his excellent book Billionaires and Ballot Bandits Greg Palast recounts this story of Charles Koch stealing oil from the Osage Indians in Oklahoma:
 I'd been a racketeering and fraud investigator for twenty years already when I jumped into the investigation of the Kochs. Koch's motive for the skim was obvious: he wanted the money. But, for me, this was a new level of weird. Why in the world would Charles Koch, then worth about $2 billion, want to take three dollars from some poor Indian lady?
It even puzzled his own henchmen. Roger Williams asked Koch, who was literally giggling over the amount of "overage" he'd pocketed, why the billionaire bothered to filch pocket change from Osage families.
Williams was wired, and what he related on the tape has stuck with me a long time. According to Williams's recording, Koch answered:
"I want my fair share—and that's all of it.
This plundering pirate actually believes he is entitled to all of it. That his fair share is all of it. Just cuz. Talk about "entitlements"!

Imagine for a moment, if you will, that you live in a smallish village of humans, and it's the only such village anywhere. And surrounding your village are wild animals that occasionally attack your cattle and the cattle that belong to some of your neighbors. And occasionally a storm will blow through and damage some but not all of the crops.

Now imagine a village meeting in which you all discuss what's to be done about these threats to the well-being of some of the villagers. Will it be only the ones whose crops and cattle have been harmed that advocate for a collective response to help prevent and mitigate future damage? Will there be a wealthy villager who, having built high walls around her crops and cattle, refuses to invest in the protection of the crops and cattle of others? Will that wealthy one refuse to see that her well-being depends on the well-being of the village? That if the rest of the village does not thrive, there will be fewer able to purchase the wealthy one's produce? If so, how will the rest of the village respond to the wealthy one's recalcitrance? Maybe pass a law that requires that all contribute, whether they want to or not?

Of course, reality is seldom quite so simple, but nonetheless we are the global village. And some think that their well-being is independent of and superior to that of the rest of us. But they could not be more wrong. When it comes to our precious and fragile planet, when it comes to the dangers we all face—to our health, to our environment, to our civil liberties—we really are all in this together. That's what FEMA means, ultimately.

When a ginormous hurricane pummels the East Coast, those of us in Wisconsin know that we are not unaffected, even though all we get here of the storm itself are a few gusty winds. We know that our well-being depends on the speedy recovery of those whose lives and livelihoods have been damaged by the storm. We are in this together. That's why we have a federal government and why we have FEMA.

And that's why Romney doesn't want to talk about it. Because he's that one person who believes that his well-being is more important than that of others, and he knows that's not going to play very well with the rest of the village.

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