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Thursday, July 26, 2007

When a hand up is really a foot on the neck

Having spent some time down in post-Katrina Louisiana this past April (see Buras, LA: Final Thoughts for a recap) I try to keep up with the news regarding the region's recovery. Unfortunately that news is never very encouraging, especially if it has anything to do with the Federal Emergency Mismanagement Agency (FEMA).

The latest FEMA flap has to do with the agency's refusal to acknowledge residents' complaints about high formaldehyde levels in the trailers they were given as temporary shelter. People living in the residences have been reporting health problems for over a year, but FEMA would not conduct tests to determine the safety of the homes, allegedly fearing the legal implications of recognizing the dangers. Up until the very recent bad press clippings, FEMA even insisted on continuing to distribute the units.

Here are a few articles, if you want to get caught up on the latest:

Formaldehyde is a chemical often used in embalming and it's not something that living human beings should be breathing, as it causes severe respiratory problems. Katrina victims were given the trailers as a hand up until they could rebuild their lives, but with the deathly slow pace of recovery outside and the deadly gases inside, FEMA seems to be trying to make the homes into premature tombs.

In the area around Buras, where I volunteered this Spring, most of the homes were destroyed by the storm surge such that only their foundations remain. It was essential for the residents to have those trailers to live in while the community tried to gut and rebuild. The health hazards in the post-hurricane Gulf are already great and the care options are limited, so it's heartbreaking to find out that the FEMA trailers add their own toxicity to the mix.

For FEMA to pretend that the problem never even existed borders on the absurd, but it's par for the course considering the administration the agency serves. If you espouse a philosophy that government is too big and cumbersome to be effective, your governance will self-fulfill that prophecy.

The Bushies embrace radical privatization and free market solutions, believing that business can better provide social services. To help sell that concept to the American people, they've encouraged ignorance and incompetence in their appointed officials. For them, putting the health and well being of the American people at risk is a small price to pay for perpetuating that all consuming ideology.

(Photo by Infrogmation)
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