Monday, September 25, 2006

Show Some Initiative on New Orleans

Former President Bill Clinton has been getting a lot of press recently. I saw his appearance on The Daily Show, where he talked with Jon Stewart about his Clinton Global Initiative. I, unfortunately, missed his apparently somewhat contentious interview on Fox News. He was supposed to be talking, for at least half of the interview, about his Clinton Global Initiative. Wow, that Clinton Global Initiative really is doing great things, isn’t it?

CGI has raised $2 billion recently just for health and poverty-related issues in Africa. The founder of the Virgin Group, billionaire Richard Branson, pledged a gigantic sum – more than any other amount raised thus far by the CGI – to promote research into global warming causes over the next several years. Rupert Murdoch has contributed vast sums of his fortune. So has Laura Bush.

Now, I’m not saying that poverty shouldn’t be addressed in Africa. It should. I’m all for AIDS research. I’ve put my two cents in recently on global warming. I think it’s great, just great, that the billionaires of the world, American and foreign, can come together no matter their political leanings and donate copious amounts of money to help make the world a better place.

But…what about New Orleans? Thank God that Hurricane Katrina did not kill as many people in New Orleans as the south Asia tsunami did. However, just because fewer people died or were displaced along the Gulf Coast, does this mean that not only the government, but the private sector, should worry more about rebuilding areas ravaged by mother nature abroad more than similar areas at home? Uh, no. Shouldn’t a superpower be able to do both?

I seem to recall that not long after Hurricane Katrina hit and the federal and local governments bungled the dealing with the aftermath, President George W. Bush had his dad, former President George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton visit the storm-ravaged Big Easy just as he’d had them visit the tsunami-ravaged regions around the Indian Ocean in the wake of the massive destruction and death there in December 2004. They established the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund, which to date has disbursed nearly $80 million to, among other things, help build energy-efficient schools in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

They’ve done this because energy-efficient schools are really more important than, well, schools in general…I guess. Or potable water, for that matter. Bill Clinton has urged patience on rebuilding New Orleans. Things are in the planning stages, whether it is getting medical aid to Katrina-hit regions or getting people back home. "I know how maddening this is; it takes time," President Clinton says.

Sure, it takes time…but I wonder, will New Orleans become America’s Pompeii, just so that Bill Clinton can look like a good, world-minded environmental-friendly philanthropist? There doesn’t seem to be much happening courtesy of Washington in New Orleans, as far as rebuilding residential areas go. Bill Clinton is trying to show that he can do a lot more good as an influential private citizen, freed of the restraints placed on his role and obligations when he was the president.

While it isn’t exactly the case that a former Oval Office occupant-turned-philanthropist is going up to a former resident of the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, a nine-year-old black American who became a refugee within his own country, and telling him “I’m sorry, son, but because 20,000 people in Sri Lanka need bicycles, you’re just going to have to wait your turn.” It isn’t exactly like that, but it isn’t really all that far off either.

The Clinton Global Initiative is certainly a more constructive contribution to the world than most of what Jimmy Carter has been doing since his presidency, but Bill Clinton could be doing a lot more than just occasionally stumping for fellow Democrats in this mid-term year or raising millions for New Orleans instead of billions for the world.

I’m happy for the New Orleans Saints that they get to return home to the Superdome, and that the stadium has flashy new scoreboards all over the place, that concessions stands are more convenient, and that U2 and Green Day are to be performing for the Superdome crowd attending a game being broadcast on Monday Night Football.

I’m so happy, in fact, that I’m staying up WAY past the bedtime I normally assign myself so that I can watch MNF on ESPN in Jerusalem. Call it Tuesday Morning Football. Don’t worry – I can sleep Tuesday night, or on the train ride home after work. I mean, I think getting back to as normal a routine as possible is good for New Orleans, or at least certain districts of New Orleans.

Meanwhile, other areas of the city are gutted. National Guard troops are helping to patrol some of the hardest hit districts of the city, through the end of the year at least. Lawlessness has been rampant, and there haven’t been enough courtrooms or jail cells to keep troublemakers in line. The city’s population is a fraction of what it used to be…so don’t let the sold-out Superdome schedule fool you into thinking that everything’s hunky-dory.

At this rate, Lebanon will probably get rebuilt before New Orleans does.

And that’s really sad. Though they refuse to take responsibility at all, the Lebanese basically brought the destruction wrought by Israeli warplanes upon their infrastructure when they allowed the Shiite group to launch attacks on the Jewish state. The only crime, the only real crime, that New Orleans residents committed regarding Hurricane Katrina’s destruction is that they built buildings and lived in a flood-prone city. They knew that what happened could happen, but still…

The Army Corps of Engineers, I think, deserves more of the blame for not building quality levees. The federal government deserves the blame for bungling rescue and relief efforts. Local leaders deserve the blame for not urging residents to leave sooner, and for being wishy-washy on how to rebuild. Sure, those who were stubborn enough to stay should not be exempt from their own stupidity in needing to be rescued later on, but does Lebanon really deserve to be rebuilt more than New Orleans?

If you ask the pro-“Death to America” crowd, the answer will likely be a resounding yes. If you ask any American who is ashamed of how the government and private philanthropy are neglecting Greater New Orleans in favor of south Beirut, Aceh province, literacy in South Africa or global warming, the answer should be no…whether they recognize the idiocy in helping those who shoot themselves in the feet (the Lebanese) to reload the gun, or not.

While I think it’s great that Bill Clinton can raise billions for addressing worldwide issues, if he could only raise the same amount for – among other places along the Gulf CoastNew Orleans, that would be pretty damn awesome too. Heck, it would be better if he’d take the time to even try to raise not just millions, but billions for the Gulf Coast.

If Bill Clinton can do more good for the world as a private citizen…let’s see him do it, really do it, for America, too.

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