week, I ran into a friend I worked with twenty years ago at a senior center.
Lately, he’s been working on emergency preparedness–helping Seattle retrofit
its homes, businesses, and schools to withstand major earthquakes. Supported by
the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s $25-million Project Impact, my friend
has been developing and promoting inexpensive solutions, and training
homeowners, builders and contractors.
a great program," I said, "because sooner or later, the big one’s
going to hit!" Unfortunately, a few days after our conversation, President
Bush targeted Project Impact to be eliminated–to help him give $70 billion in
tax cuts to the richest 1% of Americans.
that same day-Wednesday–a major earthquake hit Seattle. My cat fled, an instant
before, and stayed hidden beneath the couch for the afternoon. I grabbed my
swaying computer and pushed back sliding file drawers. Pictures fell off
bookshelves, shattering their glass. But otherwise my family was completely
unharmed. And the city as a whole emerged relatively unscathed. We saved
priceless lives and untold dollars in part because this was a deep quake, less
damaging than "the big one" still possible, but also because Seattle
has been steadily retrofitting vulnerable buildings, bridges, and highways
through public programs like Project Impact.
earthquake–and Bush’s same-day proposed elimination of the very program that
helped us prepare for it–underscores the folly of believing Margaret Thatcher’s
pronouncement that "There is no such thing as society–there are only
individual families." Invest in our infrastructure, and it will stay mostly
solid, even while the ground shakes, rattles, and rolls beneath it. Invest in
all our children, and they’ll grow up healthy and strong. Invest in our
communities, and ordinary citizens will feel hopeful. Invest in technologies
like wind power, compact-fluorescent light bulbs, and efficient mass transit,
and we won’t have to choose between rationing electricity and despoiling our
despite recent prosperous times, we’ve continued to accentuate what John Kenneth
Galbraith once called "private affluence and public squalor." Even
before the earthquake, the state of Washington (whose disproportionately
plentiful billionaires enjoy one of the most regressive local tax systems in the
nation) was planning to slash $200 million from the budgets for mental health
services, subsidized dental care, and other programs serving the poorest and
most vulnerable. Nationwide, nearly 50 million Americans lack health insurance.
Our new recession threatens more unemployment–and disaster for those hitting
welfare term limits. Now, after losing by more than a half million votes and
being handed the election by his friends in high places, our President is
proposing the most regressive tax cut in twenty years.
all welcome a "refund" from the feds, but the earthquake reminded me
that neglecting to invest in our common future undermines the foundation of our
society. I’d love to see real tax reform, so that as a self-employed person
averaging $30,000 a year and paying both income and social security taxes, I’d
no longer pay at a higher rate than Bill Gates does when selling a billion
dollars of Microsoft stock. But this proposal gives the bulk of its benefits to
that tiny minority of Americans who already control the vast share of our
national wealth. It slashes the resources available to address America’s real
crises, and to build for our future.
former Rep. Ron Dellums (D-Berkeley) once said, you learn a lot more about the
state of a nation’s soul by looking at its budgets than by heeding the words of
its politicians. It’s nice that President Bush sends Seattle his prayers. But
hard commitment goes further than easy compassion, not only for "the big
ones" still looming, but also for the largely invisible disasters that so
many of our citizens face day after day.
Rogat Loeb is the author of Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in a
Cynical Time (St Martin’s Press) Visit www.soulofacitizen.org for more