EDITORIALS

A grotesque inaugural

Bush’s second inauguration was an obscene display of what social theorist Thorstein Veblen called “conspicuous consumption” — the flaunting of wealth by the rich to serve their image.

Even before thinking about the cost, why not consider good taste? During Word War II, FDR had an inauguration where he served cold chicken and cake. Years earlier, Woodrow Wilson had no parties during his inaugural period, calling festivities during a time of war “undignified.” Are gala events “dignified” today? No.

Bush’s re-election is a disaster in itself, but the current state of the world is more dire than anything we have seen in decades. While there are now well over 150,000 people confirmed dead from the Indian Ocean tsunami, and our nation is embroiled in a hopeless war in Iraq that has left well over 100,000 people dead, the president is celebrating as if everything was rosy.

With the U.S. unable to afford to supply soldiers in Iraq with protective gear, it is a scandal that so much money is being spent on inaugural celebrations. Yet, on top of $40 million from private donors, millions more are coming from the federal government. This is the people’s money, and it is being spent to throw a party for Bush.

Meanwhile, millions are needed to rebuild tsunami-devastated nations and to solve the constant problems of underfunded education and social programs, homelessness, lack of health insurance for millions of Americans, and so on.

With so much money being used for the inauguration, other areas will see cutbacks. The security costs, about $17 million, come from the Homeland Security budget for the D.C. region. This means that other, more important security matters for Montgomery County — such as plans to buy more protective clothing for firemen or a communication plan for all emergency personnel — will be scuttled. Washington, D.C., itself, whose residents have no representation in the federal government, will also have to provide millions of dollars.

The inauguration, with its grotesque display of wealth an insult to the American people and people around the globe, shows what Bush has planned — four more years of fun for the rich and misery for everyone else.



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Socialism saves lives

T he UN’s World Conference on Disaster Management opened in Kobe, Japan, Jan. 18, with over 4,000 participants.

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland rightly pointed out that technology alone is not a cure-all. “People, not hardware, must be at the center of any successful disaster warning and preparedness measure,” he said. And “as always, the poor are particularly vulnerable, for they lack the resources to withstand or recover from disasters.”

The countries affected by the Dec. 26 tsunami are some of the poorest in the world. They are dominated by neoliberal “market guides everything” policies that force millions into poverty and make them especially vulnerable to natural disasters. Privatization of water and health care put these life-saving basics out of reach for millions. Millions in seismically active areas or along exposed shorelines live in fragile shacks or huts with no structures in place to protect them from quakes or raging oceans.

Egeland warned that “much money is being spent on being fire brigades, putting plaster on the wound, and too little on preventing the devastation and suffering in the first place.” We agree with his suggestion that at least 10 percent of all money donated for disaster relief must be used to further disaster prevention.

The best results, Egeland said, come when governments and community organizations join together, with informed communities, and economies structured to reduce risk. As successful examples he cited Cuba, Ethiopia and Vietnam.

It is no accident that two of these are socialist. Their societies are based on human need and safety, not corporate greed.

A recent Oxfam report, available on their web page, compliments Cuba as a model of disaster prevention. The humanitarian group says Cuba’s high level of organization, high literacy rate, developed infrastructure in rural areas and access to reliable health care have been crucial in national efforts in disaster mitigation, preparation and response.

Leaving human safety up to the good will of the “free market” can only lead to more misery. Socialist Cuba and Vietnam point the way.