If the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — whose fourth anniversary we commemorate this week — were a turning point for this nation, then Hurricane Katrina is another turning point.

The destruction — not all of it natural — reveals the “perfect storm” of the class-warfare, racist, ultra-right policies that have damaged this nation for the past 25 years. A mantra of the ultra right is shrinking government down so small it can be “drowned in the bathtub.” Now we are seeing the real-life results.

The impact of the disaster in New Orleans in the first place, and throughout the Gulf region, is still unfolding. Untold numbers are dead. The scope of the toxic pollution and environmental devastation is so great it

hasn’t come into focus yet.

However, the images of thousands of African American families torn apart, trapped by poverty and racism, stranded, left for dead, are sharp and will not be erased. Indelibly etched in our minds are photos of the elderly and sick — of all races — stacked on airport baggage carriers, waiting to die or be moved.

Outrage and shock at the racism and official callousness to life are rippling across America — among the storm survivors now scattered across the land, the African American people, the millions horrified by the federal government’s lack of response, the working-class families, especially in the South, who have opened their homes and pocketbooks. They are questioning our nation’s leaders and priorities as never before.

The survivors of Katrina need homes, health care, jobs, schools for their kids. They must be cared for with compassion and dignity. Corporate cronies cannot be allowed to profit off the misery with sweetheart deals or no-bid contracts to rebuild. We applaud the growing number of officials who are calling for public works jobs to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf. Such a program has to include affirmative action and people-oriented planning and oversight.

The responsibility for this national disaster rests squarely on the shoulders of the federal government. Bush’s “homeland security” has turned out to be a costly, cruel hoax. He must be held accountable.