Sunday, September 10, 2006

American idiots

Back a couple of years ago, Green Day seemed about to leave their status as plasticky-faux-punks behind thme and grown into a band who could at least attempt a critique of their nation's politics and policy. Proudly anti-Bush in an environment where anything other than unquestioning support for the Commander in Chief could prove the undoing of an entertainment career, it seemed they'd decided they didn't like the way things were going, and were set about challenging the entrenched powers.

A mainstream band at the heart of a new counterculture.

Now, though, their sparks have been doused. They're doing a charity record with U2; a charity record in aid of the unquestionably noble aim of replacing instruments lost in the aftermath of the levees breaking and the abandonment of the people of New Orleans.

Yes, of course, it would have been tricky to say "no" to the approach from U2 to make the record, but it would have been braver and truer to the band's stance in 2005. Bono, close friend of George W Bush, heading down to New Orleans to hand out a few guitars, giving the impression that things are getting back to normal - why, they're even retooling the local pianists and guitars. What a great job has been done getting New Orleans back on its feet.

You don't expect U2 to be radical, but you'd have hoped Green Day might have responded to this invitation with something more than a wan "New Orleans has always been a special city to us, being a hotbed of music and creativity, and it's hard to believe parts of the Gulf region still remain devastated," they said. "We feel that it's important to continue to raise awareness."

Awareness of what? Because this is the platform you've chosen, if you're going to raise awareness, raise it now.

Raise awareness about the UN Human Rights report which called for "the United States [to] increase its efforts to ensure the rights of poor people and blacks are respected in relief and reconstruction efforts, noting its concern that both were "disadvantaged" after Hurricane Katrina. "In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, it should increase its efforts to ensure that the rights of poor people and in particular African-Americans are fully taken into consideration in the reconstruction plans with regard to access to housing, education and health care," the U.N. Human Rights Committee said.

Raise awareness about the two billion dollars lost to fraud and waste due to the incompetence of FEMA.

Raise awareness about the bipartisan Senate report which called the adminstration out for bungling the storm response by neglecting warnings, failing to grasp Katrina’s destructiveness, doing too little or taking the wrong steps before the Aug. 29 landfall.

Raise awareness of the Department of Homeland Security's own acceptance that it screwed up.

Raise awarenss of the Bush administrations's largely ignored decision to run the risk of it all happening again rather than paying to rebuild the protective levees: Donald E. Powell, the administration's rebuilding coordinator, said some areas may be left without the protection of levees strong enough to meet requirements of the national flood insurance program. Those areas probably would face enormous obstacles in attracting home buyers and investors willing to build there. The news represents a shift for the administration; President Bush had pledged in the weeks after Hurricane Katrina to rebuild New Orleans "higher and better." Now, some areas may lose out as they compete for levee protection. Powell's announcement, in a conference call with reporters, prompted denunciations from state and local officials who said the federal government is reneging on promises to rebuild the entire region. In areas where the levees do not meet the standards, buildings may have to be constructed up to 20 to 35 feet above ground, a Powell aide acknowledged. Also, in a city where there is a desperate need for housing investors, areas with less-than-optimal levees could scare off flood-wary developers.

Raise awareness of how Bush's White House has tripled the staff at the Small Business Association to cope with increased demands for disaster recovery loans, but depsite finding the money for the bureaucracy now turns down a greater proportion of applications than any other administation.

Raise awarness of how 70% of the relief contracts - spending US tax dollars - were handed out without any form of competitive bid, often to companies with links to the Bush administration - even after the process was supposed to have been stopped last October.

Raise awareness of how most of the cash spent on reconstruction went out of the State at a time when it was crying out for all the inward investment it could get; leaving locals without work and locked into a cycle of dependency.

Raise awareness of suggestions that the poor and especially the black poor are being discouraged from returning to their own homes, or the people who fought to try and stop their homes in the Ninth Ward being bulldozed.

Raise awareness of something, anything. But don't do it by working with Bush's golfing buddies with a charity single which is designed to suggest that things are almost normal in New Orleans. You're singing for a sticking plaster at a time when there's still major surgery to be done.

And please don't help try and shore up the subtle rewriting of history that what happened in New Orleans was a natural disaster rather than a national disgrace.

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