Monday, October 29, 2007

FEMA and the SoCal Wildfires

I want to start this post by stating how sorry I feel for the individuals who lost their homes in the recent wildfires that swept through Southern California. I can't even imagine what it must be like to lose everything, including a home.

However, I have a problem with the way the news media has been portraying the incident. One of the many NY Times articles that I have read on the subject centers on how Bush is reacting to this natural disaster in contrast to how he acted during Hurricane Katrina. Of course he is acting faster to provide federal aid during this disaster! He can't stand the fallout of another mis-step when it comes to helping the victims.

All opinions of the President's politics aside, there is something inherently wrong with comparing San Diego to New Orleans. The NY Times article linked to above states some of them, such as the number of homes destroyed in each national disaster (many, many more in New Orleans), and response of local governments. Ok, that is true, but why is nobody mentioning the racial and socioeconomic makeup of the areas affected? Check out the two photos that appeared at the top of the article, one of victims of the fires and one of victims of Katrina.

Notice that the white couple on the left have multiple suitcases, and what appears to be a shopping bag, whereas the only some of the people in the group of African Americans have even a backpack. SoCal residents had time to gather their belongings and leave, and apparently enough time to do a little shopping during their stay at Qualcomm stadium. Katrina victims didn't have food or water.

The NY Times also included an interesting sidebar to one of their articles, although the article it accompanied never even referenced the statistics offered.

As you can see, the areas affected by the fires are richer neighborhoods (over 25% earn more than 100K a year, and only 9% are below the poverty line) with more white people, and far less African Americans. If Kanye were to comment on this disaster, he might be inclined to say, "George Bush loves white people." And he would be right. It is easy to see that the racial makeup of the areas affected is vastly different, and that the homes affected in Southern California belong to people who probably have enough insurance to fix their homes or enough money to pay for new ones. Of course, there are poor people who were affected in SoCal, but the fires broke out in Malibu and Beverly Hills, people! Why is nobody mentioning that one of the main differences between the fires and the hurricane is that George Bush is being called on to help rich white folks instead of poor black folks?

Additionally, why is the NY Times not covering the particular hardships that undocumented immigrants are going to face after the fires? FEMA will not release aid to anybody unless a social security number is provided, and they are not releasing aid to anybody until a given social security number is verified. Even if undocumented workers weren't already leery of applying for social services, the announcement of FEMA's new regulations ensure that very little, if any, of the undocumented population is going to receive aid. In a town so close to the border, this is an issue that is going to have an impact on rebuilding of homes in lower income neighborhoods (I don't know how many were affected).

The news media needs to stop praising Bush for being quick to respond to a mostly white population, and acknowledge that even his quick release of aid is not necessarily going to help all of the people of color in the area. He hasn't changed since Katrina, the situation has.

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Blogger jai said...

Yes, yes, and yes. Thank you for finally raising this issue, as no one seems to even want to touch it with a three foot pole. Never mind the comparisons between Katrina and SoCal, no one even seems to want to discuss anything about socioeconomic class or race. I'm really curious, personally, to know what percentage of homes destroyed are second homes, or vacation homes, as opposed to primary residences. Hmm... I rather like mouthing off about the topics myself... Maybe I'll start my own blog where I can rant about weddings and the wedding industry and online wedding communities... Has possibilities, don't you think?

October 30, 2007 1:44 PM  
Blogger Sara said...

I advocate the creation of blogs 100%. I have enough to say about blogs with themes that I could probably write a whole blog post about it (hmmm... something to add to the blog back-burner), but I will limit myself at this point to saying that you shouldn't feel the need to limit yourself with a theme. Things will probably end up revolving around weddings anyway, since that is your current focus, but not having a stated theme allows you to blog about a crazy San Francisco experience or a great meal at a restaurant without feeling guilty for straying from the topic.

If you feel you need a theme, call it a Soc blog. What can't be related back to Soc? :-)

October 30, 2007 4:25 PM  
Blogger indil said...

Let's wipe the froth off our mouths for a second. I think it's unfair to characterize Bush as a black-hating, white-loving person based solely upon the roles he played in these two disasters. He is the President of the United States, not the President of Every Place That Has A Disaster. States have their own resources to deal with local disasters, and federal aid should only be sought or expected when the disaster outstrips the state's ability to cope with it. It's my understanding that even then, the state governor must essentially ask for help before the federal government can do anything themselves. It's unfair and unrealistic to hold Bush accountable for every decision made by everyone, everywhere, every time. However, I do hold Bush responsible for appointing someone incompetent to the head of FEMA, which directly affects how the federal government does help when it's asked to.

It's nonsense to compare the two disasters except for the help the federal government provided. They each happened in different states with different cultures, economic distributions, environments and conditions, resources, and leaders. The natures and causes of the disasters were very different. Even then, you have to look at when the feds were asked for help relative to the start of the disaster. New Orleans flooded in a day, maybe two. The California fires lasted for a week. The feds would have had much more time to prepare help that would likely be needed later. The moron in charge of FEMA at the time of Katrina was no longer in charge for the fires and presumably a much more competent person was in charge. It's unreasonable to criticize someone for learning from past experiences when those learned lessons happen to benefit white people. Why don't we just accuse Bush of scheduling Katrina before the fires and call it quits.

I think it's also unfair to characterize the damage caused by the fires as negligible compared to that of Katrina. Many things in homes are priceless and cannot simply be replaced with a quick trip to Home Depot or Bed, Bath, and Beyond. A house is a major financial asset for anyone and would be a disastrous loss for most people. Despite what you might think, not everyone in southern California is a millionaire. Immigrants might have lost homes and possessions as well.

It sucks that illegal immigrants don't have access to the same benefits as citizens. I can look at any person and feel that they are entitled to as much help as I am. But I also understand the reason for the policy. Given a finite amount of resources and more applicants than the money can cover, the money goes to those who pay into it. If that doesn't sell it for you, consider this: given a border which is unfeasible to secure, citizenship constraints like this one enable the government to dissuade non-citizens from entering the country unscrutinized. The problem isn't this policy, but rather the lack of a documented worker program, which, oddly enough, is supported by Bush.

I know I seem like a Bush supporter in this post, but rest assured that I still believe he's a terrible leader and is unraveling the legitimacy and integrity of our government in ways I thought impossible. The Constitution be damned, apparently.

November 02, 2007 1:39 PM  

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