Thursday, July 3, 2008

Things are getting worse

The fire continues. This morning I spoke to Gina on the phone and told her to get out of there. This fire is out of control – more than 60,000 acres burned and no containment in sight. There is only one road out of Tassajara – a 14-mile dirt mountain road that takes a good hour to get through. I hope she and all the others who have spent the last week and a half down in that canyon preparing for the fire can get out safely while there is still time.

I have been so focused on the personal aspect of this fire because my loved one is in there. But if you know me, you know that I look to see how the personal and the political are intimately linked… and they always are, as in the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina that I wrote about a few years ago in an article in Common Ground magazine. We are seeing the consequences of a state budget and a safety infrastructure that has been gutted. This would be a huge fire to deal with in any circumstance, but the lack of resources available to firefighters is making this one a true hell realm.

These powerful words come from Susie Bright, who lives in the Big Sur area. You can read the whole entry here on Susie's blog.

The air is orange and choking gray with smoke, the heat like an iron. In my neighborhood, 20 miles from from the nearest burn, there've been swarms of winged insects crowding the windows and doorways. You can drive past smoldering ruins and still-flaming burns down Highway 1...

There's an extra edge to the smoke, that goes beyond the inevitable natural crises: Our country has, for some time, been unable to provide the infrastructure to deal with disasters.

I'm not just talking about for the hermit who's off the grid. Everyone in California is mindful of the terrible floods in the Mid-West, and that leads to the all-too-obvious reminders of Katrina. A bridge collapses in Minnesota, and everyone knows that bridge should have been repaired or replaced ages ago. I'm sure all of you could tell me about something in your area that is a public hazard, overdue for repair, a "disaster waiting to happen," and yet nothing happens 'cause there's "no money."

Meanwhile, we see the latest gas prices, and read about the exploding number of multi-millionaires— who still can't fucking pass through the eye of any needle— and you just want to explode.

Of course the government can't arrive at your side, like Superman, to scoop you up when the clouds of locusts arrive. But we know that many of the crises we're having today are because the roads ain't fixed, they laid off the rescue workers, the repairs went unfunded.

We have no tax base in our state to cope with our problems, and it's not because California isn't still golden with profits. The corporate taxes are so low here, it's beyond reckless. We have the worst-funded schools in the nation— dead last. Our parks are closing, the streets are buckling, there's three cops in town to work the night shift, and the firemen haven't had an hour off in a month. They need ten times the numbers they have to cope with these fires.

People I know who work in public safety whisper to me about how shocked the public would be, if they only knew how undefended we really are. Well, it's pretty obvious, now. Anyone who wants to start a fire or rob a bank, just drop on by; our whole community is walking around with its pants down.

The individual acts of heroism in the past weeks, are, of course, inspiring. My friends in the thick of the smoke are relentless. They'll be marked by this forever.

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