Jim Hightower

Presidential Priorities

Presidential Priorities

The day that Hurricane Katrina was poised to sock New Orleans right in the teeth, our country’s president blithely winged his way westward to Arizona and California. He went out there politicking while Katrina was devastating the people of coastal Louisiana and Mississippi—indeed, Bush’s handlers could not get him to report for duty at the White House until two days after the catastrophe had struck. Maybe it’s just as well, for the real damage he did to New Orleans was in previous months when he was at his desk, drawing up budgets. To pay for his misadventure in Iraq and his tax giveaways to the rich, Bush made drastic cuts in funds for hurricane protection and flood control, specifically for New Orleans.

In 2003, he slashed the money for a project to shore up levees around New Orleans and build more pumping stations, stalling the project. In 2004, he allowed less than 20 percent of the funds that the Corps of Engineers said were necessary to shore up the banks of Lake Pontchartrain; the project had to be put on hold. When hit by Katrina, the banks broke open, flooding neighborhoods up to 20 feet deep. Also in 2004, federal funds were pledged for a crucial study of how New Orleans should prepare for a category 4 or 5 hurricane, such as Katrina. The Bushites, still diverting funds to their occupation of Iraq, ordered the local office of the Corps not to begin any studies, and their budget for 2005 eliminated all money to develop hurricane protection plans for the city. It’s not like a big blow to the Big Easy was unexpected. Local and federal experts have been warning for years that it was coming; the Bushites said the money was needed in Iraq to protect our national security. As a local official pointed out last year, however, “[Finishing the levees] is a security issue for us.”

LAURA AND ME

Laura Bush and I have something in common—an enthusiasm for the work of public libraries. These are not merely buildings with books, but genuine community centers providing knowledge, information, insight, entertainment, discourse, awareness, involvement—all of this and more free of charge to everyone who enters. Libraries are deposits of democracy. They are also enormously popular, with more than 60 percent of Americans making use of them. Nationally, libraries now circulate an average of six books a year for every man, woman, and child in America.

Incredibly, libraries all across the country are under constant assault by politicians wielding budget axes. Even at the federal level, where $250 million a year is authorized for a library literacy fund, Congress and W. are holding back more than 90 percent of the money each year. Meanwhile, governors, mayors, and city councils too often raid library budgets as a way of balancing their budgets, making deep cuts that result in reducing the days of service, laying off staff, and closing the doors of many branches. But there’s good news, too. Grassroots people are fighting back. In Philadelphia, the mayor and council tried to cut library branches, hours, and services this year, but there was a spontaneous combustion of public outrage that simply could not be ignored. The politicos retreated, restoring full funding for all 55 branches of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Join me—and, hey, even Laura Bush—in the Campaign for America’s Libraries. Maybe we can get her husband to stop impounding library money. Call 1-866-4LIBRARY.

COFFEE BREAK

Starbucks, the mega-global-giant of the caffeine-slinging world, set out years ago to become the McDonald’s of coffee shops—and has it ever succeeded! Starbucks is now as widely perceived as McDonald’s to be a global symbol of ubiquitous, corporate uniformity. But let’s not be negative. Instead, let’s celebrate the indomitable spirit of America’s grassroots, independent coffee houses and the people who support them. I’m one of those people—wherever I go, I seek out the unique, lively, sassy, colorful, funky, and fun joints that are locally owned and representative of an actual place.

If you’re interested in finding local shops in your town or in your travels, there’s a handy web site for you, called the Delocator (http://delocator.net/index_full.php). It is the creation of three artists who had a caffeine-induced epiphany a couple of years ago while visiting New York City. Emerging from the subway in search of a genuine Big Apple coffee experience, they found themselves in Starbucks hell. The chain’s cookie-cutter outlets were everywhere… but no local latte purveyors were left. Rather than just wail or rail, they launched the Delocator, a web site that helps folks find locations in cities all across America where Starbucks is not, and where good independent houses are. It’s a simple site—enter a zip code, and up pops a list of local shops within a five-mile radius, as well as a list of any Starbucks in the area, so you can avoid them.

The Delocator has been a lightning rod for coffeeheads angry about corporate intrusion, standardization, and shrinking of choice. It’s had more than a million hits and has an ever-growing database of several thousand independent places to get a corporate-free cuppa jo. You’re invited to add your own favorite and make comments.

Jim Hightower is a speaker and author. To order his books or schedule him for a speech, visit www.jimhightower.com. To subscribe to his newsletter, the Hightower Lowdown, call toll-free 1-866-271-4900.

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