Point Austin: What Works

A good time to think about the best uses of community, democracy, and government

Point Austin
For your scholarly delectation this week, I had planned an inevitably dry but engaging examination of the remaining open questions in the city of Austin budget, scheduled for City Council votes this week (Sept. 12-14). I may still get to that, but for the moment, I'd like to celebrate the quick, generous, and highly effective response of our city government, many hundreds of city employees, a brace of nonprofit relief organizations, hundreds of businesses large and small, and thousands of our fellow citizens. They have done everything in their power to welcome, to make comfortable, and to help on their way the thousands of visiting Louisianans (and presumably some Mississippians and Alabamans) we suddenly have in our midst. An instant human migration on this scale – beyond the visible 4,000 or so at the Austin Convention Center, many thousands more taken in all over town, and more than 200,000 across the state – would be daunting all on its own; accomplished in direct response to an overwhelming natural (and man-made) disaster, it's more than any of us can even imagine, alone.

So we haven't done it alone. People and organizations have pitched in, together, in whatever ways they can, for a truly remarkable community effort of which all of us together can be proud. The TV reports have been flush with the headline stories, so I'll just talk closer to home – dozens of Chronicle folks volunteering to give, collect, and sort donations, various e-mail campaigns, the extraordinary effort of Kate Messer and the production staff to stay on top of the local relief-related information, and Amy Smith of our News staff, engaging the breaking story through the weekend to give readers a handle on the particular personal context of all this grand human drama.

It's a time of great sorrow. And it's a time to take pride in our home and our communal affection for one another, so visible now in action.

Who Needs Government?

There's been plenty of ink spilled in the last week on the incompetence and negligence of the federal emergency authorities – even from sources more reflexively given to apologetics – and there will be time for plenty more of that. So I'll refrain from piling on at the moment. But one can only hope that, among other things, the Katrina disaster will become the high-water mark of the anti-government zealots who have been driving state and national policy for the last decade or so (indeed, the current federal mob dates back to the Reagan administration). It's important to understand that what they've done is not simply inattention or even negligence; it's been a calculated, ideologically driven campaign to weaken every community-based function of government.

Last week, as the disaster worsened, the Center for Public Policy Priorities released a brief statement on the inevitable results of that campaign that is as good a summary as I've seen. The veiled reference to "a leading proponent of tax cuts" refers to Grover Norquist, nominally director of Americans for Tax Reform and a Rick Perry crony but more generally an ideological cheerleader and PR bully for the GOP's anti-government juggernaut. Most recently, whenever the Legislature considered an actual revenue solution to the radically underfunded Texas school system, Norquist would issue from D.C. a peremptory warning to any legislator daring to violate his or her ATR "pledge" for "no new taxes."

The CPPP commented, "We believe Americans must adequately support their government, which is after all merely the agent of our democracy. Those who oppose all tax increases on 'principle' and call for tax cut after tax cut are disserving our country.

"In America today there are highly influential anti-government, anti-tax groups working to benefit the few at the expense of the many. One leading proponent of tax cuts [Norquist] has remarked that he wants government to be so small that he can drown it in a bathtub. As the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina teaches us, however, when government is so small that we can drown it in a bathtub, it is not government that drowns, it is us." end story

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city of Austin, city council, Hurricane Katrina, Kate Messer, Amy Smith, Center for Public Policy Priorities, Grover Norquist, Americans for Tax Reform

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