Federal Government’s Response to January Citrus Freeze

by on April 8th, 2007

A rare January freeze destroyed the citrus crops of California’s San Joaquin Valley, causing over $1 billion of damage. Thousands of people became jobless as a result in small towns where the citrus crop is the biggest business. President Bush waited two months to declare the destroyed citrus crops a disaster area.

An editorial in California Fresh Fruit, a publication serving San Joaquin Valley farmers, bears the title, “Lessons for All of Us from the 2007 freeze.” Towards the end of the editorial the writer declares, “It is not the government’s job or responsibility to support us or bail us out should disaster strike. We as individuals and families…as a people should learn from what we have seen others experience and do everything within our power to plan and set aside for a time when there could be fewer resources than we enjoy today.”

Neoconservatism is the political philosophy the writer is exposing. In the words of the man dubbed the ‘godfather of neoconservatism,’ Irving Kristol, “the historical task and political purpose of neoconservatism” is to “convert the Republican party, and American conservatism… against their respective wills, into a new kind of conservative politics.” One of the main tenets of neoconservatism, according to Kristol, is studying “alternative ways” of delivering services neoconservatives considered “welfare.” As Kristol puts it, “Neocons do not like the concentration of services in the welfare state and are happy to study alternative ways of delivering these services.”

“At the root of neoconservatism is the naked power approach to politics,” Philip Green, retired political professor and author of several books, wrote in an essay titled, “Neo-cons and the Counter-Enlightenment.” Green traces the “naked power approach” back to political philosopher James Burnham whose followers developed the theory that “the so-called people are… necessarily excluded from any real say in political life,” existing “only to be manipulated.” Burnham’s political theory “has become the ideological underpinning of all neo-conservative activity since.” Irving Kristol put the theory into practice in an essay in which he “addressed leaders and foundation heads on the necessity of taking steps to defend capitalism against the Left by explicitly funding right-wing theorizing and activism.”

Stephen Eric Bronner, political science professor at Rutgers University, believes neoconservatism “has become both a code word for reactionary thinking in our time and a badge of unity for those in the Bush administration advocating…an assault on the welfare state.” Bronner cites William Kristol, the son of Irving Kristol, as the “key ideologist and builder of the new neo-conservatism.” The younger Kristol served as former Vice-President Dan Quayle’s chief of staff, and created the conservative publication The Weekly Standard with Rupert Murdoch’s money.

Outsourcing Disaster Relief

Disaster preparation and relief is one of the services which Bush has found an “alternative” way to deliver. A year after 9/11, the operation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency was put under the newly created Department of Homeland Security, thus making it a lower priority. One of the little know facts about pre-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans is that the emergency preparation and evacuation of the city was contracted out by FEMA to Innovative Emergency Management (IAM), company which lacked experience preparing an entire city for a hurricane, let alone evacuating a city. IAM contributed to the Republican National Committee.

Using non-profit organizations to help those affected by disaster relief is another “alternative” way to provide disaster relief. State and local governments in California became overwhelmed after the January citrus freeze, and had to lobby President Bush for two months before he declared the affected region a disaster area. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger first requested the citrus crop area be declared a disaster area on February 2, and “was tenacious in his efforts to secure the federal declaration for California,” according to an article in California Fresh Fruit.

Local governments in the San Joaquin Valley are disappointed Bush only promised to provide food stamps and unemployment relief. A report on April 5 by a Fresno news station said the San Joaquin Valley counties affected are afraid funds for relief will run out. According to Fresno publication, Vida en el Valle, “The declaration means the federal government will send $17 million in supplemental commodities to stock some depleted food banks and nonprofit pantries.”

Radio Bilingüe in the San Joaquin Valley conducted a recent poll among dozens of farm workers in the town of Tulare. According to the poll, “three out of four stated they didn’t get basic assistance including food and rent. Of those who didn’t have any sort of aid, nearly all of them said they were cutting down on their food intake. Many commented they didn’t buy meat, fruit, or vegetables in order to decrease expenses.”

Gina-Marie Cheeseman