I am writing in response to three recent Open Forum letters either commenting on or criticizing my recent column advocating targeted federal assistance for the Virgin Islands.
Eric Roeske takes me to task for advocating a "bail-out" of the territory, suggesting that its politics are both parasitic and corrupt. He suggests that the territory essentially "pull itself up by its bootstraps." I find a lot to agree with in Mr. Roeske's assessment.
It is very difficult to generate sympathy for the Virgin Islands' plight if you view it through the narrow prism of local politics. As I have contended for the last 10 years, a bloated, corrupt, inefficient public sector has progressively sucked the lifeblood and resources out of the territorys economy. Mr. Roeske appears to have missed this point — and my recommendation that federal funds be kept out of the hands of the V.I. government, a bottomless pit of waste and inefficiency.
Where Mr. Roeske is totally wrong is in asserting that the federal government doesn't "bail out" businesses. Give me a break. Aside from Small Business Administration loans and grants and tax breaks to businesses in Enterprise Zones, the federal budget is riddled with gifts to businesses of all kinds. There is a tax break in the federal code that applies only to Gallo Wines.
Finally, Mr. Roeske is wrong in believing that the Virgin Islands can save itself in this situation, even if it were to put its house in order. Mr. Roeske lives in Watertown, Wis., not far from my hometown of Milwaukee. In the early 1980s, a combination of deep recession and Reagan administration policies wiped out Milwaukee's manufacturing sector. It has never really come back, and the city now has a swath of deep poverty, violence and social disorder that nobody knows how to fix.
Milwaukee and other "rust belt" cities couldn't stand on their own feet. They needed help. They did not get it. Compare these places to the airlines, Chrysler, the savings and loan industry, etc.
Dwayne Henry makes a different mistake. He basically plays the game of "You're one, too." Mr. Henry asserts that there is political corruption everywhere, and that the Virgin Islands learned it from the mainland. Sorry, but that just won't wash. There may be places in the United States as corrupt and inefficient as the Virgin Islands, but it would be hard to find them.
Mr. Henry's approach is particularly disturbing because it both misstates the problem and absolves Virgin Islanders of responsibility, by claiming that they have had negative role models. This is a bad combination.
Finally, Lofton P. Holder accuses me of offering "Band Aids," even though I advocated large expenditures for Virgin Islands relief. Mr. Holder also — repeatedly — places the word "victim" in quotation marks when describing those in New York who either perished or have suffered as a result of the World Trade Center catastrophe. He equates Virgin Islands "victims" with those in New York and asserts that Virgin Islanders are entitled to a slice of the pie.
His comments reflect a peculiarly Virgin Islands sense of entitlement and victimization. I do not know exactly how to respond, except to suggest that Mr. Holden visit New York. I will take him to "the site," 18 acres of rubble wherein the remains of some 5,000 of my fellow New Yorkers lie, while fires still burn more than two months later, and the smell of death is everywhere. I will introduce him to friends who cannot sleep at night because of what they have experienced and seen, and to others whose jobs no longer exist or who are afraid to go to their offices.
I will try to explain the impact of the loss of many thousands of jobs that we have experienced. I will introduce him to mental health professionals who are overwhelmed by the depression and post-traumatic stress that is everywhere in this city. I will take him for a ride on the subway, New York's transportation lifeblood, a system that is extremely vulnerable to a biological attack, and I will introduce him to postal workers who live with the fear of anthrax. I will show him the walls full of pictures of loved ones who are never coming home.
After that, we can see how big a slice of the pie Mr. Holder thinks Virgin Islands victims are entitled to. Maybe he also will remove the quotation marks when he is describing the World Trade Center victims, both living and dead.
New York, N.Y.
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