Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their homes, their jobs and in many cases their loved ones in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Quite apart from the shattered lives, the cost in dollars runs into the hundreds of billions.
This is a time for all of us to show compassion. Thousands of Alaskans have given and are continuing to give freely of their time and resources to help our southern neighbors. Congress has approved over $60 billion in aid.
We all know that it is not enough, and that we must reach deeper. The true measure of generosity is when the giver contributes enough to feel a little of the pain experienced by the receiver in their time of overwhelming need.
Are we Alaskans willing to forego the hundreds of millions of dollars secured for us in the way of congressional special projects such as the highly controversial bridge to nowhere? Are we as a nation willing to postpone for a few more years the estimated $100 billion cost of revisiting the moon?
The Katrina disaster has made us aware that our priorities must change. We need to focus more on solving the serious social issues that confront us now, and focus less on the glamorous self indulgent projects that can wait. Though we are the richest nation on earth, 37 million of us live below the poverty line. We rank ninth among developed nations in the share of population that has at least a high school degree. Just 20 years ago, we were first. We stand alone among developed nations in not having a publicly funded health-care system. Forty-five million of us have no health insurance. In every one of these categories the disparity is greatest among black and Hispanic populations.
Though we have a lot of catching up to do, as a nation we have a history of making a difference when called upon to do so. I believe we will rise to the occasion.