Policies and Katrina

A collection of various articles that in my opinion are relevant about policy making and the Katrina effect on New Orleans.

First some background: The president finished his five week vacaction and went on a fundraising tour to Arizona and the west coast. He likes to keep a balanced life.

In the meantime, as the vice president continued to enjoy his holidays the Secretary of State was spotted in New York City attending a Broadway show and going on a shopping spree:

On Wednesday night, Secretary Rice was booed by some audience members at "Spamalot!," the Monty Python musical at the Shubert, when the lights went up after the performance.

Yesterday, Rice went shopping at Ferragamo on Fifth Ave. According to the Web site www.Gawker.com, the 50-year-old bought "several thousand dollars' worth of shoes" at the pricey leather-goods boutique.

A fellow shopper shouted, "How dare you shop for shoes while thousands are dying and homeless!" - presumably referring to Louisiana and Mississippi.

The woman expressing her First Amendment rights was promptly removed from the store.

Billmon:

Paul Krugman's column in yesterday's New York Times argues that the Cheney administration's lackadaisical response to Hurricane Katrina is a symptom of a much larger problem -- the GOP contempt for government:

At a fundamental level, I'd argue, our current leaders just aren't serious about some of the essential functions of government. They like waging war, but they don't like providing security, rescuing those in need or spending on preventive measures.

I was thinking about posting something along those same lines -- along with a modest proposal to chaingang all the conservative pundits and politicians who've spent the past twenty five years trashing the federal government, and put them to work stacking sandbags down in Louisiana. And while we're at it, we could take all the think-tank libertarians and corporate bunko artists who promised us their blessed free market could and would solve all human problems, and use them as filler for the sandbags.

Two Americas:

Local National Guard are serving in a President's war of choice. People in trouble need them here.

Molly Ivins states:

Just plain political bad luck that, in June, Bush took his little ax and chopped $71.2 million from the budget of the New Orleans Corps of Engineers, a 44 percent reduction. As was reported in New Orleans CityBusiness at the time, that meant "major hurricane and flood projects will not be awarded to local engineering firms. Also, a study to determine ways to protect the region from a Category 5 hurricane has been shelved for now."

Dave Winer:

Comment: The writer above is absolutely correct that, if we were prepared, the response to the aftermath of Katrina would be further along by now. Responsibility however is not with the administration, it lies with the electorate. We had a chance to make last year's election a referendum on the politics of terrorism, to seriously evaluate our preparedness, if we really cared.

If anything is learned from this, we have to think, we can't delegate. We need leadership that cares, not in a superficial way. That leadership must come from us. We have some very huge decisions to make right now, and many thousands of lives depend on how well we do. That said, I have few ideas of things we can do other than give money to relief agencies, which of course, we are doing.

Molly Ivins echoes the need to care about politics:

To use a fine Southern word, it's tacky to start playing the blame game before the dead are even counted. It is not too soon, however, to make a point that needs to be hammered home again and again, and that is that government policies have real consequences in people's lives.

This is not "just politics" or blaming for political advantage. This is about the real consequences of what governments do and do not do about their responsibilities. And about who winds up paying the price for those policies.

Maureen Dowd says:

Stuff happens.

And when you combine limited government with incompetent government, lethal stuff happens.

Others are a bit harsher, but still correct.

An open letter to the president:

Any idea where all our helicopters are? It's Day 5 of Hurricane Katrina and thousands remain stranded in New Orleans and need to be airlifted. Where on earth could you have misplaced all our military choppers? Do you need help finding them? I once lost my car in a Sears parking lot. Man, was that a drag.

Also, any idea where all our national guard soldiers are?

[...]

And don't listen to those who, in the coming days, will reveal how you specifically reduced the Army Corps of Engineers' budget for New Orleans this summer for the third year in a row. You just tell them that even if you hadn't cut the money to fix those levees, there weren't going to be any Army engineers to fix them anyway because you had a much more important construction job for them -- BUILDING DEMOCRACY IN IRAQ!

The president tried to use the "nobody expected this" excuse. Dave Winer has collected some evidence that the problems in New Orleans were well known.

CNN ripped each one of the excuses from the Homeland Security Secretary.

In the meantime, operation scapegoat is in full swing. Joshua explains this succinctly:

Now at least we have the storyline. The Bush administration wasn't caught sleeping on the job while New Orleans went under with a gutted FEMA run by a guy who got fired from his last job policing horse shows. In fact, according to the new White House storyline, the governor of Louisiana and the mayor of New Orleans didn't ask for help quickly enough. And the White House was powerless to act until they did. Apparently they couldn't even reschedule the president's vacation until the locals got the right forms signed.

The Independent hosts some questions and answers:

Why has it taken George Bush five days to get to New Orleans?

How could the world's only superpower be so slow in rescuing its own people?

Why did he cut funding for flood control and emergency management?

Why did it take so long to send adequate National Guard forces to keep law and order?

How can the US take Iraq, a country of £25m people, in three weeks but fail to rescue 25,000 of its own citizens from a sports arena in a big American city?

Click for the answers

Billmon points out that this disaster is similar to the 1927 flood of New Orleans and quotes some 1927 newspapers and photographs

Greg Palast on the 1927 floods and the rise of the government for the people:

There is nothing new under the sun. In 1927, a Republican President had his photo taken as the Mississippi rolled over New Orleans. Calvin Coolidge, "a little fat man with a notebook in his hand," promised to rebuild the state. He didn't. Instead, he left to play golf with Ken Lay or the Ken Lay railroad baron equivalent of his day.

In 1927, the Democratic Party had died and was awaiting burial. As depression approached, the coma-Dems, like Franklin Roosevelt, called for balancing the budget.

Then, as the waters rose, one politician finally said, roughly, "Screw this! They're lying! The President's lying! The rich fat cats that are drowning you will do it again and again and again. They lead you into imperialist wars for profit, they take away your schools and your hope and when you complain, they blame Blacks and Jews and immigrants. Then they push your kids under. I say, Kick'm in the ass and take your rightful share!"

Huey Long laid out a plan: a progressive income tax, real money for education, public works to rebuild Louisiana and America, an end to wars for empire, and an end to financial oligarchy. The waters receded, the anger did not, and Huey "Kingfish" Long was elected Governor of Louisiana in 1928.

At the time, Louisiana schools were free, but not the textbooks. Governor Long taxed Big Oil to pay for the books. Rockefeller's oil companies refused pay the textbook tax, so Long ordered the National Guard to seize Standard Oil's fields in the Delta.

Billmon points out that the US is capable of deliverig efficient relief efforts Where there's a Will. He presents various newspapers quotes from 2004 and Florida:

So you can see that when the chips are down, and the need is absolutely dire, this administration can still deliver the kind of coordinated emergency response that once made the U.S. government the envy of the world -- just as it cooly and capably protected the Iraqi Oil Ministry from the chaos and looting that trashed every other government office in post-invasion Baghdad. As is usually the case in public service, it's just a matter of having the right incentives.

The comparison between the TLC showered on Florida last year and Bush's initial "What, me worry?" response to this year's disaster no doubt will go unnoticed by the amnesia patients in the corporate media. And since I'm lucky enough to live in a swing state that is also coveted by GOP political strategists, I probably don't have to worry about it either -- that is, as long as any future disasters around my neck of the woods happen in one of those years divisible by two.

But for the citizens of staunch, deep red Mississippi and slightly less staunch but still red Louisiana, the lessons are painfully obvious. If you're going to insist on living in a hurricane alley, then you need to take personal responsibility for your own actions, stop whining about government incompetence, and embrace the free market solution to your problems -- by moving to Florida.

On Rebuliding New Orleans:

Long before Katrina, New Orleans was hit by a hurricane of poverty, racism, disinvestment, deindustrialization and corruption. Simply the damage from this pre-Katrina hurricane will take billions to repair.

Now that the money is flowing in, and the world's eyes are focused on Katrina, its vital that progressive-minded people take this opportunity to fight for a rebuilding with justice. New Orleans is a special place, and we need to fight for its rebirth.

[..]

No sane person should classify someone who takes food from indefinitely closed stores in a desperate, starving city as a "looter," but that's just what the media did over and over again. Sheriffs and politicians talked of having troops protect stores instead of perform rescue operations.

Images of New Orleans' hurricane-ravaged population were transformed into black, out-of-control, criminals. As if taking a stereo from a store that will clearly be insured against loss is a greater crime than the governmental neglect and incompetence that did billions of dollars of damage and destroyed a city.

The press has not noticed where the real looting is going on:

President Bush yesterday told ABC-TV, ''there ought to be zero tolerance of people breaking the law during an emergency such as this, whether it be looting or price-gouging at the gasoline pump or taking advantage of charitable giving or insurance fraud.''

[..]

In a thinly disguised attempt to act as if it cared about the people wading in the water, Chevron has pledged $5 million to relief efforts. ExxonMobil and Shell have pledged $2 million apiece. British Petroleum and Citgo have pledged $1 million each.

Those disciplined operating practices are hardly confined to the oil fields. Everyone knows that Bush does not really mean what he says about price-gouging at the pump, since he just gave energy companies the bulk of $14.5 billion in tax breaks in the new energy bill. Surprise, surprise. In Bush's two elections, oil and gas companies gave Republicans 79 percent of their $61.5 million in campaign contributions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

If Bush really meant what he said, he would call for a freeze or cap on gasoline prices, especially in the regions affected most dramatically by Katrina. He would challenge big oil to come up with a much more meaningful contribution to relief efforts.

Insurance companies are expecting up to $25 billion in claims from Katrina. For ExxonMobil, which is headed to $30 billion in profits, to jack up prices at the pump and then only throw $2 million at relief efforts is unconscionable.

Jamie has several other updates.

Posted on 04 Sep 2005 by Miguel de Icaza
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