Monday, October 17, 2005

The Federals final retreat from New Orleans

In a must-read LA Times articles headlined Bush Is in No Hurry on Katrina Recovery we learn that President Bush is retreating from his promise of one month ago to help rebuild the Gulf Coast "quickly", taking instead "a cautious, piecemeal approach that even many members of his own party fear will stall reconstruction and sow economic disarray," the Times report says.

Bush has failed to introduce legislation to enact two of this three major initiatives, while the third--job training--the Administration-backed House bill would provide aid to only one-quarter of Katrina's unemployed.

Bush's cautiousness appears to be partly a response to some conservatives' clamor for federal budget cuts to offset aid to the Gulf Coast, the Times reports.

In addition, the scale and complexity of reconstruction pose special challenges for an administration that firmly favors market mechanisms over government action, at least domestically.

With the immediate crisis past, administration officials may be hoping that state and local efforts — and the free market — will relieve them of the thorniest decisions, as well as a substantial chunk of the estimated $200-billion price tag for the region's revival.

Even the master of free market economics Jack Kemp offers says "[w]ith all due respect to the president, things are not going to bubble up from the bottom. There has to be some federal leadership here."

Part of the problem is a revolt in the President's own party over the projected cost of relief and reconstruction. Conservatives in the President's own party are in revolt over plans to simply spend the money without offsets, cuts in spending elsewhere, as explained on this MSNBC report.

As if to swat down Bush's big play about helping the poor, made in Jackson Square less than a month ago, a push is growing to pay for hurricane relief costs for Katrina and Rita by cutting health care for the indigent and food stamps. Louisiana farmers ruined by the storms will appreciate a complementary proposal to cut farm supports. New Orleans' good friend Dennis Hastert is leading the effort for "Operation Offset" to take hurricane recovery funding out of the pockets of the poor.

In a New York Times opinion piece, columnist Paul Krugman asks the rhetorical question Will Bush Delivery? Based on New York's experience of 9-11, he suggests the answer is no.

After 9/11 he made big promises to New York. But as soon as his bullhorn moment was past, officials began trying to wriggle out of his pledge. By early 2002 his budget director was accusing New York's elected representatives, who wanted to know what had happened to the promised aid, of engaging in a "money-grubbing game."

One former GOP officials go so far as to openly suggest that the federal government's neglect of the city (and state's) needs is intentional. A blistering editorial in the Palm Beach Post catalogs the government's continuing failure.

It ends with this quote from Ronald Utt, a former Reagan administration aide and Housing and Urban Development official who is now a senior fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation: "This is not incompetence. This is willful." What else could Americans call the president's bold inaction?

He was speaking about the failure to provide real housing solutions for the hundreds of thousands of displaced, many of whom have been shuttled out of shelters and into hotels. The fact is, the GOP does not want Louisiana rebuilt, at least not before the next election. Too many Democratic voters are out of the state (and the way). And too many big GOP contributors in New Orleans would just as soon not have too many of those pesky if colorful locals return.

I believe the real issue is this: like the federal occupiers of reconstruction, they are finding the pickings post to be thin. The only real loot for the well-dressed crowd is the federal aid, and the usual suspects--Vice President Chenney's part-time empoyer Halliburton, and Mississippi Gov. Halley Barbour's good friends at Florida's AshBritt Inc--are finding their no-bid contracts will be forced out to public bid after a public outcry.

The Gucci looters haven't given up entirely. Governor-in-waiting Kathleen Blanco has appointed her own special commission, the Louisiana Recovery Authority, to over see \distribution of the spoils of reconstruction. It includes such such notable experts as Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, GOP strategist Mary Matalin--whose close ties to Louissana may include having once borrowed her husband's LSU rugby shirt--and Essence Magazine editorial director Susan Taylor, who will no doubt make sure that the right sort of African-Americans are encouraged to return. The front window is suitably dressed by chair Norman Francis, the longtime president of Xavier University, who no doubt means well. There is no one here who will cause Jimmy Reiss or the other members of Nagin's own comission to lose any sleep.

Returning Orleanians will be well advised to count their silver when they do get a chance to return and visit their ruined homes. If some is missing, I would not be to quick to blame the gladly departed gangbaners. The bags of the departing federals and their contractors should be closely searched for the missing pieces.

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