Friday, November 04, 2005

Crony King of the Carpetbaggers

The survivors of had hoped President Bush would appoint a proven leader and advocate to oversee the promised reconstruction of the Gulf Coast. Particularly in , where problems of poverty and race complicate the herculean but politically delicate task, names like Colin Powell were bandied about. People wanted a leader, able to marshal the vast forces of federal relief, and an advocate to make sure this time the troops arrived.

Instead, they got a banker. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Chair Donald Powell seems well suited to the task. He was a Bush Pioneer, who raised more than $100,000 for the President election. And he's from Texas. And he has, one U.S. Senator pointed out, no disaster recovery experience.

By all accounts, he is a fair-minded power broker. U.S. Rep. Barney Franks (D,MA), the top House Democrat on banking issues, told the AP he has been impressed with the FDIC chairman's willingness to work with members of both parties.

"As a Bush appointee, he's more conservative than I am on some issues, but of all the people that might have been appointed to this job, his choice makes me happier than I expected to be," Frank said. "He's demonstrated flexibility at the FDIC and shown a willingness to listen and allow people to make the case with him."

What this appointment appears to signal is reduced expectations. As noted here but not reported widely, Bush has failed to deliver on his promised plan for reconstruction for Katrina's survivors. Proposals to grant tax relief to survivors who lost much more than their insurance covers have been stonwalled by conservatives in Congress. Mr. Powell's skills as a banking executive will be well suited to the division of the spoils and the reducing of expectations to something modest and profitable.

In a NOLA.Com story from the T-P Washington Bureau, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has thanked lawmakers for their interest in rebuilding the local economy. But in a visit to Washington this week, he also urged them to give displaced residents an even better reason to return: a 50 percent credit on taxable wages up to $50,000. The plan, supporters say, is a direct way of helping residents make the decision to stay in or return to the city.

Asked about the proposal, key lawmakers in the House and Senate dismissed it out of hand. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, summed it up this way: "We've done all the personal (tax relief). This is all going to be business."

Shreveport Republican Rep. Jim McCrery told the T-P fiscally conservative Republicans in the House might view individual relief, such as a tax holiday, "excessive from a policy standpoint." He said he agrees with that.

Like everything else in Washington these days, even the representatives of the victims fall into party line like a bunch of flag waving delegates to some North Korean communist party function. If the R's from Louisiana are putting the word out to temper expectations, then our Dear Leader has noticed that's there isn't a lot of money in the coffers. And so, he is quietly trying to duck with wide-ranging promises made in Jackson Square in September in the wake of criticism of his administration's tardy and inadequate response.

All this weeks news raises the question: with the persuasive culture of cronyism and corruption in Washington, are they capable of being trusted with the response? The answer appears to be no.

The message from Washington is this: you're not as important as the bankers and brokers of 9-11. Perhaps banker Powell can emulate the head of the victim's compensation group for 9-11 victims, and calculate just how much the survivors of Katrina are worth to the nation. Perhaps we will come up with the answer 3/5's as much.

If the government is not going to help, then the people of Katrina will have to do it themselves. Louisiana's Attorney General needs to join his counter part in Mississippi in forcing the insurance companies to fulfill their obligations under hurricane coverage, and seek damages that will bring bankruptcy to the companies that write homeowners insurance in the entire nation.

Not one penny of relief money in local control should go to restore the 98% of Louisiana offshore oil capacity that is still offline. Subtle roadblocks to the recovery of that capacity should be laid, until we are well into the heating season. If they think New Orleans is unimportant, let them think it in the cold and the dark.

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"And when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcome, but when we are silent we are still afraid. So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive." -- Audie Lorde

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