Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Incredible Shrinking Recovery

I was reminded by a correspondent of the stirring promises President George Bush made to the people of and the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane .

"The rescue efforts were comprehensive, and the recovery will be comprehensive." Monday, September 12, 2005

"Renewal of this important part of the world." October 11, 2005

"My message to them was, we will support the plan that you develop," Bush told NBC. October 11, 2005

"We will do what it takes, we will stay as long as it takes, to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives." State of Union Message, New Orleans, September 15, 2005

Lies. All of it lies. As the veracity and honesty of Bush and his administration becomes a subject of national ridicule, the people of Katrina are far ahead of the curve.

Those who are appointed to represent them are already putting themselves in the position of managing expectations and not the recovery.

Vice Chair of the Louisiana Recovery Authority Walter Isaacson told the New York Times that Louisiana had overreached in seeking $250 billion in relief. "Louisiana lost its credibility by asking for everything...Now it is our job to say, we have some reasonable priorities for spending and we are going to be sensible and frugal about it."

Apparently Mr. Isaacson, the former head of CNN, hasn't had time to keep up with the newspapers the last few months, and missed the president's comments. Or perhaps he is bound to not give up one penny of his Bush tax relief, just as he would not give up one penny to pay for the war in Iraq. Instead, the Chinese pay for that, and will own our children's lives.

The same story points out that the people of New York didn't manage expectations. They demanded results in the days after 9-11, and received $20 billion from Congress in direct aid. While 9-11 was a horrific event, it can't begin to compare to the wrath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. An entire major American city was devastated, and an entire region stretching hundreds of miles along the Gulf of Mexico was laid waste.

Twenty billion for a few square blocks and a few thousand victims, versus what for thousands of square miles and hundreds of thousands of victims. The accounting is clear. The people of Katrina and Rita are not worth as much as the people of New York. Measure in the great scales, they were found wanting against not just the wealthy New York bankers, but were judged to be worth less than the busboys of the Eyes of the World restaurant.

When the president came to the Gulf Coast, he knew the cupboards were bare. The man who could not ask Americans to sacrifice for his war in Iraq was not going to ask anyone to give up a tax break or a choice bit of political pork for people he really didn't care about.

His appointed "recovery czar" David Powell also offers soothing words telling Katrina's survivors to be reasonable. Instead of the promised aid, he speaks of "looking for ways that the recovery might be financed by some private sector (investment) rather than government."

There is no political will to save New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. The president's allies came to New Orleans and toured a home in Lakeview. Alaska Senator Ted Stevens told the homeowner "Why would we want to rebuild these homes in an area below sea level?". In Alaska, he said, when a disaster of this magnitude occurs, they relocate the town.

Funny, when the 1964 earthquake devastated Anchorage to the tune of $ 1.8 billion (adjusted 1995) dollars and killed hundreds, they rebuilt Anchorage in the same place, to await the next earthquake. Senator Stevens is lately famous for the most notorious bit of pork barrel spending of this Congress--a $225 million dollar down payment on a $1.5 billion "bridge to nowhere" to save the 80 residents of a small Alaska town the inconvenience of riding a ferry. He will be remembered infamously in New Orleans not only for his insult, but because he fought an effort to redirect some of that money for the reconstruction of the I-10 twin span across the Rigolets.

The president's promises were, to put it generously, empty ones. To put in bluntly, they were lies, knowingly and cunningly told. It is increasingly clear that any relief will come mostly as tax breaks for business investment, and too late for any Gulf Coast business to benefit, for they will all be gone.

Instead, the spoils will go to the carpetbaggers who come to profit from the tragedy, and to their scalawag allies who try to keep down the outrage until the deal is done.

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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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