Friday, December 02, 2005

A Second Reconstruction

Pennies on the dollar.

That's what U.S. Rep. Richard Baker thinks the homes of and other survivors are worth. At least, that's what legislation he is proposing would offer them as a "buy out" for ruined homes.

Homeowners, many of whom had no flood insurance because the FEMA flood maps told them it was unnecessary, may have no choice but to take an offer to buy them out from under their mortgages, surrendering their equity, their homes, their lives in the process. The ninety-day moratorium on mortgage payments ends in December, and the owners of ruins will be required to resume payments, and make up the last three months.

Optimistic suggestions that homes in flood-ravaged neighborhoods, particularly those that are candidates for being red-lined in do not rebuild zones, be paid for at something like pre-Katrina values appear to have been a fantasy.

When Mayor Ray Nagin suggested weeks ago in a long Times-Picayune interview that people should at least be compensated at their pre-storm tax assessments--something of a joke in a town with elected property assessors who routinely undervalue property--people were upset that they would not be fairly compensated.

When the Urban Land Institute proposed that large areas of the city be redlined against immediate redevelopment, there was predictable outrage. But among the many recommendations the group made, one was for buyout of ruined homes at pre-Katrina values.

I criticized the ULI plan for a redevelopment corporation for placing control of the reconstruction in the hands of outsiders. Baker's plan would not even provide the local or state government with appointees to his Louisiana Recovery Corporation. Instead, the President would appoint all of the members.

The article that started this posting points out that Baker has yet to find a single cosponsor for his plan among his own party, the Republicans. The GOP, however, has made it clear that they have no plans to surrender a penny of their tax cuts or rich pork to spend on Gulf Coast recovery.

Baker has made overtures to the Congressional Black Caucus, which has it’s own recovery plan. It is a reasonable and appropriate proposal, including a 9/11-like victim restoration fund, health benefits for evacuees, tax credits up to $5,000 per family, an exemption for victims from bankruptcy and $50 million to ensure that evacuees can vote absentee.

Sadly, both Nagin and Governor Kathleen Blanco have ignored the efforts of the Black Caucus. Both forgot their own calls for real Federal assistance, and instead endorsed Baker's plan. It is an admission of defeat.

Unlike the victims of 9-11, who were all compensated for their losses out of a fear that lawsuits would bring about the collapse of the airline and insurance industries, the people of Katrina will receive pennies on the dollar, and a promise of first crack at any redeveloped property.

They are not, in the equations of the people in power, worth as much as the people of New York, not worth even as much as the busboys of the restaurant atop the twin towers.

What the Gulf Coast if facing is a second reconstruction. The first was purportedly about eradicating the plantation-and-slave culture of the south after the Civil War. It was, instead, an exercise in organized pillage and looting by the victors.

Katrina may have been an act of God and not an act of war, but people who have whetted their appetites on the rich contracts of the war on terror are not about to pass up an opportunity to profit wherever misfortune presents an opportunity.

So, the people of Katrina will be bought out from under their mortgages, losing all their equity, and their banks will be forced to take partial payment on their mortgages. And then the devastated land—23,000 square miles of the United States was ravaged by the storm---will be packaged for resale to developers.

The nation of the greatest generation is gone. The nation that mobilized millions to wage a war against evil that spanned the globe, and went on to rebuild all of Europe and Asia, that nation is just a memory, just another program on the History Channel. If we cannot save the Gulf Coast, then we are not longer a nation capable of great things.

Instead, we are a nation that cannot pay it’s bills, much less afford to rebuild the Gulf Coast. Our president is off doing his best imitation of Mussolini invading Ethiopia, and has forgotten his promises of September. Our members of congress are busy defending the tax cuts for their contributors and their pork barrel projects against any claims of the survivors of Katrina.

Welcome to the Second Reconstruction. In the first, the white population of the post-war South was pillaged of what little they had left at the end of that terrible and pointless war. The former slaves were promised freedom and the vote and 40 acres and a mule. Both communities came away destitute, and the former slaves were betrayed.

What everyone got instead was the enrichment of the carpetbaggers and scalawags, and a culture of corruption in government that enriched those in power. The rest got institutionalized poverty and racism.

Welcome to the second Reconstruction.

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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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