From USA Today, though there are scores of other sources that tell the same story:
Nearly half of New Orleans was still under water when President Bush stood in the Crescent City’s historic Jackson Square and swore he would “do what it takes” to rebuild the communities and lives that had been laid to waste two weeks before by Hurricane Katrina.Yeah yeah yeah. He did the same thing at Ground Zero: came in for the photo shoot, did some posturing, made a lot of promises, then went back home and forgot all about it, except for the parts he and his cronies could usefully exploit. (See also: Mission Accomplished.)
“Our goal is to get the work done quickly,” the president said.He promised to spend federal money wisely and accountably. And he vowed to address the poverty exposed by the government’s inadequate Katrina response “with bold action.”
The victims of 9/11, including the firefighters he posed with, didn’t get anything like the promised help. Meanwhile, Bush used 9/11 as his excuse to go to war with Iraq (none of the 9/11 suicide bombers were Iraqis), take out Saddam Hussein (who had nothing to do with the attack), and bring in appallingly repressive programs and legislation that don’t actually address any of the real security issues.Which, as they’d tell me in New Orleans, is about par for the course.
“Not everything can be accomplished in 365 days” does not excuse “Next to nothing has been done in 365 days.”
A year after the storm, the federal government has proven slow and unreliable in keeping the president’s promises. “This is not something that is going to be able to be accomplished in 365 days,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.
“The president has set the federal government on the course to fulfill its obligations.”You know the guy in the meeting who, when asked to report on the progress he’s made on his part of the project, says “I’ve made some preliminary phone calls”? You know how that actually means he hasn’t done a damned thing since the previous meeting? “Setting the federal government on the course to fulfill its obligations” is just like that.
Ever wonder how well-connected businessmen siphon off public monies? One of the most popular ways is to enter into lucrative government contracts to provide goods and services, and then not deliver, or deliver stuff that’s not to spec. Their government buddies who gave them the contracts in the first place omit to prosecute for non-performance. A lot of Katrina-related contracted-for relief aid seems to have worked that way.
The job of clearing debris left by the storm remains unfinished, and has been plagued by accusations of fraud and price gouging. Tens of thousands of families still live in trailers or mobile homes, with no indication of when or how they will be able to obtain permanent housing. Important decisions about rebuilding and improving flood defenses have been delayed. And little if anything has been done to ensure the welfare of the poor in a rebuilt New Orleans. …
CLEANUP: The job still isn’t done. More than 100 million cubic yards of debris have been cleared from the region affected by Katrina. So far the government has spent $3.6 billion, a figure that might have been considerably smaller had the contracts for debris removal been subject to competitive bidding.Working through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA gave each of four companies contracts worth up to $500 million to clear hurricane debris. This spring government inspectors reported that the companies—AshBritt Inc. of Pompano Beach, Fla., Phillips and Jordan Inc. of Knoxville, Tenn., Ceres Environmental Services Inc. of Brooklyn Park, Minn. and ECC Operating Services Inc. of Burlingame, Calif.—charged the government as much as four to six times what they paid their subcontractors who actually did the work.
Not that the feds did all that much to get them out.
HOUSING: In his Jackson Square speech, Bush said his goal was to “get people out of shelters by the middle of October.” By and large that goal was met, with all but a few thousand of 270,000 Katrina evacuees out of shelters by mid-October.
They stonewalled as long as they could.
But that didn’t solve the monumental housing problem created by Katrina. Most of the people who had been in shelters went to hotel rooms, with FEMA picking up the bill. About 50,000 families who had evacuated to other cities were promised a year of rent assistance, though in April FEMA began cutting off some who the agency said did not qualify for the program. More than 100,000 families moved into trailers or mobile homes parked either in the yards of their damaged houses or in makeshift compounds.
Meanwhile, FEMA flailed and flip-flopped on its contracting policies for trailers, mobile homes and other temporary shelter. The first big contracts were handed out non-competitively to four well-connected companies—Shaw Group, Bechtel Corp., CH2M Hill Inc. and Fluor Corp. Then in October FEMA director R. David Paulison promised to rebid the contracts after Congress complained that smaller companies, especially local and minority-owned firms, should have a chance to compete for the work.A month after that, FEMA said the new contracts would not be awarded until February. That deadline came and went, and then in March a FEMA official announced that the contracts weren’t going to be rebid after all.
But they couldn’t hold out forever.
A week later FEMA reversed itself again, giving up to $3.6 billion in business to small and minority-owned firms. “I promised Congress I was going to bid them out, and that’s what I’m doing,” Paulison said.
First: Bush & Co. haven’t made it a policy elsewhere to refuse to help reconstruct homes in disaster-prone areas elsewhere, from the California hillsides to the Florida coast. They were downright lavish with hurricane aid in Florida, a few months before the 2004 elections. “No rebuilding in flood plains” has definitely not been a general policy.
REBUILDING: Despite Bush’s Jackson Square promise to “undertake a close partnership with the states of Louisiana and Mississippi, the city of New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities,” state and local officials had a hard time reaching a deal for federal aid to help residents rebuild their ruined homes. In January the administration rejected a $30 billion plan for Louisiana as too expensive. The White House also balked at subsidizing the reconstruction of homes in flood plains, a policy that would have excluded all but a small fraction of Louisiana homeowners whose houses were significantly damaged.
Second: There is going to be a city at the mouth of the Mississippi. The amount of bulk freight that travels over our system of navigable rivers would be enough to guarantee that, though the main reason is of course that New Orleans wants to be there. Given that the city’s going to exist, parts of it will be built on floodplain. Those areas are not going to stand empty. They will continue to be vulnerable to flooding. That’s what the levees and other flood-control structures are all about.
We can’t rebuild New Orleans without attending to those areas—which, let me repeat, are not going to stay vacant. All we can do by refusing to help is further oppress the poor, afflict the helpless and miserable, and fail to treat others as we would like to be treated.Bush doesn’t care about the drowned districts. Nobody who’s important to him lived there, and there’s no glory to be had from fixing a mistake he was responsible for. The inhabitants aren’t rich and powerful, and they aren’t going to sing his praises no matter what he does. But last time I looked, those things weren’t supposed to be the measure of our national willingness to help each other out.
You can save a lot of grant money simply by delaying handing it out. Over the course of a year, people die, or become incapacitated, or lose their necessary documentation, or make other arrangements. You can save a lot of grant money just by delaying giving it out, because the weakest and most marginal of the entitled recipients will drop out. Of course, they’re also the ones who need it most.
The state finally won funding in July for the $9 billion ‘Road Home’ program, which pays homeowners up to $150,000 either to repair their damaged property or rebuild elsewhere in the state. People who leave the state are eligible for a 60% buyout. The money, which is being distributed through escrow accounts to prevent fraud, is just becoming available a year after the hurricane.
Yeah. They’ve been that way about real anti-terrorism security measures, too. A million bucks for photo ops, but not one cent for prevention.
LEVEES: The federal government hasn’t broken any promises with regard to flood protection—mostly because it has assiduously avoided making any.
Global warming—which is happening, which is not a theory—is going to mean more and bigger hurricanes over a longer hurricane season. It makes perfect sense to plan a flood protection system that will resist a Category 5 hurricane.
White House Katrina recovery czar Donald Powell has said that the administration intends to wait for the completion of a $20 million U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study, due in December 2007, before it decides whether to enhance the flood protection system in southern Louisiana enough to resist a Category 5 hurricane.
We’ve seen this one before. You know why one of Bush’s first official actions, when the magnitude of the disaster became known, was to state for the record that no one could have foreseen it? It’s because they had been warned about exactly that possibility, in detail, long before; and they’d nevertheless stripped funding for levees and other flood control measures in that area.
A preliminary draft of the study released in July was widely criticized because it omitted five projects that state officials say should be started right away.
There is no guarantee whatsoever that New Orleans won’t get hit again this year.
Protecting wetlands means saying “no” to wealthy real-estate developers with coastal projects in mind; whereas there’d be all kinds of contracts to hand out if you built a giant levee along hundreds of miles of Louisiana coast.
At the same time, it focused on a massive levee that would stretch hundreds of miles along the Louisiana coast while paying only lip service to the critical task of shoring up the state’s vanishing wetlands, which provide a natural barrier to hurricane flooding.
Well, funny thing. Residents don’t want to build in areas that are excessively vulnerable to flooding. Could be they really do understand the issues.
The federal government has committed about $6 billion since Katrina to repair and improve the Big Easy’s existing levee system. The first goal was to bring the levee system back to “pre-Katrina” levels by the beginning of the 2006 hurricane season on June 1. That goal was largely achieved. The next step will be to make improvements that will bring the system up to what is variously called Category 3 or 100-year protection by 2010. But planners and state and local officials say that the levees need to be brought up to Category 5 protection, a level that would cost up to $30 billion, if people are to have confidence moving back to areas destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
POVERTY: Bush offered three proposals in Jackson Square to help combat poverty around the Gulf Coast region. Two of them never went anywhere—the creation of “worker recovery accounts” that would help evacuees find work by paying for school, job training or child care while they looked for employment, and an Urban Homesteading Act that would give poor people building sites for new homes that they would either finance themselves or obtain through programs such as Habitat for Humanity. A third proposal, the creation of a Gulf Opportunity zone, did come to pass. Signed by President Bush in December, the legislation gives $8.7 billion in tax breaks to developers of low-income housing projects, small businesses and individuals affected not just by Katrina but by hurricanes Rita and Wilma as well.It’s a tax break, Rita hit Texas, and Wilma hit Florida. In this, at least, the man is consistent.