The Daily Sandwich

"We have to learn the lesson that intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish." -Sir Karl Popper

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States


Sunday, August 20, 2006

The tragic legacy of Katrina

With the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaching, there will be plenty of media coverage. "One year later" stories are already being published, in fact, and from the look of them it won't be positive pre-election coverage for the ruling party. But that can't be helped-- there really isn't a way to spin the incompetence, fraud, and simple disinterest that have defined the federal response.

In fact, this is an area in which the right-wing echo chamber is especially weak. Pundits are still clinging to lines like it's all the fault of local officials, which was plausible at the time, but not a year later. Then there's the (not even subtle) racism of arguing that the populace couldn't be helped because they were all drug-addicted gang members. The usual anti-federal government schtick doesn't work too well when your party's in charge, and it was further undercut by the common knowledge of BushCo incompetence at FEMA.

From the article:

*A June report by the Government Accountability Office concluded that FEMA wasted between $600 million and $1.4 billion on "improper and potentially fraudulent individual assistance payments."

*The [cleanup] 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.

*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.

*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.

*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.

*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.

And there you have it. Katrina was just one more way for the GOP to nickel and dime the working classes while giving massive handouts to corporations, and (keep in mind that the administration was regularly cutting levee funding prior to Katrina) reject the ounce of prevention and the pound of cure.