Time and Tides

Bush Administration

Tomorrow is the big anniversary of the landing of Katrina. Today the President landed in Mississippi; tomorrow he’s supposed to be in New Orleans. I assume that at some point he will take part in some highly stagecrafted representation of an actual presidential administration featuring Black Persons chosen for their ability to show awe and gratitude to massa the President. At some point the President will take off his jacket and roll up his shirtsleeves. He will talk a lot about how much money the feds have appropriated and about the government’s duty to rebuild the Gulf. It will all be bullshit.

You can read Paul Krugman’s column here.

Last September President Bush stood in New Orleans, where the lights had just come on for the first time since Katrina struck, and promised “one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen.” Then he left, and the lights went out again.

What happened next was a replay of what happened after Mr. Bush asked Congress to allocate $18 billion for Iraqi reconstruction. In the months that followed, congressmen who visited Iraq returned with glowing accounts of all the wonderful things we were doing there, like repainting schools and, um, repainting schools.

But when the Coalition Provisional Authority, which was running Iraq, closed up shop nine months later, it turned out that only 2 percent of the $18 billion had been spent, and only a handful of the projects that were supposed to have been financed with that money had even been started. In the end, America failed to deliver even the most basic repair of Iraq’s infrastructure; today, Baghdad gets less than seven hours of electricity a day.

And so it is along our own Gulf Coast.

The Bush administration likes to talk about all the money it has allocated to the region, and it plans a public relations blitz to persuade America that it’s doing a heck of a job aiding Katrina’s victims. But as the Iraqis learned, allocating money and actually using it for reconstruction are two different things, and so far the administration has done almost nothing to make good on last year’s promises.

It’s true that tens of billions have been spent on emergency relief and cleanup. But even the cleanup remains incomplete: almost a third of the hurricane debris in New Orleans has yet to be removed. And the process of going beyond cleanup to actual reconstruction has barely begun.

Most of you know all this already, but I say you can’t repeat it often enough.

Krugman goes on to outline what President Bush could have done, but didn’t do, to expedite Gulf Coast reconstruction.

It strikes me that another parallel between Iraq and the Gulf Coast is the Administration’s lack of urgency. After being in an all-fired toot to invade Iraq right now, the Bushies seemed to think they had all the time in the world to restore order, utilities and infrastructure. In fact, and I know they were warned about this, the clock was ticking as soon as Bush announced the “mission” was “accomplished.” The Bushies had a small window of time in which to restore order and government services before an insurgency picked up steam. The Bushies acted as if they had all the time in the world, while Iraqis went without water and electricity and basic law enforcement. And got pissed.

Early this year Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay of Knight Ridder reported that by late 2003 U.S. intelligence agencies were warning the Bush Administration that the insurgency was being fueled by “local conditions” and “deep grievances” against the occupation, and was getting out of control. The Bushies ignored this and continued to believe the violence was all coming from foreign fighters and “dead enders.”

I believe that the Bushies had already pissed away their “victory” then. It is possible that, had order been kept and services restored promptly after the “military phase” of the invasion ended, the White House might have obtained the result they say they want — a stable, democratic and America-friendly Iraq. But they failed to hear that ticking clock.

The same thing is true of the Gulf. The Bushies seem to think that people shouldn’t mind having their lives put on hold indefinitely. Meanwhile, countless small businesses are dead and gone because they couldn’t re-open, or if they did re-open they failed for lack of customers. Other residents and small business owners have permanently re-located. Families and marriages are strained. Jobless homeowners defaulted on mortgages, and now the foreclosures have begun.

Let’s see — how many vacation days has the President enjoyed since this time last year?

Much Katrina commentary has been about the Administration’s failure to address the problems of poverty. While I agree in substance, I think the best anti-poverty program would have been a vigorous and uncorrupted recovery program. You know, the kind of program that contracts the work to be done by local companies as much as possible, instead of by the President’s campaign contributors and cronies. A program that emphasizes employing residents and paying them a living wage, instead of importing illegal aliens and then stiffing them. A program in which most of the money allocated to reconstruction is applied to reconstruction instead of disappearing into the pockets of a pyramid of subcontractors. A program that helps people keep their homes (and the equity they’ve built up over the years) before the bank forecloses. A program to help small businesses ride out the dry spell before the customers came back. That would have helped reduce poverty a great deal.

But the way the Bushies are running Gulf reconstruction, it’s more of a pro-poverty program.

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  1. Avedon  •  Aug 28, 2006 @7:09 pm

    The first is of Mr. Bush after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, bullhorn in hand, feet planted firmly in the rubble of the twin towers. The second is of him aboard Air Force One, on his way from Crawford, Tex., to Washington, peering out the window at the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina thousands of feet below.

    Whenn is someone going to admit that they are both the same? Bush standing on the rubble of the WTC is no different than Bush dancing on the grave of thousands of dead. And he’s just kept righ ton doing it.

  2. Rebecca Allen, PhD, ARNP  •  Aug 28, 2006 @10:10 pm

    I think it’s worse than what you say. There’s a Tulane University historian, referenced I believe by both Krugman and Frank Rich, who says the failure to address post-Katrina needs is Republican policy, as much as incompetence. The idea is to keep the black population of NO, which is mostly Democratic, dispersed so that Louisiana becomes a fully Red state. Given everything else this cabal has done, I have no trouble believing this.