Katrina Plus Ten

How time flies. Ten years after Hurricane Katrina, here are some developments I’m sure we all could have predicted ten years ago.

1. Hundreds of crooks and grifters soaked up Katrina relief money. Not all of it, but a lot of it.

2. Whites got a lot more help from relief money than blacks. Inequality really is built into the system. See also Why New Orleans’s Black Residents Are Still Underwater After Katrina.

3. Since so many schools were damaged in the storm, the for-profit school grifters moved in and took over the school system. Since then there’s been all kinds of  happy talk about how well this is going, along with the occasional story about New Orleans kids being taught that cave men lived alongside dinosaurs. A New Orleans mother and educator complains that what New Orleans really got was colonialism, not reform.

Party Tonight!

The virtual debate party begins here tonight at 8:30 eastern time, for the pre-debate warmup. BYOB. I’m taking suggestions for drinking games.

There are a number of articles out now that claim debates make no difference to elections, but Nate Silver’s analysis says that they often help the challenger. However, it could be argued that the post-debate spin was what made the difference, not the debate itself. For example, the numbers show that the Clinton-Dole debates in 1996 helped Dole just a little, and there’s no way. Dole was awful. I was embarrassed for him.

On the other hand, Nate’s numbers say that if the election were held today, Mitt’s chance of winning would be 2.7 percent. heh.

I’m not too worried about the spin. Why? Because righties are so out to lunch they couldn’t spin a dreidel on a turntable on a carousel. Right now they think they have a BOMBSHELL video of President Obama in 2007 telling an audience of black ministers that the federal government did not do enough to rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Seriously. That’s their idea of a controversy. I guess we’re supposed to remember that Brownie did a heck of a job.

Righties say Obama’s remarks were racist because he ties the not-rebuilding of New Orleans to racial discrimination. Um, yeah, that was pretty obvious. Although I suppose it could be argued that it wasn’t so much racist as an attempt to finesse Katrina for political gain by making a Democratic governor look bad. And that the federal dollars eventually offered to New Orleans mostly went into the pockets of contractors with ties to the Republican Party and were not spent on, you know, rebuilding. And that was just good old-fashioned corruption. But it’s still not likely the Bushies would have played games like that if the neighborhoods that were destroyed were mostly white. I think anyone but a white racist can see that.

See also “Breaking: Obama Is Black” and “Right-wing Racial Panic.”

Charity Nation

Last week I wrote that in the past two years more than a million American have volunteered to help restore the Gulf Coast, yet they aren’t making much of a dent. Today Douglas Brinkley writes in the Washington Post:

Over the past two years since Hurricane Katrina, I’ve seen waves of hardworking volunteers from nonprofits, faith-based groups and college campuses descend on New Orleans, full of compassion and hope.

They arrive in the city’s Ninth Ward to painstakingly gut houses one by one. Their jaws drop as they wander around afflicted zones, gazing at the towering mounds of debris and uprooted infrastructure.

After weeks of grueling labor, they realize that they are running in place, toiling in a surreal vacuum.

Two full years after the hurricane, the Big Easy is barely limping along, unable to make truly meaningful reconstruction progress. The most important issues concerning the city’s long-term survival are still up in the air. Why is no Herculean clean-up effort underway? Why hasn’t President Bush named a high-profile czar such as Colin Powell or James Baker to oversee the ongoing disaster? Where is the U.S. government’s participation in the rebuilding?

And why are volunteers practically the only ones working to reconstruct homes in communities that may never again have sewage service, garbage collection or electricity?

Eventually, the volunteers’ altruism turns to bewilderment and finally to outrage. They’ve been hoodwinked. The stalled recovery can’t be blamed on bureaucratic inertia or red tape alone. Many volunteers come to understand what I’ve concluded is the heartless reality: The Bush administration actually wants these neighborhoods below sea level to die on the vine.

This is a really good article, so please read it all. He concludes that the Bush Administration is deliberately discouraging people from re-populating New Orleans, although he doesn’t draw the conclusion that Digby and I and others have drawn — that the goal is to create a reliably Republican voting block in New Orleans by dispersing the mostly black and mostly poor parts of the population, which mostly votes for Democrats. We’ll see how that turns out in the future.

Brinkley thinks the goal is to prevent people from moving back to areas below sea level that are likely to be flooded again, especially since the feds don’t want to pay to erect better flood protection. That may be part of it, too. And it isn’t just New Orleans that’s not getting fixed. There are people still waiting for help in Alabama and Mississippi as well.

Whatever the reason for government non-action, the Katrina experience ought to put to rest the idea that private charities can replace government welfare, disaster relief and other “safety net” programs. I say ought to; empiricism hasn’t yet stopped a rightie from believing whatever he wants to believe. But for the rest of us, the Katrina experience reveals that sometimes you really do need government. It’s fine for volunteers to cook soup, clear brush, or help re-roof a house. But if electricity and sewage services are never restored to that house, what’s the point?

This web document, which appears to have been written before the Bush II Administration, asks us to imagine what might have happened had there been no federal response to Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Well, now we don’t have to imagine. (But speaking of Hurricane Andrew — George H.W. “Poppy” Bush was president in 1992, and the federal government was slow to respond then, also. Maybe the Bush family carries a “don’t respond to hurricanes” gene.)

Righties like private charities because they don’t want to pay taxes for “welfare.” The Bush Administration likes private charities so much, it diverts tax dollars to them. Michelle Goldberg wrote in Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism (pp. 107-108):

The diversion of billions of taxpayer dollars from secular social service organizations to such sectarian religious outfits has been one of the most underreported stories of the Bush presidency. Bush’s faith-based initiatives have become a spoils system for evangelical ministries, which are now involved in everything from prison programs and job training to teenage pregnancy prevention, supplanting the safety net that was supposed to catch all Americans. As a result of faith-based grants, a growing number of government-funded social service jobs explicitly refuse to hire Jews, gay people, and other undesirables; such discrimination is defended by the administration and its surrogates in the name of religious freedom. Bringing the disposed to Jesus Christ has become something very close to a domestic policy goal of the United States government. And all this has happened with far less notice or public debate than attended the removal of Terri Schaivo’s feeding tube or the halftime baring of Janet Jackson’s breast.

Goldberg writes that the term “compassionate conservative” comes from the title of a book by Marvin Olasky. This New York Times article from 2000 by Alison Mitchell explains how Olasky influenced Bush’s “thinking” on charity:

Mr. Rove also introduced Mr. Bush to Marvin Olasky—a proponent of 19th century-style charity over the entitlements of the welfare state—whom the governor calls “compassionate conservatism’s leading thinker” in a foreword to Mr. Olasky’s newest book.

Those introductions amounted to the first building blocks of the “compassionate conservative” platform Mr. Bush is running on today: tax incentives that he predicts will lead to an explosion of charitable giving; an emphasis on using religious institutions to deal with poverty, drug abuse and other social problems and a pledge to “usher in the responsibility era,” to replace the notion that “if it feels good, do it.”

The core concept of this platform is that while government has a responsibility to the needy, it does not have to provide the services itself. This approach can be seen in everything from Mr. Bush’s proposals for a tax credit to help people buy health insurance to his call to divert some Social Security payroll taxes into individual investment accounts.

I like the part about “19th century-style charity.” In early 19th century America, local laws usually made some provision to care for the indigent. Generally this worked well enough, especially in communities where everyone knew everyone else. As the nation became more urban and industrialized, and particularly with the great influx of immigrants, the old system proved inadequate. In the latter part of the 19th century private charities, most of them religious, sprang up by the tens of thousands, and for a time it was common for state and local governments to give cash grants to such charities to do social work rather than create public bureaucracies. How well this worked is debatable. African Americans often were excluded from receiving help, for example. In any event some major disasters — notably the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, the Dust Bowl, and the Great Depression — pretty much swamped the system that Olasky wants to go back to.

Although the hard-core Right vowed to dismantle the New Deal from its beginnings, as I’ve written before most Americans were fine with the New Deal, including Social Security. And in the 1950s they were fine with the GI Bill and mortgage subsidies that helped the Greatest Generation become way more affluent than their parents had been. Nor do I remember a great hue and cry from the general population against Medicare when it was created in 1965. However, Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” programs were perceived by white Americans as tax money being spent mostly on inner city blacks. (This was not the whole story, but white poverty in America tends to be rural and invisible.) All of a sudden white middle-class America swung Right and discovered the virtues of self-reliance. All those right wingers who had crusaded against the “welfare state” finally had a big enough audience to swing elections.

But in the 1960s white middle-class Americans thought of themselves as economically invincible, thanks in part to such New Deal reforms as the FSLIC (which would become insolvent during the Savings and Loan Crisis, which was brought about by right-wing faith in deregulation and free markets, but that’s getting ahead of the story). Going back to Depression conditions was unthinkable to a middle class American then.

But I’m not sure it’s quite so unthinkable now. It ain’t the 1960s any more, and I’m not just talking about patchouli oil. Middle class Americans don’t feel so invincible today. And I don’t think American whites are, on the whole, as dog-whistle racist as they were 40 years ago. I suspect Americans are less interested in shrinking government and drowning it in a bathtub than they used to be.

Stormy Weather

We’re in the latter half of August, which means we’re approaching the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Several prominent bloggers will be blogging about Katrina this week at The Campaign for America’s Future. For example, here is Rick Perlstein:

The second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is coming. We’ll be writing about it all week here at The Big Con. It’s the signal conservative failure, the sine qua non of all we warn about here at the blog. In fact, we could write about nothing else, and teach our lesson just as well: that conservatives can’t govern, because of their contempt for government.

It also allowed us to gauge our conservative fellow Americans’ moral level.

He recounts the many ways conservatives around the nation denied any responsibility for New Orleans, and concludes,

It was then that I was reconfirmed in a vague notion I’d been carrying in my mind for years. It concerns patriotism and its paradoxes. Conservatives, of course, claim to be patriotic. They claim to be the most patriotic souls of all. Sometimes—say it ain’t so!—they’ve been known to say other kinds of Americans are not patriotic, because they don’t believe the right things about preventive war, theology, and uncritical worship of the President (if the President is a Republican).

But patriotism has a simple definition: love of country and willingness to sacrifice for it.

This is, of course, something progressives have no problem doing. Because it means, simply, that all Americans are every other American’s concern. It means always acknowledging a national community, one to which we owe a constant obligation, parallel to our more local networks. It means that there is a certain level below which no American should be allowed to fall: in rights, in services, in solicitude from Washington. That no one who lives under that flag can ever be left behind. Even if they have the misfortune to live in a city that was hurt more by a hurricane than your city; and even if one city proves tragically less prepared to cope with a hurricane than another. That being an American means: step up. Our nation will sacrifice for you. That is what patriotism means.

Conservatives, on the other hand, were glad to let a certain group of Americans flounder and rot—to gloat that certain supposed local failings trumped national obligation, and use “clever” graphics and just-so stories to shirk that obligation.

It proves they aren’t patriots at all.

It’s like what Susan Sontag said about religion, Amrican style: It’s “more the idea of religion than religion itself.” American patriotism, rightie style, is more the idea of America than America itself. They love to wallow in an idea of America as glorious and righteous and rich and strong, but if America needs something from them — well, you know how that tune goes.

Digby also has a post up that documents how racist paranoia hindered rescue efforts.

The Associated Press reports today that more Gulf Coast residents are thinking seriously about suicide or showing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder as the recovery from Hurricane Katrina inches along. In a survey conducted six months after Katrina, only 3 percent of people in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama had contemplated suicide. That figure has now doubled, and is up to 8 percent in the New Orleans area.

In the past two years more than a million Americans have volunteered to work for Gulf Coast recovery. UPI reports,

A federal report estimates the work volunteers have contributed since Hurricane Katrina is worth $263 million to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

The Corporation for National and Community Service said about 550,000 people volunteered in the first year after the 20005 hurricane and 600,000 in the past year, The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune reported.

“The generosity of the American people has been overwhelming,” said Donald Powell, the federal coordinator for rebuilding the Gulf Coast.

That’s grand, but it hasn’t been enough. More than a thousand Alabamans who lost their homes in Katrina are still waiting for help, to get out of unsafe trailors or damanged, patched over homes, for example.

A 14-year-old named Jamie Ambers describes a recent trip to the Gulf:

In July, I took a weeklong trip with my church down to Louisiana and Mississippi to help rebuild. Not much has been done, so most of these places are still untouched. It left us in silence as we drove and walked through the ruined towns and cities.

For the majority of our trip, we stayed in the little town of D’Iberville, Miss. One family really touched my heart — a couple and their 10-year-old daughter. Like many others, they were living out of a trailer because their home was unlivable. It was moldy and the daughter had asthma. Since we were young, we weren’t allowed to do heavy construction. So we started by scraping paint off the outside of the house so the wood could be preserved.

The family cried tears of joy because we were the first people to come and help them. The father is disabled, yet nothing was being done for them.

We drove down streets on the Gulf of Mexico, which had beautiful views. But for four or five blocks, there was nothing. All that remained were the white concrete slabs of foundation. The houses had been swept away.

I’m so glad all these church groups are volunteering to rebuild the coast, but at the current rate Jamie will be middle aged before the work is done. Providing another hurricane doesn’t wipe out the same area, of course. Which is probable, given the haphazard way the levees are being rebuilt. Michael Grunwald writes for Time magazine:

Many of the same coastal scientists and engineers who sounded alarms about the vulnerability of New Orleans long before Katrina are warning that the Army Corps is poised to repeat its mistakes—and extend them along the entire Louisiana coast. If you liked Katrina, they say, you’ll love what’s coming next.

What happened to New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf was a failure of government at all levels — local, state, federal. But if we’d had real leadership at the federal level, we wouldn’t be preparing to write anniversary stories about what a mess the Gulf Coast still is. Real leadership at the federal level could have marshaled the nation’s resources and overridden local political squabbles and ineptitude that continue to get in the way.

But, of course, we have no leadership at the federal level. We have Bushies. They won’t lead, they won’t follow, and they won’t get out of the way.

Katrina Isn’t Over

Since Maha started today with a post about one government cover-up, I thought I’d post this item about another. I wrote about it last week on my own blog, but since then this story seems to have failed to penetrate the broader media. I’d hate for it to be missed. – Paul

What’s worse than having your house destroyed and being forced to wait for a FEMA trailer to live in?

Having to live in that FEMA trailer.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency since early 2006 has suppressed warnings from its own field workers about health problems experienced by hurricane victims living in government-provided trailers with levels of a toxic chemical 75 times the recommended maximum for U.S. workers, congressional lawmakers said yesterday.

A trail of e-mails obtained by investigators shows that the agency’s lawyers rejected a proposal for systematic testing of the levels of potentially cancer-causing formaldehyde gas in the trailers, out of concern that the agency would be legally liable for any hazards or health problems. As many as 120,000 families displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita lived in the suspect trailers, and hundreds have complained of ill effects.

Ironic, isn’t it, that we can now add George Bush to the list of leaders who gassed their own people?

It’s clear that, despite the embarrassment of Katrina, FEMA’s morally upstanding, gung-ho, do-what-it-takes-for-the-disaster-victim attitude is just as strong as ever:

On June 16, 2006, three months after reports of the hazards surfaced and a month after a trailer resident sued the agency, a FEMA logistics expert wrote that the agency’s Office of General Counsel “has advised that we do not do testing, which would imply FEMA’s ownership of this issue.” A FEMA lawyer, Patrick Preston, wrote on June 15: “Do not initiate any testing until we give the OK. . . . Once you get results and should they indicate some problem, the clock is running on our duty to respond to them.”

Of course, they did have reason to expect that, if they did do testing they’d find problems. Because problems existed.

FEMA tested no occupied trailers after March 2006, when it initially discovered formaldehyde levels at 75 times the U.S.-recommended workplace safety threshold and relocated a south Mississippi couple expecting their second child, the documents indicate. Formaldehyde, a common wood preservative used in construction materials such as particle board, can cause vision and respiratory problems; long-term exposure has been linked to cancer and higher rates of asthma, bronchitis and allergies in children.

One man in Slidell, La., was found dead in his trailer on June 27, 2006, after complaining about the formaldehyde fumes. In a conference call about the death, 28 officials from six agencies recommended that the circumstances be investigated and trailer air quality be subjected to independent testing. But FEMA lawyers rejected the suggestions, with one, Adrian Sevier, cautioning that further investigation not approved by lawyers “could seriously undermine the Agency’s position” in litigation.

“Yeah, people are dying, but before we do anything, we really need to check with the lawyers.” Nice. Of course, now FEMA has reversed itself and has ordered tests. Why?

On the eve of yesterday’s hearing by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, FEMA reversed course on the issue and said it has asked federal health officials to help conduct a new assessment of conditions in trailers under prolonged use.

How about that? Oversight. Imagine.

But revelation of the agency’s earlier posture — in documents withheld by FEMA until they were subpoenaed by Congress — attracted harsh bipartisan criticism.

Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) decried what he called FEMA’s indifference to storm victims and said the situation was “sickening.” He said the documents “expose an official policy of premeditated ignorance” and added that “senior officials in Washington didn’t want to know what they already knew, because they didn’t want the legal and moral responsibility to do what they knew had to be done.”

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) said FEMA had obstructed the 10-month congressional investigation and “mischaracterized the scope and purpose” of its own actions. “FEMA’s reaction to the problem was deliberately stunted to bolster the agency’s litigation position,” Davis said. “FEMA’s primary concerns were legal liability and public relations, not human health and safety.”

About 66,000 households affected by Katrina remain in the trailers at issue. FEMA has replaced 58 trailers and moved five families into rental units. The Sierra Club in May 2006 reported finding unsafe levels of formaldehyde in 30 out of 32 trailers it tested along the Gulf Coast, and some residents filed a class-action lawsuit last month in federal court in Baton Rouge against trailer manufacturers.

Three trailer residents who testified before the panel described frequent nosebleeds, respiratory problems and mysterious mouth and nasal tumors that they or family members have suffered. They also said veterinarians and pediatricians have warned that their pets and children may be experiencing formaldehyde-related symptoms.

You can see why the FEMA folks might want to make Congress subpoena the records instead of just handing them over. What a swell bunch of folks. They’re still doing a “heckuva job.”

Waste and Fraud, Inc.

These are the stories that embolden our enemies — John Solomon and Spencer S. Hsu write in today’s Washington Post that our government turned down “offers of manpower, supplies and expertise worth untold millions of dollars” from other nations after the Katrina disaster. And much of what wasn’t turned down, was wasted.

Eventually the United States also would fail to collect most of the unprecedented outpouring of international cash assistance for Katrina’s victims.

Allies offered $854 million in cash and in oil that was to be sold for cash. But only $40 million has been used so far for disaster victims or reconstruction, according to U.S. officials and contractors. Most of the aid went uncollected, including $400 million worth of oil. Some offers were withdrawn or redirected to private groups such as the Red Cross. The rest has been delayed by red tape and bureaucratic limits on how it can be spent.

In addition, valuable supplies and services — such as cellphone systems, medicine and cruise ships — were delayed or declined because the government could not handle them. In some cases, supplies were wasted.

The struggle to apply foreign aid in the aftermath of the hurricane, which has cost U.S. taxpayers more than $125 billion so far, is another reminder of the federal government’s difficulty leading the recovery. Reports of government waste and delays or denials of assistance have surfaced repeatedly since hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck in 2005.

Let’s see — I dimly remember that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was put in charge of coordinating assistance coming from other countries — yes, here we are: The Associated Press, September 1, 2005:

With offers from the four corners of the globe pouring in, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has decided “no offer that can help alleviate the suffering of the people in the afflicted area will be refused,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Thursday.

According to the Think Progress Katrina Timeline, on September 1 — the same day this news story was released — Condi Rice was at a tennis match. “Rice, [in New York] on three days’ vacation to shop and see the U.S. Open, hitting some balls with retired champ Monica Seles at the Indoor Tennis Club at Grand Central.” [New York Post]. She was also seen shopping for shoes —

“Just moments ago at the Ferragamo on 5th Avenue, Condoleeza Rice was seen spending several thousands of dollars on some nice, new shoes (we’ve confirmed this, so her new heels will surely get coverage from the WaPo’s Robin Givhan). A fellow shopper, unable to fathom the absurdity of Rice’s timing, went up to the Secretary and reportedly shouted, ‘How dare you shop for shoes while thousands are dying and homeless!’” [Gawker]

Those were some damn expensive shoes.

By September 2 Condi managed to release a statement thanking the international community for its its “offers to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina.”

Rice said every contribution is important and that over the past few days she has been in contact with a wide range of officials from other nations and international organizations to respond to the offers of support. The State Department, she said, is coordinating closely with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to match these offers of support with the needs “on the ground.“

Let’s go back to the WaPo article to see what happened on September 3.

In another instance, the Department of Homeland Security accepted an offer from Greece on Sept. 3, 2005, to dispatch two cruise ships that could be used free as hotels or hospitals for displaced residents. The deal was rescinded Sept. 15 after it became clear a ship would not arrive before Oct. 10. The U.S. eventually paid $249 million to use Carnival Cruise Lines vessels.

And while television sets worldwide showed images of New Orleans residents begging to be rescued from rooftops as floodwaters rose, U.S. officials turned down countless offers of allied troops and search-and-rescue teams. The most common responses: “sent letter of thanks” and “will keep offer on hand,” the new documents show.

Overall, the United States declined 54 of 77 recorded aid offers from three of its staunchest allies: Canada, Britain and Israel, according to a 40-page State Department table of the offers that had been received as of January 2006.

You’ll get a kick out of this bit:

In one exchange, State Department officials anguished over whether to tell Italy that its shipments of medicine, gauze and other medical supplies spoiled in the elements for weeks after Katrina’s landfall on Aug. 29, 2005, and were destroyed. “Tell them we blew it,” one disgusted official wrote. But she hedged: “The flip side is just to dispose of it and not come clean. I could be persuaded.”

Sometimes the foreign governments read about the waste in the newspapers. Ryan Parry reported in the Mirror (UK) that millions of dollars worth of rations got caught up in red tape and wasted.

Instead tons of the badly needed NATO ration packs, the same as those eaten by British troops in Iraq, has been condemned as unfit for human consumption.

And unless the bureaucratic mess is cleared up soon it could be sent for incineration.

One British aid worker last night called the move “sickening senselessness” and said furious colleagues were “spitting blood”.

The food, which cost British taxpayers millions, is sitting idle in a huge warehouse after the Food and Drug Agency recalled it when it had already left to be distributed.

Scores of lorries headed back to a warehouse in Little Rock, Arkansas, to dump it at an FDA incineration plant.

This is coming out now because a group called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) obtained documentation — cables, emails and letters — through the Freedom of Information Act and painstakingly put them together. You can read some of the documents they gathered on the CREW web site.

The WaPo article truly is jaw dropping. The U.S. received offers of cash from 150 nations and foreign organizations totaling $454 million, but our government managed to collect only $126 million. In many cases the foreign governments eventually gave up trying to give money to the State Department and handed it to the Red Cross instead. But then Kuwait sent $400 million worth of oil, thinking we could use it because of damage to refineries, but the U.S. sold the oil for cash. Millions of dollars allocated to public schools and state colleges have yet to be used. I infer that many of these delays are as much the fault of state governments as the federal government. But then there’s this:

The first concrete program officials announced in October 2005 — a $66 million contract to a consortium of 10 faith-based and charity groups to provide social services to displaced families — so far has assisted less than half the 100,000 victims it promised to help, the project director said.

The group, led by the United Methodist Committee on Relief, has spent $30 million of the money it was given to aid about 45,000 evacuees. Senate investigators are questioning some terms in the contract proposal, including a provision to pay consultants for 450 days to train volunteers for the work the committee was paid to do.

Jim Cox, the program director, said that the project is “right on track” but that its strategy of relying on volunteers foundered because of burnout and high turnover. He acknowledged that more people need help than are receiving it and said the program will be extended to March to use available funds.

You’d think that with $66 million they could have paid people to do the work that was needed rather than ask for volunteers. Come to think of it, paying local people who had lost jobs might have been part of the program. It’s one thing to ask volunteers to come in for a weekend to lick stamps or man the soup line. But where do you find people who can afford to put in long hours for weeks or months without getting paid?

Put another way, what planet do these people live on?

But WaPo‘s article is not the only one in the papers today about gawd-awful wastes of U.S. taxpayer dollars. James Glanz of the New York Times describes similar wastes on the other side of the world, in Iraq.

In a troubling sign for the American-financed rebuilding program in Iraq, inspectors for a federal oversight agency have found that in a sampling of eight projects that the United States had declared successes, seven were no longer operating as designed because of plumbing and electrical failures, lack of proper maintenance, apparent looting and expensive equipment that lay idle.

The United States has previously admitted, sometimes under pressure from federal inspectors, that some of its reconstruction projects have been abandoned, delayed or poorly constructed. But this is the first time inspectors have found that projects officially declared a success — in some cases, as little as six months before the latest inspections — were no longer working properly.

The article goes on to describe airports, hospitals, water refineries, and other vital facilities newly built by our tax dollars that are already falling into ruin. And note that this group only inspected facilities in the relatively safe areas. In several cases expensive equipment and facilities were never used by the Iraqis, apparently because the equipment and facilities were not what they wanted. Often the equipment and facilities were considerably different from what the Iraqis had before, and they were turned over to Iraqis without instruction or funds for maintenance.

“What ultimately makes any project sustainable is local ownership from the beginning in designing the project, establishing the priorities,” Mr. Barton said. “If you don’t have those elements it’s an extension of colonialism and generally it’s resented.”

Mr. Barton, who has closely monitored reconstruction efforts in Iraq and other countries, said the American rebuilding program had too often created that resentment by imposing projects on Iraqis or relying solely on the advice of a local tribal chief or some “self-appointed representative” of local Iraqis.

In one example, a hospital was built with a sophisticated system for delivering oxygen. But the Iraqi medical staff didn’t trust the system and continued to use oxygen tanks, as they had before.

In other words, the plans for this hospital were drawn up by American companies (the article doesn’t name the contractors, but we know who they are, don’t we?), approved in Washington, and no one thought to sit down with the Iraqi doctors and hospital administrators to find out what they wanted.

There’s incompetence, of course. But there’s also arrogance. The way Bushies deal with Iraq and New Orleans reminds me of those 19th-century white missionaries who traveled far to bring the blessings of civilizations and Christianity to simple brown natives everywhere, and in doing so opened the way to wholesale plundering of whatever the simple brown natives had that white people wanted. Colonialism, paternalism, racism — it’s all there.

Expecting months of work to be done by volunteers is a case in point. Think about it; the faith-based charities who got $66 million paid money to consultants but not to workers. Their notion was that there would be lots of well-to-do people who don’t need jobs and wages who would volunteer to take care of people who do need jobs and wages — they’d probably prefer jobs and wages to handouts, I bet — after which the well-to-do could retire to their country clubs and complain that those people are too lazy to help themselves. Except this time there weren’t enough wealthy altruists to go around. Meanwhile, millions of tax dollars are quietly pocketed by contractors and consultants who deliver remarkably little in value for what they are paid.

Why did it not even occur to anyone in the Bush Administration or the faith-based charities to set up WPA-style programs and pay the jobless and dislocated people of New Orleans to do the relief and reconstruction work that needed doing? And why did it not even occur to the Bushies and their contractors to talk to Iraqi doctors what they wanted in their hospitals before they started building?

I’m sure a big part of the answer is that the Bushies see “projects” like Iraq and the Gulf Coast primarily as opportunities for rewarding corporate donors. What people actually need is way down the priority list.

I could go on, but I think I will flop about and sputter helplessly for a while.

NOLA: Bush’s Plan Is Working!

Thomas F. Schaller writes in Salon:

A key reason for the troubles facing Blanco and her party is the massive out-migration of New Orleans-area Democrats in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The storm, and the administration’s botched handling of it, literally drove Democrats out of Louisiana. Though a perfect estimate is impossible, analysts who follow the state closely project the net decline for Democrats in New Orleans Parish to be somewhere between 30,000 and 60,000 voters. In 2002, Blanco beat Jindal by 55,000 votes statewide, but nearly all of that margin came from the city. She won Orleans Parish by 50,000 votes. “It’s doubtful that there are enough Democrats left to provide the wide margin of victory in Orleans Parish that Democrats have traditionally relied upon for victory in statewide elections,” says Bob Mann, who served as former Sen. Breaux’s state director and, later, Blanco’s communications director. “That means candidates like Blanco will have to increase their margins elsewhere, in regions of the state that aren’t as reliably Democratic. That could make for a very tough election season for almost any Democrat running statewide, but even tougher for someone with the governor’s dismal poll numbers.” It may also mean that Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu will be out of a job come November 2008.

See? The GOP saw Katrina as an opportunity to make New Orleans whiter and, therefore, redder. And it’s working.

As Gallup’s latest survey of partisan self-identification reveals, largely because of Katrina Louisiana is the only state in which Democrats lost ground relative to Republicans since 2005, reclassifying it from a Democratic-leaning state to “competitive.” And the news could get worse for Democrats. Demographers expect the post-Katrina exodus to cost Louisiana, which was already losing population before the hurricane, one House seat following the 2010 census and reapportionment. With Democrats presently holding just two of the delegation’s seven seats, redistricting may cost them one of their two. They already lost one to a party switch and may lose another to the federal judicial system. …

…Along with Florida, Louisiana had been different, a state where multiracial coalitions propelled Clinton, Landrieu and Blanco to victories. In Louisiana, a black population of 32.5 percent made victory for Democrats possible. The post-Katrina question is whether the black population will remain large enough for Democrats to continue building such coalitions, especially if there is a backlash among white voters in the noncoastal portions of the state toward Blanco, controversial New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and state Democrats in general. Recent polls, however, are not promising, and they also show how resolutely racial party identification has become in the Deep South. The blacker the state, the more Republican the whites are.

Despite the “heckuva job” performance of the Bush administration during Katrina, the president’s approval rating among whites in Louisiana — 57 percent — is tied for second best in the nation with Georgia and Idaho, trailing only Mississippi’s 61 percent. The link between whiteness and Republicanism in the South is now so strong that it can even withstand a Category 5 hurricane. Now, without the tipping-point power of the Orleans Parish black electorate, Louisiana may well become the new Mississippi, which has two Republican senators and a Republican governor and hasn’t given its electoral votes to a Democrat since Jimmy Carter.

I wrote awhile back about how white racists hurt themselves almost as much as they hurt others. They’ll accept economic stagnation and a poorer quality of life generally for themselves rather than accept racial equality. Unfortunately their backwardness is hurting the rest of us, as well.

NOLA News: Revelry vs. Reality

Director Spike Lee was just named a winner of the annual George Polk Awards for his HBO documentary, “When the Levees Broke,” the Associated Press says. Appropriate, considering today is Fat Tuesday — Mardi Gras — a day associated with New Orleans.

Mary Foster of the Associated Press reports that NOLA’s Mardi Gras revelers have traded revelry for reality. Last year’s Mardi Gras parades were scaled down, but not this year’s. Tracy Smith reports for CBS News:

The celebration has been bigger than last year, with more than 700,000 people coming to the party, which ends at midnight.

A lot of tourists come for the music. And one of the few signs of recovery in the 18 months since Hurricane Katrina is that many musicians have come back home, thanks in large part to a housing program designed to keep and attract them.

Musicians seem to be an exception. About a third of the city’s residents plan to leave. Bill Walsh reported for the February 7 Times-Picayune:

Congressional frustration with the pace of Gulf Coast hurricane recovery exploded Tuesday with one lawmaker calling Louisiana’s Road Home housing program “a joke” and others berating the Bush administration for limiting public housing. …

… Committee Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., went so far as to issue an apology to the residents of Louisiana and Mississippi for what he called “a complete failure of the administration here in Washington to respond to that crisis.”

Pursuing that theme, the committee hammered away at Roy Bernardi, deputy secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, for plans to demolish four major New Orleans public housing complexes with 3,900 apartments rather than rehabilitate them. …

… But the level of distrust of the federal agency became clear during a break in the proceedings when New Orleans public housing residents confronted Bernardi across the witness table.

They said HUD was overstating the damage to public housing and that many apartments could be reopened in short order. They also said that $1,100 disaster rental vouchers, which expire Sept. 30, are of limited use in the New Orleans area, where rents have skyrocketed because of limited availability.

“Why are you playing politics with our lives,” said Sharon Sears Jasper, a former resident of the St. Bernard housing complex. “Why are you destroying livable homes? Why do you want to make us homeless?”

And then there are the schools. The New Orleans public school system was struggling before Katrina. After, it was devastated.

Less than a month after Hurricane Katrina, the state of Louisiana received a $20.9 million No Child Left Behind grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The catch? The grant was to reopen charter schools, not open enrollment public schools. In addition, the state announced it would establish ten new charter schools.

The result is described by Jan Resseger, The Chicago Defender:

In America public education is supposed to be provided for everybody, but during this past January in New Orleans, 300 children languished out of school on a waiting list because the Louisiana Recovery School District (RSD) had neither buildings nor teachers to serve them.

Only when the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and local attorney Tracie Washington filed separate lawsuits on February 1, under federal law and Louisiana’s compulsory attendance act, did the RSD pledge to open two additional schools for the beginning of second semester, February 5.

It is now clear that a humanitarian crisis in the aftermath of a hurricane is a poor time to experiment with school governance.

Aided by a $20.9 million federal charter school grant that came on September 30, 2005, less than one month after the storm, the Louisiana Legislature used Hurricane Katrina as an excuse for state takeover and a massive charter school experiment in New Orleans.

Today, over half of New Orleans’s 54 public schools are charter schools. From a recent editorial in The Harbus, an Harvard University independent student publication (emphasis added):

New Orleans currently has the highest percentage of charter schools of any urban school district in the country. With over half of its 54 public schools operating as charter schools, New Orleans has become a focal point of the education reform movement in the United States. If the Crescent City can emerge from Katrina with a more effective school system than it had prior to the storm, two things will happen. On the micro level, the children of the city will benefit tremendously. On the macro level, proponents of charter schools will have the large-scale example they need to push increased reform in other districts around the country.

Back to Jan Resseger:

Since the hurricane, parents have been required to apply to a fragmented system: a few selective admissions public schools left to be operated by the New Orleans School Board, 31 independent charter schools, and 18 schools opened by the RSD itself only when too few potential operators filed applications to launch charter schools. While Robin Jarvis, the RSD superintendent, blames today’s dysfunction on the condition of the public schools pre-Katrina, the real problem is that Louisiana and the RSD never planned to manage school operations.

That the RSD was unprepared to run a school system was clear in July 2006, when its ten person staff included a public relations liaison but no special education coordinator. After Louisiana laid off and then fired all 4,500 of New Orleans’ teachers who had been working in classrooms the day before Katrina struck, the RSD began advertising for 500 teachers only in late July 2006, after those best qualified had already taken jobs in charter schools or outside New Orleans. A shortage of teachers has plagued the RSD since last September. Today 33 percent of teachers hired by the RSD are uncertified.

So much for the education reform movement. The New Orleans “reformers” seem to be following the Iraq model — lay off everybody with job experience and knowledge and replace them with ideologues and hacks.

Other school districts across the Gulf Coast have scrambled successfully to welcome children back to the schools they attended pre-Katrina. A better plan for New Orleans would have been to keep one coherent system, retain New Orleans’ pre-Katrina teachers, open schools in all neighborhoods, and plan for slightly more schools than required for children immediately expected to return. The only side effect would have been smaller classes in under-enrolled schools until children moved back to fill the seats.

Now, after Louisiana granted charters and selective admissions schools the right to cap class sizes, the RSD is in the position of trying to pressure those “protected” schools to accept more children to reduce appalling over-crowding in RSD schools. Meanwhile the RSD has lacked the capacity to get other rotting buildings repaired.

Becky Bohrer of the Associated Press reported this month that the RSD is trying to attract new teachers by appealing to their sense of adventure:

Wanted: Idealistic teachers looking for a Peace Corps-style adventure in a city in distress.

Some of New Orleans’ most desperate, run-down schools are beset with a severe shortage of teachers, and they are struggling mightily to attract candidates by appealing to their sense of adventure and desire to make a difference. Education officials are even offering to help new teachers find housing. …

… After the storm, some of the worst of the worst public schools were put under state control, and those are the ones finding it particularly hard to attract teachers. The 19 schools in the state-run Recovery School District have 8,580 students and about 540 teachers, or about 50 fewer than they need — a shortage so severe that about 300 students who want to enroll have been put on a waiting list. …

…At Rabouin High, which has about 600 students, the halls echo with the shouts of teenagers who should be in class. Many have to share textbooks, if they have them at all. Doors lack knobs or, in the case of a girls’ bathroom, don’t close completely. Students have to pass through a metal detector to get inside, and guards patrol the halls.

About half of Rabouin’s 34 teachers are first-year educators or new to Louisiana.

Earlier this month the American Federation of Teachers called for a protest.

“Where will these children receive an education?” asked Ed McElroy, president of the 1.3-million-member AFT, a national affiliate of NYSUT. McElroy was responding to reports in the New Orleans Times-Picayune that at least 300 children seeking spots in the city’s so-called public schools have been turned away – “wait-listed” – and told that the campuses “would have no room.”

“These recent events make a mockery of the promise, made soon after Hurricane Katrina, that a state takeover of New Orleans’ public schools would create a ‘new birth of excellence and opportunity'” for children in the city’s long-troubled school system, McElroy charged.

He said the 17 schools that are part of the state-run Recovery School District are resorting to the same tactics – enrollment caps and selective admission standards – that many of the locally operated charter and non-charter schools have long used to turn away applicants.

McElroy noted that a charter school group called “Teach NOLA” recently sponsored a number of teacher recruitment ads on several Web sites, including Job.net and Idealist.org, that included the proviso: “Certified teachers will teach in charter schools, and non-certified teachers will teach in the state-run Recovery School District.”

It seems some children are being left behind.