Thursday, September 15, 2005

When the levee breaks-Part 2

Josh Marshall is right: this is frightening.

President Bush will call tonight for an unprecedented federal commitment to rebuild New Orleans and other areas obliterated by Hurricane Katrina, putting the United States on pace to spend more in the next year on the storm's aftermath than it has over three years on the Iraq war, according to White House and congressional officials.

With the federal tab for Katrina already nearly quadruple the cost of the country's previous most expensive natural disaster cleanup, Bush plans to offer federal assistance to help flood victims find jobs, get housing and health care, and attend school, according to White House aides
Frightening not because such a recovery effort isn't wise, laudable, or precisely what government should do. Frightening because of who will be directing it. This is, after all, the same government that handed out $1 million dollars in relief and damage repair to people in Miami after a hurricane hit Florida; although it did no damage to Miami whatsoever.

This all has to be examined carefully. Here, for example, is the core of the problem:

In addition, aides said yesterday that nearly 2.5 million have registered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for help and that Education Department officials estimate the number of displaced students to be approaching 400,000.
These are not issues that can be solved with vouchers and tax credits for construction companies, or by suspending Davis-Bacon. But who really believes the "death tax" won't be back on the Senate agenda by January? As Josh has belatedly realized: intentions drive all.

We've been told that intentions will be good, so long as they are harnessed to capitalism, to the "invisible hand" which will magically make the right choices for us, unerringly guiding the narrative of our national life toward a happy ending as we simly enjoy the ride and keep our nose to the grind stone. But, as Barbara Ehrenreich has shown in her last two books, we've collectively ground our noses off, and have nothing to show for it. As New Orleans has revealed to us, our wealth and happiness is built on the invisible and silent misery of others. It's an ironic metaphor that the French Quarter and Jackson Square and some of the Garden District were spared in the floods, and may be reopened by Monday. The very places that sustained those areas, that gave them the culture tourists came to feed on and be fed by, may not recover for years, and will most certainly be the very places where Bush hopes to rebuild his political fortunes.

Anne Rice, just after the flooding began, published these words in the New York Times:

But to my country I want to say this: During this crisis you failed us. You looked down on us; you dismissed our victims; you dismissed us. You want our Jazz Fest, you want our Mardi Gras, you want our cooking and our music. Then when you saw us in real trouble, when you saw a tiny minority preying on the weak among us, you called us "Sin City," and turned your backs.
In fact, our neglect of our countrymen has become undeniable, even, of course, as our compassion is undeniable. The outpouring of help for people from Louisiana and Mississippi in a city of strangers like Houston, has amazed me. I honestly think we have been humbled by this, as a country.

But we still have a President who asks: "What went wrong?" Yet he means it as a challenge, not a query. He's bought his way out of Iraq by keeping it across the ocean, and by focussing on "supporting our troops." But even that meme was collapsing in the face of Cindy Sheehan. Now he will have to try to remove the human face from New Orleans by waving the magic wand of crony capitalism again.

Sometimes that works in American history; sometimes it doesn't. It shouldn't be allowed to work this time. The very attitudes that got us into this mess, cannot be used now to get us out.

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