Everyone should read this article and be outraged at what GWB is doing (if you are not already). It just doesn't make sense. Any of it.
Why can't there just be so goddamned good news once in a while? Last night on the NBC Nightly News (which just today won the Peabody Award for their hurricane coverage), they ran a story about the lack of mental health personnel in New Orleans and its effect on children. That's the children. My wife was in tears. Not much mention was made of the effect that all this has had, will have, and continues to have on the adults. I think most everyone I have seen in the last 7 months down in New Orleans is living with some level of post-traumatic stress disorder. How could you not be? I know that I am. And I live 1300 miles away now. Finally I feel like things are getting better for me, but I binge drink now more than I have in the last 6 years. I can't quit smoking just yet. And I have a counselor working with me.
Our newspaper here in Easton has an article almost every day about the next fiasco or governmental pronouncement by FEMA. It never ever says something like, "The federal, state, and local governments have come to an agreement that New Orleans, despite its flaws, is a vital part of our country which needs to be saved and all monies that have heretofore been requested will now be delivered along with levees of suitable design and strength to avoid future mishaps." That could be the greatest headline of all. Unless there was a follow up article stating, "All persons who evacuated New Orleans or who were evacuated from New Orleans who would like to come back will be issued tickets back. At the terminal of choice a welcoming committee will invite them for a snack and some drinks and then escort them to a vehicle (limo, bus, cab, horse and buggy, etc.) which will drop them off in front of their FEMA/ACE/LRC/CDBG (more about this)/BNOBC/privately/insurance proceeds built home." That would be good news.
Here are the storiesthat we do get (randomly selected from the papers I have collected in my attic office space):
2/13/06 -(the day after we had 18+ inches of snow) Katrina victims begin to despair
2/14/06 - Court lets hotel evict evacuees
2/17/06 - Katrina devastates Catholic diocese
We did get one good news story about college kids helping out. That was nice. Of course, it wasn't the government helping.
So the point is that today, I was reading this article from Quin Hillyer. I didn't know a lot of this.
Few principles are more important to conservatives than the one that insists on assigning responsibility where it's due. The claim that the feds, rather than Mother Nature, victimized Louisianans is not merely a criticism of what is generally acknowledged as an utterly inept response to the storm after it hit. Such criticism is of course true, but it is for these purposes only of minor relevance. Instead, the most important and most misplaced assignment of culpability comes from the Bush administration and far too many Beltway conservatives who seem to blame Louisiana Katrina victims for building in a flood plain.Most of the country's big city's are built in coastal areas. I wonder if there is cause for concern or if we are just the sacrificial lamb.
Robert Bea, a geotechnical engineer at the University of California at Berkeley and a key consultant for the National Science Foundation's post-Katrina study team, told the Picayune this about the Corps: "In my view, in the case of the 17th Street, London Avenue and even the Industrial Canal floodwalls, fundamentally what we are looking at is a failure focused on the institutional side.The ACE who are always held blameless by law. Ok, that's fine. We can't sue you. However, do you, in the federal government, have an obligation to the people and the city that you failed? Should this even be an issue. The evidence is pretty solid for a massive screw up on the oversight level, of which you are in charge. Assign the blame to the correct group, the ACE.
Da Po' Blog has ranted and raged and done the math. Now, it's made even more clear as to what those dollars are being used for.
Then there's the whole Baker Bill thing. I have written about this. We have a plan, dammit. If that's not the plan you want us to have, tell us what plan you want us to have already. His plan makes sense. It makes sense for everyone (everyone that pays taxes in the US) and helps New Orleans rebuild. Baker is a real estated dude and a long-time conservative supporter. How does this plan get swept under the rug? (Maybe another letter or two to Mr. Santorum and Mr. Specter will help out...unless it's already done. Even then, I can still bitch to them about it.)
It is at this point that many conservatives' eyes start to roll. "We've spent $85 billion already," they say, "and asked for $19 billion more. Even if the feds are at fault, the taxpayers have more than done their duty."
"In actuality, just a tiny fraction of the money has been spent," said Eric Stewart of the Commerce Department, who runs the Hurricane Contracting Information Center, in a February meeting at the Mobile Register. A few days later, the Times-Picayune confirmed that report: Some of the money was for loans that must be repaid. About $17 billion was paid for flood insurance claims financed less by taxpayers than from pre-paid premiums from homeowners. About $900 million was wasted by FEMA on manufactured homes that are unusable because they don't meet FEMA's own guidelines for use in flood zones. The Government Accountability Office determined that FEMA paid out millions and millions of dollars for some 900,000 fraudulent claims.
Another huge portion of the money was wasted on overpriced debris-removal contracts -- and to companies from out of the region, so the money didn't even benefit the affected states. Other money just replenished FEMA's coffers for the future, and still other funds are stuck, apparently semi-permanently, in some bureaucratic pipeline. FEMA itself admitted that of its first $29.7 billion for 2005 hurricane relief, $7.6 billion -- more than a fourth of it -- was used for "administration."
Finally, of the money that has actually reached victims, most of it supplied short-term needs such as temporary shelter and food.
And the people of the New Orleans area who lost everything will only get 60% of the pre-Katrina equity of their homes (which they should not have to stand for especially if the culpable party is the government, but something is better than nothing).
"The market cannot work," Baker told me, "without some entity to aggregate titles to properties and clean them up." Toward that end, the Baker bill would set up a Louisiana Recovery Corporation (LRC) as a "revolving fund" that effectively would use most of the same money over and over again. The semi-private LRC, overseen by a board appointed by President Bush, would borrow money from the U.S. Treasury, buy Louisiana properties, bring them up to new environmental and zoning requirements, and resell them to developers. The money earned from those sales would return to the Treasury, to be borrowed again for the next round of properties. It's akin to the lines of credit many businesses use routinely. The taxpayers would get the bulk of their investment back -- rather than just making direct grants never to be repaid -- while the property owners, and the financial institutions that hold their mortgages, avoid foreclosures and crushing debts.
Worse neighborhoods resemble not a jack-o'-lantern but a ghost town -- which of course is even more frightening. Property owners can't move forward until the banks help them out; the banks can't move until their cash flows are restored and until government regulations say more loans are safe; and owners of rental units can't move until there are renters in the market, which can't happen until the economy will provide jobs.And the vicious circle continues. Supported by our elected leader (THANKS, OHIO!) But here's why this plan is good (as if you didn't know):
Under Baker's plan, homeowners would not wonder whether they would be the only ones to rebuild in their neighborhoods, because the LRC would make refurbished properties available in big chunks. To protect taxpayers, the Baker bill would impose a $30 billion limit for the LRC's borrowing. And, as noted earlier, the vast bulk of that would be eventually repaid to the Treasury. Unlike direct, onetime grants for home repairs, the LRC money would, by "revolving" so many times, achieve four or five times the bang for the same bucks. Furthermore, taxpayers would know that the LRC would avoid the problem of funneling money through the supposedly corrupt and incompetent Louisiana state government. The quasi-independent corporation would be free of most governmental bureaucracy, but it would answer to federal standards. To keep the LRC from being a permanent bureaucracy, its mandate would expire in ten years (or less). But its positive impact would be immediate, as banks probably would stop foreclosures as soon as the Baker bill passed, in anticipation of the coming aid.Instead, we are told to invest our Community Development Block Grants (which, incidentally, can't be used to build permanent housing.)
First, the block grants can't be doled out until HUD finishes its regulations. Second, the grants would be funneled through the same Louisiana government that taxpayers in the rest of the country distrust (whereas the Baker plan would set up a quasi-independent, public-private corporation far less hamstrung by the inertia of government bureaucracies). Third, the money won't be recycled: Not a penny would return to the Treasury upon resale. Fourth and most importantly (not to mention most idiotically), the legislative language requested by the Bush administration would actually preclude the money's use for rebuilding and repairs -- and "in perpetuity" to boot.And the CDBG thing has some history and little future. Mr. Hillyer has done good on this one.
Then there's this: Community Development Block Grants have sometimes been notorious for abuse. Indeed, at the very same time that the Bush administration is touting CDBG as the solution for New Orleans, its own budget request for 2007 proposes ending CDBG altogether by folding it into another program. In short, what's supposedly good for New Orleans is the same program otherwise too problematic for the rest of America. Go figure.I feel like we are being set up to screw up. The dialogue as I see it: "Here is a large amount of money with few strings attached that has been subject to wide-ranging abuse in the past, but we trust you, corrupt politicians of Louisiana, to be forthright and honest with this this time instead of trusting the well-thought out ideas of one of your own. Don't you know how stupid you people are in that part of the world? If we give you what you ask for and you succeed, who will need us? And people in the country need to need us. We didn't fail you. You failed you. You see, you built in a flood plain. That's the stupid in you coming out again. So here's the money, but do good with it so you can prove yourselves." Am I wrong here? Isn't this how this whole thing sounds?
I am so worked up that I can't think of how to end this. So New Orleans is either the bastard son or a sacrificial lamb. At least the bastard son has a chance to live. Let's hope that's what we are.