Rebuild the Gulf with fair share taxes, not slashed services

27 September 2005 - 10:30am

The SuperDome: Symbol of everything that went wrong in New Orleans

Rebuild the Gulf with fair share taxes, not slahsed services
by Ben, Tanya on on 26 September 2005

Last week, congressional Republicans responded to Hurricane Katrina by proposing to cut nearly a trillion dollars from vital national services, like health care for the poor and elderly, student loans, Amtrak, and eliminating the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (again!).[1] Republican leaders in Congress are now gauging the public's response to see if they can get away with their plan. We need to show them the answer is "no."

The cost of rebuilding the Gulf Coast, while huge, is far less than what President Bush has given away in tax cuts to the wealthiest one percent.[2] National crises like Hurricanes Rita and Katrina are times for all Americans to stick together and put in our fair share.

So today we're launching an urgent petition to Congress to fully rebuild the Gulf Coast and pay for it by ending Bush's tax cuts for the very wealthy, not by slashing vital services that Americans need. If we can gather a quarter million signatures this week, we can show them that this destructive plan just won't fly.

Please sign today:

The Republican proposal, titled "Operation Offset," was authored by the Republican Study Committee, a group of over 100 influential members of Congress, including powerful committee chairs and members of the Republican leadership.[3] The proposal starts with support from at least these 100 representatives, and they are looking to quickly build momentum.

A full reconstruction of the Gulf Coast region is generally estimated to cost around $200 billion.[4] We could more than meet this cost by rolling back Bush's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for just the wealthiest one percent of the country, which would save us an estimated $327 billion.[5]

"Operation Offset," however, calls for an astounding $949 billion dollars in cuts over 10 years to vital national services.[6]—almost five times the full cost of reconstruction. To further put that in perspective, it's also more than 4 times what we've spent in Iraq.[7]

This plan is not about "offsetting," or rebuilding—it's about exploiting this crisis to push their longstanding goals for America. As conservative movement leader Grover Norquist has often put it, the goal is to get government "down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."[8] This proposal is their latest attempt to drown the public sector.

The excess of the Republicans' proposed cuts is almost unbelievable. You can read the full proposal here:

Here are just some of the most egregious cuts:

$225 billion cut from Medicaid, the last-resort health insurance program for the very poor.
$200 billion cut from Medicare, the health care safety net for the elderly and the disabled.
$25 billion cut from the Centers for Disease Control
$6.7 billion cut from school lunches for poor children
$7.5 billion cut from programs to fight global AIDS
$5.5 billion to eliminate all funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
$3.6 billion cut to eliminate the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities
$8.5 billion cut to eliminate all subsidized loans to graduate students.
$2.5 billion cut from Amtrak
$2.5 billion to eliminate the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative
$417 million cut to eliminate the Minority Business Development Agency
$4.8 billion cut to eliminate all funding for the Safe and Drug-Free schools program
And the list goes on and on.

Which and how many of these cuts move forward in Congress depends largely on the public response this week.

As the reconstruction begins our country faces a basic question: Will we respond to Katrina by banding together to solve national problems, or by helping the wealthy and powerful cut and run while those left behind fend for ourselves?

The radical Republicans have spoken up loud and clear with their answer, and we must respond with ours.
Please sign today:

Thanks for all that you do.


[1] "Lawmakers Prepare Plans to Finance Storm Relief," The New York Times, 20 Sept 2005
Note: the $500 billion referred to this article only covers section 1 in "Operation Offset". The full proposal has six sections and calls for total cuts of $949,674,000,000 over 10 years. See full proposal here:

[2] Center for American Progress

[3] The Republican Study Committee

[4] "How to spend (almost $1 billion a day)" Time Magazine, 26 Sept 2005,9171,1106310,00.html

[5] Center for American Progress

[6] Operation Offset, RSC Budget Options 2005

[7] Based on a $196 billion dollar cost for the Iraq war to date.
National Priorities Project

[8] "Grover Norquist: 'Field Marshal' of the Bush Plan", The Nation, May 14th 2001



Injustice in America high-lighted by Katrina

2 September 2005 - 8:30am

Milvertha Hendricks, 84, waits in the rain outside the New Orleans convention center

Flushing out the ugly truth

by Joan Walsh on 1 September 2005 at
The horror in New Orleans has exposed the nation's dirty secrets of race and poverty. Americans are ready to help. Will our leaders show the way?

The nightmare in New Orleans has a lot to tell us about poverty: the desperate poverty of the city's African-American population, of course, but also the poverty of political debate in the U.S. today. The crisis unfolding before us -- dispossession, looting, people shooting at rescue workers, the president's dim response, and now, people dying in front of our eyes outside the Superdome -– rubs our noses in so much that's wrong in our country, it's excruciating to watch. But I'm especially struck by the inability of our existing political discourse to describe, let alone to solve, the intractable social problems that have come together in this flood whose proportions and portents seem almost biblical.

Ever since the first looting photos made cable news I've felt sick, like here we go again, we're going to have a new round in the culture war about the poor. Are they victims, or barbarians? If Sean Hannity's attacking them, well, I sure as hell have to defend them. When right-wing pundit Neal Boortz is saying shoot them on sight, somebody has to say that's sick and crazy, right? Personally, with all the destruction in view on Tuesday and Wednesday, I couldn't be horrified by people stealing food; I didn't even care much about people running off with sneakers and beer and TVs. Looting Wal-Mart? I don't defend it, but what do we expect? These are desperately poor people who've been deliberately left behind, in so many senses of the word -- left behind by society, shut up in housing projects and hideous poverty, and now truly left behind by local and federal officials who failed to come up with an evacuation plan for people too poor and isolated to leave on their own. If looting Wal-Mart was the worst of it, I thought, we should consider ourselves lucky.

But it wasn't. Thursday we saw people shooting at rescue helicopters (with guns they stole from Wal-Mart, perhaps?), at hospital supply trucks, at workers trying to evacuate the sick from hospitals, the horrifying next chapter in an already awful story. I started to feel like my indifference to yesterday's looting was morally lazy, a reflexive shrug at having to really think about the poor, who they are, why they are. What a crazy, depraved way to treat people who are trying to help. But having said that, we're not absolved from trying to understand and reckon with the chaos. Like it or not, this crisis is going to be with us for a long time, because it's been coming for a long time -– we're going to have to face issues of race, poverty and civil rights we've long chosen to ignore.  
As I watched buses make their way from the Superdome to the Astrodome in Houston, in a surreal and perverse echo of the Freedom Rides of the '60s, a few thoughts were inescapable. Why didn't we send a caravan of buses into the city's poorest neighborhoods on Saturday or Sunday, when the dimensions of the disaster were already predictable? And what is really going to happen in Houston? These are dispossessed people who've been further dispossessed -- do we have a word for that? After a few days, the Superdome is already a slice of hell, with overflowing bathrooms, fights, rape allegations and now, people dying outside. Do we expect the Astrodome -- abandoned by the Houston Astros in 2000 for Enron Field, excuse me, Minute Maid Park -- to fare much better? Sure, Houston's got electricity and running water, but tens of thousands of scared, angry people packed into an abandoned sports stadium -- we couldn't come up with a better symbol of how little we care about the poor, how little we've thought about what to do with them, for them, if we tried.

As if to make sure we didn't miss the ironies, the same week as Katrina came news that the poverty rate has climbed again, the fourth straight year under President Bush. But let's be fair: John Kerry barely mentioned the poor last year. And while President Clinton's booming 1990s lifted some boats, and his welfare reform at least muted the ideological sniping about whether poor folks were victims or freeloaders, nobody's bothered lately to pay much attention to whether welfare reform made people's lives better, whether it paved a path out of poverty or just moved its subjects into the vast ranks of the working poor.

Then came Katrina, and we're forced to pay attention. We're forced to look at New Orleans, to really see it -- one of the nation's great party cities and also one of its poorest. If you go for Mardi Gras or the annual Jazz Heritage Festival, really if you go any old time, you know its majority black population is mostly hidden from white tourists. Beyond the gorgeous French Quarter and Garden District it's long been a crime-plagued, gang-ridden, corruption-befouled city. But as long as you stuck to Fodor's, you didn't have to care.

Now you do. Before Katrina, we were warned of coffins floating out of cemeteries, but instead we got poor black people flushed out of slums, and to some people they're apparently just as scary. But they're not going back any time soon. They're our responsibility now. They always were; we just ignored it.

Maybe we can't anymore. On cable news, our normally buttoned-down blow-dried correspondents, almost all of them white, are cracking under the strain of bearing witness to the suffering and even death of the people who weren't looting, who did the right thing and headed to the Superdome, only to find a worse hell awaited them. They've dropped their script and they're asking tough questions. CNN's Chris Lawrence was clearly shaken describing what he saw: "We talked to mothers holding babies, some of these babies 3, 4, 5 months old, living in these horrible conditions ...These people are being forced to live like animals. When you look at some of these mothers your heart just breaks ... People need to see this ... what it's really like here. We saw dead bodies. People are dying at the convention center, and there's no one to come get them."

Later, Anderson Cooper was even harsher, challenging Sen. Mary Landrieu for thanking President Bush for his efforts to aid her state. "Senator, I'm sorry for interrupting," he said. "For the last four days I've been seeing dead bodies in the streets here in Mississippi ... You know, I gotta tell you, there are a lot of people here who are very upset, and very angry, and very frustrated. And when they hear politicians thanking one another, it kind of cuts them them wrong way right now. Because literally there was a body on the streets of this town yesterday being eaten by rats because this woman had been laying in the street for 48 hours and there's not enough facilities to take her up. Do you get the anger that is out here?"

Of course, it's unfair to blame the president for an act of nature like Katrina. And yet it's irrefutable that this administration's backward policies and politics made this disaster worse than it had to be, and its belated response will do nothing to address the problems that have suddenly been flushed out into the open. The death toll from Katrina is likely to be higher than 9/11, but most of its victims will be black and poor, and I doubt we'll wage a war on poverty and neglect to match the war on terror launched after al-Qaida struck -- and if we did, I doubt it would be any more effective. The president, who continued his vacation while Katrina raged, just the way he kept reading "My Pet Goat" on 9/11, is headed for the Gulf on Friday. I'd like him to bring some answers, but I don't expect him to.

What I'd really like is to see him head today for the Superdome, bring his dad, and Bill Clinton, and John Kerry and Howard Dean -- any Democrat or Republican who cares, really –- and go to work, feeding and comforting the refugees and finding out what they need. Then I'd like to see them put people to work, rebuilding the amazing historic city we've apparently lost.

Americans are ready to do the right thing. Americans want to help their neighbors -- even when those neighbors are people they don't know, who are poor and have different colored skin. If you close your eyes, you can imagine a silver lining. Inspired by a president who got down in the water himself and started bailing, America could find the will and the resources to put people to work building a country, not destroying one the way we're doing in Iraq. But that is just a dream. In the real world, the water is likely to keep rising. Still, I'd be thrilled to be proven wrong.



The price of ignoring good advise

2 September 2005 - 8:00am

by Sidney Blumenthal on 31 August 2005 in Der Spiegel

In 2001, FEMA warned that a hurricane striking New Orleans was one of the three most likely disasters in the U.S. But the Bush administration cut New Orleans flood control funding by 44 percent to pay for the Iraq war.

Biblical in its uncontrolled rage and scope, Hurricane Katrina has left millions of Americans to scavenge for food and shelter and hundreds to thousands reportedly dead. With its main levee broken, the evacuated city of New Orleans has become part of the Gulf of Mexico.

But the damage wrought by the hurricane may not entirely be the result of an act of nature.

A year ago the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed to study how New Orleans could be protected from a catastrophic hurricane, but the Bush administration ordered that the research not be undertaken. After a flood killed six people in 1995, Congress created the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, in which the Corps of Engineers strengthened and renovated levees and pumping stations. In early 2001, the Federal Emergency Management Agency issued a report stating that a hurricane striking New Orleans was one of the three most likely disasters in the U.S., including a terrorist attack on New York City. But by 2003 the federal funding for the flood control project essentially dried up as it was drained into the Iraq war. In 2004, the Bush administration cut funding requested by the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for holding back the waters of Lake Pontchartrain by more than 80 percent. Additional cuts at the beginning of this year (for a total reduction in funding of 44.2 percent since 2001) forced the New Orleans district of the Corps to impose a hiring freeze. The Senate had debated adding funds for fixing New Orleans' levees, but it was too late.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune, which before the hurricane published a series on the federal funding problem, and whose presses are now underwater, reported online: "No one can say they didn't see it coming...Now in the wake of one of the worst storms ever, serious questions are being asked about the lack of preparation."

The Bush administration's policy of turning over wetlands to almost certainly also contributed to the heightened level of the storm surge. In 1990, a federal task force began restoring lost wetlands surrounding New Orleans. Every two miles of wetland between the Crescent City and the Gulf reduces a surge by half a foot. Bush had promised "no net loss" of wetlands, a policy launched by his father's administration and bolstered by President Clinton. But he reversed his approach in 2003, unleashing the developers. The Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency then announced they could no longer protect wetlands unless they were somehow related to interstate commerce.

In response to this potential crisis, four leading environmental groups conducted a joint expert study, concluding in 2004 that without wetlands protection New Orleans could be devastated by an ordinary, much less a Category 4 or 5, hurricane. "There's no way to describe how mindless a policy that is when it comes to wetlands protection," said one of the report's authors. The chairman of the White House's Council on Environmental Quality dismissed the study as "highly questionable," and boasted, "Everybody loves what we're doing."

"My administration's climate change policy will be science based," President Bush declared in June 2001. But in 2002, when the Environmental Protection Agency submitted a study on global warming to the United Nations reflecting its expert research, Bush derided it as "a report put out by a bureaucracy," and excised the climate change assessment from the agency's annual report. The next year, when the EPA issued its first comprehensive "Report on the Environment," stating, "Climate change has global consequences for human health and the environment," the White House simply demanded removal of the line and all similar conclusions. At the G-8 meeting in Scotland this year, Bush successfully stymied any common action on global warming. Scientists, meanwhile, have continued to accumulate impressive data on the rising temperature of the oceans, which has produced more severe hurricanes.

In February 2004, 60 of the nation's leading scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates, warned in a statement, "Restoring Scientific Integrity in Policy making": "Successful application of science has played a large part in the policies that have made the United States of America the world's most powerful nation and its citizens increasingly prosperous and healthy ... Indeed, this principle has long been adhered to by presidents and administrations of both parties in forming and implementing policies.

The administration of George W. Bush has, however, disregarded this principle... The distortion of scientific knowledge for partisan political ends must cease." Bush completely ignored this statement.

In the two weeks preceding the storm in the Gulf, the trumping of science by ideology and expertise by special interests accelerated. The Federal Drug Administration announced that it was postponing sale of the morning-after contraceptive pill, despite overwhelming scientific evidence of its safety and its approval by the FDA's scientific advisory board. The United Nations special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa accused the Bush administration of responsibility for a condom shortage in Uganda -- the result of the administration's evangelical Christian agenda of "abstinence." When the chief of the Bureau of Justice Statistics in the Justice Department was ordered by the White House to delete its study that African-Americans and other minorities are subject to racial profiling in police traffic stops and he refused to buckle under, he was forced out of his job. When the Army Corps of Engineers' chief contracting oversight analyst objected to a $7 billion no-bid contract awarded for work in Iraq to Halliburton (the firm at which Vice President Cheney was formerly CEO), she was demoted despite her superior professional ratings. At the National Park Service, a former Cheney aide, a political appointee lacking professional background, drew up a plan to overturn past environmental practices and prohibit any mention of evolution while allowing sale of religious materials through the Park Service.

On the day the levees burst in New Orleans, Bush delivered a speech in Colorado comparing the Iraq war to World War II and himself to Franklin D. Roosevelt: "And he knew that the best way to bring peace and stability
to the region was by bringing freedom to Japan."

Bush had boarded his very own "Streetcar Named Desire."

Editor's Note: Sidney Blumenthal, a former assistant and senior advisor to President Clinton and the author of "The Clinton Wars," is writing a column for
Salon and the Guardian of London.



The aftermath of Katrina shows inequities underlying America

1 September 2005 - 10:30am

Sheila Dixon and her daughter Emily in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina

The Storm After the Storm
by Davis Brooks on 1 September 2005 in the New York Times
Hurricanes come in two waves. First comes the rainstorm, and then comes what the historian John Barry calls the "human storm" - the recriminations, the political conflict and the battle over compensation. Floods wash away the surface of society, the settled way things have been done. They expose the underlying power structures, the injustices, the patterns of corruption and the unacknowledged inequalities. When you look back over the meteorological turbulence in this nation's history, it's striking how often political turbulence followed.

In 1889 in Pennsylvania, a great flood washed away much of Johnstown. The water's crushing destruction sounded to one person like a "lot of horses grinding oats." Witnesses watched hundreds of people trapped on a burning bridge, forced to choose between burning to death or throwing themselves into the churning waters to drown.

The flood was so abnormal that the country seemed to have trouble grasping what had happened. The national media were filled with wild exaggerations and fabrications: stories of rivers dammed with corpses, of children who died while playing ring-around-the-rosy and who were found with their hands still clasped and with smiles still on their faces.

Prejudices were let loose. Hungarians then were akin to today's illegal Mexican immigrants - hard-working people who took jobs no one else wanted. Newspapers carried accounts of gangs of Hungarian men cutting off dead women's fingers to steal their rings. "Drunken Hungarians, Dancing, Singing, Cursing and Fighting Amid the Ruins" a New York Herald headline blared.

Then, as David McCullough notes in "The Johnstown Flood," public fury turned on the Pittsburgh millionaires whose club's fishing pond had emptied on the town. The Chicago Herald depicted the millionaires as Roman aristocrats, seeking pleasure while the poor died like beasts in the Coliseum.

Even before the flood, public resentment was building against the newly rich industrialists. Protests were growing against the trusts, against industrialization and against the new concentrations of wealth. The Johnstown flood crystallized popular anger, for the fishing club was indeed partly to blame. Public reaction to the disaster helped set the stage for the progressive movement and the trust-busting that was to come.

In 1900, another great storm hit the U.S., killing over 6,000 people in Galveston, Texas. The storm exposed racial animosities, for this time stories (equally false) swept through the press accusing blacks of cutting off the fingers of corpses to steal wedding rings. The devastation ended Galveston's chance to beat out Houston as Texas' leading port.

Then in 1927, the great Mississippi flood rumbled down upon New Orleans. As Barry writes in his account, "Rising Tide," the disaster ripped the veil off the genteel, feudal relations between whites and blacks, and revealed the festering iniquities. Blacks were rounded up into work camps and held by armed guards. They were prevented from leaving as the waters rose. A steamer, the Capitol, played "Bye Bye Blackbird" as it sailed away. The racist violence that followed the floods helped persuade many blacks to move north.

Civic leaders intentionally flooded poor and middle-class areas to ease the water's pressure on the city, and then reneged on promises to compensate those whose homes were destroyed. That helped fuel the populist anger that led to Huey Long's success. Across the country people demanded that the federal government get involved in disaster relief, helping to set the stage for the New Deal. The local civic elite turned insular and reactionary, and New Orleans never really recovered its preflood vibrancy.

We'd like to think that the stories of hurricanes and floods are always stories of people rallying together to give aid and comfort. And, indeed, each of America's great floods has prompted a popular response both generous and inspiring. But floods are also civic examinations. Amid all the stories that recur with every disaster - tales of sudden death and miraculous survival, the displacement and the disease - there is also the testing.

Civic arrangements work or they fail. Leaders are found worthy or wanting. What's happening in New Orleans and Mississippi today is a human tragedy. But take a close look at the people you see wandering, devastated, around New Orleans: they are predominantly black and poor. The political disturbances are still to come.