WASHINGTON, Aug. 30 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The following is a memorandum to editorial writers and columnists:
FROM: Toby Chaudhuri, Campaign for America's Future Communications Director
SUBJECT: Katrina Storm Warning
On the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, people in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are struggling to rebuild their lives after one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history. Disaster often strikes suddenly and with too little warning. Communities mobilize to save lives and limit the damage. They then look to the federal government to join with state and local authorities to help in the rescue and the recovery. We join together in assisting those who were hit because we are part of one country. This is a measure of our patriotism, our sense that we are all in this together.
In New Orleans, the federal government -- too often aided and abetted by state and local incompetence -- has failed. With an appalled country watching, it failed callously in the rescue of those displaced. And in the past 2 years, it has failed the survivors. This failure is not an accident. It is a choice. It is a reflection of the conservative policies and perspectives that scorn government, outsource government responsibility to the private sector, perpetuate cronyism over professionalism and sacrifice the fate of American citizens for political gains. In New Orleans, the French Quarter thrives, but the Bottoms lies in ruins. The federal government is now furthering the urban removal that Katrina's fury began.
THE POLITICAL STORM
With the country appalled at the Bush administration's callous incompetence in the rescue of Katrina's survivors, the president belatedly traveled to New Orleans to stage a dramatic press conference where he promised that New Orleans would be rebuilt, and that the nation would begin to address the urban misery that the storm had exposed. That promise has been broken. Once more conservative policies and perspectives have failed Americans. Instead of a coherent rebuilding process, we have witnessed:
-- CRONYISM: Rather than rely on trained experts, President Bush called on political loyalists to respond. Longtime political strategist Karl Rove was appointed to head the reconstruction. Bush-Cheney campaign manager Joe Allbaugh was Bush's first FEMA director and Michael Brown was selected to fill his spot, from the International Arabian Horse Association. Other senior FEMA officials included Patrick Rhode, Brooks Altshuler and Scott Morris who all worked for the Bush-Cheney campaign.
-- CORRUPTION: Gov. Haley Barbour, R-Miss., a former Washington lobbyist and RNC chairman and long-time Bush ally, was caught handing out one of the biggest Miss.-based federal contracts for recovery efforts to a Republican activist who is married to his nephew. In the aftermath of Katrina, the Department of Homeland Security awarded 3,400 contracts worth $5.3 billion, with no competitive bidding and no local preferences.
-- CYNICISM: With Louisiana's Democratic gubernatorial and senate seats endangered now, it may be no surprise that every decision was influenced by political consequences in Rove's eyes. Louisiana has been a swing state for some time and Democratic victories were based on the ability to mobilize the black community in New Orleans. One question is whether the administration ever intended to allow the poor that had been dispersed around the country to come back. The population of New Orleans has declined by more than 289,000 residents, according to Census figures, and 500,000 survivors are still scattered across the country with no plans to bring them home. Experts in the area estimate that the congressional advantage for Republicans will be 5 to 1 by 2012.
A FLOOD OF FAILURES
Seventeen days after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, President Bush stood in Jackson Square and pledged to "do what it takes" to help rebuild the Gulf Coast and address poverty in America. But basic public investments are still missing 2 years later. The White House has failed to reconstruct the Gulf Coast, the same way it has failed to reconstruct Iraq and Afghanistan. With New Orleans' infrastructure still not in place, the city cannot support a large population.
-- AFFORDABLE HOUSING: With limited housing available, prices continue to climb, making the city unaffordable for many. In Dec. 2006, plans were outlined to bulldoze 4,500 affordable housing units, even those that could be rehabilitated. Hardly any of the 77,000 rental units destroyed in New Orleans have been rebuilt. As of May, more than 30,000 families are spread nationwide in apartments or trailers paid for by FEMA. Thousands were moved out of the trailers when they were shown to be contaminated by the carcinogen formaldehyde.
-- SCHOOLS AND LIBRARIES: The New Orleans school system was troubled before Katrina. After the hurricane, matters grew worse. One of the most preventable reason is the lack of school facilities. Pre-Katrina New Orleans had 128 public schools. Now there are 83. The city once had 13 operational libraries. Now there are only 9.
-- HEALTH AND CHILD CARE: According to new census data released yesterday, one fifth of the new uninsured children in the country are from the Gulf Coast region, but the Bush administration's New Children's Health Insurance Program rules will prevent Louisiana from covering 8,000 more children. With only 13 out of 23 state-licensed hospitals providing care, there's a constant problem of access to care. Only 36 percent of the city's 276 original childcare facilities are back in place, adding pressure on working families trying to return to their homes.
-- PUBLIC SAFETY: The police force in New Orleans continues to suffer, and its citizens suffer as a result. The murder rate in New Orleans has increased since Hurricane Katrina and arrests are made at a record rate, now averaging more than 1,300 a week, but evidence gathering and examination infrastructure has not been restored. The New Orleans Police Department has only one fingerprint examiner and only one expert firearm examiner.
-- DRINKING WATER: Citizens live in fear of drinking polluted water because of threats to New Orleans' sewage lines. At least 50M gallons are lost to leaks, 250 percent pre-Katrina levels. FEMA has pledged only $150 million to pay for the $143 billion needed to rebuild the water system, sewer and drainage systems.
-- LEVEES: President Bush has threatened to veto a bill with vital funding for Louisiana's levees and projects aimed at protecting people from another catastrophic hurricane. Still, the failure of New Orleans' levees during Katrina wasn't an isolated event. Recently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, responding to Freedom of Information Act requests filed by several news organizations, revealed that 122 levees across the country are in danger of a similar fate. California has the most at-risk levees with 37, followed by the state of Washington with 19. Massachusetts has 5, Michigan, 4 and Washington, 3.
Despite its promise, the White House has not advanced a single program to redress poverty since Hurricane Katrina. It has actually pushed to slash and burn important protections, including food stamps and Medicaid. The Bush administration's Labor Department largely looked away while no-bid contractors practiced wage abuse. More so, Katrina offered an opportunity to rebuild the Gulf Coast on a model of high road development -- high wage, low waste, efficient use of energy - rather than "race to the bottom" private enterprise.
Today, New Orleans remains in ruins. Many public schools are still not open. Hospitals have closed; doctors and nurses have departed. Crime is up. The clean up and rebuilding are shockingly slow. Families cannot return. Small businesses can't start up with customers absent. New Orleans is being changed. The conservative formula of cronyism, contempt for government and incompetence added up to the results we see today. Conservatives may benefit from this electorally, but they cannot avoid responsibility for their failures.
**NOTE: The Campaign for America's Future released a new report this week that shows the federal government failed to rebuild areas devastated by Katrina. The group also released a YouTube video that contrasts the promises the president made to the tragic realities Katrina survivors now face. The report and the video can be found at http://commonsense.ourfuture.org/katrina.
|SOURCE Campaign for America's Future|
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