As hurricanes Hanna and Ike threatened the East and Gulf Coasts, respectively, after Gustav slammed into Louisiana, critics charged that the GOP is trying to draw attention away from John McCain’s support for government neglect of New Orleans since Katrina three years ago. Bush administration policy backed by McCain, they said, left the city vulnerable when Gustav hit last week and leaves it vulnerable to future hurricanes.

“It’s time to take our Republican hats off and put our American hats on,” McCain said when it was announced that he would miss the first day of the Republican convention and that George Bush and Dick Cheney would not speak as scheduled.

“It would have been nice if Senator McCain had put on his American hat in the three years since Katrina,” movie director Michael Moore commented in a statement. A look at McCain’s post-Katrina record is all that is needed to keep from being fooled by “his fake concern for the people on the Gulf Coast,” Moore said.

Christopher Hayes, The Nation’s Washington editor, wrote, “If McCain cared about New Orleans and the Gulf Coast he could have done something these past three years. He could have made Gulf reconstruction his issue, he could have criticized his party for pushing federal dollars into the hands of cronies, for providing inadequate resources, for allowing the further destruction of the wetlands that serve as the only natural barrier to storm surges. He could have taken on the insurance companies that have been serially screwing the residents of the gulf. But he was too busy pushing for more troops, and more war.”

McCain voted in 1999 to suspend Davis-Bacon Act protections for construction workers in federal disaster areas. Bush used that measure to allow no-bid contractors to pay wages well below prevailing rates to workers in New Orleans after Katrina.

McCain voted against $28 billion in hurricane relief in 2006 and opposed extension of unemployment and Medicaid benefits to Katrina victims. He twice opposed formation of a commission to study what went wrong in the government’s response to the storm. (On the day Katrina hit Bush and McCain were at the president’s Texas ranch celebrating McCain’s birthday.)

Although Gustav hit as only a Category 2 hurricane, it caused a great deal of damage and a number of deaths, after forcing the evacuation of millions along the Gulf Coast.

A deluge from Ike or any future storm carries the potential for more tragedy because, three years after Katrina, the city is not rebuilt, half the population remains in exile and the main work on building stronger levees has not yet begun.

Union leaders say the Bush administration, with McCain’s support, has used the rebuilding effort to experiment big time with almost every right-wing social engineering scheme imaginable to push workers and poor people out of New Orleans.

“It’s a shame,” said Robert “Tiger” Hammond, president of the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO. “The federal government failed its responsibility. Here they spend $11 billion a month or more on the war and they can’t give the $18 billion it would take to rebuild the Lower 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parish. It’s been horrible — the negligence and mishandling of funds.”

Hammond said no one should consider even the levees that have been repaired as a safe bet. Only $22 million was spent on repairing the levees that broke during Katrina. One of the “repaired” levees, according to an Associated Press report, was leaking in several places even before Gustav. Engineering experts say the types of seepage now noted along the “repaired” 17th Street Canal levee are appearing at other levees and could cause major collapses during any future storm.

During Gustav water poured over the tops of the levees that are supposed to protect Jefferson Parish, a large working class community where workers formed a “human levee” last year to protest the neighborhood’s continued exposure to danger.

Life for workers in New Orleans is difficult and painful even without a hurricane threat, Hammond noted. “We have Bush and McCain to thank for this,” he said as he pointed to some of the problems:

“Not one tenant in the entire state of Louisiana has received a dime in financial assistance from the $10 billion federal Katrina rebuilding program. Almost all were supposed to be eligible.

“Half the hospitals have never re-opened.

“The government says it may take 25 years to rebuild the Lower 9th Ward, which remains essentially destroyed today.”

Summarizing the reasons for the disastrous situation in New Orleans today, a report issued earlier this year by the Campaign for America’s Future said, “Ultra-conservatives tried to use the hurricane disaster to prove their theories and consolidate their power. Any policies that might have put money in the pockets of the working class were turned aside — in favor of ones that lined the pockets of the rich.”

jwojcik @pww.org

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