Katrina and the ballot box

Despite President Bush’s slick rhetoric and smooth promises, New Orleans remains stricken one year after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. Block after block of the Lower Ninth Ward are empty of residents, the houses engulfed by mud, without electricity or running water. Where are the billions approved by Congress to rebuild the city and the Gulf Coast?

Part of the problem is a cynical plan to use the crisis to transform “the Big Easy” from a city of half a million famed for its multiracial, multicultural diversity into a far smaller, far wealthier majority-white metropolis.

Malik Rahim, founder of Common Ground Collective, a New Orleans grassroots community group, told the World, “We’re going to have to see a marked increase in affordable housing to bring back teachers and city workers who make the wheels of any society turn.”

Interviewed during the Veterans for Peace convention in Seattle, Rahim said New Orleans “has been inundated by disaster capitalism that sees this as a time to further their exploitation.”

FEMA was “paying Halliburton $175 per square foot for blue tarps,” he said. “The subcontractors who installed the tarps got $2 per square foot. That’s $173 per square foot in profits for Halliburton.”

Rahim reports that the people are fighting hard to restore their city. Meanwhile, the House Republican leadership is blocking HR 4197, a bill introduced by the Congressional Black Caucus to provide billions of dollars in direct assistance to the people of New Orleans. But the same GOP leadership rams through tens of billions for the Iraq war anytime Bush asks for it. The price tag for the Bush-Cheney Iraq disaster soon will exceed $500 billion. That’s half a trillion dollars desperately needed to rebuild the Gulf Coast.

The administration and Congress spent billions on “homeland security.” Hurricane Katrina proved that all that pork was wasted. We are less secure than ever. The incompetence, the bungled indifference to human suffering, of the White House and Republican Congress is exposed for all to see. This is an election year. We need a Katrina-sized vote Nov. 7 to turn the Republican right from office.