George W. Bush, who slashed funds being used for New Orleans levee construction to help pay for the Iraq war, can do little to help the long-term humanitarian disaster created by Hurricane Katrina.
Imagine a city of 1.5 million people thrown into sudden unemployment and homelessness. Bush released federal disaster funds to help relief agencies with search and rescue, health, and security, but a much needed National Guard is stretched thin with 40 percent of the troops and most of their equipment in Iraq. Bush ordered seven Navy ships from Norfolk, Virginia, to Louisiana, a voyage that at best speed can take nearly a week.
In the short-term, time is critical. The human body needs water in three days or the vital organs begin to shut down. Today is the fourth day and the news networks keep interviewing federal officials who state the list of relief supplies that are "on the way." Yet from the pictures I have seen of crowds gathered in dry areas and people waiting to be rescued, I do not see anyone with water. Even in the field triage areas set up near the superdome. You would think there would be case after case of water there for people. You would think there would be portable toilets set up near these staging areas. You would think there would be water patrols or helicopters taking water to the neighborhoods while people are waiting to be rescued from rooftops. Drinking water should be available everywhere by now. There should be no more double-talk by bureaucrats.
And bussing people from New Orleans to Houston seems like an incredibly slow, wasteful process. Bus them to the airport and get them on planes. Get them on cruise ships. Stop wasting time negotiating with these companies. Bush could simply say he needs this equipment and he needs it now. This evacuation cannot be put off.
People in New Orleans who hamper the effort or who are caught looting guns, robbing others, or breaking into houses and pharmacies must be arrested. Stealing for food and survival is one thing, but stealing for fun or monetary gain hampers the relief effort to the extent that relief workers are afraid to go into the neighborhoods. This is where the National Guard could be of help if they were readily available and not off fighting an illegal war in Iraq.
What happens when the city is evacuated? How will people live and survive? Will there be 1.5 million refugees wandering the nation? Bush talks about getting people's lives back to normal. Does he mean back to the same impoverished conditions when they return?
If Bush wants to help New Orleans in the long-term, he can't do it as the war president, he must do it as the public works president -- even if the secret Skull and Bones Society revokes his membership and takes back his decoder ring.
First, the levees in New Orleans will have to be repaired and raised under the direction of the Army Corps of Engineers. Then clean-up crews will have to be hired and whole neighborhoods likely must be torn down. More workers can then be hired to build modern, energy-efficient, sustainable housing. In the meantime, until public works employment is available, all displaced workers from the Gulf states must get federal relief aid.
This is not just about rebuilding houses, infrastructure, and creating short-term jobs. The people of New Orleans need a long-term stake in their city and in their future as they rebuild their lives. They do not need any more low-income housing projects, those disgusting symbols of poverty from the 1960s. The new New Orleans must be a showcase for the country and the world. For example, instead of using traditional shingles on new housing, use the new solar roofing designs that produce electricity. Thousands of grid-tied solar roofs will greatly reduce the city's dependence on fossil fuels and will eliminate electric bills for the residents.
It is fine for Bush to ask people to donate to the Red Cross to help with disaster relief, but he must repeal his tax cuts to the rich to pay for this massive public works program. Yes, the rich are going to have to get off their corporate welfare and pay for this. And pay for it they must.