Little did I suspect a few short weeks ago that when it comes to addressing the poverty and inequality that Katrina revealed, the aftershocks would indeed be worse than the initial event for progressives, the poor and the once-again forgotten in this country.
Let me take you back, back, back.....
Omagod! Katrina has turned George Bush has into a Democrat, according to the blogosphere. Yeah, we got the big Mo. They're running scared. Our day has come.As all of us saw on television, there's also some deep, persistent poverty in this region, as well. That poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action. So let us restore all that we have cherished from yesterday, and let us rise above the legacy of inequality....We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action. So let us restore all that we have cherished from yesterday, and let us rise above the legacy of inequality.... Americans want the Gulf Coast not just to survive, but to thrive; not just to cope, but to overcome. We want evacuees to come home, for the best of reasons -- because they have a real chance at a better life in a place they love.--George W. Bush, September 15, 2005
But not so fast. A swift perusal of the press over the past few days about current events in Congress and conditions in New Orleans is enough to make you get the cyanide out of mothballs again.
First, Jason DeParle in the New York Times talks about the ebbing of liberal hopes after a short period of hope that the graphic news would wash over the Republican agenda with a reawakened concern for the poor.
Alas, it was not to be:
Conservatives have already used the storm for causes of their own, like suspending requirements that federal contractors have affirmative action plans and pay locally prevailing wages. And with federal costs for rebuilding the Gulf Coast estimated at up to $200 billion, Congressional Republican leaders are pushing for spending cuts, with programs like Medicaid and food stamps especially vulnerable.And while they're at it, Republicans are also still calling "tax reductions for the prosperous a key to fighting poverty."
At least the Times takes the occasion to confront the tired, but rejuvenated ideology with a bit of fact:
Economic growth is crucial to reducing poverty, but the effect of tax rates is less clear. In 1993, President Bill Clinton raised taxes on upper-income families, the economy boomed and poverty fell for the next seven years. In 2001, President Bush cut taxes deeply, but even with economic growth, the poverty rate has risen every year since.But never mind that. Indeed, that's not the worst of it. New Orleans is becoming the nightmare-come-true for those who feared that the labor force would be saturated with untrained, poorly paid, mostly undocumented immigrant workers doing the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs.
In 2004, about 12.7 percent of the country, or 37 million people, lived below the poverty line, which was about $19,200 for a family of four. The figure was 7.8 percent among whites, 24.7 percent among blacks and 21.9 percent among Hispanics.
An investigator with the Laborers Union, Rafael Duran, said that outside the New Orleans Arena, he had encountered Mexican teenagers perhaps 15 or 16 years old who had been removing excrement-fouled carpets.And while these low paid workers are imported into Louisiana,
While some cleanup workers in New Orleans are staying in hotels, Duran said the teenagers on the carpet-removal job told him they were sleeping in a field under a tent, and had gotten bitten by mosquitoes.
Duran said the laborers had been brought in by Rainbow International Restoration and Cleaning of Waco, Texas. A Rainbow franchise owner leading cleanup efforts in New Orleans, Vincent Beedle, said the workers had been brought in by a subcontractor that was supposed to obey all laws.
Outside a French Quarter restaurant, four Hispanic workers were taking a break from clearing 1,000 pounds of rotten shrimp from the freezer. The men, dripping with sweat, were wearing only jeans and T-shirts.
"You can just drive down the street and see people not dressed properly," Feher said. He said the workers cleaning the restaurants should have worn protective suits, rubber boots, rubber gloves and respirators.
The crew's New Jersey employer, Patrick Jones, said he provides protective gear for his workers as required by law, and "if I'm on the site they have to have it on." But he added: "I wasn't there."
Advocates said the lack of protective gear is leading to health problems. Juan Alvarez, director of the Latin American Organization for Immigrant Rights in Houston, said he recently took five or six workers to the hospital after they complained of respiratory problems and diarrhea upon their return from New Orleans.
Meanwhile, as many as 80,000 New Orleanians sit idle in shelters around the country. They are out of work, homeless and destitute.But it gets worse. This is from an article by Bill Quiqley, a professor of law at Loyola University New Orleans and director of the Gillis Long Poverty Law Center and the Law Clinic and teaches Law and Poverty.
You need to read the entire article, but this will give you a taste:
There are 28,000 people still living in shelters in Louisiana. There are 38,000 public housing apartments in New Orleans, many in good physical condition. None have been reopened. The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimated that 112,000 low-income homes in New Orleans were damaged by the hurricane. Yet, local, state and federal authorities are not committed to re-opening public housing. Louisiana Congressman Richard Baker (R-LA) said, after the hurricane, "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did."But then it all starts making sense, according to the Los Angeles Times, it turns out that the panels advising Louisiana's U.S. senators who are crafting legislation to rebuild the storm-damaged Gulf Coast, are infested with industry lobbyists:
New Orleans public schools enrolled about 60,000 children before the hurricane. The school board president now estimates that no schools on the city's east bank, where the overwhelming majority of people live, will reopen this academic school year. Every one of the 13 public schools on the mostly-dry west bank of New Orleans was changed into charter schools in an afternoon meeting a few days ago. A member of the Louisiana state board of education estimated that at most 10,000 students will attend public schools in New Orleans this academic year.
The City of New Orleans laid off 3,000 workers. The public school system laid off thousands of its workers. The Archdiocese of New Orleans laid off 800 workers from its central staff and countless hundreds of others from its parish schools. The Housing Authority has laid off its workers. The St. Bernard Sheriff's Office laid off half of its workers.
Renters in New Orleans are returning to find their furniture on the street and strangers living in their apartments at higher rents - despite an order by the Governor that no one can be evicted before October 25. Rent in the dry areas have doubled and tripled.
People are making serious money in this hurricane but not the working and poor people who built and maintained New Orleans. President Bush lifted the requirement that jobs re-building the Gulf Coast pay a living wage. The Small Business Administration has received 1.6 million disaster loan applications and has approved 9 in Louisiana. A US Senator reported that maintenance workers at the Superdome are being replaced by out of town workers who will work for less money and no benefits. He also reported that seventy-five Louisiana electricians at the Naval Air Station are being replaced by workers from Kellogg Brown and Root - a subsidiary of Halliburton.
The Louisiana Katrina Reconstruction Act — introduced last month by Louisiana Sens. Mary L. Landrieu, a Democrat, and David Vitter, a Republican — included billions of dollars' worth of business for clients of those lobbyists and a total price tag estimated as high as $250 billion.And finally, for good measure, in the shadow of huge and growing profits for refiners, indicted former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay manages to twist enough arms in the House of Representatives to narrowly pass a bill
One advisory panel member who discovered that most of his fellow panelists were lobbyists called the resulting legislation "a huge injustice" to the state.
"I was basically shocked," said Ivor van Heerden, director of a hurricane public health research center at Louisiana State University. "What do lobbyists know about a plan for the reconstruction and restoration of Louisiana?"
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.