TWO YEARS AFTER KATRINA . . . ‘Bush failed to keep promises’

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‘In the two years since Hurricane Katrina came ashore on the Gulf Coast, the Bush administration has failed miserably to deliver on the president’s promise to rebuild the area, especially New Orleans’, said the AFL-CIO trade union federation on Wednesday.

Thousands of people, including leaders of the New Orleans AFL-CIO and the United Teachers of New Orleans/AFT, marched through the streets of New Orleans to demand that the federal government provide the necessary funding and leadership to bring the city back.

AFL-CIO continued: ‘Instead of acting quickly to provide the aid needed to bring the Crescent City back, the administration is using the rebuilding effort to promote its conservative agenda and to push poor people out of New Orleans, according to several experts.

‘Consider that two years after Katrina, 213,000 people evacuated from the city still have not been able to return home because there are no places for them to live.

‘The Times Picayune reported yesterday that compared with two years ago in New Orleans:

• There are 42 per cent fewer hospital beds available;

• There are only 50 per cent as many schools open; and

* A shocking 80 per cent of the levee system is still not meeting its original authorised height.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney says the problem, which extends into the entire Gulf Coast region, is: ‘a lack of federal commitment at the top.

‘In March when he visited the city, President Bush claimed $110 billion in federal funds had been sent to New Orleans.

‘Actually, less than $59 billion had been allocated to the entire state of Louisiana, and as of this week, according to The New York Times, only $6.7 billion has been spent in the state, just $3.39 billion of that in New Orleans.’

A new report by the Campaign for America’s Future says ultraconservatives 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 favour of ones that lined the pockets of the rich.

‘Davis-Bacon, the law requiring federal construction projects to pay the locally prevailing wage, was suspended.

‘Affirmative action rules were suspended, too – as Republicans worked on legislation that would limit victims’ right to sue, offer private school vouchers for displaced school children, lift environment restrictions on new refineries, and create tax-advantaged enterprise zones to maximise private-sector participation in recovery and reconstruction.

‘The same combination that crippled the reconstruction in Iraq – lack of planning, crony capitalism, no-bid contracts, scorn for public infrastructure – undermined reconstruction in New Orleans.’

The AFL-CIO added: ‘Digby reports on Common Sense that former Bush adviser Karl Rove was given the leadership role over the rebuilding of New Orleans.

‘That suggested that White House decisions and pronouncements regarding the recovery from the storm were made for political reasons, mainly to increase the likelihood of Republican political victories in the future by lowering the population of the mainly Democratic, African American voters in New Orleans and pushing conservative goals.

‘The government’s neglect of New Orleans goes so far as to disconnect the toll-free number Bush urged survivors to use to get federal help.’

A Campaign for America’s Future video, Disconnected, shows how few of the administration’s promises have been kept.

In another video by WhenTheSaints.org, one of the Katrina survivors says: ‘My big joke is that when your house is 30 feet under water, it’s nice to know the government is there to hang you out to dry.’

In his Point of View column on the AFL-CIO website, author Michael Eric Dyson calls what has happened in New Orleans a scandal.

He says: ‘The federal government has scandalously neglected its obligation to help the most vulnerable citizens in this nation. It is a mark of our national shame that we have not lifted those human beings who suffered.’ 

But New Orleans and the Gulf Coast have not been abandoned by the American people, particularly union members.

AFL-CIO leader Sweeney points out: ‘Over the past two years, thousands of volunteers have streamed into New Orleans.

‘Hundreds of thousands of individuals have donated money, food and clothing.

‘More have opened up their homes and communities to evacuees.

‘Nonprofit organisations have taken on projects ranging from emergency housing to tourism development.

‘Our own AFL-CIO Gulf Coast Revitalisation Program is deep into $1 billion worth of strategies to produce new housing, fund economic development projects, create thousands of new jobs, train workers to fill those jobs and guarantee the right of return for all former public housing tenants.’

The AFL-CIO statement continued: ‘We described how some 80 teachers and school personnel from across the country are spending part of their summer break in New Orleans – painting high schools, tutoring students and doing other community projects.

‘And Union Summer interns spent their summers working to rebuild the city. 

‘But residents know that without adequate levees, they still are at risk when another hurricane hits.

‘Last month, activists formed a human levee to protest the actions by the US Army Corps of Engineers and the state of Louisiana to protect affluent communities in New Orleans’ Jefferson Parish that border the flood-prone Monticello Canal while ignoring the working-class neighbourhoods on the other side of the canal in Orleans Parish. 

‘Members of Congress also are planning to investigate what happened in New Orleans and write legislation to correct the mess there.

‘In a conference call yesterday, Representatives Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said they will investigate the sole-source contracts the government has awarded for the Gulf Coast.

‘Waters says the administration has created a “housing disaster” in New Orleans by deliberately trying to tear down public housing “because they don’t want to deal with poor people”.’

Michele Baker, an organiser for AFSCME who now lives in Houston after her home in New Orleans was destroyed by Katrina, sums it up in the video by the Campaign for America’s Future.

She says: ‘We may not be stuck on rooftops any more.

‘But at times we feel just as stranded and just as neglected by this administration as we did then.’