Stacked Deck; Foul All

Jesse Jackson | 10/2/2005, 10:03 p.m.
After his administration’s incompetence and indifference had lethal consequences in Katrina’s wake, President Bush has been scrambling to regain his ...

After his administration’s incompetence and indifference had lethal consequences in Katrina’s wake, President Bush has been scrambling to regain his footing. He’s called for an “unprecedented response to an unprecedented crisis.” In religious services at the National Cathedral, he called on America to “erase this legacy of racism” that was exposed by those abandoned in Katrina’s wake. He’s called on Congress to appropriate over $60 billion in emergency relief and outlined a recovery program likely to cost up to $200 billion, or nearly as much as the Iraq War.

All this has led the press to compare his plans to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal or Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. Don’t fall for it. A close look at the Bush plan reveals that this isn’t a New Deal: It’s a bad deal from a deck stacked against the poor who suffered the most in Katrina’s wake.

The first clue came from Mr. Bush’s first act. He issued orders erasing the prevailing wage for work on rebuilding the Gulf, and his administration gave Halliburton a lucrative no-bid contract to begin the work. Then he designated Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana an enterprise zone, and, using emergency authority, waived all worker protections in the region — protections for equal employment, for minority contractors, for health and safety, for environmental protection.

Now we’re learning that when Mr. Bush promised to remove the legacy of racism in New Orleans, he meant he’d remove the poor who were victims of that racism. Mr. Bush’s Secretary for Housing and Urban Development, Alphonso Jackson revealed that reality in an interview to the Houston Chronicle.

“Whether we like it or not, New Orleans is not going to be 500,000 people for a long time,” the HUD Secretary said. “New Orleans is not going to be as black as it was for a long time, if ever again.” Jackson predicted New Orleans will slowly draw back as many as 375,000 people, but that only 35 to 40 percent of the post-Katrina population would be black. (Prior to Katrina, New Orleans was two-thirds black.) “I’m telling you, as HUD secretary and having been a developer and a planner, that’s how it’s going to be.”

Jackson revealed that he advised Mayor Ray Nagin not to rebuild the overwhelmingly black 9th Ward.

Jackson didn’t just say New Orleans would be smaller because some would decide not to return. He said, as “a developer and a planner,” that it would be made majority white.

The people of the 9th Ward are the maids and waiters who serve New Orleans tourists. They are the musicians who give the city its blues. They are the cops and government clerks who are struggling to bring the city back. Half of the houses there are owned, not rentals. Many of these workers are dispersed — dispatched to over 40 states. Many still are in shelters, desperate for medical assistance and housing.

No one could figure out why the Bush administration wouldn’t give the evacuees housing vouchers to use to rent housing in and around New Orleans. Instead FEMA has ordered tens of thousands of trailers and is struggling to build trailer parks — Bushvilles — to shelve Katrina’s victims.