A central tenet of conservative ideology is the belief that government
interferes with individual liberty, is less efficient than the
private sector, and in many cases is simply unnecessary. Among
the world's industrial nations, the US has the lowest overall
level of taxation (especially for the wealthy), has the weakest
regulations on business for consumer and worker protections, and
has the smallest safety net in terms of health insurance, child
care, and anti-poverty programs.
Even so, conservatives like President George W. Bush, his Republican
allies in Congress, his intellectual strategists like Grover Norquist
of Americans for Tax Reform and William Kristol of the Weekly
Standard, and the corporate-sponsored policy wonks at the American
Enterprise Institute, Cato Institute, and the Heritage Foundation
argue that (with the exception of military spending) we need to
further reduce government, in large part by cutting taxes even
more, especially for the very rich. They call this "starving
the beast," reducing taxes so much that government in general,
and the federal government in particular, will be virtually paralyzed.
With the Katrina disaster, these conservatives got what they were
looking for. When it was needed most, government was paralyzed,
and for the past two weeks we've been watching the consequences
The American people appear to understand that the federal government's
actions before and after Katrina were due to a combination of
indifference and incompetence. According to a national survey
conducted September 6-7 by the Pew Research Center for the People
& the Press (http://people-press.org),
Katrina and the spike in gas prices triggered a major shift in
public priorities. For the first time since the 9/11 terror attacks,
a majority of Americans (56%) say it is more important for the
president to focus on domestic policy than the war on terrorism.
The public is highly critical of President Bush's handling of
Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. Two thirds (67%) believe he
could have done more to speed up relief efforts. At the same time,
Bush's overall job approval rating has slipped to 40% and his
disapproval rating has climbed to 52%, among the highest for his
presidency. Moreover, Bush's ratings have slipped the most among
his core constituents - Republicans and conservatives.
Government Got to Do With It?
In contrast to right-wing ideology, the Katrina disaster reveals
how much we need government. It is needed to provide things that
individuals and the private sector simply cannot. It is needed
to build the public infrastructure necessary for a civilized society,
to help deal with risk, to help relieve the immediate suffering,
and to help people and communities restore some level of normalcy
and decency. This role sometimes means imposing government regulations
on people and institutions (such as making buildings earthquake
proof, or having basic housing codes, or requiring factories and
cars to limit pollution). These regulations add short-term costs,
but are necessary to insure public safety and health. Government
is also needed to build dams, levees, bridges, roads, and public
transit -- as well as schools, parks, and playgrounds. These,
too, are long-term investments that make society more livable
as well as safer.
The Katrina disaster also underscores the need for a strong federal
government, the only level of government with the resources to
deal with the prevention, rescue, and rebuilding of areas faced
with major disasters. Local and state governments lack the resources
for this task, although they should be part of the planning and
Katrina also highlights the importance of having effective government
run by well-trained people who know what they are doing. There
were plenty of competent and experienced public servants who,
given the opportunity and resources, could have prevented the
disaster and/or dramatically limited its consequences. The failure
to prevent the Katrina disaster and to adequately respond once
it occurred was a failure of political will by the highest-ranking
government leaders, not incompetence by middle-level managers
and front-line staff in the military, FEMA, and other agencies.
In general, by bashing "big government" as inefficient,
unnecessary, and/or in conflict with liberty, conservatives have
made it more politically difficult to raise revenues for these
much-needed expenditures and to impose regulations that are necessary
to insure public safety. This was certainly the case with the
failure of Bush and Congress to invest adequately in the infrastructure
needed to prevent so much hurricane damage in New Orleans and
Mississippi. In 2001, FEMA identified a major hurricane hitting
New Orleans as one of the three "likeliest, most catastrophic
disasters facing this country." Many experts warned far in
advance that we needed to spend more money to upgrade the infrastructure,
including the levees in the region, but Bush and the GOP Congress
cut the budget for the Army Corps of Engineers and various projects
that could have protected New Orleans from a category 4 hurricane.
There was absolutely no excuse for this, except that they would
rather cut taxes for the rich and spend money on war in Iraq.
It simply wasn't a priority.
Arrogance of Power
When President Bush decided to invade, then occupy, then rebuild
Iraq, he asked Congress for funding and they provided it -- about
$400 billion so far. But when it came time to provide relief for
the people of New Orleans and Mississippi gulf coast, Bush not
only looked to Congress but also immediately asked Americans to
donate money to charities like the Red Cross and Salvation Army,
while celebrities held TV telethons to raise money to provide
basic necessities for Katrina's victims.
The Katrina disaster puts in dramatic relief the Bush administration's
arrogance and priorities. To the rest of the world, it is utterly
amazing that the richest nation on earth has been unable to deal
with this disaster -- from prevention, to evacuation, to rebuilding.
Some find it ironic that New Orleans has been reduced to "third
world" conditions, including the possibility of a public
health catastrophe like a cholera epidemic. But in many ways,
as some media outlets have noted, New Orleans (and other urban
areas in the US) was already a "third world" area in
terms of poverty, infant mortality, and other factors.
A United Nations report on global inequality released September
7 pointed out that the United States, with its widening economic
divide, has the same infant mortality rate as Malaysia and accused
the US of having "an overdeveloped military strategy and
an under-developed strategy for human security."
At least 59 countries – including many who opposed the US
invasion of Iraq – have pledged assistance to the United
States to help Katrina’s victims. These include wealthy
nations like France, Australia, Germany, and France, and poor
ones like El Salvador, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines. It may
seem shocking that some of the world’s poorest countries
have offered support when the United States lags so far behind
other industrial nation (on a per capita basis) in providing humanitarian
aid to poor countries. Last July, for example, Bush rejected British
Prime Minister Tony Blair's call for the U.S. and other wealthy
nations to dramatically increase its aid to Africa.
According to Reuters, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
said that "no offer that can help alleviate the suffering
of the people in the afflicted area will be refused." But
when it came to relieving the suffering of Katrina’s victims,
the Bush administration had a political litmus test. It refused
help from Cuba (which offered to send over 1,000 doctors and 36
tons of medicine and equipment to the disaster zone) and Venezuela
(which offered soldiers, firefighters and other disaster specialists,
as well as fuel and $1 million in cash) because it objects to
those nations' policies.
Newspapers from around the world are flabbergasted at America's
impotence in the face of Katrina. Many foreign papers have commented
on the paradox of how the US is seemingly able to destroy and
rebuild Bagdad but unable to protect New Orleans. And many papers
noted the racial and class nature of the Katrina divide -- who
got out, and who didn't; who needed food and shelter, and who
and Class Fault Lines
Katrina was not an equal opportunity disaster. There were clear
class and race fault lines. In his recent book, Heat Wave: A Social
Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago, sociologist Eric Klinenberg reveals
how that city's economic and social divisions were reflected in
who died and who survived a severe heat wave in July 1995. The
poor, people of color, and the elderly - who are most likely to
be socially isolated and without resources -- were the most likely
The same is true in New Orleans. The Bush administration apparently
assumed that people would evacuate New Orleans. on their own,
without giving much thought to who these people were, what resources
they had, or where they would go. They acted as if everyone had
an SUV full of gas and family or friends (or a second home) waiting
to take them in somewhere safe.
In a wonderful example of fortuitous bad-timing, the U.S. Census
Bureau released two new reports on poverty on August 30. One (http://www.census.gov/prod/2005pubs/p60-229.pdf)
showed that the nation's poverty rate - now 12.7 percent (accounting
for 37 million Americans in poverty) -- has risen steadily since
George Bush took office. Another (http://www.census.gov/prod/2005pubs/acs-01.pdf)
showed that Mississippi (with 21.6 percent poverty rate) and Louisiana
(19.4 percent) are the nation's poorest states, and that New Orleans
(with a 23.2 percent poverty rate) is the 12th poorest city in
New Orleans is not only one of then nation’s poorest cities,
but its poor people are among the most concentrated in poverty
ghettos. Housing discrimination and the location of government
subsidized housing have contributed to the city’s economic
and racial segregation. According to the Brookings Institution
the area has seen a faster exodus of jobs, as well as middle-class
and wealthy families, to the suburbs than in other metropolitan
areas, exacerbating the city’s fiscal crisis.
Indeed, much of the human devastation is due to the fact that
New Orleans is one of the nation's poorest cities. The New York
Times and other papers gradually started to report on this economic
divide as a key part of the Katrina story. But the Bush administration
didn't (and doesn't) get it. Many reports had warned that tens
of thousands of people would have difficulty evacuating New Orleans
in the case of a flood. Even so, FEMA Director Michael Brown resorted
to typical blame-the-victory conservative rhetoric. He attributed
the death toll in New Orleans "to people who did not heed
George W.'s mother, former First Lady Barbara Bush, similarly
and unwittingly reflected the class and racial bigotry underlying
the failure of the administration's relief efforts. In the midst
of a tour of facilities set up for the evacuees -- in reporter
John Nichols' words, "cots crammed side-by-side in a huge
stadium where the lights never go out and the sound of sobbing
children never completely ceases" -- Mrs. Bush told a radio
interviewer: "Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality.
And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged
anyway, so this, this is working very well for them." Only
a multimillionaire completely divorced from reality could say
something like that.
and Bush's Crony Capitalism
Many aspects of the Katrina disaster -- from the appointment of
FEMA directors to the contracts and plans for reconstruction --
exemplify the worst sort of crony capitalism that has been rampant
in the Bush administration.
We understand why presidents appoint political hacks and big donors
to ambassadorships in obscure nations. But Bush’s two FEMA
directors had absolutely no qualifications for the job.
Clinton’s FEMA director, James Lee Whitt, rebuilt and professionalized
the agency, only to watch Bush undermine its effectiveness through
incompetent appointments and budget cuts. Bush's first FEMA director,
Joseph Allbaugh, had no disaster relief experience. He managed
Bush's campaign for Texas governor in 1994, served as Gov. Bush's
chief of staff, and was Bush's presidential campaign manager in
2000. In 2001, soon after joining FEMA, Allbaugh characterized
the agency as an "an oversized entitlement program"
and urged states, cities and victims of disaster to rely instead
on "faith-based organizations . . . like the Salvation Army
and the Mennonite Disaster Service." This statement is typical
of George W.’s view (similar to his father's "thousand
points of light" rhetoric) that we can solve our problems
by relying on private charity rather than government.
When Allbaugh quit as FEMA director, he persuaded Bush to replace
him with his college roommate, Michael Brown, who also had no
disaster relief experience. Brown was previously employed by the
International Arabian Horse Assn., a job from which he was fired.
Under both Allbaugh and Brown, the Bush administration cut the
budget for FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers. It also folded
FEMA into the Department of Homeland Security, diminishing its
role as an emergency planning and relief agency while viewing
it as simply another part of the administration's "war on
On the September 1 broadcast of ABC's “Good Morning America,”
Bush said, “I don't think anyone anticipated the breach
of the levees." In fact, as the Chicago Tribune noted, “Despite
continuous warnings that a catastrophic hurricane could hit New
Orleans, the Bush administration and Congress in recent years
have repeatedly denied full funding for hurricane preparation
and flood control. That has delayed construction of levees around
the city and stymied an ambitious project to improve drainage
in New Orleans' neighborhoods.”
For example, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requested $27 million
for this fiscal year to pay for hurricane-protection projects
around Lake Pontchartrain. The Bush administration countered with
$3.9 million, and Congress eventually provided $5.7 million.
“Because of the shortfalls, which were caused in part by
the rising costs of the war in Iraq,” the Tribune reported,
“the corps delayed seven contracts that included enlarging
the levees, according to corps documents.” The Wall Street
Journal documented (in a September 6 report) how the Bush administration
had systemically stripped FEMA of authority, money, and key staff,
undermined its morale, and ignored warnings by state emergency
managers that its actions were sabotaging the agency’s capacity
to respond to disasters.
Brown’s leadership of FEMA was, pardon the expression, a
disaster. His statement that FEMA officials were unaware as late
as Thursday, Sept. 1, that thousands of refugees were trapped
in the New Orleans convention center without food or water is
one of the most brazen examples of either stupidity or lying in
history. (All he needed to do was turn on the television).
There were multiple failures to prepare for the disaster and coordinate
rescue operations. For example, while government emergency planners
scrambled to get relief to stricken communities, the USS Bataan
– a 844-foot ship with 1,200 sailors, helicopters, doctors,
hospital beds for 600 patients, six operating rooms, food and
water – was cruising in the Gulf of Mexico, awaiting relief
We don’t know the magnitude of the Bush administration’s
blunders and misjudgements, or their cost in human lives and property
damage, but this was clearly the low point for President Bush.
Still, on September 2, during his first (and belated) tour of
the disaster area, Bush told his FEMA director in front of the
cameras, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job," despite
all evidence to the contrary. A week later, under enormous pressure
from public officials, civic leaders, and the media, Bush relieved
Brown of his responsibilities for overseeing the Katrina relief
But the failure of the Bush administration to adequately prepare
for Katrina, and then to botch the evacuation and relief effort,
was not simply a matter of hiring the wrong people for the job.
It must be seen in the context of Bush’s overall priorities.
Bush and the GOP leadership in Congress, including presidential
hopeful and majority leader Sen. Bill Frist, still want to repeal
the estate tax -- a huge tax cut for very rich -- in the midst
of all this. Just as they refused to ask the rich to sacrifice
anything as we went to war in Iraq, they refuse to ask the rich
to sacrifice to help rescue the lives and property of the mostly
poor and African-American residents of New Orleans and the residents
of the Mississippi gulf coast. (In Iraq war, too, it is poor Americans
and people of color who disproportionately die and suffer severe
injuries). Also, the fact that so many National Guard troops --
who include many cops, firefighters, nurses, and EMTs –
are overseas in Iraq certainly handicapped the effort to evacuate
and rescue people from Katrina's damage.
Katrina is a disaster for the people of the gulf region and for
the nation’s economy. (About 400,000 Americans will lose
their jobs, according to the Congressional Budget Office). But
for some companies, especially those with political connections,
Katrina, like the war in Iraq, is a bonanza. Congress has already
appropriated $62 billion for post-Katrina relief and repair, and
the figure is expected to exceed $100 billion. The reconstruction
of New Orleans and the gulf coast, like the rebuilding of Iraq,
has unleashed a feeding frenzy of government contracts to companies.
FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers quickly suspended its rules
to allow no-bid contracts in order to move quickly, but in doing
so, it also allowed companies with close political ties to get
to the front of the line. As the New York Times reported on September
10, “From global engineering and construction firms like
the Fluor Corporation and Haliburton to local trash removal and
road-building concerns, the private sector is poised to reap a
windfall of business in the largest domestic rebuilding effort
Three companies -- the Shaw Group, Kellogg Brown & Root (a
subsidiary of Haliburton, whose former CEO is VP Dick Cheney),
and Boh Brothers Construction of New Orleans -- have already been
awarded no-bid contracts by the Army Corps of Engineers to perform
the restoration. Bechtel and Fluor (firms with close ties to the
GOP) have also reaped huge contracts. Haliburton is facing questions
for allegedly overcharging on work done in Iraq. The Department
of Defense has been criticized for awarding Iraq reconstruction
contracts to Haliburton and Bechtel without competition. Since
the storm hit, Haliburton’s shares have risen by more than
10 per cent to $65.
Bush’s first FEMA director Joseph Allbaugh resigned in 2003
to head New Bridge Strategies, a company whose motto is: "Helping
to Rebuild a New Iraq." According to its website (http://www.newbridgestrategies.com),
the firm is "a unique company that was created specifically
with the aim of assisting clients to evaluate and take advantage
of business opportunities in the Middle East following the conclusion
of the U.S.-led war in Iraq." He was hired by Kellogg, Brown
$ Root to, according his lobbying disclosure form, "educate
the congressional and executive branch on defense, disaster relief
and homeland security issues."
The Houston Chronicle reported on Sept. 1 that the U.S. Navy hired
KBR "to restore electric power, repair roofs and remove debris
at three naval facilities in Mississippi damaged by Hurricane
Katrina" and to "perform damage assessments at other
naval installations in New Orleans as soon as it is safe to do
so." (Earlier this year, the Navy awarded $350 million in
contracts to KBR and three other companies to repair naval facilities
in northwest Florida damaged by Hurricane Ivan, which struck in
To sweeten the contracts, Bush administration has suspended the
federal Davis-Bacon law requiring contractors working on recovery
and reconstruction efforts to pay a fair minimum wage to its employees.
The law, passed in 1931, requires contractors on federal projects
to pay the prevailing or average pay in the region. (The prevailing
wage in New Orleans is just $9/hour for construction work, according
to the Department of Labor). The Bush administration and its corporate
allies have long opposed the Davis-Bacon law. Now they are using
the Katrina disaster to impose their agenda through the back door.
"Employers are all too eager to exploit workers," AFL-CIO
President John Sweeney told the Washington Post. "This is
no time to make that easier. What a double tragedy it would be
to allow the destruction of Hurricane Katrina to depress living
standards even further."
Kind of Reconstruction?
The rescue and resettlement of Katrina's victims is still underway,
but government officials and business leaders are already formulating
reconstruction plans. Our federal government is about spend to
more than $100 billion on earthquake relief and repair, the largest
urban (and rural) renewal program in memory.
Almost everyone assumes that we should simply rebuild New Orleans
and the gulf coast the way it was before Katrina. New Orleans
and the gulf coast is a major center for refining oil. The Gulf
Coast has half of US oil refineries. About 60% of oil imports
come through Gulf ports. These facilities need to be rebuilt.
People hope that much of the city’s cultural life –
its music venues, the French Quarter, its charming neighborhoods
– can be restored.
But what about the rest of the city and the larger region? The
people who return to New Orleans and the gulf coast will need
jobs, homes, and public services. The area will need to rebuild
hospitals, health clinics, parks, playgrounds, and schools.
But should the federal government simply subsidize the reconstruction
of the city's low-wage economy -- its hotels, casinos, and other
tourist and service industries? If a major hotel chain or casino
is going to get millions in federal aid, shouldn't there be some
quid-pro-quos -- like requiring them to pay a living wage or provide
other community benefits? (It was the New Orleans business community
that three years ago filed suit to overturn the results of a successful
ballot initiative -- led by ACORN and the local labor movement
-- to adopt a municipal minimum wage one dollar above the current
federal level of $5.15/hour).
Should we provide homebuilders and landlords millions in federal
funds to reconstruct apartment buildings without any guarantees
that rents will be affordable to the families who need them? In
rebuilding New Orleans and its suburbs, shouldn’t we avoid
isolating the poor in ghetto neighborhoods? In reconstructing
the city’s infrastructure, shouldn’t we link where
people live, work, and shop through decent public transit?
And if we're going to spend billions of dollars to rebuild homes,
offices, warehouses, and stores, should we subsidize rebuilding
them in areas that we know will be the target of future hurricanes?
Across the country, we allow people and businesses to build buildings
in areas that are very risky -- not just in New Orleans. In southern
California, government zoning laws and building codes allow people
and businesses to construct homes, offices, and stores in areas
-- such as the canyons of wealthy Malibu -- prone to fires, mud
slides, earthquakes, and other disasters that come predictably.
Yes, we have to live with a certain amount of risk. But we actually
pay people to rebuild on the very same spots where they were destroyed
by natural disasters. Some of this is unavoidable because so many
areas of our country are prone to some kind of disaster. But we
exacerbate the problem by encouraging, insuring, and subsidizing
development in high-risk areas without asking people and businesses
to pay the cost of such risks.
The New Yorker recently reported that, according to Carol Browner,
who ran the Environmental Protection Agency during the Clinton
Administration, Sen. Trent Lott fought EPA’s efforts to
limit construction of gambling casinos on Mississippi’s
environmentally-sensitive wetlands. Perhaps in the wake of Katrina,
the developers and their political allies will heed those warnings.
This reconstruction effort should include jobs and training for
the gulf coast residents who were unemployed before Katrina as
well as those who lost their jobs as a result of the disaster.
Doing so will require a public works plan similar to the WPA and
the Civilian Conservation Corps.
In other words, if we're spending billions in tax dollars for
major reconstruction effort, shouldn't there be some reasonable
planning standards -- and concern about fairness and equity --
Responsibility of Government
The Katrina disaster has triggered the nation's largest population
movement in memory. Hundreds of thousands of people left the New
Orleans and Mississippi gulf coast regions and moved to Baton
Rouge, Houston, and other cities. Some will return to their previous
communities, but many will remain where they've relocated. These
cities are now faced with enormous challenges. Where will these
people live? Where will their children attend school? How will
they get health care and nursing home care. Where will they work?
Should the burden for addressing these human needs and economic
realities fall on the localities, or be left to the private market?
Or should Washington play a significant role?
Baton Rouge is already experiencing a huge spike in rents and
housing prices as a result of the increased demand. Baton Rouge,
Houston and the other cities are now facing overcrowded schools
without sufficient buildings, teachers, textbooks and equipment.
Shouldn't the federal government come to the aid of these cities
with funding to build affordable housing, construct new schools,
and hire more teachers? Or will the Bush administration and Congress
view this resettlement the way it views immigration from abroad
-- forcing those cities and states with the vast majority of new
immigrants (especially California, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona)
to provide for them?
The Katrina disaster begs the larger question: What responsibility,
if any, does the federal government have to provide Americans
with decent housing, access to health care, and opportunities
for work that pays a living wage? Should government help people
cope with the vicissitudes of the business cycle, the inequities
of the market economy, and just plain old bad luck?
Conservatives are willing to spend billions of dollars to rescue
people and businesses from a "natural" disaster, like
a hurricane or earthquake, but not a human-made disaster, like
chronic poverty, unemployment, and homelessness. We have FEMA
for natural disaster relief but no modern-day equivalent of the
Depression-era Works Progress Administration (WPA) for human disaster
relief to address the widespread human needs associated with poverty
in New Orleans and elsewhere.
As Richard Rothstein and I wrote in the American Prospect after
the 1993 Los Angeles earthquake. (http://www.prospect.org/print/V5/18/dreier-p.html),
the same Republican Congresspeople who voted against President
Clinton's public works jobs plan for being a "budget-buster"
full of "pork" projects, voted for billions of dollars
in earthquake relief and repair. Ironically, the federal government
wound up spending more money in Southern California on earthquake
repair and relief than it would have under the original Clinton
public works plan.
During the Depression of the 1930s, the New Deal expanded the
role of government dramatically: it initiated a minimum wage,
Social Security, public housing, rural electrification (ie the
TVA and Bonneville), the right to unionize, and massive public
works to put people back to work rebuilding the cities. When the
Depression ended, these programs and policies did not end. Only
the large-scale public works program was killed, but it was replaced,
after World War 2, with two even larger public works and industrial
policies that reshaped America -- military spending and the federal
Wherever they move, the evacuees from New Orleans and Mississippi
are mostly poor. They will need jobs, housing, and health care,
among other things. But so do millions of other Americans, including
the 37 million who are poor, the 45.8 million without health insurance,
the even larger number who pay more than they can afford to put
a roof over their heads. Why help the victims of Katrina but not
help the victims of George Bush, Alan Greenspan, Enron, Wal-Mart,
and American drug companies?
Katrina also underscores the need to reorder national priorities.
And it underscores the human disaster at hand as a result of several
decades of the ascendency of right-wing ideas and corporate domination
of the federal government, which extols market forces, individualism,
and private charity over public responsibility and the common
at its Worst and Best
The Katrina disaster brought out both the worst and the best in
the American people and society. It revealed the wide gap between
the decency of the American people and the indecency of the Bush
Administration and its corporate allies.
The worst starts with George W. His was not only a failure of
leadership, but a failure of basic human decency. Surrounded by
poor people who had lost their homes (and in some cases friends
and relatives), Bush promised to help rebuild devastated areas
better than they were before, but the first example that came
to his mind was the racist Republican Senator from Mississippi,
Trent Lott. "Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house —
he's lost his entire house — there's going to be a fantastic
house," Bush said. "And I'm looking forward to sitting
on the porch."
Bush set a high standard for insensitivity, but others have risen
to the occasion. They include the immoral greed of some oil companies
and gas stations, as well as other retail stores, and landlords,
jacking up prices and rents to take advantage of people’s
desperation amid the shortage of gas, food, clothing, apartments,
and other basic necessities.
The outrages also include the horrid criminal behavior of some
New Orleans residents. Looting stores to obtain food, water, and
clothing is understandable and hardly counts as "criminal"
acts under the circumstances. But people who shot guns and rifles
at helicopters and other rescue operations, or people who raped
and brutalized other victims of the disaster (as allegedly occurred
in the Superdome and elsewhere) are in a different category and
should be condemned as predators and thugs. It is likely that
these people were criminals before Katrina.
On the other hand, the Katrina disaster has also brought out the
best in many Americans. It revealed, like the immediate aftermath
of 9/11, the generosity of the American people. The outpouring
of private money and volunteers to help the victims of Katrina
has been impressive. Churches and synagogues, labor unions, volunteers
for the Red Cross, and hundreds of thousands of small groups of
citizens and individuals acting on their own out of sense of moral
responsibility did their part. Victims of the disaster helped
each other, showing enormous courage and fortitude. People who
live worlds apart from the disaster -- in terms of both physical
and social distance -- showed enormous solidarity and compassion.
Can progressives rescue some lessons from the Katrina disaster?
Can we take the failures of the Bush administration's prevention
and relief efforts and remind Americans about the need for activist
and efficient government -- not just for natural disasters but
also for addressing the day-to-day suffering of the American people?
Can we promote a common sense view that our tax dollars are best
used to meet human needs at home and human rights abroad instead
of risking American lives fighting an immoral war in Iraq or elsewhere?
And, finally, will the Republicans (and some Democrats) in Congress
who opposed funds for disaster prevention and relief -- but who
continue to endorse tax relief for the rich -- be held accountable
at the polls in November 2006?
Peter Dreier is the E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor
of Politics, and director of the Urban & Environmental Policy
Program, at Occidental College.
© 2005 Foundation for Study of Independent Ideas, Inc.