The richest country in the world should do something to help people,” a woman resident of New Orleans told me in mid June. “Bush and them spend more money in one week in Iraq than it would take to fix up all our homes.” Two plus years after Katrina, only 133,966 out of almost 200,000 households in Orleans Parish could receive mail and only 40 percent of pubic schools had reopened. She shook her head. “Just look at this place.”

Everyone remembers the August 2005 TV images of the 9th Ward, showing people floating in rising waters, others waiting helplessly in the streets. No response from government agencies. Dead bodies festered in the summer sun.

After President George W. Bush’s late arrival and notorious compliment to the now disgraced FEMA Chief Michael Brown – “You’re doing a heckuva job, Brownie” – he finally admitted: “The results are not acceptable.” Duh!

Congress reluctantly returned from holiday to offer $10.5 billion in aid.

The Pentagon offered National Guardsmen to stop the looting, not to save lives or help people.
Hungry, thirsty and sick refugees at the New Orleans’ Convention Center waited for food, water and medical attention. Bodies wrapped in sheets lay on the convention center floor. At the hospital, staff had piled corpses on the stairs. Mayor Ray Nagin cried on the radio. He had failed to tell people to leave before Katrina hit, to send school buses afterwards, or to mobilize any city resources.

The Mississippi River’s power alone didn’t dislodge hundreds of thousands of mostly poor and black people. Nature needed help from Mr. Bush’s incompetent appointees and misguided priorities to accomplish its act of obliteration.

Both before and after Katrina, Bush and company paid little attention to poor people. Indeed, government officials at all levels ignored victims’ plights. As Nero fiddled while Rome burned, so President Bush played video golf while New Orleans flooded. In light of such dramatic negligence and incompetence, how can you blame a mighty river?

Unfortunately, the U.S. government has not yet learned the lessons of Katrina. The rapid erosion of New Orleans parallels the erosion of small town America. Up and down the Mississippi, travelers see business districts boarded up and factories rusting. Young people are strikingly absent. In late June, victims of the latest natural disaster – the Midwestern floods – saw bridges floating away, dams and levees surrendering, aging sewage systems collapsing. Their crops and animals floated away.

On July 4, politicians repeated the “We’re the greatest” rhetoric while ignoring the country’s decrepit infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that an additional expenditure of $1 trillion is needed to bring infrastructure up to par with modern needs and standards, not counting the cost of repairing damage caused by the recent floods.

Mr. Bush requested $1.8 billion for flood recovery — a drop in the proverbial bucket. While billions per week flow to Iraq and Afghanistan, thousands of deteriorating bridges, levees and dams await attention.

The president, nevertheless, continues to offer this “model” to the world. The late George Carlin, winner of this year’s Mark Twain award, said what Twain might have said: “A politician’s insincerity can best be measured by how far around the world our soldiers are.”

Distributed by

Saul Landau is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. He is making a film (with Jack Willis) on the Cuban Five.

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