While Karl Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff and President Bush's chief political adviser -- some call him "Bush's Brain" -- is waiting to see if he will be indicted for his role in the Valerie Plame Affair, he has been named by Bush to lead the reconstruction effort in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. And, based on President Bush's address to the nation on Thursday, September 16, the blueprint for rebuilding will be less "New Deal" and more "New Steal" -- another opportunity for Team Bush's corporate donors and cronies to cash in on the misery of hundreds of thousands of Americans.
There is little doubt that the Rove-guided rebuilding effort will be paying close attention to a recent Special Report issued by the Heritage Foundation on September 12, spelling out a series of guidelines and recommendations for Gulf Coast's recovery.
A trio of top Senior Management officials -- Ed Meese, the Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow in Public Policy and Chairman of the Foundation's Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, Stuart Butler, a Vice President for Domestic and Economic Policy, and Kim Holmes, a Vice President for Foreign and Defense Policy Studies and the Director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies -- delivered "From Tragedy to Triumph: Principled Solutions for Rebuilding Lives and Communities," a guide to recovery that might better be called "The Heritage Foundation's Greatest Hits."
From the get-go, the Foundation's Special Report asserts that it is essential that the role of the federal government be as limited as possible. All existing "red tape" should be eliminated so that the private sector can be free to do its thing; regulations, that "are barriers to putting people back to work" must be streamlined or suspended; the "vision" of private entrepreneurs -- "not bureaucratic government" -- must be encouraged; and "Opportunity Zones," -- where "capital gains tax on investments is eliminated and regulations eliminated or simplified" -- need to be created.
On Thursday, September 15, standing at a podium in New Orleans' historic Jackson Square, with the St. Louis Cathedral as a backdrop, President Bush laid out his broad-ranging plan for rebuild the areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
A lynchpin of the plan is the creation of "Opportunity Zones," a concept the Heritage Foundation strongly recommends in its report.
Bush said he would trust the private sector to handle much of the rebuilding effort, just as the Heritage Foundation maintained.
The day after Bush's speech, the New York Times reported that the Chairman of the Senate environment committee, Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, introduced a measure that would suspend any EPA law governing air, water or land in responding to Hurricane Katrina, another recommendation by the Heritage Foundation.
Moreover, while the president at least paid lip service to race and racial issues, perhaps the most startling aspect of the Heritage Foundation's blueprint was that in its more than 5,000 words, race and/or racial issues were not even mentioned.
In light of images that are now seared into the consciousness of the world -- the desperate people on the rooftops of their submerged houses, and the throngs of African Americans loaded into a crumbling New Orleans Superdome -- how could the nation's premier conservative think tank so blatantly disregard race?
Drill the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge? You bet. Suspend just about any environmental regulation standing in the path of private entities -- including the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act? Absolutely. Shelve prevailing wage labor laws, promote vouchers and school choice, and repeal the estate tax? That's right. Fund faith-based organizations? Definitely.
Address issues of racial and economic injustice? Absolutely not!
Just as the Iraq War has been a laboratory for Team Bush's neoconservatives to test their foreign policy initiatives, the Gulf Coast could prove to be the mother of all testing grounds for the Heritage Foundation's domestic agenda.
The Heritage Foundation's Special Report maintains that it is imperative "that taking action swiftly does not lead to steps that cause dollars to be used inefficiently or unwise decisions that will frustrate rather than achieve long term success."
The key to successfully rebuilding the Gulf Coast is to "encourage creative and rapid private investment through incentives and reduced regulation, and to channel long-term education, health, and other assistance directly to the people and areas affected so that they can control their future."
"Opportunity Zones," where "the President should direct an Emergency Board, drawn from federal, state, and local agencies and the private sector, to identify regulations at all levels that impede recovery and should propose temporary suspension or modification of these rules," are encouraged.
Suspending parts of the Davis-Bacon Act, as the president has already done, "significantly reduce[s] the cost of reconstruction and provide more opportunities for displaced Americans who are without jobs to work on federal projects to restore their neighborhoods."
The report does not detail what mechanisms they would put in place to prevent cronyism, corporate gouging and the turning of the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast into another giant Iraq-like corporate welfare project. In addition, it does not begin to explain how workers -- many of whom have lost everything -- could possibly afford to rebuild their homes and their lives while working for wages below, at, or close to the minimum wage.
While thoughtful environmentalists recognize that a complicated set of actions over a significant stretch of time led to the collapse of the levees and the flooding of New Orleans, the Heritage Foundation Report delves into none of those issues. Instead, it confidently advocates gutting "restrictive environmental regulations that hamper rebuilding a broad array of infrastructure from refineries to roads and stadiums." They also advocate "substantial changes in environmental laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Clean Water Act" which they charge "have contributed to Katrina's damage."
What is the best way to get the energy infrastructure up and running? "Waive or repeal Clean Air Act (CAA) regulations that hamper refinery rebuilding and expansion," "waive or repeal gasoline formulation requirements under the Clean Air Act so as to allow gasoline markets to work more flexibly and efficiently and reduce costs to the American consumer," and "increase the production of oil in the United States" through, at minimum, drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
As an indication of how out of touch the Heritage Foundation is with the vast majority of the victims of Hurricane Katrina (poor African Americans), it offers up a tax package that has little or no beneficial effects on most of the victims. Front and center are recommendations to: "streamline or suspend" parts of the federal tax code in the so-called "Opportunity Zones"; repeal the estate tax in order to prevent the victims of the disaster from being "hounded by the IRS"; "postpone payment of 2004 and 2005 individual and business income taxes for Katrina's victims," and "waive penalties for withdrawals from tax-advantaged savings such as IRAs and 401(k) plans."
Exactly how many of the folks the world saw languishing on the rooftops of their submerged houses, or stuffed into the crumbling Superdome, have huge IRAs or 401(k) plans, the report fails to mention.
Meese and comrades also propose offering "refundable tax credits for the purchase of the kind of health insurance that best meets their personal needs," voucherizing public school education, and encouraging public/private partnerships "through leasing" instead of the construction of new and much needed public schools.
Finally, the report argues for the elimination of any-and-all barriers -- read that, laws barring discriminatory hiring practices by religious organizations receiving government grants -- preventing "charitable and faith-based groups, as well as uncertified or non-union individuals," from participating fully in the reconstruction.
The Heritage Foundation's blueprint for recovery is a prescription for invisibility for African Americans. Racial, cultural and issues of economic justice do not appear to be worthy of the foundation's consideration.
Postscript: In recent days, the Heritage Foundation has expressed concerns over "dangers with parts of" Bush's plan: "The huge federal commitment could easily be turned by Congress into a vast, bureaucratic, and inefficient vehicle. That must not be allowed to happen." (For more on this, see How to Turn the President's Gulf Coast Pledge into Reality)
Brendan Miniter, the assistant editor of OpinionJournal.com, expressed the general feeling among many conservatives that the White House's rebuilding plan may jeopardize other top-shelf conservative agenda items. In a recent Wall Street Journal column, Miniter wrote: "Katrina is swamping every goal conservatives have, from limiting government to cutting taxes to reforming entitlement programs."
A horrified Miniter pointed out that, "Katrina spending has already imperiled plans to repeal the death tax."
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange.com column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.
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Bush's African American Conundrum
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Bush's African American Conundrum