After Katrina: Why Isn’t HUD Building Housing?

Katrina + 10 months

(Video from truthout.com)

An editorial in today’s NYT finally does what, so far as I know, no newspaper has done since Katrina hit New Orleans: connect a few dots in the aftermath.

The Bush administration’s mishandling of the Hurricane Katrina housing crisis has often looked like an attempt to discourage survivors from applying for help. The House has taken an important step toward reversing this policy with a bill that would require the Department of Housing and Urban Development to issue tens of thousands of new housing vouchers under the Section 8 program, which allows low-income families to seek homes in the private real estate market.

Many of these families would have long since found permanent homes and settled into new lives had the Bush administration brought HUD — which was created to deal with these kinds of situations — into the picture at the very start. But Hurricane Katrina arrived just as the administration had made up its mind to cripple HUD and the successful Section 8 program, partly as a way of offsetting tax cuts for the wealthy.

The administration instead rigged up a confusing and inflexible housing program and put the Federal Emergency Management Agency in charge. FEMA frustrated landlords and Katrina’s victims alike. Last year, one federal judge likened the convoluted application process — which too often led vulnerable families to lose aid without knowing why or having reasonable recourse to appeal — to something out of a horror story by Kafka.

With thousands of families scheduled to lose their temporary aid by September, the Senate should move quickly to pass this much-needed legislation. Hurricane Katrina’s victims should not have to keep paying the price for the administration’s misplaced animosity toward low-income housing.

It doesn’t go far enough, of course. It has become painfully clear in the year-and-a-half since Katrina that the Bush Administration sees the new New Orleans largely as a predominantly white corporate theme park. It has scattered hundreds of thousands of homeless black Orleanians to the four winds and targeted Federal money to reconstruction efforts downtown and to upscale white neighborhoods. The touchy racist aspect of the BA’s response is apparently not something the NYT is yet prepared to deal with.

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Wal-Mart Awards Employee Bonuses for the First Time in 20 Years

Put this in the category “Miracle of Miracles”: Wal-Mart is finally, after 20 years, giving its workers a bonus.

Wal-Mart, Georgia’s largest private employer, made its annual bonus for store employees public for the first time in two decades Thursday, saying that about 80 percent of hourly workers will split more than a half-billion dollars.

The company has about 54,000 workers in Georgia, although their stores must meet targets for them to qualify for bonuses.

Based on the numbers Wal-Mart released, the mathematical average payment would be $651 per worker but Wal-Mart said the individual amounts varied. It declined to provide a range or the specific level of payments, citing competition with other employers.

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Sheila Holt-Orsted’s Crusade: Cancer, Racism and the Class War

There are times and places when the lines of culture, politics, science, and social conventions come crashing together, when the attitudes we’ve been ignoring and the problems we’ve refused to address converge to create a snapshot reality of where we are and where we’ve been. Call it Ground Zero-Prime.

In Dickson County, Tennessee, Sheila Holt-Orsted is living right smack dab in the middle of Ground Zero-Prime. In her family, and what happened to them, four of the major cultural strains of the past half-century collide: racism, the Class War, denial of environmental neglect, and pandering to corporate greed at the expense of public health and safety.

Sheila had breast cancer. Her father died of prostate and bone cancers. Her sister has had a form of colon cancer. And there’s more.

Three of Holt-Orsted’s cousins have had cancer. Her aunt next door has had cancer. Her aunt across the street has had chemotherapy for a bone disease. Her uncle died of Hodgkin’s disease. Her daughter, 12-year-old Jasmine, has a speech defect.

Why all this in one family? You’re recognizing the pattern, aren’t you? And you’re already suspecting that they lived near a toxic waste site. Well, you’re right – and wrong. It was toxic, alright, but it wasn’t supposed to be. The source of the cancers was a landfill – the County dump.

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TrenchNews, Verse 6

TOP STORY

As bad as the climate is for unions and workers in the US, it can be much worse overseas. At least we don’t have corporations hiring assassins to kill union leaders any more.

Day and night, workers at the port of Quetzal on Guatemala’s Pacific coast load fruit from surrounding plantations and clothing stitched in local factories onto freighters bound for Long Beach, Calif., a flow of goods that has swelled since a Central American trade agreement with the United States took force last year.

Under a provision that was crucial to getting the deal through Congress, working conditions for the longshoremen, along with laborers throughout Central America, were supposed to improve. Governments promised to strengthen labor laws, and the Bush administration pledged money to help.

But on the evening of Jan. 15, the head of the port workers union became a symbol of the risks that still confront workers who press their rights in Guatemala.

Pedro Zamora, then in the midst of contentious negotiations with management, was driving on the dusty road through his village, his two sons at his side, when gunmen shot him at least 20 times, killing him, said prosecutors in Guatemala City. One boy was grazed in the knee by a bullet; the other was unharmed.

Though Bush spent this past week traipsing through Latin America spouting phrases like “social justice”, “the plight of the poor”, and “when one of us hurts, we also hurt”, one phrase conspicuous by its absence from his pandering was “trade unions”.

Despite the fact that Zamora’s murder was barely two months old, Mr Bush had no words of wisdom or even condolence. Continue reading

Minimum Wage Bill Tied to Iraq Funding (2 Updates)

Nancy Pelosi gets more interesting by the minute. Refusing to sit still for a threatened Republican filibuster of the minimum wage bill because the House cut $$$7Billion in corporate tax breaks out of the Senate version, she has come up with a whole new tactic: she’s tying it to the war appropriations package.

House leaders have added legislation raising the federal minimum wage to an emergency spending bill for the Iraq war. They hope to break a logjam with the Senate over the wage bill, a top Democratic priority that was once seen on Capitol Hill as a relatively easy compromise.

House leaders also hope the addition of the wage provisions will induce House liberals to vote for the $105 billion war package, which authorizes funds for Iraq while setting a timeline for withdrawal that would require combat operations to end by August 2008.

House Democrats unveiled the plan yesterday but did not release a draft of the legislation, saying that details were being worked out. According to Democratic aides, the proposal would increase the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour from $5.15 over two years and grant $1.3 billion in tax breaks for restaurants and other affected businesses.

Those provisions have already passed the House. The Senate also approved the wage increase, but added $8.3 billion in business tax breaks to placate Republicans in that chamber. House leaders oppose such a large tax package and hope to force a smaller one through the Senate by tying the minimum-wage increase to the Iraq bill.

The Republics, of course, have been furious because she wouldn’t let them turn a bill to raise the minimum wage for ordinary workers into a huge barrel of corporate pork. Continue reading

Health Insurance in America

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TSA 3: Screeners’ Union Passes in Senate

The Republicans backed off their threat to filibuster the provision of the anti-terrorism bill that would give airport screeners the right to unionize, and on Monday the Senate, too, passed the bill.

The Senate voted Tuesday to give 45,000 airport screeners the same union rights as other public safety officers, despite vigorous opposition by Republicans and a veto threat from the White House.

A broad anti-terrorism bill that would implement the remaining recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission includes a provision that would give airport screeners the right to bargain collectively. An amendment by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., would have removed that right, but was defeated by a vote of 51-46.

The Senate expects to complete work on the bill by the end of the week.

DeMint, a far-right whacko who ran a stealth campaign in South Carolina pretending to be a moderate, hasn’t quit, though. Continue reading