Monday, July 02, 2007

Democrats Debate Katrina, 2008 Style

The Democratic candidates for President briefly discussed Hurricane Katrina during their debate on PBS Thursday night. While it's refreshing that the mainstream media (if Tavis Smiley can really be considered MSM) finally asked the candidates about rebuilding the Gulf Coast, I'm quite disappointed in the way it played out. The question was relegated to the 30-second answer bin, not 60-seconds, and was pretty absurd - should Gulf Coast residents be allowed to return home per UN human rights laws?

Talk about a ridiculous question. No one's trying to stop residents from coming back! And who cares about UN laws right now, the UN has nothing to do with this! To be fair, said law does require the government provide a way back for the IDPs, but nevertheless, couldn't they have asked about putting forth comprehensive plans, fixing the Road Home program, reforming FEMA, fixing education, fighting crime, or repairing the wetlands?

Thankfully, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, John Edwards, and Barack Obama stepped away from the question to talk about the broader problems in New Orleans. Clinton highlighted her comprehensive plan for the region, Biden spoke of first responders and hospitals, Edwards talked about himself before saying the recovery czar should report directly to the President, and Obama agreed with Edwards. Bill Richardson tried hard, bless his heart, but one of the things he said was, "We need to make sure that we eliminate the ten percent match." Uh, Governor? Congress did that last month. Way to be on top of things. Chris Dodd just talked about the UN law and the importance of rebuilding, but did not delve into specifics. Dennis Kucinich spoke of a Congressional hearing, which is nice, but no one cares about the third tier. Mike Gravel talked about... um... Iraq, actually... but he's also third tier (which is about six tiers too high, if you ask me).

All in all, there's no way an answer to that kind of a stupid question can alter my analysis of the 2008 candidates, which you can read here (outdated, though - I'll be updating Edwards and Dodd this week). Nevertheless, it's a high profile discussion of Katrina recovery, and that's a good thing, so please take six minutes to watch the video or read the transcript, both available below and at the PBS website.


Michel Martin: Congressman, would you support a federal law guaranteeing the right to return to New Orleans and other Gulf regions devastated by Hurricane Katrina based on the United Nations human rights standards governing the internal displacement of citizens?

Dennis Kucinich: Absolutely. What happened in New Orleans in the aftermath and how it was dealt with underscores everything that's wrong in this country about race. First of all, New Orleans wouldn't have happened if the government had been more sensitive to make sure that those levies [sic] had been repaired when they were told they were supposed to be repaired.

Secondly, New Orleans represents hope also because we have to make sure people have a chance to return and they should be guaranteed that. They should also be guaranteed jobs. I held a hearing yesterday in my Domestic Policy Subcommittee which shows that people in New Orleans aren't getting jobs. They're hiring people from outside and, sometimes when they get jobs, they aren't being paid. We've got to change that. We must change it.

Mike Gravel: The answer is yes. Just keep in mind that, if we weren't squandering our treasure on this terrible war that we didn't have to start, we would have four million housing units available and a good portion of them could go to Katrina residents.

Christopher Dodd: I would as well. New Orleans and Katrina have become a symbol of everything that went wrong with this administration's failure to respond to a people in need. I can think of no better way to have New Orleans and Katrina, that event, become a symbol of what we can do right in this country by giving people the opportunity to come back and the support they will need to regain their lives. This is an American city. Anywhere else in America, we'd want to step up and see to it that people would get that help. This is the least we ought to be able to do to see to it that they get their lives back together.

Hillary Clinton: I have proposed a ten-point Gulf Coast recovery agenda because it sort of is a chicken-and-an-egg issue, Michel. First, we've got to get the hospitals back up. We've got to get the law enforcement and the fire departments. You know, right now this administration has basically neglected with all criminal indifference the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast, in particular New Orleans and the Parishes.

So even if we were to give people a right, there is nothing to return to. We have got to rebuild New Orleans and it's not only the protection from the levees. It is all the infrastructure and until very recently, the administration would not give the people of New Orleans the same right we had after 9/11 which was to get FEMA money without a ten percent match. We finally got that changed, but it was outrageous that it took so long.

Joe Biden: The U.S. Constitution should be sufficient. We don't need to go to the United Nations. All we got to do is step up. We got to step up and pay to rebuild those fire houses, pay to bring those cops back, pay to rebuild those hospitals. It is a nation's problem. It is not the problem merely of the people of Louisiana or New Orleans. This is an American city incapable on its own of doing this. It's an American problem. We should guarantee the reconstruction.

Bill Richardson: The answer to your question is, yes, I would support that. I would also support the Katrina Recovery Act of Representative Waters. This has been the most disgraceful episode in an American response to help our own people. What we need to do in this country is not just atone for a miserable performance before, during and after Katrina, but for the future. One, we need to make sure that FEMA is directly under the president. Secondly, we need to make sure that we eliminate the ten percent match. They did it for 9/11 in New York. They ought to do it for this situation. Third, we should get rid of all the burdensome loans that are taken out. We also need to say to the insurance companies that you have to insure these people and rebuild homes in Louisiana.

John Edwards: This is an issue I care about personally and deeply. As many of you know, I announced my presidential campaign from the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. We took seven hundred college kids down to help rebuild who gave up their spring break to work with me and others to help rebuild New Orleans. I'm proud of those kids. We have a huge responsibility.

As president, I will make one person, a very high-level competent person in the White House, responsible for reporting to me every day of what he did in New Orleans yesterday. And then I'll say the next day, "What did you do yesterday?" What we should do is allow the people of New Orleans to rebuild their own city. We ought to pay them a decent wage, give them health care coverage, instead of having big multinational corporations get billion dollar contracts with the government.

Barack Obama: Well, let me finish John's thought because it's an important one. Halliburton or Bechtel or these other operations getting the contracts to rebuild, instead of giving the people in New Orleans the opportunity to rebuild and get jobs and training, is a further compounding of the outrage. I think that what's most important, though, that we have a president who is in touch with the needs of New Orleans before the hurricane hits.

Because part of the reason that we had such a tragedy was the assumption that everybody could jump in their SUVs, load up with sparkling water and check into the nearest hotel. We've got to have one person in charge. We've got to have a FEMA director that's reporting to the president, but we have to have a president who understands the reality that people in New Orleans were being neglected prior to the hurricane and there are potential Katrinas all across this country that have been left unattended.

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