The weekly Economist, on the stands today, has it exactly right. With its cover featuring a ravaged New Orleans survivor whose distraught eyes stare out at readers, the British newsweekly’s editorial nails what Americans are only now starting to get: the Bush administration in Washington, D.C., is not just malevolent toward working people and the poor, it’s incompetent at even minding the store.
“Since Hurricane Katrina, the world’s view of America has changed. The disaster has exposed some shocking truths about the place: the bitterness of its sharp racial divide, the abandonment of the dispossessed, the weakness of critical infrastructure. But the most astonishing and most shaming revelation has been of its government’s failure to bring succor to its people at their time of greatest need.”
Whatever the world thinks of this country—whether nations admire or despise it and for good reasons or bad —the one assumption everyone shared was this, as the business magazine says: the US could always be relied upon to get the job done. No more!
That failure of brains if not nerve thankfully puts the Bush White House’s economic strategy on hold, with plans to gut entitlement spending while promoting additional tax cuts to the wealthy looking less than a sure bet. Conservatives fashioning a five-year plan to cut taxes by $70 billion and reduce entitlement spending by $35 billion, including ironically aid to hurricane victims, may be in retreat.
As The Hill saw it: “Pressing ahead with budget legislation that would provide tax benefits to the well-off while trimming spending on programs, such as Medicaid, that benefit mainly low-income people would be politically difficult.”
To say the least.
But if your agenda consists of rewarding rich corporate friends while sticking it to working people and the poor, there are more ways to do that than passing bad legislation. Yesterday, the president, squeezed between negative press reports on Hurricane Katrina and Cindy Sheehan, issued an executive order allowing federal contractors rebuilding infrastructure in Louisiana’s storm-ravaged parishes to pay below the prevailing wage.
So the federal government means to save dollars by stealing from some of the same people who lost homes and loved ones to a natural disaster whose effects could have been predicted and minimized with adequate planning and better preparation. Ripping off working people during a national emergency comes from the same instinct that leads children to tear the wings off insects. Only in the nation’s capital, it’s called conservative fiscal policy.
The prevailing wage was $9 an hour, or $18,000 a year.