Thursday, August 09, 2007

A Bridge to Somewhere

Anybody else see the irony in the President’s instant declarations of support for the communities affected by the collapse of the I-35 bridge? That was my question going into this post, and much to my surprise, the answer from the establishment media was a pretty resounding “yes.”

This was the headline and lead graph run by the AP on Tuesday:

Bush's promises familiar to still-broken New Orleans

New Orleans - For New Orleans residents, the scene was all too familiar: President Bush, touring the site of the collapsed Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis, promising to cut red tape and rebuild quickly.

And, believe it or not, a quick search of Google news turns up dozens of similar headlines.

Of course, a news story doesn’t butter the biscuit. Two years and umpteen news stories later, New Orleans is still a battered shell of its former self, cowering behind improperly repaired levees. Much of what Bush promised the night he stood in Jackson Square was never delivered, or, at least was never delivered to the people that needed the help. Plenty of Republican campaign contributors got to rent the government cruise ships at inflated prices or staff debris removal teams with underpaid undocumented workers at a hefty mark up.

What did get delivered to New Orleans, of course, were thousands of formaldehyde-filled “temporary” trailers—or, as I like to call them, Katrina Kancer Kabins—and it was the “ironic” news that FEMA was going to stop selling and donating those trailers that actually initially set me a-googling.

You see, these trailers were known to be rolling gas chambers eons ago—and yet this quiet catastrophe, this insult to injury, was allowed to play out in slow motion while the poor, displaced, and (dare I mention) predominantly African American inhabitants of these trailers continued to breathe toxic fumes morning, noon, and night. FEMA dragged its feet on testing, and then suppressed the results for close to a year, before finally responding to Congressional pressure on the very same day that the 35W bridge collapsed. But, of course, responding to pressure and stopping the future sales of these trailers doesn’t get any of the current inhabitants of these triple-K’s into safe and permanent housing any faster.

When compared to the billions spent for Katrina relief, the $250 million quickly approved for Minneapolis bridge repair by a vacation-hungry Congress seems like a mere pittance. But, it should be pointed out that the bridge money is two-and-a-half times the legal limit set by Congress for these kinds of emergency relief expenditures.

In fact, some members of Congress think we just got hosed. At $250 million, the third-of-a-mile span will cost about $130,000 per foot—quite high for this type of bridge. Some might think, “Well at lest this one is a bridge to somewhere.” But, one should remember that the old bridge should have been maintained by a state gas tax that Minnesota’s Republican Governor vetoed last spring. And, considering all of the national obligations we can’t seem to meet these days, the quick infusion of federal money still has to raise some questions.

Questions like: Why the big number? Why the rush? Couldn’t Congress have allocated the first $100 million now with a promise to supply the rest after Minnesota officials solicited bids and presented real plans for new bridge?

And how much you wanna bet that this bridge gets built by next summer?

Would the answer to these questions have anything to do with the demographic composition of the Twin Cities, or, more specifically, the demographic makeup of the commuters who regularly drove that length of I-35? Or, might this have something to do with where the Republicans are planning to hold their 2008 national convention?

I’m just asking.

Meanwhile, the victims of a 2005 hurricane wait for more than answers. They are waiting to get their homes—and their city—back.

Now, I am not necessarily saying that Minneapolis doesn’t need its bridge back, but when I think about all of those people in all of those trailers, I wonder what our nation’s priorities are, and where our allegiances lie.

Which sort of brings us back to Bush, his promises at the banks of the Mississippi last weekend, and the lies he told folks down river back in 2005.

As detailed in the AP story I cite above, Bush’s promises to rebuild New Orleans were all one Melanie Thompson needed to move her family of five back to her old neighborhood and begin repair work on her flooded home. Two years later, the Thompson family still lives in their tiny, toxic FEMA trailer, still waiting for the aid they need to rebuild.

It seems silly to even compare drivers inconvenienced by a missing bridge with a family like the Thompson’s, and yet, I still have this sense that come September 2008, those drivers have a better chance of crossing the Mississippi via 35W than the Thompson’s have of crossing their own home’s threshold.

I suppose it is possible that President Bush meant well back in 2005 when he promised to stay focused on New Orleans “as long as it takes,” and other problems just got in the way. I suppose. Maybe some similar problems will slow Minneapolis bridge reconstruction to a crawl. Maybe. But I still have a nasty feeling that the Twin Cities get their bridge back before the Thompson’s get a formaldehyde-free permanent home. History can argue about whether that was this administration’s actual intent.

Of course, they say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I’m not sure about the intentions part, but I’m pretty certain about the destination.

(cross-posted on Daily Kos)

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