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A "Moral Response" to Katrina By: Mark D. Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The U.S. Government has spent at least $100 billion on relief for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, with at least $20 billion more appropriated and not yet spent.  Roughly calculated, the appropriated amount equals about $18,000 for every citizen of Louisiana and Mississippi.


But over 100 mostly Religious Left prelates are urging a new federal spending initiative to achieve a “moral response” to Katrina.  Chief among their proposals is support for the Gulf Coast Civil Works Act, which proposes to spend $4 billion to hire 100,000 Gulf region workers in a project similar to FDR’s New Deal era Civil Conservation Corps.  


The legislation was crafted by students and faculty at San Jose State University, introduced by California Democratic Congressman Zoe Lofgren, and is promoted by left-wing groups like Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and the Robert Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights.  The latter groups and many of the plan’s supporters surmise that the Bush Administration’s ostensible neglect of Katrina victims is a violation of human rights.


Spending on Katrina recovery surpasses expenditures on any other natural disaster in the history of the world.  As with all government programs, no doubt much of federal Katrina relief was wasteful, callous and inefficient.  But spending over $100 billion probably does not qualify as neglectful.


The Gulf Coast Civic Works Project wants 100,000 jobs devoted to “plumbing, electrical, brick building, construction, air conditioning, as well as music, murals, theater and dance,” to restore both “bricks and mortar, as well as the soul of the Gulf.”  All workers will get at least $15 per hour and have the right to join unions.  A Gulf Coast Authority, similar to the Tennessee Valley Authority, would oversee the vast spending initiative.  The number of pre-Katrina rental housing units, which was about 75,000, will be restored, increasing it from the currently reported 21,000, and guaranteeing a “right of return” for displaced persons.  Housing owners will be “asked” to offer 50% of the units to low-income families.

The project aspires to “restore a sense of personal empowerment and hope” and “restore faith among our citizenry of the government's ability to respond to the needs of our people.”  Naturally, all of this federally funded empowerment sounds delicious to the Religious Left, whose interfaith statement earlier this month discerned a “moral crisis” on the Gulf. 

“Human rights” still go unprotected, the religious prelates opined, amid the “homelessness, internal displacement, poverty, abusive labor practices and environmental degradation,” leaving a vast “spiritual wound” across the region.  Along with improper stewardship of the Gulf’ environment, all of this has resulted in a “human rights and national security crisis.”   

The interfaith promoters of the Gulf Coast Civic Works Project include officers of the National Council of Churches, the National Association of Evangelicals; World Vision, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; the Islamic Society of North America; Catholic Charities USA; Bread for the World; Sojourners; the United Methodist Board of Church and Society; the Episcopal Church; Evangelicals for Human Rights; the National Religious Campaign Against Torture; Tikkun, the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago; Evangelicals for Social Action; the Unitarian Universalist Associations; and many others.

"Students have figured out what many others have yet to discover, and that is Gulf Coast residents and evacuees need living wage jobs to rebuild their own communities," San Jose State Professor Scott Myers-Lipton, a “national poverty expert,” is quoted as saying on the website for Gulf Coast Civic Works Project. "During the New Deal, the federal government established public works programs that created jobs for over eleven million people who built and repaired thousands of hospitals, schools and playgrounds. This is exactly what the Gulf Coast needs now."

No doubt the faculty and students at San Jose State have many lofty motivations involving poverty and Katrina relief, almost all of them related to increasing the scope and power of the federal government, in a constant replay of the New Deal and Great Society.  And no doubt the Religious Left prelates who have endorsed the initiative have similar motivations and a predictably similar philosophy.  Some local congressmen from Mississippi have endorsed the Gulf Coast Civic Works Project not because they necessarily share the same leftist assumptions but because it is an irresistible pork barrel project that seemingly would assist some of their constituents.   

But the Gulf Coast Civic Works Project assumes that prosperity and social justice will be achieved through just another federal government make works project.  The over $100 billion that the federal government has already expended on Katrina Relief is evidently not evidence enough that federal dollars are not necessarily solutions to poverty and natural disaster and very often are instead enablers.

Mark D. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.

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