Compassion for Corporations


Compassion is not weakness, and concern for the unfortunate is not socialism.

Hubert Humphrey

Again we have been treated to the workings of a truly compassionate administration. In one case it took two tries, in the other it was doing what comes naturally and got it right the first time. FEMA is the teacher.

In the first case its first try came slightly more than one week before the day when all Americans join together to give thanks for the many good things that have happened to them during the year. A number of former residents of New Orleans had planned to give thanks for George W. Bush. It was he who, standing in the Rose Garden on September 3 after Katrina struck New Orleans said: "I know that those of you who have been hit hard by Katrina are suffering. Many are angry and desperate for help. The tasks before us are enormous, but so is the heart of America. In America, we do not abandon our fellow citizens in their hour of need. And the federal government will do its part . . .. We have a responsibility to our brothers and sisters all along the Gulf Coast and we will not rest until we get this right and the job is done." Who wouldn’t be thankful for such promises? But then, sad to say, something happened that changed the victims’ plans to give thanks.

FEMA slipped notices under the doors of Katrina victims who were staying in hotels at FEMA’s expense. The notices were notices of eviction. The 50,000 families staying in hotels around the United States were told to get out by December 1 except for those in Mississippi and Louisiana who were given until January 7, 2006.

FEMA said it was acting out of a sense of compassion. Its spokesperson, Nicol Andrews explained: "We want to help people to get back on their feet to become self-sustaining and to have some control over their destiny. It is just inhumane to leave a family stuck in a hotel room and not offer them an option that exists to move beyond that." Don Jacks, another spokesman for FEMA said: "We’re not forcing anyone out of hotels. Yes we will stop paying for hotel rooms the night of Nov. 30 and on Dec. 1 these people will need to be ready to move."

Commenting on the original FEMA news, Texas Governor Rick Perry said: "[M]y great concern is that there is still no long-term housing plan for the hundreds of thousands of Katrina victims who lost everything and . . . many of them may find themselves with no long-term housing options."

Commentators and the homeless quietly pointed out that this action, though undeniably helpful for enabling the victims to be more self-sufficient, seemed a bit harsh.

Sensitive to the charge, FEMA gave them a reprieve. It said they did not have to leave until the week before Christmas and, in addition, in some communities they may stay until January 7. Its chair also said the agency would continue to pay for alternative housing for those being evicted, something he forgot to mention when he initially said everyone had to leave. That was probably just an oversight.

There has been no such oversight with respect to Northrop Grumman.

According to the New York Times, the U.S. Navy has asked FEMA to give it $2 billion to restore Northrop’s Gulfport facilities to their pre-Katrina "capacity and profit opportunities." According to the Times that would "shift the full burden of hurricane-related cost overruns and ship-building delays from Northrop to the government." That amount is in addition to the $500 million Northrop has already gotten from its insurers and the additional $500 billion it believes its insurers owe it. According to one watchdog group, the $2 billion is almost as much as the government plans to spend on repairing housing. The reason those funds are available for FEMA to give to Northrop instead of to non-corporate victims of Katrina goes back to October 28.

On that date Mr. Bush asked that $17.1 billion of FEMA funds be reallocated. He said he wanted the pentagon to get $6.6 billion (a sum that includes the Northrop money). The rest is to go to the National Guard reservists and repairs to military installations damaged by Katrina. He didn’t leave out the human victims. He said
$2.2 billion should be used for housing recovery.

It’s great news that many of the victims won’t have to move out 6 days after Thanksgiving but can postpone the move until 9 days before Christmas. That shows how compassionate FEMA can be. It’s also good that Northrop will get federal help to restore it to its pre-Katrina profitability. That, too, shows how compassionate FEMA can be.

CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI is a lawyer in Boulder, Colorado. He can be reached at: Brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu or through his website: http://hraos.com/


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