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Sunday, September 18, 2005

NEW ORLEANS NORMALCY: Early signs emerge as to why we need to go very slow in the Katrina recovery period. Recipients of the much-discussed debit cards have used them to buy Louis Vuitton handbags and to pay for visits to strip clubs. But it gets better. At a time of historic surplus of rental properties throughout the South, plans are being floated to put "the poor" in mobile homes. Terrific. Let's find every conceivable way to ensure that poor people continue living as poor people in communities of poor people who lack the education and mindset necessary to make better lives. Doing so will make it easier for pandering politicians to get entire neighborhoods to the polls on election day, to vote yes on a new generation of entitlement programs. Sorry for my cynicism, but it's hard to summon hope when the GOP seems to be scampering to play the same old game of promising pork rather than making the hard choices that await — like deciding which current spending programs to cut in order to fund plans to turn New Orleans into a rising phoenix. It goes without saying: many debit card recipients used theirs to buy food, water, and other core necessities. But let's also realize that poverty, in addition to being a state of moneylessness, is a phenomenon that typically has to do with how that state of being gets generated and maintained across generations. Like everyone I know, I'm sickened by the sheer scale of the suffering. The human losses are incalculable. Efforts must be made to help the helpless. And yet — I have a simple question in response to the growing clamor that New Orleans must be rebuilt to its previous scale. Why and by whom? There may be very good answers, but let's start hearing them before we launch a plan that makes the WPA look like an average suburban family's Saturday morning to-do list. A plan that would of course become a precedent for every subsequent natural disaster.