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Getting rid of New Orleans' poor

January 20, 2006 | Page 3

GEORGE W. Bush flew to New Orleans for the first time in three months in mid-January, but he didn't visit the areas of the city hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina.

Instead, he met with New Orleans' business elite and--surprise!--came away with a thoroughly upbeat assessment. "There's a sense of optimism, there's a sense of hope, there's a little bounce in people's step," asserted Bush.

The wealthy and powerful have lots of reasons for "optimism"--they're ready to make a killing in the "new" New Orleans.

First, there's the $8 billion tax break for the region's businesses, which Bush pushed through Congress. Then there's the new redevelopment plan unveiled the day before Bush came to town by New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and his handpicked commission.

Their plan would bar residents from some of the city's poorest areas from rebuilding for four months. During this time, residents would have to show that a significant part of their neighborhood plans to move back--or face their neighborhood being scaled down or knocked down completely.

If Bush had attended the unveiling, though, instead of a "little bounce," he would have seen undiluted anger--directed at some of his own political patrons.

Joseph Canizaro, a millionaire real-estate developer who gave at least $200,000 to Bush's 2004 reelection campaign, heads Nagin's redevelopment commission. At the meeting, Harvey Bender of the Lower Ninth Ward called out Canizaro. "I don't know you, but Mr. Canizaro, I hate you," Bender said. "You've been in the background scheming to take our land."

Residents of the Lower Ninth, one of the city's poorest neighborhoods, aren't taking the assault lying down. A week before Bush came to town, residents confronted city workers using bulldozers to clear debris from a sidewalk. The city was breaking an agreement to abide by a court injunction on such demolition work, and the residents' action forced the city to call off the bulldozers.

Last week, their efforts were rewarded when U.S. District Court Judge Martin Feldman extended the injunction for two more weeks until a formal hearing on January 20.

The city's arrogance has sparked intense anger. "Bulldozing a person's most emblematic tie to [the] land without their consent is not only plainly unlawful, it is a covert step towards the ethnic cleansing of New Orleans," Scott Boehm wrote on the CounterPunch Web site. "Turning a natural disaster into an opportunity to whitewash one of the world's most multiethnic cities is not only the lowest form of racism, it would also spell municipal suicide for a city whose integrity resides in the preservation of its most dynamic neighborhoods."

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