NEW ORLEANS (Reuters)--President Bush launched his first trip to the flood-ravaged city of New Orleans in three months on Thursday, scooting about in the presidential limo and declaring that the destroyed city was "one heck of a place to bring your family if you want firewood" and that it had "once had some of the greatest food in the world and some of the most wonderful fun."
Bush avoided the thousands of empty and destroyed homes, instead visiting rich Republican business leaders in the Garden District, the grand neighborhood untouched by the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina. He didn't stop for several protests by thousands of unemployed, homeless and evicted people demanding housing and stronger levees, but he did toss some cake from the window of his vehicle and shouted for the protesters to "eat it."
"It may be hard for you to see, but from when I first came here to today, New Orleans doesn't remind me of the city I used to come to visit here," the president confusedly told puzzled leaders at the Convention and Visitors Bureau, which is futilely trying to attract business and tourism back to the city.
Bush then pushed a button that destroyed several hundred homes with controlled explosives wired by Halliburton, then hopped on a bulldozer to clear some of the rubble to the applause of dozens of rich Republican housing developers.
Bush added that "for folks around the country who are looking for a great place to have a convention, or a great place to visit, I'd suggest going to Houston or some other great Texas city."
Bush didn't bother to try to spread optimism in the city that is years away from recovery. He did say that there was no way his bankrupt government could help pay for building the strongest possible levees to protect against a Category 5 storm, or even a Category 4 or 3 storm.
Instead, his administration revised the federal deficit upward to more than $675 billion and blamed it on Hurricane Katrina "and those Persians that are keeping their oil from flowing to Exxon Mobil," he said.
The president ignored questions about the city's latest rebuilding scheme, introduced Wednesday night to scathing community criticism. The plan depends on nearly $77 billion more from the federal government which Bush laughed at and said "lotsa luck." It gives neighborhoods in sunken and flood-prone parts of the city two months to get the hell out or else they'll be bulldozed in their beds.
From New Orleans, Bush took a helicopter to Mississippi as he admired the destruction from the air along the Gulf Coast. He then headed for Palm Beach, Florida for a $400 million fund-raiser for the Republican National Committee and local Republican candidates who are active in property development.