Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Nothing New in the Union

Or this part of the world. From the T-P:

President Bush is expected in his State of the Union address tonight to recommit the U.S. government to helping rebuild the Gulf Coast torn by hurricanes, but he may not offer much in terms of new federal initiatives, according to White House aides and political experts.
One of those aides is White House spokesman Scott McClellan:
Q Scott, you say the President is going to be optimistic tomorrow and there's been a lot of talk about being upbeat in his message. Many Americans believe that the President would have more credibility if he acknowledged some of the hardships that they're facing, whether or not there are people who are still homeless from Katrina, or U.S. casualties in Iraq. Is he going to address any of those things?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President often talks about those issues. And I do expect he will talk about Iraq tomorrow in his remarks, and I do expect he will talk about the importance of continuing to meet the needs of the people throughout the Gulf Coast region who have been put in a terrible situation because of a storm of unprecedented magnitude and scope. And we have an obligation to continue making sure that their needs are met. We have already passed some $85 billion in resources that are available to help them. Only about $25 billion or a little bit more than that has been allocated to be spent at this point. There is enormous resources available. We are going to continue working to meet their needs. And the President made it clear that, if needed, we will continue to build upon those efforts.

Anyway, go ahead. Did you have a follow-up?

Q Is that one of his initiatives, the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast?

MR. McCLELLAN: No. I mean, that's one of his initiatives now. But I'm talking about new initiatives now.
Rebuilding the Gulf Coast is so pre-January 31. The Prez is focused on the future now.

And there’s that $85 billion number again. I know I am obsessing here, but it really bothers me. And the official number of how much has been spent is still $25 billion. That has been the official number since at least January 12. We haven’t done anything new since then?

Here’s another choice quote from the White House briefing:
America is always at its best when we are shaping events, rather than being shaped by events. And the President tomorrow night will be charting the path forward for our nation. It's important that we continue leading and acting to spread peace abroad and prosperity at home. The President is optimistic and confident about the path that we are on.
Are we all walking the same path?

Saturday, January 28, 2006

He Could Be a Hero

I was re-reading the official White House transcript of Thursday’s press conference where the President made his “Chocolate City,” I mean, “that part of the world” remarks.

After the first few paragraphs, I realized that the President really doesn’t think we are part of the United States.

He dedicated his first remarks to previewing this Tuesday’s State of the Union Address.

First paragraph: We could be heroes.

I'm going to remind people we're living in historic times, and that we have a chance to make decisions today that will help shape the direction of events for years to come. I'm going to continue to talk about an optimistic agenda that will keep -- that will remind folks we've got a responsibility to lead. We've got a responsibility to lead to promote freedom and a responsibility to continue to put policies in place that will let us be a leader when it comes to the economy in the world.
Second paragraph: We could be heroes… together.
I recognize this is an election year, but I believe that we can work together to achieve results. In other words, I think we can set aside the partisanship that inevitably will come with an election year, and get some stuff done. And that's what I'm going to call Congress to do.
Third paragraph: We could be heroes that vanquish our enemies. And torture them. And spy on our citizens.
We've got -- must work together to protect our nation's security. I'm going to continue do everything within my authority to protect the American people. We're going to stay on the offense in the war against terror. We'll hunt down the enemies in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere. We'll continue our terrorist surveillance program against al Qaeda. Congress must reauthorize the Patriot Act so that our law enforcement and intelligence and homeland security officers have the tools they need to route the terrorists -- terrorists who could be planning and plotting within our borders. And we'll do all this and at the same time protect the civil liberties of our people.
Fourth paragraph: We could be heroes if we don’t go over to the dark side.
We're going to continue to lead the cause of freedom in the world. The only way to defeat a dark ideology is through the hopeful vision of human liberty.
Fifth paragraph: We could be heroes at home with lots of money.
Here at home, we're also -- we've got great opportunities. And to seize those opportunities, we have got to lead. Our economy is growing, it is strong. This economy has created millions of new jobs, yet it's an economy that is changing rapidly. And we live in a competitive world. And so policies must be put in place to recognize the competition of the global economy and prepare our people to be able to continue to compete so America can continue to lead.
Sixth paragraph: Of course, we will be fiscally prudent heroes.
Of course, we'll talk about fiscal policy in my State of the Union, talking about the Congress to be wise about how we spend the people's money and to make the tax cuts permanent.
Seventh paragraph: We could be healthy and smart heroes.
I will talk about initiatives to make sure our health care and education and energy recognizes the realities of the world in which we live today and anticipates the problems of the world tomorrow so that we can remain competitive.
Last paragraph: Finally, we could be heroes on the Gulf Coast, as well as heroes with “values” that don’t clone humans and stop the bird flu.
I will talk about the values that are important for our country. I'm going to remind people we show the character and compassion of America by taking focused action to confront disease and to help devastated areas of our country that have been -- areas that have been devastated by natural disasters, and ensure that medical research is conducted in a manner that recognizes the dignity of every human life.
We don’t even get a full paragraph or mention by name in his preview of the State of the Union address. He does know that this part of the world is part of the Union, doesn’t he? If anything, he could be a hero and use this Tuesday’s address as a way to alert the American people about the state of the Gulf Coast. It ain’t strong.

But I am not holding my breath. Every time the President opens his mouth about the hurricanes, more stupid comes out.

Humid Haney has his predictions for the SotU Address. I predict the President will point out some survivors there, sitting behind the First Lady. He will saying he’s doing what it takes to rebuild their community. Everyone will applaud. Maybe the First Lady will kiss and hug them. And that’s it. No policy. No plans. Just promises.

No hero.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

I Want My $85 Billion

As a Gulf Coast resident, I want my $85 billion.

I’ve heard a lot about it.

I first heard about it the last time the President came down to this part of the world.

Signing all the legislation I've signed, the federal government has committed $85 billion so far to helping folks and to help rebuild the Gulf Coast.
Then some senators came down and scolded me for not using it already.
“We have appropriated $82 billion and we haven’t seen $82 billion worth of progress,” Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., said.
And then I heard the President today smugly suggest that I should be grateful for it.
The Congress has appropriated $85 billion to help rebuild the Gulf Coast. And that is a good start; it's a strong start; it's a significant commitment to the people whose lives were turned upside down by that -- by those -- by that hurricane.

***

We'll continue to work with the folks down there. But I want to remind the people in that part of the world, $85 billion is a lot…
Wow. It sure is a lot. Thanks for reminding me, because I remember the original $62 billion Congress appropriated. Then I remember the $5 billion that came in the “$29 billion” bill, which makes a total of $67 billion. But, I wasn’t too sure about where the other $18 billion came from.

Until I read this article:
Congress has so far appropriated $67 billion to help the region get back on its feet. The White House has estimated the federal government has provided at least $18 billion more in flood insurance and other assistance.
Is this the “flood insurance and other assistance” the White House is talking about?
The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which is managed by the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), has been authorized to borrow $18.5 billion for damage claim payments to hurricane victims.
I didn’t know that paying out flood insurance claims was optional. I just assumed this money was coming anyway, being that people with flood insurance pay every month to have it. Even though Congress had to vote to allow FEMA to borrow the money, I don’t count this as money appropriated by Congress. So, if that is where Bush gets his extra $18 billion dollars from, I don’t buy it.

I’m sticking to the $67 billion number until I see evidence to the contrary. If anyone knows where such evidence is, please let me know.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

New Orleans was Headed for Self Destruction…

…even if Katrina hadn’t come along?

I have read two articles in the last couple of days that have implied just that.

In the T-P:

Like many cities, New Orleans has evolved at varying speeds, growing steadily into one of the most powerful and wealthy cities in America by the turn of the 20th century, eventually swelling to a metropolis of 630,000, and then beginning a slow decline in population and influence.

The way Tulane University School of Architecture Dean Reed Kroloff sees it, Hurricane Katrina sent the clock into overdrive, knocking New Orleans over the precipice toward which the city had long been headed.
And in the Philadelphia Inquirer (in the Arts and Entertainment section, no less):
Laughlin's photos, which curator Katherine Ware gathered together quickly from the museum's extensive collection of his work, are a timely reminder that decay has always been integral to New Orleans's identity. The city was already falling into ruin when he first trained his surreal eye on the place in the late 1930s. Katrina merely accentuated the condition.
Look, New Orleans wasn’t perfect. But it wasn’t going to blow up any time soon. There were and are too many good people here to let that happen.

If it was inevitable that New Orleans would fall into ruin, it is inevitable that New Orleans will rise from ruin. That’s a newspaper article I would like to read.

Call Me a Fool

I cut the President some slack when he said this after Katrina:

"I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees."
I had never heard the word “breach” used. I had always heard “topping” of the levees in the New Orleans area when major hurricanes were discussed.

The difference between “breach” and “topping” is huge. If a levee is topped, some water gets in the bowl and stays at a level lower than the water outside the bowl. If a levee is breached, the water inside the bowl levels off with the water outside the bowl. I’ll take topping over breaching, although I’d rather avoid both.

I like to think of myself as a realist who errs on the side of optimism. I knew the President’s M.O. is to hear about a possible problem and not do anything about it (the “Bin Laden determined to strike in US” briefing, "you break it, you own it," the unsubstantiated Niger yellow cake claims). But I honestly thought that no President could be warned of a catastrophic levee breach and then not take the proper precautions to respond quickly.

Just call me a fool:
As Hurricane Katrina approached the Gulf Coast, President Bush’s top disaster agency warned of the likelihood of levee breaches that could leave New Orleans submerged “for weeks or months,” a communications blackout that would hamper rescue efforts and “at least 100,000 poverty stricken people” stranded in the city.

Those remarkably accurate predictions were in a 40-page “Fast Analysis Report” compiled by the Department of Homeland Security on Aug. 28. Documents show that the report was sent by e-mail to the White House Situation Room at 1:47 a.m., Aug. 29, hours before the deadly storm made landfall.

***

“The potential for severe storm surge to overwhelm Lake Pontchartrain levees is the greatest concern for New Orleans,” it said. “Any storm rated Category 4 on the Saffir-Simpson (hurricane) scale will likely lead to severe flooding and/or levee breaching. This could leave the New Orleans metro area submerged for weeks or months.”
Fool.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Science!

This Scientific American article on the problems facing engineers as they come up with a way to protect southern Louisiana from flooding is a good overview:

The Mississippi Delta, home to 2.2 million, represents the worst-case scenario. It is sinking and losing wetlands faster than almost any place on earth and faces the most hurricanes annually. The record sea surge that prompted the Netherlands and Britain to erect barriers was 15 feet; Katrina's peaked at 28 feet.
The article points out that engineers had and have plans that could work, they just never received adequate funding to implement them.

It also stresses the need for engineers to consult researchers and experts in other disciplines and integrate their suggestions for a better hurricane protection system, actually going one step further and consulting the experts for them:
Three strategies emerged: a tight ring around the New Orleans metropolitan area alone; a comprehensive, 440-mile levee system that would snake from the Mississippi border halfway to Texas but lie only partway to the shoreline, leaving the coast for lost; and an outer shield around the region's perimeter, such as the one in the Netherlands, which would spare every locale. The ring and comprehensive plans would inevitably leave some people "outside the wall." All three plans include gates of some kind that are not now in place.
The “tight ring” around only the GNO area amuses me. The “leaving the coast for lost” part scares me. This, however, I like:
Although each approach has its proponents, the parties agree on one thing: critics who say it is foolish to rebuild in such a vulnerable place are missing the big picture. In addition to being a cultural center, "the Gulf Coast is the economic engine that drives the country," Bahr declares. "We can't possibly abandon it." The delta produces one fifth of the country's oil, one quarter of its natural gas, and one third of its seafood. Trillions of dollars of goods and crops flow through the ports there. These activities require extensive infrastructure and tens of thousands of employees who cannot live in temporary trailers or in homes two hours away.
Label me convinced.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Baddest Levees in the Whole Damn Town

Badder than old King Kong. Meaner than a junkyard dog. Ladies and gentlemen, your Mississippi River Levees:

“But even though they were overtopped, they held up,” [LSU storm researcher Hassan] Mashriqui said. “There were no breaches. They did much better than the levees along (the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet) or the other canals in New Orleans.

“That’s how levees should be built everywhere in this area.”
We can build levees that work because we already have. The Mississippi River levees are bad mo-fo’s. Katrina topped them in Lower Plaquemines with 20-foot surge plus 10-foot waves, but she couldn’t break them.

Unfortunately, those areas were still flooded by 15 feet of water. But, they didn’t see the full force of the Mighty Mississippi because the levees held.

Why weren’t the hurricane protection levees bad mo-fo’s as well?
…the river levee was built to handle the worst that could be thrown at it, while the hurricane protection system was designed for something less than the strongest hurricane.
Also, in 1965, Congress authorized the Army Corps to build for the “standard project hurricane,” not the “probable maximum hurricane.”

Guess which one Katrina more closely resembled.

If there is any doubt that we can build levees that can protect Southern Louisiana from major hurricanes, listen to the experts:
But when Mashriqui looks at the levees along the Mississippi River, he sees something else entirely. He sees success.

“Those levees are the example of how levees should be built in a region of frequent storms,” said Mashriqui, one of the nation’s top authorities on storm surge, the huge waves pushed ahead of a hurricane. “They didn’t just hold up well — you could say they saved a lot of flooding on the west side of the river.”
But you get what you pay for:
[Army Corps project manager Al] Naomi said the report shows Congress clearly chose not to supply the maximum protection for hurricanes as it did for Mississippi River floods.

“Obviously we can design levees that work, it’s just a question of to what degree you are willing to invest in that system to make them work,” he said.
Obviously.

Nagin Spoof on SNL

Did anyone see Saturday Night Live last night? They spoofed Nagin, having him appear on Anderson Cooper 360 with Jesse Jackson and Hillary Clinton.

The jokes weren't as funny as the ones I've heard around here and the actor who played Nagin obviously made no attempt to do an accurate impression of the Mayor. Basically, SNL dropped the ball again.

"Nagin" said he wanted New Orleans to be "delicious" and admitted that he was crazy (that part made me laugh, but it is not new). The "Hillary" stuff was funny as she responded to criticism of her "plantation" remarks by admitting she was pandering, and then gave examples of pandering to different audiences. The Jesse Jackson impression needs to be retired or re-tooled.

If someone uploads the video, like on YouTube, I'll link to it.

UPDATE: Here it is. It took a while to download on my computer. I forgot about the "giraffe" comment.

Why We Live Here, Why We Live Anywhere

From a T-P editorial:

Some people didn't have flood insurance because the federal government told them that their homes weren't at risk of flooding. Flood zones are set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and houses in zones with high enough elevations aren't required to have coverage. In fact, some parts of the Lower 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parish bear the same flood zone designation as Uptown's highest, driest neighborhoods.

When the 17th Street and London Avenue canals burst, floodwaters poured into New Orleans houses that had never flooded before. Is Rep. Davis implying that these people should have known that the outfall canals weren't as sound as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers claimed they were? Is he suggesting that people who failed to buy something they weren't supposed to need should be punished for their lack of prescience?
I would add that the people of St. Bernard Parish and the Lower Ninth were told that the MR-GO was a shipping channel, not a storm surge channel.

The government said it was safe to build in these places. It wasn’t. The government bears the responsibility of the clean up, whether people had flood insurance or not.

Echoing a previous post, we rely on the government to do big time things we can’t do as individuals. That goes beyond flood protection. The west was settled by big time irrigation projects. The nation’s cities are connected by big time highway projects. The defense of this nation is a big time project.

If the water projects in the west failed, people couldn’t live there. If the highways disappeared, people couldn’t get anywhere. If the nation’s armed forces didn’t exist, would we still be here?

We live here and a lot of places because the government makes that possible.

If the government said “We are no longer providing water for the west,” would that be acceptable? If the government said, “We are no longer maintaining the highway system,” would that be acceptable? If the government said, “We will no longer provide protection for our citizens,” would that be acceptable?

No. Nor is it acceptable for the government to say, “We will no longer protect New Orleans from a catastrophic flood.”

People in Southeastern Louisiana have to be smart. If the government says, “We will no longer protect you,” then we can’t rebuild in the same places. However, the government *can* protect us. They just won’t.

We live here because the government funds big time projects for us to live here. We must accept that. But the government must accept that, too. We are here because they said we could be here. To say anything else would be going back on their word.

Time for Big Time City Government

Does the city government exist to serve the residents? Or do the residents exist to serve the city government?

I would say the first one. We elect representatives to come together to find a way to do big time projects we can’t accomplish as individuals.

If the majority of residents want to rebuild in the areas that flooded, the city can’t tell them no. The city serves the people.

Disagree? Put it to a vote. Have a candidate run who says no to rebuilding everywhere against a candidate who says yes.

Rebuilding everywhere does not mean rebuilding stupid. It is not making the same mistakes all over again. The mistakes we made were building poorly engineered levees, allowing our wetlands to disappear, and building a storm surge funnel called the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet.

If we design a new New Orleans that doesn't include most of its residents, and force the remaining residents to follow that design, it will not *be* New Orleans. Pre-Katrina New Orleans could not have been designed. New Orleans happened. We need to let it happen again.

In 1718, the first European settlers came to New Orleans. They built their homes on the high ground, outside of the flood zones. In 1915, A.B. Wood’s screw pumps allowed us to make the low ground just as dry as the high ground. So, we settled all of New Orleans.

Who is going to tell me in 2006 we can’t stay where we are? Who is going to tell me that we can’t protect New Orleans from Katrina-like destruction? If the levees hadn’t busted, if the wetlands were healthy and growing, if the MR-GO had been stopped in the planning stages, Katrina would not have been such a monster.

A plan exists that can protect us from another Katrina or an even bigger storm. We need the city to step up big time and get it done. Not the President. Not the Governor. The city.

If the city government exists to serve the residents, then there can be only one outcome – the outcome that the residents want.

NOTE: My house was not destroyed, so I am not facing the decision of whether or not to rebuild. I think that is important to point out.

Due to my job, I talk to people almost every day who have lost their houses, including friends and family. The majority of those whom I talk to don’t understand why the city might tell them they can’t rebuild. I don’t understand either, which is why I write these posts and read the posts of all you local bloggers out there. You help shape my opinions and, whether you agree with me or not, I thank you for that and for the forum to discuss these issues.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Casual Corruption and You

Are you a crook? I’m not. Nor am I tolerant of crooks.

But, you’d never guess that after reading this USA Today article:

For a small state, Louisiana has a lot of crooks
The lead is not too bad.
Despite its ragged reputation, Louisiana isn't the worst state when it comes to public scandals.
The author then rags our reputation.
From 1995 to 2004, there were 871 federal public corruption convictions in California, according to the U.S. attorney general's office. Florida had 813 convictions. New York had 790. Ohio and Pennsylvania were even with 515 convictions each. Louisiana's toll: 310.

Still, Louisiana has nothing to crow about. California, the USA's most-populated state, has 36 million residents. Louisiana, No. 24 in population size, claims just 4 million residents.

The point: For a small state, Louisiana produces a lot of crooked politicians.
Oh, is that the point? Breaking down the numbers, I see that we have a little more than three times as many convictions per capita than California. That is *more* than California, but, is it *a lot* more? Twenty times, that’s a lot more. Ten times, sure. But three?

Do we have corrupt politicians in Louisiana? Yes, at least 310 in the last decade according to the article. But I don’t think we live in the complete culture of corruption cited by this expert:
Louisiana's historically cavalier attitude about corruption also sets it apart, says Fred Smith, president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.

In most jurisdictions, public scandals are considered highly embarrassing events, but in Louisiana, he says, they're practically a point of pride.

"Corruption exists in every culture," says Smith. "But in Louisiana it is accepted to a level that is unbelievable."
I think that quote is unbelievable. What is also unbelievable is that this expert is from Louisiana:
Smith, a native Louisianan, thinks it all comes down to the region's Big Easy style: It embraces debauchery and eschews anything that smacks of convention. Mardi Gras, a weeklong hedonistic celebration, is the ultimate symbol of the city's sensibility, he says.
Look, I might be completely wrong here, but this doesn’t sound like anyone in my circles. I don’t know anyone who is cavalier about corruption. As far as embracing debauchery and eschewing convention, I don’t see how that leads to corruption. And I am going to have to remember that Mardi Gras is a “weeklong hedonistic celebration” next time I am on St. Charles with my family enjoying a parade.

Except for a couple of interviews with an expert and an official, what real journalism was done here? Does a reader not from Louisiana actually learn anything from this article? Or, does the author simply reinforce negative stereotypes of the region?

Funny. I wonder how we got our “ragged reputation.”

The Other Man-made Disaster

While we are fighting terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan so that we can’t build levees here, Osama bin Laden has released another tape. On this one he offers a truce.

Of course, truces don’t involve blowing things up, so the Vice President’s reaction was predictable:

"We don't negotiate with terrorists," Vice President Dick Cheney said in a television interview. "I think you have to destroy them."
But not right away:
"I think we have to assume that the threat is going to continue for a considerable period of time." the vice president [sic] said in an interview with Fox News Channel. "Even if bin Laden were no longer to be a factor, I still think we'd have problems with al-Qaida."
Get ready for the Eternal War on Terror.

Or maybe not, according to White House spokesman Scott McClellan:
“The terrorists started this war and the president made it clear that we will end it at a time and place of our choosing”
So let me get this straight. We don’t negotiate with terrorists. We destroy them. We can do it at a time and place of our choosing. However, we won’t do it for a considerable period of time.

Makes sense to me.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

How to Make a Chocolate City

Mayor Nagin so eloquently expressed his idea of how to make a Chocolate City:

“You take dark chocolate, you mix it with white milk, and it becomes a delicious drink.”
However, the census data tells a different story: you make a Chocolate City by taking the white milk out.

The Irish Channel is a good example:
In 1970, the Census reported that the Irish Channel was a predominantly White and working class neighborhood (CensusCD Neighborhood Change Database). With 62% White residents and 38% Black residents, the Irish Channel had a greater percentage of White residents than the city as a whole (Orleans was 55% White and 45% Black). At that time, the poverty rate in the Irish Channel (27%) was the same as the city as a whole (26%).
Today, as of the 2000 census, the Irish Channel is 68% black and 26% white.

That didn’t happen because more dark chocolate was added:
The changes in the Irish Channel since the 1970s have been dramatic. The total number of residents has declined 36% since 1970, from 6,692 persons to its current size of 4,257. The rate of population loss of the Irish Channel far exceeded the decline in population in New Orleans as a whole (the city lost 19% of its population from 1970 to 2000). Most of the drop in the Irish Channel population took place between 1970 and 1990 (down 38%).
New Orleans did not become a majority African-American city because God wanted it that way. It happened because of white flight, fueled by a city and citizenry incapable or unwilling to care for its black residents.

It doesn’t matter how high you build the levees. If we don’t confront racism and segregation and the systemic policies that lead to it, it won’t take a Cat 5 hurricane to destroy New Orleans. We’ll do it ourselves.

New Orleans is not a blank slate. But there has never been a better time to fight for what is right and just. It is right and just for all New Orleanians to be protected by an effective levee system. And it is right and just for all New Orleanians to be a part of the new New Orleans.

If God wanted the Irish Channel to be a chocolate neighborhood, maybe she has changed her mind. After 20 years of population loss, according to the census data, the last 10 years have seen a population increase, property values have gone up, the faces moving in are looking a little more café au lait, there are less vacant houses, and poverty is down.

It’s a start.

NOTE: There is nothing wrong with a “chocolate” city or neighborhood in the sense that it is majority African-American, or with a “vanilla” city or neighborhood that is majority white. Areas of concentrated numbers of the same race are common in every human settlement of any size. The problem is segregation and discrimination, when the numbers are unusually lopsided and when power and wealth are concentrated in only one group. And that group doesn’t necessarily have to be the one with more people.

$82 Billion?

Some senators toured the area yesterday to see how the recovery was going, or *not* going, according to one senator:

“We have appropriated $82 billion and we haven’t seen $82 billion worth of progress,” Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., said.
This echoes something Moldy City pointed out that the President said last week:
Signing all the legislation I've signed, the federal government has committed $85 billion so far to helping folks and to help rebuild the Gulf Coast of -- (applause.) Of that $85 billion, about $25 billion has been spent. So $85 billion is available, $25 billion of it is already in the pipeline -- that's $60 billion more coming your way.
Where are these more than $80 billion numbers coming from?

And the Minnesota senator shouldn’t be too surprised with not seeing $82 billion worth of progress when, apparently, only “$25 billion of it is already in the pipeline.”

Here’s how I can account for $67 billion
of it, which leaves around $15 billion I’m not sure about.

If the Gulf Coast is getting $15 billion dollars more than I think it is, that would be great. I just wish it was a little easier to determine where it was coming from.

Chocolaty Fun

Yes, the Mayor said some stupid things. But don’t tell me you didn’t have fun with them.

Damn, since Nagin made his chocolate comments I haven’t stopped laughing. The chocolate jokes keep coming. Just re-reading his explanation of how to make chocolate, that delicious drink, made me tear up laughing.

I am glad Nagin made his chocolate comments. I needed that laugh.

Don’t worry about losing any federal funding over this. They are not giving us enough money anyway.

If anything, stupid comments by local politicians should be welcome. It’s a sign that New Orleans is coming back. It makes me almost miss the school board meetings.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

God, Chocolate, and New Orleans

Nagin the Prophet:

“This city will be a majority African-American city. It’s the way God wants it to be,” Nagin said. “You can’t have it no other way. It wouldn’t be New Orleans.”
He then held up his staff and yelled, “Houston, Atlanta, Baton Rouge… Let my people go!”

Okay, he didn’t say that last part. But he did say this:
“It’s time for us to rebuild a New Orleans, the one that should be a chocolate New Orleans,” he said. “And I don’t care what people are saying in Uptown or wherever they are. This city will be chocolate at the end of the day.”
As a rule, we are all allowed one post-Katrina breakdown. Nagin just had his.

Later in the day, a reporter asked him to clarify his chocolate comment, to which he responded:
"I'm asking you, do you know anything about chocolate? How do you make chocolate? You take dark chocolate, you mix it with white milk, and it becomes a delicious drink," Nagin said.
Yes, a delicious drink. I think we have our new city slogan: “Chocolate New Orleans, a delicious drink!” It will make a nice t-shirt.

Because of the one post-Katrina breakdown rule, I’m going to cut Nagin some slack.

Yesterday was MLK, Jr., Day. He was speaking at a MLK, Jr., Day march. He was surrounded by black leaders. His mannerisms and inflection were more that of a preacher than a politician. Therefore, I am going to assume that I, da po’ boy, a white dude in all my vanilla goodness, was not his target audience.

However, if my assumption is correct, I think it is sad. I hope Nagin doesn’t think that he has to play preacher to reach his black constituents. I believe they are intelligent and discerning enough to understand a calm, rational discussion about the future racial make up of New Orleans. It is too important a topic to be dressed up in preacher prose and racial code words.

Anyway, it’s what you do, not what you say. And up to this point, Nagin hasn’t done much to get all New Orleanians back. Where are the basic services? Where’s the housing? Where are the trailers? Where is the plan for a hurricane-safe New Orleans?

If Nagin wants a chocolate city, how does he explain his appointed BNOB commission’s plans for a city of 250,000 residents? That number is going to require a lot of black residents *not* coming back.

Why? It’s a numbers game. Before Katrina, New Orleans was, roughly, 67% black, 27% white, and 6% all others, with a population of around 480,000. That’s 321,600 black residents and 129,600 white residents (using rounded figures).

Were those percentages to remain true in a city of 250,000, there would be 167,000 black residents and 67,500 white residents. So, basically, the new New Orleans would be less chocolaty to the tune of 154,100 and less vanilla by 62,100.

But that’s not going to happen. Let’s assume all the people who had minimal or no flooding stay. That would be 80,400 black residents and 64,800 white residents. Most of the white residents who did get flooded lived in Lakeview. Given the economic breakdown of Lakeview and their post-Katrina organization, we can assume that a lot of those white residents have the means and the desire to come back.

So let’s guess that half of the white residents that got flooded return. Now, the new New Orleans would have 97,200 vanilla beans. With 6% non-white or non-black, that leaves room for about 137,800 black residents to add up to 250,000 total. That breaks down to 55% black, 39% white, and 6% all others. Still an African-American majority, but it is starting to look a lot more like café au lait rather than that delicious drink chocolate.

If that’s the way it plays out, great. However, I really don’t put much faith in my ability to predict the racial make up of the new New Orleans. Plus, I think more than 250,000 residents want to come back. They just don’t see anything in New Orleans to come back to just yet or don’t have the financial resources to do it right away.

Nagin the Prophet might turn out to be right. Or not. Either way, I’m cool with 67%, 55%, 1%, or 99% - as long as everyone who wants to come back can.

Oh yeah, and about the Uptown remark. That might have been targeted at me, although I sincerely hope not. Whatever.

UPDATE: Schroeder doesn't believe in the one post-Katrina breakdown rule.

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Wisdom of Crowds

Groups of humans are generally more intelligent than any one human in them, and their collective decisions exercise an ability to predict future events any mere individual can recreate only by pure luck.

So when three people are shot at the All-Star Second Line, the consequences can be determined in the wisdom of the crowds:

“This is not what I came back here to see,” said Delanda Garner, who was scheduled to head back to Houston today.

***

“We want to come home, but we don’t want to come home to this,” Jenkins said.

***

“Out of 50 second-lines, 39 to 40 are going to have a shooting,” he said. “If I’ve got a beef with you, I can guarantee you I’m going to see you at a second-line.”
New Orleans is not a blank slate. We will be rebuilding on a lot of history that doesn’t just go away. The problems we ineffectually dealt with before the storm are still around.

Violence, poor education, poverty, and segregation are all ills that will persist in the new New Orleans, unless we address racism in our city.

We can build better levees and have a dialogue about racism at the same time. Just as old problems don’t go away overnight, nor do solutions for those problems arise overnight. Nor do they come in the recommendations of an appointed commission.

Let us consult the wisdom of the crowds. They know what city they want to come back to. Let’s hear it. This is a democracy, right? So let’s vote.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

More Wetlands, More Levees, More Rebuilding

A lot of people are calling for a levee system that will protect the city from a Category 5 hurricane. Then they are saying we should not rebuild every part of New Orleans.

If we have an effective levee system, why can’t we rebuild everywhere?

Also, if you say that New Orleans East and the Lower Ninth Ward should become green space or marshes, you are also saying that St. Bernard Parish and Lower Plaquemines should become green space or marshes. I am not prepared to say any of that.

Instead of thinking 4 months ahead, we need to be thinking 40 years ahead. We have to think generations ahead.

Levees aren’t enough. We need our wetlands back, our defensive line. The levees are our linebackers. And, yes, I would prefer to have the Dome Patrol back there mopping up what the wetlands can’t stop. A strong secondary would be nice, too, maybe in the form of a smart rebuilding plan – but one that includes everyone.

And I am adamant about including everyone. If people can’t come back in four months, we give them 12 months. If they can’t come back in 12 months, we give them 24 months. If they can’t come back in the long term, we set up a “right of return” policy for future generations. That way their family retains the right to their land if it is ever developed in the future.

(Warning: The following scenario assumes a very positive population growth for New Orleans over the next 50 or so years. Obviously, I think it is possible because I wrote it, but many readers will no doubt disagree.)

We seem to be preparing for a city of 250,000 people with a lot of green space where people used to live. In the future, when that 250,000 grows to 300,000, then 350,000, and then 400,000 – because you know people want to live here – will we then start building on that green space?

You bet we will. I would hate to have to explain to the world why we kicked a family off of their land right after a catastrophic flood destroyed everything they owned so that in the future a developer could make millions of dollars selling it to someone else.

Here’s the other thing. Black residents of New Orleans were more impacted by the flooding than white residents – over three quarters of the black residents received *more than* minimal flooding as opposed to half of the city’s white residents. I need not remind you that there are many more black residents in New Orleans than white residents. The areas most likely to not be rebuilt, with the exception of Lakeview, are majority black. If land is taken away from a large group (both in real numbers and percentages) of black residents – compared to a much smaller group of white residents – and then sold away in the future… well, that just ain’t right.

Right now, I feel like everyone should be allowed to rebuild and the city should accommodate them. Then, allow time for the city to adapt to the new layout and figure out the best way to serve its residents.

In the meantime, wetlands and levees, wetlands and levees, wetlands and levees…

This One Time, at Band Camp

A world class post at World Class New Orleans about three local high school marching bands uniting so that they can march in parades this year.

You know, I am warming up to Mardi Gras ’06. As much as I want the city to focus its resources (money, workers, time) on rebuilding, I also just want to bring my kid to a parade.

And then there’s the music, and those who play the music. To see World Class’s pics of the three bands jamming warms the heart. While every city in the nation has its high school bands that march in parades, there is something special about the way New Orleans bands do it – the sound, the look, the way they march. And especially the tubas.

I was a band geek (I mean that in a good way). At Jesuit High School I played woodwinds – clarinet, saxophone – in the marching band, JROTC band, and the jazz band. I started playing clarinet when I was in 3rd or 4th grade. My grandfather taught me how to play. He had a swing band in the 1940s and gigged around town.

He taught me all the old standards: “Just a Closer Walk,” “Do You Know What It Means,” “When the Saints Go Marching In,” “If Ever I Cease to Love” – there’s too many to list them all.

When I was a senior at Jesuit, I was burned out on playing music. I didn’t plan on being a professional musician, so I guess I just didn’t see the point. I was focused on SAT scores and getting into a college and music wasn’t necessarily going to help me with that.

Then I heard a tape playing in the band room. It sounded like the New Orleans music I knew, that I had been playing all my life, that my grandfather had taught me. But it was more vibrant. It felt new. It made you want to move. It made you want to groove – even a white boy like me.

It was the Rebirth Brass Band. And it was the rebirth of my passion for music. My senior year, I put down the clarinet and picked up a tuba. I didn’t know the fingering, but my grandfather had taught me to play by ear. So I faked my way through all the marching band songs – sometimes playing what was written, sometimes playing something that sounded better.

My tuba playing career ended on a high note. In the last parade of the season, as we rounded Canal Street and headed back towards the river, the band played a song that showcased the tubas. After the song ended and we lowered our instruments, I heard a voice from the crowd exclaim, “That’s pretty good for a white boy.”

How can you top that? The people of New Orleans know what good music is. We are not born with the knowledge, but we pick it up because we are surrounded by it. When you go to a CD store, there is always a New Orleans section. I don’t see a New York section, or an Atlanta section, or a Houston section. And it’s not just New Orleans artists. It’s New Orleans music, a genre all its own. No other city has this rich a musical heritage.

That’s what I am going to be looking forward to this Mardi Gras more than anything – the music. That’s something that Katrina couldn’t take from us. But it is something in a post-Katrina world that we will have to hold on to a little tighter.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

NOLA: Not Ready for Tourists

At least, the Delta Queen Steamboat Co. thinks so:

Company President Bruce Nierenberg said that with local hotel rooms scarce, restaurants understaffed and flights, taxi service and streetcar service limited, his company concluded that New Orleans is not properly equipped to handle its guests at this point.
Will all this magically change by Mardi Gras?
The Delta Queen Steamboat Co.'s decision not to operate from New Orleans this year reflects the tourism industry's Catch-22 in its efforts to restart: The city needs tourists to restart the economy, but some tourists may be reluctant to come until there is more proof that the city offers the services they expect.
I don’t know if this is a Catch-22 as much as a natural consequence of your city being flooded for two weeks.

I still don't see how we can do a city-sponsored Mardi Gras with so few services. We are asking tourists to come down to a city that is not fully functional. After seeing yesterday's BNOB meeting, I don't think the city is mentally functional.

And in reallocating resources to deal with Mardi Gras, we are losing time. June 1st won't come eight days later because we decided to celebrate Mardi Gras. Hurricane season is a deadline we can't push back.

But there are some deadlines we can push back:
Some of the hurricane evacuees living in New Orleans-area hotels at government expense could count on staying until March 1, the day after Mardi Gras, under a plan stitched together Wednesday in U.S. District Court.
Hotels are going to love that, given recent efforts to evict evacuees.

This doesn't seem fair to the hotels or the evacuees. But the only way to make things right is to have a safe New Orleans for both tourists and residents. Let's hope we're not eight days too late in achieving that next hurricane season.

If we are not ready come June 1st, it wouldn't take a Katrina-type storm to cause problems. Another Cindy might be just as bad.

A Simple Question

BNOB Commission, why don’t you want everyone to rebuild their homes?

Thanks for all the details on the light rail system, the parks, the commuter trains to Mississippi, the bridge to the moon, and all the other cool stuff engineers can do while they are not building Cat 5 levees.

But why can’t people just rebuild their homes?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Bringing Back New Orleans in Four Months OR ELSE

I wish it were bringing back New Orleans in four months or less.

Instead, the report that will be presented to the Mayor today says they have four months to prove their neighborhoods can “reattract ‘sufficient population.’”

The report does not specify what the threshold will be to satisfy that requirement, though some commission members have indicated they'd favor a requirement that well over half of residents signal a plan to return.
I like this part of the plan:
The report is silent on the mechanics of how planners would seek input from displaced residents.
Aren’t they the ones we need to ask if they are coming back or not?

I like this part, too:
In hopes of helping people make their decisions, the panel is urging the Federal Emergency Management Agency to release within a month the advisory floodplain maps the agency is now creating.
Having to meet new elevation requirements and how much your flood insurance will cost are important variables in deciding whether or not to rebuild.

I don’t like the sufficient population criteria. We don’t know yet who wants to come back. Not who *plans* to come back. Who *wants* to come back. Not every family can bounce back fast after a disaster like Katrina. Four months might not be enough time for a lot of families to make plans to return, even if they want to.

And if they can’t, the Crescent City Bulldozing Corp., I mean Redevelopment Corp., will come a-knockin’:
The corporation's powers, as envisioned by the land-use panel, would be broad. It would be the central authority empowered with executing the redevelopment plan developed by the mayor and his commission, meaning it would buy properties and "dispose" of them for redevelopment. It would have the power of eminent domain, but only to be used "as a last resort," the report says.
Scary.

I am not saying we rebuild every house in every neighborhood in New Orleans. But, before we make plans for a city of 250,000, we need to do everything possible to make sure that it is not 350,000 that want to come back. Otherwise, we will be shutting the door on our own people and essentially saying they don’t fit in the new New Orleans.

According to the T-P article, here’s a summary of the plan to be recommended:

- A four-month period to decide how many residents are coming back and where

- In the meantime, a moratorium on building permits in hardest hit areas

- The assumption that “not every neighborhood will be sustainable”

- The creation of a public agency to buyout and in some cases take property in areas that won’t be rebuilt

- A plan to buy homes in areas that will not be rebuilt at full pre-Katrina value minus insurance settlements

- Homeowners not in buyout areas getting full value for their damaged homes if they buy a new house in the city

- Designating “neighborhood planning areas” that must “prove their viability to rebuild” by attracting a “sufficient population”

- Meetings for residents of these planning areas held in New Orleans

- Parks:
…depending on whether those areas fail to recover fully: Broadmoor, Gentilly, the 7th Ward, the Lower 9th Ward and two sections of eastern New Orleans between Chef Menteur Highway and Interstate 10.
- Umm, infill development areas?
The report also recommends that a number of large tracts be demolished and repackaged as "infill development areas" for commercial or industrial projects with housing for workers nearby. The dozen sites identified in the report include a number of public-housing developments, including one in Central City in the vicinity of the C.J. Peete and Guste complexes; a huge parcel in the area of the Florida and Desire complexes; and another around the St. Bernard complex.

Other areas are identified as "infill" sites as well, including the portion of the Lower 9th Ward on the lake side of North Claiborne Avenue.
- Also, “a light-rail system, large mixed-income neighborhoods and new parks that double as additional flood protection”

- Outside of its scope, but still recommended: wetlands restoration, closure of MR-GO, pumping stations near the lake, and one levee board

I think that’s everything. Nagin, the Louisiana Recovery Authority, and the White House all have a say before it goes into effect.

My question is: Do the people have a say?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Build It Up to Tear It Down

The Wet Bank Guide pointed me to this NY Times article previewing Wednesday’s big announcement:

All Parts of City in Rebuild Plan of New Orleans
I like the headline, but did the person who wrote it read the article?
But ultimately, the areas that fail to attract a critical mass of residents in 12 months will probably not survive as residential neighborhoods, Mr. Canizaro said, and are likely to end up as marshland as the city's population declines and its footprint shrinks.
People who rebuild in those areas will be forced to leave, according to the proposal.
Those two things don’t go together in my book. You can rebuild anywhere, but in a year the city might force you to leave your house. That sounds to me like you can’t rebuild in all parts of the city, unless rebuilding means tearing down your house after a year.

I expect more from the author of the plan, Joseph Canizaro. He is, after all, a Bush Ranger. Okay, maybe that is what I expect.

Everyone seems to be afraid they will be the only person to move back into their block. I don’t get that. People want to live in New Orleans. People need to live in New Orleans. They will come back. I think we can hit the critical mass in every neighborhood even without all 480,000 residents coming back.

But, not if everyone waits for someone else to pull the trigger. That’s where the leaders come in. They are supposed to lead their people in the right direction. And the right direction is a rebuilding plan now, not 12 months from now.

Nagin doesn’t have to choose the Canizaro plan. Instead, he can lead his people in the right direction – before they are no longer his people to lead.

Monday, January 09, 2006

“The Big Creepy”

4+ months A.K.:

Only a fifth of the city's population of half a million has returned, most to areas that did not suffer flood damage and where services have been restored.

***

Fewer than half of the city's fire stations are fully up and running. Concern over the department's response capabilities has made some insurance companies reluctant to extend policies to New Orleans homebuyers.

The ranks of the police force, its reputation sullied when officers were accused of looting and desertion in the post-Katrina chaos, have thinned.

Only about 200 hospital beds are available, leaving patients waiting an average of three hours in ambulances before they can be moved inside to emergency rooms, according to the mayor's office.
A man living in the Ninth Ward:
"I like to leave signs like I'm living here. I'm just hoping police see it and know there's somebody living here," he said. "I pray hard every night, and I keep a gun loaded. It's sad to say, but I have to do it."
A man who won’t live in the Ninth Ward:
"I want to go back, but I'm scared," said Antoine Shropshire, a 41-year-old truck driver visiting his house in the Ninth Ward. "There's no people. It's creepy here. It's too weird.

"You don't see anyone you know any more. If I sit too long, it brings tears when I think about what it'll take to get it back around."
If our leaders wanted people to come back, conditions would not be like this. The United States of America has the resources to make New Orleans livable for those who want to rebuild. When we invaded Iraq, we set up all the services we are lacking here – temporary hospitals, fire prevention, security, utilities. If our leaders wanted those things down here, we would have them.

I don’t think they want people back. I think they want everyone to stay out of the way while they decide what future New Orleans works best for them.

It can’t happen that way. We live here. The future New Orleans has to be the one that works best for us.

You can’t plan that. It has to evolve. In the course of living in an area, the plan that works evolves. Do you think the first settlers of New Orleans, if they had not stayed an entire year and seen where the river overflowed its banks, could have planned where the best place to build would be?

We are the new pioneers. We need to be down here, living in New Orleans, experiencing the new New Orleans, and coming up with the best plan that works for us. Let New Orleanians re-settle New Orleans.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Feet Don’t Shrink

There has been a lot of talk about the footprint of New Orleans shrinking. I don’t see how that can happen.

New Orleans’ footprint is already laid out. If the city decides not to rebuild New Orleans East and the Lower Ninth Ward, these areas will still be there. They will just be abandoned. They won’t become green space on their own. And they won’t become marshland. You don’t create an ecosystem like the marshes by designating them.

The land will be there, so people should live there. I don’t understand why it’s taking so long to figure that out.

It’s a Fact

T-P:

That Katrina's floodwaters affected black residents more severely than white residents is a matter of statistical fact. Using flood maps and block-by-block data from the 2000 census, city consultant Greg Rigamer estimates that about half of the city's white citizenry experienced minimal or no flooding. By comparison, fewer than a quarter of black New Orleanians were so lucky.

Given that discussions of shrinking the city tend to focus on abandoning flood-prone areas, a reduction in the city's size would likely have a disproportionate effect on areas largely populated by black residents.
If we focus all of our resources on the un-flooded areas as the Mayor has suggested, we will shut the door in the face of a lot of New Orleanians. More resources need to be used on the areas that need it more.

I understand that New Orleans needs its economic center to generate money. But, we need to ask why are we generating money? Why are we building business in the area? Why are we collecting taxes?

For the residents. All of the residents. And if we focus on rebuilding the areas that didn’t flood, we are building a better New Orleans for just a few of the residents. It’s not hard to figure out which few.

Oliver Thomas says “some African-Americans take as gospel that there is a ‘conspiracy theory’ afoot to keep them from returning.” I don’t know. Conspiracy theories are usually done behind closed doors. This is being done out in the open.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

He's No Brownie

Time Magazine interviewed Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad Allen who is leaving New Orleans at the end of this month. He jumped in after Michael Brown was sacked and did a heck of a job.

Why? Because he knows what he is doing. And what he doesn’t know, he finds out:

I had to get knowledgeable right away on the inner workings of the Disaster Relief Fund and the Stafford Act (the law under which FEMA operates). It's very technical, a lot of arcane issues, and it's played out in very emotional issues like what can be paid for and what can't.

How did you do that?

I read it. I stayed up late at night reading (laughing).
He even did some outside reading:
Actually, my flash of optimism came after reading Rising Tide [John Barry's book about the Mississippi flood of 1927]. Have you read it? I had a sense that if you didn't have New Orleans, you'd have to create one. Because of the requirements of commerce, where it's at on the river and so forth. So it's not a question of whether New Orleans comes back, it's how New Orleans comes back.
I hope he tells the President that.

I’m not so sure about this, though:
When we hit that tipping point and the city flooded, it was not within FEMA's mission, capabilities or competency to go out and direct actual rescue operations. The Coast Guard came in and did it because we're trained to do that. And whatever issues there are with FEMA as an organization, I hope the public does not generalize to a larger responsibility for FEMA.
I don’t think anyone expected Michael Brown to jump in a helicopter and rescue people off the rooftops. Besides, he probably would have dropped them. But we did expect him to have a plan to evacuate (rescue) the people at the Superdome and Convention Center, or to at least know there were people *at* the Convention Center.

Just for kicks, here is FEMA’s mission from their official website:
As it has for more than 20 years, FEMA's mission remains: to lead America to prepare for, prevent, respond to and recover from disasters with a vision of "A Nation Prepared." At no time in its history has this vision been more important to the country than in the aftermath of Sept. 11th.
Except for, say, in the aftermath of Katrina.

The Tao Te King Cakes

I bought a king cake yesterday. And, I always have this problem when I get a king cake: I don’t know where to start cutting it.

Because it is shaped like a circle, there is no beginning or end. Where do you start? You might choose the biggest piece. Or a certain sugar color. Or maybe a piece with icing. Or not.

So I looked at my king cake, and I thought.

I thought about circles. I thought that wherever you start on a circle, you also end. You always wind up where you started.

Then I thought about life. Wherever you were before you were born, you probably go back there when you die.

Then I thought about cycles – how things move in circles and then do it again. I thought about the four seasons. Then the hurricane season.

This led me to think that wherever we are right now, we are somewhere on a circle. If we don’t like where we are, we need to just keep going because we will eventually get back to where we want to be.

This is no great revelation. There is nothing here worth adding to any philosophical debate.

The thing is, before Katrina, I never would have looked at a king cake and then pondered the meaning of life. I would have just thought, “Which piece has the baby?”

Apartments in the Mix

This is the first I have heard of apartments being used to temporarily house New Orleanians.

The Governor, the Mayor, and two city council members met yesterday along with FEMA to soothe the differences between City Hall and the City Council concerning where returning New Orleanians should live:

More than 46,800 families have requested housing assistance from FEMA. Blanco said 21,900 of those families can place travel trailers on their own property as they rebuild their homes. The mayor has approved sites for another 8,000 trailers, and an estimated 10,000 apartments could be readied within a few months.

That leaves city, state and federal officials searching for places for about 7,000 families.
This looks like a step in the right direction. Apartments are much better than trailers. They are coming up with a plan and talking numbers.

And the Mayor even said he would cede some of his power to the council:
Nagin said council members would be able to veto trailer locations in their districts.
I am curious how many residents are represented by “more than 46,800 families.” It seems like it would be a big chunk of the population that hasn’t returned yet.

Since I frequently point out when the city is sending the wrong message to misplaced New Orleanians, I must say that this is the right message.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Another Katrina Mystery Solved

If you drove up and down Claiborne Ave near Central City in the weeks after Katrina, you may have seen flooded hearses on neutral grounds or in other odd areas, as Schroeder shows in this series of pics. I saw too many of them for it to have been a random thing.

Well, I was talking to a funeral home director a couple of days ago and he told me that he had to buy new hearses because a depot that housed his old ones near Jackson Ave was looted and the hearses were stolen. That explains that.

Except for the “stolen” part. This might have been a Kanye West moment where “stealing” to some might mean “surviving” for others:

Some of the first vehicles to arrive on dry land at Algiers Point loaded with New Orleans evacuees were not operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or any other government authority. They were two hearse and limousine drivers equipped with a ravenous determination to save lives at any cost.

“We were known as the renegade squad.” Williams said she and Jackson ‘borrowed’ the vehicles, although in what has become Katrina lingo, they ‘commandeered’ them to rescue themselves and others stranded by the floodwaters.
Apparently, it takes specialized knowledge that I don’t have to commandeer limos and hearses:
“Panicked residents were screaming, the car alarms were blaring. There was chaos everywhere. We used screwdrivers to bypass the alarms and hotwire the ignitions.”
Cool.

A Katrina Mystery Solved

When da po’ ma qualified for a SBA loan, I was confused. I thought she might have been operating a little something on the side and not telling da po’ boy. I thought maybe my prospects in her will were looking up.

Alas, it turns out that in times of disaster, you don’t have to own a business to get an SBA loan (WaPo link):

Though its usual mandate is helping small businesses, it is charged with helping homeowners and renters as well as all businesses damaged in disasters. That is because a New Deal program coupled the two loan programs during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and both were transferred to the SBA when it was created in 1953.
I still think it is strange that the SBA is handling non-business owners’ loans. Wouldn’t that cause some confusion? I mean, *I’m* confused:
Another quirk makes it necessary for homeowners with low incomes, who wouldn't qualify for a loan, to go through the process at SBA anyway. That's because FEMA, which give out grants in disasters, can consider only those who have been turned down for a loan.
So you have to be refused a loan in order to get one? I don’t get it.

But I am not here to get it. That is proven to me everyday.

Also, the SBA has declined 70% of the loan applications they have processed and only approved 21%. And they have processed less than half of the applications they have received.

In the midst of all this SBA confusion, I completely missed that the article was about Hubig’s Pies, which is back up and running.

Of course, the SBA hasn’t approved their loan yet.

How Did We Get to This Point?

The city wants to get on with the rebuilding.

The people who have lost so much do not want to lose what they have left.

Why aren’t the two sides talking?

With a cell phone crooked in her ear and scores of activists cheering her on in the 2000 block of Reynes Street, lawyer Tracie Washington sent a backhoe and its crew packing from the Lower 9th Ward Thursday morning.

***

Washington and her colleagues raced to the corner of Reynes and Galvez streets after a tipster called in an SOS that the bulldozing had begun — in clear violation of an agreement the city made Dec. 28 not to demolish any homes until a hearing in Civil District Court, she said.

***

The machine seemed to be collecting rotting boards piled up where lawns once were. But to Washington and her circle the materials were not storm debris ready to be discarded, but rather someone’s property.
To me, this shows that the lines of communication between the city and its people have been severed. The people now feel they have to show up to physically impede the unwanted bulldozing of their homes.

It makes no difference whether this crew was simply “collecting rotting boards” or preparing to bulldoze a house. The people perceived the latter. One man’s debris is another man’s home. The city doesn’t get it.

The question of who gets bulldozed and who doesn’t can not be settled in the courts. It can not be a forced decision. It must come through dialogue, with the wishes of both sides present in the final outcome.

In the end, no one will be happy. We have all lost so much. But, adding to the grief is not an option.

How did we get to this point?

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Buc Fan Offended at Saints Game

No, it wasn’t the way the Saints played that offended him:

Tampa, Florida - Like most Bucs fans, Bob Corry says he enjoyed Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints at Raymond James Stadium. Everything, except a song played over the stadium's loudspeakers at halftime.

Bob Corry, Offended By Song:
"The first song that I hear is 'Rock You Like a Hurricane' by The Scorpions and I thought to myself, 'Is it me, or is this just totally out of place and inappropriate?'"
I don’t know. I think it’s kind of funny. Although, I personally feel anything by the Scorpions is, as a rule of thumb, “totally out of place and inappropriate.”

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

More Tools in Washington

It's a poor workman who blames his tools:

"The enemy has not gone away. They're still there," said Bush. "And I expect Congress to understand that we're still at war, and they got to give us the tools necessary to win this war."
It's also a poor tool who blames his workmen.

The Bridge over Troubled Waters: Closed

When tales of roving bands of thugs up to no good were being told in the days after Katrina, the actions of the Gretna police may seem more acceptable. They blockaded the Mississippi River bridge and fired warning shots over people trying to cross it from New Orleans.

However, now that we know those tales were exaggerated and the roving bands of thugs were just groups of evacuees looking for shelter, the bridge incident isn't going away:

The Aug. 31 confrontation in which Gretna police blocked the Crescent City Connection, preventing evacuees from fleeing deluged New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, remains under investigation by Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti.

***

The probe is expected to determine whether the civil rights of evacuees were violated. Foti has said criminal charges could be filed against officers.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, and state Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, have filed a lawsuit against the city of Gretna and its Police Department in federal court, saying the officers used "unreasonable, unnecessary and excessive force while refusing plaintiffs to travel through" the city, violating their rights.
The discrimination issue aside, why didn't the Gretna police just help these people in need? These weren't people from outside the disaster area trying to get in. They were people from inside the disaster area trying to get out. While so many law enforcement agencies were working together to help those affected by the storm, the Gretna police were refusing aid. I don't get it.

One can only assume that the Gretna police thought the people coming over the bridge looked like trouble. And, if they were going by looks, then the discrimination lawsuit has a chance.

Letters from FEMA

Louisiana received a letter from FEMA December 29th. Inside was a couple of bills totaling $155.7 million:

The bills signed by FEMA Chief Financial Officer Margaret Young include a collection stub, with notification of "Make your check payable to FEMA" and an Atlanta address to a FEMA lockbox to send the check.
The collection stub was a nice touch. And the Atlanta address? Priceless.

Let me tell you about another FEMA letter, sent in October to St. Bernard Parish President Junior Rodriguez:
To demonstrate what he has called "federal confusion," Rodriguez showed WWL-TV a letter from FEMA stating that he and his wife did not qualify for further relief because they did not live in a disaster zone.
FEMA sent the president of a parish that was completely inundated by storm surge a letter saying he did not live in a disaster zone. When he received the letter, he was living in a trailer still in the disaster zone, in the government complex set up near the Wal-Mart.

I know some people who *didn't* get letters from FEMA, as in the ones containing 2000 bucks. And they deserved it.

What's going on with the crazy FEMA letters? They want us to pay 25% of the disaster assistance they gave us. In the shape Louisiana is in, how can we pay this bill in 30 days before interest starts accruing?

I'll tell you what. We'll pay our 25% percent to the federal government when we get our 25% of oil revenues generated off the Louisiana coast. Oh, wait a minute. We might not even need your assitance if we got that.

I have a couple of letters for FEMA: F - U.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

I Don't Know Where to Begin

There are just too many things wrong with this article in the Columbia Daily Tribune.

Like the title:

Relocating New Orleans picks up support
Really? Because, that's the first I had heard of it. And I am down here. I would like to know about it if the rest of the country was planning on relocating me.

The article focuses on Tim Kusky of 60 Minutes fame, who called for a gradual pullout from New Orleans. After he said that, more than a few people disagreed.

The article gives us an update:
Now Kusky believes he is being proved correct because fewer people are deciding to move back to the Big Easy.

"I'’ve gotten hundreds of e-mails," Kusky said in an interview last week. "At first they were about half and half. Now they are almost all supportive."
That's funny. I just read this in the paper on Sunday: "New Orleans' population is coming back more quickly than expected."

"Hold on," you say. "He's getting more supportive emails than before. He must be right!" They're probably all from his mother.

He continues:
"Many of the e-mails I'’ve had from people there are from scientists who are afraid to speak out for fear of retaliation from others down there," Kusky added in an e-mail message. "But the science must be heard to protect the people and their property."
That's all we're saying, too, that "the science must be heard to protect the people and their property." What we are hearing, though, is that it can be done. It's just a matter of doing it.

Now, on to the other scientists in the article:
"I don'’t want to say it should not be rebuilt," said Robert Young, a geology professor at Western Carolina University.

Thanks for not wanting to say we should not rebuild, except:
In testimony before a congressional committee, Young has recommended the federal government stop helping to rebuild southern coastal communities repeatedly hit by hurricanes.
Umm, okay.

But, wait. There's more:
He has called for the creation of a commission such as the one that assesses the value of military bases. The new commission would decide what areas would not eligible for federal rebuilding subsidies.
I am sure the parts of California being flooded right now would just love that idea.

Then, there's J. David Rogers, a professor in the University of Missouri-Rolla Geological Engineering Department:
The ridiculous result Rogers sees from Katrina is that some New Orleans residents who lived within dike-protected lands were not part of the National Flood Insurance Program.

"We'’ve allowed people to build in these areas, and we are not charging them the freight we should for living in those zones," Rogers said in an interview.
Look, we are not the only city protected by levees (dikes, whatever). And a lot of us were under the impression that we didn't need national flood insurance because the national government told us the levees would work.

As far as not being charged the freight we should be for living in these zones, I believe the inestimable Humid Haney has already shown us the definitive explanation as to why New Orleans is where it is, and why we live where we live. And part of that is so the good professor is not charged more than he is already charged for the freight he buys because we live in these zones.

Feel free to point out any more goofiness you might encounter in this article.

Monday, January 02, 2006

In Times of War

No, not the Iraq war. The war against time:

Can the Army Corps of Engineers restore the levees to at least pre-Katrina strength in the five months before the next hurricane season kicks in?

***

"If the corps will recognize this as a wartime situation and act accordingly, they can sheet-pile the entrances to those canals and get big diesel-powered pumps up on platforms to pump rainfall that collects in the canals right out into the lake," said Robert Bea, a professor of engineering at the University of California's Berkeley campus. Bea is a leader of the National Science Foundation investigation of the levee failures that led to catastrophic flooding after Hurricane Katrina.

"It won't be pretty or permanent, but it will work," Bea said, "and it can be done by June 1."
To the people living inside a decimated levee system, this *is* a wartime situation. Come next hurricane season, life and property will once again be at risk, even if the levees are restored to pre-Katrina status.

Why isn't this like a "wartime situation" for the Army Corps? It is "us versus the hurricanes", right? Or is it "the U.S. versus us"? I ask because the first shot was fired when the Army Corps didn't build the levees correctly in the first place. And, now independent engineers are saying the Army Corps isn't doing everything it can to repair the levees by next hurricane season.

Jeez, we at least deserved a warning shot.