Monday, November 21, 2005

A Call To Arms

New Orleans: Proud To Swim Home

A Times-Picayune Editorial:
"The federal government wrapped levees around greater New Orleans so that the rest of the country could share in our bounty.

Americans wanted the oil and gas that flow freely off our shores. They longed for the oysters and shrimp and flaky Gulf fish that live in abundance in our waters. They wanted to ship corn and soybeans and beets down the Mississippi and through our ports. They wanted coffee and steel to flow north through the mouth of the river and into the heartland.

They wanted more than that, though. They wanted to share in our spirit. They wanted to sample the joyous beauty of our jazz and our food. And we were happy to oblige them...

So the federal government built levees and convinced us that we were safe.

We weren't.

The levees, we were told, could stand up to a Category 3 hurricane.

They couldn't.

By the time Katrina surged into New Orleans, it had weakened to Category 3. Yet our levee system wasn't as strong as the Army Corps of Engineers said it was. Barely anchored in mushy soil, the floodwalls gave way.

Our homes and businesses were swamped. Hundreds of our neighbors died.

Now, this metro area is drying off and digging out. Life is going forward. Our heart is beating.

But we need the federal government -- we need our Congress -- to fulfill the promises made to us in the past. We need to be safe. We need to be able to go about our business feeding and fueling the rest of the nation. We need better protection next hurricane season than we had this year. Going forward, we need protection from the fiercest storms, the Category 5 storms that are out there waiting to strike.

Some voices in Washington are arguing against us. We were foolish, they say. We settled in a place that is lower than the sea. We should have expected to drown.

As if choosing to live in one of the nation's great cities amounted to a death wish. As if living in San Francisco or Miami or Boston is any more logical.

Great cities are made by their place and their people, their beauty and their risk. Water flows around and through most of them. And one of the greatest bodies of water in the land flows through this one: the Mississippi.

The federal government decided long ago to try to tame the river and the swampy land spreading out from it. The country needed this waterlogged land of ours to prosper, so that the nation could prosper even more.

Some people in Washington don't seem to remember that. They act as if we are a burden. They act as if we wore our skirts too short and invited trouble.

We can't put up with that. We have to stand up for ourselves. Whether you are back at home or still in exile waiting to return, let Congress know that this metro area must be made safe from future storms. Call and write the leaders who are deciding our fate. Get your family and friends in other states to do the same. Start with members of the Environment and Public Works and Appropriations committees in the Senate, and Transportation and Appropriations in the House. Flood them with mail the way we were flooded by Katrina.

Remind them that this is a singular American city and that this nation still needs what we can give it."

Contact key congresscritters here.


molly said...

make levees not war!

Pelican State said...

Is it really the Federal Government's JOB to rebuild New Orleans?

Remember the Governor's race before Blanco? Between David Duke, a former Grand Wizard of the KKK & nazi sympathizer, and Eddie Edwins, AKA "Eddie The Crook", a three time felon? These are the people you elect, what do you expect?

The city has had 30 years to correct the well known systemic problems with the levees.

Yet it languished, in complacency and dependency.

Get off the Federal TEAT, New Orleans. Take some personal responsibility, for a change.

Elizabeth said...

If they get off the Federal teat will they have SOLE control over what is permitted to travel through the mouth of the Mississippi? How about they KEEP all of their wealth...the oil & natural gas off their shores.
Will they be relieved of federal taxes, rules, regulations & laws?

YOU may have a great idea!!

If they were to have control over THEIR riches they could certainly provide for their people much better than sucking the Federal teat has provided.

clayton cubitt said...

Huge public infrastructure projects like this are often beyond the purview and capability of local governments, not to mention beyond their budgets, especially in poor cities and states. Projects like this are precisely what the Federal government is needed for, in conjunction with state and local government oversight.

America benefits greatly from having New Orleans as both a port and a tourist destination, not to mention a cultural and historical landmark, it's simple pragmatism to protect it better.

This has nothing to do with "the Federal teat", and everything to do with having the balls to be grown-up enough, and non-partisan enough, to recognize that money for levies in New Orleans is far more important than money for a bridge to nowhere in Alaska, and other wasteful projects puked up by the present Congress and Bush Administration, both of which are giving Louisiana politicians a serious run for their money in some pathetic competition for who can be the most incompetent and corrupt.

Pelican State said...

The question is, to what extent is rebuilding New Orleans the Federal Gov'ts job?

The Tipsy editorial reeks of entitlement, the entrenched attitude that put New Orleans in this predicament in the first place (dependency & helplessness).

In a First World country, the Gov't *should* have a role in rebuilding after disasters. But to what extent, and what will happen to Federal money in N.O.?

Adjusted for population size, Louisiana ranks 2nd in the number of elected officials convicted of crimes (Mississippi is #1).

Remember the past year? Scandals included the conviction of 14 state judges and an FBI raid on the personal and business files of Louisiana Congressman "Dollar Bill" Jefferson.

The New Orleans School Board was being taken over by the state, DA Eddie Jordan was convicted of racism...the rot in the NOPD, which in the 1990s had the dubious distinction of being the nation's most corrupt and ineffective police force, included more than 50 cops who were eventually convicted of crimes including murder, rape, and robbery; two are currently on death row. The carnage on the streets put New Orlean's murder rate at 15 times that of NYC.

Former Governor Edwards is currently serving a 10 year prison term for taking bribes. Duke (his opponent) recently completed his own prison term for fraud.

Remember the joke by former congressman Billy Tauzin: "half of Louisiana is under water, and the other half is under indictment."

10 Billion dollars are about to pass into the sticky hands of politicians in the #1 and #2 most corrupt states in America.

Worried about looting? You ain't seen nothing yet.

clayton cubitt said...

Thanks for the recent history lesson. None of it's new information around here. Let's add that list of crimes and corruption to the one being racked up in Washington, and see who wins?

Answer: nobody. Louisiana no longer has a monopoly on cronyism or corruption. I'm all for cleaning house, from New Orleans to Washington. I'm all for accountability in spending, and responsible government, Federal and local. Agree?

But the issue at hand is rebuilding levies. Would you like more people to drown, more lives destroyed, in order to vicariously punish them for having bad local government?

Please get past your knee-jerk reaction to a tone of entitlement, and understand that it's a simple pragmatic task, this rebuilding. A great American city and its great American people need help, and all great Americans should come to their aid. If not for simple human decency and fellow citizenship (which should be enough), than at least out of recognition that the country in fact needs New Orleans, for all the reasons listed in the editorial, and more.

Sadly, the Federal government is the only mechanism capable of this task, and it, like the local governments you're fixated on, is also being helmed by craven profiteers and idiots. They all need to act, or be punished.

Call your congresscritter and voice your concerns.

Pelican State said...

Hey -- as a resident of N.O. exiled by the flood, I get it.

Yes, perhaps the Feds should rebuild the levees, Port, and tourist city out of decency, certainly we are a decent people.

And yes, the TP should tone down the "you owe us" attitude. It's that attitude which helped transform the city into a "3rd world" entity.

Perhaps the port (and city) of New Orleans are over rated, or the local media wouldn't be trying so hard to convince everyone otherwise?

Please don't take it personally. I'd say the entire effected region deserves help equally.

Perhaps "The City that Care Forgot" is much more than just a slogan?

And you have an excellent blog, btw.

Anonymous said...

New Orleans was here before the Statue of Liberty, Route 66, the White House...regardless of hwomever is elected to parish, state and other offices, the simple fact is that Washington, D.C., is embarking on one of the worst--if not THE worst--political period in American history. A couple of NEW bridges totalling more than $1 Billion--yes, BILLION-- in Alaska cannot be as important as rebuilding the bridges, and other entities, that allow for travel to N.O. SOme people seem to defend Bush and Co. to no end. Like Bush, they are pointing fingers. Well, I am too. Clayton, you are right that the levee infrastructure repairs were beyond the scope of one small tourist destination--and let us not forget that the hurricanes damaged I-10 and U.S. 90 which are to major extent, unquestionably, the job of the federal government. The bridges to nowhere are the result of powerful friends in the D.C. New Orleans' friends are not as powerful and we are far m ore poor than Bush's buds. Robin Fletcher, Denton, Texas

Anonymous said...

If the FEDS had allowed the levees to have been built right the first time the MOTHERS would not have broken.The local contractor on the levees sent a letter to the government stating the designs were sub-standard but he had no choice in the design of the levees.The FEDS knew about the sub-standard design but nothing was changed.The locals,and state government officals are no different from any other state officials convicted of corruption.We just hear about LA.polictians since there is a history.Voters have tried to change the system but AS USUAL it is the SOS for the persons in office. We as a group are responsible for the re-building of the greatest city in the SOUTH.STOP all the bitching and start the JOB. Cheryl of Slidell

Hokule'a said...

we were down at Waveland two days ago, No way can the state pick up all of the peices. There is too much to do. People TV doesnt do this justice... you cant believe how bad this is

Kate said...

I'm confused. Since when was the "federal government" this alien entity separate from states and local governments? Last time I checked I pay taxes not just to my city and my state but also my country, and they all share the money.

Yes, NOLA was "third world and proud of it." If we decide that federal government has no role in our country outside of laundering money for corporate cronies, then we'll need that epithet for the whole country because it is effective government that separates the first world from the third.

Would we be asking these questions about another city? Why is New Orleans so easy to dismiss? What does that say about us that we can throw it away, abandon an entire city in our own country?

I won't even ask what it means that we are so quick to dismiss our federal government and say it has no responsibilities when that government is us.

I hope New Orleans becomes better than it was before the flood. It was a tragically flawed city even if it was beautiful. My time there was frustrating as hell. But I think it's worth saving. I want my tax dollars to be used to build something for a change. Enough has been used to tear things apart.

Kitty said...

That was well said, Kate, and Clayton, I'm glad you posted this. The only point of disagreement I have is that the TP editorial seems to be saying that New Orleans should be helped because it is special.

In my opinion, any community in the U.S. which suffers a disaster should receive federal help, period. As a matter of simple humanity, as well as the fact that "we" are the government. (I'm hearing the final sentence of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address: "so that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth." Do those words really mean something to us, beyond being a nice-sounding sentiment? Seems as though times like these put that to the test.)

I have read a lot of remarks on the Internet to the effect that "it was their choice to live in a dangerous place, so too bad." As the TP editorial implied, this is like blaming a rape victim -- "she asked for it."

I may be oversimplifying a bit (but then again maybe not), but what I see in that type of attitude is scared people trying to convince themselves that they are safe and that nothing like this could ever happen to them.

The fact is, life ain't safe. Stuff happens that we don't have control over, no matter who we are or where we live.

Keep up the good work, Clayton.

lesbonstemps said...

Pelican State, if you were really a native you would know that the previous governor of Louisiana was Republican Mike Foster. Yes there has been plenty of corruption in Louisiana. But it was federal neglect, and not local corruption, that caused the levees to fail.

Louisiana simply does not have the money to rebuild the levees, especially now that the tax base has been completely devastated. People in Louisiana pay federal taxes just like everyone else in this country. If the government can find enough money to fund our little Iraq adventure (not to mention all those pork barrel highway projects) we can fund the levees and wetlands restoration needed to protect one of the most historically and culturally significant cities in the U.S.

Anonymous said...

From the far North (Boston), it seems to me that Clayton is right about widely distributed corruption. (Gawd, the crap that goes on in Boston! For a tired laugh, read up on our Big Dig with the thousands of LEAKS . . . if you're not tired of thinking about WATER.)

What I fear is this: Short-term greed will win out over the long-term need to restore the wetlands that once protected New Orleans. Short-term greed will also win the day in the rebuilding of the levees, which will again be substandard.

As a result, the city will rebuild (badly, with the rich getting richer from all those greased palms) and the people will move back.

Nothing will change all that much, and most people will continue to be poor, and to have no resources to deal with the next Katrina. The next Katrina will arrive; there will be even fewer protective wetlands than there were on August 28, 2005. The devastation will be worse; more lives will be destroyed. The people will have gotten their hopes up, and moved back, and lost what they struggled to rebuild.

Even if we pour money into rebuilding the city (corruptly and badly), I have a feeling that the insurance companies, along with the other businesses that once operated out of New Orleans, will slowly kill it by abandoning it. Companies that once would have considered starting up in New Orleans will start up in Houston instead.

If I'm right, what can the people do now to help themselves the most? What is the best choice for them?

I wish I knew. It is all unbearably sad.

--Nancy in Boston

Anonymous said...

Nancy, your comment about business and industries not coming back and slowly killing N.O. really hit a nerve with me. I am one of the lucky ones who lives in a good "zip code" here and thankfully had minimal damage. I did lose my job because MY company ( a major healthcare employer) chose not to return. I was offered to relocate with my company but I believe my life and my future are here! I am ANGRY with those companies and individuals who have not returned to EVEN TRY to rebuild this city. It seems cities are like material objects that people use when it's to their advantage but discard when they lose interest. It's a disposable society and that just makes me sick!
A Bayou Babe & Proud of it

Anonymous said...

Further more, whether or not you find the "tone" of the TP editorial to your liking, all New Orleanians should feel a responsibility to contact Congress. Silence and complacency will get us NOWHERE! Living in exile outside of N.O. will get the city NOWHERE! The city NEEDS an economic base, the businesses NEED customers, the restaraunts NEED patrons, the entertainment industries NEED tourists! How can N.O. ever rise above this devestation without her people and her visitors?
Bayou Babe

Anonymous said...

i say, blow the rest of the levees, give mother nature a few weeks to define what she wants, then, go in and build again where mother nature says you can. it will be cheaper, and better.

Erin from New Orleans, LA said...

The levee failure is the fault of the government. The government itself failed in its duty to protect its citizens. If the government were to drop a bomb on Houston all Texans would want some piece of compensation from the federal government. Sure it isn't the same, but it is still the fault of the government.
New Orleanians cannot help that politicians are corrupt in office. When people run for office they usually don't promote themselves as sleezy criminals. Also, not all New Orleanians vote for that particular politician. In democracy, majority rules even if the majority is not making the best decision.
In times of crisis, the loudest voices are often not the wisest. People with their hands out for funds make the news, because everyone else is trying to rebuild and get on with their lives quietly and without bothersome media coverage.
I lost my home, as did many of my friends. Not a single person I knew was on television or in the media screaming for aid. My high school in Lakeview got 10 feet of water. It's a Catholic high school without federal money coming in to get it up and running again. My principal wasn't at a press conference demanding that the school be rebuilt. One of my friend's dads is a fire fighter. She, her mom, and her two younger brothers had to move to Tennessee for about 5 months, while her dad stayed in the city. The only federal aid my parents truly took advantage of was unemployment and food stamps. We lived with my brother and his girlfriend in Hammond for close to two months. We lost power for close to or possibly longer than a week. We ate MRE's and drank bottled water that my brother went and got from one of the food stations set up by the National Guard. We couldn't do laundry and no stores were open. A tree fell on the house across the street from us and the only source of information we had was a battery powered radio on the kitchen counter. I didn't find out anything about the state of our house in Lakeview. The only thing we knew was that the 17th Street Canal levee failed; and the surrounding neighborhood had been inundated with muddy water. I turned 16 less than a month before the hurricane came. Losing my house, my school, all communication with my friends..well, it was one really crappy belated birthday gift. My friend and I had painted an awesome mural in my room two summers before. I have some pieces of the mural we peeled off the flaking wall of my post-Katrina bedroom saved in a ziplock bag. It's the only thing I have left of my childhood and my mom's childhood before me in that house. I'd never lived anywhere but that house before Katrina.
Even in telling this story I don't want sympathy or federal money, but people do need federal aid or help in general. The federal government needs to help clean up its mess, just like you'd make a little kid clean up a mess he or she made.
New Orleans didn't ask to be demolished. It has no "personal responsibility" to take. The federal government needs to take responsibility for its part in the levee failure. Don't blame New Orleans or any other part of the Gulf Coast for this.
People down here are tired of the media coverage concerning "Katrina's destruction of New Orleans" just as much as people anywhere else are. If you've got a problem with it - call your local media and tell them to report on something that's more important to you. The people down here are trying to rebuild and we don't need other people's negativity bringing us down.