Sittin’ in a friend’s Uptown shotgun listening to Bobby Lounge bang the ivories singing “do not pass on by” while the dog sleeps and the mockingbirds sing on a softly humid Monday morning. The friends are workin’, a blessing in this post-Katrina, trauma-tized, water-marked, limpin’ and hurtin’ New Orleans. “We Back” says the spray paint on the door but there’s a “for sale” sign on the porch. Uptown gardens are bloomin’, the ginger blossoms spilling over picket fences and “fleur de lis” flags fly from the house eaves in a show of hope from those who got lucky and still have an eave. But the gardens are an island in a sea of debris. Drive the boulevards – Jeff Davis, Broad, Gentilly – and mile after mile of blank, empty, forlorn houses sit waiting for a decision: rebuild, remove, repair. Noboby knows what to do until after the (mayoral) election, after hurricane season, after FEMA payments end, after the levees are repaired, the flood maps re-drawn. Though they weren’t wiped off the grid like the Lower Ninth, neighborhood after neighborhood sits deserted, one house here or there cleared of debris, gutted, and boarded up to wait. A grey water line smears across the city’s houses, and abandoned cars, a line of fate, a binding tie, a fading trail of memory back to old New Orleans.
We talked on the phone to our friends in New Orleans last night as they were out on their front porch directing traffic onto sidewalks and neighbor’s driveways for Mardi Gras parking. They sounded happy for the first time in a long while. Here’s some pics of their neighborhood at Inside The Bowl
“FYI from FEMA” said the e-mail to Homeland Security on the night the 17th Street Canal levee broke. The White House knew of flooding, stranded people and fires in the Crescent City by midnight. Then they all went about their business as if nothing had happened. Meanwhile the City of New Orleans fought it’s greatest battle – with the elements – and lost.
Today, the streets of New Orleans are broken, empty, filled with debris. A thousand or more are dead. Hundreds of thousands are “missing” and may never return to their homes. Their homes are gone. Of the 21,000 requests from New Orleaneans for FEMA trailers, only 3,000 have gotten them–more than five months after the hurricane and flood.
That FEMA e-mail said the situation in New Orleans was, “…far more serious…” than the media were reporting. The media had not seen what the FEMA staff had seen, flying over the 17th Street canal in a Coast Guard helicopter. What happened between that e-mail message and the vacationing president’s sigh of relief that the stricken city had “dodged the bullet”? Somebody lied.
The Bush administration has doled out a lot of cash for the “reconstruction” of Iraq and we now have a report from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. The long story short is that $25 billion was appropriated by Congress to rebuild Iraq, including for 136 projects to improve water and sanitation and 425 projects to provide electricity; fewer than half of the water and sanitation projects will get built; 300 of the electricity projects will be completed. $400 million went to “unforseen administrative costs” which reduced the funds available for projects. Former Ambassador John Negroponte “shifted” over $3 billion from reconstruction to training Iraqi security forces, and miscellaneous “democracy institution-building” projects. A separate audit of financial practices of the American administration in Iraq revealed the disappearance of substantial sums of money, some of which shrink-wrapped piles of $100s had been cached in unlocked closets and piled on office floors.
Congress has appropriated $6.2 billion for reconstruction of Louisiana. The aid will be in the form of “block grants” to state agencies. Louisiana state officials had asked for $30 billion [see Note below] to help owners rebuild 200,000 homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and a federal program set up to oversee rebuilding efforts. The Bush administration rejected that proposal, and Donald E. Powell, son of former Secretary of State Colin Powell and now federal Gulf Coast coordinator, said to state officials, “I thinks it’s important for Louisiana to spend this money in a very prudent and wise manner” and indicated that the federal government will be keeping close watch on the Block Grant money going to the state.
Congressionally authorized funds for water, sanitation, electricity infrastructure projects, as well as security force training funds and unspecified administrative costs to
Iraq = $24 billion
Congressionally authorized funds for Community Development Block Grants to
Louisiana = $6.2 billion
Note: The Congressional Budget Office estimates of capital losses due to Katrina are $70 to $130 billion (287, 000 homes lost overall, with 135,000 homes damaged just in New Orleans; 90% of crude oil production and 70% of natural gas production facilities in the Gulf destroyed or damaged). The CBO compares this with the total cost of damage due to the Sept. 11 attack which was $87 billion (although only $10 billion of it was property loss).
Mike Brown took the hint, finally, and resigned as FEMA director.
Look for him to receive the Medal of Freedom in a few months.
Fortunately, Skeletor… er, I mean Chertoff is still firmly in control of Homeland Security.
Earlier today, my pal Heroic Imp sent me this chilling vision of the future I thought was worth sharing:
New Orleans has one of the world’s greatest international ports, one of the largest in the nation, and it is a major focus of the city’s economy. New Orleans is home to the corporate offices of oil companies with major offshore operations in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the distribution and service centers of offshore equipment suppliers and fabricators.
The manufacturing industry is a significant part of the economy, with petroleum, petrochemical, shipbuilding, and aerospace industries all playing a role. The New Orleans region also functions as a mining, processing, and transportation center for other minerals, principally sulfur. Service industries are playing a larger role, with health care and telecommunications leading the way. The New Orleans region is widely regarded as a leading center of medicine and health care in the South.
The city was allowed to be destroyed, MARK THESE WORDS…it will be rebuilt, like Iraq, as a major “revitalized” oil refinery port. An all new “illuminated” oil town, afterall improved refineries, production, will “help our energy problems.” Get us away from the dependency on foreign oil. Cheney is behind this. Halliburton, according to today’s New York times, has just won the open “bidding” for the first round of re-building, $500 million to whet the taste buds.
Like Iraq it was destroyed to be rebuilt as an oil capital.