Saturday, December 31, 2005

New Year's Eve bonfire is a go

The annual New Year's Eve bonfire on the neutral ground in Mid-City at Orleans and Carrollton compares to the peaceful anarchy of the Burning Man project, although on a much smaller scale, people do keep their clothes on, and there's no music ... although there are quite a few hippies. Friends and neighbors have been celebrating the passing year by throwing their Christmas trees onto a bonfire every New Year's Eve for as long as I can remember. It's one of those unique celebrations that one can only find in New Orleans. Note: the Orleans and Carrollton neutral ground is one of the broadest in the city.

Neighbors were saying today that a bunch of contractors cleared away the pile of trees yesterday (probably thinking it was just hurricane trash). So bring your contributions ... ahem, they are not accepting your moldy furniture -- just trees thank you. The fire gets started at about 11:00.

Floodwall failure linked to about 600 deaths

By John Simerman, Dwight Ott and Ted Mellnik

December 30, 2005

NEW ORLEANS -- Nearly 600 people who died because of Hurricane Katrina might have survived had floodwalls on two New Orleans canals not collapsed, according to a Knight Ridder analysis of where bodies were found after the storm.

The bodies of at least 588 people were recovered in neighborhoods that engineers say would have remained largely dry had the walls of the 17th Street and London Avenue canals not given way after the height of the storm.

In contrast, 286 bodies were recovered in the Lower Ninth Ward, New Orleans East and neighboring St. Bernard Parish, where Katrina's storm surge poured over levees and flooded neighborhoods.

The role of the 17th Street and London Avenue canal floodwalls in the destruction of New Orleans has been hotly debated in the four months since the storm. Engineers who are investigating their collapse think that floodwaters generated by Katrina never rose high enough to pour over the walls, and they blame flawed design, construction or maintenance for the walls' failure and the flooding that followed.

Louisiana authorities are investigating whether laws were broken during construction of the floodwalls, but until now there's been no attempt to quantify how much their failure may have contributed to New Orleans' death toll.

Louisiana State University hurricane expert Ivor Van Heerden said there was no doubt that vast areas of the city would have remained dry, and residents relatively unscathed, had the walls of the 17th Street and London Avenue canals not collapsed.

Asked in an e-mail whether the majority of the city would have stayed largely dry had those floodwalls held, Van Heerden replied: "A big yes."

Peter Nicholson, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Hawaii, said some flooding in central New Orleans came from breaches on the west side of the Industrial Canal, but that those breaches were above sea level and the flooding stopped as Katrina's surge died down Aug. 29.

"The big difference is with 17th Street and London the breaches opened gaps that were below sea level and continued to drain Lake Pontchartrain until they were closed," Nicholson said.

This confounded rescue efforts and left thousands stranded in darkened hospitals, attics, on freeway overpasses or in the foul refuges of the Superdome and the convention center.

Dr. Frank Minyard, the Orleans Parish coroner, has estimated that 20 percent of Katrina's victims drowned. Scores more died awaiting rescue, trapped by floodwaters. The causes of death for many will never be known because their bodies were too badly decomposed by the time they were recovered.

Months after Katrina's landfall, experts are still debating how the tragedy might have been avoided. Local officials ordered an evacuation of New Orleans, but perhaps not soon enough. Tens of thousands of residents ignored the evacuation order. Federal help came slowly.

Debate also continues over what part Louisiana's fractured system for governing the levees played in the flooding. In addition to the two canals whose floodwalls collapsed, engineers reported poor maintenance and construction practices at scores of places throughout the vast levee system.

Louisiana officials are still tabulating the death toll, which stands at nearly 1,100 statewide. Dr. Louis Cataldie, the state medical examiner, said a precise total might never be known.

The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, in response to a request from Knight Ridder, released a list this month of nearly 600 locations where at least 874 bodies had been recovered in Orleans and St. Bernard parishes, the two areas in Louisiana that Katrina hit the hardest.

Louisiana health officials say the list is incomplete, and a review of the data showed some inaccuracies.

But the addresses provided the first comprehensive view of where Katrina's New Orleans victims were found and allowed a systematic look at the dead for the first time.

The addresses showed that far more dead were recovered in western and central New Orleans than in the city's eastern neighborhoods, even though the Lower Ninth Ward, New Orleans East and St. Bernard Parish received the storm's harshest battering.

Van Heerden, the LSU hurricane expert, said the flooding in the eastern areas began shortly before the storm made landfall at 6:10 a.m. - an 18-foot storm surge from Lake Borgne destroyed much of the earthen levee system that had protected St. Bernard Parish. Most of the parish's 123 victims drowned in their homes, said Dr. Bryan Bertucci, the parish coroner.

By 6:30 a.m., water as high as 17 feet surged into a convergence of two channels east of New Orleans, engineers believe. It overwhelmed the levees, added to the flooding in St. Bernard Parish and began to flood the Lower Ninth Ward.

Just before 7 a.m., water poured over the top of the Industrial Canal, separating the Lower Ninth and New Orleans East from the rest of the city. The water eroded the back side of the levee, scouring out trenches that undermined the walls.

About 7:45 a.m., walls protecting the Lower Ninth were "explosively breached," and a head of water almost 20 feet high mowed down houses in its path, Van Heerden said.

But Van Heerden's re-creation of the storm's flooding indicates that as the storm's eye moved north to the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain, the surge that had buried St. Bernard Parish leveled off.

Most of central and western New Orleans remained dry - until the 17th Street and London Avenue canals' floodwalls collapsed.

Van Heerden, the deputy director of LSU's Hurricane Center, places the collapse of the 17th Street Canal wall at about 10:30 a.m., though others have reported it hours earlier. The breach would expand to 455 feet. The water overran the upscale Lakeview neighborhood and gradually filled the city.

At the London Avenue Canal, the 11-inch-thick concrete floodwalls bowed and then breached on both sides, at about 9:30 and 10:30 a.m. The two breaches measured 425 and 720 feet, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.

In central New Orleans, the water rose at different times, speeds and heights, depending on the neighborhood, and often the street. Water didn't reach some areas until the next day. It leveled off two days after the storm.

New Orleans police Sgt. Forrest Austin's mother, Winona Austin, 82, might have lived through the storm if water from the London Avenue Canal hadn't inundated her home in the Gentilly neighborhood.

"I got a guilty feeling because I didn't grab her by the arm and drag her out," he said. His mother's body wasn't recovered until three weeks after Katrina.

Arthur Batieste Jr., 78, a retired truck mechanic, rode out the storm with others at Second Mount Bethel Baptist Church. Then he went back to his home on Toledano Street, west of the Superdome. Water from the 17th Street Canal reached there early the day after the storm, rising eventually to 9 feet. Batieste's body was found two weeks later outside his house.

"I talked to him [that] Monday from the church on his cell phone a few times. He didn't tell me he was going back," said his daughter, Sharrell Irvin. "I guess people thought it was OK."

John Simerman and Dwight Ott, reporting from New Orleans, and Ted Mellnik, reporting from Charlotte, N.C., write for Knight Ridder newspapers.

Friday, December 30, 2005

What do good people do when bad things happen?

An anonymous post in an earlier PGR collection of photos from St. Louise de Marillac Church in Arabi (St. Bernard Parish), in addition to the tragic reports I'm hearing and reading of suicides caused by the despair Hurricane Katrina has created -- and which our government has allowed -- prompts me now to post this reflection printed in an October Clarion Herald. It was composed by a Catholic priest of whom I am not very fond because he has allowed his orthodoxy and conservatism to narrow his understanding and compassion, nevertheless, he found the right words and tone here -- and I don't think you have to be Catholic (I'm not) to find your own meaning in the message:

To borrow a line: These are the times that try our souls. Times are especially trying for those who believe in an all-powerful, loving and knowing God. Faith is not only tested but also stretched to its limits. The usual pious bromides offer little relief. We want our faith to offer understanding in the face of the mystery of this physical evil.

First of all Catholic theology is faith seeking understanding. However, faith does not become reduced to a pure intellectual explanation. Neither does understanding give way to a pure faith devoid of reason. Faith and reason together offer us some insight into the mysteries, of which evil is one, of human existence.

Second, the mystery of physical evil is not a problem to be solved but a mystery that unfolds. If we approach Katrina as a problem we will continue to demand answers to all our questions. The main question that torments us is “why”? Honesty requires that we honestly say there is no good, satisfying answer as to why bad things happen to good people. Katrina is not a problem but a mystery. This does not mean that we cease questioning and stop the search for understanding. Rather, when we say that Katrina is a mystery to unfold this prompts us to ask a different question. We do not ask the “why” question (“Why do bad things happen to good people?”) but we ask the “what” question. Specifically, we ask: “What do good people do when bad things happen?”

This crucial shift in questions is the beginning of a peace that flows from action and solidarity. If we re-main fixed in the “why” question, we become paralyzed and incapable of action. We play endless mind games. We are forever victims of bad luck, fate or a God who is powerless or indifferent to our plight. Doubt and confusion give way to anger, depression and despair.

If we can refocus to the “what” question – what do good people do when bad things happen? – we begin to break the chains of fear and victimhood. We are liberated to act in response to God’s grace. Grace builds on nature. We are also liberated to be for others. A sense of solidarity overcomes the isolation that reduces the universe to the puny self. We are drawn out of ourselves. We become other-remembering and self-forget-ting. This dynamic brings us back to the heart of the Gospel: It is in dying to ourselves that we truly find God and ourselves. Of course, this sounds strange to the ears of a culture at-tuned to looking out for No. 1 and the need for self-promotion.

Let us return: What do good people do when bad things happen? Good people are not overcome. We strive to higher levels of service, generosity, heroism and valor. We do not give in to the pettiness and smallness of spirit that prevents us from reaching out to others. We are not frozen by fear and locked into a self-pity that keeps us from keeping on with life.

Hurricane Katrina has taught us many lessons about what really matters. We have come to see how fragile is life. So quickly can all of our material possessions and well-tested routines be swept aside. Things that seem so solid have evaporated into air and been washed away in the fury of rushing waters.

We also have come to experience what it means to be a pilgrim. We often talk of our faith as a journey. For many of us this is no longer a metaphor but a deep reality. It is our faith that keeps us together and moving forward. Earth is not our lasting home. We are made for heaven and glory beyond this passing world. We are alien-residents whose final rest will come when we rest in the One who is our true peace.

Finally, we are reminded how much life is connected to life. The myth of individualism has been exposed. We cannot live on our own. Dislocation means dependency. We recognize the limits of our abilities and resources. We come to appreciate the generosity and gifts of others. We come to see how little control we have over others. In the end we must recognize that being in the presence of others is a gift. What gifts we have received from all who have helped us in the last few weeks. No doubt more gifts will come to us in the future. May God give us the grace to be gifts to others in their time of need.

This has been a time of testing for all of us. Like gold, we are being tested in the fire of this great destruction. But the Christian message is one of hope. As an Easter people, hope is our message. Hope is that which carries us forward to proclaim even now, more than ever, alleluia.

Father William Maestri

Have the people we chose to govern us and spend our tax revenues done enough to help those in need? What can you do to shame them into action?

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

People are hurting

The Times-Picayune:

Filmmaker Stevenson J. Palfi, best known for the award-winning documentary "Piano Players Rarely Ever Play Together," is dead at the age of 53.

Palfi shot himself Dec. 14 at his home, his family told The Times-Picayune. Relatives said Hurricane Katrina had destroyed or severely damaged almost all of his property and possessions, and he was severely depressed.

I know depression, but I've never lost hope. Life is too precious to give up. I can't imagine the depths of grief and hopelessness which has overwhelmed those who have in recent months taken their own lives, but because I can identify with their grief, I mourn their passing as one would a brother or sister.

We need help! We need hope! We need it now!

Monday, December 26, 2005

Bush delivers last rites to the Gulf Coast

According to a report in The Washington Post, twice the number of Americans believe rebuilding the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina is more important, as those who think Iraq is more important:

According to a poll this month for the Hotline political newsletter, which asked whether Congress should tackle Iraq or the Katrina recovery first in 2006, Americans wanted the Gulf Coast rebuilt by 58 percent to 28 percent.

Of course, the Iraq fuckup George created has to be fixed just as much as the Gulf Coast has to be rebuilt, but why are so many Republicans out of step with the priorities of the rest of America?
"I think the country has moved beyond Katrina at this point," said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), former House GOP campaign head and now chairman of the House investigation of the response.

According to Tulane University historian Douglas Brinkley, Bush doesn't think it's worth it to preserve New Orleans as a unique cultural landmark representing a fusion of African-American, French, Caribbean and Southern traditions.

That ignorant view can't be allowed to prevail in the State of the Union speech Bush will deliver before Congress at the end of January. Contact the White House now and tell Bush what a jackass he really is!

Just out of curiosity, I visited the White House web site to see what our monkey-preznit might have said in his holiday radio address. All he had to offer the people of the Gulf Coast still reeling from hurricanes Katrina and Rita was sympathy and a prayer (my emphasis):
This Christmas, we remember our fellow citizens who suffered from the hurricanes and other disasters that struck our nation this past year. We pray for their strength as they continue to recover and rebuild their lives and their communities.

Meanwhile, I guess monkey boy thinks he only represents Christians -- so all the rest of you can just go to hell:
At Christmas, we give thanks for the gift of the birth of Christ.

Finally, hey monkey boy -- it might be time for you to pay New Orleans another visit so you can at least update the White House banner showing you with that stupid deer-in-the-headlights look!

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Trickle-down Santa

I'm in Wisconsin visiting family. It's Christmas morning and it's snowing sporadically, but fairly heavily -- a White Christmas after all. I hijacked a neighbor's wireless connection to check up on what's happening in New Orleans.

Here's a little Christmas story. Quoth the Dark Wraith:

Santa caught George W. Bush stealing presents from under the Christmas tree. "Why are you doing this?" Santa demanded.

George, arms full of toys and about to head out the door, answered, "Because I'll give these toys to the rich kids, who will use them to make jobs for the poor kids, and then the poor kids can buy toys for themselves. It's called 'trickle-down', Santa."

Santa rubbed his beard and said, "Well, yes, I know all too well about 'trickle-down'. It works every time."

So George, looking quite pleased, scooted out the door just as all eight reindeer on the roof took a dump, which landed right on top of George's head. Santa came out the door, took one look at George, and said, "Yep, 'trickle-down' works every time."

(Hat tip oyster, who has a great Santa picture, and who steered me to the Dark Wraith Forums site where the Santa trickle-down story can be found, which has a spooky account of a Dartmouth student questioned by the Department of Homeland Security Ministry of Love for checking out Mao Tse-Tung's The Little Red Book. The student was preparing a paper on totalitarian and authoritarian regimes).

12/25/05 update: An anonymous comment points out the hoax of the DHS story.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Merry Katrina Christmas

Give Louisiana a Christmas present that will last forever. It doesn't cost a dime -- and won't even come out of your taxes. Sign the petition to allow Louisiana it's fair share of offshore oil revenues -- the same benefit that other oil-producing states enjoy.

We request sufficient assistance and a streamlining of the relief distribution process to better enable the businesses and residents of the Gulf Coast to help themselves recover from this crisis.

We urge the President and Congress to make a commitment to coastal protection, a marrying of coastal restoration and hurricane protection that is key to rebuilding and revitalizing the region.
We call on the President and Congress to create a continuous funding stream to support coastal protection efforts, through a fifty-percent sharing of federal Outer Continental Shelf revenues from offshore Louisiana.

Lastly, we ask and invite every member of Congress to personally visit the Gulf Coast region to experience first-hand the devastation and to realize the full scope of this national tragedy.

I'm leaving New Orleans for a few days. It's the first time I'll have left since I came back three weeks after Hurricane Katrina. I could use a healthy dose of long highways to clear my head, and a change of scenery to get some perspective. So PGR will be down for about a week. Until then, I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas, or Hannakah or Chanukah, or Kwanzaa or ... well, my friend Bill said it better than I could:

Now, I hope you've been good this year, because I already told Santa that everyone on my distribution list should get whatever (or whoever) they want for Christmas, or whatever holiday you celebrate. Actually, I didn't tell him anything about naughty or nice, I just said you deserve what you get, I mean want. Yeah, you deserve to get what you want. ...

If you travel be safe, if you're with relatives be nice, if you're with in-laws try to be nice, if you're in-laws are your relatives, good luck.

And just for the occasion, two more Katrina Christmas photos ... happy holidays!

Merry Katrina Christmas: New Orleans home foreclosures expected to increase

The BizNewOrleans newsletter is reporting that of 419,243 home mortgage loans in Louisiana, 24.63 percent were delinquent 30 days at the end of September. This compared to a 6.69 percent delinquency rate at the end of June.

Although lenders didn't initiate any foreclosures during the grace period which ended December 1st, many lenders are demanding that postponed payments now be paid in full. As a result, the number of foreclosures is expected to dramatically increase.

What many homeless and jobless Louisiana residents will do to make payments is anyone's guess. The situation for Louisiana residents this holiday season is incredibly bleak. BizNewOrleans is reporting that personal income in Louisiana fell $32.7 billion from the second quarter to $97 billion in the third quarter, and a separate BizNewOrleans article reports that the total number of storm-related job losses is 603,000.

Need it bear mentioning again ... and again ... and again, to a nation that fails to appreciate the gravity of the situation, we're talking about perhaps 400,000 residents from New Orleans alone who can't return to their flood-damaged homes, who remain in hotels across the country, or guests in other people's homes.

Is anyone listening? Where's the outcry!

All of this bad news comes on the heels of the defeat in Congress of the Baker bill which would have created a Louisiana Recovery Corporation to buy damaged homes -- a bill which I didn't support.

Why? Fundamentally, I don't think the Baker bill was being scrutinized well enough. I hope to be corrected, but until I hear evidence to the contrary, I think the bill would be bad for homeowners, transferring their hard-earned wealth in home equity to developers.

I've been withholding judgment on the Baker bill, mostly because I've been pretty drained lately making appeals for relief to finally arrive for residents of New Orleans and Louisiana, but after four months of delays by the Bush administration and Congress, the situation seems pretty hopeless.

Sure, Congress is about to send to Bush's desk a $29 billion budget for hurricane relief, but there is little in that budget that would lead anyone to believe that Washington understands how unspeakably dire the crisis is. I'm happy to see that Congress is allocating $11.5 billion to help homeowners without flood insurance to rebuild their homes, but my understanding is that the money will only help people who lived in areas that weren't zoned as flood areas. By why would taxpayers want to invest any money at all when the only funding for levees in that bill is about $2.9 billion to repair the miserably-engineered levee system that rings New Orleans? Contrary to what President Bush said, that ain't enough to assure business owners (or homeowners) that their investments in rebuilding will be secure in the future. New Orleans needs an IMMEDIATE, IRONCLAD COMMITMENT TO BUILD CATEGORY 5 STORM PROTECTION, and the first ribbon-cutting on some significant portion of that project should be the Louisiana 2012 bicentennial celebration.

Rather than re-compose another argument against the Baker bill, I'll just post here what I said in a YRHT comment:

I haven't had the emotional energy left to finish a post I was working on about the Baker bill. But I'll speak up here. Do you really like a bill that turns property over to developers after giving homeowners and banks 60 percent equity -- so they can retain the right to buy back their property at a higher value? Remember, Baker made his money as a developer. Who would benefit? It always looked to me like this was a publicly financed get-rich-quick scheme for developers, paid for on the backs of hard-working New Orleanian homeowners. Okay, so I'm not in the real estate business -- I may not know what I'm talking about -- but why hasn't anyone else asked this question? I don't disagree that homeowners need some help -- like, YESTERDAY -- but I never thought this was the right approach -- not at 60 percent equity. How about trading homeowner equity for shares in developer companies? Why not just buy out people's homes outright? Why not help finance their reconstruction? Why should they lose 40 percent equity? You can do the math -- 200,000 homes at an average of $200,000 per home = $40,000,000,000. That's $40 billion to buy those homes outright, but Republicans in Congress were trying to limit spending on the Louisiana Recovery Corporation to $30 billion (if I remember correctly). Why would Congress need to allocate any money to a plan that turns over equity to developers?

Obviously, I don't know enough about the bill to answer any of these questions, but the fact that I'm not hearing anyone else ask these questions really makes me wonder about the investigatory skills of reporters covering the bill, and the intentions of the bill's sponsors.

I know that time is critical. I know that the 90-day mortgage-payment grace period has passed. I suspect that the better mortgage companies would rather negotiate with homeowners than foreclose their homes -- especially if, with all of the present uncertainty, the future value of those homes is uncertain.

Please prove me wrong. I would truly like to believe that something good can be done for New Orleans homeowners, but I remain extremely suspicious of anything that sounds too good to be true, when nobody has any alternative views or plans.

Here are a few more bits of information to inform readers about the Baker bill.

The Times-Picayune reported on December 20th that bankers may be willing to negotiate rather than foreclose:
Banking associations said Monday that it's not in the interest of financial institutions to foreclose on seriously damaged or destroyed homes because they have little value and carry significant cleanup liabilities.

"Borrowers should talk to their banking institutions and I think generally there will be a willingness to work with them and try to accommodate their situation," said Joe Pigg, senior counsel for the American Bankers Association.

A December 15th Times-Picayune article described the 60 percent equity payment to homeowners and mortgage lenders, and cited that an estimated 205,000 homes were damaged by flooding in the New Orleans area:
According to the latest version of the bill, homeowners could get no less than 60 percent of the equity they had in their home before the hurricane hit, based on various factors. Lenders would get no more than 60 percent of what is owed to them.

Oh, by the way, I don't think I mentioned who we can thank for this major fuckup. Sure, you can point the finger at Ray-Ray, Guv'ner Blanco, the Louisiana legislature, Congress, blah blah blah ... but everyone knows that if he made it his priority, our pissbrained chickenhawk-in-chief monkeyboy preznit could fix the problem.

Instead, Bush is leaving New Orleans victims of Hurricane Katrina the equivalent of a sack of coal -- to which I respond by calling on Louisiana residents to protest by hauling their soggy, moldy sheetrock and furniture to Washington and dumping it in a big stinky pile in front of the White House and on Capitol Hill.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

DHS: Dissembling Office of Hokey Superficialities

This little opinion by The Times-Picayune isn't being mentioned prominently anywhere else, but should be:

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff shouldn't have any trouble discrediting notes that quote him as saying that post-Katrina changes in FEMA are just a ploy to make people think the agency is improving.

All he has to do is make sure that the Federal Emergency Management Agency actually becomes more efficient and responsive.

The notes are being circulated by the president of the American Federation of Government Employees local, which represents workers at FEMA headquarters. They were taken by an unidentified FEMA official who is supposed to have jotted them down during the past week in a meeting with Chertoff.

The source, then, is murky, and Mr. Chertoff's spokesman has strongly denied that his boss made the comments quoted in the notes.

But there should be an effort to find out whether the notes are bogus or not. If Mr. Chertoff or anyone else with Homeland Security or FEMA said that changes are "a perception ploy to make outsiders feel like we've actually made changes for the better" that should be grounds for termination.

The bungled response to Hurricane Katrina demands true reform, and that's the only thing that will make anyone feel better.

$29 billion is just a downpayment

... but much more will be needed to help people rebuild their homes, and to build a levee system capable of protecting life and property from a Category 5 storm. More is needed, and needed now.

The Times-Picayune:

In addition to $2.9 billion that remains in the bill to repair and upgrade levees, the spending bill also includes $1.6 billion for hurricane-ravaged schools as well as schools that took in displaced students from the hurricanes; $11.5 billion in Community Block Grant spending; $2.75 billion to repair roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure in the Gulf Coast; $350 million to NASA to repair space facilities; $135 million to repair damage in national parks, wildlife refuges and forests; $30 million to repair waterways or watersheds; $618 million to help farmers and ranchers affected by the hurricanes; and $441 million for Small Business Administration disaster loans.

Impeachable abuse of power

Representative John Conyers (D-MI):

Today I released a staff Report entitled, “The Constitution in Crisis: The Downing Street Minutes and Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retribution and Coverups in the Iraq War.”

In response to the Report – which finds substantial evidence of federal legal violations by numerous members of the Bush Administration -- I have introduced a resolution creating a Select Committee with subpoena authority to investigate the misconduct of the Bush Administration with regard to the Iraq war and report on possible impeachable offenses; as well as Resolutions proposing both President Bush and Vice-President Cheney should be censured by Congress based on the uncontroverted evidence of their abuse of power.

More at John Conyer's Website. Email your friends about Conyer's investigation using this form.

Phantom memories

Dennis Persica, whose home was near the London Avenue Canal:

Occasionally, I'll find myself thinking I can look something up in a book I owned or listen to a particular song on a CD. Like an amputee who thinks he still has the limb he lost, I have phantom memories of things I used to own -- as if I could just walk up to a shelf or open a drawer and find them there.

Orleans Levee Board changes tune

David Voelker, who Governor Blanco recently appointed to the Orleans Parish Levee Board:

When they’re marching on the courthouse, it’s best to get out front and call it a parade.

It seems the levee board has finally seen the wisdom of One Greater New Orleans:
In a unanimous vote, Levee Board members endorsed a resolution urging the Legislature to place before voters a constitutional amendment that would create a new regional levee district for the greater New Orleans area.
The proposal offered by Commissioner Eugene Green also pledges the board’s support for a new public benefit corporation that would “manage, administer and develop” the agency’s vast real estate holdings, including Lakefront Airport, two marinas and several commercial properties.

Now, on to persuading the other levee districts ...

Category 5 speech; Category 1 action

I wish it were a more rousing, explicit appeal for Category 5 storm protection, nevertheless, the Atlanta Journal Constitution leaves no ambiguity about the slow-moving Category 1 response by President Bush after he made Category 5 promises in his televised speech from the heart of the French Quarter over three months ago:

We did not leave New York to fend for itself after the Sept. 11 attacks, and we cannot now abandon the Gulf Coast in its time of need. ...

A reality check is in order to determine where we stand with regard to major aspects of the president's pledge, and how much more remains to be done.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution only gives grudging credit to the Bush administration and Congress for the recent "belated, but meaningful steps" to honor their commitment, but warns that much, much more needs to be done.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Get your fucking thumb out of your ass George!

As the sobering recognition set in that New Orleans' levee system was criminally inadequate to handle even a fast-moving Category 3 storm, people began calling for heads to roll, and for the levees to be improved. I first made that call on August 31st -- two days after Katrina, only delayed by the fact that I couldn't write the post sooner.

While New Orleanians laid awake at night Monday and Tuesday wondering what was happening to their homes, and how deep the water would be, the chickenhawk in chief remained on vacation in Crawford -- biking, or chopping wood, or maybe just rolling around in the tumbleweeds like a dumb ranch dog. We don't know, because he didn't have anything to say about the disaster until at least two days later.

Since then, our worst fears have unfolded like layers of an onion, and with each layer removed, our expectations and hopes have been dashed to smithereens.

One of those fears was that the federal response would be so slow that people wouldn't even know how to rebuild their homes. Now that fear too has become reality:

New flood elevation maps won't be ready until the end of February or early March.

Without knowing that lowest-allowable building level, homeowners and businesses that want to rebuild in southeast Louisiana parishes inundated by Katrina cannot make informed decisions.

The flood maps will also determine how much property owners pay for flood insurance. ...

Part of that process is waiting for federal funding decisions to be made on how levees will be rebuilt and improved.

Why didn't that shit-for-brains chickenhawk stand before the American people and Congress on August 30th to declare that he was in control, and to emphatically proclaim that New Orleans would never flood again? Why are we now, almost four months later, still waiting for a commitment about how strong the levee system will be?

On September 1st, while New Orleanians remained helplessly waiting for a federal response, I wrote the following:
Please people - speak up so the world hears our voices. We are taking it day by day, trying to figure out what tomorrow will bring, but nobody making the decisions that are impacting our lives in very serious ways seems to get it.

So now, on December 21st, why are we still waiting for a simple decision to be made by the executive office of the United States of America, the most powerful office in the world, in charge of the largest pot of money anywhere, to make a simple decision about how strong to make the levees?

What the fuck is going on here!

Tighten the levee board noose

40,000 signatures later, the Orleans Parish Levee Board's replacement for the tarnished Jim Huey is talking about making some changes:

Acting board President Michael McCrossen is expected to propose a motion "to support and urge legislation to consolidate the independent levee districts in the greater New Orleans area and to restructure the flood control responsibilities in a new district for regional flood (levee) protection in the greater New Orleans area."

McCrossen will also propose ending the levee board's management of revenue-generating assets:
McCrossen tomorrow will also urge creation of "a public benefit corporation, such as the New Orleans Lake Area Development Corporation, to administer and manage the non-flood control assets of the Orleans Levee District for the purpose of providing economic development for the citizens of New Orleans."

The levee board will meet today (Wednesday), 1 p.m. at the Lake Vista Community Center, 6500 Spanish Fort Blvd. I would consider this a public meeting, subject to public meeting laws, and therefore eligible for anyone who cares to attend.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Merry Katrina Christmas

Disclaimer: Don't get the impression that New Orleans is doing alright because people are decorating their houses for Christmas. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It's true that life goes on almost normally along a narrow sliver of the city that follows the curve of the Mississippi River. I'm not interested in the Christmas decorations there -- those homes have no markings on them because they had no flooding. What you're seeing here, for the most part, are homes that were in areas that flooded, but that were at least marginally habitable (often because they were sufficiently raised or had second floors), or that had already been gutted and restored. If you traveled in a straight line from the river to Lake Pontchartrain, the condition of neighborhoods and homes would generally diminish as the natural land elevation dips deeper into the shape of a bowl, with the exception of a few natural ridges (see the elevation and flood maps listed in the sidebar for a visual). The homes pictured below lie in that periphery on the very edge of habitable New Orleans. Most of these homes are in the Broadmoor and Mid-City neighborhoods. Remember that 80 percent of the city was flooded, and less than 100,000 of some 400-500,000 original residents are now living in the city. The discovery of a house with Christmas decorations is not common in many of these neighborhoods where people are living in a frontier ghost town with few, if any, neighbors.

More Katrina Christmas photos can be found in earlier PGR posts here and here.

If you know of any other homes that need to be added to the collection, please let me know by leaving a comment.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Photos: More New Orleans T-Shirts

The sources that I know of for T-Shirts are:

1) MetroThree (2032 Magazine Street, and online at They have the "Make Levees, Not War" shirts with the rifle being snapped in half, as well as fleur de lis designs, retro "New Orleans" shirts, Katrina-Rita "Girls Gone Wild," and a few others.

2) The Cafe Press New Orleans Said online store has the plain white shirts with "Make Levees, Not War" in black lettering.

3) The Cafe Press Dirty Coast online store has T-shirts with slogans including "Be a New Orleanian," "Make Wetlands, Not War," "I am New Orleans," and "New Orleans, It Sticks to You," among many other designs.

4) Other T-shirt designs, bumper stickers, and a variety of other paraphenalia can be purchased on Cafe Press -- just use the search tool to find what you're looking for.

5) Belladonna spas had the "Be a New New Orleanian" shirts (I don't know if they still do).

6) Ropeadope records has "ReNewOrleans" shirts (look for the "reneworleans" graphic in the lower left of the page. The shirts are also being advertised at Feet First, 4119 Magazine Street. (Thanks for the tip Stacie).

7) "Defend New Orleans" shirts are available at a shop in the 1900 block of Magazine.

8) "Save Nola" shirts benefitting Habitat for Humanity are available at Earthsavers, Jean Therapy, Shoefty, Mira bella, and at

9) I have information on how to get the "I still go to Tulane" T-Shirts -- email me if you're interested: schroeder915 at yahoo dot com.

10) Dirty Coast also has refrigerator T-Shirts and other refrigerator paraphenalia.

If you know of other New Orleans themed T-Shirt vendors, please post a comment for other readers.

A previous set of photos can be found in an earlier PGR post.

As sad as anything that happened on 9-11

The Times-Picayune:

"I pulled her up onto the steps. Suddenly, she said quietly, but with determination, 'I give up.' Then she pitched forward into the water." ...

"Mother had a special wish for her ashes," Judith Martin said. "She wanted me to use them with potting soil to plant a favorite type of rose bush -- Queen Elisabeth -- in a giant flower pot in the garden.

"When I first returned home on Oct. 26, I found a giant flower pot in the yard. It had floated in from a neighbor's front yard half a block away. Somehow, I think it was meant as a message to me, to keep my promise about the rose bush and the flower pot."

So why can't we get the president to say, "Never again!" Why can't New Orleans get the same attention that New York City did after 9-11? Is it because it's easier to fight a foreign enemy than the enemy within -- the enemy of negligence and incompetence?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

No easy work for New Orleans workers

Martin Gutierrez, director of the Hispanic Apostolate of the Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans, quoted in a The Washington Post story titled "In New Orleans, No Easy Work for Willing Latinos":

"If you had a system by which these workers could become legal workers in the U.S., then the wages would increase."

I know and respect Martin Gutierrez, and I share his passion for justice for Hispanic laborers. I too would like to see a world in which people didn't have to travel thousands of miles, and risk death crossing the U.S. border, just so they can make $5 an hour to put a meager roof over their families' heads, and have enough left over to to do more than just buy some masa and frijoles, but to possibly send their children to school. These are humble, generous, hard-working people, well-deserving of our compassion and care. I lived in Honduras for two years, I've studied Latin American history, politics, and economics. I care deeply about people from Latin America.

When considering the question of means and ends, however, I disagree that President Bush's idea for a guest-worker program will improve the fortunes of immigrant laborers -- or legal workers. The only advantage -- and it is significant -- would be that immigrant workers would have legal rights to, for example, sue their bosses for wages not paid -- something that carpetbagging contractors have been doing quite a lot around New Orleans. In the end, however, the status of immigrant workers will not improve until the status of domestic workers improves.

Looking at the issue from a supply and demand perspective, rather than a workers' justice perspective, I argue that a different outcome would result from a guest-worker program as long as we remain an economically stratified society that glorifies consumption, that pays for its excesses with debt, and rewards celebrities more than it rewards hard work and a good education.

Gutierrez said he thought wages would increase for legalized immigrant workers. I don't see how that's possible. If the supply of workers -- legal or illegal -- were increased, more workers competing for the same jobs would drive down wages, since bosses could just pay the next guy whose willing work for less money. Wages remain high, by contrast, only when the supply of labor is relatively scarce compared to the number of jobs, or when productivity increases and each laborer produces more goods or services. When our nation starts to focus on education and professional training as the key to our success in the future, then there truly will be room for both immigrant workers, and higher-compansated domestic workers.

Why would President Bush be so interested in a guest-worker program if it isn't good for either immigrant workers or domestic workers? Maybe for the same reason that he isn't now enforcing laws against contractors hiring illegal workers around New Orleans -- because it helps Bush's friends at KBR, The Shaw Group, and Bechtel who got those no-bid contracts to clean up debris around New Orleans. Illegal immigrants, as would legal "guest workers," keep wages down precisely because employers don't have to shop around for a comparatively smaller number of workers.

As I've pointed out elsewhere in PGR, we already have a guest-worker program. It's called ICE -- that's the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency. If you don't recognize the name, that's what was formerly the Immigration and Naturalization Service as it reformed to work within the DHS (the Department of Homeland Security Spying). When the ICE was patrolling New Orleans, officers were under explicit orders not to conduct immigration enforcement activities. Now, ICE officers aren't even in New Orleans. I presume they've returned to the border where they've probably been given orders to issue maps to New Orleans to people coming into the U.S. to work.

I would support a guest-worker program, but only if real exceptions were made, for example, in instances of major disasters like Hurricane Katrina -- only if real justice were also pursued for American workers. Except for the descendants of this continent's original inhabitants, we are all children of immigrants. We all have family members from somewhere else, who somewhere back in time struggled to make a better life for themselves and their families here in the United States. Those immigrants helped build a nation of diversity, innovation, and strength. Immigration should be understood as a positive force in society -- if it is allowed within a system of laws that preserves the rights of all workers.

Hundreds of thousands of people from New Orleans remain scattered across a broad diaspora, homeless, jobless, penniless, worried, scared, uncertain about the future, frustrated that local, state, and especially federal leaders don't seem to appreciate how incredibly dire the situation is for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

And yes, believe me when I say it, people are dying -- people are committing suicide. I've heard of a pair of first-hand accounts, and I've read press accounts, of people so desperate and hopeless that they're committing suicide. Why? Why? Why? Why is the tragedy that struck New Orleans August 29th, now almost four months later, still kicking people in the gut every single day they wake up. Why is it that citizens of the United States of America are allowing a tragedy that befell this region on August 29th to continue unfolding its misery day after day!

Gutierrez repeated the same argument that Bush and others have repeated:
"You have a labor force willing to come in and live and work in conditions others are not willing to."

No! People will do almost any kind of work if you pay them what is fair compensation for the work. What you have instead, is an employer force that is unwilling to pay what it can hire someone else to do for cheaper. Americans will, in fact, live and work under almost any conditions when they have to. The Washington Post observed that immigrants are sleeping on floors in moldy houses. Lots of Americans are doing the same thing -- the only difference is that they own those homes.

Because The Washington Post and other press agencies aren't hiring locals to help with their reporting, they continue to make remarkably shallow assumptions about the situation here. The guest-worker story in today's WAPO was authored by a staff writer from Washington, with contributions by Ceci Connolly in Atlanta, and Lucy Shackelford in Washington. Well-meaning but ignorant reporting is producing simple off-the-cuff statements such as the following (my emphasis):
In a speech to a business group, Mayor C. Ray Nagin asked how he could "stop New Orleans from being overrun by Mexican workers." At a New Orleans town hall meeting in Atlanta, displaced black civil rights activist Carl Galmon complained: "They're bringing in foreign workers from South America, Central America and Mexico, paying them $5 an hour sometimes for 80 hours a week. They are undercutting the American labor force in New Orleans."

But, judging from the miles and miles of houses waiting to be gutted or repaired, there has been no great rush to snap up the work that Galmon fears losing to undocumented laborers. The city is awash in "Now Hiring" signs, and complaints about labor shortages are endemic.

Oh really? Now what might explain that labor shortage? Well, for one, it was cheaper for contractors to recruit illegal immigrants rather than do what they should have been required to do in order to get those contracts -- that is, contractors -- at least the big ones -- should have been required to set up job fairs in FEMA centers around the country, and to populate their pool of laborers with a percentage of local workers.

The other factor that explains why there is a labor shortage is that there's nowhere for people to live. Actually, there are places for people to live -- where, after all, are immigrants living? I see them living in tent cities and motels all over Orleans and Jefferson parishes. I have to believe there are quite a few locals who'd be willing to settle for a motel in New Orleans and be employed, than a hotel somewhere else and be unemployed.

I say yes, let's have compassion for immigrant workers. But let's not be mistaken about what the implications are for domestic workers. Where in the current discussion about immigrant workers is the compassion for domestic workers, New Orleanians, American citizens! Where's the story about why there's no easy work for willing New Orleans workers?

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Ridin' on the City of New Orleans

Riding on the train they call the City of New Orleans on his way to a benefit show at Tipitinas, Arlo Guthrie described his feelings after his home in Florida was destroyed in 2004, and after sharing his own grief with others in his community:

The hopes and dreams of people that get caught up in these disasters don't always get fixed.

And for those wondering how they can help, Guthrie offers this wisdom:
Love now. Live now. Serve now. Do it now. The understanding will come at some point.

And, by the way, I've ridden on the City of New Orleans a couple of times. I recommend it. You get to meet a lot of good people who don't drive, fly, or take buses. It's a very special slice of America.

Crime down significantly in New Orleans

The Emergency Operations Center is reporting that the NOPD responded to 372 calls in the last 24 hours. Before Hurricane Katrina sent three-quarters of the city into exile, the NOPD used to respond to anywhere from 1200 to 1800 calls for service a day.

WTUL is resurrected

WTUL New Orleans, 91.5 FM is back on the air with live dj's. The overnight broadcast will feature pre-produced shows streamed over the internet from the Stanford Center for Computer Research in Music Acoustics to the station transmitter in New Orleans. You can try to listen to the Webcast using Winamp (which accepts ogg file types), but I haven't had any luck so far. Better to just tune into your radio.

12/17/05 update: I found that I could tune in using the freeware JetAudio application, although the the audio kept dropping out while application buffered.

12/18/05 update: (Cursing) okay people -- are you having the same problem I am? You downloaded the @#$%&* Winamp Lite application and installed it, but can't get it to play Ogg files? Right! The Web site says Winamp plays Ogg files, but apparently not the Lite version (at least not on stupid Windows boxes). So, here's the fix.

1) Download the Ogg Vorbis decoder DLL from the Winamp "Most Requested Plugins" site (, or get it directly here.

2) Expand the downloaded "" to the Winamp plugins folder on your Windows computer (on my box, that's "C:\Program Files\Winamp\Plugins"), i.e., you want to put the "in_vorbis.dll" file in that plugins folder.

3) The next time you open Winamp, the plugin will be referenced and Ogg files will play.

More photos of the WTUL resurrection studio Rue: