A few months ago, I swore off New Orleans stories for a while. It was just too depressing. But now I’m back in the saddle. Depress me, baby!
So how’s the whole rebuilding thing going?
The first thing to read is Mike Tidwell’s short but devastating piece in Orion. His point is simple: Unless we restore the coastal islands and wetlands that cushion New Orleans from storm surges, all other efforts are futile — but Bush isn’t going to do it.
A $14 billion plan to fix this problem — a plan widely viewed as technically sound and supported by environmentalists, oil companies, and fishermen alike — has been on the table for years and was pushed forward with greater urgency after Katrina hit. But for reasons hard to fathom, yet utterly lethal in their effect, the administration has turned its back on this plan. …
… in its second and final post-Katrina emergency spending package sent to Congress on November 8th, the White House dismissed the rescue plan with a shockingly small $250 million proposed authorization instead of the $14 billion requested.
Without restored wetlands, says Tidwell, sending thousands of people back to New Orleans amounts to "an act of mass homicide."
From there we continue to an L.A. Times piece that offers a view behind the scenes on why New Orleans is getting shortchanged. It appears the blame lies with Louisiana public officials. They’re just too uppity and demanding:
But some lawmakers say the Louisiana delegation has only itself to blame for the mounting tension over the federal government’s obligations for rebuilding Louisiana.
They single out Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.), who has made angry speeches on the Senate floor and kept the chamber in session overnight in October, holding up other legislation, as she pressed her colleagues for more aid. Some Republicans say her tone, which they describe as “shrill,” has alienated her colleagues and undercut her efforts.
After the feds’ treatment of New Orleans, Landrieu has the gall to be … angry. Get back in the kitchen, Mary.
And not only is she "shrill," she’s greedy, strutting out a luxurious $250-billion, 20-year reconstruction plan. That’s just not cool.
Veteran members of Congress say they cannot remember another humanitarian issue that started out with such sympathy on Capitol Hill and then lost support so rapidly.
“I don’t think I have ever seen an issue flip so quickly as this did,” said Rep. John J. “Jimmy” Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.), chairman of a key subcommittee involved in reconstruction efforts.
It appears that the setbacks have done nothing to reduce the shrillness of increasingly desperate Louisiana politicians, though:
“I’m not sure it was ever the intention of this administration to really help,” [Landrieu] said. “I would say that really it’s a pattern of this administration to promise a lot and deliver very little — to pretend like you care, but when it comes down to really putting your money where your mouth is, it doesn’t happen.”
“I’m ready to start a revolution,” said former Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.). “This is an absolute outrage. Here we are in Month 4 of a terrible, terrible tragedy, and other than hotel rooms and meals-ready-to-eat and some reconstruction, we haven’t gotten squat.”
“Has the mood soured? Yes,” Livingston said. “But are we just going to write off an entire region of the country? Congress ought to get their damned act in order and un-sour it.”
They are, however, beaten down enough to start begging for scraps:
“We’re not asking for $250 billion anymore,” [Louisiana Recovery Authority Vice Chairman Walter Isaacson] said. “We’re asking for things that at most would total one-fifth of that. Most of the rebuilding will have to be done by the people in Louisiana; we know that. But we are asking: Give us a pledge that we will have protection along the Gulf Coast in general against Category 5 storms.”
Meanwhile another must-read L.A. Times piece details the confusion and struggles of New Orleans residents. The feds have more or less bailed, and "to an extent almost inconceivable a few months ago, the only real actors in the rebuilding drama at the moment are the city’s homeowners and business owners." No one’s in charge. Residents are unsure whether to return, since they’re unsure if anybody else will return. And the Bushies are leaving it all up to the "free market."
Shockingly, some folks doubt whether that will work.
“There is no market solution to New Orleans,” said Thomas C. Schelling of the University of Maryland, who won this year’s Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his analysis of the complicated bargaining behavior that underpins everything from simple sales to nuclear confrontations.
“It essentially is a problem of coordinating expectations,” Schelling said of the task that Vignaud and her neighbors must grapple with. “If we all expect each other to come back, we will. If we don’t, we won’t.
“But achieving this coordination in the circumstances of New Orleans,” he said, “seems impossible.”
Tough tootie, though. One after the other, federal agencies that made loud and passionate pledges of help in the days following the hurricane are backing out, leaving the city to, in effect, reconstruct itself.
The environment residents are returning to may well be polluted with toxic chemicals — something the feds have consistently downplayed. And it seems — yet another shock — that DuPont may have lied about whether the storm surge released dioxin from its holding ponds. Welcome back, New Orleanians!
Carl Pope, bless him, tries to pick out some good news from this mess. But most of the positive stuff he cites consists of Sierra Club press releases. The picture he paints is one of lots of great ideas and plans floating around, with no responsible government around to pick them up and fund them. Story of the last five years …
In short: It’s a slow-motion disaster. If this is what we can expect after severe weather events, we are well and truly screwed this century.