Monday, August 31, 2009

I'm Depressed on This Anniversary....

I should be feeling better--after all, Obama did commemorate Katrina and the flood in his radio address Saturday morning. To his credit he also brought up levees and coastal restoration. But only time will tell if these words will be backed up by action or be mere empty words.

I have been upset and feel as if I'm almost physically ill. I cannot help but flash back, see the scenes of rescues and of the afflicted at the Superdome and the Convention Center and think of how so many suffered during Katrina and the federal flood and are still suffering. And I can't help but wonder if Obama really cares about New Orleans. Because when I remember what happened during the flood and Katrina which turned the lives of so many upside down and think about the fact that Obama won't be going there (which he wasn't going to do anyway even if Ted Kennedy hadn't passed) I'm depressed.

And others are also turned off by the fact that Obama has paid so little attention to Louisiana and her problems and those of her neighbors in the Gulf Region--a wound which Obama's absence from Katrina observances has rubbed salt into.

Notes Ariella Cohen and Brentin Mock in Next American City,

There are many differences between George Bush and Barack Obama, but they do share one thing in common: While the Gulf Coast reeled in need of recovery, both presidents were on vacation. In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina struck and wiped out much of southeastern Louisiana, and the coasts of Mississippi and Alabama, Bush was at his Crawford, Texas getaway. Four years later, much of the housing and infrastructure lost in storm floods still has not been rebuilt—and yet today, on the disaster’s anniversary, Obama will not be marking the day with a groundbreaking or ribbon-cutting. He will be wrapping up a vacation on Martha’s Vineyard.

The president’s decision to stay on the east coast this week did not come as a surprise to the people of the Gulf Coast, where kudzu-covered playgrounds, closed schools and decaying roads inspire little trust in public officials. Yet even if predicted, the president’s absence still has managed to leave a bad taste in the mouths of many here who expected more from the country’s first black president, a former community organizer who campaigned on a promise that he would make it “clear to members of my administration that their responsibilities don’t end in places like the Ninth ward – they begin there.”

There's one thing wrong with tha above quote--it refers to flooding caused by "storm floods"--a natural disaster--when New Orleans' flooding was actually caused by the rupture of poorly-built federally-maintained levees--a manmade disaster. Obama doesn't seem to get this important distinction either, according to Harry Shearer. And more tragically, adds Shearer, Obama doesn't seem to care about the fact that the Army Corps of Engineers may, in rebuilding these levees, may be making some of the mistakes it made in the past. In short, Obama doesn't get it-and doesn't care.

Obama is also seen as ignoring Louisiana, New Orleans, and recovery. Says Jeff Crouere in Bayou Buzz,

When campaigning in New Orleans Obama declared that our recovery would be “a priority of my presidency.” Not only has it not been a priority, it has not even been on his radar screen. It is interesting that President Obama has not only neglected coastal restoration, but he has neglected to visit our state. The President has jetted from one end of the country to the other, but has bypassed Louisiana. It could be because of the fact that Louisiana is a red, Republican leaning state. If so, such political considerations are a horrible reason to ignore our area. President Obama was elected to represent the entire 50 states, not just the blue ones.

Crouere adds that the Vice President has yet to visit New Orleans, then goes on...

While numerous cabinet secretaries have visited the area, there is no substitute for a visit from the President. While the levee reconstruction and flood protection improvements are progressing and billions have been spent, it will be all in vain if the coast is not restored...

To be fair, there has been a little good news--namely that Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan has visited New Orleans, but even then one wonders how HUD will deal with the tremendous scope of the housing woes that still exist, not only in Louisiana but in Mississippi:

Stevonne Doughty is plenty frustrated by what hasn't happened since Hurricane Katrina wiped out thousands of homes along the Gulf Coast.

Doughty, 47, still lives in a three-bedroom trailer in Biloxi, Miss., that the federal government provided in 2006. The trailer sits near the house she used to rent before Katrina left it under eight feet of water and it was later demolished.

"When you see the casinos coming back, they're not doing it by themselves," said Doughty, a disabled nurse and mother who lives on Social Security. "Why not help the people? Most people don't want a handout; they want a hand up."

What depresses me is there's still a long way to go, it seems, before hope and change really reach New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Region.

Ted Kennedy and NOLA

Among all of his other accomplishments, Ted Kennedy can be remembered since Katrina and the federal flood happened as a legislator who proactively did what he could to help New Orleans' and the rest of the Gulf Region's people after the catastrophe.

He and Vicki personally not only contributed to agencies helping the disaster survivors, Vicki also encouraged others to do so:

The people of the Gulf Coast are suffering horrible devastation in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Some have said that this is the worst natural disaster in our nation's history, and officials fear that thousands of lives will be lost. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their homes. They need food, water, clothing and a roof over their heads. From Louisiana to Mississippi to Alabama and even to Florida where Katrina first landed before barreling on towards New Orleans, our fellow human beings are in dire need of our help.

I grew up in Louisiana and have a large family and many friends who are still there. I spent my college and law school years in New Orleans, and I have a special love of that city and her people. So I am feeling this pain in a very personal way. But you don't have to be from the Gulf Coast to understand the magnitude of the human tragedy that we are witnessing on our television sets every day. In that special, American way, people across our great country are asking what they can do, and how they can help. That's why I'm writing you.

I hope that you can join Ted and me in making a contribution to the Red Cross or the Catholic Charities....

The people of the Gulf Coast are strong and resilient, and they have the character and determination to get through these terrible days. But for many, those days will turn into months and weeks and even years of hardship and heartbreak. Your help and support will make all the difference in the world to so many families. In some cases it will make the difference between life and death.

After Katrina and the federal flood, Kennedy, aware that people had been unwilling to evacuate because they didn't want to leave cherished pets behind, could relate to their predicament because of his own beloved dogs Splash and Sunny. He decided to co-sponsor a PETS Act to prevent such problems in the future by allowing people to evacuate with their pets.

"I wouldn't leave the house without Sunny and Splash," he said. "It's no surprise that so many people in New Orleans flat-out refused to be rescued if they couldn't take their pets with them."

Kennedy also called, albeit unsuccessfuly, for a cabinet-level Gulf Coast Redevelopment Authority. It is unfortunate that this idea did not come to fruition because perhaps had it been in existence more progress would have been made at rebuilding the Gulf Region. One must wonder if, had Kennedy been healthy enough to influence Obama in this regard, one such cabinet post would have come into existence.

All in all, Ted Kennedy, who passed at a time coincidentally close to the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the federal flood, can be remembered as a friend of New Orleans and her people and those of the rest of the Gulf Region.

NOLA Looks As If McCain Were President

Where are the hope and change in New Orleans? When Barack Obama was a presidential candidate, he promised that

he would “keep the broken promises made by President Bush to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast” and take steps to prevent failures in emergency planning and response seen during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Specifically, Obama would ensure New Orleans has a levee and pumping system to protect the city against a 100-year storm by 2011, free up rebuilding funds that had been allocated but not released and to rebuild hospitals and schools.

However, at the fourth anniversary of Katrina and the federal flood, a forgotten New Orleans anxiously awaiting attention to her ills looks more as if "Let 'em eat cake" John McCain, instead of Obama, had won last November. Because, adds the Congressional Quarterly,

An August 2009 report from the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program concludes the region still faces major challenges due to blight, unaffordable housing and vulnerable flood protection.

Though New Orleans’ economy is weathering the recession fairly well, the report says some districts continue to have high numbers of vacant and blighted residences, and that essential service workers can’t afford fair market rents. And while 16 additional schools opened in the New Orleans area in the previous 12 months, the entire area remains vulnerable to storm-related flooding. A storm-surge protection system now being built by the Army Corps of Engineers would not adequately protect against another storm of Katrina’s magnitude, the report states.

Also, nothing is being done to protect and restore Louisiana's wetlands, valuable buffers against storms. This is not a local issue, but of national importance especially in this time of recession and volatile oil prices:

Katrina devastated not only Louisiana and its residents -- but the U.S. economy -- destroying infrastructure and damaging critical refineries so severely that some were out of service for a year, leading to a spike in the price of gasoline. Coastal wetlands are a first line of defense for coastal Louisiana communities because they reduce storm surge and protect levees. MRGO has damaged almost 600,000 acres of wetlands and coastal ecosystem, including totally destroying more than 27,000 acres of wetlands. Congress has been unable to fund restoration of MRGO wetlands – and four other major coastal restoration projects it authorized in the 2007 Water Resources Development Act -- because the Corps has not completed the design and engineering of the projects. The Corps says the MRGO Ecosystem Restoration Plan -- which must be completed before rebuilding MRGO wetlands -- won't be completed until March 2011, nearly three years after the congressionally-mandated deadline of May 2008.

Take a look at the alarming statistics from Facing South on the legacy of Katrina and the flood. They will show that four years after Katrina Louisiana is not close to being made whole and many of her people are still suffering grievously.

Eloquently laments Phyllis Montana LeBlanc, who appeared in Spike Lee's seminal "When the Levees Broke,"

I am living in New Orleans, Louisiana and it is the year 2009. The area I live in, New Orleans East still does not have a hospital with emergency faciilities. We are told that we should have one in 2 years. It has been 2005 since Hurricane Katrina and When The Levees Broke and we still are placed on the back burner. The city of New Orleans is scheduling the demolishing of public schools at beyond an alarming rate. Mental health clinics for the low-income are closing down (NOAH) New Orleans Adolescent Hospital has been set to close as cuts from Gov. "Bobby" Jindal. The President's Stimulus Package has been denied for the state of Louisiana for use to unemployment extended benefits, healthcare and education. Hurricane Katrina is still going on in New Orleans and it just keeps getting worse. The black neighborhoods are getting none of the money to rebuild our neighborhoods and it is coming up on 4 years since Hurricane Katrina. There is so much racial division in the city it is reminding me of the 50's and 60's. Murders every day on the news with 2,3 sometimes four shootings, stabbings etc...and it seems nobody wants to do anything to stop it. It seems because it's black youth killing each other, nobody cares. During Hurricane Katrina, folks seemed to be coming together and helping one another to get back on their feet but things have gone right back to square one, one race in their corner and the other races are back to their corners. Seperate but not equal. New Orleans fights to stay divided. Sad. So Sad.

It's high time New Orleans and her people were removed from the back burner. I'm sick and tired of being patient about this--while I cut Obama some slack during the first few months of his administration, it's about time we started hearing about the efforts to revitalize the Gulf Region that Obama promised. New Orleans' needs for strenghtened levees and so forth weren't even included in Obama's stimulus package. Because New Orleans and her people had to wait far too long during the Bush Administration for recovery. And it's not just Obama, it's Congress--and shamefully, a Democratic Congress--that has been dragging its feet. New Orleans is being neglected as if we had a President McCain and a Republican Congress.

The fact that Obama has been focusing on healthcare is no excuse--because one major problem in New Orleans is a shortage of healthcare facilities. Hospitals need to be rebuilt. So the situation in New Orleans ties right into the healthcare debate. It's unconscionable for him and his administration to keep their backs turned when such things as mental health facilities and emergency-care are still lacking in that beleaguered city--shortages that should be discussed as part of the healthcare debate.

By keeping New Orleans and Gulf recovery on the back burner, Obama is squandering a precious historic opportunity. Indeed, as far as I know, he isn't even planning to visit New Orleans on the fourth anniversary of Katrina and the federal flood. Which I'm sure a President McCain wouldn't do either--he, Palin and the rest of his administration would be too busy celebrating his birthday.

Maybe if Obama doesn't visit New Orleans on 8/29, New Orleanians and those who support her recovery should mount demonstrations in front of the White House and the US Capitol--to jog the memories of Obama and Congress.

About Me

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Midwest lover of New Orleans and of all things having to do with Louisiana.