Monday, August 31, 2009

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.

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