Friday, August 25, 2006

Hope to See You There

I'm doing some last minute stuff--making a few photoshop CD's for whoever would like a copy, along with a couple of notes (my version is, ahem, not quite standard, if you know what I mean)...

Will try to head out tomorrow with the sunrise...or thereabouts...I've got my map and driving instructions, and sure look forward to meeting/seeing all of y'all.

Since We're Demoting Dwarf PLANETS...

Why not demote dwarf PREZNUTS too? Personally, I'd take Pluto, 2003 UB313, Ceres, hell, even Quaour, Varuna and Sedna before Shrub.

That said, Shrub might as well BE on his own planet, given that the distance between him and reality could be measured in megaparsecs.
Vintage Advertising I'd Like to See

Well, slightly modified. Original here.

And not just the ad--I think the whole gang of crooks oughta be put on a pretty heavy dosage.
NOLA--Two Friedman Units Later

Where's Tom and his stick when we need him?

Well, perhaps Blogger has calmed itself to the point where I can post...anyway, I was wondering if the big shots and assorted punditry might find it worthwhile to examine the snails pace of Gulf Coast progress on some sort of, oh, I don't know, regular basis?

Folks like Scout are--and here's what she's finding. Short version: calling it "a snail's pace" would indicate some sort of activity.

Meanwhile, Think Progress has a rather comprehensive timeline.

The New York Times looks at small businesses struggling to survive--some successfully, others not--while their interactive has a few more neighborhoods in focus.

For those wanting to compare and contrast with Mississippi, well, here's a sobering article I found over at FDL. It's a reminder that a large swath of the Gulf Coast suffered the wrath of Katrina...and Rita...while New Orleans suffered from the NEGLIGENCE of the federal government (yes, there is a difference, although that shouldn't in any way affect the degree of response).

Mr. Friedman--perhaps you'd like to weigh in?
More Lessons Learned

Greg Peters posted his latest

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Oh, I Wish I Could Take Credit For This...

But I can't--this outstanding display of Photoshop skills, not to mention a brilliant matching of an old movie to a present day plot to undermine this country, is courtesy of Morse at Media Needle. In comments, Morse notes the original movie is something called Moment of Decision.

No shiite.
Karl and Dick Didn't Say This Was Gonna Be on the Test

The Third Battle of New Orleans has an initial list of "lies and misconceptions about Katrina that we have to keep fighting". Feel free to stop by and add your own item for consideration.
Wild Pitch

Compassionate Conservativism must mean "throw money at...your cronies, and the hell with the rest of 'em" because that's exactly what Team Bush has done overseas and at home:

The government awarded 70 percent of its contracts for Hurricane Katrina work without full competition, wasting hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in the process, says a House study released Thursday by Democrats.

The report, a comprehensive overview of government audits on Katrina contracting, found that out of $10.6 billion in contracts awarded after the storm last year, more than $7.4 billion were handed out with limited or no competitive bidding.

In addition, 19 contracts worth $8.75 billion were found to have wasted taxpayer money at least in part, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the report. It cited numerous instances of double-billing by contractors and cases of trailers meant as emergency housing sitting empty in Arkansas.

When Team Shrub, either Shrub-in-Chief himself, or one of his loyal courtiers/courtesans barks about "all the money" spent on recovery, they're LYING. The money might be ALLOCATED for recovery, but it's going into the grubby hands and fingers of contractors, some of whom quite honestly don't give a hoot in hell about the actual victims.

Now, to be fair, Greg Peters has defended the competency of one of the companies cited in the report--Red Stick's very own Shaw Group (and the article seems to confirm this)--by the way, DEFINITELY check out Greg's site if you haven't (and yeah, I need to update it on my blog roll).

And...Da Po Blog has more on the money gaming--because that's what it is--a game, a sad joke, and an outrage. He reminds us, by the way, that it's highly likely that flood insurance payouts have been included in the "aid" package, as if that's some sort of charity, as opposed to FREAKING INSURANCE (and, as most victims of the disaster can probably attest, private insurers themselves often act as if they're dispensing charity...the bastards).

No, the whole sorry mess that is the administration's response to a natural disaster in EXTREME EASTERN LOUISIANA, MISSISSIPPI, and ALABAMA--and a criminal/civil LIABILITY in New Orleans (and their subsequent mess in dealing with the disaster Hurricane Rita wrought) speaks volumes: these clowns couldn't run a circus, much less the national government. They need to have their wings clipped, and their hands tied behind their back until competent leadership--hopefully--takes control in 2009.

I've said it before, but I'll repeat: it's been a LONG time since I've looked forward to getting older...but if aging is the biggest price I pay for the damage these clowns have done, it's a small price indeed.
Depleted Uranium--It's the New Black (Agent) Orange!

H/T First-Draft.

I'm surprised this hasn't gotten as much publicity, but I suppose when you're dealing with IED's, ambushes, mortars fired into your bases pretty much every day...and a plain lack of control over a supposedly "defeated" country, health concerns about depleted uranium, regardless of how deadly the long-term consequences might well be, are likely to get triaged down:

Chuck Hubert of Ocala fought in Iraq, and he said he believes he is suffering from the "new" Agent Orange...

Hubert said he and thousands of others who have returned from the Iraq war are battling the effects of inhaling depleted uranium yet no one's listening.

"I just want answers. I mean simple answers," Hubert said.

What happened in the deserts of Iraq caused Hubert to fear for his life on American soil

"I'm only 33 years old. I want to live to see 70," he said.

As a medic aboard Blackhawks in 2003, Hubert was living his dream.

"I was going to be a lifer. I was going to stay in my 20," he said.

Dreams of a continued Army career turned to dust. Hubert was medically discharged, strange symptoms emerged and he was nauseated and dizzy all the time.

"That's when they determined I had Grave's Disease," he said.

"He's an expert supposedly on depleted uranium," his wife, Monica, said.

She has done plenty of research and found so many other families suffering from strange medical symptoms. They believe uranium that rubs off from bullets and even tanks triggers illnesses when it's inhaled.

"If a bullet is coated with depleted uranium it will pierce further. It will hit harder," Monica Hubert said.

The family said it wants to know if Chuck Hubert has the new Agent Orange and they want to know why the government won't test him.

"It could be as simple as trying to hide something," he said.

The Huberts said they hope someone will hear their cry for help.

Hubert works but can only perform certain duties because of his ongoing medical condition. The government pays some disability but he said it's not enough to support a family of five.

The consequences will be just as bad--or worse--for the Iraqis, particularly women who want families...and the young children themselves. Of course, this is yet another example of wingnut dualism: their supposed "concern" for "the Iraqi people" extends neither to their long-term nor short-term health. On the one hand, you've got Abu Ghraib, Mahmudiya, Haditha (and goodness knows where else). On the other hand, the effects of depleted uranium will continue for who knows how long.

And D.U. doesn't discriminate, as Mr. Hubert has, sadly, discovered.
White Whining

Geez, it's sort of like water over the dam--in short order we've had Mel Gibson, Andy Young, and George Allen fan the flames of hate (then there's legacy cases like Trent Lott, the Gretna Police Department, C. Ray, and more)...looks like the minions are following the leaders:

Link from No More Mister Nice Blog:

Nine black children attending Red River Elementary School (between Shreveport and Natchitoches) were directed last week to the back of the school bus by a white driver who designated the front seats for white children.

Take a look at Steve's post--he's found folks at the Free Republic who actually defend the driver. Good heavens.

You'd think having to worry about explosions at the bomb recycling factory would be plenty enough for these kids...

And, of course, Rush Lamebone likewise can't resist the temptation to reveal his inner Klansman:

On the August 23 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio program, Rush Limbaugh suggested that the competition in a new season of CBS' reality TV program Survivor, in which contestants are reportedly divided into competing "tribes" by ethnicity, "is not going to be fair if there's a lot of water events."

Well, I guess we're seeing what the wingnuts REALLY mean when they wax nostalgic about "the good old days."

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Few, the Proud, the 60 Year Old Marines

"I didn't know they stacked shit that high!"

From Steve Gilliard a report that at least one of the Individual Ready Reserve Marines involuntarily called into service is 60 years old

by theophilus
Wed Aug 23, 2006 at 06:07:40 AM PDT

My parents live in a gated condo complex in the DC area, and are friendly with the gatehouse guard, a Vietnam vet who served in the Navy Seals and in the Marines. The fellow, who is in his early 60's, was in special units that had lifetime call-up provisions.

Well, now the Marines have called him up. For combat operations. In Fallujah.

So it's come to this. Our nation is now so desparate for recruits that we're not only forcing recent enlistees back for another tour, we are now forcing grandfathers back onto the battlefield?

This is what losing nations do when desperate, what happens when military adventures go so bad that all the healthy soldiers are killed. Maybe next we will be sending 14 year-olds and amputees as well?

The fellow in question is mostly healthy--he only has a bad back. And the Marines have apparently told him that if his back worsens, he will be allowed to come home again. How sweet of the Marines. How considerate.

Come to think of it, I believe the preznut is 60 years old, too. And last I checked, the doctors gave HIM a clean bill of health.

And it's not like he's doing much of anything productive anyway.
Yuck Up

While Rockey and Bullwinkle Shrub Badenoff had their tete-a-empty-tete today, and while Team Bush prepared for what for them is "hard work," i.e., a photo-op in New Orleans next week...which is all the MORE reason to visit the city THIS WEEKEND, so you can avoid the headache--the New York Times ran a surpisingly good story about one person's efforts to rebuild in Lakeview. Even better is a video link featuring William Pickett rebuilding in Mid-City...and, finally, here's an exceptional graphic that allows you to zoom in and out of various sections of the city. As you zoom in, you can see graphical representations of progress--or not--on rebuilding individual houses.

Oh, and hey--I wonder how Senator McCain plans to celebrate his birthday THIS year...


Mahmoud and Shrub, sitting in a tree:

The US-led "war on terror" has bolstered Iran's power and influence in the Middle East, especially over its neighbour and former enemy Iraq, a thinktank said today.

A report (.pdf) published by Chatham House said the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had removed Iran's main rival regimes in the region.

Israel's conflict with the Palestinians and its invasion of Lebanon had also put Iran "in a position of considerable strength" in the Middle East, said the thinktank...

In particular, Iran has now superseded the US as the most influential power in Iraq, regarding its former adversary as its "own backyard". It is also a "prominent presence" in its other war-torn neighbour, Afghanistan, according to Chatham House's analysts.

The report said: "There is little doubt that Iran has been the chief beneficiary of the war on terror in the Middle East.

"The United States, with coalition support, has eliminated two of Iran's regional rival governments - the Taliban in Afghanistan in November 2001 and Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq in April 2003 - but has failed to replace either with coherent and stable political structures."

The thinktank said the west needed to understand better Iran's links with its neighbours to see why the country felt able "to resist Western pressure".

"The US-driven agenda for confronting Iran is severely compromised by the confident ease with which Iran sits in its region," said the report.

Western countries, led by the US, are locked in a bitter dispute with Iran over its nuclear programme.

Iran, the world's fourth largest oil exporter, says it will not give up what it says is its right to peaceful nuclear technology. The west suspects Tehran is developing nuclear weapons.

The thinktank said: "While the US and Europeans slowly grind the nuclear issue through the mills of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations security council, Iran continues to prevaricate, feeling confident of victory as conditions turn ever more in its favour."

The report added the country was "simply too important - for political, economic, cultural, religions and military reasons - to be treated lightly".

One of the report's authors, Dr Ali Ansari, reader in modern history at the University of St Andrews, told Radio 4: "The United States needs to take a step back and reassess its entire policy towards Iran and work out, first of all, what does it want and how is it going to achieve it, because at the moment everything is rather like putting a sticking plaster on a fairly raw wound, and it is not really actually doing much at all."

Team Bush makes the Keystone Kops look like Hawaii Five-0.
Trailer Trash

No, I don't mean Mr. Vaccarella, although I question his political judgement even as I admire his chutzpah.

On the other hand, preznit Butt-Head chose to emulate his press secretary, taking the "it's just a number" option when asked about the 12 month lag between the flooding of New Orleans, the natural disaster along the Gulf Coast--and the absense of focus on efforts to rebuild.

Something tells me the "long time" Shrub alludes to re: recovery, is the inverse of his "stay the course," lives-and-money-turned-into-mulch approach for Iraq, which he also guaranteed no end to, at least during his term. And so it goes.

Meanwhile, after extended dawdling and fiddling by Team Bush and his as-vicious-as-they-are-stupid GOP Congress, a CDBG allocation has allowed the State to open a number of "Road Home" centers, including one on Poydras Street...and an associated web site where affected homeowners can begin the process of applying for assistance.

Well, good. But I'm not going to get all grateful over a few crumbs tossed in this general direction. Gulf Coast recovery was, is, and should be an absolute national priority, and the fact that it took almost ten months to get a recovery bill passed is outrageous.

You know, maybe Congress should be required to live and assemble along the Gulf Coast until genuine progress is made. I'd bet a few days living in a gutted house without the things they take for granted--regular electricity, garbage collection, mail delivery, water pressure, not to mention police, fire departments, and/or hospitals, etc. etc. etc.--would light a fire under their sorry asses.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Transfixed by His Own Reflection

Juan Cole asks whether or not Shrub is a narcissist and transcribes nine traits--judge for yourself:

'1. An exaggerated sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)...

2. Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.'...

3. Believes he is "special" and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions) 4. Requires excessive admiration 5. Has a sense of entitlement...

6. Selfishly takes advantage of others to achieve his own ends. 7. Lacks empathy...

8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him 9. Shows arrogant, haughty, patronizing, or contemptuous behaviors or attitudes.'

Hmmm...sounds like nine for nine, if you ask me.

Oh, and in other news, Marines in the Individual Ready Reserves will find out just what that means: they're being involuntarily recalled to active service to go fight in what James Inhofe (R-Just Plain Old Stoopid) calls the miracle in Iraq.

You know, I think I've got a lemon basil plant that's more intelligent than the Oklahoma Senator...
Trying to Follow the Money Trail

Bill Quigley has a long article in Counterpunch that's worth the read, but if you don't have time for it all, this is as good an excerpt as any--the breakdown of all the supposed aid that's been flowing to New Orleans since the flood:

Where Did the Money Go?

Everyone who visits New Orleans asks the same question that locals ask – where is the money? Congress reportedly appropriated over $100 billion to rebuild the Gulf Coast. Over $50 billion was allocated to temporary and long-term housing. Just under $30 billion was for emergency response and Department of Defense spending. Over $18 billion was for State and local response and the rebuilding of infrastructure. $3.6 billion was for health, social services and job training and $3.2 for non-housing cash assistance. $1.9 billion was allocated for education and $1.2 billion for agriculture.

One hour in New Orleans shows the check must still be in the mail.

Not a single dollar in federal housing rehab money has made it into a hand in Louisiana. Though Congress has allocated nearly $10 billion in Community Development Block Grants, the State of Louisiana is still testing the program and has not yet distributed dollar number one.

A lot of media attention has gone to the prosecution of people who wrongfully claimed benefits of $2000 or more after the storm. Their fraud is despicable. It harms those who are still waiting for assistance from FEMA.

But, be clear - these little $2000 thieves are minnows swimming on the surface. There are many big savage sharks below. Congress and the national media have so far been frustrated in their quest to get real answers to where the millions and billions went. How much was actually spent on FEMA trailers? How much did the big contractors take off the top and then subcontract out the work? Who were the subcontractors for the multi-million dollar debris removal and reconstruction contracts?

As Corpwatch says in their recent report, “Many of the same ‘disaster profiteers’ and government agencies that mishandled the reconstruction of Afghanistan and Iraq are responsible for the failure of ‘reconstruction’ of the Gulf Coast region. The Army Corps, Bechtel and Halliburton are using the very same ‘contract vehicles’ in the Gulf Coast as they did in Afghanistan and Iraq. These are ‘indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity’ open-ended ‘contingency’ contracts that are being abused by the contractors on the Gulf Coast to squeeze out local companies. These are also ‘cost-plus’ contracts that allow them to collect a profit on everything they spend, which is an incentive to overspend.”

We do know billions of dollars in no-bid FEMA contracts went to Bechtel Corporation, the Shaw Group, CH2M Hill, and Fluor immediately after Katrina hit. Riley Bechtel, CEO of Bechtel Corporation, served on President Bush’s Export Council during 2003-2004. A lobbyist for the Shaw Group, Joe Allbaugh, is a former FEMA Director and friend of President Bush. The President and Group Chief Executive of the International Group at CH2MHill is Robert Card, appointed by President Bush as undersecretary to the US Department of Energy until 2004. Card also worked at CH2M Hill before signing up with President Bush. Fluor, whose work in Iraq was slowing down, is one of the big winners of FEMA work and its stock is up 65 percent since it started Katrina work.

Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota has raised many protests and questions over inflated prices. “It is hard to overstate the incompetence involved in all of these contracts – we have repeatedly asked them for information and you get nothing.” Republican U.S. Representative Charles Bustany, who represents an area heavily damaged by Hurricane Rita, asked FEMA for reasons why the decision was made to stop funding 100 percent of the cost of debris removal in his district. FEMA refused to tell him. He then filed a Freedom of Information request to get the information, and was again refused. When he asked to appeal their denial, he was told that there were many appeals ahead of his and he would have to wait.

If a US Senator and a local U.S. Republican Representative cannot get answers from FEMA, how much accountability can the people of the Gulf Coast expect? There are many other examples of fraud, waste and patronage.

How did a company that did not own a truck get a contract for debris removal worth hundreds of millions of dollars? The Miami Herald reported that the single biggest receiver of early Katrina federal contracts was Ashbritt, Inc. of Pompano Beach, FL, which received over $579 million in contracts for debris removal in Mississippi from Army Corps of Engineers.

The paper reported that the company does not own a single dumptruck! All they do is subcontract out the work. Ashbritt, however, had recently dumped $40,000 into the lobbying firm of Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, which had been run by Mississippi Governor and former National GOP Chair Haley Barbour. The owners of Ashbritt also trucked $50,000 over to the Republican National Committee in 2004.

How did a company that filed for bankruptcy the year before and was not licensed to build trailers get a $200 million contract for trailers? Circle B Enterprises of Georgia was awarded $287 million in contracts by FEMA for temporary housing. At the time, that was the seventh highest award of Katrina money in the country. According to the Washington Post, Circle B was not even being licensed to build homes in its own state of Georgia and filed for bankruptcy in 2003. The company does not even have a website.

FEMA spent $7 million to build a park for 198 trailers in Morgan City Louisiana – almost 2 hours away from New Orleans.

Construction was completed in April. Three months later only 20 of the trailers were occupied. One displaced New Orleans resident who lives there has to walk three miles to the nearest grocery.

Hurricanes are now a booming billion dollar business. No wonder there is a National Hurricane Conference for private companies to show off their wares – from RVs to portable cell phone towers to port-a-potties. One long time provider was quoted by the Miami Herald at the conference that there are all kinds of new people in the field - 'Some folks here said, `Man, this is huge business; this is my new business. I'm not in the landscaping business anymore, I'm going to be a hurricane debris contractor.' "

On the local level, we are not any better.

One year after Katrina the City of New Orleans still does not have a comprehensive rebuilding plan. The first plan by advisors to the Mayor was shelved before the election. A city council plan was then started and the state and federal government mandated yet another process that may or may not include some of the recommendations of the prior two processes. One of the early advisors from the Urban Land Institute, John McIlwain, blasted the delays in late July. “It’s virtually a city with a city administration and its worse than ever…You need a politician, a leader that is willing to make tough decisions and articulate to people why these decisions are made, which means everyone is not going to be happy.” Without major changes at City Hall the City will have miles of neglected neighborhoods for decades. “We’re talking Dresden after World War II.”

And, for those who've gotten to the end of this post, a little bonus: a piece from Whiskey Bar last year that General J.C. Christian (avowed heterosexual) cited today.
Put or Call on Tin-Foil Options?

Well, it gives me a chance to post kind of a mild cheesecake picture--I saw this interview with Korey Rowe over at Cursor and ended up reading the Vanity Fair article.

Short version: Rowe (an Iraq and Afghanistan War veteran), with two friends, Dylan Avery and Jason Bermas, put together a low budget ($6,000) documentary--Loose Change--questioning the official investigations of the 9/11 attacks. You can view it here, at Google Video, and apparently elsewhere.

Personally, I'm more inclined towards Gore Vidal's position re: 9/11--Team Bush is too stupid, too incompetent, and composed of too many stumblebums to pull something off like that. Witnesss the twin towers of quagmire Iraq and Afghanistan, and their, pardon the expression, essentially retarded response to 8/29 (and, if you need further proof, here's a short article about preznit Butt-Head in all his glory). That said, the "investigations" were less that and more a nice coat of whitewash over an embarrassing and deadly failure on the part of this administration--a failure that resulted in horrific tragedy.

It's funny, in a sick sort of way, to watch this gang of assclowns talk about "pre 9/11" thinking, because as far as I can tell, THEY were the ones asleep at the wheel, blissfully ignoring ever more ominous warnings of something coming down the pipe, until it was too late.

Kind of like what they did when Hurricane Katrina approached.
Hit Back

Well, it only took a forty-five minutes to post what hopefully is at least a semi-coherent visual (had to filter it pretty heavily to, ahem, remove obvious retouchings)...anyway, I see Team Shrub is trying to pull one more "victory" out of Water Boy Karl Rove's playbook--that is, a Hail Mary of slime, fear mongering, and desperate cliche.

Why don't the Democrats hit right back, then? The truth is that Team Bush's message is feeble, and they're unable to articulate it in ANY way...they lack the ability to make even a small degree of sense: they insist on our military having an unsecure perimeter with overstretched, vulnerable lines of supply in Iraq, the strategic mess they've created clearly has made the Middle East, and, by extension, the world, MORE, not less dangerous, Osama bin Laden is evidently enjoying a comfortable, if spartan existence--when he's not gut-laughing at us from a location probably inside the border of our "ally" Pakistan, the pitiful, pathetic response to the natural and negligent disasters along the Gulf Coast is proof positive that they lack basic competence. The hurricanes--and flooding of New Orleans--were preceded by plenty of warning, warnings this administration chose to IGNORE in favor of...vacation. And they're supposedly the one's to count on should something unexpected happen?


The ONLY way the GOP even "exceeds expectations," as pitiful as THOSE are at this point, would be if the Democrats lie down on the American public. Unfortunately, that's not out of the realm of possibility...

Monday, August 21, 2006

Eustace on NOLA

Ernie the Attorney links to the online New Yorker's Katrina archive. It's well worth bookmarking.

That is, huckster lacking even the semblence of a sales pitch. If root canal surgery--minus the anesthesia--isn't quite painful enough for you, then read the transcript of Shrub's presser. Or, better yet, watch it on C-Span.

You might want to be at or near ground floor, or in a sealed building, because it's bad enough to make you jump.

Scout-Prime found the segment devoted to Katrina, and a commentor captured the essence: Shrub as the new white whine(r) from Washington D.C. Makes Thunderbird seem like Dom Perignon.
Another Glimpse Behind the Curtain

Thanks to a friend, here are a couple of articles from behind the Times Select Wall (of Shame) by John Biguenet...well, except for the photographs, because once again Blogger's photo posting is acting like John Prescott's assessment of Bush's Middle East "policy"...maybe if Blogger can get their, ahem, crap together, I'll have something of my own to post in a bit...

Aug. 13, 2006
Fourteen Pounds
New Orleans used to describe itself in tourist brochures as “America’s European Masterpiece.” But that is certainly not how Europeans view the city now. While I was in Paris, directing a writing workshop in July, I opened Le Figaro one morning and found a travel article titled “The Exoticism of Misery” about tours to the most wretched places on earth. Highest on the list of such destinations, just after Chernobyl and the poverty-stricken favelas of Rio de Janeiro, was “La Nouvelle-OrlĂ©ans.”

Though it came as a shock to see my hometown included among centers of human suffering, the article was quite right: New Orleans is a wreck adrift in dangerous waters, and its demoralized citizens have given up scanning the horizon for rescuers.

I returned home last week to local headlines that describe a city in grave condition. The Times-Picayune reported that in July, almost the same number of people had been murdered as the city’s monthly homicide average in the 3 1/2 years before the flood, even though the population is now at least 60 percent smaller. The next morning, a front-page story described an 80-percent reduction in day-care centers in New Orleans, from 266 to 52, and how that has hurt working parents. I also learned that, in the Mid-City neighborhood, only 130 of 600 businesses are back in operation nearly a year after the flooding. Then there was news that the number of psychiatrists in this very stressful city had fallen from 196 to a mere 22, despite the fact that nearly half the people interviewed in a post-flood mental-health survey, according to the newspaper article, “probably needed psychiatric help.” Fewer than one in 50 people were getting that help. And, oh yes, still another article revealed that the corpse of yet one more victim of the flooding had been found in a ruined house.

In the past few days, I have read that city gas lines are still clogged by floodwater, that applicants for home-repair government grants may have to wait until March 2007 to meet with a counselor for even a preliminary application review, and that according to a U.S. Postal Service report, the city’s population is now 171,000, down from nearly half a million before the flood.

How have our political leaders responded to the continuing crisis? Mayor Ray Nagin has been forced by withering public criticism to abandon his plans to host a comedy festival, fireworks display and masquerade gala to celebrate the first anniversary of the hurricane and ensuing flood that killed more than 1,300 New Orleanians and devastated 80 percent of the city. And the U.S. House of Representatives has declined to endorse a bipartisan resolution commemorating the anniversary of the disaster. House Republicans objected to a line in the resolution that “reaffirms . . . the commitment to rebuilding the Gulf Coast region and improving the quality of life for all of its residents.”

What is the quality of life for residents here? It varies widely, from the unscathed French Quarter, Garden District and University section to the ravaged neighborhoods of the Lower Ninth Ward, Lakeview and New Orleans East, where families live in trailers in their driveways — to say nothing of the great diaspora of 300,000 New Orleanians making new lives elsewhere. My wife, Marsha, and I moved back into our flooded house on the lakefront in June just before leaving for Europe. Our lease had run out on the Uptown shotgun apartment we had rented since October, and we wanted to avoid another year of both rent and mortgage payments. Though the walls had been Sheetrocked and the electrical wiring had been redone, our downstairs was still weeks away from being usable. So like most of those who have returned to their damaged homes, we started “living upstairs.” We slept there and ate store-bought meals. But because our house had been broken into and our garage had been burglarized twice since the flood, we kept most of the things we had salvaged in a storage locker near the airport.

Returning home last week to a city where neighbors have had to put up handmade street signs and mark dangerous potholes with makeshift warnings; where tens of thousands of abandoned houses, their windows and doors agape, rot in the summer heat; and where armed soldiers in flak jackets patrol in Humvees, we found our kitchen nearly finished and much of the interior painting completed. There’s still more carpentry and electrical work to be done, and we’ve just learned that if we want cable TV and Internet service, the house will need to be rewired. But we’re reoccupying more and more of our home each day.

About a third of our neighbors have returned to our block. Others, though, aren’t coming back. From a downstairs window, I can see the empty lots of two demolished houses; more are scheduled to be torn down. It feels desolate, especially at night.

Yet our neighborhood is the most heavily populated in the area.

The city itself remains in jeopardy. Three times in the past week, our street flooded during afternoon rains. In the 30 years we’ve lived here, it’s flooded no more than 10 times, including all previous hurricanes. The culprit is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Determined not to be blamed if the city floods again, the Corps has been sealing off the drainage canals for which it built a system of grossly defective levees. The levees are unlikely to crumble again as they did a year ago, but by sealing the canals, the Corps has reduced the city’s ability to pump out rainwater. The pumping capacity at the 17th Street canal, for example, is down from 10,200 cubic feet per second to no more than 1,400, an 86-percent reduction. Now a summer shower floods the streets from curb to curb.

What has been the cost of living through all this? At my annual physical, my doctor marveled that I had lost 14 pounds since my check-up last year. For most Americans, that would be very good news indeed. But I haven’t been dieting. I suppose gutting a house in hundred-degree heat while wearing protective gear to avoid exposure to mold and toxic sludge is a weight-loss regimen of sorts. And if every single night for months on end, you wake at 2 or 3 a.m. — anxious over yet another problem that will entail an endless struggle with FEMA or an insurance company — and lie restless until dawn, that lack of sleep will cost you more pounds of flesh. Simply driving across town, passing block after block after block of rotting houses and shops in neighborhoods that just 12 months ago were thriving takes something out of you, too. So there are reasons, I suppose, why the clothes we’ve salvaged hang baggy on us, why there’s something haggard in our look as we try to rebuild America’s European masterpiece.

Aug. 20, 2006
You're Probably Wrong
Most of what you think you know about what happened in New Orleans a year ago is probably wrong. People distinguish between a pre-Katrina and a post-Katrina city, for example. But such a distinction suggests New Orleans was the victim of a natural disaster. It wasn’t.

Hurricane Katrina ravaged Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes in Louisiana and most of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, but it spared New Orleans the brunt of its force. Veering east over the Louisiana-Mississippi state line, the storm lashed the city with only its weak side. Hours after the hurricane had passed, the Web site of my neighborhood property owners’ association posted a report relayed by cell phone from a man who had ridden out the storm in his house, one street away from mine. He assured those of us who had left that, except for a few fallen tree limbs, there was no major damage.

By the next morning, floodwater was pouring into the city from breaches in defective levees, inundating 80 percent of New Orleans. When the water finally found its level, in some places more than 10 feet deep, an area seven times the size of Manhattan had been destroyed. By the end of that first week, roughly 1,300 New Orleanians had drowned or died of dehydration and exposure. Katrina wasn’t what killed all those people and devastated a celebrated city; it was the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. As the Corps itself admits in its own draft final report on the disaster, “foundation failures occurred prior to water levels reaching the design levels of protection, causing breaching and subsequent massive flooding and extensive losses.”

You may also think that poor, black New Orleanians constituted the majority of victims killed by the Corps’ incompetence. In fact, white and black, rich and poor, New Orleanians shared equally in the suffering and death. The last published tally I saw showed that whites and blacks died in roughly the same proportion. If that is accurate, given that the population of the city in the last census was only 28-percent white, white New Orleanians died in proportionately higher numbers.

Another misconception that has persisted is the notion that many who died in the Lower Ninth Ward were stranded there because they had no means of transportation with which to evacuate. In fact, one of the most striking features I noted when I first toured the staggering devastation of that neighborhood after the flooding was how many cars and trucks had been submerged there. From the obituaries the Times-Picayune has published over the last year, it is clear that many New Orleanians who died had chosen to stay because, having survived previous hurricanes, they believed the Corps of Engineers’ assurances that the levees could protect them against a Category 3 hurricane. Though some people who died did not have transportation, many had cars and trucks available to them.

As survivors gathered in the Superdome and the Convention Center waiting for days for the Bush administration to send federal assistance to the area, the media offered sensationalized accounts of chaotic conditions there, with murders and rapes reportedly widespread. In fact, only one violent death, a suicide, was ever confirmed to have occurred in those facilities during that terrible first week after the levees collapsed. According to those who were there, despite utterly wretched circumstances — thousands of people with no working toilets, in excruciating heat — people comported themselves with patience, with generosity toward those with even less, and with as much dignity as they could manage.

After the flooding, New Orleanians were roundly criticized by Congressional leaders for choosing to live in an area below sea level. In fact, only parts of New Orleans are below sea level. My house, for example, is a foot above sea level, and it still received four feet of floodwater. We were hardly as foolish as Americans living in earthquake zones like San Francisco and Anchorage are. After all, we had assurances from the Corps of Engineers that we would be safe in a hurricane of Katrina’s strength. If we were foolish, it was in believing our government.

So there’s a great deal about what happened in New Orleans that is widely misunderstood. On the other hand, what you think you know about FEMA is probably right. A few months ago at a neighborhood property owners association meeting, called to discuss the future of our area, a doctor who lives near me described how he had used his small fishing boat to rescue those stranded during the flooding. One evening, he found a group of people huddled on a rooftop, and he started ferrying them to dry ground. On the way back for a second load, he passed a boat with men wearing FEMA T-shirts. He shouted for them to follow him to pick up the remaining family members. The men refused, explaining that it was after 5 p.m. and they weren’t authorized for overtime.
Ceterum Censeo New Orleans Esse Restauro

Well, I don't know Latin, so the conjugation is probably way off, but I suppose it's no less incomprehensible than the standard wingnut drivel--on the one hand, there's a preznit literally in la-la land, steadfastly refusing to see, much less admit, that his pet project in Iraq has devolved into the creature from Alien (bonus: yer media will waste countless hours of air time, ink, paper, and pixels focusing on "steadfast")...Afghanistan is limping along like a car with bad tires and leaks in both the oil pan and radiator...and to ice this particular slice of shit cake, the administration is spinning a recovery project...for Lebanon, in a desperate attempt to salvage their tattered reputation in the Middle East, as if a scoop of ice cream will salve the festering sore they've created over there...

And they continue to IGNORE the festering sore RIGHT HERE in the United States. Unbelievable...and genuinely pathetic.

I posted this last week, and I'll repeat it: if this administration can't--or won't--restore the American Gulf Coast, how can they POSSIBLY clean the mess they've made in Iraq?

Restoring the Gulf Coast would be far less costly, in terms of lives and money, and the return on the investment would be far greater. There's no civil war, there's no language's also a vital part of the United States, and, at least in New Orleans, the government is as liable for the destruction as an at-fault driver in a car wreck.

Not to mitigate for a second the damage this administration has done in the Middle East, both in literal terms and to the international reputation of our nation, but the fact that they continue to push an ever more delusional hallucination "vision" for the Middle East, while ignoring an area in their own country--an area that would actually appreciate the kind of effort they once proposed for the Middle East/Mesopotamia--is not merely ignorance to the power of's dumb-so-off-the-scale as to require thought experiments to comprehend.

Restoring the American Gulf Coast is, to put it bluntly, not only the right thing to do...but FAR, FAR easier to accomplish than their sugar plum visions for the Middle East (sugar plum visions that raise naivete to a level commensurate with, well, dumb-off-the-scale). Americans could easily witness the progress--unlike in Iraq, which might as well be officially off-limits for pretty much any Westerner not "embedded" with the military. Gulf Coast restoration could be a showcase of what this administration is capable of accomplishing.

Or, it could further underscore this administration's incompetence--that is, if they continue to stall, ignore, or otherwise do nothing. Which also sets an example--and don't think the world doesn't notice.