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August 29, 2007

2-Year Anniversary of Katrina: The President's Empty Promises

It's a stunningly beautiful morning here in the Northwest. Neighborhood gardens are just starting to lose their blooms, you can feel the nip of fall in the air and still, we'll be basking in a warm 82 degrees by late this afternoon. I have a home, a job, great friends and plans for the future. I don't have much to complain about. Not everyone in America is so lucky.

On this second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, when guesses are percolating about which Bush crony or incompetent will be nominated for attorney general, I won't forget how Michael Chertoff, Director of Homeland Security, told NPR's Robert Seigel, just hours after flooding wreaked havoc on New Orleans, that there were lots of rumors swirling and so he was totally unaware of 1200 people languishing inside the convention center without food or water! Chertoff's willful ignorance was like a dare. Too bad NPR sent John Burnett out to report on the facts -- confirming the numbers, the lack of food and water and adding that two people were also lying dead in their wheelchairs inside the convention center, now teeming with stench and desperation and mayhem.

It's going to be hard to forget the images and voices of that time -- people grouped together on the side of the road screaming, "We need help!"; folks, literally, clinging to the rafters of their attics, praying the water wouldn't get to them before rescuers did; and of course, Barbara Bush, chuckling nervously and telling the world how the refugees that made it to the Houston Astrodome were "underpriviliged anyway, so this -- this is working very well for them".

The residents of the Gulf Coast will also remember the night the president -- his vacation over -- finally decided to grace them with his presence, standing under the klieg lights of Jackson Square in a city eerily deserted. He made some promises, vowing that the city would rise again because we can't imagine America without New Orleans.

What of those promises?

NOLA blogger Dangerblond has written an open letter to the prez, and she finds that some of those promises seem hollow now, especially when contrasted with how much blood and treasure has been spent in Iraq:

New Orleans has more challenges and fewer resources than we’ve ever had in my lifetime in the City of New Orleans. Yet, other than FEMA repair reimbursements, the only direct federal assistance this city has received from you has been two community disaster loans that you are demanding be paid back even though no other city government has had to pay back a these types of loans for as long as our research can determine (at least since the 70’s). These loans are being used to balance the city budget to provide basic services to citizens who need far more than the pre-Katrina basics.

Despite this obvious contradiction, your administration blames local leadership for our continued need for federal assistance. But this argument is disingenuous, Mr. President. There are a host of tasks that only you and your administration can accomplish for our recovery. These are some concrete steps you can take to make good on your 2005 Jackson Square promise:

• Completely fix the federally managed levees
• Fully fund our expertly crafted recovery plan
• Give New Orleans all that you have promised to Baghdad - schools, hospitals, infrastructure, security, and basic services
• Forgive the community disaster loans, as authorized by the new Congress
• Appoint a recovery czar who works inside the White House that reports daily and directly to you and whose sole job is the recovery of New Orleans and the rest of the region
• Restore our coast and wetlands
• Work with Congress to reform the Stafford Act
• Cut the bureaucratic red tape

I've been reading the NOLA bloggers for more than a year now and I guarantee you, those of us who aren't in the Gulf Coast would have a hard time identifying that area -- parts of New Orleans in particular -- as the same country that we in the Great Northwest enjoy each day, with our spectacular Olympics and Cascades, our lakes, our coffee houses on every corner, our high living standards and our luck with federal dollars continually being sent our way. It's not perfect (what is?): Washingtonians have a 3rd district congressman who's suddenly having an incomprehensible epiphany on the escalation of troops in Iraq; a Seattle Police Department that's under scrutiny for roughing up people whose arrests were questionable but is, at the same time, unable to quell the gun violence streaming throughout the city; nothing but arguments about how to fix our transportation woes; still too many homeless who haven't yet been helped by King County's ten-year-plan; and a housing crisis for anyone not making upwards of $75,000 a year. These are real problems and the infamous "Seattle Process" is something of a frustration in solving the city's portion of them. But compared to cities like New Orleans, we've got it made.

There are times when it's important, even morally obligatory, to step back a little and remember how much we've got and how much we have yet to give. Today is one those times. I don't think it will be that difficult for ordinary Americans to do that sort of introspection. If only I had as much faith in those safely secured in the seat of political power. Maybe this is a good time to remind them about promises made.

Update: I mistakenly credited the great letter to Dangerblond. After checking back at her blog, I see that she had actually front-paged a letter written by NOLA city councilmember Shelley Midura. Credit where credit is due. Midura seems to be doing her part for her constituents. But I never would have seen it if it hadn't been for Dangerblond's excellent blog.

Posted by shoephone on August 29, 2007 at 09:55 AM in National and International Politics | Permalink


From your fingertips to God's eyes.

Posted by: Michael Caine | Aug 29, 2007 12:12:43 PM

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