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Getting Our House in Order?


(Photo of a truck shoved underneath a home in the Lower Ninth Ward of NOLA, during Hurricane Katrina, as it looked on the 27th of August, 2006, by Carlos Barria of Reuters.)

Scout Prime has another fantastic post and video up at First Draft from the Rising Tide blogger’s conference in New Orleans.  She tells me that there will be some additional video up later today of an interview with the homeowner’s daughter(s), but the video at the moment is of the work that some of the bloggers and others from the neighborhood did in helping to gut out an 84-year-old resident’s home:  Ms. Cora Foster, whose amazing story Scout shares with all of us.  Well worth a read and a watch — and I look forward to the next installment in this story later today.

A new poll taken by AP-Ipsos shows that a majority of Americans do not feel like the nation is appropriately prepared for natural disasters, or really disasters of any kind, natural or man-made.   From the AP:

Fifty-seven percent in the poll said they felt at least somewhat strongly the country was ill-prepared – up from 44 percent in the days after the storm slammed ashore on Aug. 29, 2005. Just one in three Americans polled believe Bush did a good job with Katrina, down from 46 percent a year ago.

"Nobody actually realized soon enough what the scope of this thing was," said Frank Sheppard, a 63-year-old retiree in Valrico, Fla., who considers himself strongly Republican. "The day after, people were actually celebrating."

"They didn’t realize that the levees were deteriorating and breaking at that time," he said.

One year after Katrina, large areas of New Orleans remain virtually uninhabitable with piles of debris and wrecked cars.

Only $117 million in at least $25 billion in federal aid has reached the city, while federal investigators determined that roughly $2 billion in taxpayer money was wasted in no-bid contracts and disaster aid to people who did not need the help.

Norma Guelker, 55, of Bay St. Louis, Miss., still lives in a FEMA trailer after Katrina flooded her home with seven feet of water. She says there’s no way the government is ready.

Blaming Bush, she said: "There’s no reason for him to be concerned about the people who live here. They’re not the people who vote for him."

The Times-Picayune from NOLA has a  story up on some of the things that New Orleans residents are doing to try and heal the wounds from last year’s devastation.  The NYTimes tackles what the Bush Administration is trying to do to heal it’s image in the aftermath of the storm — and the photos of Bush flying over the devastation days after it had occurred, on his way back to the White House from his 5-week-long vacation last year.  And Reuters discusses a Tale of Two Cities.  (And there is the added worry that the same levee danger that NOLA faced in Katrina could be repeating itself in some fashion in Florida, depending on the path of Ernesto, for folks living near Lake Okeechobee.  H/T to ccmask on the link to this.  Readers in this area, please stay safe.)

Jonathon Alter, in Newsweek, takes a peek at one of the defining issues of the Katrina mess — poverty in America — by looking at what has not been done in the year since the deluge.  This follows what was a good start at a look that Newsweek did regarding poverty last year after Katrina and Rita.  As Alter says:

…The week after the article appeared, Bush went to Jackson Square in New Orleans and made televised promises not only for Katrina relief but to address some of the underlying struggles of the poor. He proposed "worker recovery accounts" to help evacuees find work by paying for job training, school and child care; an Urban Homesteading Act that would make empty lots and loans available to the poor to start over, and a Gulf Enterprise Zone to spur business investment in poor areas. Small ideas, perhaps, but good ones.

Well, it turned out that the critics were largely right. Not only has the president done much less than he promised on the financing and logistics of Gulf Coast recovery, he has dropped the ball entirely on using the storm and its aftermath as an opportunity to fight poverty. Worker recovery accounts and urban homesteading never got off the ground, and the new enterprise zone is mostly an opportunity for Southern companies owned by GOP campaign contributors to make some money in New Orleans. The mood in Washington continues to be one of not-so-benign neglect of the problems of the poor.

"This is the greatest lost opportunity I’ve ever seen in public life," Sen. John Kerry told me last week. "The Jackson Square speech ought to stand as one of the all-time monuments to hollow rhetoric and broken promises." Kerry depicted the response during the last year as a slow-motion Superdome II, where the federal government once more walked right past people in distress.

If the president was MIA, Congress hasn’t been much better. Consider the estate tax and the minimum wage. The House in June passed a steep reduction of the estate tax (so as to apply only to couples leaving more than $10 million to their heirs) that would cost the Treasury three quarters of a trillion dollars over the next decade. Last time I checked, that was real money. Senate Republicans tried to push it through by linking the bill to an increase in the minimum wage, which has not been raised in nine years. The idea was to get credit for giving crumbs to the working poor—but only if the superrich receive hundreds of billions of dollars. Fortunately, the bill failed. Unfortunately, other tax cuts for the wealthy keep moving through the system, ballooning the deficit and drying up money for everything else. Meanwhile, the GOP wants to make welfare reform (now 10 years old) more punitive, which will increase suffering….

But that was no thanks to the president. After all the heat he took last year, how could Bush have blown the aftermath of Katrina? It’s not as if he lacks confidence in the power of his office. He believes he can fix Iraq and transform the Middle East. He aspires to spread democracy to the far corners of the globe. But the fate of an American city and millions of his impoverished countrymen are apparently beyond his control, or perhaps just his interest.

And so it goes. On and on and on, so long as the GOP-controlled Congress keeps its hands on the purse strings and the priorities for all of us.

The NYTimes also has some great video footage of various issues around the Gulf Coast — mainly, New Orleans.  (I’m still searching for some comperable coverage of other areas in the Gulf Coast region.  Anyone know of some good clips or reporting — please leave a link in the comments.)  NPR has also been doing continuing coverage of the region since last year’s storm that is well worth a listen.

But it was this story in the NYTimes that broke my heart this morning:

More than a week after Hurricane Katrina nearly leveled this city, workers newly assigned to collect the dead stopped on a downtown street. There before them, on its back, lay another corpse, all but baked into a pose of submission by several hot suns.

The workers placed the corpse in a zippered black bag somewhat larger than the kind used to protect rented tuxedoes. They slid their collection into the back of their vehicle, closed the door, and drove off into the ebbing chaos.

So began one dead man’s journey toward eternal rest, a journey that continues to this day.

New Orleans may be a city accustomed to celebrating death, with jazz bands trailing funeral processions and Louis Armstrong forever singing: When I die, I want you to dress me in straight lace shoes/ I want a boxback coat and a Stetson hat/ Put a twenty-dollar gold piece on my watch chain/ So the boys’ll know that I died standing pat.

But Hurricane Katrina denied most of the 1,464 victims in Louisiana such final flourishes of dignity; no watch chains for them, no stylish hats. The hurricane scattered bodies over hundreds of square miles, where water, heat and time distorted what many of the dead looked like in life. It was a forensic hell.

I kept thinking how hard this would be, as I read this, if this were a member of my family. And then it hit me…these people are our family. Our American family. And we need to do more, much more, to get our house in order.

UPDATEIn The Times has a great article on racial tension issues in the rebuilding process that is also well worth a read.  Just spotted it and thought folks might like a look.

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com