Sunday, January 29, 2006

A Case of Katrina Fatigue?

As I mentioned yesterday (scroll down to "While the World Watches"), Americans have a notoriously short attention span. Sometimes this is a good thing: how long can one huff, puff, and harumph over a missing white woman in Aruba, as tragic as that case may be to her family? Sometimes, however, it is a terrible thing, and the case of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina points out just how terrible it can be.

Visitors to New Orleans who venture out of the 'sliver' of the unflooded areas (the Garden District and the French Quarter) confirm what residents have been saying: little if anything has been done since the flood waters have receded. Debris has not been cleared away, appliances still line the impassable streets, basic infrastructure still doesn't exist in a way that makes habitation possible or safe. Five months later, and New Orleans is still devastated, contrary to the Emperor in Chief's claims during his recent visit to, yup, the Garden District. The reason for this shameful state? Washington DC has moved on to "more pressing issues."

An editorial in the Washington Post suggests that, once again, the White House does not have its act together.

IN FRONT OF the cameras last September, President Bush promised to rebuild New Orleans. In private, White House officials told Louisiana's notoriously argumentative politicians -- Democrats and Republicans, state and local -- to get their act together and come up with a reasonable plan, one that would neither cost too much nor result in people rebuilding in flood-prone districts. To many people's immense surprise, they did. In consultation with the Urban Land Institute, New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin (D) proposed a logical reconstruction of his city, with buildings on higher ground to be rebuilt first. Rep. Richard H. Baker (R-La.) proposed legislation to set up a Louisiana Development Corp., with sufficient capital to buy back damaged property, allow owners to move to higher, drier ground as the mayor's plan dictated and let the state redevelop lower, wetter property as appropriate.

Until last week, the administration was assuring Louisianans, behind the scenes, that they were on the right track.

...Now -- suddenly -- the administration has switched directions. Early last week White House officials told Mr. Baker and other Louisiana politicians not only that they refused to support the development corporation he proposed but that they'd asked congressional leaders to cancel planned hearings on the Baker bill. At his news conference last week, Mr. Bush claimed, strangely, that "the plan for Louisiana hasn't come forward yet." Was he misinformed or deliberately misleading?

Donald E. Powell, the administration's point man on the Gulf Coast, has announced that all reconstruction money will instead be funneled to the Gulf through the traditional method of block grants, $11.5 billion of which Congress allocated last month.

...But it can't be a solution for New Orleans. Given the larger number of flood victims and the more extensive damage, Louisiana's $6.3 billion will not go far enough. Nor will money alone solve the problem of the hundreds of acres of flooded neighborhoods or encourage people to rebuild in safer locations.
[Emphasis added]

The Imperial Palace's response (given its five year history) is certainly not surprising. Nevertheless, it is both shocking and shameful. Rebuilding New Orleans would not be an easy task even with the promised federal cooperation and support. Without adequate levees, building homes below sea level so close to the coast and Lake Ponchatraine just isn't sensible. No plan is going to satisfy all the residents of the city. Still, without federal assistance, rebuilding the city is just not possible, and the government seems hell bent to ignore the problem in the vain hopes all those contentious and noisy people just give up.

New Orleans and Louisiana have done all that has been asked of them. Now it's time for Congress to shake off its lethargy and do the work it was hired to do and which it promised to do. Yes, there certainly are other important issues swamping them, but the rest of us have learned how to multitask. It's time for Congress to do so as well.


Blogger Christopher Williams said...

Hi, love your blog. Please visit mine and maybe we can link up.

7:13 PM  

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