Reviewing the review

TV newscasts showed us the extensive damage left in the wake of that series of tornados that ravaged the Southland last week and this is what came to mind when we had occasion to visit the New Orleans area a few days ago. To our surprise, even though Katrina’s visit was thirty months earlier, what we saw was shocking.

Mile after mile of deserted residential areas were still rubble. Nothing but rubble, as though a ten-mile wide tornado had just passed through — bleak evidence of the failed response of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and those other government agencies under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that are supposed to deal with our nation’s catastrophes.

Although blame was initially assigned to lower-level government officials, as well as to local Louisiana and Mississippi officials, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) subsequently published a redeeming report, and assigned principal blame not on those lower-level personnel but on the senior official at the DHS. Until that GAO report was published, the general public was relying on the word from a higher authority (you know who) that “Brownie”, one of the underlings in the DHS, “…was doing a heckuva job”.

In a remarkable assessment of the pitiful conditions in that city, Ron Brinson described the aftermath of the U.S. government’s lack of concern for the citizens of the “Big Easy” in the December 7th , 2005 issue of the Charleston Post and Courier, and in our Vol. VI, Art. 14 commentary we quoted a few of Ron’s insightful observations. It’s time we reviewed those observations, and who knows, maybe someone in authority will sit up and take notice. Ron wrote:

“The city of New Orleans, devastated in every possible way and operating day-to-day on a credit line expiring in March, teeters in a fiscal meltdown …

“More than 100,000 homes and businesses were destroyed and 100 days after Katrina, half of New Orleans is without power. The power company is in bankruptcy and has indicated that if it survives, rates will likely double next year.

“The disaster scattered New Orleans’ population of 470,000 people — estimated to be 70 percent native born. Only 70,000 have returned, stranding the original economy in a void of human resources. For too many New Orleans residents, there is no home at home.

“Only a third of the city’s hotel industry has reopened, a quarter of its restaurants. The city is losing more than $ 1 million a day in hospitality industry revenues, seriously threatening its ability to provide basic services.

“There are few grocery stores, limited hospital services and the dynamic New Orleans neighborhood church community is quiet.

“Predictably, the French Quarter and central business district are rebounding nicely, but nearby, huge sections of the city remain desolate wastelands, the mute summaries of death and destruction.

“Insurance claims are complicated by the quarrelsome distinction between flood and storm damages. In most cases, properties were underinsured. Real estate values are slipping. This disaster’s assaults on family units too often include financial ruin.

“There’s an absence of children. Only one public school had reopened in New Orleans as of last week. The community’s vast parochial school system is making better progress, but the Catholic Archdiocese is $ 40 million in debt.

“The disaster eliminated 38 percent of the jobs in greater New Orleans, but now every form of business struggles to find employees …

“Louisiana leaders correctly sense that the federal government’s post-storm urgency sense has diminished. Several federal financial assistance packages are stalled in Congress; and then there’s that background murmuring in Washington about the rationality of rebuilding New Orleans at such a huge cost, given its inherent topographical risk.”

We added some thoughts of our own to Ron’s criticisms.

“What Ron didn’t include in his commentary,” we wrote, “are the murmurings of those around the country with respect to the government’s unconscionable treatment of the victims of Katrina. These murmurings appear regularly in hundreds of websites and even in the “letters to the editor” sections of our newspapers. Thoughtful Americans are wondering why:
• the administration is ‘staying the course’ in its efforts to promote death and destruction on foreign countries while refusing to prevent death and destruction in Louisiana and Mississippi;
• about 200,000 uniformed Americans are retained in Iraq just when their presence is so badly needed to shore up the Gulf States — our Gulf States;
• paltry funds are being metered out for the welfare of our disenfranchised, our sick and our elderly while shelling out more than $ 250 billion in our aggressive attempt to take over a third-world country like Iraq.

“Is it any wonder that the city of New Orleans … teeters in a fiscal meltdown?”

Here we are, almost three years after Katrina’s assault, and although things are still in a state of disrepair, some officials are not the least bit bashful about feathering their own nests. For instance:
• The executive director at the Port of New Orleans has just requested $ 250 million for an unwarranted expansion program. (Check the port’s growth figures.)
• Rodolfo Sabonge, a.k.a “Senor Sponge”, had the gall, just last Friday, to address New Orleans business leaders in a brazen attempt to direct their attention (and fortunes) toward the needs of his Panama Canal expansion program.

[Expansion programs? With so much rubble underfoot? Louisiana needs a GAO.]