New Orleans: What a Difference a Year Didn’t Make

Jeff Franks writes for Yahoo News,

In New Orleans, 2007 begins much the same way 2006 did, with large swaths of the city still wrecked and abandoned after Hurricane Katrina, and local officials promising that better days lie just ahead.

All that’s missing is President Bush to drop in for a photo op.

Sixteen months after Katrina flooded 80 percent of the city and killed more than 1,300 people, less than half of the pre-storm population of nearly half a million has returned.

About 80,000 homes in Orleans Parish were damaged, and most remain that way, creating a panorama of blight in the hardest-hit areas, which were largely poor and working-class neighborhoods.

Many businesses remain closed or struggle to survive. The landmark French Quarter restaurant Antoine’s, run by the same family since 1840, said last week its business was down 60 percent from pre-Katrina and its future in doubt.

Franks goes on to discuss the “Road Home” project, which is a state-administered program to distribute $7.5 billion in federal money to people whose homes were damaged or destroyed by Katrina. As of this week the program had distributed money to only 97 out of 90,000 homeowners who have applied. Louisiana officials blame Congress, which took its sweet time — ten months — to allocate the money. But there are problems at the state level as well, as this blogger explains. A contractor chosen to distribute the money seems to, um, not be performing up to expectations. The Louisiana House and Senate have passed two resolutions to terminate the contract. Yet the contract remains in effect.

Mayor Ray Nagin also continues to turn in an underwhelming performance. Franks says he “finally appointed a czar to oversee the city’s recovery effort” last month.

Bob Herbert’s New York Times column today looks at the poor of New Orleans.

Sixteen months have passed since the apocalyptic flood that followed Hurricane Katrina. More than 13,000 residents who were displaced by the storm are still living in trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Another 100,000 to 200,000 evacuees — most of whom want to return home — are scattered throughout the United States.

The undeniable neglect of this population fuels the suspicion among the poor and the black, who constitute a majority of the evacuees, that the city is being handed over to the well-to-do and the white.

If you talk to public officials, you will hear about billions of dollars in aid being funneled through this program or that. The maze of bureaucratic initiatives is dizzying. But when you talk to the people most in need of help — the poor, the elderly, the disabled, the children — you will find in most cases that the help is not reaching them. There is no massive effort, no master plan, to bring back the people who were driven from the city and left destitute by Katrina.

Only the federal government could finance such an effort. Neither the city of New Orleans nor the state of Louisiana has anywhere near the kind of money that would be required. “You’ve got a lot of people who don’t have a place to stay,” Gov. Kathleen Blanco told me in an interview on Friday, “and they’re spread all over creation.”…

… The simple fact is that no one at any level of government, city, state or federal, has shown the leadership that was needed in response to this astounding tragedy.

Herbert writes that the exiled poor and black of New Orleans are increasingly convinced the federal government wants to prevent them from returning to New Orleans. This reminded me of Riverbend’s recent post, in which she said Iraqis are certain the many U.S. blunders in Iraq were actually part of a plan to destroy Iraq. Maybe, but I still think you really cannot overestimate the colossal incompetence and corruption of the Bush Regime.

Yet there are poor people in New Orleans. They aren’t necessarily the same poor who lived there before Katrina, but they’re there. Many are illegal immigrants who were lured to New Orleans, often by federal contractors, to do the hard cleanup work for slave wages so the contractors can pocket more of our tax dollars. And now the city’s fragile health care infrastructure is straining to care for a boom of Latino babies being born to mothers who have no health insurance.

Thus, the city’s former deep poverty is being replaced by deeper poverty.

Instead of using federal money for projects that would have not only rebuilt the city but would also have provided jobs with reasonable pay to the devastated residents — money that by now would be flowing generously through New Orleans retailers and other businesses — tax money is disappearing into the pockets of contractors and subcontractors. And the underground labor pool the contractors are exploiting may be tomorrow’s wretchedly poor residents, clinging to subsistence at the edge of a rich nation.

11 thoughts on “New Orleans: What a Difference a Year Didn’t Make

  1. Someone should make a movie comparing the storms, one intentional, one not, that hit Baghdad and New Orleans, and the government’s response. Part of it could be purely visual, a masterpiece of cross editing, no words needed, for example, with Bush doing photo ops in Jackson Square juxtaposed with similar fly-ins into the Green Zone. This is what happens when you let Republican extremists run the government.

    Working title, A Tale of Two Cities.

  2. Moonbat is on target.
    It is not just corruption and incompetence. Those attributes come from a lack of caring, a complete lack of concern for our country and for theirs. I was reading comments about welfare reform- the message from the corporate elite to women is get married( in other words to hell with equal pay). Social security reform carries exactly the same message- get out of the way so we can make money. Who cares if millions have to take in their elderly relatives. The object of the elite is that this( the 6% employee and 6% employer) is just another market to exploit and loot. You might call it the grifting of the planet. Like some sort of ant hill: let chinese workers live in barracks and work 16 hr a day to make goods to mollify the americans until they go under in debt while wrecking Iraq to get the cheap oil to keep it all in play.The powers that be don’t give crap. I blame the pioneers, the rich donors that made all this possible. Look at Bush: does he care that an election just repudiated his way of doing business? No he is listening to AEI to plan his way ahead and think up a new three word slogan to wash it down with. NOLA is just another casualty. One of condi’s investments. Who cares if the marshlands disappear as long as big oil can drill off Alabama, La, Tx? As long as their buddies get the contracts , they don’t care if an entire city is lost.

  3. The last three paragraphs are similar to what I’ve been saying since a few weeks after the event. The reason why very few other people have been saying the same thing is that the GOP, the Dems, and the media are responsible. While Bush was encouraging contractors to hire illegal aliens, HarryReid was throwing his support behind the illegal aliens and not AmericanHurricane victims. When the local Dems complained about illegal aliens being brought in, the national Dems shut them up.

  4. $2 Billion a week and nothing to show for it. No infrastructure in New Orleans and no infrastructure in Iraq. Shame on him for Iraq but SHAME on him for New Orleans. He will spend the next two years trying to carve out legacy? He will finally be successful at something – he will have a legacy – it just won’t be the one that he wants.

  5. Zeus- The legacy of Bush will depend on the following deal in the works.

    Baker-Hamilton represent a lot of very powerful people. They are offering Bush the following deal:

    Accept the Iraq Study Group recommendations in whole and we’ll stick with you (help get you out of the mess you got into).

    Reject our offer and we walk. This will allow the masses to indict you for crimes against peace.

    We, the masses, need to go beyond blog comments and rattle the cage. This List of Media Contacts might help.

  6. GDA — the “Baker Deal” was busted as soon as the report was released. However, I seriously doubt the ISG members will make any moves except to go home and amend their memoirs. They aren’t going to lead any effort to indict Bush; nor is Bush’s rejection of the group’s recommendations — clearly, a done deal — going to move anyone toward indictment who wasn’t there already.

  7. My faith in our current democracy leaves me wanting when it comes to the possibilities of indictments for Bush and Cheney. Although my heart was lifted as I listened to Cheney’s eulogy of Gerald Ford. His message was a mixture of fluff, with the prime ingredient of a nation being unable to heal without pardons. I sensed that Cheney is aware that accountability for Iraq hangs over the head of the Bush administration like the sword of Damocles, and knowing what a crafty bastard Cheney is..his words of praise for Jerry were also laying a groundwork for Bush and Cheney to avoid accountability through the pardoning process. It’s a stretch to believe that our nation would have disintegrated had it not been for Ford pardoning Nixon.

    As for New Orleans…the failure to rebuild is in the leadership, straight up. Bush just doesn’t give a shit, he’s decided to rebuild, and that’s the extent of his participation in the process. Let there be light ?

  8. When a tsunami hit the Pacific rim, Bush appointed former president Bush & former president Clinton to be the US representatives spearheading the US aid effort. Good call. In the aftermant of Katrina it was suggested that a reconstruction czar with appropriate clout be appointed. We got Karl Rove. Does any more need to be said?

  9. The folks running our government reflect the morals and values of the society they represent. People, in general are ill-informed and won’t take the risk to do the right thing. They will concern themselves only with their immediate needs and their family’s.

    I shouldn’t put all the blame on our society’s health. Part of the problem can be traced back to a political system that is designed to give corporations maximum influence over our politicians.

    It’s not a surprise to me that New Orleans has been handled so badly. I’m not even sure great leadership exists in the Democratic Party to help fix this man-made disaster.

  10. I just randomly started listening to this song on my MP3 player at work:

    Ben Harper – Oppression Lyrics

    you pray on us when we sleep
    you chase after the tired the poor the weak
    you know you mean only harm
    you reach out
    with your long arm

    but oppression
    I won’t
    let you near me
    you shall learn to fear

    you seek population control
    to divide and to conquer is your goal
    I swear that hatred is your home
    you just won’t leave bad enough alone

    but oppression
    I won’t let you near me
    you shall learn to fear me

    I don’t see how you sleep
    for your bleeding conscience I weep
    you may have the dollar on your side
    from the gospel truth you cannot hide
    I won’t let you near me
    you shall learn to fear me
    I won’t let you near me
    you shall
    fear me

  11. I live in Buras, in Plaquemines Parish Louisiana where Katrina first came ashore pushing a 28ft Tsunami-type storm surge destroying all towns and communities around us…and sadly we have really turned into the “forgotten story”. While New Orleans gets the publicity, thus support, many other areas are facing horrible issues due to lack of publicity and interest.
    We are here, we are struggling, and we should not be forgotten.

    Our plight continues:

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