Today's American Progress Report has a lengthy bit about New Orleans, which reminded me of something I wrote to a friend late last year:
"I really am feeling a sense of mourning for the city, which is strange, seeing as how I was only there once for four days... I think it's the kind of place that either grabs you by the neck or it doesn't - you either love it immediately or don't like it much at all. I don't think there's a middle ground with New Orleans. Anyway, in my experience it not only grabbed me by the neck, it left scratches."
I desperately want to go back.
Here's the American Progress Report stuff from today:
Hurricane Katrina killed 1,307 people and caused more than $150 billion in damages to the Gulf Coast region. The storm was "one of the largest natural disasters in our nation's history and because of its size and strength, will have long standing effects for years to come." Yet President Bush devoted scant time to the issue in his State of the Union address, never uttering the word "Katrina." (He did find time to mention "human-animal hybrids.") "Did I miss something?" one Louisiana resident asked during the speech. Another wondered, "Didn't [Katrina] deserve more than 30 seconds of air time from our nation's president?" They weren't the only ones upset by the lack of attention. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) said, "I was very disappointed at how small a part those national challenges - and I think they are national challenges - were given in the speech." The administration has yet to learn the lessons of Katrina; the federal government remains ill-prepared to protect its own citizens against disasters. Ignoring the problem won't make it go away.
GAO REPORT BLAMES LACK OF LEADERSHIP: The Government Accountability Office released a report yesterday saying "administration officials did not establish a clear chain of command for the domestic emergency" and failed to quickly "designate the storm as a catastrophic event." While news reports interpreted the report as placing "principal blame" on Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff, GAO Comptroller General David M. Walker said the decision to designate a point-person is "up to the president of the United States." "The director...of the National Hurricane Center said this was the big one," Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA) said, but at the time, "Bush is in Texas, Card is in Maine, the vice president is fly-fishing. I mean, who's in charge here?" The White House was dismissive of the report, labeling it "premature and unprofessional."
WHITE HOUSE STILL UNPREPARED: Unfortunately, no one knows when the next disaster will strike. The GAO found "the nation does not yet have the types of detailed plans needed" to deal with future catastrophic events. "Hurricane Katrina demonstrated the benefits of applying lessons learned from training exercises and experiences with actual hurricanes as well as the dangers of ignoring them." "We are left with a picture of a White House that was plagued by the fog of war," one House committee investigator said this weekend. "The committee is likely to find a disturbing inability by the White House to de-conflict and analyze information -- and that had consequences." To cut through the fog, the White House needs to know exactly where things went wrong. But their continued stonewalling of Congressional investigations may keep the problems unresolved.
RECONSTRUCTION BOGGED DOWN: "With no clear recovery plan in sight five months after Hurricane Katrina, many victims are simply hanging on, waiting anxiously for signs that their neighborhoods are either reviving or turning into permanent ghost towns," Reuters reports. According to the GAO, "Housing beyond short-term shelters also became -- and remains -- a major problem." FEMA Director David Paulison "took a stern tone" with Katrina victims, telling them they would soon need to leave hotels for trailers or other temporary housing. Only 3,129 of the 20,904 trailers requested are currently being used in New Orleans. "Trailers are not the only answer," Paulison rightly pointed out. "We need an alternative." Yet a permanent solution to the rebuilding problem remains elusive. The White House has rejected Rep. Richard Baker's (R-LA) bill -- embraced by the entire Louisiana delegation -- to use "federal financing to pay owners of flood-damaged property at least 60 percent of the equity in their homes and also would have paid off their mortgages." During last week's press conference, Bush seemed oblivious that the Baker plan existed, claiming "the plan for Louisiana hasn't come forward yet."