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Monday, January 30, 2006


Mourning New Orleans

Will New Orleans be rebuilt? No. It's time to mourn a way of life, and take and apply some lessons. Check out the archives here for a few highlights of Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans. Lost, a city of the poor, no car required. You could walk, make a little money at the low paying jobs and get by. Houses, paid for, passed from generation to generation. This may not seem like much, but it is enormous. In America, our social fabric is thinner than we would like to believe. The government will not provide, and the damage is too huge for private charities. The way of life is gone. A population is in exile, and the promised land gone.


New Orleans Betrayed

New Orleans Betrayed

Sunday, January 29, 2006; B06

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.

After much agonizing, state politicians from both parties agreed to back these ideas. Not everyone in New Orleans liked them, and the mayor himself sometimes seemed reluctant to defend them, but federal government support would have helped convince people there was no other option. 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. Already, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) has said he intends to use his $5.3 billion of grant money to compensate the 35,000 Mississippi homeowners who, technically located outside the flood plain, were not required to have flood insurance but got flooded anyway. Although this program was criticized last month by some White House officials on the grounds that it creates a "moral hazard" -- encouraging people who live near coasts not to buy insurance and discouraging them from rebuilding in safer places -- this is the model that Mr. Powell, in another about-face, now says he supports for Louisiana, too.

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.

Louisiana politicians are now starting from scratch. Some are working on an alternative to the Baker bill, such as a mechanism to borrow money to set up a smaller development entity. This time, the administration should work closely with them and communicate its intentions clearly. Mr. Powell's job is supposed to be one of "coordination," not "transmitter of mixed messages." Without some mechanism to buy back land, the reconstruction of New Orleans will be slower and less rational -- if there is any reconstruction at all.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company


New Orleans: The Catastrophe Is Not Over

The Catastrophe Is Not Over

By Jennifer Moses
Saturday, January 28, 2006; A21

BATON ROUGE, La. -- While the rest of the country wakes up in the morning to read about the latest round of Washington scandals, the misery in Louisiana continues unabated. Except for a few older, historical neighborhoods on "high ground," New Orleans is uninhabitable, and Cameron Parish, in the southwest corner of the state, basically no longer exists, having been wiped out by Hurricane Rita.

Meanwhile, though Congress passed a $29 billion aid package for the Gulf Coast region, it's being split between Mississippi and Louisiana, perhaps because, even though Mississippi has fewer than one-fifth the number of affected households Louisiana does, its governor, Haley Barbour, an ex-Republican National Committee chairman, is a pal of the president. But with all the problems Louisiana is facing -- including a new round of budget-slashing -- no one seems to be talking about the looming human crisis: Where will the tens of thousands of evacuees living in hotels go when the Federal Emergency Management Agency stops paying the bills in February?

Here in Baton Rouge, housing experts fear a new storm surge -- this one of people with no jobs, no insurance, no one to take them in and, as of next month, no roof over their heads. In the meantime, the local low-income housing market has never been tighter, as both FEMA and HUD have bid up housing and rental prices, leaving longtime working-class residents of Baton Rouge scrambling to find even minimally decent housing. As soon as their leases expire, rents for apartment dwellers, most of whom are on year-to-year leases, are being jacked up. The St. Vincent De Paul Society (among other institutions that serve the poor) is providing more than 25 percent more meals than it was before the storms. And homeless shelters have gone begging for permission to add beds. As for the thousands of families desperate to move out of government-sponsored hotels: tough luck. Because even if you've managed to find yourself a job, the chances of finding affordable housing are next to nil.

Nationally, the number of families dwelling in FEMA-sponsored hotel rooms is just over 25,000, with more than half of those in Louisiana and Texas. FEMA is paying for some 8,600 hotel rooms in Louisiana, most of which are concentrated in the southern swath of the state and are occupied by more than one person. The government, in its demonstration of Oprah-era sensitivity training, is urging these families to relocate -- to go somewhere far, far away, Minnesota, say, which has generous welfare benefits, or Oklahoma, which has lots of open space -- but for some reason, most of the families living in hotels just want to go home.

Of course, it could be worse. FEMA might have stuck to its earlier cutoff date of Jan. 7, as many hoteliers in New Orleans did, booking rooms occupied by homeless evacuees for the Mardi Gras tourist season, resulting in storm victims being evicted just in time for winter to set in. (A federal judge, hoping to prevent this trend, recently ruled that evacuees in New Orleans will be allowed to stay in government-funded hotels until March 1, the day after Mardi Gras.) And let's give FEMA credit where credit is due: The agency has promised -- in writing, no less -- that it's going to help rehabilitate sections of neglected working-class neighborhoods in Baton Rouge to accommodate the newly and about-to-be homeless. The only problem is, so far at least, the contract is worth just about as much as the paper it's written on. On the other hand, FEMA continues to award storm-cleaning contracts to some out-of-state companies that sprang up just a few days after Hurricane Katrina lunged ashore. So at least someone's being helped.

According to Randy Nichols, executive director of Baton Rouge's Alliance for the Homeless, the real hitch is that FEMA is still treating the disaster in Louisiana as a historic, one-time, one-size-fits-all catastrophe, rather than as a long-term problem that requires a long-term fix. One long-term fix -- not just for residential planning but for flood control in general -- is restoring Louisiana's wetlands, which in the olden days acted as a natural buffer to storm surges, and without which none of South Louisiana would have been inhabited in the first place. But no one's talking much about the wetlands, perhaps because the subject is too, well, environmental. (And we know how the Bush administration regards the environment.)

In the meantime, however, the problem of homelessness isn't just local. All the president of the United States has to do to glimpse the horrors of homelessness up close and personal is walk over to St. John's Church on Lafayette Square, where every night a dozen or more homeless men and women congregate for a good night's sleep. Surely there's room in there for a few thousand more.

Jennifer Moses is a writer.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

Sunday, January 22, 2006


Iraq & New Orleans need only electricity. The White House needs to see the light.

Imagine only having heat 2 to 6 hours a day. Imagine your office only has electric power 2 to 6 hours a day. Imagine what food you could safely keep in a refrigerator that could only run 2 to 6 hours a day. (Imagine blogging only 6 hours a day.) Imagine what New Orleans and Iraq have in common. Try little or no electricity in wide areas. Imagine the White House turning off just the TV lighting until there is electricity in either New Orleans or Iraq.

January 23, 2006

Iraq's Power Vacuum

In the State of the Union address, President Bush will surely assert, to choreographed applause, that he has a strategy for victory in Iraq. I don't believe him. In fact, I believe that three years into the conflict his administration refuses to admit defeat but has given up even trying to win.

To explain myself, let me tell you some stories about electricity.

Power shortages are a crucial issue for ordinary Iraqis, and for the credibility of their government. As Muhsin Shlash, Iraq's electricity minister, said last week, "When you lose electricity the country is destroyed, nothing works, all industry is down and terrorist activity is increased."

Mr. Shlash has reason to be strident. In today's Iraq, blackouts are the rule rather than the exception. According to Agence France-Presse, Baghdad and "much of the central regions" - in other words, the areas where the insurgency is most active and dangerous - currently get only between two and six hours of power a day.

Lack of electricity isn't just an inconvenience. It prevents businesses from operating, destroys jobs and generates a sense of demoralization and rage that feeds the insurgency.

So why is power scarcer than ever, almost three years after Saddam's fall? Sabotage by insurgents is one factor. But as an analysis of Iraq's electricity shortage in The Los Angeles Times last month showed, the blackouts are also the result of some incredible missteps by U.S. officials.

Most notably, during the period when Iraq was run by U.S. officials, they decided to base their electricity plan on natural gas: in order to boost electrical output, American companies were hired to install gas-fired generators in power plants across Iraq. But, as The Los Angeles Times explains, "pipelines needed to transport the gas" - that is, to supply gas to the new generators - "weren't built because Iraq's Oil Ministry, with U.S. encouragement, concentrated instead on boosting oil production." Whoops.

Meanwhile, in the early days of the occupation U.S. officials chose not to raise the prices of electricity and fuel, which had been kept artificially cheap under Saddam, for fear of creating unrest. But as a first step toward their dream of turning Iraq into a free-market utopia, they removed tariffs and other restrictions on the purchase of imported consumer goods.

The result was that wealthy and middle-class Iraqis rushed to buy imported refrigerators, heaters and other power-hungry products, and the demand for electricity surged - with no capacity available to meet that surge in demand. This caused even more blackouts.

In short, U.S. officials thoroughly botched their handling of Iraq's electricity sector. They did much the same in the oil sector. But the Bush administration is determined to achieve victory in Iraq, so it must have a plan to rectify its errors, right?

Um, no. Although there has been no formal declaration, all indications are that the Bush administration, which once made grand promises about a program to rebuild Iraq comparable to the Marshall Plan, doesn't plan to ask for any more money for Iraqi reconstruction.

Another Los Angeles Times report on Iraq reconstruction contains some jaw-dropping quotes from U.S. officials, who now seem to be lecturing the Iraqis on self-reliance. "The world is a competitive place," declared the economics counselor at the U.S. embassy. "No pain, no gain," said another official. "We were never intending to rebuild Iraq," said a third. We came, we saw, we conquered, we messed up your infrastructure, we're outta here.

Mr. Shlash certainly sounds as if he's given up expecting more American help. "The American donation is almost finished," he said, "and it was not that effective." Yet he also emphasized the obvious: partly because of the similar failure of reconstruction in the oil sector, Iraq's government doesn't have the funds to do much power plant construction. In fact, it will be hard pressed to maintain the capacity it has, and protect that capacity from insurgent attacks.

And if reconstruction stalls, as seems inevitable, it's hard to see how anything else in Iraq can go right.

So what does it mean that the Bush administration is apparently walking away from responsibility for Iraq's reconstruction? It means that the administration doesn't have a plan; it's entirely focused on short-term political gain. Mr. Bush is just getting by from sound bite to sound bite, while Iraq and America sink ever deeper into the quagmire.

copyright 2006 NY Times

Thursday, January 12, 2006


one of these is a clown...

former party guy, pres. bush, visiting New Orleans, january 12, 2006

In his visit today, Mr. Bush met business and community leaders in the city's Lower Garden District, which was not flooded.

He said of New Orleans: "It's a great place to find some of the greatest food in the world and it's a heck of a lot of fun." -- NY Times

Saturday, January 07, 2006


Davening buddies: Robertson and Ahmadinejad

Washington Post
Saturday, January 7, 2006; A16

CHRISTIAN television evangelist Pat Robertson and the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have a well-established affinity for the outrageous. This time their mutual embrace of indecency places them in a category all to themselves. As Ariel Sharon lies hospitalized and critically incapacitated by a massive stroke, Mr. Robertson, one of America's best-known religious extremists, and his Iranian counterpart -- no slouch when it comes to religious demagoguery -- suggested that Israel's prime minister had it coming. Speaking on his TV show, "The 700 Club," on the Christian Broadcasting Network, Mr. Robertson said the Bible "makes it very clear that God has enmity against those who 'divide my land.' " Mr. Sharon, Mr. Robertson asserted, "was dividing God's land, and I would say woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course." As Mr. Robertson was offering up his thoughts about a man fighting for his life, Iran's president was expressing unrestrained hope that Mr. Sharon would simply die.

Pat Robertson and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are probably beyond the point where they can be reached by embarrassment or shame. But they are not beyond the kind of strong condemnation that they have richly earned. We need not recite the records of contemptible remarks made by both men in the past. There is little reason to believe that either will cease his disgraceful behavior. Mr. Ahmadinejad, the president of a country with a lamentable human rights record and a nuclear program, is dangerous, where Mr. Robertson is only pathetic. But they share a self-righteousness that blinds them to the distance that they have placed between themselves and the majority of people who find their remarks repulsive. It's sufficient to know, we suppose, that at a time when messages of hope are flowing from around the world to the bedside of Ariel Sharon, Pat Robertson and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad still have each other.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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