Running in Place in NOLA

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Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

President Bush spoke at a charter school in New Orleans this morning, and assured the residents that the federal government understands their needs and it's "still engaged." History professor Douglas Brinkley might doubt those words... he thinks the Bush administration has a strategy of inaction for New Orleans, that the hope is residents of the below-sea-level areas will abandon their homes, like those in Galveston did after the disastrous 1900 hurricane. He paints a doom-filled picture of NOLA's future, but the most interesting bit, I think, is the way he tries to re-frame how we think about Katrina:

Unfortunately, one of the biggest misperceptions the American public harbors is that Katrina was a week-long catastrophe. In truth, it's better to view it as an era. Remember, the Dust Bowl of the 1930s lasted eight or nine years. We're still in the middle of the Katrina saga.

Have you been to New Orleans since Katrina? Did you help rebuild... and did you just feel like you were spinning your wheels?

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I can't believe that W had the audacity (although I should be able to believe it by now) to say the government hears the needs, cares about the future of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, and is involved actively in its recovery. How absolutely disingenuous; what a bald-faced lie; what evidence of how little this administration cares! Many people want to go back, but housing makes that difficult; problems with insurance companies makes that disheartening, at the least; looking at razed areas which used to have people and cars and businesses all around them. I agree with Douglas Brinkley's column; I think about an e-mail message I received from one of my friends in Slidell this morning; I think about the "Katrina House Party" I'm hosting tonight to raise awareness about the damage to the wetlands and the work that the Gulf Restoration Network is doing; I listen to my New Orleans music and think about the musicians, the restaurant workers, the communities within the city like the Treme, the Lower Ninth Ward...the history, the culture, the food, the music, the diversity, the spirituality, and I cry...in disbelief, in sadness, in absolute ANGER. I am grateful for church groups and other volunteers who have done hard work...for SPCA, Best Friends, etc. who have done their best to save the animals. Why do so many people disbelieve, refuse to care, say, "why don't they just move away and stay away?" I don't know, but I do know we cannot give up. I can't from a 700-miles-away distance; this nation can't.

Sent by Pam Hildebran | 3:51 PM | 8-29-2007

THE reason that New Orleans hasn't been rebuilt completely is because that the areas that haven't been rebuilt don't have rich white people in them. If that had been a rich white neighborhood it would be up and running by now. George W doesn't care about anyone but rich, white, heterosexual christians. I'm surprised no one mentioned that

Sent by jim ku | 4:00 PM | 8-29-2007

Neal Conan asked Professor Brinkley and a caller if New Orleans should be rebuilt 'regardless of cost.' I would add my voice as an Oregonian to Professor Brinkley's. As the good Professor pointed out several times, no one would ever say 'Wow. All that money we spent saving Amsterdam was just a waste. They should have shut the city down, moved to higher ground, and given everyone tax cuts...'

But regardless of one's position, President Bush's dishonesty and deception about rebuilding New Orleans is a disgrace and a national embarassment.

Sent by Bill Abendroth | 4:02 PM | 8-29-2007

I disagree! People are acting like no action and no money has been given to New Orleans by the government or the rest of the country. Tons and tons of money has been sent. It is not President Bushs' fault if fraud and crime in New Orleans went throughout the local government. I'm from Kansas and we have a town destroyed every several years. We take care of each other and very little money (in comparision to other parts of the US) is given to us by the government.
Second of all, the government has no money. It is our money! This is just an extension of this current mindset where no one takes responsibility for themselves, their neighbors or their community. Let this big unseen figure of the federal government take care of everyone.

Sent by June Moore | 4:03 PM | 8-29-2007

I live in Valdez, Alaska, a town that was almost completely destroyed in the 1964 earthquake and tsunami. I can't imagine the U.S. tax payers paying to rebuild the city on the same unstable soil that the old town was on. Instead, the town was moved a few miles away to a safer location. In other words, just because some people mis-located a city in the past doesn't mean we should repeat thier mistakes. It seems the safety and well-being of current residents should take precidence over things like historical location or nostalgia.
By the way, the City of Valdez donated a 60-ton boat lift to a Plaquemines parish in Louisiana to help them get back on thier feet.

Sent by Gary E Pauly | 4:08 PM | 8-29-2007

I wish that someone with the power to do so could go and make a documentary on how bad public and govermental agencies are doing (or in many cases)not doing their job. The way the mentally ill are treated (or again, not treated) is a NATIONAL disgrace.There is no excuse for this type of barnarity.Where is Michael Moore when we need him?

Sent by Jan Bowman | 9:46 PM | 8-29-2007

We did go down to New Orleans in April of 2006 to gut the houses of some residents who dared to return. We met these families - mostly eldery -- through the then fledgling Common Ground collective: http://www.commongroundrelief.org. I believe that without the initiative of individuals - students, religious congregations, N.O. residents and non-residents - we would have seen very little in the way of rebuilding there. It's not as if people hadn't tried to secure trailers, to get their homes fairly gutted, to determine whether their properties should be saved or demolished with the aid of the government. They were simply ignored. I don't think there was anyone that we talked to there who still held ANY faith in FEMA, or in the President for that matter.
Those who think New Orleans should be rebuilt elsewhere becuase of its precarious location and shoudn't remain where it is simply because of "nostalgia", severely overlook the multi-layered and deeply-rooted connections that residents have with each other, with an indescribably rich cultural heritage, and with the city itself. It's the "power of place", and New Orleans is an amazingly potent example of this.
I think Bush obtusely displays the stark transparency of his statements claiming that he's still paying attention and that "he understands". Honestly, after all of this time, would anyone REALLY believe that? Everyday people (whom Bush would ordinarily ignore) stepped in when the federal government stalled on such a huge crisis. They still are stepping in, and that is where I hold my hope.

Sent by Mary Newson | 10:53 PM | 8-29-2007

I have several comments about david brinkley's op-ed piece. He came to New Orleans to teach at my alma mater the year I graduated with a B.A.. One thing I am seeing is that he did not fully learn the city's history. Especially the last 50 years.

The university collegues at he taught at spoke of the weakness of the levees. When I attended graduate school at the same university his collegues in other departments also spoke of the lack of monies to repair sections that were falling apart.

Some of my classmates asked the was inadequate funding was due to the white flight that occurred in the 60's and 70's.

In that context, and in the context where black males get more respect in Mississippi than in New Orleans maybe the chocolate city comment was need to reassure the remaining blacks who had not abandoned the city when the whites left for the 'burbs.

The people who asked about the chocolate city comment did not witness white folk leave the neighborhood when they moved in or not admitted in the church in their neighborhood because what they look like.

RACE is the 10 ton ape in the room that the USA does not what to reconize.

Now that thats out the way, let's talk of the aid that other counties gave that was returned or not used.

Why?

The president is to blame as brinkley pointed out, but he should remember that the call to arms was missed in New York as well.

Human capital is not valued in south in general and LA. in particular.

I could go on about the differnce between the recovery in LA and MS but that another story for another day.

Sent by K Jackson | 11:59 PM | 8-29-2007

The moral is: Unless you're rich, or part of the administration's agenda, you don't matter.

We spend trillions on an unwinable war in Iraq, but won't help the Katrina survivors or the 9/11 firefighters/policemen with health problems.

America, where did all go wrong?

Sent by Chad | 7:34 AM | 8-30-2007