Saturday, May 20, 2006

Jordan's Log--6/19/06

5 Reasons Tomorrow’s Election Doesn’t Matter
By Jordan Flaherty
Friday, May 19, 2006

Local and national media have proclaimed that tomorrow New Orleanians will participate in an historic election. Scores of media from around the world have descended on our city to cover the results, and two mayoral debates have been broadcast nationally. However, in a city where elections are always a major production, many organizers opinions on the candidates begin with a resigned shrug. “I’m voting for Nagin,” Cedric, a recently returned seventh ward resident told me last week, after a long sigh. “I never thought I’d vote for him, but I guess I never thought any of this would happen.”

“I’m voting for Nagin,” Cedric, a recently returned seventh ward resident told me last week, after a long sigh. “I never thought I’d vote for him, but I guess I never thought any of this would happen.” “Maybe Mitch can do something, I don’t know,” a former neighbor says with resignation. Beyond the distrust of the candidates, there’s a feeling that the fate of the city has moved far beyond the influence of any local elected official. “I don’t believe either of them are telling the truth,” said a New Orleans-born health care worker. “And even if they are, I don’t think they can make a difference.”

Countering the media hype, below are five reasons – out of many – that Saturday’s election doesn’t matter.

1) Hurricane FEMA With their recent announcement that they are ending rent subsidies for thousands of New Orleans’ displaced, FEMA has continued their tradition of exacerbating tragedy and loss. For anyone that has had to deal with FEMA, the federal agency has come to represent all that is wrong with our country’s disaster response. No matter who is mayor, its clear that the federal government will not be on our side.

2) Public Housing Under Attack
New Orleans residents did not elect Richard Baker, the Baton Rouge congressman who said, “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did." They didn’t have a say in the selection of Alphonso Jackson, the HUD secretary who announced last September that New Orleans is “not going to be as black as it was for a long time, if ever again." For the thousands of former public housing residents who have been prevented from returning home - even to undamaged apartments - there are no elected officials advocating for them.

3) "Separate But Equal" Schools
New Orleans education system has been falling apart for decades; especially since the integration battles of the sixties, when white families pulled their children – and their tax dollars – out of the schools. Now, of 119 schools, only twenty have re-opened, fifteen of them as charter schools, not accountable to the school board, the mayor, or Black communities. In a recent article describing the seizing of Fortier– a historically Black high school – for a white-run charter school, Vaughn Morton writes, the “wealthy white elite and their middle-class supporters had no place for black people in their vision of a better New Orleans. First they starved the schools to death by refusing to fund them adequately; now they are building a new city on the bones of the old.”

4) No More Free Health Care
For years, Louisiana state politicians have been hoping to eliminate Charity Hospital System - the nation's only statewide healthcare network built to provide free quality care for poor people. Ignoring the objections of former doctors from the hospital - who affirm that the New Orleans Charity Hospital is safe and ready to re-open - state officials refuse to act, leading to a city without enough hospital beds for its current population, and limited health care options for those without health insurance.

5) The Fix Is In
No matter who wins, this election will be decided under the shadow of the disenfranchisement of a huge percentage of New Orleanians. Louisiana Secretary of State Al Ater brags that twenty thousand absentee and in-state satellite votes have been received, as if it’s a huge accomplishment. However, with more than 200,000 New Orleanians displaced, that number is a drop in the bucket. “They act like 36% voter turnout (for the primary) is a victory,” one voting rights activist told me, “but in an election like this, it should be more like 70%.” With this many people kept from voting, he added “the word turnout is a misnomer, we need another nomenclature.” Maybe something like theft.

For many displaced New Orleanians, the results of this election were decided long ago, and there is little surprise at the obstacles placed in the way of their votes. For some, this Saturday represents the fulfillment of the city’s white elite’s chance to finally get a white mayor, for the first time in a generation. “It looks like they’re giving it to Mitch,” Theron, a New Orleans-born spoken word poet, told me during February phone call from Dallas, where he has resettled. “Its all been decided, and there’s no place for us anymore." There is no doubt that our local politicians failed us – as did state and federal politicians, relief agencies, and the corporate media, who promised a national dialogue on race and then quickly went back to reporting on trivia.

New Orleans needs a mayor who will lead a fight nationally for justice for our city, explaining the relevance of New Orleans’ plight to a skeptical nation and linking our struggle to the issues of racism and corporatization people are facing everywhere, but few here foresee either Nagin or Landrieu playing that role. However, there is a grassroots movement that is doing just that, and they will continue to do so, no matter who our mayor is.

Nagin Leads in Early Big Easy Returns

Oh, boy.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

You must read this!

An account of the evacuations of Charity and Tulane Hospital

Friday, May 12, 2006

Katrina wreckage dump causes anger

Dispute touches on politics, money, race and history


New York Times
NEW ORLEANS - Block after block, neighborhood after neighborhood, tens of thousands of hurricane-ravaged houses here rot in the sun, still waiting to be gutted or bulldozed.
Now officials have decided where several million tons of their remains will be dumped: In man-made pits at the swampy eastern edge of town, out by the coffee-roasting plant and the space-shuttle factory and the big wildlife refuge.

But more than a thousand Vietnamese-American families live less than two miles from the edge of the new landfill. And they are far from pleased at having the moldering remains of a national disaster plunked down in their backyard, alongside the canal that flooded their neighborhood when Hurricane Katrina surged through last year.

Environmental groups are also angry, accusing local and federal officials of ignoring or circumventing their own regulations, long after the immediate emergency has ended. The same thing happened after Hurricane Betsy in 1965, they warn, and that dump ended up becoming a Superfund site.

The new landfill, known as Chef Menteur after the highway that borders it, sits across a canal from Bayou Sauvage, the largest urban wildlife refuge in the country: 23,000 acres of marshland, canals and lagoons, home to herons, egrets, alligators and, in the fall, tens of thousands of migratory ducks.

It lacks some of the safeguards that existing dumps do, like special clay liners. The government says they are not needed because demolition debris is cleaner than other rubbish.
Residents and environmentalists think otherwise, because after Hurricane Katrina the state expanded the definition of construction and demolition debris to include most of a house's contents, down to the moldy mattresses and soggy sofas.

"It's essentially the guts of your house, all your personal possessions," said Joel Waltzer, a lawyer representing landfill opponents. "Electronics, personal-care products, cleaning solutions, pesticides, fertilizers, bleach."

State officials say the new landfill is safe and that they are moving quickly to protect public health and the environment. The new site was chosen to speed up the cleanup, they say, because the debris will not have to be hauled far. The state estimates that 7.2 million tons of hurricane debris remains to be cleaned up; the Chef Menteur landfill will take 2.6 million tons.
"You cannot rebuild until you clean up," said Chuck Carr Brown, an assistant secretary of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, which issued a permit for the landfill.
The state has agreed to extra monitoring of groundwater, Brown said. But it has determined "there's nothing toxic, nothing hazardous," he said.

Like so many disputes that have erupted since the hurricane, this one involves highly charged issues: politics, money, history and race.

Unlike most residents of eastern New Orleans, the Vietnamese have returned, rebuilt and drawn up elaborate plans for their 30-year-old community's future. Now they feel unwelcome, said the Rev. Vien thé Nguyen, the pastor of Mary Queen of Vietnam Catholic Church and a leader in the fight against the landfill, which opened on April 26.

"They're threatening our very existence," he said of the government agencies that approved the dump site, which residents fear will tower 80 feet or more above their neighborhood.
"Maybe we're not the right kind of people he wanted to return," Nguyen said.

New Orleans Real Estate Market Booming

New Orleans Real Estate Market Booming - Yahoo! News

The True State of NOLA

As published in The Washington Post

By Howard Kurtz
Sunday, May 7, 2006; Page B01

NEW ORLEANS I walked down the street next to a failed levee here the other day and saw house after house that had been pulverized by Hurricane Katrina. Eight months after the storm, and nothing, not a single cinder block, had been touched. An exterior wall of one home had been ripped away, revealing, amid the rubble, a sneaker, some batteries and a cardboard box for an NFL football. A thriving family once lived here, and in the next house, and in the house after that.

But it's old news, this tableau of destruction. Even if a reporter could track down the families on this block and recount each tale of woe, the camera lens would still be too close; it simply could not capture the magnitude of what happened to New Orleans last summer. And if you pull back the camera too far, you get those aerial shots we've all seen so many times, which provide a sense of the hurricane's scale but not of the human misery that each ruined home represents.

President Bush, who vowed in that floodlit Jackson Square speech last September that "this great city will rise again," was here again during my visit. But this time, aside from an interview with NBC's Brian Williams, the president's trip drew only modest coverage.

I understand why. Bush made no new proposals. He visited with residents and volunteers, and spent a few minutes helping with the construction of new housing. With no drama and no controversy, it was easy for the media to dismiss the trip as a photo op. The next day, the nation's front pages focused instead on rising gasoline prices, economic growth figures, the movie about United Airlines Flight 93 and a Spanish-language version of the national anthem.

We are in a short-attention-span business, always chasing the Next Big Thing, whether it's the Duke rape case or Patrick Kennedy's car crash. And eight months after wind, rain and floodwaters devastated this city, the media -- and perhaps a good chunk of the country -- are suffering from Katrina Fatigue.

Like many Americans, I've followed the Katrina story closely, but then tuned out for days when other news or the daily strains of life intervened. After eight months you assume they must be making some progress. Downtown and the French Quarter basically look fine; the worst damage by now must be limited to a few of the hardest-hit areas, such as the Lower Ninth Ward.

But then you come here and see the devastation up close, and discover that things are far worse than you imagined. And you realize that, despite the millions of words and pictures devoted to the hurricane's aftermath, the normal rules of writing, photography and broadcasting are just not equal to the task.

When Katrina struck, television thrived on the dramatic footage of attempts to rescue thousands overwhelmed by water and wind or suffering under horrid conditions in such places as the Superdome. But the painfully slow reconstruction of a city taking place today doesn't yield great video; the absence of progress is the story. The 250,000 people who have been unable to return -- more than half the city's population -- are not easily available for interviews. And even if they were, I don't imagine producers getting terribly excited over displaced folks talking about having to stay in motels or trailers or with relatives.

Most of those left behind in the storm were poor and black -- "A National Shame," a Newsweek cover story declared last fall -- and it seemed, briefly, that we were on the verge of a national conversation about race and poverty. But it never materialized. And even though middle-class whites may have had the wherewithal to evacuate, many of the houses I saw in ruins clearly belong to them. But who wants to rebuild in a city with such spotty basic services and so many unanswered questions? And how do you cover this diaspora without bumping up against the limits of journalism?

We all have defense mechanisms to shield ourselves against tragedy overload. From the Asian tsunami to the Pakistani earthquake to the latest Midwestern tornadoes, it can be a bit much. Perhaps I believed that New Orleans must be making modest progress because it was comforting to think so, and besides, if it was still a huge, stinking mess, the media would tell us, right? But then I came here and encountered Ruel Douvillier.

I met the Fire Department captain because he was being interviewed by NBC's Williams, who was making his eighth trip here for a story that has become his cause. Douvillier has perhaps the most unenviable job around: He heads the search-and-rescue teams that, with the aid of sniffer dogs, go house to house, looking for victims of the storm who somehow still have not been discovered.

Two weeks ago, Douvillier found two brothers in the same house, casualties forgotten by time. And he believes there are many more. A dog led one colleague to an attic in the Lower Ninth Ward that contained a large, rotting fish, a sign that some of the remains may simply have washed out to the Gulf.

"We can't just shove somebody's grandmother in an incinerator or landfill," the Army veteran told me. "We're not going to let it happen here. You remind yourself that this is somebody's mother, father, brother, sister, and this person is important to someone."

Ride around the area and you find yourself staring in disbelief. Houses dented and bent and smashed like papier-mâche, many marked with the ubiquitous blue FEMA spray paint, destined for demolition. Massive trees, uprooted and lying in front yards. Cars caked with dirt, trunk lids open, many stripped of tires. And the tires -- piles of old tires everywhere -- and waist-high weeds covering the front yards are silent markers of abandonment.

I met people with varying accents who were desperate to share their misery, frustrated by the lack of progress and feeling ignored by the rest of the country. A spunky lady named Carmen Morial said she had lost her home, her clothes, her car. She is 91.

The day after my visit to Lakeview, the close-in neighborhood near the damaged levee, I went to St. Bernard Parish. The car ride there featured mile after mile of strip malls, their stores rendered useless hulks by the hurricane. You can still see the bright logos: Wal-Mart, McDonald's, Office Depot, laundromats and chicken joints, still standing like archaeological relics. The storm destroyed just enough of these buildings to make them uninhabitable, but not so much that you can't see that they were once busy little places of commerce.

And further out in St. Bernard, a jaw-dropping sight: a large white shrimp boat with blue trim, called the Dolphin, that sits smack in the middle of a suburban street, listing to one side. It is said to be three miles from the waterway where once it sailed, when it had sails. I cannot envision the kind of winds that deposited it among the brick split-levels. It was a vivid backdrop for Williams's newscast, but again, one image, one street, one snapshot, merely begins to hint at the larger picture. It is journalism by metaphor, the haunting shot that must stand for the vast, unseen reality.

Across St. Bernard you see houses that are collapsed like accordions. You see holes in the roofs, where perhaps the residents escaped by helicopter. You see seaweed clinging to other roofs and no water line along the windows, which tells you that these entire blocks, this entire neighborhood, was utterly submerged.

And then there is the unsettling quiet. There is no one for miles around -- no traffic, no children, no dogs. The front yards of these upscale houses are now piled high with rubble, from slabs of plywood to mildewed rugs. Wherever you look, normal life has been obliterated. How does journalism convey that? How do you communicate that so many months later, vast swaths of a major American city remain paralyzed?

It is a depressing story, hardly a ratings grabber. It is like Iraq, day after day of numbing sameness: violence and suicide bombs there, a frozen-in-time lack of recovery here. Reporters like to cover tangible issues -- the battle over small-business loans, the race to buttress the levees, the failures of FEMA, the campaign for mayor, the first post-storm Mardi Gras. Everyone knows what happened to New Orleans; it is not new news.

But it is still news, if news is defined as a catastrophic event that alters a community and a country forever. Williams, dismissing some viewer complaints and nasty e-mail saying that he devotes too much air time to this city's struggles, stays on the case, as do a handful of other television and print journalists.

CNN's Anderson Cooper has been here several times, and ABC maintains a bureau for rotating correspondents. Major newspapers have devoted plenty of resources to the region. Since Jan. 1, the New York Times has run more than 110 news stories on New Orleans, the Los Angeles Times about 90, The Washington Post about 75, dissecting the current state of hospitals, schools, housing, even Cajun cooking and jazz.

But can anyone really say that New Orleans remains an urgent, top-of-the-newscast issue, that the recent coverage captures the raw emotion of a crisis that continues unabated? By and large, the plight of this crippled city seems to have become background noise.

Reporters by trade parachute into disaster zones, steeling themselves against sadness. You start out as a young scribe chasing car accidents and then graduate to plane crashes. Later you might find yourself in Oklahoma City or in Lower Manhattan, trying to chronicle the aftermath of a terrorist attack, or in Bosnia or Baghdad, filing dispatches about military conflicts. Then the war ends, the community rebuilds, and you move on. Collectively, we all move on.

That is not possible in New Orleans. Yes, many people are tired of the Katrina saga. In a world filled with problems large and small, in a business that gravitates toward the latest buzz, the up-to-the-minute news flash, that's easy to grasp. If people saw what I saw, however, they would understand why journalism's work here is not done -- not by a long shot.

An article from


The Federal Emergency Management Agency is closing itslong-term recovery office in New Orleans, claiming local officialsfailed to meet their planning obligations after Hurricane Katrina.The office is responsible for helping the city devise a blueprint torebuild destroyed houses, schools and neighborhoods." FEMA cannot drive the planning — our mission is to support it. We canonly do so much and then we look to the city to embrace and beginplanning and managing," said FEMA's national spokesman Aaron Walker.

"Once they begin planning, we can re-engage with them."Of the 35 employees who initially worked in the long-term recoveryoffice, only five remained early last week, and they were waiting to bereassigned. Those five may continue to work on long-term recovery in adifferent office, Walker said.City officials were angered by the move, saying New Orleans is againbeing abandoned by the federal government. Deputy Mayor Greg Meffertsaid the FEMA office and the city worked in tandem initially, but had afalling out over funding earlier this spring."

We have a city that has an enormous planning need and you needplanners. To date, we haven't gotten any monetary support to bring inplanners," Meffert said.Several employees of the disbanded office agreed with Meffert, sayingthat at the beginning the office worked closely with city officials,helping implement their plans. They say the relationship with FEMA soured after the mayor's rebuildingcommission, a group of businessmen and community leaders asked tocreate plans for redevelopment, requested FEMA money this spring tohelp fund their planning effort.Brad Gair, then-director of FEMA's long-term recovery office, made averbal promise to city officials to fund the effort, Meffert said.

Gairhas since left the New Orleans office. "It appears the mayor's office misunderstood the commitment made: WhileFEMA is committed to the long-term recovery of the Gulf Coast region,providing funding for planning does not fall under the federalguidelines of public assistance," Walker said.Eight months after Katrina, rebuilding has barely begun. One majorhold-up was the late release of FEMA's flood elevation advisories,which offer guidelines on how high homeowners should raise their homesfor flood insurance.

Women assaulted during Katrina Speak out!

Singer Charmaine Neville speaks out on her terrible ordeal.

Hutchison urged to help keep evacuee aid flowing

Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle

Dozens of housing advocates, social workers and others have asked Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison to help extend housing assistance for another four or five months to Hurricane Katrina evacuees.
The letter, signed by more than 80 individuals and nonprofit groups, asks Hutchison, R-Texas, to add language to an emergency hurricane appropriations bill instructing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to continue assistance for a year from the date evacuees enrolled. For most, this would be in early fall.

Hutchison serves on a conference committee that is expected to try next week to resolve differences in House and Senate versions of the appropriations bill.

Chris Paulitz, a Hutchison spokesman , said the senator is aware of the letter but could not immediately say whether she would comply with the request.

"Numerous public officials in Houston and throughout Texas have expressed their sincere gratitude for Senator Hutchison's tireless efforts in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita," Paulitz said. "The senator will continue her work to keep the $1.5 billion she secured for Texas emergency funding whole."

FEMA is moving evacuees from the emergency assistance program, which provides vouchers that cover rent and utilities, to an individual assistance program that only covers rent. As many as 20,000 Houston evacuees recently received letters from FEMA stating that they were ineligible for the individual assistance program.

Mayor Bill White has said many of the ineligibility determinations were inaccurate, and FEMA has agreed to continue assistance through June 30 while it reviews each case.

John Henneberger, co-director of the Texas Low-Income Housing Information Service, one of the groups that signed the letter, said the request would not require any additional funding.

Policy shift could leave thousands of evacuees homeless

Policy shift could leave thousands of evacuees homeless
By Bruce Nolan Staff writer - The Times Picayune

A coalition of advocates for displaced New Orleans residents called on the city’s mayoral candidates Wednesday to speak up for thousands of families exiled to Houston and elsewhere who are about to lose FEMA rental assistance, and perhaps their apartments. A FEMA spokesman in Austin confirmed that about 7,000 of the 36,000 New Orleans area families now living in Houston are at risk of losing rental vouchers because they do not qualify for a longer-term federal assistance program with tougher eligibility requirements. Local families displaced to other states after Hurricane Katrina are in a similar bind, although national numbers were not available Wednesday.

The news distressed local housing advocates for the poor, who said they worry that New Orleans tenants evicted in Houston may try to make their way back home, where there is little to no affordable housing for them. “Would you want to be homeless in a strange city? Or would you try to make your way back,” asked Malcolm Suber of the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund & Oversight Coalition. Suber’s group and others called on Mayor Ray Nagin and Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu to come to the aid of displaced families, whether by stabilizing rental assistance for them where they are, or preferably, opening more affordable housing in New Orleans to receive them.

The scarcity of low-cost housing remains one of city’s most severe problems, affecting the ability of some businesses to reopen, as well as the future of schools and neighborhoods. Nine months after the storm, fewer than 1,000 public housing units have re-opened to accept former tenants. Before the storm, the city had 14,000 units. Neither Landrieu nor Nagin immediately responded to requests for comment. Published reports in other cities, including Houston and Charlotte, N.C., describe local officials’ alarm at FEMA’s decision to switch tens of thousands of tenants from an emergency, few-questions-asked housing program that directly paid landlords, to a longer-term voucher program with tougher eligibility requirements. FEMA originally told families their aid was up June 1.

In Houston, where it appears that about 20 percent of households cannot meet the eligibility standards, that deadline has been extended by a month. Part of the problem, Suber and others said, is that FEMA had assured tenants, landlords and city and state officials who distributed the housing funds that the agency would commit to 12 months of support. “FEMA is breaking a promise it made to these people,” said Suber. But Frank Mansell, a FEMA spokesman in Austin, said the families have known for weeks or months that this switch was coming. Mansell said most families are ineligible because of deficiencies in paperwork — an incomplete form, for instance — or because FEMA believes their New Orleans homes are habitable. But Houston Mayor Bill White has questioned FEMA’s eligibility requirements.

Last month he went so far as to send Houston building inspectors to New Orleans to document wrecked houses that FEMA said could be lived in, the Houston Chronicle reported. Still other families were ineligible for further housing aid because, paradoxically, they were homeless in New Orleans, said FEMA representative Ross Fredenburg in Baton Rouge. The logic is that the emergency rental assistance was available only to displaced homeowners or renters, meaning homeless people were ineligible from the get-go and cannot be given extended aid now, said Fredenburg. “We can’t help them if they didn’t have a residence before,” he said. Mansell said those families were being referred to other federal programs.

Monday, May 01, 2006

You Just Can't Kill That Party Spirit

New Orleans Gears Up for Jazz Fest

New Orleans Jazz Fest: celebration among the ruins

And, in other news....

Irma Thomas, the New Orleans Queen of Soul, talks about life after Katrina

Senate Panel Recommends Abolishing FEMA

Bush visits New Orleans as FEMA criticized

Katrina Report Rips the Bush Admin. Again