Archived entries for New Orleans

Hurricane Katrina? Just blame George W.

msy_flooded_overYou knew it was only a matter of time before someone figured out a tenuous link between the devastation in New Orleans — now considered the worst natural disaster to hit America since the great San Francisco fires — and President George W. Bush. According to a new piece by former Clinton advisor Sidney Blumenthal, “the damage wrought by the hurricane may not entirely be the result of an act of nature.”

“In 2001, FEMA warned that a hurricane striking New Orleans was one of the three most likely disasters in the U.S. But the Bush administration cut New Orleans flood control funding by 44 percent to pay for the Iraq war.”

“A year ago the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed to study how New Orleans could be protected from a catastrophic hurricane, but the Bush administration ordered that the research not be undertaken … [they] cut funding requested by the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for holding back the waters of Lake Pontchartrain by more than 80 percent … [their] policy of turning over wetlands to developers almost certainly also contributed to the heightened level of the storm surge.”


Today’s “Thank You For Pointing Out The Obvious” award goes to the New York Times. As Slate magazine points out, “The NYT seems to have a particularly strong faith in the oraclelike abilities of officialdom, announcing across the top on Page One: ‘BUSH SEES LONG RECOVERY FOR NEW ORLEANS.’ Does that tell us a damn thing?”

In a stirring op-ed this morning, the now web-only Times-Picayune called for a massive show of law enforcement in New Orleans, saying “lawlessness was intensifying to horrific levels,” while “the lack of a law enforcement presence is stunning.”

Haiti gives cash to U.S.

The poorest country in the Americas has offered up $36,000 to Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. “Despite our meager means, we want to be counted among those who showed solidarity toward you (the American people),” the Haitian finance minister said.

Water, food, and strippers

bourbon_stripperNew Orleans is back in business — at least the strip joints, that is. In a really interesting, hilarious, and bizarre article, Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star profiles a stripper on Bourbon Street, a woman named Becky who went “kicking and screaming” to Boston after the storm but just returned to the Big Easy to make a living with her acts of “tittie-lation” as DiManno so coyly puts it. She is described as having “remarkable elasticity” and “gams that stretch from here to tomorrow.”

“This is Bourbon St. — decadent, tawdry, bawdy Bourbon St. — where sex was among the first staples of life to return to a paralyzed city. It must be understood that New Orleans has been, these past few weeks, an almost entirely male universe: firefighters, cops, National Guardsmen, disaster crews. They’ve laboured extraordinarily hard. They’ve seen dreadful things. They were traumatized and dirty and stinky. But the French Quarter has always known how to soothe a man’s pain, relieve his loneliness — and separate him from his money.”

“So, on this dank evening, a night dripping with humidity, a long line has formed outside the entrance to Big Daddy’s –“Topless! Bottomless!” — where the restoration of power means those postcard-famous legs that swing in and out of a second-storey window are once again beckoning the lust-lorn, the horny, the tumescent.”

No investigation on Katrina

msy_call_femaAfter Sen. Hillary Clinton introduced a bill in Congress yesterday to create an independent commission to investigate the failures of the government’s response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster, the proposal failed to win enough votes to pass muster. Senators voted along party lines against the bill: 44 senators for the commission, but 54 Republicans all voted no. Louisiana Senator David Vitter did not vote.

According to the a new CBS-New York Times poll, 76% of Americans want an independent commission to investigate the disaster. And a clear majority want the reopening of New Orleans made a priority over tax cuts or changing Social Security.

Despite the vote on Wednesday, the Senate Homeland Security Committee opened their own hearings on the matter. Maine Senator Susan Collins, who voted against the creation of the commission and who is chair of the committee, criticized the government response, saying, “At this point, we would have expected a sharp, crisp response to this terrible tragedy. Instead, we witnessed what appeared to be a sluggish initial response.”

• Meanwhile in Boston, two Loyola students who came to the city to continue their classes were assaulted. One had his nose broken and one was stabbed.

Reporters gone wild

anderson_landrieuAnyone fed up with reporters who may have gone soft on the government in the wake of 9/11 need only watch Salon‘s Reporters Gone Wild, a collection of clips of journalists asking tough questions in New Orleans for evidence that times are a changin’. The five minute video includes snippets from Bill O’Reilly, Shepard Smith, Geraldo Rivera, Anderson Cooper, and others.

The gripping feature comes on the same day as heartthrob Anderson Cooper appears in New York magazine, where questions about his sexuality are brought to the fore, and the same day he fronts theNew York Times Style section in a piece about his rise to stardom and his raw, emotional performance in the South. In the video, available free online from Salon, Anderson interrupts an effusive Sen. Mary Landrieu, who was praising the work of politicians cobbling together relief funding back in Washington:

“Excuse me, Senator, I’m sorry for interrupting. I haven’t heard that, because, for the last four days, I’ve been seeing dead bodies in the streets here in Mississippi. And to listen to politicians thanking each other and complimenting each other, you know, I got to tell you, there are a lot of people here who are very upset, and very angry, and very frustrated.

“And when they hear politicians slap – you know, thanking one another, it just, you know, it kind of cuts them the wrong way right now, because literally there was a body on the streets of this town yesterday being eaten by rats because this woman had been laying in the street for 48 hours.”

The Times piece said “His comments pushed right up to the line between tough questioning and confrontational advocacy journalism, but viewers responded.”

Blame the gays

It happened after 9/11, so it should come as no surprise that people are blaming America’s gay community for the destruction caused by the latest national disaster. Maine’s most vociferous opponent of gay rights, Michael Heath from the Christian Civic League of Maine, blamed gays and lesbians for the hurricane, saying, “By an odd coincidence… an enormous gay rights celebration was scheduled for New Orleans just as the worst natural disaster ever to strike our nation was venting it’s full fury on that helpless city. Over 150,000 homosexuals were expected to attend the event this year, and as in past years, the French Quarter was to be filled with party goers.”

And this week, his rhetoric has continued: “Sexual permissiveness, divorce, abortion, and the chaos in New Orleans can be laid at [liberals’] doorstep,” he said. The advocacy group Maine Won’t Discriminate, which is fighting a citizens’-repeal of Maine’s new gay rights that is scheduled for a November referendum, said today “It is truly unfortunate how low Michael Heath has stooped to churn up support from his base.”

Class survival

Forget class warfare. From day one of the Hurricane Katrina saga, the story has been about class survival. “Hurricane Katrina has exposed America’s cursed underbelly, its multitudes of poverty-stricken and hopeless, forgotten by a government bent on offering tax breaks to the wealthy,” a reporter for the Toronto Star wrote recently.


A paper in Decatur, Ill., wrote yesterday of the disaster, “We were forced to see a population that was barely treading water even before the levees broke. We saw tens of thousands of people who lacked the ability to escape the coming tides. People — almost all black — who live not the American dream, but its nightmare.”

And Howard Dean said this week, “The ugly truth (is) that skin colour, age and economics played a significant role in who survived and who did not…the question, 40 and 50 years after Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, is: How could this still be happening in America? We have not swept poverty away in this nation. We have simply swept it under the rug.”

The abandonment of the lower classes is nothing new, but the Globe reports that Katrina has served to return the poor of the inner city to the forefront of political discourse. “The searing images of New Orleans — including the sight of sick and elderly patients literally lying on a conveyer belt at Louis Armstrong airport — could well mark America’s rediscovery of its poor.”

Some, like David Brooks in the New York Times, suggest that Katrina’s silver lining may be the opportunity it presents for America to take on the cycle of poverty: “Katrina was a natural disaster that interrupted a social disaster. It separated tens of thousands of poor people from the run-down, isolated neighborhoods in which they were trapped. It disrupted the patterns that have led one generation to follow another into poverty.”

It seems ironic that just two weeks ago, the federal government announced that over the past year, incomes stagnated and poverty in the U.S. rose to 12.7% of the population, or 1.1 million more people. That means more people now live in poverty in the U.S. (37 million) than live in all of Canada (32 million). And then sadly, Katrina made landfall and further devastated one of America’s poorest regions.

Imagining New Orleans anew

msy_rebuildOnce the dead have been recovered, what type of place those who remain wake up to? William Bunch muses in the Montreal Gazette, “Is it worth rebuilding New Orleans?” He rightfully points out that “If you threw a dart at a map of the United States 999 times, you could not hit a worse spot to locate a metropolis …People are wondering: Is it really a good idea to rebuild New Orleans, and will it be done? The answers, most say, are ‘probably not’ – and ‘you bet’.”

An urban studies professor at MIT contends: “All the experience of the last 200 years has been that no matter how devastated a city is, no matter how vulnerable a location, the almost ubiquitous experience has been to rebuild on that same site … the natural reaction is not only to rebuild a city but to seek to remake it even grander…”

Mayor Ray Nagin, in virtually the same breath in which he ordered all people out of New Orleans, promised that “Once we’ve cleaned up, you can come back. We will build another and better New Orleans.”

FEMA bars media from photographing New Orleans dead

msy_bodiesFor the second time in the past year, the Bush administration has attempted to bar what they perceive to be sensitive images from reaching the public. First it was photos of flag-draped coffins returning from Iraq that the government took exception to. Now Reuters is reporting that the “Federal Emergency Management Agency, heavily criticized for its slow response to the devastation caused by the hurricane, rejected requests from journalists to accompany rescue boats as they went out to search for storm victims.”

The wire agency reports that the government simply “does not want the news media to take photographs of the dead as they are recovered from the flooded New Orleans area.” But a spokesperson for FEMA countered that there was no space for media to be shooting photos. “The recovery of the victims,” FEMA said, “is being treated with dignity and the utmost respect.”

From Pontchartrain to Palm Beach

No one has put their money where there mouth is like Frank Stronach, the Canadian billionaire who pledged to pay for the relocation of 300 New Orleans residents to the most sumptuous and unusual of places: Palm Beach.


The owner of Magna International, the entertainment and auto parts empire that recently gave outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci a job, has ponied up for an “improbable dream [that] involves airlifting evacuees from the devastation of New Orleans to the pampered world of Palm Beach, Fla. — a vision that involves rich American whites from gated communities opening up to desperately poor American blacks and even includes the construction of a new mobile-home community in Louisiana for more than 300 victims of hurricane Katrina.”

The 73-year old Stronach came to Canada from eastern Europe dirt-poor and now controls a $20 billion empire. As the Globe reported, “Last Thursday, Mr. Stronach decided he could no longer wait for slow governments and large organizations to act on the tragedy unfolding along the Gulf Coast. He knew from his own life experience what it was like to be desperately poor and hungry — ‘Those things are burned right into the soul’ — but could only imagine the danger that the survivors were facing.”

On Monday, as soon as two US Airways jets carrying the evacuees hit the tarmac in Palm Beach, a town where average incomes exceed $109,000 per year, “We had psychiatrists putting on bandages,” said one organizer. “There were Palm Beach women doing the cooking. The clothing they brought to hand out you couldn’t believe —Holt Renfrew stuff. They brought enough for 10,000 people, let alone 300. I felt like doing a complete wardrobe change myself. It was the most unbelievable experience. You would have thought there was no colour at all. I feel like I’ve just witnessed a miracle”

“Helping people, feeding and shelter, that’s the easy part,” Stronach said. “The challenging part is what do we do to get them back on their feet again.”

Quotes of Note

Author Anne Rice has catapulted herself into infamy among some with a strongly worded op-ed in the Times this weekend, in which she is sharply critical of the response to the disaster in her hometown of New Orleans. “Why did America ask a city cherished by millions and excoriated by some, but ignored by no one, to fight for its own life for so long?”

“Thousands didn’t leave New Orleans because they couldn’t leave. They didn’t have the money. They didn’t have the vehicles. They didn’t have any place to go,” the author of Vampire Chronicles wrote. “They are the poor, black and white, who dwell in any city in great numbers; and they did what they felt they could do _ they huddled together in the strongest houses they could find. There was no way to up and leave and check into the nearest Ramada Inn.”

“To my country I want to say this: During this crisis you failed us. You looked down on us; you dismissed our victims; you dismissed us. You want our Jazz Fest, you want our Mardi Gras, you want our cooking and our music. Then when you saw us in real trouble, when you saw a tiny minority preying on the weak among us, you called us ‘Sin City,’ and turned your backs.”


‘Abandon New Orleans’

In an unprecedented moment of candor, the governor of Louisiana said today the state has no choice but to abandon New Orleans. The city, 80% of which has been swamped by Hurricane Katrina, is simply too overwhelmed to recover in the short term. “We are looking at 12 to 16 weeks before people can come in,” New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said on Good Morning America, ”and the other issue that’s concerning me is (we) have dead bodies in the water. At some point in time the dead bodies are going to start to create a serious disease issue.’


Tulane University in New Orleans is facing the prospect of hosting a football season without a university. The university’s campus has been inundated by Hurricane Katrina, and classes that had initially been pushed back one week in preparation for the storm’s hit, have now been postponed indefinitely. A good read from on the ground:Tulane’s updates

Louisiana has, in effect, declared martial law (though no such term really exists in the state law). The situation is painfully grim with the city’s West End entirely devastated. For more raw updates on the aftermath, check out the Times-Picayune and theirbreaking news blog — non-traditional updates that reflect the severity of the crisis in the Gulf Coast that has made standard news-gathering impossible.

• From the New York TimesWhere Living at Nature’s Mercy Had Always Seemed Worth the Risk

New Orleans

msy_hurricaneI love this shot of New Orleans before it was walloped today by Hurricane Katrina. It was predicted that Bourbon Street, shown here, would be submerged in 18 feet of water if the category-5 storm hit dead-on, and that 60-80 percent of the city’s homes would be destroyed by wind.

As the AP reported today, “When hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans today, it could turn one of America’s most charming cities into a vast cesspool tainted with toxic chemicals, human waste and even coffins released by floodwaters from the city’s legendary cemeteries.

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