(Toward the end of my long yet very interesting and thought-provoking rant are some pics)
Anyone who has been reading me for even a minute or two knows that I am not a fan of George Bush. There are alot of reasons for my feelings, none of which I am going to go into now. But what I am going to talk about today, kids, is how our President has screwed up royally. No, silly, not Iraq. Not the Alberto Gonzales thing, or the Harriet Myers thing, or Abu Graib or Gitmo, or...well you get the idea. No, today we are going to learn about hurricanes in New Orleans and their impact, and I am not talking about the ones you drink at Pat O'Brien's with the after-effect being a hangover.
Hurricane Katrina occured in August of 2005. That, for those of you without a calendar handy, was 19 months ago. It was a terrible storm. We all watched in horror as the people of New Orleans struggled for their lives and the lives of their children, their sick, their elderly. While watching all this on tv, I remember thinking that this could not be happening in America. We could not possibly be leaving our own people there to die, to stand on rooftops and beg for help, to stand on overpasses and plead for assistance. Didn't we all come together when the tsunami struck? Didn't we have Americans there, halfway around the world, within hours to help out? Didn't our government pledge (whether we delivered or not is another story) millions if not billions in aid?
So let's skip ahead a bit, so that you know this isn't all just my opinion on our poor excuse for a President. Skip past the part where we learned that FEMA couldn't find the convention center where all those people were stranded, even though it takes up about 5 city blocks and every news organization had been there for days. Skip past the part where we learned that the FEMA director's experience was in organizing horse shows, not managing emergencies. Skip past the part where our President claims he didn't know that there were people living in the Superdome without food or water. Skip past the part where we heard our elected officials questioning whether it was even worth saving a jewel such as New Orleans. Ok, you know I can't exactly skip all of it.
But now let's skip to the part where I travel to New Orleans, nineteen months after the hurricane hit. Nineteen months. The French Quarter, which wasn't hit badly compared to the rest of the city, is looking really spiffy. Sure, that's where the tourists go, that's how they can get those tourist dollars (like mine) pouring back in. But let's travel outward, shall we? Let's see how much progress our government has helped to make in nineteen months.
One parish (which is the equivalent of a county) has lost 77% of its population since Katrina. Can you imagine losing over three-quarters of the people in your county? And its not that the people don't want to come back. Here's the thing: they can't come back. They have nowhere to live. Yep, they can get a FEMA trailer and park it in front of their homes (or what now somewhat resembles what used to be their homes) and live there. Except for this - there isn't even electricity yet in some areas. In many neighborhoods, there are no supermarkets, no convenience stores, no gas stations, NOTHING. Every single store or shop or strip mall is completely deserted. Meaning, yes, you can go and live in your driveway in a trailer with no lights, and not have any food, not have running water, and not be able to gas up your car, but you won't have a single neighbor within miles of you because you would be the only fool to do it.
This is typical of what the houses still look like. Nineteen months later.
In addition to that, the red tape is just insane. You have to "qualify" for one of these treasured FEMA trailers, and not everyone who needs one qualifies. Insurance companies are not always paying out - was it flood damage? wind damage? an act of God? Let's nitpick so we can pay out as little as possible. You can't rebuild without getting your insurance money, unless you have a few hundred grand just laying around. A perfect example of ridiculous red tape causing people not to be able to move back: the government is requiring that all houses that are rebuilt (meaning, knocked down and started from scratch) must be a certain height off the ground to protect from future flooding. That makes sense, right? Yeah it does. Except that the insurance companies will not insure your house if its like that because its unsafe in non-flood situations. So even if you want to rebuild, how can you?
Most of the homes still have the markings on them from the searches they did after Katrina hit to see if there were any bodies, living or dead. Many of the homes have grafitti all over them - not from hooligans making trouble, but from residents trying to communicate with each other since they had no phones.
The graffiti on this house says "Lisa and Donnie are ok" - this was the only way to communicate.
Nineteen months later there are still holes in the roofs where the people had to climb to the attic and hack their way out with an ax in order to survive.
This neatly-cut hole in the roof (upper left) shows that these people were rescused from their attic.
This ragged hole shows that these people had to ax their way out of their attic themselves.
So here is my issue. These people are Americans. New Orleans is part of the fabric of this nation and so are the people, rich or poor, black or white. And we have left them to hang. Should the Mayor have done more? Yes. Should the Governor have done more? Hell yes. But where, my friends, does the buck stop? If the leader of out nation sees this absolute disaster happening in his country, to his people, isn't it his obligation to say - "I see that the governor has said she does not need additional assistance, but she is wrong. I am the President and my people need help." Is that too much to ask from our leader? I mean, it goes way deeper than that; it goes to him appointing his buddies to important positions rather than quaified people. It goes to him being seemingly unable to react in a crisis (9/11 anyone? The country is under attack and he thinks it is still suitable to read to a bunch of kids. 'Nuff said.).
Yes it goes deeper, but at the core to me is that as President, this nation is his responsibility. He overrides everything else. He makes decisions every day that take away our fundamental rights in the name of catching terrorists, but he can't make decisions to send money to save a city in his own country?
And now, nineteen months later, he has had the time to think about it. Time to come up with plans to fix the levees, to get money to those in need, to help the poor and middle class and even the rich come back to their homes, to prepare for the next disaster. Somehow, I am fairly sure that if this were to happen tomorrow in another US city, we would not be any more prepared nor would we get any more guidance from our leader.
I don't only blame Bush; please don't misunderstand me. I am fully aware that there's lots of blame to go around. But again, where does the buck stop? He is ultimately responsible, and he screwed up when the hurricane happened and is continuing to screw up now by letting a beautiful, important city rot away with neglect.
2008 can not get here soon enough.