While all of you on the east coast are dealing with Irene, those of us in New Orleans that lived through Katrina are still dealing with the aftermath. This is the sixth annual conference of social activists and bloggers in New Orleans–called Rising Tide– who are still trying to see New Orleans recover and become all the promise the city holds. We’re at Xavier University and if you want to follow along with any of the sessions, there’s a webcast here. It’s much bigger this year which is really good to see.
Tulane University geographer Richard Campanella is the author of six critically acclaimed books on the physical and human geography of New Orleans, including “Bienville’s Dilemma,” “Geographies of New Orleans,” and “Lincoln in New Orleans.” The only two-time winner of the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities Book of the Year award, Rich has also received the Williams Prize for Louisiana History and the Mortar Board Award for Excellence in Teaching from Tulane University.
We’re up to around the civil war when Lincoln used to refer to us as the sugar coast. It’s interesting to hear the history of the city from the first settlement forward and how our neighborhoods or ‘fauborgs’ have come about.
So, I’ll be updating this now and then today. I’d really suggest you tune in later this afternoon to the webcast because there will be two fun sessions on the live webcast. One will be on New Orleans Food and cooking and two great chefs will be speaking on the panel. The other one is a panel on brass bands followed by a concert. I’m hoping to network with some of my twitter buddies and fellow social justice advocates!
So, if you hang around, I promise you’ll feel like you’re part of making the Big Easy’s future grand!
One of the first things to go when people get morally outraged is their perspective. Not only do they frequently lose perspective, they also lose sight of bigger issues. A sense of outrage simply overwhelms one’s sense of perspective. The enraged heart overtakes the circumspect mind.
I’ve talked about The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) before when I brought up a defense contract maintained by the Federal Government with a company called ArmorGroup. This is the group that basically used Lord of the Flies-like hazing parties for their private security forces guarding embassies in places like Afghanistan. Whistle blowers, POGO, and government audits turned up a lot of fraud and abuse. There were even congressional hearings and questions, however, the contract was continued. Some press coverage reopened the issue earlier this year but the company basically was paid lots of federal dollars before any one took some real notice of it. Other mercenary-like groups–hired by our Defense Department–have had similar issues. Blackwater, while operating in Iraq, was said to be responsible for the deaths of innocent civilians and has been barred from doing business in the country by the Iraqi government. These are just some of the more egregious examples.
Then, there are the defense contractors building bombs and buildings. Remember the solider in Iraq was killed due to faulty wiring by KBR?
American electricians who worked for KBR, the Houston-based defense contractor that is responsible for maintaining American bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, said they repeatedly warned company managers and military officials about unsafe electrical work, which was often performed by poorly trained Iraqis and Afghans paid just a few dollars a day.
One electrician warned his KBR bosses in his 2005 letter of resignation that unsafe electrical work was “a disaster waiting to happen.” Another said he witnessed an American soldier in Afghanistan receiving a potentially lethal shock. A third provided e-mail messages and other documents showing that he had complained to KBR and the government that logs were created to make it appear that nonexistent electrical safety systems were properly functioning.
KBR itself told the Pentagon in early 2007 about unsafe electrical wiring at a base near the Baghdad airport, but no repairs were made. Less than a year later, a soldier was electrocuted in a shower there.
The process of seeking out contractor abuse is nothing new to this government or any other in this country. You may remember that during FDR’s campaign for the presidency, wife Eleanor rode around in car with a steaming teapot on the roof to remind folks of the Teapot Dome Scandal. Folks taking advantage of federal money go from the small fry to the country’s largest multinationals. Lincoln warned of it. So, did Eisenhower.
I remember during the Hurricane Katrina diaspora, many folks were said to use debit cards given to them as largess of the taxpayer on strippers, alcohol and guns. I can say that the money the U.S. government gave to me went to things like driving to Omaha, food, and pajamas. But people are stupid and then stupid things happen. But who do you focus upon? The one idiot the spent the money in the strip joint or the company of a friend of Jeb Bush that sold faulty pumps to the Corps of Engineers? You know the ones that would be necessary to get water out of the city should anything like Hurricane Katrina happen again? You remember Hurricane Katrina? People died? Incredibly costly damage? That sort of thing? I think there was more outrage over the few thousands of dollars they went to Houston strip joints than to any of the fraud that went on with the levee building, installation of the new pumps, and who knows what else will eventually be uncovered by the time these projects are audited by the GAO?
Four years ago, I was sitting on a pink futon on the floor of a motel in Lake Charles, LA with two blond labs and a cat named after Miles Davis wondering if I still had a place called home. In the bed on the right was a finance Phd student from Macao and on the bed on the left, her roommate, a sociology Phd student from Japan. I actually got my place on the floor because I called all the foreign Phd students at UNO (New Orleans) in the Econ/Finance Department and said, get hotel rooms and get out of here, as soon as you can! We had the United Nations there. My friends from Syria, Turkey, and then, of course, the other two I mentioned took me right in! My lama from Nepal showed up there eventually too.
I had planned to stay in New Orleans. It wasn’t until I remembered the aftermath of other hurricanes that went else where (like Georges) and the mess that went on inside and around the Superdome that I thought, I bet I could survive the Hurricane, but NEVER the aftermath. I knew the aftermath would be a Hell Realm. After boarding up the house, I left with my pets, a pink futon, a poorly packed overnight bag, and little else since I was waiting for a paycheck due on that Monday that wouldn’t arrive until three months later. I went to bed that night, thinking I could drive back home. I woke up the next morning wondering where I was going to seek refuge.
When I first moved down here to New Orleans I went through culture shock on many levels. I came from places where there was no viable private education because public education is so excellent that private schools are reserved for the hyper-religious or the hyper-rich with hyper-idiot children. I was used to good roads. I can’t tell you how many tires I’ve lost to the roads down here. I was used to low crime and nearly zero drug-related crime. I was also used to cities with corporate headquarters (Minneapolis, Kansas City, and Omaha) where I could make a nice living consulting. I’ve come to love it down here although I still realize we’re very third world compared to the rest of the country(at this writing anyway). I’ve just learned to relax and go with it.
Louisiana has always depended on the kindness of other states since the fall of the Oil and Gas industry in the 1980s. It has been highly dependent on the rest of the country and the world since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the bottom and richest part of the state. One of my displaced friends got a US government supplied FEMA trailer on campus. He got his dishes, pots and pans and linens from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We’ve relied heavily on outside help since that awful day in August, 2005.
I know several economists here in the state that follow the local economy closely and I know we’ve had some real tough times. Fortunately, we still have two major news organization that are committed to following our recovery and they send reporters down here to do substantive stories as well as the usual “let’s traipse around the ninth ward and see what’s happening” pieces. This generally keeps the light on the problems. Our governor also attracts attention as a potential leader of the Republican Party. I’ve written about him frequently because I’d frankly like to have him some place where he cannot do so much damage to folks with his inability to separate right wing dogma and religious zealotry with governance. (I’m thinking Spaceship, co-pilot Rush, and Mars.)
Of course you’ve seen Bobby (Peyush) Jindal on TV now. You can see he talks very fast and often in ways that really don’t make sense. He’s got a very interesting background and is known for being intelligent and well-educated. He never lets that get in the way of his governing Louisiana, however. You can read more on that from a December post of mine here.
Life here in New Orleans has been tipped up and down and sidewise since Hurricane Katrina showed us how little we can trust the government to build a better levee. I can tell how many folks trust the upgrades by the amount of traffic I saw leaving town as I was coming back in from Hammond today. Katrina was the first hurricane that got me to evacuate. I was less afraid of the storm than the after storm chaos. I was suprised the levees broke, however, the total human drama afterwards was no suprise to me. I was kept pent up in my french quarter home for three days while the Morial adminstration was trying to figure out how to let the folks out of the superdome peacefully after Hurricane Georges. They were upset they only had hotdogs to eat and were allowed to bring an aresenal inside. While they corrected some of that after Katrina, more huge mistakes were made. They are really really anxious down here not to repeat either of these experiences.
I think that is why they are evacuating every one earlier than usual. I just hope they are sending folks to places where they may not get torrential rain or tornadoes. My little kathouse stood up to katrina and experienced superficial damage. I’d rather be in a ditch than a motel built in the 80s if there’s tornadoes and flooding. I was born in Oklahoma, raised in Iowa and Nebraska, and moved down here from Minnesota. I know floods and tornadoes well.
So, the question is, do I stay or do I go? Right now, I’m staying put. Like I said, I don’t want to head to Florida and be creamed two days later by Hanna or head to Texas and then have Gustav go west and rain hail and tornadoes on me in some poorly built motel room. So, stay tuned folks as the center of my life the next few days becomes getting my house and act together. Emily insists she’s okay at LSU and wants to see the football game now scheduled at 10 am. LSU has underground generators and very sturdy buildings so I have no doubt she’ll be safe there. I have a kitten, a cat that think its a doberman, and an goofy old retriever mix. That’s always a consideration too, however, after Katrina, I have to say the chances for animals actually being cared for is good this time. They’re making arrangements to evacuate pets if people have to take buses and seek public shelters. Hopefully, that will make the vulnerable and old more willing to go.
I just thought I’d post a few more Katrina pictures here for you so you could remember three years ago. What I’m actually going to post is the pictures I took after we got home and shared our common love of our wonderful city. Just remember, we’re a resilient lot down here.
There’s a big anniversary coming up in my life. It was about three years ago a little low pressure wave left the coast of Africa that later would change my life and my neighbor’s lives for ever. Hurricane Katrina was an experience I wouldn’t wish on any one. Most levels of government have been trying to make nice to us to make up for the horrid response we got following the disaster. While the kat house didn’t flood and sustained minor wind damage, I can tell you I will NEVER be the same person after that experience.
So, here’s some news from the ninth ward home front.
First, New Orleans put in a pitch to hold the presidential debates and we were rejected because the deciders on the committee said we weren’t ready for prime time yet. So, Google and New Orleans got together to sponsor a town hall meeting here to highlight New Orleans three years after Katrina nearly wiped us off the face of the map. We still need exposure and tourist dollars. So, it would make a nice gesture to do something here, right? So first, local item is hot off the Greta Wire:
August 7th, 2008 12:43 PM Easternby Greta Van Susteren
Just in: I was just tipped off that New Orleans (yes, the unfortunate home of Hurricane Katrina…) invited Senator McCain and Senator Obama to do a town hall meeting co-sponsored by New Orleans and Google. As you might imagine, with all that has happened with Katrina, New Orleans is doing all that it can to attract Presidential candidates, commerce etc to help rebuild and revitalize the area.
Senator McCain accepted the New Orleans / Google town hall meeting 6 weeks ago…and Senator Obama? Well..he just answered yesterday and he declined ….the reason? his campaign says he will agree only to do the Commission on Presidential debates….
If Louisiana is considered by the DNC to be a swing state right now, and New Orleans is the epicenter of Democrats in the state, this is not getting off on the right foot. This will come right after the snub to visit us for Tavis Smiley’s State of the Black Union during the primary. I’m not sure if he’s just taking the AA community down here for granted but I’m going to be interested in reading local responses to this.
The next interesting thing was Senator Landrieu’s huge move to disassociate herself from the Obama campaign as reported by Marc Ambinder. Landrieu stayed neutral for a very long time in the national race. She knows how much she owes to Hillary Clinton and depends heavily on Clinton-type voters around the state for her seat. She also depends heavily on AA voters. Her opponent saw an opportunity to link her to the campaign and readied some negative ads. He’s been running some doozies on her.
Landrieu Keeping Some Distance From Obama
06 Aug 2008 01:43 pm
Heartbroken Bush campaign ex-officio Matthew Dowd wrote on ABC News.com recently that Barack Obama was running behind his party nationally and therefore that the party’s congressional candidates ought to be wary about running with him.
Sen. Mary Landrieu is keeping her distance.
Last Thursday, an automated Google search for “Mary Landrieu,” produced a link to a page on Obama;’s website touting an upcoming Washington, D.C fundraiser for Obama. An aide to John Kennedy, Landrieu’s Republican challenger, sent it to reporters. Just two hours later, the link went down, only to reappear with Landrieu’s name removed without notice.
Co-hosting presidential fundraisers are among the most vetted events on any politician’s calendars – sitting senators don’t “accidentally” let themselves get listed as a co-host for a presidential fundraiser. So far as I am aware, Landrieu has not attended a political event with Obama.
A Landrieu spokesman e-mails:
The Obama event is part of a day-long series of DNC events focused on women’s political involvement. Sen. Landrieu is scheduled to attend the event as part of the day-long series of events, but is not hosting. She was never scheduled to host, so we imagine that somebody made an error and accidently listed her as a host.
If Obama is counting on Lousiana for its electoral votes, I’d say this is a development that should give him pause.
Meanwhile, here’s some of my Katrina Pictures to remind you of the pain we’ve been through down here.
Today, I’d like to bring you here to New Orleans for my morning coffee rant. I live in a neighborhood called the Bywater. Most folks call it the Bohemian Bywater because many folks that live here are involved with the creative arts. We have a Louisiana magnet school (NOCAA.COM) that turns out students that become some of the world’s greatest musicians including all the Marsalis kids. We also have many many art galleries here. Some of the great news coming out of our paper today is that Starbux is finally giving up on us. We have our brand of coffees and independent coffee spots thrive all over town. We do things our own way down here and like it that way.
I live blocks from the habitat for humanity “Musicians Village”. I also live within blocks of Brad Pitt’s Pink Houses project. This is the ninth ward and it is a very interesting place. Not all of it was destroyed by Katrina. Since Hurricane Katrina, we have seen Sheiks, Princes of Wales, Rock Stars, Movie Stars, TV anchors, Presidents, Presidential Candidates, and regular people from all over the world in my neighborhood. They all come back because we are a special little place.
Since Hurricane Katrina, the creative juices as well as the frustration down here have led to some new expressions. There is no place this is more evident that the street art that has popped up. At first, it was limited to making political statements on the nasty refrigerator sitting on your front lawn. Then, it turned into something a bit more, well New Orleans. The photo on the right is one I took of my friend Jimmy Lalanne’s house. Jimmy stayed there during Katrina, despite my efforts to get his ass out of town. He’s an ‘approximate’ artist, used to work with Andy Warhol and is from cajun descent. You can see he riffed on his katrina cross painted by the texas guard on his own home.
So here’s our latest little neighborhood controversy, welcome to our battle against the Grey Ghost. The Grey Ghost has decided to eliminate all of these art forms in the surrounding neighborhoods. This has started to include grafitti art that exists every where including on buildings and walls where there is the permission of its owners. He’s named the Grey Ghost because, well see the video below and you’ll get the story. Also, go take a look at an article from this week’s Times Picayune.
This has turned into a first amendment issue for the Bohemian Bywater. We now have a movement with T-shirts, Youtubes, and a few law suits. So, welcome to my world!
You can read more about this and see more videos on the graffiti here: