Tag Archives: staff writers

Hurricane Katrina – six years later

It was six years ago today that Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Louisiana/Mississippi Gulf Coast. I remember the dire warnings prior to Katrina. I remember the initial news reports suggesting the damage wasn’t as bad as we expected. Six years ago, I had just moved to Asheville, North Carolina. I was sitting in a rental house exchanging e-mails with some friends in a discussion group. This was a medical discussion group which was made up of people throughout the world. There are approximately 1000 people who participate in this discussion group. It was around midnight when someone suggested that the levees had broken. I looked everywhere. I looked at every single website that I could think of but couldn’t find any information about the levees. Even the New Orleans Times Picayune which, as I recall, had moved its headquarters from New Orleans and most of its staff writers were in Lafayette or Baton Rouge, had nothing about the levees breaking. I remember saying something like we need to stick to the facts and we shouldn’t speculate. The member of the discussion group was insistent that his information was correct. I remember having an extremely sick feeling in my stomach. Over the next several days, we saw a city, a region of the country, cry out for help. For five days there was no response.

Over the last six years I’ve written on Katrina many many times (herehere, here and here. This last one is an interview with James Perry who was running for mayor of New Orleans at the time.) I think there are a lot of lessons that can be learned from this disaster. I’ve been to New Orleans twice in the last six years. New Orleans is a city that I truly love. New Orleans is a city that is completely different than any other city in the South. It’s not like Atlanta or Miami or even nearby Houston. The only city in the United States, in my opinion, that comes close to the feeling of pre-Katrina New Orleans would be San Francisco. There was something wonderful about New Orleans. It wasn’t simply a great mecca for music. It wasn’t simply one of the best places in the United States to eat. It wasn’t the unique architecture of the French quarter or even the garden district. It wasn’t brunch at Commander’s Palace or the fabulous art shops where we can buy original paintings from national and internationally known artists at prices the 10th of which you’d find in New York or Chicago. It wasn’t the abject poverty or the wealth of the financial district. It was all of this and more which made New Orleans a great city.

The tragedy of Katrina is that it exposed a dysfunctional political system. New Orleans politics has been famously dysfunctional for decades. Louisiana politics is almost laughable. It was nearly impossible to get anything done in Louisiana unless you “knew somebody.” Then, on top of this dysfunctional system you had the Bush administration. You had an administration that actually hated government. You add all of this together and tens of thousands of people suffered needlessly. My conclusion after reading tons of information on Hurricane Katrina is simply that we need to treat each other better.

I found this article in the New Orleans Times Picayune:

In April 2010, four and a half years into recovery, the Census Bureau found that Katrina cost New Orleans 29 percent of its population; Jefferson, 5 percent; St. Bernard, 47 percent; Plaquemines, 14 percent.

Some of those people settled nearby. St. Tammany’s population grew 22 percent; St. Charles Parish grew 10 percent; St. John the Baptist grew 7 percent.

But census takers counted a net loss of nearly 150,000 people who were driven out of a metropolitan area of what was once 1.3 million.

Allison Plyer of the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, a co-author with Elaine Ortiz of “The New Orleans Index at Six,” an annual recovery analysis, said the region has showed unusual resilience in facing not only Katrina, but the 2008 recession and last year’s BP oil spill. (more…)

Update: Melissa Harris-Perry does a great job at summing up the lessons of Katrina.

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Conservatives justify letting a house burn

It is funny how we re-argue settled policy in this country. We talked about what should be public and what should be private over 50 years ago. Does being poor mean that you can’t get fire protection? If you listen to conservatives, the answer is you get what you pay for. (Translation – Screw the poor.)

From TP:

As ThinkProgress reported earlier this morning, South Fulton firefighters from Obion, Tennessee, last week stood by and watched as a family’s home burned down because their services were available by subscription only, and the family had not paid the $75 fee. As ThinkProgress noted, the case perfectly demonstrated conservative ideology, which is based around the idea of the on-your-own society and informs a policy agenda that primarily serves the well-off and privileged.

Now, leading conservative authors from modern conservatism’s bulkhead magazine, The National Review, have come out in defense of Obion County firefighters’ policy of servicing rural citizens by paid subscription only. The magazine’s commentary on the issue started with a blog post by Daniel Forster, one of the magazine’s staff writers. Writing on the National Review blog The Corner, Forster condemned the behavior of the county, saying that while he has “no problem with this kind of opt-in government in principle,” he sees no “moral theory” under which the firefighters would be justified in watching the house burn down:

I have no problem with this kind of opt-in government in principle — especially in rural areas where individual need for government services and available infrastructure vary so widely. But forget the politics: what moral theory allows these firefighters (admittedly acting under orders) to watch this house burn to the ground when 1) they have already responded to the scene; 2) they have the means to stop it ready at hand; 3) they have a reasonable expectation to be compensated for their trouble?

Yet, Forster’s fellow conservative writers found it hard to tolerate his view that families shouldn’t have to watch their homes burn down as firefighters stand there with their hoses. First, Kevin Williamson responded, comparing the family whose home was destroyed to “jerks, freeloaders, and ingrates”:

Dan, you are 100 percent wrong. […] And, for their trouble, the South Fulton fire department is being treated as though it has done something wrong, rather than having gone out of its way to make services available to people who did not have them before. The world is full of jerks, freeloaders, and ingrates — and the problems they create for themselves are their own. These free-riders have no more right to South Fulton’s firefighting services than people in Muleshoe, Texas, have to those of NYPD detectives. (more…)