Posts about neworleans

Fine job, Brownie

At today’s Katrian hearing, Marty Bahamonde, FEMA regional director for New England released emails to and about Michael Brown

_Sharon Worthy, Brown’s press secretary, to Cindy Taylor, FEMA deputy director of public affairs, and others, Aug. 31, 2 p.m.

“Also, it is very important that time is allowed for Mr. Brown to eat dinner. Gievn (sic) that Baton Rouge is back to normal, restaurants are getting busy. He needs much more that (sic) 20 or 30 minutes. We now have traffic to encounter to get to and from a location of his choise (sic), followed by wait service from the restaurant staff, eating, etc.

_Bahamonde to Taylor and Michael Widomski, public affairs, Aug. 31, 2:44 p.m.

“OH MY GOD!!!!!!!! No won’t go any further, too easy of a target. Just tell her that I just ate an MRE and crapped in the hallway of the Superdome along with 30,000 other close friends so I understand her concern about busy restaurants. Maybe tonight I will have time to move my pebbles on the parking garage floor so they don’t stab me in the back while I try to sleep.

Nice touch: Google AdSense fills the page with restaurants ads.

: Here are PDFs of more of the bit trail.

Monumental mismanagement

It’s just one thin thread in a dense weave of mismanagement, neglect, politics, and scandal that will continue to come out regarding the response at every level of governmen to Katrina. The ice.

When the definitive story of the confrontation between Hurricane Katrina and the United States government is finally told, one long and tragicomic chapter will have to be reserved for the odyssey of the ice.

Ninety-one thousand tons of ice cubes, that is, intended to cool food, medicine and sweltering victims of the storm. It would cost taxpayers more than $100 million, and most of it would never be delivered.

The ice. The buses. The rumors. The exaggerations. The infighting. The desertions. The levees. That resume. The Convention Center. Most scandals have one essential symbol. This one has so many.

Chronicle of a tragedy

Clayton James Cubitt, a Nerve photographer, blogs an amazing series of photos from the state of Katrina.

Recovery 2.0: Reimagining New Orleans

We need to put our country’s best brains and experience to the question of what to do with New Orleans.

We should see a cooperative effort — or perhaps a competition — among the country’s best urban studies programs, architecture schools, economics departments, MBA programs, engineering and environmental programs and their counterparts in industry, with a few (the few) competent politicians thrown in (read: Rudy).

This is not as simple as pumping out, digging up, and moving back in, of course. There are complex engineering and enviromental issues: Can this city be made safe from the water and the pollutants that took it over and at what cost? There are blunt economic questions that must be asked: How many people can this place support when it had no industry aside from tourism before the storm and when residents will stay away in droves after the storm? There are social issues we’ve not begun to grapple with: How can we improve the prospects of minorities trapped in the poverty, crime, and injustice that took over this city? What is appropriate public spending and what is merely the product of cynical political ass-covering? How do we make sure that money reaches its goals? What is the appropriate and fair public policy for this and future disasters? What is a new vision for the city?

This could start at a grandiose level: a foundation brings together the best and brightest.

Or this could start at our level: someone starts a weblog or a wiki with an idea and a challenge to share better ideas. Big thinking can come from small starts, from anyone anywhere.

And we need big thinking that is unafraid to ask the hard questions and come up with imaginative answers. Perhaps New Orleans should be a new planned community. Or it should be all but abandoned and its residents helped with relocation elsewhere. Or it should finally go all the way and become the Vegas of the South with entertainment, food, gambling, and conventions at its core. Or turned into an economic development zone that creates opportunities where so few existed. Or what?

Recovering from Katrina needs more than water bottles and helicopters and buses. It needs strategy, imagination, the intelligent use of capital, real and political. We can’t leave this to the governments that made such a mess of the city — at every level, yes, every level. We need to need to help our fellow citizens in New Orleans find a better future. For tomorrow, it could be our town.

: This is about the positive: building the appropriate future. But it also about preventing the negative: corruption, patronage, pork. Glenn Reynolds spotted this scathing criticism of Louisiana’s pols in today’s Post:

The state’s representatives have come up with a request for $250 billion in federal reconstruction funds for Louisiana alone — more than $50,000 per person in the state. This money would come on top of payouts from businesses, national charities and insurers. And it would come on top of the $62.3 billion that Congress has already appropriated for emergency relief.

Like looters who seize six televisions when their homes have room for only two, the Louisiana legislators are out to grab more federal cash than they could possibly spend usefully. For example, their bill demands $7 billion for rebuilding evacuation and energy supply routes, but it also demands a separate $5 billion for road building and makes no mention of the $3.1 billion already awarded to the state in the recent transportation legislation. …

The Louisiana delegation has apparently devoted little thought to the root causes of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. New Orleans was flooded not because the Army Corps of Engineers had insufficient money to build flood protections, but because its money was allocated by a system of political patronage. The smart response would be to insist that, in the future, no Corps money be wasted on unworthy projects, but the Louisiana bill instead creates a mechanism by which cost-benefit analysis can be avoided….

…Congress should ignore the Louisiana bill and force itself to think seriously about the sort of reconstruction that makes sense. Katrina has exposed mistakes of policy: water-infrastructure programs that made flooding more likely, and levees and insurance schemes that encouraged human settlement in dangerous places. Now that Congress is getting ready to spend tens of billions on reconstruction, it must seize the opportunity to correct those past errors.

Do we trust Congress more than the legislators of Louisiana? Barely, perhaps. Mark Tapscott urged that the entire process of reconstruction be thick with FOIAs. He’s right. We have to watch these people.

: Note that I’m not saying I have any experience to contribute to reimagining New Orleans or accounting for the money; I’m just a gadfly journalist. But I know there are brilliant people in this country who can set the agenda that government does not have. I’m eager to see them help.

: Note also that I’ll be posting what I hope is a simple agenda for next month’s Recovery 2.0 meeting. I hadn’t intended to raise anything so grandiose as this but who knows what people will want to bring in.

Correcting the facts and missing the truth

Three weeks ago, I linked to Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard’s outburst on Meet the Press about the mother of a colleague who died, abandoned, in a flooded nursing home. Two weeks later, I said it was my responsibility to link to a correction about details of that story. And now I’ll link to Tim Russert’s ambush (David Weinberger’s quite appropriate word) on Broussard and Brian Oberkirch’s wise and blunt perspective about all this.

This turned into a game of factual gotcha and in the process some lost sight of the real story and the real tragedy and that is by far the greater failure.

On this week’s Meet the Press, Russert replays Broussard’s emotional appearance for him and then goes after him on the facts. The woman who died was in a nursing home where the owners have been indicted for neglecting and not evacuating their residents. So, Russert says, that’s not the feds’ fault, huh? Russert gets up on a factual high-horse but Broussard puts him right back in his place, explaining that he learned what he said from his staff and that he certainly did not cross-examine his colleague about the mother he could not rescue, who had just died. That does not make the story of neglect of the entire city of New Orleans by government at all — all — levels any less vital. And Broussard says so:

Sir, that woman is the epitome of abandonment. She was left in that nursing home. She died in that nursing home. Tommy will tell you that he tried to rescue her and could not get her rescued….

Listen, sir, somebody wants to nitpick a man’s tragic loss of a mother because she was abandoned in a nursing home? Are you kidding? What kind of sick mind, what kind of black-hearted people want to nitpick a man’s mother’s death? They just buried Eva last week… It will be the saddest tale you ever heard, a man who was responsible for safekeeping of a half a million people, mother’s died in the next parish because she was abandoned there and he can’t get to her and he tried to get to her through EOC. He tried to get through the sheriff’s office. He tries every way he can to get there. Somebody wants to debate those things? My God, what sick-minded person wants to do that?

What kind of agenda is going on here? … Somebody better wake up. You want to come and live in this community and see the tragedy we’re living in? Are you sitting there having your coffee, you’re in a place where toilets flush and lights go on and everything’s a dream and you pick up your paper and you want to battle ideology and political chess games? Man, get out of my face. Whoever wants to do that, get out of my face.

Russert keeps riding his horse. He wants Broussard to somehow say that by getting facts of this story wrong, his criticism of the feds was thus invalidated, was not “fair” (and what a schoolyard word that is in this context). Broussard won’t bite.

Were we abandoned by the federal government? Absolutely we were. Were there more people that abandoned us? Make the list. The list can go on for miles. That’s for history to document. That’s what Congress does best, burn witches. Let Congress do their hearings. Let them find the witches. Let them burn them. The media burns witches better than anybody. Let the media go find the witches and burn them. But as I stood on the ground, sir, for day after day after day after day, nobody came here, sir. Nobody came. The federal government didn’t come. The Red Cross didn’t come. I’ll give you a list of people that didn’t come here, sir, and I was here….

Did inefficiencies, did bureaucracy commit murder here? Absolutely, it did. And Congress and the media will flush it out and find it out and those people will be held accountable. You’ve already given an example. These people in the nursing home in St. Bernard, they’re getting indicted. Good. They ought to be indicted. They ought to get good old-fashioned Western justice. They ought to be taken out and administered to like they did in the old West.

Yes, there’s a lot of people that they’re going to find that are going to be villains in this situation, but they’re also going to find for the most part that the Peter Principle was squared. The Peter Principle is you promote somebody to the level of incompetency, but when you promote somebody to the level of incompetency in a life or death department, then those people should be ousted. Those people should be strung up. Those people should be burned at the stake. And I’m sure Congress and the press is going to do that.

Mr. Russert: At the local, state and federal level.

Mr. Broussard: Sir, at every level. Are you kidding? This is a jigsaw puzzle. This is a mosaic. The blame will be shared by everybody….

David Weinberger sums up the journalistic sin of losing the forest for the trees, the story for the facts:

It was an attempt to discredit the story’s teller in order to deny the story’s meaning. It was contemptible.

Too much of journalism is turning this way today: If we nitpick the facts and follow some rules some committee wrote up, we’ll be safe; we’re doing our jobs. No, sir, our job is to get more than the facts. Anybody can get facts. Facts are the commodity. The truth is harder to find. Justice is harder to fight for. Lessons are what we’re after.

Tim Russert lost sight of the story because he was embarrassed that bloggers caught a guest on his show with facts that were wrong. Russert’s proper response should have been to fix those facts quickly and clear but still pursue the real story. Instead, he chose to shoot the messenger who embarrassed him with the bloggers. He lost sight of his real mission.

Says Brian Oberkirch:

I was offended by how quickly the whole discussion went meta. Bodies yet to be retrieved & buried, folks hanging from their own rafters holding onto life, literally, by their fingertips — and pundits, bloggers and media types were already well on their way to converting the storm into a object lesson for their own rhetorical strategies. Hijacked our suffering for their own stories….

Here’s a new way to think about blogging and all forms of consumer generated media: forget fact checking [your] ass. That’s a parlor game for grad students and professional cynics. Yes, you caught some high-profile folks screwing up. Good on you. We’re frying bigger fish now, and you can’t play with us if you haven’t got the emotional heft. I’ve seen do-it-yourself media help us reconnect as human beings. Help one another as individuals in need. Answer a calling to the better parts of ourselves. That’s where I’m putting my energy.

You see, the reason jouranlists were getting praise for their coverage of Katrina and New Orleans was not because they got blown over by winds or soaked in sludge or spewed and fixed facts (many of which go unfixed). The reason people sat up and listened again was that they heard human beings stripped of their dispassionate institutionalism who tried to tell the real story again.

How soon we forget.

: UPDATES: Video and more at Crooks & Liars. Gandelman weighs in.