Thursday, May 29, 2008

Another Rat Deserts Another Sinking Ship

So, former Bush Administration press secretary Scott McClellan has written a tell-all account of his experience. In the memoir McClellan drops such bombshells as these:
  • the White House was in a "permanent campaign" mode in which the electoral calendar was the preeminent factor in the most minute decisions;
  • the Iraq war is "not necessary" and was sold to the public by means of a "political propaganda campaign;"
  • a disaster-numbed White House botched the response to Hurricane Katrina, in part by hoping that it wouldn't be that bad;
  • Karl Rove and Scooter Libby may well have met align their testimony in the Valerie Plame trial;
  • as press secretary, McClellan often made statements that he later discovered were (gasp!) misleading.
Since none of the above was previously unknown by virtually any sentient adult American, much of the interest in the book revolves around McClellan's motives. The Republican rapid response seems to have adopted the theory the McClellan of some sort of demonic possession by unconscionable liberals: "This is not the Scott we knew," current press secretary Dana Perrino mourns. Commentator Tucker Carlson wonders "who his ghostwriter is." Karl Rove's suspicions are darkest of all: "This doesn't sound like Scott...It sounds like a left-wing blogger." (Note: You'll have to scroll through the links to find these quotes, but they're there.)

Personally, I suspect that the book will prove to be a tempest in a teapot. He's hardly the first insider to turn coat. I didn't like it when George Stephanopolous published his tell-all book while Bill Clinton was still president, so I can't blame Republicans who cry foul over this. (I can, however, enjoy the spectacle.) Heck, McClellan isn't even the first in his family to jump ship. His mother, Carol Keeton McClellan Rylander Strayhorn, the former Austin mayor who tried to turn the city over to an unfettered horde of slavering developers, switched parties in the early Nineties more readily than she switched husbands when it suited her ambitions.

The interesting questions to me are "why?" and "why now?" The robotic McClellan surely has not deceived himself into thinking that his habitual deer-in-headlights expression destines him for a big fat network spot like Stephanopoulos has. Perhaps all that Kool-Aid he drank finally wore off, allowing him to see that the emperor wore no clothes. Although continues to profess admiration and respect for Bush, perhaps he grew to hate the likes of Rove over daily slights and humiliations. Probably, it's some of both. As for the time, though, you can bet that has to with book sales and the heightened interest in politics brought on by the upcoming presidential election. Once you're in permanent campaign mode, it's hard to get out...

Heard on Boston subway:
  • "Does your life really suck that much?"
  • "I may or may not have said he was cute."
Citizen K. Read: In A Strange City and Another Thing To Fall, both by Laura Lippman.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Live From The Aerie...

I can't think of anything more worthwhile to post on today's blog than a pointer to this, a live cam from a bald eagle's nest. Be patient, and the two nestlings will move around. Be even more patient, and one of the parents will show up with a meal. Utterly amazing.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Who Really Supports The Troops?

Eric Alterman writes of the misconception that conservatives revere and support the military while liberals largely disdain it. In the article, he contrasts public declarations of support with the realities of substandard care for returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. In particular, he focuses on the increase brain injuries and PTSD and the shockingly high suicide rates that accompany them. According to the director of the National Institute of Mental Health, “It’s quite possible that the suicides and psychiatric mortality of this war could trump the combat deaths.”

Alterman cites one of the areas that exemplifies the attitude of the Bush Administration toward the military: That it is cheap labor there to be exploited. This was evident from the onset of the Iraq war, as stories of inadequately armored vehicles and protected soldiers emerged, only to draw Donald Rumsfeld's snide comment about going to war with the army you had. Next, came the extended deployments and continuing deployments, all stretching the capacity of the military to the breaking. And yet, as Alterman points out, Republicans remain unwilling to adequately fund mental health care for returning veterans. In fact, they're reluctant to admit that a problem even exists. ("Is this something we should address ourselves in some sort of release before someone stumbles on it?")

As Alterman writes, the men and women on the receiving end aren't fools. John McCain knows it, too. Why else add Tim Griffin, the scandal-ridden, would-be U.S. Attorney to his campaign? Is it because Griffin is a master of the illegal practice of vote caging, which he has used to deny active-duty soldiers their right to vote?

Vote caging is an illegal practice designed by Republican operatives to hold down turnout from Democratic constituencies. Bulk mail is sent to addresses in selected zip codes with the instruction that is not to be forwarded. When the postal service returns the mail of, say, students, homeless people, or black veterans on active duty, the Republicans attempt to use it as evidence of fraud in order to have the voters stricken from the voting rolls. (Elected officials in some states, of course, are more sympathetic to this argument than others.) Could it be that John McCain is prepared to disenfranchise the very men and women he claims to champion the most?

Citizen K. Read:
Little Criminals, Gene Kerrigan

Thursday, May 22, 2008

An Idea...

...whose time will never, ever, ever come. It's the worst idea since New Coke, worse since it's arguably a sacrilege. A fresh-sliced lime goes great with just about any bottle of cerveza from Mexico, especially if you chase it with a shot of tequila. I like to think that that's how God enjoys a cold one after an especially hard day at work. A lime-like substance injected into something already just this side of stagnant water is an abomination, no matter how much marketing muscle Budweiser puts behind it...

Mike Lux, who is writing a book about the history of the progressive/conservative debate, thinks that Teddy Kennedy is the most important, most effective senator from the progressive side ever...

Citizen K. Read: 

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Hope Still Lives

For a liberal of my age (53), the news of Senator Ted Kennedy's brain tumor is nearly impossible to digest. Despite Chappaquiddick, despite his personal foibles, he became one of the most powerful and effective liberal legislators in the history of the United States Senate. Not only is Kennedy a rhetorical champion of the poor and the disenfranchised, his work has delivered results in small ways and large: He helped create such commonplace, taken-for-granted programs as Meals on Wheels while leading fight to set sanctions against the apartheid regime of South Africa.

After the 1994 Republican sweep of the House and Senate, an undeterred Kennedy set his sights on increasing the minimum wage, which had remained stagnant since 1991. He pulled together a bipartisan coalition of Senators and Representatives that overcame the opposition of the Republican leadership. When the Democrats returned to power in 2006, Kennedy quickly seized the opening to drive for another increase. Of course, a minimum wage of $5.85 an hour is paltry enough -- especially considering that most of the recipients don't have health insurance -- but that's the what happens when the party in power aims to make the rich richer at the expense of the poor and middle class.

Kennedy's signature issue for decades, though, has been his desire to make health care available to all. Because of him, Americans have increasingly come to understand health care access as a human right, not as a privilege determined by economic status. Although Kennedy has never succeeded in passing universal health care legislations, he driven or helped drive a number of important incremental improvements, including:
As a cancer survivor myself, I've learned a little about it in recent years. The older one is, the slower the tumor grows. Glioma can be managed and the victims can live productive lives unless the tumor is a glioblastoma, which in Kennedy's case has yet to be determined. These star-shaped tumors metastasize rapidly with tentacles the extend as the tumor grows. We can only that this isn't the case.

Some years back, I spent a few days visiting an aunt living on Cape Cod. The day before I left, she asked me if there was anything in particular that I wanted to see. The Kennedy Compound, I replied. My recollection is that the compound is inaccessible other than by driving the wrong way down a network of one-way streets, but my aunt knew of a vantage point from which we could view most of the buildings. There in the gloaming, hands in pockets, stood a familiar figure watching a niece or nephew play in the surf. The paunch and the side walls identified one of the world's most powerful men enjoying a quiet family moment, just like anyone else. Although I couldn't but think that he must be considering some way that he could help better the lives of his fellow Americans.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Yes Sir, Yes Sir, Three -- Make That Two -- Bags Full

A friend passed this on and dared me to link to it on my blog. Now, I'm way above making cheap jokes about its utility in the produce section or shopping for bowling balls. But, certain of my readers may not, and you are certainly welcome to make them in the comments section...

Pete Palmer's father provides the latest on The Great Waxahachie High School Indians T-Shirt Scandal, and it involves Citizen K. himself:

"The weirdest thing happened last week re: Pete's T-shirt lawsuit. At a hearing on the case, the school district's counsel tried to enter as evidence the quote from me you put in your blog about why we went with Liberty Legal Institute as our representative. The one where I call them an admittedly right wing organization. She said it fell into one of the exceptions to hearsay as a statement against interest made by me (a party) that showed our intentions were not really to enforce Pete's rights, etc. None of that would be relevant or damaging to our case even if true. The quote was really about what LLI's reasons were for taking the case. Again, none of that is relevant. (On top of that it was hearsay - it was not a statement I made at all; it was you quoting me.)

"The relevant thing as far as I'm concerned is how far afield the school district and it's counsel are willing to go to dredge up info on Pete. They must have someone googling him 24/7. No harm done; I just thought you would be interested.

"It just goes to show what bottom feeders the attorneys for the Waxahachie ISD are that they would try to slander a young person's reputation and call it a defense in a federal civil rights case. It shows how low the administrators are that they would permit it."

Saturday, May 17, 2008

No Woman, No Cry

A downside of the internet is its endless craving for something, anything new to fill the information vacuum created by its very existence. Hence, we get articles like this waste of time, talent, energy, and space, which supposes that Hillary Clinton's looming defeat signals the end of any real possibility of a woman president in the near future. There's no one, it seems, with Clinton's "name recognition, fundraising network or political connections." (These are the kinds of "qualifications" that tempt a candidate to make a calculated vote in favor of a war he or she likely has little enthusiasm for.)

It belabors the obvious to point out that four years ago almost any American would have bet on the likelihood of hellfire in the Arctic Circle over the probability of an African-American being a major party nominee for president of the United States. And, somehow or other, Barack Obama managed the feat without name recognition, a fundraising network, and virtually no national connections. Obama does have charisma, vision, an agile intellect, and superior political mind. A woman candidate with these credentials will be formidable indeed, even if we don't know at the moment who she might be. If nothing else, Barack Obama has proven that a genuine political force can come out of nowhere and dominate the political scene.

In truth, the "next" woman candidate (and who is to say that there won't be more than one?) doesn't have to be the second coming of Barack Obama to be a better candidate than Hillary Clinton. After all, Clinton's name recognition, fundraising, and connections result from being the spouse of a popular president. Her successors will achieve what they achieve on the basis of their own abilities. They may not be so lucky, but my guess is that they'll be better.

Friday, May 16, 2008

I Can See Clearly Now...

Last year, Premium T. and I had the unadulterated pleasure of spending a day driving through Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. We contemplated one transcendentally splendid vista after another, marveling at the beauty and diversity of this incomparable ecosystem. We gazed across the rich green and gold of Yellowstone's resplendent Hayden Valley, watching the buffalo herd graze and ford the Yellowstone River, which meanders through one of the closest approximations of paradise on this earth. A closer look revealed the rare sight of a lone wolf supping peaceably near a sand bar. As we took it all in, I turned to Premium T. and remarked, "Only one thing could improve on this -- could make it perfect. That would be the smoky plumes of a coal-fire power plant in the near distance."

Well, thanks to the Bush Administration, this vision is closer to reality. Over the objections of staff members and the forest service, EPA political appointees addressed a "legal issue" and a "policy issue" (not, apparently, a clean air issue) that worried no one outside of the extraction industry. It amounts to a new way of averaging air quality so the spikes in poor visibility are unaccounted for.

It's all about "averages," you see, and it doesn't make sense to take "the most conservative approach" with what remains of our precious national heritage. Or so says Jeffrey R. Holmstead, former head of the EPA's air and radiation office. Holmstead led development of the new "standards" before leaving the EPA to head the Environmental Strategies department of Bracewell & Giuliani, a massive law firm with clients as far flung as Dubai (Halliburton, anybody?) and that openly boasts of managing "cutting edge air and emissions issues on behalf of refineries, utilities, and manufacturers."

Luckily, we the people had a man like this devising air quality regulations instead of the scientists -- excuse me, "bureaucrats" -- at the EPA and the rangers -- I'm sorry, "environmental extremists" -- at the Forest Service. Not to worry, though, EPA deputy Robert J. Meyers assures us that the the new air quality rules are intended to "clarify how increment consumption must be addressed" and have absolutely positively no bearing whatsoever on facilitating the construction of power plants. But, he admits, "we are unable to conclusively confirm or deny their suggestion."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

How He Did It

How Barack Obama came to the verge of the Democratic party presidential nomination will be the subject of books, articles, theses, and dissertations for years. What I know is this much: Hillary Clinton's vote on the Iraq war exposed an opening on her left. Democrats opposed to the war -- in other words, just about all Democrats except for the U.S. Senator from Connecticut -- were left to ponder the rationale behind the decision of the woman who was not only the early front runner for the party's presidential nomination, she was virtually the assumed nominee.

In her speech to the Senate explaining her vote, Clinton walked a line between support for unilateral intervention and for seeking full U.N. approval. She carefully said that she was not voting for "any new doctrine of pre-emption, or for uni-lateralism, or for the arrogance of American power or purpose -- all of which carry grave dangers for our nation, for the rule of international law and for the peace and security of people throughout the world." (Truer words were never spoken.) But the money quote, the one that raised suspicions about her judgment and motives came earlier in the speech:

"I will take the President at his word that he will try hard to pass a UN resolution and will seek to avoid war..."

This flew in the face of grass-roots assumptions about Bush. How could anyone trust a man who would steal a presidential election? How could anyone trust a man who ran as a uniter and already governed as a divider? And biggest of all, how could anyone trust the word of a man that he wanted to avoid war when he was clearly rushing headlong toward it? And if Clinton actually didn't trust Bush, what kind of person would vote for war as an expedient means of covering her right flank?

All of this would have been moot had the occupation gone well. Instead, the predictions of anti-war politicians and citizens came true with a vengeance. Clinton stood by her vote, wondering on Larry King Live, wondering how the administration could "have been so poorly prepared for the aftermath" of the invasion. To her would-be constituency, this missed the point, since the inability of the Bush Administration or anyone else to win the peace in Iraq was a fundamental reason for opposing the war in the first place. How, we wondered, could a Democratic U.S. Senator even be wondering about what had been obvious all along? To all appearances, Clinton had believed that the war and occupation would be a success, a stance that now achieved the seemingly impossible combination of naivete and cynicism.

The opening for an alternative widened. What no one expected was that a freshman Senator from Illinois would fill it, or that his opportunity would be the result of a wildly successful book tour. Barack Obama offered two things that Hillary Clinton did not: He opposed the war from the onset and he offered an antidote to the expediency that many of us felt underlay Clinton's vote. Thus, he could plausibly lay claim to correct judgment about the war and to an aversion to the cynical political calculus that helped produce the war. (That she resolutely avoided discussion of her vote led more and more Democrats to conclude that she had in fact made a vote she believed was politically smart.)

Did this preordain an Obama victory? We tend to forget that Clinton handily led all comers on the eve of the primary season. Barack Obama took maximum advantage of the opening Clinton gave him with a superior campaign strategy that involved grass-roots organizing and fundraising and a consistent message of changing the way things were done. Clinton's campaign suddenly seemed to be without a rationale: What she and her supporters anticipated as a triumphal coronation march had suddenly become a referendum on the way on the S.O.P. of the Washington establishment she claimed to have mastered.

Clinton ran on a strategy that was to culminate in victory on Super Tueday. Obama -- ironically, as it turned out -- saw the campaign as a drawn out affair in which he would relentlessly bring his superior 50-state organization to bear. When Super Tuesday proved inconclusive, he was able to win big in states that Clinton considered irrelevant to the campaign and had not bothered to organze. By the time she recovered and sharpened the rationale for her candidacy, Obama had built a delegate lead that she could not cut into with relatively narrow victories in the states where the demographics favored her. Indeed, a similar dynamic played itself out over and over: In Clinton states, Obama cut into a big lead to finish closer than expected, whereas she made no headway in Obama states.

In the end, a superior candidate with a superior strategy successfully appealed to a party that wants to turn the page. While Clinton commands an important constituency, there's no reason to think that Obama can't pull it together under his campaign in the general election. He will have more money than John McCain. It's already clear that he is as gifted an organizer as he is an orator. He will be the candidate of change in a country tired of a failed war, disgusted by the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, and increasingly frightened of a deteriorating economy and the increasing lack of access to health care. So far, all his opponent will say is that Bush has the right ideas, he's just put them into action (or inaction) incompetently -- in other, McCain promises more of the same with better results.

The big question -- and it is a big one - is whether the country will vote for an African-American president even in the face of a failed administration. In that sense, the coming campaign will be a referendum on whether we as a nation truly believe what we say: That all men are created equal. It is time, in Martin Luther King's unforgettable words, for this country to live out the true meaning of its creed.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Younger Than Springtime

Well, we're pretty sure he is anyway. To discover who and what is definitely younger than John McCain -- things like Cheerios and the Golden Gate Bridge, check out this blog. One of them, Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi, offered this nugget on the prospect of being offered the vice-presidency: 

"When I was much younger, I probably would have said, 'Sure, I'll be glad to accept it,' but I'm seventy years [old] and they need a younger person for the job. I would probably tell them 'Look for somebody else.'"

Monday, May 12, 2008

Katrina Pictures

I invite all of you to view my gallery of post-Katrina pictures here. I took most of the photos from a moving van, so they are on the raw side. I decided against touching them up because I wanted you to see what we saw.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

It's All Over But The Crying

By now, it's apparent to anyone outside the circle of Hillary Clinton's most devoted supporters that Barack Obama will be the Democratic Party nominee for president. Clinton soldiers on for reasons known only to her at this point. As her attacks on Obama become shriller and shriller, Obama adds to his tally of superdelegates. That her remark questioning Obama's support among "hard-working Americans, white Americans" has been met with a relatively muted response only highlights her situation: No one is listening any more.

Think for a moment about the magnitude of Obama's achievement. An African-American community organizer from South Chicago rose to the United States Senate and now is about to defeat the most recognizable name in the Democratic party for the presidential nomination. It is by any definition an historic accomplishment, perhaps unmatched in American politics. And yet Hillary Clinton would have us believe that Obama cannot defeat John McCain in the fall.

But what do we care anyway? Everything's great right now (click to enlarge):

(For more surreal inanity, see

If you want to be moved and touched, don't miss Aaron Neville's reflections on the 2008 JazzFest. (Thanks to Ned Sublette for calling this to my attention. If you haven't read my review of Ned's excellent book, The World That Made New Orleans, it's here.)

Until the end of this month, Seattle's Davidson Gallery has a wonderful show of work by print-maker Artemio Rodriguez. If you live in the area, don't miss it. Here's a sample of Rodriguez's amazing work:

Thursday, May 8, 2008

At The Evangeline Oak

I received this comment from kathy at Stone Soup Musings about the pictures in yesterday's entry: "It's surreal to see these pictures with the green lawns and blue sky and remember the death and horror those people lived through."

During the tour, we passed a man mowing the lawn around a slab, which was all that remained of his house. Rose (our tour guide) explained that the city of New Orleans had enacted a draconian ordinance aimed at maintaining a decent level of sanitation. If an owner decides to keep his home whether he or she lives there or not and even if it is marked for demolition, they must maintain the yard. That's why you see closely cut yards but few shrubs or gardens. Failure to maintain the yard results in a fine of $100 a day. When the fines accumulate to an amount equal to the assessed value of the home, the city confiscates the home. The irony is that the city can't afford to maintain the yards, so city-owned lots are often overgrown and weed-choked.

Yesterday's essay closed with an excerpt from the close of a Huey Long campaign speech. When Long ran for governor in 1928, Louisiana was in a nearly complete state of benightedness, with few paved roads, no public health care, and rampant illiteracy. Long himself was no stranger to corruption, but he delivered a progressive agenda and was hugely popular among the common people. He delivered this speech in St. Martinville, under the Evangeline Oak, the subject of a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The peroration is widely regarded as one of the most moving pieces of rhetoric in American political history. Here it is:

"…It is here under this oak where Evangeline waited for her lover, Gabriel, who never came. This oak is an immortal spot, made so by Longfellow's poem, but Evangeline is not the only one who has waited here in disappointment.

Where are the schools that you have waited for your children to have, that have never come?

Where are the roads and the highways that you send your money to build, that are no nearer now than ever before?

Where are the institutions to care for the sick and disabled?

Evangeline wept bitter tears in her disappointment, but it lasted only through one lifetime. Your tears in this country, around this oak, have lasted for generations. Give me the chance to dry the eyes of those who still weep here."

(Evangeling Oak drawing here.)

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


A week ago today, we joined ten other people and toured the Katrina-damaged areas of New Orleans. This amounts to 80 per cent of the entire city, an expanse of 144 square miles, or the size of seven Manhattans. Katrina-related damage extended to four parishes: Orleans, Jefferson, Placquemines, and St. Bernard's. As we discovered on the tour, little of it need have happened: Although touched off by natural forces, Katrina was largely a man-made disaster.

Rose, our tour guide, was herself a victim of the hurricane. She led the 3-hour 45-minute tour with good humor and no discernible rancor, but with a powerful narrative in the voice of an authentic New Orleans accent that commanded attention throughout. The tour circled the perimeter of the affected areas and cut though the key areas near Lake Ponchartrain, East New Orleans, and the Upper and Lower Ninth Wards.

A retired P.E. teacher who grew up in the French Quarter, Rose eventually settled with her husband in a middle class development, most of which is now slated for destruction. Rose and her husband tried for two years after the hurricane to keep their home in the hopes that they could restore it, and finally gave up. High school volunteers from Iowa helped them remove what was valuable from their home before they sold it to the city for 10 cents on the dollar. The city quickly slapped a red X on the house, meaning that damage to the home is so extensive that it must be torn down:

Katrina collided with New Orleans on August 29, 2005 as a category 5 hurricane assaulting an eroding and poorly maintained system of levees. A storm of historic but not unprecedented proportions, Katrina was the sixth most powerful Atlantic hurricane and the 3rd strongest to make landfall in the United States. New Orleans is located 3-8 feet below sea level in a basin between the Mississippi River and Lake Ponchartrain, the largest American lake outside of the Great Lakes. (You can't see across the lake: It's large enough to have its own horizon.) Canals connecting the river to the lake cut across the city.

Nonetheless, its likely that New Orleans would have escaped catastrophic damages were it not for the failure of the decaying levee system, which breached in 53 places. Rose drove us by a number of the breaches, generally a hundred yards long or more. This picture shows the extent of one breach: The repaired area of the flood wall is bright white. The back yards of this neighborhood literally abut the flood wall:

As the tour progressed, we learned to read the damage. Notice the irregularly shaped hole in the roof of this picture:

This indicates that the family trapped in this home escaped by forcing their way through the roof from the inside. A square hole means that someone rescued the family from the outside by cutting the hole into the roof with a chain saw. Note that the rescuer could only have gotten there in the first place in a boat.

As volunteers arrived in New Orleans to assist with cleanup, a system emerged that allowed all teams to know whether a house had been inspected, who had done it, and what had been found, shown here with the X and characters spray-painted on this home:

A team from Georgia, denoted by the "GA" in the left quadrant of the X, examined this home on September 27 (the 9/27 in the top quadrant) and found no bodies (the zero in the bottom quadrant).

The last part of the tour took us through East New Orleans, including the now famous Upper and Lower Ninth Wards, the sites of the great majority of Katrina-related deaths. Billy Sothern, in his fine book Down In New Orleans: Reflections From A Drowned City, relates the development history of the area, which was originally two large tracts held by old New Orleanian and corporate interests. Although ownership of the tracts can be traced back to the 18th Century, they remained undeveloped until the '60's. Then, a combination of advanced pumping and drainage techniques and a federal grant to build up the levee system made it feasible to drain the wetlands comprising the tracts and develop them as a haven for whites fleeing the urban core of New Orleans.

The tracts were developed over the objections of scientists who predicted their vulnerability to a powerful hurricane. Not wishing to discourage potential buyers, developers conveniently omitted mention of hurricanes as they marketed new homes with scruples of a con man selling the Brooklyn Bridge. Over time, white families continued an eastern migration as the black working class moved into the Ninth Ward, which became the largest concentration of African-American owned homes in the city. Contrary to the images popularized by the conservative media, the Ninth Ward was not a massive network of government housing projects. Instead, as Rose explained, it was the backbone of the New Orleans working class.

Bisected by a canal connecting the Mississippi River to Lake Ponchartrain, the Ninth Ward was flooded when levees breached in two places to create an enfilade of flood waters that swept homes from their foundations and drowned over 1,500 people, primarily the old and the infirm who were unable to evacuate.

Now, the Ninth Ward is faced with the very understandable, very human desire to rebuild a close-knit community -- to return to what was -- in the face of virtually unanimous assessments from scientists and ecologists that the area is simply not meant to withstand hurricanes, that the victims of what amounts to environmental classism will get more more of the same if the answer is simply to build higher levees. Geography professor Peirce Lewis warned in 1976 during the early development of East New Orleans of the "wisdom, much less the safety, of the new New Orleans" and of the "real estate speculation by people who were either unwise or dishonest."* Moreover, the reality of global warming means that future hurricanes may well be more powerful and more destructive. The dilemma of the Ninth Ward is replicated further east in almost all white St. Bernard's Parish, which at one point was completely submerged by flood waters.

Sadly, Mayor Ray Nagin's political leadership has been adrift, allowing citizens to return to the Ninth Ward in the absence of any master plan for reconstruction. Not that much appears to be happening: While we witnessed no shortage of people attempting to reclaim their homes, there appears to be no systematic, coordinated activity. And there were any number of abandoned homes and lots as well.

Indeed, the only complete stretch of newly developed homes was the musician's complex in the Ninth Ward. However, this came about because of actor Brad Pitt's personal interest: He donated $5 million of his own money and raised another $5 million. The artists who live here pay according to their means and take out low interest mortgages. It's not a bad model, but it's questionable that the Ninth Ward is the appropriate place for it. As Professor Lewis explains, "Putting off limits rebuilding of heavily flooded areas will prevent more death. If you restore New Orleans as it was ten years ago, you are inviting a human disaster of catastrophic proportions."** In other words, if you think Katrina was bad...

There's also the question of whether New Orleans even can be restored to what it was or whether that is desirable. The pre-Katrina population was 700,000. Current official estimates are 400,000; Rose said that it was 250,000 at the most. I will say only that the activity we saw does not suggest a city of 400,000.

For all of its spirit and historical importance, pre-Katrina New Orleans was arguably America's poorest, most neglected city. Along with massive federal assistance, the city, state, and federal governments that have already failed the city must cooperate and coordinate their activities to an unprecedented extent. The governing bodies must not only work together effectively, they must regain the trust of the community -- a difficult obstacle that can only be surmounted by consistently delivering results over time.

New Orleans itself requires a comprehensive redevelopment plan assembled with the input and approval of community groups and business leaders. This is a tall order in a city long riven by class, race, and blood lines. Groups with no history of working together will have to, but it's unclear that they share the same interests. Indeed, groups that one would think have common interests spend too much time and effort squabbling among themselves: Sothern's depressing account of community organizers arguing over who is doing the most good does not bode well for the future of the city.

And yet, the city soldiers on. We danced that night away at the seventh annual Ponderosa Stomp, which celebrates the blues, R&B, swamp rock, and rockabilly of the past. Tourists and locals of all ages congregated happily, many dressed in the kinds of costumes that typify the city's insouciance. Still, I couldn't help being reminded of Huey Long's brilliant peroration given under the Evangeline Oak in St. Martinville, Louisiana:

“…It is here under this oak where Evangeline waited for her lover, Gabriel, who never came...Evangeline wept bitter tears in her disappointment, but it lasted only through one lifetime. Your tears in this country, around this oak, have lasted for generations."

One fears that many bitter tears remain to be wept.

Citizen K. Read:
The Moviegoer, Walker Percy
Down In New Orleans: Reflections From A Drowned City, Billy Sothern