“"The Confederacy of Dunces" is Finally Ship-Wrecked”

photo courtesy of www.xente.mundo-r.com

Oh New Orleans! You are a city of water, music, laughter, city of fun; city of 1.3 million people in the Twenty-first century. New Orleans has history and Jazz and Mardi Gras. Louis Armstrong, “Satchmo” popularized Jazz all over the world. In 1949, Louis Armstrong was King Zulu at the New Orleans Mardi Gras.  The Zulus were long time carnival players and renowned for their social comment, politics and entertainment value during Mardi Gras. For a decade, from 1923-1933 the Zulu King was actually a man in drag playing a Zulu Queen.

Harriet Beecher Stowe visited New Orleans and was inspired to write “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” after visiting the Slave Market; Anne Rice of vampire renown, lived until recently in New Orleans and was active in the preservation of New Orleans literary history. Tennessee Williams’ heroine Blanche Dubois is the inspiration for the History of Southern Decadence Festival. In 2005, the festival was canceled due to Hurricane Katrina and the religious groups: Evangelical Christian and Repent America declared that the storm was the result of an act of God because of the planned Southern Decadence Festival.

Engineer, A. Baldwin Wood developed powerful pumps at the beginning of the Twentieth century that allowed swamp land to be drained from within the city. This allowed new sections of New Orleans to be settled. The pumps, canals, a line of levees and the Bonnet Carre Spillway diverting runoff from Mississippi into Lake Pontchartrain, helped the city grow.

The 1970s saw the construction of major public works: new bridges and over passes, a new city hall and municipal court complex, a main public library, the Poydras Street Commercial Corridor, the Louisiana Superdome, the Aquarium of the Americas and the renovation of the French Quarter as a major tourist attraction.

Land was reclaimed from The Wetlands for a century until in 1992, President Clinton imposed a ban on draining of The Wetlands. No new leases were allowed until George Bush and the Republicans, disregarding the advice of scientists and experts, overturned the legislation and drained more of nature’s weather barrier.  

Hurricane Katrina has exposed the practices of corrupt politicians. By not requesting the money and implementing improvements to the Levees, crimes were committed by omission. Studies by newspapers, drills by FEMA were like paying a commission on the robbery of a nation.

$71.2 million from the budget of the New Orleans Corps of Engineers, a 44 percent reduction…..Our friends at the Center for American Progress note the Office of Technology Assessment used to produce forward-thinking plans such as "Floods: A National Policy Concern" and "A Framework for Flood Hazards Management." Unfortunately, the office was targeted by Newt Gingrich and the Republican right, and gutted years ago.” (Flood of Bad Policies/Ivins, Molly/September 2nd 2005)

“We are responding as fast as we can. It takes time,” was the official message in August 2005. President Bush declared Louisiana and Mississippi disaster areas the weekend before the storm; there was much anxiety from the hurricane authorities as to the power and sheer size of Katrina. President Bush remained in Crawford, Texas expecting FEMA and The Department of Homeland Security to get busy.

Sloppy government management was identified by  Paul Krugman on September 8th in the New York Times.  The USS BATAAN which has six operating rooms, hundreds of hospital beds and the ability to produce 100,000 gallons of fresh water per day, sat off the Gulf coast with no patients.  

Krugman   views the lapse of time between the storm and the government’s action as critical. He writes: “But the federal government’s lethal ineptitude wasn’t just a consequence of Bush’s personal inadequacy; it was a consequence of ideological hostility to the very idea of using government to serve the public good.”

Krugman’s view of FEMA is predictable and honest:
“The undermining of FEMA began as soon as George Bush took office. Instead of choosing a professional with expertise in response to disaster to head the agency, he appointed Joseph Allbaugh, a close political confidant. Allbaugh quickly began scaling back some of FEMA’s preparedness programs.”

Michael Brown led FEMA during Katrina and resigned two weeks later. Some of his errors would be laughable if the consequences of his incompetence had not affected so many lives. Lives may have been lost due to his hesitant actions and diplomatic posturing. Here’s a typical FEMA recipe for stupidity: Katrina ice fiasco costs $100 million.

Ninety-one thousand tons of ice cubes had to be used or stored and ended up all over the country (even as far away and North as Maine where Senator Susan Collins of Maine at a Wednesday hearing wondered how ice for the Katrina disaster had ended up in her state to be stored for the next disaster?) because FEMA had ordered too much ice for Katrina.

The Mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin heads a mayor-council system which governs New Orleans.

“The mayor heads the executive branch of municipal government and a council of five districts and two at-large members from the legislative branch. The mayor and seven council members serve four-year terms in office. The chief administrative officer assists the mayor in the executive branch of city government and coordinates the activities of the various municipal departments. Several boards and commissions within Orleans Parish direct specialized governmental functions, such as the Sewerage and Water Board and the Orleans Parish School Board. The Orleans Levee Board and the Board of Commissioners of the Port of New Orleans (the Dock Board)-two vital governmental organizations for a city that is largely below sea level and depends mightily upon its port for economic prosperity--are actually Louisiana State Agencies,” says Edward Haas.

When I tried to find out who has been appointed chief administrative assistant to Nagin, the web site for the New Orleans City Council said it was last modified September 16th 2005 and there were no photos, no names of the people in power. I guess they decided to hide the names of those responsible for the debacle.

Meanwhile, the Levee Board is up on corruption charges: after $2.4 million was spent on a fountain and $15 million on overpasses that ferried gamblers to casinos, and they found room in the budget, $45,000 for a private investigator to target Robert Namer, a local Louisianan radio DJ who criticized their fraudulent use of state funds. When Namer took them to court the Levee Board had to pay Namer a second $45,000 to settle for harassing him: "They misspent the money," says Billy Nungesser, a former top Republican official who was briefly president of the Levee Board. "Any dollar they wasted was a dollar that could have went in the levees."

Nungesser was fired because he targeted wasteful spending and the new Levee Board President assured the NBC investigators “"I assure you that you will find that all of our money was appropriately expended." Huey says money for the levees comes from a different account than money for business activities and that part of the board’s job is providing recreational opportunities.” And if you believe that, I have some swampland to sell you!

Racism, but more importantly, poverty is so embarrassing to a country like America, that poverty must be hidden or explained at all costs. So now we must explain why the majority of displaced people from the hurricane (followed by levee rupture and subsequent flooding) are black-skinned. Does that mean that they didn’t have the funds to get out of town? Yes, that could be exactly what it means.

The middle class government didn’t pause and think, between press conferences about the consequences of their ill-prepared response. Nor did they consider that those without transportation, those with infirmities, those sick in hospitals and nursing homes, nor did they consider catering a three-day stay for 25,000-30,000 people at a sports arena?  One thousand people should not have been put into a sports arena without security; let alone 25-30 thousand.

From a propaganda point of view, the Superdome images convey the message that we can’t keep order in our own country. Ray Nagin may be the secret weapon long anticipated by Civil Rights activists. With middle class disregard for the real situation confronting the remaining New Orleans residents, Nagin profiled for the camera as his inefficiency was recorded minute by excruciating minute on international television.

FEMA’s Michael Brown resigned Sept 12th two weeks into the disaster. When interrogated by a special panel set up by House Republican leaders, Michael Brown blamed the dysfunctionality of Louisianan politicians for FEMA‘s incompetence; specifically Kathleen Blanco, Louisianan Governor and New Orleans Mayor, Ray Nagin. President Bush has made 7 trips to the region to comfort as many refugees as he could lay hands on, for photo ops and to observe the interface between local and federal government. He was governor of Texas. Doesn’t he know all that?

By September 28th the media was reporting that the stories of rape and murder in New Orleans were not true; the medical examiners who performed autopsies said there were no victims of these crimes amongst the autopsied dead. Poverty runs at around 35 percent in Orleans parish but most of the Katrina refugees are middle class or lower class Americans struggling to make a living and overcome the daily difficulties that beset us all. “As Katrina was making its devastating landfall, the U.S. Census Bureau released new figures that show that since 1999, the income of the poorest fifth of Americans has dropped 8.7 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars. Last year alone, 1.1 million were added to the 36 million already on the poverty rolls.” (Real Costs of a Culture of Greed by Robert Scheer)

Paul Greenberg’s opinion piece “Church, state and Wal-Mart” (AZ Daily Star Oct 3rd 2005) highlights the few good things that came from Katrina: Wal-Mart has an efficient inventory system and is better equipped to deliver supplies to stricken areas than FEMA. His take is that the “Jesus Freaks” and the Salvation Army are better at feeding and comforting the victims of disasters than the American government. As far as emergencies are concerned, the Coast Guard is better-equipped and more capable at handling rescue operations than FEMA. And he concludes “Even the best of cultures can be rendered useless by paralysis at the top.”

As the Katrina news cycle petered out, chased away by upper class people evacuating their million dollar mansions as wild fires raged in California, and terrorists attacked Bali, my thoughts return to disaster victims. We buy land and build houses in bizarre places and expect to be compensated.

All over the world the weather is changing and we are still in denial about Global Warming in the United States and the Western world. We refuse to acknowledge the melting ice caps, the rising ocean levels, the destruction of two thirds of the Barrier Reef and all the other changes that come with the climactic changes the earth is experiencing. Without our atmosphere, we will be burned to a crisp and without the Wetlands New Orleans was as vulnerable as a child.

Politicians who steal money from their electoral base should be held responsible. Politicians who knowingly roll back reforms that endanger the lives of an entire community might well be guilty of genocide. A month after Katrina hundreds of dead bodies are waiting to be identified. The death count at this time is 896 people. Each death is a casualty of the decision to drain more Wetlands, the natural barriers that protect the Gulf Coast from storms.

Is Group Think at work here? Do we just believe what we are told without questioning the “truth” as it is told? Do we get so excited when someone is elected that we let go of all reason and ignore the reality in front of our eyes. Katrina really happened. New Orleans really was 80-90 percent under water. Over a thousand people will be dead by the time it’s all said and done. Half a million people have been removed from their homes and dislocated from their communities and support mechanisms.

I think the population of New Orleans should wait it out and make them fix everything! Fix the schools and health services, and pay all the displaced New Orleans residents for the inconvenience of the politicians’ legalized thuggery. Politicians robbed their citizens of the precautions that might have protected them and made the damage to New Orleans more severe.

Shame on consumerism! Shame on political greed! It is our shame for not paying attention while New Orleans was robbed of its natural protection, the Wetlands.


written by Mary Angela Barnett Jones (aka Angela Bowie) © 2005

# Anonymous quote from my New Orleans Source

# Source: The Ambrosia Bakery http://www.ambrosiabakery.com/kingcakes.asp

# (see Molly Ivins’ article “A Flood of Bad Policies,” September 2nd http://www.alternet.org/columnists/story/24923/)

# Katrina uncovered our government’s ineffectiveness by Paul Krugman 08/09/05 AZ Daily Star

# Katrina uncovered our government’s ineffectiveness by Paul Krugman 08/09/05 AZ Daily Star

# Katrina ice fiasco costs $100 million New York Times and AZ Daily Star Oct.2nd 2005

# Is the Orleans Levee Board doing it’s Job? By Lisa Myers and NBC Investigative Unithttp://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9342186/

# Encarta Encyclopedia Edward Haas B.A. Ph.D. from the article: “Political leadership in a Southern City: New Orleans in the Progressive Era.


# http://orleansny.com/Default.htm

# Is the Orleans Levee Board doing its Job? By Lisa Myers and NBC Investigative Unithttp://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9342186/

# Is the Orleans Levee Board doing its Job? By Lisa Myers and NBC Investigative Unithttp://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9342186/

# Stories of rape and murder after Katrina weren’t true by Beth Gillin Knight Ridder Newspapers

# The Real Costs of a Culture of Greed

By Robert Scheer, AlterNet. Posted September 6, 2005. http://www.alternet.org/columnists/story/25095/

# Paul Greenberg “Church, state and Walmart” (AZ Daily Star Oct 3rd 2005)