Monday, January 29, 2007

Senate Committee Holds Hearings in New Orleans

Three members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee were in New Orleans today for hearings on the government's incompetent and indefensible Katrina recovery efforts. Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu (D) was joined by Committee Chairman Joe Liebermann (I) and presidential candidate Barak Obama (D).

Obama criticized the President for not saying anything about the Gulf Coast in his State of the Union address, but I'm more impressed with Liebermann's comments. "A year and a half after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, it’s time to redouble our efforts to win the new Battle for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Congress has provided over $110 billion dollars to the region since Katrina and Rita….Yet for all of the funding Congress approved, the reality seems to be that the money is not arriving fast enough or is sitting idle while the people of New Orleans and the Gulf states continue to suffer and struggle."

The press release continues: "Lieberman specifically cited the “painfully slow” distribution of Louisiana’s $7.5 billion in Community Development Block Grants through the state of Louisiana’s 'Road Home Program,' designed to help individual homeowners rebuild. Some 101,657 homeowners have applied for assistance under the program but only 258 homeowners have received funding. “How can this be?” Lieberman asked. “We must find a way to streamline this process to eliminate this extraordinary disconnect.”

As wonderful as Liebermann's comments may be, and as spot-on as his remarks about Road Home are, I am dissapointed in the Committee's witness list. They heard from Mayor Nagin, the federal Katrina czar Donald Powell, a FEMA Deputy Director, a Louisiana Recovery Authority member, and other federal officials. These people are the problem! These are the people in charge of the incompetent response! As far as I can tell, nothing too constructive was said, though I've yet to read the actual transcript. As you can imagine, the typical fingerpointing continued, with Mayor Nagin blaming the Iraq war, racism and class, and a lack of federal will for the slow progress. Powell said the President is committed to rebuilding the area, but like Nagin, did not take responsibility for the mess.

Since no one is willing to take responsibility for their mistakes, I hope various journalists, activists, and non-profit leaders will be allowed to testify. Maybe then the feds will get a clear picture of what's happening down there. However the lawmakers proceed, I hope their efforts will yield some fruition. I'm upset with Liebermann for a number of reasons right now, but he does have a reputation for integrity and ethics. He's probably a good person to head an investigation of waste, corruption, and inefficiency.

Since I'm giving Obama this mention, I should point out that former Sen. John Edwards (D) announced his own presidential campaign in New Orleans last month. I'll post, hopefully tomorrow, about candidate Sen. Chris Dodd's comments on the city.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Attention Dartmouth Students and Faculty

"Hi all!

This past fall, Nathan Empsall '09 spent the term in New Orleans helping to get people the supplies that they need to get back on their feet.

Nathan is spearheading a trip back to New Orleans over spring break. We will be working mostly to gut houses, clearing out the debris left by the hurricane's destruction. This is some of the most important work to be done on the Gulf Coast, because it is the key first step to getting families either back in their homes or on the road to a new one.

If you are interested in coming on this trip, e-mail me and let me know. There would be some costs involved to cover food and other expenses, but the more people we get onboard, the more resources we will have to get funding.

Look forward to hearing from you!

Andy Shamel (
Epsicopal Campus Minister"

Friday, January 26, 2007

The University of Idaho and Katrina

From the Spokesman Review's Betsy Russell's Eye on Boise blog Wednesday:

"From Idaho to Louisiana, and back...
Ten Louisiana college students were accepted at the University of Idaho after Hurricane Katrina closed down their schools – but the surprising thing is that seven of them were from Idaho, and had been attending Louisiana colleges. Three were from out of state. Of the 10, two have graduated, reported UI President Tim White, four returned to Louisiana this year, and four have stayed at the UI. White also entertained legislative budget writers with a video clip of a Fox News report on UI students who spent their spring break working to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, and who reported that seeing the difference they could make was better than Cancun any day."

Go you, Vandals! Go! You!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

PB Visits Dioceses of Louisiana, Mississippi

I was going to post on Katrina students in Idaho or Chris Dodd today, but this is too hot to pass up! From Episcopal News Service:

"Learning about the ongoing relief efforts of the dioceses of Mississippi and Louisiana in response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori joined new bishops and spouses on the Gulf Coast January 17-19 on her first official visit to the region since taking office as presiding bishop.

Twelve new bishops and bishops-elect, along with their spouses, gathered at the Solomon Retreat Center in Louisiana beginning January 15 and were joined by Jefferts Schori on January 17 when the group heard from Bishops Duncan Gray of Mississippi and Charles Jenkins of Louisiana about the Church’s ongoing relief efforts and spent three days visiting areas and churches along the Gulf Coast that had been impacted by the hurricane.

Photos are available at:"

And look at some of these pictures! This is PB Schori at my old rig and Walgreen's on Caffin and St. Claude in the Lower Ninth Ward. Yay!

(Judging by the way the RVs/signs are arranged in the photos, they've changed the way the New Orleans mobile units are run since I left, which is no suprise, but that's a whole 'nother story!)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Bush: New Orleans Not Worth Mentioning

If you didn't happen to catch President Bush's State of the Union address last night, let me tell you now: he didn't mention New Orleans once. You might recall that last year, when the disaster was still fresh on everyone's minds, he mentioned it only very briefly at the end of his speech.

This is digusting. Hundreds of thousands of God's children are still suffering in Louisiana and Mississippi. You saw the Bob Herbert quote - the government's negligence and failure can be blamed for much of this. And the President's reaction? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I often gripe about the media's lack of coverage on the issue, but it is the President who sets the national agenda. Perhaps my criticism has been somewhat misguided - or at least not spread wide enough.

Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), who wrote and delievered the Democratic response, gave New Orleans a mention fairly early on in the speech, and I thank him for it. At least that's something. But while Democrats have both houses of Congress, they don't have the White House and its Presidential bully pulpit. New Orleans is, alongside nuclear proliferation and climate change, the most important issues facing us today. As Dean Stuart Lord here at Dartmouth says, we have a moral obligation to help the people of the Gulf Coast - yet the President does nothing. No wonder nothing gets done down there. F'shame.

Thank you, Senator Webb! I was excited by your campaign from the very beginning!

Image Courtesy

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Now Vs. Then Part 2 (more pictures!)

Here are some more pictures comparing the Lower Ninth Ward levee neighborhood now to what it looked like in March. I would have posted these yesterday, but Blogger hates me.

I include this last photo to show that, though the clean-up is encouraging, there's still a lot of work to do. This picture, like the two empty field photos, was taken in November.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Now Vs. Then Part 1 (with pictures!)

I believe I've mentioned before that one of the more visible signs of recovery in the Lower Ninth Ward is the clean-up of the neighborhood along the Industrial Canal, where two levees broke. As I wrote in the Spokesman Review, "When I visited in March, all that remained of the neighborhood was endless debris, empty foundations, and piles of ruined cars. Veterans of both Iraq and Bosnia say the Lower Ninth Ward was the most devastated place they’d ever seen. At some point during the summer, the area was cleaned up, and is now an empty field. That’s of little consolation to someone who now has front porch steps instead of their house, but to an objective observer, the cleanup is a remarkable and visible step." Here, then, are comparison pictures! I should have posted these a long time ago, but never did. My apologies. :( Anyways, the pictures from March were taken by Craig Parker, leader of the Dartmouth Navigators' trip to New Orleans. More recent photos were taken by yours truly (except the fourth one on this post; that was Bob Gustafson). This is just part 1 - I'll post five more pictures later, but Blogger's giving me a tough time right now and I don't want to deal with it anymore.


Sunday, January 21, 2007

Ah, well, it was a good run

The New Orleans Saints lost the NFC Title game to Da Bears today. I was really hoping they'd go all the way and win the Super Bowl this year, but alas, 'twas not to be. Nonetheless, what Coach Payton did in his first year with the team was amazing, both in football terms and in what it did for the city's morale. Yes, a Superbowl win, or even just a Superbowl berth, would have been an even bigger shot in the arm for New Orleans, but the return to the Superdome and the miracle run to the title game were incredibley special all on their own. Thank you, Sean, Reggie, Drew, and all the others! What a gift you gave!

(Image courtesy)

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The ODR Gutting Philosophy and the Bishops

I’ve been meaning to make this post for quite some time!

Shortly after Thanksgiving, the bishops of Province 1 (the Northeast) came to New Orleans to gut houses. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire had to be at a funeral, but was the only bishop to miss it. I saw Bud Cederholm of Massachusetts again, and met Maine’s Chilton Knudsen and Connecticut’s Jim Curry.

More on the bishops in a minute, but this first: the Episcopal gutting program’s philosophy is not typical. Many church gutting programs require homeowners to promise they’ll rebuild the house and stay in New Orleans. On its face, this makes sense: why gut a house that will be demolished anyways when you could focus on a more permanent project?

But Katie Mears, who runs the Diocese’s gutting program, doesn’t ask homeowners to make this promise, and with good reason. I have talked to a number of homeowners who couldn’t decide whether to rebuild until they saw their home fully gutted. Some people, upon seeing their house untouched since the storm, feel overwhelmed and think there’s too much work to do to come home, but when the building is cleaned up, it doesn’t look so bad after all! Other homeowners see it stripped down to its studs and, even if they initially wanted to come home, just see too much despair, or find they don’t have enough money to rebuild after all.

Programs that require these people to say they’ll come home without this information essentially say, “Tough luck.” They focus on the structures, but Katie and her crew focus on the people. What are structures but instruments of people? Isn’t it the family that makes a house a home? Gutting a condemned house can help a homeowner make decisions, pick through their belongings, or find peace of mind as one item is crossed off their mile-long to-do list.

I am pleased to report, the bishops get it! They were quite excited about Katie’s philosophy and were thrilled to return to their pastoral roots and work directly with a homeowner, but horrified by the extent of the city’s remaining damage. This surprised me, actually – no one can understand the extent of Katrina’s wreckage until you see it for yourself, but surely the bishops knew something. Gulf Coast Bishops Charles Jenkins and Duncan Grey have briefed their peers. There was little I could tell my own bishop, James Waggoner, that he hadn’t already heard from his friends. But nevertheless, the damage came as a shock to the Province 1 bishops. All promised to return to their dioceses re-energized and dedicated to helping the people of the Gulf Coast.

The bishops surprised some of the other interns. Katie had warned them that bishops grow used to giving directions, not taking them. Everywhere they go, Katie said, people fawn over them, hold doors for them, kiss their butt, etc., so don’t expect much from them on the job site. And boy was Katie wrong! Jake, one of the crew leaders, told me the bishops were among the best volunteers he’d had. They took direction incredibly well, worked tirelessly and relentlessly, and hated to leave at the end of the day.

Jake also said they enjoyed fart jokes, but that’s his story to tell, not mine.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

New Orleans in the NYT

Here's a really good column from Bob Herbert of the New York Times, published on Monday. Herbert's had a number of good Katrina columns, highlighting the continuing plight. If you don't have time to read the whole op-ed - though it's not very long - the best sentence is, "New Orleans is a mess. It was brought to its knees by Katrina, and is being kept there by a toxic combination of federal neglect and colossal, mind-numbing ineptitude at the local level." Here's the rest:
Descending to New Depths
By Bob Herbert
The New York Times

New Orleans

I was surprised recently by a sudden shift in the tone of a veteran cabdriver, Stanley Taylor, who had been kind enough to take me on a nearly four-hour tour of the flood-wrecked regions of the city.

For most of the afternoon, Mr. Taylor had been wonderfully informative and polite, and his comments had been filled with sympathy for those who had lost so much to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

But as we headed back to my hotel, and darkness began to fall over the eerily still neighborhoods, his tone became unmistakably bitter. We had been talking casually about the thousands of extremely poor evacuees, most of them black, who were still stranded outside New Orleans, some of them scattered to the far reaches of the United States.

Mr. Taylor, who is black, snapped that maybe it would be better if some of them didn’t come back. “The poor people that’s gone,” he said, “they’re gonna have to stay gone. That’s where all the crime was coming from, see? Folks here want people to come back, but they want people with money to come back. The criminals? Shame on ’em. Sorry for ’em.”

During the immediate post-Katrina period, there were essentially two visions of a resurgent New Orleans. One, widely decried as racist, saw the new, improved New Orleans as smaller, whiter and more prosperous.

This was openly advocated. Just a few days after the storm, a wealthy member of the city’s power elite, James Reiss, told The Wall Street Journal: “Those who want to see this city rebuilt want to see it done in a completely different way: demographically, geographically and politically.”

Mr. Reiss, who is white and served in Mayor C. Ray Nagin’s administration as chairman of the Regional Transit Authority (he has since left the government), said that he and many of his colleagues would leave town if New Orleans did not become a city with better services and fewer poor people.

An alternative (and more widely desired) model of the city coincided with the approach that President Bush seemed to be taking when he made his dramatic appearance in floodlit Jackson Square in mid-September 2005. Mr. Bush promised not just to help rebuild New Orleans, but to confront the long-simmering problems of race and poverty with “bold action.”

Supporters of this approach envisioned an effort that would bring desperately needed assistance to the hurricane victims, helping to get them housed and back on their feet, while at the same time constructively engaging the contentious issues that have kept America’s blacks and whites in a state of perpetual hostility, and much of the poor in an all-but-permanent morass of ignorance and deprivation.

What is actually happening is worse than anyone had imagined.

New Orleans is a mess. It was brought to its knees by Katrina, and is being kept there by a toxic combination of federal neglect and colossal, mind-numbing ineptitude at the local level.

The police department here is a sour joke, and crime is out of control. More than 16 months after the storm, children roam the streets with impunity during school hours. Debris still covers much of the city. Doctors, hospitals and mental-health facilities are in woefully short supply. Thousands of residents are still living in trailers, and many thousands more are stuck more or less permanently out of town.

The result is that blacks and whites, feeling unsafe physically and frightened by the long-term prospect of dwindling opportunities, are eyeing the exits.

Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, who lost the mayoral race last May to Mr. Nagin, offered a grim assessment. While the ethnic breakdown may remain roughly the same, he said, the city is on its way to becoming “smaller, poorer and worse than it was before.”

Class, at the moment, is trumping race, which is how Mr. Reiss and Mr. Taylor, the cabdriver, came unwittingly to similar stereotyped conclusions. Unless the foundations of a livable city can be put in place — and they are not being put in place now — those with the ability to leave will do so. The poor, neglected as always, will be left behind.

“The same thing is moving African-Americans as is moving whites,” Mr. Landrieu said. “Everyone is asking: ‘Is it safe? What’s the school situation? Can my kids play outside? What does the future hold for them?’ "

Without a creative new plan and energetic new leadership, New Orleans will be unable to save itself. Right now it’s a city sinking to ever more tragic depths.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Harry Belafonte

I'm back at Dartmouth now, but am continuing to blog about New Orleans, since the city's problems persist, as well as my own many memories I've yet to post. Anyways, last night entertainer and Martin Luther King confidant Harry Belafonte spoke to an audience of about 900. His speech, which I've summarized below, was the greatest speech I have ever heard (and I've heard many speeches from politicians and activists). He issued a call to action - not a national call, but an individual call. What can YOU do? What have you actually done?

I would encourage anyone who can spend a week or more in the Gulf Coast to do so - those people need you, and it's an injustice to let them suffer - so as part of that encouragement, here's a summary of Mr. Belafonte's remarks:

Belafonte never raised his voice, never yelled, and never got excited, but there was nevertheless an urgency to his words; they were very powerful, perhaps forceful. He told us of his last meeting with MLK. King and his confidants were discussing integration, and King said "I fear we are being integrated into a burning house" - an indictment of Vietnam and other U.S. problems. The assembled were quite surprised, and asked what should we do? King, as he picked up his hat and left for Memphis, said we should become firemen.

Belafonte, addressing the typical how far have we come question, said not really that far. You might say but in his day, there were Nazis and swatstikas and marches and whites-only signs and no-black signs, there were lynchings and hangings, and other very visible images. He said those images are still around today: What have you really done about Katrina? You say you're against Iraq; what have you really done about Iraq? What have you really done about our exploding prison population problem? (He talked at length about the prison problem.)

We must speak the truth, he said, and dismissed the whole idea of "What is truth? There's your truth, there's my truth" - bull. There's THE truth. (That was the only applause line within the speech, and - self-call - I started it!) Radical thought can be your best friend, he said. By this, he doesn't mean extremism - he means thinking outside the box. He highlighted some of the biggest advances society has made, and said they were all examples of progressive thinking, NOT conservative thinking. He took a few swipes at Bush, talked about big projects he's worked on and seen others work on, told us of speaking with other lazier celebrities, called us to action several times, and answered a few questions.

At the reception afterwards, I overheard one man say, "I was a member of the progressive activist movement for years." HB: "What do you mean, 'was'?" Man: "Well, that's what I want to tell you about. The last decade or so, I've grown very cynical, especially with the current guys in office. I've become more jaded and bitter, and given up most hope. You, sir, were just what the doctor ordered." I heard other older people say similar things. It was the best speech I've ever heard, and while they don't plan on putting out a transcript, there will be a DVD.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

An Applicable Arlo Guthrie Quote

I transcribed the following from a bootleg recording of Arlo Guthrie's August 21, 2005 concert at the Lyons, CO Folk Fest. I attended an Arlo concert a few weeks later where he said something very similar - he pauses between verses in "This Land is Your Land" to say it.

“A lot of times at these musical events, with people playing all the kind of good music, you get these peace and love types that come out to these events. I know; I used to be one. Then one day recently I was thinking about it, and I said to myself, Arlo, what’s so good about that peace stuff anyhow? You know, if the whole world was peaced out and everybody was getting along, not only that, nobody was even sick or nothing, everybody felt pretty good, not only that, everybody had stuff to eat, nobody was hungry or nothing anywhere? In a world like that, you would have to go a hell of a long way out of your way to make a positive contribution! But in a world that sucks, like this one, you don’t have to do very much at all! There’s never been a time in the history of the world when you could do so little and have it mean so much to so many people! This might be the world we’ve been asking for all along!”

Arlo's words are very applicable to New Orleans - the love and gratitude you recieve from the people there for doing so little - giving them free crackers and hugs - is amazing. Things down there are just that bad.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Spokesman Review Part 2

My second and final article on Katrina recovery appeared in the Spokane, WA Spokesman-Review Idaho Edition yesterday. Like last week, it's the cover article for the Saturday local magazine section, "Handle Extra." I'm told there were three pictures in the paper, though there's only one online. You need a account to read them online, but such accounts are free - or, if you like, I can e-mail you the text. I don't want to post it here; it's too long for a blog post.

And here's a shout-out to my friends Bob Runkle and Mary Beth Jorgensen, back at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Coeur d'Alene, ID. They were also featured in yesteray's Handle Extra, and they deserve it! St. Luke's has seen amazing growth over the past three years, and much of it is due to the hard work of these amazing two people.

Interested in Interning for the Diocese of LA?

If you came to this blog after reading my Spokesman Review article and are looking for information on interning for the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana as a college student or recent college grad, the link to the Office of Disaster Response is Contact Lynn Crean, the new volunteer coordinator, at, and Katie Mears, who runs the gutting program, at I was the only intern who wasn't heavily involved with the gutting/rebuilding program, and that was for health reasons. I would imagine the fellow who ran the mobil unit, Deacon Quinn, could use another intern if the mobile unit is to continue running for awhile. That's something to talk to Lynn about if you want to intern but not gut. Otherwise, expect to gut.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Merry Christmas (and Happy Epiphany)

As some, perhaps most, of you may know, Christmas is not just one day. According to tradition, and to the Catholic and Anglican church calendars (maybe other calendars, too, but I'm Anglican, so that's what I know), Christmas is a twelve day season that only STARTS with Christmas Day - December 25. Hence that famous obnoxious song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Christmas ends when Epiphany arrives on Jan. 6. Epiphany is the celebration of the arrival of the three astrologers to Bethlehem.

So, my friends, it is with joy and glee that I take this last opportunity to wish you all one last

Merry Christmas!!!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

New Orleans Headline Round-up

Here's a round-up of important Times-Picayune stories from the last month. Since this is a long post, and you may not have time to read the whole thing I've arranged the stories in what I believe to be order of importance. The first four are the biggest. I've provided a brief summary of each story, along with the link if you want to read the whole thing - but even I didn't read the whole thing on many of the stories. If you just read this whole post without clicking on any links, you'll get the general idea/big picture.

Major Stories

Good News: Mayor Nagin has finally, over a year later, selected a N.O. recovery chief (finally) - Edward Blakely, who at least has experience and thus may be a good pick: he helped recovery planning after the Bay Area earthquake and the 1991 Oakland wildfire. (Dec. 5)

Bad News: The Road Home program is the official homeowner rebuilding grant process, and is the worst example of government incompetence and inefficiency I have ever heard of or seen. The grants and rewards it gives out are not NEAR what people need - for instance, $550 for over $200,000 in damage (Dec. 14); only ninety-seven applicants out of 90,000 have received checks (Dec 31); and the program is incredibly slow to fix errors (Dec. 29). The Road Home contractors have been blasted by the St. Bernard Parish government (Dec. 20), the federal recovery czar, (Dec. 21), and citizens (Dec. 25). But not everyone is ticked (Dec 29), and I guess we've got to give equal time to that .001%. The program is trying to do better, but to little avail. (By the way, the link for 97 out of 90,000 is a Reuters piece giving an overview on the whole recovery picture in New Orleans.)

Mixed: Levee governance will become more streamlined, efficient, professional, and accountable as a regional board that crosses parish lines takes over, abolishing the old system of smaller, local parish boards. (Jan. 1) Unfortunately, the Army Corps of Engineers is unsure if it will have the money it needs to upgrade/fix all levees. (Dec. 29)

Mixed: FEMA is giving $74.5 million for "alternative housing" to Louisiana, but $280.8 million to Mississippi. I call this mixed news because that's great for MS, but unfair to LA.(Dec. 22) LA officials are mightily and justifiably ticked. (Jan. 2) But is it really any surprise? Can you really expect anything else from FEMA?

Slightly Less Major But Still Important Stories

Good: It's not every day - heck, it's not every month - that you find a good story about FEMA, but they are speeding up a number of top-priority projects. Yay! I wonder if on-the-ground results will be as good as they are on paper. (Dec. 13)

Good: The St. Charles line streetcars are running again! This is a highly visible sign of recovery with lots of symbolism. (Dec. 20)

Bad: Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) successfully blocked a big hurricane protection bill, despite please from then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) and Louisiana's two Senators. I've never had a very high opinion of Tom Coburn, and this isn't much of a surprise. (Dec. 12)

Bad: Landlords of one-four dwellings haven't gotten any of the $869 million earmarked for them yet, and they won't for months to come. No surprise - their program is run by the same people who run Road Home. Despicable. It's almost enough to make this New Deal Democrat become a government-hating conservative.

Mixed: Insurance issues are a complex mess, too complicated for me to follow along with or understand, which is why I don't rank it higher on my list. If it's a subject you're interested in, there are stories here (Dec.12), here (Dec. 13), here (Dec. 14), here (Dec. 15), here (Dec. 16), and here (Jan. 1).

Mixed: Army Corps of Engineers contractors are done picking up debris in Slidell, LA (Dec. 5). I call it mixed because that means most has been picked up and progress is made, but some debris remains that citizens will now have to pay to have removed. Elsewhere, free FEMA debris removal is ending, but Gov. Blanco will use part of the state's budget surplus so cash-strapped cities and parishes don't have to pay. (Dec. 23)

Big but not Big Enough to be "Major" Stories

Good: The Army Corps of Engineers has called for the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MR-GO) to be closed (Dec 18), and scientists have called even louder (Dec. 22). Mister Go is a canal running through New Orleans that should have never been built in the first place and caused much of the flooding and storm surge.

Bad: Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA), the corrupt, soon-to-be-indicted, yet-still-re-elected New Orleans Congressman, will not be given back his seat on the all-important House Ways and Means Committee (Dec. 13). This means the city will not have the Congressional clout it needs at a time it needs it most, thanks to the voters' terrible decision to re-elect Jefferson. Told you so. I've heard Jefferson will be replaced on the committee by another member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL), who I have met and greatly admire - but as wonderful as that may be for the country, it does New Orleans little good.

Good: An oil company is drilling for oil right in the middle of Chalmette, LA, giving residents lots of hope for an economic boom. Chalmette, in St. Bernard Parish, was completely under water. (Dec. 18) This'll be a bigger story if they actually find oil.

Good: The city is helping, via a $15 million program, elderly and low-income homeowners to comply with a law requiring residents to "gut, secure and maintain flood-ravaged real estates." The program should gut about 5,000 homes by the end of next year. (Dec. 14)

Good: The LRA is making a $74 million down payment so that LSU can build a teaching hospital. In a city with only two fully functioning hospitals and 125,000 residents without health insurance, this is a big deal. (Dec. 15)

Bad: Twenty-nine New Orleans intersections are still without functioning traffic lights (Dec. 18). I put this story so low on the list because it's old news to anyone who's driven around the Lower Ninth or New Orleans East.

Happy New Year, everybody! Thanks for reading and for caring!