Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Jim Brown's Radio Show

UPDATE: I just wrapped up about a half-hour interview with Jim Brown of New Orleans' 99.5. The interview will be up on his website later today. If you've come to this blog by way of Jim's show or website, please note that I haven't blogged much in the last week or two because of midterms and general hecticness, but I plan to get the ball rolling again this week. I do recommend you take a look at my posts on presidential candidates, you'll find the link at right, and on David Vitter. Thanks for stopping by!

Original Post
For readers in the New Orleans area, you may be interested to know that I'll be on the radio tomorrow morning. At 9:17 AM, Jim Brown will be interviewing me on 99.5 FM about Robert Thorson's Hartford Courant oped. The interview will likely last around ten minutes. Tune in if you can!

Monday, July 30, 2007

I'm Alive

Just a quick fyi to say I'm alive and will be back and blogging soon... my apologies for the lag time... in the meantime, I'm watching West Wing and doing some research assistant work. The butterball hotline scene is coming up, and that's always a hoot!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Thank you, New York Times

Though most of the mainstream media ignores Katrina recovery, the New York Times gives it fairly consistent coverage, occassionally even putting the story on the front page. This is the fourth high-profile recovery article the Times has run this month. NPR is the only other MSM outlet I've noticed that comes close to this coverage. Thank you, New York Times. You rock.

From today's Times front page:

New Orleans Recovery Is Slowed by Closed Hospitals
Published: July 24, 2007

NEW ORLEANS — At the tip of Bayou St. John in the Mid-City neighborhood here, the brown and white bulk of Lindy Boggs Medical Center looms behind a chain-link fence. Nineteen people died at the medical center after Hurricane Katrina, and now the hospital itself is dead, sold to developers who plan to replace it with a shopping mall.

On the surrounding streets — Bienville and Canal and Jefferson Davis — lies the wreckage of a once-bustling medical corridor. Doctors’ offices sit empty behind five-foot-high water marks, and nearby clinics wait to be demolished. In back of one medical building, a gaping refrigerator still holds jars of mayonnaise and Mt. Olive Dill Relish.

Harder to see, but just as tangible, people here say, are the other ripple effects of the flood and the closed hospital: workers displaced, houses for sale and, of course, patients forced to seek health care many miles away. If they have returned to New Orleans at all, that is, given the grave wounds to the health care system.

“I’ve been telling people, don’t bring your parents back if they are sick,” said Dr. David A. Myers, an internist who lived and worked in Mid-City before the flood and has moved his home and practice to the suburbs.

Of all the factors blocking the economic revival of New Orleans, the shattered health care system may be the most important — and perhaps the most intractable.

Except for tourism and retailing, health care was the city’s biggest private employer, and it paid much higher wages than hotels or stores. But there are now 16,800 fewer medical jobs than before the storm, down 27 percent, in part because nurses and other workers are in short supply.

Only one of the city’s seven general hospitals is operating at its pre-hurricane level; two more are partially open, and four remain closed. The number of hospital beds in New Orleans has dropped by two-thirds. In the suburbs, half a dozen hospitals in adjacent Jefferson Parish are open — but are packed.

Fixing the city’s health care system “is critical both for the short and the long term,” said Andy Kopplin, executive director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority. “Short-term, having confidence that the health care residents need will be available and accessible is vital for folks who are returning,” Mr. Kopplin said. “Long-term, it’s important for employers — and health care is a huge business in New Orleans."

Studies suggest that hundreds of doctors never returned. And some of those who did, especially specialists and young physicians, are leaving, said Dr. Ricardo Febry, president of the Orleans Parish Medical Society, which has lost more than 200 of its 650 members. The exodus has “been a steady trickle,” Dr. Febry said.

The city’s mortality rate appears to have risen sharply in 2006, although state and local officials disagree about the level and persistence of the increase.

With the stress of life in the flood-ravaged city, the limited health care and insurance, the lingering mold and the discomfort of living in trailers, doctors report that the patients they see are often far sicker than those they treated before the storm. And even residents with health insurance can have a difficult time finding someone to treat them.

Government officials and civic leaders are floating plans for the future of the city’s medical system, for a state-of-the-art hospital, for a cutting-edge system to cover the uninsured, even for a “bio-innovation center” that would be an engine for economic growth. The question is what will happen in the meantime, which is likely to be many years long.

“We have to find a way to survive to that point, to provide care, or our city will collapse,” said John J. Finn, president of the Metropolitan Hospital Council of New Orleans.

Waiting for Care

The problems with health care hit hardest on the poor and the newly uninsured, but they also affect doctors and patients, politicians and entrepreneurs, the displaced and the returned — and everyone at any level who has the misfortune to turn up in a jam-packed emergency room.

See the Times for the rest.

Monday, July 23, 2007


Two midterms this week, as well as some research work for another professor. As such, I'll likely be MIA for a few days. :(

I leave you with this bit of Vitter analysis from NBC's First Read:

"What Happened To The Vitter Story? After an initial flurry of press -- from his press conference to his first day back at work in Washington -- the coverage of Vitter has come to a virtual standstill. In fact, Sean Hannity's apparent call for his resignation late last week didn't even advance the story. Are journalists and political opponents just keeping their powder dry for now? Or did Wendy Vitter scare us that much?"

Saturday, July 21, 2007

A Thought for Saturday

I realized something the other night: I know who God is. God is an old black mama from down South. Think about it. God has so much wisdom, loves you more than anyone else you know, is warm and inviting and loud, always has a hug at the ready, and is lots of fun to be around. God is also a strict disciplinarian - there's a lot of love, but oooeee boy you put one foot out of line, you in trrrroublllle!! And even the toughest gangster knows it! It's no matter, though, because the Lord's rules are rules you actually WANT to follow. And that's a perfect description of the black mamas I knew in East Texas and NOLA's Lower Ninth Ward. God is an old black mama! :)

This reminds me of a story. One of my best friends, Jon, works at a Whataburger in my old East Texas town. If you've never heard of Whataburger, it's probably 'cause you're a Damn Yankee (though admittedly, they don't have any in Kentucky or Carolina). Anyway, fast food may be a menial job, but it's still a job, so you take pride in it, and Jon is good at what he does. He is professional, he smiles, he follows directions, etc. As a result, he's developed a loyal fan base among the customers, some of who now come on a regular basis just so he can serve them. One lady, an older black mama, came through for the umpteenth time, and when he handed her her order done perfectly, she said, "Child, you tell your mama she raised you RIGHT!"

I was there when Jon told his mother this. She beamed from ear to ear and said, "Now THAT is a compliment! Those black mamas know what they're talking about!"

This isn't racial, it's cultural, but for reasons historic and geographic, race and culture often go hand in hand. And Jon's mom was right: here's a group that DOES know what they're talking about. So it's my guess that if God has a human form these days, it's as an old black mama.

Sean Hannity: David Vitter Should Resign

Sean Hannity seems to think conservatives can do no wrong. If you're pro-life and think we found WMDs, well then by golly you must be one of the 12 apostles come back to life. So if you're a major conservative player and the ultimate flag waving cheerleader stops carrying your water, you know you did bad.

From NBC's First Read:
It appears that conservative commentator Sean Hannity called for the resignation of Sen. David Vitter (R) on his FOX News show last night. While listing several times he has spoken out against Republicans in Congress, he added, “I think Senator Vitter should probably live by the line that he put out for Bill Clinton back in the Monica Lewisky scandal," when Vitter called Clinton morally unfit to govern.

NBC's Political Unit had been monitoring Hannity’s radio show daily after the Vitter prostitution story broke, in hope that the senator would call in to air his side of the story. The radio show has become a sort of confessional for conservatives plagued by scandal. But it now seems that Hannity will not be providing a sympathetic ear to Vitter.

I wonder if Hannity will take his own advice, too? For since when does Bunny Bar = moral values talk radio?

I'm going back to listening to Scott Simon now, who's interviewing one of my favorite actors, Billy Bob Thornton. Yeah, that's right, listening to Scott Simon and Billy Bob. As in NOT reading Harry Potter.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Vitter News and Vitter Jokes

It’s been several days since I last blogged about David Vitter and the prostitute diaper scandal, but a busy several days it has been for the Senator, so here's a roundup of Vitter news and Vitter jokes. New Orleans is actually more focused right on getting rid of the District Attorney, Eddie Jordan, than David Vitter – over 90% of respondents to an ABC26 poll say he should go. I haven’t written much about the Jordan scandal, though, because while it is more substantive than the Vitter affair, I feel it doesn’t have the same impact on Katrina recovery. Vitter is a United States Senator who gets to vote on and highlight things at a national level, Jordan is not.

Before launching into the new Vitter details, if you need a quick refresher, check out Your Right Hand Thief’s post The Vitter Affair: As It Stands Now from Monday. That said, Senator Vitter finally came out of hiding on Monday, holding a brief press conference in Metairie, LA with his wife, Wendy. He apologized again for the DC affair and said he’d like to go back to work now, but denied having slept with any prostitutes in New Orleans. Don’t you love it? Leading Louisiana Republicans, several prostitutes, and even his own staffers say Vitter was a client of the Canal St. brothel. We know he had that habit elsewhere (in DC), and we know he denied hiring one prostitute while he was frequenting another – yet he still has the cahones to stand up there and deny it! Your Right Hand Thief sums it up well: “This statement virtually guarantees that Vitter will be forced to resign sometime this year, probably in weeks, as more disclosures occur and corroborative evidence is unveiled. He can't lie his way out of this.” (H/T to NOLA-dishu for some of these links.)

Generating more headlines was his wife’s statement. “Like all marriages, ours is not perfect. None of us are. But we choose to work together as a family. When David and I dealt with this privately years ago, I forgave David. I made the decision to love him and to recommit to our marriage. To forgive is not always the easy choice, but it was and is the right choice for me. David is my best friend.”

There are two responses to Mrs. Vitter. The first is, if this is really such a private matter, why is he standing in front of the cameras denying it? If it’s a private matter, why say anything publicly at all other then, “It’s a private matter”? Aren’t you just inviting more scrutiny this way? The Politico worded the second response better than I ever could. “Whether it's in the halls of the United States Capitol, on the presidential campaign trail, on the basketball court or on HBO's ‘The Sopranos,’ the story of women sucking it up and trudging on with their married lives is an ancient one. But when the cheater in question has ‘family values’ as his battle cry, the ensuing political carnage is all the bloodier. The country will forgive a hustler before a hypocrite.”

Moldy City is wondering how Vitter managed to afford the New Orleans prostitues on a state representative’s salary. “Even if it turns out that visits to the Canal Street Brothel, paid trysts away from the brothel and visits to the D.C. Madam would not have put a strain on his finances, there are other reasons to question whether somebody else paid for Vitter's activities. Both Jim Letten and (Maier's attorney) Vinny Mosca say that they don't recall Vitter's name from lists of Maier's clients... (and) Stephanie Grace's column in today's Picayune doesn't make Wendy Vitter seem like a wife who would fail to notice money missing from the family checking account. It's entirely reasonable to question whether Vitter broke any laws governing gifts from lobbyists.” To be fair, Moldy City is using only logic; there’s no actual evidence to suggest Vitter broke lobbying laws. But would it come as any surprise if he did? If a man is willing to break the law and pay for sex, is it really much of a leap to break another law and accept such a gift from a lobbyist or supporter?

Finally, a number of Republican activist groups have called for Vitter’s resignation, including the University of New Orleans (UNO) College Republicans. And yet, I’m thoroughly disgusted by the UNO CR’s press release. While the students do accuse Vitter of breaking promises, they are more concerned with partisan politics than they are hypocrisy and honor. “By deciding to hold a press conference at 5 pm Monday afternoon, just as Bobby Jindal’s plane is taxing into Armstrong Airport, David Vitter has once more shown a blatant disregard for the political position of Louisiana Republican Party. It is clear that Senator Vitter cares little for his fellow Republicans in Louisiana. After a week of silence, Vitter choose the day, almost to the hour, where all eyes were to be on Bobby Jindal and his vision for a better Louisiana.” You read right – forget the illegal paying for sex, forget the hypocrisy of the man’s moral grandstanding, and forget the ongoing lies; how dare he upstage our favorite politican! THIS is what he must resign for, scheduling his press conference at a bad time! Sheesh, you kids are as bad as he is. And on a similar note, Vitter will not be helping Republican candidates campaign this fall. I assume that includes Rep. Jindal's Gubernatorial campaign.

On to a lighter note. Facts aside, Vitter jokes abound. Nola Blogger did Senator Vitter a favor and wrote him a list of excuses to use. My own two favorites: Number ten, even though I like Ted Kennedy, “I was just looking for Ted Kennedy -- he's at the brothel every day.” And number three, “I oppose gay marriage, not straight married guys visiting whorehouses. I never said I opposed that. I am not a hypocrite.” John Maginnis at Bayou Buzz also offers a… um… “clever” defense for Vitter: “Accusations that he is a hypocrite, given his past ringing defense of traditional marriage, are unfair, since married men going to prostitutes is as traditional as the institution itself.”

Finally, just to make sure you get your Vitter Diaper fetish kick, here’s Jay Leno.

Two New Additions to the Blogroll

Check out Nola-dishu. I'm not sure why I don't already have it on my blogroll, I feel like an idiot, it's a great blog. It's written by Clay, a 23 year-old engineer, who describes it as, "Post-apocalyptic New Orleans..."

I also added Bayou Buzz to the Gulf Coast links section, since I've linked to them in at least two posts now.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Edwards, Obama, and Dodd improve their positions on Katrina

Attending school in the northeast, as I do, limits one’s ability to fight for Katrina recovery issues. Fortunately for me, the northeast means New Hampshire, giving me the rare opportunity to talk to presidential candidates about New Orleans and the pace of recovery there. To take advantage of this opportunity, I have spent the last several months grading the top candidates on their hurricane recovery proposals, and revising those grades when necessary. Today, it is necessary to revisit and revise the grades I originally gave Barack Obama, John Edwards, and Chris Dodd.

This post contains original analysis, as well as accounts of personal conversations with several candidates, and original audio of my conversation with Dodd.

I. An Explanation
II. John Edwards
III. Barack Obama
IV. Chris Dodd
V. Summary of Previously Reviewed Candidates (Biden, Clinton, Richardson)

(Picture Credit)

I. An Explanation

When examining a candidate’s hurricane recovery proposals, I pay attention only to what they have said or done as a part of their presidential campaign. Every candidate put out a press release (or ten) immediately following the storm and voted for the right recovery measures at the time, and most visited the city shortly after the storm, but the initial storm and resulting recovery issues are separate disasters. The recovery plan John Edwards put out in late 2005 was important in late 2005, but given that-then unforeseen needs and crises have since arisen, it is no longer relevant. I am looking at these people as candidates, not as prior office-holders or, in Edwards' case, activists. The question is, what are they doing NOW, and what are they proposing for the future? As such, I base my reviews on whether a candidate has put forth a comprehensive plan for the region, what that plan includes, if the plan is highlighted on their webpage and/or in their campaign speeches and interviews, whether or not they show an understanding of the root cause of recovery problems (red tape, incompetence), their knowledge of details (like the Road Home program, ACOE accountability, and specific recent FEMA mistakes), and how they answer direct recovery questions (do they actually talk about recovery, or do they just change the subject to talk about Bush’s initial response). So keeping that in mind, here are the revised grades for Edwards, Obama, and Dodd, as well as links to my reviews of the other three major Democratic candidates.

Disclosure: I am a strong supporter of Joe Biden, who is third on my list of Katrina candidates, behind Clinton and Edwards, neither of whom I will consider voting for in the primary.

II. John Edwards

I originally gave Edwards a C- over D+. Many of his supporters flamed me for ignoring his early focus on Katrina, but I viewed his call for volunteers as a wonderful example of cultural leadership, not political leadership. I argued that he did not discuss Katrina in his interviews, speeches, or online; that he did not criticize Bush for ignoring recovery in the SOTU address; and that his Lower Ninth Ward campaign kickoff offered only rhetoric and no policy proposals. I admired his passion for the issue, but said at the time, “We know how Citizen Edwards feels, but we don’t know what President Edwards would DO.”

As most Kossacks know, Edwards finally rectified this problem at the start of his “Road to One America” tour. His webpage says,

Edwards announced a three-part plan for rebuilding the city: (1) rebuilding infrastructure—housing, schools, and hospitals—that is built to last so that people have something to come back to, (2) creating jobs to bring them back , (3) making the city safe from storms—with levees that can withstand another Katrina, and strengthening public safety to keep residents safe from crime.

Each part includes several subpoints, which are building a new veteran’s hospital, improving local infrastructure (from businesses to mental health), increasing funding for housing, creating jobs and fighting corrupt contractors, fighting crime by improving education, and protecting the city by increasing levee strength and restoring wetlands.

I do have some problems with this proposal, but an announced plan is an announced plan, and it does generate substantive headlines for the issue. I am revising Edwards’ grade from a C- to an A. In truth, it is more deserving of an A-, but he is the only candidate to talk about restoring the wetlands, and as much I may otherwise dislike his campaign, for this I stand up and cheer, arms waving wildly. My first problem is that his campaign markets the recovery plan as part of his focus on poverty, despite things like FEMA failures, ACOE accountability, and evaporating wetlands all being very separate issues from poverty If the proposal contained more specifics (like creating a 9/11-style levee commission, fixing the Road Home program, putting more cops on the street, etc.), I would raise the grade to an A+. Edwards is a bit late to the party, but I’m no purist – better late than never.

III. Barack Obama

I initially gave Obama a C+. When I saw him in Durham, NH, he ducked a question about Katrina recovery, turning his attention instead to national poverty, completely ignoring the separate issue of rebuilding an entire region. Furthermore, at the time, his campaign website contained nothing on Katrina. His supporters squawked at me, pointing out his initial post-storm record, but remember, I’m looking at the campaigns, not the office-holders.

More recently, in a speech last week to the Essence Music Festival at New Orleans’ Superdome (viewable below) and in an audio interview at Nola.com, Obama began to hint at an actual recovery plan. He has said that rebuilding New Orleans should be at the top of the national agenda and lets into Bush for not pushing it, but he still seems short on specifics. Now, I agree with him about fighting crime and poverty through education, and it’s wonderful to hear a presidential candidate talk about improving infrastructure across the country (our bridges need much work!). And he’s right, poverty, joblessness, and crime did exist before Katrina – but such answers do not address the very specific subject of rebuilding an entire region. He did take a subtle swipe at the red tape and incompetence of the Road Home program, and when I saw him speak in Durham he called for a repeal of the matching funds requirement (which has since happened), but those are the only specific details I have heard him tackle. He has not put forward a comprehensive plan like Clinton and Edwards, and he does not stick to the subject when asked about it like Biden does. He includes his Senate votes on Katrina in the poverty section of his website, just like Edwards. Katrina is also the last issue on the poverty page, at the end of a very long read where few will notice it. And of course, these are only past Senate votes, not information about current recovery issues and how Obama would fix them as President.

Nevertheless, this is more than we’ve seen from him before, so I’ll raise his C+ to a B-. But he does lag behind.

(Clinton also spoke at Essence Fest, but she was discussing her already-presented plan, adding nothing new to the A I already gave her.)

IV. Chris Dodd

My review of Chris Dodd was based on his answer to a question I asked at a New Hampshire town hall meeting in February, and the lack of Katrina information on his webpage. I gave him my lowest grade, a D-, because while he did show he cared about rebuilding New Orleans and understood its importance, he also demonstrated a complete lack of understanding the issue and its details.

I spoke with the Senator a second time in April (my apologies for taking so long in writing about it). In between the two meetings (and the second meeting really was more of a conversation, you can watch it below), he had finally traveled to New Orleans, and had paid attention to Senator Mary Landrieu’s recovery hearings. He also held his own hearings into the insurance laws surrounding Katrina. He demonstrated a remarkable grasp of the insurance issues, but that’s all he demonstrated, and it defined the way he viewed the issue. He didn’t seem to know much about the Road Home program, FEMA, the ACOE, etc. Then, at last month’s PBS debate, when asked about Katrina recovery, he talked about the importance of New Orleans, but again gave no specifics. Nevertheless, some details are better than none, and he has seen the devastation for himself, so I will raise his grade from a D- to a C-. I grew up in Willis, TX where a D was no different than an F, so at least Dodd passes now.

Here is the “video” of our second conversation. I use quotes because it’s actually a video of our feet – the camera was aimed at the floor, so treat this more as audio. First he talks about insurance, and then I tell him about the Road Home program.

V. Other Candidates
A brief summary of my earlier reviews for the other three viable candidates:

Clinton’s A comes from the fact that she has introduced the most comprehensive, as well as the first, Katrina recovery plan. She has continued to highlight this plan throughout her campaign, impressing me greatly.

Richardson, on the other hand, tried to talk to me more about the initial storm than current recovery, but did offer a few specifics when I pressed him. You can watch our conversation here. Unfortunately, at the PBS debate, he showed us a lack of understanding surrounding Katrina facts – he said we should waive the requirement that local governments match 10% of FEMA expenditures. That was done, however, a month before the debate. He does offer a few more specifics than Dodd, however, so he gets a B-.

Biden’s B+ comes from a conversation I had with him. Though he has not offered a comprehensive recovery plan, he did show me a remarkable understanding of the root cause behind recovery issues (red tape, lack of communication, etc.), did not try to change the subject to the initial storm, and was very well-versed on details surrounding NOLA crime and law enforcement. (Disclosure: Though he may rank third on my NOLA list, I will definitely be voting for Biden in the New Hampshire primary next year.)

Candidates on NOLA
Clinton: A
Edwards: A
Biden: B+
Richardson: B-
Obama: B-
Dodd: C-
All the candidates address Katrina at the third debate (PBS)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Sunday Propers

This morning's Gospel reading was Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan. Out of Nowhere has a wonderful homily reflecting on the story. It reads in part,

"When a friend of mine was a student at Yale, he and another guy were on the road in a “college student” car (the kind students had before everybody got rich). It was in the middle of the night in Tom Wolfe’s “Bonfire of the Vanities” territory, the south Bronx. They had a flat.

Before they could open the trunk to see if they even had a spare, an ancient, rusty car squealed to a halt in front of them in the breakdown lane. Out climbed two large men speaking Spanish. The students figured, “This is it.” They were frozen in fear. But before they had a chance to decide whether to scream for help or run for their lives, the two Bronx types started changing the tire. They were done in minutes.

As they started to leave, my friends tried to pay them. They ignored them, walked away, got into their car, and left. If my friends had followed their fear, they wouldn’t have got the tire changed, and they’d have had to go and get help in the middle of the night."

The rest is here. OON suggests listening and being open-minded is the point of this parable. The supply priest at my NH church this morning suggested the point is to reach out to others and connect with them. I've always found it to be a story yes, of helping others, but also of not making judgements and of looking for love in all the wrong places on purpose. I guess Jesus is just that awesome on so many levels!

A Vitter Veekend

The only real Vitter news from this weekend comes from Rep. Bobby Jindal. The state GOP's standard bearer and future Governor finally released a statement, saying, "This is a matter for the senator to address, and it is our hope that this is not used by others for their own political gain." Former Rep. Bob Livingston, who resigned from Vitter's House seat in 1998 after his own affair was outed, also encouraged Vitter not to resign. Because hey, sitting Senators have every right to break the law.

The story's fallen away on the national level, because as Politico explains, everybody in DC is focused on Iraq. And that's as it should be - let's face it, Iraq is a more important issue. The local level is a different story - the Senator's affairs have rocked Louisiana politics to the core. The story is finally starting to turn partisan. As Jindal and Livingston show, state Republicans are somewhat falling in line behind the Senator, and state Democrats are letting into him for his hypocrisy. (Personally, I think the Democrats should stay silent - it's better politics to have a story about the Senator's affairs than to have a story about Democrats criticizing Vitter. This is how Dems won back Congress last year - let Republican scandals play out by themselves in the news, so that the bad Republican is the story, not the partisan Democrat.)

It sure took Jindal a while to release his statement, though, and Daily Kingfish has a great post up about that. Don't expect anything further until Senator Vitter returns to work in DC this week. I'm sure his first public appearances since his admission of guilt will be newsworthy. In the meantime,the Shreveport Times has a good story up about Vitter's recent life and political future, calling his scandals "a ticking time bomb."

BTW, I continue to get readers searching Google for the phrase "Vitter diaper." Sorry, folks, there's no new news on the diaper fetish front, but then again, does there really need to be? A sitting US Senator, who is perhaps the most holier-than-thou man in Louisiana politics, cheated on his family and broke the law. Do the titillating details really matter? Focus! And while you're here, take the time to learn about a REAL issue - bone up on Katrina recovery issues by reading through the "Best Posts" list at right. Happy Sunday!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Trinity Church Update

Doctorj2u was kind enough to e-mail me these recent photos from Trinity Episcopal Church in Pass Christian, MS. My own parish, St. Luke's in Coeur d'Alene, ID, has been helping to rebuild Trinity. Several parishioners went down to physically work on the church immediately following the storm, and we've been sending financial help ever since.

Trinity before the storm (from their website)

Trinity in October 2005 (doctorj2u)

Trinity when I saw it November 2006 (Bob Gustafson)

Trinity Now (doctorj2u)

As you can see, not much has been done since last November, which is somewhat disheartening. Hopefully progress has been made inside the church; I don't have any recent photos from inside. I'm not too hopeful, though, because when I saw the church with fellow St. Luke's parishioner Bob Gustafson in November, he said most of the work he had done right after the storm (such as an amatuer wiring job) still showed. I am told Trinity has enough money to rebuild, but not enough manpower. That might be outdated information, though. The newest information I have comes from the March conference call I wrote about. One piece of troubling information is that they are rebuilding the church in the exact same place it stood before - and where it was destroyed before by a previous hurricane. You'd think they'd move it 50 yards inland or something, but emotions and memories do matter, I guess. Here are some more pictures, courtesy doctorj2u, from Waveland and Bay St. Louis, MS:

The new bridge over Bay St. Louis, which I wrote about in May, and other regional shots.

My roommate Alex is playing a very pretty, mellow song on his guitar right now. I wish you could hear it too.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Today's Vitter News: The Village Voice Gets It

Saw this from Harkavay at the Village Voice yesterday. I back it. THIS is the real story.

"So Senator Dave Vitter screwed one person in New Orleans and won a million headlines. No one noticed when he, his fellow war supporters in Congress, and the White House repeatedly screwed the city's entire (former) population before and after Hurricane Katrina hit.... In June 2005, the Corps budget for New Orleans was slashed by $71.2 million, the heaviest cut the flood-prone city had ever experienced."

But nevertheless, today's Vitter news:

1) Yesterday, I wrote about a Shreveport Times article reporting that the Louisiana GOP is considering working with Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco to dump Vitter. The party is now denying this. "Louisiana Republicans rallied around embattled Sen. David Vitter on Thursday, emphasizing the work he has done for Louisiana in his eight years in Congress. Former Gov. and Congressman David Treen said Vitter, a conservative Republican, has no plans to leave office despite allegations this week that he has patronized prostitution services in Washington and New Orleans. 'Any talk of David Vitter resigning or me being appointed to his Senate seat is ridiculous," Treen said in a statement. "It's just not going to happen.'" The party's main stalwart, however, Congressman and future Governor Bobby Jindal, continues to remain silent.

2) Vitter's starting to come out of hiding. He sent a message ap-hollow-gizing to his supporters today, and will likely go back to work next week.

3) The AP tells us, "A woman accused of running a Washington prostitution ring placed five phone calls to David Vitter while he was a House member, including two while roll call votes were under way, according to telephone and congressional records." The article says it's unknown whether Vitter answered the phone during the votes or not - it may have been voice mail or an aide.

4) The Senator's office sounds like it's denying he had anything to do with the Canal Street Madame, and one prostitute in particular (named Wendy, same as his wife), just the DC ring. I don't buy it, but, whatever.

Also, check out this post from the Politico. It's a roundup of quotes from various Capitol Hill aides of both parties talking about the fallout - or lack thereof - from the Vitter scandal.

Tomorrow, I'll be posting pictures of Mississippi's hurricane recovery. In the meantime, you know what's ridiculous? Since the Vitter scandal broke and I started writing about it, this blog's daily page views have at least tripled. And unfortunately, the Google searches people are using to find this blog (I can tell using sitemeter.com) aren't for FEMA, for Katrina recovery, for the Lower Ninth Ward, or even for David Vitter or Vitter prostitute. No, the vast majority of my readers are getting here by googling "Vitter Diaper." And indeed, I am on the first page of Google results for that phrase. For the love of God. The man's diaper fetish has to be the LEAST important part of this story. Focus on the hypocrisy! Focus on the illegal nature of prostitution! Focus on the political ramifications! Focus on what the man hasn't done for Katrina recovery! FOCUS ON THE KATRINA RECOVERY! Geeeez.

Now This Really Sums It Up

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Vitter Update

Lots of new details are emerging on the Vitter story. Many of them are irrelevant, superficial details that don't matter, and I won't chronicle them here - even though I know a good chunk of my readers found this site by running a blog search for "vitter diaper". Come on, people. Do Vitter's various fetishes really matter? A sexual affair is a sexual affair, regardless of how you like the sex, and paying for sex is illegal, regardless of what it is you specifically pay for. (Though I will admit, the fact that a grown man is into diapers is worth a snigger or two.)

What is relevant is this:

1) Unlike Senator Vitter, the Louisiana GOP may actually be sticking to its family values, and seems to want him out. Per the Shreveport Times, "Some top Louisiana Republicans are discussing whether to ask U.S. Sen. David Vitter to resign and packaging a deal with Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco to appoint a place-holding Republican to take his spot. Speculation has centered around former Gov. David Treen, a Republican defeated by Vitter in the 1999 congressional race." I don't expect this to happen, but what I said the other day about this case not making a real political impact is starting to look a little foolish. In the same article, Roy Fletcher, a media consultant for the Louisiana GOP, said, "I don't think Vitter will last a week."

2) Hustler publisher Larry Flynt, another vile, vile man, is the one who outed Vitter as part of his revived campaign to embarass hypocritical family-values politicians. (Flynt also brought down Speaker Bob Livingston, who was replaced in Congress by - guess who - David Vitter. Gotta love it.) Flynt says Vitter is connected to at least five New Orleans prostitutes. He may even have an illegitimate child. It's starting to seem less and less likely that his apology was genuine, and more and more likely that he's a hypocritical, immoral pervert.

3) Although soliciting prostitutes is illegal, thus making Senator Vitter a criminal, the statute of limitations has run out and he is not likely to face charges. That's ok, having his name dragged through the national mud and losing his career is likely punishment enough.

4) Vitter has gone into hiding, just like that pedophile Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) did last September.

5) As far as I can tell, Louisiana's next Governor, Rep. Bobby Jindal (R-LA), a Congressman for northern New Orleans and the North Shore, has so far stayed silent on the matter. Unlike most liberals, I do respect Rep. Jindal, so I hope he comes out with a statement condemning Vitter soon. I don't expect this scandal to effect Rep. Jindal, but he should still say something.

The NOLA blogosphere is all over this, but Your Right Hand Thief in particular is doing a heckuva job keeping up with everything.

But you know what? None of it's important. What is important is this: the Canal Street Madame says Vitter is a good man. And that makes it all ok, right? Per the Times Picayune, "She said all the girls that were with Vitter described him as a kind, respectful man, who did not talk down to them or use drugs. 'I'm not out to ruin a marriage, I'm out to save a man... I want his wife to know he's a good man, I want his children to know he's a good father. If he had sex out of wedlock, so what? At least he stayed with his children." If he broke his promises to his wife, if he cheated on her and showed he wasn't committed to their love, if he's a devote Catholic who broke one of the Ten Commandments, if he lectured others about their morality while dinking around himself, if he broke the law and paid for sex - so what?


Updated: Columnist Leonard Pitts Recieves Death Threats

Not sure how I missed this the first time around... apparently, syndicated Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts began recieving death threats a few months ago. His crime? Refusing to call the murder of a couple white foulks by a few black folks "genocide." I first heard about this a few days ago in a Southern Poverty Law Center email. Pitts is one of my favorite columnists. He is a moderately liberal African-American with a focus on family values - not abortion and gay marriage, mind you, but things that actually affect the family, like absent fathers, poverty, civil rights, etc. You know, social justice issues. Things that matter.

Anyways, here's a column of his from earlier this month. Thought I'd share.

Being on this enemy list seems almost an honor
By Leonard Pitts

So, what’s going on with you? Nothing much? Wish I could say the same.

As you may know if you’ve seen CNN or read the paper, yours truly has lately been the target of death threats and harassment from the ranks of the not-so-tightly-wrapped.

This, after a June 3 column about the torture murder of a young white couple, allegedly by four blacks. My column took on white supremacists and far-right bloggers who contend that this “genocide” — their word — goes unremarked by news media too PC to report black-on-white crime.

It was an argument made for ridiculing and I did my best, pointing out that black-on-white crime, a relative statistical rarity, is not underreported but, in fact, overreported, according to any number of studies and experts. This offended a self-professed neo-Nazi leader whose name you won’t read here. So he got on his little neo-Nutsy Web site and posted my home address and phone number. It’s been game on ever since — 400 e-mails, dozens of phone calls, leaflets on my neighbor’s driveway.

The gist of this outburst: a handful of contentions, each more asinine than the last:

(1) Pitts has no compassion for the victims. (I called the murders brutal and a tragedy and said the killers should rot under the jailhouse.)

(2) Pitts told those mourning the murders to “cry me a river.” (I gave that advice specifically to white supremacists yelling genocide and other stupid things.)

(3) The murders were so heinous they were “obviously” a hate crime. (Actually, heinousness has nothing to do with it. Hate crime penalties come into play when the prosecutor can establish racial or religious bias as a motive, period.)

It turns out this tactic — publishing private information for intimidation purposes — is one these folks use frequently to silence those with whom they disagree. Which only deepens my appreciation for the sheer guts it took to be a Fred Shuttlesworth in Birmingham or a Medgar Evers in Jackson, speaking truth to power in a time and place where everyone knew your address, assassinations were common and you could not go to law enforcement because they were part of the problem.

I’m not comparing myself to those civil rights icons. I am saying that like them, we shall not be moved.

The neo-Nutsies have been responsible for frustration and anger these last days. They’ve also been responsible for joy. Thanks to them, I’ve received a tidal wave of “hang in there” and “we care about you” and “what can we do to help” from colleagues, readers, friends and strangers all over the country. People have volunteered to guard my front door. A self-described “big ole white guy” I’ve interviewed a couple times called from Louisiana to say he had my back. Contributions have been made in my name to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Credit the Nutsies for that.

I feel a little like Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” They say you can tell who a man is by looking at his friends. Which is true. But I believe you can also tell by looking at his enemies. Apparently, I have managed to make enemies of haters, bigots and other low, pathetic men.

I must be doing something right.

©2007 The Miami Herald
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. To reach him, send e-mail to lpitts@herald.com.

Hang in there, Pittsy! :)

UPDATE: Someone left three comments on this post that I have deleted. The comments accused Pitts of being a blatant racist, and included some columns claiming to prove it using Pitts' own words. Normally I don't delete comments just because I disagree with them, but when I took a look at the poster's own blog, it was filled with vicious hate, racial slurs, and anti-semetism. I will not tolerate that. And besides, if you have to post columns by someone other than Pitts himself, then I guess it isn't that blatant after all.

On a similar note, it is a shame that if you run a Google blog search for Leonard Pitts, you run into racial slurs, anti-semitism, and hate of the most vicious variety.

Update 2: Comments disabled on this post. This blog is not the place for racists. End of story.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007



I got mentioned at Slate today!

"Lefty Texan Nathan Empsall at The Wayward Episcopalian calls Vitter a "hypocrite" but doesn't "think this will have much of a ripple effect on either Louisiana or national politics. Vitter isn't up for re-election until 2010, when this will long be forgotten. Rep. Bobby Jindal (R) is set to become Governor in a landslide later this year, and this doesn't really taint him—so another member of his part dallied around. Whoopdeedoo."

I'm not sure I would describe myself as a "lefty" - Democrat, sure, liberal, yeah, but not lefty. Nevertheless, go me. :P And go the rain here in New Hampshire - it sounds very nice, so I turned off NPR and opened my kitchen window. Yay.

Prayer for Hurricane Season

I subscribe to Beliefnet's free Prayer of the Day e-mail. Today's prayer was entitled, "Prayer for Hurricane Season," and I thought I'd share.

Prayer for Hurricane Season

O God, Master of this passing world, hear the humble voices of your children. The Sea of Galilee obeyed your order and returned to its former quietude; you are still the Master of land and sea. We live in the shadow of a danger over which we have no control. The Gulf, like a provoked and angry giant, can awake from its seeming lethargy, overstep its conventional boundaries, invade our land and spread chaos and disaster. During this hurricane season, we turn to You, O loving Father. Spare us from past tragedies whose memories are still so vivid and whose wounds seem to refuse to heal with the passing of time. O Virgin, Star of the Sea, Our Beloved Mother, we ask you to plead with your Son in our behalf, so that spared from the calamities common to this area and animated with a true spirit of gratitude, we will walk in the footsteps of your Divine Son to reach the heavenly Jerusalem where a storm-less eternity awaits us. Amen.

Originally dedicated to the victims of Hurricane Audrey in 1957.
- Fr. Al Volpe, Cameron Parish, LA

On another note, this is the 150th post of Wayward Episcopalian. W00T!

More On David Vitter - updated

A lot of folks over at Daily Kos thought my post on Senator David Vitter's affair was too soft, and that I was cutting him too much slack. They may have been right. The thrust of the post was to say it's always sad when officials fall down, and that I don't think this scandal will have any electoral ripple effect. I still believe that, but I also implied that I'm willing to believe his apology and his attempts to do better. So here is the mea culpa - I've learned some things in the last two days that may make me rethink that. In other words, I stand by the thrust of what I said, but it would seem I was too hasty in the details.

Senator Vitter is known as a hard-line right wing Catholic. The fact that the Giuliani camp was able to get an endorsement from such a conservative Southerner was a big coup for them. Now, I'm not going to call a man a hypocrite and an evil person just because he fell down. No one is perfect, and we will all depart from our values from time to time, both on the left and the right. Hopefully our sins won't be as heinous as Vitter's adultery, but nevertheless, they will happen. The question is, when we apologize, do we mean it? Are we honestly sorry, and will we really be doing our best to "go and sin no more"? (Vitter certainly is hypocritical for going on and on about the threat to marriage homosexuality poses, but that's a political issue, and I am focused on the personal. Same subject, two discussions.)

My initial post implied that I was willing to believe his apology, and his attempts to do better. And I was. He said he had worked this out with his wife in private a long time ago, and the affair we heard about is indeed several years old. However, I've heard a lot more about Vitter in the past two days that wasn't in the initial news reports and that I previously didn't know. Apparently, the guy's got a long history of sexual dalliances - hiring this prostitute isn't the only one. These are things NOLA residents and journalists know that national journalists and storm-watchers may not, which is why I was in the dark. Joe over at Blagueur is all over the story - he's made eight posts since the news broke. During the 2004 campaign, then-Congressman Vitter had to deny accusations about hiring a Canal Street prostitute. Those accusations were leveled at him by a fellow Republican. Joe also says Vitter was once accused of assault - and while I wouldn't classify the incident as assault, it certainly was inappropriate. Your Right Hand Thief, NOLA Blogger, and People Get Ready have also commented on the scandal. Rumors of other affairs abound, too, as Granny Doc tells us.

There is another point I hadn't stopped to consider before, raised by several DK members. To have an affair is one thing - it's not illegal, and doesn't involved lobbyists or tax dollars. To have an affair with a prostitute is entirely different - in both New Orleans and DC, paying for sex is illegal. Personal discussion of meaning your apology and doing better don't change, but the political consequences do, and rightfully so.

I still hope Senator Vitter is going to overcome these discretions, but it does seem a little more unlikely than I initially realized.

Also, completely aside from the sex scandal, we now have Granny Doc telling us Vitter may have been involved with ultra-racist David Duke, and Forsapphus at Daily Kos writes that Vitter:

--campaigned on allowing us to get prescription drugs from Canada, and then turned around and voted against that proposal the first chance he got...

--stands in way of New Orleans getting back the city's Level-1 Trauma Center, because it also involves rebuilding Charity Hospital.

(Dismantling health care for poor people--how Christian!)

These last points - David Duke, prescription drugs, and the Trauma Center - are irrelevant to the sex scandal, which is what my last post was about. But they are very, very relevant to the overall story of David Vitter, which is not what my post was about - but maybe it should have been.

UPDATE: Hat tip to RandySF at Daily Kos for pointing out that Vitter called on Bill Clinton to resign for his extramarital affairs. I wonder if Vitter will heed his own advice? Or publicly state he was wrong to say that about Clinton? ... Nah. Probably not.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Louisiana's Sen. David Vitter Named In Prostitution Scandal

The AP reports,

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., apologized Monday night for "a very serious sin in my past" after his telephone number appeared among those associated with an escort service operated by the so-called "D.C. Madam."

Vitter's spokesman, Joel Digrado, confirmed the statement in an e-mail sent to The Associated Press.

"This was a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible," Vitter said in the statement. "Several years ago, I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife in confession and marriage counseling. Out of respect for my family, I will keep my discussion of the matter there — with God and them. But I certainly offer my deep and sincere apologies to all I have disappointed and let down in any way."

Though I am no fan of Senator Vitter's, and while I must admit a guilty pleasure in watching the corruption charges against Republican officials mount, my heart aches with this announcement, for several reasons. One, Louisiana needs effective leadership right now, or the slow pace of recovery will only get slower. This kind of Senatorial SNAFU does not make for effective leadership. Two, a good friend of mine whom I respect and admire has close relatives who work very, very close to Senator Vitter, and I hate to see something happen that surely causes their family anguish. Three, whether I personally support him or not, David Vitter is a member of my government, and you hate to have your officials do bad things. And finally, four, the car I drove while I was in New Orleans last fall had a David Vitter bumper sticker on the back - so I think I need to go take a shower. (Picture: President Bush tours Katrina-ravaged New Orleans with Senator Vitter.)

Now, with all that said, I don't think this will have much of a ripple effect on either Louisiana or national politics. Vitter isn't up for re-election until 2010, when this will long be forgotten. Rep. Bobby Jindal (R) is set to become Governor in a landslide later this year, and this doesn't really taint him - so another member of his part dallied around. Whoopdeedoo. By that same token, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) isn't tied to this anyway, so I don't see how it can help her in her re-election bid next year. It's not as if she'll be running against Vitter. And finally, I doubt this will have a national effect, since the next big election is over a year away, and the even more blatant and disgusting sexual antics of an even more powerful man, Newt Gingrich, failed to have a big effect on his party's "family values" image.

Thankfully, this is personal corruption and does not involve the law or taxpayers' dollars. More than anything, it is a personal demon that David Vitter must overcome and ask his family to forgive him for, and it sounds like he has made wonderful strides in that arena. While I will never support him, as a Christian, I do wish him continued success on that front.

Political corruption aside, it sounds like another real sinner in this scandal is the mistress, Madame Palfrey, and her attorney. I was appalled to read the following,

Palfrey's attorney, Montgomery Blair Sibley, told the AP, 'I'm stunned that someone would be apologizing for this.'

Right, Sibley. Because wedding vows are actually just tentative RSVPs, and the seventh commandment was more of a suggestion than a commandment, really. I pray that you will eventually understand what exactly is wrong here, and be able to ask for forgiveness yourself.

UPDATE, spurned by the comments on my crosspost at Daily Kos: Look, I agree that Vitter is a hyprocrite for yelling about the "sanctity of marriage" while doing this. All I'm saying is that this scandal won't matter from a political standpoint, and from a moral one, I'm willing to believe he MIGHT be turning it around. He has likely had past dalliances, but there's no evidence of anything RECENT. And sometimes, people really do turn it around. I hope that's the case here. I am not making any excuses for his past behavior, because there are no excuses to make. It's reprehensible, but there are other points to make than just repeating that one over and over again.

UPDATE 2: When I say this scandal doesn't matter, I mean politically. Personally, morally, it matters, but it won't have an electoral effect. Although there are a lot of other things to go after Vitter for.

Monday, July 09, 2007

More Blogroll Updates

I added a few more links to the blogroll yesterday (the list of Katrina blogs on the right sidebar). They are:

A.M. in the Morning!
The blog of a morning NOLA radio show, described as: "Chicory Coffee, Beignets, a Gulf Coast Sunrise: A GREAT WAY TO START ANY DAY! Dispatches from Katrina's ground zero with Ana Maria... a distinctly progressive political voice." Ana Maria has been working on a great series about recovery. Today's piece, "The 'F' Word," covers FEMA mistakes, in addition to recent entries debunking national myths about recovery, slamming the Bush White House's response to the storm, and more. Be sure to check this one out!

Wet Bank Guide
“Remembering Katrina, envisioning New Orleans.” Blogger Mark Folse lives in New Orleans. I’ve linked to Wet Bank Guide in several of my own posts lately. Mark’s had some great stuff up on a wide variety of NOLA topics.

“From post-apocalyptic New Orleans… A Gritty urban writer and mother-to-be chronicles her adventures in America’s lost metropolis.” I first noticed Pistollette when everyone linked to her critique of the Hartford Courant op-ed I wrote about yesterday.

Maitri’s VatulBlog
VatulBlog has had some great posts lately about NOLA crime, rebuilding, sea levels, and the Road Home program in the last few days. “VatulNet is words, science, art, music, bits and bytes, and emotion that help us in our exploration of life. I gather information and disperse it, therefore I am. In addition, kindred spirits and I connect these seemingly disparate ideas in the hope of a better understanding of life and its living. Having a sea of choices and viewpoints makes a more enlightened human being.”

Tim’s Nameless Blog
I haven’t checked this one out yet, but doctor2ju recommends, and that’s good enough for me. Written by a civil engineer and father of one in New Orleans. “Life in New Orleans after Katrina.”

b.rox: Life in the Floodzone
Another one I haven’t checked out, but also recommended by doctor2ju. “Xy and I are back in our flooded home, trying to help rebuild New Orleans.”

Ray in New Orleans
Doctor2ju’s final submission that I haven’t yet read, but again, that’s praise enough for my blogrolls. “New orleans, katrina, food, katrina, tattoos, katrina, kids, food, music, politics, sobriety, food, books...and sometimes baseball, and food.” Ray sez, “I was born into a big Irish/German family in Boston, grew up in New Orleans, went to college in Houston, spent a few years in San Francisco, and a lot more years in Austin. In July, I moved back to New Orleans with my wife, two kids, a cat and a dog. Which may be either the most exciting or the stupidest thing I've ever done.”

Also, thinknola.com has a pretty long list of bloggers here. It’s huge, I have no idea how many of the blogs are active and how many are now defunct, but I’ll eventually slowly make my way through the list.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Al Gore and The Sopranos

Non-Katrina related (scroll down for today's Katrina post), but damn it's funny. From Think Progress:

"Al Gore is a 'die-hard' Sopranos fan, but was going to have to miss last month’s season finale because he was scheduled to be on a plane to Istanbul. So Gore called Brad Grey, the chairman of Paramount, and asked for an advance copy. After originally refusing, Grey eventually 'had a Halliburton-made steel case, containing a copy of the episode, delivered to the tarmac where Mr. Gore’s plane sat in Chicago. The case was locked with a code. … Mr. Gore could not open it until the plane was in the air, when he was instructed to call Mr. Grey’s office for the numeric code.'"

The New York Times adds, "After the tale of Mr. Gore’s special delivery made the rounds of Hollywood political circles, the Republican candidate Rudolph W. Giuliani called Mr. Grey, a longtime friend, to complain. Why didn’t he get a special 'Sopranos' delivery, too?" Rudy usually makes me hurl, but I have to side with him on this one - seems to me the guy who brought down the REAL New York mob deserves himself a copy of the Sopranos! :P

The Hartford Courant Blows It Big Time

I had initially hoped to avoid giving this atrocious Hartford Courant op-ed further exposure and publicity, but given that the rest of the Katrina blogosphere is exploding over the subject, I’ll go ahead and give my take, too. It makes sense – the Courant is a large enough newspaper that this already-visible hit piece should be countered rather than ignored.

The op-ed in question, “Politics Aside, New Orleans A Lost Cause,” was written by Robert Thorson, a professor of Geology at the University of Connecticut and a regular Courant columnist. The basic premise of his argument is this: Hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster and it will happen again, so let’s not rebuild New Orleans. (Photo: Dr. Robert Thorson, from his website.)

In his own words, “I agree that the tragedy has a racial dimension made worse by administrative bungling. I just wish that one of the Democratic contenders had been forthright, calling the Katrina tragedy a natural disaster, and recognizing that the displaced people are the most visible group of climate refugees since the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s… The brutal geological reality is that people of every color left New Orleans as climate-related refugees. I believe that the real reason New Orleans remains unfixed - without police and fire protection and with vacant hospitals - is because objective visionaries and smart money sees such rebuilding as a risky, if not wasteful war against nature.”

There is so much wrong with this. Where do I even begin? Pistollette’s response has gotten a lot of attention throughout the Katrina blogosphere, and I have quoted it below. Here first is my own response:

Hurricane Katrina was NOT, as Dr. Thorson claims, just a natural disaster. What happened in Biloxi and Gulfport – that was a natural disaster. What happened in New Orleans – that was a natural disaster exponentially exacerbated by a manmade disaster. It was the fault of the Army Corps of Engineers and the federal government. Had the levees been built to specification and maintained properly, had Congress and the President fully funded the Corps’ restoration project, the damage to the city would have been far less in scope. Yes, some levee failures allowed water to revert to its natural state, but others sent the floodwater on unnatural paths it would not have taken had the city never built in the first place. We can rebuild the city differently than it was built before – we can construct the levees in the same style as the Dutch, and hold the Corps accountable this time around. If we do this, Katrina will not repeat herself. We can go even further by fighting climate change, reducing our carbon emissions, and taking carbon back out of the environment, and thus ensure that even Rita will not repeat herself too often. This was NOT just a natural disaster, and the victims are not just “climate refugees.”

Thorson finishes by writing, “My plan has only one point. That we not spend another dime on U.S. properties below sea level - and use that money instead to help sea-level refugees find safer homes elsewhere.”

I wonder, just where does he envision these “safer homes elsewhere”? Remember, it’s not like New Orleans is our only coastal city. Everything from Corpus Christi to New York City could get hit by a hurricane – it’s even happened in New Hampshire before. This entire nation faces natural risks. The mountain west has summer fires and winter blizzards, the west coast has earthquakes (and a major San Francisco or LA earthquake IS the next Katrina), the Midwest gets tornadoes, the northeast has its own blizzards, the South sees hurricanes and heat waves, and the whole damn thing suffers through drought. What's Thorson’s solution, that we all move to Alamogordo? If he thinks we can find safer homes, he lives in a fantasy world. It should also be pointed out that not all of New Orleans is below sea-level. “A recent study by Tulane University notes that 51% of New Orleans is at or above sea level, with the more densely populated areas generally on higher ground.” (Photo: This is St. Andrew Episcopal Church's Chalstrom House, where I lived for three months. It is in New Orleans, and it is above sea level. Photo by my friend Bob Gustafson.)

Thorson is also making judgment calls. He is ultimately saying, "We shouldn't spend a dime on these areas because they're in danger." Yeah, but you know something? You get what you pay for. And preserving history, heritage, humanity, and culture in the face of risk is something I'm willing to pay for. In other words, there’s more at stake here than just science, so how dare he speak with scientific authority on non-scientific judgment matters like THAT. He's being quite shortsighted.

Another part of Thorson’s column compared New Orleans to Alaskan villages threatened by climate change. The Voice of New Orleans does a pretty good job of refuting that claim in a post called, “Excuse Me, but New Orleans is not Newtok, Alaska.” Other Katrina blogs tackling Thorson’s op-ed include another Voice of New Orleans post, Thanks Katrina, Your Right Hand Thief, Ashley Morris: The Blog (a professor takes on the professor!), Maitri's VatulBlog, The Chicory, and Gentilly Girl.

Pistollette’s post in particular has received a lot of blogosphere attention. She writes,

“If the Dutch felt the way you do about low-lying areas they'd have no country.

Funny, you guys never complained when federal engineers spent billions to force the Mississippi River route, and thereby bring goods to all you rich, condescending yankees. Plus, you think gas is expensive now? You couldn't afford it if we didn't keep sucking up the fumes in "cancer alley" for you overconsumptive ungrateful brats.

I live here - we have cops, firemen, and hospitals. True, they are understaffed and could use more help, but they are here! Get your facts straight.

I can't believe you compared this situation to some little Alaskan town with 200 people. MILLIONS live in the Mississippi Delta region. You are talking about asking millions of people/refugees to give up their homeland, people, and culture. America doesn't even ask the Palestinians to do that and we actively support the opposition! This is one of the most ignorant and insensitive things I've heard on this topic in a while. Would you ask Amsterdam, Venice, or even low-lying London to just abandon their cities because they are expensive to maintain?”

I would add to Pistollette’s reflections that Washington, DC was also built on fill, and is slowly sinking. I guess Thorson would have us abandon the Capitol, the White House, the Jefferson Monument, the Washington Monument, the Smithsonian, the Vietnam Wall, the FBI headquarters…

Many of these posts are blunter and ruder than they need to be, but their points are well taken. You may reach Dr. Thorson either by commenting on his article at the Courant’s website, or by e-mailing him at profthorson@hotmail.com. If you decide to contact him, please be polite, and perhaps focus on my final point – there is more to this sort of issue than science, and he should take a broader view when making judgment calls about national values.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Michael Buble - "Home"

"Home," by Michael Buble, from the album "It's Time."

This song was used by some as tribute to post-Katrina New Orleans, but that aside, it's just a good song.

Friday, July 06, 2007

EDOLA Gutting and Rebuild Update

Tomorrow, I shall whine about the Hartford Courant and the National Hurricane Service, but for today, here's an update from the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana's gutting and rebuilding program (the folks I lived with for three months last year and volunteered for this past Spring Break). Got it in my e-mail Wednesday. Please read, it's important stuff.

4 July 2007

Hello there,

It’s Katie Mears in New Orleans with an update. Thanks to you all, our gutting program has been incredibly successful. We’ve already gutted over 850 houses and are beginning the next phase: rebuilding. As the need for gutting winds down, we're calling folks whose houses we have gutted over the past year and asking if we can help them put their houses back together now. We have already completed rebuilding seven houses since March and will be finished with several more in the coming weeks.

To give you an idea of the kinds of houses we’re working on, I’d like to tell you about a homeowner whose house we’re finishing this week. Ms. Cora is an older lady who lived with her son in a little house in Pontchartrain Park. Her son was evacuated to Boston after Katrina and has been unable to return. Ms. Cora, who has never left the state, hasn't seen him in nearly two years. She's been living in a FEMA trailer in her front yard since January, when she returned to New Orleans from a trailer park in rural Louisiana.

When I first called Ms. Cora in March, I had to convince her to let us help. She doesn’t want to receive charity because she believes that others need it more. She told me she'd been praying for her Road Home federal grant to come through so she could rebuild, but that she was making herself sick with worry about how she would ever be able to manage it all. We decided that you never can tell what form God's help will take, and that this offer might be her answer.

So we started working. We first hired reputable subcontractors – electricians, plumbers and mold remediators – then we sent in our interns and volunteers to insulate, put up sheetrock, paint, lay tile, and install trim, doors, and windows. The Episcopal Diocese paid for the materials and the subcontractors, and Ms. Cora controlled the process, choosing paint, tile colors, light fixtures, everything. Because Ms. Cora is still waiting for her Road Home money, she doesn’t have much of anything to contribute right now. But she and all of our other homeowners agree to pay us back when their Road Home money arrives.

We have created a system that allows our families to take charge of their own recovery—by making decisions about the house and by paying us back, they are not simply receiving charity. The money homeowners repay us goes to helping more homeowners pay for subcontracting as those families wait for Road Home. The problem is that Road Home money has been incredibly slow to arrive. We’re all getting worried about how long it might take, and our Episcopal Relief and Development grant money will only go so far.

I'm writing for two reasons: to let you know how things are progressing, but also to ask for your help. We continue to have large groups of energetic volunteers – over 100 per week – and have 27 trained interns working around the clock. We aren’t limited by how much work we can do, but are limited by how much work we can pay for.

Ms. Cora will be ready to move into her house next week, and we’re already getting started on the next houses. But we’re at a financial impasse. Our work cannot continue without you. Your generosity and dedication to this city have gotten our program this far – please help us take this next big step and bring New Orleans homeowners back home.

To donate, you can mail checks made out to the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana with "gutting/rebuild" in the memo line to:

Gutting and Rebuild
Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana
1623 7th St.
New Orleans, LA 70115

Or you can donate online. Go to www.edola.org and click on the “Katrina Relief fund” link on the right side of the page.

Thanks so much for your time down here and your financial support. My thoughts and prayers go out to you all. I am happy to answer any questions you may have – just give me a call at 504-258-9441. Please forward this note to anyone else who might be willing to help.

If you have any creative fundraising ideas that have worked in the past, please let me know.

Thanks so much for everything and have a happy 4th of July,

Katie Mears

(504) 258-9441

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Posts of Note

I'm trying to keep tabs on a few of the other New Orleans blogs that are out there. There are far too many for me to look at on a regular basis, so I've selected just a few to slip into my blog reader (I use My Yahoo - how boring and mainstream, I know).

Here are a few posts of note I've seen in the last few days, dealing with YOUR personal Congressman and Senators, the state of the city and why it needs to be saved, FEMA trailers and cottages, and - fun fun - zydeco music. Enjoy!

Judyb over at Thanks, Katrina has a great post up listing all the Senators and Congressman who have visited New Orleans since the storm. Please check to see if your Senators are among the 57 on the list, and if not, call and demand they hurry down! Their office numbers are available at www.senate.gov. The majority of my readers come from LA, TX, ID, WA, and NH, so I'll give you the rundown on those states: Larry Craig of Idaho has been there but Mike Crapo has not; Maria Cantwell of Washington has seen the lasting damage for herself but Patty Murray has not. Ten states, including NH (Senators Judd Gregg and John Sununu), have not had either Senator visit the city. TX and LA are, of course, good to go. Thanks, Judy!

You may also remember that when I first started writing about Katrina recovery, I was constantly fuming about the use of FEMA trailers when FEMA could be using cheaper, safer, friendlier cottages. Judyb has another post looking at the current status of those cottages, as well as some pictures. Here's just one of those pictures - yes, this house really is cheaper and safer than a FEMA trailer:

Wet Bank Guide has a great post entitled, "Same as it never was, same as it never was." It's one of those entries that concisely gets not just to the heart of how NOLA is today, but also of why it needs to be saved. Blogger Mark Folse writes, "Here in New Orleans it is not just the unique soul of a Creole and Carribean city clinging to the edge of America, the birthplace of much of American culture that is being saved. It is one of the last stands to save the soul of America. That it has even a slight chance in hell of succeeding is something worth celebrating."

Finally, take a look at this fun post from last Friday by David Rutledge from Voices of New Orleans: "America needs more zydeco. It should be pumped into the White House, right into the Oval Office. No one could plan a war with this music playing." David provides a link to some great New Orleans music.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

A Little Independence Day Fun

I marched for Joe Biden in the town parade this morning. Unfortunately, I have to miss the fireworks this evening for the first time in, oh, about twenty years, as I'm going to the airport with a friend.

But that's ok, because I can still pretend I'm going to Boston. Here, pretend with me. Yay America.

"Celebrate the independence of your nation by blowing up a small part of it!"

Happy Fourth

I try not to get political about non-Katrina topics on this blog. At least, not yet. One day, perhaps, but for now, I don't want to scare away people from recovery issues because they disagree with me on Iraq or '08 or something like that.

But today, I can't resist. Please take ten minutes to watch this Keith Olbermann video about Bush being above the law.

Our President is a criminal. This is a man who deserves to rot in jail. It's a shame, he's got a good heart and was a decent Governor back home - but I don't care anymore. RESIGN.

(Random thought... I did a 20+ page research paper about Olbermann just before his show got really popular... And don't I feel special!)

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Dual Failure of the Press and the Blogs

The purpose of this post here at Wayward is to highlight the failure of the mainstream media, but I have worded it such so that the purpose at the liberal blogs where I crosspost is to highlight their equivalent failures.

I have many problems with and complaints about the blogosphere, but one thing it usually does well is highlight important-but-ignored news items. It was the blogs that pushed Trent Lott’s comments about Strom Thurmond into the news. It was blogs that nailed Dan Rather to the wall. And we all know that it was blogs that highlighted Joe Liebermann’s parroting of the Bush administration on foreign affairs.

Sadly, Katrina recovery is not one of the issues the blogs have chosen to save. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are still Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). New Orleans secondary education couldn’t be any worse if the teachers tried. Crime is spiking in certain neighborhoods, and innocent citizens are getting caught in the crosshairs. The city is a poster child for our health care complaints, if we would only chose to focus on it. FEMA wastes our money on inefficient policies. Rebuildable neighborhood after rebuildable neighborhood sits empty, and all we have to do to make it worth it is build the levees to specification.

And where are the blogs on this issue? Walking hand-in-hand with the mainstream media (MSM). So I come to you today, hat in hand, pleading. To quote Albert Camus, “If you believers don’t help us, who else in the world can help us do this?”

MSM coverage of Katrina recovery has been woefully lacking. Based on the day-to-day news coverage, you’d never know that recovery has barely started. You’d think the region was back on its feet, in fine shape. Sure, stories about Iraq, climate change, and maybe Scooter Libby deserve more coverage than the Gulf Coast, but what about meaningless early horserace polls, Paris Hilton’s jail time, Anna Nicole Smith’s death, Britney Spears’ hair, missing pretty white girls, and the astronaut diaper? Are these really more important than the hundreds of thousands of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in our own country??? Is this really worth only one thirty-second question in all of six primary debates?

Now, I’ll be honest; I’ll give credit where credit is due. Anderson Cooper of CNN, Brian Williams at NBC Nightly News, Tavis Smiley on PBS, and NPR’s Steve Inskeep and John Burnett occassionally broadcast from New Orleans – they don’t do it often enough, but at least it’s something. The New Yorker used to run a New Orleans blog, ending it just last month. The New York Times is the lone source I’ve seen that pays any kind of regular attention to the storm’s aftermath; just yesterday it put a story called “Largely Alone, Pioneers Reclaim New Orleans” on the front page. The story begins,

“This is the Gentilly neighborhood today, once a backbone of New Orleans and all but given up for dead less than a year ago after flooding from Hurricane Katrina turned it brown and gray and silent in 2005.

Gentilly, home to about 47,000 people before the storm and a thin fraction of that now, is not dead. Haltingly, in disconnected pockets, this eight-square-mile quadrant north of the historic districts that line the Mississippi River is limping back to life, thanks to the struggles of its most determined former residents.

But they have had to do so largely on their own, because help from government at any level has been minimal, in their accounts. In recent weeks, some residents have reported getting checks from the state’s Road Home rebuilding program, but four-fifths of applicants have not.”

Similarly, for a little while yesterday afternoon the taco truck story “Katrina brought a wave of Hispanics” was one of the top headlines on Yahoo’s! AP Top Stories list. More a racial story than a hurricane one, but hey, attention is attention.

But attention is always short-lived, and you have to tune in at the right times to catch even the big stories, like the Iraq supplemental’s Katrina money or the Congressional hearing probing the Road Home program. Recovery is never the top story, often failing to make the broadcast at all. Even the best of journalists turn a blind eye – MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann rarely covers recovery anymore, and half of Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart’s job is to skewer the MSM, so if they don’t cover it he won’t either. The excuse is that readers have “Katrina fatigue” and don’t want to hear about it anymore, but three problems with this excuse jump out at me: One, reader fatigue is nothing at all like the fatigue residents feel. You will not find an energetic Gulf Coast resident, everyone is so exhausted. Two, since it’s been almost two years since the constant coverage, readers and viewers should be over their initial fatigue by now. Three, a desire to avoid overkill hasn’t stopped the MSM from obsessive coverage of missing pretty white girls and celebrity scandals.

Sometimes, this kind of a problem can be remedied by reading blogs. I have a number of problems with the blogsophere, but one upside is that it does tend to grab hold of important-but-ignored stories. Unfortunately, Hurricane Katrina is not one of those stories. Even the progressive left is paying little attention to the lack of recovery progress. I have cross posted dozens of Katrina entries at Daily Kos over the last few months, and have had a grand total of one make the recommended list – the one with lots of pictures. Even when I give my diaries leftist-friendly titles like “The Failure of Privatization in New Orleans,” the Kossacks just don’t come. If it’s not about John Edwards or impeachment, it’s almost like they don’t want to read it. The Rescue Rangers do better than the rec list, but not much. MyDD is also better, but only marginally, and that’s just because it takes five or six recs to get attention rather than dozens. For whatever reason, I tend to get more click-throughs to my blog from the smaller Democratic Underground than I do Daily Kos or MyDD.

Now, I’m not complaining about a lack of personal attention. This isn’t about me. I’d be just as happy if someone else’s recovery diaries were making the list in lieu of mine. The problem is, nobody else is writing them! Over at MyDD, there have been 17 diaries tagged “Hurricane Katrina” since May 1. Of those 17, 13 were mine, and a 14th wasn’t really about Katrina. In other words, if I didn’t cross-post my blog to the big boys, MyDD would have gone more than two months with only three Katrina recovery diaries – and that’s a rather important two months, given all the money included in the Iraq supplemental. Daily Kos isn’t quite as bad, but I’m not sure I’d give it a passing grade, either. Many of the “Hurricane Katrina” diaries there are just gripes about the many different ways Bush has failed us, and don’t contain any real recovery analysis or news.

This post may be written in a measured tone, I may sound objective and analytical, but the truth is, I’m outraged. I’m still angry at Reagan for repealing the FCC regulation charging the television networks with public responsibility. I’m pissed that MSM execs put ratings and money ahead of justice and humanity. And I’m very upset that even the progressive community ignores one of this generation’s largest domestic needs. What Albert Camus said of social justice and Christians applies to social justice and progressives, as well. “Perhaps we cannot prevent this world from being a world in which children are tortured. But we can reduce the number of tortured children. And if you believers don’t help us, who else in the world can help us do this?” (Emphasis added.)

To the Kossacks who are engaged in this issue, most of them actual Gulf residents – thank you. Nightprowlkitty, chigh, doctor2ju, and the other dozen or so, you rock. Everyone else, get off your butt. Educate yourself about Katrina recovery – here’s a good list of sources. Call and demand your Senators and Congressperson fix the Road Home program, reform FEMA, improve flagging NOLA education, fight crime, investigate the levee failure, and save the wetlands. It’s not the kind of thing Shrub will veto, so Congress can act. Put pressure on the presidential candidates to propose comprehensive recovery agendas. Look for, read, and recommend diaries tagged “Hurricane Katrina” or “New Orleans” at Daily Kos, MyDD, Democratic Underground, and elsewhere. If you don’t, you will continue to fail this nation in one of the same ways Shrub has, and no one wants that.