Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Joe Biden: Strong on New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina

Folks, I can’t tell you how happy I am. I met with Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) earlier tonight. Biden is the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and my candidate for president in 2008. I asked him about rebuilding New Orleans, and am pleased to report that he demonstrated a much better understanding of the issue than any of the other presidential candidates I’ve yet asked (I'm in NH, so get to personally see and meet the candidates). Joe Biden actually understands the ongoing situation and, unlike other candidates, has some policy suggestions about how to deal with those realities. (I've also reviewed Obama, Edwards, and Dodd on the subject.)

Biden made it very clear that he understands where things are in New Orleans today, lamenting houses that are “still literally in the streets” in the Lower Ninth Ward (which isn’t quite true, but I would call houses on top of houses and motorboats in yards close enough!). His family has close ties to Hurricane Katrina, giving him a special understanding of the issue’s importance and magnitude. His daughter graduated from Tulane a few years ago, and helped relocate thousands of storm refugees. One son led a National Guard unit in Gulfport and Pass Christian, Mississippi after Katrina, and the other son went to Thibodeaux immediately after the storm to help with relief efforts.

The Senator demonstrated an excellent grasp of the Gulf Coast big picture. The problem with recovery, he said, is not a lack of federal funding. The problem is bureaucracy, which he called “a rat’s nest.” The money has been allocated, but it isn’t getting to its ultimate destination. I was thrilled to hear him say this – that’s EXACTLY the problem with most Katrina recovery, particularly with the Road Home program.

The Senator had plenty of criticism for local leaders and politicians, including Democrats. The local officials aren’t cooperating with the state or the feds, and the feds aren’t cooperating with the state, he said. As President, he would cut aside the red tape to make sure money reached its destination, and he would tell Mayor Nagin to come up with an actual plan for rebuilding the city (as opposed to the farce that is UNOP), or he would revoke the federal grants. “We need to force decisions!” Biden said. Obviously, Nagin wouldn’t risk losing the money – if faced with that threat, things would get real better, real fast.

Biden brought up the city’s exploding crime, something he’s familiar with as Chairman of a Senate subcommittee on crime. He lamented the pre-storm corruption in the NOPD (which exists post-storm, as well), and said the Bush administration has drastically cut funding for local police departments (he had a figure, but I’ve forgotten it). These funding cuts affected New Orleans, and Biden implied that he would again make law enforcement a budget priority. This makes sense – he was the author of 1994’s Violent Crime Control Act, which put thousands of cops on the street.

The Senator did admit that he is unfamiliar with specific recovery bills currently winding their way through Congress, and with the specific program failures (like FEMA policies or Road Home). I can’t say I blame him – he’s the leader in the fight against Bush’s Iraq troop surge, so he’s a little preoccupied with other issues. I appreciate, however, his willingness to say “I don’t know.” Politicians who will actually choke those words out are a rare and wonderful breed. His honesty was refreshing, as was his grasp of the overall situation and problem and his specific proposals (red tape, crime). Answers like that on this and many other issues are the reason I’m supporting Joe Biden’s candidacy for President in 2008. Yes, he lacked a few specifics and it's outside of his Committee assignments, and yes, I wish he'd make it a higher profile issue on the campaign trail and his website. That's why I don't give him a full A, but an A-/B+ is still a darn good grade.


(UPDATE 3-17: Senator Biden gave a speech to a fire fighters' union this month that touched on a lot of topics, most importantly his long-standing support for fire fighters, police officers, and first responders. Around 30 minutes into the speech, he talks about fire fighters in the wake of Katrina - over 1000 firehalls blown away by the storm, most not yet rebuilt. Watch it here.)


Candidates on NOLA so far (I’ll blog more as I learn more):
Biden: A-/B+ (I call that a good grade!)
Obama: C+
Edwards: C-/D+
Dodd: D-

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

More on the Gulf from Eli

Here's another note from Eli Mitchell, a Dartmouth freshman spending her term with Hands On in the Gulf Coast:
****************************************************************

Writing 5 Paragraph Essay

Disclaimer 1: This is supposed to be humorous, please please take it that way.

Disclaimer 2: I wrote this as a middle schooler.

If I follow my current academic plan, I will not take my First Year Seminar until my junior spring... I fear my writing will disintegrate in that time. Therefore, I intend to practice my basic middle-school five paragraph essay. I hope you enjoy the clarity that follows.

(Introduction in the form of an upside down triangle – who ever decided which way was right side up anyways? – broad → thesis.)

Last week, my crew finished our day’s worth of work a bit early. Instead of heading back to base, I decided to wander the streets of East Biloxi, looking for another Hands On crew to help out. It was not long before I heard a call from across the street, “Hey Eli! Want to put on this suit, crawl up into the attic, lie on your back, close your eyes, and work away?” (Ice breaker.) Mike was, of course, asking me to put on a Tyvek suit and scrape mold in an attic without goggles (hence, the closed eyes), but it got me thinking…. As I excitedly ran across the street, propelled by my pink work boots, I realized an outsider might consider me a hooker, running to my pimp to go work in the attic. (Transition.) I began to wonder what else volunteers and prostitutes shared: both jobs are quite physical, both live one day at a time, and both jobs pay, just in different ways. (Narrowing.) For these reasons, being a volunteer is the equivalent to being a prostitute. (Thesis.)

(This is actually a continuation of the introduction. I will never be able to return to papers with a one paragraph introduction.) I shall define “volunteer” and “prostitute” to ensure that everybody understands these references. (Opening sentence.) According to dictionary.com (Referencing my sources, so Dartmouth doesn’t kick me out for plagiarism before I have a chance to actually take classes.) a prostitute is “1. a woman who engages in sexual intercourse for money; whore; harlot. 2. a man who engages in sexual acts for money. 3. a person who willingly uses his or her talent or ability in a base and unworthy way, usually for money.” According to the same source, a volunteer is “1. a person who voluntarily offers himself or herself for a service or undertaking. 2. a person who performs a service willingly and without pay” (dictionary.com). (Citation.) Your turn to play the “What is not the same?” game! (Adding sentence variety; using second person to involve the reader.) I’ll help you out (in case you couldn’t figure it out) and tell you that, according to dictionary.com (a few steps about wikipedia), prostitutes get paid and volunteers do not. This paper will disprove dictionary.com’s (because it is not Encyclopedia Britannica, and can be disproved) definition of a volunteer, showing that volunteers do get paid. (Explaining the purpose of my paper and how I will go about proving my thesis is the purpose of this.)

First of all (in case you were confused which point this is), volunteers offer a promise of physical labor in exchange for a place to stay, just like prostitutes whoring themselves out for a hotel room. I’m currently staying at Hands On New Orleans (email about that to come). And I’m sick. Hands On Gulf Coast with its close living quarters infected me with these symptoms of coughing fits, a soar throat, a stuffy nose, and all together even lower, raspier, sexier voice than normal. I am actually lying in my new bed and feeling really bad for the person who sleeps next to me because I keep on coughing. We have not yet introduced each other even though we are basically sharing a full size bed. If I roll over, I just might roll onto his bed. And I cannot move forward any because my head is already resting at another stranger’s feet. It really is a comfy vinyl mattress though; and the cockroaches aren’t that big. Best of all though, it’s free. All I have to do to afford this wonderful accommodation is walk into a house, armed with a Tyvek suit, hard hat and sledge hammer, and tear down a house faster than actually this reference is not PG-Rated, use your imagination. This type of work turns me on. A prostitute’s work turns her on. All in all (that means I’m about to sum up this paragraph with a concluding sentence), I never fear homelessness because I have learned the useful art of bouncing around from free volunteer camp to free volunteer camp, offering service for a place to stay and perhaps even some toilet paper.

Secondly (using another “transition word” to remind you which point this is), volunteers find additional free services whenever possible. It has become my custom to wear my Hands On sweatshirt everywhere because it was free, it keeps me warm (it’s cold down here!), and it advertises that I’m a volunteer. For example, I called a friend from the Wal-Mart parking lot one night asking for a ride back to base. I had stupidly walked there, not expecting the mile long walk in thirty degree weather to be so taxing. But after I paid a disgusting eleven dollars for my Nyquil (because the Nyquil at base is kept in a locked cabinet, and the person with the key left on a two week vacation), I refused to walk another mile in the frigid weather. I received a straight up “no” to this desperate plea. “Please Josh. I just need a ride. I’ll give you my Guiding Light tote bag.” (Another free item.) “You a volunteer miss?” I heard behind me, “we’ll give you a ride.” The anonymous donor had recognized my sweatshirt. “Thank you so much for all you’re doing ma’am! We’ll give you a ride! Sherry, git in the back! Let our guest ride in the front seat.” So I climbed in the car and enjoyed a free, warm ride back to Hands On. Two days later, I rode in a car with some fellow volunteers. (This transition is supposed to representative of the concept that because both stories involve cars, they can easily blend together.) Apparently, we were zooming a bit too quickly down the highway; the rearview mirror soon reflected flashing red lights, accompanied by the sound of a police siren, throwing us all into panic. Would Hands On cover a ticket? Could we all pool together enough money to pay off the corrupt southern police officer? Should we begin a high-speed chase and end up on cops? But the officer gave us no time to consider the potential severity of our situation. “Do you realize you were going 30 over the speed limit?” “Yes.” (Ben, of course, left out the sir making this short response seem all the more rude and disrespectful. We’re not from here…it doesn’t come naturally.) “Where you headed to so quickly?” “Oh back to St. Augustine’s. We’re volunteers there.” (This was a lie…we weren’t headed back to base.) “Volunteers huh?” The officer considered Ben’s Minnesota license (although the omission of “sir” already pegged us as foreigners), our paint stained clothing, and the stench of the van. “Well okay then. Continue on your way, but you’d best watch out fo’ yo’selves.” Not even a warning. Pulling the “volunteer card” sure does get one lots of nice free services down here. Seriously.

Finally (this is my last point), volunteers are paid with love. (Remember, I’m writing this in the form of a middle school essay…corniness is a requirement.) Seriously though, I do not fail to recognize the affection the man in the Wal-Mart parking lot or the highway patrolman must feel for us outsiders. I feel incredibly rewarded every time a slowing car rolls down its window and the driver yells out appreciation. Ms. Ethyl’s neighbors will not stop walking over to our construction site, picking up tools, and trying to help. We waved them away them away in the name of insurance, so they stood outside, thanking us for all we were doing. I will remind you…these were her neighbors, and they were thanking us. When they exhausted all the praises and “thanks all y’all”s, they moved on to offering us more concrete appreciation: whiskey (“No Eddie, I cannot drink and use the power saw…it says so in the warning.”), their spare tools (“It’s okay, we have our own.”), and a Saturday shrimp boil. The shrimp boil never did happen, but the point is that these neighbors were desperately thanking us and offering all they could. We may build houses for free, but the homeowners make sure to pay us with all they can. I am under the impression – and I could be incorrect here – that prostituted do not receive love as a payment for their profession. And this key difference is what makes a volunteer’s job rock, while a prostitute’s job sucks.

In conclusion, (this is my last paragraph) volunteers are prostitutes (that’s the restatement of my thesis) because they use they use their bodies and are paid with housing (first point), various services (second point), and love (third point). (I will now begin broadening my conclusion by answering the question “So what? Why does this matter to me?”) Until I receive the elusive funding my parents have promised, I will continue living this unhealthy lifestyle of jumping into strangers’ cars rather than calling a cab, eating Salvation Army white bread for lunch, and subjecting myself to crime-ridden neighborhoods to avoid the cost of a hotel room. Well, there is something you can do to help. No…this is not a push to have you donate to Hands On (but if you want to, here’s the website: http://handsongulfcoast.org/) or attend the college relief programs, no…this a push to have you contact my parents and perhaps make a suggestion as to why my allowance down here should be. (Remember…middle school essay…in the end it has to all come back to me.) So go ahead and friend my dad on facebook and say, “Hey Mr. Mitchell, I heard you’re considering giving your daughter some money. That’s real swell of you.” And then you can poke him too. (That’s right; I’m ending my paper with a contemporary reference in a sentence that starts with a conjunction.)

I love that you cannot insult this writing because of my “I’m going to write like a middle schooler” disclaimer. However way back when I actually was the age I look now (we’ll say 14), I would’ve gotten an A on this paper. My teacher would have probably commented on the fact that it was six paragraphs rather than the assigned five. Maybe she would have incorrectly marked a grammatical error. She might have even noticed that the last words of the body paragraphs read “This paper seriously sucks,” but only because she didn’t read the rest of the paper. So, it’s time to go back to college and learn to write real good."

Note by Eli Mitchell. All photos from Eli's Facebook account.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Fun Video

Neither Episcopalian or Gulf Coast related, but I'm feeling slightly lethargic and not in the mood to make a long post. But, this has an awesome message, Harry Belafonte rocks, nothing is cooler than the Muppets,and it's just a lot of fun, so I thought I'd share it anyway:



Thursday, February 22, 2007

Recent Pictures from New Orleans

Take a look at these pictures from New Orleans, mostly of the Lower Ninth Ward, taken by a Mardi Gras reveler. “We came to celebrate Mardi Gras in New Orleans on Friday last week. We will leave on Wednesday with heavy hearts.”

Another Student’s Mississippi Perspectives

I want to give a shout-out to Dartmouth College. I’m hardly the only student here who has done lots of Katrina work – I can think of three students currently spending their term in Biloxi, MS. At least two others spent three months working with the Evangelical Free Church of America before I spent my term with EDOLA. Under the guidance of Dean Stuart Lord, the Tucker Foundation, Dartmouth’s charitable arm, has made Katrina recovery a top priority. We’ll be sending at least nine service groups to the area next month for Spring Break – I’m not sure if that’s nine trips total, or just nine Tucker Foundation trips. Whichever it is, that’ll be hundreds of students – more seem to go each break, which is great, I was worried fewer and fewer would go as time goes by. It is interesting to see school groups come from a long-term volunteer perspective – you get hundreds of volunteers for Thanksgiving or other holiday weekends, and then nothing, or perhaps just older church groups, for a few weeks before another holiday spike. Finally, you can read about the efforts of Dartmouth Professor Quintus Jett here. I see Prof. Jett at just about every hurricane event here, but only learned his name from this post.

One of the students currently in Biloxi is Eli Mitchell, a freshman who, like me, hangs out at the Edge (campus Episcopal ministry). She’s sending out occasional e-mail updates from Hands on Gulf Coast. Here’s her first note, and some of her pictures. I’ll post the others in the coming days.

“I just enjoyed a scalding outdoor shower, but it was okay because the heat was balanced with cool rain. (I apologize to everybody for whom this is repetitive, but setting is key to understanding my “adventures.”) I’m staying in what can only be described as a warehouse owned by a church. The warehouse is set up to house about 150 volunteers. The first picture was taken from the loft looking down onto the eating/socializing area. For comfort, there are couches, three computers, and wireless internet (so I’m actually typing this in my bed). My bed…is in the loft. It appears in the second picture. (Mom, I’m sorry I didn’t clean up before I took the picture.) The woman on the left is leaning over her mattress on the floor. These living arrangements were fine for my previous two trips, but I will seriously consider moving into a tent (there’s a tent village behind our warehouse) once the rain stops. I just checked weather.com…the rain isn’t going to stop. I hope y’all are enjoying the snow up north!

Today, we rode in the MLK Day Parade in East Biloxi. The homeowners’ whose houses we are fixing rode on the float (a house) with us. As we were getting ready for the parade we noticed two beauty salons and a shoe store had floats. We feared aloud, “What if there’s nobody to watch the parade? It seems like the whole town is IN the parade.” Operating on this fear and drunk with power, we threw all of candy and beads (it is the south) within the first half hour. We were so excited to see one family on the sidewalk (remember, we were scared everybody was in the parade) that we literally threw them an entire bag of tootsie rolls. We then learned that the parade had not yet started; we turned onto Division, the technical beginning of the parade, and were swarmed with little kids running up to the float asking for beads and candy. Turns out, not the whole town was in the parade. What were we to do? Please appreciate how many people were there…the third picture was taken about half way down Division Street, the fourth as we were driving past JR’s. I personally hated the floats with no candy whenever I was dragged to the Hanover Fourth of July Parade. Out of fear that the little kids would ransack our float in search for candy and beads that we no longer had, we ransacked it ourselves. We found that one last dum-dum hidden under one of the chairs and threw it into the crowd, we gave up the lobster necklaces we desperately wanted for ourselves (and had justified not throwing because it could be dangerous), we handed out dust masks from the tool bin, we did not throw the crushed mint in the middle of the truck bed (but we were about to). We were desperate for them to not hate us. Want to know what’s really cool? They loved us anyways. Everybody saw our Hands On signs and started cheering, screaming their thanks to the organization.

Martin Luther King Day is a big deal around here. The parade concluded with a Battle of the Bands at Yankie Stadium (where Salvation Army is based). Three universities and one high school marching bands competed in this battle. The last two pictures show first how many people are there and second the size/uniforms/overall impressiveness of the bands. East Biloxi has a history of civil rights activism. This part of the city is 40% white, 40% black, 20% Vietnamese, and 5% Hispanic (those were the numbers I was given…you’re just going to have to deal with the fact that it accounts for 105% of the people). The city of Biloxi is 80% white. The schools, however, integrated relatively easily. This is because Keesler Air Force Base brought in many different people so, although white, these new citizens did not carry a deep southern mindset. The old money beach-front property homeowners, however, did. (I have no pictures of these mansions; I hope this suffices as an explanation of what they once were: http://www.weaverassociatesllc.com/Tullis%204.jpg.) And they exercised this mindset over the one thing they cared most about: the beaches. Black citizens organized “wade-ins” to oppose the segregation laws that kept them off the beaches. The Supreme Court ruled in favor the black protestors in this case because the beaches were built by the Army Corps of Engineers and were, therefore, federal property. And that is a brief history of civil rights activism in Biloxi, MS.

Check out the websites: http://handsongulfcoast.org/, http://handsongulfcoast.blogspot.com/, and http://dartmouthinbiloxi.blogspot.com/.”

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Local Sez: It Could Happen to You

Last year, I made a post on why we should help New Orleans, both culturally and politically. My reasons focused on the importance of service and the fact that no matter how hard they try, the citizens of the Gulf Coast cannot fix their region by themselves. Yesterday, responding on DailyKos to my post about Rep. Paul Hodes, Gulf Coast resident "lilorphant" explained a different reason to fix HUD, FEMA, and the Corps: next time, the disaster could be a blizzard, fire, or tornado, and it could be in your town.

"I live on the coast. Today was one of my not so great days; they seem to see-saw since the storm. When I hear of young people like yourself out there in NH of all places (I lived in Portsmouth as a kid for a few years) keeping up the heat, it helps. Some days it's as if the rest of the country just doesn't GET IT.

Next time, it could be YOUR town or city. Next time it could be the end of your livelihood, your home, your freedom (we lived under curfews for a YEAR). It could be the end of all the things that you have built your life on.

I have seen this thing through, rebuilt my home, and still...don't know what kind of future I can have here on the Coast.

The rebuilding is out of sheer will power, no thanks to the ineptitude of our leaders, government bureaucracy, predatory insurance practices, and the deaf ears of the Capital.

Why does Katrina matter to the rest of the country? They as soon would forget they lost cities and towns, a half-million homes, malls, hospitals, Wal-Marts, Winn-Dixies, Kmart shopping plazas, pharmacies, Casinos, shrimping fleets, (not simply boats, FLEETS mind you), yachts, schools, Churches, government buildings, condominiums, low income housing, century old plantation homes, museums, livestock, the largest shark tank in the US, several hundred thousand beloved pets, banks, bridges, and on and on.

They would soon forget the port of New Orleans, but without it, the rise in shipment cost for freight would leave their heads scratching. Ahah. One day they will remember this Atlantis. But then it will be late.

The protocols of the Homeland Security will have already be etched into policy, and free reign given to the corrupt and speculative.
I rebuilt out of spite. I was too stubborn to leave. It is not easy to stay "in spite of". I stay so far because dammit, I am a witness. Not a victim, not merely a survivor, a witness. To all this; the incompetence, the mounds of paperwork, the filing, standing in lines, the unanswered questions, the loss of everything I was proud of about the South, the corruption, the contracts, the contempt and the scorn they have shoved down our throats since August 29th (2005)."

by lilorphant on Mon Feb 19, 2007 at 09:02:03 PM PST

Monday, February 19, 2007

More on Congress and New Orleans

Rep. Paul Hodes (D-NH) is the new Congressman for NH-02, the district I vote in. He held a town hall meeting tonight at Dartmouth, then held a private meet and greet with the Dartmouth College Democrats. He is not running for President, but Congress still matters, so here’s his take on the Gulf Coast.

At the meet and greet, I asked Rep. Hodes about New Orleans. He didn’t know about the Road Home program, so I told him a little bit about that. I asked if he knew what Congress was planning to do to help New Orleans beyond waiving Stafford Act matching fund requirements. His answer was not a solid one, but it was encouraging. He said he did not know what specific moves Congress is considering, but that action will be taken. He said a lot of people were upset that Katrina was not included in the Speaker Pelosi’s top priority “100 Hours” agenda, and that it has gotten lost, perhaps forgotten, amid higher profile issues like Iraq, but that the House will move on the issue as soon as possible.

I can’t blame Rep. Hodes for not knowing more about the issue, or knowing what committees are doing what. He’s only been in Congress for six weeks, so he’s still learning about the system, and doesn’t have much of a voice as a freshman. What encouraged me about his answer was this: while taking the next question, he looked to his assistant, pointed at me, pointed at his brain, made a pen-writing-on-paper motion, and mouthed the words “Road Home.” After the meeting, the aid came over to get my contact information and said they’d be in touch with information.

Katrina might not be high on Rep. Hodes’ list, but I was encouraged by his desire to get more information and get back to me on it. I don’t think I saw him do that on any other issue. I like Rep. Hodes – I voted for him – and this is one more reason to smile.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

International Flavor

A month ago today - Jan. 17 - I installed a site meter. Since then, I've had 649 readers from eleven countries visit my blog. Not only does sitemeter.com allow me to see how many visitors I've had, I can also see where they're located and how they found the blog - i.e., what website they clicked here from. If you've favorited this blog or paste the URL into your browser, it says "unknown" referral, but I can tell when someone visits from Daily Kos or Google blog search, and in the case of the latter, what they were searching for.

Traffic has skyrocketed lately because I've started crossposting on Daily Kos, MyDD, and Democratic Underground whenever I make a political post. Political posts occassionally get Washington, DC readers from domains like house.gov and senate.gov (staffers googling their boss?). I wish I'd thought to crosspost when I initially started this blog and was still in New Orleans. Ah, well, c'est la vie. In the meantime, one of the more interesting thing about the site meter is it's shown me this blog has some international flavor! I've had visitors from Uruguay, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, and Mexico, in addition to three readers in China and five in the UK. International readers tend to arrive here via Google blog search. For instance, Canada searched "new orleans tornadoes," the latest UK searched "primates meeting tanzania," and Germany took a look at technorati.com blogs tagged "Obama".

No worries about privacy - I can't tell names, addresses, or other viewing habits of my visitors. But isn't learning even that much fun?

Friday, February 16, 2007

Global South Misses the Point, Scripturally

This post deals with the first part of my blog's name (Wayward Episcopalian), not the second (New Orleans). The leaders of the worldwide Anglican Communion - the archbishops and presiding bishops, or "primates" - are meeting in Tanzania right now. A number of them are a bit miffed that the United States church is still allowing gay bishops, and that we elected ourselves a female Presiding Bishop.

"Seven "Global South" archbishops refused to receive Holy Communion with their fellow Primates February 16, alleging that they were "unable to come to the Holy Table with the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church because to do so would be a violation of Scriptural teaching and the traditional Anglican understanding." -ENS

A violation of Scriptural teaching? I'm not going to lecture or sermonize here, but I do want to make the one observation that maybe the Global South archbishops and I aren't reading the same Scripture. 'Cause see, when I pick up my Bible and flip to First Corinthians 12:12-26, this is what I find:

"For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it."

Maybe Lake Wobegon's Father Emil said it best: Pass the Peace, but you don't have to make eye contact.

Congress Finally Moving in the Right Direction Again

Finally, some good political news for Katrina recovery efforts! House Democrats presented a plan today to waive a Stafford Act requirement that local and state governments pay matching funds for disaster relief for governments affected by Hurricane Katrina. These funds were waived following 9/11 and Hurricane Andrew, and waiving them now will save the state of Louisiana $700 million. An additional $3.6 billion will in aid will be tacked on to an Iraq/Afghanistan spending bill. Kudos to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC). There’s a good editorial in today’s Boston Globe about the renewed push.

Unfortunately, the real problem with the federal response to Katrina isn’t a lack of funding, it’s a lack of oversight. As I wrote about earlier this month, the official homeowner grant program has $7.5 billion to distribute – but out of 101,000 applicants, only 632 have been paid as of February 12. The “Road Home” program has been in full operation since October – why so slow? Why so many errors? And of the $350 million for “alternative housing” that FEMA shelled out last month, why did Mississippi get $280.8 million to Louisiana’s $74.5 million?

Hopefully increased oversight and accountability will accompany the increased funding. Senator Joe Liebermann’s (I-CT) Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and Rep. Barney Franks’ (D-MA) House Financial Services Committee have both opened investigations into issues surrounding Katrina recovery. I say huzzah, it’s a good start.

Photo Credit: A trailer in Westwego, LA, destroyed by the recent tornado. I can't quite tell, but it looks like a FEMA trailer.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

From ENS: Diocese of Louisiana responds to tornado damage

Sounds like the Bishop visited my old "colleagues." Best of luck to them...

Episcopal News Service
February 14, 2007

Diocese of Louisiana responds to tornado damage

By Ben Jenkins

Before dawn February 13 a tornado touched down in several parts of New Orleans and Jefferson Parishes, leaving a swath of destruction. When damage reports rolled in, Bishop Charles Jenkins and the clergy
mobilized to help those affected by the storm.

"The church was able to shift from hurricane relief work to help in a neighborhood where people had been hurt and had post traumatic stress syndrome. I think we provided an important presence," Jenkins said. "I was pleased with how the diocese was able to respond to the disaster."

Jenkins' first stop was the apartment for college interns with the
Office of Disaster Response's house gutting program. None of the eight interns was injured, but six windows were blown out of their house and two of their cars were smashed by felled telephone poles.

"All the young folks are OK but shaken pretty badly," Jenkins wrote inhis blog (http://www.edola.org/index.php).

Full story: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/3577_82445_ENG_HTM.htm

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Last Night's Tornadoes in NOLA

UPDATE 5PM: Last night, a tornado ripped through New Orleans, killing at least one woman, injuring 29, knocking out power to 21k-29 residents, and damaging at least 50 total FEMA trailers (proving, I think, that the trailers are unsafe in inclement weather, and that "Katrina" cottages would be a better alternative). Accordng to the AP, "The tornado hop-scotched a 10-mile path from the west bank of the Mississippi River to the shore of Lake Pontchartrain, striking some neighborhoods that had been hard hit by Katrina and have been slow to recover... In Gentilly, there are vast stretches of abandoned, gutted houses, dotted by trailers and occasional reoccupied dwellings. Some abandoned houses collapsed in the twister's winds." Said Mayor Nagin, "For the city, it's a bad thing, because it further unnerves everybody that's trying to recover from Katrina." And the choked up Governor Blanco: "It's incredible. It just looks like pick-up sticks. People's lives just torn asunder again."

Another neighborhood the tornado hit fairly hard is the uptown Carrolton neighborhood I lived in for my three months as a recovery intern. Here's an e-mail from Katie Mears, who runs the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana's gutting program.

"This will be brief, but I just wanted to send a quick update about how we’re doing down here. You might have heard that there were lots of tornados around in New Orleans last night, and I thought you should know that we’re okay.

The house where the crew chiefs live got hit—the kids are all physically fine, but a bunch of windows got blown in and two of their cars got smashed by falling powerpoles. They’re a little shaken up—nothing quite like waking up to shattering glass falling on your head—but they’ll be okay. The electricity isn’t expected to be restored anytime soon so they’ll be staying someplace else for at least a few days.

All our churches and volunteer housing seem to be fine, including St. Andrew’s and Chapel House which are in one of the hardest hit neighborhoods (at least I hope it’s one of the hardest hit; there’s not much good information available about how other places are doing). Many of our neighbors were not so lucky, and we’ll be helping folks move and clean up over the next few days.

Again, we’re all fine, but do keep us in your prayers. Everybody’s a little shaken up.

Thanks.
-Katie

P.S. And yes, my house is fine too. No power, but also no damage."

Barack Obama: Lukewarm on New Orleans

I saw presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) at a town hall meeting in Durham, NH last night. I myself was not called on during the Q&A, but thankfully, another audience member did ask about New Orleans. Obama's answer was the best I’ve heard yet (meaning better than Edwards or Dodd), but that’s not saying much. Overall, I give him a C+ on the issue – short on specifics, but containing some.

(So you know what my bias is, I like Obama, but am part of the needs-more-high-level-experience crowd. I think he’ll be great in a few years, but I’m backing a different candidate for ’08. I have lots more to say about him, but this is not the blog for that. This post addresses only his stance on Katrina reconstruction, not his overall candidacy.)

The question was very straightforward – what steps would you take to rebuild New Orleans? Obama started out by saying he was in New Orleans not long ago for Committee hearings, something I wrote about at the time. Katrina, he said, reminded us of the need for government. As common as it may be to bash government, having had an experienced disaster relief bureaucrat in charge of FEMA instead of a professional gambler would have avoided much of the humanitarian disaster.

Obama took a little while, but finally got around to the actual issue of rebuilding New Orleans. He only gave one specific step, though that’s one more than Edwards or Dodd proposed. The Stafford Act, he said, requires state and local governments to pay matching disaster relief funds. This requirement was waived for New York on 9/11 and waived for Florida on Hurricane Andrew. Why, the Senator asked, hasn’t it been waived for Katrina? This is a good point – the state governments are strapped, and relieving them of their repayment burdens would go a long a way.

That was it – nothing on government incompetence, pressing housing issues, funding discrepancies between LA and MS, or crippled education and health care systems. He said there are a number of other specific steps he could talk about, but the larger issue of poverty is more important, and he’d rather tell us about that. This angered me – sir, the question was not about poverty. Poverty is a vital issue that was highlighted by Katrina, but it wasn’t the only one – government incompetence and a physically destroyed region were also highlighted, and they were the issues you were asked about. Answer the question that WAS asked, not the question that wasn’t. Obama gave direct answers to questions about gay marriage, nuclear proliferation, illegal immigration, and energy. He should have treated New Orleans the same way.

Flaws aside, Obama did give one specific step, and said there were several more. Dodd and Edwards didn’t even claim to have more unmentioned info. (A search of Obama’s website didn’t turn up those other details – I’m sure they exist, but we’re left to wonder what they are. Reminds me of President Bartlett’s secret plan to fight inflation on NBC’s West Wing!) The larger problem, however, isn’t the candidates’ lack of substance – it’s the media’s lack of attention. Press neglect of the issue is the reason so many people don’t realize New Orleans is still in bad shape. Articles on Obama’s speech from today’s Boston Globe, Manchester Union-Leader, New York Times, Associated Press, and Daily Dartmouth all fail to mention New Orleans. Manchester’s WMUR-TV does say that the question was asked, but doesn’t quote his answer. Shame on you, media. This kind of neglect is borderline criminal. Can’t this issue, which directly affects at least 3 million citizens, get at least as much attention as Mitt Romney’s religion?

Candidates on NOLA so far (I’ll blog more as I learn more):
Obama: C+
Edwards: C-/D+
Dodd: D-

Photo Credit

Monday, February 12, 2007

A Slight Delay

So, after posting almost every day for several weeks, I've gone three or four days now without posting. I'm reverting to my old habits, I guess. :( But, I'm going to see Barak Obama speak today, and hopefully I can ask him about New Orleans. If I get that chance, I'll post his answer and my analysis of it here tomorrow. And even if I don't get that chance, I've got a long list of unblogged topics, and several free hours tomorrow morning in which to write about one. So sit tight, my friends!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Hurricane, by Anne Galjour

“It sounded like ghosts were swimming in the wind, trying to get me to unlock the door!”

I saw a play this week – Hurricane, by Cajun Anne Galjour. It was only the second play I’ve been to in the last year (the last one I saw was by the Cripple Creek Theater Co. in New Orleans; it was also about a Louisiana hurricane: Kingdom of Earth, by Tennessee Williams).

The program notes read, “Hurricane premiered in 1993 at the Climate Theatre in San Francisco. It won numerous local and national awards, and the American Theater Critics Association cited Hurricane as one of the top three plays produced outside of New York in 1993.”

I was much more impressed than I thought I would be. The play actually focused more on the culture of Plaquemines Parish than it did the hurricane itself. The whole thing lasted about an hour, with the hurricane and its aftermath taking place in the last ten minutes. There were six characters, and I feel like I’ve met them all – I’ve never been to Plaquemines, but it’s the parish/county immediately south of Orleans Parish, so there is some shared culture and migration. Anyways, Galjour did a wonderful job painting and portraying these characters. Galjour has not changed the play one iota since Katrina, so all the talk of storms, levees, and canals has taken on added meaning – not just for Yankee audiences, but for Louisiana residents, as well. In a post-performance discussion, she said the play always goes over well when she does it at home for Cajun audiences. One woman once told her, “I can’t believe you’re up there getting paid to be my Aunt Bobeaux!” I was particularly impressed by how Galjour was able to develop the characters by looking at their present rather than their back stories.

What was particularly fun about this play was watching the audience – I grew up in deep East Texas and just spent three months in New Orleans, so Cajun culture, while not my own, at least does not strike me as odd. A roomful of Yankees is a different story – I’ll chuckle or nod while they howl at talk of turtle soup, the “alligator patrol,” or mosquitoes that will turn your face into a volcano. If you’re looking for insights about hurricanes, I’m not sure I recommend this play, but it’s a fun look at Southern Louisiana culture. If you live in New England, you can still catch Galjour tomorrow in Burlington at the Flynn, Sunday in Brattleboro at Latchis Theater, or next Friday at the MA College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, MA.

On a related note, you meet the kindest people in lines! I was in line at the box office to buy my ticket, but the lady behind me had an extra ticket (someone had canceled on her) and she gave it to me. Thank you, mystery lady! A student always appreciates saving a little cash! :-)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Good News from the Diocesan Office of Disaster Response

Most of my recent posts have been political – John Edwards, Chris Dodd, Senate hearings, the Road Home program, etc. That comes as no surprise to those who know me, but I would like to take a step back today and return to this blog's roots in my internship with the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana's Office of Disaster Response.

I received a wonderful letter in the mail last week from Sam, one of the other interns I served with. It contained an exciting update on the gutting program: "Last month (December) we regularly had 260 volunteers per day. I believe we gutted around 120 houses, give or take. We had college groups galore, individuals, parishes, and more. We are also steadily progressing on the rebuilding program, which hopefully will be up and going by March." 260 a day! 70 are a lot for a typical day, and I know this was Christmas break, but 260!!! WOW!!! That's almost enough to restore your faith in humanity! ;-)

On a lighter note, another one of the interns, a female, posted this note on Facebook: "Everyday I get dirty. Really dirty. Everyday I get covered in the black, yellow and polka-dotted mold which flourishes in houses throughout this damp city, resembling my grandma's bold, rose-patterned wallpaper as it crawls up the sheetrock. Most days, I throw my workpants in a pile in the corner of my room, but some days I throw my workpants directly into the washing machine with the obnoxious buzzer. Yesterday was one of those days. When a refrigerator has been sitting for 17 mos. and it vomits on my pants, it makes the immediate washing a necessity. Although it wasn't nearly as dirty as my pants, my cell phone went straight into the washer as well. It has soap bubbles on the inside. If you want to reach me, you'll have to put up the bat sign, or send a telegram." Man, that crew is great. Dem's good peoples.

If you're young but over 18, and this sounds exciting or interesting, please, consider interning with the Diocese! The last thing Katie Mears, who runs the gutting program, told me when I left in December was to try and find more long-term interns. They need it!

Photo: Katie Mears and then-intern now-staff Dan Krall gut a house

Good Levee Links

If you want to learn more about the ongoing struggle to get the government to fix the broken Louisiana levee system, check out these two great links. Thanks to "chigh" at Daily Kos for telling me about them!

Levees.org :: Hold the Corps Accountable!
(This group is calling for a 9/11-style bipartisan commission to investigate the levee failures. You'll see yard signs from them across New Orleans. Check it out, read their mission statement and fact sheet, and sign the petition! Also, there was an AP article on them yesterday.)

Fix the Pumps Blog

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Truth about John Edwards and New Orleans

Former Senator and 2008 presidential candidate John Edwards first came to national prominence when his 2004 presidential campaign focused on the “two Americas” theme of fighting poverty. Edwards’ second presidential campaign again makes poverty a central focus, and he announced the campaign in December in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward (video below). I am very glad that Edwards is out there highlighting the neglect of the Gulf Coast when the mainstream media ignores it, but a deeper analysis shows that sadly, Edwards is no Gulf Coast champion and neglects the issue almost as much as the media.

As of today, the phrases “New Orleans,” “Gulf Coast,” and “Katrina” do not appear once on his campaign’s issue page, blog frontpage, or homepage. As a result, Googling "John Edwards New Orleans" brings up a number of news stories and blogs, but nothing official from the Edwards camp. In a speech last week here at Dartmouth, Edwards barely mentioned New Orleans – it only got a passing half sentence while he discussed the broader issue of poverty. In his reply to the President’s State of the Union address, he does not criticize the President for failing to mention hurricane recovery, and in fact does not even mention the region himself. In post-SOU interviews, Edwards only talked about New Orleans when CNN's Anderson Cooper directly asked him about it - the issue didn't come up with CNN's Larry King or MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough. And most recently, a front-page article in yesterday's New York Times about Edwards' campaign gives no mention to New Orleans, probably because it just didn't come up in the reporter's time with Edwards (though the article does have some nice coverage of the Dartmouth event!). For a man who brought hundreds of student volunteers to the city last spring, this neglect was shocking, unexpected, and depressing.

If you watch his campaign announcement, which I’ve included at the end of this post, you’ll see that while he does highlight the issue of New Orleans recovery, he does not discuss specifics or give solutions. Katrina is merely his backdrop and photo-op. He does ask people to volunteer and get engaged themselves, which is good; more volunteers are desperately needed, and I’m thrilled someone is issuing that call on a national level, but it’s a call more fitting of a cultural leader than a political one. Political leaders need to not only issue that call, but heed it by offering solutions in a way no one else can. We know how Citizen Edwards feels, but we don’t know what President Edwards would DO.

One comes to expect this level of neglect from some politicians, but from John Edwards, the populist champion of the poor? Through his volunteer push and campaign announcement, Edwards pretends to focus on New Orleans, but when he has the chance to actually do something about it, he passes the chance right up. I know his compassion is real, genuine, and heartfelt, and I hope I’m wrong about his focus – I hope substance is in development and will be announced soon – but I doubt it. The truth is that Edwards is vague on a lot of issues, like Iraq and Darfur. He masterfully describes problems without giving solutions.

I don't mean to slam the Senator on a personal level. John Edwards is a good man. Even if he has no substantive policy proposals, his compassion is as real as it gets. He would make a great Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and I would welcome his return to the Senate – but as long as he remains this vague on issues he claims to care so much about, especially New Orleans, he is not fit to be President.

2-min Speech


9-min Speech (at 2:25 left in the video, watch the boy on the right side of the screen)

Monday, February 05, 2007

Road Home, or Road to Nowhere?

It occurs to me that I’ve blasted the Road Home program in passing several times, but have never dedicated a full post to it. Road Home is the official, federally-funded ($7.5 billion), state-administered program for helping Louisiana homeowners get back on their feet. When you talk about federal homeowner assistance, this is THE program – and it might be the worst example of domestic federal incompetence in our history. Road Home has barely helped any homeowners since fully kicking off in October (the pilot program began even earlier), and the ones it has helped haven’t gotten nearly the assistance they need.

Any homeowner whose house suffered heavy damage – there are about 120,000 of them – and is willing to stay in New Orleans is eligible for a rebuilding grant of up to $150,000 (or the extent of the damage, whichever is lower). However, any money received from FEMA or insurance is deducted from the grant, and if the homeowner did not have insurance, they are penalized a further 30 percent. If the homeowner moved out of state after Katrina, 40% is taken off the home’s value – even if they moved before the Road Home program was created. This quirk reduced at least one grant from $32,494.16 to a paltry $6,156.94. In the end, the average grant is $79,693 – enough for a family to pay off the mortgage and crawl out of debt, but not enough to actually rebuild.

The real problem with Road Home is that out of 103,710 applicants and 31,914 calculated benefits, only 391 homeowners had actually received their money, with an additional 321 scheduled for payment. That’s 712 homeowners out of 104,000. (Numbers as of Jan. 29.) These numbers, sadly, show an improvement over earlier progress – in mid-November, 27 out of 70,000 applicants had been paid, and in mid-December, it was 97 out of 90,000. Furthermore, many of these calculations are wrong, even cruel. “The number of Road Home award letters saying applicants will get nothing to fix their homes is nearly three times greater than the number who have received their grant money," the Times Picayune reported. At least 7,200 complaints have been registered “about everything from underestimated pre-storm home values to inadequate storm-loss estimates to the lack of resolution of previous complaints.” And unfortunately, there’s no way to hold the contractor that runs Road Home, ICF International, accountable. “Nervous state officials are essentially locked into the current arrangement, with no performance measures and no penalties to hold over ICF's head,” said another Times Picayune report.

Despite official, misleading press releases (disinformation campaigns) with titles like “Louisiana Homeowners Give The Road Home Program High Marks,” residents are ticked. At a recent informational session, ICF attempted to dispel various myths and rumors about the program – but to no avail. “The Road Home is a joke, honey,” said Betty Bender, 60, who had applied for a Road Home grant three months earlier. “Until I can see some money, it's a joke.”

How to fix Road Home? Five steps jump out at me. First, the insurance penalty should be eliminated and more federal funds should be allocated to make up the difference. Under the current system, people who were rich enough to buy insurance are given more money than people who couldn’t afford it – widening the wealth gap and penalizing the poor. I would then fire ICF (as the state legislature has called for); evaluate all relevant state employees to determine if inefficiency is a staff problem or a system problem; demand the federal Dept. of Housing and Urban Development exercise more oversight of their money; and come November, kick out Gov. Kathleen Blanco in favor of Rep. Bobby Jindal, her likely opponent. Blanco was involved in the planning of this program and has tied herself to it in radio ads – if she wants to board that ship, let her go down with it.

There’s no way to count the ongoing government mistakes surrounding Katrina recovery issues. FEMA has yet to get a single housing issue right, Mayor Nagin refuses to accept responsibility for any mistakes, and basic steps like restoring water and electricity take forever to accomplish. Sadly, while Road Home may be the worst of these problems, it is only one among many.



(I took this picture in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans while working there all fall.)

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Another Article of Mine

I published an article on New Orleans in the Dartmouth Free Press last week. I combined and shortened my two Spokesman-Review articles. It looks at the typical: slow pace of recovery, good news, spirit of the people, government SNAFUs, importance of helping, etc. If the two S-R articles were too long for you, this might be a good summary to read instead.

Friday, February 02, 2007

A Prayer for Florida

I've adopted the following prayer from Katrina for the Florida storm:

Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light.
Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.
- Be present, O God, with those who are discovering that loved ones have died, that homes and jobs are gone. Embrace them in your everlasting arms.
- Be present, O God, with those who suffer today in shelters, hot and weary from too little sleep and too much fear. Let them know they are not alone.
- Be present, O God, with those who wonder what they will find when they return to homes battered by the storm. Teach them to hope.
- Be present, O God, with those who have not been able to reach loved ones, who are frantic with worry. Offer them consolation.
- Be present, O God, with those who have hardly recovered from last year’s storms, who are unsure how much they can bear, who yearn only for quiet. Grant them peace.
- Be present, O God, with all who respond - mayors, police, firefighters, FEMA employees, Red Cross workers, pastors, church disaster response coordinators. Their work is just beginning, and may not end for many months. Strengthen them for service.
- Be present, O God, with the people of the destroyed Lady Lake Church of God, and with the people of your Christian Church in storm damaged areas, and especially with the staff and members of the Episcopal Diocese of Florida where we fear so much has been damaged. Inspire us by their determination to care for others amid their own trials.
- Be present, O God, to each of us as we pray, that distance may not deter us from generous giving and enduring companionship. Help us remember tomorrow, and next week, and next month.
- Be present, O God, with all affected by this storm, and with those still suffering from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. May Immanuel, God with us, our precious Jesus, take every hand and lead us home.
Amen.

-John H. Thomas, General Minister and President, United Church of Christ, August 30, 2005; Adapted/Paraphrased Nathan S. Empsall, February 2, 2007

Massive Storms in Florida

A massive storm hit central Florida around 3AM. The link has live video of the extensive damange, press conferences, etc. MSNBC, which I'm watching now, calls it a "super-cell storm," with seven tornados. There are at least 14 confirmed deaths, and many people missing. The damage, as you can see in the pictures below, looks just like the Mississippi coastline did after Katrina, and extends for several counties. Local officials are on the scene and state authorities are arriving, with a focus on search and rescue; they're not waiting for the feds to take charge. "Florida has a different theory on how to do this," says MSNBC, reporting that former Gov. Jeb Bush did not enjoy being told by the fedsd what to do or how to handle these things. This makes sense; Florida has far more experience than other states at dealing with hurricanes and storms. FEMA is still on the way, which is much quicker than their Katrina response time, but then again, MSNBC says some of these towns are still waiting on FEMA money from 1994.

This is the first test of new Gov. Charlie Crist's leadership. He's just starting a press conference, and has declared a state of emergency in four counties (Volusia, Sumter, Lake, and Seminole). Hopefully he'll continue Jeb Bush's disaster response legacy - and hopefully Jeb's brother will sieze this moment to try and redeem himself for ongoing Katrina failures.

Photos From CNN

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Louisiana Health Care News

Troubling news on the New Orleans health care front here... The Bush Administration's been terrible on Katrina issues, and in my humble opinion, terrible on health care issues. It figures that when the Administration attempts to act on both issues at once, chaos ensues. But then again, maybe that's just my opinion.

Presidential Candidate Sen. Chris Dodd Disappoints on New Orleans

Senate Banking Committee Chairman and presidential candidate Chris Dodd (D-CT) recently visited Dartmouth College. On the whole, I was very impressed, but this blog is not about Habeus Corpus or national health care – it is about ongoing Katrina recovery efforts, and unfortunately, the Senator’s answers to questions about New Orleans were appalling.

Senator Dodd’s campus events began with a private reception for SAE brothers and Dartmouth College Democrats at SAE (I’m with DCD). During the reception, one brother from New Orleans asked Dodd about various FEMA mistakes. Dodd gave a non-answer about how wonderful FEMA was under President Bill Clinton and Director James Lee Whit – which is true, but doesn’t address the current mess.

After SAE, Dodd gave a stump speech at the campus’ Rockefeller Center, and opened the floor to comments and questions. I gave/asked the first one, saying essentially:

“More than a year after Katrina, New Orleans remains a third world country, with tens of thousands of homes left to be gutted and half the population still displaced. Bob Herbert recently wrote in the New York Times that New Orleans was brought to its knees by Katrina, and is being kept there by federal neglect and mind-numbing local government incompetence. This is true – as of mid-December, after having been in operation for several months, the Road Home Program, the official rebuilding grant program for homeowners, had received over 100,000 applications but distributed only NINETY SEVEN checks. This may be state administered, but it is federal money. And thousands of residents remain without FEMA trailers.

“My question for you, Senator, is this: what will you do over the coming year in the Senate, and what would you do as President, to fix these programs and help New Orleans? And please don’t talk about Bush’s mistakes or the immediate post-storm problems: I’m asking about the future, and what we do now.”

Just as he did at SAE, Dodd gave a non-answer. He began by saying that Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) has called for hearings to investigate those mistakes, “including that program,” (he couldn’t even name Road Home), and that he would monitor those hearings (they have since begun, as regular readers of my blog will know).

Dodd then went on a tangent about the real issue of Katrina is what we can learn from the current mistakes and how we can apply that to other disasters or issues – like terrorism. I asked him how can we rebuild New Orleans, and he said let’s not repeat our mistakes elsewhere.

I can’t blame Dodd for not being on top of the New Orleans issue – he’s not on the relevant committees, so it’s outside his purview and area of expertise. But I can blame him for dodging my question, not being up front with me, and twisting the subject. Senator, if you don’t know the answer, or if you’re going to wait on Landrieu’s investigation before you take a position, JUST SAY SO. There’s nothing wrong with admitting when you don’t know, and believe it or not, I have met politicians who will do just that.

Overall, Chris Dodd, while not my choice for President, is very impressive – but his answers on questions about Iran and predatory lending don’t do a thing for the three million Gulf Coast residents affected by Hurricane Katrina, and they don’t do a thing to help us stop ongoing incompetence.