Thursday, May 31, 2007

A Local Perspective

I cross-post many of my blog entries to the lefty blogs Daily Kos, MyDD, and Democratic Underground. DailyKos user and New Orleans resident doctor2ju offered the following comments to my entry about Congress' new Katrina recovery money.

Compare this with the Senate hearing this week
“Senator Landrieu held a hearing this week on the lack of progress in the "recovery". A lady who was the leader from the neighborhood Lakeview told a story that will stay with me the rest of my life. We have seen many wonderful volunteers that have come on their own to help us dig out of the mountain of devastation. She told the story of two of these volunteers from Boston, a mother and a nine year old daughter. After helping in the clean up for a week, the daughter looked up at her mother and asked "Mommy, when are we going home to America?" At this point the lady representative had to stop for a moment to choke back the tears of hurt. Once she composed herself, in cracking voice, she asked the senators "My question is the same. When can we return home to America?" Are we Americans or not? When the citizens of Iraq get more support from our government, MSN and even many of our fellow citizens, I think that is a more than fair question.”

Get the word out
“I have since found out her name is Connie Uddo, Director of St Paul's (Episcopal Church) Beacon of Hope neighborhood association. It is an organization meant to aid the rebirth of Lakeview.
http://www.lakewoodbeacon.org/?page=beacon_svcs
Quotes:
Times Picayune blog article here
Connie Uddo, administrator of St. Paul's Beacon of Hope Organization in Lakeview, described herself as the neighborhood "encourager, the cheerleader," constantly telling people that "Your life will come back." But now, she says, "I can't look them in the eye and tell them that anymore." Based on current pace of awarding checks, she figures it will take seven years for the last applicants to get their checks.
This is the only link I could find mentioning the statement that meant so much to me."

Forgot to Add
“She talked about how the churches have been carrying the weight of the services the government should be doing and that they are buckling under the pressure. This was in response to Alaska Senator Ted Stevens' (insensitive) question as to why government re-imbursement of services done is not working. (When he had a fire in his neighborhood, it worked out just fine. UGH!) She said that people, after waiting for months, don't have the money to buy sheetrock. The churches are doing it and are going broke doing it. This senator (of the bridge to nowhere fame) has actually SEEN the scope of the devastation. He visited Lakeview maybe 3 months after the storm and went up to a family digging through the debris of their former lives and asked them why the US should help them. He only decided to give us aid after he realized these citizens lost their homes due to substandard federal levees. Nathan, what world do these politicians inhabit?”

Doctor2ju's mother lives in Pass Christian, MS, where she attends Trinity Episcopal Church.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Thork's Words

The campus Navigators Christian Fellowship had our final Thursday Night Fellowship of the term last week. It struck me as a very special evening – the annual quotes-and-pictures slide show is so much fun, there seemed to be something extra in the worship, and the mingling with friends was even better than usual. But I mention it here for a more serious reason. The last TNF of the term is also the seniors’ open mike night, and my friend James Throckmorton, a graduating super senior, said something I found to be very important.

I wish I had gotten to know Jim before this term (but as he is quick to point out, I’m gonna have to see his ugly name ahead of me on the fantasy baseball scoreboard all freakin’ summer long). He noted that Dartmouth Christians seem to split into two groups – the social justice Christians, and the personal purity Christians. The social justice Christians are those who emphasize service, believing that Christianity means giving to the poor, serving at soup kitchens, and opposing violence. Assistance is ministry. The personal purity Christians emphasize sin and behavior, saying that to please God you must avoid premarital sex, read your Bible everyday, and work hard. Evangelism is ministry. Certainly, there is crossover; the social justice Christians admit that sin is serious, and the personal purity Christians acknowledge that service is part of Jesus’ message – but let’s admit it. This split does exist, not just on campus, but also in the larger church. On the one hand, you’ve got James Dobson, Pat Robertson, and Peter Akinola. On the other hand, there’s Jim Wallis, William Sloane Coffin, and Katharine Jefferts Schori. I personally fall into the latter camp, as you may have noticed.

Jim said that these two facets of Christianity are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have a coin without two sides, and you can’t have true Christianity without both service and an effort to go and sin no more. The two Christian camps should stop quarreling, and recognize one another’s validity and importance. Nevertheless, it is a good thing both camps exist; it is well that they are not one. We need challenge, and our natural inclination to focus on only one part of faith provides us with that challenge. Without challenge, we would grow complacent and lifeless in our faith. Challenge keeps us fresh and on our toes. We split into our respective camps, rather than mutually embrace both points, for just this reason. The personal purity believers are challenged to improve their service, to heed Matthew 25: 32-40 and to incorporate it into their central faith, and we social justice folk are challenged to look inward more often, to listen to John 8:1-11 and remember it each day.

I think Jim’s message is incredibly important. It may very well lie at the heart of reconciliation, not just for our wounded Anglican Communion and beloved Episcopal Church, but for the larger Christian faith, as well.

UPDATE: Jim left the following comment on this post. "My prayer is that as we draw closer to Christ, he would draw us closer to each other. My vision is that we (conservative and liberal Christians) are climbing opposite sides of a pyramid. We can come together - and we can only come together - as we draw closer to He who is at the peak."

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

PBS This Week (updated)

If your local PBS station carries the Tavis Smiley Show, please tune in this week. He's showcasing the lives of New Orleans residents, post-Katrina. From a press release:

"Academy Award-winning director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) is joining forces with PBS’s Tavis Smiley to present a unique week-long series on post-Katrina New Orleans called 'Right to Return: New Home Movies from the Lower 9th Ward.' The series consists of “portrait” documentaries filmed in New Orleans over the course of 2006, leading into January of this year. The five short films chart the efforts of a disparate group of New Orleanians who braved unimaginable adversity after the floods of 2005 in an attempt to reclaim their homes, their neighborhoods – primarily in the Lower 9th Ward – and their shattered lives and livelihoods. The residents presented in the unfolding seasonal format include teachers, ministers, a retired chef, volunteer workers, the owner of the legendary 'Mother-In-Law Lounge,' librarians, and workers from all walks of life.

'Right to Return' will air nightly for a week, beginning Monday, May 28th on the 'Tavis Smiley' late-night PBS program... Each night, Demme will join Smiley on location to set up the portraits and introduce the people featured in each episode. The main individuals profiled will have the opportunity at the end of each program to give an update on how their lives have changed since the floods that devastated their homes in the fall of 2005." The New York Times reviewed the series here.



UPDATE: H/T Episcapalooza. "LPB is airing a doc, 'Surviving the Storm', Thursday June 7: 'Surviving the Storm' is narrated by New Orleans resident and actor John Goodman. The one-hour program tells the story of how Ochsner Hospital remained open during Hurricane Katrina and continued to see patients despite the subsequent flooding and devastation."

Important Mississippi Bridge Reopens

During my three months in Louisiana, I only made it out to Mississippi once, in November 2006 (though I was also there in March 2006). I drove out on US-90 to Gulfport with two friends from St. Luke's Coeur d'Alene, Bob and Marty Gustafson. Bob had been to Pass Christian immediately after the storm to help out at Trinity Episcopal Church, and wanted to see what things were like a year later.


US-90 sits right on the beach, passing through Waveland, Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Gulfport, and Biloxi. We intended to drive out to Biloxi, but lost a full hour: it turned out the bridge connecting the communities of Bay St. Louis and Pass Christian had been destroyed by Katrina, and was still out over a year after the storm. The state was running a (free) ferry instead, and although it was a very scenic ride, it was also a very slow one. We waited over half an hour for the ferry, then waited another half hour on the ferry. That hour would have usually been five minutes, tops. At least it was a pretty ride - but a year after the storm, and they still hadn't fixed a major highway???



Well, good news! The new Bay St. Louis Bridge finally opened earlier this month! This is wonderful news for the Mississippi Gulf Coast economy, as it speeds up an important commute, builds infrastructure, and improves the tourist options. According to the Times Picayune, "A small white sign summed up this weekend's mood in Bay St. Louis, Miss. 'Hallelujah! The bridge is open,' said the sign next to U.S. 90 in front of an equipment-rental place. The brand-new bridge, a 2-mile span of U.S. 90 that connects Pass Christian and Bay St. Louis, opened less than two weeks ago, replacing the original bridge, which had crumbled during Hurricane Katrina."

Here's an excerpt from the Mississippi Sun Herald's website:

"Karen Price, co-owner of Bohemia, a funky novelty and clothing store on the first block of Main Street, spent the morning preparing her business for what she hopes will be the start of something profitable. 'Business has been very slow down here,' she said. 'We can't survive just from Second Saturday to Second Saturday.' Bohemia and other downtown shops have done well on the second Saturdays of each month, when the district holds its famed block parties, but Price is hoping the bridge brings weekday foot traffic back to Old Town the way it was before Aug. 29, 2005."

Bohemia's wish has been granted. Going back to the Times Picayune, "Darlene Kimball, who runs Kimball's Seafood in Pass Christian, did a booming business on Sunday. 'Everything has doubled here for me since the bridge opened,' she said. During the more than 600 days it lacked a bridge, her hometown had suffered badly. 'It was a deserted town,' she said. Highway 90 was so dead that a person could cross it without looking, she said. And businesses like hers had limped along without their usual customers, many from New Orleans and many from the other direction, toward Gulfport."

Image credits:
1
2
3

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day

Today, the day after Pentecost, is Memorial Day. We take this day to remember all who died in our nation’s service, the veterans who gave the ultimate sacrifice. President Bush will visit Arlington Cemetery, and during yesterday’s News from Lake Wobegon, Garrison Keillor recited the Gettysburg Address; Flanders Field; O Captain, My Captain, and other fitting poems.

I was once told that Memorial Day isn’t really about our war heroes, that it’s a day for all our loved ones who have ever died. You can visit any grave; it doesn’t have to be a soldier’s. A little research shows that no, Memorial Day did indeed start as a day for remembering the Civil War, and was expanded to all wars after World War I.

But it is of no consequence to me whether or not this day is about remembering loved ones or about remembering soldiers, because when I remember my Granddad Justin, I remember both. He died before we could take that fishing trip or tour those Civil War battlefields, but that’s ok, because I know we’ll still get to do it, just a little later than he intended.













(Note: Granddad Justin, a colonel, did not die in war, but he served just the same. He rests in Arlington, overlooking his old Pentagon office.)


Awards include the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, Joint Service Commendation Medal, and Army Commendation Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Hail Thee Festival Day (updated)

Today is Pentecost. I myself don't really have anything to say about it, but I would feel remiss if I did not at least acknowledge it in my Episcopal blog.

Father Henry sure was fired up in church today, raising his voice quite frequently, demanding that we be a Pentecostal church, opening our doors and windows to everybody, speaking not in foreign languages (toungues) but in the language of the poor. What was special about the Apostles, he said, was not that they spoke in foreign toungues, but that those toungues were understood by the audience. It's communication the Holy Spirit demands of us, not freakish syllables. Fr. Henry also made it clear that he's very angry at the Archbishop of Canterbury for not inviting the homosexual Bishop Gene Robinson to the 2008 Lambeth Conference (remember, this is New Hampshire, Bishop Robinson's diocese), and for thus implying that the Holy Spirit does not also move among our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. I wonder if he's angry the Archbishop didn't invite "Bishops" Martyn Minns or Charles Murphy, either? I mean, let's be honest, i, St. Thomas Hanover, Christianity, Zimbabwe, Lambeth Conference, nclusion is inclusion. If the Holy Spirit moves among all God's children, it moves among the conservative browbeaters who violate territorial jurisdiction. (Read Bishop Robinson's statement on the matter, a bulletin insert, here.)

(Sunday evening update: I asked Fr. Henry what he thought of Bishop Minns not being invited to Lambeth, and he pointed out that Minns is not a diocesan bishop like Gene Robinson. The Lambeth Conference has traditionally been open only to diocesan bishops, so it's not a big deal for Minns to miss it. Nigeria has Archbishop Akinola and his other bishops to represent it at the Conference, but who does New Hampshire (or the LBGT community) have? Fr. Henry said he knew of no other time a diocesan bishop has been declined an invitation. I pointed out that another diocesan bishop, the Bishop of Harare (Zimbabwe), may be left out due to his support for Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugage. Fr. Henry didn't reply, but given Mugabe's crimes against humanity, he didn't really need to.)



Hail Thee, Festival day!

Refrain
Hail thee, festival day!
Blessed day to be hallowed forever;
Day when the Holy Ghost
Shone in the world full of grace.

Bright and in the likeness of fire,
On those who await your appearing,
You Whom the Lord had foretold
Suddenly, swiftly descend.

Refrain

Forth from the Father You come
With sevenfold mystical offering,
Pouring on all human souls
Infinite riches of God.

Refrain



Photo Credit

Congress Passes Major Recovery Legislation (Finally!)

Finally, some good news for the Gulf Coast from Congress! (But with a catch, as described below.) The Iraq War supplemental passed by Congress wasn’t just an Iraq War supplemental. It also contained $6.4 billion in funding for Katrina recovery. According to the Times Picayune and BayouBuzz.com, the funding included:

• $3 billion, by waiving the Stafford Act requirement that state and local governments pay 10% of FEMA disaster costs. The law has been waived 33 times since 1985 – makes you wonder what took them so long. This eliminates lots of paperwork, so perhaps will help cut through red tape.
• $1.3 billion for further repairs to New Orleans-area levees
• $320 million to forgive Gulf Coast community disaster loans
• $50 million to fight crime
• $35 million for public transportation hit by Katrina and Rita
• $30 million to attract educators
• $30 million for hurricane-damaged universities
• $110 million for the Gulf fishing industry
• $25 million for Southeast Louisiana drainage projects.
• $10 million for historic preservation grants
• $10 million for local governments to use FEMA funds for shelter utility expenses
• Various tax and business provisions
• One-year extension of the deadline to use $150 million in Social Services Block Grants to September 2008

In addition to the hurricane recovery funds, $1 billion for new National Guard equipment will help the Louisiana National Guard prepare for future hurricanes. "In a Category 1 hurricane, Louisiana National Guard has what it needs to do the job," Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said. "But as soon as it reaches a Category 3, it doesn't."

This is the first major legislation passed by Congress for Katrina victims since late 2005. Louisiana politicians of both parties praised the funding. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D), who helped craft the bill, had lots to say. “This was a landmark vote for south Louisiana’s continued recovery from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the flooding that followed. The local match requirement costs our communities millions of dollars while drowning them in thousands of forms and regulations. Louisiana needs more money and less paper.” Senator David Vitter (R) added, “The people of Louisiana will finally receive the funding they need.” Rep. Charlie Melancon (D) was happy the Democratic leadership didn’t remove the funding from the bill as the President demanded. "I want to thank the House leadership for staying true to their word,” he said.

Some of the funding also applies to Mississippi. Mississippi has been better about securing disaster relief all along, thanks to its well connected Republican Governor, Haley Barbour.

Continue to problems with the bill.

Photo: Sen. Mary Landrieu. Image courtesy.

Problems With The Bill

Unfortunately, things aren’t looking so good for the Road Home program, the official homeowner grant program. I wrote on Thursday that the program is facing a $3 billion shortfall. It turns out federal recovery czar Donald Powell blames Louisiana for that lack of funds. Apparently, the federal government, much like the insurance companies, only helps families affected by flood damage, not by wind damage. He said, “We were always very clear that the federal government would not fund state housing programs to cover wind damage.” The state of Louisiana, on the other hand, decided humanity is more important than technicalities, and awarded Road Home grants to all homeowners affected by Katrina. As a result, Powell believes it is very unlikely Louisiana will be given the $3 billion it needs.

Ironically, only half of that shortfall comes from the state's decision to help with wind damage – the other half is, no surprise, the feds’ fault. According to the Times Picayune, “The rest of the problem comes from unexpected new costs and from relying on federal figures that estimated far fewer homes were totaled by the 2005 hurricanes.”

According to Powell, “As elected officials have said many times, the federal government is responsible for this hurricane damage because of the failure of the levee system. And now nearly half of the federal funding is going to homeowners that experienced no levee-related damage.” What about 9/11, says I? Or Hurricane Andrew, or Midwestern tornadoes? The federal government handles disaster relief whether or not it’s too blame, why should New Orleans be any different? But that aside, the basic premise of Powell’s position is immoral and anti-community. He is, in sum, saying, “I’m sorry, Fred. I know you need help, and I know your house was under ten feet of water, but because Louisiana decided to help the equally hard-hit John when I told them not to, I’m not going to help you after all! That’s right, Fred, through no fault of your own, I’m gonna screw you over good!” Louisiana can make up some of the Road Home shortfall with the money Congress approved this week, but that’s hardly an ideal solution. The money is currently planned for local community rebuilding needs, not individual homeowner needs. KATC reports, “Redirecting money to Road Home could severely limit local rebuilding efforts in places like New Orleans and hard-hit St. Bernard Parish, officials said.” The Governor is likely to allow the redirection of funds, but only after lobbying Congress to do its job and provide the additional funding.

In addition to the Road Home problems, I don’t believe there’s any funding for Louisiana’s disappearing wetlands, and I don’t know what this bill does to address red tape issues outside the matching funds. You can allocate all the money in the world; it won’t do any good if it gets bottlenecked in the system. Please, write your Congressman and Senators to thank them for the supplemental funding, and remind them that the job isn’t done.

Photo: Craig Parker, the amazingly wonderful leader of the Dartmouth College Navigators Christian Fellowship, guts a house, March 2006. Photo by Sarah Rathnam.

Friday, May 25, 2007

From Levees.org: "White House admits responsibility for Levee Failures"

Here's another e-mail from Levees.org.

"May 25, 2007

Breaking News:

Yesterday Donald Powell, recovery czar for the Gulf Coast, publicly made this statement regarding the survivors of the federal levee breaches. He said, "...the federal government is responsible for this hurricane damage because of the failure of the levee system...."

This is the very first statement ever out of the White House that accepts responsibility for the failure of the federal flood protection system in Louisiana.

Powell made this statement regarding Louisiana's Road Home payments to homeowners who suffered only wind damage implying that only flood damaged homeowners deserved compensation. Nonetheless, this statement by a representative of the White House is the very first that admits responsibility for the flood protection failures.

Also yesterday, Senator Mary Landrieu spoke in support of Louisiana citizens in a confrontational interview with Erin Brunette with CNBC. You can watch the video at CNBC's website.

WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP LOUISIANA:

With one click of a mouse, you can send a letter to your members of Congress demanding the 8/29 Commission.

The 8/29 Commission is an unbiased analysis of the failure of the federal levee system in metro New Orleans. The 8/29 Commission is being sponsored by Senator Mary Landrieu and co-sponsored by Senator David Vitter as an amendment to the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA).

Click here to help Louisiana.

Sincerely,
Sandy Rosenthal
Founder, Levees.Org
www.levees.org"

Meanwhile, in Yankee land...

"I'm New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, and I should be dead."



Wow, a highly successful elected official with a beard! And yet you people doubt my fashion statements. :P

Why? Because I need a break from writing my paper at 2:33 AM in the morning. Yes, Mom, I know, I'm sorry. But I'm still just 20 and I don't know any better yet. And Dr. Pepper tastes good.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Road Home Update

This morning in my “Making of American Public Policy” course, we discussed bureaucracy and privatization. The professor spoke at length about Walter Reed army hospital and the chronic lack of accountability it suffered after privatization. It got me thinking about Louisiana’s Road Home Program, which I wrote about in February. It’s the federally-funded, state-created program for giving rebuilding grants to homeowners. Most of the actual work has been contracted out to a private company, ICF International. The program kicked off full-time in October; here’s how ICF International is doing as of May 21, per the official Road Home website:

Applications Received:
138,557

Number of Grants Calculated:
79, 290

Number of Grants Paid Out So Far:
19, 882

Average Grant Amount:
$75,426

In other words, a majority of homeowners have now been told how much money to expect to get, but only 14.35% have actually seen a dime. What’s more, that $75,426 average amount is only half of what many homeowners were led to believe they were eligible for. At least the numbers are better than they were in February, when only 712 homeowners had been paid, out of 103,710 (although the average grant has declined $4,000 in that time). Remember, the storm happened 21 months ago, and the program started 7 months ago. KPLC-Lake Charles reports, “Frank Trapani of the New Orleans Realtors Association describes the Road Home program as the state's second disaster.”

Why such dismal performance? There could be any number of reasons, but a lack of accountability is a big one. Governor Blanco met with the ICF executives to yell and scream about her displeasure, but she hasn’t actually fired them or docked their pay. ICF International has also begun running a smaller state recovery program for renters, a program the legislature was worried about. As the Times Picayune reported, “Nervous state officials are essentially locked into the current arrangement, with no performance measures and no penalties to hold over ICF's head.”

If the state government can’t do its job, we need Congress to step up and do theirs. They should require the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which funds Road Home, exercise more oversight. The program is also suffering from a $3 billion shortfall. Please write your Senators and Congressman, as well as the relevant committees, and tell them you care about this issue; demand they pass legislation allocating that $3 billion and requiring HUD to exercise more oversight. The relevant committees are the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs and the House Committee on Financial Services.

UPDATE: I felt this Daily Kos comment from New Orleans resident nolalilly was worth highlighting. "I don't qualify for Road Home money but so many people have been counting on it for the longest time. I don't know that much about it but I have several friends and aquaintances who have put their lives on hold waiting for what is supposed to be theirs. In the meantime, they continue living in limbo, paying mortages on houses that are either unlivable or bulldosed. I have heard that the average payout would be somewhere between 100K and 150K. So far, what little money has eked out has been sadly lacking... It is an American disgrace."

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Name Change, Upcoming Wayward Features

I made a slight change in this blog's subname today - from "Nathan in New Orleans" to "Nathan on New Orleans." Seeing as my long-term disaster relief internship is long over and my Spring Break trip is no longer looming, it's more accurate now to say "on" than "in." Some Katrina advocates might view my location as a drawback, but it has its advantages. For one thing, New Hampshire puts me in a unique position to grill presidential candidates about Katrina issues. It also makes me an independent advocate for the Gulf Coast, someone who can show the issue is important for reasons beyond personal bias.

Unfortunately, this blog has shifted away from regular news updates over the last couple months. This has been accidental and regrettable; life has been very busy and this blog has had to take a backseat. I haven't had time for much more than analyzing politicians and highlighting Dartmouth activism. Fortunately, this should change soon. Finals are about a week away, and then I get a two week break, with summer promising to be less hectic. Here's a look at things to come:

In the next couple days, I'm going to overhaul my link lists. I've come across many more Katrina recovery and New Orleans blogs recently, and I want to feature them here. I will make a post highlighting the additions. Following that, over the course of the next month I will give further analysis of several presidential candidates, and will post about the upcoming Louisiana Governor's race, post-Katrina crime, NOLA education woes, recent Gulf Coast headlines, environmental/wetland problems, and the lack of attention in the national news and conscience. Once all that is out of the way, I might begin monitoring NOLA resident blogs and quoting the best posts as they come - sort of a blog clip service.

There will come a time, I think, when I drop "Nathan on New Orleans" completely from this blog's name. As my ties to the region dwindle and as the NH primary comes to a close, so will my ability to be an effective advocate. I'll certainly keep the blog going, introducing non-Katrina political issues and cultural and religious thoughts. Hurricane Katrina will certainly remain one of my main issues, it just won't be the singular focus. But that day is still several months away. For the forseeable future, I remain a hurricane blogger.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A Surprise: Clinton Best Candidate Yet on Katrina Issues

Hillary Clinton is the only 2008 Democratic candidate for President I have not yet seen speak in person, but given her major speech on Katrina recovery, it is time I go ahead and write about her anyway. As much as I may dislike her campaign, she gets my first A on this issue.

I want to make it very clear that I absolutely will NOT vote for Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire primary. I admire her as a Senator, but for reasons I will not go into here (I want to focus on Katrina, not larger politics), I cannot support her primary bid. That said, she gets major props on New Orleans. A few of the candidates give decent answers on the subject when asked, but she is the first to make it into a major campaign speech. The plan posted on her website addresses specific problems and shows at least a cursory understanding of their root causes. She calls it a “mini-Marshall Plan.”

(This paragraph explains how I evaluate candidates. Analysis of Clinton's plan begins with the next paragraph.) When evaluating candidates on their Katrina recovery views, I ask several questions. Do they demonstrate an understanding of the cause of the problems (red tape)? Are they familiar with some of those specific problems (the Road Home program, ACOE accountability, environmental issues, etc.)? Do they have specific plans to address those problems? Do they actually address current rebuilding issues, or do they just criticize Bush’s initial response? Is the issue highlighted anywhere on the candidate’s website? Someone who demonstrates capability in all these areas gets an A. Someone who is fairly strong in all areas, or incredibly strong in all but one, gets a B. Someone who is weak across the board, or exceedingly strong in only one area and non-existent in the others, gets a C. Someone who shows they care but then changes the subject gets a D, and someone who doesn’t care or says it’s not a federal issue gets an F. Hillary Clinton gets the first A.

The central part of her plan is a “federal census” to determine and prioritize the many needs of the Gulf Coast. She addresses the Road Home housing program, local infrastructure, the lack of Army Corps of Engineers accountability, rising crime, a flagging education system in desperate need of staff, and inadequate regional health care. Like most candidates, she calls for elevating FEMA back to Cabinet-level status and for waiving required local and state matching funds (as was done after Hurricane Andrew and 9/11). She also says the federal-level rebuilding director should be moved from the Department of Homeland Security to the White House itself; wants to create a “Gulf Coast Corps” that would bring doctors, teachers, and thousands of skilled workers and laborers to the region; and urges that all new construction projects be environmentally-friendly. Furthermore, according to the Times Picayune, “Recognizing that the city cannot thrive without adequate flood protection, Clinton said that as president, she would request a ‘stem-to-stern’ review of all Army Corps of Engineers plans and demand the highest level of levee protection.”

Some important aspects of recovery are missing from her proposals – what about wetlands preservation, FEMA trailer issues, and a lack of communication between government levels? How will you heighten accountability at all levels? How are you going to ensure that allocated monies actually reach their intended target (what I consider the largest current problem)? Nevertheless, this is a campaign proposal, not a think tank policy paper, and it is as detailed as campaign proposals get.

Clinton has put also this issue front and center on her webpage. She is the only candidate to do so; even Katrina “champion” John Edwards doesn’t have details online. I had just given up on finding the issue on official campaign websites, so this is highly encouraging.

I hate to give my A on Katrina recovery to Hillary Clinton, but facts are facts, and this is the proposal I’ve been looking for. She has been criticized for a lack of policy substance on her website and in her campaign, so perhaps it is a surprise that the proposal came from her and not Biden or Richardson, and indeed, I do wish it had come from someone else, but at least it came. This raises the bar for all the other candidates, and I hope they will all rise to the challenge.

Here are the total rankings so far. They do not reflect the speeches each candidate recently made at a Baton Rouge forum, which I have yet to analyze, so it’s highly possible I’ll raise some of these grades in the next week or so. Dodd and Edwards have additional qualifiers, as explained below.

Candidates on NOLA:
Clinton: A
Biden: B+
Richardson (two posts): B-
Obama: C+
Edwards: C-/D+ (I need to read his initial 2005 proposals and see if any are still relevant; if so, I will raise his grade.)
Dodd: D- (This is based on my first conversation with him. I have yet to write about our second conversation, but it will raise his grade to a C+.)

Image Credits (both are HRC in New Orleans):
Image 1 by Matt Rose
Image 2

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Carnival of Hurricane Relief

"Cehwiedel" has been kind enough to feature this blog in a couple of her posts, so I thought I should post a link sending you her way. She runs "The Carnival of Hurricane Relief," which highlights the best of Katrina blogs. I've got to say, while I think the name is a bit silly, it is a valuable service. Thanks, Cehwiedel, keep up the good work! :D

I also want to highlight a couple stories about ACORN, a progressive relief group. (Apologies to Mary, the author, who I told I would post these weeks ago!) This first story is a great description of volunteer efforts, complete with pictures.

"New Orleans shows signs of hope and grief"
"In a corner of New Orleans, next to the infamous 17th Street canal breached during Hurricane Katrina almost two years ago, there are signs of hope and grief – and evidence that so much more needs to be done.

Volunteers who come to this city acquire some understanding of American history circa 19th century, as well lessons in failed 21st century domestic policy, while lending a hand in the enormous rebuilding process that daily confronts New Orleans residents.

On a recent Saturday morning, I accompanied a group of ACORN volunteers who gutted a small, one-story brick house in the Gentilly neighborhood. Fourteen were students from Elon University in North Carolina and a dozen were bloggers from all over the country who post and contribute to First Draft, a progressive blog, averaging 2,500 readers a day."

Also:
"Katrina survivors get extension of federal aid"

"Brooklyn high school students show the government how"

Grace

I have not blogged in over a week. I am a horrible person. I shall get something NOLA-related up in the next couple days. In the meantime, enjoy this grace related chuckle from Out of Nowhere:

Once while I was in seminary and much more of a biblical theologian than I've ever been since or ever will be again, my bank notified me that my personal loan had come due. Their reminder stated simply that "grace has expired, and the law has taken effect."

With an inspired Gotcha! I wrote them that they had their theology all confused, that with grace and law, the Bible says it is the other way around. They promptly wrote back and agreed, but then reminded me that their Bible told them not that the law had expired but that grace had fulfilled it. Then they went on to exegete that what James really meant when he wrote in his letter that "faith without works is dead," was that one should not let the grace grow under one's feet.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Teehee

H/T the Good Clean Funnies List (GCFL).

A Sunday school teacher decided to have her young class
memorize one of the most quoted passages in the Bible: Psalm
23. She gave the youngsters a month to learn the chapter.

Little Rick was excited about the task, but he just couldn't
remember the Psalm. After much practice, he could barely get
past the first line. On the day that the kids were scheduled
to recite Psalm 23 in front of the congregation, Rickey was
very nervous.

When it was his turn, he stepped up to the microphone and
said proudly, "The Lord is my Shepherd, and that's all I
need to know."

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Update to the Previous Post

The previous post talks about Tuck School of Business efforts, led by Prof. Jett, to help the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans recover from Katrina. I should have included this link, as well; it's a New Orleans Times-Picayune article about Prof. Jett's work.

Part of the article reads,

"A survey of every block of Gentilly and two adjacent Lakefront enclaves, covering 16,039 properties, nearly all of them residential, found that only 4 percent could be classified untouched or abandoned. The researchers classified 57 percent of the homes as gutted or under construction, while they found 31 percent occupied or restored. At 8 percent of addresses, they found vacant lots, in many instances the result of a demolition, also a sign of progress.

The survey, done in March, also tracked the presence of trailers, finding a total of 2,546 still dotting the landscape. The survey of more than 20 neighborhoods within Gentilly -- a large collection of subdivisions that before the storm fairly well mirrored the city's population as a whole -- offers the most detailed snapshot of recovery progress to date in a racially- and economically-diverse slice of New Orleans."

More on Dartmouth and Katrina

I'm not cross-posting this to the big lefty blogs, I just want to highlight a little more about Dartmouth's involvement with Katrina relief efforts. Why? Well, partly to brag, but also to encourage other schools to get involved in similar ways. I've written before about the various relief trips and the Gospel Choir; here's more info about such relief trips, and also an article on a Gentilly neighborhood mapping project.


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DOOR-TO-DOOR MAPMAKING:
Tuck professor and students chart status of New Orleans recovery
(From the Dartmouth webpage)

More than a year and a half after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast and ravaged New Orleans, good news about recovery efforts in the Crescent City is still hard to come by, but in one small corner of the city, a Dartmouth professor and his students are making progress using an unusual tool: mapping.

Photo Caption: Quintus Jett (far right) with the group of Dartmouth students who traveled to New Orleans in March. Jett and the students mapped the progress of post-Katrina recovery in the Gentilly neighborhood. (Photo courtesy Quintus Jett)

Quintus Jett, senior research fellow at the Tuck School of Business, is studying disaster recovery and working to develop practical, locally based solutions to the task of rebuilding in New Orleans. He and 13 Dartmouth students spent their spring break walking the entire Gentilly district of New Orleans. Gentilly is a severely flood-damaged area that was home to over 40,000 residents pre-Katrina.

The Dartmouth students walked every street in Gentilly to perform a "local census" and indicated the rebuilding status of each property by color code. (The effort was the second complete survey of the area conducted by Jett and other volunteers.) With help from ad hoc volunteers, the students mapped over 14,000 addresses—roughly the entire neighborhood—in just 10 days. That data has been added to an interactive, online map that was designed by Jett and Assistant Professor of Geography Xun Shi.

The map—and the data it represents—serves as a resource for New Orleanians trying to make decisions about allocating rebuilding resources. Says Jett, "I foresee the data being used by planners. However, my hope is that residents and small business users can also use this local recovery data."

Rashmi Agarwal '09 was among the student volunteers. "While we were working, we met someone who needed their house gutted, and we connected that person to a group that could help. Since the mapping data is being put online, the information gets to neighborhood presidents and gives them a sense of the progress," says Agarwal.

Jett praises the volunteers' efforts and what they accomplished in such a brief period. "Completing so much mapping required significant effort, preparation, and analysis of data," he says. "The team exhibited more results than is commonly expected of student volunteers, and I believe that more of this kind of volunteerism is needed in New Orleans."

By GENEVIEVE HAAS

(Update: Check out this New Orleans Times-Picayune article about Prof. Jett's project.)


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DARTMOUTH EXPANDING RELIEF TRIPS TO STAFF, ALUMS, AND FACULTY
(From a Tucker Foundation e-mail)

Katrina Relief Service Trip Opportunity for Alumni/ae and Staff!

Tucker is extending Katrina Relief service trips to faculty, staff and alumni of the college. Please consider inviting an alumn, professor, or college staff person you know to join us in June down at Hands On in Biloxi, MS. Information below:

Rev. Dr. Stuart Lord, Dean of the Tucker Foundation, and Frederica Ghesquiere '04 are leading a team of Dartmouth alumni/ae, staff and faculty to help with disaster relief in the Gulf Coast from June 16-23 2007. The team will volunteer at Hands On Gulf Coast, located Biloxi, MS, alongside a volunteer team of Dartmouth students. This trip is open to Dartmouth staff, alumni of the college and immediate family members of alumni. Registration will take place on a first come, first serve basis. REGISTRATION BEGINS ONLINE AT NOON ON TUESDAY MAY 15.

Hurricane Katrina, a category 5 hurricane which made landfall on August 29th 2005, was the costliest and one of the deadliest hurricanes in the history of the USA. At least 1,836 people lost their lives in Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent floods. The hurricane caused severe and catastrophic damage along the Gulf coast, devastating cities such as Biloxi and Gulfport in Mississippi. It destroyed 90% of the buildings along the coast of Biloxi and neighboring Gulfport, stated Governor Barbour in an interview.

"This is an opportunity for alumni and staff to have the kind of powerful experience that students have on their Katrina education and service trips," says Ghesquiere.

For more information and to register, please visit our website: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~tucker/servicetrips/gulfcoast/alumni/

Questions? Email Frederica.Ghesquiere@alum.dartmouth.org

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

John Goodman for Levees.org



From a Levees.org e-mail:
"Levees.Org announces its second celebrity Public Service Announcement (PSA) featuring actor John Goodman.

Mr. Goodman has donated his time to help America understand that New Orleans flooded because of bad federal engineering, not bad weather. And that it can happen anywhere.

If enough people watch the Goodman PSA in the first 24 hours, it will earn the PSA a place on the homepage of YouTube where it may be viewed by millions of people!

Take one minute, go to YouTube and view the 30-second video. Send it to your friends!

PLEASE DO THIS BY NOON CST THURSDAY MAY 10.

Want to do more? You can also:

1. Register at YouTube and rate the Goodman PSA.

2. View and rate our other videos and PSAs on YouTube.

It's best to do this by 12:00 noon CST May 10!

Help New Orleans and people nationwide. Bring to light that New Orleans was destroyed by bad levees and not bad weather!

Sincerely,
Sandy Rosenthal
Founder, Levees.Org
www.levees.org"

Monday, May 07, 2007

Springsteen Clips

I plan on making an actual post tomorrow. I do apologize for the lag in posting lately, but as I noted before, things have been really busy. I do hope to pick up the pace at some point. In the meantime, here's video of a great song by Bruce Springsteen, How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live," an old Blind Alfred Reed song the Boss updated in 2006 for New Orleans.



And though it has nothing to do with New Orleans, this Springsteen cover of Pete Seeger's "Bring 'Em Home" is just as important, and, given that it was written decades ago but still resonates today, far sadder.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Bill Richardson New Orleans Update

About a month ago, I wrote about discussing rebuilding New Orleans after Katrina with presidential candidate and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. C-Span has since aired our brief conversation. The video is ten minutes of Richardson schmoozing with the Dartmouth College Democrats and Dartmouth's La Alianza Latina group in Hanover, NH after his town hall speech. (Note: That's a picture of the meeting, but not of me; I took the picture.)

I first appear with him at the 1:20 mark, where we talk NM burgers and I ask him about New Orleans. We were interrupted by the official thank you remarks, but appear again at 2:50 (C-Span cut out the remarks), when he answers my earlier question. As I said in my earlier post, he didn't disappoint me on the issue, but he didn't impress me, either.

I'd put it on YouTube and post the clip itself here, but I'm not sure how to do that, so visit this link if you're interested. It's available for either Real Player or Windows Media Player.

http://www.c-spanarchives.org/videolibrary/index.php?main_page=product_video_info&products_id=197484-1&tID=5

Update: Click on the above words "I wrote about" for details about and an analysis of Richardson's answer to my question. This post is just about adding the video link. H/T liberaltruthsayer. Also, I will be transcribing the conversation and adding it tonight. H/T peace voter.



Gov. Richardson with leaders of the Dartmouth College Democrats, Dartmouth for Richardson, and La Alianza Latina. Photo courtesy Adam Patinkin.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Asking Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (NH) about New Orleans

This past weekend, I attended the College Democrats of New Hampshire’s second annual convention. One of our guest speakers was the newly-elected Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH). After a brief speech, she took several questions. When she called on me, I said, “Every agency involved with Katrina recovery is screwing up as badly today as they did immediately after the storm; of 120,000 people eligible for rebuilding assistance, not even 10% have gotten a dime. What has Congress done in the past few months to address this issue, and what is it going to do?”

Surprisingly, I was disappointed in her answer, which I will detail below, along with the three problems I have with it (as well as my hope for Rep. Shea-Porter’s future answer). I call this a surprise because shortly after the storm, Rep. Shea-Porter traveled to the Gulf Coast and spent six weeks volunteering on relief efforts.

The three parts to Rep. Shea-Porter’s answer:
1. “We’ve poured more money in, which was missing.”
2. Many of the problems are Executive Branch mistakes, and there’s nothing the Legislative Branch can do about that, but we can fix things by electing a Democrat in 2008. (2008 was her answer to a lot of things.)
3. Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-LA) is thrilled to now be in the majority and have more Democrats working on this issue for him. (Melancon represents much of the area west, south, and east of New Orleans, including the hard-hit Plaquemines and St. Bernard Parishes.)

Obviously, number 3 is what it is, but I do have problems with the first two parts of her answer, and an overall complaint, as well. As far as money goes, while I am glad Congress is pumping more money into Katrina recovery, a lack of money was not an urgent problem before, despite the Congresswoman’s assertion otherwise. The problem so far has been red tape. The needed money is there, it’s just getting tangled up in bureaucracy. While some programs will need more money long-term, like levee repair and wetlands preservation, current financial needs have already been met. Allocate more all you want, it won’t do any good if you don’t take the necessary steps to get it to the people who need it. Take the Road Home Program (the housing numbers I mentioned above). The program has billions and billions of dollars available to it, but the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the state of Louisiana, and the private contractor ICF International aren’t doing their job with that money – and that’s just one example.

That brings me to the second part of Rep. Shea-Porter’s answer. While it is true that most of the problem lies with the Louisiana state government or the Executive Branch, Congress can still take action. One of the things Democrats pledged when they gained power last year was more oversight, and the House can most certainly hold hearings to explore failures at HUD. Why isn’t HUD exercising more control of its money? Why isn’t HUD demanding more accountability from Louisiana? Investigate FEMA, investigate the Corps of Engineers, appoint a 9/11-style commission to probe the levee failures and make recommendations. The fact that it’s the President’s people who are making the mistakes doesn’t mean Congress should just throw up its collective hands and wait for 2008. I voted Democratic for just that reason – oversight hearings and subpoenas have disappeared from DC for the last twelve years. We’ve seen that change on Iraq and the U.S. Attorney scandal, let’s see it change for Katrina, too.

There was one other problem with Rep. Shea-Porter’s answers: she did not give me any specifics. She did say some legislation has been passed and that more will follow, and she mentioned that money is being pumped into the problem, but she didn’t detail any of that legislation or give me specifics about that money. It’s possible she was just trying to keep her answer short or didn’t want to bore the audience, but nevertheless, I still would have liked to hear her detail the Stafford Act waiver and other pending legislation.

I have other criticisms of Rep. Shea-Porter, although if I lived in her district, I would have voted for her in the general election. I certainly tip my hat to her for her initial volunteer stint, and I’m encouraged by the fact that she’s headed back to New Orleans with other Congressmen in a few weeks. Perhaps this second trip will show her the real problems, and reinvigorate her on this issue. I’m also pleased she thanked me for caring about this issue, something she didn’t say to those who asked her about Iraq, gun control, foreign alliances, or other issues – that does show she knows this is an important but neglected issue. It’s a good start, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for more.