Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Incident of National Significance---No NOT Cheney's Bad Shooting

Hi all,
First I have to correct something from my last email. The contract for the abandoned cars that a Colorado firm was awarded was 100,000,000 bucks, not 1 million as I said. 1000 dollars per car projected was correct though.

Tomorrow the full House report on Katrina comes out. The report was leaked to the Washington Post a few days ago and some of the conclusions the House arrived at are stunning, but not so surprising to those of us who live here. One of the most damning things, among so many, in this report is Chertoff's delay at designating this disaster an "incident of national significance." This is the "highest designation under the National Emergency Response Plan." Chertoff put this designation off for 24 hours. Doesn't sound like much, but when water is pouring into your house it's a big deal. (The Washington Post report is attached to this email for anyone interested in reading it.)

What we've noticed is that a lot of Americans still don't feel this is an incident of national significance, and for those who watch any coverage of the upcoming Mardi Gras parades, I think they'll be pretty upset by how we perceive the situation. Krewe du Vieux, a notoriously irreverant bunch, paraded Saturday night. The floats lampooned our governor (I've told you about the refrigerators in the Quarter that had statements about who was IN them) in any way possible including "What's in your fridge" and inside the freezer were the Governor's, well, her upper chest area is the most PG way to put it. The mayor, the president, FEMA, everyone got nailed by these guys. One bunch was handing out giant fake ten dollar bills and saying it was "your FEMA money." We did find that saying "Throw me something FEMA" got us a lot of throws. One float begged, "Take us back Chirac." While Krewe de Vieux is definitely a bit of a renegade Krewe, and the super Krewes will no doubt be much more family oriented and tamer, the anger amid the humor was palpable. Many of the floats were made entirely from Katrina debris and one even included a levee breach (their theme was "C'est Levee") and it was squired down the street by the Comatose Corps of Engineers. Does that sound strange? There's much stranger stuff than that going on.

The FEMA trailer saga continues. Some people who were moved into them were subsequently moved out of them. Some were moved out because they weren't evacuees but people who had come here to work so they didn't qualify. Some were moved out because they were homeless. We need to define that for everyone. They had no homes prior TO Katrina, so they didn't qualify for a FEMA trailer AFTER Katrina. Homeless now means two things in New Orleans. First definition is someone who was living on the streets before the storm hit. The second is someone who is living on the streets because their home was destroyed and/or FEMA tossed another 2300 people out of hotels yesterday (that's in addition to the 900 families evicted from hotels last Friday.) I'm also of the opinion that we need to quit using the term "evacuees." Many of the evacuees have become de facto refugees, hundreds of thousands of them all over the Gulf Coast. They have no place to go. The refugees evicted from hotels will now be sent to state run shelters in Shreveport. As a friend said, "That's a hell of a commute." If you're fighting insurance adjusters, FEMA, maybe the SBA, living in a hotel and managed to get a job or keep your old one, how on earth are you going to do that from Shreveport? And the loss of those employees puts businesses in an even bigger bind. It's a gigantic circular mess.

One bar that was always filled to overflowing before the storm costs 60,000 dollars a month for rent. Sounds extreme, but pre-Katrina they brought in 13K a DAY. No problem. Now they're taking in an average of 700/day. Yes, I got that math right. Seven hundred dollars per day. New Orleans is losing an estimated 1.5 million a day in tourist dollars. Businesses are really struggling. You couple that with the loss of population, the extreme lack of housing, the loss of schools, and it's a recipe for disaster long term.

Get arrested? Need a lawyer and can't afford one? No problem. We'll just let you out, no matter what your crime. The public defender coffers are dried up, gone with Katrina's wind and the population who paid the taxes to keep it afloat (no pun intended with the afloat remark!)

Conversations in the local hair salon:
"Get any water?" Sounds normal here. If asked in San Francisco the bewildered person being questioned would look in their grocery bag and say "A couple of bottles." Here the answers vary from "None" to "Five feet in my second floor." There is an interactive map that shows the water levels anywhere on the map you click. Great little map.

"Hey, you getting any mail??" "We get it at the shop but not at home." "We get it every Thursday." "How come UPS can get through?"

"Why don't we secede?" From there the conversation turns to a brilliant term coined by a friend of mine, "economic secession." Blanco's on the right track with the idea of withholding oil leases. Other ideas being bandied about: Close down the port and hold all cargo hostage. Tally up every federal dollar of taxes paid by Louisianians and refuse to send them to the IRS, keep them here instead. Boycotts of all types are being discussed to change the way the oil revenues come into Louisiana. Although this state pulls 70% of the oil found in the Gulf Coast out, our revenues are smaller and cover far less offshore mileage than any other state, particularly Florida and Texas. Some ideas heard in grocery stores and on the street are silly, others make sense. Big headline in the Times/Picayune saying Blanco is ready to play hardball. Let's hope so.

Found a house in the Ninth Ward the other day. Stars and stripes hung on the front and blowing in the wind, intermittently hiding the "big X" spray paint coding. The flag was tattered, full of rust and mold. Clearly had been there since before the storm. Meanwhile in Arabi, I saw several Confederate flags flying in place of the stars and bars. People are feeling very betrayed here. And of course, as more and more information comes out with these various reports, I'm afraid that that feeling will just grow deeper.

It's late. Much more to say, but will let you be for a while.

And will someone please tell Uncle Dick that his spin on the hunting accident is just too transparent to stand? I wonder how many people here in Louisiana would be willing to pony up the $7 he needed for that stamp on his hunting license? Maybe FEMA will give it to him.

Love and Light,
Bec and David


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