From the peanut gallery

Obviously, there’s a lot going on here today–a lot of visits, a lot of tours, a lot of speeches, protests, news reports. I thought I’d become immune to most of the grandstanding, the spinning, the misinformation, but then I came across this article in today’s New York Times, and well…. Well, there’s so much going on here, I just couldn’t help myself. So maybe it’s sophomoric, and maybe it’s just my general state of bitterness, but here’s my version of the story, edited for New Orleans’ readers.

President Bush toured New Orleans today, delivering a message of hope to a city devastated by wind and flood two years ago and still divided over the speed and effectiveness of federal help. If by “divided” you mean “in agreement” and by “speed and effectiveness” you mean “lack of”. Not that state officials have been any better–and local officials may have been worse. Much worse.

Mr. Bush led a moment of silence (a welcome relief for his beleaguered speech writers) at a school, asking for “the Almighty’s blessings on those who suffered,”(which, when paired with $1.25, would ordinarily get him on New Orleans’ minimally functioning streetcar, if only his entourage hadn’t shut it down for today) then envisioned “a more blessed day” just ahead, thereby offering definitive proof that our president is really a Jehovah’s Witness. “And there’s no better place to do so than in a place of hope, and that’s a school,” he said. “So long as that school isn’t one that I’ve saddled with the No Child Left Behind Act and its ass-backwards measurements of accountability,” he added. “That’s what Cheney calls ironical. I just think it’s damn funny.”

“Hurricane Katrina broke through the levees,” the president said. “It broke a lot of hearts. It destroyed buildings. But it didn’t affect the spirit of a lot 50% of citizens in this community.” (This portion of today’s speech has been brought to you by Miss Lilian Gerstein of Shrewsbury, Ohio, who was selected at random from a pool of octogenarians and given the honor of writing four sentences for the presidential speech of her choice. Miss Gerstein selected the Katrina anniversary because she once had a nephew in Bastrop.)

But while Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco accompanied Mr. Bush on his visit to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School for Science and Technology, patiently teaching him to pronounce Dr. King’s name without sneering, and was praised by the president for being a problem-solver and “an educational reformer,”–a reference to her institution of the “double time-out” during her tenure as a kindergarten teacher in Lafayette–there were plenty of reminders of the rifts between the Bush administration and state and local officials on whether enough was being done for New Orleans.

Across town, for instance, Mayor C. Ray Nagin ordered a bell-ringing to mark the anniversary of the moment when the levees broke, The Associated Press reported. (C-Ray had initially considered having a moment of silence, but in the end, he decided bells were flashier. Plus they remind him of the ringing in his ears that happened around the same time he snapped for good, just before announcing his plans for a “casino corridor” on Canal Street three weeks after the storm.) Two years ago, both the governor and the mayor bitterly criticized the slowness of the federal response, whose shortcomings were symbolized, especially for the administration’s critics, by Michael Brown, then the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who sometimes seemed generally bewildered by the catastrophe.

The Times-Picayune of New Orleans ran a front-page editorial accusing the Bush administration of steering more money to Mississippi than to Louisiana, where the damage was greater, and questioned whether Louisiana was being short-changed because Democrats are more powerful there than in Mississippi. (Mr. Bush did carry Louisiana in 2004, as he had done in 2000, but what that has to do with recovery funding, I don’t know. Sure sounds interesting, though, don’t it?)

The Ninth Ward charter school visited by Mr. Bush is itself a symbol of recovery. A fourth-grade teacher, Joseph Recasner, recalled that the school was inundated by up to 18 feet of water two years ago, and that people who had taken refuge there were rescued from the second-story windows. Today, the school seems mint-new, with bright hallways with names like Dream Avenue. (Named, by sheer coincidence, by the aforementioned Miss Gerstein.)

But to get to the school, the president’s motorcade crossed a canal with new white cement walls that had “Hindsight” painted in large red letters. (Again, Ms. Blanco’s vocabulary guidance proved invaluable to the president.) Along the route, considerable damage widespread devastation was still visible, with boarded-up houses and lots strewn with debris.

Ahead of Mr. Bush’s trip to the Gulf Coast, the White House issued a “fact sheet” detailing $114 billion in relief to the region, not counting $13 billion in tax relief. (Also not included: untold millions of dollars the government will spend on lawyers’ fees while defending the Army Corps of Engineers from 5.5 bejillion civil lawsuits.) The president’s Gulf Coast rebuilding chief, Don Powell, told reporters that $96 billion of that aid has already been made available to local governments, The A.P. reported.

Alluding to complaints that not enough money has reached the people who need it quickly enough, Mr. Powell implied that local officials were at least partly to blame, The A.P. said. Other parties making Mr. Powell’s top-ten on the “blame list” included state officials, Catholics, and homosexualists. Mr. Powell’s name did not appear on the list.

On Tuesday night, President Bush and his wife, Laura, dined with community leaders at Dooky Chase, a famed restaurant that has been closed since the hurricane struck but is scheduled to reopen soon.

The reopening of Dooky Chase will doubtless be heralded as another sign of the Crescent City’s rebirth. But long before the flood, New Orleans was at least two cities — the jazz-filled, pleasure-celebrating, European-style community cherished by tourists, and the everyday New Orleans, marked by deep pockets of poverty, a rundown public school system and a police force with a checkered history. There was absolutely nothing in the middle. Tourists and poor people: that’s it. Those problems were not washed away by the floods. (Gerstein, ibid)

New York Times

5 Comments so far

  1. Craig (unregistered) on August 29th, 2007 @ 4:27 pm

    Brilliant. Absolutely freaking brilliant.

    Thank you.

  2. Cade Roux (unregistered) on August 29th, 2007 @ 9:34 pm


  3. Dan F (unregistered) on August 30th, 2007 @ 7:42 am

    I would have thought Don Powell’s eyebrows blocked his view of actually SEEING anything around here.

  4. Shelly (unregistered) on August 31st, 2007 @ 3:15 pm

    What I get from the blended article is that New Orleans was a dysfuntioal city before the flood and New Orlenians are unhappy with the speed at which others are working at to restore them to their dysfunctional state.

    (And, should you really dare throw rocks about not helping when you chose to rub Nagin’s incompetence in our face by reelecting him. I figure you all deserve each other and I want to stay out of your way so you can fully enjoy the fruits of your efforts.)

    You have asked for a “choclate city” and I hope that all who share in that vision, help until it hurts, to get you there. But, as for those of us that oppose racism, we will stay at home, for now.

  5. richard (unregistered) on August 31st, 2007 @ 3:42 pm

    Wow, Shelly. I haven’t seen a misreading like that since my freshman year of comp lit. Here’s what you should know:

    #1) We’re all working hard to restore our city, and in the process, we’re trying to iron our some of the dysfunction that existed before the storm. We’ll leave little bits of it, just ’cause we wouldn’t want anyone to mistake us for someplace thoroughly sensible, like Des Moines.

    #2) We did not all re-elect Nagin. In fact, I’d wager that a sizeable chunk of people who elected Nagin don’t live here now. I personally choose to believe that if the election were held again today, he’d be sent packing.

    #3) We did not ask for a chocolate city. The aforementioned crackhead mayor did.

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