Thursday, October 27, 2005

The statements of NOLA citizens--tonight

Today from 4pm to about 7pm, many New Orleanians gathered to tell their stories and to witness for the poor of this city during a meeting with Dr. Arjun Sengupta, Independent Expert on Extreme Poverty, Office of the U N High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Speakers gave first hand accounts of Superdome and Convention Center experiences, and they presented Dr. Sengupta with pictures, documents, and evidence of the terrible circumstances at both those places--and emphasized that once inside, no one was permitted to leave. The older people, the children, the sick, the needy--little or no help was in these places for the large populations there. Umar Kashmir had over 600 pictures and thousands of people's names from the Convention Center and comments in a large folder, and he himself was still waiting for his mother's remains to be returned from St. Gabriel--remains which were identified and then lost.

Raymond Rock told of his experiences in the Superdome and then later in the community--both places where the only mission of the troops was to evacuate--not to help those left behind survive in their houses. He was very concerned about the children who he witnessed being separated from their mothers--as they (and he) were sent in every direction--first by trucks, then by plane) out of town. Many also commented on the diaspora of the poor from New Orleans--the result being the long term loss of culture, NO Natives, and the people who are most ready to rebuild their own communities. In fact, thousands of the poor are stranded in towns and cities across the country--some with 1 way tickets and funding from FEMA to stay where they landed. While some people may find this a blessing, many have regretted the quick "push" out of town and are now having difficulty getting home.

Ronald Coleman and others from the Central City Partnership were most concerned and vocal about what returning citizens are facing. First, during Katrina, they were held at gunpoint at the border of Gretna (now celebrated by Gretna residents with signs thanking the sheriff for holding back "those people"). Mr. Coleman gave specific evidence of evictions being carried out over non payment of September rent (though apts and the city were without lights/water/and closed to residents). Also, rents --Section 8 rents also--were being unfairly raised as much as 100% and residents were fleeing rather than face such commitments--perhaps what landlords hope--or maybe the city-- since the concept of "prescriptive acquisition" has now been actually mentioned in meetings with the mayor and developers. In this, blighted or unoccupied property that seems unattended can be taken over and resold to people who would maintain or renovate it.....very scary... since people are having trouble finding money to return to New Orleans from all the places they have been "sent" to....and since the jobs they left behind are often gone or being filled by others brought in from outside Louisiana.

Sherise Harrison Nelson and her mother both questioned the fact that St. Bernard, and other areas--including lakeview--were able to go back to retreive what they could from their houses while the 9th ward residents were beeing blocked. Mardi Gras Indian costumes--historical and cultural treasures--and valuable personal belongings (emotional and finanacial) are still buried in mud and debris--as the houses rot away--houses and belongings they feel could have been saved if they had been allowed in to get these.

The scarcity of free medical care, especially emotional support for 20-40 year olds (not just the old or pediatric) was also a topic of concern.

Sr. Jane Remson, Bread for the World, told of the grassroots effort to map hunger in Louisiana, especially in New Orleans. She pointed out that right before the storm nearly 75% of New Orleanians relied on federal help of some sort to help feed themselves and their children--in fact for most of these people's children the main nutritional meal is provided by a free school lunch. It was also pointed out by another attendee that public schools and this program are not serving the poor since the hurricane.

Anyone who has evidence of how extreme poverty (institutionalized and systemized) made Katrina the tragedy that it IS STILL, you can e-mail such evidence in the form of personal testimony (name and e-mail and address required) to the UN representative who is gathering information for Dr. Sengupta:

Monday, October 10, 2005

I am ready to talk now...about Katrina and ALL

OK, I have been back here for about 2 weeks. The city of New Orleans, even "spared" Jefferson Parish is a place almost unrecognizable. I am not talking about mold, crushed homes, water lines, power outages, military helicopters flying overhead disturbing an almost unnatural quiet (since children are a rare sight even today with some schools staring up last week).

We are living in a constant state of group untherapy. Every second sentence begins with a question about a phone number for some assistance--and adjuster, a FEMA redress, a place for a hot meal, does a cell phone work anywhere, have you seen so and so, or the everpresent What will I do --will I stay or go, and where and can I find a job or a place to live. AND THIS IS FROM SUBURBIA! The lower ninth ward hasn't even been let back in!

What's worse is that as you travel through the devastation in Lakeview or other "opened" disaster areas the word is that the city won't be so "poor" and won't have crime anymore...that is...maybe blacks won't come back. Then in the same breath, these people complain about the lack of garbage pickup, the lack of workers in hotels, fast food areas, gas stations, etc...where signs list "workers wanted." Who do the people here think ran the city in the first place?

One of the oddest comments was the shock a woman expressed at the fact that the new garbage collectors were white (obviously brought in from out of town under some contract). And where are these out of towners living? in the hotels and few rental places there are here. So why didn't we bring our own people back? Oh well let Houston and Atlanta keep em I suppose.

If one can manage the out loud racism that is beginning to surface here (since the majority of people in the city are now white) then we could look at the new plans for the city:

1. Mayor Nagin--A Casino district that would take over Poydras to Canal...Viva Las Nueva Orleans (my Spanish /Elvis leaves a lot to be desired..but so does this plan)

2. City Park (totally devastated and needing big bucks to get back) can be a huge trailer park til some people can get insurance checks, jobs, housing, etc.? Good Luck with ever getting the trailers off that land.

3. St. Bernard--Hey we need more refineries --Didn't Bush say that? I am waiting for Houston's OK to land there. Hey the oil sludge is already covering the need to worry about a new spill.

4. New Orleans and Louisiana have become GW's own person test grounds for dismissing environmental protection, wage guarantees, and letting loose vouchers on the public school system. The Orleans School System has just now granted 15 schools "charter status." Hey let's rent out those Big Black School Board buildings on the Westbank to poor people since it seems the school board is giving everything else away...Think about the money that FEMA would pay for that property! And we could Fire the Alvarez group--no need to balance budgets anymore if the schools are going to go private anyway, and if the vouchers will let kids go to the Catholic schools (who--don't have to give LEAP tests!).

5. But most of all, let's make New Orleans and Metaire, and Mandeville, and The Parish, and Plaquemines (the home of Leander Perez)--as bright and white as we can...Now is the time to rebuild New Orleans and Make it better than it was.

That's why I'm planning to leave....I don't want it better if this is what better means.

(NOTE: well at least we won't have to worry about getting a better police force. The Fifth district is back to roughing up people--this time caught by the AP tape....but that was a white reporter pushed around wasn't it. Let's see if any of the returning Treme residents get similar treatment.)


Monday, October 03, 2005

NY Times article on Congressional spending re Katrina

Exploiting Katrina

It was almost inevitable that we would see every kind of legislative lunacy after Katrina, proposed in the name of accelerating the cleanup in New Orleans, improving the nation's energy security or achieving other worthy objectives. And so we have: Congress has used Katrina as cover for ideas that could never stand on their own and for a remarkably brazen raid on the public treasury and environmental protections.

Take, for example, Richard Pombo, the chairman of the House Resources Committee, who is proposing to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, allow states to opt out of a longstanding moratorium on offshore drilling, and suspend judicial and administrative reviews of federal decisions to open public lands for oil and gas leasing. This is the same Richard Pombo who proposed last week - joking, he said - to sell off a few lesser-known national parks if money from the Arctic refuge was not forthcoming.

Then there is Joe Barton, the Texas Republican who, ostensibly to increase fuel supplies, rammed a bill through the House energy committee that would ease clean air restrictions on refineries and drive a final nail in the coffin of New Source Review, a useful law the administration has been trying to kill for years. The law requires older industrial facilities to install modern pollution controls, and Mr. Barton's bill would remove not only refineries but hundreds of coal-fired power plants from its reach.

Similar mischief is afoot in the Senate, where James Inhofe, the ferociously anti-regulatory Oklahoma Republican who runs the environment committee, would suspend for up to 18 months any environmental law that in his view stands in the way of post-hurricane reconstruction.

The most egregious example of self-dealing comes from the Louisiana delegation. Not content with the $62.3 billion Congress has already appropriated for emergency relief, the state's representatives have asked for $250 billion more in federal reconstruction funds, equal to more than $50,000 per Louisiana resident.......(the article goes on to specify that the spending is unrestricted--not necessarily environmental..and we also know that Darth Vitter (our own Republican--friend of Delay) has sponsored the bill. while we need help and a lot, we need to monitor what we ask for and what we really get--government control and more enviromental disasters to come are not the answers to New Orleans.)

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