Sunday, October 30, 2005

Purging the Poor from New Orleans

Mark Drennen, president and CEO of Greater New Orleans Inc., is enthused about the opportunities opened up by Katrina. Klein (2005) comments on “his reference to African-Americans in New Orleans as ‘the minority community.’ At 67 percent of the population, they are in fact the clear majority, while whites like Drennen make up just 27 percent.”

Klein observes that “New Orleans is already displaying signs of a demographic shift so dramatic that some evacuees describe it as ‘ethnic cleansing.’ Before Mayor Ray Nagin called for a second evacuation, the people streaming back into dry areas were mostly white, while those with no homes to return to are overwhelmingly black.”

Klein notes that we are assured that this is not a conspiracy; “it's simple geography -- a reflection of the fact that wealth in New Orleans buys altitude. That means that the driest areas are the whitest (the French Quarter is 90 percent white; the Garden District, 89 percent; Audubon, 86 percent; neighboring Jefferson Parish, where people were also allowed to return, 65 percent).” She mentions that some dry areas, like Algiers, did have large low-income African-American populations before the storm. She failed to mention the devastated, and largely white, section called Lakeview.

Drennen points out that many of the destroyed neighborhoods were dysfunctional to begin with. He says the city now has an opportunity for "twenty-first-century thinking": Rather than rebuild ghettos, New Orleans should be resettled with "mixed income" housing, with rich and poor, black and white living side by side.

Malcolm Suber, a longtime New Orleans community activist, concedes that this type of resettlement will be difficult: The old-line families in Audubon and the Garden District may pay lip service to "mixed income" housing, "but the Bourbons uptown would have a conniption if a Section 8 tenant moved in next door. It will certainly be interesting."

Klein, Naomi “Purging the Poor from New Orleans” September 27, 2005


You've Got to See It to Really Believe It

Stephen Perry, president of the convention bureau, suggests that the badly damaged neighborhoods to the east are what will allow New Orleans "to literally develop a living template of urban reform, something that we never before had an opportunity to even dream about in the United States."

King (2005) points out that “Spared by Katrina, for the most part, were the city's most viable portions: the French Quarter, which brings in the tourists; the hotels, which put them up; the older, architecturally refined neighborhoods that attract a core of urban professionals (and give the tourists something to do beyond trolling Bourbon Street); the Central Business District; the port and its shipping construction. These will provide a starting point for renewal.”

As part of this renewal “Lost, in the main, but not exclusively, were poorer neighborhoods where tourists rarely ventured. And these, once cleared, will offer a canvas on which the urban visionaries can paint. In this view, what the floods accomplished, albeit brutally, was something no politician could ever suggest: Take the poorest and most crime-ridden portions of a city, sweep them more or less clean, and start anew.”

"Of course, such social engineering could draw battle lines beyond demolition: over who will control the effort, who will land the contracts, who will be hired to do the work, how much to rebuild and how much to leave as open space, how to negotiate the racial divide, how extensively to fix the city's levee system.”

King, Peter H. “You've Got to See It to Really Believe It” Los Angeles Times October 2, 2005


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Thursday, October 27, 2005

How to Rebuild

James Glassman (2005) of the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research suggests that a revival of New Orleans must proceed on three fronts:

Infrastructure: Higher levees won't be able to stop another 100-year storm. Future hurricane damage can, however, be contained.

a. The lowest areas of the city and its surroundings should revert to wetlands and floodplains-grand natural parks.

b. The city also needs substantial floodwalls to compartmentalize the high water and stop it from inundating a majority of neighborhoods, and massive surge barriers such as those that protect London from the Thames and Venice from the Adriatic.

Society: New Orleans has neglected its poor, educating them in rotten schools, giving them only intermittent police protection and warehousing them in despair.

Renewal: Yes, rules should require the preservation of the historic city, but, beyond that, the revival should be as spontaneous as possible.

"The inevitable commission that will oversee the rebuilding must realize that the world's best designers, developers and innovators will be drawn to the city only if they are relatively unrestricted. New Orleans could become a laboratory for ideas like tax-free commercial zones and school reform."

Calling New Orleans "the ultimate libertarian city," Glassman is optimistic about being able to rebuild the city "while retaining its spirit of mystery, absurdity, beauty and decadence." He is quick to point out, however, that "Corruption, squalor and stupidity do not equal charm. As we have seen, they can kill."

Glassman, James K. ”How to Rebuild a Great City.” The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. September 13, 2005. .


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Sunday, October 23, 2005

Great Katrina Migration

Grier (2005) observes that “hurricane Katrina has resulted in the largest displacement of Americans in 150 years - if not the largest ever. The scale is monumental. It's as if the entire Dust Bowl migration occurred in 14 days, or the dislocations caused by the Civil War took place on fast-forward.”

"This is the biggest resettlement in American history. A whole city has been uprooted," says Stephen Kleinberg, a sociology professor at Rice University in Houston. The total number of refugees may surpass 1 million, but a large percentage has been absorbed into their own relative's homes, say experts.

"For New Orleans, the big questions hinge around when it is rebuilt: How many people will it be rebuilt for, and who will they be?" says Alan Berube, a fellow in metropolitan policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

A big city like Houston is unlikely to be changed very much by an influx of Louisianans. Urban areas in the US are already largely populated by people transplanted from elsewhere. But the smaller the community that receives new residents, the larger the corresponding effect.

Baton Rouge, for instance, has always been more staid than its neighbor New Orleans, 80 miles away. It's a "big small town," as one local resident puts it. But it has suddenly become a big, big town, as thousands of evacuees have moved in.

Many residents have embraced those in need, donating clothes, and volunteering at relief centers. But an undercurrent of suspicion may be arising in the wake of hurricane Katrina. One waiter told a visitor about a "hostage situation" in the city. Stories of car-jackings, looting, and riots are rampant.

"It has settled down a lot over the last few days because there has not been the crime in the street people [expected]," says Rene DeLaune, a retired social worker who will be joining a mental health initiative to target those displaced by the storm.

Still, the sheer number of new residents has meant traffic snarls, long lines at post offices, and barren grocery shelves. Mr. DeLaune says some in town are worried that the new population will take existing jobs.

"This has never happened before [in recent history], that a city has expanded so much so quickly ... people resent that the city might change forever," he says.

Grier, Peter “The great Katrina migration” Christian Science Monitor September 12, 2005


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Thursday, October 20, 2005

Foreign Policy Impact of Katrina

Hurricane Katrina clearly exposed America to being vulnerable to Mother Nature; there is no surprise there. Charles Wolfson (2005) advises us that “Initial confusion about the government’s response and political finger-pointing is being watched in foreign capitals. To the extent others see the Bush administration preoccupied with a domestic crisis of the first order, attitudes toward Washington might well affect upcoming foreign policy challenges.”

The major challenges for the present relate to the nuclear programs of Korea and Iran, and the degree of support that the U.S. will receive from other foreign powers in ongoing discussions. Progress may be affected by how others perceive the strength or weakness of the Bush administration as it deals with a major domestic crisis in addition to a worsening situation in Iraq.

Richard Haass (2005) suggests that “It will be no easier to cordon off U.S. foreign policy from the effects of Hurricane Katrina than it has been to protect New Orleans from the waters of Lake Pontchartrain.”

“The global impact goes beyond impressions. A priority of this administration's foreign policy is to promote democracy around the world. But the attractiveness of the American model, and the ability of the United States to be an effective advocate for more democratic, capitalist societies, which had already been weakened by the disarray in Iraq, is now weaker still as a result of the disarray at home. It will be more difficult to make the case for free markets and more open societies if the results of such reforms come to be associated with the disorder seen in New Orleans.”

Haass also expects that Katrina will have an impact on how citizens of the United States view foreign policy. “The enormous problems and costs associated with the hurricane will raise additional questions about the ability of the United States to ‘stay the course’ in Iraq. The aftermath of the catastrophe will inevitably increase political pressure on President Bush to begin to reduce the U.S. involvement in Iraq and refocus U.S. resources at home, be it on the expensive reconstruction of flood-ravaged areas or on improving the country's capacity to deal with future disasters of this magnitude.”

Similarly, Americans may re-examine their views of the military. Haass’ view is that “The National Guard is being used in unforeseen ways in Iraq, and it is clearly needed in foreseeable ways at home. The National Guard will not be able to do it all. Homeland security requirements, be they derived from hurricanes or terrorists, are and will be extensive. This reality highlights the fact that the Guard will not forever be available for overseas duty on anything like the current scale.”

U.S. energy policy or, says Haass “to be coldly honest, the lack of one, is another reality that Katrina exposes. This time it was a storm in the vicinity of important refineries, but next time it could be instability in any one of the major oil-producing countries or simply the cumulative result of the growth in world demand for oil outstripping the growth in world supply.”

Haase concludes that “Any country must balance what it allocates for guns and what for butter; the United States is no exception. Although we are wealthy enough to fund both, we are not wealthy enough to fund both to the extent we are now doing and to keep taxes as low as they are. Something will have to give.”

Haass, Richard N. “Storm Warning: How the flood compromises U.S. foreign policy.” Slate. September 9, 2005.

Wolfson, Charles. “Katrina's Impact on Foreign Policy” CBS News. September 9, 2005


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Sunday, October 16, 2005

Easing of labor laws

Campbell (2005) suggests that "At a time when Latino immigrants are expected to form a big part of the Gulf Coast reconstruction labor pool, the Department of Homeland Security has temporarily suspended sanctioning employers who hire workers unable to prove their citizenship, essentially allowing contractors to hire undocumented workers."

The post-Katrina suspension of such laws could have a negative effect on our relation with Mexico. Jorge Bustamante, a leading expert on Mexican migration, says the government's temporary provisions only cement the inferior status of undocumented workers.

"Katrina is producing a large demand for undocumented workers,” says Mr. Bustamante, a professor at Notre Dame University in Indiana. “That's why they're bending the rules. But then once the job is done, it's back in the shadows. The hypocrisy is astounding."

An alternative plan under consideration by Congress would allow unauthorized workers to enroll in a guest-worker program and would eventually lead to citizenship. Tom Tancredo, a Republican congressman from Colorado, criticizes the temporary changes. "Why don't we just erase our borders and have the entire Third World work here?" he says. "If the president doesn't like the current laws, then he should repeal them altogether and stop pretending that we've got an immigration policy."

"I don't think that, post-Katrina, the signals are any less mixed than they've been in the past," says Jeffrey Davidow, former US Ambassador to Mexico and president of the Institute of the Americas at the University of California, San Diego. “We're still saying that we'll strengthen the border and tighten security, while also sending the message that once you get to the States you can get a job.”

Campbell, Monica “Foreign workers may form a big part of Gulf Coast reconstruction.” Christian Science Monitor. October 4, 2005


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Thursday, October 13, 2005

Demographics of Disaster

Garcia and Brenman (2005) observe that “The people who lived in the areas of New Orleans that were still flooded days after Hurricane Katrina struck were more likely to be black, have more children, earn less money, and be less educated than those in the rest of the city. People of color and low income communities disproportionately bear the burdens of the Katrina disaster.”

The authors suggest that “In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf Coast region need to be rebuilt in a sustainable and socially just way.” In this report they “present recommendations to help ensure the fair distribution of the benefits and burdens of reconstruction, while promoting democratic values of full information and full and fair public participation in rebuilding New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.”

The Challenge

The private sector is poised to reap a windfall of business in the largest domestic rebuilding effort ever undertaken. Normal federal contracting rules are largely suspended in the rush to help people displaced by the storm and reopen New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Hundreds of millions of dollars in no-bid contracts have already been let and billions more are to flow to the private sector in the weeks and months to come. The administration has already waived the federal law requiring that prevailing wages be paid on construction projects underwritten by federal dollars. Some experts warn that the crisis atmosphere and the open federal purse are a bonanza for lobbyists and private companies and are likely to lead to the contract abuses, cronyism and waste that numerous investigations have uncovered in post-war Iraq.

Lawmakers and industry groups are lining up to bring home their share of the cascade of money for rebuilding and relief. Louisiana lawmakers plan to push for billions of dollars to upgrade the levees around New Orleans, rebuild highways, lure back business, and shore up the city’s sinking foundation. The devastated areas of Mississippi and Alabama will need similar infusions of cash. Communities will want compensation for taking in evacuees. Future costs of health care, debris removal, temporary housing, clothing, and vehicle replacement will add up.

Other ideas circulating through Congress that could entail significant costs include turning New Orleans and other cities affected by the storm into big new tax-free zones; providing reconstruction money for tens of thousands of homeowners and small businesses that did not have federal flood insurance on their houses or buildings; and making most hurricane victims eligible for health care under Medicaid and having the federal government pay the full cost rather than the current practice of splitting costs with states.

The relief money is not expected to cover any of the real reconstruction costs that lie ahead: repair of highways, bridges and other infrastructure and new projects that seek to prevent a repeat of the New Orleans disaster. Nor will it help pay for expanded availability of food stamps and poverty programs to cover hurricane victims. Farmers from the Midwest, meanwhile, are beginning to press for emergency relief as a result of their difficulties in shipping grain through the Port of New Orleans.

One of the most immediate tasks after Hurricane Katrina hit was repair of the breaches in the New Orleans levees. Three companies have been awarded no-bid contracts by the Army Corps of Engineers to perform the restoration. To provide immediate housing in the region, FEMA says it suspended normal bidding rules in awarding contracts.

1. Jobs and Contracts

The people on the Gulf Coast devastated by the Katrina disaster should receive their fair share of the economic benefits of recovery through local jobs for local workers, and an even playing field for small business enterprises.

Federal regulations should be revised or waived to permit local hiring preferences, so that local people can be hired to do the repair, construction, and restoration work.

Employers and unions should run strong apprenticeship and training programs for local workers.

To supplement the income from jobs and contracts, Individual Development Accounts can be set up for local low-income residents. These are savings accounts for low-income individuals that can be used for specific purposes, such as buying a home, starting a business, or paying college tuition. Individual savings are often matched by either government or private resources so that assets build more rapidly.

2. Sustainable Flood Control, Levees, and Wetlands

The natural ecosystem along the Gulf has been stripped of natural buffers like coastal reefs, tropical forests, and swampland that can absorb rising water and resist tidal surges. The levees in New Orleans need to be restored and strengthened for flood control purposes, but flood control cannot be the only purpose dictating the design of the levees and surrounding wetlands.

Levees and wetlands should be restored in a sustainable, environmentally sound manner that serve people’s needs for safe and healthy open space for parks, recreation and habitat restoration, clean air, and clean water. Every few square miles of marshes lower the flood level significantly. We should plan with nature instead of railing against it.

3. Green Construction

Sustainable construction standards should be set and followed for new and restored buildings in the Gulf Coast.

4. Transportation Justice

Fully one-quarter of the people in New Orleans did not own cars or have ready transportation out of town in the event of evacuation orders. Civic leaders knew that many of the city’s poor, including 134,000 without cars, could be left behind in a killer storm. Many who had cars before will not be able to repair or replace cars damaged or destroyed by the flood.

The plight of the working poor with limited or no access to cars illustrates the need to implement a transportation policy agenda to provide choices to people who currently lack them.

An evacuation plan for low income people must be developed and implemented with local people on the planning team to ensure full and fair public participation. Effective communication with local people is essential.

The very low car ownership rates of African-Americans in New Orleans and other Gulf Coast areas need to be addressed. More public transportation alone will not be enough in an evacuation. Public transit is one of the first parts of infrastructure to cease operation or fail in an emergency. Car ownership, maintenance, and insurance should be funded through micro-loans.

Neighborhood car repair businesses can be funded through disadvantaged business enterprise programs.

The monopoly on taxi cab ownership and operation should be ended. Jitneys (multi-unassociated riders) should be permitted. Increased car ownership is one obvious answer, but traditional environmentalists are often not comfortable with this.

5. Oversight, Information, and Public Participation

An independent citizens’ oversight body of progressive individuals should be created and funded to find out what went wrong and why, and how to create a better future, to serve as a check and balance for any official commissions and studies. We need to offer a counter-narrative because we cannot trust what the government will do. Democratic values of information and public participation need to be implemented.

The oversight body can gather, analyze, and publish the information necessary to understand the impact of Katrina and the rebuilding efforts on all communities, including communities of color and low income communities.

Public participation has to be rooted in the impacted communities, in the hearts and minds of real people. What kinds of communities do people want to live in and raise children?

6. The Vision and the Values at Stake

It is necessary to articulate and implement a collective regional vision and plan for reconstructing New Orleans and the Gulf Coast based on the diverse values at stake that will bring people together and ensure full and fair public participation in the decision-making process.

Key strategies should include coalition building and community organizing, public education, policy and legal advocacy outside the courts, multidisciplinary research and analyses, strategic media campaigns, creative engagement of opponents to find common ground, and impact litigation as a last resort.

7. Congressional Caucuses

The Black, Hispanic, and Asian Pacific American Congressional Caucuses should begin to work together immediately to address sustainable and socially just rebuilding and relief efforts.

Black people in New Orleans disproportionately suffered from the Katrina destruction.

145,000 Latinos have been left without jobs in the Gulf Coast. Many Latinos in rural areas did not have adequate access to information, do not speak English, are undocumented, and are quite alone in the recovery.

The needs of Asian-American small entrepreneurs in the fishing industry on the Gulf Coast need to be addressed.

8. The Unique Culture and Heritage of New Orleans

One of the reasons New Orleans is dear to the hearts of people everywhere is the rich artistic and cultural heritage of the area, as expressed in art, music, food, and cultural celebrations. Mardi Gras in February 2006, and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in the spring of 2006, will provide opportunities to mourn destruction and celebrate reconstruction together, with tourism helping to bring economic recovery for all.

Reconstruction should preserve the rich cultural heritage of New Orleans through preservation and adaptive reuse of historic buildings and neighborhoods. Reconstruction must respect the diversity of the Native American, Spanish, French, African-American, Creole, Cajun, and other people who have given New Orleans its unique power of place.

Reconstruction must preserve and build on the strengths of New Orleans and its character as a compact, walkable, historic community. Reconstruction should also avoid the mistakes of the past and prevent concentrated poverty in some areas.

9. Never Again

“I hope we realize that the people of New Orleans weren’t just abandoned during the hurricane,” Senator Barack Obama said last week. “They were abandoned long ago–to murder and mayhem in the streets, to substandard schools, to dilapidated housing, to inadequate health care, to a pervasive sense of hopelessness.”

Long term benefits of reconstruction and relief should make concrete improvements in people’s lives compared to their lives before the destruction, give people a real sense of their own power, and alter the relations of power.

In a video guide to hurricane evacuations that had been prepared for but not yet distributed in New Orleans before Katrina struck, the Rev. Marshall Truehill warns “Don’t wait for the city, don’t wait for the state, don’t wait for the Red Cross.” The central message to the people of New Orleans was blunt: Save yourself, and help your neighbors if you can.

We can and must do better than that by turning to each other and our government to achieve equal justice, democracy, and livability for all in New Orleans, along the Gulf Coast, and across the nation.


García, Robert, and Marc Brenman. “Katrina and the Demographics of Destruction and Reconstruction” Center for Law in the Public Interest. September 16th, 2005


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Sunday, October 09, 2005

Consumer Protection and Hurricane Katrina

In testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection, William Niskanen (2005) recommended the following:
Do not impose any form of rationing or price controls on food, gasoline, rents. etc. … (History has shown) that price controls lead to other, less desirable, forms of rationing – by waiting lines, bribery, favoritism, and the substitution of lower quality goods and services.
There is a good case, consistent with our natural generosity, to make ample assistance to those households displaced by Hurricane Katrina, and there is ample funding within the $62.5 billion already approved for such assistance. Such assistance, however, should be temporary, say for a year, and should be independent of where the displaced households choose to live.
Returning to the Gulf Coast, specifically, should not be a condition for receiving such assistance. The federal budget cost of a rent voucher for displaced households, say of $10,000, would be around $6 billion, and the voucher should be usable anywhere in the country.
“It is especially important for the federal government to avoid financing any rebuilding of private property that was not covered by flood insurance,” says Miskanen.”

Niskanen, William A. “Commerce and Consumer Protection Implications of Hurricane Katrina” Congressional testimony, September 22, 2005


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Thursday, October 06, 2005

Choices and Ideology

Molly Ivins (2005) suggests that “it's tacky to start playing the blame game before the dead are even counted. It is not too soon, however, to make a point that needs to be hammered home again and again, and that is that government policies have real consequences in people's lives.”

Ivins adds that “This is not "just politics" or blaming for political advantage. This is about the real consequences of what governments do and do not do about their responsibilities. And about who winds up paying the price for those policies.”

New Orleans is so vulnerable to hurricanes largely because of the gradual disappearance of the wetlands on the Gulf Coast that once stood as a natural buffer between the city and storms coming in from the water. Ivins asserts that “Many environmentalists will tell you that more than a century's interference with the natural flow of the Mississippi is the root cause of the problem, cutting off the movement of alluvial soil to the river's great delta.”

Is there a government-wide movement away from basing policy on science, expertise and professionalism, and in favor of choices based on ideology? Ivins thinks so. “If you're wondering what the ideological position on flood management might be, look at the pictures of New Orleans -- it seems to consist of gutting the programs that do anything.”

Government policies did not just increase the impact of the storm, but played a part in hampering the subsequent relief effort. This happened because the Louisiana National Guard has been weakened by: assignments in Iraq (35% of its personnel), equipment committed to the Iraq war (dozens of its high-water vehicles, Humvees, refuelers and generators have been sent abroad. Ivins notes that “I hate to be picky, but why do they need high-water vehicles in Iraq?”), added difficulty in recruiting for the Guard, because people are afraid of being sent to Iraq if they join.

Ivins relates these issues to “the original policy decision to go into Iraq without enough soldiers and the subsequent failure to admit that mistake and to rectify it by instituting a draft.”

The levees of New Orleans, two of which were broken and flooded the city, also were victims of Iraq war spending, according to Ivins. Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, said on June 8, 2004, “It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq.”


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Sunday, October 02, 2005

What am I paying for?

Columbus is a pleasant place, with the feel of a college town rather than a major city. The college is, of course, Ohio State with its 50,000 students. Columbus is about half-again as big as New Orleans, with a population of over 700,000. Its metro area is about 25% more populous than greater N.O., at 1.6 million.

It has been said that New Orleans has two seasons, summer and February. Columbus is definitely changing seasons. Afternoons are beautiful, with temperatures in the seventies, but we leave home in the morning bundled up for the 50’s or colder. Forecasts are that the 70’s may be over for the season.

So we are looking at winter coats while planning a visit to New Orleans in a couple of weeks. I can barely lift the coats that Susan is suggesting I try on. At home we would call them "parkas."

It’s hard to know what is home any more. Our house is damaged enough that we don’t want to go back to it, but not enough for the insurance companies to "total" it. We are the only people I know that had excess flood insurance, and yet the insurers are questioning its true worth.

It is quite a racket they have going. They will take our premium payments on a $375,000 policy, but now question whether the property is worth that much. They sure did not raise any doubt when we signed up. I promise a long rant about insurers before this is all over. The trouble is that it may never be over.

It would be interesting to know what percentage of New Orleans citizens’ net worth is currently held by their insurers. The insurers are certainly in no hurry to release it, either.

The area economy is further restrained by the wide range of opinions on where market values of real estate are heading. Let me know your opinion.


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