Sunday, November 27, 2005

President's Commitment ...

Following are excerpts from the President’s national address of September 15:

“Throughout the area hit by the hurricane, we will do what it takes, we will stay as long as it takes, to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives. And all who question the future of the Crescent City need to know there is no way to imagine America without New Orleans, and this great city will rise again.

“I believe we should start with three initiatives that the Congress should pass.

“I propose the creation of a Gulf Opportunity Zone, encompassing the region of the disaster in Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama. Within this zone, we should provide immediate incentives for job-creating investment, tax relief for small businesses, incentives to companies that create jobs, and loans and loan guarantees for small businesses, including minority-owned enterprises, to get them up and running again.

“I propose the creation of Worker Recovery Accounts to help those evacuees who need extra help finding work. Under this plan, the federal government would provide accounts of up to $5,000, which these evacuees could draw upon for job training and education to help them get a good job, and for child care expenses during their job search.

“And to help lower-income citizens in the hurricane region build new and better lives, I also propose that Congress pass an Urban Homesteading Act. Under this approach, we will identify property in the region owned by the federal government, and provide building sites to low-income citizens free of charge, through a lottery.

“Protecting a city that sits lower than the water around it is not easy, but it can, and has been done. City and parish officials in New Orleans, and state officials in Louisiana will have a large part in the engineering decisions to come. And the Army Corps of Engineers will work at their side to make the flood protection system stronger than it has ever been.”


“I hope we realize that the people of New Orleans weren't just abandoned during the hurricane," Sen. Barack Obama said on the floor of the Senate. "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.”

“Maybe it comes back stronger,” says political strategist and commentator James Carville, known as the Ragin' Cajun. “No one forgot how to play the saxophone or how to cook or write. Or have a good time. That's all still there. Calamities and disasters are part of New Orleans' history. This too shall pass.”


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Thursday, November 24, 2005

Post-Katrina Moment ...

David Brooks (2005) suggests that “Hurricane Katrina has given us an amazing chance to do something serious about urban poverty.”

“That's because Katrina was a natural disaster that interrupted a social disaster. It separated tens of thousands of poor people from the run-down, isolated neighborhoods in which they were trapped. It disrupted the patterns that have led one generation to follow another into poverty.”

“It has created as close to a blank slate as we get in human affairs,” says Brooks, “and given us a chance to rebuild a city that wasn't working…” Many with whom I talk agree that the city was not working, leading to Brooks’ next statement:

“The first rule of the rebuilding effort should be: Nothing Like Before… If we just put up new buildings and allow the same people to move back into their old neighborhoods, then urban New Orleans will become just as rundown and dysfunctional as before.”

Brooks’ second rule may be a bit harder to accomplish: “Culturally Integrate.” He points to successful trial programs which “integrate people who lack middle-class skills into neighborhoods with people who possess these skills and who insist on certain standards of behavior.”

The lesson is that “if you break up zones of concentrated poverty, you can see (economic) progress over time… In the post-Katrina world, that means we ought to give people who don't want to move back to New Orleans the means to disperse into middle-class areas nationwide. (That's the kind of thing Houston is beginning to do right now.)”

Brooks says that “For New Orleans, the key will be luring middle-class families into the rebuilt city, making it so attractive to them that they will move in, even knowing that their blocks will include a certain number of poor people.”

Government policies must support this new approach. “As people move in, the rebuilding effort could provide jobs for those able to work. Churches, the police, charter schools and social welfare agencies could be mobilized to weave the social networks vital to resurgent communities. The feds could increase earned-income tax credits so people who are working can rise out of poverty. Tax laws could encourage business development.”

Brooks cautions that “This is the post-Katrina moment. Let's not blow it.”

Brooks, David “Katrina's Silver Lining” New York Times OpEd. September 8, 2005


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Sunday, November 20, 2005

Osama and Katrina ...

Thomas Friedman (2005) describes “a gut reaction that George Bush and Dick Cheney were the right guys to deal with Osama. I was not alone in that feeling, and as a result, Mr. Bush got a mandate, almost a blank check, to rule from 9/11 that he never really earned at the polls.

“Well, if 9/11 is one bookend of the Bush administration, Katrina may be the other. If 9/11 put the wind at President Bush's back, Katrina's put the wind in his face. If the Bush-Cheney team seemed to be the right guys to deal with Osama, they seem exactly the wrong guys to deal with Katrina - and all the rot and misplaced priorities it's exposed here at home.”

Friedman finds it “unavoidably obvious that we need a real policy of energy conservation,” adding that “President Bush can barely choke out the word ‘conservation.’”

On tax policy, Friedman suggests that “The Bush team has engaged in a tax giveaway since 9/11 that has had one underlying assumption: There will never be another rainy day. Just spend money. You knew that sooner or later there would be a rainy day, but Karl Rove has assumed it wouldn't happen on Mr. Bush's watch - that someone else would have to clean it up. Well, it did happen on his watch.”

Friedman suggests other opportunities that the Bush team missed:

its refusal to impose a gasoline tax after 9/11, which would have begun to shift our economy much sooner to more fuel-efficient cars, helped raise money for a rainy day and eased our dependence on the world's worst regimes for energy;

its refusal to develop some form of national health care to cover the 40 million uninsured; and,

its insistence on cutting more taxes, even when that has contributed to incomplete levees and too small an Army to deal with Katrina, Osama and Saddam at the same time.

“Besides ripping away the roofs of New Orleans, Katrina ripped away the argument that we can cut taxes, properly educate our kids, compete with India and China, succeed in Iraq, keep improving the U.S. infrastructure, and take care of a catastrophic emergency - without putting ourselves totally into the debt of Beijing.”

Friedman, Thomas L. “Osama and Katrina” New York Times OpEd September 7, 2005


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Thursday, November 17, 2005

Even a Katrina Can Blow Some Good ...

Hughes (2005) points out that there is “a big difference between the Chicago fire of 1871 and the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, and the New Orleans flood of 2005. The first two cities were on the rise when their disasters struck and rebuilding was simply the continuation of boom times.

“New Orleans has been declining for decades and was an impoverished place rife with dysfunction, violence and bleak prospects for its poorest residents. Admittedly, NOLA's decline had a veneer of charm that took a hurricane to remove, exposing the miserable reality beneath and behind.”

Hughes suggests that “Older American cities - and NOLA was one of the few in the Sunbelt - have become warehouses for people whose prospects would be brighter in other places. But immediate obligations, lack of resources and information, and plain old inertia anchor people in places that are declining.”

“If I had the budget, I'd track the 200,000 or so poor and near-poor people who've found refuge in economically healthier places like Houston, Denver and Seattle. I bet that two or three years from now, most of those folks will be earning more money in better jobs with their kids attending better schools in safer neighborhoods than they were in New Orleans.”

Hughes concludes that “The lesson of the Mayflower, the frontier, the Dust Bowl and probably Katrina is that the eventual happy ending for poor people comes from relocation more than rebuilding.”

Hughes, Mark Alan “Even A Katrina Can Blow Some Good” September 13, 2005


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Sunday, November 13, 2005

What can be done ...

Haya continues ...

•Mixed-income housing.

Mixed-income projects usually don't provide enough low-income housing to all those who are displaced. That could be the case in New Orleans, especially if land that many low-income people's homes were built on is deemed unsafe for redevelopment.

One opportunity: Much of New Orleans' cheaper housing consists of detached homes on single-family lots. New development could be multifamily units such as midrise apartments and townhomes.

New Orleans also could require developers to sell parts of new housing developments at below-market rates. Suburbs of Washington, Boston, and many California cities that are running out of affordable housing have been doing so for years.

•Vouchers and tax incentives.

The federal government can give the poor housing vouchers that enable them to live in market-rate housing at below-market prices. It also can offer tax credits to developers who build homes for lower- to middle-class families.

•Give jobs in the rebuilding effort to New Orleans residents. Jesse Jackson and other civil rights leaders have suggested that government launch a public-works project to create jobs and rebuild the region. Jackson has objected to the relocation of evacuees throughout the USA. He says they should be given temporary housing close to the city so they have first shot at the jobs that will be available when rebuilding begins.

•Keep the city small and dense.

New Orleans' street grid makes many parts of the city accessible on foot. However, the evacuation fiasco that left thousands stranded as floodwaters rose to rooftops may spur a redesign of streets and highways. That could further isolate the poor who don't have cars. Almost 30% of black households before the flood didn't own cars, compared with 15% of white households, according to the Census Bureau.

•Rebuild tourism.

The hospitality industry is one of New Orleans' largest employers. Business leaders and economic development officials already are scrambling to lure back tourists and conventions. There are plans for a scaled-down Mardi Gras in February.

Pres Kabacoff, chief executive and founder of HRI Properties in New Orleans, suggests that "Much of the historic part of the old city is still intact. Much of the riverfront is intact. Lots of abandoned and blighted housing can be renovated. ... We need to see some cranes in the city and build confidence that things can happen."

New Orleans needs to create jobs before it can hope for a comeback, Gladstone says. Rebuilding will do that, but it won't help the evacuees if they don't get the jobs, he says.

"A lot of people express concern that there won't be any poor people left in New Orleans," he says. "I'd like to see people come back with more job opportunities, more job training. Reconstruction jobs would go far to help them to afford new housing."

El Nasser, Haya “A New Orleans like the old one just won't do” USA TODAY September 18, 2005


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Thursday, November 10, 2005

A New Orleans like the old one just won't do ...

Haya (2005) suggests that "The flooding of New Orleans and the dislocation of almost a half-million residents exposed social inequities that have plagued the city for decades: extreme poverty, a wide income divide between blacks and whites, high unemployment and crime, woeful schools."

"Many urban policy specialists say rebuilding New Orleans could represent a grand social experiment: building a predominantly black American city in a way that breaks up concentrated poverty, improves public schools and creates jobs."

"This may be the first American city built in the 21st century," says Larry Davis, director of the University of Pittsburgh's Center on Race and Social Problems. "New Orleans has the opportunity to be a model for the country. ... Here's our chance."

"If we're going to try to recreate the city, why not do it right?" says David Gladstone, assistant professor at the college of urban and public affairs at the University of New Orleans. He escaped Katrina and is living with family in New Jersey. "Why rebuild it the way it was? New Orleans was a dangerous city even before the hurricane hit."

Haya adds "A blueprint for a new city will not emerge until the water is drained and exhaustive environmental testing is done to determine whether it's safe for people to move back. Levees must be redesigned to protect against future flooding. Some neighborhoods may never be deemed safe enough to redevelop."

Any rebuilding plan will have to meet one overriding challenge: Where will the poor go?

Dealing with poverty

New Orleans has the highest poverty rate among large cities in the U.S. Based on 2000 Census data. 27.9% of its citizens live in poverty, more than twice the U.S. rate of 12.4%

New Orleans will probably be a much smaller city for years to come. Whatever size it becomes, the focus has to be on reducing economic segregation and poverty, Gladstone says.

"We have to make sure that affordable housing is available in all neighborhoods and not put them back where they were before," says Amy Liu, deputy director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution.

Next time: "What can be done?"

El Nasser, Haya “A New Orleans like the old one just won't do” USA TODAY September 18, 2005


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Sunday, November 06, 2005

Natural Disasters Increase

"Natural disaster in the United States has morphed to a dangerous new level" concludes Joseph Verrengia (2005) in a recent article in Associated Press. He adds that "Some experts say the nation can expect to be pummeled by more of these mega-catastrophes over the next 20 or 30 years in a nasty conspiracy of unfavorable weather patterns, changing demographics and political denial."

One of these experts, Carnegie Mellon University risk strategist Baruch Fischhoff, asks the question "Are we prepared to lose a major city every year?" Sociologist Havidan Rodriguez, director of the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware, suggests that "We failed quite significantly" in the response to Hurricane Katrina.

Verrengia adds that "New Orleans and the Gulf Coast might serve as a living laboratory for sustainable development and commerce that can withstand future calamities. For example, New Orleans' historic core might be reopened for tourism, but neighborhoods could be rebuilt on safer, firmer ground using more efficient 21st century technologies."

Environmentalist Paul Hawken, a leading voice in the green design and green commerce movements, cautions us that "The first rule of sustainability is to align with natural forces, or at least not try to defy them. There is no reason to go backwards in redesigning the city."

Verrengia illustrates the point with some numbers:

Globally, more than 2.5 billion people were affected by floods, earthquakes, hurricanes and other natural disasters between 1994 and 2003, a 60 percent increase over the previous two 10-year periods, U.N. officials report. (Those numbers don't even include the millions displaced by last December's tsunami, which killed an estimated 180,000 people).

Damage to insured property around the world in 2004 by natural disasters totaled $49 billion, according to the Zurich-based insurance giant Swiss Re. And that figure doesn't include the tsunami, either. Of the total, some calculations suggest that as much as $45 billion in losses came from a quartet of Florida hurricanes — Charley, Ivan, Frances and Jeanne.

The overall insured loss for 2004 is more than twice the $23 billion annual average in property losses since 1987, confirming a "discernible upward trend," Swiss Re said.

The weather might be changing for the worse, but the real difference, asserts Verrengia, is demographics. How and where Americans live today make the nation especially vulnerable to these unstoppable events.

More than half of the nation's 300 million people live in coastal areas. Florida's population has increased fivefold since 1950, and now 80 percent live within 20 miles of salt water. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, seven of the nation's top 10 fastest growing states are coastal, including California, whose population has increased from 10 million in 1950 to more than 33 million today.

Verrengia reminds us that "it's not just coastal populations that are at risk. Infrastructure supplies food, energy and materials nationwide like the body's circulatory system distributes blood and nutrients. If the New Madrid fault ruptures in the Midwest, the loss of key roads, railways, power grids and pipelines over the Mississippi River would likely choke off vital supplies to distant cities for months, including Washington, D.C. and New York City."

Other demographic changes not often associated with natural disasters are an aging population, the growth of assisted living communities and dependent-care facilities in warm-weather states and the increase in immigrant populations where English is not widely understood. All of these factors will make evacuations even more difficult, researchers say.

"All of the plans have assumed that people have cars and they speak English," Rodriguez said. "If you forget the population in your planning, the population will ignore your plans."

Solutions recommended by architects, civil engineers and sociologists can be roughly sorted into a few categories:

Infrastructure: Communications systems, power grids, roads and flood control measures — especially levees — should be expanded and hardened, they advise. Roads, bridges and other key features have been neglected. The interstate highway system that was clogged with evacuees is now 50 years old.

Preparedness: Katrina was perhaps the most-anticipated natural disaster in history, but elected officials and top bureaucrats were reluctant to act aggressively on the advice of scientists and other experts. Simulations of the impact of a monster hurricane and other exercises focusing on terrorism and infectious disease outbreaks have pointed out serious flaws in communications, medical care and evacuations. Many question whether government agencies have done a good job of acting on the lessons of these activities.

Political will: "What we are missing, utterly and completely, in this government is accountability," Hawken said. "I don't see anybody talking in terms of shame," Fischhoff said. "I don't see any soul-searching."

Many recommended an independent commission led by an independent figure outside of government. Former Fed chairman Paul Volcker's inquiry into corruption at the United Nations was one example cited. Another was the investigation into the space shuttle Columbia disaster led by retired Adm. Harold Gehman Jr.

Verrengia, Joseph B. “Experts: Future of Big Hurricanes Looms” Associated Press. October 1, 2005. Various outlets, including


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Thursday, November 03, 2005

Louisiana Looting

The debate is on. It started with a Washington Post Editorial (2005) entitled "Louisiana's Looters," and was rebutted by one of the Post’s alleged "looters," Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu. Her letter, published by New Orleans’ Times Picayune (2005) was entitled "Why Louisiana Matters."

The Post started this exchange by suggesting that "The state's representatives have come up with a request for $250 billion in federal reconstruction funds for Louisiana alone -- more than $50,000 per person in the state. This money would come on top of payouts from businesses, national charities and insurers. And it would come on top of the $62.3 billion that Congress has already appropriated for emergency relief."

After establishing the facts, the Post went on to issues of judgment and trust. "The Louisiana delegation has apparently devoted little thought to the root causes of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. New Orleans was flooded not because the Army Corps of Engineers had insufficient money to build flood protections, but because its money was allocated by a system of political patronage.

"The smart response would be to insist that, in the future, no Corps money be wasted on unworthy projects, but the Louisiana bill instead creates a mechanism by which cost-benefit analysis can be avoided.

"The smart response would be to insist that future infrastructure projects be subject to careful environmental review. But the Louisiana delegation's bill would suspend the environmental review process."

Calling the request "preposterous," the Post expressed concern that "the risk is that the administration and congressional leaders will accept the $250 billion as a starting point, then declare a victory for fiscal sanity when they bring the number down to, say, $150 billion."

Landrieu’s rebuttal began by suggesting that the Post editorial "displayed a profound ignorance of the regional and national miscalculation of this national disaster… an entire region vital to our national energy supply, security and commerce has been devastated."

Showing a far broader concept of reconstruction, Landrieu asserted that we must "build a better education system in the region, … a better health care system in New Orleans and throughout south Louisiana," … and "provide the infrastructure and appropriate incentives for businesses and industry that are positioned to accept the risk of reopening their doors amid their unprecedented losses and the destruction around them."

Landrieu concludes by saying that "Louisiana will be rebuilt by Louisianians. New Orleans will be rebuilt by New Orleanians. And the rest of southern Louisiana will be rebuilt under the leadership of the people who call it home."

Landrieu, Mary L. “Why Louisiana Matters.” Times Picayune. Accessed October 3, 2005.

Washington Post Editorial. “Louisiana’s Looters.” September 27, 2005.


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