One week at home, then on the road again. As I write this, Janis and I are on a train between Reading and Sheffield in the UK. The rolling hills of the English countryside are speeding past the window. Except for the old English homes that dot the countryside, it is not unlike the landscape of Virginia or Kentucky. If you are interested in our travels in England, I have our itinerary and a daily blog set up on another web site. Just point your browser to http://web.mac.com/thechuck/iWeb/UK%20Trip. I'll be posting details of our trip, along with pictures, on that site.
We left New Orleans at noon Saturday, January 28th which marks just one month until Fat Tuesday, February 28th. Have you made your travel plans yet? The date of our arrival in London was also notable as January 29th marked five months since Katrina changed the landscape and demographics of the Gulf Coast. In that five months it is remarkable how much progress has really been made: remarkable because it has happened with minimal assistance from the federal government. So inept is the administration's ability to help New Orleans recover that when Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., who is black, was asked on public TV what he thought about the President, he replied "Well, I really think that he shatters the myth of white supremacy once and for all."
Kathleen "Mama" Barrow was released from the rehab center last Monday. Janis saw her at Coop's Place on Friday, and her improvement has been truly remarkable. Although she still has a bit of a problem getting up on the bar stool, she will be proudly riding on a float on Mardi Gras day as the Krewe of Woo Hoo parades through the French Quarter.
- Johnny Adriani, (A candidate for mayor in New Orleans who will not get enough votes to win, btw) recently wrote this letter to the editor of the Washington Post:
Thousands of Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers are being shipped to New Orleans, yet most people do not have a place to live.
I commute from Baton Rouge to New Orleans daily, and on any given day I pass dozens of FEMA trailers being hauled in, one by one, via pickup trucks. Some come by rail. I see them coming in, but I don't know where they go.
Most puzzling are the trailers that have been delivered. Most remain unoccupied on a resident's property because there is no electricity. This is not because Hurricane Katrina ravaged the electrical grid; it is because the utility pole is not connected to the trailer. A trailer without electricity is about as useful as no trailer at all.
For each trailer delivered, scores of people seem to be involved -- contractors, subcontractors, sub-subcontractors, etc. One person drives the trailer to a site, and another backs the trailer into its space. A different crew unhooks the trailer, and still another places it on blocks and levels it. I see separate crews arriving to inspect the trailer, install the plumbing, provide temporary electrical service and hook the temporary electrical service to the utility pole.
While we debate what it will cost to help New Orleans rebuild, we also should debate how we can cut inefficiencies from the government's efforts. Each day, as I walk through neighborhoods speaking to the few residents I can find, I realize one thing: The money being spent by Washington is not helping the citizens of New Orleans get back on their feet. Instead, it seems to be helping contractors grow fat on pork.
- Although Greater New Orleans, Inc. reports that 70 percent of small business that were operational before Katrina are back up and running, few big businesses havc embraced the post-Katrina New Orleans. That is starting to change, however. The first 250 of Shell Oil's 1000 New Orleans workforce returned to their jobs today. The event was celebrated in Lafayette Square, complete with Cajun and Zydeco music and Cajun food. Northrup Grummund and Lockheed Martin are both back up and running, with a sizeable chunk of their pre-Katrina workforce. Many of the larger law firms have returned, and 90% of the hotels are back up and running. One of New Orleans largest employers, Smoothie King, has relocated to Clinton, MS and is contemplating making the move permanent.
- An article in the Chicago Sun-Times discusses a study done by a Brown University sociologist that suggests New Orleans could lose up to 80% of its black population. Using census data and FEMA maps, the study concluded the hardest hit areas of the city were 75% black, compared to only 46% black in the rest of the city. The study also found that in the damaged areas, 29% lived below the poverty line, compared to only 24% in the undamaged areas. Meanwhile, the Washington Post is reporting that students in predominantly Black colleges are returning in unprecidented numbers. Well over 50% of the students are returning to these colleges. This compares to a citywide return rate for residents of only about 33%. An article in the Louisiana Weekly also discusses race, and states that this is a opprotunity for Blacks and Whites to "come together and determine what will be best for the city." But they also state that "they can't do that by ignoring the elephant in the room - race."
I am so tired of hearing about race. Why can't we just be people? The fact is, New Orleans can't support people that can't support themselves. Arguments about social responsibility and such just don't apply in a city that has only enough habitable homes to house around 180,000 people. The fact is, if you don't have a job, you don't belong in New Orleans right now. This has nothing to do with race. When New Orleans is capable of supporting more people, it should take advantage of the opportunity to two things it hasn't done well in the past: educate and enforce its laws. A more educated population, regardless of race, will help lower crime. Enforcing laws and getting rid of what Police Chief Warren Riley recently called "the revolving door on the justice system in New Orleans" must step up and do the rest.
- A great article in the Miami Herald gives some of the best reasons yet for returning to New Orleans. I highly recommend you read it.
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