Remember New Orleans? It was a city in Louisiana at the mouth of the Mississippi River. Big port, lots of oil refineries, and they did a little bit of fishing, too. Used to be you could go just about anywhere there and run into colorful characters or interesting places. All that changed two years ago when a rather large hurricane hit the place.
You'd never know that to look on Google News today. I tried. There's not much there about how a major American city has been dying of neglect. Lynn Allen at Evergreen Politics seems to have noticed this, too. But hey, if Owen Wilson's feeling down who has time for trivia, right? Now, I'm not picking on Google News, mind you. It's just a good indicator of what's out there, and what people are reading.
Various blogs have been mired in the trivia, though.
Digby provided a well documented timeline of events on August 29, 2005, the day the hurricane came ashore. You'll note that President Bush had time to go to two separate venues to flog his dreadful Medicare plan, but didn't have time to answer Louisiana Governor Blanco's pleas for assistance. As Jane Hamsher points out, he did have time to slip Halliburton another sweetheart contract.
Back at EP, shoephone takes the tale from there:
On this second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, when guesses are percolating about which Bush crony or incompetent will be nominated for attorney general, I won't forget how Michael Chertoff, Director of Homeland Security, told NPR's Robert Seigel, just hours after flooding wreaked havoc on New Orleans, that there were lots of rumors swirling and so he was totally unaware of 1200 people languishing inside the convention center without food or water! Chertoff's willful ignorance was like a dare. Too bad NPR sent John Burnett out to report on the facts -- confirming the numbers, the lack of food and water and adding that two people were also lying dead in their wheelchairs inside the convention center, now teeming with stench and desperation and mayhem.
2-Year Anniversary of Katrina: The President's Empty Promises
Yes, what a glorious time! Michael "Brownie" Brown swung into action, which is to say he got his suitcase out, picked an appropriate wardrobe, and headed south. To see the wheels of government spinning with such efficiency was a wonder to behold, wasn't it?
It hasn't gotten any better since then. Depression and use of psychiatric medication is rampant there. Anyone who has seen or read any of Chris Rose's essays on New Orleans since Katrina knows just how bad things can be for its residents:
I pulled into the Shell station on Magazine Street, my car running on fumes. I turned off the motor. And then I just sat there.
There were other people pumping gas at the island I had pulled into and I didn't want them to see me, didn't want to see them, didn't want to nod hello, didn't want to interact in any fashion.
Outside the window, they looked like characters in a movie. But not my movie.
I tried to wait them out, but others would follow, get out of their cars and pump and pay and drive off, always followed by more cars, more people. How can they do this, like everything is normal, I wondered. Where do they go? What do they do?
It was early August and two minutes in my car with the windows up and the air conditioner off was insufferable. I was trapped, in my car and in my head.
So I drove off with an empty tank rather than face strangers at a gas station.
Hell And Back
I bet you'll be hearing and reading a whole lot more about Owen Wilson's battles with depression than you'll hear about New Orleans'.
New Orleans is now a place where much of the city is still uninhabitable, where garbage isn't collected, and where the justice system is overwhelmed. Construction work there entails the sort of hazards normally associated with Third World countries. And some of those colorful folks I mentioned? Phoenix Woman explains that some of them are just a bit too colorful, if you know what I mean. Looks like we can add New Orleans to Baghdad and Basra as cities the Bush Administration have made much worse.
Yet, shoephone points out, precious little has been done since then. Less, in fact, than was promised. You won't be reading about that in the news any time soon, I'll bet.
UPDATE (Aug 31): Part of the reason the courts are overwhelmed in New Orleans is that crime is also increasing:
The number of permits issued to carry concealed weapons is running twice as high as it was before Katrina — this, in a city with only about half its pre-storm population of around 450,000. Attendance at firearms classes and hours logged at shooting ranges also are up, according to the gun industry.
Gun dealers who saw sales shoot up during the chaotic few months after Katrina say that sales are still brisk, and that the customers are a cross-section of the population — doctors, lawyers, bankers, artists, laborers, stay-at-home moms.
Citizens, the tourism industry, police and politicians officials have been alarmed by the wave of killings in New Orleans, with 162 in 2006. A Tulane University study put the city's 2006 homicide rate at 96 slayings per 100,000 people, the highest in the nation.
National Guardsmen and state police are patrolling the streets of New Orleans. In neighboring Jefferson Parish, which posted a record 66 homicides in 2006, the sheriff sent armored vehicles to protect high-crime neighborhoods.
(April, 2007) New Orleans residents arming themselves ...
No wonder no one wants to get out of their cars.
UPDATE 2 (Sep. 2): An updated version of this article is cross-posted at Taylor Marsh's site.
UPDATE 3 (Sep. 2): Good grief, I'm just noticing this now? Corrected the text describing Digby's post to the correct year. The weather on Aug. 29, 2007 was considerably more pleasant in New Orleans, I imagine.