NEW ORLEANS -- Monday, two New Orleans journalists,
Jason Berry, who writes for New Orleans
magazine, and Lolis Eric Elie, columnist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune,
spoke at the National Press Club in Washington about the real nature of the
situation in New Orleans and surrounding parishes.
The picture they painted of the city is sobering.
Only some 100,000 people, out of a total population of 467,000, have returned
to New Orleans, just a month and a half before the famous Mardi Gras
celebrations. However, the national media and their corporate friends in the
urban development business, will paint New Orleans during the next Mardi Gras
celebration on February 28 as a city coming back from disaster. Nothing could
be further from the truth.
Without regular telephones and dealing with
unresponsive insurance companies, New Orleaneans and their neighbors in
adjoining parishes are living in a "cell phone hell" and experiencing
an insurance mudslide, according to Berry.
According to the two New Orleans journalists, post
traumatic stress syndrome is taking its toll on people from all walks of life
in the storm-ravaged area of the Gulf Coast. Filmmaker Stevenson Palfi, whose
credits include, "Piano Players Rarely Play Together," committed
suicide on Dec. 14, after having lost most of his property and possessions in
Dr. James Kent Treadway, a well-known pediatrician in
the Uptown district, also committed suicide in his damaged house on November
16. An increase in suicides is being reported from St. Tammany Parish and
incidents of murder-suicides are also increasing among evacuees in Louisiana
and Texas. In fact, today, psychoanalysis is one of the few booming businesses
in New Orleans.
The final death count from Katrina may never be
known. Many people were washed out to open waters. There is no one to claim the
bodies of the elderly and indigent.
There is a profound sense of abandonment in New
Orleans. FEMA has still not started moving transitional housing trailers into
the city, preferring to leave residents scattered across the country in
evacuation locations. Republican Mississippi received five times as much in federal
aid per household than Louisiana.
The two journalists reported that Louisiana Governor
Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin muzzled themselves after at
first criticizing Bush, because the president threatened them with abandonment
unless they stopped their criticism of the federal response. They are
apparently petrified of Bush after he threatened them with no assistance.
Berry pointed out that when Hurricane Betsy struck
Louisiana in 1965, Democratic Senator Russell Long called President Lyndon
Johnson and said, "My people are suffering." Johnson quickly summoned
Long to board Air Force One and they flew from Washington to New Orleans where
Johnson personally met with the affected people, black and white, rich and
poor. On the other hand, Bush's trip to New Orleans was a publicity stunt
punctuated with photo ops with carefully screened evacuees.
People in Louisiana who are trying to pay mortgages
on destroyed property are going bankrupt and have little protection in the new
bankruptcy law passed by the Congress and pushed by George W. Bush. FEMA
assistance is handed out randomly, according to a FEMA official in New Orleans.
The Archdiocese of New Orleans is talking about
closing half its churches in New Orleans, including some historical churches
like St. Augustine, home to the Tomb of the Unknown Slave and the second oldest
African-American Catholic church in the United States.
The Army Corps of Engineers is still not doing
anything on stopping the loss of the coastal littoral. Before Katrina,
Louisiana lost some 40 miles of coastline over the last three decades. Congress
has only appropriated $200 million for a coastal restoration study when $14
billion is required for coastal restoration and another $25 billion is needed
for Category 5 hurricane levee preparation.
In what may be a deal with the devil, Republican Rep.
Richard Baker's Recovery Corporation Bill would buy out destroyed properties
from their owners and resell them to exploitative developers. The situation on
land redevelopment is all the more ominous considering that some 300,000
indebted residents are no longer in New Orleans. And in a sign of the times,
Nagin and Blanco are not the most important people involved in New Orleans'
future. That honorific goes to Joe Canizaro, the head of First Bank & Trust
and New Orleans most important real estate developers. New Orleans is now
suffering under the dictatorship of competing redevelopment committees.
Bush's rhetoric about the improving national economy
rings hollow in New Orleans. New Orleans and the Gulf remain indelible and
shameful stains on Bush's otherwise dismal record of leadership and compassion.
WayneMadsenReport.com. All Rights Reserved.
Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based
investigative journalist and nationally-distributed columnist. He is author of the forthcoming book, �Jaded
Tasks: Big Oil, Black Ops & Brass Plates.� He is the editor and
publisher of the Wayne Madsen