This is What We Do

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Yeah, this is what we do.  We are citizen journalists.  Our media has failed us — for every good reporter and story there is a tsunami of dangerously false information being fed to the American public, causing human suffering and great damage that every blogger here knows the extent of all too well.

It is in this light that I write about something which may not seem terribly important in the midst of all the big scandals and campaign goings on.  But mark my words, this is important to us — as bloggers.

The NOLA blogs have been an invaluable source of real information for me since the Federal Flood destroyed America’s illusions on how much our federal government is willing to solve national problems.  Instead we saw our federal government head straight for the cash register and give out billions of our tax dollars and overwhelming federal agency powers to corporate and political cronies.

When the Federal Flood occurred, thousands of residents of public housing were forcibly evacuated from their homes, even though the homes themselves were not overly damaged in many cases.

And they were not allowed to return.

Now HUD and politicians in New Orleans are planning on demolishing this public housing, before real guarantees can be had that folks can have a home to return to in the so-called “mixed housing” that is being proposed.

The community has not been given the chance to give real input here.  Advocates for the poor, some of whom are truly humanitarian souls and others who are rabble rousers extraordinare, whose actions irritate as many as they inspire (for after all, poor folks rarely get slick lobbyists to represent them, that costs a bit, ya know), are trying to halt these demolitions.  One of the best things I saw was a video where a man simply stated these folks had leases and their rent was paid.  Think about that.  Think about being shoved out of your apartment when you had held up your end of the bargain, and not being allowed to return.  That’s just plain wrong.

And, of course, this has, unforgiveably, gone on over two long years.

My least favorite New York Times reporter, Adam Nossiter, wrote a recent article, With Regrets, New Orleans is Left Behind.

I’ve never agreed with Nossiter’s viewpoint on New Orleans, but there’s some interesting stuff in the article.  It speaks of those still living in the diaspora, and how they feel now that their entire neighborhoods have been scattered, neighborhoods that provided them a social network far outvaluing the money they made, folks who would watch their kids and watch their backs.

LAKE CHARLES, La. — With resignation, anger or stoicism, thousands of former New Orleanians forced out by Hurricane Katrina are settling in across the Gulf Coast, breaking their ties with the damaged city for which they still yearn.

They now cast their votes in small Louisiana towns and in big cities of neighboring states. They have found new jobs and bought new houses. They have forsaken their favorite foods and cherished pastors. But they do not for a moment miss the crime, the chaos and the bad memories they left behind in New Orleans.

This vast diaspora — largely black, often poor, sometimes struggling — stretches across the country but is concentrated in cities near the coast, like this one, or Atlanta or Baton Rouge or Houston, places where the newcomers are still reaching for accommodation.

The break came fairly recently. Sometime between the New Orleans mayor’s race in spring 2006, when thousands of displaced citizens voted absentee or drove in to cast a ballot, and the city election this fall, when thousands did not — resulting in a sharply diminished electorate and a white-majority City Council — the decision was made: there was no going back. Life in New Orleans was over.

Nossiter drones on about how folks have resigned themselves to living elsewhere than in NOLA.  But it still comes through, how they want to go back.

One of those interviewed:

“Where are the people, you know? Where are the people?” Ms. Shanklin said. “It’s like somebody threw a bomb on it.”  Now, she lives in a trim little house that Habitat for Humanity built in a curving subdivision of similar dwellings definitely unlike New Orleans.

The town of Houma is nearby, but there are fields all around, and it is quiet enough to hear birds. New Orleans noises — police sirens, traffic, honking car horns, children, hip-hop music — can be conjured only with difficulty. At night, Ms. Shanklin boasted, she opens her window and listens to the cows in the pasture.

But a year ago, she had a nervous breakdown and spent 10 days in the hospital. She missed New Orleans.

There is so much damage to human beings that cannot be undone.  But to add to it?  Not without a hell of a lot of witnesses, if I can help it.

The NOLA blogs have had some bumps in the road reporting about this.  Due to understandable annoyance at some of the more flamboyant and, well, annoying advocates for the poor, there has been too much distraction over what the real problem is.

Because it’s not just public housing that is slated for demolition.  There have already been too many demolitions done for the wrong reasons and in the wrong way, as is brilliantly researched and reported at Daily Kos by Matt McBride in his diary Demolished – A New Orleans Tale.

Of course, it’s all about money, all about it.

I urge you to read this incredibly well researched diary, but Matt sums it up well, both the problem and the solution:

So what do we have here? We have a city under a tight deadline to tear down nearly 2000 structures, with its credibility in Washington’s eyes on the line. We have a city department and a city committee that is very willing to flout city ordinances and cut citizens out of the process of determining the look and feel of the very fabric of their city. We have other bureacracies taking advantage of these facts to speed their own demolition plans without public notice. And we have federal dollars powering the whole process, meaning the city has no incentive to act as an honest broker. This is a runaway train that needs to be stopped now.

What needs to be done?

An immediate moratorium must be called on all demolitions until clarity can be brought to the entire process on behalf of the citizens.

The 70% rule must be repealed immediately. It has served as a huge loophole, and its exploitation and misapplication has led to hundreds of possibly illegal, city-sanctioned demolitions.

HCDRC, made up of mid-level city bureaucrats with little to no interest in historic preservation, needs to be shut down. Its’ functions should be moved under the jurisdiction of the HDLC, which has far more experience in these matters.

In light of the fact that city government bodies appear to be flouting local ordinances, the new DRC contract should be suspended until the whole process can be sorted out. FEMA will not be happy, but so be it.

The new City of New Orleans Inspector General needs to open a top-to-bottom investigation of the entire Safety & Permits department.

The Department of Homeland Security Inspector General would be well served to open an inquiry into the disposition of federal taxpayer funds to a municipality apparently willing to break its own laws to spend that money.

The citizens of New Orleans have been through far too much to deserve and demand anything less than full transparency and competence from their government. Hopefully this message will move the city toward that goal.

Dangerblond nails it when it comes to the lack of transparency in the local process (while, unfortunately, all too many other NOLA local blogs are trapped by the distraction of a woman on public assistance who happens to have a 60″ TV, yep, that’s the real story here — shades of Reagan’s great narrative of the welfare mother with the Cadillac — you’d think we’d be over falling for that by now).  But back to reality:

By all means, do read her post, but it’s in the comments that Dangerblond shines.  Another new meme being sent out to distract us over this issue is “valuing bricks over homes,” i.e., folks are all wrong to care about the bricks of an old (and possibly historic and better made, but that’s just my take) home and somehow “care” more about redevelopment and shiny promises of “mixed housing.”  Yeah, caring more about bricks than homes.  Lame.

Dangerblond has a great response to all this nonsense:

The fact is that people were driven out of here en masse 2.5 years ago and and no one has done anything about it. Now, the only possible choice that the city has been given is to turn the public property over to private real estate developers. Well, that is NOT the only choice, and not everyone is convinced that it’s the best. If our leadership thinks it’s the best choice, then they have to explain why, and they better be convincing. The way this situation has been handled has made people feel powerless. What else are we giving away?

I realize this project will create jobs, but I am not simply interested in jobs. Believe me, many of the workers will NOT be living in Orleans Parish, or paying sales/property taxes here. It is more critical that we have public services for the people who live in the development, not to mention the working poor and middle class that can’t get public housing. I am more impressed by a daycare center than by a mega-store that provides junk for people to buy.

I like Shelly Midura, she’s posted at Daily Kos and she wrote a kick-ass letter to Dubya when he visited New Orleans over the summer.  But if her plan is so great, it will not suffer from real transparency and input from the community, as well as real guarantees, for once that housing is demolished, there will be no turning back.

And I, for one, do not trust private developers nor do I trust HUD or Bush’s cronies not to pull every dirty trick in the book to profit off this at the expense of real New Orleanians who deserve better.

As citizen journalists, it’s a very good exercise to take a look every now and then at the Times-Picayune as they spread misinformation about what should be done both about public housing and the demolition of historic homes in the city that should never have been torn down.

This is a national issue.  And the distractions are already in place.  Poor folks are shiftless and lazy and all have giant TVs and eat, oh, I don’t know, big T-bone steaks every night.  Folks are too concerned over bricks and not over “homes.”  The advocates for the poor are obnoxious, so can’t we just all get along and until the poor get cooler advocates, not really do much about them?

This is what we do.  We cut through the bullshit to find the truth.  No one else is going to do this.  Sometimes we make mistakes and then we know damned well someone will let us know about that in no uncertain terms.

But if we don’t do this right, no one will.  Make no mistake about it.  This is a war against both the poor and the middle class, and if the powers that be can divide us against each other it’ll make it that much easier for them to fill their pockets even faster.

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  1. … the Orange place.

    • Tigana on December 20, 2007 at 3:31 am

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v

  2. and it is a real heartbreaker what continues to happen to it.

    Thanks for posting this essay and keeping the story in front of us.  If we relied only on Traditional Media, the only people who would know this story would be those in the NOLA diaspora and those trying to keep from entering it.

    • Tigana on December 20, 2007 at 3:42 am

    http://www.chron.com/disp/stor

  3. bit in the picture the big global picture. On the other hand it hits home, it is home and yet it is what we face globally. The fact that it’s the soul and heart of the south that we all love makes the overview of what is going down hit us in the gut  puts the picture in perceptive. This is it folks this is what’s in store for all of us those who think were protected and those who live on the edge (most of us). All our souls are on the line, not to mention our bodies.  

  4. you writing about this NPK. I really care about what’s happening and, if you don’t mind, would love to benefit from all the time and effort you spend staying current on what’s happening in NOLA.

    There is a thought that’s been mulling around in my head today that is bigger than just this issue, but I think it fits well here. I keep thinking about wanting to spend time “imagining.” It seems we’ve spent so much time being angry and reacting to how bad everything is – especially NOLA – that I feel like I’m loosing touch with what I WANT to see happen. So, in this instance, I want to spend some time imagining a sane response to NOLA and the whole gulf coast. I know we need to rail against what is currently happening, but I need a vision to keep focus on as well. Anyway, that’s just what I’ve been thinking about today.

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