What Obama Must Do Now…

that he’s won Iowa, already has won in Dixville Notch, and could win New Hampshire’s primary today is live up to his campaign slogan

“Change We Can Believe In.”

He would be doing this by assuming leadership regarding an issue on which the Bush Administration has not led.

Namely New Orleans and Gulf Coast recovery, which need to be prominent in Obama’s campaign. Not only by front-paging it on his website, the first thing anybody including media people planning campaign coverage and debate topics sees, but also seizing this issue and making it his stand-out issue. While it is possible to find his rebuilding plan for that city and the communities devastated by Katrina and Rita, it’s buried below the fold.

During and after Katrina, Obama was supportive of New Orleans and her efforts to recover. So he should know New Orleans’ needs are great and must be prioritized. And that while Katrina may have happened 28 months ago, people in New Orleans are still living it as the Bush Administration is allowing her to die. This is why Obama needs to make the cause of New Orleans his own, come out vocally in support of her recovery, and make sure his plan is well-publicized. The life of a 300-year-old city and her people depends on it.

But in spite of the importance of this issue, New Orleans and Katrina as noted don’t have the above-the-fold position on Obama’s issues page. And how many (especially media people with tight deadlines) are going to do the digging to unearth Obama’s recovery plan? The fact that this is not front-paged seems to discount New Orleans’ flooding, the destruction of many coastal Louisiana and Mississippi communities, and the fact that many people’s lives have been turned upside down and Louisiana’s life snapped in half. Which have had a historic impact on America as a whole.

But not only are New Orleans and Katrina below the fold on Obama’s website, they aren’t even mentioned in the text on his issues page. What sort of message does this send to a New Orleanian or anybody else who cares about that city? Or to other Katrina and Rita survivors in the rest of the storm-battered communities of Louisiana, Mississippi, and the rest of the affected states? To me it sends the message that the recovery of New Orleans and everyplace else in the over Great-Britain-sized storm zone doesn’t seem matter as much to him as it should.

The people of New Orleans who are working very hard to rebuild their homes, their lives, and their beloved city amidst hardships, devastation, and Bush Administration criminal neglect not only deserve, but have a right, to have New Orleans and Katrina treated as a priority by Obama. And this also applies to people in the many communities of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, along Louisiana’s “Cajun Riviera,” and in her other storm-and flood-ravaged parishes—anyplace where Katrina and/or Rita turned people’s lives upside down.

I’m not going to argue with Obama’s above the fold issues: civil rights, the economy, education, energy and the environment, ethics, faith, the family, fiscal policy, foreign policy, health care, homeland security, immigration, Iraq, poverty, rural, service, seniors and social security, technology, and veterans. But this list is one issue short. It would be ideal in a parallel universe where Katrina did not destroy communities along the Gulf Coast and 80% of New Orleans did not flood, and people in Louisiana and Mississippi were not still in a world of hurt. Maybe this is the perfect issues page to some blissed out, clueless individual someplace like Iowa or New Hampshire. Who has never had to live through a disaster.

Someone who has never had to clean out and gut a debris-and mold-filled home. Or calm and comfort a child afflicted by nightmares who cries every time it rains and is having trouble in school. Or grapple with FEMA, insurance, or Louisiana’s frustrating Road Home program. Or struggle with his/her own depression and exhaustion brought on by having to deal with all of the above on top of his/her own psychological pain and losses, which wears a body down. Or perhaps is stuck in Houston, Atlanta or some other distant city, pining for New Orleans but unable to afford to move back.

It makes me physically ill to know how people in New Orleans and the rest of the disaster zone and evacuees must deal with all these things, and are still in agony physically, emotionally, mentally, and financially, yet based on his issues page, Obama seems to think this is not a major national issue. The following conversation on Daily Kos says it all:  

Children

Even my 12 year son gets extremely anxious when the news talks storms or the weather turns bad.  In fact, the unusual tropical storm last week caused significant anxiety…..

by chigh on Fri Dec 14, 2007 at 12:18:29 PM PST

It saddens and concerns me to read that….

Has that been a serious problem with him? And if so, has he been getting any help?…….

by Louisiana 1976 on Fri Dec 14, 2007 at 01:13:16 PM PST

Thanks for interest in my son.  To be honest there is not much consistent help available and the wait lists are months long.  Initially there was a lot of band aid stuff, but nothing long term.  We finally get to our appointment in January after a 5 month wait.    Yes, we actually had “serious” problems in January 2006.   He is writing an essay for school and Katrina is in there.  It just never goes away.

by chigh on Fri Dec 14, 2007 at 02:10:41 PM PST

The fact that this sort of thing has been going on is heartwrenching–and I’m not only very sad but also very angry in light of the fact that people in Louisiana–Americans–are in such anguish and Obama has trivialized their pain by having below the fold New Orleans and Katrina. His not even mentioning New Orleans in the text on his issues page makes me wonder if he cares about New Orleans to the extent that a presidential candidate should–or if he, like so many Americans including the Bush Administration and other politicians of both stripes have forgotten and abandoned New Orleans. And if New Orleans vanished it would make no difference to him.

New Orleans needs to be added to Obama’s front page list of issues and she needs to be added now. And above all, he needs to make the issue of New Orleans his own. Not only for the reasons given above, but also because all of his above the fold issues have some sort of New Orleans, Louisiana, or Katrina relevance, which was not mentioned in the front-page text on these issues:

1.) Civil rights. It’s well-known that, while the effects of New Orleans’ flooding and Katrina’s and Rita’s destruction cut across all racial, class, and cultural lines, Bush Administration operatives watched the mainstream media the way everyone else did–and saw mainly poor, black people. Read Louisiana’s Relationship From Hell for Michael Eric Dyson’s description of what was going on. And this is corroborated by the following, from justiceforneworleans.org:

Republican interests are clearly not served by the return of all African-Americans to New Orleans. Louisiana was described before Katrina as a “pink state” – one that went Democratic some times and Republican others. The tipping point for Louisiana Democrats was the deeply Democratic African American city of New Orleans. Immediately after the hurricanes struck, one political analyst said “the Democratic margin of victory in Louisiana is sleeping in the Astrodome in Houston.” Tiny turnout by African-American voters in New Orleans in recent elections has led white Republican interests to calculate immediate new political gains. Demolition of thousands of low-income African American occupied apartments only helps that political and racial dynamic.

Obama needs to take a firm stand aqainst what is essentially ethnic cleansing–if not outright cultural genocide–by the Bush Administration.

2.) The economy. While many others seem to be pre-occupied by the sub prime lending/mortgage situation, homelessness–due to the lack of affordable housing–is now a major problem in New Orleans. Which it never was before the flood. Read

Homeless Homeowners Sleeping Under Bridge, NOLA: Just Arrest Them So We Can Do Business, NOLA: From The Overpass To The Underpass, Our Democracy Broke When That Levee Broke, and Hope Or Destruction In New Orleans for more not only on homelessness in New Orleans but also on the fact that the federal government wastefully wants to demolish fixable public housing. I realize that the projects are a sore point for some, and I wouldn’t want to live in such housing myself, but New Orleans has a growing homelessness problem which will only be made worse when FEMA trailer parks close. The projects, if fixed up, could provide temporary housing until a decent permanent alternative the poor can afford comes about. And refurbishing public housing would also provide employment. And here’s another economic problem New Orleans has been experiencing:

Service People

There are not enough and we can’t get the flow right.  It is feast or famine.  Really hard to schedule and the restaurants are just not operating efficiently.  

by chigh

I imagine this ties in with the lack of affordable housing. Because the majority of people in service positions–servers, cleaners, etc.–either earn the minimum wage, or, in the case of restaurant waitstaff, probably earn less than that because tips are expected to make up the difference. So who can blame people who expect to earn low wages for not moving back to New Orleans?

3.) Education. New Orleans’ school system is not sufficient for a city even of her diminished size. Children have been staying home because there’s not enough room for them in the few schools that are open. And many schools remain shuttered because their neighborhoods are far from being repopulated. Which is a waste when such schools can be cleaned out, fixed up, and attended by children now unable to attend school who could be bussed in. See Return To Jean Gordon Elementary for the story of such a school and its neighborhood, Gentilly, which like the Lower 9th, was devastated and has been very slow to recover. Extremely controversial is what happened to New Orleans’ school system after Katrina. All of her teachers were fired and all of the public schools still open have been converted to charter schools. Unlike public schools, charter schools are not subject to federal laws governing schools–so they can exclude disabled children or anybody else they want to exclude.

4.) Energy and the Environment. Firstly, Louisiana is one of this nation’s top oil producers, and were she receiving her fair share of the oil royalties, which she hasn’t been, she would be bringing in enough money to rebuild New Orleans and restore her coastline which has been washing away. Louisiana’s coastline is vanishing at the startling rate of a football field every half-hour. If this is not stopped, eventually oil installations near her shore will be exposed to the corrosive effects of salt water. For more on Louisiana’s threatened wetlands see Land Or Water: Coastal Louisiana. Secondly, Katrina was, if not the biggest, one of America’s biggest environmental disasters. The storm and flooding brought about chemical leaks. Also, when the toxic floodwaters of New Orleans receded, they left behind all sorts of pollutants including lead, arsenic, asbestos, and other heavy metals in such places as playgrounds, schoolyards…all over. People cleaning out their homes and gutting them are being exposed to toxic dusts and molds which have been contributing to New Orleans’ elevated post-Katrina death rate.

5.) Ethics.  Katrina recovery has been an ethics cesspool. First of all, there have been no-bid contracts going not to companies charging the lowest rates, but to those best connected to BushCo and the GOP. And here’s info on the role Blackwater has been playing in New Orleans. Now let’s take a look at Mississippi. That state, even though Louisiana suffered 80% of the damage including 80% of New Orleans, has been receiving a disproportionate share of the recovery funds. See Divide And Conquer: Bush’s Gulf Strategy for more details. Perhaps this wouldn’t be so bad were funds intended for Mississippi’s recovery actually been going to those who need it. But in the tradition of someone like Pervez Musharraf and other corrupt leaders overseas, Gov. Haley Barbour has instead been seeing that these funds go to himself and members of his family and friends. More in this  diary.

6.) Faith. Many faith-based groups have been helping with disaster clean-up and recovery in New Orleans and along the Mississippi Gulf Coast–and while they have done a lot, they can’t do everything that needs to be done to bring a city back, such as rebuild infrastructure.

7.) The Family. Katrina played havoc with both families and communities as it flooded neighborhoods and forced their people to disperse. And the stresses of rebuilding are taking their toll mentally and emotionally. Especially spirit-shredding is how both extended families and the social networks of neighborhood friendships were torn apart by the flooding. Around Katrina’s second anniversary, I read about how this has been causing a lot of depression among New Orleans’ black women. And if there ever was a city that needs help strengthening families and her communities–devastated neighborhoods–she would have to be post-Katrina New Orleans. And here’s another painful symptom of Louisiana’s post-flood emotional turmoil–domestic violence springing from the stress of dealing with recovery issues has increased. For more about New Orleans’ families and neighborhoods and how their having been torn apart has been having a deleterious impact on survivors’ health and lives, read Gentilly Friday, NOLA Speaks: Meet New Orleans East, NOLA Speaks: Meet Jennifer And Eva, and NOLA: Forget Me Not-Meet Pearl And Margie.

8.) Fiscal. This country’s financial priorities under the Bush Administration have been topsy-turvy. First of all, Bush caused New Orleans’ flooding because he cut the Army Corps of Engineers’ budget for maintaining the levees in order to pay for tax cuts for the rich. Secondly, we have been throwing money overseas like so many Mardi Gras beads. We need a Marshall Plan for New Orleans and for all the coastal communities devastated on 8/29. We should not be letting New Orleans rot.

9.) Foreign Policy. When Katrina and New Orleans flooding was going on, the clueless Bush Administration either rejected or otherwise squandered aid sent from overseas–including rescuers. It was if someone in the Bush Administration had cruelly wanted people in Louisiana to die. wonder how many people would still be alive today and how well New Orleans’ recovery would be coming along had BushCo done the right thing and accepted this aid.

10.) Health Care. New Orleans’ health care system is in critical condition. What better context–and setting–for Obama to discuss his ideas on health care? And Louisiana is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Her mental health system is shattered at the very worst time when her anguished people most need its comfort. Especially distressing is the fact that Louisiana children are suffering the same symptoms as soldiers returning from war–flashbacks, nightmares, etc. And even more horrendous, per this piece on the Lindy Boggs Medical Center by Nightprowlkitty, developers are planning on building a strip mall on the property. For more on this health care crisis read The Destruction Of Health Care In New Orleans, BushCo’s Mental Cruelty Towards Louisiana, Louisiana’s Hurting Children Need Comforting, Too and Louisiana and Mississippi Children Still Suffer.

11.) Homeland Security. How good a job did the Bush Administration’s FEMA, which has been a part of the Department of Homeland Security, do during Katrina, at “protecting our homeland?” Brownie did a “heckuva job.” Would he have done a better job had there been a terrorist attack instead?

12.) Immigration. There’s been a controversy in New Orleans due to the fact that immigrants from places like Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Bolivia have been working as day laborers at reconstruction and it’s not certain whether or not they’re documented. To beat the lack of affordable housing many have been living in their trucks or have moved into abandoned homes whose owners still are in the diaspora.

13.) Iraq. Louisiana’s National Guard had been so badly decimated by deployments to Iraq, it was unable to respond effectively to the onslaught of New Orleans’ flooding, which drowned the Jackson Barracks, New Orleans’ National Guard base.

14.) Poverty. Who not only were affected the worst by the storm and flood, but are now suffering the most in its aftermath? Many of New Orleans’ poor were scattered to such far-off places as Houston, Atlanta, and Salt Lake City by Katrina and now, homesick for Louisiana, are unable to return because of the lack of affordable housing in New Orleans. And as noted above, many who have come back to New Orleans are now homeless.

15.) Rural. Katrina and Rita had a destructive impact on agriculture in the storm zone as well as on communities.

16.) Service. Obama should call for some sort of government-sponsored service group that would help clean up and rebuild in the wake of Katrina and New Orleans’ flooding. Unbelievably, about 2 1/2 years after 8/29, there is still a lot of debris laying around.

17.) Seniors and Social Security. Many seniors were among those unable to evacuate New Orleans when evacuation orders were given, due to lack of transportation or to being disabled or too ill to go anywhere (like those who ended drowning or otherwise dying, trapped in nursing homes). Or perhaps they’d stayed and ridden out earlier storms and just didn’t want to leave their homes.And included among the evacuees unable to return to New Orleans are seniors. Their plight is especially heartbreaking. The stress of going through the flooding, being rescued from rooftops, and other harrowing experiences such as being stranded on overpasses or in the Dome or Convention Center, followed by evacuation to strange, distant cities combined with the loss of familiar people and places and their routines has pushed many over the edge physically and mentally. Not only those already frail or chronically ill or disabled, but those who’d been healthy before the storm are coming back to New Orleans in boxes. And then there are the elderly in New Orleans who, surrounded by her desolate, ruined landscapes and the loss of familiar landmarks, are becoming depressed and are “giving up” and dying.

18.) Technology. This would cover our nation’s infrastructure and communications. Katrina caused many communications systems in the storm zone to go down and that was part of the problem regarding response to it. As for our infrastructure, New Orleans’ levees need to be upgraded to Category 5 so the people will feel more secure there. Cat 5 levees could persuade more evacuees to return to New Orleans.

19.) Veterans. First of all, among New Orleans’ many homeless are veterans. According to an article I read in November, Louisiana is one of the three states with the highest population of homeless vets. Secondly, during Katrina, New Orleans’ VA hospital was flooded and there are plans to tear it down when rebuilding plans haven’t been finalized.

Bear with me for the extensive reading list, but these diaries and other info on a variety of New Orleans and Katrina topics show why New Orleans and Katrina are a valid campaign issue. Obama needs to take up this cause–the need is urgent. And front-paging New Orleans and Katrina is the way Obama can show anybody who visits his website including the media that he considers New Orleans and Katrina important issues. Because when a media person with a tight deadline won’t take the time to look below the fold, he/she will come to the conclusion that New Orleans and Katrina don’t matter as a campaign issue.  Perhaps in the future I’ll bring up Clinton’s and Edwards’ websites, which also haven’t front-paged New Orleans and Katrina–but Obama’s is today’s topic because he won Iowa and could win New Hampshire.

Obama and Edwards have been on my short list, and I’m conflicted about both. For a while I’d been leaning towards Edwards because of the fact that he’s made the most visits to New Orleans including having kicked off his campaign in the Lower 9th and starting his “Two Americas’ tour there. But I’m not entirely comfortable with Edwards.

As for Obama, I’ve seen some things I like better about him character-wise than about Edwards. I even voted for Obama back in 2004 when he ran for the Senate, before New Orleans became an issue. I wish I could believe in him the way the author of this personal, sensitive, eloquently-written diary does. And I was moved to tears by this following comment by the diarist, who is from New Orleans, under her diary:

Last year during Mardi Gras

I was at a parade.  There’s often a Marine corps that marches along with the krewe.  

Well, this Marine corps comes marching up behind a school band and I lost it.  The next thing I know, my face is all red, my chin and bottom lip are quivering and I’m trying not to cry.  I’m standing in the midst of massive devastation, my country has forsaken me and is sending our sons and daughters off to die for a lie and a country that condones torture.

I’ll be so glad when that motherfucker is out of office.  Plus, I’d really like to see him tried as a criminal.

by nolalily

I guess since she’s a true believer in Obama this makes me an agnostic. I just hope that, if Obama wins the general election, he doesn’t tell New Orleans to get in line or let her and New Orleans down by putting New Orleans on the back burner behind everything else that will have to cleaned up after eight years of BushCo. I’m afraid this is what will happen in a case of

“Meet the old boss…same as the old boss!”

because New Orleans and the survivors in the diaspora don’t have any noisy special interest groups yelling for attention to their needs. And the mainstream media have rarely if ever been covering her anymore. When I don’t even know if New Orleans has until Jan. 21, 2009.

Here’s another resaon I’ve my reservations regarding Obama’s commitment to New Orleans. Early in 2007 before he announced his candidacy, he participated in a hearing held in New Orleans and heard from citizens of that city. He also toured New Orleans’ devastated areas. Obama was quoted as  saying,

“I think it made a lot of people in New Orleans and Louisiana and those that are concerned all across the country wonder whether we’re in danger of actually forgetting New Orleans. That’s shameful. We should be ashamed if we forget.”

But it seemed that once he crossed the Louisiana state line Obama had forgotten. There must be something strange in the water inside the Beltway because, once back on Capitol Hill, Obama immediately got to work. Not on anything that would have helped make Louisiana whole and relieve her people’s suffering, but on Iraq. This left a sour taste in my mouth.

We need not only to do everything we can to keep attention focused on New Orleans, but also to demand not only that Obama but that the rest of our Democratic candidates start acting like true Democrats and not only front-page New Orleans on their websites, but also to step forward with bold initiatives on New Orleans and the rest of the area affected by Katrina and Rita. We also need to demand that the MSM cover their plans and ask about them in presidential debates. And we must demand a debate held in New Orleans. For it’s bad enough that BushCo, by its neglect, is letting New Orleans die s slow, painful death. It would be worse were we to remain collectively silent instead of speaking out and demanding that our candidates take this on as a major issue.

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5 comments

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  1. Particularly the way you tie post-Katrina recovery to the “above the fold” issues.

    I do think you’re a little harsh on Obama — as the factsheet you link mentions, he not only has solid plans, he’s already taken concrete helpful steps in the Senate.

    He also identifies the underlying problems exposed in the aftermath of Katrina in his famous speech:

    And so I hope that out of this crisis we all begin to reflect – Democrat and Republican – on not only our individual responsibilities to ourselves and our families, but to our mutual responsibilities to our fellow Americans. I hope we realize that the people of New Orleans weren’t just abandoned during the Hurricane. They were abandoned long ago – to murder and mayhem in their streets; to substandard schools; to dilapidated housing; to inadequate health care; to a pervasive sense of hopelessness.

    He recognizes that a proper rebuilding of the Gulf Coast to what it ought to be involves more than just higher levies, or temporary housing, or a little cash to cover basic costs. I’m not claiming this insight into the inequality of our society is unique to Obama, please don’t misunderstand, but he does “get it” and I’m confident based on his past actions and his plans that he would do a capable job assisting with post-Katrina recovery.

    Anyway, I agree with you that this issue is important and deserves more attention, and I think it’s a natural fit for Obama to emphasize.  

  2. For a while I’d been leaning towards Edwards because of the fact that he’s made the most visits to New Orleans including having kicked off his campaign in the Lower 9th and starting his “Two Americas’ tour there. But I’m not entirely comfortable with Edwards.

    How can anyone warm up to an invisible man?

    I guess it’s not unreasonable for a Louisianian to be concerned more than most about corruption but when one candidate makes New Orleans a centerpiece in his campaign and others pay a bit of lip service before forgetting, it seems to me the choice would be rather obvious.

    Best,  Terry

  3. It’s not just Obama.  I don’t understand how this isn’t in the top 3 issues of each of the candidates. This been an unmitigated and complete outrage from the beginning. I want to see serious plans on this from the candidates.  Without that they aren’t worth a cup of warm spit.

  4. The heartbreak is not about to go away until people, not just candidates, start to remember Katrina and its people.  It seems now that 2 years have gone by, people probably just assume that things are going along alright for the Louisianans.

    Here’s a lady who definitely has not forgotten and it is an article well worth reading by all.

    [Note: The following interview with former Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney is reprinted from issue No. 268 of the ILC International Newsletter (Jan. 8, 2008), published weekly in multiple languages in Paris. The interview was conducted for the ILC International Newsletter by Alan Benjamin on Jan. 5. To contact the ILC, the Reconstruction Party Organizing Committee, and the Cynthia McKinney for President campaign, see the “Afterword” at end of the interview.] . . . .

    Question: You recently issued a statement announcing that as a presidential candidate you would use your campaign to promote the building of a Reconstruction Party in the United States. You are now serving on the newly formed National Organizing Committee for a Reconstruction Party. Why is this important to you?

    McKinney: More than two years ago, the world got to see what many of us live on a daily basis in this country. They saw the Black community in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast decimated by government neglect. They saw a community targeted by ethnic-cleansing. Throughout this country there are still communities that are desperate because of generations of poverty and neglect.

    The world now knows this terrible situation exists in the very heart of a country that is touted as the most “prosperous” and “democratic” in the world.

    This situation has gone on way too long. The mainstream politicians want it simply to go away. They want to erase the color line. But while they and their media change the subject — preferring to give us every detail about what Brittany Spears wore when she was arrested, for example — and while no one deals seriously with growing poverty and racism in this country, things only get worse.

    It was only after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita that some folks in the Gulf Coast realized there is a desperate need to build a Reconstruction Movement because all the palliatives offered by the politicians haven’t worked and because there are pockets of neglect all over the country — not just in the Gulf states. . . .

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