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Already Gone

what we loved about New Orleans was a result of what the victims hated

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, September 28, 2005.

Somewhere along the line, New Orleans became a social theme park as well as a musical one, only where the actors weren’t paid scale and where white middle class frat boys like our President could go and party in conditions that attend the Third World elsewhere. Everything was easy there, and the populace trained to accept its fate and pay scale over the centuries. Its destruction by two hurricanes may serve as metaphor alert or it may serve as social construct for a revitalized South. But wait, the Senate hearings are on......

It’s a great entertainment, watching the two major political parties at each other’s throats over the horrendoplasty that was the Katrina and Rita hurricane response. Let’s remember that any nasty things they say about each other are not mutually exclusive, and may all be true. Are the Republicans trying to manipulate the Gulf hurricane reconstruction into advantage for their business cronies? Are they only posturing as concerned guardians today because the administration made such a hash of it and exposed itself as staffed with clueless incompetents with ugly dye jobs? Are they trying to blame the victims? Why, yes! And since Tom DeLay has just been indicted by the vote of a Texas grand jury, they have to seem objective and honest. Despite the rain and cold here today in Boulder, it's a sunny one.

Are the Democrats in Louisiana trying to manipulate their apparent world class, letter sweater incompetence and corruption of long duration into perpetual victimhood to live off the dole of the rest of the nation? Yes, again! Did Mayor Nagin and his police chief, who just announced his retirement, have any clue what to do for this long predicted disaster? Um, apparently not. Did Mayor Nagin understand that crying wolf with his carefully crafted suggestion of 10k deaths in New Orleans alone would be resented by those areas of the Gulf that might have as high or higher death rates than New Orleans? Hard to say. Was it selfish? Oh, yes.

What isn’t being talked about, especially by the MoveOn-New Left crowd, is that aside from being a national jewel and beloved cultural and musical mecca, New Orleans was a criminal cess pit, and had been for centuries. It had the nation’s highest murder rate, and like all the world's ports, it had major drug, gun-running, and illegal immigration issues generally handled by corrupt labor unions on the docks. The population hated the local police because the police were crooked and uncaring to the needs of the poor, rarely responding to distress calls in those neighborhoods. Listening to the self-congratulations of the police chief and various officers for the last month has been surreal.

I predict that much of the 15% of the police force that vanished during the crisis will be revealed to have been taking care of their clients, who paid them on the sly. Or, being Nawlins, the not so sly. There was an easy and understood set of optional values in New Orleans. It had been like this forever, its own world, 20 % smaller than Denver and insulated from new blood for years.

Some of the warehouses that were flooded and then burned probably contained a lot of illegal and stolen goods. Many of the flooded houses featuring those who refused to evacuate probably had the drugs people were addicted to as well as those that kept the elderly alive, and which they could not get at under FEMA care. This is true of any large city. God only knows what would happen if parts of lower Manhattan and New Jersey were twenty feet below sea level and this had happened there, but a great deal of northern officialdom would have had strange priorities exposed, I’d wager.

As I’m writing this, Governor Blanco of Louisiana is being interviewed by the Senate Committee. She sounds as bad as Brown. Both Blanco and Mayor Nagin don’t seem to have much constructive to do because they had no plan, nothing prepared, no assets set aside. (There’s also that federal money supposedly to go into the flood wall construction and maintenance in the past that somehow was not done, with the money just vanishing, but this was before they took office.)

Former FEMA head Michael Brown, who testified yesterday, was indeed unqualified, and he remains clueless. New Orleans was one of the top three potential disasters for which FEMA was to prepare. A competent person would have set up personal relationships with the various local governments and known who the go-to people were, and who to avoid. Saying he was surprised that Louisiana was dysfunctional is an admission of his incompetence right there. He gave the impression he couldn’t locate New Orleans on a map, and his attempt to find shelter in partisanship bombed. GOP heartland states Texas and Mississippi also thought he’d failed big time. Given what Bush had done to FEMA, it’s probable no actually competent bureaucrat would take the job.

But Louisiana was incompetent and dysfunctional and much of this, not all, is its own fault. Much of what Brown said yesterday was true: the Bushies unfunded FEMA, he can’t be blamed for law enforcement and evacuation orders over which he had no control, and Nagin and Blanco have seemed oddly powerless.

We blame the politicos, but we're posturing as much as they are. How had we prepared for the end of New Orleans as a state of mind? Let's be honest. What most people loved about New Orleans - it's music, it's food - was a product of its chronic poverty. Should another ten generations of children have to attend the nation's worst schools to keep the rest of us in blues, jazz, strippers, and drugs? Because once New Orleans gets elevated in fact and promise, its cultural, historic, and unique qualities will die. It's just the way it is. You can't rebuild it. It's already gone, that violent, corrupt, and diverse city of Huey Long, Truman Capote, Louie Armstrong, Tennessee Williams, Nathan Forrest, and Jean Lafitte. Of Huegonauts, filibusterers, slave traders, nut jobs, and Kennedy assassins. And I say, on sober reflection, good.