Dear Mr. President:
We are writing to express our profound dismay at your decision not to support Rep. Richard H. Baker's "buyout bill" for homeowner relief -- and astonishment at your suggestion that Louisiana lacks a plan. We know you don't like the idea of establishing "another federal bureaucracy," but in this extreme case -- the largest natural disaster ever to strike the U.S., leaving 200,000 homes destroyed and 400,000 residents in exile -- nothing less will do. Baker's plan is fiscally sound, respected by conservatives and liberals alike. In your speech from Jackson Square on Sept. 15, 2005, you promised "one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen." But you did not specify that aid would be available only for the 20,000 homes destroyed outside the federally insured flood zones. What do you say to the residents of the 185,000 other ruined homes, and the small business owners struggling to survive?
New Orleans was flooded by breaks in levees for which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible. From 2001 to 2005, your administration's budgets for New Orleans-area hurricane protection averaged one-fifth of the amount requested by Louisiana officials. After 2004, one of the worst hurricane seasons in decades, nearly $71 million was cut from the Corps' New Orleans district. Before Katrina, the levees could have been reinforced to withstand a Category 5 hurricane for about $2.5 billion -- an amount the U.S. spends every two weeks in Iraq.
We propose five priorities in which the federal government -- primarily the White House -- should take the lead:
1. Support -- and push Congress to pass -- Rep. Baker's Louisiana Recovery Corp. bill.
2. Give the Army Corps of Engineers a quick down payment of $5-$10 billion to plan and start building a robust Category 5-strength protection system for New Orleans.
3. Visit New Orleans for several days -- no more "drive-by, one-hour photo-ops" -- and bring Senate leaders with you. View the empty streets of Mid-City, Lakeview, Gentilly and the Lower Ninth Ward, then look us in the eye and tell us you're doing all you can.
4. Replace the ineffectual Donald Powell with an empowered, high-prestige director -- someone like Colin Powell -- to lead a large-scale public works program like Senators Kennedy and Gregg's Gulf Coast Rebuilding Plan, including a new Civilian Conservation Corps to help clean up the debris, repair infrastructure, and begin restoring the eroded coastline.
5. Totally overhaul and upgrade FEMA, independent of the Department of Homeland Security.
Mark LaFlaur Chairman,
My pal, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and I were sitting by the shore, gazing wistfully across Lake Pontchartrain, like we always do. I began to wax poetic about setting New Orleans "FREE!" But he flapped his wing across my mouth, and cut my poetry short. He said, "Look, it's a free country, so go ... ." OK, so my real point here is that New Orleans is a collection of people. When they go, New Orleans loses energy and talent. Let them go if they must, but let's not send them off with warm fuzzies. The people who are inspired enough to stay and contribute are the ones who deserve our attention and representation. Why would Gambit want to help its audience feel good about leaving?
There's the Door
In Internet jargon, there is a phenomenon known as "flouncing." The flouncer is never content to simply leave a message board or discussion forum he finds disagreeable; he must conspicuously announce that he is leaving, detail the inadequacies of the other posters, bemoan the cruel treatment he has received and, likely as not, sneak back to check the reactions to his flounce. Usually these reactions boil down to "Don't let the door hit your ass on the way out."
The people who find it necessary to write to the local papers announcing their departure from New Orleans because it has become an inconvenient place to live or is otherwise unable to meet their needs, as far as I'm concerned, are flouncers. The post-K city is a difficult place to be in many ways, and I don't begrudge your leaving if you feel you must, but please, spare us the smarmy platitudes about how you hope to return someday, presumably after the rest of us have cleaned it up and made it "fun" again. If you leave now, I don't think most people committed to New Orleans' renewal care whether you return or not. We'll get along fine without you, just as we've survived for hundreds of years without the "help" of pinheads who wanted to tell us what was wrong with our city without ever looking at what was right. Flouncers: don't let the door hit your ass on the way out. And that goes double if you quote "Jonathan Livingston Seagull."
Poppy Z. Brite