[Dixielandjazz] FW: NY Times Sunday Editorial
brer.rabbit at tiscali.co.uk
Mon Dec 12 14:36:22 PST 2005
December 11, 2005
Death of an American City
We are about to lose New Orleans. Whether it is a conscious plan to let
the city rot until no one is willing to move back or honest paralysis over
difficult questions, the moment is upon us when a major American city will
die, leaving nothing but a few shells for tourists to visit like a museum.
We said this wouldn't happen. President Bush said it wouldn't happen. He
stood in Jackson Square and said, "There is no way to imagine America
without New Orleans." But it has been over three months since Hurricane
Katrina struck and the city is in complete shambles.
There are many unanswered questions that will take years to work out, but
one is make-or-break and needs to be dealt with immediately. It all boils
down to the levee system. People will clear garbage, live in tents, work
their fingers to the bone to reclaim homes and lives, but not if they don't
believe they will be protected by more than patches to the same old system
that failed during the deadly storm. Homeowners, businesses and insurance
companies all need a commitment before they will stake their futures on the
At this moment the reconstruction is a rudderless ship. There is no
effective leadership that we can identify. How many people could even name
the president's liaison for the reconstruction effort, Donald Powell?
Lawmakers need to understand that for New Orleans the words "pending in
Congress" are a death warrant requiring no signature.
The rumbling from Washington that the proposed cost of better levees is
too much has grown louder. Pretending we are going to do the necessary work
eventually, while stalling until the next hurricane season is upon us, is
dishonest and cowardly. Unless some clear, quick commitments are made, the
displaced will have no choice but to sink roots in the alien communities
where they landed.
The price tag for protection against a Category 5 hurricane, which would
involve not just stronger and higher levees but also new drainage canals and
environmental restoration, would very likely run to well over $32 billion.
That is a lot of money. But that starting point represents just 1.2 percent
of this year's estimated $2.6 trillion in federal spending, which actually
overstates the case, since the cost would be spread over many years. And it
is barely one-third the cost of the $95 billion in tax cuts passed just last
week by the House of Representatives.
Total allocations for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the war on
terror have topped $300 billion. All that money has been appropriated as the
cost of protecting the nation from terrorist attacks. But what was the worst
possible case we fought to prevent?
Losing a major American city.
"We'll not just rebuild, we'll build higher and better," President Bush
said that night in September. Our feeling, strongly, is that he was right
and should keep to his word. We in New York remember well what it was like
for the country to rally around our city in a desperate hour. New York
survived and has flourished. New Orleans can too.
Of course, New Orleans's local and state officials must do their part as
well, and demonstrate the political and practical will to rebuild the city
efficiently and responsibly. They must, as quickly as possible, produce a
comprehensive plan for putting New Orleans back together. Which schools will
be rebuilt and which will be absorbed? Which neighborhoods will be shored
up? Where will the roads go? What about electricity and water lines? So far,
local and state officials have been derelict at producing anything that
comes close to a coherent plan. That is unacceptable.
The city must rise to the occasion. But it will not have that opportunity
without the levees, and only the office of the president is strong enough to
goad Congress to take swift action. Only his voice is loud enough to call
people home and convince them that commitments will be met.
Maybe America does not want to rebuild New Orleans. Maybe we have decided
that the deficits are too large and the money too scarce, and that it is
better just to look the other way until the city withers and disappears. If
that is truly the case, then it is incumbent on President Bush and Congress
to admit it, and organize a real plan to help the dislocated residents
resettle into new homes. The communities that opened their hearts to the
Katrina refugees need to know that their short-term act of charity has
turned into a permanent commitment.
If the rest of the nation has decided it is too expensive to give the
people of New Orleans a chance at renewal, we have to tell them so. We must
tell them we spent our rainy-day fund on a costly stalemate in Iraq, that we
gave it away in tax cuts for wealthy families and shareholders. We must tell
them America is too broke and too weak to rebuild one of its great cities.
Our nation would then look like a feeble giant indeed. But whether we
admit it or not, this is our choice to make. We decide whether New Orleans
lives or dies
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