Katrina Glasses

So we’re sitting on the couch the other night watching the President’s speech on his new plans for Iraq. He breaks into the part about how there will be new investments in infrastructure and rebuilding of Baghdad and surrounding areas. My wife turns to mean and says “yeah, but what about us?” The logic for rebuilding Iraq is pretty straightforward: if you break it, you must fix it. But from where we sit in New Orleans, we can’t view these discussions without wondering why that logic doesn’t apply to us. We’re American taxpayers that were made certain promises about the relative safety of our city and we were misled. Where is the moral imperative to rebuild us? Why is Iraq more valuable than our own Gulf Coast? Why do we spend more money there? Why are their citizens more valuable than us? Why is securing Iraq more vital to national security than securing our coasts and the lives of our citizens? What’s the point of homeland security if the homeland is going to be wiped out because of your shoddily built and maintained floodwalls?

Our lives now are inevitably filtered through the lens of Katrina. When we talk of the recent crime wave in our city, we inevitably refer to it as a “pre-K” phenomenon. You’ll hear people say things like, “Yeah, but that place was abondoned long before Katrina”. What has happened here is so much larger than people in the great elsewhere can truly understand. We live and breathe it every day — even those of us now living in the “isle of denial”. So when we look at national issues, it is pretty much impossible to divorce ourselves from the local context.

Incidentally if you haven’t read Becky Houtmann’s “Grimm Decisons“, go read it now.

Another glaring omission from the footprint argument is the acknowledgement that ours was an unnatural disaster, and that that fact figures significantly into both what risk property owners and dwellers thought they were assuming before Katrina, and what risk we’re facing after. The Post does acknowledges that the levees proved catastrophically fallible, but doesn’t factor in what every local now knows – that our degree of risk has far less to do with elevation than with the x-factor of where the next breaches might occur. Given that so far, the levees have been repaired mainly where they breached, and that miles of levees are still as substandard as before, everywhere but the repaired breaches will be under the same strain as before should a Katrina-like event happen again, with no telling which spots might give way first

What we know is vastly different than what that Post reporter is apparently able to comprehend.

Scott Harney

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