I just returned from a meeting in New Orleans. I hadn’t been there since several months before Hurricane Katrina; that visit, in May, at a lovely time of year in New Orleans was a very pleasant memory in contrast to the devastation that I know occurred, that I have seen pictured. Three and a half years later, the French Quarter, where we stayed, looks ok. Ten days before Mardi Gras, there are even big parades, to show New Orleans is “back”. But it is not back. On the way to and from the airport the devastation is still apparent, the ruined buildings and blue tarps on the roofs of the Ninth Ward obvious even from the highway. Our group spent an afternoon working, planting, well, plants at City Park, a 1300 acre (compared to 800 acres for NYC’s Central Park) largely privately supported venue that is near to Lake Ponchatrain and was devasted by the storm. It felt good to do the work, to know that in some small way we were contributing to the rebuilding of New Orleans.
But why has it taken so long? It seemed that, with all the articles published, all the criticism of FEMA, and Homeland Security, and GWB, and “Heckuva job, Brownie!” that there was no more to know. But there is. Two experiences in particular. My friend Pat, talking to a ranger at a local park, asked why the Dutch, with their expertise in dikes and land reclamation, had not been consulted. They had, he said, and had arrived two days before. Two days before! Three and a half years late! But the Army Corps of Engineers didn’t think it needed to learn from anyone. Of course, they – the Corps – just handed in their plan for rebuilding the levees two weeks ago. The one that was due in December, 2007. (The ranger noted, as a sidebar, that he had been in Biloxi, MS after the storm, and that the Dutch Army landed on the beach and helped to feed people. Thank you!)
The other involves the attached photograph, not very clear as it was taken with a cell phone of a sign pretty high on a wall. If you can’t read it, it says:
“Tulane Community Health Center at Covenant House. Sustained through a generous gift from the People of Qatar.” And to the right of the logo: “Qatar Katrina Fund.”
Very generous of the people of Qatar. I am certain that the Tulane Community Health Center is providing vital health care services to the people of that community thanks to the funds from the People of Qatar.
But I am the only one who feels just a little bad, a little nauseous, that the “richest country in the world”, the home of all those multibillionaire financiers and bankers who are still rich, even after the collapse of the economy that they engineered with the able assistance of the US government, must rely on the generosity of the people of Qatar to fund a clinic in one of its own cities, three and a half years after a major natural disaster?
Where are our priorities? Where have they been? Is it possible that anyone could feel a government, a nation, that pursued policies of socialism-for-the-rich while ignoring the most basic human needs of its own people, is not worthy of shame? And that anyone who doesn’t feel that way, the people who actually made and make up the government, the policy makers and the talking heads who supported them and still support the same disastrous policies, are not evil and probably criminals?
Where is our shame?