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Archive for the ‘Relief/Recovery’ Category

Rising Tide Update: “Category 5 General” Russel Honoré Is Keynote Speaker

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

Atlanta Falcons v New Orleans SaintsThree-star general hailed as “John Wayne dude” by former N.O. mayor Ray Nagin

The  annual Rising Tide conference has been ramped up to a whole new level: the keynote speaker will be Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré, the no-nonsense “Category 5 General” who took command of Joint Task Force Katrina that coordinated military relief efforts following the August 29, 2005, hurricane and resulting “federal flood” of the city of New Orleans.

The 8th annual Rising Tide conference will be Saturday, Sept. 14, at Xavier University in New Orleans. Please see below for details about panels and other conference attractions. Registration (only $20) is still open; all are welcome. Click here for a map to Xavier University.

Honoré, a Louisiana native (born in Lakeland in Pointe Coupee Parish) and graduate of Southern University, was designated commander of Joint Task Force Katrina by President George W. Bush two days after the storm. Amid official incompetence from local to federal levels, Honoré exhibited decisiveness and a gruff management style, but also restraint and a local’s understanding of the people he had been sent to assist. He knew that the task force was on a relief mission, and barked at one soldier who had flashed his weapon at a New Orleanian in a threatening way, “We’re on a rescue mission, damn it!”

“Now, I will tell you this—and I give the president some credit on this—he sent one John Wayne dude down here that can get some stuff done, and his name is Gen. Honoré. And he came off the doggone chopper, and he started cussing and people started moving. And he’s getting some stuff done.” —former New Orleans mayor C. Ray Nagin

Rising Tide is delighted to welcome Lt. Gen. Honoré. Copies of his new book, Leadership in the New Normal, will be available for sale.

An Aug. 29 interview with Lt. Gen. Honoré by WWNO ’s Jim Engster on the eighth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, including remarks about the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, can be heard here. See also the expansive Washington Post profile, “The Category 5 General” (Sept. 12, 2005), CNN.com’s profile., and Lt. Gen. Honoré’s impressive curriculum vitae. • Historical note: In his interview with Jim Engster, Honoré mentions in passing that at the time he went to Rosenwald High School in New Roads, La. (class of ’66), the school was segregated: all-black. (As Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead; it’s not even past.”)

[ Because of health issues in her ongoing recovery from a gunshot wound in the Mother’s Day parade shootings in the Seventh Ward on May 12, 2013, the previously scheduled speaker, Deborah Cotton of Gambit Weekly, will not be able to appear. We wish Ms. Cotton well—and the other victims of that shooting, too—with a full and speedy recovery. (Contributions to a fund to help Deborah Cotton with her medical bills can be sent here.) ]

Rising Tide panels

Click here for more schedule details.

•  Creating Community for Writers of Color: MelaNated Writers Collective

•  Beyond Tourism Beyond Recovery

•  Charter School Access & Accountability

Second Stage: Tech School

•  Working with Bloggers

•  Personal Branding: When You Are What You’re Selling

•  Using Visual Tools in Online Promotion

•  Content Marketing

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More about Rising Tide

Past featured speakers have included David Simon (co-creator of HBO’s Treme and The Wire); the actor and activist Harry Shearer; N.O. geographer and historian Rich Campanella; Treme-born writer Lolis Eric Elie, director of the documentary Faubourg Treme: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans; former Tulane professor of history Lawrence N. Powell, author of The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans; Mother Jones human rights and environmental reporter (Ms.) Mac McClelland; and authors John Barry, Dave Zirin, and Chris Cooper and Bobby Block.

Click here for a listing of previous Rising Tide programs, with links to videos and more.

Like Rising Tide on Facebook (don’t forget to share!), follow Rising Tide on Twitter (remember to retweet!), and check for programming updates on the Rising Tide Conference Blog or Rising Tide website. Visualize Rising Tide at the RT Flickr site.

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For more information, please see our earlier post, “Rising Tide 8 is Sept. 14 in New Orleans: Register Now!

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Happy Thanksgiving to You: Much to Be Grateful For

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving! We hope you and your friends and family have much to be thankful for this year, and that you’re able to spend the day with people you love. We wish you a festive gathering over a Thanksgiving dinner with good food and drink, and happy memories of the day.

Among the things we’re grateful for is the massive, energetic volunteerism by hundreds of thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds all over the USA to re-elect President Obama (more about this in a post to come) and to elect liberal and progressive Democrats to Congress, including many women. This engagement by young and old shows the power of the people—“citizens united” indeed—over big-dollar corporate influence, and we trust it will result in some good legislation, and defense against bad bills.

Just weeks after Superstorm Sandy battered the East Coast, we are thankful for a president whose administration is responsive to natural disasters (and proactive in preparing, too). We know from all-too-bitter experience that it doesn’t always happen this way. Proving that government can be a force for the public good—and that taxpayers’ dollars can help here at home—FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, the National Guard and other agencies have been helping New Jersey, New York, and other areas rebuild from Sandy. We are also grateful to the many good-hearted volunteers who have contributed money and supplies and their own muscle to help people whose homes were destroyed or damaged.

Please consider making a donation to the Red Cross today. Click here or phone 1-800-HELPNOW or text “RedCross” to 90999. Even $5 or $10 can help buy food, water, bandages, batteries, blankets, and other necessities. Thank you.

We are also grateful, and relieved, that Israel and Hamas in Gaza have agreed to a cease-fire (thanks to persuasive intervention by President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi). We pray it lasts and that peacemakers may prevail (esp. in the proximity of already-burning Syria). For more about this situation and other Middle East affairs we recommend Prof. Juan Cole’s blog Informed Comment.

Showing Thanks to Veterans

Today, and so soon after Veterans Day, we don’t want to forget the millions of active-duty troops and the veterans who have fought in the wars since 2001. We opposed the second war and the prolongation of the first, but nevertheless we believe all the servicemen and women deserve good training, equipment, and excellent health care (physical and psychological) during and after their tours of duty. They deserve lifelong care.

This morning we did what we meant to do on Veterans Day: Donated again to the Iraq Veterans Against the War and to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). These organizations do good work and deserve the support of millions of civilians on whose behalf these veterans have served, risking their lives. If each one of us gives just $25—or even 10 or 20—that money can go a long way to helping veterans in need. Among other things, the groups are pressuring the shamefully tardy Veterans Administration and the U.S. Congress that funds it to move faster on processing veterans’ applications for health care. (See IAVA statement here.) The backlog is approaching 1 million claims, and many vets have to wait a year or more just to hear if they’re going to get help or not. Many members of Congress love to vote for wars; they just never want to pay for them.

See our blogroll, bottom right, under “Anti-War,” for links to IAVA, IVAW, and other organizations that work for veterans and their families. If you can, please make a contribution today.

Thanks.

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Thanks and Homage to President John F. Kennedy

One last thing: We cannot let the convergence of 11/22 and Thanksgiving go by without paying homage to one of our most admired presidents, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who was slain on this day 49 years ago in Dallas. We are not referring to the “glamour” of the “Camelot” mythology, but rather to the president’s strong insistence on working for peace, for finding diplomatic solutions to crises whenever possible—the Cuban Missile Crisis is the example par excellence—and his (admittedly cautious) support for civil rights, among other deeds to be thankful for. Did we miss something, or were there not any commemorations, in print or elsewhere, of the successful averting of nuclear war in the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962), whose 50th anniversary passed this October?

Below are a few words from his great commencement address at American University in June 1963, perhaps his clearest evocation of America’s responsibility and opportunity to set an example toward a more peaceful coexistence with the nations of this fragile planet:

What kind of peace do I mean? What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children—not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women—not merely peace in our time but peace for all time. . . . 

Today the expenditure of billions of dollars every year on weapons acquired for the purpose of making sure we never need to use them is essential to keeping the peace. But surely the acquisition of such idle stockpiles—which can only destroy and never create–is not the only, much less the most efficient, means of assuring peace. 

I speak of peace, therefore, as the necessary rational end of rational men. I realize that the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war—and frequently the words of the pursuer fall on deaf ears. But we have no more urgent task. . . . 

So, let us not be blind to our differences—but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal. . . . 

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See last year’s tribute to President Kennedy here.

For a generous sampling of President Kennedy’s speeches, we recommend the book + CD Let Every Nation Know: John F. Kennedy in His Own Words by Robert Dallek and Terry Golway (2006). Each of 34 speeches is introduced, but transcripts are not provided. For transcripts, see the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum, under the tab “JFK.”

We highly recommend James W. Douglass’s JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters (2010), with special emphasis on his often behind-the-scenes efforts toward peace.

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Ask Not “Why Live There?”—Ask “How Can I Help?”

Saturday, November 3rd, 2012

[ cross-posted at Daily Kos ]

Please Give to Red Cross

We just made a donation to the American Red Cross. We’re asking all our readers to please make a donation if you can. Click here or phone 1-800-HELPNOW or text “RedCross” to 90999. Even $5 or $10 can help buy food, water, bandages, batteries, blankets, and other necessities for people hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. Thank you.

Click here and here for lists of volunteer opportunities and relief efforts that could use your help. Merci.

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Ask “How did you do?” and “How can I Help?”

Who can forget the question asked repeatedly after Hurricane Katrina, “Why do they live there?” The question was usually spoken with a tone of contempt or exasperation, and without sympathy, perhaps out of impatience after days of seeing “those people”—poor, forlorn—on TV screens where faces of “that complexion” were rarely seen. Maybe it was a Fox News–type of question. If those people just had sense enough to evacuate . . .

Now the same can be asked of those who live—as we do—in the largest, most densely populated metropolitan area in the United States, along the heavily populated upper Atlantic Seaboard. “Why do they live there?” is a fair question, as long as it’s not asked with contempt, without compassion. It could be asked as well of those who live in other at-risk areas such as Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, the Netherlands, or low-lying coastal areas of India, Bangladesh, and so on. It can also be asked of people in Tornado Alley in the central United States. Just about every spot on earth has its hazards, as we know.

The fact is, for very logical, practical reasons, humans have always tended to live near water. And, though it may seem strange, water often tends to be near coastal areas, which are sometimes prone to high tides, severe storms, and worse. (Inland people, too, can be flooded: Just ask Cairo, Ill., Memphis, Vicksburg . . .) On Wednesday Rachel Maddow showed a map identifying the population centers along the coasts of the United States: some 63 million residents, amounting to one-fifth of the U.S. population. Nineteen million in and around New York City, nearly 13 million in metro Los Angeles, and millions more in and around New Orleans, Miami, Tampa, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, and so on. Is “Why do they live there?”—in the sense of “How could they be so stupid?”—a reasonable question of all these people?

In a letter to the editor of the New York Times printed Nov. 1, Suzette Marie Smith of New Orleans wrote:

We could not have said it better. We hope everyone will take Ms. Smith’s lesson to heart. Have compassion for your fellow Americans. We live in a time of extreme weather in all forms, and, though we hope not, next time it could be you, whether you live on a coast or in the middle.

Click “Read More” for dramatic photos of what Sandy left behind

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Gov. Cuomo cites “dramatic change in weather patterns”

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Sees Evidence of Climate Change, Need for Upgraded Infrastructure

In his 11:30 a.m. briefing the day after Hurricane Sandy, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo made a clear reference to climate change, or global warming, about 30 minutes into his remarks: “Anyone who thinks that there is not a dramatic change in weather patterns is denying reality.”

There has been a series of extreme weather incidents. That’s not a political statement, that is a factual statement. Anyone who says that there is not a dramatic change in weather patterns I think is denying reality. . . . I said to the president kiddingly the other day we have a one hundred year flood every two years now. So, this city doesn’t have experience with this type of weather pattern. . . . I think it’s something we’re going to have to take into consideration, and educate ourselves. And as we’re going through the reconstruction and rebuilding, we’re going to have to find ways to build this city back stronger and better than ever before. . . . We have a new reality when it comes to these weather patterns. We have an old infrastructure and old systems, and that is not a good combination. And that is one of the lessons I’m going to take away from this. That and the courage of New Yorkers and the spirit of community of New Yorkers . . .

Thank you, Governor Cuomo. We have been making the same point ourselves (see here and here), but it makes a much bigger impact when the governor of New York says that climate change is behind the “dramatic change in weather patterns”—especially when the presidential candidates dare not face the fact or call it by its name.

Gov. Cuomo covered many other important points as well. More about his remarks here (see 12:56 p.m., Oct. 30).

Al Gore: “Dirty Energy Makes Dirty Weather”

Another heavy hitter spoke out today where candidates fear to tread. Former vice president Al Gore contributed a “Statement on Hurricane Sandy”:

Scientists tell us that by continually dumping 90 million tons of global warming pollution into the atmosphere every single day, we are altering the environment in which all storms develop. As the oceans and atmosphere continue to warm, storms are becoming more energetic and powerful. . . . 

Sandy was also affected by other symptoms of the climate crisis. As the hurricane approached the East Coast, it gathered strength from abnormally warm coastal waters. At the same time, Sandy’s storm surge was worsened by a century of sea level rise. Scientists tell us that if we do not reduce our emissions, these problems will only grow worse. 

Hurricane Sandy is a disturbing sign of things to come. We must heed this warning and act quickly to solve the climate crisis. Dirty energy makes dirty weather.

Al Gore, “Statement on Hurricane Sandy

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Hurricane Watch in New York City

Sunday, October 28th, 2012

Extreme Weather Coming Soon to an Eastern Seaboard Near You

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“We have a tropical hurricane merging, or folding in, with a mid-latitude weather system, one of those low pressure systems that track across the country. The two systems’ dynamics are very different and when they occasionally fold together, they actually produce the worst characteristics of both. . . . This is the same thing that happened during the perfect storm of 1991 [as popularized by author Sebastian Junger], and at roughly the same time.” —Barry Keim, Louisiana State Climatologist, quoted by Mark Schleifstein, Times-Picayune

“Sandy also is different in its size, rivaling the largest cyclones ever recorded around the globe, Keim said, with hurricane-force winds extending outward 175 miles from its center and tropical storm-force winds extending out 485 miles.” —Mark Schleifstein, Times-Picayune

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Last year when Hurricane Irene was barreling down on the East Coast—on the 6th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, as it happened—we were (ironically) safe from the storm, attending the Rising Tide conference in New Orleans. Irene, a Category 1 hurricane when it hit the East Coast, caused over $15 billion in damage and left many in the Northeast without power for a week or more. Now a bigger and badder storm, 900 miles across, is taking aim at the Atlantic Coast, from North Carolina to Connecticut, and low-lying areas around New Jersey and New York City and Long Island are being evacuated, with warnings of dangerously high sea water. Storm surge could reach 11 feet in New York Harbor and Long Island Sound.

The New York City subway and bus system (MTA) has been shut down as of 7:00 p.m. Sunday by order of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, along with the Long Island Rail Road and Metro North Railroad. That’s 468 subway stations going dark, and officials warn that trains may not run again until Wednesday. (The MTA normally moves about 8.5 million passengers a day.) Schools and offices are closed in New York City and around the metropolitan area for Monday, and we’ll see about Tuesday. Evacuations have been ordered for the lowest-elevation areas shown in red on the map above. Workers are laying down plywood over subway air vents on city sidewalks to prevent or lessen flooding in the subway tunnels, many of which are below sea level—some far below.

Oct. 29 update: The New York Times reports that Amtrak has canceled most trains on the Eastern Seaboard. Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia mass transit systems and New Jersey Transit are also shutting down till the storm passes. • NYT live updates here. • Click here for a NOAA animation of satellite observations showing Hurricane Sandy in motion Oct. 26–29. • NASA images here.

2012’s Extreme Weather Triggered Decades Ago

It is often not possible to tie any given weather event directly to man-made climate change, so we cannot say at this point whether this oncoming storm is intensified by greenhouse gas emissions. But Hurricane Sandy is coming rather late in the hurricane season (June 1–Nov. 30), and it’s the second hurricane in 14 months to strike the East Coast in a big way. The point of climate change is not just “global warming,” but extreme weather, as in the frequent tornadoes that pummeled America’s midsection in the spring of 2011 (see “Wrath of God? : Global Warming and Extreme Weather”).

In this year that saw widespread drought and crop failures in the United States, with over a thousand counties in 26 states declared natural disaster areas by the U.S. Department of Agriculture—the largest such designation ever—the two mainstream presidential candidates have avoided even uttering the word “environment,” unless in reference to “the business environment.” Climate change denial expands (see “Ides of March” below) even as the ice caps’ summer melts reach alarming new records.

[In a GOP primary debate, however, Mitt Romney said that emergency management should be handed over to the states. “Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction.” Including disaster relief? the moderator asked. “We cannot . . . afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids.” Historical note: It was in response to persistent pleas from state governors that President Jimmy Carter established FEMA in 1979.]

During the peak of this summer’s heat blast, New Yorker environmental reporter Elizabeth Kolbert pointed out one of the most alarming facts about the extreme weather: As hot as it was this summer, the record-setting heat of 2012 was set in motion decades ago:

One of the most salient—but also, unfortunately, most counterintuitive—aspects of global warming is that it operates on what amounts to a time delay. Behind this summer’s heat are greenhouse gases emitted decades ago. Before many effects of today’s emissions are felt, it will be time for the Summer Olympics of 2048. (Scientists refer to this as the “commitment to warming.”) What’s at stake is where things go from there. It is quite possible that by the end of the century we could, without even really trying, engineer the return of the sort of climate that hasn’t been seen on earth since the Eocene, some fifty million years ago.

Along with the heat and the drought and the super derecho, the country this summer is also enduring a Presidential campaign. So far, the words “climate change” have barely been uttered. This is not an oversight. Both President Obama and Mitt Romney have chosen to remain silent on the issue, presumably because they see it as just too big a bummer.

And so, while farmers wait for rain and this season’s corn crop withers on the stalk, the familiar disconnect continues. There’s no discussion of what could be done to avert the worst effects of climate change, even as the insanity of doing nothing becomes increasingly obvious.

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Rising Tide 7 Is Sat. Sept. 22 at Xavier > Register Now!

Saturday, September 15th, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everyone within walking, flying, or hiking distance of the Croissant City is urged to sign up now for the seventh annual Rising Tide conference on the future of New Orleans. This year’s keynote speakers—why have just one?—are the talented Treme-born writer Lolis Eric Elie, director of the documentary Faubourg Treme: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans, and (just-retired) Tulane professor of history Lawrence N. Powell, author of The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans. (Dr. Powell appears in a previous LNW post here.)

The day-long event at Xavier University in Mid-City, New Orleans, will feature panel discussions on the status and future of local journalism, changes to the education system, environmental impacts of the 2010 BP oil spill, development of cultural economy, parenting, entrepreneurship, and neighborhood activism. Click here for the RT blog, and here for a detailed schedule.

Among the scheduled speakers and panel discussions:

  • Lawrence Powell: “The Accidental History of an Accidental Book”
  • The Education Experiment: Petri Dish Reform in New Orleans and Louisiana
  • Take This Job and Love It: Owning Your Own Business in NOLA
  • Community or Commodity?
  • Neighborhoods: Shake for Ya ’Hood (If It’s All Good)
  • Lolis Eric Elie: “At War with Ourselves: New Orleans Culture at the Crossroads . . . Again . . . and Again”
  • Oil & Water
  • Mardi Gras Moms and Who Dat Dads: A Discussion on Parenting in New Orleans
  • Black and White and Red All Over: The Digital Future of the New Orleans Media Market

Conference registration is open at www.risingtidenola.com, and is only $28 until September 21, with a discount registration of $18 for students with valid ID. Registration at the door is $38. Lunch is included in the price of admission. There will be a pre-conference party on Friday, Sept. 21, from 9 p.m. till, at the Big Top, 1638 Clio Street, New Orleans, featuring the TBC Brass Band.

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As RT7 the press release explains, Rising Tide NOLA, Inc., is a nonprofit organization formed by New Orleans bloggers in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the failure of the federally built levees. After the disaster, the Internet became a vital connection among dispersed New Orleanians, former New Orleanians, and friends of the city and the Gulf Coast region. A surge of new blogs were created, and combined with those that were already online, an online community with a shared interest in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast developed. In the summer of 2006, to mark the anniversary of the flood, the bloggers of New Orleans organized the first Rising Tide Conference, taking their shared interest in technology, the arts, the internet and social media and turning advocacy in the city into action.

Past speakers have included the actor and activist Harry Shearer; David Simon, co-creator of HBO’s Treme and The Wire; N.O. geographer and historian Rich Campanella; authors John Barry, Dave Zirin, and Chris Cooper and Bobby Block; and Mother Jones human rights and environmental reporter (Ms.) Mac McClelland. (See links below for previous RTs.)

Rising Tide 7 is sponsored by The Center for the Advancement of Teaching at Xavier University, The Gambit, VeracityStew.com, InTheNOLA.com, Yelp.com, Cara Jougland Photography, WTUL 91.5 FM, 3 Ring Circus Productions, and The Lens.

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Since 2007, we have been to four of the six Rising Tides. The first conference, which we missed, was on the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, in August 2006. We strongly recommend joining this fun and stimulating gathering of bloggers, activists, teachers, writers, techies and other geeks, and all around bright and creative people who care about the present and future of New Orleans, Louisiana, and the Gulf Coast. We are sad that 2012 travel budget constraints won’t allow us to attend RT7—though we did get to attend a planning meeting when we visited New Orleans in March. But we’ll be back next year if we have to walk. Be there for us, won’t you? And have a great time! See y’all next time around.

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Click below to read about previous Rising Tides (most recent first):

Dedra Johnson of ‘The G Bitch Spot’ Wins Rising Tide’s Ashley Award (2011)

Live-Blogging from Rising Tide 6 (2011)

Rising Tide 6 Is August 27, So Register Today (2010)

Live-Blogging from Rising Tide 5 in New Orleans (2010)

Come Surf the Rising Tide : Aug. 28 in New Orleans (2008)

Rising Tide 5 Is Aug. 28 in New Orleans: Register Today (2010)

RT4: Sinking to New Heights (2009)

Rising Tide III in New Orleans Aug. 22–24 (2008)

Viva New Orleans—for Art’s Sake! (2007)

Making Blogging Sexy: Rising Tide 2  (2007)

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Hurricane Isaac and Tampa’s Blizzard of Lies

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

What Would Romney-Ryan Mean for FEMA and Infrastructure?

[ cross-posted at DailyKos ]

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“One of the themes of the Tampa convention will be the failure of government, and the prosperity that will result if it is cut to ribbons. But in a different corner of the television screen, the winds of Isaac are a reminder of the necessity of government—its labor, its expertise, its money—in the nation’s most dire moments. It is hard to forget what happened to New Orleans when that Republican philosophy was followed in 2005, and it will be harder still to explain how it might be allowed to happen again.” —“The Storm, Again,” NYT editorial, Aug. 27, 2012

“We have responsibilities, one to another—we do not each face the world alone. And the greatest of all responsibilities, is that of the strong to protect the weak. The truest measure of any society is how it treats those who cannot defend or care for themselves.” —vice presidential nominee Paul D. Ryan, acceptance speech, Republican National Convention, Tampa, Aug. 29, 2012

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If Hurricane Katrina was indeed divine retribution for abortions and tolerance of homosexuality, then how are we to understand God’s twice visiting strong hurricanes upon the U.S. at the exact moment when the Republican National Convention gathers to nominate its presidential candidate, with Gustav in 2008 and now with Isaac, which made landfall on the Gulf Coast on August 29, the exact 7-year anniversary of Katrina? (Rush Limbaugh has a suspicion.)

Far be it from us to question the wisdom of the true believers, but it’s our view that if hurricanes must come at all, it’s best they blow when the elephants are gathering at the water hole—preferably in Florida, or some other red coastal state. Let the screen be split. Let the images be juxtaposed. Let the nation never forget how the Republican way of governing—staffing disaster relief agencies with inexperienced cronies and then cutting funds—resulted in the disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina: immeasurable death, destruction, anguish, financial ruin and impoverishment, dispersal, heartbreak . . . (To be sure, however, blame rests with both parties for the chronic underfunding of the Army Corps of Engineers that left the city’s levees and outflow canals’ floodwalls compromised.)

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), established by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 at the persistent urging of state governors, only functions well when Democrats are in the White House. Democrats take governing and disaster management seriously, and Republicans do not. Bill Clinton’s FEMA director James Lee Witt (1993–2001) and the present director, W. Craig Fugate, are widely respected as disaster response professionals. In Disaster: Hurricane Katrina and the Failure of Homeland Security (2006), Chris Cooper and Bobby Block survey the sad story of Republican disregard for disaster relief. FEMA’s tardy and disorganized response to Hurricane Andrew (shown above) in August 1992 likely cost President George H. W. Bush many votes in Florida, and beyond. Bill Clinton wrote in My Life (2004):

Traditionally, the job of FEMA director was given to a political supporter of the President who wanted some plum position but who had no experience with emergencies. I made a mental note to avoid that mistake if I won. Voters don’t chose a President based on how he’ll handle disasters, but if they’re faced with one themselves, it quickly becomes the most important issue in their lives.

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More Tax Cuts for the Rich, While Disaster Relief Is Held Hostage?

Five, six days after the storm, the lights are just coming back on in Mid-City and other parts of New Orleans. It’s 93 degrees, and thousands are still in the dark, without air conditioning.

While Hurricane Isaac was not as destructive as we feared—the reinforced floodwall system around greater New Orleans held up well—this storm’s timing was a reminder that there is one political party that is not to be trusted with disaster management, or with anything else relating to the social safety net. Mitt Romney’s economic plan would reduce non-discretionary spending by 30 percent.

Others have examined the falsehoods in Paul Ryan’s v.p. nomination acceptance speech and the overall dishonesty of the RNC show in Tampa (see here and here). Many have objected to the Republicans’ hypocrisy in blaming a president for failures ensured by their own blocking of every effort at repairing the economy. They filibustered or voted No on all potential remedies to make the public reject Obama. Many independents as well as Democrats and moderate Republicans are put off by the Mad Tea Party–style conservatives’ insistence that nothing good can come of government.

Many of the lies and evasions that concern us most, however, stem from the GOP’s hostility to spending taxpayers’ dollars on programs of direct help to the public, from Medicare and Social Security to FEMA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which includes the National Hurricane Center and the National Weather Service.

Paul Ryan sounds reassuring when he says, “The truest measure of any society is how it treats those who cannot defend or care for themselves,” but the budgets he has put forth as chair of the House Budget Committee tell another story: You’re on your own.

Tim Murphy of Mother Jones in “What Would Romney-Ryan Mean for FEMA?” surveys the implications for disaster relief in the Ryan budgets—the same ones that would convert Medicare to a privatized “Vouchercare.” Murphy notes that the Ryan budget does not detail specific cuts (just as Mitt Romney avoids specifics), but “the overall math suggests that [the cuts] would be drastic.” In 2011 there were 14 disasters costing over $1 billion in damages, a record high, and with the intensifying climate change that the Republicans refuse to acknowledge, the disasters’ frequency and destructiveness are only going to get worse.

Murphy writes:

“. . . under a Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan administration, FEMA’s ability to respond quickly and effectively to natural disasters could be severely inhibited. In a 2012 report on Rep. Paul Ryan’s ‘Path to Prosperity’ roadmap (which Romney has said is similar to his own), the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted that, due to the severe cuts to non-entitlement, non-defense spending, the costs for things like emergency management would have to be passed on to the states—which, with just a few exceptions, are currently in an even tighter financial bind than Washington.

“FEMA also helps states and local governments repair or replace public facilities and infrastructure, which often is not insured,” the CBPP report explained. ‘This form of discretionary federal aid would be subject to cuts under the Ryan budget. If it were scaled back substantially, states and localities would need to bear a larger share of the costs of disaster response and recovery, or attempt to make do with less during difficult times.’ ”

Pat Garofalo at ThinkProgress describes how Republicans held disaster relief funding hostage several times in 2011, demanding that funding be offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget. “The GOP pulled the same trick when Missouri was hit by a deadly tornado in May, when Virginia was affected by an earthquake, and when Hurricane Irene struck America’s east coast.” Garofalo quotes David Weigel at Slate:

According to the House Appropriation Committee’s summary of the bill, the [GOP's 2011 continuing resolution] funds Operations, Research and Facilities for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association with $454.3 million less than it got in FY2010; this represents a $450.3 million cut from what the president’s never-passed FY2011 budget was requesting. The National Weather Service, of course, is part of NOAA—its funding drops by $126 million. The CR also reduces funding for FEMA management by $24.3 million off of the FY2010 budget, and reduces that appropriation by $783.3 million for FEMA state and local programs.

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We won’t pretend to interpret divine intentions in the timing of the recent hurricanes and other disasters, but we can be thankful for the opportunity to point out to the concerned public that there is one slate of candidates who will not be there for you when a tornado rips through your town, or an earthquake splits your streets. We won’t say (though others may) that natural disasters are God’s way of saying “Vote Democratic,” but don’t you want to be on the safe side?

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Photo credits: Hurricane Andrew (1992) by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); downed stop light in New Orleans (2012) by Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images.

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As We Enter 2012, Best Wishes to All

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

May the new year bring you all the good things you wish for.

We’ll be brief with our greetings and good wishes, as last night’s champagne slowly wears off, and as there’s some house-cleaning to do before guests arrive for the New Year’s Day dinner . . .

For all our readers here in the “upper blogosphere” and for everyone beyond, we wish a year of good health to all, steady employment, rewarding work, and, while we’re at it, good luck and bon courage in putting the “progress” in “progressive.”

State. We wish for a calm, boring hurricane season for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, steady recovery from the wicked hellacious storms of yesteryear, and strong, robust flood protection and generous funding for coastal restoration of the eroding Louisiana coast. We also pray for no BP-style oil spills in the Gulf—or any other kind. 2010’s Deepwater Horizon disaster was enough to last for quite a while, thank you. Let those who are still recovering from that catastrophe find abundant catches of healthy seafood in clean waters, and may those still making their way back home to New Orleans and environs find affordable housing in safe neighborhoods and steady employment.

Nation. The United States has its own peculiar, festering, largely neglected problems amid the stresses of the world. During this 2012 presidential campaign season, which had already overstayed its welcome long ago, we hope that the ideas and priorities generated by the Occupy Wall Street movement will take even stronger hold on the public imagination and find their way into debates, policy, and actual programs. May the good ideas be fulfilled. Let’s keep reminding public officials and reporters and editors that there is a terrible and increasing wealth disparity in this nation, an endangered middle class, and an even more threatened (and growing) population of struggling poor people: our brothers and sisters. We are not holding our breath waiting for Congressional action—we expect nothing but continuing obstruction from one party and particular, and the other party ain’t much better but for a few individual exceptions—but we do detect energy and ideas in the Occupy people across the U.S. and around the world. Good work; keep it going, please. Long live the 99 Percent!

World. Among our wishes for world peace and goodwill among peoples, we wish the citizens and the economies of Europe in particular good luck in finding workable solutions to their ongoing crises, and we wish for renewed energy for all nations’ reformers and progressives. As 2011 was not a good year for despots and dictators, let 2012 be a good year for fair and honest leaders. Looking around the globe, we hope the activists of the Arab Spring will succeed in making a better life for themselves—not forgetting their women—and we pray that cool, sane heads will prevail (this is possible) in Iran and in its foreign relations; good luck to the Green Revolution reformers in that troubled land.

Here at Levees Not War we’ll work hard to bring you, as regularly and steadily as we can, reporting and commentary that is based in reality and in hopes for stronger, durable infrastructure, a healthier and better-sustained environment, and more peace, less war. (Click herehere, and here for New Year’s greetings from previous January 1’s.)

We hope you enjoy this new year, and hope it brings you all the good things you wish for.

Well, we meant to be brief. And now, there’s some more house-cleaning to do . . .

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