Levees Not War
Make Wetlands Not War.

Live-Blogging from Rising Tide 5 in New Orleans

08/28/10

Winner of the 2010 Ashley Morris Award: Clifton Harris of Cliff’s Crib

New Orleans blogger Clifton Harris, right, receives the Ashley Morris Memorial Award from emcee George “Loki” Williams, center, and Mark “Oyster” Moseley. Photo courtesy of M. Styborski. Cliff Harris’s writing also appears in the new book A Howling in the Wires: An Anthology of Writing from Postdiluvian New Orleans (Gallatin & Toulouse, 2010). The motto of Cliff’s Crib is “Embrace Your Potential and Be Productive. Long Live the Lower Ninth Ward.” Warm congratulations to Clifton Harris. Read his blog and buy the book. We have. [The coveted Ashley Award, named in honor of the legendary, larger-than-life Ashley Morris, is presented each year to a blogger who has made outstanding contributions to writing about post-Katrina New Orleans. Ashley Morris, Ph.D., who died in 2008, was one of the founders of the Rising Tide conference and an inspiration for the Treme character Creighton Bernette, played by John Goodman.]

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Liveblogging follows, with earliest panels at bottom. (“Treme” panel not included, sorry. For good coverage of that, see Machelle Allman’s Watching Treme.)

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Why Can’t We Get Some Dam Safety in New Orleans? | Presentation by Tim Ruppert

Presentation by Tim Ruppert, engineer and N.O. blogger (Tim’s Nameless Blog) Denial of killing potential of failed levees results in low standards of expectations for levee strength. Levees are considered to only protect property, not human life. The 100-year flood model is an inadequate standard of measurement that leaves N.O. and other human settlements exposed to unacceptable risk of flooding and death. ASCE advocates a risk-based assessment of levees—in other words, let’s calculate how many people would die if this levee fails (the same way dams’ failure is measured and risk-assessed). “When levees fail, people die.” We’re going to have to push Congress to act as though failed levees are every bit as threatening to human safety as failed dams are. 3:30 About 43 percent of Americans live in areas protected by levees. What it means to public safety when dams and levees are perceived as being different from each other. Begins with Johnstown Flood of 1889. Is there really any difference between a dam failure and a levee failure? National Dam Inspection Act passed in 1972, and WRDA (Water Resource Development Act) both distinguished between dams and levees. Dams are considered a life safety system—they usually hold higher levels of water than levees do. Levees are not considered life safety systems; it is assumed or expected that all people living within a levee-protected area are able to evacuate, though we know this is not actually true.

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Politics Panel: Peter Athas, Jason Berry, Clancy Dubos, Jeff Crouere, Stephanie Grace, Jacques Morial

3:05 What will Jindal do? He is looking beyond the governor’s mansion. Run against Mary Landrieu? Crouere and Dubos agree that Jindal won’t finish out his term. That is why the next lieutenant governor’s race will in effect be the next governor’s race. Dubos says he will cut the budget to the bone and then go around the country to Iowa or Florida and talk about how he cut the budget. He doesn’t care about the people of Louisiana; he cares about how his actions look on his resume. Jindal refuses to sign any revenue increase, so cuts will get worse. Stephanie Grace says that what happens to the state’s universities in the next couple of years will send a message to the rest of the nation of what Jindal stands for. 3:00 Jason Berry says a progressive media is needed to help build Democratic, progressive party, candidates, through spreading progressive ideas. As it is, we’re breeding Republicans. Even here in the most progressive urban city in the state there’s really only one progressive paper [Gambit].

2:50 Audience member asks what the hell is wrong with the Democratic party in this state? How did a novice Republican (Joseph Cao) win the 2nd Congressional District? Dems don’t field good candidates—why not? Jacques Morial says the Dem leadership has been terrible for years. State Dem party has been impotent for years. Jeff Crouere says Democrats would do better if they had more conservative, appealing candidates in the John Breaux mode. 2:35 Discussion of Vitter’s reelection chances in November. Jacques Morial says Vitter is “a confirmed hypocrite and a whoremonger and he’s a criminal. He used a telephonic device to break the law.” Clancy Dubos says that Vitter could have been indicted as a co-conspirator in the Deborah Jeane Palfrey “D.C. Madam” case. Very suspicious for Palfrey to have hanged herself. Jason Berry says that Palfrey signed an affadavit with her attorney that she would commit suicide. General agreement that Charlie Melancon has been running a lame campaign against David Vitter, and that Vitter has been lucky. Melancon is running against Vitter, but Vitter is running against Obama. 2:25 Jeff Crouere thinks Cao will have a good chance of winning reelection. He is ethically clean and has done enough with the Obama administration to please local voters but also enough along Republican lines to keep the GOP contributions coming in. Clancy Dubos is more skeptical about the GOP’s kindness toward Cao, who has been too independent for Republicans’ liking. Jacques Morial thinks that Cao will pay the political price for voting against the health care reform bill. His reasons for voting against the health care reform bill don’t hold water—there was nothing to the allegations of making abortion more likely, and he knew it—and though he claimed part of his no vote was on the basis of religious convictions, all the Roman Catholic organizations dealing with health care such as the nurses group were pushing for the health care reform bill. Still, he voted against it and his constituents will hold him accountable. 2:00 Politics Panel begins with Peter Athas (moderator), Jason Berry, Clancy Dubos, Jeff Crouere, Stephanie Grace, Jacques Morial Jason Berry has been investigating Democratic candidate Cedric Richmond and allegations of a slush fund, and asks why the local mainstream news media have not been investigating. The panel discussion begins with a bit of a bombshell that seems to embarrass several panel members. If Cedric Richmond wins 2nd Congressional District primary today, he will face Republican Anh “Joseph” Cao.

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Environmental panel (left to right): Len Bahr, Rob Verchick, Steve Picou

12:40 Verchick: Necessary to understand the cost of adapting to climate change. We’re going to adapt one way or another, and the question is whether we’re going to do it expensively (in ways that are more costly and maybe more clumsy than necessary), or more methodically, based on science, and by planning for the future. Some remedies are too expensive and actually create more greenhouse gases and other adverse consequences. Bahr: Public officials need to be frank with people, homeowners, close to the coast, and to base the policy on science. Some retreat from the Louisiana coast will be necessary, and elected officials have a hard time telling homeowners they’re going to have to move. If we build a levee here, there could be other adverse effects that make the construction not advisable. Verchick: There are simple, practical things we can do, such as installing permeable streets, or roof gardens, focus on small things people can do that have multiple benefits that don’t necessarily make people agree or not with the reality of climate change. Even “deniers” or the indifferent can do practical things that help alleviate. 12:30 Climate change is about more than coastal land loss and rising sea level. Other serious consequences are extreme weather, heat waves, excessive rain. Mayor Landrieu has spoken often and eloquently, often off-the-cuff, impromptu, about environment and climate change. Steve Picou says that the new environmental administrator bodes well. The new mayor is serious about environmental issues. Len Bahr: New Orleans is a coastal city, and is becoming more so every day. Told Mayor Nagin that N.O. needs to remember that it is a coastal city, and we need to be able to evacuate rapidly in case of hurricane, as with high-speed rail system. Said this 6 months before Katrina. Nagin listened but didn’t seem to recognize the threat. Bahr blames Gov. Jindal for anti-science mentality. The state has many highly skilled scientists whose talents and knowledge are not being tapped for expertise after this BP oil spill. 12:20 Rob Verchick: Making decisions about long-term when you have lots of moving parts is hard to do when you have a static model, with probability, risks, etc. That sort of equation is in a lot of what we do, but it doesn’t work for climate change planning and response, events with low probabilities but very high takes, so-called “black swans.” New York City has one of the best programs, planning structure for adapting to climate change, and Miami has been proactive, too, but New Orleans is not planning enough, or receiving enough expert assistance, to prepare for effects of climate change, rising sea levels. 12:15 Len Bahr, editor of LaCoastPost.com: Our Louisiana delegation signed a letter to President Obama about 5 years after Katrina (posted at LaCoastPost), yet most of La. delegation is in complete denial of climate change and its ecological risks. 12:10 Rob Verchick on leave from Loyola, now working at Environmental Protection Agency. Of the three cities most at risk from climate change (natural disasters + rising sea levels) are Miami #1, next New York City, and New Orleans third. Humans are building in environments where development is not ecologically advisable, and destroying “green infrastructure” of mangrove forests, wetlands, so we’re losing our natural infrastructure at an alarming rate. We need to learn how to protect and restore the environmental infrastructure that helps blunt storm surge, prevent mud slides, etc. Why are we allowing natural infrastructure, so much more essential to long-term security and stability than the bridges, levees, and roads we usually think of as infrastructure. 12:00 Environmental panel. Steve Picou, moderator. Len Bahr of LaCoastPost.com and Rob Verchick of Loyola University and the Environmental Protection Agency.

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Keynote speaker: Mac McClelland, human rights reporter for Mother Jones

11:45 Reporters have a public responsibility for reporting on safety of seafood . . . testing for safety of dispersants in Gulf waters. The U.S. is not testing for safety of water, dispersant levels in the water. No reporter wants to be the one to print that the seafood is not safe. 11:30 Mac had originally come to write an article for Mother Jones on public defenders. Then the oil spill happened. Not so surprising that BP wasn’t being cooperative, but what is surprising is that the Obama administration has been secretive and not so cooperative. In a lot of cases they did not have the information we were looking for, such as the number of cleanup workers. Coast Guard says the numbers you’re looking for are BP’s numbers. We can ask, but sometimes they don’t get back to us. This is the Coast Guard. Coast Guard was disseminating BP’s numbers and not fact-checking, not overseeing. It was easier to get information from secretive Burma than it has been from BP or U.S. agencies. Misinformation and spin. 11:15 Keynote speaker: Mac McClelland, human rights reporter for Mother Jones Reporting in the national media in years since Katrina has not kept up with the facts here in New Orleans. Outside of Louisiana everyone thinks “everything’s fine” because they’re not seeing images and accurate on-the-ground reporting from the real world in New Orleans. The oil spill is reported to have dispersed, to no longer be a problem. Everyone wants to hear that it’s all fine now, in part because the truth is so sad or depressing. . . . “I’m contractually obligated to tweet. I can’t tell you how many tips and leads I get from Twitter, how many ideas I’ve gotten from Twitter followers.”

10:45 a.m. Central Time Public Safety panel We’re live-blogging from the Rising Tide 5 conference on the future of New Orleans held at the Howlin’ Wolf, 907 South Peters Street. The first panel is on Public Safety, moderated by Peter Scharf, with Jon Wool of the Vera Institute of Justice, Allen James of Safe Streets, Strong Communities; Susan Hutson, independent police monitor of NOPD, and NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas (left). The new superintendent is making a good impression as a serious, well-educated and well-trained professional. There is much discussion of the Danziger Bridge shootings, and question of whether the shooting represented an anomaly, or whether it was normal. Serpas acknowledges that since the mid-1990s what had been a department of occasional individual bad behavior (Antoinette Franks, etc.), in the following years there grew a culture of secrecy, a systemwide failure. Allen James of Safe Streets, Strong City says that the underprivileged in New Orleans would say that the Danziger shootings were not an anomaly. The fact that this case was covered up for five years is only attributable to a thoroughgoing culture of secrecy, and this is perhaps more disturbing than the shootings themselves. Allen James gets a round of applause when he says that it’s hard to have a first world–quality police department that is going to do much good for the community of a third-world-style city (referring to Mark Folse’s question) when the economy is so weak and unemployment levels and opportunities are so few.

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