Sunday, April 29, 2007
It's that zydecorific time of year - New Orleans Jazzfest. As I have every first week of May over the last eight years, I'm heading down to New Orleans for the Jazz and Heritage Festival. My yearly reboot. The food, the drink, the music, the party, the Fairgrounds, the Quarter, the etc. Jambalicious. Some of you may remember and have appreciated my report from last year's pilgrimage. Obviously, we're going to party our asses off again this year, and I'll be sure to take some pics worthy of a photo-diary/recap for you VTKids next week, but I thought this might me a good opportunity to highlight the continuing failures of our governmental institutions to take care of our own. I mean, really. I know most of us are a little dulled right now by everything that's happening in our country and the world (possibly too dulled to pay attention to what's happening in Somalia, The Most Lawless War Of Our Generation:
Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Ghedi said Thursday his forces were now in control of Mogadishu. The BBC reports, for the first time in nine days, gunfire has stopped. Ethiopians and government troops are patrolling the city conducting house-to-house searches, as residents collect rotting bodies that have been abandoned in the streets.
and the way in which the media is covering it:
The escalating war in Somalia has received little attention in the US media especially on broadcast television. Using the Lexis database, Democracy Now! examined ABC, NBC and CBS's coverage of Somalia in the evening newscasts over the past three months. The result may surprise you: ABC and NBC has not mentioned the war at all. CBS mentioned the war once on a Sunday night news broadcast. The network dedicated a total of three sentences to the story.
but I digress. Check out this report about the current state of New Orleans 20 months after Katrina.
Over $100 billion was approved by Congress to rebuild the Gulf Coast. Over $50 billion of that money was allocated to temporary and long-term housing. Just under $30 billion was for emergency response and Department of Defense spending. Over $18 billion was for State and local response and the rebuilding of infrastructure. $3.6 billion was for health, social services and job training and $3.2 for non-housing cash assistance. $1.9 billion was allocated for education and $1.2 billion for agriculture.
Louisiana received $10 billion to fix up housing. Over 109,000 homeowners applied for federal funds to fix up their homes. Eighteen months later, less than 700 families have received this federal assistance. Renters, who comprised a majority of New Orleans, are worse off – they get nothing at all. Some money is scheduled to go to some landlords and apartment developers for some apartments at some time.
The education system is apparently not doing any better:
New Orleans is now the charter capital of the U.S. All the public schools on the side of the Mississippi which did not flood were turned into charters within weeks of Katrina. The schools with strongest parental support and high test scores were flipped into charters. The charters have little connection to each other and to state or local supervision. Those in the top half of the pre-Katrina population may be getting a better education. Kids without high scores, with disabilities, with little parental involvement who are not in charters are certainly not getting a good education and are shuttled into the bottom half - a makeshift system of state and local schools.
John McDonogh, a public high school created to take the place of five pre-Katrina high schools, illustrates the challenges facing non-charter public education in New Orleans. Opened by the State school district in the fall, as of November, 2006, there were 775 students but teachers, textbooks and supplies remained in short order months after school opened. Many teens, as many as one-fifth, were living in New Orleans without their parents. Fights were frequent despite the presence of metal detectors, twenty-give security guards and an additional eight police officers. In fact several security guards, who were not much older than the students were injured in fights with students. Students described the school as having a "prison atmosphere." There were no hot lunches and few working water fountains. The girls' bathrooms did not have doors on them. The library had no books at all, not even shelves for books in early November. One 15 year old student caught the 5am bus from Baton Rouge to attend the high school. "Our school has 39 security guards and three cops on staff and only 27 teachers," one McDonogh teacher reported.
The changing demographics are also of interest:
The pre-Katrina population of 454,000 people in the city of New Orleans dropped to 187,000. The African-American population of New Orleans shrank by 61 percent or 213,000 people, from a pre-Katrina number of 302,000 down to 89,000. New Orleans now has a much smaller, older, whiter and more affluent population.
And in a piece of news that really should be more shocking than it is, it appears that the US government passed on and/or wasted hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid. (Here are the documents that the Washington Post based their reports on)
Allies offered $854 million in cash and in oil that was to be sold for cash. But only $40 million has been used so far for disaster victims or reconstruction, according to U.S. officials and contractors. Most of the aid went uncollected, including $400 million worth of oil. Some offers were withdrawn or redirected to private groups such as the Red Cross. The rest has been delayed by red tape and bureaucratic limits on how it can be spent.
But I guess it doesn't matter if they're not actually going to use the money that's allocated to help the people of New Orleans. It's criminal negligence.