What Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor wanted the Easter Bunny to bring him.
South Mississippi Living 4/07

Friday, July 06, 2007

Broadening Katrina's Lens

This is the first in a series to help the Democratic Party, particularly its presidential hopefuls, to get the framework right, to broaden its lens through which it views Katrina, what’s stopping recovery, what will speed up a vibrant recovery, and how Katrina affords us to transform the basic quality of life for all Americans.

Last week’s Democratic presidential debate really rubbed me the wrong way. From the question posed to the answers given, everyone just marched right along with a recitation of the media’s “one-size-fits-all” frame for discussing who Hurricane Katrina impacted, what that impact was, and a bevy of insufficient solutions offered as a result of this faulty way of viewing this catastrophe.

The one-size-fits-all approach goes something like this.

  1. Katrina = New Orleans = levees.
  2. Problems stemming from Katrina are the same for New Orleans, the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and the areas Katrina impacted that were as far as 200 miles inland from the Gulf Coast.
  3. Katrina impacted mostly the most poor among us, and they were primarily located in the 9th Ward of New Orleans, Louisiana.
  4. The ineptitude stemming from the Bush White House and FEMA comes out of a racist lens alone.
  5. Solutions for the city of New Orleans and its levees will solve all the problems stemming from Katrina, which really are about Bush’s immense callous ineptitude about poor people who could not leave New Orleans before Katrina.
  6. Talking about Katrina recovery in New Orleans is shorthand for talking about, addressing, understanding, and solving the multitude of issues regarding recovery for everything inside and outside of New Orleans.
Do these ring a bell? Of course, they do. The media played these images and talked only of New Orleans and the levees over and over again until they became seared in our brains. The framework became installed. Katrina = New Orleans = levees = racist/classist betrayal. Unfortunately, these are all, indeed, true, but the picture is incomplete and encourages otherwise intelligent individuals to ask questions that miss the mark and offer solutions that are insufficient to address all of the problems we face.

Let’s take last week’s debate as an example. NPR’s Michel Martin asked the following question to the Democratic presidential hopefuls.
Would you support a federal law guaranteeing the right to return to New Orleans and other gulf regions devastated by hurricane Katrina based on the United Nations human rights standards governing the internal displacement of citizens?
What?! Are you kidding me?! Invoking the United Nations? Look. What we need to invoke is the infamous phrase from the movie “Jerry McGuire”: Show me the Money! Show me the Money!

While Ms. Martin’s question was well-meaning, the question itself as well as the answers the Democratic hopefuls provided displayed an appalling ignorance of what is stopping cities from rebuilding their communities, hindering businesses from reopening their doors, and preventing people from returning to their homes, jobs, schools, places of worship, and lives.

Had the staff of NPR or the Democratic Presidential hopefuls been research savvy, they would have learned that Congressman Gene Taylor and U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu have put forth some incredible legislative initiatives to address real problems with real solutions such as expanding the flood insurance program to include all natural perils (
H.R 920) and to close the anti-trust loop that has permitted the insurance companies to collude with each other legally (S.618).

Perhaps someone will forward various Democratic presidential campaign staffers this specific series or just turn them on to
A.M. in the Morning!

God help us all. The Democrats have to get the framework right. We know that the ReTHUGlicans will be completely clueless—and care less about being clueless.

As Democrats, we agree that the preparation for Katrina and the recovery efforts in her aftermath are microcosms of and metaphors for the appalling absence of White House leadership since George W. Bush and Dick Cheney stole the 2000 presidential election and moved into our Oval Office in January of 2001. On that end of the analysis, we have agreement.

However, flushing out the specifics of the microcosms and metaphors requires more than sound bites that fit nicely with the overall theme of a candidate’s campaign or one’s political perspective on poverty, the environment, race, the Bush Administration, etc.

For example, continually boiling down the problems New Orleans faces only to repairing levees and the challenges in the 9th Ward alone misses the bigger picture and important elements for recovery in that city, in the Gulf Coast region, and in the nation.

By broadening our minds to take in the fullness of what encompasses the problems we face here, we can then see the great opportunities to recover this area far quicker and to make dramatic changes that will fundamentally improve the quality of our lives regardless of where we live. After all, every family wants to protect its greatest asset—home. When we fix what’s wrong with the recovery efforts here in Katrina Land, we’ll be protecting everyone’s home from sea to shining sea.

To do this, we must begin with a framework that works for Louisiana and Mississippi, for those inside of New Orleans and those outside of it, for those that Katrina directly impacted and for those that future natural disasters—tornado, flood, blizzard, mudslide, earthquake—will impact.

What’s wrong with our recovery has everything to do with the crisis in confidence we feel in our federal government, the White House, as well as our insurance corporations that are supposed to provide financial security for our family’s biggest investment: our home. Remedies for what ails the recovery efforts have already been introduced in Congress. Additional remedies will also come from the innumerable court cases that the Scruggs Katrina Group, The Merlin Group, and other lawyers who are successful in attaining a fair deal for their clients through dragging the insurance carriers to court for a bit of American justice.

In the meantime, it is important that we understand fully the true impediments to our recovery so that we can push our federal lawmakers to make changes that make a real difference for those inside and outside of the Katrina ravaged region of our nation.

Broadening Katrina’s Lens: A five Part Series

Part 1: Broadening Katrina's Lens
Part 2: Recovery’s Two Major Impediments: $$$ and the “F” word
Part 3: The "F" Word: FEMA
Part 4: Katrina’s Bigger Picture
Part 5: Katrina’s Karmic Payback: Insurance Reform

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