Friday, November 25, 2005

Hurricane Katrina Three Months Later: The Reality of this Environment

We have a great deal to be thankful for - as I run around doing errands this morning in 18 degree weather, trying to keep ahead of the snow that's expected this afternoon - I'm starkly aware of how my home and car's heater and the nice coat and sweaters I have keep me from feeling the reality of this environment.

The Washington Post writes about the struggle people along the Mississippi Gulf coast are having, left over from Hurricane Katrina.

Fifty thousand homeowners lack federal flood insurance and cannot rebuild. The casinos, which employed 17,000 people, won't begin to reopen until next year, and the unemployment rate has quadrupled, now topping 23 percent in the coastalcounties.

Half a dozen towns, Pass Christian among them, are borrowing millions of dollars to pay bills, and some officials are talking about surrendering charters and becoming wards of the state.

"FEMA continues to be able to mess up a one-car funeral -- we don't begin to have enough money for major reconstruction," said Rep. Gene Taylor (D), who lost his own home in Bay St. Louis. "We're going to have a lot of defaults and bankruptcies.

"The federal response, from highways to housing to trailers, is completely unacceptable."

The personal shock of it all hasn't subsided. Locals say it's not uncommon to hear perfectly rational people talk of suicide.

When will the government begin to actively encourage the work parties that need to gear up in earnest and be paired with towns? Big brother could use tax incentives for work time paid to people who go help with rebuilding, as well as tax breaks of donated time to individuals, in order to encourage private response.

I suspect that what the government should be able to do - map the devastation and need and coordinate with private agencies to meet needs through identification and matching - it can't do, for the same old usual bureaucratic reasons: It's unprepared, unmotivated and unable to think outside its limited box.

So people sit in the cold in tents and have no idea what they will do when things get worse as they wait for FEMA to show up with trailers. As if FEMA doesn't have some idea RIGHT NOW how many trailers it can provide. And that stopgap, which will be too little too late, expends effort in poorly chosen ways: "the federal government, which expects to spend close to $2 billion on temporary trailers, has not offered a dime to rebuild public housing."

Instead of grandstanding about pulling out of Iraq or after-the-fact questions about intelligence that's long since been acted on, or any other armchair-warrior politically motivated stance our reps are taking, they should be extremely concerned about harnessing the resource we have - willing people by the millions - to do what it can't - help the millions in need of homes, towns, goods and services of the most basic kind. Again and again, interviewees of the WaPo article bemoan the failure of the government's response.

If our reaction doesn't change - and I don't mean simply more dollars to charities - the cost of Katrina will be even greater. Quicker recovery of buildings, businesses and roadways will get people hopeful instead of apathetic and despairing, and earning instead of waiting for the government to show up and rescue them, three months later.

One Mississippian hits the nail on the head.

"You figure it ain't happening to me," he said. "Well, time to cowboy up. That's all you can do because you sure as hell ain't rebuilding. It's like a nightmare you can't wake up from."

Gov. Haley Barbour (R) has asked FEMA to let Gulf Coast area residents buy flood insurance retroactively if they pay 10 years of premiums, or about $3,000. But FEMA lacks the money even to pay existing claims.

It is waiting for Congress to appropriate more.

Don't count on Congress to accomplish things they never have. Do expect them to return to the standard responses they've given to virtually every problem they ever encounter - taxpayer dollars, and they'll need more. A lot more.

We need someone who can make political hay out of very publically organizing teams and businesses from every state to target the devastated towns, go in and help rebuild. We need sister cities in a meaningful way - Katrina sister cities.

If we fail to act on our behalf, and wait for the government to handle it, we can expect a significant economic downturn for the rest of the decade from the loss of hundreds of productive towns and thousands receiving unprecedented tax relief.



At 4:23 PM, Blogger Cassandra said...

tee bee:

I've started to comment on this two or three times, but frankly I'm still thinking and I've just been too busy this weekend. You raise some interesting issues - it's not the kind of post that lends itself to easy answers, hence no off-the-cuff comment. I'm still trying to decide what I think.

Thanks for a very thought-provoking post :) I promise I will respond. I'm just not sure what I think, yet.

At 6:44 PM, Blogger tee bee said...

The sad thing for me is that, in Wisconsin, there are no prominent Republicans to whom I can appeal. I have forwarded comments similar to this post to all my representatives at the state and local level, and they have all assured me that the gubmint is taking care of things. They, being Dems, miss the point entirely.

I am aware that there is a great deal of state and federal funding and organization that has been mobilized in response to Katrina. The problem is that it can't be enough, and is destined to be bogged down and eroded by petty bureaucracy at every level. Organized individuals can't cheat themselves.

At 9:04 PM, Anonymous Cricket said...

Tax breaks make sense. Instead of government tapeworms who take them, the people spend their money on rebuilding, which will be more economical in the long run as income and revenue go up.

I would be interested to see how it would work just because one, when Sonny Perdue
repealed the gas tax for a month, consumption didn't necessarily go up, but people still made it to work and Georgia didn't suffer...on the contrary, revenue continued to be
paid because people could afford to get to work.

I am sure there are more and better reasoned arguments that either support or contradict my reasons, but I hate taxes. I pay property taxes in two states, one in an unincorporated area and one where we are still in the county, but part of the city. The incorporated area has more corruption, graft and on the take characters.

The unincorporated area has neighbors helping each other out.

The economy in both is stable but there are lower prices overall for goods and services in the unincorporated area. The roads suck, but well, that's Missouri.

Good post.


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