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Saturday, December 09, 2006

Answering The Ignorant

Friday, December 08, 2006
Bob Marshall
The nice lady -- a friend of a friend -- was shocked and angered by my statement, which went something like this: "The way New Orleans has been treated since Katrina is one of the most shameful episodes in our nation's history."
A patriot, she wasn't about to let that stand. "What about all the money we've spent down there?" she asked. "And what about accepting some responsibility for building in a flood zone, and not having insurance?"
I wish I could say I was surprised, but recent travels had already shown me that most Americans are woefully ignorant of the ugly facts on the ground here in The Big Uneasy. My concern now is that as my fellow New Orleanians hit the road during the busy holiday travel season they may be stunned into silence -- if not apoplexy -- by the questions and statements of the misinformed masses. So here's a package of talking points.
Isn't flooding what you should expect when living in a hurricane zone? The flooding inside the city limits was not a natural disaster, but a man-made disaster. The hurricane protection system built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was poorly designed, constructed and maintained by that agency, a part of our national government. The system was never built as high as we were told, and it failed due to faulty engineering. Katrina's storm tides didn't come close to reaching the tops of the walls, and never would have. This is not my opinion. This was the judgment of the corps after its year-long, $10 million in-house investigation. The corps said "our fault" -- yet Congress has not responded to that confession.
Didn't Congress agree to pay for the damage? Only a small portion of it. The corps' failures resulted in the destruction of 200,000 homes and businesses at values estimated to surpass $100 billion, yet Congress has appropriated only about $10 billion to rebuild homes.
Well, is it our fault they didn't have any insurance -- or enough insurance? That's like saying a man killed by robbers was at fault for not wearing a bullet-proof vest. You're blaming the victims. Insurance is for natural disasters, acts of God and self-inflicted damage such as fires. This is not a no-fault case. The corps -- part of the U.S. government -- has already accepted it was at fault. Fairness means the nation should pay for completely rebuilding those homes. Insurance shouldn't be a consideration. That's what the nation has always done in the past.
When?
Remember the savings and loan disaster? Congress accepted responsibility for allowing that industry to run amok, and spent $178 billion to protect the savings of millions of people.
Remember 9/11? Just five days after that tragedy Congress had passed and President Bush signed a $15 billion bailout for the airline industry, then paid billions to the 9/11 victims.
What about federal flood insurance? We subsidize that to the tune of billions. Why should we do that in a hurricane zone? You're right. The nation shouldn't subsidize environmentally stupid development. But if we're going to start that policy, we must inaugurate it simultaneously coast-to-coast. So when we yank flood insurance from south Louisiana, we also will stop it for Miami, Tampa, St. Petersburg,. Jacksonville, Washington, D.C, and New York City, not to mention Houston, Gulfport and the rest of the Gulf. And while we're at it, we will stop paying for earthquakes in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Seattle and Alaska. And what about those people living in tornado alley? Why should we encourage them to rebuild year after year?
What about this Road Home Program? I see people getting money to rebuild. I've seen your politicians thank Congress. They have been groveling for crumbs -- and that has hurt us more than helped us. Here's an example that is typical. I have a friend who owned a $200,000 home in Lakeview. He had $14,000 left on his mortgage, and only $40,000 of flood insurance because it had never flooded. He might end up with $100,000 from Road Home. So he pays off his old mortgage and spends another $15,000 having his home torn down. But the builder says it will cost $325,000 to rebuild the same size house. So, at 55, he will have a $250,000, 30-year mortgage. He may never be able to retire. He's left in this situation after the richest nation in the world admitted it destroyed his home -- but refuses to pay for the damage. And he's lucky. There are many retired people who can't get the $300,000 mortgage to rebuild their homes destroyed by an agency of the government. They'll spend their remaining days in small FEMA trailers.
Why isn't anyone telling us this? They have. But you haven't cared enough to pressure Congress to do the right thing.
That's why I call this one of the most shameful episodes in American history.

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