Sunday, July 08, 2007

Out of the Trappist Monastary

There is so much chaos that no one will be able to figure out exactly where the money went for a long time.
Bill Quigley

Finally got the computer working, but I spent too much time making long-winded comments at other blogs to finish up planned posts here. Before I get to those posts, I haven't seen any local commentary on Bill Quigley's Lessons From Katrina: How to Destroy an African American City in 33 Steps. I never thought I'd say this, but Bill Quigley is an idiot. Thirty-three steps and he forgets to include co-opting the mayor. Instead, he implies that the federal government tried to prevent Nagin's re-election. I guess Quigley never heard Jeff Crouere's comments about The President's photo-ops with The Mayor. Hell, did he see the puppet dance on a string when he went on Meet the Press shortly after Katrina?

I won't go into a detailed criticism of the piece and I don't believe in dismissing viewpoints as "conspiracy theory." However, if you're going to imply a conspiracy, you need to answer the obvious questions. The nation has been content to abandon its inner cities to the poor and minorities for decades, what makes New Orleans different? Why would it intentionally disperse a large minority population that's nicely segregated according to the working model? Does the same power structure that has no interest in preventing the global warming and ensuing rise in sea levels that put the city's long term viability in doubt have any rational interest in the city?

Elsewhere, Ed Blakely had some interesting comments in today's paper:
"Some things are more difficult now because the city has done what too many cities have done: They've allowed the big boxes to destroy local shopping," he said. Since Hurricane Katrina, a handful of mega-hardware retailers have opened around town, but there is little evidence that small retailers have gone out of business or chosen not to return because of a big-box presence.

"The city's been so anxious to get development, it's made poor choices," he said. "You don't bring big boxes into the middle of the city and expect your neighborhoods to survive."

I may have been the first Blakely critic in the local blogosphere when Nagin first came down to give his expert opinion that we needed a recovery czar and that he was the ideal candidate for the job. He still rubs me the wrong way, but I acknowledge that we're stuck with him and he has done some things that I approve of -- like convincing the mayor not to take out an expensive loan to prove a political point.

Still, there are several unanswered question about Blakely's office, unasked questions might be accurate. Is Blakely's position purely advisory, or does it have real administrative authority. Blakely seems to think the latter. That would seem to make some of the positions in the mayor's office redundant, yet we've given huge pay raises to the mayor's top aides, created new highly paid positions (like a chief development officer for planning and development for the City of New Orleans) within the mayor's office and we seem to have given the mayor a spokesman for every day of the week, all at a time of reduced city services.

Additional Blather:

I assumes that it's obvious why I opened with the sentence about it being difficult to trace reconstruction money. What's true for carpetbaggers is true for scalawags. I'm not being entirely facetious with my choice of words; as I've said, I have no problem with "conspiracy theories." When I first started this blog, I thought it was obviously suspect that the "deficit hawks" in the Republican party won their first real victory with Katrina reconstruction spending -- after the uproar over no-bid contracts and the demand for local involvement began. Since then, I've often wondered if some kind of understanding had been reached between the federal government and the local guys, with the only real squabbling being between the state and the city. Just a suspicion, I've never developed it into a full-fledged theory, but I am open to that sort of thing.

However, Quigley implies a conspiracy that goes against two generations of federal policy. Since the G.I. Bill rewarded new home construction in the forties, and the interstate highway system was started in the fifties, federal policy has encouraged abandonment of our city cores. If your going to posit a radically new conspiracy, you've got some background motivation to explain. I could give a couple of plausible explanations, but I don't think they'd withstand much scrutiny. For example, port activities have been spread throughout south Louisiana.

I do take particularly strong exception to one item in Quigley's list:
Step Twenty One. Keep affordable housing to a minimum. Use money instead to reopen the Superdome and create tourism campaigns. Refuse to boldly create massive homeownership opportunities for former renters. Delay re-opening apartment complexes in African American neighborhoods. As long as less than half the renters can return to affordable housing, they will not return.

Quigley raises a valid point, but he ignores the African American opposition to apartment complexes in African American neighborhoods. One of my biggest concerns about the city's rebuilding effort has been the apparent rush to turn New Orleans into a city of multi-unit housing. The residents of New Orleans East have learned firsthand how quickly multi-unit housing can turn into blighted property.

Welcome back, David. We missed ya.
Quiggley's piece was one of his worst efforts, yet it was widely published.

And kudos to Blakely for his "big box" store comments.
I find Quiggley usually starts out with a fairly good argument that quickly degenerate into something that gets too close to kook conspiracy theory for comfort. This one could well have crossed the line completely. It is a shame, because he does manage to get wide coverage, and he really ought to know Occam's razor is not something you find in a barber shop.
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