Sunday, February 18, 2007

from Friday's NYTimes
A year ago, Ms. Larsen, 36, and Mr. Langlois, 37, were hopeful New Orleanians eager to rebuild and improve the city they adored. But now they have joined hundreds of the city's best and brightest who, as if finally acknowledging a lover's destructive impulses, have made the wrenching decision to leave at a time when the population is supposed to be rebounding.

Their reasons include high crime, high rents, soaring insurance premiums and what many call a lack of leadership, competence, money and progress. In other words: yes, it is still bad down here. But more damning is what many of them describe as a dissipating sense of possibility, a dwindling chance at redemption for a great city that, even before the storm, cried out for great improvement.
There was a real opportunity to rebuild a great and unique city. We could have used ample military/national guard to provide some security and give the emergency services a chance to get back on their feet amid war-like conditions; could have used real federal money to repair and rebuild neighborhoods--both remaking a city and offering lots of jobs in one of the biggest and most intense public works projects we've seen since FDR. Instead we got a city and state government that (perhaps understandably) weren't up to the challenge, and a federal government for whom hollow promises seems to be its only expertise, mired in a similarly mismanaged war overseas, and more worried about maintaining tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans than for offering work, security, opportunity and hope for its most vulnerable, damaged citizens.

The tragedy that is Katrina started as a failure of civil engineering, not a natural disaster; but the tragedy continues: a failure of leadership, a lack of focus, and worse still, a sweep-it-under-the-rug sleight of hand that views such challenges in political and public relations terms, not human dimensions. We have a powerful federal government--and a free press to watch it--for just such an occasion. But the characters drawn to such work have a preference for other concerns--foreign policy machismo, Anna Nicole Smith reports, year-round political campaigns, to name a few. They have both let us down, and we have let them.

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