2005 September 02 Friday
Should New Orleans Get Rebuilt And Who Should Pay For It?
The rebuilding of New Orleans will cost many billions and perhaps even tens of billions of dollars. On top of that the levee system and other water control improvements will be needed to prevent a repeat of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Faced with these huge costs a question arises: Is New Orleans an economically viable city? Should it be rebuilt? It is time to look at the tax base and economics of New Orleans.
The New Orleans property tax system shows signs of corruption that prevent the city from realizing all the revenues it could potentially collect. Also, New Orleans does not increase assessed values all that much as market values increase. So the city could have greatly higher tax revenues than it has been collecting. Such revenues could have gone to fund higher levee construction. Worse, still, the New Orlean Times-Picayune newspaper found that people who donate to reelection campaigns of tax assessors enjoy much lower property taxes than those who do not donate.
As a rule, New Orleans assessors put residential properties on the tax rolls at their sales price and then do not increase the valuations to reflect market appreciation. So New Orleanians who own their homes for a long time, whether or not they are donors, generally benefit from low assessments.
To determine whether donors get any additional benefit, The Times-Picayune looked at whether their homes went on the rolls for less than the sales price. Such breaks are fairly unusual, in part because assessors who stray too far from sales prices run the risk of having their tax roll rejected by the state.
Not only are properties owned by campaign donors prone to being undervalued, but they're likely to be undervalued by a larger amount than other properties. For example, properties owned by donors were more than three times as likely as other properties to be valued at 80 percent or less of their most recent sales price.
The breaks become larger when the date of the most recent sale is considered. The average donor-owned home in the newspaper's survey was purchased in 1988. The average sales price of a home in Orleans Parish has increased by 129 percent since then. But the properties in the survey are still valued at an average of 7 percent less than their most recent sales price.
Those numbers suggest that donor-owned homes are worth 136 percent more on average than the assessors' valuations. By comparison, the newspaper's survey found that the average New Orleans home not owned by a donor was worth about 70 percent more than its assessment indicated.
The New Orleans assessors have to keep their cheating from getting really blatant in order to avoid objections from a state-level commission.
Local taxing authorities collect about $2 billion a year in property taxes in Louisiana. Parish millages vary from a low of just over 43 mils to a high of nearly 176 mils in Union Parish and St. Tammany Parishes, respectively (2002). Municipalities also collect property taxes. Millage taxes are based on budget requirements set by local governments and are voted on by the taxpayers in the local communities. Parish assessors, elected to four year terms, have the responsibility of overseeing the proper assessment of properties within their jurisdiction. Under Louisiana state law, all properties within a parish are supposed to be re-assessed every four years in order to ensure accurate, up-to-date valuations. The Louisiana State Tax Commission is responsible for certifying that parish tax rolls are accurate.
Underassessments probably cost New Orleans $100 million per year in foregone tax revenue.
Last year, Mayor Ray Nagin took New Orleans' seven assessors to task for undervaluations of property that he said were costing the city more than $15 million a year. Although the assessors countered that the mayor was ill-informed and acting outside of his authority, the statistics suggest Nagin was low-balling the loss.
Had the properties in the survey been valued at the prices for which they sold and property tax rates remained constant, city agencies would have taken in an additional $2.3 million annually. Assuming the sample is representative, city agencies could have taken in, conservatively, at least $52 million more in tax revenue last year -- just from homeowners -- if assessments were accurate citywide. That's about the total raised from homeowners now.
Moreover, owner-occupied houses amount to about 40 percent of the city's base of taxable real estate. If similar assessment inequities exist in apartment complexes and commercial property, which were not examined in the newspaper's survey, the likely shortfall in city revenue could be more than $100 million a year.
Throw in a tax increase on property and it seems clear in retrospect that the money to pay for defending New Orleans from the sea was potentially available from local taxes. But if New Orleans could not afford to defend itself against hurricanes then the population of New Orleans should have gradually shrunk into a smaller area which can be defended. The people there have no right to demand of the rest of the United States to have their below-sea level lifestyles subsidized by everyone who chooses to live in less risky locales.
The flooding in New Orleans could have been avoided for $2.5 billion which could have been funded with a bond payable with higher property taxes.
"It would take $2.5 billion to build a Category 5 protection system, and we're talking about tens of billions in losses, all that lost productivity, and so many lost lives and injuries and personal trauma you'll never get over," Mr. Naomi said. "People will be scarred for life by this event."
If New Orleans property was all assessed at market value then a levee system strong enough to prevent the latest disaster could have been paid for by the citizens of New Orleans rather than by the taxpayers in the rest of the United States who do not choose to live below sea level.
One reads again and again in the press of complaints by local people about how a lack of federal money was to blame for what happens. But surely the locals could have come up with the money to buy better pumps and backup power generators.
Dr. Penland, the director of the Pontchartrain Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of New Orleans, said it was impossible to say how long it would take to repair the levees and pump the city dry.
New Orleans has 22 pumping stations that need to work nearly continuously to discharge normal storm runoff and seepage. But they are notoriously fickle. Efforts to add backup power generators to keep them all running during blackouts have been delayed by a lack of federal money.
"Pumping the water out - that's a lot of water," Dr. Penland said. "When the pumping systems are in good shape, it can rain an inch an hour for about four to six hours and the pumps can keep pace. More than that, the city floods."
If New Orleans is not economically viable the absent a large federal subsidy for storm defenses then the city does not have some sort of God given right to call upon the rest of the nation to support it.
Even if the nation decides to fully rebuild New Orleans the city might get trashed a couple more times while waiting for a cat 5 hurricane capable levee system to get built. Al Naomi says a levee fix to prevent cat 5 hurricane disasters would take decades to construct.
Until the day before Katrina's arrival, New Orleans's 350 miles (560 kilometers) of levees were undergoing a feasibility study to examine the possibility of upgrading them to withstand a Category Four or Five storm.
Corps officials say the study, which began in 2000, will take several years to complete.
Upgrading the system would take as long as 20 to 25 years, according to Al Naomi, the Corps' senior project manager for the New Orleans District.
Wikipedia's entry on New Orleans provides economic insights into whether New Orleans could afford sufficient flood control measures to protect against a category 5 hurricane.
As of the census2 of 2000, there are 484,674 people, 188,251 households, and 112,950 families residing in the city.
The median income for a household in the city is $27,133, and the median income for a family is $32,338. Males have a median income of $30,862 versus $23,768 for females. The per capita income for the city is $17,258.
From those numbers above New Orleans has a total GDP of about $8.4 billion. Could a city with that level of GDP afford to spend a few billion dollars on anti-flood measures?
In the coming debate on what to do about New Orleans keep in mind that another category 5 hurricane could hit the city next year or 5 or 10 years from now. Should billions of dollars in federal aid go into rebuilding the city? Or should the rebuilding aid be held back with money first spent on building levees and other anti-flood measures? Or should the homes in the flooded parts not get rebuilt and should the city just shrink in size into defensible borders?
At this point the assessed value of New Orleans just took a big nose dive. The local tax base just contracted into a small fraction of its previous size. Advocates for rebuilding should explain why the federal government should fund both a large chunk of the rebuilding cost and the development of a levee system and pumping system capable of handling the worst case events.
The US government already spends hundreds of millions per year subsidizing the physical upkeep of New Orleans. Michelle Malkin points to an article from the New Orleans City Business which showed that Army Corps of Engineering spending for New Orleans doubled from 1991 to 2003.
The Corps' New Orleans district in 2003 spent about $409 million on construction contracts, dredging and maintenance for the state's waterways, real estate purchases, private sector design contracts and in-house expenditures, according to the Corps. That more than doubles the $200 million the district spent in 1991.
Also, I do not buy the argument for the economic importance of New Orleans as a port city. I think the argument is based on a fallacy: Most of New Orleans does not need to be protected by levee in order for the port to work. Also, if the port has such high economic value then port usage charges should be raised high enough to pay for the levee system. If some economic activity has such high value then it should pay for itself. If port charges can get hiked high enough to pay for these costs then the market has spoken and ports can get expanded elsewhere to pick up the load.
One other point can be made for federal subsidies for the defense of New Orleans: Projects further up on the Mississippi river have cut the amount of sediment reaching New Orleans to replenish the silt that gets corroded away. Fair enough. But most of the problem with sediment appears to come from human interventions done for the area around and to the south of New Orleans. (and this is a really good article from Scientific American)
Louisiana's barrier islands are eroding faster than any around the
country. Millions of tons of sediment used to exit the Mississippi River's
mouth every year and be dragged by longshore currents to the islands,
building up what tides had worn away. But in part because levees and
dredging prevent the river's last miles from meandering naturally, the mouth
has telescoped out to the continental shelf. The sediment just drops over
the edge of the underwater cliff into the deep ocean.
Back in New Orleans the next day it becomes apparent that other human
activities have made matters worse. Cliff Mugnier, an L.S.U. geodesist who
also works part-time for the Corps of Engineers, explains why from the third
floor of the rectangular, cement Corps headquarters, which squats atop the
Mississippi River levee the Corps has built and rebuilt for 122 years.
Mugnier says that the earth beneath the delta consists of layers of
muck--a wet peat several hundred feet deep--formed by centuries of flooding.
As the Corps leveed the river, the city and industry drained large marshes,
which in decades past were considered wasteland. Stopping the floods and
draining surface water lowered the water table, allowing the top mucks to
dry, consolidate and subside, hastening the city's drop below sea level--a
process already under way as the underlying mucks consolidated naturally.
So the city is sinking. Mugnier says the parishes digging water drainage ditches are speeding the drying and compacting of the soil. Hence they are speeding the subsistence. He says St. Charles Parish will probably sink 14 feet. Should the US government spent more money on levees to protect these sinking parishes that are sinking themselves? We need to allow some natural processes to resume working. But all the local communities (New Orleans included) do not want to pay the price in flooding necessary to make those processes work. The delta has too many people living in it for natural processes to work.
Read that previous article. The problem with storm threats and sinking and corroding land in the New Orleans area runs a lot deeper than the blame game blog debate about increases or decreases of some tens of millions of dollars in the federal by the Bush Administration.
Corrupt and incompetent governments in Lousiana have done too little for decades to prepare for hurricanes. At the same time these governments have pursued policies and continue to pursue policies are sinking the land in the delta and causing massive losses of land to the sea. Louisiana has screwed up on such a massive scale that it is time to tell them they have to take responsibility for their problems.
Also see my post "Partisan Politics And The New Orleans Hurricane Katrina Disaster ".
Update: Here's my top question about the whole Mississippi delta: Can the sinking of New Orleans even be stopped or can it only be slowed? Note what the Scientific American article says above. As long as a levee exists around New Orleans and the place is not allowed to flood will it just continue to sink? Will the drying of the soil and the lack of new silt deposited on the surface of the city condemn the city to sink ever deeper?
Maybe the real problem here is that humans simply can't live long term (i.e. centuries) on a large delta of a river.
The levee system built to tame the Mississippi river both causes the subsidence and increases the economic value of ports along the river. A more complicated (and expensive) levee system could prevent (or at least slow) delta erosion. But can a complicated levee system prevent the populated areas from sinking?
If the areas that are kept permanently dry are condemned to sinking at some minimal rate even with the most sophisticated levee system then perhaps the delta should have port facilities but little population. Let the bulk of the Mississippi delta exist for wildlife and use levees to maintain a port and navigable river and for maintaining the delta buffer but not to maintain towns and cities in the delta.
When all is said and done, New Orleans will probably be a lot smaller. The historic district and the port facilities will be kept. They're just too vital to be let go of. Their workforces will need to be housed as well. The question will be the projects in places like Iberville. And it will a most contentious subject since a lot of local politicians will want to get their voters back. Get used to hearing the word "racist" even more than usual.
Am I the only one who can connect the word "dredging" with the phrase "fill dirt". Here in Houston (another gulf coast city buit in a swamp - though less so), developers are required to do both - dig floodwater retention ponds AND terrace their development well out of the 100 year flood plain.
From what I've seen, entire neighborhoods in NO will need to be completely rebuilt. Why not require them to be rebuilt at 20 feet above sea level? Is dirt that expensive in La.?
Not saying that NO isn't a compelling _situation_ for a city. Just that its _site_ needs some improvement.
I am writing to you from a location about 80 miles N/W of New Orelans, as the crow flies. We sustained relatively little damage but we now find ourselves on the front lines in the effort to help those from the city who have lost everything. Our small nursing home is now home to 150 additional residents; refugees from the city. And this human tragedy is repeated in every community which is in close proximity to the city.
I have always considered myself to be a conservative and was a life-long Republican until the onset of the Bush presidency. I have seen absolutely nothing "conservative" in his administrtion. Indeed, reviewing the events leading up to the invasion and failed occupation of Iraq, I believe his presidency to be the most radical since the American civil war.
The people of New Orleans are called on now to bear the greatest burden visited on any American, or group of Americans, since the civil war of the 19th century. The number of people who are being displaced at this moment is the greatest ever known in this nation's history. It is certainly true we have absolutely no experience with this kind of tragedy, the magnitude of which simply dwarfs anything in living memory.
You argue that the rest of the nation has no responsibility to rebuild New Orleans. I might be inclined to agree with that assessment were the precedents for doing not so numerous or of such recent vintage. I have rhetorically asked dozens of times, in the wake of 9/11, why the government felt it necessary to go on a spending spree, lavishing money on NYC; why the Congress and the president felt compelled to make the family of anyone who died in the WTC collapse multi-millionaries. Was it to bail out the airlines? Was it to bail out the financial services industry; namely the insurance companies? Or was it because most in the Congress simply identify with rich people, people who were already rich before Congress found it necessary to make them even richer. I have never received a satisfactory answer to that question.
Now, I sit here in this once quiet community, sick with anger. My cable service was restored a few days ago, and I got my fist views of what was happening, and had been happening all week, in the streets of New Orleans. I could accept the incompetence argument were it not for the fact that this administration has spent hundreds of billions of dollars "streamlining" the federal bureaucracy to deal with this kind of national emeregency. I suppose it is useful to see how, after wasting all this treasure, we at least get a good picture of how government will perfomr when confronted with a nuclear terrorist attack in one of our cities. The message: "look after yourself. You're on your own." But why all the needless spending if government couldn't function in the wake of the hurricane hitting New Orelans. One million of our fellow citizens were placed in harm's way. Hundreds of thousands were too poor to leave. And now...even those who had the wherewithall to leave, must make new lives for themselves and their families. In the meanwhile, they are existing in truly tragic circumstances in places like my community and surrounding communities.
So your rather cavalier dismissal of any claim my fellow citizens my have on the nation's pocket book, only fills me we with resentment....especially after the 9/11 precedent. These people are the most unfortunate or the unfortunate.
Maybe it's time to forget about political philosophies and begin to deal with the single greatest public disaster to have struck this nation in nearly 150 years. Those least fortunate among us have been carted away to places unknown with about as much sensitivity as the human displacements which occurred in Europe after World War II. And this is the United States? I must be having a nightmare.
On a more practical level, perhaps you should be concerned about whether the Mississippi River has been permanently closed to ocean going vessels. The hurricane moved a great deal of silt in the lower reaches of the delta. My guess is that the river is fully silted up at its mouth. If that is the case, then prepare yourself for chaos in our futures markets in the weeks ahead. No doubt you feel differently about whether government has any responsibility to keep the river navigable.
Sincerely, Richad Kilbourne
Hundreds of billions of dollars have not been spent to deal with ths kind of tragedy. Are you talking about money spent on homeland security? Even that does not total to hundreds of billions. Most homeland security money has been spent on tracking terrorists, developing methods of detecting chemo and bio attacks, and a large number of other things.
As for the inability of the poor folks to get out of New Orleans: The government of New Orleans had a couple hundred school buses that were supposed to get used for that purpose. It was in their disaster plan to use them. They could have moved out tens of thousand using those buses. The buses sit now half submerged under water. Why weren't the poor folks evacuated on Saturday and Sunday before the hurricane hit? Each round trip could have carried 10,000 people and there was time for dozens of round trips to Baton Rouge and other cities. So, yes, the governments of New Orleans and surrounding areas blew it.
Lousiana's corrupt and incompetent political culture created this disaster. Governor Blanco didn't ask other states for help until Wednesday. She's yet to declare a state of emergency. A National Guard Lt. Gen. says that as much as two thirds of the New Orleans police force went AWOL. Did any NYPD go AWOL after 9/11? Not to my knowledge.
What you are seeing is not the whole of the United States. What you are seeing is Louisiana. In most areas of the country rescue workers don't get shot at. Really, it is not like that in other areas. I'm having a nightmare finding that an American city can decay into Haiti-like conditions in just a few days.
Back in 2000, the director of the US Geological Survey forecasted that New Orleans would be on the verge of extinction by 2100. He claimed subsidence and other natural factors would culminate to a point where New Orleans was submerged in water.
Basically, I think the port facilities should be kept for economic reasons, and the French Quarter could probably be given flood protections cheaper since it's above sea level. There is also a lot of history there.
The rest of the city should either be relocated farther inland, or abandoned. Tell the southern LA diaspora to settle elsewhere.
As regards Bush: I have a low opinion of him for reasons you cite and a number of others. But I also now have a low opinion of Kathleen Blanco, Roy Nagin, and other local and state officials and cops.
Dear Sir: Since you have all the answers, I'm sorry I ever bothered to post here. If the Department of "Heimat" Security isn't suppose to deal with this kind of tragedy, then what in hell's name will happen when Toledo is taken out by a nuclear device planted by an Al Quaeda operative? What I infer from your response is that Louisiana is unique; therefore, its people should suffer the consequences of having located in a geographically undesirable neighborhood. Supposing for the sake of argument, all of the poor of N. O. could have been successfully evacuated to Baton Rouge, what do you suppose would have happened when they arrived there? It would have been far more efficient to have moved them out by trains, and I just read a report that Amtrack offered to make trains available for that purpose before the hurricane hit. But FEEMA declined, or was unresponsive.
The chaos you saw in New Orleans would happen in any American city which was overwhelmed by a tsunami, an earthquake of unprecedented proportions, or a blanket of volcanic ash. Order breaks down. It is completely unfair to even compare what happened on 9/11 to this tragedy. The WTC was one small area of Manhattan. The policemen and firemen who risked their lives and gave their lives trying to rescue people, at least had the satisfaction of knowing that their families were safely removed from harm's way. That was not the case in New Orleans. I am working with a population of nursing home refugees. I was speaking with an LPN yesterday. It's been more than one week since they evacuated their facility in N.O. She still doesn't know where her son and his family are and whether they made it to safety. But she continues to do her job in an alien place, serving those least able to help themselves. Our Department of Human Services is overwhelmed. Tomorrow, I'll be doing volunteer work with them. They are keeping their offices open in this little town 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Your indictment is uninformed and of course completely excuses the administration in Washington. There are plenty of people at every level of state and local government doing heroic jobs. And the volunteers have done remarkable things. Indeed, the only reason this tragedy hasn't been worse is because of the work of volunteers who risked their lives rescuing people.
I might mention that Louisiana's charity hospital system was a pioneering effort in this country. The staff of the Charity Hospital in N.O., a facility which is nearly 200 years old, stayed at their posts to the bitter end. The doctors, nurses, and other personeel have accomplished remarkable feats.
And the response of the communities surrounding N.O. has given me a new found faith in humanity.
Whereever you choose to place the blame for this tragedy, please remember that we are faced with a truly unique event of Biblical proportions. We are simply overwhelmed by what has happened, and even those of us who are fortunate enough to have escaped with our lives and our property, are facing a very long period of adjustment. I don't expect things will ever be the same.
BTW, I found your site because I was trying to find out something about whether the hurricane had permanently closed the river in consequence of having moved so much silt about at the bar.
Again, I have a low opinion of George W. Bush and his Administration certainly failed in their initial handling of this tragedy. Also, I do not doubt that many people are working very long hours to deal with the crisis. Yes, the Charity Hospital workers were wonderful even as armed gangs tried to shoot their way into the hospital.
But the majority of the blame for handling this crisis belongs to state and local officials and not national officials. As much as two thirds of the New Orleans Police Department abandoned their posts.
As for having a place to move people to in event of a hurricance: That sounds like a state responsibility to me. Lousiana politicians knew for decades that a big hurricane would some day strike New Orleans. What did they propose to do with evacuees from New Orleans? You should read your own government's plan for evacuation of southeastern Louisiana. They had counted shelters all over the state that were supposed to be available in event of a disaster. They just didn't execute the evacuation. They had hundreds of buses to use that just sat there.
As for the river: I saw a TV report saying that the Mississippi river did not appear to have much silting problems as a result of the hurricane. However, the actual port facilities look to be knocked out for months to come. Ships that can move from the river out into the Gulf of Mexico therefore probably won't be affected. But I do not know what percentage of the shipping that comes to the bottom of the river needs to get shifted onto ocean-going vessels. In the St. Lawrence system on the US-Canada border the same ships go down the canal system as go across the ocean.
The bulk of the staples from the Middle West arrive at the grain elevators in barges. From their, the grain [for example] is removed to the elevators and loaded on ocean going ships. The river has been navigable for ocean going vessels up to Baton Rouge. There are large grain elevators located on the west bank, opposite Baton Rouge. But the impact is very hard to assess at this time from what we know. I find it hard to believe that the river was not severely impacted by the storm. Hurricanes have carried off entire islands along our coast. If you see the mouth of the river from the air, you'll see these vast muddy flats of silt. It is treacherous to navigate. The bar is prone to silt up anyway. Some reports place the number of barges sunk in the river below N.O. at 300. Those too could be a real impediment to reopening the river. And a lot of the stocks for the refineries are shipped in via the river. I don't see how we're going to avoir a very serious gasoliine shortage in the weeks ahead, not because so much of the production in the Gulf has been knocked out, but because the refineries will take time to get up and running.
Please understand, too, that the storm moved in so quickly. When I retired for the evening on Saturday, Katrina was a category three storm. I had watched the weather channel most of the day and the predictions were that the storm would hit somewhere between Mississippi and Alabama. People had already been leaving N.O. before that, however. There was a virtual gridlock on the interstates leading out of town in every direction.
Even assuming what you say is true, that state and local officials failed to execute on their evacuaton plan, there is no getting around the fact that the consequences of this storm are simply devastating. We would still be looking at an inundated city even if the evacuation had been perfectly executed. And we would still be looking at the largest people displacement in American history.
If you want to follow the news on the river then I would suggest using Google News rather than general Google for doing your searches. Check out this search pattern Mississippi River Sonar which cuts to the chase in terms of news stories about the actual state of the river.
This sounds hopeful:
The Coast Guard reopened the river channel to barges Friday but not the ocean-going vessels that pick up commodities brought downriver by barges.
The administration is conducting the inspection of the river to identify sunken vessels and other obstacles. As of Friday, the administration had completed inspecting the first 20 miles, with another 200 to go, Sherman said.
An estimated 100 barges have sunk or run aground south of New Orleans. Buoys that mark the river channel also must be replaced.
I can not find a story with newer information.
"There is also a lot of history there.
The rest of the city should either be relocated farther inland, or abandoned. Tell the southern LA diaspora to settle elsewhere."
Funny....ain't it??? How much the great American heimat became like its old adversary, the U.S.S.R., in their long "to the death" struggle. Nor are such paradoxes that rare in history. I notice from your email address that you appear to have an affinity for the the physiocrats, a philosophy about as anachronistic as capitalist. Because America today certainly isn't capitalist. Is it? No. With Alan Greenspan at the FED, it is more correct to say that we have a "command economy." Just like the late, not so lamented, U.S.S.R. So today we have a completely bloated financial services industry [oxymoron] which is really nothing more than an appendage of government because it is a creation of government and its existence is guaranteed by government....and of course ultimately, the taxpayer. All of which makes the "rugged individualism" I'm finding here, as respects New Orleans and its recent demise, all the more bizarre.
If you are truly a physiocrat, you have to be appalled by the fiat currency fraud daily perpetrated on the American people by their servants at the BLS and the Treasury. And then there is the FED, and its dubious "Chairman," who seemingly believes that if he continues to make more and more money available to his banker friends, via the "carry trade," that somehow all will be right with the heimat.
We are quite incapable of treatng the underlying rot in our own country,even as it continues to manifest itself in our failed monetary regime. And your admonition to me, "Tell the southern LA diaspora to settle elsewhere..." might well have been uttered by one of Stalin's henchmen in the months following the end of World War II. Yes....the command economy mentality is sunk so deep in our national psyche that we don't even recognize it. So the arch-enemy's philosophy has taken hold of us. I might revel in the irony if it weren't all so tragic.
Quite a lot of finger pointing here at Louisiana for its "culture of corruption," but at least that culture was never anything more that "nickel and dime." Moreover, it was "Ancien Regime." Unlike the rot at the top of our finanical pyramid. Yep....the country has a very rude awakening ahead of it. National bankruptcy. Declining living standards usually produce social revolutions. They certainly did so in 1789.
"There is also a lot of history there." Yes....there certanly is....or, was. The only place in the land where you could see three centuries of architectural styles, bound together by a complex urban fabric; certainly the only city in the nation where you could drive for miles and see nothing by "antebellum" neighborhoods. I had some acquaintance with the city's rich archival resources. Since New Orleans was one of only three or four "important" cities in the United States before the Civil War, the manuscript collections [largely unexplored so far as the judicial archives "were" concerned] were one of our best sources of information on everyday life in Antebellum America.
As I began to recoup my faculties in the wake of our great tragedy, I had an anxiety attack. What has become of the city's 19th century judicial archives which had been housed in the sub-basement of the New Orleans Public Library on Loyola? I hope they are safe, but then again, they may be under 40 feet of dirty water. YEA...there was a lot of history in that place. I used those records extensively for the three books I had already published. So tonight, all I feel is loss. Loss of a city I loved, loss of hundreds of thousands of my fellow citizens, loss of community, and yea...loss of an awful lot of history.
History don't count for much, though, in a country which has no history. So far as many of my acquaintances are concerned, history is the last twenty years. The advent of Ronald Reagan's presidency.
Dear Kevin, you asked a very good question. "From what I've seen, entire neighborhoods in NO will need to be completely rebuilt. Why not require them to be rebuilt at 20 feet above sea level? Is dirt that expensive in La.?"
Fill, alone, will not accomplish anything in N.O. Remember...we're talking about a river delta very close to its outlet to the ocean. You could of course pile dirt on old building sites and raise the level of the land a couple of feet....maybe. But my limited acquaintance with the problems of subsidence in the areas between the lake and the Mississippi River's natural levee [the highest ground in N.O.] tells me that within a matter of years the structure built on that "mound," would simply sink to the level of its neighbors. The buildings don't actually have foundations as we generally understand them. First pilings are driven, often to great depths in the case of multi-storey buildings. So the bulding actually floats in a sea of watery soil. Even the residential neighborhoods rest on some kind of foundation similar to pilings. Fill will not accomplish much of anything in N.O. Remember that the Mississippi River has been depositing silt for thousands of years along this costal plain. There is no way to raise the level of the land, no matter how much fill you dump on the place.
Believe it or not, water is also very critical for soil stability in N.O. We had a long draught which lasted several years. The land around houses in various parts of the city, simply subsided, leaving the houses high and dry as the local water table droped during the draught. Water is a critical component, believe it or not, in sustaining the existing land in this part of Louisiana. Draw down the water, and the land sinks. You see a similar phenomeon in Mexico City. Subsidence in consequence of a dropping water table.
I've read the excellent Scientific American article on the problems in the Mississippi delta by Mark Fischetti and I come away thinking that the real problem is that people want to live in the delta in the first place.
Look, no one wants their town or region to flood. But the flood brings in the silt that builds up the sinking soil. Plus, the flood brings in water that keeps the soil from drying out and compacting and therefore sinking. So how can the delta get preserved if it can't get flooded periodically with lots of silty water?
If the flooding is allowed even if houses are built on stilts the flooding will cover roads with silt.
Lots of levees have been built at the expense of federal taxpayers to satisfy local demands. But those levees make the ground sink more rapidly and they cause the area around the mouth of the Mississippi to get eaten away since it is no longer replenished by silt. Now we taxpayers in the rest of the country are expected by people in Louisiana to foot the $14 billion bill to fix the situation. But even that fix seems like a kludge since places will still gradually subside.
So why not have the people in the delta vacate a place where humans shouldn't live?
The levee system which surrounds New Orleans was in part built with Federal money. But, then, so was the entire levee system up and down the Mississippi river, which channels the river. So a good chunk of the United States has access to a good inexpensive mode of transport for moving vast quantities of agricultrual produce to the rest of the world. Allowing the river to follow its natural paths, over the whole of South Louisiana, would not only destroy a vast area of our state, but would largely interrupt the nation's commerce. In other words, the channels to the ocean would be uncertain and probably not navigable for today's very large ships. If there is no intervention by man, then I suggest the whole center of the country had better find a new way of moving its produce to world markets. If you want the Mississippi River to remain navigable for the huge ocean going vessels which so geatly reduce the cost of shipping staples to the world, then you're going to have to have ongoing interventions by man to channel the river.
The expense of building and maintaining the levees in Louisiana was long ago recognized as a national burden, becaue of the importance of the river to so much of the nation. And Congress appropriated money for that levee system throuoghout most of the twentieth century. I rather doubt Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, and the rest of the states in the nation's grain belt are prepared to move their crops to market via some other mode of transport.
If you want the river to remain open so ocean going vessels can continue to take on cargoes of grain at places like Baton Rouge, then you're going to have to continue to interevene to channel the river so its depths are great enough to accommodate those vessels. Even before this tragedy, navigating the bar at the mouth of the river was treacherous.
So, the delta is not exclusively a Louisiana problem. The economic well being of much of the nation is affected by whether the mouth of the river remains navigable. For the past century, the river's natural tendency to change directions in its journey to the Gulf of Mexico, has been interrupted by the "Old River" control structure at Morganzia, Louisiana. During the great flood of 1972, the structure nearly collapsed. Had that happened the river would have followed its natural course and its main channel today would be the Atchafalya River and its mouth would be where the city of Morgan City is today. The economic impact of this would have been catastrophic, not only for New Orleans and Louisiana, but for the rest of the nation as well. The Mississippi would have been largely unuseable for purposes of commerce for many years. The Old River control structure was built by the Federal Corp of Engineers and they maintain it, as they maintain the river's entire levee system. Had the river changed course, however, it would have solved the subsidence problem in S/W Louisiana. Subsidence is a problem for the entire Louisiana Gulf Coast, not just N.O.
Before you continue down the path you have embarked on, you should also remember that one of the reasons the river can have such a catastrophic impact on us in the Louisiana delta, is because of all the channeling which has gone on and goes on along the river in the states of Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, and in the basins of the Missouri and Ohio rivers. Remember that far less silt would be flowing down the river if the river were free to inundate its natural delta which begins at the Gulf and terminates in Missouri. It's not just what has gone on in Louisiana. It's also what has been done further up the river. I don't doubt that the nation's mid-section would greatly benefit if the river could deposit its silt along its banks, as it had done for thousands of years. But I doubt most of the country would see it that way.
There aren't any good answers. Controlling the flow of the Mississippi is a national priority. Louisiana and its delta regions didn't make it that way. I don't think most of the Mid-West is remotely prepared to do away with the levee system and allow the river to do what it is suppose to do.
Locating a large city in a river delta may strike you as absurd, but remember that what we've done to the entire Mississippi River is equally absurd. And no one wants to see the river move down the Atchafalya. If it did, you could forget about moving anything down the river for a number of years. At least barges loaded with grain which would have to be unloaded and their cargoes placed on ocean going vessels.
I had supposed I would get no takers here concerning my question of why in the post-9/11 Congressional spending frenzy, our Senators and Representatives and our President thought it necessary to settle multi-million dollar gifts on the families of those who perished on 9/11.After all, the vast majority of those families were already far better situated than the average American family, and far far better situated than the average New Orleans family is today. Many of those families already had wealth in the millions of dollars in consequence of a family member having perished in the WTC collapse. The tenants of the buildings were rich and were part of the greatest con game in histroy, i.e. keeping the American dollar from collapse by creating more and more paper claims.
I had speculated it was because those in Congress are nearly all rich, and like rich people, they identify with rich people. It's one thing for my next door neighbor to die in a building's collapse; it's quite another thing for an elderly black woman in a wheelchair to die in the the streets of N.O. in front of the Morial Convention Center because she is dehydrated and has no water.
There is so much about this country which is so corrupt. I have no faith in our political system. You fault us here for being corrupt, for being unable to do even those things which are clearly life-saving and in our best interst. But are we any different from people anywhere in this country? The country is bankrupt. We're now the world's biggest deadbeat. We consume far far more than we produce. We eat up 70 to 80 percent of the world's savings. We produce nothing, except industries which are directly tied to government spending for their prosperity, such as healthcare and financial services.
Perhaps it's because we're such an uncomfortable reminder of what a hollowed out shell of a place the United States has become, that you and others are so judgmental at this hour of our greatest need.
Do you suppose Congress and the President will be so generous with us as they were with the 9/11 families?
If the Mississippi River's traffic is so essential and valuable then why not tax the ships and boats on the river to pay for the levee system? After all, that is how highways get built. The vehicles pay for the highways and roads with car registration fees, gasoline taxes, and taxes on commercial vehicles.
As for the subsidence problem: While it can be slowed I fail to see how it can be stopped. Towns and cities in the delta that have levees built around them are going to sink. They won't get silt and the soil under them will gradually get more compacted. Do you disagree with that statement?
As for the morally and financially bankrupt country: Well, one of the reasons for this horrible state of affairs is that every region keeps asking for money from the nation trough. You justify your own subsidies basically by saying "but they do it too". Do you think you are making a moral argument? Think hard about that before answering.
As for the historical precedence for some practice: But does that make it a good practice? I do not think so.
"Do you think you are making a moral argument?" Morals are a luxury. Especially in this day and age. I asked a very simple question which requires a complicated answer. I answered a question somewhat like the one you have just put to me with this response. Last week human life got very very cheap in the United States. Morals are a hallmark of a civilized society. Morals vanished from our political culture sometime ago. There is certainly nothing moral about what we are doing in Iraq. And it's in times like these that morals and law prove illusory.
I suppose many like yourself would like to belive that New Orleans and the lawlessness which prevailed there last week is somehow sui generis. You mentioned the police abandoning their responsibility and leving the inhabitants unprotected. Well, it turns out that the story that initially circulated was an exaggeration. Communications smply broke down. Police all over the city were left on their on. They couldn't communicate with anyone. I might mention that since Saturday two memebers of the police force have committed suicide. Battle fatigue......
Finally, I found this excellent article by Jay Taylor, which appeared this morning. I will only trouble you with an excerpt.
The Effects of Hurricane Katrina?
"As we know all too well, it is very easy to get caught up in the emotions of the moment and let those emotions lead to behavior that is damaging in the long run. In my 58 years of life, I cannot recall a more extensive natural disaster than of Hurricane Katrina. The tragedy of human life is enormous. The looting and violence that is taking place in New Orleans as reported in our press and on TV looks like something straight out of the darkest, most ungodly countries of Africa. There was one report of a helicopter that was bringing supplies into New Orleans but as the pilot approached his landing spot, he noticed a throng of thugs armed with power weapons waiting for him to land. Seeing looming disaster for him and his flying machine, the pilot took off as fast as he could for a saver landing spot. This is just one incident of hundreds if not thousands of acts of violence by increasingly desperate people in New Orleans. And you thought it couldn't happen here eh? I'm afraid that as the K-winter freeze up sets in, what we have seen in New Orleans may become a much more wide spread phenomenon in America."
I neglected to respond to your suggestion that the river traffic be taxed in order to support the levee building projects which are necessary in the delta in order to keep the river navigable. The state of Louisiana cannont levy a tax on interstate commerce. For years the state has tried to levy a tax on the oil entering the country through the offshore terminal because of the environmental impact the pipeline across the marshes has had on this very fragile environment. Each time, the Suprem Court of the US has struck down the legislation implementing such a tax. So Louisiana, or any state, is in no position to tax river traffic to support the maintenance of the levee systems.
Step 1: Sell the French Quarter and the other historic areas of NO to Disney and let them build CajunWorld. Put the working bits elsewhere.
Step 2: build a shipping canal parallel to and west of the main channel of the Mississippi from Cape Girardeau to Memphis, and east of the Mississippi from Memphis to Jackson, then along the Pearl River and then further east to Mobile. Use Mobile Bay as the transshipment point to the Gulf. Restore the Mississippi to its natural state allowing it to flow to the Gulf along the Atchafalaya.
Gotta say, you do not think small. How long would these shipping canals have to run? What do you think they'd cost to build?
Dear Robert....not a bad idea. But we're going to have to bulldoze all those levees all the way up to Minnesota if your plan for delta restoration is going to work. I wonder how that's going to play in Peoria????? But it sure would be better than letting all the silt accumulate along the edge of the continental shelf. Someday it will trigger a tsunami which would inundate all of Florida. But it's all academic, isn't it? Since our government is de facto bankrupt.
You complain about moral and financial bankruptcy but your bottom line appears to be that since some others get their slices you want your slice. You think morals are a luxury and you appear to be uninterested in moral arguments.
Well, some of us do not get a slice of the pork pie. Some of us oppose asking for a slice and object when others ask. I'm one of those who object and who do not want a slice of the pork pie. I also think moral beliefs are reasons to argue for and against demands for pie slices. I also think people shouldn't freeload on other people.
Dear Randall Parker: I take umbrage at your accusation that I am simply out to get what I can get at someon else's expense. I am not one of those who feeds at the public trough. I never have and I certainly don't think I get my money's worth from gubment. But I think the irony is simply overwhelming when you look at the 40 billions appropriated by congress ten days after 9/11 for the great "pay off" and to bail out the airline industry; and then the tragedy we've seen over the last week in N.O. I admit that in the aftermath of 9/11 we weren't fighting a very expensive losing war in a foreign country as we are today.
I believe that if Congress must lavish filthy lucre on the most fortunate among us, we in Louisiana are at least entitled to an explanation as to why Congress felt it necessary to settle fortunes on those who were already very very fortunate in the aftermath of 9/11. I suppose, as I have said before, that since our Congressmen and Senators are rich, they simply identify with rich people. Not with people dying for want of water and medical attention in the streets of one of our nation's great cities.
It really is mean spirited of you to single me out for criticism when I am one of the very few who truly understands how appalling the conduct of our gubners has been and continues to be.
We might better spend our time discussing what kind of regime we're going to erect as the present one crumbles. We are following a trajectory almost identical to the one followed by the late un-lamented USSR in the last decade of its life. I keep hoping that the BOJ of the ECB will just start dumping our paper on the market. At least it would bring a very swift end to the career of the worst central banker in American history.
The military response costs a lot of money. Plus, Congress already voted $10 billion in relief aid for Hurricane Katrina. If recent past practice of other hurricanes is any indication they will vote many billions more. Plus, the government flood insurance program is a big subsidy for people who want to live near the ocean.
As for the 9/11 pay-outs: Yes, I think they were unjustified. Lots of people lose their parents or spouses or kids to accidents or murders every day. They do not get $1 million a piece. But the American public went irrational about this because they were shocked by how this happened.
Look, a lot of people died in this hurricane who, if they weren't so stubborn, could have avoided it simply by either leaving or going to a storm shelter. Whereas with 9/11 people had no warning. So I see hurricane deaths in a different light from deaths by terrorist attacks.
This will be my last posting here. You are welcome to delete all of my prior postings, including this one. The "magnanimity" of our Congress, enriching the rich in the wake of 9/11, is a travesty. You make a couple of predictable excuses, but you fail to address why it was done? I think it was done because most of the people we elect to national office today simply identify with the "rich." They can sympathize with people living in Westchester County. They can't empathize with people dying on the streets of New Orleans for want of water and an environment removed from the natural elements.
"Look, a lot of people died in this hurricane who, if they weren't so stubborn, could have avoided it simply by either leaving or going to a storm shelter. Whereas with 9/11 people had no warning. So I see hurricane deaths in a different light from deaths by terrorist attacks."
Yes...it is always easier to blame the victim(s), isn't it? I suppose if I leave my house this evening to walk the dog and am shot dead by a mugger, then I deserved it for having been so imprudent as to even leave the house at night. Right?
A lot of them died in the "storm shelters." Or perhaps you missed that on TV. A lot more of them simply had no way out of the city. The 9/11 people had no warning. Well..that storm turned into a category 5 hurricane in a matter of hours. You are adamant that public money shouldn't be expended to rebuild the lives of the citizens of N.O. You are simply blase when I demand an explanation of why Congress chose to enrich the most fortunate ones in our society. Those who died on 9/11 at least had generous survivor benefits for their families. And certainly many of those who perished at places like Cantor Fitzgerald were wealthy by anyone's standard. The deserving rich: the undeserving poor.
I was ambivalent about this country before Katrina depopulated a city, destroyed it, leaving us with the biggest refugee problem in American history. My only consolation in all of this is the knolwedge that what I saw in New Orleans last week will be visited on the nation in short order.
The United States is now the world's biggest "deadbeat." We live off the generosity of the rest of the world. For how long....I don't know. But we now have between four and five trillions net of offshore liabilties. Someday that paper will wash back over us like a tsunami. And we'll all be living the equivalent of Weimar Germany in 1923.
If you want to rail against something, then rail against the travesty we call our fiat monetary regime. More taxing goes on via that fraud than what the federal government manages to steal from us directly. And that burden is very unequally distributed.
The Federal Reserve created the greatest equity bubble in history. When it deflated in 2000, the Federal Resreve set about blowing up other bubbles, in housing for instance. The mentality at the FED is if the financial services industry can be made to prosper at our expense, then all will be well with the country. We have a centrally planned econmy, courtesy of the Federal Reserve.
So, in 2000 Alan Greenspan set about rescuing the financial services industry by promoting another giant speculation. Income streams are no longer a useful measure of financial well being. Rather, speculations in assets, capital gains, have become the new financial index. I know it is unsustainable, but the frauds at the FED accomplished the feat of magic at the expense of the few in the country who bother to save the old fashion way and by conning a lot of dumb central bankers elsewhere in the world.
I think the reckoning will come when we have to abandon Iraq with our tail between our legs. I hope that is soon. I hope we're humiliated. It is the least we deserve for having made the lives of millions of truly unfortunate people a whole lot worse than they were before we invaded that sad place. The only good to come from any of this is that there won't be a Republican elected to office for a generation. If we get really lucky, both political parties collapse. I'm hoping for the latter.
The disaster last week in New Orleans may be just enough to push our way over-leveraged financial system over the edge. I hope so.
You preach a lot here about the "unfairness" of our tax structure and the "political" spending which goes on in Washington. And I agree with you about that. But the present administrtion is the most corrupt in the nation's history. And if this administration is a "conservative" one, then I sure was self-deluded all of those years I called myself a conservative, a reactionary even.
My advice, and you didn't ask for it, is to prepare yourself for what is coming. You may want to look outside the United States for a place to "refugee" to. This place is going to be one big hell hole.
On the off chance you do return one more time, I wonder why you rail about the 9/11 victim families? The money wasted on that seems like a pittance compared to the amounts wasted on some things--like pretending to occupy Iraq, for instance. It seems like a petty thing to rant about, and in the current context contributes to the impression I am sure many have that you are only interested in your share of the spoils.
Much like the world assumes greater influence and intent than the US actually has in the world theater, I suspect you overstate Greenspan's power and mischaracterise his intent.
Make no small plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die, but long after we are gone be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons are going to do things that will stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon, beauty. Think big.
-Daniel Burnham, 1909 [Burnham was the architect who drew up the master plan for Chicago]
Try this: Time for a Tough Question: Why Rebuild? By Klaus Jacob, Washington Post, Tuesday, September 6, 2005; Page A25
We can't rebuild NO as a productive city in its current location. Look at a map. The Louisiana coast is a swamp. There is no good place to build a port city. The best nautural port on the Gulf is Mobile Bay. Furthermore the lower Mississippi is and always will be a problem, but we need the water transportation. Thus my solution put the Mississippi barge traffic in a canal and leave the course of the river at Cape Girardeau.
Cost, I don't know. IANAE. My guess, probably less than the cost of the Iraq War (Which I thought to be nessecary and desirable, the example is used to show that we can easily afford it).
At any rate we can reduce future spending on River control and collect tolls from the barges on the canal.
Elected tax assessors? With campaign contributions? You serious?
typical idiot. the blame game
I think that people should take responsibility for themselves and not rely on a corrupt government. Gee, why would anyone in there right mind support democrats or republicans? Look at the third world evil dictators we supported from Papa Doc, evil South American dictators, Saudi terrorists who used our technology against us once we gave it to them and then we trade with communist China, all the while chanting right-wing individualism or democracy. It's obvious the government doesn't care about you if they want to hire illegal aliens (though many aliens are Indian and were here before everyone else, so they claim they have a right to work in America, so I can't say anything about this matter)with low pay or no pay for hard work they should be paid much higher for. This is wrong, but it goes on. If we believe in democracy, how come all the third world leaders and elites get all of the foreign aid money, while allowing there own people to starve. But then again, the Americans have bad work ethics and themselves vote for corrupt democrat and republican parties, so we are to blame. The people of New Orleans should have spent the money to build better levees, or reconstructed the city so it would not be flooded. New York should have screened out people entering the state, but they won't do that because they are cheap and lazy. So, expect more hurricanes, terrorists killing us patriotic Americans with our weapons and foreign aid money (your tax dollars!) I think it is too late to build New Orleans. If another terrorist attack hits us like 9/11, the country will not be able to take care of itself, and it will be New Orleans all over again. Plus we have Arabs with bombs and other countries waiting to get us. I it's up to the individual to save themselves. People call the blacks savages in New Orleans, but I think most Americans will act worst, especially the middle and upper classes, because the are spoiled and will flip out once they can't have their luxuries. I am out for me. New Orleans showed the character of most people, and it is rotten. New Orleans can never be rebuilt again--never. If I was in New Orleans, and if I was in the hurricane, I would never want to go back. I live thirty miles from New York, and I hate going into the city. No one should really pay for New Orleans, New York, tsunami victims, AIDS victims, or the crisis in Niger. A people and countries should have the ability to save themselves. If you allow corruption in your government, then that is the peoples fault for not fighting back. They are cowards and tolerated evil.
The "demaged" New Orleans should be rebuilt absolutely, no argument. For it is a partition of such lovely,powerful,nice country. You American may not know that 1n 1976 a Chinese beaufiful city named Tangshan was destroyed by earthquake in 6 second completely , and 200,000 people were killed. Only after ten years a new city was erected in its original place. So go ahead.
New Orleans will be rebuilt. It will be better, safer and more beautiful. Why? Because a huge block of stationary poor have been relocated and may I say, at the same time, are receiving heartfelt help from their adoptive communities.
The (speculators)people buying property in NO will have a hand in gentrifying areas that have been squalid renter's hell holes for generations. I know- I'm south La. born and raised. My family had two homes destroyed by hurricanes and after the second one (DUH) we MOVED! yep- and before you say that we had financial resources, let me tell you all we had was the clothes on our backs and what we could fit into an old station wagon. My dad had to stand in the bathroom naked while my mother washed his work clothes. I slept on an army cot. I didn't know that I was being "dissed" when someone called me a refugee. There are a lot of people out there who are going to quietly rebuild their lives and other folks who are going to suck all they can out of the system... and then continue to gripe and complain about nobody helping them enough. After the Florida hurricanes, FEMA gave refugees 18 months in government trailers, (I lived in one once- not the Taj, but better than nothing)- and many still haven't gotten themselves into a situation where they can become self sufficient. In this case I am talking about caucasians... Lack of resources and lack of motivation are two different things and neither are the exclusive domain of any ethnicity.
Well, in my opinion we should let the federal government pay for the damage. This would allow them to abolish president Bush's tax cuts. Therefire they would have more money to put to disasters like this. They would be able to help any natural disaster.
Sorry Randall I have to disagree with you on the boat registration. The fact of it is that boats already pay rgistration fees and to use them in another state you have to get a grant for about $30-50.
In the long run boaters are already paying their way. It is the govenrment who needs to make sure that the money gets where it comes from. Now to your statement about our debt crisis, this is because we rebuild every country that we destroy. Japan never payed us back after we bombed them and do you think Iraq is going to pay us back? It's not that we are loaning money to them but not using our money wisely. We need a government who watches the expendetures carefully and oversees where it all goes. It is not going to the right places is our only problem.
Our debt crisis has nothing to do with World War II. Very little of the US federal budget in the last 50 years has gone to reconstructing countries we invaded. Only Iraq is getting money and the bulk of that money is going to the US military, not reconstruction.
Boat registration fees? I do not see the relevance of your comment.