N.O., the Mayor, and God

As reported by CNN, these are the words of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin in a recent speech on MLK Day: “God is mad at America, in part because he does not approve of us being in Iraq under false pretenses. He is sending hurricane after hurricane after hurricane, and it is destroying and putting stress on this country.” Does this mean that Nagin has aligned himself with Pat Robertson in pronouncing every terrible weather phenomenon as a sign of God’s disapproval resulting in horrible circumstances accruing to God’s wrath and afflicting the appropriate people? Would Nagin also consider the tsunami of December 2004 a sign of God’s wrath – 200,000 dead in the Indonesia area – and, if so, what would he consider their awful collective sin in deserving that punishment? Or, what about the earthquake in Pakistan? One wonders if the mayor has received a huge intravenous dose of fundamentalist dogma, has discovered a way to get into the mind of God, knows something terrible about Indonesians and New Orleansians (those most afflicted by Hurricane Katrina), or was simply hallucinating.

Nagin is running for reelection in April and so may be excused for trying to energize his African-American base in a city that has become much more white than it was before Katrina. He also said some tough things about blacks, but insisted that New Orleans must remain “chocolate.” Again according to CNN, his words: “This city will be chocolate at the end of the day … This city will be a majority African-American city. It's the way God wants it to be.” This is the sort of arrogance, coupled with extreme criticism of the federal government operating under tremendously trying circumstances handling a catastrophe of proportions undreamed of last August, not to mention that it was doing this in a constricted time-frame encompassing two other destructive hurricanes, that speaks poorly of a government official. Nagin’s words: “How do you make chocolate? You take dark chocolate, you mix it with white milk, and it becomes a delicious drink. That is the chocolate I am talking about.” That definition fits every city in the country, so what’s special about New Orleans? According to Nagin, New Orleans is special with respect to who occupies and runs it because God has ordained such to be the case. The surprising thing is that Nagin would allow for any “white” to be in the mixture at all.

It’s high time that government officials either watch what they say or say nothing. Nagin is annoyed because a huge segment (39% at last remembrance) of the black evacuees from New Orleans have indicated that they do not plan to return. These people are probably not property owners and so have no interest in trying to live in wrecked housing that will remain wrecked for a very long time in a city that could go under the water again, in any case. Having lost everything once, they would be expected to make every effort to avoid losing everything again. It’s doubtful that much, if any, of their possessions was insured. Many, if not most, are on various types of government welfare and have discovered that they can collect checks no matter where they are. In addition, New Orleans has a record of being unbelievably unsafe with a government steeped in corruption. With the water levels of Lake Pontchartrain and the canals that cross the city always to be well above those of their former living-spaces and businesses, the evacuees, especially having no assurance that a Katrina-like catastrophe won’t happen again, feel well-advised to simply stay away. For that matter, the city is actually also sinking, making the physical side of the problem even greater.

The tens of billions of dollars being thrown by the federal government at New Orleans to benefit a tiny fraction of the nation’s populace and industry seem an unseemly waste, in the first place. Relocation is eminently more sensible for the people and/or businesses and certainly more reasonable for the government. Restoring the city to any kind of previous condition, if at all possible, will take years and years, probably decades. Indeed, one could hope that the city would not be restored to that condition, in the first place. Since much, if not most, of the water damage occurred as a result of the deterioration of the levees and not the wind, even considering the fact that the city was hit with at least a Category-4 hurricane instead of the Category-3 type, which it was claimed the city could withstand, there is no reason to believe the city will ever be safe again.

The president would be well-advised to take a far more common-sense approach to the problem of New Orleans, and spending money for relocation and rehabilitation is a far better solution (and certainly much cheaper one) than trying to restore what has been virtually totally devastated, except for small pockets. The fact that the people most affected – the poor – would rather not return adds weight to this suggestion. This is not even to take into consideration that the mayor doesn’t appreciate any significant white presence, and that he has made it clear previously that the influx of Mexican workers and their families to bear squalid living conditions while carrying out the nastiness of cleanup activities and possible rebuilding is not to his liking.

Some institutions such as Tulane University have reintroduced operations, but not on the scale as before. For instance, Tulane, if memory serves, has not re-instituted its engineering department, a vital part of any university’s curriculum. Some businesses have already pulled out for good. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, terribly ravaged by the water, did graduate a class recently, but in Birmingham, not New Orleans. There aren’t enough workers to support a tourist industry, and probably not enough to operate an adequate number of hospitals, assuming that full operations are possible at any of them. Some schools will never open again, meaning a budget-blasting effort at rebuilding, even if the requisite number of teachers will agree to live in what has been demonstrated to be a city just waiting for the next shoe to drop.

The federal government has already spent untold millions attempting to help the New Orleans people get their lives back together, but the amounts necessary to restoring the city as a whole are too staggering to contemplate, especially in light of the danger still to be faced every day of another levee breakdown. If Nagin thinks God is mad about Iraq, one wonders what he thinks God feels when viewing the unbelievably gross and perverted exercises of Mardi Gras. It seems, however, that Mardi Gras is the uppermost consideration. Maybe Nagin should have a talk with Pat Robertson.