Friday, January 12, 2007
The pride of New Orleans
Anderson is heading back from New Orleans, but we thought we'd show you a great interview he did last night with Herbert Gettridge, an 83 year-old Lower Ninth Ward resident literally rebuilding his home by himself.
New Orleans, circa 1942
Samuel Rumsey points to the yard next to his house and remembers when cows used to roam here. Rumsey is 87 years old, and his house was the first one on this block of the Lower Ninth Ward back in the 1940s.
His family grew and built around him. The Rumseys pretty much owned the block. Then Katrina struck and they scattered; all of them except for Samuel. He's back and slowly rebuilding, living in a FEMA trailer in the front yard of his house. There's still spray paint on the house where first responders checked for dead bodies.
We've seen many faces of the Lower Ninth Ward: First it was just underwater, next it was soggy and collapsed, then it was brittle and rotting, and now it just feels like a wasteland -- houses are razed and there's simply no one around.
The city says residents can move back in down here, but there remains confusion about FEMA flood codes and rumors still persist the city will eventually knock everything down and make it into a park. Even to the people who are trying to rebuild down here, it's not an outrageous idea -- the Industrial Canal levee certainly looks strong, but it looked the same way 17 months ago, and it's collapse is a vivid nightmare.
Nonetheless, Samuel Rumsey is determined to rebuild, and start over. He says he remembers being the first one here in 1942, and he smiles as he says it feels like those early days all over again.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Marchers refuse to let Nagin speak
We came to New Orleans today planning to do a progress report on rebuilding. We arrived, however, just as a demonstration against crime was getting underway.
For those of you who haven't been following the latest news out of New Orleans, crime here has once again reared its ugly head. There have been at least eight murders so far this year. It could be nine, but there seems to be some quibbling about whether or not that murder occurred before or after the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve.
New Orleans has long been a divided city -- divided by race and class, money and power. Today, for a few hours, those chasms were crossed, as people from all over town marched on City Hall. They were brought together by anger and frustration, fear and heartbreak. They clutched pictures of loved ones lost, babies murdered, friends gunned down.
One woman held up a poster with an infant's smiling face staring out. It was her eleven month old son, shot to death by a carjacker in front of her. "I've come not just for me, and my son," she told me, "But for everyone."
Mayor Ray Nagin tried to address the crowd and likely would have used the phrase he's used for the last six months, "Enough is enough." That's what he said in June when he asked for the National Guard to help patrol the streets, and that's what he said on Tuesday when he promised new anti-crime initiatives.
Today, however, the crowd didn't want to hear those words. They've heard them too many times already. March organizers refused to let the mayor speak. It was a very public slap in the face, a sign of just how deep the anger here has become. It was an extraordinary day in this bruised and battered city. I hope you'll tune in tonight.
Anger rises in New Orleans
Following Katrina's money trail
Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco recently set aside $500 million for New Orleans.
Where is the money? That seems to be the most-asked question around New Orleans.
Nearly everyone here has heard the federal government allocated around $12 billion to Louisiana. Major charities donated about $2.5 billion. Even foreign countries sent about $1 billion, including $126 million in cash earmarked for Katrina victims.
So where is it? We went to find out, and were told much of it is still in the hands of the federal government.
I met Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco at the governor's mansion to talk about the money trail. She says the state has received and paid out about $2 billion dollars of the $12 billion or so that's been promised by the federal government.
But New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin says that's not enough. He says the city is broke and wonders why it's only received about $100 million of the nearly $1 billion it has been promised.
Here's one thing that's holding up the money: The federal government's reconstruction fund works as a reimbursement program. The city needs to spend money to get money back. Problem is, the city says it doesn't have the money to spend on the construction projects, so it can't get reimbursed for work it can't get started.
Gov. Blanco says she recently put aside about $500 million to help the city make down payments and get projects started, but will construction companies be willing to do work for a city that's broke and has to get reimbursed to pay them? People here aren't so sure.
In the meantime, many people here will continue to live without a working sewer system, without power in many areas, and without much hope of a speedy recovery fed by a vast infusion of funds.
More fingers needed to plug 35K leaks
"The gift that keeps on giving." That's what residents here in New Orleans are calling the aftermath of Katrina. Comedy is a great recuperative tool, but it's not much relief for the 1,300 or so people whose heat routinely cuts off in the middle of a chilly winter night, because their natural gas fuel line has a water bubble in it.
Among them: A wonderful little old lady with whom I spent an afternoon. Her name is Thais Noriea. She's 90 years young, tough as overcooked andouille sausage, and willing to deal with what whatever Katrina throws her way. But no heat? That's where she draws the line. During our visit, plumbers arrived to fix the gas line and soon got an earful from Ms. Noriea.
Most of the four million gallons of water that poured into the city's natural gas lines was flushed out after Katrina. But some of it hides in pipes throughout the city, and all it takes is a teaspoon to block fuel from getting into a home. Plumbers tell us all they can do is blow it out, but that it then travels to another neighborhood, another home like Ms. Noriea's.
Another area of the city's infrastructure that remains compromised is the water system. Most of the floodwaters that overran New Orleans dried out in just weeks. But many underground pipes were busted by the roots of toppled trees and homes lifted from their foundations. Also, the salt water that poured into the city is corrosive and continues to ruin still more pipes. And there is a shortage of both workers and equipment to fix them.
Officials estimate there are 35,000 leaks to plug. And consider this: They've already sealed an equal number. About 50 million gallons of water leak out through these pipes everyday, officials say, water that people could use to drink, water for which residents are paying.
Ms. Noriea is not happy about the state of the city's battered infrastructure. But she isn't leaving. You'll meet Ms. Noriea tonight, and if you're like me, you'll come away with a better understanding of what it means to be resilient.
New Orleans residents: 'Tired of Being a Target'
Anderson is doing the show from here in New Orleans Thursday night and one of the subjects we are tackling is the community response to the recent spate of murders in the city.
Last night, I spent some time with residents in the Bywater district as they made signs for Thursday's big march to City Hall. The idea for the march began among residents in the Bywater and Marigny districts, which are located just east of the famous French Quarter, but has become a citywide event that will take place later this morning.
One event that helped galvanize city residents is the well-publicized shooting death of filmmaker Helen Hill. She and her husband, Dr. Paul Gailiunas, were shot in the doorway of their home in the Marigny district on January 4th. Hill's husband survived, but she was killed, leaving behind a two-year-old son.
New Orleans has seen nine murders since January 1 and residents in the Bywater neighborhood, like Jim Mondoro, don't see the city doing much to control the situation. Jim told me that part of the problem is that city leaders tend to ignore areas Marigny and Bywater, which are not frequented by tourists. He said that he and his neighbors do their best to keep an eye out for each other, but that hasn't stopped serious crimes from happening.
Longtime resident Karen Rittvo knows six people, all New Orleans residents, who have been killed since July. This crime spike is even more of a concern for her because not a single arrest has been made in any of these deaths.
Last night, Jim, Karen and their neighborhood friends painted posterboards with slogans like "Tired of Being a Target" and "Enough is Enough" in hopes that Mayor Ray Nagin and the city's police chief will come out and speak with them about solutions to what they see as a problem that will not go away.
Mayor Nagin held a press conference on Tuesday and announced new crimefighting initiatives, including more police foot patrols and expediting murder investigations. Jim and Karen don't think that's enough. They hope that somehow, today's march will force the city to take more action. Nine murders since January 1st is more than enough for these angry and scared New Orleanians.
Hot Links: Dodd for prez
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Bush's plan may please no one
I just landed in Washington and am heading to a round of meetings in advance of President Bush's speech tonight.
I always find it interesting how momentum seems to build in Washington before a speech like this one and how a sort of conventional wisdom develops. Frankly, I'm always wary of conventional wisdom. Rarely, it seems, is it very accurate.
By now, some of the president's proposals for Iraq are well known, and "last chance" is the term a lot of observers are throwing around, Republicans and Democrats alike.
The plan to escalate or "surge" some 20,000 more troops is unlikely to truly satisfy anyone. The troop number is lower than many hawks would like and too high for those who would like to scale back our involvement. There are also real questions about the Maliki government's willingness or ability to make good on its reported promises to go after Shia militias.
As always, it's easy to get caught up in the politics of an event like this one, and no doubt that is what much of tonight's coverage will explore. But I also think it’s worth remembering that human lives are at stake.
For American servicemen and women and for all Iraqis, this is not some laboratory experiment. I've been on enough patrols in Iraq to know that our brave soldiers and Marines will continue to do what is asked of them, no matter how difficult, no matter how dangerous. Lets hope what we ask of them is worthy of their sacrifice.
We've assembled a really smart panel to talk about the speech tonight -- Joe Klein of Time, former presidential advisor David Gergen, blogger Andrew Sullivan, as well as military analysts, and of course our best reporters.
What are you anticipating from the speech? Is there anything you would like to ask our panel of guests?
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Why we go to war
Want to know why nations go to war? Start with this: 80 percent of us consider ourselves better-than-average drivers.
I know, the connection seems weak, and maybe a bit flip, but stick with me.
A new paper
in Foreign Policy magazine suggests this point of view is a cornerstone of humankind's warlike nature. The great majority of us simply think we are smarter, more skilled, and more fair-minded than the next guy, and that makes us naturally a bit more inclined to be hawks than doves, to feel we are right when it comes time to fight.
The paper was authored by Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel laureate and professor at Princeton University, and Jonathan Renshon, a doctoral student in government at Harvard University. I sat down with Kahneman to go over the details. Essentially, he argues that 40 years of psychological studies have uncovered some inherent biases shared by people all over the globe, regardless of race, age or nationality, and that those biases favor war.
How does it work? First, even though we often deny it, we commonly think we are better than the next person/group/nation, and we think our plans for progress are reasonable and fair to all involved. So when any human meets with resistance from another, he or she automatically sees the opposition as unreasonably hostile.
Second, because we have such a high opinion of ourselves, we tend to be overly optimistic. In each conflict, people on each side think they'll win. During World War One, for example, both the Germans and the French predicted quick, easy victories. Instead, the war lasted years and took nearly 20 million lives.
Lastly, we hate accepting losses. Gamblers know all about this. Offer a guy a choice between losing $850 for certain right now or maybe losing a $1,000 tomorrow, and he'll choose tomorrow, even if there is only a slight chance that he'll avoid tomorrow's losses.
What it all adds up to, according to Kahneman, is a tendency to favor hawkish views. Remember, this is not an attack on Americans or about the war in Iraq specifically. Frankly, it is not even a condemnation of such views. Rather, Kahneman's idea is that people everywhere should be aware or how these natural tendencies flavor our public debate, and even now may be pushing us toward the next battlefront.
Do you buy it?
Hot Links: How to help
After last night's report on Oprah's school and educational disparities in South Africa, we got a lot of e-mails from people wondering what they can do to help. Here are a few suggestions:
To donate to the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy in South Africa, here's a link:
To donate internationally, go to UNICEF's Web site:
To help in the United States, you can contact the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation at its Web site or Teach for America, which sends teachers to the country's neediest schools:
And here is a link to a South African organization we featured in last night's show:
Monday, January 08, 2007
Congress skips work to watch football
Listen to Congressional Democrats and you'd be forgiven for thinking the country is in crisis: Chaos in Iraq, a nation drowning in debt, a Congress known more for breaking laws than making them.
So what's the new Congress doing about it all today? We'd love to help you out on that, but we can't, because after a fairly busy week, the U.S. House of Representatives decided to take the day off, apparently because so many members wanted to go to tonight's college football championship game in Arizona.
Democrats say their lazy Monday was the result of a request from Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio, whose Buckeyes will play the Florida Gators in tonight's game. Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer agreed to hold off on voting today.
Tickets to the game are running at over a thousand dollars on eBay, but many of the members reportedly
got a sweet deal from Ohio State University -- tickets for less than $200.
Who says members of Congress aren't thrifty?
They're all back tomorrow, and the Democrats' much-hyped 100 hours of legislative action begins. We're sorting all this out for tonight's show, as always, "We're keeping them honest."
Preview: Oprah's promise to Africa
Hot Links: Bush's dusty veto pen