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New Orleans: K Plus 3 Begins

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NEW ORLEANS--President Bush's fly-in visit to New Orleans yesterday, so full of the bravado and grinning positivism that we've come to recognize from other disasters, like Iraq, provoked a neologism. I finally realize the attitude, and the policy, that connects all the major moments of this administration: he's a photo-optimist.

The commemorations over, the city resumes its late-summer rhythms: warm mornings with rumors of breezes, afternoons of thunderstorms frightening enough to startle the horses (friends of mine came this close to being struck by lightning this afternoon). And everywhere, the store owners and engineers in recording studios and restaurateurs say, when I ask them how things have been going, "hot and slow". That, of course, is the recipe for any New Orleans summer, but there's a certain heaviness about the description this year.

And everything's so interconnected, all the problems lead to each other. At dinner tonight, I asked a child psychiatrist why all her brethren in the mental health community have left town at a time of a citywide mental health crisis. She pointed to the lack of hospital beds, and the fact that universities fired a lot of the professionals as the institutions were scaling down their medical facilities. Which leads me to the most undercovered story by the MSM in the anniversary derby: the political fight between Washington and the state and locals over the future of public housing and medical care for the indigent. As I noted in a post last month, this fight--an ideological battle being waged by the administration against the remnants of Huey Long-era populism--has resulted in an absence of institutional medical care for the indigent and working poor and the planned demolition of livable public housing units while the residents of those units languish in exile. I couldn't check every MSM report, but this story was notably absent from NBC, CNN, the NYT, the Washington Post. If I missed it, please alert me.

And, while folks on both sides of the line continue to use the supposedly taboo race as a place-holder for the really-taboo class in discussing the most heavily impacted victims of this disaster, one fact remains clear: New Orleans is still, after everything, the only American city I know of where, no matter what kind of restaurant you go into--cheap, nice, or fancy--you're bound to see people of more than one race dining together there.