LONDON--President Obama is visiting one school in New Orleans today. That's a symbolic nod in the direction of a major change wrought in the city since the flood, a large turn toward charter schools, which, according to latest reports, has resulted in improved test scores for the city's students. New Orleans residents have also reformed the levee boards and the tax assessors, and the city's residents and businessess have, one at a time, with limited resources and a lot of sweat, rebuilt their homes and workplaces. Insurance companies? They slow-walked repayments, as has the federally-financed Road Home program. Tulane University has started a program of neighborhood medical clinics, trying to fill the gap in health care. The US Attorney has targeted political corruption. The city has its first full-time inspector general (though controversy has roiled his office). There are nodes of entrepreneurs, giving birth to new business ideas and encouraging each others' projects.
The arts community has received jolts of energy from the disaster, from the recovery, from the need to express the city's existential angst and its joy at still being around. The music is (largely) back, the club scene vibrant, the festivals (Jazzfest, Essence, Voodoo) back and (largely) thriving. There are at least 120 more restaurants in the city than before the flooding. Though some new residents have complained to police about "noise in the streets" (i.e., second-line parades), the city's indigenous culture has, so far, survived, although the Mardi Gras Indians have needed outside help to continue their traditions.
That's the good news. The bad news? The Corps of Engineers, as I've noted in previous posts here, has installed "temporary" pumps that do not, and cannot work, according to a Corps whistleblower whose report has been validated by the United States Office of Special Counsel in a report sent to President Obama this past June. The Corps is choosing the "technically not superior" solution for the permanent pumps. The Corps is the agency whose handiwork catastrophically failed after Hurricane Katrina basically gave New Orleans a pass. And southern Louisiana continues to lose vital coastal wetlands (that buffer the city against stronger hurricanes) at a fearsome rate, while state officials wait for sufficient federal funds (and okays from the Corps) to start crucial restoration projects.
What can you do? Here are some organizations that are helping: Covenant House New Orleans, Common Ground Relief, the St. Bernard Project, Sweet Home New Orleans, the New Orleans Musicians' Clinic. And, oh, yes, writing the President, asking him to give New Orleans more than four hours of his attention would be good, too. You might address your letter in care of his social secretary, Desiree Rogers, a born-and-bred New Orleanian.
Follow Harry Shearer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/letwits