Over the last year, many, including myself, have called for an 8/29 Commission to get to the bottom of what truly happened with the New Orleans levee-breaches and resultant floods. No one has spear-headed this call like New Orleans-based grassroots organization, Levees.org.
Recently, in collaboration with a class of local high-school students, Levees.org founder Sandy Rosenthal made and posted on YouTube a satirical video criticizing the American Society of Civil Engineers' (ASCE) relationship with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers -- an issue, for the ASCE peer reviewed the Corps' investigation of the levee failures. The ASCE sent Rosenthal a cease-and-desist letter (and carbon copied the school's principle, too). Because Levees.org is truly grassroots, with no big-time funders filling their pockets, they pulled the video immediately. This past week, two law firms agreed to represent them in the case they do face legal action. Watch the video and you yourself can judge whether or not they're going over the line.
My question to America is this: If we can endeavor to get to the bottom of the doping controversy in professional baseball, can we not endeavor to get to the bottom of what really went wrong in New Orleans?
I'm curious -- who, other than Joe Lieberman, doesn't understand that uncovering truth helps us all? People we entrust with our public safety need to be held accountable. Levee safety isn't just a New Orleans issue, it's an American issue. Without a trusted investigation, distrust builds and festers. Disinformation spreads. We send the message that no one really cares if mistakes are made -- no matter the death toll.
Sen. Mitchell, your timing is perfect: once you wrap up the baseball stuff, would you consider moving on to New Orleans?
I am of the opinion that New Orleans could use outside observers known for their sterling judgment and integrity to come down and help out with truth-seeking, and dare I say, reconciliation. There are often yawning chasms between the way New Orleanians of different backgrounds understand what happened to themselves and to their city post-Katrina. Worse, there's even larger chasms between the way New Orleanians and the rest of the country understands the aftermath as well. I'd venture that for every person who understands how the levee breaches were responsible for the NOLA floods, there is another person who believes, or who is at least open to the idea that the breaches were caused by bombs -- bombs maliciously placed by whites protecting their parts of the city. Given the facts, a ridiculous idea -- but given the history, understandable as to how it could be believed. As George Mitchell knows, given his work in Ireland, this sort of distrust was not born on August 29, 2005. People who have struggled with and against each other for generations often need outside mediators to get to the bottom of contested truths.
The fact is, two years after the disaster, our shared understanding of the Katrina crises continues to be limited. I am friends with a secret service agent who has been extremely busy for the past two years protecting the never-ending procession of visitors to New Orleans, especially politicos. The politicos come down for what we've come to call a truncated "stations of the cross": a levee-break, a school, and the Lower Ninth Ward. Basically, all the suffering reduced down to three photo ops. What's left out is immense. Yes, the Lower Ninth suffered tremendously, but those residents weren't alone. Look at this map and you will see in a dramatic way that people died and suffered all over the region. Ignoring this fact only compounds the resentment and distrust among neighbors (and those in the diaspora), making reconciliation that much more difficult. Yet, the residents of the Lower Ninth (and activists who have taken up their cause) have every right to call for as much attention as possible to their tragedies, and to their continued plight, given the fact that they only seem to get meaningful help from benevolent outsiders.
So, here's to Pelosi having a chapter in her memoir devoted to how she helped Waxman pull off a proper 8/29 Investigation, and that together, we can come to greater shared understanding of what really went wrong -- instead of just perpetuating competing, contradictory stories we keep and share among our separate communities, while those in power keep their power, with little care for justice.