Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Victims of Katrina

It is almost two years since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and other areas of the Gulf Coast. And, unfortunately, the victims of Katrina continue to suffer. For me, most of the blame falls at the door step of two entities. First and foremost I blame the politicians. Much has been made of the incompetence and malaise of the Bush Admin, FEMA, State/Local Officials, and Congress in reacting to Katrina. But even after these early gaffes and mistakes, neither the Bush Admin/Republicans nor the Democrat Leadership have made the victims of Katrina a priority. After the politicians, I blame the mainstream news media. Anderson Cooper got major pub and cred from his Katrina coverage, but has he revisited the story recently (say, in the last 8 months)? I don't consider FOX NEWS a legitimate news source, but have they covered the story recently? Did they even cover it when it first happened, lol. CNN and MSNBC gave what seemed like wall to wall coverage of Anna Nicole and Paris Hilton. I guess these subjects are more important than what's going on in the aftermath of Katrina. And what about the broadcast networks. I'm not sure, but has there been a recent segment on any of the network Nightly News reporting on Katrina victims?

At the same time, there is some genuine journalism on the aftermath of Katrina. One such piece is a recent interview on Bill Moyers Journal. Moyers interviews two informative and insightful panelists on the Katrina aftermath. It is simply a great interview, and if anyone is at all curious or interested, I highly recommend it. In total, the interview is about 25 minutes and you can view it on the website or read the transcript. One of the points that stuck with me, and that I've read about before, is how little rebuilding has actually occurred in many places hardest hit; neighborhoods of lower incomes and darker complexions. As one of the panelists mentions, search for recent New Orleans' vids on YouTube; you'll think the hurricane happened last week. One of the panelists makes a very insightful point of how poverty (and therefore race) has a major impact on the continued suffering of Katrina victims. Many of these victims were homeowners. Homeowners who lost their homes; left only with a mortgage. And since the wonderful insurance companies claim the damage to their homes was caused by flood instead of hurricane wind, these victims have yet to receive (and may never receive) any monetary help from their insurance policies (sources: USAToday and ABCNews). However, the US Government did provide Katrina victims with some monetary aid. Unfortunately, all these victims still had mortgages to pay off, so the money they received went to pay off this debt. This still leaves many other major costs [new housing, relocation, new job, training/education, lost possessions (which are numerous), regathering of family and friends (lost social network), etc]. The panelist makes an apt comparison between these Katrina victims and the S&L (Savings and Loans) Banks that went bankrupt in the late 1980s. The S&Ls were bailed out by the US Government at great taxpayer expense. Without the bailout, a variety of individuals across the nation would have lost a good deal of their savings. This, in turn, would have had terrible, immediate consequences economically and politically (at least for the political party in power, the Republicans). As the panelist remarks, the victims of Katrina should have not only received monetary aid, but also some equivalent of mortgage absolution, so they may start their arduous journey back to normalcy with both feet above water. Unfortunately, these victims are impoverished, homogeneous, and isolated. They don't greatly impact the economy (through no fault of their own) and live (or did live) in the hardest hit portions. They don't have the political clout to demand the attention of the politicians. And so their journey back to normalcy is ever more difficult, filled with high crime and government offered trailers which may be toxic (unsurprisingly, once again FEMA is involved; source LATimes and AP).

PS - Some good news! Not sure if the panelist was aware of this, and I'm also uncertain how much this new monetary aid compares to the average mortgage debt a Katrina victim is facing, but it is still some major aid. The Road Home program will soon be awarding up to $150k (average award is about $70k) to individuals who lost their (owned) home to Katrina. Unfortunately, this program doesn't directly help Katrina victims who were renting, especially those renting in more affordable and lower cost neighborhoods, since the current New Orleans' renting market is 2 to 3 times higher than it was pre-Katrina. More on this in the NY Times article below.

Another amazing resource for great, and up to date, journalism on Katrina/New Orleans is the New York Times which has a section of its website dedicated to the topic. Here you will find some exceptional articles. Like this one which details how hard and bleak it is for many of the displaced victims. In late May of this year, more than 30,000 families were still displaced. These "lucky" families are setup in apartments paid for by FEMA. Another 13,000 families are living in those FEMA trailers which may be toxic. The article shows just how hard it is to recover from such a disaster and tragedy. Many of the victims were lower wage earners, but they had a steady job and a large social network which allowed them a normal life. Now they must live in large trailer parks, with no savings, no car, the nearest supermarket 18 miles away, a bus stop serviced 4 times a week, few job opportunities thanks to the transportation problems, and lines to obtain free food from the food bank truck. This NY Times article is simply a must read. The stories of the victims are beyond heartbreaking and it is truly a sad example of how this great nation does fail some of its citizens ... which, of course, is too many.

PS - Unfortunately, I'm at a lost for ways in which regular folk (like you and I) can directly help Katrina victims who continue to suffer greatly. I believe our elected officials need to act, and they won't be prodded to do anything until there's enough media attention. However, if anyone reading this knows of solid ways to help, please comment about them. Thanks!

PPS - A major salute to Sage. Many of you visit his blog, Musings. Perhaps most of you know this, but a couple months after Katrina hit, Sage went down to New Orleans to volunteer with the relief effort. Here's a link to his posts that mention "New Orleans"; scroll down a bit to find his week of volunteer work, plus a couple picture posts. Once again, major props Sage.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Hey Folks!

First of all, my sincerest apologies for not being around the last week or two. Things have been really hectic.

In any case, I am back to posting and here's the first post of August.

First an update on Troy Davis. For those unfamiliar, check out this previous post and also this post over at Looking for Sunshine. I just checked out Looking for Sunshine and Yllwdaisies has also posted an update. Good news folks! The Georgia Supreme Court ruled (4 to 3, which is a bit frightening) to hear Davis' appeal to present new evidence. This is still a few steps away from actual justice, but it is a major step. Davis will be allowed to present the new evidence which greatly bolsters his claim of innocence. Anyway click on the link above, it takes you to Amnesty International's section on the Davis case and how to take action. I'll definitely update the Troy Davis case in the future. And I'm sure Yllwdaisies will probably update first, so be sure to check out her blog, Looking for Sunshine.

And to end, let me rant for a second. I'm no fan of mainstream commercial advertising. It's mainly fake, manipulative, and revolves around image and branding. I'm sure I'm not alone when, years later, I wondered how much of my childhood affection for fast food, like McDonald's, had to do with the image and brand the company had built through advertising. Well a professor at the Stanford School of Medicine has conducted research that has something rather interesting to say on this topic. The professor (and team) gave 63 kids (aged 3 to 5) two identical foods from McDonald's. One was wrapped in McDonald's brand packaging while the other identical food was wrapped in plain packaging. The kids were then asked which food tasted better or if they tasted the same. The results: About 60% of the time the kids said the food in the McDonald's brand packaging tasted better. I wonder why they haven't done this type of taste test on teens and adults. Perhaps the results would not be identical, but I think they might be similar.

I want to add that while McDonald's does serve some unhealthy foods, as far as fast food chains are concerned, McDonald's has also done a good deal to serve healthier foods as well. And the article linked to above does mentions this. Having said all this, I'd like to end by stating that McDonald's, like other fast food chains, still has a lot to do. Years ago McDonald's promised to go trans fat free. They have yet to do that.