Blogs > Cliopatria > Gerda Lerner, Katrina, and Reconstruction Ideas

Sep 8, 2005 8:48 am

Gerda Lerner, Katrina, and Reconstruction Ideas

Via an email chain, I received an email from Gerda Lerner with an attachment including a few ideas for the Reconstruction of the area hit by Katrina. Some of it I agree with, some I am less certain of, but she has put this out in the hope of stimulating good thought on reconstruction. That is the same spirit in which I posted this call for rebuilding ideas and that I think led Nathanael to put up this post.

I’ll put Dr. Lerner’s email comments just below and the content of the attachment in the “Read More” area.

One more thing. Some of these suggestions are similar to other “big government” ideas brought up whenever the nation faces major economic problems. For some of you, that will be an immediate negative. In this case, however, the magnitude of the problem and the need to deal with displaced people for prolonged periods makes it important to consider such ideas seriously—if we really intend to rebuild the city.

From Dr. Lerner,

A small group of Madison folks met over the weekend to see if we could contribute some proposals for long-range solutions for the people caught in the New Orleans horror. The attached statement is the result of our thinking. We have made appointments to see our Congress people and would like to present them with as many signatures as possible to the statement, when we see them.

If you agree, please send me an email [] with your signature. Please feel free to copy this statement, modify it in any way you like, and send it out to others. The important thing is to get an expression of popular opinion that offers thinking that goes beyond meeting the most immediate needs.

The short-term relief offered to the victims of hurricane Katrina will not address the major problems of the more than one million victims of this disaster. The shattered lives must be rebuilt one by one, but displaced citizens must above all have a chance to return to rebuilt communities in New Orleans and the other affected areas, if they so chose. Long-range healing will be enhanced if disaster victims can participate in rebuilding their communities.

Our country has a long history of meeting such challenges: mass unemployment and dislocation of the Great Depression were successfully remedied by WPA, CCC and other federal reconstruction programs. A million GI veterans of World War II were helped by the GI Bill of Rights, which offered them housing relief in quonset huts and trailers, paid education and a chance to rebuild their lives.

We urge you to further the reconstruction of suffering communities and the rehabilitation of displaced citizens by working for the following measures:

1. Enact a federal works program for the reconstruction of the affected communities. Give displaced citizens priority in hiring for this program.

2. Enact laws to provide a check-off box on income tax returns for donations to a rehabilitation fund for hurricane victims.

3. Create a Citizens Committee to oversee the reconstruction and rehabilitation program. Such a committee must include a significant number of displaced citizens.

4. Provide all affected victims who do not have medical insurance, with life-long Medicare insurance, including psychological and psychiatric services, as needed.

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More Comments:

John H. Lederer - 9/8/2005

I think the spirit matters more than any of the other factors. The Netherlands after 1953, cities such as Hamburg, Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki after WWII are all examples. And in the end it is the people's spirit that will determine what happens in New Orleans.

That being said though, I think our politicians are now engaged in something unethical.

Gov. Blanco has already announced plans for a major program of tax credits, tax forgiveness, loans etc. to get businesses and people back into New Orleans. Congress is falling over themselves racing to the checkbook to rebuild New Orleans. They would go faster were they not impeded by Bush n trying to run over their backs.

But the levees are no stronger. New Orleans is no higher. The probability of a catstrophic hurricane next week is no lower than the probability before Katrina hit.

Most of us learned to turn the stove off before we touched the burner a second time. Not the politicians. They intend to lure people back before they fix the problem.

Oscar Chamberlain - 9/8/2005

John, how much should the human heart enter into these calculations and decision-making? I'm not just trying to stick you; I'm not sure that I know myself. My brain knows that some of the points you raise are good ones, and my heart wants to toss those facts out.

What are hearts tell us isn't always illogical. If having a sense of history, of rootedness to place, and of uniqueness over what--for the US at least--is a vast expanse of time matters, then New Orleans matters in a way that is literally priceless: it defies quantification.

And that does not even touch on the hearts and minds and lives of the people who call it home.

But keeping pushing your arguments. We need them. And I really would like your thoughts about the heart and the political economy.

John H. Lederer - 9/7/2005

There are actually 4 ports along a 250 river mile stretch of the Mississippi, Port of Greater Baton Rouge, Port of South Louisiana (centered on La Place), Port of New Orleans, and LOOP (the oil port at Port Fouchon many miles south of New Orleans). Generally, dry bulk cargo (grain, sugar) is centered on Baton Rouge and South Louisiana, general cargo on South Louisiana and New Orleans (tires, coffee, machinery, foodstuffs), oil on LOOP.

New Orleans is the smallest of the 4 ports in tonnage by a lot, and is shrinking in relation to the others, though New Orleans is an appreciable port.

New Orleans is hurt as a port because it has not gained much container cargo and the overall trend is to container. Houston handles many times the container traffic of New orleans. Mr-Go, a huge canal to make a more direct route to the Gulf from New Orleans that silts up was a failed attempt to make New orleans a big container port. Mr-Go silts up.

The point is that though there has to be a port near the Mississippi outlet to the Gulf, it doesn't have to be New Orleans, and, indeed, some factors argue against New Orleans.

Ralph E. Luker - 9/7/2005

Mr. Lederer, There really is no doubt but that there _will_ be a port at the mouth of the Mississippi River and no doubt but that the port will continue to be vulnerable to hurricanes.

John H. Lederer - 9/7/2005

It seems to me this dodges the question of whether New Orleans should be rebuilt and a secondary one of can it be.

The "should" is the question of a city below sea level.

The "can" is whether the individual choices of victims will provide the population needed. A lot (10%, 30%, 50%, 70%?) seem to have decided that other places are better places to live than New Orleans. That number may increase or decrease over the next 6-18 months.

I grant that sufficient federal incentives like a free home could persuade a lot of people to come back....but that would be immoral if the answer to "should" is no.