New Orleans is a dead city; it will never be rebuilt as it was. Almost 100% of the city's housing has been destroyed, along with everything else, the shops and offices and hospitals and schools. If I were President Bush I would deliver a biting-the-bullet speech declaring that more than a million Americans' lives have been completely uprooted and will never be the same, since they will not return to where they came from. Then I would proceed to start resettling people permanently. Where to get the money? Slap a special one percent income tax on the American people. Our social contract says that we bail one another out when disaster strikes, and I help you today because tomorrow I might need your help.
It makes no sense to rebuild New Orleans, since we've known for hundreds of years that the site of the city is impractical. Blow it all up and let it return to swamp. Move any historic buildings deemed to be salvageable to Memphis or Shreveport. The only reason the city was there was to serve as America's largest port. The port isn't there any more, and Baton Rouge will work just as well as the large seaport needed as the entrepot to collect mid-America's riches carried down the Mississippi and transfer them to ocean-going ships.
What do we do with the people? Well, America, here's your chance to be generous. Let's figure there are a million people who are going to need new homes. We have fifty states, some larger and richer than others. I figure Kansas ought to be ready to take in twenty or thirty thousand people at least; I call on the Shawnee Mission school district to open its ample, safe, dry school gyms up to everybody they send us. If we can do that, what can California do?
Most of those who evacuated in time ought to be able to pretty much take care of themselves until their insurance payments come in. Of course, they'll need all sorts of help, but we can provide that. Problem Number One are all the people, maybe 100,000, who did not evacuate in time and are now either dead or barely surviving among the wreckage. First we need to get the survivors out of there, and I am disappointed that it took us so long to get the armed forces helicoptering and boating people out of there. The moment the hurricane had passed by was the moment to evacuate everyone possible. Now we're running out of time, and the death toll is going to climb among those still stranded.
(Note: The Vanguardia is blaming the slow federal reaction on the Iraq war, of course. Seems that all our military strength is over there in Iraq. Yeah, right.)
Problem Number Two is that probably 95% of the people who didn't evacuate on time are poor and black, according to the photos I've seen. That's who the looters are, and I'd be looting abandoned grocery stores too if I were stuck in what's left of New Orleans because I didn't have a car to get out. (Though, of course, I wouldn't be stealing stuff I didn't need, but I don't think I can expect everyone to live up to my ethical standards, especially when surrounded by floating dead bodies.)
Who cares about looting now. Taking material things doesn't bother me. Problem Number Three isn't stealing from stores, it's the armed gangs going around taking advantage of the complete collapse of law and order. This is what anarchy means, all you blackshirts out there on your Pacific Northwest college campuses. Those who are strong, that is, young men with guns, are victimizing those who are weak, who are pretty much everybody else. I don't see any other solution for this but getting the weak out of there. There's no point in spending resources on stopping the aggressors when the victims are going to die anyway if they're not moved.
Nice, white-bread Johnson County, Kansas, is going to have to learn its lesson. We're all Americans and that means we have to move these now-homeless people, whom many of us scorn, in with us. This is going to create more than one headache as we learn to deal with the New Orleans poor among us.
That's what we get for not having learned that the New Orleans poor count as "us" before. There is still far too much racial and class segregation in the United States, inherited from what Paul Johnson called one of America's two original sins, slavery. Agreed, it's gotten much better over the last forty years, but forty years isn't that long compared with 250 years of slavery and 100 more of apartheid.
Now it's time for well-meaning folks around the country to put their money where their ideals are, and take poor black people from New Orleans into their homes, neighborhoods, and schools. If your community isn't willing to take in as many refugees as it can hold, and pay for their upkeep until they can be resettled there permanently, then there's something wrong with it.
It's a damned shame that such a historic, beautiful city (in parts; 80% of town was an absolute hellhole) is materially dead, but its people will carry its best traits--along with its worst, I fear, but what do you do now--to the rest of the fifty states.