Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Saints Are Marching...into murky water

So my new thing is including complimentary music with my posts. I attribute this back to my radio days and the fact that I've had far too many filler posts lately that require spicing up the good ones to retain readers. In this instance, I'm going with Green Day and U2's "The Saints Are Coming" to stimulate the ear drums while I write what I venture to say will be the most controversial post to date. Though, come to think of it, that damning piece on duck sex was pretty wild.

We are coming up on two years since Hurricane Katrina brutalized my former hometown. Horrible floods ensued killing too many and ruining the lives of even more. I'm not doing any research here, but it's probably the worst natural disaster of my lifetime for us here in the United States. Terrible, awful event.

The response effort was terrible and awful, too. The news stations knew more about the disaster than those responding to it. While coast guard helicopters made television spectacles of the heroic efforts to save stranded people on their rooftops, most everyone agrees that nothing else positive can be gleaned from government response. Michael Brown became the scapegoat of all things slow response, and his defiant attitude and later departure led to more head shaking.

But, as a former resident of the city, I can say that blame game cannot solely rest with Michael Brown, FEMA, or even George W. Bush. While everyone likes to take shots at single persons and hold them accountable for all things bad, it's unrealistic and tiresome. The natural disaster exposed many faults with the city structure and government response, and the suffering that ensued was unfortunate. However, the issue remains as murky as the salt and fresh water that engulfed New Orleans. And it's time for a new group to take a little of the fault that, I believe, previously received a big pass.

The residents are not helping themselves.

Images of people looting for television sets in the wake of the hurricane are easy to recall and also to dismiss as mob mentality or an isolated incident. Most definitely citizens of New Orleans have an what I call an "entitlement mentality." The vast majority feel that they are entitled to something similar for being a resident of the city. I recall a news story from when I lived in the city of an armoured car overturning and the surrounding people stormed the vehicle embarrassingly flailing for dollar bills floating through the air. They felt entitled to that money and it didn't matter that it wasn't there's. It wasn't "stealing" since they deserved it. I saw enough of that in my five years there to know that electronics stores being vandalized and wiped clean thanks to the lawless nature of the city post-Katrina to know it absolutely was not an isolated incident.

That selfish mentality makes it difficult for those outside of Katrina to care about the utter destruction. Why would someone in Oregon want to help out these lawless thugs ransacking the city? New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin has a negative perception nationwide, and that he was reelected only contributed to the nation's larger shoulder shrug. What about the raping and destruction of the Superdome? Shooting at helicopters bringing supplies to Chairty Hospital? I certainly understand hesitation on the nation's part to donate to the cause.

And so things sat for a great while. The city tried to rebuild. The country was saddened but largely indifferent. Green Day and U2 rocked the Saints' return to the city. And then a new statistic popped up.

Federal agents investigating widespread fraud after the Gulf Coast hurricanes in 2005 are sifting through a landslide of more than 11,000 potential cases, a backlog that could take years to solve.

11,000 cases. Think of the time, money, and effort necessary to resolve this pathetic display of entitlement. The 2003 population estimate, per the US Census Bureau, put New Orleans at 469,032 people. Using that number, that's over 2% of New Orleans residents have made a fraudulent claim. That number would go higher if children and spouses were subtracted so as to create a number for households, which I have to believe is the more likely way to submit a claim through FEMA.

When the storms hit, FEMA ignored some of its financial safeguards to get aid to victims more quickly.

What a shame. For all the crap, and I'm sure most of it deserved, they did attempt to fast track (with "fast track" perhaps needing to appear in quotes) the system to get money to people as soon as possible. Then in 1 in 50 submitted a false claim. What a ridiculously high number, which would go yet higher if there stipulations existed on how people must use their assistance.

Other cases auditors had criticized - people spending aid money on jewelry or vacations - turned out not be a crime, because federal law doesn't specify how money must be spent.

So so sad.

I have contacts still in New Orleans, and I cringe to think that they have to put up with this crap. That they get lumped in with the bad rap that city is giving to itself. It's a natural disaster that has brought out so much bad in people, and with so many willing and able to help, it's unfortunate that such a high percentage of the population feel the need to cheat and lie and push down the good souls who are trying to rebuild.


JR said...

I ask this question in sincerity, knowing full well that it's a dangerous issue. I'll try to be cautious.

Living in Milwaukee (or the Midwest in general), I think I'm exposed to primarily the same type of person: white, middle class, fairly privileged. So it's difficult for me to imagine myself in the shoes of a native New Orleanser, and hard for me to understand why someone experiences this "entitlement" complex you speak of.

People I know who have experienced longstanding contact with the black community (my girlfriend, for example) can guardedly describe this entitlement complex, and at times a laziness that extends beyond a personal habit and exists somewhat as a cultured response. The way the city has been portrayed, it seems the poor black community has been most deeply affected, and whether or not portrayed accurately, it seems the inability of citizens to "help themselves," as you put it, has been largely a malady within that specific demographic.

From your experience in New Orleans, is this reality connected to the black community? It should go without saying that I'm not trying to hook this on one race (or one anything), but I'm curious why this happened the way it did. Is it a "Southern" response or even a "French-American" response? Or am I trying to paint things with too-definitive lines?

lonewolf said...

You raise terrific questions to which I have no specific response outside of vague answers and personal opinion. The state of Louisiana has been a haven for political scandal and immoral leadership, which trickles down and eventually affects the people. If education money never makes it to those needing education, those deprived go without these necessities that might enable them to rise above the poverty line. It also fosters a "hey, they screwed me, so it's ok for me to screw someone else to get what I need." And it's not simply education (though you'll find awful schools and Louisiana ranked 50th in every meaningful category having to do with schools and test scores) but housing, infrastructure, and so on. I think the years since Huey P. Long have caused this downward spiral (missed opportunity for a Nine Inch Nails You Tube) that have lead generations to this type of mentality in New Orleans.

I cannot speak to the larger inner city issues, such as those in Detroit. I can say that African-Americans in New Orleans, pre-Katrina, were the majority. For better or worse, being the majority is going to attach a stigma to the race when the larger group does wrong. The great majority of those below the poverty line were in fact black, and hence the strained race relations issue that surfaced during and after the disaster. It probably is "trying paint things with too-definitive lines," but I would use a large brush and say that it's a little of everything for that community. It's a situation where New Orleanian African-Americans have been wronged but rather rise above it, too many take the low road giving the impression of entitlement and perhaps laziness.

The most underdeveloped fact in this debate and most relevant to the issues you have brought up are how many of the 11,000 phony claims were made by race? It was my prejudiced, unresearched opinon that most of them were Caucasians. Whether that be true or not, who knows? But it at least holds that my entitlement stigma is to "New Orleans" in general and not just "blacks in the south."