02 January 2006

New Orleans – Day 7 – Back to work, smokey jazz club, bad pasta, THE levy breach

Well I’ve finally become overwhelmed by a legal research request from our predatory lending supervisor about arbitration agreements applicability to rescinding a loan. There’s only one particularly relevant case and it was argued by NOLAC then appealed to the 5th circuit only to get an unfavorable outcome (basically, “hey, you have to go into arbitration first where you’ll get less information and have to settle for whatever agreement the company tells its Alternative Dispute Resolution team to allow because they are repeat players with the ARD people and you only get screwed once”). Maybe some good sleep will allow me to wrap my mind around it, but it is good to be challenged, I’m sure Laura Nader would be proud that I’m on this project, this was her baby topic (ARD is the end of legal history to her because the hearings have no precedential effect … if one worker gets $100,000 for breaking his back on the job because the employer was negligent another worker in the same position may get nothing or a lot less and never know that he deserved more … this is supposed to be more efficient because courts aren’t involved but if the facts of one case are applied to other cases that are very similar then you don’t need to have trials for all those cases, you can just settle for a similar amount which is often more efficient but also more costly to companies so they set up these ADR schemes to save some dough).

Breakfast was PB&J to save budget and because the breakfast recommended to us at the JW Marriot was freakin’ $17. Katrina hasn’t changed some things at least for businessmen with expense accounts. The sandwiches were actually a great change from the generally greasy fare we’ve encountered … though greasy is great for a while it can quickly get too much even for the most fried chicken, fish, potato, or shrimp lovin’ among us.

After work we were taken by our supervisors to the lower 9th ward again, this time right up to the levy breach. Basically it’s as bad as you might imagine plus a lot of water and overturned cars. A barge actually escaped the levy and was stuck up against a few houses. Most houses were gone including their cement foundations, cars were crushed, twisted, overturned, and some perverse combination. There were maybe 20 other people reviewing the damage, some just drove through, others got out and surveyed the damage up close. Common Ground was clearing the interior of one of the few houses that remains standings, if tilted a little to the left. Everything metal was rusted, every thing wooden was broken and splintered, brick walls were torn apart and fences caught and twisted around anything strong enough to stay put. Imagine taking all the little houses from your Monopoly set in a close square next to each other then dropping a grand piano on them from 30 stories high … the little hotels would have been in better shape then the lower 9th.

After the initial breach in the levy the residents (who are all gone by then) got a second flood when the water levels raised up again during Hurricane Rita which passed nearby on its way to Florida. We met some men kicking the dirt around in front of a cement slab which was all that remained of their friend’s house, they believed the levy was blown up by the government to get rid of the people in that neighborhood. While this is not an unheard of theory we guessed that it may be more likely that the levy simply was not maintained in this area as well as in industrial, commercial, and higher class neighborhoods because of the differences in political power. Though this doesn’t place the government with it’s finger over a switch to blow the levy the result is just the same: this area was intentionally disregarded and the economic powers were protected. Some have suggested that the increased depth and volume of the levies—demanded by a thriving port industry—made the damage much worse. Did the residents of the lower 9th own stock in Shell Oil or other industries making massive profits from their southern port? Dividends or not, they certainly paid the price for industrial gains.

What will happen to this flattened community? A loon in the jazz club tonight (The Maple Leaf, great joint at 830X Oak st) suggested a golf course since that would mean fewer blacks returning to NO which to him meant he wouldn’t be mugged again (yes, that’s called racism, alive and well in these Southern suburban section of NO). My guess is that some will be rebuilt into mass produced suburban units and most will be turned over to industries that, some suggest, will bring new profits and jobs to New Orleans. If there’s anything to be said in favor such a plan it is that they would certainly use their political capital to ensure that the levy was reinforced there to protect their buildings which would act as a buffer preventing the same massive flooding from recurring in the area. But if we were surprised again by the force of nature and the levy was breached again with these new industrial zones in between there would be massive environmental problems, then rebuilding really may not be a possibility.

For all the talk of sending money to NO to prevent the problem from recurring the still breached levy was being worked on by a single crane though it was guarded by two hum-vees (National Guard who are better loved than the NO Police force it seems), three Ford Excursions (Department of Homeland Security), and several local patrol cars trying to keep people from invading the few homes still standings … not because of looting but because the buildings are completely unsafe chemically and structurally. This area is a legacy of the service workers, the poor of NO, it was, and for some remains, their home. Should it be rebuilt? If so, how and with what money and for who? Walk too far down that path and you might question why we have forced people to live in such dangerous areas … is it because they can’t afford anything else? If so, what is the system that keeps them subsisting month to month? Who benefits from the high cost the poor of NO have paid? In the end I think the idea that markets which promote the industries in the area would raise all boats has left some investors’ pockets stuffed with bills while the lower ninth is anything but high and dry.

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