Today and tomorrow, President Bush will be touring the Gulf coast region, and you can bet his able spin doctors will be working hard on photo-ops and "messaging" to try to put the best possible face on the recovery efforts down there.
First, a few facts. According to yesterday's N.Y. Times op-ed section, 60 percent of New Orleans is still without electricity, and half of the city's hospitals and three-quarters of its child care centers remain closed.
Second, having just spent four days in New Orleans and having toured large portions of the city with local residents, let me give you a first-hand perspective. A four-day visit doesn't make me or anyone an expert, but I can at least tell you what I saw or heard.
One year after Katrina, there were huge piles of trash and debris in various wards of the city, not just the lower Ninth Ward. At first, I thought I saw squirrels or some other small animals wading through the debris. They couldn't have been rats because they were almost as big as a soccer ball. Nope, they were rats.
Large piles of wreckage, gutted cars and rotted wood complete or partially blocked some residential streets in the 8th and 9th Wards. Many street signs were ripped away by winds and floodwaters, and the city has yet to replace them.
Even if someone wanted to return to their home, getting to it was going to be difficult on some of these streets. In the lower Ninth Ward, a car that was swept into a house during the post-Katrina floods remains right where it was more than 11 months ago.
Incredibly, many of the construction crews working in this area last week were putting the finishing touches on the planned unveiling of a Katrina memorial. This is surreal — working hard to unveil a memorial when, only 40 yards away on Tennessee Street, it looks like someone dropped a bomb on a residential area.
Tourist who limit their stay to the French Quarter and the Garden District will see only a few signs of the destruction. These areas are among the areas with the highest elevation in the city. Yet, even in these areas, numerous street signs are gone or mangled, many shops remain closed, and cell phone coverage is still spotty.
I don't think the slow pace of recovery is all or even mostly Bush's fault. This was a devastating storm that no city could recover from quickly. Officials at all levels (federal, state and local) have been less than competent on many fronts. But it pisses me off to hear the president or anyone else mischaracterize reality for purely political reasons.