|Blind spot on Katrina
It's a clichÈ, but it happens to be true: You have to see the
Gulf Coast to grasp the magnitude of the destruction wrought by
In the silent Gentilly neighborhood just north of downtown New Orleans,
block after block of homes sit empty, neither bulldozed nor renovated.
In the city's Lower 9th Ward, Hardin Elementary School is frozen in
mold and Delta mud. Flights over the region reveal acres of blue tarps
and white foundations.
Perhaps no one needs to see this more than members of Congress, who are
responsible for allocating tens of billions of tax dollars to the Gulf
recovery effort and overseeing how that money is spent.
Incredibly, only 94 of 435 members of the House of Representatives
(22%) and 47 of the 100 U.S. senators have made their way to the Gulf
to view one of the greatest disasters in our nation's history. That's
according to Women of the Storm, a group tracking visits.
Among the missing: the two Democratic senators from disaster-prone
California, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. Feinstein says she
hasn't been able to schedule a visit but has supported every
appropriation request. Boxer, who also has supported funding requests,
says she "has seen Hurricane Katrina through the eyes of" Sen. Mary
Landrieu, D-La. But funneling money in blindly is hardly a substitute
for a first-hand sense of where it should go - or not go.
It's not as though members of Congress don't like to travel. Over 5?
years, ending last June, lawmakers and their aides have taken $50
million worth of "fact finding" trips financed by private sponsors.
Some of the most popular stops were Paris (200 trips) and Hawaii (150),
according to a recent study by the Center for Public Integrity,
American Public Media and Northwestern University's Medill News Service.
Maybe if New Orleans supplied champagne receptions, lobbyists bearing
campaign checks and airfields with fighter jets, more members of
Congress would deign to witness Katrina's devastation.