Corruption. Scandal. Graft. Racism being hinted at by some. Just like any other day in New Orleans, it would seem.
But it isn't. It so isn't. Oliver Thomas' fall has broken hearts. No one grieved when Bill Jefferson was found out and indicted. No one is surprised by the Nagin Gang's various contract schemes from trash bins to parking meters to the reconstruction of the French Market. But Oliver Thomas was someone many of us thought was one of the good guys. Many of us were pinning our hopes on his becoming Mayor and actually getting something done around here. His comments generally made sense, were on target and made some of us believe that not everyone in New Orleans politics was either a nutcase or a power/money hungry maniac or both. My stomach hurt upon hearing the news about Oliver. I really liked the guy.
What's interesting about my response to this is that I've been thinking a lot about social contracts lately. As I've said before, the response to Katrina shook my belief that social contracts existed right outta me like salt out of a shaker. We've all talked about it for two years, putting it in various lights--it did exist but doesn't now, it never existed and anyone who thinks it did is nuts, it did exist but has morphed into something else.
Katrina and Oliver Thomas. Well, well, color this optimistic cynic (not a contradiction in terms!) jade green. I still believed that this country hadn't been given over completely to the money changers. Katrina shook that belief, Oliver Thomas dashed it on the rocks lining the Mississippi.
It's not just New Orleans in which beliefs have been dashed, by the way. In fact, it seems to me incredible that any of us have any optimism left.
The entire country has been lied to throughout this President's tenure, and no one seems really outraged. Okay, okay, a few people are really outraged, but not most. Every single day another news story comes out about some administration official dodging a subpoena, or changing the interpretation of the Constitution, or saying they are not a member of this or that branch of the government, regardless of what the law says. The last hold outs for Bush grab onto the "Clinton lied" thing, knowing in their hearts that although what Clinton did was stupid, it wasn't nearly on the scale of the lies we've heard and paid for since.
Hurricanes blow nearly an entire state away, completely destroy the Gulf Coast. An outpouring of sympathy for a few news cycles, some tsk tsk-ing here and there, some remarkable volunteers arriving to help. A section of the Big Dig in Boston falls on someone (thanks, Corps of Engineers!) and kills someone. Again, tsk tsk-ing then nothing much. A bridge collapses killing many people, divers risking their lives on the bottom of the top of the Mississippi River, tsk tsk, it's a damn shame, can't shake my head too much I'm having a good hair day besides I'm late for work and this is too depressing and my Lexus needs servicing---I hope they have a loaner car.
Levees all over the country are determined to be prime for failure. Bridges all over the country are also determined to be prime for failure. Oh yeah, and the subway system in New York, which is old and deteriorating seriously, criminally, floods during a gigantic rainstorm causing no end of problems for commuters. (Imagine if the big hurricane expected to hit there at some point in the "100 year cycle" ever did hit! Geez, a big rainstorm overwhelms their pumps.) Oh yeah, and the pumps in New Orleans. . . . . . . . .
I read an article on the bridge collapse and one of the commenters mentioned that we have built, and had blown up by terrorists or blown up ourselves, the SAME bridge in Baghdad eight times. EIGHT TIMES????
The lies and the greed and the corruption in this country, from the Prez at top of the ladder to the "great hope for New Orleans" councilman, have taken this country from the top of the heap to the depths of dysfunction. Things like infrastructure for this country are tabled in order to take our tax dollars and funnel them into corporate cronies' pockets to rebuild infrastructure that we blew up elsewhere. The feds say it's the states' responsibility to take care of the infrastructure once it's built, and some states can't afford to do that. The feds can. But instead they tsk tsk, shake an accusing finger at the local leaders and go on to their meeting with some war profiteering contractor---behind closed doors, no press allowed, and no logs of the meeting kept.
Forget about any kind of social services, we can't keep our levees and bridges up.
We're all so used to it that we skim the articles, rant over dinner if we're in our cups, and go on to work the next day because lord knows the insurance companies who never have to really, I mean REALLY, take on any risk have to be paid and the energy companies who get bailouts have to be paid, and the mortgage has to be paid to keep a roof over both the mortgage company's head (even if they made hideously stupid loans for the last several years, planting false hope in many family's futures--"No PROBLEM, the balloon payment won't come up for five years!") and our own, and we have to pay our taxes next April so they won't attach our paychecks or put a lien on our house to collect the bucks they want from us so they can rebuild that fucking bridge in Baghdad for the ninth, tenth, eleventh time. Don't take a breath. Keep running, Joe, like a hamster on a wheel, you're getting older now and you have no stock portfolio, no health insurance, no retirement savings, you don't have time to do anything about the lies. Remember, though, Joe, all those bucks you're sending in with your 1040 won't do you any good if a disaster strikes, whether it be a hurricane or a heart attack.
There is no social contract. Faith in government will surely break your heart. Faith in companies will break your heart.
I had a conversation with a neighbor this week who said his mom keeps telling him to move to the suburbs and "get a good job with benefits." No, Mom, there ARE no jobs that just GIVE you health insurance anymore, no jobs that just GIVE you the gold watch and the pension plan for putting in your 30 yrs. In fact, Mom, there are very few companies in which someone can survive and build a career for 30 years--the stockholders must be paid, the profits MUST go up, and anyone, anyone at all can be downsized at a moment's notice. It is not 1960. The government will spend their money on everything but you or your city or infrastructure, and the corporations will just divvy some of their profits out to their stockholders and CEO's (unless the CEO winds up in jail, then dies, in which case the widow can hold on to the illegal stock sale windfall as it's part of an inheritance) but they won't take care of the workers who made them the money. Nor will they take care of the customers who buy their product, a computer will or a worker in India or Jakarta or anywhere-but-here will---they "downsized" their labor force so that cute little Ashley in customer service that you talked to last week is now working at Starbuck's for minimum wage and her kids are home alone watching TV and playing video games and dreaming of a Glock 9mm which would really show that stupid Jimmy who hollered, "You're a piss ant" on the playground the other day. She won't have to worry about her daycare situation too much longer. Her oldest son is 15. He'll be dead in a year.
These are the reasons that I was surprised by my response to the fall of Oliver Thomas. I didn't think I still had it in me.
Wow! That vase made a cool sound as I dashed it against the wall.
Ah well, Karl Rove will totally miss the irony and have a great time after he resigns "hunting doves in West Texas."
Give me another vase, oh yeah, and some Prozac.
EDIT: For an interesting view of how we got here, thanks to Rove, read this from the Washington Post.
For another view of the Oliver Thomas debacle, read "Clean Slate" at Wet Bank Guide.
Katrina  NOLA  New Orleans  Hurricane Katrina  Louisiana  Oliver Thomas  levee  Karl Rove  Corps of Engineers   We Are Not OK   New Orleans Slate   Katrina Refrigerator   political corruption   social contract