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Photo Op Background

There are a few things that most people aren’t aware of when viewing the recent Gulf Coast photo ops of the Shrubbery. They involve conditions and realities that people who don’t live down here have no reason to know about, but which impact on the meaning of what they were being shown on television.

Some may wonder why Biloxi was chosen for the Mississippi photo op: was it the fact that the Presidential Pimpmobile could land at Keesler AFB? That was probably part of it, but the main point was the fact that a chunk of Biloxi has been re-built while most of the Coast is still devastated.

Biloxi has casinos, which have cash and political clout. While people are waiting to see if their insurance will ever pay them, if their loans will ever come through, if they can find a contractor, the casinos brought in their people and rebuilt, getting a big tax gift in the process. What was seen in Biloxi has a lot in common with the Las Vegas strip – it’s miles wide but inches deep; it’s a façade. There was a town behind those shorefront buildings before Katrina, but the town is still in ruins, so they had to watch the camera angles for the photo op.

There was probably a reason it has taken so long for the Corps of Engineers to release the new flood maps, even though NASA provided the photography to produce them immediately following the storm. The maps have only been released last month, and until they were released, ordinary people couldn’t re-build, even if they had the money. Ordinary people need permits, inspections, approvals, and insurance; none of which are a problem for casinos.

I’ve been wondering about the delay in publishing the maps, but then I heard about the Feds stalling other payments until October 1st to make the deficit appear smaller in an election year, so I’m going to assume that no large amount of financial aid is going to actually get to people until October.

In New Orleans there were no stops in the 9th Ward, just a drive-through. The pictures were taken in the areas that weren’t flooded and at Musicians Village a Habitat for Humanity project funded by Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis. No pictures of Federal rebuilding, because what there is, is on military bases.

People don’t understand that the emergency declarations tell state and local officials what the FEMA rate of reimbursement will be, usually 75%. FEMA doesn’t just give local governments money. The local governments are reimbursed a percentage of their costs. Understand that a town like Waveland, Mississippi is out of luck because they are broke and have no money to spend. The Feds don’t just take a look at your receipts and write a check for 75% of the total, they inspect and argue and stall. Two years later local governments are still trying to get FEMA to pay their share of Ivan expenses, and, until they get that money, they can’t afford to finish the job.

Update: For more see: A Year Later, Gulf Coast Asks ‘Where’s the Money?’ and click on the “Tracking the Money” map to see the promises and the money actually delivered as of August 1st.