I sit down at the computer and feel like I’m trying to tell the outside world what’s going on around here. There is so much to be told; I just hit the high points. And occasionally the low.
The bill which would have consolidated all the area levee boards into one, the bill which never made it out of the last legislative system, continues to draw the attention of the citizens. After our legislators saw how incensed the public was that this bill was allowed to die, they started rushing in to change their votes. It turns out that Louisiana has rules allowing state lawmakers to change their votes after a bill is voted up or down, so long as the change does not alter the outcome. That way, they vote a bill down, then change their vote and go home and tell the dumb voters (this is bothering me, as you can tell) that they actually supported it. I predict this is one legislative rule that is going to be changed, now that it has seen the light of day. Representative A. G. Crowe of Slidell wants to change it so that a House member can change his vote only on the day of the original vote. Our editor writes, “That would be an improvement. But the best practice would be to simply forbid vote switching. Lawmakers ought to vote properly the first time around.” Amen.
State Senator Walter Boasso says forget his original bill, the one that would have merged the levee boards. He’s now hard at work with some other leaders forging a stronger, better bill, one that should pass in the next session. “Whatever it takes” is the only rule he’s going by now, he says.
Governor Kathleen Blanco has heeded the suggestion of our secretary of state that the New Orleans elections scheduled for February 4 be postponed indefinitely. They reason that many of our citizens are displaced and cannot vote, plus the registrars and voting places are disfunctional. Mayor Nagin and the N.O. City Council members and other elected officials may now stay in office longer than their original four year terms. A lot of citizens are bothered by this. “You tell the world that New Orleans is open for business,” one resident wrote in the paper the other morning, “You write that we’re able to host a Mardi Gras early next year. You want the tourists to come and people to return home. But now you say we’re not able to even have an election. What’s wrong with this picture?”
Anderson College is in town. Actually, it’s Dr. Bob Cline, who is vice-president of church relations for this wonderful South Carolina Baptist college, his wife Angela, and seminary student son Nathan, as well as 16 college students. They are hard at work helping people clean out their homes in east New Orleans, and staying at night in our Brantley Center, formerly a shelter for the homeless. Bob said it’s nicer than he had expected. Nathan is cooking for the group. Angela raised that boy right. (I told them my wife taught both our sons to cook when they were teens, and one has run restaurants and both love to cook; their wives bless my wife regularly for this small favor.)
I woke up Tuesday morning dizzier than normal. Lying in bed, I could feel the room spinning. As I made my way to the bathroom, I held on to the walls. An hour later, it was still just as bad, and that’s when I consulted my first line of medical defense. I told Margaret. “It’s probably infected sinus,” she said, and proceeded to give me a couple of her motion sickness pills. Then she made me an appointment with our E-N-T doctor for that afternoon. “It’s not the sinuses,” he said. “It’s your inner ear.” He prescribed something called meclizine and told me to take 2 tablets in the morning, 2 in the late afternoon, and 2 at bedtime. “If they knock you out too much,” he said, “cut back to 1. But take them everyday religiously.” I thought about telling him everything I do I do religiously. I’m to see him in a week. In the meantime, I think I’ve found the perfect excuse to get out of Christmas shopping and housework and the ideal reason to lay up in bed and catch up on some reading. Something odd here. The fine print on the prescription bottle warns: “Could cause dizziness.”
Tuesday, the local paper reprinted an editorial from the New York Times which has been forwarded to friends all across the country. Here are the first two paragraphs….
“We are about to lose New Orleans. Whether it is a conscious plan to let the city rot until no one is willing to move back or honest paralysis over difficult questions, the moment is upon us when a major American city will die, leaving nothing but a few shells for tourists to visit like a museum.
“We said this wouldn’t happen. President Bush said it wouldn’t happen. He stood in Jackson Square and said, ‘Ther is no way to imagine America without New Orleans.’ But it has been over three months since Hurricane Katrina struck and the city is in complete shambles.”
Wednesday, our governor and mayor were grilled before a congressional committee. One of our local stations carried it from beginning to end. Watching it was so painful, I finally shut the television off. Here we have the leaders of our nation acting like spoiled children in a schoolyard or worse, like sniping church members in an ugly business meeting. The congressmen and women cannot seem to get it through their heads that what Governor Blanco did and what Mayor Nagin did is not what this is about. The issue on the table is what to do about New Orleans. And all they wanted to do was place blame. “Why didn’t you order a mandatory evacuation earlier?” “Why didn’t you save those buses?” “Why did you not have a better plan?” Ad infinitum. Ad nauseam.
I wanted to say to them, “Even if you grant that our leaders let us down, what are you going to do now?” It’s not even “what are you going to do FOR US?” the way some in the rest of the country hear it phrased. As has been said repeatedly, the country needs this city. Someone said to me last week, every bit of soybean grown in the USA and shipped to other countries goes through the Port of New Orleans. He went on with “half the oil” and “two thirds of the grain.” Just for starters.
Maybe the president was listening. Thursday, he announced he’s doubling the amount of money he is requesting for the rebuilding of our levees, to three-point-something billion. Just like the first thing home renovators have to do is fix the roof in order to stop the damage, our first priority is the levees.
Rebuilding the levees may be the biggest problem, too. On “All Things Considered” Thursday evening, an engineer with LSU said we have over 150 miles of levees that have been damaged by the two hurricanes. Rebuilding them and doing it right is not something that can be done in six months, he pointed out. (The hurricane season for ’06 kicks in June 1.) In fact, he said, “It takes a full decade to build a levee correctly.” He explained that you haul in layers of dirt and fill, then let it set for a year, settling. Then you come in with the next layer. Ten years. In the meantime, what happens to this city when the next hurricane occurs?
I’m confident of only one thing: the next time Max Mayfield predicts a hurricane in this part of the world, you’ll look around and find this city empty. Those who would not evacuate or could not either died in the last one or have relocated, so that they will not be here the next time. So, watch and see: the next hurricane, everyone leaves, regardless whether the mayor and governor utter the magic word: “mandatory.”
This day had to come sooner or later…
Our “NEW ORLEANS ASSISTANCE” fund is running low. The wonderful folks from the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Louisiana Baptist Convention together gave us over $500,000. In addition, many of you who read this report, you and your churches, sent us another $100,000. Our committee set up to make the decision on who gets what has been faithfully and steadily drawing on this account, usually to the tune of 75 or 80 thousand a week. That sounds like a lot until you consider that it is parceled out in small amounts, 500 here to help this family, 5,000 to help that church, a thousand to assist this pastor. With nearly half our churches out of commission, the need is overwhelming.
This was the sixth week, and our associational administrative assistant says we’re almost out of funds.
We’ve created a second fund, also with the Louisiana Baptist Foundation. This one is to help our churches rebuild. “REBUILDING NEW ORLEANS” gifts will be kept separate from the “assistance” funds. In both cases, send gifts c/o Louisiana Baptist Foundation, P. O. Box 311, Alexandria, LA 71309.
I sincerely thank you for every dollar you send this way. Thanks for your faithfulness.
Gibbie McMillan came to town Thursday. He said, “The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention want to encourage your associational team.” He presented me with envelopes containing Christmas gifts to our office staff. And, as he did a few weeks ago, he gave our association an envelope containing a large gift for our general fund. “We want to make sure you get paid for the next year,” he said.
At Christmastime, there’s no gift as comforting and inspiring as encouragement.