Sunday, June 11, 2006

Persistence is critical to survival

The Times-Picayune
Persistence is critical to survival
Lolis Elie

It seemed like a big story. It was, for a day.

The Army Corps of Engineers Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force acknowledged that the flood control system that was supposed to protect our city was "a system in name only."

The report on which that finding was based took eight months, cost $20 million and has profound implications for every section of this country that relies on an Army Corps of Engineers structure to protect it.

"We say this was a system failure in that the system designed to protect New Orleans failed on many levels, but it also shows how the system -- the business model -- we use to build these things is so flawed," said Ed Link, the University of Maryland professor who headed the task force. "The way we determine need, assess risk and go about funding and approving these things is based on a model that might have been appropriate for the way we lived 50 years ago, but is sorely outdated today."

Often, when such a major report is issued, it discussed and dissected for days afterward. But, as with so much of the news from New Orleans, this story died a premature death.

American hearts and minds

The report was released on June 1, the first day of hurricane season. It was big news the next day. But by Sunday, four days later, the day when newspapers and broadcast networks tend to review the important stories of the week, the report wasn't among them.

On ABC's "This Week," it was news that the prolific author John Updike had released another book and Hillary Clinton, D-NY, was going to run for re-election to her U.S. Senate seat.

On CBS's Sunday morning offering, "Face the Nation," Bob Schieffer hosted Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a discussion of the latest news from Iraq and Iran.

American troops have been accused of massacring Iraqi civilians in Haditha. On NBC's "Meet the Press," Tim Russert asked, "How will allegations that U.S. Marines killed innocent Iraqis in the town of Haditha affect the American effort to win over Iraqis' 'hearts and minds?' "

I figure that the news that failures by the United States Army Corps Engineers to protect American citizens in America is big news. We have hearts and minds too, but the talk shows don't seem to be interested in winning them.

Looking for progress

So much of our future depends on the willingness of our nation to live up to its responsibilities at home.

We can't build our own levees or reverse the erosion of our coast. And unless there's evidence of real progress on these two fronts, many New Orleans will lack the confidence that their hometown is a safe place to move back to.

Their hearts and minds may be remain with us, but their bodies may be forever dislocated.

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Lolis Eric Elie can be reached at or (504) 826-3330.