Ray Nagin: deadly wrong, scarily uninformed

News & Politics

Ray Nagin's radio-recorded tirade and emotional breakdown was closest a politician came to approximating the horrors that tens of thousands of New Orleans residents were facing. Good that he was honest.

But now he's deluded out of his mind. Either that or he has good reason to ignore the dire public health warnings by health experts, whistleblowers like the EPA's Hugh Kaufman (yeah, I'm writing about this again), and conscientious journalists like AlterNet's own Nicole Makris, the AP's John Heilprin and two reporters at the Chicago Tribune.

Nagin is calling for residents to return by the zip code because his political imagination is tragically anchored in truisms about the Hearts of Cities That Can Not Die. Toss aside for a moment fundamental citylife-preventing realities like the ones highlighted by the AP:

Electricity remained off. Raw sewage flowed in the streets and flies flew in aggressive swarms. Traffic on the relatively few passable streets was dangerous and uncontrolled, with no working stoplights. And the stench of spoiled meat and seafood was overpowering as restaurant owners opened freezers that had been closed and powerless for nearly three weeks; when they brought the stinking mess outside, there were no sanitation crews to remove the garbage.
It's imaginable that people might make do in conditions like those. After all, this passage would accurately describe wide swathes of most of the developing world's cities.

But what about the clear possibility that the city is poisoned, as many have suggested? Doesn't the egging on of residents to return without adequate testing for hazardous waste verge on the homicidal? I think so.

There's every indication that New Orleans is a ghost of a city -- or at least one that needs years of toxic clean up -- but there's no reason why its residents should die along with it.

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