Monthly Archives: August 2010

Five Years After Katrina: “New Orleans is Blossoming Again

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Written by Jessie Lee

US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama greet the crowd at Xavier University during a ceremony on the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans on August 29, 2010. Obama arrived in still-struggling New Orleans to join residents marking five years since flood waters driven by Hurricane Katrina inundated the famous jazz capital. (Photo credit JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)


Today the President and First Lady were down in New Orleans, joined by members of the Cabinet who have been working on recovery from Hurricane Katrina since they came into office.  The President spoke at Xavier University on the fifth anniversary of the disaster.

It’s been five years since Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast.  There’s no need to dwell on what you experienced and what the world witnessed.  We all remember it keenly:  water pouring through broken levees; mothers holding their children above the waterline; people stranded on rooftops begging for help; bodies lying in the streets of a great American city.  It was a natural disaster but also a manmade catastrophe — a shameful breakdown in government that left countless men, and women, and children abandoned and alone.

And shortly after the storm, I came down to Houston to spend time with some of the folks who had taken shelter there.  And I’ll never forget what one woman told me.  She said, “We had nothing before the hurricane.  And now we’ve got less than nothing.”

In the years that followed, New Orleans could have remained a symbol of destruction and decay; of a storm that came and the inadequate response that followed.  It was not hard to imagine a day when we’d tell our children that a once vibrant and wonderful city had been laid low by indifference and neglect.  But that’s not what happened.  It’s not what happened at Ben Franklin.  It’s not what happened here at Xavier.  It’s not what happened across New Orleans and across the Gulf Coast.  (Applause.)  Instead this city has become a symbol of resilience and of community and of the fundamental responsibility that we have to one another.

And we see that here at Xavier.  Less than a month after the storm struck, amidst debris and flood-damaged buildings, President Francis promised that this university would reopen in a matter of months.  (Applause.)  Some said he was crazy.  Some said it couldn’t happen.  But they didn’t count on what happens when one force of nature meets another.  (Laughter.)  And by January — four months later — class was in session.  Less than a year after the storm, I had the privilege of delivering a commencement address to the largest graduating class in Xavier’s history.  That is a symbol of what New Orleans is all about.  (Applause.)

He told other stories of hope and inspiration, including that of his Surgeon General, “Xavier grad Dr. Regina Benjamin, who mortgaged her home, maxed out her credit cards so she could reopen her Bayou la Batre clinic to care for victims of the storm.”  But he also recognized that there’s more to do, and made clear that his Administration has been working on it:

Now, I don’t have to tell you that there are still too many vacant and overgrown lots.  There are still too many students attending classes in trailers.  There are still too many people unable to find work.  And there are still too many New Orleanians, folks who haven’t been able to come home.  So while an incredible amount of progress has been made, on this fifth anniversary, I wanted to come here and tell the people of this city directly:  My administration is going to stand with you — and fight alongside you — until the job is done.  (Applause.)  Until New Orleans is all the way back, all the way.  (Applause.)

When I took office, I directed my Cabinet to redouble our efforts, to put an end to the turf wars between agencies, to cut the red tape and cut the bureaucracy.  (Applause.)  I wanted to make sure that the federal government was a partner — not an obstacle — to recovery here in the Gulf Coast.  And members of my Cabinet — including EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, who grew up in Pontchartrain Park — (applause) — they have come down here dozens of times.  Shaun Donovan has come down here dozens of times.  This is not just to make appearances.  It’s not just to get photo ops.  They came down here to listen and to learn and make real the changes that were necessary so that government was actually working for you.

So for example, efforts to rebuild schools and hospitals, to repair damaged roads and bridges, to get people back to their homes — they were tied up for years in a tangle of disagreements and byzantine rules.  So when I took office, working with your outstanding delegation, particularly Senator Mary Landrieu, we put in place a new way of resolving disputes.  (Applause.)  We put in place a new way of resolving disputes so that funds set aside for rebuilding efforts actually went toward rebuilding efforts.  And as a result, more than 170 projects are getting underway — work on firehouses, and police stations, and roads, and sewer systems, and health clinics, and libraries, and universities.

We’re tackling the corruption and inefficiency that has long plagued the New Orleans Housing Authority.  We’re helping homeowners rebuild and making it easier for renters to find affordable options.  And we’re helping people to move out of temporary homes.  You know, when I took office, more than three years after the storm, tens of thousands of families were still stuck in disaster housing — many still living in small trailers that had been provided by FEMA.  We were spending huge sums of money on temporary shelters when we knew it would be better for families, and less costly for taxpayers, to help people get into affordable, stable, and more permanent housing.  So we’ve helped make it possible for people to find those homes, and we’ve dramatically reduced the number of families in emergency housing.

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He discussed how his prioritizing health care and education will benefit New Orleans, noting in particular that, “Just this Friday, my administration announced a final agreement on $1.8 billion dollars for Orleans Parish schools.”  And of course there is the matter of ensuring such a disaster never occurs again, which meant restoring accountability and competency at FEMA as well as restoring stability locally:

Now, even as we continue our recovery efforts, we’re also focusing on preparing for future threats so that there is never another disaster like Katrina.  The largest civil works project in American history is underway to build a fortified levee system.  And as I — just as I pledged as a candidate, we’re going to finish this system by next year so that this city is protected against a 100-year storm.  We should not be playing Russian roulette every hurricane season.  (Applause.)  And we’re also working to restore protective wetlands and natural barriers that were not only damaged by Katrina — were not just damaged by Katrina but had been rapidly disappearing for decades.

In closing, having touched on the more recent tragedy of the BP oil spill that befell the Gulf Coast, the President spoke on perhaps the most well known story of perseverence of all:

And when I came here four years ago, one thing I found striking was all the greenery that had begun to come back.  And I was reminded of a passage from the book of Job.  “There is hope for a tree if it be cut down that it will sprout again, and that its tender branch will not cease.”  The work ahead will not be easy, and there will be setbacks.  There will be challenges along the way.  But thanks to you, thanks to the great people of this great city, New Orleans is blossoming again.

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President Barack Obama speaks at Xavier University on August 29, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Today marks the five year anniversary of when Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast and the storm took over 1,800 lives and devastated the region. (Photo by Pool/Getty Images North America)

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The Obama’s Leave Martha’s Vineyard and Arrive In New Orleans for 5th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

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President Barack Obama, his wife first lady Michelle Obama, daughter Malia Obama, and daughter Sasha Obama board Marine One helicopter on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. The First Family completed their 10-day vacation on Martha’s Vineyard and flew to Cape Cod to board Air Force One to head to New Orleans where the President is giving a speech today on the fifth year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

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The Obama’s Vacation Day 8 ~ Biking in Martha’s Vineyard at Manuel F. Correllus State Forest and Golfing

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President Barack Obama and the first family took advantage of brilliant New England weather Friday to go biking on Martha’s Vineyard. Under cloudless skies, the first family left their rented farm compound and motorcaded a short distance to a site near Martha’s Vineyard Airport. They then got on bikes for a ride in the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest, a 5,100-acre preserve boasting 15 miles of bike trails.

Later that day, President Obama golfed with Vernon Jordan and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

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West Wing Week ~ Dispatches from Iraq ~ August 20 – August 26, 2010

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Vice President Joe Biden shakes hands after addressing the 111th Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana. August 23, 2010. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

Welcome to the West Wing Week, your guide to everything that’s happening at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. This week, watch a sneak preview of next Friday’s “Dispatches from Iraq” and join our brave men and women, both troops and civilians, on the ground in Iraq as combat operations end. Go behind the scenes with Provisional Reconstruction Teams, train with the Iraqi Federal Police, learn how millions of tons of equipment gets redeployed or sent home and much more.

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The Obama’s Vacation Day 7 ~ Lunch in Martha’s Vineyard at Nancy’s Restaurant and Golf at Mink Meadows Golf Club

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While vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard with his family, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama order lunch at Nancy’s Restaurant. Later, President Obama plays the ninth hole at Mink Meadows Golf Club. The Obama’s are heading into their last weekend on the island before returning to Washington on Sunday.

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White House Photostream: Behind the Scenes in August 2010

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President Barack Obama jokingly puts his toe on the scale as Trip Director Marvin Nicholson, unaware to the President's action, weighs himself as the presidential entourage passed through the volleyball locker room at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas, Aug. 9, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The White House Flickr has made its twice-monthly update with new pics of what the First Family has been up to in August. The First Family had plenty of photo-album-worthy moments during their Florida trip, from swimming to meeting porpoises to hitting a hole-in-one, but in clicking through the photos you can also find some special First Couple moments, and some adorable father and daughter moments…

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The Obama’s Vacation Day 6 ~ Dinner in Martha’s Vineyard at the State Road Restaurant

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After going out to dinner at The Sweet Life Cafe on Monday night, the Obamas stepped out to eat again on Tuesday night. This time their destination was State Road restaurant in West Tisbury. Their dining companions were Valerie Jarrett, Eric and Cheryl Whitaker, and long-time Clinton friends Vernon and Ann Jordan.

The group emerged after spending two hours and 45 minutes inside the restaurant, and the president told the pool “I’m having a great time — doing a lot of reading.

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First Lady Michelle Obama Joins Mrs. Laura W. Bush at Flight 93 National Memorial on September 11, 2010

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PRNewswire~The National Park Foundation, official charity of America’s national parks, announced today that First Lady Michelle Obama will join Mrs. Laura W. Bush as an additional keynote speaker at the September 11, 2010, ceremony being held at the future site of the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.  They will join other distinguished guests including Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell.  The ceremony will honor the 40 passengers and crew of United Flight 93, along with all of those lost on September 11th.  United Flight 93 crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, after the 40 passengers and crew fought back against terrorists attempting to attack our nation’s capital.  Fundraising is currently underway to complete the memorial which is under construction and set for dedication on September 11, 2011.

“We are deeply honored to welcome First Lady Michelle Obama, Mrs. Laura Bush and all of our guests to this important event,” said Neil Mulholland, President and CEO, National Park Foundation.  “Their show of support honors the lives and memories of these 40 heroes and everyone we lost on September 11th, and serves as a valuable reminder of how important this memorial is to preserve and share their story.”

The ceremony will be held at the Western Overlook at the future site of Flight 93 National Memorial.  In 2001, the Western Overlook was the location of the investigative command post for Flight 93 and was the point from which the families of the passengers and crew first observed the crash site. It was also where the media reported on the crash and provided the public with the first images from the crash scene.  It is the site of the temporary memorial while the Flight 93 National Memorial is under construction.

More details about the ceremony will be announced in the coming weeks.

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The Obama’s Vacation Day 5 ~ Dinner in Martha’s Vineyard at The Sweet Life Cafe

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First Lady Michelle Obama had dinner reservations on Monday night in Martha’s Vineyard at The Sweet Life Cafe where she ate with President Obama, Eric and Cheryl Whitaker and Valerie Jarrett. This occasion is her first public appearance on the Vineyard for this vacation.

According to The Sweet Life Café website, the restaurant “features contemporary French-American cuisine with an accent on local catches and produce. Executive Chef Scott Ehrlich masterfully combines flavors and textures that subtlety surprise and please, without overpowering the senses. Not surprisingly, French owner Pierre Guérin has created a wine list that includes a great selection of Bordeaux wines, but an equally wide range of New World wines is available as well for even the most discerning wine enthusiast to discover. Dinner is served in one of the intimate dining rooms of the restored Victorian home or in the romantic garden under the twinkling lights. Working closely with her knowledgeable staff, co-owner Susan Guérin has orchestrated all of the elements to create a memorable evening.”

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First Michelle Obama Individual Portrait To Be Shown At Smithsonian

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Brett Zongker/Associated Press~Move over Martha Washington. Martha Stewart and Michelle Obama are getting space in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington for the first time.

A new exhibit, “Americans Now,” opened Friday, featuring famous names from science, business, government and the arts.

President Barack Obama and the first lady are among those portrayed. It’s the first time Michelle Obama’s individual portrait has been shown at the gallery.

Familiar names in the collection also include actor Tom Hanks and music artists Willie Nelson and LL Cool J. Video portraits in the exhibit feature late-night comedians Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and David Letterman, as well as actor George Clooney and NBA star LeBron James.

The portraits are on view through July 2011. Portrait by Mickalene Thomas

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