Once upon a time in New Orleans, as everybody remembers it, is no more. This much we know now: The bottom line is no longer the bottom line. Everything about the American Dream has been washed into the sea.

People on the Gulf Coast have no jobs, no money, no clothing and have lost all their possessions.

How do we know this? We saw it on television, and we read about it in the newspapers.

That is where they are now in America. The people in Washington will give them money if they have none, or say they will. But you certainly can't start your life all over again on a government handout.

We now know the poor people did not have much money to start with.

But even the middle class was wiped out by the hurricane.

They are now living in sports centers, trailers or with relatives, and are on the dole. It is not a pretty picture because now they have lost their center and many are experiencing post-hurricane trauma.

Since they lost everything, they had no choice but to lash out in anger. People are playing the "blame game."

It is the only game they have left to play.

As everyone who has a microphone will tell you, there is enough blame to go around. The obvious people to blame are the New Orleans mayor, the Louisiana governor, the Washington bureaucrats, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Blaming them will not put money in anyone's pocket. We know this now.

When you lose an entire city, people argue whether they should rebuild it. The experts as well as the talking heads on TV have strong opinions, though most of them have never been in a hurricane.

President Bush remembers when he had good times in New Orleans in his youth. He told reporters this when he flew over the city in Air Force One.

The most tired words we hear are "below sea level." Everyone knew New Orleans was below sea level, and now everyone knows the dikes would not hold when a hurricane came along.

It is self-evident now. Under these conditions, we all know everything now about things we didn't care to know before.

The country is full of experts sitting in their living rooms in front of their TV sets giving Monday-morning-quarterback opinions.

People have been very generous, either because these are fellow Americans who are suffering, or out of guilt for the people they ignored for so many years.

The question now is, what happens the next time?

Will Homeland Security protect us? Will someone get us out of town? Will the National Guard rescue us in time? Will the former director of FEMA, who was relieved of authority in New Orleans, receive the country's Medal of Honor?

These are questions we have no answers for, except from the president -- and if you don't believe him, you are not a patriot.

So no matter what happened, people have to face up to what they know now.

We never knew it would be this bad. No one ever imagined it.

The bottom line can now be reached in the muddy waters of New Orleans only by boat.

(c) 2005 Tribune Media Services