Lições do Katrina

A mulher de Bush acusou a corrupta e repressora junta militar da Birmânia de não ter preparado convenientemente a população acerca dos perigos do furacão. Quem sabe, sabe.

Sobre Nuno Ramos de Almeida

TERÇA | Nuno Ramos de Almeida
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13 Responses to Lições do Katrina

  1. Sérgio diz:

    Mas esta gente não tem vergonha na puta da cara, passe a expressão “cara”, focinho seria mais apropriado.

  2. Sérgio diz:

    Pois… e como já eram pobres pouco perderam.

  3. o sátiro diz:

    A violência dos furacões não é sempre a mesma.
    por isso são medidos em graus!

  4. Pingback: Contra a indiferença « O Insurgente

  5. João diz:

    Nuno Ramos de Almeida, espero que tenha a noção do nojo que escreveu neste post. É lamentável que o massacre de dezenas de milhares de pessoas seja usado desta forma para ironia retórico-ideológica. No Katrina morrerram 1823 pessoas porque a maior parte foram lá abandonadas pelo Mayor ou não quiseram voluntáriamente sair a tempo. Tem ocorrido furacões tão ou mais intensos noutras regiões dos EUA e não sucedeu o mesmo que New Orleans, e o Bush era o mesmo e a FEMA era também a mesma.

    Em Agosto de 2003 morreram 14 mil pessoas em França, não porque tenha desabado em cima da França uma tempestade com 600 quilometros de diametro e ventos de 280km/h como o Katrina, mas por uma simples onda de calor que matou milhares de idosos nas suas casas porque foram abandonadas pelas suas famílias e pelo Estado por causa das férias. Você e os seus colegas alguma escreveram sobre o assunto ?

    É lamentável agora servir-se de uma tragédia destas dimensões, não para falar do que aconteceu, isso não merece sequer um curto pensamento seu, mas sim para falar de Bush.

    Não é sequer pateta, estúpido ou indecente. É simplesmente … doentio!!

  6. João,
    Basta ter lido o relatório, visto as notícias e documentários para perceber que a tragédia do Katrina foi amplificada devida a incúria, incompetência e o completo desprezo do governo dos EUA em relação aos seus cidadãos mais pobres. As autoridades não forneceram transportes à população sem carro. Queria que eles tivesse saído da cidade a voar? As autoridades ao privatizarem os serviços de socorro, colocaram a ideologia à frente dos interesses da população. Os EUA são uma democracia e o país mais poderoso do mundo. É muito grave que não tenham actuado à altura perante a catástrofe.
    Já para não falar de declarações de governantes locais ligados aos republicanos que se recusam a realojar os negros na cidade, dizendo que se Deus fez o favor de os expulsar, nós devemos aproveitar a ocasião para limpar a cidade. Percebo a sua reacção ao post, você tem o mesmo nível mental destas criaturas.
    É simplesmente humor negro ser a mulher do principal responsável da situação a fazer críticas à junta criminosa da Birmânia.

  7. Joao diz:

    É simplesmente humor negro ser a mulher do principal responsável da situação a fazer críticas à junta criminosa da Birmânia.

    Humor negro eu ? Provavelmente 100 mil pessoas morreram no fim de semana passado numa tragédia completamente evitável, e a única coisa que você se lembra de falar é sobre a mulher do Bush. Humor negro, pois… estamos conversados.

  8. “No Katrina morrerram 1823 pessoas porque a maior parte foram lá abandonadas pelo Mayor ou não quiseram voluntáriamente sair a tempo.”, é o que se chama rigor e seriedade. A culpa dos mortos é das vítimas que NÃO QUISERAM VOLUNTARIAMENTE SAIR A TEMPO (SIC).

  9. Sérgio diz:

    Como há um outro Sérgio que apareceu depois de mim e, para clarificar as coisas, daqui para a frente assino SF.
    Nos comentários a este post, sou o Sérgio das 14.26

  10. Joao diz:

    O que não percebeu na afirmação Nuno ? Sim, sempre que há um furacão há pessoas que resolvem arriscar e ficar. Em NO aconteceu outra situação a juntar a essa, que é de efectivamente haver muitos pobres que não tinham um carro para se irem embora como vão na Florida por exemplo. Foram lá deixadas pelo Mayor sim, a gestão da cidade não é do Bush. Eu conheço a Florida e conheço NO, e sei por exemplo o quanto na Florida levam a sérios os furacões, passam o ano todo a prepararem-se para o próximo, compram geradores, comida e protecções. Em NO pelo contrário era uma cidade impreparada e o Mayor ainda fez pior, levou para um pavilhão milhares de pessoas sem pensar que no final da passagem do Furacão a cidade poderia tornar-se num caos e ser impossível chegar a horas ao local. Tiveram que esperar depois muito tempo por ajuda, enquanto chamavam o Bush de incompetente, é o normal nestas situações, e quem grita mais alto geralmente é para esconder as suas próprias responsabilidade. Nem tudo correu bem obviamente, mas seria interessante ver como qualquer cidade ou país europeu lidaria com uma situação destas quando umas meras horas de chuva lançam o caos nas cidades e uma rara tempestade de inverno na Europa que dificilmente atinge o equivalente a categoria 1 ou 2 de um furacão já causa devastação. E se há coisa que os americanos são bons é depois procurar os responsáveis e investigar até ao fundo o que correu mal, não é como por aqui em Portugal em que deixam cair uma ponte e ninguém é penalizado por tal.

    Mas claro que você está completamente a leste disso tudo, não faz a mínima ideia da realidade, vive no seu mundo ideológico onde se sente feliz a falar da mulher do Bush. Já agora informe-se do porquê dessas dclarações, caso não saiba elas surgiram na sequência das tentativas sem sucesso que os americanos estavam a ter há dias para entrarem com ajuda na Birmania. Sim, porque tal como no Tsunami de 2004 os helicopteros e os navios que chegaram com a primeira ajuda eram dos EUA, não viu lá nenhum único europeu.

  11. Ed diz:

    Sim, este post é doentio. NRA ainda (????!!!!) não leu o plano de evacuação de NO por isso debita esta tontice. Pelo contrário, o comentador João é uma pessoa informada e sabe que a maior responsabilidade foi do mayor (negro e democrata) e do governo estadual (democrata). Por isso nem tentem a lenga lenga do “Bush doesnt care about black people”.

    Já se esqueceram das imagens da governadora blanco a dizer a bush que tudo estava bem com os diques? Esqueceram que o Mayor Nagin recusou a ajuda da AMTRACK para evacuar pessoas de NO antes da chegada do Katrina. Até o Anderson Cooper fartou-se de denunciar este caso. As imagens dos autocarros escolares submersos não o impressionaram? Esses mesmos autocarros fazem parte do plano de evacuação de NO (que, reforço, o NRA não leu). sabe quantos milhares de pessoas poderiam ter sido evacuadas nesses autocarros?

    NRA chega ao ponto de confundir as competências e deveres do poder local, com as do governo estadual e do governo nacional! O NRA tem noção do que seria dos EUA se o governo nacional tivesse de assumir a resolução de todos os problemas em todas as cidades dos EUA?

    Só mesmo a extrema esquerda para acreditar na competência do centralismo de poder (e na competência do poder político!!!!)

    Morreram menos de 2000 pessoas em NO. Não por serem pobres, mas por serem idosas. A maior parte das vítimas estavam na 3ª idade. NRA não se interessou em saber das vítimas mortais pós katrina. Os idosos foram abandonados em suas casas ou nos lares pelos seus próprios filhos.
    E a culpa é do Bush? O presidente norte-americano deveria saber quantos idosos ficaram abandonados nas suas casas em NO?

    Francamente, este post e a resposta ao comentário do João, são um insulto à inteligência de qualquer ser humano racional. E um insulto a cada pessoa que morreu em NO e em Myanmar.

    Caro João,um psiquiatra norte-americano criou o termo Bush Derangement Syndrome que pode ser aplicado por exemplo a alguém que se limita a debitar posts doentios para apenas referir Bush como um “idiota” ou “imbecil”.
    NRA nem menciona o facto da junta de myanmar não permitir ajuda internacional. O que interessa é atacar o Bush.

    “Já para não falar de declarações de governantes locais ligados aos republicanos que se recusam a realojar os negros na cidade, dizendo que se Deus fez o favor de os expulsar, nós devemos aproveitar a ocasião para limpar a cidade.”
    O João argumentou com NRA de forma racional. NRA responde desta forma. Ainda por cima, o que é mais triste é que NRA nem sequer sabe que muitos afro americanos nao querem regressar a NO. Nem que se torne na cidade chocolate tão sonhada pelo Mayor Nagin (suponho que para NRA este comentário de Nagin não é racista. Só os republicanos brancos são racistas. Os democratas negros, não são racistas. Mesmo que deixem os seus cidadãos idosos afro americanos abandonados nas suas casas)

    Claro que não estou à espera de uma resposta argumentativa por parte de NRA. Defender o indefensável é difícil. Não há argumentos. Por isso para NRA estarei provavelmente ao nível dos tais republicanos que rezam a Deus pela NO feita de chocolate… mas branco.

  12. CARLOS CLARA diz:

    Nossa! A Busha consegue ser mais tonta que o Bush. Está explicado o insucesso do Bush. Mais que não seja porque há quem diga que por tràs dum grande homem está uma grande mulher.

  13. Nuno Ramos de Almeida diz:

    A maltosa que diz que conhece a Florida e justifica a total e criminosa incompetência da administração Bush perante a catástrofe e que argumenta que o Estado federal não pode intervir em catástrofes, ignora a existência de uma agência federal para o combate às catástrofes e sobretudo só diz disparates. Como a cultura não ocupa lugar e pode haver uma ténue hipótese que a leitura os faça pensar, coloco aqui um artigo do ensaísta Mike Davis:
    Catastrophic economics
    The predators of New Orleans
    After the criticism of his disastrous handling the Katrina disaster, President George Bush promises a reconstruction programme of $200bn for areas destroyed by the hurricane. But the first and biggest beneficiaries will be businesses that specialise in profiting from disaster, and have already had lucrative contracts in Iraq; they will gentrify New Orleans at the expense of its poor, black citizens.

    By Mike Davis

    THE tempest that destroyed New Orleans was conjured out of tropical seas and an angry atmosphere 250km offshore of the Bahamas. Labelled initially as “tropical depression 12” on 23 August, it quickly intensified into “tropical storm Katrina”, the eleventh named storm in one of the busiest hurricane seasons in history. Making landfall near Miami on 24 August, Katrina had grown into a small hurricane, category one on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale, with 125 km/h winds that killed nine people and knocked out power to one million residents.

    Crossing over Florida to the Gulf of Mexico where it wandered for four days, Katrina underwent a monstrous and largely unexpected transformation. Siphoning vast quantities of energy from the Gulf’s abnormally warm waters, 3°C above their usual August temperature, Katrina mushroomed into an awesome, top-of-the-scale, class five hurricane with 290 km/h winds that propelled tsunami-like storm surges nearly 10m in height. The journal Nature later reported that Katrina absorbed so much heat from the Gulf that “water temperatures dropped dramatically after it had passed, in some regions from 30°C to 26°C” (1). Horrified meteorologists had rarely seen a Caribbean hurricane replenish its power so dramatically, and researchers debated whether or not Katrina’s explosive growth was a portent of global warming’s impact on hurricane intensity.

    Although Katrina had dropped to category four, with 210-249 km/h winds, by the time it careened ashore in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, near the mouth of the Mississippi river on early 29 August, it was small consolation to the doomed oil ports, fishing camps and Cajun villages in its direct path. In Plaquemines, and again on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and Alabama, it churned the bayous with relentless wrath, leaving behind a devastated landscape that looked like a watery Hiroshima.

    Metropolitan New Orleans, with 1.3 million inhabitants, was originally dead centre in Katrina’s way, but the storm veered to the right after landfall and its eye passed 55km to the east of the metropolis. The Big Easy, largely under sea-level and bordered by the salt-water embayments known as Lake Pontchartrain (on the north) and Lake Borgne (on the east), was spared the worst of Katrina’s winds but not its waters.

    Hurricane-driven storm surges from both lakes broke through the notoriously inadequate levees, not as high as in more affluent areas, which guard black-majority eastern New Orleans as well as adjacent white blue-collar suburbs in St Bernard Parish. There was no warning and the rapidly rising waters trapped and killed hundreds of unevacuated people in their bedrooms, including 34 elderly residents of a nursing home. Later, probably around midday, a more formidable floodwall gave way at the 17th Street Canal, allowing Lake Pontchartrain to pour into low-lying central districts.

    Although New Orleans’s most famous tourist assets, including the French Quarter and the Garden District, and its most patrician neighbourhoods, such as Audubon Park, are built on high ground and survived the inundation, the rest of the city was flooded to its rooftops or higher, damaging or destroying more than 150,000 housing units. Locals promptly called it “Lake George” after the president who failed to build new levees or come to their aid after the old ones had burst.
    Inequalities of class and race

    Bush initially said that “the storm didn’t discriminate”, a claim he was later forced to retract: every aspect of the catastrophe was shaped by inequalities of class and race. Besides unmasking the fraudulent claims of the Department of Homeland Security to make Americans safer, the shock and awe of Katrina also exposed the devastating consequences of federal neglect of majority black and Latino big cities and their vital infrastructures. The incompetence of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) demonstrated the folly of entrusting life-and-death public mandates to clueless political appointees and ideological foes of “big government”. The speed with which Washington suspended the prevailing wage standards of the Davis-Bacon Act (2) and swung open the doors of New Orleans to corporate looters such as Halliburton, the Shaw Group and Blackwater Security, already fat from the spoils of the Tigris, contrasted obscenely with Fema’s deadly procrastination over sending water, food and buses to the multitudes trapped in the stinking hell of the Louisiana Superdome.

    But if New Orleans, as many bitter exiles now believe, was allowed to die as a result of governmental incompetence and neglect, blame also squarely falls on the Governor’s Mansion in Baton Rouge, and especially on City Hall on Perdido Street. Mayor C Ray Nagin is a wealthy African-American cable television executive and a Democrat, who was elected in 2002 with 87% of the white vote (3).

    He was ultimately responsible for the safety of the estimated quarter of the population that was too poor or infirm to own a car. His stunning failure to mobilise resources to evacuate car-less residents and hospital patients, despite warning signals from the city’s botched response to the threat of Hurricane Ivan in September 2004, reflected more than personal ineptitude: it was also a symbol of the callous attitude among the city’s elites, both white and black, toward their poor neighbours in backswamp districts and rundown housing projects. Indeed, the ultimate revelation of Katrina was how comprehensively the promise of equal rights for poor African-Americans has been dishonoured and betrayed by every level of government.
    A death foretold

    The death of New Orleans had been forewarned; indeed no disaster in American history had been so accurately predicted in advance. Although the Homeland Security Secretary, Michael Chertoff, would later claim that “the size of the storm was beyond anything his department could have anticipated,” this was flatly untrue. If scientists were surprised by Katrina’s sudden burgeoning to super-storm dimensions, they had grim confidence in exactly what New Orleans could expect from the landfall of a great hurricane.

    Since the nasty experience of Hurricane Betsy in September 1965 (a category three storm that inundated many eastern parts of Orleans Parish that were drowned by Katrina), the vulnerability of the city to wind-driven storm surges has been intensively studied and widely publicised. In 1998, after a close call with Hurricane Georges, research increased and a sophisticated computer study by Louisiana State University warned of the “virtual destruction” of the city by a category four storm approaching from the southwest (4).

    The city’s levees and stormwalls are only designed to withstand a category three hurricane, but even that threshold of protection was revealed as illusory in computer simulations last year by the Army Corps of Engineers. The continuous erosion of southern Louisiana’s barrier islands and bayou wetlands (an estimated annual shoreline loss of 60-100 sq km) increases the height of surges as they arrive at New Orleans, while the city, along with its levees, is slowly sinking. As a result even a category three, if slow moving, would flood most of it (5). Global warming and sea-level rise will only make the “Big One”, as folks in New Orleans, like their counterparts in Los Angeles, call the local apocalypse, even bigger.

    Lest politicians have difficulty understanding the implications of such predictions, other studies modelled the exact extent of flooding as well as the expected casualties of a direct hit. Supercomputers repeatedly cranked out the same horrifying numbers: 160 sq km or more of the city under water with 80-100,000 dead, the worst disaster in United States history. In the light of these studies, Fema warned in 2001 that a hurricane flood in New Orleans was one of the three mega-catastrophes most likely to strike the US in the near future, along with a California earthquake and a terrorist attack on Manhattan.

    JPEG – 7 kb
    Not opening anytime soon: New Orleans’s Rose Tavern where cut-out fi gures advertised live music nightly
    S C O T S H A W /C E L E V E L A N D P L A IN D E A L E

    Shortly afterwards, the magazine Scientific American published an account of the flood danger (“Drowning New Orleans”, October 2001) which, like an award-winning series (“The Big One’) in the local newspaper, the Times-Picayune, in 2002, was chillingly accurate in its warnings. Last year, after meteorologists predicted a strong upsurge in hurricane activity, federal officials carried out an elaborate disaster drill (“Hurricane Pam”) that re-confirmed that casualties would be likely to be in the tens of thousands.

    The Bush administration’s response to these frightening forecasts was to rebuff Louisiana’s urgent requests for more flood protection: the crucial Coast 2050 project to revive protective wetlands, the culmination of a decade of research and negotiation, was shelved and levee appropriations, including the completion of defences around Lake Pontchartrain, were repeatedly slashed.
    Washington at work

    In part, this was a consequence of new priorities in Washington that squeezed the budget of the Army Corps: a huge tax cut for the rich, the financing of the war in Iraq, and the costs of “Homeland Security”. Yet there was undoubtedly a brazen political motive as well: New Orleans is a black-majority, solidly Democratic city whose voters frequently wield the balance of power in state elections. Why would an administration so relentlessly focused on partisan warfare seek to reward this thorn in Karl Rove’s side by authorising the $2.5bn that senior Corps officials estimated would be required to build a category five protection system around the city? (6).

    Indeed when the head of the Corps, a former Republican congressman, protested in 2002 against the way that flood-control projects were being short-changed, Bush removed him from office. Last year the administration also pressured Congress to cut $71m from the budget of the Corps’s New Orleans district despite warnings of epic hurricane seasons close at hand.

    To be fair, Washington has spent a lot of money on Louisiana, but it has been largely on non-hurricane-related public works that benefit shipping interests and hardcore Republican districts (7). Besides underfunding coastline restoration and levee construction, the White House mindlessly vandalised Fema. Under director James Lee Witt (who enjoyed Cabinet rank), Fema had been the showpiece of the Clinton administration, winning bipartisan praise for its efficient dispatch of search and rescue teams and prompt provision of federal aid after the 1993 Mississippi River floods and the 1994 Los Angeles earthquake.

    When Republicans took over the agency in 2001, it was treated as enemy terrain: the new director, former Bush campaign manager Joe Allbaugh, decried disaster assistance as “an oversized entitlement programme” and urged Americans to rely more upon the Salvation Army and other faith-based groups. Allbaugh cut back many key flood and storm mitigation programmes, before resigning in 2003 to become a highly-paid consultant to firms seeking contracts in Iraq. (An inveterate ambulance-chaser, he recently reappeared in Louisiana as an insider broker for firms looking for lucrative reconstruction work in the wake of Katrina.)

    Since its absorption into the new Department of Homeland Security in 2003 (with the loss of its representation in the cabinet), Fema has been repeatedly downsized, and also ensnared in new layers of bureaucracy and patronage. Last year Fema employees wrote to Congress: “Emergency managers at Fema have been supplanted on the job by politically connected contractors and by novice employees with little background or knowledge” (8).
    A new Maginot Line

    A prime example was Allbaugh’s successor and protégé, Michael Brown, a Republican lawyer with no emergency management experience, whose previous job was representing the wealthy owners of Arabian horses. Under Brown, Fema continued its metamorphosis from an “all hazards” approach to a monomaniacal emphasis on terrorism. Three-quarters of the federal disaster preparedness grants that Fema formerly used to support local earthquake, storm and flood prevention has been diverted to counter-terrorism scenarios. The Bush administration has built a Maginot Line against al-Qaida while neglecting levees, storm walls and pumps.

    There was every reason for anxiety, if not panic, when the director of the National Hurricane Centre in Miami, Max Mayfield, warned Bush (still vacationing in Texas) and Homeland Security officials in a video-conference on 28 August that Katrina was poised to devastate New Orleans. Yet Brown, faced with the possible death of 100,000 locals,-exuded breathless, arrogant bravado: “We were so ready for this. We planned for this kind of disaster for many years because we’ve always known about New Orleans.” For months Brown, and his boss Chertoff, had trumpeted the new National Response Plan that would ensure unprecedented coordination amongst government agencies during a major disaster.

    But as floodwaters swallowed New Orleans and its suburbs, it was difficult to find anyone to answer a phone, much less take charge of the relief operation. “A mayor in my district,” an angry Republican congressman told the Wall Street Journal, “tried to get supplies for his constituents, who were hit directly by the hurricane. He called for help and was put on hold for 45 minutes. Eventually, a bureaucrat promised to write a memo to his supervisor” (9). Although state-of-the-art communications were supposedly the backbone of the new plan, frantic rescue workers and city officials were plagued by the breakdown of phone systems and the lack of a common bandwidth.

    At the same time they faced immediate shortages of the critical food rations, potable water, sandbags, generator fuel, satellite phones, portable toilets, buses, boats, and helicopters, Fema should have pre-positioned in New Orleans. Most fatefully, Chertoff inexplicably waited 24 hours after the city had been flooded to upgrade the disaster to an “incident of national significance”, the legal precondition for moving federal response into high gear.

    Far more than the reluctance of the president to return to work, or the Vice-President, Dick Cheney, to interrupt a mansion-hunting trip, or the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, to end a shoe-buying expedition in Manhattan, it was the dinosaur-like slowness of the brain of Homeland Security to register the magnitude of the disaster that doomed so many to die clinging to their roofs or hospital beds. Lathered in premature, embarrassing praise from Bush for their heroic exertions, Chertoff and Brown were more like sleepwalkers.

    As late as 2 September, Chertoff astonished an interviewer on National Public Radio by claiming that the scenes of death and desperation inside the Superdome, which the world was watching on television, were just “rumours and anecdotes”. Brown blamed the victims, claiming that most deaths were the fault of “people who did not heed evacuation warnings”, although he knew that “heeding” had nothing to do with the lack of an automobile or confinement in a wheelchair.

    Despite claims by the Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, that the tragedy had nothing to do with Iraq, the absence of more than a third of the Louisiana National Guard and much of its heavy equipment crippled rescue and relief operations from the outset. Fema often obstructed rather than facilitated relief: preventing civilian aircraft from evacuating hospital patients and delaying authorisations for out-of-state National Guard and rescue teams to enter the area. As an embittered representative from devastated St Bernard Parish told the Times-Picayune: “Canadian help arrived before the US Army did” (10).
    A conservative New Jerusalem

    New Orleans City Hall could have used Canadian help: the emergency command centre on its ninth floor was put out of operation early in the emergency by a shortage of diesel to run its backup generator. For two days Nagin and his aides were cut off from the outside world by the failure of both their landlines and cellular phones. This collapse of the city’s command-and-control apparatus is puzzling in view of the $18m in federal grants that the city had spent since 2002 in training exercises to deal with such contingencies. Even more mysterious was the relationship between Nagin and his state and federal counterparts. As the mayor later summarised it, the city’s disaster plan was: “Get people to higher ground and have the feds and the state -airlift supplies to them.” Yet Nagin’s Director of Homeland Security, Colonel Terry Ebbert, astonished journalists with the admission that “he never spoke with Fema about the state disaster blueprint” (11).

    Nagin later ranted with justification about Fema’s failure to pre-position supplies or to rush buses and medical supplies promptly to the Superdome. But evacuation planning was, above all, a city responsibility; and earlier planning exercises and surveys had shown that at least a fifth of the population would be unable to leave without assistance (12). In September 2004 Nagin had been roundly criticised for making no effort to evacuate poor residents as their better-off neighbours drove off before category-three Hurricane Ivan (which fortunately veered away from the city at the last moment).

    In response, the city produced, but never distributed, 30,000 videos targeted at poor neighbourhoods that urged residents “Don’t wait for the city, don’t wait for the state, don’t wait for the Red Cross, leave.” In the absence of official planning to provide buses or better, trains, such advice seem to imply that poor people had to start walking. But when, after the breakdown of sanitation and order in the Superdome, hundreds did attempt to escape the city by walking across a bridge into the white suburb of Gretna, they were turned back by panicky local police who fired over their heads.

    It is inevitable that many of those left behind in drowning neighbourhoods will interpret City Hall’s unconscionable negligence in the context of the bitter economic and racial schisms that have long made New Orleans the most tragic city in the US. It is no secret that its business elites and their allies in City Hall would like to push the poorest segment of the population, blamed for high crime rates, out of the city. Historic public-housing projects have been razed to make room for upper-income townhouses and a Wal-Mart. In other housing projects, residents are routinely evicted for offences as trivial as their children’s curfew violations. The ultimate goal seems to be a tourist theme-park New Orleans, Las Vegas on the Mississippi, with chronic poverty hidden away in bayous, trailer parks and prisons outside the city limits.

    Not surprisingly, some advocates of a whiter, safer city see a divine plan in Katrina. “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans,” a leading Louisiana Republican confined to Washington lobbyists. “We couldn’t do it, but God did” (13). Nagin boasted of his empty streets and ruined neighbourhoods: “This city is for the first time free of drugs and violence, and we intend to keep it that way.”

    A partial ethnic cleansing of New Orleans will be a fait accompli without massive local and federal efforts to provide affordable housing for tens of thousands of poor renters now dispersed across the country in refugee shelters. Already there is intense debate about transforming some of poorest, low-lying neighbourhoods, such the Lower Ninth Ward (flooded again by Hurricane Rita), into water retention ponds to protect wealthier parts. As the Wall Street Journal has rightly emphasised, “That would mean preventing some of New Orleans’s poorest residents from ever returning to their neighbourhoods” (14).
    Epic political dogfight

    As everyone recognises, the rebuilding of New Orleans and the rest of afflicted Gulf region will be an epic political dogfight. Already Nagin has staked out the claims of the local gentrifying class by announcing that he will appoint a 16-member reconstruction commission evenly split between whites and blacks, although the city is more than 75% African-American. Its “white-flight” suburbs (social springboards for neo-Nazi David Duke’s frightening electoral successes in the early 1990s) will fiercely lobby for their cause, while Mississippi’s powerful Republican establishment has already warned that it will not play second fiddle to Big Easy Democrats. In this inevitable clash of interest groups, it is unlikely that the city’s traditional black neighbourhoods, the true hearths of its joyous sensibility and jazz culture, will be able to exercise much clout.

    The Bush administration hopes to find its own resurrection in a combination of rampant fiscal Keynesianism and fundamentalist social engineering. Katrina’s immediate impact on the Potomac was such a steep fall in Bush’s popularity, and, collaterally, in approval for the US occupation of Iraq, that Republican hegemony seemed suddenly under threat. For the first time since the Los Angeles riots of 1992, “old Democrat” issues such as poverty, racial injustice and public investment temporarily commanded public discourse, and the Wall Street Journal warned that Republicans had “to get back on the political and intellectual offensive” before liberals like Ted Kennedy could revive New Deal nostrums, such as a massive federal agency for flood -control and shoreline restoration along the Gulf coast (15).

    The Heritage Foundation hosted meetings late into the night at which conservative ideologues, congressional cadres and the ghosts of Republicans past (such as Edwin Meese, Ronald Reagan’s former Attorney General) hashed a strategy to rescue Bush from the toxic aftermath of Fema’s disgrace. New Orleans’s floodlit but empty Jackson Square was the eerie backdrop for Bush’s 15 September speech on reconstruction. It was an extraordinary performance. He sunnily reassured two million victims that the White House would pick up most of the tab for the estimated $200bn flood damage: deficit spending on a scale that would have given Keynes vertigo. (It has not deterred him from proposing another huge tax cut for the super-rich.)

    Bush wooed his political base with a dream list of long-sought-after conservative social reforms: school and housing vouchers (16), a central role for churches, an urban homestead lottery (17), extensive tax breaks to businesses, the creation of a Gulf Opportunity Zone (18), and the suspension of annoying government regulations (in the fine print these include prevailing wages in construction and environmental regulations on offshore drilling).

    For connoisseurs of Bush-speak, the speech was a moment of exquisite déjà vu. Had not similar promises been made on the banks of the Euphrates? As Paul Krugman cruelly pointed out, the White House, having tried and failed to turn Iraq “into a laboratory for conservative economic policies”, would now experiment on traumatised inhabitants of Biloxi and the Ninth Ward (19). Congressman Mike Pence, a leader of the powerful Republican Study Group which helped draft Bush’s reconstruction agenda, emphasised that Republicans would turn the rubble into a capitalist utopia: “We want to turn the Gulf Coast into a magnet for free enterprise. The last thing we want is a federal city where New Orleans once was” (20).

    Symptomatically, the Army Corps in New Orleans is now led by the official who formerly oversaw contracts in Iraq (21). The Lower Ninth Ward may never exist again, but already the barroom and strip-joint owners in the French Quarter are relishing the fat days ahead, as the Halliburton workers, Blackwater mercenaries, and Bechtel engineers leave their federal paychecks behind on Bourbon Street. As they say in Cajun, — and no doubt now in the White House too — “laissez les bons temps rouler!”

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