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Lessons from Katrina: Shock Doctrine… or Occupy Sandy?

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 3rd November 2012

Goldman Sachs Tower during Sandy blackout

Goldman Sachs Tower, New York City during Hurricane Sandy blackout, 10/29/2012

Hurricane Katrina was not the first large scale American natural disaster.  But whether because of the magnitude of the storm, the inadequate federal and state responses, or both, it was perhaps the first one to shake American confidence that our country was up to the task of taking care of its citizens after a disaster, or of helping communities recover from one.

Even natural disasters, it seemed — usually imagined to be a time of unity and shared commitment — could bring out both the best and the worst in people.  On the one hand, thousands of volunteers poured in to the disaster areas of Mississippi and Louisiana, and affected residents themselves rallied in many innovative ways to begin rebuilding their communities.

On the other hand, though, some people took strategic advantage of the crisis to push agendas they wouldn’t have been able to before — the phenomenon known as “Shock Doctrine” ever since Naomi Klein’s 2007 book of that name.

To give but one example, Education Secretary Arne Duncan once claimed Katrina was “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans.“  But teachers like Mike Klonsky thought otherwise; what really happened, he said, was “the firing of every teacher in the city, the driving out from the city’s schools more than 100,000 mostly African-American children, the busting of the teachers union, and the creation of a new two-tiered school system around a core of privately-managed charters …[with] mostly inexperienced and unqualified TFA teachers teaching poor kids “study and time management skills.” I can only imagine what would happen if this recipe was foisted upon white, middle-class parents. But don’t worry. It never will be.” *

In an essay marking Katrina’s second anniversary, New Orleans professor and activist Bill Quigley identified ten lessons from Katrina, including self-reliance, telling your own story,** and understanding that disasters will reveal the structural injustices in the communities involved.  But first and foremost, he wrote,

One. Build and rebuild community.

When disaster hits and life is wrecked, you immediately seem to be on your own. Isolation after a disaster is a recipe for powerlessness and depression. Family, community, church, work associations are all important –get them up and working as fast as possible. People will stand up and fight, but we need communities to do it. Prize women –they are the first line of community builders. Guys will talk and fight and often grab the spotlight, but women will help everyone and do whatever it takes to protect families and communities. Powerful forces mobilize immediately after a disaster. People and politicians and organizations have their own agendas and it helps them if our communities are fragmented. Setting one group against another, saying one group is more important than another is not helpful. Stress and distress is high for everyone, but community support will multiply the resources of individuals. Build bridges. People together are much stronger than people alone.

The aftermath of Superstorm Sandy seems to be shaping up similarly for the communities of the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York seaboard as Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath did for the Gulf Coast: a monumental cleanup and repair job, a struggle for aid — and also sometimes a race between residents rebuilding community and outsiders exploiting opportunities for their own policy and/or business agendas.

Thus Yves Smith of “naked capitalism” notes, in” Shock Doctrine, American-Style: Hurricane Sandy Devastation Used to Push for Sale of Public Infrastructure to Investors,” the immediate pressure in Pennsylvania to deploy shiny new “P3″ (public/private partnership) initiatives for the rebuilding process.  Philly.com’s Joseph DiStefano reports: “Rebuilding the shattered Shore and the swamped New York tunnels, along with badly needed updates to the Northeast’s exhausted roads and rails, will be an opportunity to implement streamlined construction laws backed by Republicans and pro-business Democrats in Congress and the states, says Frank Rapoport, Berwyn-based partner at New York law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge L.L.P., and counselor to contractors who support “public-private partnerships” (P3).”  

Read the rest of this entry »

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The good news is…

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 2nd February 2008

…that the psychopath who said this:

The good news is – and it’s hard for some to see it now — that out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic Gulf Coast, like it was before. Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott’s house — he’s lost his entire house — there’s going to be a fantastic house. And I’m looking forward to sitting on the porch. (Laughter.)

…is going to get repudiated this fall along with the psychopathic wing of the grand old psychopathic party that laughed with him and stuck with him through thick and thin and lies piled upon lies.

It’s the possibility of the electoral annihilation of the Republican Party that intrigues me about Obama. But I can’t count on it, and I just don’t believe he’d be met halfway by people like Bush and the kind of people who laughed with Bush there in Mississippi. For the endless, bitter rearguard fight the Mitch McConnells of the world are sure to put up if Dems win in November, maybe we need a team with a little less youthful enthusiasm and a little more guile and venom. That’s what intrigues me about Clinton. I’d be fine with either one picking the other for Vice President.*

Come fall, I now think I’ll be working for either one. But my mantras won’t be “Change You Can Believe In” or “Hillary Cares.” They’ll be “Remember New Orleans,” “Out of Iraq,” and “Let’s Drown the GOP in the Bathtub This Time.”

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* What about Edwards? Novak may just be engaging in campaign season mischief, but I’d be happy if his Attorney General rumor comes true .

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"If you want to know what Miami’s going to look like 100 years from now…

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 24th August 2007

…go to New Orleans today.” That’s Mike Tidwell (Bayou Farewell, The Ravaging Tide), speaking on a typically excellent Bill Moyers Journal:

MIKE TIDWELL: What gives me optimism in the face of this overwhelming challenge, and, you know, Katrina really is a curtain-raiser. If you want to know what Miami’s going to look like 100 years from now, go to New Orleans today. Below sea level, behind levees, battered by huge storms– if we don’t stop global warming. This climate crisis is here now. The Great Lakes are dropping in water levels. Texas has got too much rain. The Carolina’s too little. Hurricanes are getting– it’s here now. It’s not a my kinda sort of a maybe thing in the future that computer modeling says is coming. It’s already deeply here.

So, the fact that it’s here, that this giant climate system with all the momentum built in it toward warming, it’s already unpacking its bags. What could possibly give us the optimism and hope that we can now respond at this late stage, strongly and fiercely enough to hold it in check? And the thing that I come back to is, when we decide to change, we tend to change explosively. You know, look at the great changes in World War II and all these things that have happened in the 20th Century. I believe that this issue of climate change and sustainable– sustainability, which also implies questions of human rights, and fairness. When this light bulb finally goes on, and it’s going on.

You know, I think Katrina opened the door, Al Gore walked through it. And the zeitgeist changes a lot more. But once we finally really get serious, we’re going to change really fast.

Tidwell was joined by Melissa Harris-Lacewell. While at the University of Chicago, she co-authored the “2005 Racial Attitudes and the Katrina Disaster Study.”

BILL MOYERS: What have you learned, the two of you, about politics, American politics from the Katrina disaster?

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, I often say that Hurricane Katrina and it’s political aftermath is the 2006 win of the democrats in the mid-term elections. And it–

BILL MOYERS: How so?

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: I know it seems odd.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah.

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Because it’s not as though Katrina is at all even talked about in the 2006 elections. But you’ll remember that from September 11th, 2001 until August 28th of 2005, one was unpatriotic if you criticized the Bush administration or really any of the actions taken by our government. So, the Democratic Party and much of the American media was quite timid in terms of its critique of the administration.

But what Katrina and the bungling of Katrina does is it provides a wedge that opens the door. And the criticisms start to flow from CNN, from– and then from the Democratic Party. Now, the sad and scary thing is that all of these issues, urbanism, race, class, environmentalism which were the true core issues that made Katrina possible get lost. Because what the Democratic Party makes the choice to do is to use that wedge as an opportunity to critique Iraq. Not that it’s– I mean, it’s fine, right? But they use that. And so then Iraq becomes the story of the 2006 elections.

BILL MOYERS: At the expense of Katrina?

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: At the expense of Katrina. And all the lessons that Katrina had the capacity to teach us about domestic politics.

I think there’s a lot to that, and I’ve also argued that Katrina was the key turning point for Bush’s political fortunes. It’s sad to see how little the Democratic leadership has done with the opportunity; it suggests they haven’t understood much of anything about the last six years.

There was — and maybe there still is — an opportunity for tying it all together. I’m no political consulting whiz, but it might be something like for real security at home, against vainglorious and selfish politics abroad, for a sustainable future, against circling the wagons and living life under siege, for recommitting to the values of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and the people of the United States, against sliding towards a national security and surveillance state run by and for corporations and political elites.

And for impeaching Bush and Cheney for their crimes and their neglect of their duties to the Constitution and the people of the United States, and against spending any more time finding excuses not to.

Anyhow, more excerpts at Recording Katrina — or just go watch the whole thing.

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Tipping points of the last two years

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 27th December 2006

Josh Marshall asks an interesting question at TPMCafe:

…far from having the political capital he boasted of in November 2004, President Bush is positively radioactive in much of the country. Certainly, he is more consistently unpopular than probably any president in modern American history. So here’s the question. Was there a key galvanizing event? And if so, what was it? Katrina? The failed Social Security gambit? Abramoff? Or was it simply the long political fuse of Iraq finally catching up with the president? Certainly all these events and trends played a role. But what was the tipping point? Looking back, what mattered most?

Tipping point” is an interesting concept; whole books have been written about it, and there are certainly any number of web sites and articles applying the idea to social change, climate change, and epidemics, to name a few. Think of a penny balanced on its edge; with just a small push at this tipping point, it falls heads or tails.

But usually tipping point also means that once the tipping’s done, a new equilibrium rules: i.e., the penny lies flat, heads or tails. It seems to me that both the 2000 and 2004 elections showed that the whole country was roughly balanced at a tipping point — but throughout Bush’s first term. And without at least two photo finishes in Montana and Virginia, the 2006 election wouldn’t have quite the same promise of being a watershed event (similar notion, I think) in its own right. So being at a “tipping point” has become a political way of life in this country.

Still, there’s an undeniable change of momentum, and Marshall proposes a number of events that may have provided the impetus. I’d add at least a few other suggestions: Cindy Sheehan’s vigil at Bush’s Crawford ranch (August 2005) , the Scooter Libby indictment (October 2005), the Samarra mosque bombing (February 2006) the Foley scandal (September 2006), and the overwhelming 90-9 passage of the McCain amendment prohibiting torture by US personnel (October 2005).

You don’t have to agree with Sheehan on every count to acknowledge that her vigil was supremely effective political theater. The symbolism and, yes, spectacle of a dead soldier’s mother confronting a president off on yet another vacation resulted in a public relations shellacking for Rove and Bush that they never did figure out how to address. At least as important, she was an inspirational rallying point when others were ready to throw up their hands and just wonder what the matter was with Kansas, so to speak. Camp Casey may have been a “little tipping point” between giving up and not giving up for a lot of people.

That isn’t to say the other events listed above didn’t play important roles, too. The Social Security debate showed what even a humbled Democratic Party could do if it stuck together and stuck to its guns about an issue. The Schiavo travesty was an extremely sharp reminder of the Bush administration’s identification with and service to its radical base. It’s hard to classify a continuous debacle like Iraq as a “tipping point,” but the Samarra mosque bombing in February 2006 was at least one of several waypoints towards irrevocable civil war and the attendant American public disillusionment. For all that Senator McCain was so deeply disappointing later on in his support for the Military Commissions Act, the McCain amendment vote was a rare but important legislative defeat for the Bush administration, and showed there was the possibility of a broad coalition against human rights abuses by this country. And the Foley scandal might deserve to be the runnerup; it dominated news coverage, undercut GOP claims to the “moral values” vote, and it was far more easy to understand than the convoluted webs of corruption woven by the likes of Abramoff and DeLay.

But the big tipping point, I think, hit with hurricane force. It was the Katrina disaster that irrevocably lost Bush the respect of his electorate, and knocked a lot of the swagger out from under the “drown the government” crowd that supplies half of the Republican Party’s ideology. As Boyd Blundell wrote in May, Katrina

…offered irrefutable images that [Bush] was not looking after the common good. It undermined the average American’s self-image of being part of a country that actually worked. Without consciously changing their mind on a single policy, a good quarter of the country just stopped believing in the President.

It turned out Americans didn’t like seeing their government fail at essential services; they were, in fact, profoundly ashamed. Even if that memory has receded more than it should have, Katrina tipped the scales from Bush the Bold to Bush the Bumbler, and crucially had nothing to do with terrorism or Iraq — for which Bush deserved a failing grade as well, but which had been politicized seemingly beyond all hope of consensus.

Katrina, by contrast, was an undeniable, consensus disaster of biblical proportion — with an equally undeniable, consensus verdict that knaves and fools were “leading” the country as the levees broke. While Bush’s approval ratings were already declining by late August 2005, it never recovered from the additional hit Katrina delivered. I’d argue that Katrina provided the point of comparison and even, for many, the psychological permission to realize that Bush was likely a screwup in Iraq as well.

Katrina was and remains a breach of faith between a government and its people, and I think it’s not “merely” right for Democrats to address it — it’s politically smart to do so. Democrats must establish themselves as the “can do” party, and whatever they can do in the Gulf coast will simultaneously remind voters of the “can’t do” party. Whether or not that translates into winning a particular Louisiana or Missisissippi election down the road, it could be a “tipping point” too: reminding voters of what a government with and by adults can look like, and helping them decide that’s the kind of government they want.

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NOTE: “never recovered” leads to a graph of presidential approval ratings by Charles Franklin (“Political Arithmetik”), a UW political science professor who puts Katrina more in the middle of the pack of “galvanizing moments”: Katrina was a substantial “hit” to approval after a decent summer in which the approval decline had flattened out a little bit (though not started back up) after a very poor winter and spring that included the failed social security reform. However, “never recovered” seems a fair reading of the graph as well. DemFromCT (“The Next Hurrah”) cites Gallup findings suggesting that it wasn’t Bush’s job approval ratings that changed so much — just evaluations of his competency and leadership.
UPDATE, 12/28: Marshall links to several responses including ones by Mark Schmitt and Todd Gitlin. For his own part, Marshall agrees with a reader that the Social Security debate was key, pointing out that Bush’s fortunes were declining before Katrina. Elsewhere, digby bends the rules and IDs the pre-2004 election Duelfer report officially concluding there were no Iraqi WMD (“it just took a while to sink in.”)

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Contra Reich

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 14th November 2006

Robert Reich lays out a case for caution in the American Prospect:

The 2008 Presidential campaign began yesterday. Whatever the Democrats do with their new-found congressional power over the next two years, it will be with the big 2008 prize in mind.

Some Democrats want to expose the malfeasance and nonfeasance of the Bush Administration — find out who really knew what and when with regard to weapons of mass destruction, Abu Graahb, Katrina, payoffs to Abramoff, and all the other rot. That’s understandable, but it would be far better if Democrats used their new-found power to lay out a new agenda for America.

Reich is ordinarily smarter than this, I think. First off, the 2008 Presidential campaign is not the be-all and end-all of Democratic aspirations. There is some work to be done and some respect to be re-earned right now by a party that has not acquitted itself very well as an opposition party in the Bush era — even when it had a Senate majority.

I’m all for concrete achievements first and foremost; raise the minimum wage, fix Medicare, fix the alternative minimum tax, render aid to the Gulf Coast, force an Iraq withdrawal plan on Bush, and (in my opinion) roll back corporate and upper income tax cuts. That way Democrats earn the mantle of a “can do” party to contrast with GOP fecklessness and incompetence.

But I’m not for setting up false dichotomies between “new agenda” and “investigations” as we do so, because if we don’t know exactly what went wrong, we can’t hope to fix it, either. That goes for Katrina and the New Orleans levees, that goes for the misuse and politicization of intelligence, that goes for the conduct of the war in Iraq, that goes for warrantless domestic surveillance and other abuses of executive power, that goes for torture and death in American custody.

There’s an even deeper reason to investigate and, when appropriate, apportion blame without fear or favor. It’s because we owe it not just to this electorate but to future electorates to draw a line in the sand wherever we can and say “this must not ever happen again”: torture, lawlessness, cronyism that costs lives. That’s not some kind of frivolous waste of time, that’s the solemn duty of newly elected and re-elected Representatives and Senators. We can’t afford to let cries and lies of “partisanship” get in the way of that, and Reich has not rendered his party, his country, or his ideals a service by arguing otherwise. He concludes,

That’s what the election of 2008, which started yesterday, ought to be about.

Possibly so — but this business of always looking to the next election overlooks our responsibility to this one. We ought to live up to the election of 2006 first, and then worry about 2008. That’s certainly what we owe the voters of 2006 — and I think it’s actually better politics as well.

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NOTE: Reich via “Crooks and Liars.”
UPDATE, 11/14: I’m somewhat surprised to see I’m more in agreement with Peter Beinart on this than I am with Robert Reich.

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"Recording Katrina"

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 29th August 2006

Recording Katrina screenshotAs I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been helping out now and then with a second blog about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. It’s called “Recording Katrina,” and our description of it is

A collection of survivors’ stories and non-traditional reporting on the recovery effort in the Gulf.

The effort was fellow “RK” blogger eRobin’s (“fact-esque“) idea. We were both outraged by what we were seeing in the news in the first weeks after the hurricane hit, the levees broke, and the Bush administration proved so incompetent and venal at everything (again).

We were moved by the raw, first-person accounts we were finding around the Internet which we had started to mention in posts on our blogs, and we decided to collect links and excerpts in one place. Soon after, we were joined by riggsveda (“it’s my country, too“) and thatfarmgirl, who have posted first-person accounts about what they saw and learned as volunteers. Now riggsveda is adding new entries from her time in Louisiana in October, 2005.

Over time we’ve also included other “nontraditional” takes on Katrina, including everything from activist organization press releases, and key official documents and reports, to satellite photographs, innovative or freelance journalism, and more. When a post isn’t a narrative by one of us, I think we’ve succeeded in keeping our own commentary to a minimum and letting the accounts and documents we’ve found speak for themselves. We haven’t been all that different from everyone else in moving on to other topics as well, but maintaining the site challenged us to keep paying attention to the story and continue recording what we found.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingWe’re all pleased now to have drawn the notice of the New York Inquirer (“The first all-online alternative weekly”; “We don’t break news — we put news back together”) where Andrew Bast and his team have assembled a feature one-year retrospective on the disaster: “Katrina: One year later, shameless silence.” It’s a perfect fit between two non-traditional news gathering teams — Bast complimented “Recording Katrina” as a great resource as he researched the series, and the Inquirer will run one of riggsveda’s accounts on Thursday. We thank him in advance for including riggsveda’s story and mentioning our group blog, and invite everyone to have a look both at the Inquirer series and at “Recording Katrina.”

Personally, the main way I’d like to see “Recording Katrina” improve is to get some Gulf Coast residents and/or Katrina survivors to join us. If you’re interested, leave a comment here or e-mail one of us, and we’ll let you know.

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CROSSPOSTED in revised form at “Recording Katrina.” NOTE: banner by permission of the New York Inquirer.

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Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch: "One Year after Katrina"

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 24th August 2006

From the announcement:

Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch has published “One Year after Katrina” (pdf), a 96-page report that reveals the state of Gulf Coast rebuilding on the anniversary of the storm. Through statistics, status reports, in-depth investigations, and profiles of community leaders, “One Year After Katrina highlights the challenges ahead for a just and sustainable renewal.

The report analyzes over 250 indicators and reports on 13 major issue areas, including Demographics, Housing, Economy, Schools, Healthcare, Arts and Hurricane Readiness. The report also lists an index of some of the organizations working on Gulf Coast issues.

From the introduction to the report (.pdf file):

A year after Katrina, how much progress has New Orleans and the Gulf Coast made?To answer this question, the Institute analyzed over 200 indicators in 13 categories. We have also conducted status reports on key Gulf issues, launched in-depth investigations into the region’s economic power brokers and interviewed leading community activists in the Gulf region.

The conclusion is unavoidable and devastating: One year later, New Orleans and the Gulf region still face basic, fundamental barriers to renewal. Further, lack of federal leadership and misplaced priorities are preventing the region from achieving a vibrant future. For example:

Lack of HOUSING still keeps tens of thousands of Gulf residents from coming back home. Aid for homeowners in Louisiana and Mississippi was approved 10 months after the storms, and none has been disbursed. Little money has been earmarked for rebuilding rental units—none in Mississippi— and rents are skyrocketing. Eighty percent of public housing in New Orleans is still closed, despite minimal storm damage, and Mississippi residents learned that three coastal facilities will be shut down soon.

Problems continue to plague SCHOOLS in the region, making it difficult for many families to return. Only 57 of the 117 public schools in New Orleans before Katrina are scheduled to open in the 2006-2007 school year.

CONTRACTING SCANDALS and other special-interest dealings continue to plague the recovery. Institute analysis has found $136.7 million in corporate fraud in Katrina-related contracts, and government investigators have highlighted contracts worth $428.7 million that are troubling due to lack of oversight or misappropriation. Altogether, the Institute finds that corporate contracting abuse has cost taxpayers 50 times more than widely-publicized scandals involving individuals wrongfully collecting assistance.

Threats to the ENVIRONMENT are exposing residents to a wide range of toxins and making many think twice about returning to the region. Federal officials also have yet to commit the resources to restore coastal wetlands—the region’s best defense against future storms.

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CROSSPOSTED from Recording Katrina.

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Gretna, LA officials really are wanted for questioning

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 7th August 2006

One of the Hurricane Katrina stories I thought was the “Kitty Genovese story of our times” isn’t going away. On Saturday, the Washington Post published an AP story about the repercussions of a September 1, 2005 incident on the bridge from New Orleans to Gretna, Louisiana. From La. Police Who Turned Away Katrina Victims Face Inquiry:

A grand jury will investigate last year’s blockade of a Mississippi River bridge by armed police officers who turned back Hurricane Katrina evacuees trying to flee New Orleans.

Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan declined to reveal any details of the investigation on Thursday.

The grand jury will not begin the investigation next week, but it will start soon, said Leatrice Dupre, spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office.

Good. No: excellent. And “turned back” isn’t quite the word for it. Lorrie Beth Slonsky — a paramedic from the Bay Area in New Orleans for a convention when the hurricane hit — recounted what happened to “This American Life” last year*:

SLONSKY: So we are going through town and people *saw* us and thought, “Hm, you know, here come some folks, they must know something,” so our numbers doubled, from probably about 200 and then doubled again, so we were probably about 800 to a thousand people, marching up to the bridge. When we got to the bridge, there was the armed Gretna sherriffs, and they had formed a line at the foot of the bridge–

BLUMBERG: Uh-huh–

SLONSKY: –so even before we could *explain* what we wanted or what we had heard, that’s when they began firing the weapons. Gretna police *shot* at us and said, “Get away, get away, you *cannot* come on the bridge.” [...]

SLONSKY: And when we approached and had them in conversation, the sherriff informed us that there *were* no buses, that the police commander had lied to us, and when — Larry questioned, it’s like “Can we just ask you *why* we can’t cross the bridge?” because there was *no* traffic, very little traffic on this six-lane highway, and they said that — [sighs] “You are *not* crossing this bridge. We are *not* turning the West Bank into another Superdome.” [fierce] And to *us*, when they said that, that was *absolutely* these were code words for, “If you’re poor, and you’re black, you are *not* getting out of New Orleans, you are *not* coming to our territory.”

Last year, I titled a blog post about the Gretna incident “Louisiana mayor, sheriff, police chief wanted for questioning,” adding “By me, anyway.” It’s nice to see a district attorney agrees.

In late July, the United Nations Human Rights Committee noted both the Gretna incident and another one (U.N. Panel takes U.S. to task over Katrina, AP, Bradley Klapper):

The U.N. panel said it wants to be informed of the results of inquiries into the alleged failure to evacuate inmates from a prison, and into allegations that authorities did not allow New Orleans residents to cross a bridge into Gretna, La.

I’m guessing the prison is the Orleans Parish Templeman III facility; Human Rights Watch reported that hundreds of prisoners there were abandoned to the rising flood waters after the levees broke. I hope that sheriff and prison warden are held accountable as well.

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* Transcript by “bellatrys.”

UPDATES, 8/9: In comments, eRobin reminds me that Gretna police turning away the refugees wasn’t the end of it. The group formed a small community down the freeway, scavenging supplies and improvising shelter. Then:

Just as dusk set in, a Gretna Sheriff showed up, jumped out of his patrol vehicle, aimed his gun at our faces, screaming, “Get off the fucking freeway”. A helicopter arrived and used the wind from its blades to blow away our flimsy structures. As we retreated, the sheriff loaded up his truck with our food and water.

Via our joint blog, “Recording Katrina,” which we’ve kept updated with fresh non-mainstream media news about the disaster’s aftermath.

Also, the New Republic has an excellent article by David Morton (“Empire Falls“) on the Templeman III incident, and the background and future of the Orleans Parish jails as the engine for a New Orleans political machine. The issue’s lead editorial, “Lost City,” is also eloquent and on target: “If Katrina suggested a rot in American society–a decrepit federal government, a blunted sense of social solidarity, the entrenchment of poverty–the aftermath has confirmed it.”

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1,577 and counting

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 22nd May 2006

New Orleans Times-Picayune’s Michelle Hunter, May 19: Deaths of evacuees push toll to 1,577:

The first stories of death came quickly and immediately: New Orleans area residents drowning in fetid floodwaters, succumbing in sweltering attics or being swept out to sea.

But state officials say that for weeks after it made landfall Aug. 29, Hurricane Katrina kept claiming Louisiana victims, often in more subtle fashion and often in other states: elderly and ill evacuees too fragile for grueling trips on gridlocked highways, infants stillborn to mothers who were shuttled to other cities when they should have been on bed rest and residents overcome with anxiety by 24-hour television broadcasts of the devastation back home.

Because of a continuing rise in reports of out-of-state deaths, Louisiana’s official Katrina toll jumped 22 percent on Thursday, to 1,577 deaths, when the Department of Health and Hospitals added 281 more victims to the count. Texas alone accounted for 223 deaths of the increase.

Via After the Levees‘ Lois Dunn, who points out there are still 274 people missing from Louisiana, and bodies continue to be found.

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NOTE: Crossposted from Recording Katrina.

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Worth reading

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 10th May 2006

Investigations are so very rude and distasteful (Glenn Greenwald, “Unclaimed Territory”) — Greenwald takes aim at “journalists” like Tim Russert who are trying to spin Democratic investigative plans if they retake one or both houses as “payback” — rather than the necessary first steps towards reining in a runaway president and his party. Greenwald:

Journalists like Russert identify with the political figures they are supposed to be investigating and fighting against more than they identify with anyone else. They see them as their partners, as one of them — all members of the same Beltway elite institution which is the source of their wealth, their fame, their prestige, their self-esteem. They derive everything that matters to them from that institution, and so that institution is the one that demands their principal allegiance and becomes the principal source of their identities.

Katrina and the Common Good (Boyd Blundell, “TPMCafe”) — Why was Katrina such a tipping point for the President’s approval ratings? Blundell answers — and weaves that into a response to Tomasky’s “Common Good” piece (“Party in search of a notion“, American Prospect, April 18). Despite the long excerpt, you should read the whole thing, it’s all good:

The answer is that it offered irrefutable images that he was not looking after the common good. It undermined the average American’s self-image of being part of a country that actually worked. Without consciously changing their mind on a single policy, a good quarter of the country just stopped believing in the President.

Remember, this change of heart happened mostly in people who were not personally affected by the disaster at all. During the evacuation, random people were falling all over themselves to do nice things for us (and every other ‘refugee’). There were a variety of motives in play, but chief among them was an urge to counteract the image on TV that Americans just didn’t care about the people in New Orleans. There was, at least temporarily, a surge of domestic patriotism that made people not only willing but eager to undertake some personal sacrifice as a declaration of solidarity with the people of New Orleans. Those ‘selfless’ acts did something to restore in their minds their vision of America as a place where people cared.

It is important that people like Tomasky understant this phenomenon, because I don’t think he really understands what ‘common good’ means. In his ‘proof’ paragraph, he explicitly endorses the language of “Good for the majority/not just for the few”. But the having something be good for the majority [of individuals] rather than the few [individuals] is simply a more just utilitarianism, and has little to do with the common good. Instead, as the name indicates, the common good refers to goods held in common. It’s like a park. If you have a town with 200 houses and a 50 acre park in the middle, the value is more than the quarter acre per household it costs. It’s also more than the fact that I get to walk in a big green space I couldn’t afford on my own. It’s value is as a place where the community can interact in a beautiful, friendly environment. It’s a good that cannot be broken down into ‘individual’ units. It’s a common good.”

Farewell to Warblogging (Matt Welch, Reason) — I’m late noting this one (published in early April), but Matt gets more right here in being occasionally wrong than some critics do who are apparently always right. Welch recalls an early encomium to all things warbloggy:

“What do warbloggers have in common, that most pundits do not?” I enthused. “I’d say a yen for critical thinking, a sense of humor that actually translates into people laughing out loud, a willingness to engage (and encourage) readers, a hostility to the Culture War and other artifacts of the professionalized left-right split of the 1990s…a readiness to admit error [and] a sense of collegial yet brutal peer review.”

… and follows with “Man, was I wrong.”. Well sure, but mainly in not using the words “the worthwhile bloggers” instead of “warbloggers.” That is, the fraternity of the seminal event for many bloggers, 9/11, and the novel new way of discussing it — and being read, at least by a few — led to utopian expectations about the quality and nature of the dialogue that would follow.

Edroso is right that even at the time there was a troubling quality to blogging by folks like Den Beste or Reynolds — not to mention Charles Johnson et al. But many long-popular “war”bloggers (in the sense that 9/11 seemed to galvanize their writing), e.g., Gary Farber, the now relocated Sgt. Stryker,* Jim Henley, and Matt Welch, have acquitted themselves very well — their old stuff holds up tolerably well to reexamination, and their new stuff continues to entertain, inform, and surprise. (Ken Layne‘s newest site generally does all three at once.)

Straight-Line Projections (Mark Schmitt, “The Decembrist”) — Another blast from the recent past (March 22). Recalling Joe-Bob Briggs’ assessment of Sunday talk shows — mostly “nothing more than “a straight-line projection from the present” — Schmitt continues:

Reading Elizabeth Bumiller’s cold assessment this morning of Bush’s futile effort to justify the Iraq war reminded me of Joe Bob’s second observation. It’s tempting to play the game of “the press is cowed by the right,” or “the press is all a bunch of liberals.” The fact is that the main bias of the press is toward the assumption that, however things look now, that’s how they will remain. For my money, over the last few years, no reporter has been more “in the tank,” more slavishly devoted to the conventional wisdom on Bush’s genius and Bush’s overwhelming political strength than Bumiller. Part of that was the isolation of the bubble, but more important was that straight-line projection: Bush is politically strong, therefore he will remain politically strong.

Now of course, Bush looks ridiculously weak, so the straight-line projection has him going down the tubes. Bumiller’s video presentation on Bush is an even more potent example of her shift over to the alternative projection. As a friend in Iraq reminded me a few weeks ago, things are never either as bad as they look when they’re bad nor as good as they look when they’re good. Under Bush’s apparent strength in 2002-4, there were some incipient weaknesses just as his apparent weakness now disguises some political strengths. The press isn’t biased toward the right or the left (generally speaking, with some exceptions), but it is biased toward inertia. That’s a factor that’s worked hugely to the advantage of Bush and the right, and now it will kill them.

This seems somewhat at variance with Greenwald’s observation above, yet both have that “truthy” feel to them. There’s the “Beltway as social club” theory (Greenwald), and “conservation of conventional wisdom momentum” theory (Schmitt). Immoveable object meets irresistible force? Pass the popcorn. It’d be a nice bonus if people like Tim Russert or Chris Matthews were finally discredited, too.

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* No link in accordance with that writer’s wishes, given that the old name was used.

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