Saturday, March 25th, 2006

Mike Davis: Who Is Killing New Orleans?

More politics of abandonment. Planned shrinkage continues on the Gulf Coast, with even the Black middle class as targets. Mike Davis in the new issue of The Nation on Who Is Killing New Orleans?:

The paramount beneficiaries of Katrina relief aid have been the giant engineering firms KBR (a Halliburton subsidiary) and the Shaw Group, which enjoy the services of lobbyist Joe Allbaugh (a former FEMA director and Bush’s 2000 campaign manager). FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers, while unable to explain to Governor Blanco last fall exactly how they were spending money in Louisiana, have tolerated levels of profiteering that would raise eyebrows even on the war-torn Euphrates. (Some of this largesse, of course, is guaranteed to be recycled as GOP campaign contributions.) FEMA, for example, has paid the Shaw Group $175 per square (100 square feet) to install tarps on storm-damaged roofs in New Orleans. Yet the actual installers earn as little as $2 per square, and the tarps are provided by FEMA. Similarly, the Army Corps pays prime contractors about $20 per cubic yard of storm debris removed, yet some bulldozer operators receive only $1. Every level of the contracting food chain, in other words, is grotesquely overfed except the bottom rung, where the actual work is carried out. While the Friends of Bush mine gold from the wreckage of New Orleans, many disappointed recovery workers–often Mexican or Salvadoran immigrants camped out in city parks and derelict shopping centers–can barely make ends meet…

The Republican hostility to New Orleans, of course, runs deeper and is nastier than mere concern with civic probity (America’s most corrupt city, after all, is located on the Potomac, not the Mississippi). Underlying all the circumlocutions are the same antediluvian prejudices and stereotypes that were used to justify the violent overthrow of Reconstruction 130 years ago. Usually it is the poor who are invisible in the aftermath of urban disasters, but in the case of New Orleans it has been the African-American professional middle class and skilled working class. In the confusion and suffering of Katrina–a Rorschach test of the American racial unconscious–most white politicians and media pundits have chosen to see only the demons of their prejudices. The city’s complex history and social geography have been reduced to a cartoon of a vast slum inhabited by an alternately criminal or helpless underclass, whose salvation is the kindness of strangers in other, whiter cities. Inconvenient realities like Gentilly’s red-brick normalcy–or, for that matter, the pride of homeownership and the exuberance of civic activism in the blue-collar Lower Ninth Ward–have not been allowed to interfere with the belief, embraced by New Democrats as well as old Republicans, that black urban culture is inherently pathological.

posted by @ 1:34 pm | 3 Comments

3 Responses to “Mike Davis: Who Is Killing New Orleans?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    It’s so depressing.

  2. loveandrage says:

    Davis is always crucial

    thanks for the url!

  3. Anonymous says:

    There are many complex and difficult issues swirling around New Orleans and its reconstruction/protection at a point 60 days from the next hurricane season. Two of the most pressing of those is the state of the levees come June 1stand historic footprint of New Orleans. As an African-American, I can feel horro at what visited the cblack residents of the city. I can feel anger at the shell game that passes for a recovery “effort” since then. However, the major issue is NOT the racial power struggle that preceded Katrina. It is the vulnerability of the city NOW and the viability of the city (epecially the poorer neighborhood in the future).

    Nowhere in your article did you mention sea-level rise, elevation, wetland disappearance, groundwater withdrawal, global warming. In the near future, they factors will have a greater influence on low-lying Orleanians, black or not, than any powerstruggle you outline.

    The difficult but real truth is that 1) NOLA is NOT viable in its historic footprint, 2) the residents most vulnerable are poor and black, 3) these residents should be re-located. Inconvenient truths that run conter to the racial wrangles, but Nature is an impersonal dame will roll over black residents of New Orleans the way it did in the largely white city of Galveston in 1900. Galveston was once a city to rival Houston – after the hurricane of 1900 it never regained its’ prevalence. The country’s resources should be put into relocation efforts that give these refugees (not the PC version – evacuees) a real future and a safe harbor. They should not be encouraged to relocate into harms way to feed a 100-year-old racial grudge match.

    As for the levees now…Katrina was only a Category 2 or 3 when it hit New Orleans and the levees could deal with that. Replacing them to their previous strengthis inadequate and gives a dangerous false sense of security. Larger levees of a type to repel a Category 5 direct hit may be prohibitively expensive (costing mor that the net worth of the sections they are protecting (and once constructed will leave scarce money for re-development).

    Finally, global warming is expected to significantly increase sea level rise and hurricane intensity in the near future. This argues even more strongly for not putting New Orleans and its’ poorest, most vulnerable population back in harm’s way. A direct hit with a Category 5 hurricane could cause a real holocaust, dwarfing the events of last August. Don’t do it!

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