As Gustav bears down on the Gulf Coast Louisiana it appears possible that a repeat of Katrina is in the making. The storm, currently a category 3 hurricane is projected to make landfall dead upon Louisiana. So far its track is looking similar to Katrina's. The biggest difference this time is that New Orleans will be mostly empty if and when the floods come.

This is because authorities have called for a mandatory evacuation. Perhaps they have learned from Katrina. Perhaps also the Republican Party understands how catastrophic a Katrina-like debacle would be for them during this election season, during their national convention of all things? Peter King, a Republican Congressman told the Washington Post the obvious: “If it does work out well, it will probably be a small plus” for Republicans. “Obviously, if it doesn’t work out well, then the Republicans are going to have a problem.” With an equal dose of the over-apparent John McCain told reporters that, "it just wouldn't be appropriate to have a festive occasion while a near-tragedy or a terrible challenge is presented in the form of a natural disaster."

The LA Times sums up the GOP's worries: "Apart from humanitarian concerns, the GOP's image-makers are mindful of the public relations and political cost if the party appears to be partying in Minnesota while Americans are battling to survive a devastating hurricane."

That the Bush administration was widely perceived as doing exactly this during the first critical day of Katrina is all the more reason for Republicans to be worried. Remember Condoleeza Rice's shoe shopping adventure while New Orleans sank? The Great Flood and images of families trapped on roofs, in the Superdome, wading through the water, images of working class men and women struggling to survive in the absence of federal help while water poured in through breached levees was a major moment of undoing for the Bush regime.

It was also a major indictment of the Democratic Party. The biggest failing of the Democrats was two-fold: their inability to hold the Bush administration to account, and their culpability, especially Dems at the local level, in the post-Katrina gentrification of New Orleans. City and State party officials were just as quick as the Republicans to smooth they way for various gentrification efforts.

Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco gaffed horribly in the face of the Katrina disaster. This time around Nagin seems determined to do the few things he didn't last time - clearly order a full and manditory evacuation and provide the means to do it. (Blanco will not have another chance to redeem herself, of course.) This response is hardly the best possible way that authorities could be dealing with Gustav, however.

Mike Howells, an organizer who lives in the French Quarter reports that in addition to the evacuation order the state has imposed a kind of marshal law. A 24-hour curfew will take effect after evacuations today banning all remaining residents who have chosen to ride out the storm from venturing into the streets, for any reason whatsoever. Howells, who rode out Katrina and plans to endure this storm, writes from his perch in the Crescent City:
"This order essentially places all who remain in the city on lockdown. The potential for misery that the twenty four hour curfew can inflict persons in New Orleans is great. The lockdown effectively discourages people from abandoning their residences even under the most dire circumstances. What is to become of those who flee home in the event of flooding or fire? Official policy dictates that such people be arrested on sight for violating the curfew and sent to Angola Prison. Will this threat of arrest cost lives because some hesitate to flee in a timely fashion due to a fear of arrest? I think so."

Gustav should make landfall sometime early Monday. The National Hurricane Center advisory bluntly states:


This is the same kind of storm surge that topped the levees in 2005 and caused the Great Flood. Hopefully there won't be a repeat, but both Raymond Seed and Bob Bea, the Berkeley engineers who surveyed and advised the city on damage done during Katrina think that it's likely.

According to Seed:

"The possibility of significant flooding of any one, if not all three of the main basins [the majority of New Orleans] is still there, and we could again have people up on roof tops if it goes badly. Some of the levees that have been built since Katrina, in our opinion, weren't built entirely to the standards we would have liked to have seen. That's being worked on, and further repairs are being made. But there's also incomplete work, work still in progress, so it's going to be a little dicey in terms of the level of preparation at the time of Gustav's arrival."

Finally, beyond the human toll, beyond the politics of immediacy reflected in the Republicans squirming, is the long-term effects this storm could have, if it maintains its intensity and makes landfall where most computer models predict it will. As of right now Gustav is heading straight toward the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, the "LOOP." This single port facility is responsible for 13% of the US' foreign oil supply. It connects via pipeline to about 50% of the nation's refining infrastructure. If Gustav damages the LOOP, steep increases in gasoline prices are assured. Beyond this, Gustav is barreling toward the most intensively built-up area of offshore oil and gas rigs in the US and is likely to do damage to many. It could take a significant bite out of US production.

The energy crisis is going to worsen.

But the energy crisis is merely an aspect of the larger crisis that is better understood in terms of ecology and social justice.

That all of this, the hurricane, the human toll, police militarization, the energy crisis is all related needs no explanation, or does it? Here's some basic connections of profound importance:

1. The vulnerability of New Orleans to hurricanes is the product of the death of southern Louisiana's wetlands combined with environmental injustices that have put working class people in harm's way.

2. The wetlands have been destroyed by the oil and gas industry. By digging extensive networks of canals for pipelines and for access to their countless drilling platforms, petro-corporations have allowed salt water to enter the delicate wetland habitats, killing off vegetation that holds silt down, and erasing the barrier that previously absorbed surge.

3. Southern Louisiana's working classes were once protected from hurricanes. Federal investment in necessary infrastructure was a priority. However, in the aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement and with the rise of neo-liberalism has come an attitude among many that the people of southern Louisiana can now be sacrificed. Due largely to automation of the port facilities of the region and de-industrialization of New Orleans, the mostly black working class labor force that used to operate this mega-machine have become supernumeraries under global capitalism.

4. The operation of neoliberalism - what Naomi Klein has identified as disaster capitalism - in geographies like southern Louisiana is reckless. It exploits "resources" including labor, minerals, timber, water to degrees that are wildly unsustainable, and it externalizes many of the most deadly industrial processes in these zones. The concomitant ecological and social harm done leads to a social state that is highly vulnerable to phenomena that are euphemistically called "natural disasters."

5. Under neo-liberalism natural disasters are defined by the ruling classes as "opportunities." The destruction, pain and suffering wrought on working class communities, (in the US this means particularly those marginalized by racism) is percieved by many as an unfortunate but useful turn of events that allows for everything from the mass expropriation of land and property to the further demonization of the poor.

I'd like to end on a high note, but now is not the time.

No comments: