Saturday, September 03, 2005

the current myth

There has been some discussion about various comments made by Bill O’Reilly and the like – including the head of FEMA – about the culpability of those who did not evacuate. Usually, LI could care less about any comments made by Bill O’Reilly – we don’t have to look around for talking heads to be outraged at, screw em - but this is an issue that is so clear cut that we are worried about the myth that is building before our eyes. The response of the liberal community has been has been that those who are poor and elderly, having no transportation, couldn’t get out.

No. Please, do not censor what happened. This is a half truth. The truth is that those who had no transportation but public transportation had no choice but to stay. They were left behind as an INTENTIONAL act of the government, which located shelters in the city and took the people it could to those shelters. Now, supposedly the traffic jam going out of the city was such that the complete bus system of New Orleans would have added an incalculable delay to the evacuation – but it should be emphasized again and again that the moral responsibility for those people lies with the government that directed them, forcibly, into those shelters and then abandoned them. We know they were abandoned by every proof, including statements from Brown and the head of Homeland Security that they did not know, until four days later, that there were thousands at the Civic Center – and this doesn’t even address the hospitals. We have every proof, in other words, of mass negligent homicide. FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security are as guilty of murder as Union Carbide was, when it killed 25,000 people in Bopal India. That is the long and short of it. I would actually have every sympathy with a person who shot and killed the armed gangbangers that ravaged parts of the city, and I would feel similarly for those who punished the state. But in both cases, sympathy should not be extended into advocacy. There should definitely be trials. Not impeachment, fuck that – trials for manslaughter.

Of course there won't be. Fantasy baseball, fantasy justice, fantasy all the way -- what else is the Web good for?

Love in the ruins

Now in these dread latter days of the old violent beloved U.S.A. and of the Christ-forgetting Christ-haunted death-dealing Western world I came to myself in a grove of young pines and the question came to me: has it happened at last? – Walker Percy, Love in the Ruins.

Have I lived through the Golden age?

This question has been rushing at me, like a savage with an upraised asagai posed to strike my very heart, as one of the major American cities dies and three levels of government murders (oh, but in the second degree, and with the best intentions) as many African-Americans as it can get away with.

America has definitely changed. That the country would screw its bottom 30 percent is dog bites man news. That it would screw the middle and the top should make us sit up, indeed.

The artist in me appreciates the fine aesthetic sensibility of the muse of history, anointing a man as trivial as George Bush as the symbol of the zeitgeist. George Bush is an empty man – he makes Warren G. Harding seem like J.P. Sartre. But LI, ever the liberal, estimated the evil of that vacuum. Evil in the secular sense – the power of destruction linked to the blindness of vanity. It never occurred to me that the Bush administration would treat his Red States as it has treated Baghdad.

Anyway, the headlines today bring some hope that this phase of the ‘accidental” lynching of the urban poor is seguing into a more comfortable next phase. Perhaps we will get to see some judicial lynching of a selected looting gangbanger – such exemplary punishments are always good for the gonads – followed by some patting on the back of those whose actions in the past couple of days have cost hundreds of lives. The media hasn’t yet picked its hero yet, for this urbicide, but we are all on edge – that’s merely a matter of time and photo ops at the White House.

Meanwhile, I am working on my own extinction. I am a relic of an earlier era, dead meat for the knacker shop, in which “this is America” wasn’t the equivalent of grinning plutocrats on Murdoch’s channel defending our right to loot globally and shoot looters locally. A Dylan line sums up my non-necessity in the New Era: “it’s a wonder that we still know how to breath.”

Friday, September 02, 2005

A link to one aspect of this collapse: Read about the plan for evacuating the poor. Then weep. Weep. Weep

from 2000

I wrote this article in 2000. On my computer, it looks like an edited draft from a mag or newspaper, but I don't remember publishing it anywhere. Here it is.

Deeper issues lurk behind the populist rhetoric.
Roger Gathman is a freelance writer based in Austin.

There are issues in this issue-less campaign, but who wants to talk about them?
Roger Gathman is a freelance writer based in Austin.

When Al Gore launched his official campaign on a Mississippi Steamboat, the media dutifully cited Mark Twain. But the locus classicus for the events that have shaped the Mississippi River valley, and by implication the place of the Federal Government in the national economy, might better be sought in William Faulkner’s Wild Palms, a novel set in ‘the great flood year, 1927.’

As John M. Barry showed in Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood and How it Changed America, the consequences of the flood were manifold and national. For instance, by directing flood relief, Calvin Coolidge’s Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover, gained enough notice that was able to ride it to nomination at the Republican convention in 1928, even though Coolidge himself, appraising Hoover, said to friends, "That man has offered me unsolicited advice for six years, all of it bad."

What did Hoover exactly do? It wasn’t simply the relief effort. It was Hoover’s organization of support for the Jadwin Plan, which legalized the largest extension of Federal authority into the sphere of what had previously been left to states and localities since the Civil War. The plan put the Federal Government in charge of maintaining control of the Mississippi. More crucially, the Federal Government also assumed responsibility for financing the levee system, while the states and localities supplied pitched in merely token matching funds. Thus began the great hyrdo-engineering projects which began with flood control and soon evolved into a whole system of river control projects to promote the agricultural and industrial use of the river. That initial assumption of responsibility, and the outlay of Federal revenues it entailed ("the greatest expenditure the government has undertaken except in the World War,’ the New York Times said) (1) soon operated as a precedent for other interventions, as Coolidge probably suspected it would.

All of which contravened, on the deepest level, the conservative principal enunciated by Walter Bagehot in the nineteenth century: "... nothing can be more surely established by a larger experience than that a Government which interferes with trade injures trade." The question, even then, was what counted as interference. Bagehot himself, skeptical of all varieties of utopian theory, knew he was dealing in ideal terms here; the very idea of a "natural economy," to which the classical economists referred, encompasses the whole system of exchanges, upon which the government, if it functions at all, must impinge to some degree. But Hoover’s advocacy of the Jadwin plan established a prototype for the scale and kind of economic interference sanctioned thereafter by twentieth century conservatives: if the state, of whatever level or branch, intervened, it should intervene to give some advantage to the owning class. Conservative economists Louis Galambos and Joseph Pratt have labeled the interlocking structures which bound together businesses and the Federal Government the “Corporate Commonwealth”, seeing it as the specifically different mode of capitalism practiced in twentieth century America. The Mississippi flood plan is a perfect instance of the Corporate Commonwealth in action. The Jadwin plan, while extending Federal protection to the life and property of all who lived in the Mississippi flood plan, practically advanced the interests of the large scale farmers of Mississippi’s Delta country, who no longer had to depend on their own resources for flood control. Theoretically, this should also have advanced tenant farmers, and small scale farmer. Actually, the advantage gained by larger farmers ate up the small advantage reaped by the sharecropper, since advantage has an unequal effect on large and small enterprises, tending to give larger ones a competitive advantage. In addition, the change in the economic environment aggravated the rooted racism of the culture. The Federal government’s interventions, on the local level, gave a distinct preference to whites - so that it isn’t surprising that in the immediate period following the flood relief plan, black immigration from the Delta region increased.

In the thirties, the New Deal, while not negating the government’s tilt towards the owning class, balanced it with interventions that favored the working class, such as labor laws, minimum wage laws, social security, and the commencement of a vast regulatory structure which would, in the post-World War II period, grow ever more active in governing corporate behavior.

A default was thus set in place to which the two dominant factions in America responded. Liberals allowed a number of policies that favored the wealthiest, while Conservatives conceded the limited legitimacy of social security and other forms of redistributing wealth downward. Not that practical concession entailed rhetorical recognition - the two sides would unload, during elections, their obsolete battery of slogans and promises, without ever seriously intending to dismantle or radically change the infrastructure that both sides had, through compromise and self-interest, created. This is why, weirdly enough, the great engineering projects of this century - from the dams to the highway system - were rarely contraverted enough to be issues in elections. They were, instead, relegated to the status of the “non-partisan.”

Galambos and Pratt confine themselves to the dynamic between the Federal Government and the oligopolies. The essence of the system, however, was realized on the state and local level. It is on this level, in fact, that the system transmorgified as the New Deal and Great Society programs began to fall apart. Bill Adler, in his recent book, Mollie’s Job, gives a good account of the realization of this mechanism on a grassroots level. The state of Mississippi in the thirties began a program named BAWI, Balance Agriculture with Industry. Under BAWI, a local community can raise money from a bond issue to purchase plant for the private sector. In Adler’s book, Simpson County used this authority to build a plant for a Universal Industries, a ballast making company. Under the terms of the law, the county leased the corporation the building, on very reasonable terms. In this particular case, the lease eventually lead to sale, but in other cases Mississippi counties have retained the costs and duties of ownership for actually housing the plants of national and multi-national corporations, which is by far the most radical form of rent control in the country. Ironically, the State of Mississippi touted its program to industries in the North by pointing to conditions favorable to "free enterprise" in the state, code words to imply that union activity was impeded to the constitutional limit by state law. Mississippi’s example soon inspired other programs throughout the South. From the South, it spread nationwide, developing into an unorganized but distinct national market as localities try to lure private businesses with ‘incentives" which include tax exemptions or rebates, relaxation of environmental regulations, and other ‘sweeteners." If a private financial entity made the loans and deals that state and local governments make, they would no doubt condition them on terms which hedged the loaning institution's risk. This, however, is often not the case in the flea market of local and state incentives, where the immediate goal, couched in terms of employment, eclipses discussion of its future costs. It is a practice that is so common that when Honda, in a recent new release, bragged that, for locating a factory in Alabama, it negotiated with the Governor’s office to come up with “incentives worth more than $158 million ... [including] $102.7 million to get the site ready for construction and to train workers, and another $55.6 million in tax breaks,” no one even questioned the deal. After all, as is noted in the same release, Alabama is handing out even bigger plums: “Mercedes-Benz received commitments of $253 million for its plant, which employs about 1,700 following an expansion last year.” (a) The Alabama government essentially subsidized Honda and Mercedes Benz. The justification is that this will generate employment, which will generate income tax and other tax revenue, so that the state will more than make up for the money. But this justification tacitly concedes the State’s function in creating wealth inequality, by taking from the workers to pay for the owners. This is formally close to a protection racket - in a same way that a gang earns its money by protecting small businesses from the violence it would otherwise inflict, the corporation earns its tax deferments and subsidies by employing people who generate its profits. The company is subsidized, in other words, for being a company, just as the gang subsidizes itself for being a gang.

Originally, progressives saw, in this system, a cheap way to secure employment for areas that were often racked by poverty. The question of whether other infrastructural investments would be more profitable was, most of the time, not even bruited. After all, unemployment had a tangible cost to the taxpayer, as the unemployed depended on the state for a variety of sustaining services. Of course, by raising bonds, or putting together tax incentives, the corporations were still costing the taxpayer, but in theory there would be a net economic benefit to the community which would counterbalance that cost.

In the eighties, the bi-polar nature of government intervention gave way to interventions that increasingly favored one side: the side of ownership. While the socialization of business costs such as are effected under BAWI and like minded programs grew, the willingness of governments to continue social services came to an end. The end was not uniform, and especially with regard to environmental, health and safety regulatory structures, the cuts were never completely devastating. What should interest us, however, is how, within the mode of what continued to be acceptable government intervention, the price of plant, pollution control, training and a host of other costs were increasingly assumed by mostly middle income or low income taxpayers. This is a story which goes beyond talking about the formal advantages accrued to the wealthiest by tax cuts, the most often looked to cause of increasing income inequality, to the positive disbursement of government revenue - the cost, in tax dollars, going towards shore up the source of income for the wealthiest one percentile of Americans. Inequality of wealth is often regarded statically, as a fact about the American political economy, instead of as a dynamic property of that economy, one which sets up a positive feedback. In other words, it produces the conditions for ever greater income inequality. The most extreme and colorful example of this is the state that has been most effected by the changes upon the Mississippi wrought by that floodplan way back in 1928: Louisiana.


If you look at the map of Louisiana’s coast published in the 1999 International Petroleum Encyclopedia, it is graphically obvious that Louisiana is one of the most important sources of petroleum and natural gas in the nation. The map is dense with pink lines radiating out all along the coast to offshore Gulf wells, as well as wells in the wetlands. The pink lines represent pipe, and the pipes radiate in to refining plants. 70 percent of the oil and 90 percent of the gas from U.S. coastal water comes from the Louisiana Coastal zone.

Resource extraction is not the only thing Louisiana has going for it. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Louisiana contains about 40 percent of the coastal marshes in the coterminous United States. The bayous contributed 28 percent to the total volume of U.S. fisheries in the eighties, although that percentage has been going down.

It is, then, a state peculiarly rich in natural resources, which makes the contrast with its human impoverishment all the more startling. Katherine Isaac, of the Citizens for Tax Justice, an advocacy group, sums it up this way:

“The state ranks: last in the nation in workplace health and safety and in high school graduation rates; 49th for the gap between rich and poor; 49th in poverty (with 25 percent of residents considered poor); 47th in surface water discharges, heart disease and adult illiteracy; 46th in hazardous waste generation and teen pregnancy; and 45th in long-term unemployment, unemployment duration and health coverage.”

What is wrong with the human economy is tied up with what is increasingly wrong with the environment.

Take, for instance, the fish.

Lately, ominously, there is a “Kill Zone” which forms, every year, off the coast. It has doubled in size, to around 7,000 square miles, since the Midwest floods of 1993. Journalist Colin Woodard, in his book Ocean’s End, describes the process that makes for “hypoxia,” or an abnormal diminishment of oxygen content from the water. Nutrients, mainly nitrogen fertilizers, are drained into the Mississippi from farms in the Midwest. Download by the Mississippi into the Gulf, they cause an explosion of algae growth. That in itself doesn’t sap the oxygen. It is the decay of algae, produced by bacteria, which completes the cycle of strangulation. Woodard compares the process to wrapping Saran Wrap around a piece of the Gulf about the size of New Jersey - the animals in the affected area flee or die or both - Woodard reports that in 1996, for example, the zone drove as much as half a million fish into shore, where they could be scooped up by the residents in hand nets, or found, dead on the shore, by seagulls and eaten, or simply rot.

If the origins of the Kill Zone can be located a thousand miles up the Mississippi river, the massive dumping of toxic waste is becoming a Louisiana specialty. Last year, attention was focused on “Cancer Alley,” the stretch of land between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that is home to some 120 petro-chemical plants. The attention wasn’t focused so much on the effect of these plants on the local residents as on the feud between the Governor of the State, Mike Foster, and the Environmental Law Clinic at Tulane University. As Oliver Houck, its founder, says, “we have a different attitude towards the environment down here and it's all bad. The environment is the enemy.” When ELC successfully discouraged the building of a PVC plant in Convent, Louisiana - claiming that the plans for the plant didn’t meet existing EPA standards - the Governor and the state’s Chamber of Commerce went to the State Supreme Court, which obligingly interpreted a state constitutional provision, Rule XX, as disallowing student practitioners from representing any individual, unless the income of the potential client is low enough to meet a rigid standard of indigency set by the Louisiana State Supreme Court and any organization which could not demonstrate that the incomes of 51 percent of its members meet the same standard of indigency.
Even Cancer Alley is eclipsed, however, by an even bigger problem. Louisiana is, quite simply, falling into the sea. Since 1930, it is conservatively estimated that the state has lost 1, 200,000 acres since 1930 - an area about the size of Rhode Island. And the loss is continuing, at a rate of about 25 square miles a year.

An natural occurrence of this magnitude has, of course, many causes, and all of the causes have adherents. A geologist, Sherwood "Woody" Gagliano, claims that the land sits on huge mud fault “blocks,” and that the faults are coming apart and sliding the land into the sea. A more common view is that the flood plan which has blocked the Mississippi with a system of levees has inadvertently ceased the flow of renewing sediment with which the Mississippi originally built the Delta. Ivor van Heerden from the Louisiana Geological Survey, claims that the birdfoot Delta is falling apart because the Corps of Engineers, in accordance with a Congressional Act passed in 1954, must rig the River so that it passes through Baton Rouge and New Orleans on its way to the Gulf. The Congressional mandate has been followed so far, but nobody has yet figured out how to do geology by fiat. The river doesn’t like being rigged. In particular, since the 1927 flood channeled out a deeper passage to the sea through one of the river’s tributaries, the Atchafalaya, the River, most geologists think, has been trying to shift its bed. That shift would leave Baton Rouge and New Orleans on a finger of the sea (which is what the River below the Atchafalaya would become), while the Mississippi would empty into the Gulf at Morgan City, about 140 miles west of New Orleans. In recent years, mysteriously, a Delta has been forming at the mouth of the Atchafalaya, evidence, perhaps, that the Mississippi won’t be forever tamed. So far, the Corps of Engineers has kept the Mississippi flowing on its way past New Orleans with the Old River Control Structure, which seals off the flow between the Mississippi and the Atchafalaya. The dam, built in 1963, is officially designed to handle a maximum flow of 3,030,000 cubic feet per second. As Barry has pointed out, however, by some accounts that figure was equaled by the 1927 flood. If, as some climatologists claim, we are in currently in a regime of “extreme weather,” there’s a strong possibility that that much flow could happen in another flood.

'The system at its bleakest is at work in Louisiana. Here we can see how all three legs of the government work to distribute income upward by socializing corporate cost and shifting its burden to the working class. The executive and legislative powers exempt the petroleum and gas industries from regulations forcing them to dispose of waste, thus leaving dumps to be cleaned up, latter, at taxpayer expense. The taxpayer also pays for wetland restoration, which is needed partly because of channels that have been dredged to oil wells on the coast - channels which the oil well owners can deduce in an accounting maneuver known as 'expensing" before they figure their gross revenue. In this way, unprofitable wells and operations can be hedged in a portfolio against profitable ones, making the wetlands the passive victim of one more tasty tax scheme. When the oil and gas is carried in to refineries and plants, another group of state incentives kick in, making it the tax and regulatory situation advantageous for "dirty" industries to build their plants in obscure hamlets between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The inhabitants of these hamlets are the most disposable members of the Louisiana, and indeed, the American, commonwealth - poor rural blacks. The companies are entrusted with the real, practical power to regulate themselves, which they use to dispose of pollution as they see fit. At this point, we reach the furthest extend to which the executive and legislative branches intervene in the economy - an abdication of their responsibilities to protect in any way the well-being and liberties of their poorest citizens. Still, those citizens could have recourse to the courts. Now it is the turn of the judicial branch to kick in. Laws and rules hem in the ability of the effected residences and small business to sue by, for instance, forbidding agencies which commonly represent the poor to operate in environmental class action suits. And if, nevertheless, a suit is levied by some stubborn citizen, there are liability caps in the offing which would preserve the cost - benefit calculations of the corporations. Why, for instance, not dump the heavy metals and pay out $15,000 in a penalty? On the one side, the happy citizen can purchase a coffin and a fairly decent funeral service with that amount of money, and on the other side, the company can continue to diffuse its waste products, to the greater glory of its balance sheet. According to the EPA, this is exactly what is happening. In 1995 alone, some 57 million pounds of wastes were released in East Baton Rouge Parish. By stymying attempts, either legislatively or by judicial penalty, to stem the flow of waste, the incentive to pollute less, and to produce less wastefully, is deadened.

To trace all the lines and movements of the mechanism is to question the bounty government is so quick to shower upon corporations. But the necessary preliminary is, of course, to expose the mechanism, and this is where the two party system comes in. By battling on the high rhetorical plain of laissez faire vs. the welfare state, they divert attention from the realities of the system, and the tacit consensus which makes both parties collude at socializing business costs. This is the hope held out by Nader's campaign: that consumerism, with its accountant's ethic, and the Green's environmentalism, which coalesces around sustainable economics, might actually address the issues which traditionally invigorate populist movements: the abuse of power and the entrenchment of inequality."

Rule by the worst just got worse

Can these things be? Is this madness? Is there no way to rise up and break the neck of the monsters, the true monsters, of this administration that is crushing us into the ground? We are ruled by something fantastically biblical, some combination of brainless Behemoths. And they are murdering us. And we do nothing. This is Bush's Chernobyl moment. And we watch it, and people die and die and die.

“100 said dead in Chalmette
Thursday, 9:46 p.m.

About 100 people have died at the Chalmette Slip after
being pulled off their rooftops, waiting to be ferried
up the river to the West Bank and bused out of the
flood ravaged area, U.S. Rep. Charles Melancon,
D-Napoleonville, said Thursday.

About 1,500 people were at the slip on Thursday
afternoon, where critical supplies like food and water
are scarce, he said. Melancon expressed serious
frustration with the slow pace of getting these items
to the people waiting to finish their journey to

Many of those at the slip were evacuated from a shelter set up at Chalmette High School that suffered massive flooding as the waters rose during Hurricane Katrina.

Melancon said people are being plucked out of their water-surrounded
houses, but the effort to get them out of Chalmette
and provide them with sufficient sustenance is the

While he did not directly criticize the Federal
Emergency Management Agency, Melancon said they are
ultimately responsible for making sure that people are
taken care of. “That is where the buck stops,” said
Melancon at a briefing at the state Office of
Emergency Preparedness.

People at the slip indicated that 100 people had died
since they arrived, although Melancon said he did not
know how they perished.”

My brother, who has been in four major hurricane clean up operations (including Hugo) as a volunteer, thinks that the big mistake in NOLA is to rely on the military, instead of letting people back into the city to self organize and get their things. In some ways, he's right. It is unlikely that the Chalmette one hundred would have died if there were ... well, a lot of people around. The nightmare is that the government has cut off the region and shuttled people to points where they are abandoned. The looting occupies the press, and not the mass slaughter. But the mass slaughter is infinitely more dangerous. The Chertoffs of this world are killing off more than the gangbangers.

And this is our American civilization. Beautiful, ain't it?

ps -- 11 a.m, Friday: more evidence that my brother is right. The blood of how many hundreds is now on the hands of the state -- at every level. This is from a Nola account that, as is the fashion of the Times - Pic, weighs the life of the black human being at a four to one rate with the life of white human beings. Thus, more print and blame is bestowed on the wounding of one national guardsman than the deaths -- due directly to malign neglect by the Federal Government -- of those souls in the Civic Center:

"A cluster of refugees attempted to leave the city by way of the Crescent City Connection, only to be blocked on grounds that the crossing was unsafe for pedestrians. At the suggestion of officials, they retreated to the Superdome, where they learned that the bus convoy to Texas was closed to new arrivals."

Anarchy, we are told, can't work. The Bush culture is offering an alternative that is succeeding in devaluing any action by the state. Far better to abolish the thing than to have this.
I’ve heard and read disturbing things today. Here’s three:

- Touro hospital is without a/c, electricity, food, water. There are patients on the roof. Touro being attacked is a sign – the riot is moving Uptown. This doesn’t happen. This is happening.
- Kenner Hospital also suffered an attack.
- Finally, I heard perhaps the single worst interview I’ve ever heard a government official give. Michael Chertoff’s interview with NPR consisted of anchoring himself to a happy talking point – that the Superdome was being relieved – even as he was asked about the Civic Center. Unbelievably, when conditions were described there, he said that the reports were rumors, and that he had heard nothing of this.

Nobody, unfortunately, is going to fire Chertoff. That’s a fact of life. But if you want to know why people are firing on the helicopters, a good place to start is Chertoff’s remarks. People in New Orleans, or many people, think they are being abandoned to die. Doubtless with the state of the electricity, few people heard him – but the attitude spoke volumes. Chertoff might as well have put in skywriting: “we will let you die in the Civic Center.” Which makes going to a government designated transfer point a sucker’s game.

This is so simple. There is a need for a national leader – like Clinton – to set up in Baton Rouge and announce, we are not going to let you die in the Civic Center. Or at any transfer point. Now that we “know” that you are in there, we are going to make the trip from the superdome in three hours and put in safety officers, send in food, get you out. That Chertoff left the interview without bothering to get ‘informed’ by the reporter is so sickening I can’t really express my horror.

Clinton might be a buffoon, but he is a trusted man in New Orleans, or more trusted than most politicians. I could care less about the politics – disarming New Orleans is impossible, so it is time to THINK about what you are saying, if you are an official, and it is time to find some way to communicate with disparate groups of distrustful people. That means loud speakers, that means using media with generators to convey the simple message: “going to a transfer point will not mean being abandoned.” They can show the Rolling Stones forty foot high at a stadium show – they can’t show the rescue of refugees so that people downtown can see it? If I were there at the moment, knowing what I know, I’d do anything to avoid falling into the government’s hands at the moment. Why is this difficult to understand? If I were in New Orleans at the moment, I would not look at the helicopters with a very friendly eye myself. The question emerges: are they going to take those able to pay, and leave us to die? So far, it looks much like the latter. This is a city built on invisible levies of class. Get real.

Sometimes, I do wish writing this thing actually mattered.

ps -- just read some good news -- Touro patients have been largely evacuated.

Thursday, September 01, 2005


And it shall be, whosoever shall go out of the doors of thy house into the street, his blood shall be upon his head, and we will be guiltless: and whosoever shall be with thee in the house, his blood shall be on our head, if any hand be upon him. -- Joshua, chapter 2

The shotgun I lived in on Willow near the Carrollton Cemetery, which always seemed to have kids flying kites from it when I lived there, is probably flooded. The house on Prytania might actually be flooded up to the roof, hard as that is for me to even conceptualize. The house on Audubon is on higher ground. The Tulane Library, where I worked on a project in which a group processed the purchase of a couple million dollars worth of books, is no doubt flooded down in the basement. The Tulane site is down. Apparently, the students and faculty have been evacuated, many of the students to Jackson Mississippi.

I’ve seen one dead city on the Gulf: Galveston, Texas. Galveston gave up the ghost after a terrific storm in about 1911. The place still boasts 50 000 people, but its opportunities shriveled after that storm. Houston became Texas’ big port. Galveston became a fief of the Moody’s, the insurance clan. Walk down the streets of Galveston and marvel at the architecture, the like of which has no parallel in Texas. But it is like a royal robe on a shivering leper.

I’m in shock, awe, anger, disbelief. In the Cleveland airport, I drank beer and watched CNN with the subtitles rolling across it. I nearly sobbed, but didn’t – I’ve learned enough about the world to know that sobbing over disasters that are too big for you simply leaves you raw and confused. A new legend was born, I’ve noticed: Nero fiddled while Rome burned, and Bush strummed a guitar while New Orleans sank. Bush is a lesson in the servile reflex: I instinctively expect him to operate like a leader. He instinctively operates like a class clown dumped on the island in the Lord of the Flies. He’s good for me, insofar as he has destroyed the remnant of my respect for leadership itself. America is not special; the stupid Caesars are definitely upon us.

I fell in love a dozen times in New Orleans; I learned politics there, and I learned to distrust the cops. I learned how to listen to opera, and how to snort coke. My first experience with acid was with my friend A. and her maniac Chilean boyfriend, who inhabited a shadowy room in a demi-whorehouse in the quarter. I can still feel the lack of vitamin C as I stumbled down Magazine street in the morning after, passing by a poster advertising a Kung Fu movie in Spanish. The poster sometimes still pops up in my dreams.

If I were living in NOLA – and six years ago, when I moved back South, that was my plan – I’d be in the Civic Center or the Superdome. Evacuation at a moment’s notice is not in my economic cards – I have no car, I have no cell phone, and I have no desire to leave my possessions (a computer, a tv, a stereo) to the winds, or to a passing looter. Although I very much understand taking bacon and beer (which, by the way, is a good thing to drink when the water becomes polluted – that is, after all, why beer was invented). I very much don’t understand evacuating New Orleans without any regard for the stuff left in the stores, especially the weapons. I don’t understand not impounding that stuff the first day. This is New Orleans, after all, where every native has a funny story about some naïf tourist venturing out to some area which is not to be visited without an armed escort. We toyed with these stories, when I was there, because there was a certain resentment of tourists, who were in search of easy vices but hadn’t earned the right to them – didn’t even understand that vices come in bundles, and some of them you might not like at one in the morning. New Orleans isn’t just like a banana republic, it is one. There is no real police force in New Orleans. There is a praetorian guard that protects the garden district, and Jefferson Parish middle class folk, and enforces the rule of the jungle on the Ninth ward. Over the decades, both sides of this equation were educated to believe in a very direct view of the regulation of social relations. When I hear calls to shoot to kill the looters, that is the Garden District expressing what it has always thought. I once saw a policeman beat the shit out of man in the French Quarter. I wasn’t stupid enough to interfere.

I know it’s gone, I know it’s gone, I know it’s gone…

I first saw New Orleans a long time ago. I was taken there by my Uncle Harry. And I resolved to go there after high school, which I endured in suburban Atlanta. I went to Tulane the year the Meters played for the incoming freshman party. Back in the day, it was really a party – the university sprang for the kegs. That has probably fallen victim to our current Puritanism. My first year there, I worked on the Figaro, which was run by James Glassman. Glassman went on to become a crackpot conservative (author of Dow 1 million two hundred and ten), but back then he was cool. One of my duties at the Figaro was to keep him from dealing with the assorted weirdos from the sex industry that would come in and bug us – pin striped escort service guys, weeping fat ticketsellers at various adult theaters, etc., etc. They advertised with us, they were hit by the cops, they came to us. My immediate boss was more interested in being a dance instructor. The writers (this was back when Bunny Matthews worked for the paper) lounged around in the back in their pyjamas. I’ve seen the bohos, or the last of em…

It’s gone, it’s gone, it’s gone…

For a long time I’ve felt extinct myself. And it didn’t take a genius to know that New Orleans time was limited. I wrote a piece in 2000 about this, which I’ll publish in my next post. This post is just a puddle of piss and tears. And I don’t give a shit.

Monday, August 29, 2005

the respectable left

The new myth floating about is that the liberal hawks are in a self-questioning mood: how could they have been so wrong? The answer is that they trusted the Bush administration to do the right thing but the Bush administration let them down.

This is, of course, horseshit covered in catsup. Hitchens, Friedman, Berman, Packer, Ignatieff, Marc Cooper (post occ.) and the rest of them are well practiced in the art of emitting herbivorous platitudes about human rights to defend the infamies of American foreign policy. Their share of the war consisted of committing a double act of bad faith: demoralizing the liberal/secular side in Iraq by branding it with the name of various scoundrels (Chalabi, Allawi), while putting up a noxious smokescreen of righteousness on the home front to disguise the quite normal imperialist mechanisms by which Iraq was to be reduced to its proper place in the world system. The movement was from a tyranny run by a mass murderer to a colony run by corporate American shills. Hitchens is merely the most articulate and exemplary of the band of lefty poseurs: in the lead up to the war, his chief argument was that the antiwar side sickened and disgusted him, as though his very innards had been carved out of the Critique of Practical Reason. He now defends the war, as he does in the latest New York Observer, on grounds of honor -- a sort of mafia ethic:

Hitchens clarified what world he’s currently living in. “It’s a matter of solidarity with the Iraqi and Kurdish opposition to Saddam, and trying to turn American policy in their favor,” said Mr. Hitchens. “I’m on their side, win or lose …. I could never publish an article saying, ‘Come to think of it, we never should have done this,’ because I could never look them in the face …. So, no, I don’t have any second thoughts.”

The rest of them are going to remain with us as the unimpeachable voice of the reasonable left, of course. As with a position in the Bush cabinet, the advantage of being a public intellectual is that failure is no bar to success. That these people, none of whom could be trusted to organize a children's birthday party, could intrude into a nation about which they knew neither the language nor the culture and transform it from the top down is a subject for farce and tears. None of these people seem to have the least sense of how projects are done, how agency works in an organization, how producing a set of incompatible goals leads to failure, or even how to map the incompatibilities.

All of this matters not a jot. The Dissent eggheads have always had great success commoditizing their sensitivities in the op ed market. They will continue to do so. But I say, as a mild and moderate liberal:

Fuck em.

olivier blanchard and the free lunch: a comedy of errors

  The neolib economist Oliver Blanchard tweeted a very funny comedy bit, in which he played the part of “social democrat”. And he wrote: “As...