Katrina Hurricane


"A year has passed since Hurricane Katrina turned New Orleans into the closest thing this country has seen to Pompeii. Although FEMA trailers dot more of the landscape than they did a few months ago, as homeowners have begun to dribble back, at least 50 percent of the city seems unoccupied...

"With each passing day, a crucially significant political distinction in New Orleans gets clearer and clearer: Property owners are able to assert their interests in the polity, while non-owners are nearly as invisible in civic life now as in the early eighteenth century.

"Among other things, the travesty in New Orleans reminds us that capitalism enshrines the prerogatives of property owners--and the bigger the holdings, the more substantial the voice" (Adolph L. Reed Jr. "When Government Shrugs: Lessons of Katrina." The Progressive, Sep. 2006: 11).


"One year later... this is the United States, a country that has by and large abandoned the Gulf Coast to the social Darwinism of the corporate banditi. It isn't because we have lost the ability to care. It's because we've left behind something larger than New Orleans: our notion of collective social responsibility. We have forgotten, somewhere along the way, the basic fact that America is and was, before anything else, a society...

"...the storm also exposed the continuing failure of progressives and Democrats to fight for an alternative vission in which government responds to the needs and hopes of people, not the demands of monied interests" ("Katrina One Year After." Nation, Sep. 18, 2006: 3-4).


"...More than 60 percent of Nagin's [New Orleans] constituents--including an estimated 80 percent of the African-Americans--are still scattered in exile with no obvious way home.

"In their absence, local business elites, advised by conservative think tanks, "New Urbanists" and neo-Democrats, have usurped almost every function of elected government. With the City Council largely shut out of their deliberations, mayor-appointed commissions and outside experts, mostly white and Republican, propose to radically shrink and reshape a majority-back and Democratic city. Without any mandate from local voters, the public-school system has already been virtually abolished, along with the jobs of unionized teachers and school employees. Thousands of other unionized jobs have been lost with the closure of Charity Hospital, formerly the flagship of public medicine in Louisiana. And a proposed oversight board, dominated by appointees of President Bush and Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, would end local control over city finances...

"With each passing week of neglect--what Representative Barney Frank has labeled "a policy of ethnic cleansing by inaction"--the likelihood increases that most black Orleanians will never be able to return...

"Even more egregious was the flagrant redlining of black neighborhoods by the Small Business Administration (SBA), which rejected a majority of loan applications by local businesses and homeowners. At the same time, a bipartisan Senate bill to save small businesses with emergency bridge loans was sabotaged by Bush officials, leaving thousands to face bankruptcy and foreclosure. As a result, the economic foundations of the city's African-American middle class (public-sector jobs and small businesses) have been swept away by deliberate decisions made in the White House. Meanwhile, in the absence of federal or state initiatives to employ locals, low-income blacks are losing their niches in the construction and service sectors to more mobile oustiders.

"...the SBA has allowed large corporations to get $2 billion in federal contracts while excluding local minority contractors.

"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 Bianco las fall exactly ho 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 rcycled 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 yeard 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 elected black officials protest impotently from the sidelines, a largely white elite has wrested control over the debate about how to rebuild the city...

"New Orleans, the only Southern city in which labor was ever powerful enough to call a general strike, has become an important crucible of new social movements. In particular, it has become the home base of ACORN, a national organization of working-class homeowners and tenants that counts more than 9,000 New Orleans member-families, mostly in triage-threatened black neighborhoods...

"ACORN founder Wade Rathke scoffs at the RAND Corporation projections that portray most blacks abandoning the city. "Don't believe those phony figures," he told me over beignets at Cafe du Monde in January. "We have polled our displaced members in AHouston and Atlanta. Folks overwhelmingly want to return...

"Not waiting for CDBGs, FEMA flood maps or permission from Canizaro, ACORN crews and volunteers from across the country are working night and day to repair the homes of 1,000 member-families in some of the most threatened areas. The strategy is to confront the city-shrinkers with the incontestable fact of reoccupied, viable neighborhood cores" (Mike Davis. "Who is Killing New Orleans." The Nation, April 10, 2006: 11-20).


"More than six months after one of the worst natural disasters to hit the United States, a perfect storm of malign neglect on the federal, state and local levels continues to batter the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The overwhelming scale of destruction wrought by the hurricane required a comprehensive, federally directed plan of reconstruction, including the rebuilding of levees and the restoration of coastal wetlands, yet the record of the past six months is one of promise unkept, funding delayed and denied, and machinations of politicians and their corporate cronies to profit from the catastrophe...

"At the same time, the city's black and overwhelmingly Democratic electorate has been effectively disenfranchised...

"The neglect at the federal level is matched by the hijacking of democratic structures at the local level. As Mike Davis demonstrates in an article... the city's reconstruction effort has been taken over by a coterie of business elites and real estate developers, who have used mayor-appointed commissions to bypass elected officials in an effort to turn New Orleans into a smaller, whiter, more conservative city...

"One Iraq War vet is quoted... "What my country has become sickens me"" ("Neglect in New Orleans." The Nation, April 10, 2006: 3).


Fraudsters stole $1bn from Hurricane Katrina fund

"About $1bn in relief meant for the victims of Hurricane Katrina was lost to fraud, with bogus claimants spending the money on Hawaiian holidays, football tickets, diamond jewelry, and porn videos, the US Congress was told last week.

"The fraud, exposed through an audit by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), found a staggering amount of abuse of the bousing assistance and debit cards given out by the beleaguered Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) as a way of granting relief to those who lost their homes to Katrina.

"Testimony presented to the House committee on homeland security revealed that Fema paid housing assistance to people who had never lived in a hurricane-damaged property--inclusing at least 1,000 prison inmates--and made payments to people who were living in free hotel rooms. In one instance it paid out on a property damage claim from a cemetery in New Orleans--to a person who had never lived in the city...

"As much as 16% of the relief distributed by the agency was lost to fraud, the auditors said" (Suzanne Goldenberg. Fraudsters stole $1bn from Hurricane Katrina fund." Guardian Weekly, June 23, 2006: 7).


Colby Glass, MLIS