[News] The Militarization of New Orleans
news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Sep 4 11:25:22 EDT 2008
"U. S. will give $1-billion in aid to Georgia" - not Georgia u.s.a
nor NOLA (from headlines today)
September 4, 2008
The Militarization of New Orleans
By STEPHEN LENDMAN
Renamed and back, but first a personal note. Post-Katrina, writing
about "The New Orleans Aftermath and (its) Ugly Glimpse of the
Future" turned this retiree into a writer and radio host.
Now three years later, Gustav threatened and, on August 30, got New
Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin to hype the risk, scare the public, and order
a dusk-to-dawn curfew and evacuation of the city's 239,000 residents
ahead of what he called "the mother of all storms." Many hundreds of
thousands more along the Gulf coast. "Nearly two million people from
Texas to Alabama," according to an August 31 New York Times report.
Thankfully without cause as "the storm of the century" made landfall
as a Category 2, weakened to a tropical depression on September 2,
and Louisianans were spared the worst of their fears.
According to The New York Times, New Orleans' levees "were tested by
a heavy storm surge but held, even though the repair and
reconstruction work from Hurricane Katrina, is far from
finished....waves pounded against a floodwall on the Inner Harbor
Navigation Canal, considered a particularly weak link. Though water
lapped over the wall for hours, (it) was only ankle-to-knee
deep....on the edge of the (Katrina-hit) Ninth Ward." Overall, no
serious flooding or major damage occurred, and the Army Corps of
Engineers expected no levee breaks. No thanks to its shoddy work as
Over the weekend, nonetheless, Mayor Nagin was insistent and
suspiciously over-eager to evacuate the city. Those staying behind,
he said, were making "one of the biggest mistakes" of their lives
because no emergency services were offered and no "last resort"
shelters arranged like for Katrina - inadequate though they were.
Case in point - residents weren't allowed near the heavily guarded
Superdome and Convention Center.
Then on Monday night with the threat passed, Nagin refused to say
when residents would be allowed back. Now he'll allow it on September
4 but kept a dusk-to-dawn curfew in place, and warned about power
outages and lack of sanitation. Earlier, Governor Bobby Jindal stated
that return would be delayed until roads and bridges were inspected
and debris cleared. A worrisome sign that something's up. Just like
post-Katrina. Many evacuees may be denied reentry. One-fourth of them
had no transportation and were bussed out. New Orleans poorest and
mostly black. How they'll get back isn't clear. And the fact that DHS
chief Michael Chertoff was in town is another reason to be suspicious.
As well as thousands of National Guard forces and USNORTHCOM
contingents from across the country. Militarizing the city along with
local police and other security forces. Mobilized in place to crack
down. DHS and FEMA also and reports about Blackwater Worldwide and
Very likely reliable as post-Katrina, Blackwater mercenaries were
deployed on New Orleans streets and in neighborhoods. Protected by
immunity, they came in full battle gear right after the storm hit and
spread out into the city's chaos. Their cover was to provide
hurricane relief, but they functioned as vigilantes. Empowered by
federal, state and local authorities. Terrorizing local residents.
Removing them from choice areas for development. Assuring they
couldn't return. A part of America's "war on terrorism" that's
heading for citiies everywhere.
They patrolled the Cresent City like Gestapo. Threatening in SUVs
with tinted windows and their logos on the back. Others in unmarked
cars with no license plates. Menacing in full battle gear. Wearing
flak jackets. Carrying automatic weapons with extra guns strapped to
their legs. Licensed to use them and kill. Their role as "the world's
most powerful mercenary army (employing) some of the most feared
professional killers in the world accustomed to operating without
worry of legal consequences (and) largely off the congressional
radar," according to author Jeremy Scahill in his book on the
company. Part of a scheme to militarize America with New Orleans the
first test case. Making its streets resemble Baghdad and perhaps back
now for an encore.
Earlier the National Hurricane Center (NHC) called Gustav "extremely
dangerous" but remained cautious about the threat. Powerful
nonetheless at Category 2 (with winds around 110 mph) when it made
landfall on September 1 - downgraded from its expected Category 4
strength the preceding weekend. NHC said it struck land at Cocodrie,
LA, about 70 miles southwest of New Orleans, so the city was spared a
direct hit. Nonetheless, rainfall was intense, flooding occurred, and
along with it damage to add to Katrina's fallout.
It was more powerful with winds up to 130 mph and a storm surge
topping 27 feet, far above Gustav's eight foot level with some
forecasts that it could reach 14 feet. Katrina also made a direct hit
on the Mississippi coast while Gustav skirted along Louisiana's
shoreline at "a more gentle angle," according to the National Weather
Service. Nonetheless, widespread power outages and flooding were
reported from Texas to Mississippi, and earlier the storm killed up
to 100 people in the Caribbean as it roared across Haiti, the
Dominican Republic, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, and Western Cuba.
Reports from Kingston cited 11 deaths and "massive damage to roads,
bridges and utility lines as a result of mudslides and flooding." The
Dominican Republic at least eight more. Haiti, however, fared worst -
66 or more dead, at least 10 reported missing, dozens hurt, and many
thousands displaced and their homes destroyed. Schools and other
buildings also. Roads cut. Bridges submerged and villages inundated
in the most vulnerable country in the Hemisphere.
Cuba was best prepared the way it always is with tens of thousands
evacuated in time. No deaths were reported (nor in the Caymans), but
widespread damage from wind and flooding in the western part of the
island near Havana. Guantanamo is far to the East and was out of the
On August 29, 2005, it hit the Gulf coast and flooded New Orleans. A
city below sea level. Shaped like a bowl, and woefully unprotected in
areas housing poor blacks. Targeted for removal through forced ethnic
cleansing to let developers swoop in and take over. Federal, state
and local authorities complicit with corporate predators and ready.
The city militarized with police, National Guard, and Blackwater
mercenaries. Licensed to kill and they did. Making New Orleans safe
for capital. Ready now for an encore. What some observers call
"disaster capitalism." Exploiting security threats, "terror" attacks,
economic meltdowns, competing ideologies, and national disasters like
Katrina and Gustav.
New Orleans is a metaphor for capitalism's most savage form - outside
of war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan. In summer 2005, Katrina wiped
out public housing. Erased communities, and let developers replace
them with upscale condos and other high-profit projects on choice
city real estate. Gentrification writ large. Disneyfication of one of
the country's most desirable tourist destinations. Removing poor
blacks to make it possible. Assuring most would never return.
Remaking New Orleans for profit. Long planned and awaiting a storm to
do it. Taking full advantage when it hit.
The Bush administration was heartless with other things on its mind
abroad and busy cutting social services budgets at home. It refused
emergency funds for public sector salaries so 3000 city workers were
fired. Charity Hospital had to close and remains shut. Public transit
was gutted and lost half its workers. Most public housing was
targeted for removal. Some sits on prime land close to the French
Quarter. Developers want it for luxury properties. Katrina (and now
Gustav) remade New Orleans to make it possible. It's a window on
America's future and business as usual no matter who wins in
November. Hopeful optimists be prepared. Disappointment is the
operative word for 2009. "Fooled Again," according to Mark Crispin
Miller. Democracy here is for the privileged. The rest are to be
exploited by neglect and abandonment, then forgotten.
Rules are being hardened. New Orleans is a domestic version of what
Iraq pioneered. Creating an open field for capital. Giving
administration favorites like Halliburton and Bechtel big contracts.
Providing nothing to the poor, disadvantaged and displaced. Importing
cheap undocumented labor instead of local workers. Suspending
Davis-Bacon Act law that assures prevailing wage rates must be paid
on all federally funded or assisted construction projects. Letting
developers pay poverty scale instead and deny benefits. Suspending
environmental regulations, and dispensing with unwanted people in the
way. Assuring the inevitable by leaving New Orleans unprotected, and
ignoring FEMA's early 2001 prediction of the three most likely US disasters:
-- a terrorist attack on New York;
-- a major San Francisco earthquake; and the one considered most
likely and catastrophic
-- a hurricane and flood in New Orleans.
Experts cited a city below sea level. Vulnerable on the nation's Gulf
coast. With inadequate evacuation routes. Poor levy protection. A
deteriorating ecosystem from overdevelopment. A catastrophe waiting
to happen. Little recollection of when Betsy (in 1965) buried New
Orleans under eight feet of water. It at Category 4 entering the
Gulf, then downgraded to Category 3 when it struck the city. A future
Category 5 one will be disastrous and sure eventually to come.
The city is a bowl ringed by levees, protecting it from the
Mississippi to its south and Lake Pontchartrain in the north. At its
bottom depth, it lies 14 feet below sea level. Pumping out routine
rainfall draws water from the ground. That dries and sinks it deeper.
A problem called "subsidence." The city continues to sink. When big
storms hit, the bowl fills, and there's no place for water to drain.
Louisiana loses 25 square miles of land a year through erosion.
Wetlands are disappearing. Solutions involve huge remediating efforts
so far not made. Rebuilding the protective delta. An adequate levee
system replacing poorly designed floodwalls not built to standard.
Totally overhauling years of planned neglect. Waiting for a chance
like Katrina and now Gustav to change the face of New Orleans
forever, displace its majority black population, and make the city whiter.
Three years post-Katrina, nearly three-fifths of them aren't back.
Most never will be with developers remaking the city into a tourist
playground. Housing the wealthy in luxury condos. Keeping out poor
blacks in the way. Upgrading New Orleans for profit. "Revitalization"
according to city authorities.
Low-cost housing is being phased out. Public transportation as well
along with public schools and health facilities that low-income
people depend on. FEMA is now exploiting a tragedy and making it
worse. Kicking people without homes out of trailers and stranding
them on their own.
Bill Quigley is a law professor and Director of the Law Clinic and
Gillis Long Poverty Law Center at Loyola University in New Orleans.
He's also been an activist public service lawyer for 30 years - for
numerous social issues, including post-Katrina justice.
In an August 26 article, he wrote about the "Katrina Pain Index: New
Orleans Three Years Later" and explained the way the city looks
today. Some of his data and more are covered below.
-- No Louisiana renters are getting financial aid under the Louisiana
Recovery Authority's (LRA) handling of the $10 billion post-Katrina
federal Road Home Community Development Block Grant; it's directed to
116,708 homeowners instead and excludes most blacks.
-- No rebuilding plans are in place for the 963 St. Bernard Housing
Development units demolished.
-- No data is available to evaluate privatized charter schools;
Katrina destroyed half the city's public school buildings; scattered
tens of thousands of students and teachers across the country;
federal and local authorities jumped on the chance; millions in
federal funding went to convert public schools to charter for-profit
ones with no debate, input or even knowledge of parents and teachers;
all unionized city school employees were fired; then selectively
rehired at less pay and fewer or no benefits; New Orleans schools
were handed to business; the remaining poor, mostly black population,
was disenfranchised; consigned to under-funded schools and denied the
education they deserve; 40% fewer special education students (needing
extra help) now attend charter schools compared to underfunded public
ones; most city schools today are for-profit; plans are for all of them to be.
-- Virtually no rental homes were repaired - 82 out of a projected
10,000 in need.
-- New Orleans ranks first in the nation in percentage of vacant or
ruined housing units.
-- Four of the 13 city Planning Districts are as much at flood risk
as before Katrina.
-- Only 11% of hard-hit Lower Ninth Ward families have returned;
pre-Katrina, it was one of the country's richest cultural
communities; one community leader said it had an "atmosphere of
engagement;" in dialogue, music, words and history; a Make It Right
Stakeholders Coalition promotes rebuilding and helps residents return
to the neighborhood; federal and city authorities are committed to
-- Experts estimate it will take 20 to 25 years to rebuild New
Orleans at the current pace of reconstruction.
-- There are 25% fewer hospitals in the metro area than pre-Katrina;
38% fewer hospital beds.
-- One-third of city neighborhoods have less than half their
pre-Katrina households; ones where poor black people live.
-- Rents have risen 46% making housing unaffordable for poor and low
-- 81% of city homeowners got insufficient funding to repair their homes.
-- post-Katrina, 10,000 homes were demolished.
-- thousands are still in temporary trailers; FEMA is slowly displacing them.
-- the homeless population doubled post-Katrina.
-- 32,000 children never returned to public schools; their population
is half the pre-Katrina total.
-- 39,000 Louisiana homeowners applying for federal repair and
rebuilding aid never got it.
-- 46,000 fewer black voters were eligible in 2007 than 2003.
-- there are nearly 72,000 vacant, ruined or unoccupied city houses.
-- the city's population was reduced by 214,000 and is now 239,000,
according to the latest US Census Bureau estimate; and
-- billions of FEMA damage and repair funding has yet to be made
available to city and state residents; it likely never will be.
Meanwhile, three years post-Katrina, $15 billion in New Orleans
hurricane protection construction has barely started even though the
US Army Corps of Engineers says 20% of it is completed. All of it is
supposed to be by 2011, and the Corps claims New Orleans "now has the
best flood protection in its history."
Point of fact - it's woefully inadequate. The city remains
vulnerable, especially in its eastern poorer areas. Too little is
being done to prevent another Katrina disaster that's inevitable from
a powerful future storm. If a Category 5, it'll be disastrous, and a
shocking April 24 WWL-TV report provides evidence.
It's headlined: "4 Investigates: Floodwalls stuffed with newspaper?"
"It blows my mind," according to St. Bernard parish president Craig
Taffaro showing videotape evidence on-air. An indictment of a US Army
Corps of Engineers hired contractor. A resident said two years ago he
witnessed the expansion joint opening between floodwalls being
stuffed with newspapers. "The whole length" of it. And when he
confronted the contractor he was told "when Congress sends down the
money, it would be repaired the proper way."
It wasn't as Gustav approached, and WWL asked a local American
Society of Civil Engineers member to investigate. A man ASCE named
Louisiana's outstanding civil engineer in 2003 - Subhash Kulkarni. He
said: "I cannot even comprehend that somebody would stuff some
newspaper in there." Floodwall expansion joints have three lines of defense:
-- an elastic strip to help keep out water;
-- waterstops in the middle that's most important; the St. Bernard
floodwall has them; and
-- rubber joints in between to keep out foreign objects; St. Bernard
floodwalls lack them; newspaper was used instead; Kulkarni called it
"very serious; it doesn't take a lot of stress to cause the failure
of these floodwalls; we don't know after two or three years how the
main joint will perform; this is the first line of defense."
For its part, the Corps of Engineers defended the work and denied any
of it was shoddy, but a Corps emailer disagreed. He told WWL that
"sponge rubber" is required next to waterstops - the same areas where
newspaper was used instead. Ecron Corporation did the work.
Contractually it was obliged to do it right. The company president
didn't respond to WWL's "repeated requests for a comment," and the
station discovered that his company "is not even licensed by the
state's board for contractors." Apparently not a problem with the
Corps of Engineers. Or with the Bush administration and its corporate
allies who crave another chance to make New Orleans even whiter and
free up more choice real estate for high-profit development.
A total city makeover with billions in federal and local funding to
assist. Welcome to America's future. Upscale tourist destinations.
Luxury accommodations for the privileged. Gated communities for the
wealthy. Every amenity imaginable. For most others and the nation's
poor - exploitation by neglect and abandonment. Growing numbers on
society's fringes ignored and forgotten. A two-party duopoly assuring
it. Militarizing the country for enforcement. Planning an unfriendly
future by making America into a police state. Replicating the model
everywhere. New Orleans and Iraq are incubators. Not the kind of
country for young people to inherit. High time that enough of us
realize it's our job to prevent it.
Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Center for Research on
Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at
l<mailto:endmanstephen at sbcglobal.net>endmanstephen<mailto:endmanstephen at sbcglobal.net>@sbcglobal.net.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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