Monday, December 05, 2005

Thoughts on Blogging

Our professor asks us:

"What did you get out of [blogging], if anything. What would you do differently? What did you enjoy? Dislike? Do you think you will continue your blog? Were there any surprises? What do you think of blogs in general? Did you share your blog with family and friends and what did they think?"

The value of blogging depends on the value one assigns to it. I think a blog can devolve into a series of snide quips and personal-oriented observations which are not necessarily relevant or insightful. The temptation is there because it takes two clicks to start an entry and there is no editor or process of refinement. That's a pretty inviting door to enter at the end path of laziness.

On the other hand they can prove useful and keep one honest in the course of researching and investigating something, if properly and regularly maintained. For instance, it can be a transitory process in which one fleshes out ideas taking in notes and reproduced, advanced, and aired online. Especially if the blogger has some qualification for the chosen subject matter, it would be interesting for a reader to sort of peer into the blogger's head.

What I like and dislike that's distinctive with blogs is the commentary feedback area. This can be very effective if you have a potential audience base that is supportive but critical in a constructive way, or committed to a civilized debate. But on polarizing issues that's not likely to happen without serious moderation, because by the very nature of the medium people are given to engage in hit-and-run drive bys, posting a snide angry comment or quoting their favorite Maximum Leader as a poor attempt at rebuttal. Conversely, people just cheerleading what a blogger writes are not really adding anything except boosting the author's ego.

Personally I was surprised at the number of hostile commentators. I found it strange because the blog was not linked on any right-wing websites for a targeted attack as far as I can tell, but most of the posters were clearly solidly right-wing in their worldview, and almost uniformly resorted to sarcastic dismissals of myself as "Comandante," which is just...weird. It must be some kind of cathartic experience.

In my opinion, blogs are not a panacea to problems inherent in any means of mass communication, namely, a tendency towards "moronization" and superficiality. Frankly I am not impressed by the grandiose eulogies for blogging. I think most blogs are pretty self-involved or gossip-oriented, and that the useful blogs are an exception to the rule. A useful blog, in my opinion, is one in which a topic is analyzed by someone specially equipped, qualified, or motivated to look at it in a rigorous manner. Ideological bias is not a problem one way or the other as long as the net result for a reader is increasing her or his knowledge.

Obviously the number of blogs that meet this criterion is limited when practically everyone has "discovered" blogging. Blogs largely become a replica of facebook/myspace gossip-centered, frittering away of time.

However, there are clearly cases where blogs can prove socially valuable in the sense that they are immediately accessible and reproducible. So if anyone has an inside scoop on an issue with valid proof, it will spread very quickly on the internet, magnifying and amplifying that issue, much to the detriment of whatever wrongdoers (governments, corporations, individuals) are involved. Naturally, the downside here is that it becomes all too easy to smear individuals for malevolent reasons in the context of, say, high school feuds or romantic tiffs. This will undoubtedly have interested consequences for media law, defamation, and libel.

My friends and family are well aware of my politics so this blog's contents comes as a surprise to no one. I will definitely continue it as an extension of the political journal I edit simply because Katrina's effects are long-term even though media exposure tends to diminish as the event itself recedes into the past. What happens with the multitude of issues resulting from the hurricane is also a very illuminating marker of all major social indices in the U.S. - housing, labor, gentrification, reconstruction, environment, and race. It's a useful way to keep track of, and keep a record of, what is happening and what it means from a left-wing perspective.

"Big Easy not easy right now" Nagin says

A Dec. 3 AP Wire post quotes Mayor Nagin as saying,
"The Big Easy is not very easy right now," in Atlanta in response to frustration voiced by Katrina evacuees in the area.

One 50 year-old woman said, ""There is nowhere to buy food or get gas. It's chaotic. Bringing us back to living in poverty is not a new beginning. How can a city that's broke help New Orleans rebuild?"

Which is a pretty good question. Again, it plays into the issue of gentrification, because who is going to be able to move back? Nagin's response is that there will be a massive construction boom over the next 5-10 years.

Mayor Nagin in Atlanta

Another Dec. 4 Times-Picayune - I don't see any archive section on their site so I'm just going to keep reposting the relevant excerpts from Lexis-Nexis. The mayor of NO, Ray Nagin, visited Atlanta as part of a broad touring of major gathering points for Katrina evacuees; 45,000 NO families are in Atlanta, and 1,000 people went to hear him speak (seems like a pretty low number to me).

Gist of it for me anyway seems to be this part:

He acknowledged that housing remains a problem, with 12,000 people on a waiting list for trailers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the location of trailers in public parks sparking protests by residents and some City Council members. There's also the issue of skyrocketing rent for the limited properties in the city.

"The Big Easy is not very easy right now," Nagin said.

But neither is being so far away from home, displaced residents told Nagin.

"Every avenue I go through, I hit a wall," one woman said. "We want to come home. There's no way to come home."
This plays into the gentrification concerns, because if only wealthy people can afford to return due to limited property availability, all the people who lived there are not going to find returning feasible.

Catholic Schools in NO Rebuilding

A Dec. 4 Times-Picayune piece highlights the problems Catholic schools in the East Jefferson parish; church leaders say there's a lot of "flux" as some residents return, others don't, others move to different parts of the same parish, and so on. The article doesn't say, though, where the funding is coming from to rebuild the flooded and partially destroyed schools. (Posted below from Lexis-Nexis)


Copyright 2005 The Times-Picayune Publishing Company
Times-Picayune (New Orleans)

December 4, 2005 Sunday


LENGTH: 748 words

4 Catholic schools repairing damageAffected students doubling up

BYLINE: By Mark Waller, East Jefferson bureau


Unusual conditions still prevail at the four Catholic schools and churches in East Jefferson that suffered the most hurricane damage and disruption, but their communities are taking gradual steps toward normalcy.

St. Ann School in Metairie was the only east bank Catholic school unable to operate on its home campus after reopening in October because the entire first floor flooded and the second floor sustained wind damage. So St. Ann's younger students attended Metairie's St. Philip Neri School, while its older students went to St. Benilde School.

But with help from parent volunteers, enough rebuilding has been completed to allow the 3-year-olds through fourth-graders to return to St. Ann on Monday, Principal Susan Kropog said. The fifth-through seventh-graders are expected to return in January.

"We just thought it would be a priority to get the little ones back in their main area," Kropog said. "The familiar would be best."

Kropog praised the teachers for setting up the two schools in exile on short notice. And she praised St. Benilde and St. Philip for their hospitality.

"St. Philip and St. Benilde have been the epitome of what it takes to come back from a tragedy," Kropog said.

The Rev. William Maestri, superintendent of Archdiocese of New Orleans schools, said the cost of stripping damaged materials from the St. Ann campus was almost $1.5 million, while the total reconstruction cost is still unknown.

The school had 1,079 students before Katrina, and about 770 returned to the two temporary sites.

Rev. Michael Schneller, pastor of St. Ann, said the church came through the hurricane in good condition.

"It was the only building out of all our buildings that was not affected by wind and flood damage," he said.

That, however, means the rectory and church offices, which occupy the same building, suffered flooding. St. Ann's priests now live in the rectory at St. Mary Magdalen Church in Metairie, which had some extra room, Schneller said.

St. Ann has gutted and cleaned the rectory and office, but has not begun reconstruction because the priority has been on getting the school back in shape, Schneller said.

Meanwhile, he said, in a badly flooded neighborhood, church membership is uncertain, although Masses continue to be held.

"We're constantly getting changes of address," as residents return and others stay away. "Parish membership is pretty much in a state of flux."

St. Clement of Rome School in Metairie, meanwhile, continues to grapple with its own Hurricane Katrina damage even as it operates at its home location.

Principal Susan Perry said the flood deprived the school of two buildings, for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten through third grade. It also damaged the gym.

"We just found space in our main building, in our cafeteria, in our music room, in our library," Perry said.

The disaster blocked St. Clement from opening a new 3-old-year program.

"We just renovated the room," Perry said. "It was just so cute. There was this adorable little dollhouse in there with all these little figures."

St. Clement is trying to get a modular building from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to house some of the displaced classes, and volunteers are helping repair the damage.

Of St. Clement's 557 students before Katrina, about 500 have returned. Maestri said gutting the damaged buildings there cost $140,000, and rebuilding could cost $2 million.

The church at St. Clement also suffered significant storm damage, said assistant pastor Joe Krafft, but Masses have resumed in the gutted sanctuary.

"It's done in a modern, Katrina style, no carpets, plastic walls, folding chairs," Krafft joked about the new decor. But, he said, "We are slowly but steadily moving ahead."

Of the other Catholic schools in East Jefferson, St. Benilde and St. Philip suffered the next largest amounts of damage after St. Ann and St. Clement, Maestri said.

St. Benilde had damaged air conditioning units, roofs and gutters, costing about $73,000, Maestri said. Not counting the students displaced from St. Ann, St. Benilde has about 300 students, down from 318 before Katrina.

St. Philip had broken windows, fallen trees, broken parking lot lights, ruined lawn equipment, damaged portable buildings and broken playground equipment for a total cost of $18,227, Maestri said.

But also not counting students from St. Ann, St. Philip has gained about 10 students, totaling 677 more than it had before Katrina.

. . . . . . .

Mark Waller may be reached at (504) 717-7706 or

Tom Mignogna of Smith Mountain Lake, Va., replaces insulation in a classroom building at St. Clement of Rome School in Metairie. Mignogna, whose son is a St. Clement parishioner, was with a group of men from Resurrection Catholic Church who are in Metairie to help repair the school. In the background is Don Jakob. [1949089]

LOAD-DATE: December 4, 2005

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Quantified results of increased heating costs

The Energy Information Administration says that households that use natural gas for heating will probably spend $306 more for fuel this winter - a 41 percent increase compared to last year, according to a Nov. 28 article in the Times-Picayune (reproduced below).

Interesting key points in the article that point to long-term consequences of the hurricanes:

32% of natural gas production in the Gulf of Mexico remains offline.

20% may still be offline my March.

The state has lost 30,000 jobs in the chemical industry in five years due to higher gas prices.


LENGTH: 784 words

HEADLINE: Natural gas price spikes dog recovery

BYLINE: Richard Slawsky


Although natural gas prices have eased recently, industry officials warn a cold winter would spike prices and put a damper on Louisiana's economic recovery.Industry officials say natural gas production, cramped by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, will take six months or more to recover fully."Hurricanes Katrina and Rita did severe damage to our energy infrastructure," said Joseph Kelliher, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. "Twenty percent of the U.S. natural gas supply comes from the offshore Gulf and much of that production remains shut in because of infrastructure damage."According to the Energy Information Administration, households heating primarily with natural gas likely will spend $306 more for fuel this winter, a 41-percent increase over last year. New Orleans-area residents have already seen those increases appear on Entergy bills in the form of fuel-adjustment charges."We are looking at gas coming out of underground storage that was put in at higher prices so that is going to continue to flow through this winter," said Mark Stultz, spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based Natural Gas Supply Association. "We continue to see a tight market with potentially more residential and commercial demand due to a winter that may be colder than last winter, and that is going to continue to put upward pressure on prices."Prices doubleThe price paid for natural gas at the Henry Hub, frequently used as a benchmark for natural gas prices around the country, hovered above $11 per 1,000 cubic feet last week, off about 27 percent from the record of $15.27 set in late September and double the $5.53 futures price at the start of the year.The Henry Hub, a network of gas pipelines near Erath, connects with nine interstate pipeline systems, delivering natural gas throughout the United States.According to the U.S. Minerals Management Service, which administers oil and natural gas drilling on federal property, more than 150 drilling platforms were destroyed by the two hurricanes.

Of the 10 billion cubic feet of daily natural gas normally produced in the Gulf of Mexico, about 32 percent remains offline."Recovery of production facilities and other infrastructure in the Gulf region is expected to continue but it now appears unlikely that anything close to complete recovery will occur before the end of the second quarter of 2006," according to the EIA Natural Gas Weekly Update.Department of Energy officials estimate 20 percent or more of daily Gulf gas production could still be offline in March. A cold winter combined with increased industrial activity in the state would push prices higher, industry officials said."A good deal of Louisiana's industrial capacity is shut down right now because of the hurricanes," said David Dismukes, a professor at the Louisiana State University Center for Energy Studies. "Some of that industrial activity is going to be picking up considerably in the next three months and as we move into winter you are going to see considerable pressure on gas prices. The wild cards are where the weather is and where the industrial power generation demands are."Plant problemsLouisiana's chemical industry would be particularly hard hit if gas prices remain high over the next few months, industry officials said. According to the Louisiana Chemical Association, about 27,000 people in the state are directly employed at more than 90 chemical plants statewide, 30 located in parishes affected by the hurricanes.The chemical industry is the economic engine essential to the state economic recovery in the wake of Katrina and Rita, said Dan Borne, president of the Louisiana Chemical Association. The state's chemical industry has already lost more than 30,000 high-paying jobs in the past five years from high gas prices, he said, and continued high prices will hasten the loss."Louisiana is the third-largest consumer of natural gas in the United States," Borne said. "Louisiana's industrial consumption ranks second in the United States and Louisiana's industrial and power natural gas consumption is nearly as large as China's and is larger than Australia, Spain, Brazil, New Zealand, Ireland, Portugal and South Africa."High natural gas prices are prompting calls to speed development of liquefied natural gas receiving terminals and open more of the U.S. coastlines to oil and gas drilling. Presently, drilling is banned off most of the East and West coasts and the eastern Gulf of Mexico."The price situation is certainly helping to fuel the debate and gives some traction to our argument that we need to diversify supply not only through LNG imports but also though access to other areas of the Outer Continental Shelf," Stultz said.

LOAD-DATE: November 28, 2005

Delayed effect of higher natural gas?

Loren Scott, a Louisiana economist who also runs his own consulting firm, says that a cold winter could result in increased natural gas prices, according to a Nov. 29 article in the Times-Picayune. (The full article is reproduced below from the Lexis-Nexis database). The guy does consulting for the "energy and chemical industry," according to the article, so his angle is that in the event of a natural gas crisis, gas supply laws dictate those industries will be third in line to receive natural gas, behind residents and businesses.

There are some great statistics in the article about exactly how much damage was done to refineries and platforms.

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Copyright 2005 The Times-Picayune Publishing Company
Times-Picayune (New Orleans)

November 29, 2005 Tuesday


LENGTH: 662 words

HEADLINE: Storms could lead to higher heating bills nationwide;
Katrina, Rita reduced Louisiana gas output

BYLINE: By Robert Travis Scott, Capital bureau


BATON ROUGE -- The nation may once again learn the importance of Louisiana's energy industry if natural gas prices rise this winter partly because hurricanes Katrina and Rita knocked out a portion of the state's natural gas facilities, a Baton Rouge economist said Monday.

Loren Scott, president of his own consulting firm and an economist affiliated with Louisiana State University, said in a speech to the Baton Rouge Press Club, that August and September storms' impact on Louisiana's oil and gas assets was felt immediately nationwide in the form of higher-priced and at times scarce gasoline.

But the storms could have a delayed affect on natural gas prices after damaging production facilities and processing plants.

Luckily, Scott said, November has been warm, which has kept natural gas usage low and allowed the industry to save storage capacity.

But if this winter turns out to be relatively cold, the nation could start running out of natural gas in January or February, Scott said. Less gas could lead to higher heating bills. Utilities that rely on natural gas to generate electricity can add a natural gas fuel surcharge to customer bills, and Scott said those charges will increase this winter.

Chemical plants and other large gas users could take the biggest hit. Under gas supply laws, residential and commercial customers will be first in line to receive gas if supplies run short, with industry taking third priority, Scott said.

"So chemical plants could close for lack of gas," Scott said.

Scott's clients include energy and chemical industry interests.

Katrina affected 1,300 offshore platforms and Rita affected 1,600. The storms destroyed 112 platforms and extensively damaged 52 platforms, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The storms seriously damaged, destroyed or set adrift 46 rigs, with two rigs still missing. Nine of Louisiana's 17 refineries were temporarily knocked out.

As a result, the nation reeled from higher gasoline and other energy prices, and supply was spotty for weeks.

Two Louisiana refineries are still down. The Conoco Phillips refinery in Belle Chasse expects to be up again in mid-January, spokeswoman Betsy Brien said. Faced with a shortage of housing, the company is leasing the American Queen, a river cruise boat, to house more than 300 employees and contract workers, Brien said.

The refinery normally employs 350, but is using an additional 1,500 workers to get the facility running, Brien said.

The Murphy Oil refinery in Chalmette is expected to be running again by the end of March, Scott said.

So far, the two storms have reduced Gulf of Mexico oil output by 94.8 million barrels and gas output by 489.4 billion cubic feet. Those numbers represent 17 percent and 13 percent, respectively, of normal yearly production. As of Nov. 22, 39 percent of the Gulf's oil production and 32 percent of its gas production were shut down, mainly due to the storms, according to the Energy Information Administration.

The storms also initially knocked out half the state's capacity for gas processing, in which gas is separated from liquids or other materials. Louisiana has 75 gas processing plants that account for about 27 percent of the national capacity.

Nine large gas processing plants in Louisiana are still inactive, according to the Energy Department. Among the damages, any valves touched by saltwater from a storm surge must be replaced, Scott said.

The Henry Hub, the famous gas pipeline nexus in Louisiana where much of the nation's gas futures are priced, was hit with saltwater and most of its valves had to be replaced, Scott said.

In the long run, natural gas prices will mellow due to the forces of supply and demand, Scott said. Supply will increase as liquid natural gas is imported more frequently through new terminals built to handle high-pressure fuel, with several of those facilities slated for Louisiana, he said.

. . . . . . .

Robert Travis Scott can be reached at or (225) 342-4197.

LOAD-DATE: November 29, 2005

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Below is a report on the social situation in New Orleans I just received as a submission to my political website, Left Hook, from two students at the Univ. of Vermont who recently visited the area, John McDonald and Erik Wallenberg. Looks like there are some community-based groups who are upset with what they consider a plan from the top to gentrify the city.

New Orleans:

Driving into New Orleans is what you might expect to find when driving into a war zone, or more aptly, a city after it’s been through a war and is now deserted. The city remains largely emptied of people but piled with debris. Criminally, large sections of the city remain without electricity 3 months after Katrina struck. While the French Quarter is lit up and open for business, the predominantly working class and black neighborhoods of the 7th, 8th and 9th wards, which adjoin the French Quarter to the North and East respectively, remain dark and piled with mud, moldy furniture, dry-wall, and other assorted debris; utterly neglected by all federal authorities. Much of this prime real estate is the target for demolition, displacement of the community, and construction of profitable casinos and other tourist attractions.

In contrast, the Lakeview neighborhood which sits on Lake Pontchatrain and along the largest levy break, suffered some of the worst destruction in the city, with water lines reaching up over roofs; and yet some of the largest homes in this area are up and running. The people with money in New Orleans are able to hire private contractors to gut their homes, re-insulate and drywall, set up generators and move back in. This is, for obvious reasons, not an option for the majority of the city’s residents.

A community organization called “The Common Ground Collective” based in the 8th and 9th Wards, as well as the Algiers neighborhood has been working in their community to rebuild in spite of government inaction. For the holiday week Common Ground launched its “Road Trip for Relief,” which brought over three hundred community activists and volunteers from around the country to start rebuilding one house at a time. Common Ground has also set up distribution centers for food, clothing, and cleaning supplies as well as organizing against landlord and government evictions. Their motto is “Solidarity, Not Charity”, a slogan that accurately describes the city’s true needs. People unable to afford the high costs of private contractors and unable to get their insurance companies to pay-up, have turned to others in their community to work together to rebuild.

The back drop to this inspirational grass roots show of solidarity is of course the response, or lack there of, from the government and national charities. FEMA is hauntingly absent from the most devastated areas in the city, and the only indication of their presence are small notices attached to people’s houses reading: “we received your request for assistance but when we came by to do a damage assessment, we were unable to enter since you were not at home.” While the tone is neighborly, the message it sends to the community couldn’t be more calloused and grave.

The “relief efforts” of the Red Cross are equally inadequate. Their focus includes standing on corners, mostly near the French Quarter, handing out bottles of water, Chili dogs, mops, brooms and buckets. Even more indicative of the Red Cross’s detachment from reality in New Orleans is the hired help that can be found at their distribution centers. At most of the places the Red Cross had set up shop they brought with them hired thugs from Black Water Security and other private security firms. The armed mercenaries, most notorious for their actions in Iraq, claimed to have been hired by the corporate-charity to “protect the volunteers.”

Their real purpose became clear when several activists went to hand out leaflets at one Red Cross location, and were belligerently confronted by one of the armed guards who shouted to the activists “these people don’t want to talk to you, so you better leave.” The mercenaries certainly are not volunteering for the Red Cross, and when their lofty price tag is considered, one can not but wonder at the fact that this organization feels it more appropriate to hire private security than contractors to rebuild the homes of those in need.

As if the utter negligence and seeming indifference to the desperate state of affairs in the storm ravaged neighborhoods described above were not incriminating enough, FEMA now seems committed to accelerating the crisis in the city. Most of the working class sections of New Orleans remain without electricity or running water, yet despite all of this FEMA has announced that as of Dec. 13th it will cease to cover the expenses of hurricane victims now housed in hotels. In short this means residents from the 9th ward and other poor sections of the city are going to be totally abandoned by the federal government once again.

FEMA’s attack, however, is but one front in the assault being launched against the city’s working class. Seizing on the opportunity to cash in on sky rocketing housing demands Landlords city wide are illegally evicting their tenants and subsequently inflating the cost of rent to double or triple its former rate. So even those fortunate enough to escape excessive damage to their homes at Katrina’s hands are now being ravaged by the unnatural disaster unleashed by the mad dash for profits that followed in the hurricane’s wake.

What’s more, city authorities have refused to re-open public housing projects, and seem postured to make their closure permanent. At the Iberville projects this scheme is already in motion as steel shutters now block all the windows and doors. Many residents feel that this is part of an effort to remake New Orleans in the image of the city’s social elite; it is a plan that was started prior to the hurricane, and has rapidly picked up speed following the massive displacement of residents caused by Katrina.

In response to this brazen attack on the poor, N.O.H.E.A.T. has been organizing community forums and is calling for a march through the Iberville project on Saturday Dec 3rd to demand that public housing be re-opened, and that evictions be discontinued.

This in conjunction with the efforts of Common Ground are going a small way in reclaiming the gulf coast for the people that live there, but ultimately nothing short of a massive grass-roots campaign will be able to put an end to the plundering and profiteering now at work in New Orleans.


It was interesting to see that on Dec. 1 the governor of Wisconsin held a public hearing with representatives of Big Oil brought in to explain how they justify reaping massive profits in the wake of the big hurricanes. It was apparently prompted by public outrage at the stark contrast, with many American households also struggling to cope with increased heating costs.

Link to webcast

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Leadership Vacuum?

NY Times today
cites a bunch of officials and representatives from both sides of the aisle
who claim there is a "vacuum of leadership" when it comes to directing a focused rebuilding effort.

The main complaint is that the administration will not allow Louisiana to control its own revenue stream from its natural resources in order to channel it into building defenses against severe hurricanes. There's also the problem of backlogs for houseloans and other bureaucratic matters of import that are moving too slowly.

Transportation and Jobs - Damned Either Way

Quite a revealing piece in the LA Times the other day about the rush to find jobs in rebuilding New Orleans.

One aspect of the situation is deep and bitter irony:

The reconstruction boom has been frustratingly out of reach for evacuees and others in the region without work, many of whom — car-less, as well as poor — had no way to get to New Orleans.

So in other words, you had all these people who couldn't get out for the longest time because they had no transportation. Now, these same people can't get back in and access meaningful jobs because they have no transportation.

Another snippet:

As he got off the bus, Green said he wasn't picky. "I'm just looking for work."

He and his brother-in-law, Doney McCallop, also headed to the Marriott, where they leafed through job listings compiled by the state.

"Fifteen an hour … it's in Metairie," Green muttered. McCallop flipped the page and found a job downtown. "Janitor … $6.50 an hour."

Their faces fell. The better-paying jobs were a dozen miles away, in suburbs such as Metairie, requiring additional transportation they didn't have. Many employers wanted them to commit to relocating to the New Orleans area but couldn't provide housing.

Really need to read the full piece to combine the broader statistical data with the provided anecdotes to get an idea of what is going on, though. It's a pretty fascinating intersection of demographics, race, and business; there is resentment because Latino workers are filling the labor vacuum for low wages, because the mostly black population in areas of New Orleans are being weeded out because the "rebuilding" is neither for them nor by them (gentrification), and because there really aren't enough jobs to go around, despite the recent bus bonanza.

Wasting Money

Well, it looks like the one positive note I sounded throughout all this - about using satellite data to track damage and dish out recovery funds - was too sanguine. In reality it looks like a lot federal money is being wasted in Mississippi suburbs that hardly suffered from the hurricane.

The NYTimes article contains some useful information, here's the opening:

Storm Hit Little, but Aid Flowed to Inland City

JACKSON, Miss., Nov. 19 - When the federal government and the nation's largest disaster relief group reached out a helping hand after Hurricane Katrina blew through here, tens of thousands of people grabbed it.

But in giving out $62 million in aid, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross overlooked a critical fact: the storm was hardly catastrophic here, 160 miles from the coast. The only damage sustained by most of the nearly 30,000 households receiving aid was spoiled food in the freezer.

The fact that at least some relief money has gone to those perceived as greedy, not needy, has set off recriminations in this poor, historic capital where the payments of up to $2,358 set off spending sprees on jewelry, guns and electronics.


Sad thing here of course is that we're witnessing poor people competing - scavenging - with other poor people for funds. Just goes to show that in white America you don't have to be hit by a hurricane to be battered and beaten down.

However, why these folks choose to turn around and elect people who perpetuate their economic demise is another question altogther that deserves serious consideration.

New Orleans' Paper Demands Reconstruction

The Times-Picayune issues a pretty much no-holds barred editorial statement on Nov. 20 calling for major reconstruction of the city's levees and attacking the federal government for considering the city a burden.

The paper is probably reacting to the treatment often meted out to whatever happens to be the issue of the moment after that moment has expired. In other words, it's not sensational, it's not immediate, it's not dynamic, so it ceases to be of much import in the media. Concrete brass-tacks issues of rebuilding levees on time and exacting the proper federal funds is decidely less "sexy" than momentous hurricanes and huge storms, after all.

The paper makes a decent point when it castigates lawmakers who blame the city's very existence as the cause of trouble, since it lies in a lowland area, pointing out that there's hardly anything more logical about a Miami or Boston or San Francisco. Indeed, looking at the phenomenon of exurbs out west, there's nothing much in accordance with nature's perogatives there, either.

Anecdotal First

Sorry it's been a while - caught up in family issues, namely my mother's surgery, last few days. But before I turn to matters related directly to Katrina I want to share some insights I gleaned while spending a few days (and overnight) at the Newton-Welsley hospital, concerning the broader theme of priorities and the idea of safety nets, social services, and health care - all obviously interrelated with post-Katrina realities for the survivors.

The Newton-Welsely hospital is fairly massive and undergoing expansion, as was evident from the towering cranes and imposing bulldozers hunched outside the post-operation recovery lobby. It was interesting, then, to see that this facility had precisely *five* private bedrooms in the entire post-operation ward. We requested one before the surgery and were then informed none were available and that there was an extensive waiting list.

Now, not everyone necessarily needs a private post-op room. But when it comes to certain kinds of procedures, like a hysterectomy, tends to be a bit more serious and emotionally taxing a matter than getting your knee fixed up or something. But this is not how placement is prioritized.

Anyway, spending the night after my mom's surgery at the hospital meant haggling with the head nurse to get them to put a cot out for me in the lobby. I was the only visitor there after closing hours. I spent some time walking around and observed what strikes me as a chilling reality: dozens of people, most of them elderly, just having had surgery, and basically left alone the first night of their recovery, with a few nurses around working the graveyard shift, of course.

What can one say of the social and moral values of a society where people are semi-abandoned, or at least, so atomized in their existence, that this is acceptable? I don't know about you but I wouldn't want to be surrounded by nothing but a bunch of machines making beeps and noises overnight without anyone I know nearby.

I alsonoticed a kind of sharp breakdowns you see in terms of racial representation of hospital staff. The doctors and surgeons and nurses walking around in the corridors are almost if not always white; I don't remember seeing one who was not. But if you check out the cafeteria, at least half the service workers - cooks, janitors, cashiers - were minorities, either black or hispanic.

The same was true of the "secondary nurses" - don't know their official title, maybe training nurses - who come by to check on patients periodically just to serve food and check blood pressure and clean up messes. My mother had four such attendants that I saw overall in the period of four days, and all of them were minority women. This was in contrast to the women who were "at the controls" in the desk/office area in the middle of the ward, those who ran the place, who were all white, mostly women.

I'm not expounding these as profound revelations or new discoveries, but personally I found it interesting that you can't escape the realities of race and class even when it comes to something as basic as going to the doctor's or getting medical attention. In fact, as I research this issue, I see just the opposite is the case...but that's another story.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Funding Problem for Louisiana

Not looking good here:

State's rebuilding bill could hit $3.7 billion
But Louisiana is already in deep budget hole
Saturday, November 05, 2005
By Jan Moller
Capital bureau

BATON ROUGE -- The federal government predicted this week that Louisiana's share of the Hurricane Katrina rebuilding effort will cost $3.7 billion, a staggering amount on top of an expected $959 million gap in the state's general fund this year.

Full link

Interesting to see how this will be handled as it's the largest FEMA bill in history for a state to try and pay. It's pretty cool that damage assessment and therefore payments will be based on satellite analysis of the extent of destruction, though.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Katrina, Race and Health

A great left-wing radio program, Against the Grain,recently conducted two interviews: one with an urban policy theorist who explains how neo-liberal policies as pursued under Clinton undermined the ability for cities to protect themselves, and another with activists and scholars who adress data showing blacks receive severely inferior health care in comparison to whites due to built-in biases in our health care system.

These are mp3 files; direct links are here:

Katrina Post Mortem

Deadly Disparities

Friday, November 04, 2005

Comments on NY Times Pay Piece

It is not without irony that I comment on this article in the NYTimes. For I do so only after being prompted by the Times to pay for the article, which tells me, of course, why I should pay to read articles. I logged on the comptuer of my father - an NYTimes subscriber - to read this piece. I still can't figure out how the heck to just input his login/password onto my computer and get access, just doesn't work.

Anyway, it's a nice light column by a Mr. David Carr, and through anecdotes he illustrates his belief that the crux of the matter is that most young people figure only suckers pay for online content.

I think there are a few things at work here. First, disposable income among kids, teenagers, and most college students is limited. And if it isn't, they're not going to spend it on newspapers and magazines. Partly to blame for that is youth, but also playing a role is the anti-intellectualism of American culture.

Second, and this probably applies more to downloading music and movies than paying for journalism, there is the issue of property and profits. Execs are outraged that kids are downloading copyrighted contented for free - in common parlance, "theft." But perhaps common parlance is predicated on false notions. Anarchist thinker Proudhon once famously remarked, "All property is theft."

Now I'm not saying everyone downloading the latest American Pie film is a revolutionary, but embedded in the act is an implicit form of defiance against the idea of paying for content because, the thought commonly goes, "those corporate suits make more than enough many as it is." And indeed they do, given the approximate 500:1 CEO to average worker pay ratio in America, up several times the divide from the 1950s.

So in a sense the underlying morality to have to pay for things is not there. In a store, it's not morality, but the fact that you will get caught, that prevents one from picking up a CD and walking out without paying. With that negative reinforcement barrier removed online, all that remains is the instrinic morality of the action as determined by the actor.

There's also the matter of pure habit. No one pays to click the mouse and type the URL. You just point, click, and read. This is beginning to change for premium media - e.g., NYTimes, Economist - where you need to wade through serious advertising or simply pay up to avoid the advertising and get to the content. Online advertising can really get out of control, though, with Flash and Javascript. I'm not sure what kind of revenue stream it provides, but I'm betting you need a lot of readers to attract any real money from it.

Ultimately, free will not remain free. As the economy merges more and more with the internet, the money will flow in kilobytes instead of hard cash, but flow it will. As the author says, iTunes is a good example of this. No one is going to provide online services of any substance for free, unless the quality is shoddy, or they are preparing the groundwork to motivate you to pay later on.

I think we just need to wait for technology to catch up. Frankly, I hate the newspaper format. It is bloody unwieldy. I would rather have a flexible sleek device from which I can read and watch digitized media via OLED, streamed wirelessly to me from whatever source I choose to pay for.

My real concern is not that journalism will disappear, but that the function will be made to fit the form too much - we will end up with moronized, insta-coffee journalism that is read only in elevators, titles, and sensational paragraphs, because people are too wired and busy and overloaded with gadgetry and technology.

But that is a larger cultural phenomenon outside the purview of this limited set of reflections.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Government Rejects HUD Funding

The federal government is intent on making sure Katrina victims never get decent housing. It's not like the money isn't there, either - the spending has been confined to maintaining ridiculous locations for placing people on a semi-permanent basis, like military bases, motels, cruise liner ships, and shoddy trailers. Why not just treat these people with some decency and give them a stable safe place from which they can try to rebuild their lives and search for jobs?