At the End of our Ropes

Unless you’ve spent some time down here on the Gulf Coast, you’re unlikely to really understand the people that live down here. Hard scrabble is way of life. Historically, we’ve had systemic attacks on our people, our culture and our environment. The hostility runs pretty deep down here because the history of maltreatment runs pretty deep. There are several historical events that you really need to understand to understand the people of Southeastern Louisiana and the surrounding areas.

The first historical event to understand is the purposeful flooding of St Bernard Parish, Plaquemines Parish, and the lower ninth ward during the 1927 floods to protect the city’s financiers. These are the same areas that were devastated by the hurricane superhighway MRGO during Hurricane Katrina and the landfall of Hurricane Betsy in 1965.

As the flood approached New Orleans, Louisiana, about 30 tons of dynamite were set off on the levee at Caernarvon, Louisiana and sent 250,000 ft³/s (7,000 m³/s) of water pouring through. This was intended to prevent New Orleans from experiencing serious damage, but flooded much of St. Bernard Parish and all of Plaquemines Parish’s east bank. As it turned out, the destruction of the Caernarvon levee was unnecessary; several major levee breaks well upstream of New Orleans, including one the day after the demolitions, made it impossible for flood waters to seriously threaten the city.

By August 1927, the flood subsided. During the disaster, 700,000 people were displaced, including 330,000 blacks who were moved to 154 relief camps. Over 13,000 evacuees near Greenville, Mississippi, were gathered from area farms and evacuated to the crest of the unbroken Greenville Levee, and stranded there for days without food or clean water, while boats arrived to evacuate white women and children. The Greenville Levee was 8 feet wide and approximately 5 miles long.

The destruction of the levees then is so real to folks that it’s not unusual to hear community memories confuse three events down here of three different generations.  That would be the 1927 flood, Hurricane Betsy, and Hurricanes Katrina/Rita. I remember hearing my then boyfriend (pushing 60 now) who was born and raised here in the ninth ward saying ‘they’ve’ been trying to land grab in the lower nine for ever.  Now, any one that’s crossed the industrial canal can see–post-Hurricane Katrina–that side of the IC is a dead zone and there really are no businesses or thriving neighborhoods any more. (I can see both the levees industrial canal and the Mississippi from my house. I live within blocks of both.) Still, the legends persist during each storm that some one is blowing up the levees.

There is definitely a strong racial memory in this story even though a huge portion of the dislocated folks where actually poor and white.  This is because the treatment of all communities impacted by flooding of those areas was so noticeably different.  The treatment of whites and blacks in the post 1927  flooding event was amazingly different.  The food and housing given to the black community at the time was barely adequate.  There’s a community memory on this that is long-lasting and deep.

A good resource on this even is the book “Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America”.  I also recall seeing a public TV program around the 75th anniversary of the event.  I’ll continue to look for the link. I haven’t found it yet.

Another historical event that you have to consider is the systemic eradication of the Cajun/Creole culture down here when children who spoke French or some form of patois in their homes were basically beaten into using English at their schools. For awhile, Cajun culture was driven back deep into the swamps. Again, I have older friends that can remember these events like they were yesterday. (This would be from around the 1940s and 1950s.) I’d also like to mention that this is not exactly so much a racial eradication as it a cultural or class attack because there is a history of racial mixing down here.  It is not unusual to see folks with European, African, and Native American ancestors that identify with the Cajun or the Creole culture.

Cajuns recount endless stories of how they were prohibited from using French on public school grounds. Apparently the educators used the excuse that the French being spoken in the Cajun homes was an illiterate French. In fact, few of the hundreds of thousands of French-speakers could either read or write the language. The same is true today.

The reason state and parish school systems decided not to build on the French language tradition is not known. Perhaps they decided there was no future in Americans learning to speak a second language. Perhaps they felt they did not have the resources to deal with bilingual education. Perhaps, because of the extremely high rate of illiteracy in Louisiana, they decided their major missionary effort should be directed toward teaching the English language.

In any event, the negative reaction to French in the public education system had its effect, but not the total effect many desired. Students generally held to the no-French rule while on the school grounds, but once home, they returned to their native French tongue as the method of communication. Thus, English became a second, learned language to them, a “foreign” tongue.

Still, the culture down here thrives and we (in the Gulf coast) are now recognized as having created original forms of American Music–jazz, blues, rock and roll, as well as the only premier American cuisine.  We’ve very much developed a “live and  let live” approach to life because if you had a very narrow outlook on life here, there are very few places you can move to and be protected from the ‘other’.

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Let them eat Dead Fish and Oily Seaweed

I used to think that no one could top George W. Bush’s air guitar trick at a Republican fundraiser during the Hurricane Katrina period but I was wrong. You would think no one in their right mind would repeat a similar public relations nightmare. So, Senator Boxer is in so much trouble right now that we get repeat of similar callousness. While the people around me (including me) worry about how they are going to provide their next meal, I see this on NBC: “Let’s see What to Eat on a $17,6000 Date with the President.” BostonBoomer highlighted the dinner at the GETTY (as in GETTY oil fortune) mansion earlier today. The details coming out appall.

So what does $92,000 an hour buy you in food? If you’re President Barack Obama it gets you a plate full of hors d’oeuvres, a salad and ribs.

Mr. Obama’s 19-hour whirlwind Bay Area fundraising trip filled Sen. Barbara Boxer‘s wallet with $1.75 million and he used a $17,600 a person dinner at the Getty Mansion in San Francisco to bring in the big bucks.

The president’s 80 dinner guests were treated to an elaborate meal prepared by chef Jennifer Johnson, according to SF Gate, who got the scoop on the menu.

Diners were treated to quail egg with caviar and salmon ceviche with jicama and avocado on a tortilla chip
as their starting hors d’oeuvres. Next they were served a spring onion-asparagus tartlet with Meyer lemon vinaigrette-dressed frisee salad.

We have to wait for a visit until Friday while we all cling to our beers watching the live feed from the bottom of the Gulf and some method they call Top Kill that thankfully has nothing to do with Tom Cruise. Every one down here is praying to whatever it is they pray to that this works. WTF is he doing? Is this a let them eat arugala moment or what? Politico has the link to the fundraising speech where the beautiful people basically paid for a lecture on how us little people are afraid of change. “Change can be scary.”

No Mr. President. Losing communities, ecosystems, tax bases, jobs, entire generations of animals, and coastal marshes and fearing for the air you breathe and the water your drink is scary. Being unemployed for years and facing an endlessly high unemployment rate is scary. Being told you have to buy overpriced health insurance that you can’t afford or pay more taxes is scary. Being told some one you love is going to do one more rotation in Afghanistan is scary. All of that is scary. What you represent is NOT CHANGE. It’s pathetic sameness.

These problems that we confronted didn’t come out of nowhere. They didn’t just happen. There was a consequence of policies that had been in place for years, that Barbara’s opponents, that the other party have promoted. And so we had to move fast, and that’s what we did.

On day one, we took the reins and we said are going to make sure that we don’t slip into a Great Depression. And we are –

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Move faster on “don’t ask, don’t tell”!

AUDIENCE: Boo!

THE PRESIDENT: It’s good to see you again.

AUDIENCE: Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can!

THE PRESIDENT: I have to say — you know, I saw this guy down in L.A. — (laughter) — at a Barbara Boxer event about a month and a half ago, and I would — two points I want to make. Number one, he should — I hate to say this, but he really should, like, buy a ticket to — if he wants to demonstrate, buy a ticket to a guy who doesn’t support his point of view. (Laughter.) And then you can yell as much as you want there. (Applause.)

I’ve got Tim Robbins flying over and voicing over tapes of the damage down here. Kevin Costner is providing venture capital and testing machines to separate crude from water and has offered them up for test runs. We’ve got Mary Matalin and James Carville standing with Bobby Jindal screaming at the top of their lungs and showy the oily mess to whomever will see. What sort of show of solidarity do we get from the President? What show of leadership do we get in what will probably be the worst ecological disaster since Chernobyl, if not ever? How many folks down here have to lose everything they have before we get a scrap off of that dinner plate, Mr. President?

Couldn’t you have taken the opportunity to suggest they send some of that money to the National Audubon Society or any of the number of fundraisers we’re having down here to try to feed fisherman, shrimpers, charter boat companies, etc. whose lives will never, ever be the same. How about a little a suggestion that folks get their asses down here and help clean up this mess? No, this is what we get.

Hello, California! Thank you! (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you. You doing a little dance? Thank you. Thank you, everybody, thank you. Oh, thank you. Now, it is good to be back. But I resent I didn’t get a chance hear the choir sing. (Laughter.) I was up somewhere. They were working me hard. And I could have used a little lift of the spirit there. (Laughter.)

Do you remember that tape staffers had to make for Dubya in order to get his attention down here for Hurricane Katrina? I think it’s about time President Obama starts seeing some videos of the folks losing every thing they’ve got as well as all the dead plants and animals killed by the toxins as well his inability to get off the lecture circuit and show some leadership. He may not be a geological engineer but he’s the President and he can marshal resources and responses like no other. Once, we got to the moon on the dream of a president who was not an astrophysicist. Twice, we won world wars with presidents that were anything but career soldiers. Leading a country means commandeering whatever resources it takes to get the job done and telling the people who look up to you that you’re in charge.

How about the President come down here and eat dinner with some of the just plain folk in these newscasts?

Here’s a little of what I get to see and hear day-in and day-out. It’s unbearable some days. I could add a lot more but I doubt it would do any good, any way. He’s on vacation in Chicago next. Who does that remind you of?

Pathetic sameness.


Cholesky Decomposition: Solving a System of Linear Egos

Consider a dinner table--a matrix if you will--of elements consisting of the world's prominent Economic Minds

I swore I wasn’t going to read The Promise by Jonathan Alter. Even the title oozes that smarmy assurance of a member of the Oborg fluffing brigade and the faith it takes to join a cult of personality. Then I got caught up in an excerpt with a title that could not be ignored by any practitioner of the dismal science. It’s over at the Slate’s The Big Money and under the siren title of “Why Paul Volcker Was Frozen Out of the Obama Administration”. I have to admit to having been awed by Volcker during my young career when the extremely volatile fed funds rate gave me heartburn and euthanized the very sick Savings & Loan where I was working.

While the title implies it’s mostly about Volcker, it’s actually mostly about the extremely volatile La La Summers and his “abrupt manner” and the dynamics of Obama and his economic advisers. What’s pretty amazing is the article says that Summers had mellowed since his tenure at Harvard. You wouldn’t know it as you read–and if you believe–this narrative. Doesn’t this just sound like the boss that every one prays they never get?

Summers’ friends claimed he had mellowed by the time he entered the Obama White House, and it was true that he had learned to take ribbing. Obama teased Summers for repeatedly falling asleep in meetings, for sweating in winter, and for attaching probabilities to everything. Summers’ habit of finding a cloud around every silver lining led the president to privately dub him “Dr. Kevorkian.”

Inside the White House, David Axelrod was among the few representing the so‑called populist side of the argument, and a joshing debate broke out. Axelrod asked Summers, “So, what does your plutocrat constituency make of this, Larry?”

“It’s good to be hearing what Che thinks,” Summers replied.

There was evidently even some stunning moments between La La and Dr. Christie Romer who is the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers. La La is of course well known for thinking women don’t have what it takes to deal with the really big questions and equations. Take a gander at this exchange.

When Christie Romer was brought in to be the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, Summers tried to exclude her from important meetings. Romer fought back, even suggesting to Summers that sexism might have played a role in her exclusion, a serious charge given that he was fired as president of Harvard for perceived sexism.

“Don’t you threaten me!” Summers yelled.

“Don’t you bully me!” Romer shouted.

Evidently Rahm Emmanual had to work this one out.

So, remember that dinner at the White House of all those economists where we wondering if some one put something in Paul Krugman’s coffee? It’s outlined there too. It also shows how Obama couldn’t possibly be considered a socialist because both Noble Prize winners Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz were arguing for nationalizing of Citigroup and Bank of America. Oh, and here’s the decription of Valerie Jarret’s boss who is supposedly too intelligent and bored all the time to be bothered with ordinary people. This is a guy sitting with a group of clearly brilliant people. Rather than fully discussing the topic at hand, Obama wants the easy solution and turns off the conversation so that it’s all about where he is in this ordeal.

The dinner had been so hastily arranged that Stiglitz didn’t even get invited until the morning of the event. Over a lettuce salad from the White House garden and roast beef, the group held a spirited two-hour discussion. Obama grew slightly impatient when the conversation grew too technical or backward looking. He wanted to know what the economists would do if they were in his shoes. The answers from Krugman and Stiglitz—which amounted to taking over Citigroup (C) and Bank of America (BAC) for a brief time before breaking them up—hardly made Obama wish that he had hired these economists rather than Summers, who had considered the same idea but seemed more appropriately dispassionate in his analysis of it. If Obama had done what Krugman, Stiglitz (who had earlier said nationalizing the banks was the “only answer”), and plenty of other progressives wanted, it would have cost the government perhaps another trillion dollars and quite possibly caused a disastrous run on those banks.

And speaking of Valerie Jarret, guess who was the gatekeeper for Volker?

Volcker could always go through Valerie Jarrett if he needed to see Obama, but he didn’t want to abuse the privilege. After hearing from Obama often during the campaign, Volcker’s phone stopped ringing. He wryly told friends he was nothing more than a “wax figure” for the White House.

So, this is an even more telling excerpt that let’s you know what we’re dealing with in this White House with this set of advisers and this President.

Of the major players, only Volcker (who didn’t consider himself a player because he didn’t hold a government job) thought the whole financial system was conflict-ridden and dangerous. Contrary to much reporting, he did not advocate reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act. But he did favor segregating commercial and investment banking from proprietary trading. Advising clients while trading in one’s own accounts, he felt, was an obvious conflict of interest (the laughable claims of bankers that they had internal “Chinese Walls” notwithstanding) and an inherent source of instability. Why should core banking operations be subjected to such risk? Paul Volcker, principal author of what was once thought of as heartless Reaganomics, was now the most populist of the bunch!

Like I said, I wasn’t going to read Alter’s book, but he has my attention now.


Have we reached the Cross-Roads?

Is the press starting to hold the President accountable for his action or inaction for the Gulf Oil spill and his many unanswered campaign promises? Are we finally getting real coverage on a do-nothing, speechifying, megacorporate-enabling White House?

I’m going to make this brief, but I’m going to point you to a few headlines that show that reality may be sinking in for That One and his fluffer brigade. Hopefully, you can share some insight of your own too.

From Politico; Headline: White House takes heat over spill response

Punchline:

“We have been frustrated with the disjointed effort to date that has too often meant too little, too late to stop the oil from hitting our coast,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said during a Monday news conference at Port Fourchon with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

“BP is the responsible party, but we need the federal government to make sure they are held accountable and that they are indeed responsible. Our way of life depends on it,” Jindal said.

Gen. Russel L. Honore, who helped oversee the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina, didn’t criticize the administration’s actions — but suggested the federal government could assert more control by declaring a national disaster in the Gulf.

Punchline:

The president’s visit this week comes amid stepped up criticism on the administration’s role in handling the oil spill.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday that everyone within the administration is “frustrated that there’s still a hole in the bottom of the ocean leaking oil” – and that the president is not going to be satisfied until it’s plugged.

Washington Examiner; Headline: Fawning press now gets Cold shoulder from Obama

Punchline:

Will Barack Obama go an entire year without holding a formal news conference? He’s getting close: The president’s last full-scale session with the press was on July 22, 2009, which was 307 days ago.

WaPo, Headline: The big offshore lie
Punchline:

The Obama administration, in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico disaster, has apparently decided that digging in on its misguided decision in March to expand offshore drilling is the way to go.

Even the blogosphere is beginning to realize the emperor never had any clothes. There’s more heat over at FireDogLake then any outraged PUMA blog during the primaries; including here. HuffPo (whose banner today says “IMPOTENT RAGE”), DU, and others are all voicing concerns over what kind of leadership enables the very corporations that create international disasters to continue forward with their cost-minimizing, profit-maximizing, programs of mass destruction. From derivatives to drugs to drilling, we’re seeing the same monsters that crashed the process lead the response to them with follow-up record profits and tax payer funding. It’s a pattern now. There’s no escaping it.


Gulf Oil Tsunami Update (Twitter bomb the MSM so they’ll ANCHORS away)

I wanted to share with you the latest news that we’re getting locally as I know that it doesn’t appear to be getting out of the region. NowBrown Pelican Nesting Areas threated by Oil by Matthew Hinton of the TP that more data is reaching the scientific community, the news down here is getting more grim. Of course, most of the scientists studying the Gulf are Gulf residents themselves.

Jackson State Scientist , Dr. Remata Redd, who studies and teaches tropical meteorology is concerned about something I’ve thought possible now that hurricane season is beginning. He believes that the Gulf Oil Spill can only spread when surface winds push the oil. One of my bigger fears has always been that the oil will eventually work it’s way up the Mississippi and get into drinking water supplies for our various coastal communities as well as New Orleans, itself.

“Direction and intensity is important as to which direction the oil is moving,” Reddy said.

He said if a tropical storm were to form in the Gulf, there could major ecological problems for residents along the Gulf Coast. If a storm were to travel to the east of the oil spill, the concentration of the oil would head to the center of the Gulf, he said. If the storm would travel to the west of the oil spill, the bulk would be thrust up against the Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama coastlines, Reddy said.

“No one can tell me how much oil is below the surface and if a hurricane comes, the hurricane will stir it up and in the form of tidal surge,” said Jefferson Parish Emergency Management Director Deano Bonano. “There’s no boom, no plan in place to protect us.”

And some say it doesn’t have to be as severe as a hurricane to cause severe damage. Leaders in St. Bernard Parish are fearful of the possibility of wind, water and oil pushing inland.

“A tropical storm could lift oil and contaminated water to the marsh and to the eastern and residential areas as well,” said St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro.

Also, local sources (WDSU NEW ORLEANS) are reporting that BP is ignoring the EPA and continuing to use the same toxic dispersant we’ve discussed before. Having this reach potable water supplies worries me tremendously. I’m warning all my friends with small children to consider switching to pure spring water.

BP PLC is continuing to spray a toxic chemical dispersant to break up the Gulf oil spill, even though a deadline to stop use of the chemical has passed.The Environmental Protection Agency directed BP last week to find an alternative to a dispersant, called Corexit 9500, that has been identified as a “moderate” human health hazard. The product can cause eye, skin or respiratory irritation with prolonged exposure.

Every day on the local news we are regaled with maps of oil spill movements instead of wind currents aloft. We see maps and maps that show closings of fishing, shrimping and oyster areas. This has been going on here for well over a month and I have to admit I’m beginning to feel a siege mentality. It takes up nearly all the local news and most of the weather broadcasting. Meanwhile, if BP is responsible for the cleanup and catastrophe down here, why am I reading this at our WWLTV website?

Congress is getting ready to quadruple — to 32 cents a barrel — a tax on oil used to help finance cleanups. The increase would raise nearly $11 billion over the next decade.

The tax is levied on oil produced in the U.S. or imported from foreign countries. The revenue goes to a fund managed by the Coast Guard to help pay to clean up spills in waterways, such as the Gulf of Mexico.

If you haven’t seen the slideshow at WDSU called “Officials Clean Critters, Crude on Coast”, I urge you to go there and see our heartbreak for yourself. WWLT has a special set of pictures that show the damage the oil is doing to Pelicans and their nesting areas in Plaquesmines Parish. Here are some more galleries from nola.com which is the website for the New Orleans Times Picayune. I’ve seriously meant to write about other things–including Financial Regulation–but it’s very hard for me at the moment. I walk the dog and I smell the stuff. I see helicopters over head all the time again; much like during the Hurricane Katrina aftermath. You can’t watch TV down here at all without seeing ad after ad of trial lawyers looking for clients and then there’s the relentless news and weather updates. We’re in a state of emergency. I don’t feel like any one at the White House really gets this.

I’m not sure what it’s going to take to get a serious plan and response to this crisis. We’ve seen no major news anchors down here. Not even the Jim Cantore from the Weather Channel has shown up so I feel like so many folks don’t know what kind of a situation is developing here in Southern Louisiana. I’m thinking we should twitter bomb them to get some better news coverage. I don’t know what else to do. Certainly, they can’t block the major TV news anchors from seeing the damage. Even BP chief Tony Haward has been here.

The chief executive of BP PLC walked the oil-stained sands of a closed Louisiana beach as workers in white coveralls and yellow boots tended to equipment being used to keep away crude gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.

CEO Tony Hayward talked with the workers Monday at Fourchon Beach while the crews tended to booms meant to soak up the oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Reporters were kept at a distance.

So, here’s my plea!!! Twitter bomb the news outlets! Post something to their facebook pages!!! Let them know that we need some major coverage down here because the Federal Government is just giving speeches and the Coast Guard is letting BP make all the decisions! Thank you!!!