Multinational Monitor

SEP/OCT 2005
VOL 26 No. 9


The Storm This Time: A Personal Account of the Natural and Unnatural Disaster in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina
by David Helvarg

Disaster Profiteering: The Flood of Crony Contracting Following Hurricane Katrina
by Charlie Cray

Between Soldiers and Bombs: Iraq's Fledgling Labor Movement
by David Bacon

Takeover Inn Argentina: Argentina's Worker-Run Cooperative Movement
by Aaron Freeman


The Human Engineering of Catastrophe: Coastal Maldevelopment and Katrina's Wrath
An Interview with Mark Davis

The Soul of New Orleans: Asseting Rights of Low- and Moderate-Income Families in Hurricane Reconstruction
An Interview with Tanya Harris

Restoring the Gulf: An Ecological Agenda
An Interview with Cynthia Sarthou


Behind the Lines

Exploiting Disaster

The Front
Fake Debarment

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Names In the News



Exploiting Disaster

What is most impressive about the Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina is its utter incompetence and indifference.

The televised nightmare of the abandonment of tens of thousands of New Orleans residents in the immediate wake of the hurricane will be seared into the memory of the nation, and the world, for a long, long time.

Less startling, but equally inept, has been the failure to provide reasonable housing options for Katrina survivors, facilitate the reconstruction of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, or even simply to get on with the job of cleaning up the rubble and starting rebuilding.

While one should never underestimate how unfit are the rogues in the White House, it is vital to recognize how the incompetence has ideological foundations. A toxic mix of antipathy to the public sector, antagonism to th epoor and racism, global warming denialism and refusal to acknowledge ecological reality was the formula that led to the administration’s bungled and still flailing response.

Instead of addressing these failings — with provision of a safety net and skill building for Katrina survivors, a public planning process for reconstruction, systemic empowering of displaced communities to plan for their future, desperately needed investments in Gulf Coast ecological restoration, and an acknowledgement of global warming and a plan to shift the nation and the world rapidly from reliance on fossil fuels to alternative energy sources — the administration and its allies have responded with a set of market fundamentalist policies that will only make things worse on the Gulf. It has contracted out reconstruction, suspended or proposed to suspend labor and environmental laws, and made tax cuts the centerpiece of its reconstruction plan.

As Charlie Cray describes in this issue, the administration was so enamored with the crony-contracting debacle in Iraq that it has decided to restage the tragedy in the Gulf. This means more than the waste of billions of dollars and profiteering by friends of the administration. It entails the transfer of public decision-making power to the private sector. The administration has even contracted out the process of contracting out, by giving decision-making powers to private firms and primary contractors who effectively determine how clean-up will proceed.

In one of its first reconstruction initiatives, the administration suspended Davis-Bacon protections for workers in the Gulf. Davis-Bacon requires government contractors to pay the prevailing wage in a region, meaning that contractors taking public funds should respect and not undercut union wage levels. Under pressure from moderate Republicans in the House of Representatives, the administration reinstated Davis-Bacon, making it more likely that workers will get some of the monetary benefits of the billions spent on reconstruction, and that some of those economic benefits will remain in the area.

Meanwhile, Senator James Inhofe, the Oklahoman Republican who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has proposed legislation that would enact a sweeping waiver of environmental rules for matters related to Hurricane Katrina. (In case you can’t quite figure out the rationale, the idea is that removing “red tape” will facilitate reconstruction.) He paired up this gem with a bill that would scale back environmental rules relating to gasoline refining, purportedly to provide an incentive for stepped up investment in oil refineries. These awful bills now appear stalled.

For his grand reconstruction scheme, President Bush has proposed the creation of a Gulf Opportunity Zone. The main idea here is to provide massive depreciation and tax benefits to firms investing in new plant and machinery in the region. What investors are likely to take advantage of such generous gifts? The oil companies and casinos that marked the coast before the hurricanes, that were presumably insured against hurricane-related losses, and that in any case need no incentives at all to come back.

Nothing will bring back those who needlessly lost their lives in Hurricane Katrina, but the cataclysm could at least have been an opportunity to address the crushing poverty of the Gulf Coast, empower communities to plan for a more democratic and sustainable future, and redress the decades of environmental abuse heaped on the region’s land and water.

Instead, in what it does and does not do, the Bush administration has proposed a scheme for the final exploitation of the Gulf Coast, a further stripping of its natural resources and abuse of cheap labor in service of the tourist economy.


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