Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The Katrina Windfall

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From Mother Jones, Windfall: How Conservatives, Contractors, and Developers Cashed In on Katrina. It begins:

In those first emotional days after Katrina laid waste to the Gulf Coast, widespread predictions of a political sea change arrived from liberal and even some conservative commentators. “Americans are ready to fix their restless gaze on enduring problems of poverty, race, and class that have escaped their attention,” Newsweek‘s Jonathan Alter wrote in a September 2005 cover story. Some went so far as to forecast the dawn of a new America, one stunned out of both complacency and conservatism by the images of suffering on the Gulf Coast. Katrina, one commentator suggested, would permanently “redefine the political landscape.”

But within just a few weeks of the hurricane, something had changed in the press coverage and the public response: As the floodwaters receded, so, too, did the powerful images—the portraits of racially segregated suffering, of death by poverty. America’s—even liberal America’s—focus appeared to be moving away from the experiences of Katrina victims and the deep, systemic problems they revealed. In the end, the leap from pathos to policy was never made. Instead, a narrower lens was focused on the foibles of the Bush administration—for instance, its hiring of a political crony, Michael Brown, to head FEMA (and, later, Brown’s infamous emails about wardrobe choices and dinner plans as New Orleans residents were literally drowning in their homes). Democrats were quick to attack President Bush, but when it came to advancing meaningful policy changes, they came up short on momentum.

It quickly became clear that the public “meaning” of Katrina, which had initially seemed so obvious to so many, was actually up for grabs—and so, too, was its impact on U.S. politics.

In the coming weeks and months, conservatives hit their stride. The Bush administration, with the help of its friends in the Washington establishment and elsewhere, turned the disaster in New Orleans from a crisis into an opportunity—a chance to extend, rather than repeal, the conservative revolution that had begun 25 years earlier. The campaign to accomplish this apparent political paradox would operate on many levels and with astonishing success. While the country was absorbed by watching the president try to stuff an uncooperative political rabbit back into his hat, the real tricks were taking place offstage.

  • The PR campaign. This began with a carefully constructed plan—engineered, to no one’s surprise, by Karl Rove—to shift blame away from the White House, accompanied by promises of “investigations,” and followed by a highly stage-managed expression of conservative compassion by Bush.
  • The advancement of conservative social policies, including an overhaul of the federal budget. Despite some haggling among conservatives, Bush’s pledge to help the victims from Katrina would be used to justify a series of cuts that had always been favored by the right—robbing the poor to give (for a little while) to the poor.
  • The remaking of New Orleans. A variety of carefully planned “rebuilding” strategies, along with a selective apportionment of resources, would effectively clear out many of the city’s poor African Americans to make way for a richer, whiter simulacrum of the Big Easy.
  • A free-for-all for corporate contractors. There were billions of dollars to be made on the reconstruction of New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast, a good share of it awarded to companies with political connections, and a fair portion of that lost to greed, waste, incompetence, and fraud.

The following timeline tracks developments in these four areas, focusing on the disaster that followed the disaster, when the tragedy and travesty of what happened on the Gulf Coast was turned into an opportunity to advance political and policy goals and increase private profits. In most cases, the groundwork for this was laid within the first hundred days.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

1 September 2007 at 4:52 pm

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