Archive for August 28th, 2008

Gustav vs. the GOP?

Hurricaine Gustav is heading into the Gulf of Mexico and is likely to make landfall in the US right about the time the Republican National Convention is getting underway. If it stays on its current track, it would make landfall around the city of New Orleans. Not only that, but Monday will be three years almost to the day that the devastation hit New Orleans with hurricaine Katrina.

On September 1, 2005 I wrote:

The first is that anyone who doubts that there is a class difference in the US which is real, and which directly affects how Americans live, need only look at New Orleans. Those who try to say ‘taxation is theft’ and consider government action to try to create true equal opportunity and equal rights as somehow a limitation of freedom are, to be blunt, objectively wrong. The wealthy — even middle class — in New Orleans were able to leave well before the storm. They may have a cash flow problem, but with credit, family, and friends they’ll have a place to stay, and they’ll get on with their lives with primarily a major headache and inconvenience. They have to deal with children who don’t understand why they aren’t home or at school, tough issues of paying off loans and bills, and the planning of rebuilding and plotting their future, but those are challenges that won’t threaten their existence or ability to move ahead.

The poor, however, often couldn’t leave the city. Many of them died primarily because they were poor. They are victims of looters, they have lost everything, they lack the insurance the wealthier could afford, and often have little to their name. They are homeless with nowhere to turn. They don’t know where their next meals will come from, their lives have been completely disrupted. Their experience of this tragedy is far more dire and difficult than those of the wealthy. New Orleans is a stark example of how having money makes a huge difference in what you experience living in America. The poverty is out in the open, it’s impact is profound. It also shows the importance of having a sense of community, and recognizing that society is more than just a number of discrete individuals bouncing off each other. (From: an earlier blog of mine at http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/septblog05.htm)

Nobody but a cold hearted partisan could want Gustav to hit New Orleans again and have anything close to the devastation of Katrina, no matter how much that might embarrass the Republicans and bring to light to issues of class, race, and government incompetence brought forth with Katrina. But three years after Katrina we still hear stories of very slow recovery, and the poor suffering disproportionately in post-Katrina New Orleans. Even if Gustav fizzles, stories like that may mark that third anniversary.

If Gustav hits anywhere with force, that will also enhance concerns about global warming, though luckily for the Republicans they have a candidate this year who can justifiably say he has been out front on that issue even when others in his party were in denial. And if news services need to choose between covering a dangerous hurricaine or the boring first day or two of a political convention, they’ll probably choose the former.

If Gustav turns a bit right, it might hit flooded areas of Florida again, which will be bad news there, and if it goes to the west then it endangers ports and oil refineries, with the potential to create dramatic increases in oil prices as the economy remains mired in a funk deeper than a lot of people predicted. In that case it will have a double political whammy in the fall, as economic troubles are more likely than not to help the candidate focused on change, Barack Obama.

Of course, things could get even worse. CNN had a show in 2005 called “We Were Warned” (back when talking about $100 a barrel oil was seen as expensive…the good old days…), where they posited a 2009 ‘Hurricaine Steve’ heading towards Houston, devastating refineries there. In their scenario, al qaeda was waiting for that kind of crisis to launch an attack in Saudi Arabia, and essentially bring the western economy to a complete standstill. Unlikely, but certainly not beyond the realm of possibility. If that were to happen, that might play into John McCain’s strengths, though I’m not sure.

One hopes that Gustav finds a way to avoid landfall, or hits with minimal force, in someplace relatively unpopulated. If it hits near New Orleans, it’ll be a good test of how well the city has recovered from
Katrina and learned its lessons. If it continues the current path, expect the weekend to have intense coverage of this (and the anniversary of Katrina) right before the GOP convention.

The main lesson of Katrina remains the stark reminder that class matters. It isn’t class warfare to note that, nor does it mean that government should go in and try to equalize things. As Gustav heads through the Gulf, hopefully those in charge on the Gulf coast have learned that lesson, and do everything possible to make sure that opportunities to evacuate or have protection are given to all so that we don’t have another embarrassing tragedy. This is a reminder that nature runs by its own rules, it doesn’t hold back because of major events, or calculate the damage it might cause.

Perhaps if it hits between the two conventions it will be a reminder that for all the hot air and promises politicians of both parties make, life is not primarily about slogans, campaign ads, or speeches. And on real life issues, neither party has a very good record to run on over the past few years.

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