Wasting America’s Wetlands


 

It was not a hurricane named Katrina that wrecked the city of New Orleans. It was, quite simply, a warfare economy and a sold-out government. It was shoddy pumps and levees, barges run amuck, strategic resources of petroleum and natural gas, environmental deregulation, too much rain, and the destruction of sponge-like barrier wetlands that once absorbed the storm surge. The hurricane was an act of nature, but such storms can no longer be separated from the politics and economics of corporate consumption that are driving the American “war on terror.” Katrina created a huge business opportunity for “government,” for multinational corporations and private profiteers.

 

New Orleans and the Gulf Coast have now joined the ranks of “Third World” countries—Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Guatemala, Haiti, Somalia, Congo—suffering the shocks of America’s permanent warfare agenda. This global apartheid sanctions vicious actions toward subjects who resist. The black people of New Orleans join the ranks of the homeless, indigenous people suffering genocide, the refugees and internally displaced and other victims of globalization—millions of people set adrift in a sea of nowhere, with no rights, no possessions, no protection and little prospect for survival.[[i]]

 

Disaster capitalism is showing its teeth in America, and the picture isn’t pretty.

 

It was not a hurricane named Katrina that displaced an entire population from the lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. It was a flood of biblical proportions and a history of racism and elitism that created poverty and vulnerability in parallel with wealth and privilege. The storm followed decades of business as usual and a “war on terror” that set the stage for a rapid intervention project in urban and social re-engineering.

 

New Orleans Business Council chairman Jimmy Reiss was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying, "Those who want to see this city rebuilt want to see it done in a completely different way, demographically, geographically and politically."

 

FEMA—the Federal Emergency Management Agency—did not fail. As Louisiana’s local Cajun blues musician Tab Benoit told us, there was a plan and it was followed to perfection.[[ii]] Homeland Security absorbed FEMA in 2001 and Homeland Security is not in the business of rescuing people.

 

After decades of injustice—born out of American slavery—the victims of the storm fell prey to an all-out military invasion involving aircraft carriers, Boeing Chinook and Sikorsky Blackhawk helicopters, M-1 Abrams battle tanks, M-2 Bradley fighting vehicles, amphibious assault ships, state-of-the-art weaponry, Blackwater mercenaries, U.S. Special Forces, and the special Bollinger “SWIFT”—the U.S. Navy’s interim Mine Warfare Command and Support catamaran. [[iii]] High-tech military command and control centers were set up all over the place, some at Lockheed Martin facilities in the Gulf. [[iv]]

 

They couldn’t get people out, but had no problems moving troops and weaponry in.

 

For most black people this was no rescue, it was a roundup and removal, often at gunpoint, but even whites were subjected to criminal military abuses.

 

According to the U.S. military, at least 60,000 active and reserve U.S. military troops deployed to New Orleans in response to Hurricane Katrina, “which affected tens of thousands of people in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.” [[v]]

 

Hurricane Katrina “affected tens of thousands” of people? Here is the Pentagon’s deceptive information warfare at work. The truth is that Hurricane Katrina affected hundreds of thousands of people in New Orleans alone. According to current numbers, at least 200,000 residents of New Orleans and some 500,000-700,000 people along the Gulf coast became “internally displaced persons”—refugees inside the borders of the United States of America.

 

The Divided Road Home

 

While the state and national government have celebrated the reconstruction of New Orleans and return of its citizens, at least 200,000 people remain displaced from New Orleans as of December 1, 2007.

 

The biggest international charity in America, United Way, also minimizes the numbers of displaced people and misrepresents the realities. “Thousands of people were displaced and there has been hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to lives and property along the Gulf Coast,” reads a United Way public relations bulletin on December 4, 2007. “Many of those who evacuated have now settled in new areas—thanks to the generosity of many—and may never return.” [[vi]]

 

The United Way summary above suggests that the helping hand of society has blessed the people displaced from New Orleans, but the inability of hundreds of thousands of people to return to New Orleans is a travesty of injustice. Thousands of families remain separated, scattered across the country, and the American Civil Liberties Union agrees that there are egregious violations of human rights under internationally recognized covenants and treaties.[[vii]]

 

It was not a hurricane named Katrina that has left hundreds of thousands of United States citizens homeless and destitute.

 

Homeowners of all stripes suffered casualties in New Orleans, but people of color were blamed for their own suffering and targeted for both elimination and personal profit. Migrant Mexicans were bussed across the border, exploited like slaves and then targeted as illegal aliens. Blacks were universally relegated to the status of criminals and many people were shot outright. The independent film Welcome to New Orleans produced by Rasmus Holm shows white vigilantes in New Orleans bragging about the “open season” on black people, admitting openly and brazenly “we shot ‘em!”

 

There has been no accountability, and no transparency.

 

There is no available database that documents exactly where the “thousands” of internally displaced persons are located—or even if they are still alive. There are witnesses to and victims of racial-profiling, police brutality, tortures and summary executions by armed forces, but most witnesses are psychologically and physically traumatized—many simply terrified into silence.

 

The Ninth Ward, Gentilly and Gretna neighborhoods remain in shambles.

 

Meanwhile, there are record contracts and profits for Bollinger, Lockheed Martin, Textron, Northrup Grumman and other corporations in New Orleans that continue to manufacture, test and deploy weapons of mass destruction.

 

This is definitely Baghdad on the Bayou.

 

 

Body Counts in New Orleans’ Red Zone

 

New Orleans is at the heart of America’s most extensive and lucrative petroleum reserves and ground zero for massive defense infrastructure. Like so many before them, post-Katrina contracts benefited Bush cronies like Donald Bollinger—CEO of Louisiana’s Bollinger Shipyards—and Joe Canizaro—a wealthy real estate developer and a leading Bush supporter—and the elite CEO members of committees and boards dictating structural changes behind the scenes.

 

“Tanks arrived by train and were seen on Canal Street [downtown] by September 1, 2005,” says New Orleans community organizer Kali Akuno. “The tanks are still in New Orleans. We’ve only seen them on rare occasions since July 2007. They are reported downtown at the Marriot from time to time and also in the Ninth Ward.”

 

Private military forces were paid in the hundreds and often thousands of dollars daily to commit atrocities with the sanction of our now privatized U.S. government. As one witness who worked around the mercenary forces in New Orleans revealed, “these were professional paid killers. They talked about their adventures in Asia and Africa. They had phenomenal weaponry. Killing is part of their vernacular.” [[viii]]

 

No one will ever know the true body count from the New Orleans Red Zone. The funeral company, Kenyon, a subsidiary of Service Corporation International (SCI), was awarded a no bid contract for retrieval of the dead—decaying and bloated bodies abandoned in attics, swept out to sea—cadavers clogging canals and streets because of Kenyon’s slow response. Local funeral directors complained that they were excluded from the recovery efforts to protect Kenyon’s windfall bonuses of $12,500 per body.

 

Naomi Klein notes in The Shock Doctrine that Kenyon was accused of improperly tagging bodies and that many bodies were found mummified in attics a year after the flood. Bush crony and campaign contributor, Robert Waltrip, is the chairman of SIC’s board of directors. In 2005, SCI listed revenues of $1.7 billion.

 

Dead men tell no tales? FEMA outsourced the body count from Hurricane Katrina to a company—SIC—involved in one of the biggest funeral home scandals in United States history. In a 2001 Florida investigation, the Menorah Gardens cemetery chain was sued for dumping hundreds of bodies into woods where the bodies were devoured by wild hogs. Backhoes were used to open vaults and remove the corpses to make room for more bodies.[[ix]] SIC owned and operated Menorah Gardens and they paid $200 million to settle a class action lawsuit filed by family members of the deceased.

 

Done in by suicide or design, the manager of the Menorah Gardens chain, Peter Hartmann, was later found dead of carbon monoxide poisoning. [[x]]

 

It was not a hurricane named Katrina that ripped Miss Louise and Miss Edna from neighborhoods that sheltered family and kin for generations. It was an American administration that has transformed Federal Emergency Management into a privatized Homeland Security apparatus which—by design —ignored the defense and protection of the citizens that the same administration vowed with hand upon Bible to protect. Oaths of office became premeditated lies.

 

The authority of the Constitution and the protections supposedly afforded every American citizen in the Bill of Rights were summarily swept away with the rising tide of “national security.” Witnesses swear that bodies riddled with military caliber bullets were buried in mass graves with the rest of the lies. [[xi]]

 

Survivors of Katrina, both black and white, unconsciously quote the bible as they describe their experiences. We heard, “we were seeds scattered to the wind,” and “we have been wandering for years,” and that God “wrought his vengeance.” The experience for the victims was one of objectification. The Gulf of Mexico was transformed by collective psychic shock into a mighty entity more powerful than any gods of retribution or all the voodoo the sorcerers of New Orleans could muster.

 

Katrina victims became “seeds,” no longer human, denied freedoms of will and desire. They were dehumanized objects, nameless criminals, the subjects of news loops of looting that CNN played again and again to drive the lies home. The message was clear, and too easily believed, an American white-man’s perception instilled through decades of racial media spin. These impoverished residents of the oil rich coast are subhuman; they are not like “us” sitting comfortably in our white-bread homes, thanking a white God that we do not live like them or near them.

 

“People outside of New Orleans were getting a very one-sided interpretation,” says New Orleans resident Leon Waters. “The villain here was the government.”

 

The hydra of war and power in New Orleans two years after Katrina has developed many tentacles, and the truth lies partially buried in the mass graves that only a brave few will openly talk about. Truth lies somewhere in the former leper colony that held the bodies not counted in “official” tolls of 1300 dead. It lies onshore in the soils contaminated by arsenic and offshore in the sands of barrier islands contaminated by petroleum wastes. The truth lies with New Orleans Police, federal agents, U.S. troops, ATF and FBI agents, National Guardsmen, Blackwater mercenaries and vigilante whites who know what they saw, and know what they did, and today remain silent—and therefore complicit—in crimes against humanity.

 

In the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the people of the United States of America have been offered yet another chance to open their eyes and see reality for what it is. However, before this series examines the aftermath, one truth is undeniable. The flood waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi River system were not preordained to reach the 17th Street Canal, the Lower Ninth Ward, or the New Orleans neighborhoods of Gentilly, St. Bernard, Metairie and Lakeview.

 

There were many warnings that the wetlands, estuaries and tidal swamps of the Mississippi Delta were all that stood between New Orleans and disaster. One of these was a famously prescient 2004 public service announcement (<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6UjVBQChwxM>) by “Mr. Bill,” a.k.a. Walter Williams of satirical Saturday Night Live fame. In the last frames of the film, the clay man is seen standing on the roof of a home, while roads are flooded and impassible.

 

All the warnings were ignored, for years.

 

 

Wasting the Wetlands

 

Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005, and hurricane Rita struck land on September 24, 2005. Anyone who disputes the awesome force and violence of these combined storms as they swept across the Gulf and over the land would be denying the obvious. Driven by Category IV hurricane winds and torrential rain, the storm surge washed over the city.

 

Over the past decades, the coast of southern Louisiana has been losing rather than gaining land. This is undeniable fact. Satellite imagery from NASA and the U.S. Geological Service clearly illustrate the loss of land and estuaries. The blame, and there is plenty to go around, lies squarely with river (mis) management designed to support big industry and big oil. Hurricanes are natural severe weather events that have been named and personified to draw attention away from the honest mistakes, outright lies and criminal actions that have dominated Delta politics and “development” for over 100 years. The loss of land and culture has escalated in the past twenty years, dramatically altering the Mississippi Delta.

 

Nature, time, and sediment took 100 million years to form the Mississippi River Delta. It took the Army Corp of Engineers less than 100 years to wreck a perfect eco-system that supported both one of the world’s largest fisheries off shore and a culture rich in music, tradition and family ties that lived on it.

 

Three thousand years ago, the land that now lies under New Orleans did not exist—the site was open water in the Gulf of Mexico. Walter Williams has produced a video illustration of this process <http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-58339635132245662>.

 

In the last 100 years, the Mississippi diverted its course to the Atchafalaya River, which begins its flow northwest of New Orleans. Fifty years ago, the Army Corps of Engineers became concerned that the Mississippi would actually change course and form its main channel in the Atchafalaya Basin.

 

Congress ordered the Corps to construct floodgates that could be opened and closed as necessary to protect economic development along the Delta. This is the Old River Control Structure—the death-knell event that caused a decrease of sediment and the beginning of the end of the Delta. Dredging and channels cut by big oil, hostile environmental action, unregulated expansion, industrial pollution and artificial channeling—otherwise lauded as “economy” and “development”—have completed the destruction. There is a documented net loss of land, saltwater has intruded into fresh-water basins, estuaries and aquifers, and subsidence—sinking of land—has increased.

 

Since 1932, at least 1.2 million acres of wetlands or 1,900 square miles have vanished from the Louisiana shores—an area about the size of Rhode Island. At least ten square miles are lost every year, and if nothing is done to stop this loss, far more than 500 square miles will disappear by 2050.

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