Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Shape of Things to Come (Undone)

A few predictions for the future of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in the coming weeks, months and years. I expect to get fewer than half of these right, but I'm sure it will be the most cynical half I hit bang on.

1. Contracting scandals. These have almost started already, with more Iraq-style no-competition, guaranteed profit contracts handed out to the usual suspects, Bechtel and Halliburton. (The beauty of the Bush administration is that there is no longer a need for direct bribes to sway the government toward a particular course of action. The government and the kleptocrats are one and the same; they are two wheels of the same train, locked in parallel by greed and self-righteous ideology.)

2. A lack of mainstream reporting on the worst abuses. CNN and especially Fox News will ignore or downplay many aspects of the disaster. These strange stories - about people prevented from leaving New Orleans by armed police, about white British tourists being spirited out of the Superdome at night, about armed guards preventing the poor from "looting" food and water - will mostly appear, uncorroborated, on blogs and marginal internet news sites. There they will fester and become indistinguishable from the conspiracy theories and myths that have already arisen. The public will slip ever further into mistrust, paranoia and magical thinking. Eventually, some major American newspaper will confirm many of these tales in a serious investigative piece; it will win a Pulitzer and will be read by less than one tenth of the people who believe the dikes were blown up to kill blacks.

3. Americans will be completely unable to talk about the issue of class, using the word race instead. The word "poor" will almost always be followed by the word "black" in commentary on why there was no proper evacuation plan. There will be no discussion about how to amelitorate poverty, or about what this strange lack says about the American psyche.

4. There will be no serious attempt to clean up the environmental mess left behind during the current administration by either the state or federal government, unless it seems necessary for the convenience of developers.

5. Money to compensate those who lost their homes will be logjammed so thoroughly by the bureacracy that many people will sell their compensation rights to private corporations at pennies on the dollar. The speculators will reap a massive windfall when the feds pay up.

6. Most of the land in the poorer sections of New Orleans will be declared uninhabitable. The remnants of houses will be bulldozed and a massive, government sponsored effort to clean up the site will be made. After hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent, along with billions more on improved flood control, the land will be sold for a fraction of its value to politically connected developers. New Orleans will, as Billmon has predicted, become a Disney version of itself, designed to suck in tourists. This time, the poor will have to live outside the city proper, on land that is not so well protected from flooding.

7. Refugees, especially the poor, will be treated as though they are idiotic, criminal children. The camps they have been dumped in will include curfews, lockdowns, searches and as many petty, humiliating procedures as possible to remind the inmates it is their fault they were in the path of a hurricane.

8. No one will be prosecuted for malfeasance. The worst offenders won't even lose their jobs.

I really, really hope I'm wrong.

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