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Naomi Klein: 'Purging the Poor' (The Nation)

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  • Walter Lippmann
    (In his speech from the French Quarter, Bush made no mention of the neighborhood s roughly 1,700 unrented apartments and instead proposed holding a lottery to
    Message 1 of 3 , Sep 24, 2005
      (In his speech from the French Quarter, Bush made no mention of the
      neighborhood's roughly 1,700 unrented apartments and instead proposed
      holding a lottery to hand out plots of federal land to flood victims,
      who could build homes on them. But it will take months (at least)
      before new houses are built, and many of the poorest residents won't
      be able to carry the mortgage, no matter how subsidized. Besides, it
      barely touches the need: The Administration estimates that in New
      Orleans there is land for only 1,000 "homesteaders."

      (The truth is that the White House's determination to turn renters
      into mortgage payers is less about solving Louisiana's housing crisis
      than indulging an ideological obsession with building a radically
      privatized "ownership society.")
      +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

      Purging the Poor
      by Naomi Klein

      Outside the 2,000-bed temporary shelter in Baton Rouge's River
      Center, a Church of Scientology band is performing a version of Bill
      Withers's classic "Use Me"--a refreshingly honest choice. "If it
      feels this good getting used," the Scientology singer belts out,
      "just keep on using me until you use me up."

      Ten-year-old Nyler, lying face down on a massage table, has pretty
      much the same attitude. She is not quite sure why the nice lady in
      the yellow SCIENTOLOGY VOLUNTEER MINISTER T-shirt wants to
      rub her back, but "it feels so good," she tells me, so who really cares?
      I ask Nyler if this is her first massage. "Assist!" hisses the
      volunteer minister, correcting my Scientology lingo. Nyler shakes her
      head no; since fleeing New Orleans after a tree fell on her house,
      she has visited this tent many times, becoming something of an
      assist-aholic. "I have nerves," she explains in a blissed-out massage
      voice. "I have what you call nervousness."

      Wearing a donated pink T-shirt with an age-inappropriate slogan
      ("It's the hidden little Tiki spot where the island boys are hot,
      hot, hot"), Nyler tells me what she is nervous about. "I think New
      Orleans might not ever get fixed back." "Why not?" I ask, a little
      surprised to be discussing reconstruction politics with a preteen in
      pigtails. "Because the people who know how to fix broken houses are
      all gone."

      I don't have the heart to tell Nyler that I suspect she is on to
      something; that many of the African-American workers from her
      neighborhood may never be welcomed back to rebuild their city.
      An hour earlier I had interviewed New Orleans' top corporate lobbyist,
      Mark Drennen. As president and CEO of Greater New Orleans Inc.,
      Drennen was in an expansive mood, pumped up by signs from Washington
      that the corporations he represents--everything from Chevron to
      Liberty Bank to Coca-Cola--were about to receive a package of tax
      breaks, subsidies and relaxed regulations so generous it would make
      the job of a lobbyist virtually obsolete.

      Listening to Drennen enthuse about the opportunities opened up by the
      storm, I was struck by his reference to African-Americans in New
      Orleans as "the minority community." At 67 percent of the population,
      they are in fact the clear majority, while whites like Drennen make
      up just 27 percent. It was no doubt a simple verbal slip, but I
      couldn't help feeling that it was also a glimpse into the desired
      demographics of the new-and-improved city being imagined by its white
      elite, one that won't have much room for Nyler or her neighbors who
      know how to fix houses. "I honestly don't know and I don't think
      anyone knows how they are going to fit in," Drennen said of the
      city's unemployed.

      New Orleans is already displaying signs of a demographic shift so
      dramatic that some evacuees describe it as "ethnic cleansing." Before
      Mayor Ray Nagin called for a second evacuation, the people streaming
      back into dry areas were mostly white, while those with no homes to
      return to are overwhelmingly black. This, we are assured, is not a
      conspiracy; it's simple geography--a reflection of the fact that
      wealth in New Orleans buys altitude. That means that the driest areas
      are the whitest (the French Quarter is 90 percent white; the Garden
      District, 89 percent; Audubon, 86 percent; neighboring Jefferson
      Parish, where people were also allowed to return, 65 percent). Some
      dry areas, like Algiers, did have large low-income African-American
      populations before the storm, but in all the billions for
      reconstruction, there is no budget for transportation back from the
      far-flung shelters where those residents ended up. So even when
      resettlement is permitted, many may not be able to return.

      As for the hundreds of thousands of residents whose low-lying homes
      and housing projects were destroyed by the flood, Drennen points out
      that many of those neighborhoods were dysfunctional to begin with. He
      says the city now has an opportunity for "twenty-first-century
      thinking": Rather than rebuild ghettos, New Orleans should be
      resettled with "mixed income" housing, with rich and poor, black and
      white living side by side.

      What Drennen doesn't say is that this kind of urban integration could
      happen tomorrow, on a massive scale. Roughly 70,000 of New Orleans'
      poorest homeless evacuees could move back to the city alongside
      returning white homeowners, without a single new structure being
      built. Take the Lower Garden District, where Drennen himself lives.
      It has a surprisingly high vacancy rate--17.4 percent, according to
      the 2000 Census. At that time 702 housing units stood vacant, and
      since the market hasn't improved and the district was barely flooded,
      they are presumably still there and still vacant. It's much the same
      in the other dry areas: With landlords preferring to board up
      apartments rather than lower rents, the French Quarter has been
      half-empty for years, with a vacancy rate of 37 percent.

      The citywide numbers are staggering: In the areas that sustained only
      minor damage and are on the mayor's repopulation list, there are at
      least 11,600 empty apartments and houses. If Jefferson Parish is
      included, that number soars to 23,270. With three people in each
      unit, that means homes could be found for roughly 70,000 evacuees.
      With the number of permanently homeless city residents estimated at
      200,000, that's a significant dent in the housing crisis. And it's
      doable. Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, whose Houston
      district includes some 150,000 Katrina evacuees, says there are ways
      to convert vacant apartments into affordable or free housing. After
      passing an ordinance, cities could issue Section 8 certificates,
      covering rent until evacuees find jobs. Jackson Lee says she plans to
      introduce legislation that will call for federal funds to be spent on
      precisely such rental vouchers. "If opportunity exists to create
      viable housing options," she says, "they should be explored."

      Malcolm Suber, a longtime New Orleans community activist, was shocked
      to learn that thousands of livable homes were sitting empty. "If
      there are empty houses in the city," he says, "then working-class and
      poor people should be able to live in them." According to Suber,
      taking over vacant units would do more than provide much-needed
      immediate shelter: It would move the poor back into the city,
      preventing the key decisions about its future--like whether to turn
      the Ninth Ward into marshland or how to rebuild Charity
      Hospital--from being made exclusively by those who can afford land on
      high ground. "We have the right to fully participate in the
      reconstruction of our city," Suber says. "And that can only happen if
      we are back inside." But he concedes that it will be a fight: The
      old-line families in Audubon and the Garden District may pay lip
      service to "mixed income" housing, "but the Bourbons uptown would
      have a conniption if a Section 8 tenant moved in next door. It will
      certainly be interesting."

      Equally interesting will be the response from the Bush
      Administration. So far, the only plan for homeless residents to move
      back to New Orleans is Bush's bizarre Urban Homesteading Act.
      In his speech from the French Quarter, Bush made no mention of the
      neighborhood's roughly 1,700 unrented apartments and instead proposed
      holding a lottery to hand out plots of federal land to flood victims,
      who could build homes on them. But it will take months (at least)
      before new houses are built, and many of the poorest residents won't
      be able to carry the mortgage, no matter how subsidized. Besides, it
      barely touches the need: The Administration estimates that in New
      Orleans there is land for only 1,000 "homesteaders."

      The truth is that the White House's determination to turn renters
      into mortgage payers is less about solving Louisiana's housing crisis
      than indulging an ideological obsession with building a radically
      privatized "ownership society." It's an obsession that has already
      come to grip the entire disaster zone, with emergency relief provided
      by the Red Cross and Wal-Mart and reconstruction contracts handed out
      to Bechtel, Fluor, Halliburton and Shaw--the same gang that spent the
      past three years getting paid billions while failing to bring Iraq's
      essential services to prewar levels [see Klein, "The Rise of Disaster
      Capitalism," May 2]. "Reconstruction," whether in Baghdad or New
      Orleans, has become shorthand for a massive uninterrupted transfer of
      wealth from public to private hands, whether in the form of direct
      "cost plus" government contracts or by auctioning off new sectors of
      the state to corporations.

      This vision was laid out in uniquely undisguised form during a
      meeting at the Heritage Foundation's Washington headquarters on
      September 13. Present were members of the House Republican Study
      Committee, a caucus of more than 100 conservative lawmakers headed by
      Indiana Congressman Mike Pence. The group compiled a list of
      thirty-two "Pro-Free-Market Ideas for Responding to Hurricane
      Katrina and High Gas Prices," including school vouchers, repealing
      environmental regulations and "drilling in the Arctic National
      Wildlife Refuge." Admittedly, it seems farfetched that these would be
      adopted as relief for the needy victims of an eviscerated public
      sector. Until you read the first three items: "Automatically suspend
      Davis-Bacon prevailing wage laws in disaster areas"; "Make the entire
      affected area a flat-tax free-enterprise zone"; and "Make the entire
      region an economic competitiveness zone (comprehensive tax incentives
      and waiving of regulations)." All are poised to become law or have
      already been adopted by presidential decree.

      In their own way the list-makers at Heritage are not unlike the 500
      Scientology volunteer ministers currently deployed to shelters across
      Louisiana. "We literally followed the hurricane," David Holt, a
      church supervisor, told me. When I asked him why, he pointed to a
      yellow banner that read, SOMETHING CAN BE DONE ABOUT IT.
      I asked him what "it" was and he said "everything."

      So it is with the neocon true believers: Their "Katrina relief"
      policies are the same ones trotted out for every problem, but nothing
      energizes them like a good disaster. As Bush says, lands swept clean
      are "opportunity zones," a chance to do some recruiting, advance the
      faith, even rewrite the rules from scratch. But that, of course, will
      take some massaging--I mean assisting.

      This article can be found on the web at:

      http://www.thenation.com/doc/20051010/klein


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    • glparramatta
      More Klein on NO: Naomi Klein Interviewhttp://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=05/09/23/1338233#transcript Naomi Klein is the award-winning journalist and
      Message 2 of 3 , Sep 24, 2005
        More Klein on NO:

        Naomi Klein
        Interviewhttp://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=05/09/23/1338233#transcript

        Naomi Klein is the award-winning journalist and author of "Fences and
        Windows: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate" and
        "No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies."

        NAOMI KLEIN: I guess listening to Juan's introduction; maybe what we're
        seeing is an attempt to turn New Orleans into New England. It's really an
        extremely radical vision, and I think the context of this is there's
        something about natural disasters that brings out a really dangerous
        apocalyptic side in the national psyche or in certain people in
        positions of
        power where there's this actual sense that these cataclysmic events are
        almost redemptive in their violence.

        And we started to hear this very early on after Katrina hit, where,
        not just
        from evangelical Christian sides, we started to hear, "maybe this is
        punishment for Mardi Gras and sodomites and we've cleaned the city",
        but you
        hear it from the mayor, Ray Nagin, "for the first time New Orleans is
        free
        of crime and violence and we're going to keep it that way". There's
        almost a
        sense that free of people, the city has become this blank slate. In that
        context, this fantasy can be built from scratch.

        The buzzwords to listen for in terms of the reconstruction of New Orleans
        are "smaller", "safer". And the idea is that in the city, wealth
        really buys
        altitude, and so the effect of the flood was not at all democratic. The
        people who were able to buy land on high ground, their neighborhoods are
        relatively unscathed, and many of them never left or have been able to
        return. The people who were hit hardest were the people who we saw on
        television, you know, in the Superdome. These are the people who lived in
        the low-lying areas. So, the idea now is, okay, maybe we won't rebuild
        those
        areas at all, and when -- on September 15, when the mayor said that
        certain
        areas are able to be re-inhabited, this is before Rita presented
        itself as
        the threat that it, it was clear that the people re-populating New
        Orleans
        didn't look very much like the people who lived there before. It was
        overwhelmingly white, whereas the people still in shelters were
        overwhelmingly black. So, I think that the overall vision is massive land
        grabs, radical gentrification, and as Jeremy's piece makes clear, the
        gentrification is happening with privatized military force.

        JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, in your article, Naomi, you talk about the areas
        that have begun to be repopulated, and you mention the census figures
        on the
        racial breakdowns the French Quarter: 90% white, the Garden District: 89%
        white, Audubon: 86% white. And you talk about the attempts to -- the
        housing
        that was vacant in these neighborhoods that is not being used to
        settle some
        of those dislocated. Could you talk about that for a minute?

        NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah. I was really struck, Juan, that there's just been this
        general acceptance that because of this geographical quirk of New Orleans
        which is that the rich and white live on high ground, and the poor
        live in
        low-lying areas that of course, there is going to be this massive
        demographic shift in the city. There's been this acceptance that the
        people
        who were displaced to Houston and are now being displaced again and that
        have been scattered across the country will keep moving, because there's
        really nowhere for them to return to. This became accepted wisdom
        very, very
        quickly. I was doing some research about the fights over development
        before
        the hurricane, because one of the things that I have noticed in my
        research
        is these huge, cataclysmic events are often opportunities to exploit the
        dislocation that happens after a natural disaster to ram through very
        unpopular policies.

        So I started researching what the battles were in New Orleans before the
        hurricane. And, of course, there were very, very fierce, an you know
        you've
        covered this on your show, very fierce battles going on around housing
        projects, and gentrification in the city where conflicts between
        people who
        were demanding affordable housing and particularly the tourism sector
        on the
        French Quarter, and over the course of the research, I saw the staggering
        feature, which is that the French Quarter, which as you said is 90%
        white,
        is also almost half empty. In the most recent census, and the market
        hasn't
        changed since then, the French Quarter had a 37% vacancy rate, which
        means
        that 37% of the apartments and homes in the French Quarter are sitting
        empty. They're sitting empty because the people who own the buildings
        have
        decided that they would rather board up the apartments than take reduced
        rent, because they're making enough off the commercial rents, renting to
        restaurants and bars and so on.

        So when I saw this massive dislocation happening, and all of these people
        saying, "well, there's nowhere for them to return to", I looked at the
        census again, and looked at all of these other areas that the mayor
        has said
        are dry and inhabitable and found that there were comparably high vacancy
        rates in other areas, like the Garden District and Central Business
        District. What we found was that in fact there are 12,000 empty
        apartments
        and houses in the dry areas. Which means that those -- those could be
        affordable houses for people.

        AMY GOODMAN: Yet, they argue that the authorities -- the authorities
        argued
        there's no infrastructure to support them: no water, no electricity,
        or the
        water is worse than that -- there's water but it's polluted.

        NAOMI KLEIN: I'm not -- you know, I don't think it could happen at this
        point tomorrow, but the mayor has said -- and obviously, because it's
        possible that the city could flood again, but the context that we're
        talking
        about is that the mayor said these areas are ready to be re-inhabited
        by the
        people who lived there previously. If they're ready to be re-inhabited by
        the people who lived there previously, then those apartments could
        clearly
        be opened up and it could be part of the reconstruction process rather
        than
        just scattering people.

        And we have heard this demand from community groups like Community Labor
        United, demanding the right to return to the city. This is a huge
        political
        issue related to this radical militarized gentrification agenda. Because
        people can't fight for their economic and social rights saying you
        know, we
        want schools and hospitals to rebuild. We want affordable housing. They
        can't make those demands. They can't fight for their social interests,
        economic interests if they're not in the city. If they're scattered,
        living
        in shelters.

        So, I think that there can be a fairly short term plan to get people into
        those houses. I have talked to some legislators who say it's a pretty
        simple
        process of the city passing an ordinance, and then federal monies
        being used
        to issue Section 8 vouchers to pay landlords 100% of the rent. All that's
        lacking, Amy, is really just political will to do it, because this
        doesn't
        fit the Bush Agenda for the so-called "reconstruction of New Orleans",
        because that agenda is really treating the city as a laboratory for their
        so-called "Ownership Society". So, rather than subsidizing rents, what
        they're interested in is this bizarre Urban Homesteading Act, which would
        auction off federal land or lottery off federal land and people would
        build
        homes on that land.

        JUAN GONZALEZ: Also, Naomi, your article talks about a document that
        you got
        a hold of that deals with some meetings that have occurred to discuss
        how to
        buy, I think it was the Heritage Foundation was involved, to begin to
        discuss how to implement some of the conservative movement's programs
        under
        the guise of dealing with the crisis of Katrina?

        NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah. There are two key documents that people should really
        take a look at. We're going to have them up on The Nation website and I'm
        sure we can have them up on Democracy Now! as well. There's two
        documents.
        They come from the same people, and they're connected. The first one
        comes
        from the Republican Study Group, which is the caucus of Republican
        lawmakers
        in Congress, headed by Mike Pence. It is called the "Pro Free Market
        Ideas
        for Responding to Hurricane Katrina and High Gas Prices." It comes out
        of a
        meeting that took place at the Heritage Foundation on September 15th,
        where
        people from the Heritage Foundation and other right-wing think tanks got
        together with the Republican Study Group members, and they brainstormed
        thirty-two policy demands to package in as hurricane relief. And we have
        already seen several-- this is why I think it should be taken extremely
        seriously, is that the first of the demands is automatically suspending
        Davis-Beacon prevailing wage laws in disaster areas.

        So it's pretty clear that the people making this list have a direct
        line to
        President Bush. Because that's already been adopted by presidential
        decree.
        The second is to make the entire affected area "flat tax-free enterprise
        zone". This is Bush's "Gulf Opportunity Zone" idea, making the whole
        region
        a sort of "Club Med" for corporations to have every tax break they
        have ever
        dreamed of. But it goes on. This is where we, I think, need to get ready.

        They use the excuse of Katrina to talk about everything from opening up
        drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge to subsidizing -- this is an
        incredible, incredible one of their demands -- they want to subsidize oil
        exploration, saying that the corporations won't fund this themselves. And
        then there's things that we have heard about like they don't want
        money to
        be going directly to public schools for displaced children who are
        affected
        by the hurricane. They want it to go into school vouchers. This is
        already
        happening.

        So it's a transfer of wealth from the public realm, a huge transfer of
        wealth from the public realm into private hands. So you have this on
        the one
        hand. They issued this on September 13. It's already being adopted
        into law
        on several levels. And then they come up with another document that
        actually
        just came out yesterday, which is the Republican Study Committee's
        ideas of
        how to pay for all of these corporate subsidies that they have demanded.

        They say, "look, we cannot do this -- we cannot pay for so-called
        "hurricane
        relief," and it has very little or nothing to do with the families
        that were
        affected by the hurricane; in fact, it's going to hurt those
        families.) They
        say, "the only way we can afford this is if we make some radical cuts
        to the
        budget." They issue another document, the "RSC Budget Options for 2005",
        which says "here's where we are going to make the cuts". Once again, you
        have the radical re-victimization of the very people who the money was
        intended for.

        Their demands are things like: suspend Medicaid's prescription drug
        coverage. But more than that, you know, I mentioned the thing that got me
        was -- I mentioned the fact that they're demanding subsidization for
        Big Oil
        for exploration that they won't pay for. In this other document where
        they
        talk about how they're going to find the money for all of this corporate
        welfare, they say that they should cut all programs, all federal research
        programs, into sustainable energy sources. So, here you have the issue
        that's really at the core of this disaster, which is global warming and
        fossil fuels. They're subsidizing big oil and cutting funding to any
        alternative energy source research.
      • Gavin R. Putland
        ... Interviewhttp://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=05/09/23/1338233#transcript ... A sufficiently heavy land tax would force landlords to seek tenants for
        Message 3 of 3 , Sep 25, 2005
          On Sat, 2005-09-24 at 23:42 +0000, glparramatta wrote:

          > Naomi Klein
          >
          Interviewhttp://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=05/09/23/1338233#transcript

          > So I started researching what the battles were in New
          > Orleans before the hurricane. And, of course, there were
          > very, very fierce, an you know you've covered this on
          > your show, very fierce battles going on around housing
          > projects, and gentrification in the city where conflicts
          > between people who were demanding affordable housing and
          > particularly the tourism sector on the French Quarter,
          > and over the course of the research, I saw the staggering
          > feature, which is that the French Quarter, which as you
          > said is 90% white, is also almost half empty. In the most
          > recent census, and the market hasn't changed since then,
          > the French Quarter had a 37% vacancy rate, which means
          > that 37% of the apartments and homes in the French
          > Quarter are sitting empty. They're sitting empty because
          > the people who own the buildings have decided that they
          > would rather board up the apartments than take reduced
          > rent, because they're making enough off the commercial
          > rents, renting to restaurants and bars and so on.

          > So when I saw this massive dislocation happening, and all
          > of these people saying, "well, there's nowhere for them
          > to return to", I looked at the census again, and looked
          > at all of these other areas that the mayor has said are
          > dry and inhabitable and found that there were comparably
          > high vacancy rates in other areas, like the Garden
          > District and Central Business District. What we found was
          > that in fact there are 12,000 empty apartments and houses
          > in the dry areas. Which means that those -- those could
          > be affordable houses for people.

          A sufficiently heavy land tax would force landlords to seek
          tenants for ALL their apartments in order to generate
          enough rent to cover the tax. The landlords of course
          would claim that the tax would be passed on in rents.
          That's baloney. The tax would force landlords to attract
          tenants, and you don't attract tenants by putting up the
          rent! The tax would also force landlords to build on
          vacant lots in order to make them rentable. This would
          increase the supply of accommodation, causing further
          DOWNWARD pressure on rents.

          Landlords hate land tax because they can't shift it onto
          tenants. So they campaign against it by claiming that they
          CAN shift it onto tenants!

          > So, I think that there can be a fairly short term plan to
          > get people into those houses. I have talked to some
          > legislators who say it's a pretty simple process of the
          > city passing an ordinance, and then federal monies being
          > used to issue Section 8 vouchers to pay landlords 100% of
          > the rent.

          Now that definitely WILL raise rents. The market won't let
          landlords can't charge more rent just because they have
          higher fixed costs (land tax), but it WILL let them charge
          more rent just because the tenants have more capacity to
          pay. That's why landlords love rent subsidies (which
          enable tenants to pay more rent) but hate public housing
          (which increases the supply of accommodation and therefore
          reduces rents).

          > They use the excuse of Katrina to talk about everything
          > from opening up drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge to
          > subsidizing -- this is an incredible, incredible one of
          > their demands -- they want to subsidize oil exploration,
          > saying that the corporations won't fund this themselves.
          > And then there's things that we have heard about like
          > they don't want money to be going directly to public
          > schools for displaced children who are affected by the
          > hurricane. They want it to go into school vouchers. This
          > is already happening.

          > So it's a transfer of wealth from the public realm, a
          > huge transfer of wealth from the public realm into
          > private hands.

          The same thing can be said for rent vouchers, Ms Klein.
          Why is this public-private transfer a good thing when the
          beneficiaries are landlords, but a bad thing when the
          beneficiaries are oil companies? Shouldn't all rich
          swillers at the public trough be regarded with the same
          contempt?

          --- Gav.
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