Reaping The Whirlwind  

Posted by Big Gav

Hopefully the ugly news flow from New Orleans will stop soon (and by that I mean the situation will get sorted out rather than the news getting cut off) as its all thoroughly dispiriting. One of the local TV stations tonight showed the "rescue" of 6 Australian tourists from downtown New Orleans - by the reporters. This involved them getting a number of armed police to accompany them into the city (I can only assume by bribing them), pick up the tourists and escort them out of the city again, and looked remarkably like what I imagine a similar scene outside the Green Zone in Baghdad would be like (including checkpoints stopping people travelling into, and maybe out of, the city). And then they showed a huge fleet of buses waiting on a highway outside the city but showing no signs of going in to pick up the refugees. What on earth is going on up there ? It makes the tsunami relief effort last year look like it worked like clockwork.

Wayne Madsen has a number of disturbing reports about the situation in New Orleans and the hospitals in particular, though there are some reports saying that relief teams have reached the hospitals.

The farcical disaster relief effort seems to be getting a thorough drubbing by everyone, with the Village Voice having a summary of some of the criticisms (such as the Louisiana National Guard being absent occupying Iraq for starters). The front page of today's Sydney Morning Herald led with "Storm of anger as US fails its own"

American bewilderment has turned to fury as the richest nation on earth fails to rescue its own people from the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, which has left scenes of anarchy and Third World desperation.

Much of the anger is directed at President George Bush as the nation tries to comprehend television images of floating corpses, of lawless mobs, and of Americans pleading for food, water and medical help. Troops have been given shoot-to-kill orders in a bid to stop looting and restore law and order. As authorities only guess at a death toll - it could be in the thousands - there are reports of women and a young boy and girl being raped in the New Orleans Superdome, while other refugees there are terrorised by rioters.

"This is a national disgrace," says Terry Ebbert, the head of emergency operations in New Orleans. "[The Federal Emergency Management Agency] has been here three days, yet there is no command and control. We can send massive amounts of aid to tsunami victims but we can't bail out the city of New Orleans."

The scale of the disaster has many people pointing the finger at Bush's inaction on global warming, such as Germany's Environment Minister, Juergen Trittin. A lot of people were also dumbfounded by the US initially rejecting offers of aid and assistance in the relief efforts, though that decision seems to have been reversed now (hopefully the aid money makes it through to the people in need rather than corrupt politicians, as I can cynically imagine it disappearing into some Halliburton reconstruction slush fund).
More than 20 countries - from allies Germany and Japan to prickly Venezuela and poor Honduras, plus the United Nations - have offered to help the US in the aftermath of Katrina. Accustomed to being a rich donor rather than on the receiving end of charity, the US initially seemed reluctant to accept foreign aid, but later said it would take up any offers.

But while offering help, government leaders in Germany warned the US to expect more natural catastrophes if it did not take global warming seriously. Germany's Environment Minister, Juergen Trittin, wrote a newspaper column blaming President George Bush's environmental policies for increasing the risk of killer storms and floods. "The American President closes his eyes to the economic and human damages that are inflicted on his country and the world economy by natural disasters, like Katrina, through neglected climate protection," Mr Trittin wrote on Tuesday.

The following day Chancellor Gerhard Schröder sent a letter of sympathy to Mr Bush, and on Thursday the Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, said the Government was "prepared to give any assistance".

But neither distanced themselves from Mr Trittin's remarks.

Energy Bulletin has an excellent article by Shepherd Bliss on "Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans and Peak Oil" and looks at how our lifestyle in general and US government in particular contributed to the disaster.
New Orleans will probably never be rebuilt. One wonders if this could be a preview of how some American cities-especially the poorer ones with racial tensions-will be impacted by Peak Oil crises. Various writers--including James Howard Kunstler in "The Long Emergency"-have predicted severe problems, especially in urban and suburban areas, as the supply of petroleum continues to dwindle in the years to come and individuals and nations compete for the remaining supply.

Civilizations have collapsed before. The causes of collapse often have to do with diminishing natural resources and losing wars, both of which seem to be happening for the US.

The pending crises may come sooner than even Peak Oil theorists predicted. Another dozen tropical storms are predicted to strike the US during this hurricane season, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Warmer water in the Atlantic Ocean-resulting from global warming-is being blamed for what NOAA calls a "very active" hurricane season. How well prepared is the US for a series of hurricanes strengthened by global warming?

In contrast to New Orleans, after the terrorist attacks on New York of Sept. 11, 2001, and this year in London, people pulled together. Good local leadership helped. Those attacks, of course, were not as devastating as Hurricane Katrina on a whole city, but their surprise and shock values were high. A hurricane attacking New Orleans was no surprise. New Orleans leading newspaper, the Times-Picayune, National Public Radio, and the New York Times all had major articles three years ago about the vulnerability of New Orleans to being flooded.

Katrina's impact upon energy production will be tremendous. Some predict that the US just lost between 10% and 2o% of its energy supply. Most of this may not come back. Geological limits, such as the amount of oil in the ground, and climate limitations, worsening because of global warming, are contributing to a drastically diminished supply of energy here in America and world-wide.

Hurricane Katrina's devastating impact was worsened by three factors: 1) its strength was increased by global warming; 2) the lack of preparation to avoid such a crisis and the availability of the National Guard to help manage it; 3) the massive destruction by development of wetlands, which contain storm run-off.

Global warming and our over-consumption of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas are related. Burning fossil fuels emits greenhouse gases that cause global warming. Among its symptoms are the strength of Hurricane Katrina, according to an Aug. 30 article in the Boston Globe by Pulitzer Prize-winner Ross Gelbspan, author of "The Heat Is On" and "Boiling Point."

"The hurricane that struck Louisiana was nicknamed Katrina by the National Weather Service. Its real name is global warming," Gelbspan contends. "As the atmosphere warms, it generates longer droughts, more-intense downpours, more-frequent heat waves, and more-severe storms. Although Katrina began as a relatively small hurricane that glanced off south Florida, it was supercharged with extraordinary intensity by the relatively blistering sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico."

Kevin Drum has a timeline up for New Orleans flood control projects and changes to FEMA.
CHRONOLOGY....Here's a timeline that outlines the fate of both FEMA and flood control projects in New Orleans under the Bush administration. Read it and weep:

* January 2001: Bush appoints Joe Allbaugh, a crony from Texas, as head of FEMA. Allbaugh has no previous experience in disaster management.

* April 2001: Budget Director Mitch Daniels announces the Bush administration's goal of privatizing much of FEMA's work. In May, Allbaugh confirms that FEMA will be downsized: "Many are concerned that federal disaster assistance may have evolved into both an oversized entitlement program...." he said. "Expectations of when the federal government should be involved and the degree of involvement may have ballooned beyond what is an appropriate level."

* 2001: FEMA designates a major hurricane hitting New Orleans as one of the three "likeliest, most catastrophic disasters facing this country."

* December 2002: After less than two years at FEMA, Allbaugh announces he is leaving to start up a consulting firm that advises companies seeking to do business in Iraq. He is succeeded by his deputy, Michael Brown, who, like Allbaugh, has no previous experience in disaster management.

* March 2003: FEMA is downgraded from a cabinet level position and folded into the Department of Homeland Security. Its mission is refocused on fighting acts of terrorism. ...

On the topic of FEMA, this week's award for strangest domain sighted in my server logs goes to them: they appear to be researching peak oil (coming in via Wikipedia's peak oil page) and there was some indications that they are producing an EOP (Emergency Operations Plan), which I found interesting - though not as interesting as I'd find the contents of such a plan if anyone happened to email me a draft of it. If this sounds a bit too boring I guess I could make up a conspiracy theory about it being one of FEMA's more Gestapo type of operations getting cranky about all the unpleasant conclusions I draw about American foreign policy and the actions of a lot of its leading government figures - if I stop posting in the near future you'll all know what happened - dragged off to Gitmo in the middle of the night (I'm joking of course - I think)...

Greg Palast has an interesting history lesson up at Common Dreams about a previous flood in Louisiana - "Bush Strafes New Orleans, Where's Huey Long?". While I'm not so sure about the wisdom of holding up Huey Long as a model given the widespread view that he was a fascist in the making (the protagonist in Sinclair Lewis' "It Can't Happen Here" was reputedly based on him), Palast's recommendation of Long's plan for "a progressive income tax, real money for education, public works to rebuild Louisiana and America, an end to wars for empire, and an end to financial oligarchy" seems reasonably sound though (though in place of public works across America I'd substitute "instigating a crash program for mitigating global warming and fossil fuel depletion").
The National Public Radio news anchor was so excited I thought she'd piss on herself: the President of the United had flown his plane down to 1700 feet to get a better look at the flood damage! And there was a photo of our Commander-in-Chief taken looking out the window. He looked very serious and concerned.

That was yesterday. Today he played golf. No kidding.

I'm sure the people of New Orleans would have liked to show their appreciation for the official Presidential photo-strafing, but their surface-to-air missiles were wet.

There is nothing new under the sun. In 1927, a Republican President had his photo taken as the Mississippi rolled over New Orleans. Calvin Coolidge, "a little fat man with a notebook in his hand," promised to rebuild the state. He didn't. Instead, he left to play golf with Ken Lay or the Ken Lay railroad baron equivalent of his day.

In 1927, the Democratic Party had died and was awaiting burial. As depression approached, the coma-Dems, like Franklin Roosevelt, called for balancing the budget.

Then, as the waters rose, one politician finally said, roughly, "Screw this! They're lying! The President's lying! The rich fat cats that are drowning you will do it again and again and again. They lead you into imperialist wars for profit, they take away your schools and your hope and when you complain, they blame Blacks and Jews and immigrants. Then they push your kids under. I say, Kick'm in the ass and take your rightful share!"

Huey Long laid out a plan: a progressive income tax, real money for education, public works to rebuild Louisiana and America, an end to wars for empire, and an end to financial oligarchy. The waters receded, the anger did not, and Huey "Kingfish" Long was elected Governor of Louisiana in 1928.

At the time, Louisiana schools were free, but not the textbooks. Governor Long taxed Big Oil to pay for the books. Rockefeller's oil companies refused pay the textbook tax, so Long ordered the National Guard to seize Standard Oil's fields in the Delta.

Huey Long was called a "demagogue" and a "dictator." Of course. Because it was Huey Long who established the concept that a government of the people must protect the people, school, house, and feed them and give every man or woman a job who needs one.

Government, he said, "We The People," not plutocrats nor Halliburtons, must build bridges and levies to keep the waters from rising over our heads. All we had to do was share the nation's wealth we created as a nation. But that meant facing down what he called the "concentrations of monopoly power" to finance the needs of the public.

In other words, Huey Long founded the modern Democratic Party. Franklin Roosevelt and the party establishment, scared senseless of Long's ineluctable march to the White House, adopted his program, called it the New Deal, and later The New Frontier and the Great Society.

Rigzone has a full damage assessment up for offshore oil and gas facilities. The Oil Drum also continues to track the damage, along with a report of a large oil spill on the Mississippi. Mike Ruppert has an even more bearish assessment of the damage.
hus far, the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the upstream industry in the Gulf of Mexico have seemed light compared with the problems inflicted on onshore refining and transport facilities. But when put in perspective with the problems caused by last year's Hurricane Ivan, Katrina proves to have packed quite a punch.

According to the MMS, Ivan destroyed 7 offshore platforms and did damage to 100 underwater pipelines. Ivan also damaged a total of 7 offshore rigs (4 semisubs, 2 platform rigs, 1 jackup) and completely destroyed 2 rigs (1 jackup, 1 platform rig).

Katrina damaged a total of 12 rigs, including at least 5 that are likely to be scrapped. Discounting the 3 semisubs that only suffered loss of ballast and listing, Katrina still damaged 9 offshore rigs. Additionally, damage to at least 30 offshore platforms has been confirmed, with 18 platforms a total loss. And that number may increase, as a recent MMS report indicated a total of 58 damaged platforms and rigs in the Gulf. The only major area of uncertainty is how badly the underwater pipelines connecting the offshore platforms to shore have been damaged. It will be at least several more days before those damages can be fully assessed.

The big oil companies are being accused of profiteering.

China has managed to evacuate 790,000 people in Fujian province before Typhoon Talim hit the coast. In other Chinese news, it's the 40th anniversary of their invasion of Tibet - and it's about time they stopped their occupation and left. Bush's endless mutterings about "Freedom and Democracy" might be slightly believable if he tried to apply them to resource-less countries like Tibet rather than as cover for energy wars in the middle east. Free Tibet.

Greens Senator Kerry Nettle made a great catch on Thursday, noting that Steve Forbes' public pronouncements at the business leaders conference here about the oil price falling contradict what he is privately telling investors. Well done Kerry (you won't hear me saying that to a politician too often, but credit where credit is due).
Steve Forbes contradicts oil price claim in latest investor newsletter

Greens Senator Kerry Nettle today accused Steve Forbes, host of the CEO conference at the Opera House, of playing deceptive games with the Australian public over oil price claims.

Steve Forbes told the Prime Minister and media on Tuesday that oil prices will come back down to around $35 a barrel within a year, and that high prices are a speculation 'bubble'. Overnight his investor newsletter has advised the opposite.

The subscriber only Forbes Professional Timing Service states: "THE MOST IMPORTANT ADVICE I HAVE GIVEN IN 20 YEARS"
"expect to see crude move to $65.00 this summer and to $76.00 by early next year."

"..the so-called terror premium in crude prices - which will remain until we see at least three years of peace in the fertile crescent".

And,
"We are at the point where the rubber hits the road, and the only rationing mechanism for whomever gets the available supply will be higher prices."

"What is Mr Forbes up to? It appears he is telling the Australian public and decision makers not to taking the spike in oil prices seriously, whilst telling his investors that the spike is a great profit making opportunity," Senator Nettle said. "Mr Forbes public comments appear to be about discouraging steps to address the coming peak oil crisis, a crisis he admits as real to his investors.

"Steve Forbes is treating Australians with contempt. He should apologise for his deliberate deception. "Australians should be worried if the Prime Minister is taking advice from the likes of Steve Forbes on an issue as vital as the looming energy crisis. This embarrassing incident underlines the untrustworthiness of Mr Forbes' advice. "The Prime Minister should be listening to those who advocate investment in renewable energy and energy conservation measures which are in the long term interests of this country."

Its amazing really that the Greens are frequently accused of having somehow unrealistic policies but are the only party proposing any meaningful action on the 2 most important challenges we face - global warming and peak oil.

Today's Business section of the Herald reported we should prepare for the economy to stop due to high oil prices:
Rocketing oil prices have left consumers severely out of pocket and the worst is yet to come, writes Matt Wade. FOR a nation dependent on cars, the sustained rise in the price of petrol has been a de facto across-the-board pay cut.

The surge in fuel costs over the past year has been equivalent to clipping the average Australian pay packet by about 1.5 per cent, AMP chief economist Shane Oliver calculates. "This is because people don't have a lot of flexibility to cut their spending on petrol because they still have to go to work, drop the kids at school, do the shopping and what have you," he says. "The average household has taken a big hit in the past 12 months."

As pump prices bite into household incomes, what are we giving up?

They also note that Katrina may kick off a perfect storm for the world economy.
Global demand is so strong, and supply so limited, that oil prices will have to rise far enough to choke its own demand, in a brutal self-correcting cycle, Schleiger says.

"That means 'demand destruction' - a polite way of saying a sharp economic slowdown in the world's key growth engine economies - becomes the only means to bring prices down," she says in a recent client report.

And that was before Hurricane Katrina.

1 comments

there was some indications that they are producing an EOP (Emergency Operations Plan),

How did you figure that one out? I usually wouldn't make too much out of an isolated FEMA surfer making a hit on a web site. Could just be a disgruntled or bored staff member.

Intriguing nonetheless.

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