Dirty South Bureau

June 6, 2011

Open letter to Louisiana Congressman John Fleming (R-Minden)

Filed under: energy,environment,Labor,Louisiana,New Orleans Economy,The Feds — christian @ 1:05 pm

I was greatly disappointed by the lack of vision or even contact with reality betrayed by your statements at a recent U.S. House Natural Resource Committee hearing, where you stated that you had never met anyone who has a green job.

I am one of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who has a green job, writing about the global solar industry. This industry alone employs 93,000 Americans.

The Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st century estimates that there were 3 million renewable energy jobs globally in 2009.

It is true that many states, particularly Louisiana, do not have the share of green jobs that we could have – largely due to the actions the Republican Party, of which you are a member, at the national level, and of a painful lack of foresight by politicians from both parties in Louisiana.

However, even here green job growth is a reality on the ground. Notable examples include Blade Dynamics’ plans for a new factory in New Orleans East to make wind turbines, which will create 600 jobs by 2015 with an average salary of $48,000 annually.

In recent weeks, Alexandria metal manufacturer AFCO Industries received one of its largest orders ever for an estimated 37 truckloads of aluminum for a solar energy project in California.

We have a stark choice in Louisiana as to whether we will join in the global energy revolution, or be left behind. The lack of vision shown by leaders including yourself puts the future of the state at great risk.

Christian Roselund
New Orleans

April 21, 2011

My response to Entergy New Orleans CEO Charles Rice, or, Poorly executed falsehoods at the Gulf Coast Leadership Summit

Filed under: energy,environment,Louisiana — christian @ 6:42 pm

This morning I had the pleasure of attending the Gulf Coast Leadership Summit’s meeting: “Strategies for Developing Clean Energy in the U.S. Gulf Coast”.

The Gulf Coast Leadership Summit was an odd sort of conference. In a hotel conference room (nothing good happens in hotel conference rooms), well-dressed, well-heeled professionals and politicians discussed the future of our region. Which is problematic, as many of these “leaders” are the very people who have enacted and supported political decisions to assure that we have no future.

I am speaking specifically of U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, Representative Steve Scalise, former Representative Joseph Cao, and of course, Charles Rice, the new CEO of Entergy New Orleans.

Hoary lies: Entergy and renewables

Mr. Rice was a panelist on the “strategies for developing clean energy” panel, which is also odd; as he does not appear to have any strategies or interest in developing clean energy. Instead, he offered a series of poorly thought out and disingenuous excuses, which – sorry, Louisiana – utility executives do not dare to try in other parts of this nation or the developed world.

Among Mr. Rice’s statements, one stood out as truly absurd – his claim that “wind is five times as expensive as natural gas”. It was very unfortunately that my one question – the only one that was allowed – was limited by a hostile moderator who claimed that we had gone over time. However, Mr. Rice asked me to back up my statement, which was that natural gas is around six cents a kilowatt-hour and wind eight to nine, so I will.

LCOE details – how much do wind and natural gas cost?

Now, the technical details. First, we tend to measure this cost in levelized cost of electricity – the cost of power produced over the lifetime of generation units. This is problematic and somewhat arbitrary for several reasons. First, for those energy sources with fuel inputs – like natural gas – the costs of these inputs have to be estimated. Second, organizations tend to have their own proprietary LCOE models.

Third, the cost of any type of generation depends upon the region. However, since Mr. Rice made such a broad statement, I assume we are talking about national averages.

A quick web search found Energy Information Administration (EIA) data offering U.S. levelized costs 2009 for plants entering service in 2016. The EIA is a problematic source. Among other deficiencies, they tend to vastly under-report solar electric (photovoltaic) electricity generation, but they are a good starting point.

The EIA estimates natural gas plants at between USD 0.0631/kWh for advanced combined cycle plants and USD 0.0661 for conventional combined cycle plants. Other natural gas technologies are as high as USD 0.1245/kWh.

Or as I said – six cents per kWh.

The report also estimates wind at USD 0.097/kWh, however it also assumes that the best sites for wind will be taken, and that generation will move to less favorable areas. The cost it estimates for the best sites is USD 0.082/kWh.

OK – eight to ten (not nine) cents per kWh.

Greentech media researcher Brett Prior gave similar numbers a 2010 report, but put wind at USD 0.074/kWh and combined cycle natural gas plants at USD 0.062/kWh.

Just for reference – we who live in New Orleans pay a retail rate of around USD 0.14/kWh – well above both of these costs. I highly doubt that Entergy is getting USD 0.06/kWh out of its cranky, inefficient old Michoud natural gas plant, which it runs to supply a portion of our demand at times of peak power usage.

Renewable energy in Louisiana – sugar and sun

Clearly this was a clumsy attempt to discredit renewables, but it was also a red herring. Like the rest of the Deep South, Louisiana has very limited land-based wind resources.

What we have, in spades, is biomass in the form of crop residues – notably sugarcane bagasse and rice hulls, as well as lumber mill residues. All of these residues are already brought to a central location for processing.

Bagasse is also already burned to supply steam and power – but not efficiently, as sugar mill owners cannot get a decent price for their power from Entergy, and thus do not invest in modern, efficient boilers.

We also have moderately good solar potential – though far better than Germany (the world solar leader), or Ontario (North America’s second largest solar market).

Solar is significant for our state for a number of reasons. It was noted during the panel that we get only five or so hours of peak solar output per day, which Mr. Rice used as an excuse to discredit solar as a source of power.

What Mr. Rice did not mention is that these are the five hours when we most need power, and when it is most expensive for Entergy to generate electricity to feed our need for, among other things, air conditioning.

This greater need for power during some periods is called peak load.

Solar and putting a price on peak load

What does supplying peak load cost, in terms of dollars and cents? I have been searching for an answer to this question for some time. Recently, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) put out a program for mid-sized renewables, which while lackluster (far better than any utility policy Entergy has put forward) offered a novel price approach – rates paid are for time of generation, both by time of day and month.

The lowest rate paid for the program is for generation at night during the winter, at USD 0.0443. The highest rate is for afternoons in summer months, at USD 0.160.

The TVA values power produced during peak periods almost four times as highly. Which is relevant because the TVA’s service area – Tennessee, Kentucky, and Northern Alabama and Mississippi – has a similar climate. If anything, peak power should be worth more in Louisiana, where the need for summer cooling is more intense.

So in truth, we should compare solar not to our average electricity rates, but some multiple thereof, as solar produces the most power during these periods. And suddenly solar is not so expensive.

I will also note that the choice of natural gas is the most favorable to Entergy. Entergy is the second largest operator of nuclear power plants, and last time I checked the River Bendd Plant (one of two nuke plants in Louisiana – the other, Waterford 3, is in Killona) was looking to install a new reactor.

The IEA’s estimate for “advanced” nuclear is USD 0.1139, which is actually quite favorable, as many estimates are putting nuclear much higher due to escalating costs for engineering services and steel, not to mention the inevitable cost overruns that the nuclear industry is famous for.

Of course, none of this includes the other costs associated with Entergy’s fuels of choice – nuclear and natural gas, including the poisoning of groundwater from fracking to obtain shale gas, the issues of spent fuel disposal from nuclear power, or multiple safety issues with both technologies.

Conclusion: the problem is our utility

Diversification of our energy sources to include renewable energy is a financially viable if not superior option for practically all regions of the world, Louisiana and the Deep South included. All that is needed are the policies to make this happen.

It would be wonderful if we could all sit down at the table, sing Kumbabaya, and build a clean energy economy. But some people are not interested in Louisiana developing its renewable energy potential.

Entergy wants to keep us dependent upon dirty, dangerous natural gas and nukes, and has fought tooth and nail, with small armies of lawyers, to assure that we do not develop 21st century clean energy industries. I saw this personally while part of the Alliance for Affordable Energy’s campaign for a renewable portfolio standard in 2009-2010.

So if you wonder why we have no real renewable energy development in Louisiana, and no “green jobs”, look no further than that large, dark building in the CBD. And your power bill.

October 15, 2010

Voting records on energy issues, Louisiana candidates in Nov 2, 2010 federal elections

Filed under: energy,environment,Louisiana,New Orleans Politics,The Feds — christian @ 10:41 pm

I’ve talked a lot on this blog of late about the importance of energy and environmental issues in the November 2, 2010 congressional elections, and I feel like it’s time to back that up with some data. Things like party lines are not always indicators of the way an elected official will vote on a particular issue, though for Republicans, voting patterns on party lines have been more clear lately.

So how do the candidates we are going to vote for in the November 2, 2010 election measure up on energy issues? Obviously I have my own opinions about which policies are the most important, but I decided it would me more complete and fair if I used the list of legislation collected by Project Vote Smart for the last two years. Here we go:

Louisiana Senatorial Candidates

U.S. Representative Charlie Melancon

HR1 – American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (“stimulus package”) – yes
HR2454 – American Clean Energy and Security Act (“cap and trade”) – no
HR5851 – Whistleblower protection for offshore oil workers – yes
HR2751 – “Cash for clunkers” – yes
HR3534 – Offshore drilling regulations – yes
HR4875 – Energy efficiency loans – yes

U.S. Senator David Vitter (incumbent)

HR1 – American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (“stimulus package”) – no
HR2454 – American Clean Energy and Security Act (“cap and trade”) – no vote taken
HR5851 – Whistleblower protection for offshore oil workers – folded into HR3534 – see below
HR2751 – “Cash for clunkers” – folded into unrelated bill*
HR3534 – Offshore drilling regulations – no vote yet
HR4875 – Energy efficiency loans – no vote yet

* – it would be unfair to rank a vote on this bill, as Cash for Clunkers became an amendment to a much larger spending bill in the Senate, so the vote by Vitter could have been for or against the larger bill, not this amendment.

Louisiana Second District Congressional Candidates

U.S. Representative Joseph Cao (incumbent)

HR1 – American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (“stimulus package”) – no
HR2454 – American Clean Energy and Security Act (“cap and trade”) – no
HR5851 – Whistleblower protection for offshore oil workers – yes
HR2751 – “Cash for clunkers” – yes
HR3534 – Offshore drilling regulations – no
HR4875 – Energy efficiency loans – no

Louisiana State Representative Cedric Richmond

Now, this is going to be a little different. Cedric Richmond has been in the Louisiana legislature, where the bills are different, and VoteSmart had no records, so I took a sampling of the bills that renewable energy advocates the Alliance for Affordable Energy supported in 2009, and added the solar tax credit passed in 2007.

2007 HB90 – solar tax credit – yes
2009 HB858 – expands eligibility for the solar tax credit – no
2009 SB224 – allows for construction of municipal finance program for solar and energy efficiency – yes
2009 HB733 “green jobs” tax credit – yes

Legislation sponsored in 2009:

H.B. 850 – Providing incentives to utility-scale renewable energy producers. Bill died in committee.

So there’s my data, as objective as I could find. The objective part ends here.


Key national bills: I personally think the stimulus (HR1) was the creme de la creme of progressive energy bills. The $23 billion for renewable energy projects has funded renewable energy projects in most states. The investments in regional passenger rail are critical to reducing petroleum usage, and hell, reducing traffic. Section 1603, which turned the federal solar tax credit into a grant has been critical for the solar industry since tax equity funding dried up with the recession. But don’t take my word for it – ask the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Second in importance I would rank HR 2454, the “cap and trade” bill. However, do not mistake that for an endorsement. The bill was over a thousand pages long and full of loopholes, but never mind that – cap and trade was the worst carbon regulation idea that has ever been taken seriously. I’m personally much more fond of greenhouse gas regulation at the EPA level, or at least a “cap and dividend” approach, as was sponsored by Chris Van Hollen (D-Delaware), that would refund the proceeds of the program to American public in our tax refunds. Better yet is the national renewable portfolio standard that Senator Udall (D-New Mexico) has proposed.

However, HR 2454 was a key bill and a barometer of how much a candidate supported the idea of carbon regulation. Needless to say, none of the three candidates who could have voted on it from Louisiana supported it.

The other bills, while important, kind of pale before these two, large measures.

Now, for an analysis of candidates – Melancon is a Blue Dog who is not progressive on energy issues. Nonetheless, he is the only one of Louisiana’s seven congressmen who voted for the stimulus. That was, in the words of our Vice President Joe Biden “a big f***ing deal”.

Vitter is a loyal member of the party of No and would have voted against ACES if he had the chance. While there isn’t much to see from his voting record, besides the “No” vote on the stimulus, that is because most of these bills couldn’t even make it to a vote in a Senate which has set a new bar for obstructiveness.

Joseph Cao: Cao voted as a loyal Republican on party lines in key energy votes, voting against the stimulus, cap and trade, and most every other key vote for the Obama Administration. That means that he was a disaster for progressive energy policies.

Cedric Richmond: Hard to say by the votes alone. I’ve seen the Louisiana Legislature vote almost unanimously on any uncontroversial bill that comes out of committee. So in Richmond’s “yes” votes, he was joined by nearly every other member of the Louisiana house.

However, I would also note the bill that he sponsored, H.B. 850. While the bill hadn’t a snowball’s chance in hell given the budget war between Jindal and the Legislature and never made it out of committee, it was by far the most aggressive bill I saw in that session for expanding renewable energy in the state. Judged by his legislative record, Richmond appears very supportive of progressive energy policies, and even a leader.

Feel free to comment, particularly if you have any other votes that you think should be tracked, or if you want data for other federal races in Louisiana.

September 15, 2010

Towards a politics of results, or I am voting Democrat for solar panels, high speed rail and wind turbine factories and you should too.

Filed under: environment,Louisiana,Other — christian @ 7:49 pm

Why I have returned to the Democratic Party: voting for results

For the first time in ten years, I have returned a staunch if critical supporter of the US Democratic Party in the 2010 congressional elections. Many of my friends will ask why, after ten years as an active Green Party member and someone critical of our economic system I am supporting the Democrats, a mainstream party that gobbles up corporate donations, is inconsistent in its support of working people and the environment, supports wars in foreign lands and generally doesn’t seem to have a consistent ideology. Hell, I didn’t even vote for Obama; I didn’t believe he would do much for us. I was wrong.

In short: I am voting Democrat for high speed rail, wind turbine factories and solar panels. Because I vote for results, and the Obama Administration and congressional Democrats have delivered.

I work for a company reporting on the global solar industry, and that position allows me to closely monitor the news in energy policy.* There has been a lot that President Obama and Secretary Chu of the DOE have done that I do not like; namely the loan guarantees to Southern Company to build new nuclear reactors in Georgia. However, the more I look into it, the more the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act or “stimulus package”) is appearing to be the most important piece of legislation passed in my lifetime, and one that will begin to put this nation on a path towards a better future in tangible ways.

*Disclaimer: the writings on this blog do not represent the positions of my employer and never have.

The Dangers of Global Warming and dependence on finite resources

Most of you, like most of the world, are aware of the danger that man-made Global Warming poses for us, our children and our world. You know about the shrinking glaciers, you know about the opening up of the Northwest Passage and the Arctic Ocean north of Russia to sea travel for the first time in recorded history. You may also know that Hurricane Expert Dr. Kerry Emanuel says that Global Warming gave Katrina the extra energy to destroy our poorly-made levees here in New Orleans. You may or may not know that record temperatures seriously damaged Russia’s wheat crop this year, and that flooding in Bangladesh continues to worsen. And you may or may not know that if sea levels rise, you can kiss South Louisiana goodbye.

You also know that coal, petroleum and natural gas are finite, while our appetite for energy grows every year. And you know what happens when we go looking for oil farther and farther off shore. You also know that even Alan Greenspan has acknowledged that our war in Iraq was all about oil supply. You also know that people don’t voluntarily stop using energy. Therefore, any sane leader would put mass transit, energy efficiency and renewable energy industries at the top of the list of national and international priorities.

Nurturing the seeds of clean energy and new mass transit industries

Every few days I write another article from another state on some renewable energy program that has been funded by the Recovery Act. Whether it is a wind turbine factory in New Orleans East, a lithium-ion battery plant in Michigan, high-speed rail on the West Coast, the Midwest and Northeast, or just another run-of-the-mill solar incentive program, the Recovery Act has cast seeds of this better future far and wide.

It is now up to us to nurture and grow these seeds. Historically, new industries have not sprouted whole; they are typically nurtured by states through their early stages until they can become competitive. Nations that are not allowed to do this, as historically has been the case in the “developing” world (which never quite gets to developed) remain economically stunted. China right now is pouring heavy state support into its renewable energy industries, because it knows that these are the industries of the future. If we want to compete, we have to do the same. Period.

The benefits of doing this are not only good manufacturing jobs but fewer wars and other catastrophes, both from the crises that will inevitably occur when we exhaust our fossil fuel resources, but from the changes that Global Warming will cause when it manifests as shifting climate patterns.

Of course, people must live in the short run as well, and I will note that among other things, the Democrats are responsible for extending unemployment insurance and forcing health insurance companies to stop discriminating on the basis of pre-existing conditions. It is also important to note that the Democrats’ new legislation has abandoned the “free-market” Clintonite era and is embracing economic nationalism, which is a fancy term for keeping good jobs in this country.

The Right has No Plan

Which is exactly why I am strongly, if critically supporting the Democratic Party this fall. The Republicans have no answer to these crises except to thwart renewables (with the exception of Schwarzenegger), and to continue to subsidize fossil fuel generation. Hell, David Vitter (R), our whore-mongering hypocrite of a Senator here in Louisiana, even suggested that we bail out BP, a foreign corporation, after they destroyed the Gulf, poisoned the shore, and lied about everything.

Now I do want to note that President Obama does not have a spotless record either. He has given with one hand and taken away with the other. His EPA utterly failed us in the BP Oil Flood, and he deserves to be taken to task for this. However, Obama was not alone. Thirty years of mostly Republican Presidents have been whittling down agencies like the EPA and OSHA to the point where they are a failed model of protection. I’m not letting Obama off the hook. He failed us. However, not only might Republicans have done even worse, but they are part of that failure by fighting against environmental regulation and the interests of working people.

The Republican Party, whether in its mainstream or Tea Party variety stand not only for racism, war, and the entrenched interests of the rich and corporations, in its most visceral form, but for quarterly profits over the future for our children. They don’t believe in health and safety regulation, and they have no plan for when the oil runs out. Instead, they substitute racially tinged paranoia, moralistic arguments and economic mystification.

Furthermore, they are lying about their opposition to Big Government. They support a militarized border with your and my tax dollars, as well as social programs that will lead to an expansion of prisons and law enforcement. The Right in this country gave us the $800 billion Iraq adventure that left hundreds of thousands dead. They want a Big Government and they will need taxes for it; only their Big Government will give you war, police and prisons instead of healthcare, education and jobs. Never forget that our military is our biggest source of federal government expenses.

We can’t let these bastards take over congress this fall. We have too much to loose.

Voting in the larger scheme of things

My friends have ask me from time to time what I think needs to be done. We need real structural change in this country; namely we need to build real institutions by, of and for working and poor people, we need to disband the large corporations and nationalize the commanding heights of the economy, and we need a government and a society focused on sustainability (which will only come from the first two). Voting Democrat won’t get you there. But there are long-term programs and short-term fixes. Voting is a minimal form of political activity, and isn’t as important as belonging to or starting a union at your workplace, but it is important at times. This is one of those times.

Look at the policies that matter for our children and our future. Stop voting on name or even personal reputation, but on policies. These people aren’t Sunday school teachers, we’re hiring them to do a job, and that is to vote for our interests. And I urge each and every one of you to get politically active this fall, because this election matters.

Voting for results in Louisiana elections

Now, I want to make clear that I still don’t support Democrats because they are Democrats. I support the Democratic Party at this present moment because they are giving us meaningful policies for our future, and the minute they stop, so does my support. Also, I do not support certain right-wing Blue Dog Democrats, like Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu. Landrieu, a servant of the oil industry, has consistently conspired with her buddy Senator Lisa Murkowski to undo any effective regulation of greenhouse gases. She is a traitor to the future of our state and will be remembered as such.

I do support Charlie Melancon. I don’t agree with everything that he does, but he alone among Louisiana’s congressional delegation voted for the stimulus, and for God’s sake: he’s running against Vitter. And I strongly support Cedric Richmond against Cao, because Cao voted against the stimulus, health care reform and expansion of public lands. I don’t care if he’s nice to talk to, he’s a pawn of the big money and votes against our interests time and time again. Don’t let Slick Joe fool you.

There are other important races in other parts of the nation. We can’t afford to lose; too much rides in the balance. Pollsters are already predicting a Republican victory this Fall, and they will be buoyed by the unlimited money of corporations now that we the Supreme Court has turned our elections over to them. But it is not over yet.

Various organizations like MoveOn.org will ask for your money. I support MoveOn, and while both are important I say it is more important to talk to your neighbors and get active than to give money. We can’t outspend the corporations but we can out-mobilize them. We had better, as we are engaged in a national struggle for the future of our nation and our world.

Go get her done.

May 4, 2010

Notes on a disaster: Louisiana pays again for our nation’s oil addiction

Filed under: environment,Labor,Louisiana,New Orleans Economy,The Feds — christian @ 9:05 pm

Like many people in South Louisiana, I have been utterly overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster represented by the Deepwater Horizon oil leak. To witness another catastrophe of this scale, less than five years after post-Katrina levee failures, is almost too much to comprehend. There is a tendency to block it out; to think that this really can’t be happening. But it is.

News accounts will talk of leaked memos, of containment strategies, of the small armies of volunteers and of the volume of oil. Thousands of barrels per day. First it was 1,000, then 5,000, and on April 30 we find out that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration thinks we could be facing a leak ten times that size, of 50,000 barrels per day. The numbers begin to lose meaning, because the truth is that we are screwed.

But this volume of oil is the only real thing. All the containment strategies are too late, the fires ineffective, the same with the dispersant chemicals.

A question of scale

This disaster didn’t happen on April 20. It happened long before, and all of this was just waiting. It is difficult to disaggregate how much of this is the result of safety failures on the part of BP and how much is the inherent risk we run with offshore drilling. This particular rig had a series of accidents, yet still was drilling offshore wells that set records for their depth. Obviously better safety procedures lower the risk of these kinds of accidents; but sooner or later, people make mistakes. In the offshore oil industry, like the nuclear industry, it is the magnitude of the consequences of these mistakes that is damning.

We’ve been sowing the seeds of this for roughly a century, by building an economy on the use of finite fossil fuel resources, which we now must go farther and farther to find, and by under-developing the regions where we extract these mineral resources, including lax workplace and environmental safety concerns.

And in the absurdity of this disaster, this is perhaps the most absurd thing; that we are so intently focused on utterly ineffectual short-term responses. It is not surprising that there is a lack of larger analysis in our short-attention span corporate media. Not surprising, but a dis-service nonetheless.

Multiple disasters

In this immediate, dramatic disaster, there is the background of the other, slower disaster: land loss in South Louisiana, accelerated by canals cut through the wetlands by oil companies for petroleum exploration and navigation. Non-profit Gulf Restoration Network estimates that we have lost 50% of the wetlands in the Gulf of Mexico already. Others throw around figures about how long it takes to lose a football-field sized chunk of land (under an hour).

But all of that is abstract until you stand on the edge of brackish water where people’s homes and businesses once were. Because this land loss has not only meant that South Louisiana residents, including in the city of New Orleans, are more vulnerable to hurricanes, but the displacement of entire communities. For those who live in South Louisiana and are flooded every time a major hurricane comes, sometimes every few years, it means a losing battle to hold on to land, community and ultimately culture.

The oil companies have never been held accountable for their role in this other, slower disaster. With the Horizon Deepwater leak, the livelihoods of many in these communities is on the line. Louisiana produces a large portion of the United States’ wild seafood. This seafood – boiled shrimp, oysters fried and raw, crabs, seafood gumbo – is an important part of the culture of South Louisiana, and has been a family business for many in rural South Louisiana for generations. The oyster beds offshore of Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes are already closed. We don’t know when they will open again. Shrimpers have already filed a lawsuit. Many shrimpers and oystermen, who have had to fight rising fuel costs, hurricanes and floods, and in the case of shrimpers, dumping of farm-raised shrimp from other nations, are now out of work again. Again this time, more will look for work elsewhere. In a cruel irony, many who have been forced out of shrimping have gone to work on the offshore oil rigs.

Louisiana as an underdeveloped petro-state

It may be hard to understand this outside of the Deep South, but it is not really that surprising that when this happened, that South Louisiana was the first place to be affected. The oil industry has been doing whatever it wants down here in our home-grown banana republic for a long time.

Huey Long, who created the foundation of modern Louisiana, was the first political leader to take on big oil and win substantial victories. Long paid for much of the economic modernization of the state (importantly roads and bridges) and the undergirding of social reproduction (schools, hospitals, textbooks) with oil money. He succeeded in using a portion of the mineral revenues to help create a mildly social-democratic order in the state, but failed to ever really control the oil companies. Long’s approach was not to nationalize, but, as he had said of the nation’s millionaires, to “file their nails and let them live.”

This petro-populist approach may have won some victories for poor and working people, but it left a legacy of a state dependent upon mineral revenues, and politicians who are utterly sold out to big oil companies. It has been a long time since Louisiana had strong labor unions, so the forces to counter these tendencies have been few and weak. Our “right to work” laws and anti-union culture have prevented unions from seizing the power that is necessary to bring workplace safety to the forefront, as unions have in other states. It’s common knowledge that the oil industry in refining and petrochemical processing gets sweeter deals and more leeway here in Louisiana, particularly in terms of environmental enforcement and health and safety.

The results of this oil fiefdom, coupled with a dismantling of health, safety and environmental laws at the national level over the last 30 years, leaves us in a situation where these kinds of disasters are entirely predictable. Dismantling regulations seems so distant and arcane, and yet ultimately these are the results.

August 31, 2009


Filed under: Class,Louisiana,New Orleans Politics,Other,The Feds — christian @ 1:12 am

I think I can speak for many of my fellow residents of New Orleans when I state that I wanted nothing to do with the Katrina Anniversary this year. Frankly, many folks have felt like that since 2006. At that time you really couldn’t help but remember the storm because so much of the physical evidence was here, in your face, day after day. By now, even though everyone’s lives have been permanently altered, many of the people I know are settling into a new reality. We want to move on. Many here will never be able to forget, so forgive those who want to.

I got the hell out of town. A trip to the beach seemed perfect. Of course, due to a number of unforseen circumstances, such as my friend Jewels almost getting arrested looking for my house (glad to know my part of the Irish Channel is well-patrolled), we ended up where the eye of the storm hit: Waveland, Mississippi. Go figure.

First we made it all the way out to Biloxi, where I got to check up on Sue at Le Bakery. I featured Sue in a radio piece I recorded about the Vietnamese community in Biloxi a few years ago, and was honored that she and all the Le Bakery staff remembered me. Of course, Sue made it easy; with her darling Southern Accent and her sign that “the bread will rise again”, it was too touching. That, and the vile disregard for the Vietnamese Community in the city’s official planning effort made for a hell of a story.

Biloxi looks pretty similar today, only with less debris. The empty lots still line stretches of Highway 90, steps leading to nothing, just like the ghosts of homes in the Lower 9th. The casinos are as big and as obscene as ever. The Vietnamese community in East Biloxi has largely not returned to their original neighborhood; similar to the gulf shore there is empty lot after empty lot. Sue says they’ve moved to the north part of town. However, also like New Orleans the official planning effort seems to have come to naught, so East Biloxi has been spared the fate of being erased with new casinos, hotels and a large park. (I have pity for planners. They’d be really dangerous people if anyone ever listened to them.)

Regardless, Le Bakery is still there. The banh mi, the Vietnamese sandwiches on French bread, are excellent, as are the sweets, including the yucca-coconut pastries.

However I can not speak as highly for the beaches in Biloxi. Despite the water being the temperature of God’s own bathtub, this part of the gulf features opaque brown water and you can walk out for about half a mile before the water rises above your knees. For someone from the West Coast like myself, this is hardly inspiring.

But Waveland was lovely. Taking 90 west from town, the water is clearer, and gently slopes in to the Gulf. We went in at a spot where Katrina had wiped our nearly everything, near a quansit-hut church, where the sign says “Katrina was big but God is bigger”. I was struck by how similar this expression of faith is to the Muslim saying “Allah akbar”. The clouds streaked the sky, and despite all the debris that must be somewhere in that water, there was nothing but mud in our toes and gentle waves.

For a little while I even forgot about the health care fight that is raging. In some ways it is welcome that now the rest of America is engaged in an issue that has been huge in post-Katrina New Orleans: access to health care. Sadly, it appears that many are engaged for all the wrong reasons; including an almost superstitious fear of “big government” (as if nearly a trillion dollars spent on foreign wars and spying on civilians under Bush was not big government). I am shocked at how many of my fellow Americans seem to equate Obama’s tepid version of a national health plan with Soviet-style central planning. Folks: wake up. The rest of the industrialized world has some form of universal health care, and they aren’t suffering under some awful tyranny; instead, they are healthier than we are because anyone can go to the doctor when they need to and get cared for. There are no death camps and there is no rationing. The closest thing to rationing that goes on is in this country, where those without coverage can’t get treated except in emergency rooms.

It would be one thing if those protesting the health plan were all affluent. But I see on television a number of what seems to be working people who have been so bamboozled by the right and the medical-industrial complex that they actually think they are better off under the current system. There really is no end to the ignorance some of my fellow Americans exhibit. This is the reason we’re last in geography, folks. Time to open at atlas once in a while, check out the BBC website, and learn about the rest of the world!

We can’t let a few misguided ignorant folks and wing-nuts get in the way of our having universal health care, just like any other advanced, affluent nation. This is personal for me. I for one spent over ten years without health coverage, and thank God I didn’t have any serious health problems. I am damn worried about how my brothers and I are going to take care of my mother’s medical expenses as she gets older. And I’m not even getting into my friends, most of whom are lucky to be healthy – now, because many of them don’t have medical coverage.

I’ve been lucky to make a few of the health care forums. Cao bullshitted us, but at least he had the courtesy to hold forums during the evening when working people could attend, whereas that worthless low-life Vitter had to hold his at 2:30 pm during a workday (Heelllloooo David… most of us aren’t running around on weekdays screwing prostitutes! We have jobs!). But the real prize goes to Mary Landrieu. A forum on Thursday at 2pm in Reserve? Now that you’ve made sure that the vast majority of those who can get there from the largest urban area in the state have cars and either don’t work or can get off Thursday afternoon, I’m sure you’ve had a real sampling of Louisiana, especially the uninsured. Way to go Mary.

For those of you outside the state, we in Louisiana have a bunch of the worst whores in government imaginable, and Mary Landrieu takes the cake – both for selling out to big pharma and the oil industry, giving us lip service all the while. For those of you here, it is time to get active, because you know for sure these swine – Vitter, Landrieu and Cao – aren’t going to do a damn thing unless you make them.

God is greater than this.

March 8, 2009

Huey Long lives. In Brooklyn?

Filed under: Class,Louisiana — christian @ 1:26 am

So those of you who know me personally are probably aware of the monster project I have been working on for the last few years, the book on public services and political movements in New Orleans, tentatively titled The New Deal In Reverse. Yesterday this seemingly endless effort got a shot in the arm with the publication of an article that outlines one of the historical arguments that the book makes, that Long influenced the second New Deal (the one where we got all the good social-democratic stuff like social security) by threatening Roosevelt. My old friend Ted Hamm agreed to take it for his arts/culture/politics weekly Brooklyn Rail.


Of course, it’s easier to write historically about Long given the economic crisis the nation has been experiencing. But why the emphasis on Long?

There’s a couple of reasons. First, it seems that radical movements for economic justice are something that we talk about happening elsewhere- perhaps in Latin America, in Russia one hundred years ago, but not in 20th century America. And if we do talk about such movements in America, they are usually marginal and/or doomed, like the IWW, American Communists in the 1930′s, or revolutionary union movements in 1970′s Detroit. This approach implies that such ideas are not intrinsically American or that such movements can never succeed here. Which is hogwash.

Long was not marginal. As flawed as it was, his ‘Share The Wealth’ movement drew millions of adherents. He was a powerful national political figure who had a shot at becoming president, and he scared the wealthy, the powerful and the complacent. He also motivated Southern whites on the basis of class, while so may of his contemporaries instead focused white resentments against African-Americans. He was a genuine American radical and he left a profound mark on the state and the nation.

This is also an argument about agency. Before studying these histories, the story that I have heard my whole life about the South is that progressive movements are something imported from the outside and imposed on inherently regressive Southern whites. If something good happens, it is because yankees did it – from freeing the slaves to the New Deal to the Civil Rights movement.

In these stories the South doesn’t get credit for being a crucible of social change, and, in some cases, for leading the nation. Pop history of the New Deal is no different, where Roosevelt the great father comes down from Washington to help the poor. It took a lot of reading to learn exactly how specific social pressures influenced the New Deal, and how some of the most significant of those pressures came from the South – both in the case of the first New Deal, which was driven by a desire to derail Alabama Senator Hugo Black’s Thirty Hour Bill (Rhonda Levine covers this well in Class Struggle and the New Deal) and the second New Deal, crafted when a strike wave and Huey Long were both scaring the hell out of Roosevelt.

Now I’m certainly not saying that it was healthy to put this social motion in the hands of one person, or that Long was an ideal champion- far from it. But it’s high time that Huey Long and the poor whites who supported him got credit for their part in changing 20th century America for the better.

It’s a little ironic that this has come out so far away, in Brooklyn. Another article on Long is scheduled for Against the Current this May, and if any of my readers know of a suitable Louisiana publication to talk about Long’s legacy in, Share the Wealth and send it my way.