Politics, Prisons, and Entergy- 10 Thoughts During Hurricane Issac

1.  If we treat storms that are labeled Category 1 as if they are Katrina’s mighty siblings, then we run the risk of numbing ourselves and tuning people out when a Category 4 or 5 blows through in another decade.

2. Entergy is not working “around the clock,” as claimed.  Despite calm weather, mobile generators, and massive construction worker “daylighting” gear, not a truck has been spotted past the regular work day.  In fact, they can all be seen in convoys around 6pm going back to their hotels.  Where they do arrive, many workers can be seen standing around.  A crew of 13 trucks, including a photographer and videographer, spent all day replacing a telephone pole outside my house.  They said power would be on “in a bit” about seven hours ago.

3.  Despite being under what appeared to be martial law, including a loosely enforced curfew for a few days, I heard no talk of fearing for one’s safety.  Police and National Guard patrolled the streets with businesses, to protect the likely commercial targets for breaking and entering.  It is interesting that this is now commonly called “looting,” a term historically associated with war plunder done by occupying armies.  During Katrina, we saw that Black people in search of food were considered “looters,” while White people were “scavenging” for essential supplies.  Ultimately, New Orleans has not had any more burglaries or breaking and entering cases than in any normal week.  The difference is that, with no television, people are not assailed with fear-mongering messages about all the crime.

4.  On that note, a new video bluntly illustrates how the $228 billion dollar American prison system is impacting everyone.

5.  Which slides right into the issue of political elections.  We are pelted with snippets about the slight differences between Republicans and Democrats.  Let us first consider the fate of our nation is not tied up in moralistic issues.  No disrespect to those who truly believe that America’s fortunes are connected with our level of “sin” (such as fornication, abortion, homosexuality, and the like), but most political analysts wouldn’t put the Sinometer as the peak predictor of anything.

When we look at issues that each create or strain billions of dollars: Homeland Security, foreign deployments, national surveillance, taxing the wealthy, public works infrastructure, Medicare, unemployment benefits, outsourcing, social security, education, bailouts, Foreclosure Crisis… we struggle to see the party differences.  A new article by Bruce Dixon succinctly illustrates this massive overlap between Obama’s administration and that proposed by Romney (and recent history of the Republicans).

6.  So why vote if there is so much in common amongst the Republocrats?  Many have long-since opted out, as few politicians have made a bona fide outreach to the unregistered or unlikely voter.  Consider that with billions of dollars spent on national and local elections, nobody will knock on every door.  Obama, Romney, and your multi-million dollar statewide candidates will only knock on the doors of “likely voters” in their party or registered as Independents.  This is the standard Get Out The Vote (GOTV) strategy.  So basically, if half your state is registered, and about two-thirds of them are in your chosen party or independent, and half of those are “Frequent” or “Likely” voters (based on their recorded history), this means about 25% of your state’s residents are truly encouraged to participate.  The rest are all irrelevant pawns.

And yet with all subtle dissuasion and legal disenfranchisement (nearly 6 million Americans are barred due to a conviction) there are still important reasons to vote.  Many true differences are sorted out in the Primary phase, when Democrat A is vastly different than Democrat B, or C.  The winners will go unopposed in the General Election because our districts are overwhelmingly stratified by party.  The more local the race, the more likely there are changeable issues at stake.  Be it city council, school board, judge, or state legislature: this is where people can have an impact.  Politicians in D.C. are hardly connected to their constituents back home, as they begin to hire from across the nation while being influenced by large multinational corporate donors.  Yet a local state rep still lives around the corner, and still needs to respond to community meetings and face the music.

7.  As to responding: I called the city to report a large tree branch dangling like a guillotine over the street, along with a power line cut and hanging outside the entrance to a school.  The city put in a work order, and a “priority” as people and kids are walking under it without any clue to look up.  Then I called Entergy, a company with no better reputation than PG&E or National Grid (as apparently energy companies routinely hold the villain role in the communities they serve).  Entergy wanted to know a customer’s account number so they could log it in.

I said “I’m sure everyone on that street is a customer, including the school, as you have a monopoly on electricity in New Orleans.”  She still needed an account number.  I said “listen, if you can’t find this well-known street intersection, and don’t care about protecting the people of New Orleans from your own equipment, I don’t know what to tell you.”  Again, she asked for an account number.  I hung up.

Later that day, the city came and got the huge branch out of the cables- I figured they would have more pull with getting Entergy off their ass.  Today Entergy was out there making a promo video, replacing the pole and a ton of ripped cables.  I doubt my phone call will make it into the commercial, with some employee unable to input this major work order… for lacking an account number.

8.  New Orleans didn’t flood from this Category 1 storm.  It is protected by levees that underwent billions of dollars in improvements.  There are many surrounding communities that are not levee protected, and that is what you are seeing on the news.  This city is not the only place in Louisiana, and people should recognize that if they worry about residents here: they should be twice as concerned for these other parishes.

Judging by the number of people who left town for a minor hurricane, it appears that those with the most resources are least likely to be on hand if there is another tragedy.  It might be wise for the government to create emergency supply stations for those who stay to help those who need it.  Nothing could be worse than recreating a scenario where Good Samaritans become the enemy of police and military, as sometimes happened during Katrina.

9.  When people still have running water, flushing toilets, and gas stoves… it can’t be too bad.  French Quarter and Central Business District never lost power (note to tourists), and many a bar stayed open for those trudging through the rain.  I sure did.  Losing television, internet, and AC in the deep south is an inconvenience, but not a travesty.

10.  Lots of people lost their income this past week, so consider visiting New Orleans and spreading the money around.

About Bruce Reilly

Bruce Reilly is the Deputy Director of Voice of the Ex-Offender in New Orleans, LA. He is a graduate of Tulane Law School and author of NewJack's Guide to the Big House. Much of his writing can be found on www.Unprison.org.
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  1. Pingback: Hurricane Profiteers: Entergy? or Intren, Inc.? | unprison

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