Monday, July 17, 2017

Beat the clock doctrine

The first two decades of the 21st Century may be the golden age of Disaster Capitalism. Naomi Klein's coinage "Shock Doctrine" has become popular almost to the point of cliche as a means of describing the political opportunism that follows and feeds off of crisis events. Wars, terror attacks, natural or man-made disasters furnish the means of subverting laws and systems that would ordinarily slow or prevent ethical abuses ranging from petty graft on up to civil and human rights violations. As Ray Nagin once said, "There is big money in disasters. Huge money."

This is nothing new, of course. Emergencies have always presented these kinds of opportunities. But the reason Klein's description is particularly relevant now is it suggests a stage of capitalism where the "big money" seems to be made during the course of destructive rather than creative events.  We aren't bending the rules and passing out money under the table to build bridges and roads or put a man on the moon. Instead we are spending it on "recovery" from the disasters we have brought on ourselves or "resilience" against the disasters we will bring on ourselves in the future.  The very term "resilience" implies fatalalism.  These are pessimistic, cynical times. We expect bad things to happen. Our leaders aren't planning to overcome or prevent the bad things. They are scheming to help themselves and their peers profit from the bad things as they happen.

Mitch Landrieu talks about resilience all the time.  So much so, in fact, that he stretches the term beyond meaning altogether. Now we can have a resilient affordable housing plan, a resilient COSTCO, a resilient bike share gimmick, a resilient Four Seasons Hotel, and so on.

Naturally, we also have a resilient French Quarter "security" plan.  For some reason, this involves street and sewer line repairs.  Probably we shouldn't complain too loudly about that.  Essentially what's happened is the mayor has talked the convention center into paying for millions of dollars worth of necessary infrastructure work. He shouldn't have to jam that into a wholly unnecessary surveillance and policing project in order to get access to this money. But it's one way to take advantage of the "shock" of a perceived crime wave in order to get around structural budgetary obstacles.

Of course, it also helps get around a few other inconveniences like the public bidding process, for example.
Rather than put the centerpiece of Landrieu’s $40 million citywide public safety plan out to bid as a capital project -- as is typically done for work of this size -- the city used an existing pavement maintenance contract to get the project started more quickly.

The three-year specialty pavement maintenance contract was put out to bid in December and the city selected Hard Rock Construction’s low bid of $3.9 million on Feb. 2. That was a little more than a week after Landrieu unveiled a public safety plan that included sprucing up Bourbon Street, fixing its long-standing drainage issues and converting it to a pedestrian mall.

But Hard Rock’s vice president, Jan Langford, said her company had no idea when it was selected that its pavement maintenance deal would be used to perform the far more involved Bourbon Street work.
It's pretty nice when you can just rush through all these details. That way nobody has time to worry about little stuff like  which Landrieu cousin might be coming out ahead.
Adding to the political intrigue with this project, Landrieu’s critics took to Facebook in recent days to complain that his cousin Renee Landrieu’s company, Landrieu Concrete and Cement Industries, had trucks on the job.
Maybe that's unfair. There are so many Landrieus running around out there that odds are anybody you encounter in the course of your daily business has about a 1 in 4 chance of being one.  So let's not judge. Instead, like David Hammer does in this story, we'll be sure to mention the fact but distance ourselves by sourcing it to "Facebook critics."  We also enjoyed the way Hammer explains that Hard Rock contributed $2,000 to Mitch AND $2,000 to Nagin during the 2006 mayoral election suggesting to us that as long as you bribe both sides there's probably nothing unethical going on.

But let's not get too bogged down in all that. Instead, the key bit from that story comes where Hammer asks Public Works Director Mark Jernigan what explains the irregular process.  The answer is, we're in a hurry.
Asked why such a complex and critical project would not be bid out separately as a capital project, Jernigan said there wasn’t enough time to go through such a long contract-procurement process.

He said the project needs to be finished by the end of the year. Asked what the rush was, he said it was important “to minimize the construction impacts and also to make sure it's integrated with the citywide public safety program.”

Asked if it had to be done by the end of the year to avoid construction during the city’s 300th anniversary celebrations in 2018, he repeated that it was important to finish the work as soon as possible.
And there we see the standard Landrieu move come back into play.  You don't need an actual disaster in order to play disaster capitalism. It turns out you can create an emergency situation simply by imposing a deadline.  Not every ticking clock needs to be attached to a bomb.  All that's necessary is to get people to buy into the premise.

Call it Beat The Clock Doctrine. It's been the primary motivator of Mitch's agenda throughout his term in office.  It was absolutely imperative that we finish the Loyola streetcar in time for the Superbowl.  It was crtical that we open the St. Roch Market in time for the tenth Katrinaversary. It's important that we finish Bourbon Street before the Tricentennial. No time to consider the long term consequences, of course. Does that streetcar to nowhere improve public transit or just move tourists around slowly?  Will the festival marketplace  be an affordable food source or a luxury entertainment? Will Bourbon Street be a public place or Disneyfied pedestrian mall? Que sera with all that. The important thing is that we get it all done right now.

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