Canadian Elections Primer

Look for a Conservative Minority Government as a result of next Monday's federal elections.

My seat predictions, a week out from the voting.

Conservatives: 130 to 140
Liberals: 80 to 90
Bloc Quebecois: 55 to 60
NDP: 30 to 35


Why are the Conservatives going to win? Well, to put it very simply, the (centirst, in a Canadian context, center-left in an American context) Liberals have now been in power for something going on 12 years. While Canada has generally done well under their leadership, and while the Liberal Party is considered the "natural party of government" in Canada (having been in power for 78 of the last 110 years), the Liberals have been wracked by a series of scandals. On their own, the Liberals might have been able to whether these scandals, but combined with being in power for such a long strech of time, many Canadian voters have come to believe that is time for another party to be in charge too ensure that Canadian democracy remains vibrant. Liberal dominance during the '90s (sometimes having overwhelming majorities, at one point controlling 101 of 105 "ridings" or seats in Ontario) was greatly aided by a split between the traditional party of the center-right, the Progressive Conservatives (typically called the Tories, as in Britain) and a new more explicitly right wing party, called, over time, Reform and the Alliance, largely born in Canada's most conservative province, Alberta, whose goal was largely to create a party in the mirror image of the American GOP. This project largely failed, as the Reform/Alliance were viewed as too closely aligned to the sectional politics of the Canadian West and too right wing by most Canadian voters, especially in the crucial province of Ontario. In 2004, Reform cum Alliance thus merged with the Progressive Conservative Party to form the new Canadian Conservative Party.

 In 2004, the Conservatives looked poised to win power, but new leader Stephen Harper's ties to the old Reform Party, his ideologically-driven think-tank past (largely seen as advocating the kinds of policies - vis-a-vis Canadian federation as well as more conventional right wing policies), his poor campaigning, the undiscipline of his newly formed party, doomed the Conservatives to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. However, the subsequent Liberal minority government - while not especially bad in terms of economic management, and quite good from a progressive social perspective - has continued to be dogged by scandal, a lack of new ideas, and new PM Paul Martin's generally mediocre leadership skills. Thus, in 2006, with a newly revamped party, platform, and campaign style, Stephen Harper appears set to become Canada's 22nd PM.

What does this mean? Certainly Harper is ideologically sympathetic to the right, mostly in terms of the economy. He is also ideologically a "decentralist," as in the past he has advocated a strategy of building a "firewall" around the province of Alberta, protecting it from federal imposition vis-a-vis the use of the province's extensive natural resources (oil, above all) and undesireable "welfarist" mandates (from whence he hails). However, his recent campaign has largely tried to muffle (what in Canada, although not in the US) are regarded as extreme social/cultural positions, if not from Harper (who is not esp. seen as an agent of the the Canadian cultural right), but from his candidates, upon whom the Party has imposed a strong and effective discipline. Certain of the more "flamboyant""socons" have been deselected as candidates. His campaign has largely focused on the following: Liberal corruption, arrogance, and sleave, targeted tax cuts (for the "masses," a reduction in the national sales tax, for business a reduction on capital gains), a small increase in the Canadian military's size, a stipend of $1,300 to all Canadian parents with small children, some noises on law an order, and a promise of a "free vote" on the recently passed Same Sex Marriage law passed by the Liberal government.  He is also recently backed away from earlier (in 2003) support for the Iraq War and has promised not to send Canadian troops to the conflict if elected. Frankly, there is not much here that will look out of place in the Democratic Party campaign in 2006 and 2008.

Many in Canada remain skeptical of Harper, not believing that the new Conservative agenda will in fact be the agenda once elected, and that a "secret platform" will be unveiled. There are good reasons for this skepticism, as Harper past work with the Reform Party and as think tanker, particularly in the 80s and 90s, suggests he would (or at least, would have) desired to replicate a kind of northern Gingrich-style revolution. However, in must be said that even though I think Harper would like to govern to the right of where his current platform is, I think he changed to a degree since becoming more intimately involved in electoral politics, esp. on a national stage. The Reform project failure, the experience of 2004 in particular have chastened at least elements of the old Reform Party/Albertan wing of Canadian politics, recognizing that, in order to govern Canada, one has to make compromises with the ex-Progressive Conservatives (who are a not insubstantial part of the new Conservative Party) as well as with "middle Canadian" sentiment, esp. in Ontario. Finally, the fact his government will almost certainly be that of a minority will limit any "secret agenda" he may possess. While I personally think Harper's calculations and what he believes is possible (if not his fundamental ideological orientations) has changed over time, we really will not know the upshot until he begins to govern. Evidence for a "stealth agenda" exists (and some have made the comparison to Bush's 2000 "compassionate conservatism" schtick, although I think this comparison is quite superficial), but I personally think that something like the Bush in 2000 vs. 2001 will not play out, for reasons of principle, electoral calculation, and internal Conservative disagreement.

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The Myth the Democrats' NSA position is "out of the mainstream"

I write this in response to an egregrious Joe Klein piece - which is part of a larger, although somewhat undefined phenomenon - which suggests that the Democratic position standing against unchecked executive power and in favor of civil liberties, even when the sensitive issue of terrorism is involved, is a sure-fire political loser. Klein's position - bolstered by not much more than his own gut, as was Marshall Wittman's several weeks ago - is just simply wrong. As the most recent polling suggests, which I will summarize below:

While the Democratic position is not the slamdunk majority position on every question, even a fairly negative reading of the evidence - which I take from CBS news wonderful, very detailed polling (from 1/10/06) on the issue - would tend to suggest the Democratic position is if anything a net positive, and certainly not a political loser.

For example, the only question where George Bush's position polls more favorably - and here, it is only by one point - is on the following (and pay careful attention to the wording, which puts Bush's position in a favorable light):

"After 9/11, President Bush authorized government wiretaps on some phone calls in the U.S. without getting court warrants, saying this was necessary in order to reduce the threat of terrorism. Do you approve or disapprove of the President doing this?"

To this, 49% approve and 48% disapprove. I think it is safe to say that puts Bush's argument in a favorable light, framing the controversy in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, without any reference to the longer question of executive power and checks and balances. And even so, Bush's position is even with the Democrats.

And this is as good as it gets for Bush.

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Why the Personal Can't Always Be Political

A slightly provocative title, if one knows one's recent US history (hint: a reference to the women's movement from the 1970s), but really, my diary has nothing to do with feminism or woman's issues. Rather, I'm talking about the rather recent debates that have been roiling Kos since Barack Obama's post. My basic point is this: because of the nature of the US political system, that what one wants ideally from a politician can very rarely be achieved on a national level in its entirety. As such, one frequently has to be able to separate what one believes personally from what one supports politically to achieve success on the national level. Allow me to elaborate.

Basically, I have many views - or at least am open to many views - that I would never demand a national politician in the Democratic Party support. For example, I think all drugs currently deemed illegal should be decriminalized. I think at the very least marijuana should be. But I know this is not a position that could achieve mainstream support in the current incarnation, and would be electoral poison were a Democratic Presidential candidate attempt to run on such a platform. This does not mean I abandon my beliefs. But it does mean I am realistic about what can be achieved through the political process in the short term.

Simply put, it strikes me that many people here are so heavily invested personally in the political process that they aren't able to do so. And I think the reaction to Obama as well as all the hyperbolic rhetoric about the SCOTUS nominees demonstrates this. I think an argument can be made for the Dems opposing both Roberts and now Miers, as well as the sagacity of Reid's decision on the filibuster compromise. None present the Democrats with "good" options, except maybe the filibuster compromise, but even here I think the Democrats - had they chosen to gamble, which a more uncompromising would have represented - could have ended up in a worse position. Thus, Reid's decision was not a "sell out"; neither are (were) the votes on Bush's SCOTUS nominees. He took his calculations based on what he thought were the best options, both short term and long term, given the circumstances he found himself. And based on his actions more generally since he became minority leader, I am confident he did so because he has the best interest of the political and policy goals of the broad center-left coalition that is the Democratic Party at heart. The political is by definition an arena of limited possibilities: and the Democratic Party's are trying to make the best out of limited set of options.

To put it another way, in many countries, governments are formed by coalitions after elections. Probably most democracies function this way: Germany, Italy, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, and currently, Canada represent a short list of nations governed by coalitions. Superficially, the US isn't. But, I would argue, de facto, that it is, and that the superficial unity of the major parties makes people demand "purity." But in reality, the Democratic and Republican Parties are grand coalitions in all but name, whose only distinction from the ruling governments listed above is that the coalition forms before the election campaign begins, not after. Now I think there are strong arguments to be made that the coalition style governments above are more democratic and more responsive to people's needs. But, also, a counter argument can be made that they are much less stable, and accordingly, much less effective. A quick glance at Italian politics since WWII would tend to suggest this. But I digress. The point in all this is is that by choosing to participate in the Democratic Party, you have chosen to participate in a coalition. And by definition, participation in such a coalition means you aren't always going to get your way.

I'm sure we all have our issues that are currently "off the radar" or, alternatively, "out of the mainstream." My comment about drug laws serves as just one example. The point is that unless I want to give up on electoral politics on a national level, I know - a priori - that I "can't always get what I want," and that I cannot define myself and my well-being and happiness on whether or not the Democratic Party closely mirrors my personal beliefs. Because its not going to. All I can hope for is to be a part of a coalition - the Democratic Party - which is going to move the country in ways that more closely reflect how I think than the alternative - the Republican Party. And at this point in time, I'm pretty damn sure the last sentance is true.

If you want the personal to be much more closely mirrored, you need to do so on an activist or advocate at the local political level. Talk to your neighbor or acquaintance about what you believe and why you believe it. Form a union (God knows we need more). Join a third party in a local election. Vote for more left wing or "unorthodox" candidates who have a chance. Campaign for public transport. There are many, many things one can do.

But when it comes to national politics, it is simply not realistic to expect similar things. To become president in such a large country, you need the votes - to even have a chance of having your views represented - of many people who might think very differently and have a very different set of "personal" beliefs or priorites than yourself. In short, you need a coalition. To ignore this fact is to doom yourself to frustration and perhaps, even worse, to be detrimental to the causes you support in the first place.

All You Need to Know About Tony Blair

This is a blog primarily devoted to American politics, although we make significant forays into foreign politics as well. But the following is not significant just in terms of its consequences for Britain. It is significant because it demonstrates the utter bankruptcy of Tony Blair's "model" for the American Democratic Party. I often get annoyed with people who bash the "DLC" (understood broadly, not simply as the organization) because I think the centrist tendancy and centrist ideas are vital to the Democratic Party, in terms of developing ideas and winning elections. However, what the following demonstrates is that Tony Blair is essentially a right wing politician. He is not a "modernizer." He is not a "centrist." He is not "DLC." He is a right winger who has successfully managed to take over a political party broadly out of sync with his own politics and instincts.

Anyway, I write this as a response to a fantastic article penned for today's Guardian by Jonathan Freedland. A quick note on Freedland: he is a genuinely centrist columnists, sympathetic to New Labour, if not a "true believer." Thus, this makes what Freedland has just written important: that Tony Blair is a right wing politician leading a center-left party. Many (falsely and disingenously in some cases) claim that people want Blair gone because they want to take the Labour Party back to the left, to Old Labour, to uncompromising socialism. Hardly. We want Gordon Brown to take office because we want to take Labour back to the center, back to New Labour. Hence the confusion some people have when they observe Brown is not a full-blooded socialism. Well exactly. But he's also not a right winger either, which is what Blair is.

On to Freedland's words, which I will quote for you at length:

You've got to hand it to Rupert Murdoch - he still knows a good story when he hears one. Like any good journalist, his antennae twitch, and he is overwhelmed by the urge to tell the world what he knows. No wonder he was bursting last Friday to tell a New York gathering about his latest confidential chat with Tony Blair. Turns out, he whispered, that while the PM was in India, he had watched BBC World's coverage of Hurricane Katrina. "And," Murdoch explained, "he said it was just full of hate for America and gloating about our troubles."

Of course Murdoch couldn't keep that to himself. For that one little sentence speaks volumes about the British prime minister, about what he believes and where he now stands. It is a gem, worthy of the closest examination.

Freedland's article just gets better. Keep reading . . .

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Contradictions, contradictions

As I write, Bushco and its attendent spinners and PR flaks have opened up two lines of attack

First they say no one could have foreseen these results, then they say, yes, the results were foreseen, but it's the Democrats at the local and state levels that are to blame.  Which is it?

If the first is true, how can the second also be true?

Just Asking.


Via America Blog comes this summary from Editor and Publisher.

This time, during a catastrophe, the president did not merely dither for seven minutes, but for three days, and his top advisors followed suit....

While a rising chorus in the press has taken the White House, FEMA and the Pentagon to task for performing miserably in their response to the human disaster on the Gulf Coast, few have focused on the most telling aspect of the entire failure. It's not just incompetence. It's a shameful lack of concern: The 9/11 "My Pet Goat" dithering on an administration-wide scale.

Simply stated, the president and his top advisers chose vacation over action.

While the media has done a good job in portraying the overall deadly failure of leadership, it has not focused enough on this deadly dereliction of duty....

This follows Bush himself remaining on vacation for more than two days after the storm hit, despite acknowledging this was the worst disaster in the nation's history. He did take a trip during those days, not back to Washington but out to San Diego to deliver a political speech comparing his Iraq war to World War II. It got little play because nearly everyone else in the country, besides his inner circle, was focused on New Orleans instead. If this didn't have fatal consequences one would be tempted to merely say: Serves him right.

But at least Bush did start heading home late Wednesday. As he did, Secretary of State Rice was still enjoying her vacation in New York.

In fact, that night she enjoyed a few good yucks while attending the silly Broadway play "Spamalot." Ironically, the Bush team's performance this week did indeed seem like something out of a Monty Python skit. Each, in his or her own way, took a bunch of "silly walks."

Condi also played tennis with Monica Seles and on Thursday went on a shoe-shopping spree on Fifth Avenue until a fellow customer yelled at her for not doing her job and bloggers exposed all of this. Then she hurriedly headed back to Washington. Turns out she was overdue in getting a grip on offers to help that were pouring in from overseas governments and organizations.

Paging Andrew Card: Turns out he was Bush's Maine man....

While the 9/11 "My Pet Goat" episode was certainly illuminating, it's not certain what might have worked out better that day had the president dropped the book and taken action. But his failure to grab the reins in the hurricane catastrophe for three days this week probably doomed hundreds, or more, to death.

Now certainly, the relevant local and (especially) state authorities deserve some blame here. But in a catastrophe of this magnitude, covering several states, an disaster area "the size of Great Britain" (George Bush's own description), simple common sense dictates that the buck ultimately stops with the federal government.

If I have any problem with this article, it is that I think the comparison made to "My Pet Goat" in fact minimizes the sheer incompetence of the administration's response. I've always felt the "My Pet Goat" criticism was a bit of cheap shot. Clearly, the Bush administration was, in fact, on top of the events of 9/11 within a day of them having occurred. In the aftermath of Katrina, charitably, one could say the response began on Wednesday night, but it was not until Friday that any sense was given that the government, a) understood the sheer magnitude of what had occurred, and b) was able to implement any kind of plan to mitigate its effects. So, in other words, what took less than 24 hours in the wake of 9/11 took four days in the case of Katrina, a disaster whose direct human and material costs is going to be much higher. Simply put, I had the feeling for much of this week that the federal government ceased to function.

Indeed, that the Bush administration and its various fellow travellers and PR flacs are right now so desperately trying to deflect blame - "we couldn't have anticipated this,""its Blanco's fault,""its Nagin's fault" (needless to say were not just talking about New Orleans or Louisiana here) - shows they know as much.

Kanye West

"George Bush doesn't care about black people!" - Kanye West

For those of you who don't yet know, these were the final words of an unsripted rant by probably the most popular and artistically talented rapper in the world right at a primetime benefit show on NBC last night.

Here is West's an extended quote:

I hate the way they portray us in the media.  "If you see a black family it says they are looting if you see a white family it says they are looking for food. . . (unkwown) . . . the black people, the less well off, as slow as possible. I mean -- this is -- red cross is doing everything they can. We already realize a lot of the people that could help are at war right now, fighting another way. And they've given them permission to go down and shoot us. . . . George Bush doesn't care about black people . . .

At which point, NBC struggled frantically to cut West off. I sense this is not going to play at all well in white America, but I also sense that this is a sentiment that is being felt acutely in the black community and I think his remarks will largely seen here in a positive light. And, this, in part, is my point.

As I said in my post, from yesterday, if nothing else, this crisis is going to relaunch race into the center of American public life in a way I don't think it has been for a while. Maybe since the LA riots of '92. I think it also going to put into sharper focus questions of economic inequality in a way it has not been probably since the early 90s as well. I don't know how I feel about all of this, because I don't think the ensuing dialogue is going to pretty. You already see the ramping up of not-so-thinly veiled racism in many of the more popular right wing websites in this country. In this sense, I think both sides - black anger and white racism - are going to continue to feed off each other in an escalating spiral. Here are some examples taken from free republic from yesterday:

1. "My understanding is we are supposed to house several thousand at Reunion Arena in Dallas as well.

. . . we need the zeroist of zero tolerance when it comes to behavior in these refugee camps. I'm not in any mood to put up with bussed-in criminals. We've got enough grown in our own backyard."

2. "Oh hell, we've got the illegals to take care of already - what's a few bunch of thousands more legal citizens in our backyard that we'll need to care for?

It already takes about 8-16 hours to be seen at the local emergency rooms because of the primary care being provided (for free) to the illegal aliens...

Heck, maybe they'll stay & drive the illegals out and take their jobs away - and wouldn't that be an interesting development?"

  1. "Here's the thing. The Astrodome is not the place for housing this many people for even 2 weeks much less a minimum of 6 months. We are talking about 20 to 30 thousand people with NO privacy and in an area that is already one of the most high crime areas of Houston. These folks, many single and many, as have been shown, have no inhibitions to take what they want are going to sit quietly in that building without taking advantage of the areas many delights i.e Prostitution, drugs and the whole gamut of entertainment'. This is a disaster in the making."

  2. "The Astrodome has a lot of parking around it. It's a fair hike and a tall fence before you get to much else of civilization except for the football stadium. If the National Guard is there to treat these folks like it was Gitmo, it might not be that big a problem. But if they keep the doors unlocked and let these people just wander everywhere unchecked, it will be a major problem. And just wait until Jesse and Al and the ACLU show up demanding this and that. Wait until the lawsuits start.

I hope somebody buys a bunch of Eddie Murphy and Cedric the Entertainer DVDs to put on the Jumbotron. That might just keep things down to a roar."

5. "My prediction is that Jesse Jackson declares himself pastor of the Astrodome. Recognizing the hardship of his flock, he will only require tithing of 5% of their FEMA stipend."

Hat tip to Pam Spaulding. Now I suppose this isn't "racist" in the sense they don't actually say "nigger," but the subtext is, well, rather strong.

Needless to say, I think this kind of thing is going to continue for a while time. What the Katrina disaster has done is opened the cellar door on some of those issues that lying seething beneath the sometimes placid calm of the American body politic - most specifically, race and class. Just as I knew when I work up the morning of September 11 in a Gainesville, Florida motel to hear what had just unfolded was going to transform American politics and society for good, I felt the same way by Tuesday night this week. Indeed, I think we are entering a new post- post- 9/11 phase in American political life. This doesn't mean that everything post 9/11, pre Katrina will no longer be. No. What I mean is that the kind of debates and issues that largely framed and animated our national discourse are now going to change. Whether or not this is a good thing, I have no idea.

The Geopolitics of Katrina

Once again, courtesy of my favorite British blogger, Jamie Kennedy, quoting from the indispensable Stratfor.

The oil fields, pipelines and ports required a skilled workforce in order to operate. That workforce requires homes. They require stores to buy food and other supplies. Hospitals and doctors. Schools for their children. In other words, in order to operate the facilities critical to the United States, you need a workforce to do it -- and that workforce is gone. Unlike in other disasters, that workforce cannot return to the region because they have no place to live. New Orleans is gone, and the metropolitan area surrounding New Orleans is either gone or so badly damaged that it will not be inhabitable for a long time...
It is in this sense, then, that it seems almost as if a nuclear weapon went off in New Orleans. The people mostly have fled rather than died, but they are gone. Not all of the facilities are destroyed, but most are. It appears to us that New Orleans and its environs have passed the point of recoverability. The area can recover, to be sure, but only with the commitment of massive resources from outside -- and those resources would always be at risk to another Katrina.

The displacement of population is the crisis that New Orleans faces. It is also a national crisis, because the largest port in the United States cannot function without a city around it. The physical and business processes of a port cannot occur in a ghost town, and right now, that is what New Orleans is. It is not about the facilities, and it is not about the oil. It is about the loss of a city's population and the paralysis of the largest port in the United States.

Again, right now, this is not the most pressing story. I simply cite this to note this hurricane is going to have going to have major, major ramifications. Indeed, this is - in terms of its material and human toll - a significantly more event devastating event than 9/11. I don't think it is more significant geopolitically. But in the damage it hath wrought, substantially greater. Today and Down the Road.

UPDATE: I would also emphasize, for those who don't know, that New Orleans is America's largest port, and the world's fifth largest. Go to this link to learn more about just what the Port of Southern Lousiana actually handles and why it is so important

The Continuing Salience of Race in America

If nothing else, what these events have brought out to me is just how salient race and racism remains in American life. I think a lot of this has been masked since 9/11. Indeed, I think in some ways I had lulled myself into a state of complacency about the progress of race relations in this country. I am still largely optimistic in this regard, at least in the long term. But I think many of the kinds of issues that were so hotly debated in the 80s and 90s just came roaring back with a vengence.

While I should be careful to say that I don't think Bush and all the others so up-in-arms about looting are "racist" in a blatant, "era of Jim Crow," Dixiecrat way. But I think there is a powerful, subtle undercurrent of racism that is swirling around much of this whole situation, and in some right wing circles, its fully out in the open. Just go over to freerepublic and do a little reading.

I really don't know what the upshot of this politically is going to be. There is going to be significant consequences, and not just on this issue. However, I am willing to bet that any effort of the GOP to reach out to black voters has more or less been destroyed along with New Orleans as a result of this.

I definetly don't think there is a deliberate genocide going on. Definetly not. But I think a large number of African Americans are going to interpret events this way.

At the very least, people who don't think that race is not playing a significant role in what is going on are frankly out to lunch.

This Hurricane's Implications Are Major

Now, for the last hour or so, I've been scanning all the relevant blogs and news outlets, and it does appear at least in the US that the reality of just how devastating and significant what has happened is sinking in. Before I go on, I want to emphasize that this is not some kind of "garden variety" natural disaster like the hurricanes (even some of the more devastating ones) that hit the US southeast every several years. What is happening is frankly unprecendeted, and will send shockwaves across the US and, potentially, the rest of the world for some time to come.

First, let me begin by quoting the always useful Stratfor (I can't subscribe, because its too expensive, but for those who can afford the $400 a year subscription price tag, it is an essential source on world politics and the global economy) theorizing about what a "worse case scenario" would entail (and, as has in fact unfolded or still is unfolding). I apologize in advance for the length of this citation, but I truly believe the information it provides is vital and is simply not being reported widely enough:

Courtesy of Information Clearing House:

A Category 5 hurricane, the most severe type measured, Katrina has been reported heading directly toward the city of New Orleans. This would be a human catastrophe, since New Orleans sits in a bowl below sea level. However, Katrina is not only moving on New Orleans. It also is moving on the Port of Southern Louisiana. Were it to strike directly and furiously, Katrina would not only take a massive human toll, but also an enormous geopolitical one. The Port of Southern Louisiana is the fifth-largest port in the world in terms of tonnage, and the largest port in the United States. The only global ports larger are Singapore, Rotterdam, Shanghai and Hong Kong. It is bigger than Houston, Chiba and Nagoya, Antwerp and New York/New Jersey. It is a key link in U.S. imports and exports and critical to the global economy. The Port of Southern Louisiana stretches up and down the Mississippi River for about 50 miles, running north and south of New Orleans from St. James to St. Charles Parish. It is the key port for the export of grains to the rest of the world -- corn, soybeans, wheat and animal feed. Midwestern farmers and global consumers depend on those exports. The United States imports crude oil, petrochemicals, steel, fertilizers and ores through the port. Fifteen percent of all U.S. exports by value go through the port. Nearly half of the exports go to Europe. The Port of Southern Louisiana is a river port. It depends on the navigability of the Mississippi River. The Mississippi is notorious for changing its course, and in southern Louisiana -- indeed along much of its length -- levees both protect the land from its water and maintain its course and navigability. Dredging and other maintenance are constant and necessary to maintain its navigability. It is fragile. If New Orleans is hit, the Port of Southern Louisiana, by definition, also will be hit. No one can predict the precise course of the storm or its consequences. However, if we speculate on worse-case scenarios the following consequences jump out: The port might become in whole or part unusable if levees burst. If the damage to the river and port facilities could not be repaired within 30 days when the U.S. harvests are at their peak, the effect on global agricultural prices could be substantial. There is a large refinery at Belle Chasse. It is the only refinery that is seriously threatened by the storm, but if it were to be inundated, 250,000 barrels per day would go off line. Moreover, the threat of environmental danger would be substantial. About 2 percent of world crude production and roughly 25 percent of U.S.-produced crude comes from the Gulf of Mexico and already is affected by Katrina. Platforms in the path of Katrina have been evacuated but others continue pumping. If this follows normal patterns, most production will be back on line within hours or days. However, if a Category 5 hurricane (of which there have only been three others in history) has a different effect, the damage could be longer lasting. Depending on the effect on the Port of Southern Louisiana, the ability to ship could be affected. A narrow, two-lane highway that handles approximately 10,000 vehicles a day, is used for transport of cargo and petroleum products and provides port access for thousands of employees is threatened with closure. A closure of as long as two weeks could rapidly push gasoline prices higher. At a time when oil prices are in the mid-60-dollar range and starting to hurt, the hurricane has an obvious effect. However, it must be borne in mind that the Mississippi remains a key American shipping route, particularly for the export and import of a variety of primary commodities from grain to oil, as well as steel and rubber. Andrew Jackson fought hard to keep the British from taking New Orleans because he knew it was the main artery for U.S. trade with the world. He was right and its role has not changed since then. This is not a prediction. We do not know the path of the storm and we cannot predict its effects. It is a warning that if a Category 5 hurricane hits the Port of Southern Louisiana and causes the damage that is merely at the outer reach of the probable, the effect on the global system will be substantial. 

Now, of course, Katrina was "only" a category 4 hurricane, but since New Orleans's levee system is (was) at best prepared to handle a category 3, the point is mute right now. Needless to say, the world's 5th largest port - which is a key entrepot in the incredibly stressed world energy market, to boot - has been rendered inoperative. It is anybody's guess when - if - ever it will function again, considering that conservative estimates suggest the city will be uninhabitable for at least a month and most likely longer. New Orleans as the world has known it will never exist again.

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