June 08, 2006

Greg Palast is always worth reading:
In 1986, I was hired by the City of New Orleans to check out suspicious doings by a corporation called "Entergy." I flew in to meet City Councilman Brod Bagert, who is also New Orleans's top trial lawyer and its most accomplished poet. Over beignets and chicory coffee at the river, he said, "You want to know what this city's about, Mr. Palast? I'll show you."

He drove me to a concrete bunker, banged on the metal door, and greeted a guy named Fishhead, who brought me into the belly of a horrendously loud, gargantuan and astonishing apparatus. "This here, Mr. Palast, is a pump. Forget Bourbon Street. This is all you have to know about New Orleans: We are under water. Below sea level, sir, and the only thing that keeps the river from pouring in over our heads are these pumps. You got that, son?" Outside flowed the Mississippi. America's toilet. The poisoned expectorations of a hundred cities dumped into it or leached from suburban lawns and from factories when no one is looking, come out here in the tap water. A couple years ago, we buried our friend Gary Groesch, aged 50, of some mystery disease. "The City That Care Forgot" is their motto. The City That Everyone Forgot, a Bantustan where the Forgotten can be ignored except for the jazzy minstrel shows for tourists.

I called Bagert four months after the flood. Nearly half the city is still in the dark. The electric company, New Orleans Public Service, "NOPSI," is owned by a holding company, Entergy, the company Bagert, Groesch and I investigated in 1986. Here's what we found. In 1986, the New Orleans company was going broke because of the eye- popping cost of buying wholesale power-four times normal-from a company called Middle South Energy, charges they were passing right on to their captive customers in the city. Middle South is 100% owned and controlled by, you've guessed it, Entergy. But these were the days of government regulation, and government ordered an end to the shell game. Then came deregulation and the siphoning restarted with a vengeance. Busy shuffling loot from pocket to pocket, Entergy had neither the concern nor funds to harden their system against a hurricane. But from the looks of it, and my own review of their accounts, their plan in case of the long-expected flood came down to "turn off the lights and declare their subsidiary bankrupt," which they did three weeks after the hurricane. Negligent damage liabilities and rebuilding obligations were thrown into the Dumpster of the bankruptcy courts, and the holding company walked away. But don't worry, Entergy the holding company is doing quite well, posting a big 24% leap in earnings for the third quarter, a profit it attributes to "weather."
That's an excerpt from his new book, Armed Madhouse.


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