The sacrifice zone

Nowhere is the abuse as frightening as in Louisiana—with the exception, perhaps, of its neighbor to the east (“Thank God for Mississippi!” is the unofficial state motto). Louisiana is the second-poorest state and second-to-last in human development, which is a measure of individual freedom. The state’s rate of fatal cancers is about 30 percent higher than the national average. For all its antifederalism, Louisiana is fourth in accepting government welfare, with 44 percent of its budget coming from Washington. (Many of Hochschild’s Tea Party friends are beneficiaries of federal welfare programs.) Louisiana has the highest rate of death by gunfire (nearly double the national average), the highest rate of incarceration, and is the fifth-least-educated, reflecting the fact that it spends the fifth-least on education. It is sixth in the nation in generating hazardous waste, and third in importing it, since it makes a side business out of storing other states’ trash.

Louisiana’s governor is among the most powerful chief executives in the nation, a legacy that dates back to Huey Long’s administration, and under Governor Bobby Jindal’s dictatorship, between 2008 and 2016, the state’s prospects declined with unprecedented severity. After he reduced corporate income taxes and expanded the exemptions granted to oil and gas companies, the state’s revenue tumbled roughly $3 billion. He transferred $1.6 billion from public schools and hospitals to oil companies in the form of new tax incentives, under the theory that the presence of oil and a robust petrochemical infrastructure were not incentives enough. (The Louisiana Legislature is not only soaked with oil and gas lobbyists—during a recent session there were seventy for 144 legislators—but many lawmakers themselves hold industry jobs while serving in office.) Jindal fired 30,000 state employees, furloughed many others, cut education funding by nearly half, and sold off as many state-owned parking lots, farms, and hospitals as he could.

Despite these punishing cuts, he managed over the course of his administration to turn a $900 million budget surplus into a $1.6 billion deficit. National agencies downgraded the state’s credit rating. The damage was so great that it helped to bring about one of the most unlikely election results in recent American history. Jindal’s successor is John Bel Edwards, a Democrat—the only one to hold statewide office. Edwards is vehemently pro-life and agnostic about climate change, but he is determined to hold the oil and gas industry responsible for funding their share of coastal restoration. He currently enjoys a 62.5 percent approval rating. Almost a year into his first term, however, despite several emergency measures, the state remains in arrears.

The book has key information, even if I am not convinced the author does not exoticize our people somewhat. And I LOVE the term “sacrifice zone,” it is SO apt.

Axé.

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