Saturday, September 03, 2005

Killer Kate

This afternoon I am beside myself with sadness and rage. Hurricanes are a fact of life in the US. In the incredibly wealthy peninsula known as Florida, frequent hurricanes are handled as routine events with little loss of life or property. As a country, we have the engineering, planning and organizational capacity to handle most types of natural disasters with astounding capability. Most of this infrastructure was put in place after the disaster which hit Galveston, Texas on September 8, 1900, one-hundred and five years ago, which flattened the city and killed over 6,000 residents (20% of the population) trapped on the island with little warning.

An excerpt from one historical website has this account:
The criminal element began looting the dead, and the cold blooded commercial element began looting the living. The criminals were stealing everything they could with safety lay hands on, and the mercenary commercial pirates began a harvest of extortion. The price of bacon was pushed up to 50 cents a pound, bread 60 cents a loaf, and owners of small schooners and other sailing craft formed a trust, and charged $8 a passenger for transportation just across the bay from the island to the mainland.
As a result of this, the greatest natural disaster to affect the US up to that point, President Theodore Roosevelt signed legislation which formed the precursor to the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). By the late 1970’s the US had established FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency, now a part of the Department of Homeland Security) as well and by any measure, the federal organizations established to predict, prevent and help victims of disasters where massive, well funded and well staffed by the best and brightest in their fields.

So given that our Great Nation has such an incredible capacity to deal with disaster, what happened in New Orleans?

I lived in San Antonio, Texas for seven years. San Antonio often got into the national headlines due to flooding problems. It was universally acknowledged that the flooding was a result of human activity – namely construction of roads and parking lots which disallowed the rain water from soaking into the soil – it had no place to go. Nevertheless, the city continued to allow developers to build unabated. Tellingly, the areas affected when the floods did come where generally the poor areas. One of the centers of old wealth in San Antonio, Alamo Heights, and the central downtown area, had long been protected by massive dams, levies and other engineering feats. But the Mexican-American west-side was more often than not submerged under several feet of standing water.

Today we see incredible suffering in New Orleans and nary a white face in the crowd. The poor, black people of New Orleans are made to suffer while their white betters have escaped to posh hotels in nearby counties or states. With no jobs to go to, no money coming into households that get by check-to-check at best, and no stores open to buy the essentials from (let alone homes to return to) many people have resorted to “looting.”
The response of the “democratically” elected governor of Louisiana, Kathleen Blanco, is to call these desperate poor people “hoodlums” and issued the following warning (as reported by the AP):
Hundreds of National Guard troops hardened on the battlefield in Iraq have landed in New Orleans.
“They have M-16s and they’re locked and loaded,” she said. “These troops know how to shoot and kill, and they are more than willing to do so, and I expect they will.”
Instead of threatening to murder the people who are supposed be her wards, she should be in the streets manning soup kitchens. Instead of posting guards around the city disallowing people from leaving by foot, she should be ferrying people in her own car. Instead of using her platform to demonize and make other the people who need the most help, she should be doing her best to show how rampant poverty and inequality are root causes of the human disaster occurring today in New Orleans.

But instead of doing what is right, she has opted to serve her capitalist masters and demonstrate in unabashed form the high regard which the ruling classes holds for the unwashed masses. The ruling classes have opted to demonize the poor, and to mobilize the police and army to kill and contain the victims versus sending in the Red Cross and humanitarian organizations to support and diffuse the situation.

Kathleen Blanco, not hurricane Katrina, is the true “Killer Kate” of New Orleans.

This article is cross-posted at the Uncapitalist Journal.

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