Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana: the United States is now the "Third World"

A comment on the glaring class contradictions that Hurricane Katrina has thrown up. While the poor are accused of looting, the rich loot legally by profiting even from this disaster.

Here is the true face of George W. Bush's "Homeland Security": In New Orleans, Louisiana, a major southern port city in the United States of America ‑ the wealthiest nation on the planet ‑ legions of poor people are barricaded off into sports stadiums as an "emergency measure", the city knows consistent breakdowns in rescue efforts, adequate supplies and support unavailable to those government workers commissioned to perform salvaging works. Entire communities are to go without basic utilities for the coming weeks, shortages of people power ordinarily employed to keep order in time of crisis. Hospitals are having to evacuate their patients under looter's gunfire in order to effectively serve the sick and injured, hundreds of corpses are floating in stagnant water, posing a direct threat of cholera outbreak, morgues in many places in the region are overtaxed in the work of processing the dead.

In short, the so-called "third world" economy is now a steady fixture in the "new" speculator's economy. The President, the Congress, the Media talking heads who run interference for this national disgrace, speak glibly of appointing panels of former presidents to go out and cheerlead for fundraising efforts. Instead of applying all the mighty force of a government and a culture that can build telescopes that look across galaxies and farm the ocean floors, the government of this country is proposing, in effect: a bake sale. And even as the numbers of dead continue to rise, even as it is made more and more plain that the largest crime of this moment is the inadequate preparation made for natural disasters by these so-called defenders of the public interest, the capitalist media would have the public believe that the largest threat posed to this devastated section of our people is a handful of looting bands.

Every shoddy anti-black inference springs from the lips of commentators like the convicted middle class drug dealer Rush Limbaugh, who conveniently overlooks the devastation suffered by the working poor of the 9th Ward in New Orleans. Poorest of the poor in the city, many of these people were immigrant workers who lived in trailers and tents. They lost everything, some of them their lives, not having had the resource or transportation to leave the city in time. But that's not a problem, is it? Not when mercenary "journalists" want to talk about looters.

Much of New Orleans is drowning in 15 to 20 feet of water, an entire city made a casualty of Hurricane Katrina, a superstorm that blew up out of the Gulf of Mexico a few days ago with winds of upwards of 140 miles an hour. In the past, hurricanes of considerable strength have stricken the southern United States, and people of the region have suffered mightily under those blows. But what's new and different in the year 2005 is that natural disaster preparation at the state, local and federal levels have been significantly weakened, while preparation for phantom wars with scattered enemies has absorbed public resources. Food, clean water and ice are things desperately needed during crises such as these, but it is only now, three days after the initial storm, that truckloads of supplies are reaching Biloxi, Mississippi and other stricken communities along the Gulf Coast.

Local authorities have been aware for years that the deteriorating quality of levees, or dykes that have protected the city during previous storms, could lead to disaster. Federal flood control spending for Southeastern Louisiana, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) spokespeople, was chopped by close to half between 2001 and 2005. The Army Corps of Engineers Budget was reduced by close to 60 per cent, from $14.25 million to $5.7 million this last year. As a result, the Corps discontinued work on the levee system that could have protected New Orleans from flooding. It is important to understand that the danger posed was always understood, much of the city, after all, is 15 feet below sea level.

In addition to these budget cuts, the Corps of Engineers eliminated funds to pay for a study on preparing the city for a Category 5 Storm. Hurricane Katrina was a Category 4 storm, and as has been made clear, the region was inadequately prepared for even the lesser force. Ice, water, tarps, the sort of equipment that is usually delivered to hurricane-hit areas, should have been in abundance. The FEMA administration claims that the scope of the devastation prevented relief trucks from being able to travel, but critics have countered that if network reporters and their equipment were able to get in by air days ago, air transport could have been available for adequate evacuation and relief effort. While search and rescue efforts have been significant and in some part successful, clean water and ice are also life saving measures, particularly in a region with humid and semi-tropical weather fronts as a constant.

In the meantime, grandstanding, sound bytes, and fear generating stories about looters are the focus of the capitalist press. And certainly lawlessness is a problem. But little is said of the promised gouging of working class people at gas pumps that the petroleum speculators have announced must become a feature of public life now. Already, even in the stricken areas, gas "merchants" have been witnessed pushing prices up to over four dollars a gallon. So it would seem some looting is well within the law.

Try as they may, however, one single nagging fact remains in the forefront. Even defenders of the administration are acknowledging that this disaster is the greatest to beset any city in this country since the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906. But in 1906, technology and understanding of civic preparation for natural disasters was considerably less then what it is today. The terrible experience of the Gulf States after Hurricane Katrina is nothing more than criminal neglect on the part of the people who own this country, and the government of gangsters they have employed. President Bush has asserted that it will take "a long time" for New Orleans to recover, and when it does, "the United States will be stronger for its recovery". Do tell.

Well, we agree. We believe that this terrible dereliction of the public interest will indeed strengthen the resolve of those working class folks who have been the most devastated by this tragedy, and there will emerge a new, politicized section of the southern states. The South will rise again, but with the conscious and militant energy of a working class movement that will have learned to see class enemies for who they are through this terrible experience of Hurricane Katrina, and the capitalists' indifference. And we believe the country will indeed be better for it, as that galvanized section of the working class will fight for a new democracy, a socialist order.