WW Masthead

WW Masthead

Workers World EDITORIAL
Hurricane Katrina: U.S. gov't guilty of criminal neglect
Published Sep 1, 2005 12:27 AM

Almost all of the death, injury, damage and destruction arising from hurricane Katrina is the result of the crimes of the Bush administration.

President Bush was criminally negligent in diverting funds that had been requested to protect the people of New Orleans for use in the criminal war of conquest in Iraq. The Bush administration did this in full knowledge of the impend ing danger. The highest government agency in charge of dealing with disasters, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, warned of the potential for disaster as early as 2001.

With the complete evacuation of New Orleans, tens of thousands trapped without food, water, or electricity, thousands of homes destroyed and the death toll mounting by the hour, this is a disaster of unprecedented proportion. It profoundly affects Black people, who are a major part of the population in Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi, and are suffering disproportionately because they are subject to racist discrimination—which leaves them in poverty and most vulnerable to such disasters. Seventy percent of New Orleans’ residents are Black and live in apartheid-like conditions.

Some politicians are calling it “our tsunami.” The tsunami last December also took an excessive toll of life because of criminal neglect. But a tsunami comes rarely. Hurricanes come to the delta region almost every year. This disaster was not only predictable but predicted. What seems like an inevitable tragedy caused by nature was foreseen long ago by scientists, engineers, government agencies, environmentalists and experts in disaster management.

The science writer for the Houston Chronicle wrote on Dec. 1, 2001:

“New Orleans is sinking.

“And its main buffer from a hurricane, the protective Missis sippi River delta, is quickly eroding away, leaving the historic city perilously close to disaster. ...

“So vulnerable, in fact, that earlier this year the Federal Emergency Management Agency ranked the potential damage to New Orleans as among the three likeliest, most catastrophic disasters facing this country.” The other two were an earthquake in San Francisco and a “terrorist attack on New York City.”

The federal, state and local governments knew of the danger. They knew what caused it and how to deal with it. But they did little or nothing. They left the people of the delta region unaware and helpless to deal with the inevitable disaster.

Why did they do nothing? An Aug. 30 dispatch of Editor and Publisher revealed that “$250 million in crucial projects” planned by the Army Corps of Engineers in the delta for shori ng up levees and building pumping stations could not be carried out. “The Corps never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security—coming at the same time as federal tax cuts—was the reason for the strain.

“The 2004 hurricane season was the worst in decades. In spite of that, the federal government came back this spring with the steepest reduction in hurricane and flood-control funding for New Orleans in history.”

The Houston Chronicle’s 2001 report cited a study by a consortium of government agencies several years ago. This consortium recommended that between $2 billion and $3 billion dollars was needed for projects that could rectify the problem. That is less than the cost of one month of spending on the Iraq occupation, which costs $4 billion a month at the minimum! Certainly part of the $300-billion-plus spent on the war could have been used to take preventive measures.

Of course, while Bush is the immediate culprit, it must not be forgotten that the Democratic Party voted for the war and every nickel spent on it. So the Democrats are also criminally liable for both the devastation in New Orleans and the illegal war and occupation.

Now that the capitalist authorities have let this disaster happen, Bush is taking a business-as-usual approach to dealing with the disaster. Just as during the tsunami, it took him days to disrupt his vacation and step away from his Crawford ranch.

The federal government is the only authority capable of mobilizing the resources necessary for the rescue mission and the reconstruction. It is said that a million people were evacuated from New Orleans and the surrounding parishes (counties) before the hurricane. Actually, the government did not evacuate anyone. The authorities simply declared a mandatory evacuation and then left it to people to get out. Now they are saying that “at least a hundred thousand people” were left in the city itself.

People have no place to stay. Many have no food. Their personal belongings are all gone. Medical care is cut off. Schools are inaccessible. Countless are homeless. The immediate crisis requires a national mobilization of medical personnel, social workers, rescue experts, hydraulic engineers.

Food, water and medical supplies should be immediately commandeered for the emergency from agribusiness, supermarket chains, pharmaceutical companies. Wal Mart and other retail giants should be required to ship, gratis, clothing and other necessities to meet basic needs. Government food storage supplies in warehouses throughout the Midwest and other regions should be made available.

Every form of transport—planes, helicopters, buses, ambulances, small boats—should be mobilized to the region. These and other measures should be immediately implemented by the federal government based on its emergency powers and responsibilities.

In other words, all of this society’s material and human resources should be made available to the victims in this crisis. The corporations have control of these resources, but the workers who created them have every right to them.

Let the government and the bosses pay. Putting people—the suffering people of the delta—before profits should be the order of the day. The property restrictions of capitalism must be overruled in the interest of the masses.

Particularly, the oil companies should be forced to cough up billions of dollars for reconstruction out of the super-profits that they pump out of the delta region every day. Exxon Mobil refines 493,000 barrels of oil a day in Baton Rouge; Chevron, 325,000 a day in Pascgoula, Miss.; Conoco Phillips, 247 ,000 a day, to name a few. All this wealth has been taken out of the region, not to speak of the wealth spent trying to conquer Iraq and its oil. And they should not only give back the profits they gouged from the people by raising gasoline prices to over $3 a gallon—they should be forced to lower prices drastically.

In general, the giant multinationals should be made to ante up because of all the wealth and labor they have taken from New Orleans—through which so much of the wealth of this country flows—while the majority of people are left with just enough to survive.

As for the reconstruction effort, the authorities are taking a narrow approach. They are talking about months and years to recover. People with flood insurance can stand in line once they can get back to their neighborhoods. Poor people who have no flood insurance are on their own. Perhaps FEMA will give a few handouts to tide them over for a while. All the racist hysteria being whipped up about “looters” is a cover-up for the fact that the government has made no provisions to feed the people, and that so many Black people are living in dire poverty.

But the truth is, there is a much more rapid and comprehensive solution to turning the situation around right in front of the government’s nose. There are millions of workers who can be mobilized to go to the region to help out.

Right now there is a “housing boom” where hundreds of thousands of construction workers are toiling away as real-estate developers race to make super-profits on the speculation in the housing market.

What is needed is a full-scale mobilization of the building trades, construction workers, hydraulic engineers, medical personnel, social-service workers and workers from all over the country to stop capitalist business as usual and mobilize to help the people of New Orleans, Biloxi and the delta region—fully funded by the government.

Millions of unemployed workers could be hired at union wages to pitch in. Organized labor could be in the vanguard of organizing the reconstruction effort.

With all their technology, the bosses are preoccupied with how they can collect damages from the insurance industry, how they can get their profitable refineries back on line, and how they can resume making profits in the area as soon as possible. The working class, in contrast, is concerned with the fate of the masses of people, especially the Black, Latin@, poor white and the exploited who suffer the most and will get the least help.

Once the reconstruction effort begins and communications become possible, unions, community organizations, and move ment groups should set up independent channels by which they can give aid and assistance to the people of the stricken area.

Mass mobilization, putting people before property, is how reconstruction projects are handled in Cuba and under the socialist organization of society. The demand should be put forward that the government treat this as a national emergency crisis of the greatest magnitude. Measures should be taken in proportion to the extent of the crisis—measures such as giving extended unemployment insurance to everyone in the area. Personal property loss should be fully restored. And the government should subordinate all its efforts to giving effective short term and long term aid to the victims. But at the same time the working class in this country should try to find a way to get beyond the capitalist authority and bring whatever aid and assistance it can to the people of the delta.

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