LOUISIANA GODDAMN... race, death and criminal negligence 27 feet below sea level....

By Gregory A. Butler, local 608 carpenter


By now, we all know the story...one of America`s largest cities, New Orleans, Louisiana, was laid waste to by the floods that came in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina... The city actually survived the storms with minimal damage...but the badly built levees (put up with state of the art 1927 technology and in some cases consisting of mud and lumber piled up on the water`s edge) failed, and the below sea level part of the city, which also happens to be the poor African American part of the city, was drowned under an inland sea of filthy water...

A few thousand folks have died, over 374,000 have become ``evacuees`` (the media euphamism for refugee - more on that below) and what the reporters refer to in obituary-like tones as ``A Great American City`` has been drowned under the flood waters spilling over the levees on the edge of Lake Pontchartrain...

We`re told this is a ``natural disaster``...and, in a very narrow sense, it is....without the hurricane, the floods would not have occured, and the rest of the horrorshow that befel that city would also have not happened...

But there`s a man made aspect to this story....

In a city and state which have faced hurricanes and rumors of hurricanes every June through November for the last 350+ years, it would be reasonable to expect some measure of preparation...ESPECIALLY in this era of 5 day ``accuweather`` forecasts, doppler radar and real time satelite pictures of storm systems...

But that didn't happen.....

And people, a whole lot of people, ended up dead because that didn`t happen....

Under the law, if somebody dies because of a deliberate act of negligence on the part of another person, that`s ``criminally negligent homicide``....and that is exactly what all 3 layers of government (federal, state and local) are morally guilty of in this disaster....

Why did this happen????

Why did those people have to die????

I would submit that the New Orleans government was utterly unequipped to deal with this disaster, and in fact was barely capable of providing for the day to day needs of most of the city`s residents even during normal times....

Basically, like many ``one industry`` towns - and New Orleans is very much a company town of the tourism interests - the city government barely managed to keep a lid on the city`s poor and disenfranchised ghettoes, and basically functioned to keep the social decay away from the guests in the fancy hotels...

This crisis was far beyond their capacity.....and the collapse of local government in New Orleans exposed a wider pattern of decay in the state and federal governments....

Beyond that, the more important question is, what can we do about this???

We've all seen the horriffic images on TV, read the horror stories in the papers, and everybody has heard tales of the hell at the Superdome...

What can we do???

And I DON'T just mean writing a check to the Red Cross....

Over 374,000 Americans have been deported from the City of New Orleans, and 140,000 of these refugees are living in what amount to detention camps, with roughly the same level of civil rights as the prisoners in a county jail.....

Many of these folks were driven from their homes at machine gun point by cops or soldiers...then dumped in roadside compounds...

The conditions in those improvised stockades were so horrible that, had these New Orleansians been Prisoners of War, their Geneva Convention rights would have been violated!!!

Of course, officially, they aren`t even refugees...they are ``evacuees``...a made-up term the media invented early in the crisis...

Had they been legally classified as refugees, they would have had a whole host of United Nations mandated human rights, including...

- The right to the same civil liberties as any other resident of this country,

- The right to recieve protection from the government,

- The right to special protection and assistance for children, pregnant women, mothers of small children, single mothers, handicapped people and the elderly,

- The right to not be seperated from family members while evacuating, and to be reunited with relatives as quickly as possible,

- The right to know the fate and whereabouts of missing relatives,

- The right to an adequate standard of living while displaced, including, at bare minimum, the right to; food, water, housing, clothing, medical aid and sanitation,

- The right to medical, psychological and social services assistance for injured and sick refugees,

- The right to special consideration for the gender-specific medical needs of women refugees, in particular reproductive health care

- The right to special counseling for women refugees who have been raped or otherwise sexually assaulted,

- The right to be protected from the spread of AIDS and other infectious diseases,

- The right to have the remains of deceased refugees collected, identified and protected from decomposition or mutilation,

- The right to a decent burial for deceased refugees - where possible arranged by the next of kin of the decedent, and, in the case of interal of refugee remains by public authorities, the relatives have a right to grave site access,

- The right to replacement of government-issued documents, including but not limited to passports, birth certificates, government issued ID cards and marriage certificates,

- The right to recovery of property or possesions which they left behind or were dispossesed of, and, if that is not possible, compensation for those properties and possessions,

- The right to be voluntarily returned to their homes, in safety and dignity or to voluntarily resettle elswhere in the country, and to participate in the management of their return home and/or voluntary resettlement.

And, above all, the right to dignity and physical, mental and moral integrity....

These rights apply to ALL refugees, irregardless of race, color, sex, language, religion, belief, political or other opinion, nationality, ethnicity, social origin or status, legal status, age, disability, property, birth, or any other criteria....

To one degree or other, each and every one of the above enumerated human rights were systematicaly violated by military, federal, state, parish, city and Red Cross authorities, as these refugees were dispersed across America by bus and plane....

In particular, the family rights of refugees were blatantly and shamelessly violated at each and every turn

Far from being treated with dignity, and having their physical, mental and moral integrity respected, these American refugees were herded aboard the transports like slaves during the middle passage - and indeed some of the planes were US Air Force C 17 cargo jets, where they had to sit on the floor like cargo - being hauled like human freight under the guard of armed men, just like the way their ancestors came to this country....

As they were shipped like human FedEx packages, the military authorities tried to strip the refugees of their humanity...people were forced to abandon pets they had lovingly saved from the floods, brothers were divided from sisters, mothers from babies, granddaughters from their grandmas, and they were not told their destination until the transports were in motion....

Most ended up in Texas, Arkansas or Tennessee, but some went as far afield as Utah, Massachussets, Illinois and even New York City, with a lucky few getting to stay in their home state...

There was no choice in the matter...even those with relatives they could stay with were not allowed to select their destination....instead, they were transported to wherever the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Military Airlift Command felt like sending them....

At each and every step of the process, refugees (in particular BLACK refugees) were subject to being treated like criminals by the police, including frisking, having police dogs sniff their possessions, criminal background checks before being provided with aid and other abuses of police power....

Some Black refugees were even shot at by Jefferson Parish deputy sheriffs and Metairie and Gretna city police as they fled....and either chased back into the city or herded at gunpoint along Interstate 10 towards Louis Armstrong International Airport....

Mexican, Guatemalan, Jamaican, Vietnamese and other immigrant New Orleansians were also informed that they would not recieve the same aid as US citizen refugees....in particular, illegal immigrant Mexicans and Guatemalans and H-2A indentured hotel worker Jamaicans might even be subject to detention and deportation if they sought out assistance...

The 140,000 American citizen refugees behind the wire in the Red Cross camps have been, begrudgingly, offered limited amounts of government aid...but with the feds quick to cut off their money if there is even the hint of ``fraud``....

Even the measley $ 2,000 dollars offered by FEMA was quickly withdrawn...instead, refugees, without cars and ID and with their references unverifiable were told go to out and get a job!!!

Meanwhile, the contractors hired by FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers have had a $ 100 billion dollar blank check written to them...with more money to come....

There supposedly is no money for 374,000 poor refugees...

But there is lots of cash for the contractors... ranging from Waste Management Inc to Aramark Food Service, from Carnival Cruise Lines to Blackwater Security, from Greyhound to Frontier Airlines, everybody gets to write their own blank check

Nobody`s even hinting at ``fraud`` here, even though the contractors are being paid on a T & M basis - that is, Time and Materials...and nobody is auditing the invoices....which virtually GUARANTEES waste, fraud and abuse on the part of the contractors....

Chief among the no bid contractors are Boh Brothers, the Shaw Group and the Kellog, Brown and Root subsidiary of Halliburton (yes, THAT Halliburton - the Vice President's company, famed for billing $ 85 dollars for one sheet of plywood over in Iraq)...

They`re being hired to ``unwater`` (a made up Army word) the flooded City of New Orleans

The Boh Brothers, Shaw Group and Halliburton contracts for the New Orleans unwatering job are oral agreements...negotiated over a handshake in a back room at the Army Corps of Engineers, Memphis, Tennessee district office...

That room was filled with Army Corps of Engineers officers from New Orleans and their longtime friends, the supers from Boh, Shaw and Halliburton, 3 firms that have long had a stranglehold on Army Corps of Engineers projects in Louisiana....

These are the companies responsable for building New Orelans` grossly inadequate levee system, and now they get to redo their own botched work......

We don`t know what those guys really said in that back room in Memphis, because there are no written records of the meeting....

There is no written contract governing the scope of work, or the final price to be paid, or the deadline for completion, or the penalties, if any, if the contract is breached by the contractors..

In other words, none of the legal construction documents that normally govern the relationship between contractor and client exist here....no contract, no specifications, no blueprints, no schedule, no nothing...

Basically, the companies can bill whatever the hell they want...for as much or as little work as they feel like doing.....and the Army will write a check...no questions asked.....

It was a handshake deal...a billion dollar handshake....

These 3 companies are also being provided with New Orleans Police Department bodyguards free of charge (already, 6 refugees have been murdered by these NOPD mercenaries)

The federal labor laws that govern construction have been repealed in the area, so these 3 companies don`t have to hire a single New Orleansian, a single Black man, a single Latino, a single Vietnamese man or a single woman of any race on any of their jobs...and they don`t even have to pay the Davis Bacon prevailing wage to the White men they do hire...

They are also free to run their jobs 100% non union...which Halliburton is sure to do, since they are running their portion of the job through their scab subsidiary, Kellog, Brown and Root....

Worse yet, once those three companies finish pumping the water out of New Orleans, those 374,000 refugees may not have homes to go back to....

It appears that the local real estate developers in New Orleans, in league with the multinational hospitality corporations (Sheraton, Hyatt, Hilton ect) who REALLY run the city, plan to drive out most of the city`s poor Black population permanently....

The gentrified ``New`` New Orleans they envision will be a largely White and upper class city, filled with luxury homes as primary residences for local rich people and second homes for rich tourists...

Only a handfull of low working class New Orleansians will be allowed back - basically, the seasonal hotel and convention center workers - plus a few casual longshoremen for the Port of New Orleans....

Many of them will live in the 300,000 ``temporary`` trailer homes that FEMA is currently building in and around New Orleans...

Bechtel National and the Fluor Corporation got $ 200 million dollars to build these, and at this moment the two giant multinational General Contractors have 25 ``strike teams`` going around rural Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, buying up farmland for these trailer parks....

Following the ``strike teams`` are crews of non union carpenters, laborers, electricians, plumbers and truck drivers are installing the trailers....

The trailers belong to FEMA, and are rent free....

But, there`s a Catch 22...

FEMA can evict any refugee, at any time, for any reason, or no reason at all..

At this writing, Bechtel and Fluor expect to have 30,000 of these trailer homes ready for occupancy by the end of September...

Supposedly, these homes are ``temporary``...however, the experience in Florida has been that, in hurricane destroyed areas, low income housing is rarely rebuilt..so many poor people have no choice but to stay in FEMA trailer parks for years at a time....

Thus is the future of working class New Orleansians....

As for the rich, at this writing, their game plan is in motion...

The lights are on in the French Quarter (the city`s tourism mecca) and the Garden District (home to many of the richest White New Orleansians)....the streets are being cleaned by low wage refugee temp workers, out of town construction workers are renovating the hotels, and they WILL be ready for next Mardi Gras...

The rest of the city is still a waterlogged hell...with the Army Corps of Engineers and their contractors moving with all deliberate slowness to clean up the area...

There are no moves to restore services in the 9th Ward, Bucktown, the 5th Ward or any of the other poor Black working class communities...and, unlike the wealthy areas, there are no building contractors or temp street cleaners preparing these neighborhoods for resettlement..

The only contractors on the ground in those areas are the Army's heavy construction outfits, Boh Brothers, Shaw Group and Halliburton...

Companies like that do NOT rebuild houses...

They build highways, dams, levees and other large concrete structures...

Oh yeah, and they do heavy earthworks.... tearing down mountains, cutting through hillsides, and, most relevantly in this case, backfilling low lying land areas...that is, filling them with dirt or other material like landfill to bring up the ground level...

Is it possible that the ``bowl``, the low lying poor and Black part of New Orleans, is destined to be bulldozed and backfilled, and will be the foundation of the ``New`` rich and White New Orleans??

Obviously, the rich got their game plan together with truly astonishing speed, cobbled together on the fly in their luxurious hotel suites in Baton Rouge , and they are moving forward...

But where is the working class` game plan???

Except for a handfull of brave ex-Black Panthers turned Green Party activists in the neighborhoods of Algiers and Bywater, there has been almost no organized struggle against this attack - save for a few protests at federal buildings and Army recruiting posts here and there across the country.....

Behind the wire in the camps, there were brief, improvised efforts by refugees housed in the hellish Morial Convention Center and Superdome refugee concentration camps to self-organize, against the twin threat of violent rapist thugs and violent racist police and soldiers....

Other than that, there have been few reports of self organization in the camps...certainly, the military`s brutal transporation of refugees across country have had a demoralizing and disorienting effect on the refugees, beyond the trauma they already feel from having their lives destroyed by the floods...

There certainly is an objective NEED for refugee self-organization...

- To deal with the cold and uncaring Army, Red Cross, FEMA and state bureaucracies, to get better conditions in the camps,

- To reunifiy families (first and foremost to reunite children with their mothers),

- To demand financial aid, with no strings attached, for all refugees, with benefits set at least as high as maximum weekly unemployment insurance benefits in the State of Louisiana...

- To demand compensation for the families of those who died in the floods (the relatives of the folks that were killed at the World Trade Center got $ 2 MILLION DOLLARS in compensation per victim......while the families of the folks who drowned in New Orleans will not get a dime)

- To prevent refugees from being tricked into signing over their destroyed properties back home to developers in return for pitifully small amounts of money, due to the lack of financial assistance,

- To demand adequate food, clothing, personal care products, medical care and shelter in the camps..with standards at least as high as those prevailing in United Nations High Commission for Refugees camps in other countries,

- To demand tuition free education for all refugee children and youth, from pre-school to college (refugee kids in United Nations Relief and Works Administration camps in the West Bank, Sudan and Pakistan get this...American refugee kids should get the same)

- To demand equal treatment for ALL refugees...including Mexican, Guatemalan, Vietnamese, Jamiacan and other immigrants...and no denial of services, harassment, detention or deportation of immigrant refugees, regardless of visa status,

- And, in the larger and more poorly run camps in Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana, to provide security for the refugees from the thugs among them, above all, protecting the women and children from rape...

There is also the longer term issue of repatriation...that is, when will they get to go home...and will their be homes for them to return to????

Also, there will be similar issues in the ``temporary`` shantytowns that FEMA is setting up in New Orleans for the temporary workers who will be hired to rebuild the ``New`` New Orleans for the rich...

As I pointed out above, the Florida experience has been the FEMA ``temporary`` camps for working class hurricane survivors have a way of becoming PERMANENT...especially in areas that have been subject to heavy post hurricane gentrification...as New Orleans already is...

All of these issues cry out for local committees in each camp...statewide or areawide committees in all the areas that New Orleans refugees have been deported to, and local committees back in New Orleans for the folks who evaded deportation from Bywater and Algers, and the future residents of FEMA`s trailer parks..

However, at this writing, no effort has been made to organize refugees... Nobody is organizing refugee committees in the camps, nobody is organizing committees of the people still in New Orleans, nobody is planning to organize the residents of the FEMA refugee trailer parks going up around New Orleans and nobody is organizing a national organization to represent the refugees....

There is a crying need for all 4 of those efforts...

There have been charity efforts, mainly led by Black churches and prominent New Orleans rappers Master P and Juvenile...

There have been lobbying efforts by the old line Creole Black leaders in New Orleans..

And there have been efforts by anti poverty groups in New Orleans to ask for donations and lobby for government, charity and corporate funding for their various projects and programs - most of which are the typical social service-type efforts these groups have made an industry of....

None of these groups are even THINKING about challenging the system...

Some, like rapper Master P, have condemned even the mildest criticism of the government`s pathetic response to the disaster...

It's not really that surprising that the Black bourgeoisie and the Black middle class wouldn`t dream of challenging the authority of the government, the foundations, Corporate America or the local White business interests...

After all, they are junior partners in the same capitalistic system, so the last thing they would want to see was anybody challenging that system....

And organizing the refugees in the camps and the FEMA trailer parks WOULD challenge the system...

I belive that the main reason the feds refuse to grant full refugee rights to the exiled New Orleansians is cold hard cash...

Even something as simple as giving every refugee $ 2,000 bucks would cost over $ 728 million dollars...add to that the cost of providing free medical care, housing and education to 140,000 Red Cross camp residents, add to that the other costs...even something as simple as providing a decent burial for the dead....it would end up as a huge sum of money....

And let`s not even talk about compensation for lost homes and furniture...assuming $ 100,000 in losses per household (a very low estimate) that would add up to $ 7.5 billion dollars...

The rulers don`t have that kind of money.....at least not for poor working class Blacks...

They have a very expensive imperialist war in Iraq, another very expensive imperialist war in Afghanistan, and a global security effort against al-Qaeda and other armed Islamist groups....

Those are priority 1 for the imperialists...if they lose those wars, they lose the Middle Eastern oil fields, and that is their main leverage against the other major imperialist powers (Germany, Japan, France, China ect)

Even in the flood zone itself, the priority is on propping up the local capitalists...in particular the real estate interests in New Orleans and the Mississippi gulf coast, and in compensating Corporate America for their operations in the region that were destroyed in the storm

The Wall Street interests lost a lot in the storm - Northrup Grumman`s naval shipyards in Pascagoula and Gulfport, the hotels owned by multinational hospitality corporations like Hilton, Sheraton, Marriott, Hyatt, Wynn, Park Place Entertainment ect, the Domino sugar refinery in St Bernards Parish, the docks in New Orleans, and, above all the oil refineries and offshore oil platforms...

Rebuilding those installations is VITAL for the economic health of the American capitalist class...and it will cost north of $ 200 billion dollars, if present spending levels prevail....

There is no way that the government can afford to subsidize the capitalist class` losses in New Orleans, and pay anywhere near an adequate level of compensation to the refugees and the families of the dead....

Somebody`s got to get the short end of the stick...

And, since we live in a society ruled by capitalist financiers, their interests will be served, no matter what...

It would take a massive struggle on the part of the refugees to get adequate aid....

Paying out anywhere near adequate amounts of aid (let alone the levels of aid that the largely White and middle class relatives of World Trade Center victims got - $ 2 million bucks per family? do the math, that`s $ 160 billion dollars!!) would create a major crisis for the system...between paying the refugees, and paying the businesspeople, and paying for the war, that would bankrupt the government...

It would take a struggle of essentially revolutionary proportions to bring that level of aid about...

And then there`s the whole question of fighting to control the destiny of the ``new`` New Orleans - fighting for new low income public housing, fighting against gentrification, fighting for Davis Bacon level wages for the workers rebuilding the city, fighting for affirmative action hiring on those construction jobs for Blacks, Latinos, Vietnamese and women of all races, even fighting for the levees to be rebuilt properly, each and every one of those struggles would shake the capitalist system to it`s roots -

And the social shockwaves of such a Black working class-led struggle would set off tremors that would be felt far far far beyond New Orleans, and would shake the whole apparatus of power of the corporate rulers in Louisiana, Mississippi, the South and America as a whole...

This sounds like a lot...and it is....

But all that would be needed to touch off this brushfire (that might extinguish the whole capitalistic system, which caused this horrorshow in the first place) would be to start organizing the refugees...camp by camp, shelter by shelter, FEMA trailer park by FEMA trailer park, all across the nation...

If anybody reading this lives near one of those Red Cross camps, or those FEMA trailer parks, or even in New Orleans itself, all it takes is to talk to the refugees, find the people in the camps who are natural leaders and help them organize their fellow refugees around their demands...maybe even something as simple as asking for their basic UN refugee rights....

And the brushfire starts rolling...

I`m very confident that the refugees have their own ideas, their own demands...and, with just a bit of help from outside, they can fight to win those demands...no matter what it takes...

After all, these heroic brothers and sisters made it through the floods...they had the smarts and toughness to make it out alive, and there`s nothing the government can dish out that`s worse than what they already lived through....

Corporate America and the rich good ole` boys of New Orleans already have their program...and they WILL carry it out, if somebody doesn`t stop them...

It`s well past time for the working class of America to join hands with our exiled New Orleansian brothers and sisters, and help them begin the fight....

Now, realistically, I don`t expect either one of the decaying labor federations, AFL-CIO or the horribly misnamed ``Change To Win`` to lift a finger...

The leaders of American labor will NOT do anything to challenge American capitalism, ESPECIALLY if it`s on behalf of a bunch of poor Blacks in the Deep South...

I`m not holding my breath for any action from the Black leaders either...from Sharpton to Farrakhan, from the NAACP to the Black Radical Congress, they are all tied by ten thousand grant proposals to the Wall Street corporate dominated foundations....and they will NOT bite the hand that feeds them...

New Orleans Black leaders are an even more servile lot...just look at the spectacle of C. Ray Nagin, the Black Republican cable TV executive turned mayor, calling for cops and soldiers to shoot hungry and thirsty refugees down in the street...they`re part of the problem, not the solution...

As for the Democratic Party....let`s get real....

They are a corporate party, just like the Republicans...they just do a better job of fooling union members and Black people into beliving that they are the ``party of the people``...

They`re already using this human tragedy as campaign fodder for the 2008 presidential elections...

And I`m not holding my breath for the left to step in, either...

Some leftist groups, particularly those on the anarchist end of the spectrum, will get foundation grants to run social service programs for the refugees...

These groups typically make much of the ``participation`` of the clients in the programs they run...but in fact, their groups are just as undemocratic as the average capitalist corporation when it comes to real decision making...

I would expect that pattern to continue here, ESPECIALLY if there is any significant amount of government or foundation grant money involved...

As for the Marxist left, many of these groups have already written statements, condemning the horrible neglect of the refugees, but going no further than to call for more aid from the feds...with no perspective on how to fight for that aid...

Some leftist groups have even come out in support of the military occupation of New Orleans....and call for MORE troops to be sent from the Iraqi front to the streets of New Orleans...

Unfortunately, to my knowledge, nobody is calling for an organized struggle, from withing the camps, led by leaders emerging from the ranks the refugees themselves, except for me...

Hopefully, somebody in New Orleans, or in the camps themselves (rumor has it there is limited internet access for refugees at the Astrodome), and will take the ball and run with it....

Amid the horror and the misery, our brothers and sisters in the camps may not realise it, but they have the power in their hands to change the world...they just have to stand up and use it....

Bottom line, there WILL be a ``new`` New Orleans....

But WHOSE New Orleans will it be????

Theirs, or ours????






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