THE DEREGULATED CATASTROPHE

The Hurricane Reveals the Dark Sides of the American Superpower

By Thomas Pany

[This article published in the German-English cyber journal Telepolis is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://www.telepolis.de/r4/artikel/20/20867/1.html.]


The number of dead rises into the thousands, according to the estimates of September 4 (1). The true extent of the catastrophe that hurricane Katrina inflicted on the American Gulf coast (Gulf of Mexico) and above all on New Orleans is unclear. New Orleans is a haunted city, the New York Times said (2). The scattered wage gun battles with the Army Corps of Engineers. “There is no explanation for these battles, only the sobering facts.” Approximately 500,000 persons were condemned to a Diaspora of biblical dimensions. The catastrophe became an incredible scandal through the absence of the most elementary survival assistance for days.

Their future housing is still completely uncertain. The gigantic relief machinery first started almost a week after the beginning of the catastrophe. Relief from the European Union, Nato and neighboring Canada is now accepted. 42,000 people were evacuated over the weekend (3). 17,000 soldiers including 7,000 from elite units were sent to the region by President Bush. The number of relief troops will reach 54,000 over the next days. The relief- and rescue actions were made difficult by the fires that broke out. More than 60 fires were registered in New Orleans. The fire department could hardly fight them because water was lacking – in an absurd way in a flooded region.

These provisional numbers will change – hopefully to the positive. However they only describe reality stenographically. They say little about the despair and shock triggered by the disaster. The comparison with films (“Mad Max,” “Land of the Dead,” “The Snake”) or the drastic picture of the “third world” now shown in the US may come closer to the drama, anarchistic conditions and gaps in public perception that Katrina pitilessly brought to light. Still there are unsolved questions and sobering facts confronting the American government, the American population and Europe in the course of events.

First of all, there is obviously the question how was it possible that the rescue machinery got going so late in a land that promoted “management” and “professionalism” in the last years? Why did the Homeland Security Department fail that was recreated in the wake of the attacks of September 11 and supposedly organized according to the most modern knowledge?

Secondly, the pictures from the catastrophe areas triggered a shock worldwide. Hyper-modern America found it shockingly difficult to act in the emergency and provide the fastest possible relief to the despairing. The other side, the poor side of the rich superpower turned away from glamour, was suddenly revealed. As often mentioned, they were mainly colored and always the poorest that could be seen in disgraceful situations. One part of the tendentious reporting was filled with pictures of African-Americans who took what the department stores (and the drug stores) gave away and were labeled “criminals” while whites that committed “petty larceny” were described or “branded” desperate. How racist are the white establishment at the crucial points of American politics and the media at the beginning of the 21st century? Look at the price one pays for policies that leave out from its priorities the insolvent groups of the population, negligible people for the economy oriented in consumption and target groups.

The relief actions starting up at the moment show that the US in extreme situations can initiate a wave of conciliatory solidarity countering the piercing questions, the so-called two-class society and the still racist characteristics of society. George Bush will not miss this moment of solidarity. Still certain questions will not grow silent.

How much was the non-arrival of necessary help due to economic conditions? How much was relief left to the private initiative of individual citizens? Private initiatives had no chance against the chaos triggered by Katrina. There was no governmentally organized assistance that could have leaped into the gap. Do privatization and deregulation inevitably lead to chaos and anarchy as soon as people are thrown back into the natural state by emergency situations?