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economic justice | environment | katrina aftermath | social services

Hurricane Katrina, Crony Capitalism, and Community Breakdown

Some observations are made about the relevance of US crony capitalism and the breakdown of community and social solidarity in hypercapitalist postmodern America, and the recent devastation sparked by Hurricane Katrina on the Louisiana and Gulf coasts.
Many have observed that those who are most desperately afflicted in the recent hurricane in Louisiana and the Gulf Coasts are predominantly poor and minority folk. From observations about the disparate treatment of disaster victims in the media (white folk "find" whereas black and other minority folk "steal" and "loot" goods abandoned in stores), to coverage of the squalid conditions prevailing in makeshift refugee camps in such places as the New Orleans Superdome, the disparities between different classes of disaster survivors is apparent.

Our society does a very poor job of social solidarity, especially with those who are the most disadvantaged. Such solidarity usually comes as an afterthought, like White House tenant GW Bush flying over the wreckage from a lofty height in Air Force One, captured in photos with a furrowed brow striking manly, compassionate poses of concern at photo-ops with the press. But this is all too-little-too-late ("because the emergency services infrastructure in many local communities never existed in the first place or has been scaled back due to falling tax revenues and 'no big government' attitudes.", http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0901-31.htm). Of course, it is easy to be a "rugged individual" with no need for silly "big government" amenities like functioning, reinforced dikes to stave off flooding when one has a "reliable vehicle armed with luggage, credit cards and cash, bound for some well-heeled friend or relative who lives at a higher elevation." (op. cit.)

The "no-big-government-attitude" in this case is actually simple shorthand for the "no-social-solidarity-attitude" of those who are well-heeled enough not to worry about trifles like the slow-motion disaster first set in place earlier this year, when the deadly decision was made to cut funding for the crucial levee reinforcement project to fix the 17th Street dikes whose recent breach was responsible for most of the catastrophe in central New Orleans.

"It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay," Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana told the Times-Picayune in June of last year. "Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us."

For the well-heeled, indeed, there might sometimes be considerable inconvenience, but little threat of death or serious dismemberment in store from such costly mistakes. Yet the well-heeled have complete inpunity to make these decisions, knowing that whatever the consequences, those who will be most devastated by them largely don't vote -- and certainly don't vote with the one kind of lawful currency that really counts politically. (Dollars vote every day, not just every four years.)

Indeed, the rich can get richer from disasters, as Halliburton has discovered in Iraq, much to its profit and Dick Cheney's pocketbook's delight. That this profit making has deadly, real world consequences, and not just in farflung corners of the American empire, but right in the heart of the "homeland" itself, has now been proven with graphic cruelty in New Orleans.