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corporate dominance | economic justice | katrina aftermath | political theory

New Orleans catastrophe: the product of a bankrupt system

September 1st, three of the worst looters appeared on CNN. President Bush himself along with two former presidents, Bush the father and Bill Clinton. The current Bush brought the two former one's in as fundraisers. What hypocrites these characters are.
Hurricane Katrina, that pounded the U.S. Gulf Coast this week caused unprecedented catastrophe. It is undoubtedly the most powerful storm in U.S. history, a category four hurricane. The human tragedy will be impossible to determine for weeks or months to come. Initial death counts have gone from a few hundred to thousands as floating bodies have simply been "brushed aside" as rescue efforts take precedence.

The corporate press has made much fuss about looting, the racist bias in the reporting epitomized by the description of a black man wading through water up to his waist with a box of diapers for his children as a looter, while a young white couple wading through water of equal depth, we were told, were, "finding food".
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People too poor to leave the city, folks that were stranded in it in other words, were described in the corporate press as "people who chose not to leave". Those who could afford to leave did so. Those with means left and those without were stuck. New Orleans is a working class city. Sixty seven percent of the population is black and 50% of that 67% lives below the poverty line. One of the major reasons for this is that the main industry has been tourism so most of the jobs are service sector jobs that are often non-union and very low paid. It is this poverty that caused so many residents to stay in the city during this crisis, they did not "choose to stay" as the racist capitalist media says. The U.S. minimum wage is a poverty level wage and unfortunately, the heads of organized labor, in order to pacify business, have refused to mobilize their membership to increase it by any significant amount. The U.S. minimum wage should be at least $15 per hour. The heads of organized labor bear some responsibility for the poverty conditions in cities like New Orleans.

The rich live on higher land and have better access to transport, and a way out. It is the same in every natural disaster whether here in the U.S. Indonesia or Iran, the poor are the majority of the victims. As the losses mount, those with money, and better insurance, will re-coup the most.

September 1st, three of the worst looters appeared on CNN. President Bush himself along with two former presidents, Bush the father and Bill Clinton. The current Bush brought the two former one's in as fundraisers. What hypocrites these characters are.

After hurricane Andrew hit Florida in 1992. The cost of the clean up was $22 billion. The insurance corporations screamed about their profits and threatened to pull out of the state. So Bush senior, who was President at the time and, following him, Bill Clinton, collaborated with their buddies in the insurance companies to rewrite the insurance laws and restructure the industry throughout the 1990's. They both did their jobs and rewrote the laws to increase the profits of the insurance companies through a combination of increasing the involvement of the state government in hurricane costs, reducing the exposure of the private insurance underwriters, and increasing the liability of homeowners. The insurance companies themselves also introduced a 2% deductible.

In addition, insurance companies that are based nationwide were allowed to set up "Florida only" based companies which they could put into bankruptcy if they were losing money in that state leaving the rest of their company untouched. All kinds of state supported back up funds that is underwritten by taxpayers were set up to bail out the insurance corporations. These hypocrites believe in the market only as long as they are making money. But when the effects of their rotten system hit their pocket book they turn to the working class like they did in the savings and loan scandal, the shifting of companies pension obligations or the cost of the murderous assault on Iraq.

President Bush himself opposed funding that would have strengthened the network of levies that protected New Orleans and whose failure added to the catastrophe. The Times Picayune newspaper is just one of the many sources that warned repeatedly of such a catastrophe that occurred this week. On June 8, 2004, Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; told the Times-Picayune: "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. 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."

Daddy Bush tells the media today that his son has "deep concern over this disaster". The corporate media naturally covers for them. Partisanship is not productive now. Politics is out. They must stick together. Bush, this buffoon and representative of the oil corporations that loot the American people and the people of the world on a daily basis is, "deeply concerned." The workers and poor of New Orleans are not convinced. The hatred of the gang in Washington is rising to the surface with a vengeance as the crisis deepens.

"You can do everything for other countries, but you can't do nothing for your own people," one resident of the convention center exclaims, "You can go overseas with the military, but you can't get them down here." Thirty thousand people in the Superdome were without food and water for days. One resident of the convention center told the AP that when they tried to break in to the convention center kitchen to get food, the National Guard drove them away. The vast majority of people entering Rite Aid or Wal-Mart are taking what they need to survive, but for Bush and his cronies, corporate property is what is sacrosanct and must be protected at all costs, even if is about to fall victim to Katrina's flood.

Adults and babies have died in the New Orleans Convention Center unable to get help and waiting days for buses that might get them out of there. People have complained that they've seen nothing of the National Guard or the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the government agency created to deal with such disasters. But Bush placed FEMA under the umbrella of homeland security and many critics have complained that the agency is being isolated and marginalized in order for Bush to pursue his war on terror. The Wall Street Journal reports that even congress is concerned that FEMA's effectiveness has been "diluted" by the Bush administration's efforts to make it primarily a relief agency, but "traditionally", writes the WSJ, "FEMA has also been actively involved in planning for catastrophes."

The economic effects of the hurricane will be devastating. The storm shut down 8 major refineries in the Gulf Coast amounting to about 10% of U.S. capacity; half of the jet fuel in the U.S. is refined there. As of this writing 80% of New Orleans is under water and 75% of the state of Mississippi is without electricity. By some accounts, 40,000 workers in Mississippi have lost their jobs. Massive oil platforms were ripped from their moorings and went adrift. The sheer physical power of Katrina can be summed up in one sentence: the storm surge that it created temporarily reversed the direction of the mighty Mississippi river, a waterway that drains 41% of the U.S. land mass from the Appalachians to the Continental Divide.

Immediate estimates of the cost of the damage hover around $75 billion. One thing is for certain, not only the physical burden but also the financial burden of this catastrophe will be borne by the working class and poor, the insurance companies and their stooges in Washington have made sure of that.

As costs mount, the corporate politicians will respond to their master's demands for shifting the costs of the catastrophe on to the backs of U.S. workers and the middle class. But this crisis was avoidable. The imbecile in the White House refuses to accept that global warming exists. The policy of "full spectrum dominance" has meant a global assault on the environment, on workers' rights, on the public sector and social spending that would have mitigated much of the effects of katrina's wrath. Iraq is nothing more than privatization by the bomb. These profit-addicted thugs who worship the market, Democrat and Republican alike, have no right to rule, they are a threat to humanity.

The insurance companies, and the oil companies must be taken out of private hands. The billions of dollars in stolen wealth that they have accumulated can be used to rebuild the Gulf Coast. Exxon alone made $25 billion in profit last year. This can also be done with the banks. A huge finance sector controlled by democratically elected working class and middle class people can be created. This can be used for developing society in all ways, including the rebuilding necessary following natural disasters. This finance sector would not be determined by the profit motive but by the needs of the people. The Democrats and Republicans will not do this; these parties represent the corporations and their corrupt capitalist system.

The immediate aftermath of hurricane Katrina offers an opportunity to begin this process at the local level. The oil workers are unionized; the chemical workers are organized. These Union locals have the ability to make an appeal to all organized workers in the area as well as nationally and internationally to organize the relief effort and get resources in to the area, independent of the cronies in Washington? Given the outpouring of sympathy for the victims in New Orleans, an appeal of this nature would receive enthusiastic support from workers all over the world.

Is it possible that in areas still occupied that local elected committees could be formed to oversee the day-to-day operations of distribution of supplies in each area rather than having individuals risk being shot for taking a bottle of water from a drug store? That supplies in the stores in each area can be requisitioned and distributed through these committees rather than go to waste. These committees can then link up with the union locals so that the working class as a whole becomes the dominant force in the relief effort. The resources and millions of dollars the union movement spends electing Democrats to office, politicians who are responsible for the present catastrophe, should be used now to assist the working class to act on our own behalf.

The horrific situation that exists in New Orleans confirms the need for the transformation of society. It confirms the bankruptcy of the capitalist class and their system; in the wealthiest and most powerful country that has ever existed, a major city has been destroyed and rotting corpses, bodies of workers and the poor, are floating around the once busy streets.

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