Monday, September 05, 2005

America Will Never Be the Same After Katrina

America Will Never Be the Same After Katrina

by John Spritzler (
September 5, 2005

In this past week's wake of hurricane Katrina, the American ruling class saw how quickly it can become isolated from the public support it requires to rule. Even in sectors of society it routinely relies upon to protect it from the anger of poor and working class Americans, our rulers found themselves under attack, as individuls allowed their humanity to trump their role as corporate employees. The ruling class also lost something of immense value -- its credibility in claiming that it acts to protect the public safety of Americans, the claim which serves as the pillar of its entire "war on terrorism." Millions of Americans are learning that the people in control of our government don't give a damn about public safety.

One striking example of humanity trumping capitalism was the way the network TV reporters in the field quite often spoke as human beings, not as corporate employees, when they expressed, often quite emotionally, their outrage and shock at the absolute failure of the government to provide help to people in need.

One MSNBC reporter (Tucker Carlson, normally a right wing talk show host) on Thursday night, standing on a New Orleans street wearing "the same shirt I was wearing last night" said he could not understand why the Federal government had nobody on the scene. He said that MSNBC, like all the other media, had all of their people and equipment in New Orleans for days, that they had been following the weather tracking and knew beforehand that Katrina would most likely hit the city, and how could the Federal government not have known this as well? He said he never thought until today that MSNBC was more efficient than the Federal government.

Another TV reporter around this time, in obvious emotional distress over what she was seeing, repeated over and over how unbelievably horrible conditions were for people at the convention center and how desperate people were for government help that was completely absent. This reporter was answering questions posed to her by another reporter who made a point of asking her about violence so she could reply by saying that she hadn't seen any and that people were just doing what they needed to do to survive. This was a direct rebuttal to the government's claim that they couldn't send in rescue teams because of violence against them.

I got the impression that the network higher-ups were not able to rely upon their reporter-employees to protect the government from being exposed as they normally do -- not during this one week when the government's contempt for the safety of American citizens was just too obvious and horrifying for any human being witnessing it to ignore.

There are other examples of people behaving as human beings instead of employees in a capitalist system.

New Orleans policemen apparently have resigned in large numbers and two committed suicide, in despair at the absence of backup from higher ups which made it impossible for them to help people.

There was the performance of rapper Kanye West during the live NBC "A Concert for Hurricane Relief" September 2. Comedian Mike Myers was paired with West for a 90-second scripted segment that began with Myers speaking of Katrina's devastation. The script called for the dialogue to go back and forth between the two, but West ignored the script and whenever he had the mike he attacked the government: "George Bush doesn't care about black people... [America is set up] to help the poor, the black people, the less well-off as slow as possible...I hate the way they portray us in the media. If you see a black family, it says they're looting. See a white family, it says they're looking for food."

The mayor of New Orleans also behaved as a human being instead of an aspiring politician. In an interview on Sept. 2 he replied to a reporter's question about the Federal government not being able to send help until formally requested by local authorities: "You know, did the Iraqi people request that we go in there? Did they ask us to go in there? What is more important? And I'll tell you, man, I'm probably going get in a whole bunch of trouble. I'm probably going to get in so much trouble it ain't even funny. You probably won't even want to deal with me after this interview is over."

People in New Orleans by the tens of thousands said to hell with capitalist property relations and behaved as human beings instead of consumers in a capitalist society when they went into stores to take food and medical supplies that they needed to survive. George Bush condemned their behavior as "criminal," but lots of people in the media who are paid to defend the sanctity of capitalism abandoned their corporate responsibility by making a point of defending this "looting" as morally the right thing to do. Even the notorious right wing radio talk show guy, Michael Savage, argued that it wasn't obvious that taking food and medicine this way was wrong. Also interesting was the fact that Savage pointedly said that Rush Limbaugh's defence of the government ("People who chose to stay in New Orleans have no entitlement to government protection") was crazy "knee-jerk" conservatism because the people who stayed were the poor who had no choice and in a natural disaster the government's role is precisely to protect people who cannot protect themselves.

I even heard one normally right wing talk show interview an academic about the "looting and violence" which the government was using as its excuse for not sending help. The academic pointed out that the so-called "bad looting" of TVs and so forth typically occurs during natural disasters in communities that had been exploited for years by a wealthy upper class and this "looting" was seen by these communities as the morally justified expropriation of wealth that had been stolen from them. Not your normal right-wing fare.

Hurricane Katrina has exposed one of the most important lies which the ruling class relies upon for social control -- the lie that it protects the safety of Americans. This is the entire rationale for the "War on Terror" afterall. But now Americans know or are starting to learn that their nation's rulers couldn't care less about public safety.

Public opinion polls show that 91% of Americans are paying very close attention to the government's response to Katrina. Two-thirds in an ABC News/Washington Post poll say the federal government should have been better prepared to deal with a storm this size, and three-quarters say state and local governments in the affected areas likewise were insufficiently prepared.

Many people are only just now hearing about the facts that circulated mainly on the internet last week about how the Bush administration sabotaged public safety despite explicit warnings by professionals years ago about the risk of a hurricane hitting New Orleans and that the levees could not withstand a level 4 hurricane. As one report puts it:

"President Bush has diverted funds that were needed to prepare for this type of natural disaster to fund a war of conquest in Iraq. He did this despite being warned of the potential for danger by FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) as early as 2001. The Houston Chronicle reported on Dec. 1, 2001: 'New Orleans is sinking. And its main buffer from a hurricane, the protective Mississippi 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.'

"Knowing that a hurricane of this strength was eventually inevitable, the Bush Administration slashed the budget of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the area by $71.2 million. This cut eliminated hurricane and flood protection projects as well as a study to determine ways to protect the region from a Category 5 hurricane. This cut was part of the Bush policy of slashing essential programs to pay for a tax cut for the wealthy and for the occupation of Iraq.

“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.”

President Bush's contempt for public safety is now revealed by the fact that instead of appointing a professional with real experience to head FEMA, he selected Michael Brown, whose prior relevant experience was zilch. As one report describes it:

"During the 1990s, Brown served as judges and stewards commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association. His job was to ensure that horse-show judges followed the rules and to investigate allegations against those suspected of cheating. 'I wouldn't have regarded his position in the horse industry as a platform to where he is now,' said Tom Connelly, a former association president. The reporters refer to Brown's stormy years with the horses as a 'rocky tenure.' But Brown knew Joe Allbaugh, President Bush's 2000 campaign manager. Allbaugh took over FEMA in 2001, and hired Brown as general counsel."

New York Times columnist, Maureen Dowd, expressed what millions of people were thinking when she wrote in her September 3 column:

"Michael Brown, the blithering idiot in charge of FEMA - a job he trained for by running something called the International Arabian Horse Association - admitted he didn't know until Thursday that there were 15,000 desperate, dehydrated, hungry, angry, dying victims of Katrina in the New Orleans Convention Center. Was he sacked instantly? No, our tone-deaf president hailed him in Mobile, Ala., yesterday: 'Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job.'"
Our ruling class sufferred a terrible blow last week from a hurricane that blew away the lies and credibility and respect which they need to enlist the support of better-off Americans in controlling the poorest. No ruling class like the American plutocracy of a few hundred extremely wealthy families can rule without the backing of people in the media, the military and police forces, local politicians and so forth. Last week we saw that our plutocracy cannot take this backing for granted. We got a glimpse of the potential for the plutocracy to be isolated, for humanity to trump capitalism, for ordinary Americans to make our society one based on the kind of solidarity which motivates people to come to the aid of the hurricane victims, not the greed and power-craving that motivates our ruling class.

Some things will eventually go back to normal in the future months after Katrina. But some things will never be as they were. The Credibility Gap caused by our leaders' lying during the Vietnam War ended forever the WWII era faith in the honesty of our leaders. Likewise, the overwhelming failure of our leaders to take the most elementary steps to protect people in the path of danger has been exposed by Katrina, and no American President will ever again be able to pose as the defender of public safety the way George W. Bush once did immediately after the 9/11 attack. The world is not the same after Katrina. The potential to make a revolution and create a better society in the United States has never been more evident to more people than now.