The Guardian 28 September, 2005

Culture and Life

by Rob Gowland

In the wake of Katrina

Now that the clean-up has begun after Hurricane Katrina, it is timely to draw a few conclusions from this debacle for capitalism, a debacle that the US administration is desperately trying to cover up and bury.

I thought one of the best encapsulated summings up was embodied in the report of the actions of one New Orleans parish (county) president, Aaron Broussard. Disgusted at the treatment (or lack of it) meted out to the city’s poor, Broussard, President of Jefferson Parish, seceded from the US.

According to veteran black political organiser in New Orleans Malik Rahim, "Broussard said, ‘If this is the way America is going to treat residents of Jefferson Parish, then we no longer need to be a part of America.’

"As soon as he did that, the President (Bush) and everyone else showed up to help."

But, just like his mom patronising the survivors of Katrina in the Superdome in Texas, Bush clearly thought he was slumming during his photo-ops in New Orleans.

Imprisoned political activist Mumia Abu-Jamal scornfully but accurately described "the hurried photo ops of Bush holding Black babies [which] showed a man about as comfortable as a Klansman at the Million Man March!"

Uncomfortable though he undoubtedly was, Bush nevertheless kept his eye on the main prize: using Katrina as the catalyst for cleansing New Orleans of its poor neighbourhoods, the people and areas that lower property values and stand in the way of development.

And using it, too, as the lever for enlarging the role of the armed forces within the United States itself.

Already, conservationists are sounding the alarm at the rebuilding of New Orleans being left to business to carry out. The little bistros, cafes and jazz clubs will be replaced with shopping malls, and New Orleans will look like any other modern American, European or Japanese city.

Property values, however, will go way up, and tourists — who come for "local colour" that is no longer there — will not be put off by the sight of poor people living close to the shops and hotels.

Bush outlined a "recovery plan" for the hurricane-stricken area built around something he happily called the "Gulf Opportunity Zone". Opportunity for whom? Business. Opportunity for what? To make money. Of course.

This zone of golden opportunity will comprise a goodly chunk of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Within this zone, Bush promised to "provide immediate incentives for job-creating investment, tax relief for small businesses, incentives to businesses to create jobs".

In Bush-speak, of course, "incentives for job-creating investment" means freedom from inconvenient laws protecting workers’ wages, rights and conditions. At the same time, the lucky companies that secure government contracts (purely on merit, of course) will get huge windfalls in the form of tax cuts and other handouts from the public purse.

"It is entrepreneurship that creates jobs and opportunity", intoned Bush. "It is entrepreneurship that helps break the cycle of poverty, and we will take the side of entrepreneurs as they lead the economic revival of the Gulf region."

See, he’s not helping his friends and backers to make a motza, he’s helping to break the cycle of poverty. The man is all heart.

However, one thing Katrina did that Bush and his backers were not happy about was to reveal to the whole world’s appalled gaze the extent and the pervasiveness of poverty in the richest country on Earth. It also revealed how prevalent racism still is in that country.

And it showed how close to revolt the downtrodden of the US are. The modestly-titled World Socialist Web Site described the situation fairly accurately as "a growing fear not only within the Bush administration, but within the American ruling elite as a whole, that the squandered lives and national humiliation resulting from the government’s failure to respond to Hurricane Katrina was a defining event — one that threatened to fuel popular opposition to the entire social and political system".

The Bush administration knew just what to do: The failure of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Homeland Security Department to cope with Hurricane Katrina was used as the justification for making the military takeover of New Orleans a precedent for future and broader exercises in martial law.

Bush spelled it out: "It is now clear that a challenge on this scale requires greater federal authority and a broader role for the armed forces — the institution of our government most capable of massive logistical operations on a moment’s notice".

In case you thought he was simply concerned about fast humanitarian aid, he went on to imply that the posse comitatus law, which bars the military from domestic policing, must be weakened or repealed outright.

Johnny Howard, of course, already has laws in place here to do the same thing.

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