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government | homelessness | katrina aftermath

Katrina and the Prehistory

Robert Scheer in "The Nation" wrote that the catastrophe was the result of a campaign to systematically demonize the role of the central government in American life.

New Orleans is now called "Lake George"

By Max Boehnel

[This article published in: ak-analyse + kritik, 9/16/2005 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://www.linksnet.de/artikel.php?id=1930.]

In a speed course, the shocked American people receive a lesson with the help of the mass media in racism, social studies, geography and domestic policy.

However the "spin-masters" of the Bush administration have long remained at the starting blocks to help the naked emperor to his clothes again.

The gigantic "superdome" in New Orleans - that cursed place of refuge (51 degrees centigrade according to the Vancouver Sun) for nearly 30,000 people where they had to hold out in their own faeces for five days forgotten by the US disaster control - will probably be torn down. Whoever does not voluntarily leave the city will be evacuated with force. The water that filled New Orleans up to six meters deep is slowly draining off but the city is "completely destroyed." Search teams must guard themselves from the deadly E-Colibri-bacteria. In the near future, the draining will reveal pictures that will "shake America again." The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) first asked the Department of Homeland Security for permission to send catastrophe relief workers after "Katrina" had raged for five hours in the country's interior. The mother of the president and nation, Barbara Bush, said at a shelter for flood victims in Texas, "many people were underprivileged anyway so this must be very good for them."

All this news shook the American public a week after. They show the emperor, American society and the mechanisms of their government without clothes. Even those Americans who do not read newspapers and use the Internet and television only for entertainment realize in the soaring gas prices that something is not right.

The system failed, commentators in rightwing, Bush-friendly newspapers say bluntly. If this is true, "what will happen in the event of a great terrorist attack," asked Republican Senator Susan Collins who prepared "Katrina findings" in the Senate committee for government affairs. Her colleague, the Democrat Joe Liebermann, promised, "to raise questions as we did after September 11, 2001."

As with "Pearl Harbor", the once taboo comparison of catastrophic events like "Katrina" with "9/11" was regarded as legitimate. Now it hardly disturbs anyone. "9/11" could partly recede into the background as an identity-giving moment and propaganda instrument for the "anti-terror war" when the draining waters actually reveal thousands of corpses - as the mayor of New Orleans Ray Nagan fears - in a torrent of pictures in the media. The memorials on September 11, 2005 were less passionate and intense than the three other anniversaries


The problem is manifest. Why did the crisis management fail four years after "9/11" in the "greatest American disaster of American history"? Why were thousands of persons victims? Why was New Orleans drowned out despite all the warnings in the years before? How could the authorities allow "Katrina" to become America's shame?

"Cutbacks and bureaucratic downgrading" was the answer in the Los Angeles Times to the question why the cruise ship U.S.S. Bataan stationed off the US Gulf coast with six operating rooms, hundreds of patient beds and capacity to produce a quarter of a million liters of water was not asked to help. The "strange bureaucratic paralysis" (Newsweek) of the US disaster control FEMA went back to Washington's decision in the wake of "9/11", according to the newspaper. FEMA had provided food, water, emergency shelter and medicines in emergencies relatively reliably, leaped into action in rebuilding destroyed infrastructures and like private insurers set security standards and furnished communities and states with preventive plans for emergencies. However after "9/11", FEMA lost its status as an independent agency and was subordinated to the enormous "Department of Homeland Security" in 2003. Budget cuts, elimination and downsizing of important areas of authority occurred as well as an "exodus of experienced workers," the Los Angeles Times said. The agency was reduced by 500 to 4,735 workers. Two divisions were responsible for emergencies instead of three. In addition, Washington ordered three quarters of the FEMA budget for local disaster prevention to be spent in "anti-terror measures."

In an interview over the weekend, the head of the Department of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff appointed a few months ago even admitted that Washington was inadequately prepared for the hurricane. However he simultaneously shifted responsibility for crisis prevention and crisis management to individual states and local authorities. According to their mandate, the federal authority first responds to requests in case of natural disasters and then supports the local authorities. Health secretary Mike Leavitt emphasized that the crux lies in the tension between federal- and individual state authorities. He conceded to journalists' questions that the long lasting flood of the American Gulf coast could lead to a serious health crisis of mammoth proportions. However Leavitt denied that workers of his department were sent to the South before "Katrina" and said the law forces federal authorities to ad-hoc deployments. "We are organizing them... as we go."


These instructions obviously came from past decades of US history. The "responsibility" of the "community" has moved into the foreground since the "cutbacks" of social state standards in the Reagan era of the 1980s and the neoliberal philosophy that the state ("big government") must withdraw from the "socialist" control of supposedly self-regulating market forces. The leftist columnist Robert Scheer in his latest article for "The Nation" wrote that the catastrophe was "the result of a campaign of most republicans and all too many democrats to systematically demonize the role of the central government in American life. Manipulative politicians have convinced whites from the lower and middle class that their economic and social hardships are results of a "quasi-socialist" government policy that only helps brown- and black-skin persons - while the profits of corporations and the salaries of CEOs soar through the roof.

Employees of the Washington Environmental Protection Agency according to Sheer - whether out of irony or loyalty toward their bread-givers can be left open - have proposed renaming flooded New Orleans "Lake George."

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