Saturday, November 10, 2012

The struggle for New Orleans

Stranded New Orleans residents sit on their
roof in the wake of the Katrina disaster
(Jocelyn Augustino)
The struggle for New Orleans
Nov 9, 2012 | Mike Davis

The poor of New Orleans--especially poor Blacks--suffered the brunt of the Katrina disaster in 2005, thanks to the criminal neglect of authorities at every level of government.

Mike Davis is an author and activist whose books include City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles, The Ecology of Fear and The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu. He spoke to Lee Sustar about the political impact of Katrina. This interview first appeared in Socialist Worker in September 2005.

THE CATASTROPHE on the Gulf Coast was the most widely anticipated "natural disaster" in U.S. history. Yet the response of the U.S. government was universally condemned as a failure. What happened?

HURRICANE KATRINA occurred on the 40th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act--the culmination of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

It provides a kind of tragic measure of the degree to which the civil rights revolution has been turned back. Not only in exposing the degree of criminal neglect and social Darwinism on the part of the Bush administration, but if you look at the event in detail, it will also tell you about the appalling contradictions of power and inequality in U.S. cities.

First of all, everybody has known for generations the vulnerability of New Orleans to large hurricanes. This became even clearer after the near miss of 1998. Since then, there have been computer studies and analyses that have shown in exacting detail--not just one, but a whole series that corroborated each other--that a direct hit by a Category Five hurricane would kill between 85,000 and 100,000 people in New Orleans. And even if the impact were moderate, parts of the city would be devastated.

Last year, you had Hurricane Ivan, and the evacuation of the city. So the death of New Orleans has been utterly foretold in unprecedented detail.

Despite the unparalleled foreknowledge that this was the single-biggest disaster scenario and should have been the absolute priority of the so-called Department of Homeland Security, the Republicans--with little Democratic opposition--have cut back spending on levee improvement in New Orleans designed to help protect the city from a storm surge event.

At the very same time, of course, they were spending money to fortify the border with Mexico. So you had this obscenity of undersized and sinking levees in New Orleans, and this gigantic triple wall between San Diego and Tijuana. I'm sure there are a lot of folks in New Orleans who wish they had had a wall that big.

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