AskWHYBlog: Carol Harvey In San Francisco

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Saturday, December 03, 2005

WAS KATRINA THE CLASSIST-RACIST PERFECT STORM?












TV news from New Orleans was horribly real and really horrible. We saw poor people, mostly black, wading hip-deep in rushing water. Elderly women gripping walkers trudged down the freeway. Disabled folks in wheelchairs, slumped dying or dead.

A sign on a corpse read, "Here lies Vera. God help us!" --- A plea for Divine aid when humans didn't send it. A restored identity rescued Vera from the anonymous death of the countless who drowned.

St. Bernard Parish, a patchwork of marshes, refineries, rundown houses and suburbia, populated by the poor, lies across the Mississippi from New Orleans not far from Bourbon Street.

On August 29, rescuers discovered bloated bodies of 32 elders in St Rita's nursing home in Chalmette, St. Barnard Parish, with signs of desperate attempts to keep the water out. Homicide charges were brought against owners, Mable Mangano and Salvador Mangano Sr, who allegedly ignored evacuation warnings.

A few Vancouver Canadian Mounties showed up in two days, but the Louisiana National Guard was evacuated outside the Parish, which received no government assistance in the initial days following Hurricane Katrina.

Reptilian skin pulled away, Bush's covert elitism, classism, and racism, was revealed.

The narrow TV screen shrunk the unimaginable destruction. People huddled for days on rooftops or freeway overpasses above surging floods, without food or water, waving "Save us" signs.

RACISM AND CLASSICISM

As the President delayed sending the National Guard before hundreds of victims died, black and white leaders agreed. Racism and Classism factored into Hurricane Katrina's displacements and deaths.

Rev. Al Sharpton called the nonresponse "inexcusable," saying when a less violent hurricane hit Palm Beach, Jeb Bush alerted the National Guard before the storm struck.

Democratic Party Chairman, Howard Dean, told one of the country's largest black religious groups, the National Baptist Convention, "We must ... come to terms with the ugly truth that skin color, age and economics played a deadly role in who survived and who did not."

Illinois Senator, Barak Obama, blamed class, citing black poverty as an decades-old tragedy.

Rapper Kanye West's agonized words startled his co-host Mike Myers and a Katrina benefit national TV audience: "George Bush doesn't care about black people.

"It's been five days," continued West ..."America is set up to help the poor, the black people, the less well-off --- as slow as possible."


Social Welfare Programs Destroyed In Class War Sortees

The very reason that the underfunded FEMA made such a disorganized, late response to desperate calls for help is itself based in the Bush Class War, the systematic defunding of social programs, entitlements and security to the economically challenged which would pave the road to homes for the homeless.

Bush gutted public works projects, anti-poverty and tax-funded programs for energy, environment, education, healthcare, unemployment, housing, safety, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He pumped the money into his Iraqi war, contrived for oil and war profiteering. In a dire national emergency, an administrative organization, FEMA, wasn't there.

THE ELITISM OF THE RICH

The Bush base is the world's Corporate rich. Their words betray their "Disconnect" from the "lower economic classes."

CASUAL "MALIGN NEGLECT?"

When multimillionaire Bush paused from golf, telling drowning New Orleaneans "Be Patient," he referred to gas price hikes from storm-damaged Gulf Coast derricks.

Barbara Bush's description of the Astrodome Homeless had the ring of Marie Antoinette's "Let Them Eat Cake." Repairing to her multimillion dollar Houston mansion, Barbara observed, "Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality... the people in the arena here...were underprivileged anyway, so ...this is working very well for them." She thought it was "scary" they might want to stay.

INTENTIONAL "MALIGN NEGLECT?"

Was the President's slow response deliberate?

Seeing thousands cooking in the New Orleans Superdome, I thought of the gas chambers. Like the exterminated Jews, poor black people, lured by false promises of food and water, were confined by soldiers in an enclosure which quickly became a death trap.

If you delay emergency assistance to a stroke or heart attack victim during first critical moments, allowing conditions to run their course, you conduct an unprovable murder by "malign neglect."

On the September 4 MSNBC's "Meet the Press," Tim Russert cited 2002 "New Orleans Times-Picayune" stories predicting Katrina in minute detail. It was a matter of time before a hurricane could overtop the levees leaving thousands drowned, crushed by debris, trapped in homes, cars, on high ground or roofs, dehydrated and hungry for days.

Knowing three years ago of this most forecast disaster in American history, the Bush administration defunded the Army Corps of Engineers levee reconstruction. This raised storm surges many feet. Denial of global warming highlights the irony that the Gulf water's raised temperatures heightened wind intensity and flooding.

Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco requested assistance two days before the hurricane struck. Evacuations were called. The poor had no money to leave.

Jefferson Parrish President, Aaron Broussard, told of an employee whose mother begged him for five days to "Send somebody" to her St. Bernard nursing home. On the fifth day she drowned.

"Nobody's coming to get us," Broussard sobbed. I'm sick of the press conferences. For God sakes, shut up and send us somebody!"

On the radio Ray Nagin, frustrated new Orleans Mayor, yelled,"Don't tell me 40,000 people are coming here! They're not here. It's too doggone late. Now get off your asses, and let's do something. Let's fix the biggest goddamn crisis in the history of this country."

Under Michael D. Brown, FEMA delayed two days, rejected Amtrak's help with evacuations, rebuffed experienced firefighters, rejected Wal-Mart supply trucks, prevented Coast Guard diesel fuel and Red Cross food deliveries, barred morticians, blocked a 500-boat citizen flotilla delivering aid, ignored a Navy ship, the Baton, with a 600-bed hospital, and turned away power generators.

Too fast for a media or Congressional response, Bush made a weekend stealth appointment of Reagan era anti-civil and human rights judge, John Roberts, for Supreme Court Chief Justice.

The President bore ultimate responsibility. In dire emergency, states and cities lack the vast resources commanded by the Federal Government.

POPULATION CONTROL

US government official, Hugh Kaufman, an EPA expert on toxic waste and environmental disaster, told the "Independent News"(UK) that waste and toxic chemicals from 66 storage dumps, chemical plants, and oil refineries in the Delta's "Cancer Alley" were washed into flooding waters. This whistleblower reported that, despite Mayor Nagin's insistence New Orleaneans return immediately, the city would not be habitable for ten years. Kaufman insisted that the Bush administration was covering up the danger, withholding the results from EPA-analyzed water samples.

Does letting people drown or wander in a virulent sludge of e. coli and chemical carcinogens amount to a culling process? Rapture Right Christians, of whom Bush is reputedly one, believe an small elite will rule when the inferior poor die off.

Conspiracy theories or intention aside, a profiteering war undeniably caused mass deaths of Iraqi poor. Did Bush create a U.S. arm of the class war leaving more impoverished "collateral damage" in New Orleans?

TOTALITARIAN STATE

The Bush administration carries totalitarian markers George Orwell treated brilliantly in "1984."

Among them are destruction of democratic Constitutional ideals.

Problems are blamed on foreign scapegoats --- Osama, insurgents, Al Kaeda.

Rich and poor classes are strictly defined, the poor and homeless made internal enemy scapegoats, isolated and criminalized. Like Jews in Nazi Germany, they carry "inferior" status, lacking the coin of the realm with highest value--- money.

STEREOTYPING AND CRIMINALIZATION OF POOR AND HOMELESS

Corporatocracy Looting

One symbol of Corporate Classism was the floating Fugi blimp helping police spot "looters."

Accusing poor flood victims of looting food and water, rich white men raid the Treasury though social security privatization, let the EPA pillage the environment, and gouge the public with skyrocketing gas prices.

The Corporatocracy is making money from New Orleans displaced and dead. In Iraq, Bush hired Cheney's company, Halliburton with Kellogg-Brown-Root and Blackwater, subcontractors that bill the government exorbitantly using add-ons through the Cost-Plus mechanism. This amounts to the looting of American tax dollars. How predictable that Bush would bypass competitive bidding, supposedly for speed, awarding these same companies contracts to assess New Orleans' power infrastructure prior to rebuilding.

On PBS, New Orleans musician, Wynton Marsalis, discouraged property owners from selling to developers who would rebuild and gentrify, erecting hotels, and condos.

WELCOME TO THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF HOMELESSNESS

Homeless Shelters As Prison

The Superdome seemed to be nothing but an enormous homeless shelter. San Francisco shelter dwellers describe similar unclean dangerous conditions --- bugs, rats, and criminal behavior. One "sheltered" San Franciscan told me he took his belongings to the bathroom at night, lest they be stolen. The staff are guards (sometimes armed) controlling entrance and egress from the facility.

"New Homeless" Encampment

On September 12, 2005, Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky, convention attendees, paramedics from S.E.I.U Local 790, searched for water with several hundred others. Police advised they cross the greater New Orleans Bridge where there were buses. At the bridge, armed Gretna Parish sheriffs blocked them, firing weapons over their heads.

They sheltered from rain under an overpass, built an encampment and waited for buses on elevated Ponchartrain expressway.

Commandeering a water truck, they retrieved dropped C-rations, hung garbage bags from rebar poles, made beds from cardboard and wood pallets, used a storm drain for a toilet enclosed by broken umbrellas.

Basic needs met, they worked together and made a community.

This newly homeless band learned how hostile the police become to unhoused people in groups. They employed survival techniques homeless people have used for years.

NEW "EVACUEES" VS OLD HOMELESS

Katrina may spread new homeless people across America as they escape to cities and to the streets.

Not yet stereotyped as part of the old guard homeless, they were called "refugees" until some complained they are tax-paying citizens.

"Evacuees" were welcomed in Toledo (463), Michigan (500), and San Francisco where Laura Adelman of The San Francisco Office of Emergency Services said St. Mary's Cathedral, originally set up as a 300-bed shelter, will be used only as a center where "they are receiving services from the Red Cross, the City, and other nonprofit organizations." Red Cross, Catholic Charities, and the Salvation Army will help upwards of 400 "cases" obtain transportation, hotel vouchers, long term housing, medical services, and jobs. She said an individual "case" can constitute a single person or a several-member family, bringing many more than 400 evacuees through San Francisco.

She confirmed "the Mayor's Office of Housing has taken the lead on helping find longterm housing, and they've been talking to various organizations that represent building owners." Though she assured me, "No one will be taken off a list in favor of someone else," there is concern, with San Francisco's limited housing stock, evacuees will receive priority over those homeless already on the streets.

(Katrina survivors have, indeed, displaced striking service workers at the Sutter Health affiliate in San Francisco, California Pacific Medical Center.)

Willie Warren, San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness, stated, "Look, it's cool you want to bring disaster refugees up here for a while into the housing because it is going to take a year or two or three for you to rebuild New Orleans. Nobody's got a problem with that.

"What takes precedence, rights or emergency? "(They) have been waiting on the list ... from two to seven years.

"You are using poor people against each other. When survival comes to town, ethics and morals take a vacation."

I asked Sister Bernie Galvin of San Francisco's Religious Witness With Homeless People about the "different" status apparently afforded the newly homeless evacuees.

She said, “‘Which desperate individuals should get the available San Francisco housing -- the San Franciscans who have long been on the waiting list for housing or those equally desperate individuals victimized by Katrina?’ This question invites our stepping into the trap of pitting one desperate group against another; to do so would be to dishonor the dignity of every person in each group.

“The more appropriate question should be, ‘Why is it that this wealthiest nation in the world is not able to simultaneously provide for the basic need for housing to both of these groups?’

"Or an (even) more basic question would be, ‘Why is it that the Bush administration prioritizes exorbitant funding for war and killing and gives immense tax cuts to the wealthiest 1% of this nation, thereby ensuring the deprivation of the most basic human needs to the poor people of our own nation?’

“These are the questions that we should be pondering at this time.”