Business As Usual
Business As Usual
The growing outrage over the willful ignoring of warnings and overt cutting of local expenditures that paved the way for New Orleansâ€™ disaster is of course valid. The growing outrage over the unavailability of resources spent on immoral imperial violence is also valid. Corpses floating by warrant both tears and recrimination, but I want to address something slightly different.
Set aside the past history leading to New Orleansâ€™ vulnerability. Set aside the early warnings ignored. Set aside the National Guard sent to Iraq. The storm hit. Those with means to flee and somewhere to go got out. Levies burst (or, more accurately, succumbed to insane neglect). Waters rose. People lost food, medicine, information, and, yes, for a few, access to addictive drugs.
So what then? I am no city planner. But a few possibilities cross my mind.
Why not issue an order to bus companies to curtail transport elsewhere in the south and send all those busses, and certainly not too few, to New Orleans and the Mississippi coast to extract those who wished to leave.
Why not send in food, water, medicine, and yes, perhaps even drugs to appease desperate habits, to be distributed from sites all over the afflicted area, as well as dispersed to those who couldnâ€™t gain access to distribution points.
Why not issue an order to the military at bases across the south to send in troops to provide relief, including rescuing people, taking people out, distributing needed supplies, and, as a sidebar, helping keep order.
But where will people who leave stay? How will people escape the blistering heat and rising tides?
Why not issue an order to hotels to open their doors in surrounding areas free from the floods and power outages. The busses then wouldnâ€™t have to drive people hundreds or even thousands of miles. There would be no need to put people in vast stadiums with no privacy, amenities, or security, producing still more suffering. The hotels would be easy destinations to deliver food, medicine, and other necessities like clothing, diapers, soap, and radios to, the last so that people could hear Bush taking credit for issuing executive orders to save their lives and comfort them for bearing the burden of climate warming gone amuck.
No doubt you can think up better possibilities. Surely mayors and governors and heads of big corporations, or their advisers, or many news commentators, could think up good options too.
In other words, even given the grotesque unpreparedness of New Orleans and the Mississippi coast, even given the unending misallocations of resources to immoral war, still, once people were clinging to roofs, once people were wading though chest deep tides, once people were enduring blistering sun, once people were parched, hungry, without clothes, without medicine - why did we do so little?
Well, first, it isnâ€™t we who did so little. Normal people were immediately horrified. Normal people, particularly in the area, immediately tried to help. Despite being inundated daily with media messages and social situations that arouse antisocial greediness and egocentrism, the U.S. population still has a beating heart. But disparate populations have limited options. The "we" who did little or nothing was not the broad population but the people who had means. The "we" was the government. So why didnâ€™t the government act quicker and more aggressively?
The answer gaining credence by the hour is that the suffering people were, and are, black and poor. That is overwhelmingly true and intensely relevant, particularly to the instant news coverage, to the shoot to kill rhetoric, to the belief that politicos could ride out being callous, and to the endless indignities imposed at the gathering places where acres of hungry, disheveled blacks are harassed by surrounding police forces - not to mention to the prior history of New Orleans. But however central racism has been, it is not the whole story.
The additional factor making things much worse than nature imposed, I think, is that government intervention on behalf of humanity violates the logic and philosophy of business as usual.
Yes, the Bush administration worships market fundamentalism beyond all reason which makes them even more guilty than a Kerry or Gore regime, which would not have so drastically cut security measures for New Orleans, a hub city of the U.S. and world economy, and might have signed the Kyoto Accords, paying more attention to global warming, a likely cause of growing hurricane severity.
But even if Kerry or Gore wouldnâ€™t have done as badly before the fact as Bush, nonetheless, if the storm had hit head on, Kerry or Gore in office would have faced a situation little different from what we see now. Kerry would have put on a more sincere looking smiling face, no doubt. Gore would have delivered more caring and coherent homilies, I bet. Kerry would have set down the plane and rolled up his sleeves to hand out water bottles to suffering crowds - canâ€™t you just see him in your mindâ€™s eye? But neither Kerry nor Gore would have issued orders to bus companies, hotels, and pharmaceutical, food, and water providers to immediately aggressively alleviate peopleâ€™s suffering. Why not?
For Kerry and Gore, as for Bush, to issue such directives would challenge the private pursuit of profits.
But, you say, this is a calamity. Bush could interfere as an emergency act and could then soak up gigantic public thanks and avoid the gigantic public recrimination he is now suffering. Even if Bush doesnâ€™t give a damn about the people who are suffering, how could that not be better for his stature and even for his market fundamentalist agenda?
The answer is, I think, while such a choice would be in elitesâ€™ short-term interest, it would not be in their interest over the long haul. Over the long haul, it would be okay for elites to volunteer aid, yes, though incredibly few seem to be doing so, but the government telling private corporations that they must serve human need at the expense of private profit is unacceptable because, heaven forbid, it might cause too many people to perceive the obvious.
If homelessness after a hurricane should be solved by government fiat against market mayhem making things worse, why not solve day to day homelessness that way, too? Why not solve a crumbling infrastructure that way? Why not solve 30 or maybe 40 million Americans living below the poverty line that way? Why not solve literacy rates falling, poverty climbing, hunger growing, health failing? If rescuing New Orleans after a (somewhat) natural calamity warrants the government coercing big business, why not rescuing New Orleans, and other cities too, from the continuous ravages of corporate greed? Before the water rose, illiteracy in New Orleans was 40%. How can that be civilized? Why not correct that? Must we be literally drowning to address grotesque injustice? What if people started asking questions like these?
Is Bush looking gleefully at the suffering in New Orleans and even neglectfully adding to it as a psychopathic sadist might? I doubt it. Rather, Bush worries about tomorrow, not about tomorrowâ€™s ecology, mind you, or its climate, but about tomorrowâ€™s sociology. Bush ignores prognostications of natural calamity but listens very hard for the possibilities of social calamity. Retaining corporate power and profit is Bushâ€™s reason for being. Maintaining subordination of the many to the few is his business as usual. Cheney is probably lining up construction contracts.
Thatâ€™s the subtext of Katrina and New Orleans. Thatâ€™s why Bush and Co. reflexively marched lock step into incredible callousness. Accept business as usual as priority one and all thatâ€™s left is different brands of callousness. And then Bushâ€™s media spinners have to sell Bushâ€™s callousness. So like rabid sociopaths they try what often works, being tough - "shoot the looters to kill" they bluster. Shoot people who are taking food and water and sharing it with those too old or too young to loot for themselves. Shoot the sick seeking medicine to survive. Shoot, shoot, shoot. Donâ€™t distribute whatâ€™s needed, heaven forbid. Defend empty stores. Defend empty hotels. Who cares about the living, after all, a lot of them will soon be dead and the rest silent.
Just to clarify the point, for those who take seriously the admonition to shoot the looters to kill - the main looters in our society are corporate owners who accrue the products of working people's labor. The shooting gallery, if fulfilling this instruction were to become popular, would be far more upscale than the swamp that is New Orleans.
Bush has bloody hands, but beyond Bush, the larger system of business as usual guaranteed a catastrophic response to this catastrophe. The accurate Katrina headline is: Storm Hits, Capitalism Preserves Profits, Humanity Drowns.