plan to help the poor, racism,
The aggregate of everything that has been inflicted on New Orleans
is an appalling mass crime that continues unabated. We heard
some time ago of how the rich were not
overly keen on having the poor return to New Orleans, preferring to build
trendy condominiums for the rich. Some astute commentators suggested
that the crisis would be used to drive
out the black and poor. Three months on, New Orleans is whiter
than white, and as a matter of policy at that:
Mike Howells, of the public housing rights group C3/Hands Off Iberville,
estimates that 3,750, or about half of the city's previous number of public
housing units, are either habitable or can easily made so (this does not include
the projects like Lafitte with serious flooding). And yet only a few dozen
units, at a senior citizens' development, have been officially reopened. This
at a time when the Gulf Coast director of FEMA, Thad Allen, is telling the
New York Times, "Our No. 1 priority is housing, our No. 2 priority is
housing, and after that, at No. 3, we'd put housing."
At the moment, public housing residents or those with Section 8 housing vouchers
who wish to return to the city are being asked to register with FEMA and wait
for rental assistance, as though they were still evacuated.
What has housing activists in the city really upset is that national and
local officials are publicly planning to repeat across the city what was done
at the St. Thomas housing projects. In 2002, after a long public fight, they
were demolished and replaced with River Garden. The new development, built
using a federal HOPE VI grant and brokered by local businessman Pres Kabacoff,
had 25 percent units rated as affordable, versus 75 percent labeled market-rate,
and was anchored by the first Wal-Mart in Orleans Parish. Out of 800 families
who previously lived in the projects, only about 70 were able to come back
in the years before the storm.
"We're not going to build traditional public housing anymore,"
Jackson said at a November 3 press conference flanked by local leaders, calling
St. Thomas "the model."
Louisiana has one of the lowest
median incomes of any state in America, a situation they clearly intend
to fix by, y'know, restructuring the population. 80%
of New Orleans residents have not returned, while those who have are largely
white and wealthy. The government can't even be bothered keep an accurate toll
of the numbers killed during the post-Katrina seige. The official death toll
from Katrina is approximately 1,300, but there are 6,600
missing. Not to worry, however, for as the head of the ad hoc committee
set up to investigate the numbers of missing and dead explained, a
lot of these guys just don't want to be found because they're criminals
and evil-doers of various kinds. The authors of the linked article chortle that
the missing are alive or dead or "just plain gone with the wind".
That's Bush humour.
The racist mytheme about criminality
during the aftermath of Katrina has been exploded
so many times that all there is left is to slander the missing and, possibly,
dead. No need to worry too much about the fate of evil-doers, regardless of
what their family and friends might foolishly believe.
The lumpen city mayor, meanwhile, has a plan: bulldoze
the former homes of the poor, introduce city-wide internet access and build
seven new casinos. Businesses in the coastal area are getting their tax
breaks, although they have been, since October 26th, obliged once more to
pay minimum wage and adhere to the standards of the Davis-Bacon Act despite
temporarily successful attempt at removing all such regulations.
And the victims,
having had quite enough of being pushed to the bottom of every available pile
and then blamed for being there, are pressing
charges against the government. Some are testifying:
Alva, a 51-year-old grandmother from New Orleans East, remembers, “When
we were taken to the higher ground in Jefferson Parish, what did we have to
greet us? A line of military police with M-16 rifles. They watched us, caged
us, laughed at us, took pictures of us with their camera-phones. I saw a young
man get down on his knees and beg for water for his little baby, and I saw
the child die right there on the concrete. This was murder. They wanted us
dead. They just didn't think so many of us would survive."
Tammy, a black woman in her mid-30s, complains, “I was trying
to evacuate with my two daughters by car, when we were stopped by police,
made to get out and told, ‘Lie down on the ground, you black monkey
bitch.’ I was arrested and thrown in jail with my daughters and could
not get out for several weeks.”
Others are marching to demand the right
to return to their homes, and one hopes they will have more luck than these
guys. For the plain fact is that the authorities in New Orleans and in Washington
have shown no interest in allowing the poor to return to their homes: quite
the opposite. They have shown no interest in account for the missing and dead:
slander is the preferred option. They would rather cut taxes for businesses,
allow them to pay poverty wages while ignoring health and safety regulations,
contracts to their favourite corporations, and cut
food stamps for the poor.
The United States is now the
third most unequal industrial society in the world. Among advanced capitalist
countries, it is the most unequal. I feel fairly confident in predicting that
this situation will continue and intensify. The bubble is already burst. The
'third world' encroaches rapidly on the first, and what advantages one might
have accrued from being working class in New Orleans rather than in Caracas
are eroding. Close following which, the peace and tranquility that one might
have expected as an upper-middle class American can no longer be assured. Capital
faces an endemic crisis in profitability, not to mention hegemony. It throws
more and more below the poverty line each year, thus increasing the ranks of
the feared 'underclass' who might well explode into orgiastic criminality and
expropriation at any moment. And yet the ruling class is endlessly inventive.
The fact that a natural disaster can be harnessed to the ends of enriching the
already superbly wealthy elite, exploiting the poor further, and rooting them
out of their banlieues so that the latter can become a Disneyland for the bourgeoisie,
is testament to the alchemic power of capital. Marx
described how wealth could render the ugly beautiful, provide the stupid with
a brain and transform lies into honesty. It can also refashion a natural disaster
into a massive business opportunity. Capitalism is truly to
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