Bushfire after Katrina

18- year old Jabbor Gibson: I dont care if I get blamed for it,
as long as I saved my people.

The outpouring of angst is clearly evident over the mis- handling in the aftermath of the New Orleans destruction. The liberal press specially the NYT has accused the US federal administration of ineptness. Others have focussed on the underlying causes of the hurricane and its aftermath, these include the ecological changes, increasing expansion of human settlements across the world and the expenditure on Iraq.

Here is Ross Gelbsplan writing in the Boston Globe:

Unfortunately, very few people in America know the real name of Hurricane Katrina because the coal and oil industries have spent millions of dollars to keep the public in doubt about the issue.

The reason is simple: To allow the climate to stabilize requires humanity to cut its use of coal and oil by 70 percent. That, of course, threatens the survival of one of the largest commercial enterprises in history.

In 1995, public utility hearings in Minnesota found that the coal industry had paid more than $1 million to four scientists who were public dissenters on global warming. And ExxonMobil has spent more than $13 million since 1998 on an anti-global warming public relations and lobbying campaign.

In 2000, big oil and big coal scored their biggest electoral victory yet when President George W. Bush was elected president — and subsequently took suggestions from the industry for his climate and energy policies.

As the pace of climate change accelerates, many researchers fear we have already entered a period of irreversible runaway climate change.

Against this background, the ignorance of the American public about global warming stands out as an indictment of the US media.

Maureen Dowd minces no words in NYT again (The United States of Shame):

Not only was the money depleted by the Bush folly in Iraq; 30 percent of the National Guard and about half its equipment are in Iraq.

Ron Fournier of The Associated Press reported that the Army Corps of Engineers asked for $105 million for hurricane and flood programs in New Orleans last year. The White House carved it to about $40 million. But President Bush and Congress agreed to a $286.4 billion pork-filled highway bill with 6,000 pet projects, including a $231 million bridge for a small, uninhabited Alaskan island.

All this is in the background of reports that indicate the stagnation for the majority of the Americans:

This week’s census report showed that income inequality was near all-time highs in 2004, with 50.1 percent of income going to the top 20 percent of households. And additional census data obtained by the Economic Policy Institute show that only the top 5 percent of households experienced real income gains in 2004. Incomes for the other 95 percent of households were flat or falling.

Neither have the overwhelmingly African- American faces in New Orleans been ignored. The racial overtones of the human disaster have again brought into focus the soft underbelly of the ‘civilized’ world.

Even Dan Belz, writing in the Washington Post ostensibly points to the “practical limitations” of the conservative administration but admits:

One Democrat whose boss was in contact with the administration as problems mounted in Louisiana said it seemed clear that the White House had no on-the-ground network within the African American community that could have alerted the president to the deepening crisis in a more timely way.

The novelist Anne Rice writes ruminates on the magic of the city that now resembles a ghost town and fulminates on the treatement meted out to it:

But to my country I want to say this: During this crisis you failed us. You looked down on us; you dismissed our victims; you dismissed us. You want our Jazz Fest, you want our Mardi Gras, you want our cooking and our music. Then when you saw us in real trouble, when you saw a tiny minority preying on the weak among us, you called us “Sin City,” and turned your backs.

Well, we are a lot more than all that. And though we may seem the most exotic, the most atmospheric and, at times, the most downtrodden part of this land, we are still part of it. We are Americans. We are you.

And in a mayhem like this one, rumors seem to be afloat as Eugene Robinson observed in what he calls ‘Third World Scenes‘:

Mullen has a schoolteacher’s kindly demeanor, so it was jarring to hear him say he suspected that the levee breaks had somehow been engineered to keep the wealthy French Quarter and Garden District dry at the expense of poor black neighborhoods like the Lower Ninth Ward — a suspicion I heard from many other black survivors. And it was surprising to hear Mullen’s gentle voice turn bitter as he described the scene at the convention center, when helicopters bringing food didn’t even land and the soldiers “just pushed the food out like we were in the Third World. That’s what made people go off. They just pushed it at us.”

On the way out, I literally stumbled into the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was just finishing a visit to the airport. He looked genuinely shaken. The line he used for the television cameras was practiced — “This looks like the hold of a slave ship” — but there was no way to practice the horror in his eyes.

And to the ‘innocent’ question that Condolezza Rice asked: Who could have foreseen it?, here is Mike Davis writing in 2004:

Poor, Black, and Left Behind

By Mike Davis

The evacuation of New Orleans in the face of Hurricane Ivan looked sinisterly like Strom Thurmond’s version of the Rapture. Affluent white people fled the Big Easy in their SUVs, while the old and car-less — mainly Black — were left behind in their below-sea-level shotgun shacks and aging tenements to face the watery wrath.

 

New Orleans had spent decades preparing for inevitable submersion by the storm surge of a class-five hurricane. Civil defense officials conceded they had ten thousand body bags on hand to deal with the worst-case scenario. But no one seemed to have bothered to devise a plan to evacuate the city’s poorest or most infirm residents. The day before the hurricane hit the Gulf Coast, New Orlean’s daily, the Times-Picayune, ran an alarming story about the “large group…mostly concentrated in poorer neighborhoods” who wanted to evacuate but couldn’t.

 

Only at the last moment, with winds churning Lake Pontchartrain, did Mayor Ray Nagin reluctantly open the Louisiana Superdome and a few schools to desperate residents. He was reportedly worried that lower-class refugees might damage or graffiti the Superdome.

 

In the event, Ivan the Terrible spared New Orleans, but official callousness toward poor Black folk endures.

 

Over the last generation, City Hall and its entourage of powerful developers have relentlessly attempted to push the poorest segment of the population — blamed for the city’s high crime rates — across the Mississippi river. Historic Black public-housing projects have been razed to make room for upper-income townhouses and a Wal-Mart. In other housing projects, residents are routinely evicted for offenses as trivial as their children’s curfew violations. The ultimate goal seems to be a tourist theme-park New Orleans — one big Garden District — with chronic poverty hidden away in bayous, trailer parks and prisons outside the city limits.

 

One of the many episodes during this crisis has been this story (from BoingBoing) of 18-year old Jabbor Gibson driving an abandoned bus for 7 hours to Nola and rescuing about a 100 people to the dome.

Authorities eventually allowed the renegade passengers inside the dome. But the 18-year-old who ensured their safety could find himself in a world of trouble for stealing the school bus. “I dont care if I get blamed for it ,” Gibson said, “as long as I saved my people.”

The keyword, of course, is “my people”.

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bhupinder singh

reader, mainly and an occasional blogger

2 thoughts on “Bushfire after Katrina”

  1. bhupinder you r right to say the american oil interst compnies stop the USA to sighn for the safty of planet . they really propegate against the real problem of global warming .how crual is the capital world .they try to save the rich thanks for detailed .it is eye opener they hide the name global warming effect and gave new name catrina

  2. Thanks for your comments. I was trying to make three points
    – the environmental aspect
    – the fact that urban poverty in the US overwhelmingly affects the blacks/ Afro- americans
    – the economic gains because of globalization has benefited the corporate owners only

    It has come as a shock to the people here that poverty is nearly a non- issue in the media. New Orleans is a tourist center mainly because a lot of jazz musicians came from there and it continues to be the center of jazz today. Even the airport is named after the great jaz musician Louis Armstrong.

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