Aftermath of Katrina: Nothing natural about it
Adolph Reed Jr.
September 2005

The unfathomable horror in New Orleans is not simply a natural disaster, the result of bad fate, a blind "act of God." It is the product of conscious, willful political action and inaction. It is not simply a humanitarian crisis. It is a devastating expression of a political crisis that has been brewing for decades. The right-wing in this country has methodically pursued a strategy of, as anti-tax guru Grover Norquist put it, shrinking government "until it's small enough to drown in a bathtub." Well, New Orleans just became that bathtub.

It has been known and widely reported for years that the levee system in New Orleans needed extensive upgrading, and that the project's magnitude is so great that only the federal government has the capacity to undertake it. It has also been noted all along that not making those improvements was a recipe for a disaster precisely like what's happened. Nevertheless, the Bush administration cut the levee project's budget by 44 percent to divert funds to the war in Iraq. To add insult to injury, he now faces the American people and boldly lies that he could've had no idea the levee might fail.

And not only did his policies make the city more vulnerable. They also undercut emergency response. The Louisiana and Mississippi national guards, the first line of response, are severely understaffed because at least a third of each state's personnel have been sent to Iraq. And, with the aid of a Republican congress and abetted by go-along Democrats, he has marginalized the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Although it had been known for nearly a week that Hurricane Katrina was going to make landfall somewhere on the eastern Louisiana or Mississippi Gulf coast by Monday, and New Orleans was filling with water by Monday night, as of Wednesday Bush had not mobilized federal support. Wednesday! After 80 percent of New Orleans had been inundated for approaching 48 hours! Real federal support didn't arrive until Friday, four days after the levee ruptured. And even that was half what Louisiana's Governor Blanco had requested.

This escalating catastrophe should be laid at the feet of the Bush administration and the bipartisan consensus that for more than two decades has been disparaging and gutting the public sector, shrinking and eliminating public functions, and undermining any notion of social solidarity. The Bush administration has radically intensified and expanded the right's agenda of reducing government to a vehicle for enhancing plunder by corporations and the wealthy and for punishing everyone else. Their problem isn't just incompetence or even lack of empathy, though there's abundant evidence of both. We are experiencing the most naked, borderline thuggish class rule that we've seen in this country in at least a century.

And, as is so often the case in America, racist demonization helps them pull it off. Today it's the poorest and weakest of New Orleanians, who can be left to die on parched overpasses or in fetid, toxic, snake and alligator-infested water; because they're black, they can be stigmatized as looters, or welfare cheats who were too lazy to evacuate. Who will it be tomorrow?

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