Business As Usual
The growing outrage over the willful ignoring of warnings and overt
cutting of local expenditures that paved the way for New Orleans'
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 Orleans' 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
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
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 couldn'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
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 wouldn'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 isn'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 didn't the government act quicker and
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 wouldn'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 - can't you just see him in your
mind'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 people'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 doesn'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 elites'
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 tomorrow's ecology, mind
you, or its climate, but about tomorrow's sociology. Bush ignores
prognostications of natural calamity but listens very hard for the
possibilities of social calamity. Retaining corporate power and profit
is Bush's reason for being. Maintaining subordination of the many to the
few is his business as usual. Cheney is probably lining up construction
That's the subtext of Katrina and New Orleans. That's why Bush and Co.
reflexively marched lock step into incredible callousness. Accept
business as usual as priority one and all that's left is different
brands of callousness. And then Bush's media spinners have to sell
Bush'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. Don't distribute what'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,