USA needs to start preparing now for the next Hurricane Katrina

29 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Privatization won’t cure New Orleans’ race problem.

New Orleans was devastated first by an act of God in Hurricane Katrina, then, and still more significantly, by a failure of men and their government, as levees built by the Army Corps of Engineers gave way in just the ways experts had long warned.“Envy isn’t a rational response to the upcoming 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina,” Chicago Tribune editorial board member Kristen McQueary wrote in a recent column, referring to the monster storm that nearly wiped out the city of New Orleans in 2005. “Hurricane Katrina gave a great American city a rebirth.” McQueary wished for a storm to wipe away Chicago’s corruption, slash the city’s budget and introduce private education. And in contrast to other disasters, when well-oiled response machinery kicked into gear, politicians and bureaucrats at every level proceeded to let down their constituents.

However, she did not mention how African-Americans in New Orleans were disproportionately affected by the disaster or how race became a determining factor in what was rebuilt, how and where. Predictably, the grim consequences of the disaster and its aftermath were borne by the city’s most vulnerable, and predominantly African-American, residents. New Orleans still has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country, though a recent study by the Data Center found a 67 percent drop in the city’s prison population since Katrina.

Katrina, naturally, was one that was a constant theme and Gilyot has read through hundreds of stories from the children of this city, with some stories so horrific and sad, he would find himself sitting at his desk, suddenly crying. “The kids we had right after the storm, some of them were in the [SuperDome], some of them were in the convention center,” Gilyot said. “Some of them went to hell in some of the places they went to after the storm, where they were not very welcome. In Biloxi, clergy and community leaders were to gather at MGM Park for a memorial to Katrina’s victims and later that evening the park will host a concert celebrating the recovery.

Katrina’s force caused a massive storm surge that scoured the Mississippi coast, pushed boats far inland and wiped houses off the map, leaving only concrete front steps to nowhere. They are the ones this week on the sidelines, watching everyone else remind themselves of how this city has come thundering back, while narratives of redemption and hope are spun so often that any other counterpoint to that gets lost. “I’ll be so glad when this week is over; I don’t want to see another Katrina memory for a long time,” Gilyot said. “I don’t need any more memories. I have enough.” Bush’s visit was far more low-key than President Obama’s stop here on Thursday, with a fraction of media and only one protester, who had shown up at 7:45 in the morning, outside. “I’m standing here to bear witness to the fact that a lot of people still remember his incompetence,” Aaron Grant, 35, told me while holding a sign of Bush—looking out the window of Air Force One—that reads, YOU’RE EARLY COME BACK IN A WEEK. McQueary’s column received a deluge of criticism. “I wrote what I did not out of lack of empathy or racism but out of long-standing frustration with Chicago’s poorly managed finances,” she explained in a follow-up post the next day.

When I first found out Bush was coming here this week, I started asking everyone I came into contact with whether they were aware that the 43rd president was returning to the city it took him three weeks to visit back in 2005. But it was too late: No amount of call for “revolutionary change” in Chicago and an end to “borrowing our way into bankruptcy” would repair the damage. And there is arguably no greater disconnect than Bush returning here, to a city that generally loathes him, with a sign outside a charter school that reads “Welcome Back President George W. McQueary was being honest about a phenomenon that Canadian writer Naomi Klein termed disaster capitalism, which profits from vulnerable people’s misery.

In a series of events in the week leading up to the actual anniversary, the city has held lectures, given tours of the levee improvements and released a resiliency plan. New Orleans is today in many ways a new city, and in some ways a better one — though celebrating its revival rings hollow to those forced out of the homes and neighborhoods they loved. For example, she endorsed dismissing labor contracts and teacher unions, calling for “a free-market education” model and “a school system with the flexibility of an entrepreneur.” In practice, this means deregulating and privatizing companies and services with lower pay for employees, fewer unions and inflexible working hours. The final task, of course — the one without which all the other gains could prove futile — is ensuring that the levees hold, God forbid, next time. This is why avoiding another Katrina requires examining what Klein refers to as “the reality of an economic order built on white supremacy.” Politicians and commentators the world over see disaster capitalism as rational and necessary after a natural or man-made crisis.

In reality, however, the much-vaunted austerity — sold as an answer to economic woes in Greece, Puerto Rico and cities across the United States that lack a secure safety net for the poor — simply doesn’t work. He said not everyone was happy about hosting Bush. “A lot of these kids are too young to remember,” Clark told me minutes before Bush took the stage. “Among the teaching staff, it’s been an issue.” That wasn’t the case for Grant, nor was it for Sebring and Mary Hooks, who traveled from out of state to be here this weekend in support of the black community. They held signs that read CHARGE GENOCIDE and GEORGE BUSH STILL HATES BLACK PEOPLE. “It’s so fucking disrespectful,” Hooks, 33, said. “How disrespectful, how arrogant. When you come to the school when the money was channeled through your wife’s foundation to fund the school and you leave thousands of other children without public education.

Are you kidding me?” Gilyot, the assistant principal, lost everything: his house, his mother’s house, his brother’s house and his aunt’s house. But as this weekend closes out #Katrina10, and as things like Bush’s return reflect a cognitive dissonance, a feeling of exclusion that—even 10 years later—still exists for many. “It’s been about everybody who helped us,” Gilyot said. “Not about those of us who helped ourselves. But the United States’ slow economic recovery has emboldened officials in Louisiana and elsewhere who argue that privatized services are far preferable to a well-financed public system. Without accountability for the abuses of corporate-backed privatization policies, its advocates will simply move on to another city or country to maximize their profits at the expense of poor and marginalized citizens.

My friend, a black woman, was aghast at the seemingly complete and total disconnect of an event that will be celebrated by people who were most likely not from here, and certainly not from that neighborhood. A few nights ago I dropped by the studio of my friend Alex Glustrom, a filmmaker whose documentary Big Charity details the needless and arguably criminal demise of Charity Hospital. The billion-dollar disaster rescue industry, allowing wealthy customers to pay companies to, say, rescue them from a flood or fight fires during a wildfire, is thriving; this is the privatization of humanitarian aid. Even 10 years after Katrina, McQueary can still write blindly about radical change through privatization while ignoring the great determinant of public access in the United States: race. Antony Loewenstein is a freelance journalist based in South Sudan and a best-selling author of many books, including the upcoming “Disaster Capitalism.” He’s working on a documentary with the same name.

She struggles with making it to her doctor’s office to refill her anti-anxiety medication because just being around other people sometimes is just too much. You won’t see her parading or second-lining or ribbon-cutting this week, the same way you won’t see hundreds and thousands more who like her, would prefer that this just all go away. “I’ve been in my house all week,” Mary Jefferson, 55, told me outside the school on Friday morning, stopping to chat with Grant and compliment him on his Bush sign. “I just haven’t dealt with it.”

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