The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

United States:
Katrina and Rita:
The Flood May Be Over but the Human Catastrophe Has Only Just Begun

Nov 2, 2005

Only a few days after the devastating floods from Hurricane Katrina had destroyed most of New Orleans, that city’s business and political elite was already putting together plans to rebuild the city. On September 8, key New Orleans businessmen and Mayor Ray Nagin held preliminary discussions in Dallas. The very next day what the New York Times called “a New Orleans business establishment government-in-exile” opened up offices in the Capitol Annex in Baton Rouge, the state capital. By the end of September, the very same business leaders and bankers dominated the 17-member commission that had been set up to advise the mayor on the city’s future.

The power brokers did not hide their intentions. The new city that would arise from the floods would be very different “demographically, geographically and politically,” explained James Reiss to the Wall Street Journal. Reiss is the chairman of the city’s Regional Transit Authority and a wealthy business owner who came from one of the Old Line New Orleans families that had long dominated New Orleans. These people want to push luxury housing, as well as an expanded business center and tourist district into the neighborhoods and communities where the working class and poor had been living – until the hurricane and flood had driven them out.

With a single blow, the slate would be wiped clean. The big problems that had plagued New Orleans in its long decline – poverty, crime, drugs and poor schools – would supposedly disappear, along with much of the population. It would be what, in the 1960s and 1970s, had been called “urban renewal,” but on a much vaster and more dramatic scale.

It was left to the black politicians tied to these business groups to spell out what this meant. Bush’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Alphonso Jackson, told the Houston Chronicle, “New Orleans is not going to be as black as it was for a long time, if ever again.... I’m telling you, as HUD secretary and having been a developer and planner, that’s how it is going to be.”

Democratic Mayor Ray Nagin explained the magnitude of the transformation: “We are probably looking at repopulating the city right now at about the 250,000 level [or half what the population was before Katrina].”

It was bipartisan.

Some politicians even dared say that they considered the devastation and tragedy resulting from Hurricane Katrina to be a blessing in disguise.“We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did,” said U.S. Representative Richard Baker of Baton Rouge. Apparently, uprooting the working class and poor, exiling them to the far suburbs or scattering them across the country was the answer to his prayers.

(The politicians in Louisiana were not the only ones to invoke divine providence for destroying the homes and neighborhoods of the working class and poor that were in the way of the developers bent on making big profits. Mayor Brent Marr of Gulfport Mississippi, which was also destroyed by Katrina, told the New York Times, “Property values are going to skyrocket here. All the unattractive stuff [i.e. ordinary peoples’ homes and neighborhoods] has been blown away.... We have an opportunity now to make it an absolutely unique place. God has come in and wiped the slate clean.”)

For decades, the bourgeoisie had been pushing the poor and working class out of different parts of New Orleans. By the 1960s, much of the working class population had already been expelled from the French Quarter. Many black former residents made their way to nearby public housing projects. But over the last decade, the city government bulldozed most of the projects, replacing them with retail and commercial developments, as well as luxury condos. The people were further scattered.

Some of the worst flooding from Hurricane Katrina – and then Rita, three weeks later – hit the poorer areas. This was not out of some “act of God.” On flood plains, it is money that buys high ground. Often the neighborhoods where the working class and poor lived were built on the lowest ground, protected by levees and flood walls that were defectively built and then not repaired or even maintained.

Especially hard hit by the flooding was the historic Lower Ninth Ward, which for generations had been the backbone of the city, housing important parts of the working class. It was also the center of black culture in this city – the cauldron which had produced so many jazz and blues artists. The power elite has made it clear it wants the Lower Ninth for its own purposes. “I think it would be a mistake to rebuild the Ninth Ward,” said HUD Secretary Jackson. The tentative plans are to bulldoze the tight-knit neighborhoods – many with old beautiful homes, whose originality and diversity has led Meg Lousteau, executive director of the Louisiana Landmarks Society, to say that its “architecture is just mind-blowing.” The big plan is to return the Lower Ninth to a wetlands, in order to better protect the wealthier areas from future flooding – or, perhaps, turn it into a golf course.

So, the power elite of New Orleans want to hollow out the city and empty it of the very people who had built it, made it work and created its unique culture and history in order to have some more enclaves for the well-to-do, bigger sterile shopping malls and business centers. As for the once culturally rich French Quarter, the process of making it into just another corporate theme park, a Dixieland Disneyland, would be completed with perhaps a few more big gambling casinos thrown in along the Riverfront.

Responsibility for the Disaster

In the midst of one of the worst natural and human disasters in this country’s history, at the very moment that hundreds of thousands of people had been trying to survive in the flood waters with death all around them, the local bourgeoisie and their political allies were angling to take advantage of the disaster. It was entirely consistent and predictable.

After all, it was their policies that had caused the disaster in the first place. Putting their profits and enrichment first, they were always ready to gamble with the safety and lives of the population. The corporations and government carried out wanton commercial and industrial development along the Mississippi River and its delta – despite warnings from engineers and scientists that this would erode and eventually cause the disappearance of the barrier islands and wetlands, which served as protection from the hurricanes that regularly batter the Gulf Coast. The oil and gas corporations built pipelines that crisscrossed sensitive wetlands – despite the fact that these pipelines further accelerated the disappearance of the wetlands.

At the same time, the politicians choked off spending on the system of flood controls, the levees, storm walls and outlets, letting them fall into disrepair and rot. Money taken from projects to protect the city went straight into the pockets of the big corporations and the wealthy in the form of tax breaks and subsidies, or it went to pay for government projects that made corporate investments more profitable. Last year, for example, the U.S. government spent no money on the decrepit floodwalls that were supposed to protect the Lower Ninth, while it spent tens of millions to dredge waterways used by a very small number of barges and spent more than a hundred million dollars to deepen Port Iberia.

In the face of warnings over the last 40 years from every single scientific and public agency about the kind of catastrophe a large hurricane would inflict on the city, the bourgeoisie and its government cut back spending, mouthing platitudes about the “100 year flood.” According to them, it wasn’t “cost effective” to prepare for a situation that might hit only once in 100 years. They weighed the value of saving countless human lives against their estimate of how much it would cost them – and cynically decided that it wasn’t worth it.

Their evacuation plan was based completely on “individual responsibility,” that is, it fell completely on the shoulders of each person’s ability to leave. This plan was summed up by Mayor Nagin when he finally declared on the day before the hurricane hit: “Gas up your cars and go.” Since over 100,000 people in New Orleans did not have cars, the evacuation plan assumed that a big part of the population would not be able to escape, that it would either be left to drown in the flood waters or to suffer through many days of severe deprivation. As for most of those who took off in their cars, they were sent off to blow in the wind in parts unknown. For the wealthy people, with all their resources, it wasn’t a problem.

Once the floods hit, the authorities’ basic aim was to keep all those poor people from entering areas of the city that were not flooded, the wealthy neighborhoods with their sumptuous homes, the French Quarter, and the downtown business district with its office buildings, deluxe hotels, restaurants, stores. The police were deployed to herd the survivors into the Superdome and Convention Center or leave them stranded on highway overpasses in the middle of nowhere. Police formed a barrier to keep the people penned in those hellholes – away from the dry wealthy areas nearby. But with the New Orleans police and a couple of hundred troops from the National Guards already stretched thin, Mayor Ray Nagin and Police Chief Eddie Compass jumped in front of TV cameras to speak about criminals running amuck in New Orleans. On September 1, Nagin proclaimed: “So what you’re seeing is drug-starving crazy addicts, drug addicts, that are wrecking havoc. And we don’t have the manpower to adequately deal with it. We can only target certain sections of the city [i.e., the French Quarter, the downtown and the wealthy neighborhoods along the river] and form a perimeter around them and hope to God that we’re not overrun.” It was nothing but an attempt to force Bush to send in much more massive military force in order to protect those “certain sections of the city.”

And it was all a crock of lies. The fact is, the people caught in New Orleans, so despised by Nagin, were in fact keeping things together with their courage and their solidarity. They pulled together to rescue most of those who were trapped in their homes or in the flood waters; they scrounged up whatever food, water and medical supplies they could find; they helped move the sick. In the weeks that followed, the lies of Nagin and Compass were exposed by testimony from the few officials who had been in the Superdome during those fateful days. A supervisor in the Department of Social Services referred to how teenagers helped save those who were collapsing every few minutes from heat and exhaustion. “Some of these guys looked like thugs, with pants hanging down around their asses,” he said, “But they worked their asses off, grabbing litters and running with people to the New Orleans Arena,” next door, which housed the medical operation.

Attacking the lies and rumors spread by the likes of Nagin and Compass, Major Ed Bush of the Louisiana National Guard offered this appreciation: “What I saw in the Superdome was a tremendous number of people helping people... They have been cheated out of being thought of as these tough people who looked out for each other.”

The destruction of New Orleans might have garnered the most attention because a major city had been destroyed. But what happened in New Orleans was replicated up and down the Gulf Coast, from Alabama to Mississippi to rural Louisiana all the way to Texas. It was a vast array of destruction with people losing their homes and trailers. Entire towns were swept away by the storm surge. Of course, the main victims were the poor and working class, black and white both. Oftentimes, their situation was even worse than it was for the people in New Orleans, since it took much longer than it did in New Orleans before any outside help got to them.

The Department of Patronage and Public Relations

Within days after the disaster broke out, the Homeland Security Department handed Kenyon International a contract to collect and handle the dead bodies in New Orleans. Kenyon was certainly not handed the contract for the excellence of its work, since its parent company, Service Corporation International (SCI), which operates 1,500 mortuaries and cemeteries world-wide, has been mired in some of the most dramatic scandals in the business. These include digging up bodies in cemeteries SCI ran, and throwing the bodies into the woods, where they were eaten by wild hogs and dogs, in order to make way for new bodies. SCI also owned 15 funeral homes that were accused of sending hundreds of bodies to an unlicensed, unregulated crematorium in Georgia that never incinerated the corpses, but piled them outdoors and stuffed them in sheds.

Kenyon’s sole qualification for this contract was that its parent company, SCI, is run by Robert Waltrip, a longtime friend and political ally of the Bush family.

The result? Bodies on the sidewalks, on the streets, floating in the flood waters weren’t picked up sometimes for weeks – constituting, among other things, a real health hazard. In fact, dozens of morticians from around the state had traveled to New Orleans and begun to work voluntarily before Kenyon came in. They were ordered to stop doing the work for free, and to begin submitting the proper paper work so that they – and Kenyon – could get paid. In effect, the only real service that Kenyon performed was to act as a middleman, since it did little work itself, and it slowed down and hindered the disposal of the bodies.

This illustrates how much from the very first hours after the storm hit, the government’s main goal was to use the tragedy as the excuse to enrich its corporate cronies. Almost immediately after the flooding began, the Department of Homeland Security signed a contract with the Carnival cruise line to pay it 236 million dollars for the service of three ships over a six month period. That comes out to $1275 a week per evacuee if the ships were at full capacity with 7,116 evacuees. But the ships now bobbing in the Mississippi River and off Mobile, Alabama, are more than half empty.

To try to recover from the terrible fiasco of the government’s intervention in the first days, the Bush administration promised quick action and got Congress to ram through an emergency 62-billion-dollar spending bill to pay the first costs of recovery and reconstruction. Bush not only promised massive aid for the victims, he also promised to make the devastated area “better than ever.”

FEMA set about signing contracts at a rate of 500 million dollars per day with the usual engineering and construction companies – the ones with a long history of reaping enormous profit from government work, Halliburton, Bechtel, the Shaw Group, Fluor. These companies were supposed to provide emergency repairs to military facilities and levees and provide temporary homes. But just as in Iraq, most of these were no-bid contracts, which meant that the companies basically wrote their own ticket, decided how much they wanted to take from the government for as little actual work as possible. Of all the government agreements, it was the one with Bechtel that stood out. The New York Times described it as “an informal agreement with no set payment terms, scope of work or designated total value.” In other words, Bechtel was free to gorge itself on as many profits as it could possibly digest.

As an added bonus to his corporate buddies, Bush suspended the Davis-Bacon law, which mandates that workers on federal government projects be paid what is considered to be “the prevailing wage.” He also suspended the minimal environmental controls that slightly keep companies in check, thus making it easier for companies to make even greater profits at the expense of the workforce and the environment. The companies involved in the so-called clean-up and reconstruction of the region could pay rock-bottom wages and pollute to their heart’s content – which they very quickly took advantage of.

While some liberal Democrats thunderously condemned the Bush administration for “cronyism,” the office of Democratic Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco of Louisiana was working with corporate consultant, James Lee Witt, Clinton’s former FEMA director, to shovel money to their corporate clientele, including Nextel and the Harris Group.

It didn’t take long for the original 62 billion to be exhausted. Under the guise of furthering the reconstruction work, Congress is now considering the much more massive Louisiana Katrina Reconstruction Act with an expected price tag of up to 250 billion. This bill is being sponsored by Louisiana Senators Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, and David Vitter, a Republican, who appointed an advisory panel on how best to spend the money. With big fanfare they announced the committee included Ivor van Heerden, director of a Hurricane Public Health Research Center at Louisiana State University, and John Barry, the well-known author of Rising Tide: the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and how it Changed America. But it wasn’t long before the two blew the whistle on the fact that except for them, the entire advisory committee was made up of lobbyists. “I was basically shocked,” van Heerden told the Los Angeles Times. “What do lobbyists know about a plan for reconstruction and restoration of Louisiana?” Obviously, van Heerden and Barry had some kind of illusion that the government really was going to scientifically reconstruct the flood control system along the Mississippi River, when it was merely a cover to funnel money and aid to big companies in several different industries.

In many instances, the projects given serious consideration would actually increase the likelihood of flooding, make the river system more dangerous and unhealthy. One of the projects is an industrial canal lock, to increase barge traffic on the Mississippi River – with a price tag of 748 million dollars. The greater traffic would not only contaminate drinking-water sources with toxic sediments, it would also destroy wetlands, eroding the few natural barriers to hurricanes that are left.

Where would the money come from? To pay for all this, the government is cutting more social programs and public services.

At the federal level, Bush is proposing cuts of 50 billion dollars on programs such as food stamps, Medicaid and welfare over a period of five years. At the same time, the federal government is forcing other state and local governments, whose budgets were already strapped before their economies were decimated by the storms, to bear part of the added cost for providing aid to the Katrina and Rita victims. The states are paying part of the bill for administering unemployment benefits and Medicaid for the storm victims, and it’s not clear, given how the federal government has slid around on such questions, that they won’t end up paying part of the bill for the programs as well, before it’s all over. The already cash-strapped local school districts that are taking in the nearly half a million school children displaced by the storm are also having to pay much of the bill. The federal government says it will reimburse them for up to 90% of the “normal” educational costs for one year, when everyone knows that the real cost of providing education on an emergency basis to students facing such terrible hardships will be much higher than “normal.” At the same time, by the way, the upper limit set by the federal government on vouchers for private and parochial schools is $7500 per child, or almost $2,000 more per student than what they are offering to the public schools. As for the cities and towns that are now trying to rebuild themselves, the federal government is providing them only with loans, which they will be expected to repay in five years.

The added burden of all these costs will very quickly lead to even more budget cuts on the state and local levels, which are responsible for much of the public services that cities need. In fact, these cuts have already started. The city of New Orleans is laying off half its workforce, 3,000 workers. The surrounding municipalities, the public school districts, hospitals, universities are also laying off major parts of their staff, thus accelerating a longstanding destruction of services. Two weeks after the storm hit, small localities in Mississippi had laid off all their public service workers, including firefighters.

The Hurricane Homeless

Despite all the horror that the population went through, ripped to shreds by two hurricanes, trapped by the flood waters in their homes and attics, penned up in the Superdome and Convention Center – almost certainly the biggest hardships still await them.

They are part of one of the biggest disasters in this country’s history. The two hurricanes, along with the flooding, decimated over 95,000 square miles, from the western Gulf coast of Alabama, through Mississippi, Louisiana and part of Texas. As of the last week in September, FEMA reported that it had received applications for aid from 1.3 million HOUSEHOLDS from New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama as a result of just Katrina. That means as many as three or four million people have been left homeless – or more than one percent of the population of this country. Tens and even hundreds of thousands more people have been uprooted after Rita.

The refugees have been dispersed from Maine to Hawaii, with the biggest proportion, according to USA Today, around Baton Rouge and other communities within 250 miles of New Orleans. Another 240,000 settled in other big cities in the south, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Atlanta. About 26,000 went to cities such as Chicago, Detroit and Baltimore, cities that have had longstanding ties with the South, due to the migrations from the South that took place during much of the 20th century.

The vast homelessness is made worse by the enormous destruction of jobs. As of the second week in October, the U.S. Labor Department reported that it had received 438,000 unemployment claims. That number has been growing by about 75,000 new claims per week, and it is expected to continue to grow over the next weeks and months. Add to that all the workers not covered by unemployment insurance, all the small corner business people, and the number of people without work may well exceed one million.

According to FEMA, the number in shelters is declining, having peaked at 270,000 on September 8. But on Bush’s deadline of October 15 to empty the shelters, there were tens of thousands of people still there, still sleeping in church pews, lining up for their meals, showers and toilets. No doubt the shelters had to be something of a relief, given the absolutely awful conditions people were fleeing. But in the shelters they had to endure the very primitive conditions, the total lack of privacy, and the regimented life style, being told when to eat, shower, sleep. Added to that was the lack of essential personal items and services, like laundry facilities. Above all, there is the lack of money. More than half the families that applied to FEMA for the initial $2,000 that had been promised them have yet to receive any money.

From the shelters, many have been moved into budget hotel and motel rooms. FEMA says that it is subsidizing 600,000 rooms throughout the country. These rooms may be better than shelters. However families are still shoe-horned into one room, and of course, they are still rotting away, without jobs or money.

Then there are all the others, still living in their cars or tents or doubling and tripling up with relatives or friends.

FEMA’s housing plan for the medium term is to set up 350,000 camping trailers and mobile homes. The experience of refugees from past hurricanes, such as Charley, Andrew and Ivan, suggests what is in store for those who move into the trailers this time around. Refugees from the earlier storms said that in the beginning, the trailer appeared to be a real improvement, a little more like a home, since it comes with the basic amenities and a few very, very small rooms. However, the trailer parks, or FEMA Cities, have been stuck in desolate and treeless areas, far from jobs, friends and relatives, and also far from the services that people need. In other words, they are simply warehouses for the unwanted, with high rates of drug use, crime and victimization. They are instant ghettoes. And many found them very difficult to get out of, even though they had landed a job, because the housing shortage following the hurricanes had driven rents and house prices sky high. Many families have been trapped in these trailers for years.

There are many reasons to believe that this time around conditions in the trailer parks will be worse. First of all, the parks that are being planned will comprise upwards of 10,000 or 20,000 trailers packed tightly together in each park, rather than the 500 or 1000 in earlier storms. Given their isolation, given the fact that big numbers of poor and working class victims will be concentrated in a very small and isolated area with no place to go and nothing to do, and with few or no jobs on the horizon, conditions in these parks could very quickly descend into something like a concentration camp. Chances are they will be even more difficult to get out of, since rents and housing prices in New Orleans and many other areas devastated by the hurricane have already doubled, tripled and even quadrupled.

As for all the people not in the trailer parks, who will continue to strike out on their own, conditions will also be very difficult. In the first weeks after the hurricanes, families on the road were saying how quickly they burned through whatever savings they had in their bank, how quickly they began to use their credit cards to pay for daily expenses. Wanda Bishop told ABC News that after being on the road for two and a half weeks and paying $5 per gallon for gasoline, she had already charged $600 on her credit card. As the victims of Katrina and Rita try to rebuild their lives, they are actually digging themselves deeper and deeper into debt, the debt trap.

Of course, how things turn out for the refugees will depend on whether they are able to find a decent paying job. More than anything else, it will be that job that will give them some stability, that will allow them to connect back into a community. But prospects for finding that job are very difficult. One illustration of those difficulties occurred at the end of September at a job fair for Hurricane Katrina victims held by Michigan companies at the Detroit Public Library. Unexpectedly joining the refugees were hundreds of Detroit residents, who lined up to fill out job applications also. “There are a lot of people who need jobs,” said Bianca Dave, 23, of Detroit. “They [Katrina victims] need jobs. But I need a job. Bad.

The Katrina and Rita refugees are now competing with everyone else for the same few jobs.

Capitalists are already exploiting this desperation. Barely two weeks after the hurricane hit, a dozen Katrina victims were sent by a temporary employment agency to scab on a strike of janitors and nursing assistants at the California Medical Center in San Francisco.

Meanwhile, in the area devastated by the hurricanes, corporations are imposing minimum wages on the work force they are often bringing in to do the reconstruction work. Some places are replacing their existing workforce with immigrants ready to accept much lower wages, without benefits. At the Superdome, the 75 maintenance workers were fired and replaced by workers brought in from the outside. Halliburton is now doing this at the military bases where it has set up shop.

So an enormous refugee population in this country is being buffeted from pillar to post, with no place to settle, no job, no prospects for the future. Many commentators are comparing their situation to what people who came to be known as “Okies” faced during the Great Depression. Farmers from Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle lost their land during the Dust Bowl, that is, one of the worst droughts in history that combined with a long-standing farm crisis. They were condemned to wander the country in the most abject poverty, desperately seeking steady work and a home. For years, they were treated as outcasts and chased from one state to another. To keep them out, the state of California posted troopers along the border. In other words, these displaced farmers had become refugees inside their own country.

Picking up on what the Congressional Black Caucus and Jesse Jackson said a couple of days before, Bush denied that the victims of Katrina and Rita are refugees.“The people we are talking about are not refugees. They are Americans,” he affirmed. They may be Americans. But Bush, the rest of this U.S. government and the capitalists turned them into “refugees,” that is, people seeking refuge. And there are far more refugees from Katrina and Rita in 2005 than there were “Okies” in the early 1930s.

Nature Produces Hurricanes, but Capitalist Society Produced the Refugee Crisis

The fact that it is happening all over again, more than 70 years later, and on a bigger scale, is absolutely outrageous. There shouldn’t be a crisis. Instead of wasting away in some shelter, motel room or someone’s couch, facing destitution, those people should have the immediate choice of working on the reconstruction of the Gulf region.

The people whose homes were destroyed are a potential labor force. They could already be starting this monumental job: disposing of the debris, cleaning up the oil and chemical spills with proper protection, repairing the levees, the ports, the basic infrastructure of water, sewage, transportation, electricity. They could begin the work of rebuilding their communities, homes, workplaces, stores, parks, hospitals, schools, libraries, etc. At the same time, another part of this displaced workforce could be providing the basic services, education, food, garbage pick-up, shipping that the builders need. Even those famous FEMA trailers and motor homes that the government ordered could be set up as temporary housing near the work sites. Instead of the near-empty cities and ghost towns all along the Gulf Coast, they could be beehives of activity.

Just like the people in the Superdome took the initiative and pulled together under terrible conditions in order to help each other to survive, people could be working together to rebuild the region.

If this is not being done, certainly it is not for want of money and wealth. Look at how much the government has already handed over to the Halliburtons and Bechtels, and look at how much more it plans on giving away to all the other big corporations. Nor is there any lack of scientific or technical expertise. The U.S. is the wealthiest country in the world with the most advanced technology and the biggest industrial base. That means it has tremendous capacities to move quickly and to mobilize vast forces on a wide scale, when it deems it necessary.

This is not happening because this capitalist society is not organized around peoples’ needs, but around the corporations’ drive for profit – which is enforced, first of all, by the government and state apparatus.

No one should have the illusion that what happened to the people of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas is some kind of exception.

For these disasters were not primarily natural, but political, economic and social. The same ruling elite, which causes the disaster in New Orleans because it deems the costs to its profits to be too high to do differently, does not deal any differently with the dangers of a decrepit infrastructure all over the country: crumbling bridges, roads, dams, water supply and waste disposal. They are willing to risk entire urban areas, by running badly designed and maintained nuclear power plants, like the Palo Verde plant in Arizona, recently shut down because of an emergency system design flaw that went undetected for l9 years.

The problems are stark... and endless. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), it would take 1.6 trillion dollars over the next five years just to keep things from getting worse. But only 900 billion is being allotted – not even enough to prevent things from continuing to degenerate. According to the ASCE, the lack of maintenance of the road system translates roughly into 13,000 highway fatalities each year. The drinking water in many areas often contains bacteria and toxins, increasing the possibility for an outbreak of infectious diseases and longtime harm. Even a large rainstorm, like the one that hit the U.S. Northeast in mid-October, not only flooded a lot of people out of their homes, it overloaded decrepit sewage systems and threatened old dams and waterways. Every level of government has abdicated responsibility for ensuring the safety of the population.

The same bourgeoisie and government that left countless numbers of people to die during the flooding of Katrina or Rita, is cutting back basic services, including public health, public transportation and education, to the point that they are virtually disappearing in many areas of the country.

The same capitalist society, divided into rich and poor, which doesn’t assure the bare minimum, a decent existence for everyone, is unable to assure the general welfare of the society.

The same bourgeoisie and their government, which is using the pretext of relief for the hurricane victims and reconstruction of the cities and towns that are destroyed to line corporate pockets, is destroying and grinding down the working class.

The crises triggered by Katrina and Rita only illustrate how fast the disintegration of this society, its infrastructure and social fabric, is accelerating under the hammer blows of the bourgeoisie in its drive for profit.

This is capitalism in all its glory. Katrina and Rita simply revealed it for what it really is, stripped to its essentials.

But Katrina also revealed something else. What ordinary people did in the Superdome and Convention Center shows their sense of decency, their initiative, cooperation and self-sacrifice. Working people are capable of creating a society where real solidarity flowers if they come together to fight for what is rightfully theirs.