1 September 2005
Nothing, I think illustrates the insanity of the ‘war on terror’ than the aftermath of the hurricane that hit the Gulf states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
Some years ago I travelled from New Orleans to Pensacola in Florida with a friend, stopping off in the towns of Gulfport and Biloxi along the way to hang out with friends. Both towns have been totally wiped out by Hurricane Katrina. Most of the houses are made of ‘ticky-tacky’ and occupied largely by working class folks, many of whom are Black and which stand on land barely a few feet above sea level.
It’s worth noting the following facts about Bush’s America in the light of the billions being spent on the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan:
In 2001, FEMA warned that a hurricane striking New Orleans was one of the three most likely disasters in the U.S. But the Bush administration cut New Orleans flood control funding by 44 percent to pay for the Iraq war.
A year ago the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed to study how New Orleans could be protected from a catastrophic hurricane, but the Bush administration ordered that the research not be undertaken… [B]y 2003 the federal funding for the flood control project essentially dried up as it was drained into the Iraq war. In 2004, the Bush administration cut funding requested by the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for holding back the waters of Lake Pontchartrain by more than 80 percent. Additional cuts at the beginning of this year (for a total reduction in funding of 44.2 percent since 2001) forced the New Orleans district of the Corps to impose a hiring freeze.
‘No One Can Say they Didn’t See it Coming’, By Sidney Blumenthal
Adding to the scale of disaster has been Bush’s policy of unleashing commercial land development on the best protection New Orleans had against hurricanes, the wetlands, which according to a report prepared by four environmental groups stated:
…that without wetlands protection New Orleans could be devastated by an ordinary, much less a Category 4 or 5, hurricane. “There’s no way to describe how mindless a policy that is when it comes to wetlands protection,” said one of the report’s authors. The chairman of the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality dismissed the study as “highly questionable,” and boasted, “Everybody loves what we’re doing.”
Everybody that is except the hundreds of thousands of people whose lives have been devastated, not so much by a ‘natural’ disaster but by the twin assaults of global warming and a policy of waging war on the planet and neglecting to invest in essential services in locations like New Orleans.
Worse still is the fact that the corporate press has completely ignored the criminal neglect of the Bush government’s cuts that have been the main contributory factor to New Orleans being effectively wiped out.
The main breech in the levee or dyke, two blocks long at 17th Street Canal, that until now stopped the massive Lake Pontchartrain from draining into New Orleans, has long been identified as a disaster waiting to happen:
Yet after 2003, the flow of federal dollars toward SELA [Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project] dropped to a trickle. The Corps never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security — coming at the same time as federal tax cuts — was the reason for the strain. At least nine articles in the Times-Picayune from 2004 and 2005 specifically cite the cost of Iraq as a reason for the lack of hurricane- and flood-control dollars.
It should also be pointed out that this area, Crescent City which is ten feet below the level of the lake is a poor, working class neighbourhood with some of it now under as much as 20 feet of water. Some experts are predicting that unless the levee is repaired, like real soon, Lake Pontchartrain will continue to drain out until much of Crescent City disappears.
The rising tide may not stop until it’s level with the massive lake. – ‘When the levee breaks’
Louisiana is one of the poorest states in the Union and Bush’s tax cuts, which benefit only the rich, have impacted the worst on states like Louisiana. The question that has to be asked is why, when millions of ordinary Americans have suffered so much under a Bush presidency from the collapse of public services through to the rising levels of unemployment, they nevertheless continue to vote in characters like Bush (vote rigging aside)?
Why, when it is so obvious that Bush represents a predator class of weapons manufacturers, oil/energy cartels, banking/financial monopolies and media/IT corporations, that millions of ordinary Americans nevertheless are willing to tolerate such cynical and murderous politicians as Bush and here in the UK, his slavish toady, Tony Blair?
However, the more observant reader will I hope have noticed a pattern to the events of recent years that reveals the real objectives of the ruling political classes of the US and the UK and the economic class they represent.
There are three major planks to US/UK imperial policy:
- Guaranteeing and extending a continued flow of the key strategic materials needed to safeguard the interests of capital(ism) and of course, unimpeded access to the world’s markets for their products
- Avoiding at all costs having to deal with the resultant threat to the global environment that these policies have brought about and where possible, transfer the onus of (hopefully and vainly) dealing with it to the developing world
- The creation of an entirely fictitious threat to ‘civilisation’ that is used to justify points 1 and 2
Thus, the recent G8 summit that in theory at least, dealt with points 1 and 2 although couched in different terminology, ie poverty/’fair trade’ and climate change that was ever so conveniently drowned out by the events of 7/7 and 21/7, ably assisted of course by its handmaiden, the corporate and state-run press that papered over the underlying causes with all the talk about ‘corruption’ and went to great lengths to portray Blair as being totally committed to reversing climate change, in spite of the fact, that the Labour government’s policies actually do virtually nothing to reverse global warming.
Any analysis of the major events that have occupied the corporate and state-run media shows that they have in their various ways been forced to deal with these issues not only because, like Iraq or now Hurricane Katrina, they are unavoidable, but because of a recognition by the public that these are issues that do in fact, concern them. The objective therefore, has been to present these key issues in ways that deflects attention away from the real causes of the crisis that confronts us, namely an out of control imperialism, that is oblivious and/or unconcerned about the consequences of its actions.
It is perhaps this last aspect of the current situation that is the most frightening for many of us, as unlike previous catastrophes brought about the policies of Western imperialism, which although unimaginably destructive, have not threatened the entire planet with destruction (’merely’ increasingly large swathes of it).
One way of presenting these events so as to mask the real causes is to simply omit the key elements, so for example, BBC ‘news’ coverage of Hurricane Katrina has not mentioned any of the extremely relevant context which I have mentioned above, nor, aside from one brief reference, has it mentioned the fact that due to the occupation of Iraq, almost two-thirds of the Louisiana National Guard are otherwise occupied in bringing ‘democracy’ to Iraq rather than assisting the mostly poor victims of the hurricane trapped in the crumbling infrastructure of New Orleans.
And the same applies to the coming (and related) climate catastrophe as the latest MediaLens piece illustrates so clearly, namely the melting of the Siberian permafrost, an event that has been entirely airbrushed out of the news and for obvious reasons as the effects are so catastrophic as to in all likelihood, ‘tip the balance’. Predictions are that in as little as ten years from now, we could be on the slide into global catastrophe.
Earlier this month, New Scientist reported the astonishing news that the world’s largest frozen peat bog, comprising an area the size of France and Germany combined, was melting. According to researchers who have been studying the permafrost of western Siberia, the bog could unleash billions of tonnes of methane, a greenhouse gas twenty times as potent as carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere. If this were to happen, the consequences for the climate system, and for humanity, would be appalling. (Fred Pearce, ‘Climate warning as Siberia melts,’ New Scientist, August 13, 2005)
And as the MediaLens report says:
…none of this is allowed to divert media managers from faithfully serving the cause of business as usual. Look at the Guardian newspaper, for example. Less than two weeks after the shocking news of the melting Siberian permafrost, this custodian of liberalism was waxing lyrical over “buoyant corporation tax receipts” and the US “defy[ing] economic gravity”; and was recklessly calling for “stronger world growth”. This, the reader was assured, “would be very welcome in Britain.” (Leader, ‘The luck factor,’ The Guardian, August 22, 2005) – ‘Cheerleading the Climate Criminals – Part 1’
Is it any wonder therefore, that the public, concerned as it is by these issues, continues to place its faith, no matter how reluctantly, in its political leaders when it is denied access to such critical information. After all, how many of us read the New Scientist, excellent journal though it is?
Moreover, it takes more than simply reporting the ‘facts’, the media has a responsibility to connect the ‘facts’ to their causes, for without joining the dots, the public is presented with no more than a series of disconnected events even if ‘hints’ might be dropped about possible connection between economic policies and climate catastrophe.
Overall, we are given the impression that global warming “might” be connected to the unrestrained use of fossil fuels but worse still, the corporate media will under no circumstances raise the issue of the fundamental relationship between the capitalist mode of production, that is, unrestrained and exponential production of acres of useless products and the destruction of the Earth’s biosphere.
Thus the three main elements of the capitalist system, the rape and pillage of the planet’s resources and the disastrous effect this is having on a largely defenceless population, the comcommitent destruction of the planet’s (formerly) finely balanced climate and the ludicrous justification for both, the ‘war on terror’, are ‘disappeared’ from media coverage completely and replaced by a load of bogus reportage that purports to explain events and their causes. Is it any wonder therefore that we not only have an ill-informed public but one that is cynical and resigned to a hopeless fatalism about our ability to have any control over our own destiny.