Beyond Katrina: Exposing America’s Broken Social System

Five years after Katrina, the Gulf Coast and New-Orleans have to deal with another large scale disaster ( in this case purely man-made) in the form of the BP oil spill. It seems that New-Orleans can not get a break, but again the Crescent City is far from being the only town at the epicenter of our current looming ecological and social disaster.

Most people, in the press, have failed to establish a link, which should be rather obvious, between climate change and global warming and the recent deadly fires in Russia and the current unthinkable human tragedy unfolding for Pakistanis under flood water.

The fires in Russia were triggered by the highest temperatures on record, and the torrential monsoon rains in Pakistan have caused the wrath of the Indus river. In both cases, we are dealing with “extreme weather”, which scientists view as a consequence of global warming. In other words global warming causes climate change which in return produces  extreme weather phenomenons such as hurricanes, floods, droughts etc.

But back circa 2005 in New-Orleans, Katrina exposed more than just a poorly managed city and state, a completely inefficient and careless federal government, but mainly the biggest fairy tale of global consciousness: America as a model for democracy, a “shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere”, a system all countries should look up to and copy. Katrina gave America a bad PR worldwide, giving outsiders a glimpse of the real America: The one of racial divide- despite the civil rights’ gains of the 60’s- and even more importantly the one of class divide. The America of shock or “jungle capitalism”.

Class is a dirty word in American politics, because of its Marxist connotation. It is, however the right one to use. In New-Orleans five years ago, people who could afford air line tickets or the ones who had cars could get out, the poor were  left behind fending for themselves against the storm first then trapped in a ghost town with broken infrastructures, trigger happy cops, vigilantes, mercenaries from Blackwater and the National Guard.

Katrina played a big part in the undoing of the Bush administration, yet the “lessons” from Katrina have not been learned by either the Democrats or the Republicans. Some people from the left categorized the BP oil spill as “Obama’s Katrina”, and indeed it is, but unfortunately it is not the only one for President Obama. There is of course Afghanistan or “Obama’s Vietnam” and, what I view as his biggest domestic policy mistake; the bailout of Wall Street with more or less no questions asked.

As far as New-Orleans, the short comings  of the Obama administration are plenty. Five years after the devastation of hurricane Katrina, New-Orleans’ Lower 9TH Ward- the area hit hardest by the flooding and in large majority poor and African-Americans- is still desolated. With no our very little infrastructure and a very few businesses, less than 25 percent of people have returned to the Lower 9TH. For the very few (see photo above) who had the knowledge and some resources to rebuild, daily life is a constant struggle.

The light coming out of America as a “shining city upon a hill” has become dim. Don’t get me wrong, for the super-rich ( or about 2 percent of the population controlling more than half of the wealth) the “American Dream” is still alive and well, but for 98 percent of us, it has been exposed as a farce, an elaborate Ponzi scheme cooked up by the “masters of the universe” of  Wall Street.

Further, in the fetid waters of New-Orleans post Katrina, the US saw a very disturbing reflection of itself. None of the uncomfortable questions raised by Katrina were answered: How was it that an America able to send hundreds of thousands of troops halfway around the world to topple Saddam Hussein could not protect New-Orleans? How could such a Third World disaster happen within the borders of the leader of the First World? Why did African-Americans suffer the most?

A record numbers of American are homeless or in the process of loosing their houses to banks going for a full on land grab. Almost 50 millions of Americans rely on food stamps to eat, many states are on the verge of insolvency. California, one of the biggest and supposedly one of  “richest states” of the nation will likely have to issue IOU (again) in a few weeks.

Meanwhile, we have no problem spending the bulk of our financial resources in repressive entities such as the police, the prison system and of course the military instead of allocating a proper level of  funds to education, health care, and social services. The hit of Katrina on New-Orleans was a wake-up call, the financial crash of 2008 was the second big punch, yet it is as if we still don’t understand that America’s current system is past due for a drastic revamping. The real lesson from Katrina, and from the 2008 financial collapse, is how cruelly America treats  its citizens who have nothing.

Editor’s Note: All photographs by Gilbert Mercier, you can view some more here.


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