Bill Totten's Weblog

Monday, October 31, 2005

Turning Guns on Each Other in Class Warfare

by Bill Totten

Nihonkai Shimbun and Osaka Nichinichi Shimbun (October 06 2005)

(I've written a weekly column for two Japanese newspapers for the past three years. Patrick Heaton prepared this English version from the Japanese original.)

At the beginning of September, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and Mississippi. During Japan's typhoon, companies lying in the track of a storm warn their employees to go home early. The number of such warnings seems to be on the rise.

Hurricanes Are Man-made Disasters

The Ise Bay typhoon that hit Aichi and Mie Prefectures forty-six years ago was a terrible catastrophe that cost over five thousand lives in dead and missing. This year, when Katrina struck the US, a strong typhoon made a direct hit on Kyushu, causing nearly thirty people to die. Japan is a land of typhoons. Yet typhoons that cause so much damage through strong winds and rain are also a natural blessing for areas that receive insufficient rainfall. Nothing is more important to humans than water. That is probably why Japanese have always given thanks to the sun and rain at times of seasonal change, and have tried to live in harmony with nature.

In many respects, the hurricane Katrina that recently hit the Gulf coast of the US, resulting in flooding of New Orleans, was not a natural disaster but a man-made one. First, there is the influence of climate shifts from global warming that is increasing the number and scale of storms worldwide. American scientists have been warning for several years that hurricanes will become larger and more forceful because of global warming. The Bush administration has ignored those warnings and even denied that human behavior is causing global warming. The president and vice president withdrew the United States from the Kyoto Protocol with the excuse that there is "little scientific evidence that increased carbon dioxide is the reason for global warming". I can't help but conclude that their private financial interests in oil companies are behind their public pronouncements and actions.

Oil Companies over Levies

The New Orleans area was originally surrounded by a large marshland below sea-level. Coastal marshlands used to serve as natural levees against hurricanes, but the United States government has destroyed them gradually but steadily. Even though the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been warning about hurricanes now for several years, concrete levees have been built in the marshlands that, left unaltered, would have protected people from natural disasters. Canals have also been built for oil drilling and shipping. What has been given priority is not the safety of local citizens and the natural environment, but the interests of the oil industry and other industries. The government has allowed corporations to destroy the greater part of the marshlands to pursue short-term profits. On top of that, the government cut 44 percent of the budget for rebuilding the levees in order to increase the amount of money spent on its anti-terrorism campaign and on the Iraq war.

As may have been reported in the Japanese media, the majority of people who died or became homeless in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina were poor people, mostly poor colored people. The government issued an evacuation warning as the hurricane approached to citizens living in the area that would be hit directly. Then the authorities did little else; the people were expected to arrange their own evacuation. In a large country like America, which has practically no public transportation, anyone without an automobile cannot go very far. Because of the government evacuation warning, there was terrible traffic congestion, and the majority of the poor had neither the means to escape nor money for lodging outside the area. The poor had no choice but to stay put and pray they would be safe. The devastation caused by Katrina and other recent hurricanes illustrate vividly how far deregulation, privatization and other anti-social "free market" policies have reduced America to the level of a poor third-world country.

The Poor Suffer Most

In 2002 the newspapers in New Orleans warned that if there were a big hurricane, 100,000 poor individuals in the area who did not have cars would be especially in danger. According to the 2000 census, 36.4 percent of New Orleans residents lived in areas below sea level and had incomes less than the official poverty line. The current definition of poverty in the US is an annual income below $19,300 for a family of four, and $12,334 for a family of two. For comparison, could a family of four living in Japan without public transportation or national health care survive on the same amount of income? How many people in Japan exist at that level? In the United States, 3,700,000, or 12.7 percent of the population, have incomes below the official poverty line. Most of the victims of Katrina were in this category.

The day after Katrina hit, Bush was playing golf. He didn't appear on television until three days later to address the disaster, and only visited the devastated area after five full days. In the US, the duty of the National Guard in every state is to protect citizens in times of emergency. But one-third of the National Guard of Louisiana and Mississippi had been deployed to Iraq. The National Guard remaining in the area affected by the hurricane acted mostly to protect the properties of the wealthy, not the lives of the poor. As the situation deteriorated, the governor of Louisiana ordered the National Guard to shoot-to-kill anyone involved in looting or violence. National Guardsmen returning from the Iraq war found themselves participating in a class war in Louisiana. Most of the National Guard themselves are from poor backgrounds. In other words, the National Guardsmen had to draw their weapons in their own country against their own kind.

Bill Totten


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