Freedom Rider: Hurricanes and Capitalism
“No one can expect a helping hand unless they are already among the haves.”
Recent hurricanes in Texas and Florida reveal a great deal about the United States and how little it does for its people. Of course hurricane winds destroy material things and injure and kill humans. But natural disasters also destroy the myths of American democracy, exceptionalism and greatness.
The people of Houston live in a city which has no zoning regulations, where petro chemical companies control politics and therefore have an unjust impact on their lives. Floridians live under a similar system, where right wing politics rule and no effort is spared to punish people because they are poor.
By every measure, America is a country where millions struggle on a daily basis because they have little or no income. Democrat Bill Clinton ended the right to public assistance twenty years ago and of course poverty has increased. Even American workers are poor, with half of them earning less than $31,000 per year. An unknown number don’t work at all, with official statistics omitting the plight of people who may not have worked for years if ever.
“American workers are poor, with half of them earning less than $31,000 per year.”
These truths are too inconvenient to be exposed in a country that loves to love itself. But the propaganda of a great country is harder to promote when Texans and Floridians suffer not just because of nature but because the system is not meant to help them. In America everyone is on their own in a dystopian survival of the fittest nightmare. The only money that arrives for disaster victims comes from dubious private charities like the Red Cross. In an ideal society the government would repair homes, replace lost property and take other actions to make people whole again.
Twelve years after hurricane Katrina little has changed. When disaster strikes the Red Cross fills its coffers as well meaning individuals contribute in hopes of assisting others in need. The organization has been exposed as a racket, providing a meal and a blanket but little else, even as it markets itself as the most reliable charity in times of crisis.
If America is the world’s only super power it is because it has the largest military in the world and trillions of dollars in its treasury. Its military isn’t mobilized to move people away from natural disaster because that is not why it is exists. The military industrial complex has two purposes; making money for corporate interests and intimidating the rest of the world into complying with American dictates. This is a rich country, but the presence of a strong currency and rich individuals do nothing to help people devastated by acts of nature.
“The Red Cross has been exposed as a racket, providing a meal and a blanket but little else.”
The suffering in Texas and Florida shines a light on everyone’s condition in a dog eat dog society. No one can expect a helping hand unless they are already among the haves. Democrats and Republicans work together to reduce the tax burden on the wealthy but do nothing to raise the minimum wage. Corporations like Walmart always get tax relief to operate and also governmental relief for their impoverished employees. Cities and states race to the bottom to compete for the favors of the already wealthy and waste the public’s money in dubious ventures.
Yet after all the bowing and scraping to wealthy individuals and corporations the masses of people can expect nothing when they are in need. Evacuation plans don’t accommodate the needs of poor people. Those in already dire straits may not be able to access shelter, if any can be found. Floridians fleeing hurricane Irma often found no room at the inn when they heeded warnings from officials.
The impact of climate change is and should be a topic for discussion in the wake of a devastating tropical storm season. It is easy to point fingers at Donald Trump, who has already chosen to remove the United States from the most recent international climate agreement. But Trump has only been president for eight months. The damage to the ecosystem began decades ago and the pre-Trump Republicans and Democrats had no interest in acting to save all life on the planet.
“Cities and states race to the bottom to compete for the favors of the already wealthy.”
Democrats like Clinton and Barack Obama talked a good game, but they acquiesced as much as Republicans did to the fossil fuel and other industries that are responsible for global warming. They allowed oil drilling offshore and on public lands. They promoted the use of coal. They did so because they follow the rules set by corporate interests.
Because capital is in control tropical storms and droughts are occurring with greater severity and imperiling life around the world. It isn’t surprising that so little is done to protect humanity in these circumstances. The same system that creates catastrophes is unlikely to stem the consequences created by them.
Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at http://freedomrider.blogspot.com. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.