August 2008


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Sun, 31 Aug 2008 22:57:31 -0400
Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Mitchel Cohen <[log in to unmask]>
Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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Here's the article I wrote 3 years ago about the 
Katrina aftermath and New Orleans.
As it's happening all over again, I'll be 
following this up, but the original article makes 
just as horrifying reading today as it did the 
first time around. And the questions being asked 
at the time continue to go unanswered.


People of the Dome

by Mitchel Cohen
Brooklyn Greens / Green Party of NY

"Iím sick and tired of hearing things from 
uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded 
hypocritics. All I want is the truth. Just gimme some truth.
Iíve had enough of reading things by neurotic, 
psychotic, pig-headed politicians. All I want is 
the truth. Just gimme some truth."
        - John Lennon

many organizations kicked into high gear to send 
relief to local groups in Mississippi and 
Louisiana, with no help from the government or 
formal relief agencies. Among them was the 
Malcolm X Grassroots movement, with whom the 
Brooklyn Greens shared an office. Tons of donated 
supplies poured into the office and were trucked 
to Jackson Mississippi, where they were 
distributed through community-based efforts.

I spoke daily with Les Evenchick, a Green who 
lives in the French Quarter of New Orleans. I was 
also in touch with New Orleans residents Malik 
Rahim and Mike Howell; the areas in which they 
live were dry and they were holding out as long 
as they could. The story they tell is shocking: 
U.S. and local government officials ordered the 
local drinking water turned off and refused to 
allow water or food relief into New Orleans. 
Hundreds of people died unnecessarily as a result.

And yet, there was no shortage of water or food 
being sent -- it was just not allowed into the 
City! When Green Party activists tried to donate 
a large amount of water for the people in the 
SuperDome a few days after the levees broke, 
armed soldiers pointed rifles at them and 
prevented them from delivering supplies. Even 
three Walmart trucks loaded with drinking water 
were denied entry and turned away. No water was 
allowed into New Orleans. Evenchick says that 
"this was a brazen attempt to starve people out."

There was no health reason to turn off the 
drinking water at the time, as the water is drawn 
into a separate system from the Mississippi 
River, not the polluted lake, and filtered 
through self-powered purification plants separate 
from the main electric grid. If necessary, people 
could have boiled their water -- strangely, the 
municipal natural gas used in stoves was still 
functioning properly as of Thursday night of that 
first week! I emailed Governor Kathleen Blanco (a 
Democrat) asking, "Who ordered the turn-off of 
the drinking water?" I have not received a response from former Gov. Blanco.

A commanding officer of a police squad complained 
that his 120 cops were provided with only 70 
small bottles of water. Hospitals were supplied 
with nothing. Could FEMA, Homeland Security and 
local officials have forgotten to store bottles 
of drinking water in the Superdome, Convention Center and hospitals?

The only FEMA official on the scene in the early 
stages, Marty Bahamonde, has testified to 
Congress that he begged FEMA director Michael 
Brown for water, food, toilet paper and oxygen, 
saying that "many will die within hours." Brown's 
press secretary, Sharon Worthy, responded that 
the FEMA director needed more time to eat dinner 
at a Baton Rouge restaurant that evening. "He 
needs much more that [sic] 20 or 30 minutes," 
Worthy wrote. "Restaurants are getting busy," she 
said. "We now have traffic to encounter to go to 
and from a location of his choise [sic], followed 
by wait service from the restaurant staff, eating, etc." Let them eat gumbo.

Green activist and former Black Panther Malik 
Rahim, who lives in the Algiers section -- which, 
like the French Quarter and several other areas 
above sea-level, remained dry -- points out that 
the government could have and should have 
provided water and food to residents of New 
Orleans but did not do so intentionally, to force 
people to evacuate by starving them out. This is a crime of the gravest sort.

French Quarter resident Mike Howell adds that the 
capability had been there from the start to drive 
water and food right up to the convention center, 
as those roads were clear. "It's how the National 
Guard drove into the city," he said.

The evidence is overwhelming that the government 
intentionally did not allow food or water into New Orleans.

These were the people, after all, who had twice 
voted in huge numbers against the candid≠acy of 
George Bush, the only area in the state to have 
done so. In recent years they also fought off 
attempts to privatize the drinking water supply, 
battled Shell Oil's attempt to build a Liquified 
Natural Gas facility, and tried to prevent the 
teardown of public housing -- battles in which 
Mayor Ray Nagin sided with the oil companies and 
millionaire developers. Nagin had contributed 
funds to George W. Bush's presidential campaign 
and was a registered Republican until just prior 
to the Mayoral election in 2002.

Attempts to starve civilians into leaving an area 
is a war crime under the Geneva Conventions. Who 
gave the order to block water and food from 
entering New Orleans? Who ordered the drinking 
water inside the city to be turned off? No one 
has yet answered those questions.

On Thursday of that first week, volunteers who 
had rescued over 1,000 people in boats were 
ordered to stop, under the pretext that it was 
too dangerous. The volunteers wanted to continue 
rescue operations. They said there was little 
risk, that desperate people had been welcoming 
them with open arms. The military "convinced" the 
volunteer rescuers at gunpoint to "cease and 
desist." They did the same to a state senator who 
had led a flotilla of hundreds of boats and rafts 
all the way from Mississippi to rescue people.

Who gave the order to block the volunteer rescue 
teams in New Orleans? No one has yet answered that question.

Officials claimed that people were trying to 
shoot down the rescue helicopters. In actuality, 
there were a couple of people shooting into the 
air to signal helicopters to pick them up. Yet 
officials repeated the lies about people shooting 
at helicopters over and over, as justification 
for shutting down voluntary rescue operations and 
sending in thousands of fully armed military 
troops, along with private Blackwater mercenaries 
fresh from Iraq under orders to "shoot to kill." (1)

Two U.S. military helicopters spent a few days 
plucking 110 people from the roofs of their 
flooded houses. We saw them on T.V. and cheered. 
When they returned to base they were called into 
the commander's office. They thought they were 
going to be given medals. Instead, as reported in 
the NY Times, their commanding officers 
reprimanded them and removed them from helicopter duty for "violating orders."

Who gave the order not to rescue people? No one has answered that question.

For more than two weeks, hundreds of volunteer 
doctors and fire personnel -- including a squad 
from New York City -- were denied entry to New 
Orleans. They were dispatched, instead, to 
provide backdrop for Bush's photo-ops in other 
areas. The medical personnel were kept twiddling 
their thumbs, as people were dying.

Who gave the order not to allow rescue workers 
into New Orleans? No one has answered that question.

In an interview with WWL-TV, Mayor Ray Nagin 
complained vociferously that Louisiana National 
Guard Blackhawk helicopters were being stopped 
from dropping sandbags to plug the levees soon 
after the breech. No repairs were allowed on the 
levees until long after the poor areas of New Orleans were totally flooded!

Who gave the order not to allow National Guard 
helicopters to drop sandbags to plug the levees 
soon after the breech? No one has answered that question.

Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez and Cuba's 
President Fidel Castro offered millions of 
dollars and hundreds of doctors to help save 
lives in New Orleans. They were turned down.

Who gave the order to turn down the aid offered 
from Venezuela and Cuba? No one has answered that question.

Millions of concerned citizens wanted to send 
assistance as well. FEMA recommended that they 
send contributions to "Operation Blessing," a 
front group for rightwing evangelist Pat 
Robertson. Robertson had recently televised a 
speech calling for the assassination of Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez.

Who gave the order to divert tens of millions of 
dollars in contributions sent to help the people 
of New Orleans by outraged American citizens, to 
rightwing Christian zealots? No one has yet answered that question.

Numerous New Orleans residents were billed 
$500-$1,000 for gas and electricity by Entergy 
(the same company that operates the Indian Point 
nuclear power plants in New York) during the 
months following Katrina, while the electricity 
and gas were turned off and the meters were not 
even read. Only once Entergy received millions of 
dollars in subsidies did the company start 
adjusting some peoplesí bills, and only if they 
were challenged. Who allowed Entergy to get away 
with this greed to harass poor and suffering 
people, and to blackmail the state and city into 
giving it hundreds of millions in grants? No one 
has yet answered that question.

The Saudization of New Orleans

Les Evenchick is an independent Green activist 
who lives in the French Quarter of New Orleans in 
a 3-story walkup. He points out that people were 
told to go to the bus depot to evacuate, but the 
bus station had closed down the night before. 
Unless you owned a car, Les told me, FEMA and 
state police would not let you leave.

Hundreds attempted to walk out of New Orleans; 
they were forced off the road and ordered back to 
the Coliseum or Superdome, where no water or food was available.

As a consequence the vast majority of the 
so-called looters were simply grabbing water, 
food, diapers and medicine. "It's only because of 
them that old people, sick people, and small 
children were able to survive," Les says. "But 
the 'anti-looting' hype was just an excuse to 
militarize the area, place it under martial law 
and evict the population, mostly Black people, mostly the poor."

On August 30, Yahoo front-page news showed two 
pictures of people wading in water carrying 
supplies. The caption under the picture of the 
Black person read: "A young man walks through 
chest-deep flood water after looting a grocery 
store in New Orleans." The caption under the 
picture of a White couple wading through the 
water pulling supplies reads: "Two residents wade 
through chest-deep water after finding bread and 
soda from a local grocery store." Got that? Whites "find," Blacks "loot."

MSNBC interviewed dozens of people who had 
managed to get out during the first few days. 
Every single one of them was white.

Some tourists trapped in the Monteleone Hotel 
pooled their funds and paid $25,000 for 10 buses 
to get them out. The buses were sent (there was 
no shortage of available buses -- why didn't the 
government use them?) but the military 
confiscated all ten of them for its own use. The 
tourists were not allowed to leave the city and 
were ordered to the Convention Center.

How simple it would have been for the government 
to have provided buses before the hurricane hit, 
and throughout the week. AMTRAK says it offered 
free rides out of town but that City officials 
never got back to them to finalize arrangements. 
Evacuating the 100,000 people trapped in the city 
should not have been that difficult. Even without 
AMTRAK or private cars, it would have taken at 
most 3,000 buses to get them out, fewer than come 
into Washington D.C. for some of the giant 
anti-war demonstrations. Even at $2,500 a pop -- 
highway robbery -- that would only be a total of 
$7.5 million for transporting out of harm's way 
all of those who did not have the means to leave.

The people who are poor (primarily Blacks but 
many poor Whites as well) who were trapped in the 
city as well as those thousands who were refusing 
to evacuate, not wanting to leave their pets or 
their homes and who had neither money nor places 
to go, were locked in the Superdome and not 
allowed to leave -- five days of hell. Those who 
survived the first dome were then -- finally! -- 
bussed out of the area to another stadium, the 
AstroDome in Houston. Call them "People of the Dome."

The Grassroots Organizing Itself

Gulf Coast resident Latosha Brown reports that 
the first group to send emergency supplies was 
TOPS, The Ordinary Peoples Society, a prison 
ministry in Dothan Alabama founded and staffed by 
ex-offenders. They organized food, pooled their 
money for additional goods and brought the 
supplies to a second organization of former 
prisoners in Mobile who distributed them, while 
they went back to Dothan for more. "That's why we 
tell everybody now that it was felons who were 
the first to feed, the first to respond to need, 
the first to get up and do something. They didn't 
wait for permission or for a contract. That's 
real leadership." ("Rescue Came from the 
Grassroots: The People, Not FEMA, Saved 
Themselves," by Bruce Dixon, in The Black Commentator.)

Volunteer medics established free clinics with 
the Common Ground Collective: in defiance of 
governmental edicts and machine guns. Common 
Ground has also mobilized thousands of young 
people from all over the country to come to New 
Orleans and help with the rebuilding, while using 
non-toxic alternative methods of mold removal and 
prevention that they developed. Others, working 
in solidarity with  tribal leaders, have created 
a dedicated relief effort for Native American 
Food Not Bombs volunteers have been feeding 
people all over the region, with no help from the 
government or the Red Cross: dollar_for_peace.html.

On the other hand, from Day One huge war 
profiteering corporations such as Halliburton, 
Bechtel and other private contractors began 
descending on the region, their pockets stuffed 
with billions of dollars in government handouts. 
Currently, thousands of poor homeowners and 
rental tenants -- including those unable to 
return to New Orleans just yet, having been 
evacuated to the far away domed stadiums -- are 
being evicted and their homes confiscated and 
torn down, says Mike Howell, who is organizing 
tenants to resist eviction. The phony 
"reconstruction" of New Orleans begins with the 
land grab, and with Mayor Nagin proposing 
gambling casinos, which he says would "rescue" 
the city, while destroying the remaining 
wetlands. Wetlands are nature's way of protecting 
large areas from floods; their destruction prior 
to Katrina contributed to the devastation of New 
Orleans and the Mississippi Delta. The city, 
meanwhile, sprayed massive amounts of 
cancer-causing pesticides over the entire flooded areas.

Many people are resisting this blatant 
confiscation of their lands and homes. As the 
resistance grows, New Orleans may soon become 
known as the first battle of the new American revolution.

1Blackwater, Inc. billed the federal government 
$950 per man, per day -- at one point raking in 
more than $240,000 a day. At its peak the company 
had about 600 contractors deployed from Texas to 
Mississippi, reports Jeremy Scahill in his 
pathbreaking book, "Blackwater: The Rise of the 
World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army," published by Nation Books.

Mitchel Cohen is co-editor of "G", the newspaper 
of the NY State Greens, and the coordinator of 
the No Spray Coalition . Write to 
Mitchel directly at [log in to unmask] 
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