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Hurricane Harvey: A tragedy made far worse by capitalism
In the following article Socialist Alternative members (US co-thinkers of the Socialist Party) report on the devastating impact of Hurricane Harvey and the failure of establishment politicians and capitalism to prepare for such increasing extreme weather events, let alone adequately respond to the aftermath, nor address the underlying causes.
Houston, the fourth-largest city in the US with over six million people, has been devastated by record-shattering rainfalls. At least 47 people have been confirmed dead, and many more are feared drowned. At least 100,000 homes have been destroyed forcing tens of thousands to seek temporary shelter in convention centres and much less certain shelter in the medium term.
Only 20% of people have flood insurance and even that programme is severely underfunded and will need to be renewed by Congress in September.
Hurricane Harvey and its flooding was a natural disaster made far worse by capitalism. Two 80 year-old reservoirs, chronically under-maintained by penny-pinching governments, are leaking tremendous amounts of water, flooding many homes that would otherwise have been spared by the rain.
Chemical plants, under-prepared by profit-driven corporations, are leaking dangerous chemicals into the water, sparking explosions and fires.
In the town of Crosby, floods knocked out power to a peroxide plant, causing the plant to explode, and the CEO has refused so far to provide much information.
A toxicologist for the Environmental Defence Fund "expects a million pounds of toxic chemicals will be released around Houston just as a result of the storm and floods. Many of them are carcinogenic".
When the waters rose and trapped people in their homes, it became clear that government and non-profit organisations' rescue efforts were woefully inadequate. The entire Texas National Guard was not called out until several days after the disaster began. Authorities even failed to provide enough cots and bedding for evacuees, relying instead on the generosity of ordinary Houstonians less impacted by the storm.
Thousands of ordinary working people spontaneously leapt into action to pull their neighbours from the flood waters. The New York Times reported that "airboats, jet skis, motorised fishing boats have rushed to the aid of people trapped in their homes, steered by welders, roofers, mechanics and fishermen wearing shorts, headlamps and ponchos. The working class, in large part, is being rescued by the working class."
As the true scale of the crisis becomes clear, the mood for urgent action is likely to grow. The first concern will be making sure that the people of the Gulf Coast get the help they need to survive and rebuild. It is the working class, people of colour, and the elderly - who often don't have the immediate means to evacuate or rebuild their lives - who are suffering the most.
The memory of Katrina, the Superdome, the racist military occupation of New Orleans, and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) camps is seared into the consciousness of our nation. We cannot allow another unfair relief and reconstruction effort like Katrina.
Over $100 billion was spent on Katrina in federal disaster relief, and it was not enough. People were still living in FEMA trailers ten years later, and over $40 billion in lawsuit money was paid out to 55,000 people from Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, and Mississippi because the trailers were found to be toxic!
We should have no faith that Trump, the Republicans, the Democrats, or corporate America will provide for the full needs of all those affected by this tragedy.
We also need to demand a massive public works programme paid for by taxes on the rich to rebuild the dams, reservoirs, roads, bridges and other important parts of the region's infrastructure wrecked in the storm - and to ensure everything is built to withstand future intense storms.
Our corporate-dominated government has a history of grotesque bureaucratic failures in the face of emergency situations. For these reasons, all those who are being affected by this storm need a real voice in how aid is allocated. We need to set up democratic committees, with real decision-making power and resources, to ensure that aid is allocated where it is needed.
Clearly, not enough was done to prepare for a hurricane despite the stark warnings of climate scientists. Although climate change did not necessarily cause this specific hurricane, it has created warmer oceans and a warmer planet leading to more water vapour in the air, increased intense rainfall, and more powerful hurricanes.
The Trump administration and Republicans in Congress have completely opposed addressing the breakdown in the climate. The main obstacle is 'Big Oil' which blocks any meaningful discussion or action on the breakdown of the climate.
We can expect corporate bosses to resist any attempts to make them pay for the crisis they created, whether through taxes, fines, or regulations. The key to rooting out their power to block meaningful action is to take the fossil fuel industry into public ownership. That way their resources could be redirected to clean up the environment and transition the economy to renewable energy, with compensation only on the basis of proven need, new union jobs, and retraining for energy workers.
Another key factor was the way establishment politicians in Houston from both the Republican and Democratic parties enabled and encouraged a massive amount of unregulated economic development in recent decades.
Houston's total lack of zoning and its developer-friendly policies allowed huge parts of prairie lands to be paved over with concrete, leaving nowhere for rain to go but inside people's homes.
The alternative to the chaos caused by capitalism and the greed of billionaires is socialism - democratic planning to replace the profit-driven anarchy of the market system.
We need to build the socialist and workers' movement around the central demand of taking the top 500 corporations into public ownership under the democratic management by working people. This would lay the basis for establishing a rational, democratically planned society based on meeting the needs of people and the planet, not profits.
Biting the hand that feeds you
Hours after US secretary of state Rex Tillerson thanked the Mexican government for sending aid to flood affected Texas, president Trump announced the awarding of $3.6 million to four construction companies to build prototypes of an anti-immigrant wall along the border with Mexico.
Meanwhile, a spending bill going to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will cut $876 million from Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster funds to help pay for Trump's $1.6 billion wall.