In August of 2005 over 1,800 people were killed when the levee system of New Orleans failed and eighty percent of the city was flooded. In the days that followed the world witnessed the plight of the many survivors who were stranded on rooftops, bridges, and in the Superdome. There was even a video of prisoners, who had been abandoned in their jail, screaming for help and frantically waving from behind metal bars as flood waters threatened to drown them. Bodies were seen floating down streets and were left to decompose in the hot sun for days before any effort was made to retrieve them.
It was a Dante-like panorama of pain and of absolute disregard for human suffering on the part of the Federal government that few in the United States were accustomed to seeing. The America that could spend a billion dollars every week on its foreign wars was incapable of taking care of its own. Yet, not everyone was displeased with what had happened. For the Bush administration the hurricane was an opportunity of sorts. It was a disaster, just as 9/11 had been, that would wipe the slate clean and would allow them to experiment with ideas and policies that under normal circumstances wouldn’t have been tolerated. Blackwater (a paramilitary company based in North Carolina, and with strong ties to the administration) sent its soldiers of fortune, the same mercenaries that were being massively used in Iraq against the local population, to New Orleans with orders to shoot to kill any of its hungry and increasingly desperate citizens who dared to oppose them. The Blackwater soldiers were allowed into the city almost immediately after the storm ended, while Red Cross workers with medical and relief supplies were kept from entering the disaster area for days.
The Red Cross said that they were told by the government that they couldn’t come in because that would be a sign to the residents who had left that they could return and begin rebuilding. Which, of course, was the last thing that the Bush Administration wanted. Whole sections of the city, the predominantly black and poor ones, had to be cleared. Nothing short of a North American “ethnic cleansing” of the Big Easy would do. This is what the Neocons wanted and what they got. New Orleans lost a third of its population and to this day entire neighborhoods are uninhabitable. The Federal money that had been promised to help people rebuild their lives and homes never arrived.
In this way, the priorities of the oligarchy that rules America were clear. The foreign wars would continue, whatever the cost, while New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz and a integral part of America’s soul, would become just another test site for experiments in social control and corporate plunder.