Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Superstorm Sandy’s Submerged Social Antagonisms


In spite of Barack Obama’s prognostication that future generations would look back at his 2008 nomination as the very point in history at which the (industrially-induced) rising levels of the oceans began to slow, as the 2012 presidential election draws near it is difficult to miss the fact that the opposite is happening. Indeed, as economic activity continues to heat the planet, and as polar ice and glaciers continue to melt, the oceans are not only not slowing their rise – as witnessed most dramatically over the past week, they are rising ever higher, swallowing significant portions of New York and New Jersey, among other places. And though his general rhetoric may suggest otherwise, the policies that Obama has pursued since assuming office have led to these very conditions. For, among others, his economic and energy policies encourage the introduction of millions of tons of deadly toxins into the sea and air and soil of the world, raising temperatures as well as raising sea levels.

To be sure, the extreme weather events – the persistence of which constitutes an obvious and undeniable pattern – that have been witnessed over the past decade have been shown by mountains of reports to emanate from just such policies. Not only does each summer bring monumental heat waves, wildfires, and droughts, the increased volatility of the weather has also resulted in the greater frequency and destructiveness of tornadoes. In New York City alone, where tornadoes have historically been rare, and were not seen in the city throughout the course of the 20th century, since 2006 one has touched down in the city every year.

While this Halloween’s hurricane and flooding was unprecedented, New Yorkers will recall that there was an unusually severe storm last Halloween as well. In addition to Hurricane Irene last August, in October a freak snow storm blanketed the region in over a foot of snow, downing trees, and causing power outages. And while this Halloween’s storm is certainly more destructive, it is but one more example of the regularity of so-called extreme weather. Like heatwaves in March, and hundred year floods that occur every other year, this has become more or less accepted as the – somewhat paradoxically – strange new normal.

In spite of the more spectacular dimensions that attend such extreme meteorological events, a careful analysis of their full social import must not neglect to consider the more mundane aspects of such events – in particular, that the colorful days leading up to Halloween are followed by the relatively drab ones marking the beginning of November. Along with the fact that the beginning of the month brings with it another job report showing, once again, population growth outpacing job creation (jobs, it should be noted, that are marked by longer hours, less pay, and fewer benefits, among other symptoms of a declining quality of life) the beginning of the month brings other things as well. For example, although public transportation systems are down throughout the region, gas stations are running dry, and people are hard-pressed to get to and from the jobs they precariously hold on to, the monthly rent that tenants must pay to their landlords is still due all the same.

At this point it might be helpful to reflect upon the fact that, in general, socioeconomic conditions that are made more difficult than they could conceivably be for some people are often accompanied by a corresponding diminution in difficulty for other people. In other words, the ease with which some people negotiate the social world is made possible by the destruction of the ease with which others are able to maneuver through the world. When this ease (which also means well-being, and wellness in general) is so obstructed, it takes little insight to observe that a form of dis-ease results. Among other things, it must be pointed out that this disease is antithetical to the health of the people. Because the maxim salus populi suprema lex esto (which is not only a basic, foundational metanorm subtending the US Constitution, but has been cited by jurists throughout history as a primary basis of a social order’s legitimacy) holds that the health of the people is the supreme law, it must hold as well that practices that result in the obstruction of the ease of the people – producing the disease of the people – are contrary to the supreme law as well. That is to say, contrary to appearances, such general practices are against the supreme law. As it is based on a dynamic wherein some people (tenants) are compelled to surrender their ease, their energy, and their lives, so that this energy may be concentrated as wealth in the hands of a few (by the landlords, among others), the landlord-tenant relationship provides but one stark example of this relationship of disease. Because everything that is given to the landlord that is in excess of what is required for the maintenance of the property (that is, that which constitutes the landlord’s profit) is made possible by an excessive difficulty imposed on tenants, and because this is antithetical to the health of the people, it must be illegal for landlords to collect rents in excess of what is required for building maintenance. Moreover, because obstacles interposed between a person and what s/he requires for optimal health (such as housing) is violative of the health of the people in general, any demand of rent at all may be said to violate the just.

As we recover from the devastation wrought by Superstorm Sandy, considerations of justice ought to lead us to not only abandon the use of the toxic materials and technologies that give rise to environmental degradation and global warming in the first place (which reproduce such destructive weather conditions), it must also lead us to recognize that justice cannot be realized without abandoning the toxic social relationships and institutions that are inseverable from these conditions, of which the institution of rent, with its accompanying concentrations of wealth, comprises just one instance.

Elliot Sperber is a writer, attorney, and contributor to He lives in New York City and can be reached at 

Elliot Sperber is a writer, attorney, and adjunct professor. He lives in New York City and can be reached at and on twitter @elliot_sperber

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
Lara Gardner
Why I’m Not Voting
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017