A Rising Tide Has Swamped All Boats

Americans don’t know what tragedy is.

–Charles Bukowski

When gasoline prices started their upward drift early this year, what little resentment toward the rise was brushed off by most people as the result of our country’s increasingly troubled project in Iraq, and the vaguely comprehended instability in the Persian Gulf.

As the price hikes accelerated, the TV cognoscenti explained how demand from China and India put pressure on supply ­ little said about the American driving public’s insatiable appetite for this highly desirable but finite resource. After King Fahd passed from the scene, futures traders bet on the future stability of the kingdom with more increases.

Without pause, the cost of a visit to the gas pump was inching ever closer to rendering obsolete the single statistic our public-minded corporate news sources repeatedly tossed out as palliative to in increasingly jittery public: that gasoline was more expensive ­ in constant dollars ­ in 1981 than in 2005.

Then there was another justification trotted out into the public square. As if following the Bush administration’s constantly mutating rationalizations for the war in Iraq, out of nowhere a shortage of gasoline refining capacity, and the summer driving season, became the explanation.

Nevermind that if there’s the possibility that a burger might be sold where there’s a vacant streetcorner lot, McDonald’s will build a restaurant. Or that, if a small town has a Wal-Mart store, the company will soon present a proposal to the local zoning board for a new Supercenter.

Is it even remotely possible that, with gasoline consumption being the glue that holds the nation and all its institutions together, and the possibility of profits for corporations involved in the oil business seemingly limitless, that big business wouldn’t poise itself to rake in that bumper harvest of cash?

So the refinery thing sounds a little fishy. And if a shortage of refining capacity indeed exists, one could hardly be blamed for wondering, what does this tell us about the underlying strategy of the industrialists, the financiers and their foot soldiers in government?

Along comes a big storm named Katrina, putting a huge swath of the petroleum production and distribution facilities for this most oil-dependent of economies out of commission for in indefinite period. The media bids a final adieu to 1981 as we collectively enter a not-so-brave new world, where the expectation a rising tide that would lift all boats instead became a deluge that wiped out an entire region.

For every shiny 12-mile-per-gallon SUV pulling away from the pump, a handful of less well-off folk are finding that $20 barely moves the gas-hand to _. The news media have marveled at the public’s determination to continue to drive the same as they always have ­ prices be damned. Yet the unspoken message is clear, and those who’ve chosen to ignore it till now will hear it yet ­ and sooner than they think.

For Americans, the events of 9/11 were a trauma like they’d never imagined. And they were traumatized because they’re mostly ignorant. It was dramatic, and there were great visuals of the attack, but otherwise it’s the sort of thing people around the world have seen with sickening regularity ­ often, it’s worth adding, at U.S. taxpayer expense.

Ironically, for all the shock and awe the dreadful events of four years ago brought to our shores, 9/11 was entirely preventable, except for the government’s neglect, carelessness and incompetence. The “war on terror,” PATRIOT act, Department of Homeland Security and billions spent on the intelligence “black budget” are merely an expensive sideshow that diverts attention from the real agenda of those who are running the show.

If 9/11 “changed everything,” as the politicians and pundits never tire telling us, it’s hard to imagine what cliché they’ll contrive to describe the damage done and the suffering to come following recent events along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The Rush Limbaughs of the chattering class will likely stoke the fires of racial resentment of working-class whites with tales of looting and lawlessness, and the Pat Robertsons will hurl fire and brimstone over the airwaves, pronouncing God’s judgment against abortionists, evolutionists, Muslim extremists, fornicators, homosexuals and Hugo Chavez.

This is all a very calculated distraction, which depends on the assumption that people are too dumb to pour piss out of a boot with the instructions printed on the heel. Appeals to emotion instead of talking about real issues are the stock-in-trade of right-wing propagandists. John Kerry is a pussy. We’re fighting for freedom for the Iraqi people. It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, ad nauseam.

What they, and their puppy-dog colleagues in the mainstream corporate media, will neglect to mention is the extent to which this latest cataclysm was entirely predictable and the worst of the destruction and human suffering largely preventable. The priorities of the government and economic elites favored military adventures in the Persian Gulf at the expense of domestic necessities ­ war in Iraq trumped the inadequate flood-management systems in New Orleans, and when push came to shove, Gulfport, Mississippi had to be sacrificed for the sake of Halliburton.

Since the “war on terror” began, a huge new federal bureaucracy, the Department of Homeland Security, was created. Its mission, supposedly, was to defend against and prepare for terrorist attacks and natural disasters. Yet, while agencies within this behemoth fought over turf and states cried over promised financial aid that never materialized, what did we get for our money? Video on the 6 o’clock news of police and first responders at a post office where an envelope “leaking a mysterious white powder” ­ later found to be harmless — was discovered. Billions were spent, with the main product being a color-coded terrorism-alert scale that succeeded mostly in terrorizing the citizenry.

Meanwhile, what of FEMA, the federal agency most responsible for disaster preparedness and response? During the Reagan administrator this outfit was cast as a key player in the event of widespread civil unrest, charged with rounding up hundreds of thousands of government opponents and interning them in various facilities across the country. How they’ve fallen off in importance since that ambitious agenda (presumably) was abandoned. Faced with hundreds of thousands of refugees from Katrina, the federal response so far seems limited to the president flying over some of the affected areas on the way home from vacation: “Gee, that looks bad.”

Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama are all solid “red” states. They’re also among the poorest, and in most respects, the most backward in the nation. With a collective sigh, we say, “those poor bastards” While the received wisdom from on high in the next few days is likely to focus on blaming the victims for not evacuating when told to, and an endless video loop rolls, in which those left to fend for themselves are called looters, expect to see the blame gradually shift to where it belongs ­ to those who abetted the destruction either by their actions or their inaction.

When the “great northeast blackout” happened a couple of summers ago, there was plenty of finger-pointing here and there, but few will recall what was determined to be the primary “cause” of the blackout. And that prolonged discussion about who to blame obscured the real lesson of the incident, which was an electricity-carrying grid that was overstretched and under-maintained. The utilities ­ surprise, surprise ­ decided over the long haul to pocket as much “surplus” cash as possible, and neglect to maintain the critical infrastructure to the extent they can get away with.

It’s the same away across so many sectors of our economy. While factories, jobs and investment is going overseas, so much of the critical infrastructure that keeps our society going is suffering from neglect and falling into disrepair. Between 1980 and 2000, when the U.S. population increased by 50 million, we added 70 million vehicles to the roads. When conservative politicians convinced voters government was the enemy and that they should elect politicians who would reward their votes with tax cuts, it was an easy sell. Entirely predictable and inevitable traffic jams, endless commutes and axle-breaking potholes were a part of the bargain, however, that wasn’t much discussed during the frenzy of the great tax-cut giveaways. Now states have their backs to the wall simply trying to maintain the roads they have. And the “highway bill” Bush recently signed is just a milepost on a road to nowhere.

That’s because our nation’s credit card is quickly being maxed out. In a country as wealthy as this, the Condi Rice is practically grovelling in asking for international help ­ from wherever they can get it ­ to help deal with the crisis on the Gulf Coast. National Guard troops in Iraq watch as their people back home suffer and die, while they fight a costly and pointless war on behalf and the tycoon and the executive: Bush and Cheney.

In the end, as far as the working people of this country are concerned, 9/11 won’t be the event that “changed everything.” My guess is that that distinction will go to Hurricane Katrina. The dislocation of so many people, the wholesale destruction of cities and the disruption of the oil supply in particular, will probably have a profound and lasting effect on the economy of the entire nation.

Had it been just another 9/11, the war that would’ve followed would have certainly further impoverished the country, put us more deeply in debt and mal-distributed wealth even more egregiously than the current Bush program.

A natural catastrophe, on the other hand, can’t be manipulated in the same way. And the response by those in power can’t be calibrated and twisted around in the way the neoconservatives did with 9/11. The attack on the towers and the Pentagon could be blamed on Osama, Saddam and Muslims generally. Katrina and its aftermath has directly affected the lives of hundreds of thousands of people already, and once the shockwaves begin to substantially affect the way of life and standard of living of millions more, the effort to duck responsibility by those most at fault will become immense. The search for scapegoats is already well underway.

With the public already having soured on the war in Iraq, and distress and discontent likely to build in the months to come, it would seem a safe bet that the opposition party in government could make substantial gains. But given the state of that opposition ­ aptly called “the democratic wing of the republican party” ­ it’s hardly assured that leadership worthy of the name will emerge to challenge the status quo, which leads to some frightening possibilities.

Given the current mindset or mentality in these United States, if something as essential to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as oil is in short supply, my fellow Americans will fight to the death to get theirs before they share a drop with anyone else.

Video at six and eleven…

BILL PAHNELAS lives in Richmond, Virginia. He can be reached at: wpahnelas@thesupplyroom.com





We published an article entitled “A Saudiless Arabia” by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the “Article”), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, www.counterpunch.org (the “Website”).

Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

We do not have any evidence connecting Mr Al Amoudi with terrorism.

As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.

We are pleased to clarify the position.

August 17, 2005