STRAWS IN THE WIND: by Max TeichmannNews Weekly
New Orleans - a cracked society / Unemployment / Costello's new constituency / Liberal leadership / Potemkin politics
, September 24, 2005
New Orleans - a cracked society
The New Orleans catastrophe has emerged as a disaster of a kind which we haven't encountered in the West before, though such events are regular occurrences in Africa.
There has been a succession of natural tragedies befalling countries in many parts of the world in recent years: the Boxing Day tsunami, the Kobe earthquake, the lethal earthquakes in Iran, Turkey and Italy; and the recent great flooding of Mumbai.
In none of these was there a serious breakdown of law and order; or the absence of any signs of cooperation and communal solidarity; or compassion towards neighbours. Nowhere, except in New Orleans, have masses of the local police force resigned or deserted. Nor have the so-called National Guard - so-called because they were initially answerable to their state rather than to federal authorities - been so directionless.
The power struggle over who
handles the money and the resources, became a problem for some other countries which had also been struck by disaster; but only emerged when the second stage, that of reconstruction, was being undertaken.Then
graft, corruption, incompetence and long, long delays took over in some of the stricken nations. Given the kind of state that Louisiana is, with its Democratic Party machine, the log-rolling, bungling and chicanery to follow, this will be really something to watch.
Naturally, Washington, Bush and the Republican Party were blamed - the strangely desperate American media and populist Democratic hacks in Washington will see to it, if
The history of New Orleans and Louisiana is interesting in its own right. Louisiana spawned perhaps the most successful populist movement, and a charismatic politician, Huey Long (called the Kingfisher), who was starting to threaten F.D. Roosevelt in the approaching 1936 presidential contest when he (Long) was assassinated.
His program? A chicken in every pot, and every man a king. He was a great hit, gained power, and kept it.
After Huey's death, his family and their cronies continued to run and, increasingly to loot, the state of Louisiana. The poor were played off against the rich, the up-country against the New Orleans people. There were gerrymanders, and jobs only to supporters - and there were masses of these on the payroll. The police and the bureaucracy were especial favourites for friends of Huey.
Washington was blamed for everything, as were the Jews in New York and in the New Deal.
The Kingfisher's massive public spending in fact considerably improved the lot of the poor and uneducated in Louisiana, even though public tendering was corrupt or non-existent. Huey lifted Louisiana out of much of its poverty and inequality - even if the means and the consequences were a corrupt, despotic patronage system.
When the Democrats moved back, they inherited rigged courts, bent police and a mass of people expecting handouts forever. So this present social behaviour in Louisiana should surprise no one. The ubiquity of the welfare mentality means someone else has to do everything for you, and you don't have to thank anyone
So Louisiana and New Orleans slumbered in a fetid world of crime - one of the worst murder rates in the Western world; corrupt institutions, and a massive Afro-American problem.Unemployment
Sixty-seven per cent of the New Orleans people are Negro, with 88 per cent of the state's unemployment. They could dominate the state and the city of New Orleans had they wished, but chose to live and behave as they have.
One reason for this preponderance of blacks is the migration of whites to other states. Many have found conditions unliveable. Asians and Latinos are no problem, usually making some sort of life quickly, but were also moving out for a more orderly, more hopeful and less violent and drug-ridden milieu. (New Orleans unaccountably has long been idealised by our New Class documentary-makers. What with jazz and crack, what more could you ask?)
The Americans have few serious difficulties with their Asians and Latinos, none of whom looted, but permanent ones with their black population.
The real problem is that masses of people - very like those from the New Orleans black population - are now embedded in other major US cities, and these would react, under similar circumstances, in very similar ways to those in New Orleans. This has nothing to do with George Bush.
Something worrying me
is whether Caribbean/ Gulf of Mexico weather patterns have changed, possibly owing to the ongoing destruction of the Amazon forests. And if so, what kind of changes will the southern coastal states undergo? And
what might the future be for the offshore oil rigs? Apparently, there could be three or four major hurricanes still to come this season: so the question is not entirely academic.
A postscript from German radio Deutsche Welle:
Those who wouldn't leave New Orleans included gangs which controlled whole areas of the city and did not want their members to depart or disperse. They had very large stocks of narcotics, and were guarding
them, so the local police and guardsmen have been showing appropriate respect. And this
from the correspondent on the spot.
The DJ in Germany didn't look pleased. So the poor blighter on the spot, risking his life so as to be able to tell the truth, finished lamely with ritual anti-Americanisms, to sighs of relieved approval from the Berlin disinformation centre.
Here, the Australian media, having burned their fingers with this latest anti-Bush, anti-American Administration bathos, and their attempted scapegoating, are now retreating into attacks on television religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, and staging another great charity rock concert.
The reality is that President Bush and his Administration will be leading the United States until the end of 2008; so the colonial gibberish being foisted on us, to ease the pain of our True Believers, is quite irrelevant. It should be seen as class-based group therapy, instead of a bona fide
media at work.
Americans place very little reliance on what Australian journalists or politicians say about them, which is just as well. John Howard seems to be the only Australian entity for whom they hold much respect or regard, and the same applies to the rest of the world.
This is a situation we have brought upon ourselves.Costello's new constituency
Peter Costello is not just a pretty face: for he has finessed the ALP and the leading mouths in his own party. John Howard - under the usual pressure from the insatiable rich outside parliament and urged on by the quality media - has agreed that the present top tax rate is too high, imposed too soon and should be reformed, and as an early priority.
Malcolm Turnbull, as might be expected, has come up with an apparently complex package which will greatly comfort the rich. Labor has rushed in to support all this, with Lindsay Tanner, an economic rationalist, and leader Kim Beazley adding their weight. The very rich are bleeding and must be given early relief. The media barons have purred their approval.But
, the Treasurer said - just before going to Aceh with his brother, Rev. Tim Costello - why so much talk about the top three per cent? What about the remaining 97 per cent? Naturally, most of us agreed with him.
The media are furious. From being their favourite weapon against Howard and the foremost economic rationalist, Costello is championing the little guys! Even before he returned from Aceh, the media abuse had started, and will continue so long as he sticks to his guns. And World Vision, his brother's aid organisation, has suddenly been receiving criticisms of a transparently destructive kind.
It's no joke crossing our mega-rich and their fronts, is it?Liberal leadership
I don't think Costello is worrying greatly. He is in no hurry to be Leader, and there is no credible substitute for him. Howard can do some useful work yet, possibly seeing off Labor's leader and frontbenchers. It would
be interesting if Peter really
had a vision, on the road to Aceh.
But certainly he will watch the forthcoming tax debate with some amusement, and detachment.
Now, Victorian Premier Steve Bracks has come out in favour of the top tax bracket who are bleeding (bleeding the lot of us, one might add).
Having said all that, I thought I'd picked up, in the course of Costello's meeting with the Indonesian president - and a very friendly-looking affair it was - a clear signal by Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono that he wanted John Howard to remain Australia's leader, for obviously the two men have a close personal relationship.
So yet another reason for Peter Costello to bide his time and ignore friendly agents-provocateurs
I'm reading a book by Andrew Wilson of the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London. His speciality is Ukraine and his book is called Virtual Politics: Faking Democracy in the Post-Soviet World
(Yale University Press, 2005).
I'll quote the Times Literary Supplement
review (August 5, 2005), headed "It never happened":
"Wilson describes a political realm in post-Soviet countries where nothing is as it appears to be. Rival parties on the left and the right end up as mere fictions ...
"Muck-raking journalists are merely hired 'hatchets' contracted by political technologists to smear rivals. Academic research and political exit polling are manipulated for the highest bidder. People amassed in rallies turn out to be paid extras ..."
The political coups to overthrow Gorbachev, etc., were staged theatrical events, and so on.
It is devastating and is especially topical as the much-lauded Ukrainian Orange Revolution is starting to appear as yet another
ersatz event with the victors already fighting - the PM versus the President versus the security chief, with allegations of corruption being as bad as what went before.
We shall look at Wilson's thesis, perhaps next time, and we might also consider whether his model is appropriate to any other democracies, including our own.
New political actors suddenly appear, are lauded by the media, their role appearing to be to disrupt existing parties in the service of well-funded groups who stay in the background.
In the East European cases, the original source was, and is, the KGB - old and new - disposing of enormous funds laundered from the state before the Fall, which turns out not to have been a Fall.
The only major opponents to the old Party and the KGB have been the oligarchs, viz.
, the corrupt corporate gangsters who were sold state assets for a song.They
were starting to exercise political clout, to back politicians, back television channels, to fund "think tanks", front organisations and academic "researchers".
The KGB's man in the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin, now has the job of dealing with them. This is a fascinating story and, were we able to get behind the Spin, the front organisations and their recurring populist actors, we might find a similar, just-emerging picture here.