home Environment, North America, Politics FEMA Is Already Being Privatized and Other Under-Reported Facts About Hurricane Sandy

FEMA Is Already Being Privatized and Other Under-Reported Facts About Hurricane Sandy

If you live in the United States, you almost certainly know that a big hurricane-turned-post- tropical-cyclone called Sandy hit the East Coast earlier this week. Unprecedented in size and scope, the hybrid storm, popularly dubbed a “Frankenstorm,” caused damage from North Carolina and all the way up through parts of Eastern Canada. More than 8.2 million people in the US lost power. Electricity is slowly being restored, and at this writing, the death toll has reached 55.

The media has relentlessly wondered how the fallout from Sandy may or may not affect the November 6 presidential election. But many of the most important news stories about Sandy were either minimized or completely ignored by the mainstream media. Here are five of them.

1. Caribbean countries are suffering, Haiti especially.

If U.S. infrastructure in the Northeast is poorly prepared for natural disasters,
infrastructure in the Caribbean is exponentially worse. As of this afternoon, 71 deaths had been reported, 54 of them in Haiti. In a story buried well off the front page, The Washington Post had some of the numbers. Here are just a few:

In Haiti, 21 people have not been accounted for. As much as 70 percent of crops were
destroyed in some areas. Haiti’s infrastructure has not been rebuilt since it suffered a
massive earthquake two years ago. Even though it did not suffer a direct hit, its residents are still suffering from an earthquake-related cholera epidemic. The disease is likely to spread even further as a result of flooding and contaminated water supplies. The Western Hemisphere’s poorest country remains its most vulnerable in Sandy’s wake.

Of the 11 people killed in Cuba, one was a baby. About 15,000 homes were flattened,
and 200,000 more damaged. In Jamaica, “One elderly man was killed when a boulder rolled onto his property and crushed him.” Over 400 homes were damaged or destroyed, and many more farms were ravaged. “The government has put the preliminary price tag at $16.5 million.” Damages in the Bahamas totaled about $300 million. The Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico also endured extensive flooding.

2. Sandy’s path included 34 nuclear facilities and six oil refineries.

Five nuclear facilities, including the nation’s oldest at Oyster Creek, had problems.
The Socialist Worker reported that New Jersey’s Oyster Creek facility, based on the same design as the one at Japan’s Fukushima plant but in worse shape, “declared an emergency alert because rising sea water threatened to submerge the pumps used to circulate cooling water.”

According to ABC News, the Indian Creek facility, just 40 miles from New York City, shut one of its units down “as a result of an electrical grid disturbance.”

Two other units near Philadelphia had problems: One at the Limerick Generating Station had a “problem with its condenser,” and one at Salem Nuclear Power Plant was shut down “when four of the station’s six circulating water pumps were no longer available due to weather impacts from Hurricane Sandy.” Another unit at Nine Mile Point near Oswego, New York shut down two units in what it called a likely “storm-related event.”

None of these events posed a danger to the public. This time. But if global warming
will be bringing more of these superstorms to the Northeast and you live near a nuclear facility (And if you’re on the East Coast, you very likely do.), you might want to stock up on potassium iodide pills. Many plants, like North Carolina’s Shearon Harris, offer free pills to nearby residents a few times a year.

3. FEMA is already being privatized, and will continue to be privatized no matter who wins the election.

Sandy had barely reached the Northeast this week when Democrats took the opportunity to lambaste Mitt Romney’s many statements in favor of privatizing FEMA and shifting disaster relief to the states. Just as he’s done with other positions, of course, Romney started equivocating about FEMA as soon as it became politically expedient to do so.

Romney’s stance(s) on FEMA may or may not damage his political campaign, but
this media’s focus on this obscures a larger issue: Romney may well hasten the further
privatization of FEMA, but FEMA has been privatizing for many years already. One way of putting it is that FEMA is to the privatization of disaster relief what charter schools are to the privatization of public education. That is, both rely on public-private partnerships to furnish what we would consider a public good.

One example of public-private partnerships is, of course, Blackwater’s infamous involvement in New Orleans “relief efforts” in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Mother Jones described their contribution in a 2009 article:

The Blackwater operators described their mission in New Orleans as “securing neighborhoods,” as if they were talking about Sadr City. When National Guard troops descended on the city, the Army Times described their role as fighting “the insurgency in the city.” Brigadier Gen. Gary Jones, who commanded the Louisiana National Guard’s Joint Task Force, told the paper, “This place is going to look like Little Somalia. We’re going to go out and take this city back. This will be a combat operation to get this city under control.”

If Romney is elected, we might expect a more rapid proliferation of armed mercenaries in disaster zones. But we shouldn’t presume that the current President is presiding over a pure and uncorrupted public service completely untarnished by private interests.

4. A lot of people on the East Coast suffered, and somehow Sandy still didn’t inspire an honest national discussion about the realities of climate change.

Americans – and our media – have a tendency to clamor that it’s in poor taste to “politicize” human tragedy when it occurs within our borders. It happens every time there’s a mass shooting and someone somewhere in the country mentions gun control.

A similar phenomenon has taken place in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. That is, we’re not supposed to talk about climate change while cities and towns remain flooded. That’s why the President hasn’t mentioned anything about it in any public statement addressing the Hurricane. His political opponent would undoubtedly castigate it as an “opportunistic” political move, and much histrionic soundbyting would ensue on Fox News.

So, because a large subset – if not a majority – of American citizens have been deceived into believing that major disruptions in the weather (e.g., “superstorms”) are God-ordained judgments against humanity, the public cannot have a serious discussion about the realities of climate change even when climate change arguably contributes to mass human suffering.

It’s a convenient state of affairs for the corporations doing most of the polluting that
American’s are so easily led – and that we’ve come to define the most basic regulations and protections as totalitarian Stalinist excesses. At the end of the day, with so many oil and gas dollars flowing into American campaigns, it’s unlikely that the President will exhibit political courage in this arena any time soon. It’s not about doing right by the public, but appeasing the entities that buy its elections.

5.The aftermath of Sandy exposed the stark economic inequality plaguing New York City.

David Rodhe of Reuters provides important perspective:

Those with a car could flee. Those with wealth could move into a hotel. Those with steady jobs could decline to come into work. But the city’s cooks, doormen, maintenance men, taxi drivers and maids left their loved ones at home. New census data shows that the city is the most economically divided it has been in a decade… As has occurred across the country, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Twenty-one percent of the city is in poverty, and the median household income decreased by $821 annually. Per the [New York] Times: “Median income for the lowest fifth was $8,844, down $463 from 2010. For the highest, it was $223,285, up $1,919.” Manhattan, the city’s wealthiest and most gentrified borough, is an extreme example. Inequality here rivalsparts of sub-Saharan Africa. Last year the wealthiest 20 percent of Manhattan residents made $391,022 a year on average, according to census data. The poorest 20 percent made $9,681. All told, Manhattan’s richest fifth made 40 times more money than its poorest fifth, up from 38 times in 2010. Only a handful of developing countries – such as Namibia and Sierra Leone – have higher inequality rates.

Remember how American celebrities like Chris Rock commented over and over
that post-Katrina images out of New Orleans looked like something out of a major
catastrophe in Haiti?

The U.S. decided long ago that the suffering of its poor didn’t matter. It should outrage, but certainly not surprise us to learn that the poor suffer the most when natural disasters they didn’t exacerbate come knocking.

Meanwhile, as Sarah Seltzer of Alternet noted, poor JPMorgan had to close its dumpling bar.