Capitalism, politics & natural disasters

As I write this here in Florida, recovery from Hurricane Charley is still under way. Frances has barely gotten through the South. And now Hurricane Ivan is moving through the Gulf of Mexico.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush wears a button proclaiming, “I survived damn near everything,” and tells reporters that Florida is “an incredibly resilient state.”

So what is the situation down here? The fact is that natural disasters are only partly “gifts” from Mother Nature. They are also largely man-made. Right now in Florida we are inundated with advice to “prepare.” What, concretely, does that mean?

One of the most critical things to do is to lay in a stock of drinking water and non-perishable foods. This is difficult right now, given that many grocery store shelves are bare.

Publix, a major grocery chain in Florida with a near monopoly in Miami-Dade County, is running full-page ads in the Miami Herald apologizing for shortages and promising to fill shelves as quickly as possible. Granted, Frances hit a Publix warehouse and the chain’s delivery trucks suffer the same fuel shortages as others. Nonetheless, one can’t help but ask what responsibility Publix has for those of us from whom it has been taking profits over the years. Surely this and other grocery corporations can do better.

And what about those fuel shortages? A full tank is also on the list of necessities before a storm strikes. It’s rather hard to evacuate before, or cope after, a storm without gas. Over a week after Frances, many people are still struggling to return from their evacuation, much less get their lives back together, and a number of Florida gas stations remain closed.

Even granting the need to keep tankers out of two Florida ports, for safety reasons, how can anyone not connect the fuel shortage to the sight of gas-guzzling SUVs and Hummers on South Florida roads — SUVs and Hummers whose purchase got their owners tax breaks, thanks to the Bush administration.

It’s beyond ironic that the same morning paper that urged South Florida residents to prepare for Ivan and reported the continuing saga of gasoline shortages, also reported that the tri-county area now ranks number six in the nation for traffic delays. The implications for a third major evacuation are both obvious and dismal.

The issue of housing development predates, and goes beyond, the vested interests and policies of the Bush brothers and their cronies. The ongoing sellout of our communities and environment to developers for high-rises on the beaches (flood zones) and adjacent to major arteries (actually few in number, because of geography), and “upscale” housing developments inland, increases population density dramatically, at the cost of affordable housing. (I’m not sure who, exactly, is expected to buy those new homes behind the big signs proclaiming, “From the low $800,000s!” but I suspect it isn’t the clerks working at the K-mart up the road.)

We’re told not to live in mobile homes or stay in homes without shutters, and only to use public shelters as a last resort. Where, exactly, are workers, never mind the poor, supposed to weather the storm? And what happens afterward, if we’re hit? We’ve already been warned by the media that insurance rates will surely go up as a result of Charley and Frances, that affordable housing insurance might well be a thing of the past. Again, what moral responsibility do the developers and insurance corporations have for those whose money they’ve been taking?

Well, Jeb Bush might have survived “damn near everything,” but how does he suggest the rest of us do so? Hurricanes are a force of nature. Capitalist control of housing, food delivery, gasoline production and distribution, and insurance for our homes and health is not. In combination with the policies and practices of the Bush administrations and local governments, this is a recipe for disaster.

Jeb and George W. are busy touring Florida, using our hardship for their political gain. We’re waiting for news of Ivan, worrying about how we, our loved ones, and our neighbors will make it through yet another hurricane, and reminding each other of the upcoming elections.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.