They used to call New Orleans “The Big Easy.”
In the 1920’s and 30’s, it was home to jazz musicians who smoked “muggles,” which today we call “joints.”
The hipster musicians smoked Mexican weed while they played. When they began to bring the blues and jazz out of the South to places like Chicago, they carried muggles with them.
America’s first drug czar, Harry Anslinger, said New Orleans, Chicago and other havens for weed-smoking jazzers were dens of iniquity.
He actually ordered the government to “go after” jazz musicians, to infiltrate their ranks, to destroy the jazz culture.
In 1937, he convinced the US Congress to criminalize marijuana, using racist arguments warning that black and Mexican jazz musicians and their weed could corrupt America’s innocent blue-eyed young girls.
Marijuana made blacks and Hispanics “uppity,” Anslinger said. It made them feel too good. It made young girls feel sexy. It made innocent white girls look lustfully at non-white jazz musicians. It was the devil’s weed, spreading across America in brown and black hands.
Despite marijuana’s long history as an important, legal agricultural and industrial crop before 1937, Anslinger started a war on the plant that has, so far, cost approximately $300 billion.
The war on marijuana is just one example of what the US government has been doing with its citizens’ money while disasters like the flooding of New Orleans waited for the right hurricane to happen.
Even anarchists agree that some government is necessary. Most people would accept the idea that the government should ensure safe infrastructure, streets, dams, electrical grids, development, parks, schools.
Indeed, most people think that a government’s primary responsibility is to manage infrastructure, to regulate where suburbs should be built, to make sure that corporations and other commercial activities don’t damage human health or the environment.
Unfortunately, the US government doesn’t take those responsibilities very seriously.
And the New Orleans disaster didn’t occur just because a wicked hurricane roared in off the Gulf of Mexico.
It occurred because the government is too busy messing around where it shouldn’t be messing around, while ignoring danger at home until it is too late.
New Orleans probably should never have been built where it is. It’s way below sea level. It’s in the path of hurricanes. Global warming, which George Bush and most oil addicts refused to acknowledge as a fact, has created a warmer Gulf of Mexico which fuels stronger hurricanes.
The wetlands, barrier islands, 1500-year-old cypress swamps, rivers and other natural features that used to exist around New Orleans, and which might have offered some protection against Hurricane Katrina, have been paved over to become new New Orleans real estate.
In the meantime, the Gulf is rising in height and in temperature, even as agricultural and industrial pollutants that pour out of the mouth of the Mississippi River have created an 8000 square mile dead zone in the ocean near New Orleans.
Every year for the last ten years, scientists warned that global warming, petroleum and natural gas industry activities and pollution in and around New Orleans and in the Gulf, hurricanes, rampant development of suburbs in marginal areas, neglect of dikes, levees, and pumping stations, and other mistakes permitted or committed by government, had made New Orleans ripe for what is happening today- a flood of Biblical proportions that has basically destroyed The Big Easy.
Nobody listened to those scientists. The Bush administration and its allies in Congress and the petroleum industry have been trying to get those scientists fired. The developers, real estate agents, and construction contractors didn’t want to hear the truth either. The government planners and agencies responsible for supervising and managing population growth and industrial activity in and around New Orleans paid no attention to what scientists and environmentalists were warning. They rubber-stamped massive housing and commercial projects, placing thousands of people in harm’s way.
In 1995, New Orleans was flooded by a heavy rainstorm and a few people died. Congress poured some money onto the situation, most of which was swallowed up in the black hole of construction company profits and government agency waste, otherwise known as the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project (SELA).
The Army Corps of Engineers, which has a disgusting history of destroying ecosystems, rivers, lakes, oceans, shorelines, and beaches, took half a billion dollars to implement SELA, and did a damn ugly job of it.
So ugly that everybody agreed that with hurricanes increasing in frequency and intensity, it was time to spend even more money on SELA and get the damned city protected somehow, if it could even be protected.
In 2001 and every year thereafter, safety advocates begged the federal government for approximately $400 million to finish the SELA job.
But the US government had other priorities. It had the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, which has so far cost about $300 billion, and has accomplished little more than to kill and maim lots of people while creating thousands of new “terrorists” and billions in profits for Dick Cheney’s Halliburton and other war-profiteering corporations. It also had to give billions in tax cuts to the wealthy Americans who helped elect Bush and Cheney.
“First things first,” the Bush administration told New Orleans, announcing that it was cutting funding for SELA to pay for tax cuts for the rich, and for the wars.
Some folks in New Orleans protested that destroying Iraq and Afghanistan, and giving tax refunds to millionaires, should not be as important as fixing the levees and pumps that protected New Orleans. But Bush was on vacation. He didn’t hear the protests.
Nor did he hear when people asked why so many members of the National Guard from hurricane-vulnerable southern states, and their equipment, have been stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan for two years instead of back home where they belong.
In case you didn’t know, the National Guard is not supposed to be fighting wars for the US military. The Guard was founded to provide help for domestic problems within the US, problems like floods, fires, earthquakes and other disasters.
In the last two decades, however, the National Guard has been commandeered by the US military, and by the DEA and other drug warriors.
National Guard soldiers and equipment are an integral part of the war on plants. Their presence has helped escalate state anti-marijuana efforts to the level of military conflicts, with machine gun-toting soldiers jumping people in their back yards, pointing guns at them, confiscating their cannabis plants.
So when the governors of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama, and the mayor of New Orleans, needed immediate National Guard assistance before, during and after Hurricane Katrina, there wasn’t much National Guard assistance available. Many Guard soldiers have been killed or injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their equipment is there too. Or they are flying helicopter missions over forests, searching for marijuana plants.
It’s all a matter of priorities.
In June, 2004, the head of New Orleans’s emergency management agency said that money to protect New Orleans from hurricanes and flooding had been “moved in the president’s budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that’s the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can’t be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us.”
An Army Corps of Engineers official said in 2004 that the levees were sinking. He begged local governments to provide the money that the feds weren’t providing.
“Everything is sinking,” he said, “and if we don’t get the money fast enough to raise the levees, then we can’t stay ahead of the sinking. The problem that we have isn’t that the levee is low, but that the federal funds have dried up so that we can’t raise them.”
The locals kicked in a few million in funds, but it wasn’t enough. Bush said he didn’t have enough money for SELA, which needed about $36 million. He said he had to spend ever more money fighting wars overseas. He cut Corps of Engineers funding in 2004 and 2005, even refusing to pay for a study that would quantify the risk New Orleans faced from a severe storm like Katrina.
The Louisiana congressional delegation urged Congress earlier this year to dedicate guaranteed amount of federal money for protecting New Orleans and Louisiana’s coast, but the White House opposed the funding request.
Other than the overseas wars, the White House has domestic war priorities, especially its war on marijuana.
In Bush’s 2006 federal budget, he lavishes money on the Pentagon and cuts everybody else to the bone, including schools, health care, elderly care, national parks, and other programs.
And yet, the Pentagon’s budget has increased from $400 billion to $419 billion.
Drug police get more money in Bush’s budget, but other police funded by the feds lose money. The Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program received $499 million dollars in 2005, but Bush’s 2006 budget slashes COPS by 95%, leaving a measly $22 million. Bush administration funding for state and local law enforcement will drop by almost 50%, from $2.8 billion in 2005 to $1.5 billion in 2006.
As you would expect, in these dire times of budget cutting, the DEA has seen its budget increased by seven percent to $2 billion.
What good does the DEA do for New Orleans? Not much, apparently. There’s no evidence that DEA agents protected the city from any threats as real as flooding. DEA agents don’t solve real world problems like natural disasters and levee breakage. They go after people who enjoy plants, plant derivatives, hallucinogens, things that may harm a few individuals perhaps, but nowhere near as much harm as a flood that drowns an entire city.
Flood control agencies needed $36 million and didn’t get it. The DEA got the money instead.
What did the DEA do with the money that could have gone to protect New Orleans?
They busted raves and grow rooms. They busted medical marijuana patients.
They even had time for some fun. Earlier this year, agents from the DEA’s New Orleans District Office went to Redeemer-Seton High School in New Orleans, where they encouraged students to consider employment with the DEA and the National Guard.
In June, New Orleans DEA Special Agent George J. Cazenavette visited Tulane University and tried to recruit students enrolled there in an English as a Second Language (ESL) program. He told students the standard DEA lies about marijuana – that it has no medical value, is addictive, and can lead to use of other drugs.
He also answered somewhat hostile questions about the DEA’s activities in foreign countries. Ever since Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez kicked the DEA out of Venezuela a few weeks ago after accusing DEA of being part of a plot to overthrow his government, some people have been asking hostile questions about the DEA’s presence in Latin American and elsewhere.
In June, Cazenavette and DEA agent Anita Pope visited Jackson University’s Education Learning Center Youth Camp in Jackson, Mississippi, where they lied about marijuana and gave out nifty t-shirts that said “POLICE” on the front.
Cazenavette later gave a speech at the Gulfport Chapter of the Mississippi District Exchange Clubs, where he tried to convince people that there’s a link between drug use and child abuse. He forgot to mention the link between alcohol and child abuse. He also visited Xavier University’s Family & Community Life Center Career Day, where he encouraged students to seek jobs with DEA.
What else did the DEA to with the money that could have been spent to shore up the levees that protect New Orleans from floods?
It sent undercover agents to Vancouver, Canada to purchase marijuana seeds from Marc Emery.
It funded agents for nearly two years as they recorded conversations with Emery, lied to Emery, monitored his mail, set up stings, and otherwise tried to gather evidence to be used against people who sell and grow seeds.
So when you see the heartbreaking pictures from New Orleans – the floating corpses, the crying children, the looters stealing guns from flooded stores, the “home of jazz” underwater – just remember that the whole stinking mess is not by any means a “natural disaster.”
Instead, it’s an unnatural disaster created by a government that spends billions of dollars to blow people up, to bust grow rooms, to arrest seed merchants, to invade other countries, while ignoring the needs of its people in the homeland.
When the next hurricane comes to New Orleans – and come it will – DEA agents should be given buckets, raincoats, pumps and sandbags, and told to go protect the city. At least they’d be doing something useful for a change.