9/10/2005 Newsletter


  • Donte St. James Court Watch
  • Zimmermann Raid: Something Stinks!
  • When Blame Knocks on the Wrong Door
  • Racism, Government Style
  • Tim Wise: Of Disasters, Natural and Otherwise
  • New Orleans Becomes a War Zone: A Dress Rehearsal for Martial Law?

Picture this: You're at a block party for people in your apartment building.  People are barbequing, socializing, dancing.  Suddenly cops roll up and start threatening, grabbing and arresting people.  You run into the apartment building with your friends and make it to safety behind your locked apartment door.  Next thing you know, a cop who witnesses say appeared to be hyped up on drugs, starts shooting through your door.

Think this couldn't happen?  Well, folks, it did.  Minneapolis police shot Donte St. James THROUGH his locked apartment door.  Luckily, he wasn't badly hurt.

Accountability is not the Minneapolis police department's strong suit--covering up for dirty cops is more their style.  True to form, they've CHARGED Donte with "assault with a deadly weapon" to cover their own outrageous actions.

Donte's case goes to court starting Monday, September 12 at 10:00 a.m. and we need to be there with him.  With lawyers Jill Clark and Jill Waite at the helm, this promises to be a fascinating case.  Please come out and stand with Donte.

CUAPB does not endorse candidates or get involved in electoral politics.  Nonetheless, we recognize injustice when we see it. It's also important to expose the role of the FBI both historically and now in subverting people's movements.  On that note, this editor sends the following message to the community:

Dear Friends:

You may have heard by now that Green Party City Council Member Dean Zimmermann's home was raided by the FBI and all of his campaign materials were seized.  This, just four days before the primary.  I don't know about you but it sure seems to me that the timing of this raid is interesting to say the least.  One certainly has to reflect on who benefits from this situation.  In a word, this STINKS.

No matter how you feel about electoral politics, you need to know that Dean Zimmermann has been a wonderful friend to low income people, people of color, activists and others who have felt the boot of repression from the Minneapolis police.  It is an outrage that the FBI has come after him.  Since when did they become tools of the entrenched DFL power structure of this city?

As the DFL machine and its sycophants in the media do their level best to exploit this situation, it will be extremely important that all those who have been helped by Dean continue stand by him.  They won't make it easy--all manner of accusations and deliberately confusing information will likely be spread.  In fact, it's already started with a thoroughly reprehensible and demeaning article by Rochelle Olson in the Star Tribune and through an outrageous report on channel 4, in which they tried to imply that Dean had something to do with Brian Herron's imprisonment for accepting a bribe (he didn't).  We'll all need to keep our heads and be ready to recognize a sophisticated smear campaign when we see it.

Keep in mind that this is not the first time such tactics have been used.  The FBI has a very long history of destroying people's movements through everything from raiding office space, sending phony letters, planting media stories and worse. 

Dean Zimmermann has stood with us--let's be ready to stand with him.  There will be more information forthcoming about what you can do.

In the struggle,
Michelle Gross
Community Activist


August 26, 2005
By H.G. Reza
Source: LA Times

Randy and Ronnell Vorick thought La Habra was about as far away as one could get from terrorism. They were wrong.

For the last 2 1/2 weeks, the lives of the couple and their three children have been plunged into an unsettling routine of drivers shouting profanities, stopping to photograph their house and most recently spray-painting a slogan on their property.

Their house, a suburban fixer-upper the Voricks bought three years ago, was wrongly identified in a cable news broadcast as the home of a terrorist.

"I'm scared to go to work and leave my kids home. I call them every 30 minutes to make sure they're OK," Randy Vorick said.

"I keep telling myself this can't be happening to me. This can't be happening to my family. But it is. I want our lives to be normal again," he said.

In what Fox News officials concede was a mistake, John Loftus, a former U.S. prosecutor, gave out the address Aug. 7, saying it was the home of a Middle Eastern man, Iyad K. Hilal, who was the leader of a terrorist group with ties to those responsible for the July 7 bombings in London.

Hilal, whom Loftus identified by name during the broadcast, moved out of the house about three years ago. But the consequences were immediate for the Voricks.

Satellite photos of the house and directions to the residence were posted online. The Voricks told police, who arranged for the content to be taken down. Someone even removed the street sign where the Voricks live to provide some protection.

Still, it has not been easy.

A driver yelled a profanity at the family and called them terrorists as they barbecued on their patio Aug. 14. Some drivers have stopped and photographed the house, Randy Vorick said.

Last weekend, someone spray-painted "Terrist" on their home. Police, who have regularly patrolled their house since the day after the broadcast, now station a squad car across the street.

Randy, a restaurant manager, and Ronnell, a manager at a staffing agency, have been married 19 years and met as teenagers when they worked at a local McDonald's.

They grew up in La Habra and bought the house three years ago after Hilal moved out so they could be close to Ronnell Vorick's parents.

La Habra Police Capt. John Rees said the department was "giving special attention to the family to make sure they're safe," but declined to elaborate.

"This thing broke on a Sunday, when we started receiving inquiries from the public about terrorists," he said.

The Voricks said they had made several unsuccessful attempts to contact Fox News and Loftus by telephone and e-mail. They want a public apology and correction.

Both have issued apologies Fox in a one-line statement to the Los Angeles Times and Loftus in an e-mail to the family after being contacted by the newspaper. The Voricks say they have yet to see or hear a correction.

"John Loftus has been reprimanded for his careless error, and we sincerely apologize to the family," said Fox spokeswoman Irena Brigante.

Loftus also apologized and told The Times last week that "mistakes happen."

"I'm terribly sorry about that. I had no idea. That was the best information we had at the time," he said.

Loftus said he gave out the address to help local police, and insisted that Hilal, a Garden Grove grocery store owner, was a terrorist.

"I thought it might help police in that area now that we have positively identified a terrorist living in [Orange County]," he said.

Cathy Viray, an FBI spokeswoman in Los Angeles, said agents were looking into Loftus' terrorist allegations but stopped short of calling it an investigation.

The Voricks' nightmare began Aug. 7 when they were returning from SeaWorld in San Diego with their daughters, 17 and 5, and son, 14.

"I was driving home and my neighbor called saying that some guy on Fox said a terrorist lives at my house and gave out the address," Randy Vorick said.

The next day, the couple left for a four-day cruise to Santa Catalina Island and Ensenada, leaving their children in the care of a house-sitter and Randy Vorick's brother, all unaware of the growing fallout from Fox's report.

When they returned Aug. 12, Randy Vorick said he had received several e-mails and messages on his cellphone from friends who told him that Loftus had been interviewed on KFI-AM (640) radio and repeated his allegation about a terrorist living in La Habra. The radio station did not broadcast his address.

In addition, the house-sitter said police had stopped by Aug. 8 to check on their safety and were keeping an eye on the house. Randy Vorick said he had e-mailed Fox and Loftus, asking for a public retraction and apology.

He said the apologies that came were too little, too late.

On Monday night, the day after someone spray-painted their house, the Voricks were up all night looking at the street and the cars that drove by.

"I just want a good night's sleep," Randy Vorick said. "I don't know when I'm going to have it."
- - - - - -
An article in Thursday's California section reported on statements made by John Loftus, a commentator for Fox News, describing grocery store owner Iyad K. Hilal as a terrorist. Although the article accurately quoted Loftus' expression of his opinion, The Times wants to make clear that Hilal has not been charged with any illegal activity and The Times is not aware of any law enforcement agency or official that has identified Hilal as a terrorist. In addition, a previous story on Hilal, which ran in some editions of the California section on Wednesday, said that Omar Bakri Mohammed, a Muslim cleric formerly based in London, had identified Hilal last year in an interview in a newsletter as "leader of the U.S. branch" of an organization known as Hizb ut-Tahrir. Mohammed's interview actually identified a man named Iyad Hilal as the leader of a splinter group of Hizb ut-Tahrir that includes only "a few individuals." The Times regrets any confusion that may have resulted from these articles.

In light of the horrific handling of the hurricane Katrina catastrophe by the BushCo administration, with every indication that the gross negligence and militarization of the government's efforts is based on race, we conclude this edition of the newsletter with articles on racism and martial law.

Truth-Telling on Race? Not in Bush's Fantasyland
By Bob Herbert
The New York Times
Thursday 25 August 2005

The Bush administration has punished a Justice Department official who dared to tell even a mild truth about racial profiling by law enforcement officers in this country.

In 2001 President Bush selected Lawrence Greenfeld to head the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which tracks crime patterns and police tactics, among other things. But as Eric Lichtblau of The Times reported in a front-page article yesterday, Mr. Greenfeld is being demoted because he complained that senior political officials were seeking to play down newly compiled data about the aggressive treatment of black and Hispanic drivers by police officers.

My first thought when I read the story was that burying the messenger who tells uncomfortable truths has always been a favorite tactic of this administration, which seems to exist largely in a world of fantasy. (Grown-ups don't do well in the Bush playtime environment. Remember Gen. Eric Shinseki? And former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill?)

My second thought was of a couple of stories from several years ago that dramatically illustrated the differences in the ways that white and black drivers can be treated.

Rachel Ellen Ondersma was a 17-year-old high school senior when she was stopped by the police in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Nov. 14, 1998. She had been driving erratically, the police said, and when she failed a Breathalyzer test, she was placed under arrest.

An officer cuffed Ms. Ondersma's hands behind her and left her alone in the back seat of a police cruiser. What happened after that was captured on a video camera mounted inside the vehicle. And while it would eventually be shown on the Fox television program "World's Wackiest Police Videos," it was not funny.

The camera offered a clear view through the cruiser's windshield. The microphone picked up the sound of Ms. Ondersma sobbing, then the clink of the handcuffs as she began maneuvering to free herself. She apparently stepped through her arms so her hands, still cuffed, were in front of her. Then she climbed into the front seat, started the engine and roared off. With the car hurtling along, tires squealing, Ms. Ondersma could be heard moaning, "What am I doing?" and, "They are going to have to kill me."

She roared onto a freeway, where she was clocked by pursuing officers at speeds up to 80 miles per hour. She crashed into a concrete barrier, and officers, thinking they had her boxed in, jumped out of their vehicles. But Ms. Ondersma backed up, then lurched forward and plowed into one of the police cars.

Gunfire could be heard as the police began shooting out her tires. The teenager backed up, lurched forward and crashed into the cop car again. An officer had to leap out of the way to keep from being struck.

Ms. Ondersma tried to speed away once more, but by then at least two of her tires were flat and she could no longer control the vehicle. She crashed into another concrete divider and was finally surrounded.

As I watched the videotape, I was amazed at the way she was treated when she was pulled from the cruiser. The police did not seem particularly upset. They were not rough with her, and no one could be heard cursing. One officer said: "Calm down, all right? I think you've caused enough trouble for one day."

Ms. Ondersma is white. As I watched the video, I kept thinking about an incident on the New Jersey Turnpike in April 1998 in which four young men in a van were pulled over by state troopers. Three of the men were black and one was Hispanic. They were neither drunk nor abusive. But their van did roll slowly backward, accidentally bumping the leg of one of the troopers and striking the police vehicle.

The troopers drew their weapons and opened fire. When the shooting stopped, three of the four young men had been shot and seriously wounded.

The beginning of the end of Lawrence Greenfeld's tenure as director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics came a few months ago, as his agency was completing a major study showing that black and Hispanic drivers were treated more aggressively than whites when stopped by the police.

Mr. Greenfeld was overruled when he tried to include references to these disparities in a news release announcing the findings of the study. The study was then buried in the bowels of the Bush bureaucracy.

Mr. Greenfeld obviously failed to understand that the preferred methods of dealing with uncomfortable facts in the fantasyland of the Bush administration are to ignore them, or simply wish them away.


Of Disasters, Natural and Otherwise
By Tim Wise
September 2, 2005

The city I called home for ten years is dying: a slow, agonizing, all-too-terribly public death, before the eyes of the nation and the world.

It is dying, as are far too many of its people, because our national leaders only have the stomach, or the talent (or both) for killing, as in Iraq or Afghanistan, but not for rebuilding eroding levees, nor rescuing people, as is desperately needed now. Fallujah? Oh yeah, we can do that. We can drop bombs and break things. New Orleans? Well, now wait a minute, we can't go in there. It might be dangerous.

And while New Orleans will certainly be re-born, let there be no doubt of her imminent demise at present. The Birthplace of Jazz, home of the nation's best food, most amazing architecture and many of its kindest people is headed for the status of a graveyard, in which will be buried not only tens of thousands of human souls, but businesses, entire neighborhoods, even a culture. Gone.

If you thought New Orleans was haunted before Hurricane Katrina, stick around. The dead will soon own every inch of it.

Children and old folks are perishing on national television; on streets I have walked a thousand times. People from the poorest sections of New Orleans are hanging on by the slimmest of threads: people from communities I have been in hundreds of times. People I know.

Bodies are floating in the streets; others are laid out on dry land, covered by blankets to provide them with what little dignity one can salvage in times such as this. Babies are dying of thirst; the elderly for lack of medicine.

Yet Congress took four days to come back from their vacation to arrange for an emergency aid bill. People who rushed back to work late one night not too long ago so they could save the life of Terry Schiavo--who couldn't even feel pain--because life is so precious to them, couldn't manage to hustle it back to D.C. for four days to help save the dying in New Orleans, who unlike Schiavo can indeed feel their own pain: every ache, every infection, every single bit of it. People who, unlike Schiavo are mostly poor and mostly black, and who provide less political capital one supposes for the so-called pro-life movement, than the persistently vegetative or the run-of the-mill fetus.

And even when they did return, they only allocated a little more than $10 billion to relief efforts. Ten billion dollars: merely a fraction of what our nation has spent to bomb and strafe and occupy Iraq, and a mere drop of piss in the ocean compared to what this nation forked over to bail out the Savings and Loan industry when it was looted by rich white guys.

Oh, and speaking of white people and looting.

To hear an awful lot of folks tell it--like several on forum boards like the one at nola.com--looting is a black thing, what with supposed gangs of armed men roaming the streets of the city, stealing big screen TVs and guns, all due to their savagery, their lack of values, their moral depravity. Apparently, in their world, white people don't loot. Not the S&L bandits, not Ken Lay and his buddies at Enron, not the crooks at Halliburton: never. Only the black and poor, and this they know because Fox News, and for that matter CNN, the networks and most every other media outlet told them so, by way of image after image of looters demonstrating a so-called break with civilized norms of behavior.

In the chat rooms you can spend only a few minutes before being assaulted by yet another bloodthirsty know-nothing, calling for the shooting of looters on sight. And not only those stealing so-called luxury items, but even food, water, diapers, medicine or clothes to replace the soaked and largely ruined rags remaining on their backs.

But anyone who can't understand why someone would break into a store and take things in the midst of this kind of tragedy clearly isn't trapped in the middle of it. They are the ones who had the means to get out of the flood zone before the hurricane hit. How nice for them.

And now they sit back, comfortable, wherever they may be, in an air conditioned room, filling up chat boards with vicious diatribes, in which they seem to take an almost sadistic pleasure at referring to looters as "sub-human scum," "cockroaches," "vermin," "animals," "slime," and any number of other creative and dehumanizing slurs. Others openly call for the building of a separation wall between Orleans Parish and the much whiter Jefferson Parish, if and when the area is reconstructed, so as to "keep the animals out" of the areas with "decent people."

The media's role in stoking this kind of bigotry and hysteria has been prodigious. It hasn't been enough to simply note that looting has taken place. Rather, reporters are discussing the activity as if it were some coordinated attack, planned by gangs even prior to the storm. As one CNN reporter put it, the citizens of New Orleans were apparently, "looking for any reason to break windows," while gasbag Bill O'Reilly actually wondered aloud if the "criminal element" had made a conscious decision to rebuff evacuation orders, all so they could stick around and loot.

This is what we choose to believe, some of us, apparently: that people we call animals, whose humanity we refuse to recognize even in the midst of tragedy, actually conspire to stick around in a rotting cesspool, all so they can score some candy bars from the Rite-Aid, or Nikes from Foot Locker.

We choose to believe that folks look for any reason to break windows, as if doing so to get water or diapers for your kid, who is sitting on an overpass, possibly dying of dehydration, isn't a damned good reason to loot. As if any of us wouldn't do the same were we in such desperate conditions. I would kill for my children. Do you hear me? Kill for them, if push came to shove. So would any parent. So excuse me if I can't get bent over people trying to get Huggies wipes and insulin.

And while there is every reason to suspect whites are looting in heavily damaged parts of the metropolitan area where they predominate, the television coverage, by virtue of being concentrated in downtown New Orleans--an area that is three-fourths or more African American on a normal day, and which is probably 90 percent black now, given that most whites living downtown had the means to evacuate--gives the impression to the weak-minded who don't understand the laws of statistical probability, that looting and blackness are inextricably linked at the hip.

Then, as if this weren't bad enough, photos widely circulated on Yahoo.com with captions yesterday, presented an image of a black man with a garbage bag full of God knows what, side by side with a picture of two white folks wading through waist-deep water with bags of food in their hands: the captions? The black man, according to the news, had "just looted" a store. The white man and woman had "found" food from a flooded store. White people find things. Black people steal things. Got it?

In another photo, taken in an outlying area, one white man and one black man are pictured: the former is walking away from a clearly looted store, looking through his stash, while the latter is jumping through the store's broken front window. But instead of labeling the shot, as "two looters standing outside a ransacked business establishment," AP tells us that the white man is "looking through his shopping bag." White people shop. Black people steal things. Got it?

Food and water, as was made obvious in news footage this afternoon, is sitting in storage at the Convention Center. The same Convention center outside of which people are, as I write this, taking their last breath. And yet, when a local seafood merchant, along with others of the hungry tried to get into the Center's kitchen and prepare some of that food for the starving, the National Guard pulled guns on them and threatened to blow their brains out if they didn't leave. Such is the state of American compassion.

Speaker of the House Denny Hastert, himself a representative from a state whose largest city burned to the ground once because some old lady's cow tipped over a lantern or some such shit, said today that he didn't think it made much sense to rebuild New Orleans, seeing as how it's under sea level and all. Such is the state of American compassion.

This year, despite all of the expert opinion and computer models suggesting that a catastrophe of this magnitude was likely, the President and Congress slashed tens of millions of dollars from the Corps of Engineer's efforts to strengthen and fortify the levees around New Orleans, including the one that gave way on Monday, ultimately triggering this apocalyptic nightmare. Such is the state of American compassion.

And on Nola.com, there is this, from someone going by the nickname rachelcal, as she discusses looting:





Or this, from someone nicknamed aronan:

"If I had my way, the National Guard would round these pieces of garbage up, make THEM clean up the mess Katrina left for us, and then machine gun the whole lot of them into the Gulf.

The only good looter is a DEAD one. There are no exceptions."

And then, from Jim Hassenger:

"My city is destroyed and what is left the bastards are looting...I don't like living here with this disease anymore. I HATE YOU from the bottom of my heart. It's times like these I have to fight racist thoughts."

After reading the lunatic ravings of Mr. Hassenger, I glanced up at the TV to notice the commercial being run between coverage of the disaster: a 30-second clip from the Club for Growth, calling for, what else? Permanent repeal of the estate tax: a tax paid only by the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans, and even then, only when they inherit large amounts of wealth from someone else upon the death of the original owner.

Tax cuts for the rich, because, you see, they are horribly burdened. They are drowning, one might say, put upon by the federal government in ways one can't possibly imagine. The commercial over, reality set back in, as the footage of those whose experience with drowning seems just a bit more visceral filled the screen again. Poor people dying. Rich people castigating them for trying to survive, all the while seeking to stuff their own pockets with yet more cash.

Such is the state of American compassion.

We dropped several hundred thousand packets of food to the people of Afghanistan, even as we bombed them back to the Pleistocene era. Indeed, we patted ourselves on the back for the magnanimity ostensibly evidenced by such generosity. And yet, in New Orleans we drop nothing but vicious admonitions to poor and desperate people, about how looting is wrong. We drop nothing but cliched and empty platitudes, like "help is on the way," and "hold on, we're coming to the rescue."

Meanwhile, the President on at least two occasions that I saw today, said that it was important to help people "in this part of the world."

THIS PART OF THE WORLD!?!? This is your country! You even carried that state, though admittedly with no help from the teeming masses in the streets of New Orleans. Did they not tell you, as you flew overhead from a safe distance, that this was an American city? Did they not tell you, when you left your precious dude ranch to go first to San Diego for a fundraiser, that the town that had been devastated was in the United States? Had you known would you have come quicker?

I know it's tough. This is a tragedy you can't exploit for political gain, the way you did with 9-11. There is no enemy to bomb, no Arab to blame, no muscle you can flex. There is no pile of rubble upon which you can stand, and shout in to a bullhorn some rambling, putrid inanity about taking the battle to the evil forces that brought forth this destruction.

But one thing you said back then finally makes sense to me, in a way it never did before. In the battle to save the people of New Orleans, you are either with us, or against us. And it is crystal clear what side you're on.


New Orleans Becomes a War Zone
A dress rehearsal for martial law?

By Bill Van Auken
8 September 2005

The disaster that struck New Orleans and the southern Gulf Coast has given rise to the largest military mobilization in modern history on US soil. Nearly 65,000 US military personnel are now deployed in the disaster area, transforming the devastated port city into a war zone.

Squads of combat-equipped troops toting assault rifles and columns of humvees with gunners at the ready crisscross its flooded streets. Soldiers with bayonets mounted have begun house-to-house canvassing of the city to enforce the complete removal of its civilian population.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that the disastrous delay in providing aid to the city's beleaguered citizens was in large part a matter of waiting until this massive military force was ready to deploy.

With New Orleans under de facto martial law, its mayor, Ray Nagin, issued an order Tuesday for the forced evacuation of its remaining residents, estimated at anywhere between a few thousand and tens of thousands. New Orleans police officials indicated that they were prepared to forcibly drag people from their homes.

US military spokesmen initially said that they would support the operation, but claimed that uniformed soldiers would not participate directly in these evictions. But Army Lt. Gen. Joseph Inge, deputy commander of US Northern Command, told Pentagon reporters Wednesday that national guard units, which are formally under state control, could be used to compel people to leave.

Nagin's proclamation asserted that the presence of civilians in the city would impedeand distractfrom the recovery operation. Some officials have cited a potential public health disaster resulting from the city's inundation by waters polluted by toxic chemicals and decaying corpses.

Whatever the validity of these motives, the proposed forced evacuation will constitute the most massive military operation mounted against the people of an American city since the Civil War.

While the US military deployment includes medical teams, search-and-rescue helicopters and other forms of relief, the largest troop contingents have been deployed as a military occupation force, to protect private property and suppress civil disturbances.

The Pentagon has issued continuous press releases touting how many millions of meals, gallons of water and pounds of ice it has delivered to the city in the last few days. These reports, however, beg the question of why such supplies were not made available during the first four days after the hurricane hit, when impoverished residents of the city were literally dying in the streets.

With the bulk of the population having left the city, the greatest supply operations now will involve not the relief of hurricane victims but logistical support for the tens of thousands of troops themselves.

The Bush administration's defenders have made demonstrably false claims that no one could have expected a disaster on this scale, while attempting to shift blame onto state and local officials. The deadly delay in the relief effort has been attributed by the administration's opponents to the government's criminal incompetence and seeming indifference to the plight of New Orleanslargely poor and black population.

While no doubt incompetence and indifference played a major role, there is also strong evidence that aid was deliberately withheld by the White House and the Pentagon as part of a strategy for asserting unfettered military control over the city.

Both hurricane victims and public officials have given multiple accounts of US authorities actively turning back aid and blocking rescue attempts in the days that followed the breaching of the city's levees.

Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish, for example, broke down in tears Sunday during an appearance on the NBC television program Meet the Press, declaring, "It's not just Katrina that caused all these deaths in New Orleans here. Bureaucracy has committed murder here in the greater New Orleans area."

He cited repeated actions by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Administration) that involved the deliberate sabotage of relief efforts. He reported that FEMA turned back trailer truckloads of water sent by Wal-Mart, claiming the city didn't need them. He also said that the Coast Guard's offer of fuel urgently needed to power generators was countermanded by FEMA.

Finally, he said that just a day earlier FEMA agents had come in and "cut all of our emergency communication lines" without any warning. The local sheriff, he added, had the lines reconnected and then posted armed guards to see that they were not cut again.

This last, and most sinister, example is in keeping with the Pentagon's "information war" doctrine, which demands the complete control of communications in an area targeted for invasion and occupation.

Denise Bottcher, press secretary for Governor Blanco, also charged that FEMA deliberately blocked offers of aid from Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and others.

And a spokesman for Sen. Mary Landrieu (Democrat, Louisiana), told the media that FEMA held up aid from both public and private agencies, withholding approval for the US Forest Service to use water tanker aircraft to put out fires and delaying the arrival of Amtrak trains to evacuate people from the city. Offers by private companies to provide communications equipment were also held up by the agency. There were also reports that the Red Cross was prevented from going into the city and that FEMA refused to allow the unloading of food, water and medical supplies brought by ships into New Orleans harbor.

The apparent aim of this organized obstructionist behavior by the agency that is supposedly charged with coordinating relief was to block any significant aid until the military could intervene in the city with overwhelming force.

This came on Friday, with military commanders treating New Orleans as a combat operation. This was the term used by Brig. Gen. Gary Jones, commander of the Louisiana National Guard's Joint Task Force, in an interview with the Army Times.

"This place is going to look like Little Somalia," said General Jones. "We're going to go out and take this city back. This will be a combat operation to get this city under control."  The newspaper clearly got the message, referring in its report to troops coming in to "fight the insurgency in the city."

There were numerous reports from New Orleans residents of being treated as if they were indeed "insurgents," with police and troops sealing off the city to prevent attempts to leave.

Over 1,000 National Guard troops and police were sent in Friday to seize control of the New Orleans Convention Center, one of the areas where evacuees had been left to die. Military officials referred to the operation as a "clear and hold" mission, using the phraseology employed by the Pentagon to describe its attacks on towns in Iraq where there is substantial resistance to the US occupation.

Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, bragged of having "stormed the convention center," while acknowledging to Pentagon reporters, "We waited until we had enough force in place to do an overwhelming force."

Asked specifically by a reporter if the buildup of this force was the reason why it took until Friday before the National Guard came in with any significant aid, Blum responded, "That is not only fair, it is accurate. You've concisely stated exactly what was needed, and I told you why. We took the time to build the right force."

Also on Friday, Bush administration officials sent Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco a legal document demanding that she sign over control of the state's National Guard as well as state and local police units. The memo sought their federalization under the Insurrection Act, a statute that allows the president to take control of state militias under conditions in which state governments themselves are unable to "suppress rebellion."

Blanco rejected this demand, no doubt seeing it as an admission of failure by her own administration.

For Bush, the assumption of full military control was a matter of political importance. Under the Insurrection Act, the US president is required to issue a public order for those in "rebellion" to cease and disperse. There is little doubt that had he gained the acquiescence of the Louisiana governor, he would have taken to the airwaves as the "commander-in-chief," in an attempt to dispel the wave of outrage sweeping the country over the government's response to the disaster.

As early as Wednesday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan was telling the press that "martial law has now been declared in Mississippi and Louisiana," an indication of the administration's intentions but not the legal reality in either state.

Blocked from achieving total military control, Bush dispatched Lt. Gen. Russell Honore from the US Northern Command to develop a parallel command structure overseeing active duty troops.

The media has lionized Honore, portraying him as the "John Wayne of New Orleans" with the city's residents presumably assuming the role of Indians. The general thrust of such commentary is that the military is the only institution that can "get the job done."

That the civilian agency which was created to deal with such disasters--FEMA--has been gutted, with an unemployed former horse show organizer, Michael Brown, placed at its head, has everything to do with such perceptions.

The most adamant proponent of the thesis that the military must take charge is the Wall Street Journal, whose editorial board enjoys the closest political relations with the Bush White House. In a Tuesday editorial titled "Bush and Katrina," the Journal commented: "The New Orleans mess improved only after the Pentagon got involved. Though the military is normally barred from domestic law enforcement by the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, Defense officials have been doing a lot of creative thinking about what they can do and what the public now expects post-September 11."

Washington's response to the disaster in New Orleans is hardly a manifestation of "creative thinking," much less "what the public now expects."

In reality the US ruling elite and both major parties have used September 11 as the pretext for implementing far-reaching attacks on democratic rights and breaching legal barriers--such as Posse Comitatus--against the use of military force against the American people.

Just last month, the Washington Post published an article revealing that the US military's Northern Command had developed a series of "war plans" for the military "to take charge" in domestic crises. (See: Pentagon devising scenarios for martial law in US)

While apparently these plans involved a response to supposed terrorist attacks, including the detonation of a nuclear device in a major American city, the catastrophe that struck New Orleans provided ideal conditions for testing the plans out.

The growing reliance on the military, however, is a response neither to terrorist threats or natural catastrophes. On the international arena, the US ruling elite has turned toward the use of military aggression and the seizure of strategic assets and territories as a means of offsetting the relative decline of American capitalism's position in the world economy.

At home, the turn toward martial law is a manifestation of growing fears within America's fabulously wealthy financial oligarchy that conditions of social polarization and the steady decline in the living standards of the vast majority of working people have created a social powder keg.

The deliberate denial of food, water and means of escape to tens of thousands of suffering New Orleanians in order to prepare a massive military exercise is a crime. It is moreover a warning that the deepening of the social crisis in America raises the threat of military repression and dictatorship.

Communities United Against Police Brutality
3100 16th Avenue S
Minneapolis, MN 55407
Hotline 612-874-STOP (7867)

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