Make the Vultures Pay—Don’t Let Them Prey!
Rebuild New Orleans, Rebuild the World!

The last survivors were not yet out of New Orleans. Hundreds of bodies remain unburied. But the free-market vultures that caused this catasoptrophe were already fattening on the resulting misery.  Halliburton, fresh from gorging in Iraq, had got its first contracts for “reconstruction”. The oil and gas companies had drained another four billion dollars from US workers at gasoline pumps in just one week.  And most grotesquely, Army recruiters had set up stations in the refugee shelters...
If they are not stopped, these vultures will make the destruction of New Orleans just one more mile marker on the path towards a new Dark Age, a path already marked by the sacking of Iraq. New Orleans will be rebuilt only as a tiny tourist village, with high priced housing on the high ground and no “undesirables”. The former inhabitants of the city—those that are African-American and poor—will join immigrant as part of the underclass, willing to work for any job at any pay.  And new disasters will devastate other cities.
But the destruction of New Orleans has unleashed a wave of outrage against those who have so blatantly left the city to drown.  That outrage can be mobilized to demand that the vultures how have caused and profited from this horror be made to pay for the rebuilding not only of New Orleans but for the other cities they are destroying. That rebuilding must not be left to the same criminals, but must be put in the control of those who live and work there.

Who is to blame?

The free marketers in government made the Gulf catastrophe inevitable, and made it far worse when it happened. The administration and Congress has, in the name of “small government” slashed vital infrastructure investments through the United States. New Orelans was flooded because Louisiana’s requests for $60 million in the last three years to fix the levees was slashed to 16 million by a government that has gutted every public function that does not directly help the wealthiest. These cuts occurred despite predictions for years of exactly the disaster that destroyed New Orleans. This is free market flood control.  
Hundreds of thousands war left behind when the city was evacuated, because the fleet of school buses and municipal buses that could have carried them to safety were left idle. It was a free market evacuation—those how could afford to flee did and the devil took the hindmost. For days, until mass outrage forced Bush’s hand, there was almost no government-supplied aid, nothing but private charity and very little of that—a free market rescue operation.  And of course there is the free market war in Iraq, where companies like Halliburton are swallowing billons in government contracts and where most of the equipment that could have been used to rescue flood victims is instead used to kill Iraqis.
Hurricanes are not the problem. When a category 4 hurricane hit Cuba, that country’s government organized an evacuation of almost 700,000 people—and lost only ten lives.  But that is not the way of the “free market”.

Who has profited?

The vultures are now profiting from what they have created.  The increase in gas prices are pouring 8 billon dollars a month more into the coffers of the oil and gas companies. More billions roll in from increases in heating oil and natural gas.   And of course Halliburton, whose stock price had risen eightfold in the last three years, is just the first of the stream of big contractors who are lining up for juicy contracts in the to-be- gentrified New Orleans.
These are the very same people who, in government created the crisis—the Cheneys, the Rumsfelds, all those who easily switch hats from corporations to cabinets. And they are the very same people who created, and are profiting from the catastrophe in Iraq. While it cost absolutely the same amount of money to produce oil and refine it to gasoline now as it did three years ago, the average American household is now paying five thousand dollar a year more—money that is flowing straight to the pockets of the giant energy corporations.
There is nothing “free” about the free market. Its cost in human lives and human misery are immense. Its real name is capitalism and today capitalism has become nothing more than the systemic looting of the world’s working people.  Housing, roads, bridges, flood control works are allowed to fall into decay.  Vital social series—health education are being gutted. New disasters are being prepared every day. The vultures are getting fatter.

How to make them pay

Before the outrage over the destruction of New Orleans dissipates, we can mobilize working people to demand that those responsible, those who have profited, now pay not just to rebuild New Orleans but to rebuild the United States and the world that they have devastated.  They must pay back to us what they have stolen.
A simple way is to tax the oil and gas companies one dollar for each dollar of price increase they have imposed since early 2002, when the run-up to the Iraq war began.  For each gallon of gasoline, for each hundred cubic feet of natural gas, sold since then, the corporations must pay into a reconstruction fund the difference between the actual price and the pre-war price. So, for example, since the price, of gasoline was $1.10 a gallon in January, 2002 and $3.30 in September, 2005, then for every gallon sold that month, the oil companies will pay a tax of $2.20.  Since the tax goes up a penny for every penny price rise, the tax can’t be passed along to consumers.  Any company unwilling or unable to pay will have its assets seized by the government.
Right now, such a fund would be created with about $500 billion dollars, based just on petroleum products sold in the US, ignoring natural gas and what is sold to the rest of the world. That is enough not only to rebuild New Orleans, but to begin rebuilding the infrastructure of the whole United States—flood control, roads, bridges schools and houses. This will not only prevent disasters like Katrina, but stop the slow-motion disasters of urban disfiguration and decay. It is also enough to generate millions of new jobs. Taxes on what the oil and gas companies have sold abroad could be directed into fund to aid reconstruction in the rest of the world.
Such a fund of course can’t be controlled by the vultures that are being taxed to create it. It must be controlled democratically by directly elected delegates.  The New Orleans part of this fund must be controlled by delegates elected from among those who lived in New Orleans.  And no money from this fund can go to contracts for criminals. Work must be performed directly by government employees, just as in the great public works programs of the Depression--_-the Public Works Administration, Work Progress Administration and Civil Works Administration.
With such democratically controlled funds New Orleans and the rest of the country could be to be rebuilt— for the benefit of its working population, not of the free market vultures of capitalism.

Eric Lerner
NJ Workers Democracy Network