BURN BABY BURN – The California Celebrity Fires
by Greg Palast, October 31, 2007
What color is your disaster? It makes a difference. A life and death difference.
Population of San Diego fire evacuation zone: 500,000
Population of the New Orleans flood evacuation zone: 500,000
White folk as a % of evacuees, San Diego: 66%
Black folk as % of evacuees, New Orleans: 67%
Size counts, too. Size of your wallet, that is:
Evacuees in San Diego, in poverty: 9%
Evacuees in New Orleans, in poverty: 27%
The numbers would be even uglier, though more revealing, if I included evacuees of the celebrity fire in Malibu.
The President didn’t do a photo-strafing of the scene from 1700 feet this time. Instead, we have the photo op of George, feet on the ground, hanging with Arnold the Action Man. (However, I’m informed that the President was a bit disappointed that he didn’t get to wear one of those neat fireman hats like Rudi G got at Ground Zero.)
In 2005, while the bodies were still being fished out of flooded homes in New Orleans, Republican Congressman Richard Baker praised The Lord for his mercy. “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did,” he said about the removal of the poor from the project near the French Quarter much coveted by speculators.
But as this week’s flames spread, no Republican Congressman cried, “Burn baby burn!” to praise the Lord for cleaning up the ‘Boo, the sin-and-surf playground of Hollywood luvvies.
In New Orleans, God’s covenant with real estate developers has been very profitable. Over 70,000 families remain, two years after the waters receded, in mobile home concentration centers far away from the N.O. re-building boom. Let’s see how long it takes to get Tom Hanks back on his beach towel.
Standing next to Governor Schwarzenegger, a smug little Bush said, “It makes a big difference when you have someone in the statehouse willing to take the lead” – a snide attack on the former Democratic Governor of Louisiana on whom the White House successfully dumped the blame for the horror show in New Orleans.
Mr. Bush never mentioned – and the media would never give away his secret – that 15 hours before the levees broke, the White House and FEMA knew the flood barriers were cracking, yet failed to inform the Governor and state police. Nor did Mr. Bush mention that his Department of Homeland Security’s FEMA trolls took away evacuation planning from the state and gave it to a crew of crony contractors who, for a million bucks, came up with a plan that came down to, “If a hurricane comes, get in your car and drive like hell.”
In California, plans were in place, money poured down with the flame retardant, and no one is suggesting that Mel Gibson move his swastika collection to a FEMA trailer.
Not comparable, the ‘Boo and the N.O.? You can say that again. But as a kid who grew up in the ass end of Los Angeles, I can tell you that disaster apartheid applies on the local scale as well. Look at the tarry filth of Compton and Long Beach shores versus the panicked reaction when a bit of garbage or oil sheen hits Malibu sands. (I remember, standing on the crude-covered shore of an Alaska Native village in March, 1991, the day Exxon announced it would end the clean-up from the Exxon Valdez spill. That same day, the papers showed the careful scouring that week of every pebble on Malibu beaches hit by dinky spill incident.)
Please don’t get the idea I’m slap-happy about the California inferno. My parents live in San Diego – and one of my favorite Air America hosts had to evacuate from her Del Mar hot tub, poor dear. (I’ve heard, however, that billionaires well done taste just like chicken.)
What I’m saying is: Besides the flames, there’s a class war raging in America. Or, should I say, Class Massacre. Because only one side is taking all the bullets. Malibu, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica are “incorporated communities” – islands of privilege politically fenced off from the riff-raff sea of Los Angeles. These self-incorporated Bantustans of the wealthy have their own fire departments and schools. The money islands are relieved of having to pay for the schools and hospitals of the city where their gardeners live. (I can’t tell which is the worst disaster that can befall an Angelino – a fire, an earthquake or the LA public school system.)
Now, it’s easy to say it’s just George Bush who’s the class clown of the class war. But it’s an old story. When a flood took out the tony homes at Westhampton Dunes, the Clinton Administration picked up the full tab for rebuilding these summer hideaways of investment bankers. While today, death-by-poison stalks the environment of Black townships of Louisiana (the FEMA ‘guests’ are parked in a zone called Cancer Ally), Al Gore can’t be found. But when speaking of rising sea levels that can take out the homes of his buddies in ‘Boo or the Hamptons, Gore goes ga-ga.
The one thing I’ll say in favor of that vile little Louisiana Republican cheering the drowning of public housing residents, at least he’s honest about how the system works. He’s not afraid to remind us of the gods’-honest truth: disaster response is class war by other means.
So let me not forget to report the war’s body count:
New Orleans flood deaths: 1,577.
California celebrity fire deaths: 5.
Tonight and this weekend, listen to “The Fire Next Time,” on the Palast Report, aired each week on Air America’s Clout with Richard Greene, on the Nova M network with Cynthia Black (from KPHX), on the Solution Zone with Christiane Brown (KJFK) – and live, in Chicago, this weekend, for Buzzflash.com, The Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights and WCPT, Chicago’s Progressive Talk – and, on this Sunday morning on the Bree Show, KTLK Los Angeles, with host/evacuee Bree Walker, slightly charred (or is that a tan?) but undaunted.
Greg Palast is the author the New York Times bestselling book, Armed Madhouse: From Baghdad to New Orleans – Sordid Secrets and Strange Tales of a White House Gone Wild.