After Hurricane Sandy: fund a real recovery

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A disaster like Superstorm Sandy shows capitalism in its true colors. In the midst of chaos and suffering, the stock market in New York City managed a swift reopening after being closed for just two days, with Mayor Bloomberg ringing the opening bell. However, working-class, immigrant, and poor areas like Staten Island and Far Rockaway went for weeks without lights, power, running water, and the ability to replenish food and fuel — with FEMA, the National Guard, and the Red Cross barely to be seen.

FEMA brought no supplies to Chinatown and the Rockaways until days after Sandy hit, and provided no personnel to distribute them.

Fortunately, grass-roots relief efforts had started right away, some of them led by groups in communities of color, like CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities, and some led by Occupy Sandy, an outgrowth of Occupy Wall Street that sprang to life the day after the storm hit. As power was restored to districts closer to the financial center, like Chinatown, the efforts of Occupy Sandy became crucial in bringing volunteers and donations to areas still cut off.

Grass-roots efforts like these testify to the inspiring solidarity among ordinary people that crisis brings to the fore. But they are no substitute for what government, with all its resources, should be doing. The Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) calls on authorities to:

  • Leave no one behind in restoring services and emergency supplies to those who still lack them, without delay.
  • Provide shelter for everyone who needs it. Cut the FEMA and insurance company red tape! No repeat of the long waits and toxic trailers for people who lost homes to Katrina. Expedite claims, and make FEMA canvass neighborhoods to make sure everyone knows how to get aid.
  • Enact price controls to end gouging on food, heating oil, gas, rebuilding materials, and all the supplies needed to cope with the disaster.
  • Cancel debt and mortgages on irreparably damaged property belonging to people of modest incomes.
  • Expand the powers of environmental agencies to ensure that cleanup is done in a way that is ecologically sound and protects workers’ health and safety.
  • Send aid to Haiti and other hard-hit countries.

In addition to solving the urgent problems of those affected by Sandy, drastic measures need to be taken to continue recovery and to ensure the next disaster takes less of a toll.

  • Establish a national public works program to rebuild and improve infrastructure, like overhauling New York’s outdated sewage treatment system and flood-proofing power substations or moving them to higher ground. In hiring for this program, give priority to those who are unemployed.
  • Nationalize homeowners’ insurance under the management of workers’ committees.
  • Provide for rational energy planning and equitable distribution of energy resources by nationalizing the fossil fuel industries, also under workers’ control.
  • Enact a moratorium on interest payments on the national debt to fund recovery, improvements to infrastructure nationally, and restoring and increasing the budgets of FEMA and other emergency agencies. Debt interest payments amounted to $104 billion in the first six months of fiscal year 2012.
  • Provide more funding by dismantling the Pentagon.

Taking apart the war machine will also help in another way. Through its gargantuan consumption of fossil fuels, Uncle Sam’s military is one of the planet’s greatest contributors to human-induced global warming. And it’s global warming that is raising sea levels and temperatures and thereby causing storm violence to escalate in record ways.

Many things can be done to better safeguard coastal residents in the medium-term: sea walls to protect against storm surges; restoring wetlands and slowing or halting development in these sensitive areas; and rebuilding natural flood defenses like New York harbor’s once-famed oyster beds. But the fundamental answers are conservation on a mass scale — starting with free, expanded public transportation — and a switch from reliance on fossil fuels for energy to renewable sources like sun, wind, and tides.

Capitalism will never free up the resources or unleash the ingenuity needed to solve the terrible problems it has caused, and certainly not in a way that protects workers’ rights and standard of living. This is why, while demanding immediate relief for Hurricane Sandy’s victims, the FSP also stands for abolishing a system whose mania for profits puts it at odds with the planet as well as the poor and working-class vast majority of humanity. What’s needed is nothing short of a transition to socialism.

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