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Greg Palast: The Year The Levees Broke

The Year The Levees Broke


By Greg Palast in New Orleans.
August 24, 2006

What is the unreported cause of the majority of the 2,000 deaths that occurred after the levees broke last year on August 29? Catch Greg Palast's investigative exposé this Monday on Amy Goodman's Democracy Now! And on Tuesday, watch his one-hour Special on LinkTV. Listings at LinkTV.org.

The Year the Levees Broke

America went through a terrible year. The levees broke in New Orleans. When bodies floated in the streets, the Republican Congress saw an opportunity for more tax cuts and consolidation of the corporatopia they had created for their moneyed donors. The Democratic Party was clueless, written off, politically at death's door.

The year was 1927.

Back then, when the levees broke, America awoke. Public anger rose in a floodtide, and in that year, the USA entered its most revolutionary period since 1776. The thirty-four-year-old utility commissioner of Louisiana, Huey P. Long, conceived of a plan to rebuild his state based on a radical program of redistributing wealth and power. The ambitious Governor of New York, Franklin D. Roosevelt, adopted it, and later named it The New Deal. America got rich and licked Hitler. It was our century.

It's 1927 again.

But this time, the Haves and Have-Mores have something better for you than a New Deal. They are offering "opportunity" -- a lottery ticket instead of a guarantee. Like double-or-nothing in the stock market instead of Social Security -- will the suckers go for it? There's one born every minute. I can't believe they're the majority, but at last count, they numbered over 59 million. And they vote.

Years from now, in Guantánamo or in a refugee relocation "Enterprise Zone," your kids will ask you, "What did you do in the Class War, Daddy?" We may have to admit that conquest and occupation happened before we could fire off a shot.

The trick of class war is not to let the victims know they're under attack. That's how, little by little, the owners of the planet take away what little we have.

On Tuesday, your President, George W. Bush, will return to New Orleans, on the anniversary of the levee breach.

There is nothing new under the sun. A Republican president going for the photo op as the Mississippi rolls over New Orleans. It was 1927, and President Calvin Coolidge sent Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover, "a little fat man with a notebook in his hand," who mugged for the cameras and promised to build the city a wall of protection. They had their photos taken. Then they left to play golf with Ken Lay or, rather, the Ken Lay railroad baron equivalent of his day.

In 1927, the Democratic Party had died and was awaiting burial.
As The Depression approached, the coma-Dems, like Franklin Roosevelt, called for, of all things, balancing the budget.

Then, as the Mississippi waters rose, one politician, the state's electricity regulator, stood up on the back of a flatbed truck rigged with loudspeakers, and said, roughly,

"Listen up! They're lying! The President's lying! The rich fat jackals that are drowning you will do it again and again and again. They lead you into imperialist wars for profit, they take away your schools and your hope, and when you complain, they blame Blacks and Jews and immigrants. Then they drown your kids. I say, Kick'm in the ass and take your share of the wealth you created."

Huey Long was our Hugo Chávez, and he laid out a plan: a progressive income tax, real money for education, public works to rebuild Louisiana and America, Social Security old age pensions, veterans benefits, regulation of the big utility holding companies, an end to what he called, "rich men's wars," and an end to the financial royalism of the elite One Percent.

Huey Long even had the audacity to suggest that the poor's votes should count, calling for the end to the poll tax four decades before Martin Luther King succeeded in ending it. Long recorded his motto as a musical anthem: "Everyman a King." The waters receded, the anger did not, and, in 1928, Huey "Kingfish" Long was elected Governor of Louisiana.

At the time, Louisiana schools were free, but not the textbooks. The elite liked it that way, but Long didn't. To pay for the books, the Kingfish levied a special tax on Big Oil. But the oil companies refused to pay for the textbooks. Governor Long then ordered the National Guard to seize the oil fields in the Delta.

It was Huey Long who established the principle that a government of the people must protect the people, school them, build the infrastructure, regulate industry and share the nation's wealth -- and that meant facing down "the concentrations of monopoly power" of the corporate aristocracy -- "the thieves of Wall Street," as he called them.

In other words, Huey Long founded the modern Democratic Party.

FDR and the party establishment, scared witless of Long's ineluctable march to the White House, adopted his program, albeit diluted, called it the New Deal and later the New Frontier and the Great Society. America and the party prospered.

What happened to the Kingfish? The oil industry and local oligarchs had few options for responding to Governor Long's populist appeal and the success of his egalitarian economic program. On September 8, 1935, Huey Long, by then a U.S. Senator,
was shot dead. He was 42.

It's 1927 again.

*************

Excerpted from Greg Palast's just-released New York Times bestseller, "ARMED MADHOUSE: Who's Afraid of Osama Wolf?, China Floats Bush Sinks, the Scheme to Steal '08, No Child's Behind Left and other Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Class War." Go to www.GregPalast.com.

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