Irrational Exuberance PartII

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Though it was the worst natural disaster in U.S. history, it was caused by a combination of incompetence and greed. An inept President had ignored repeated requests from experts that the Army Corps of Engineers address the pressing issue of the Mississippi Gulf region’s inadequate levee system. Torrential rains eventually came, and with the tide still rising, New Orleans’ political leaders callously decided to save the city by deliberately dynamiting a levee which flooded two predominantly-Black parishes.

The Niagara Falls-like deluge killed about a thousand people and left hundreds of thousands stranded, virtually all African-Americans. For days, the federal government failed to respond to the crisis at all, exhibiting a breathtaking indifference to the unfolding tragedy, leaving it entirely up to the Red Cross to provide food, water,clothing, medical supplies and shelter for the 667,000 who were suddenly homeless.

In case you’re wondering, no, I’m not talking about Hurricane Katrina, but about The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, which then exposed America as an increasingly divided nation of haves and have-nots, rampant with unchecked racism, cowardice, cruelty, and lust for more money and power. The reason we need to revisit the ugly aftermath of what transpired almost 80 years ago is because history has a way of repeating itself, and we ignore its lessons only at our own peril.
Calvin Coolidge, a do-nothing President who actually prided himself on his inactivity and commitment to the status quo, put cabinet member Herbert Hoover, another hands-off Republican, in charge of overseeing the Mississippi relief effort. Not only did this cold-hearted Secretary of Commerce subsequently refuse to spend a single federal dollar on the catastrophe, but he had the temerity to demand reimbursement from the Red Cross for its use of tents, field kitchens, and other military hardware.

The ambitious Hoover then had the arrogance to take credit for the rescue work of the charities and volunteers who did pitch-in, next leveraging his high visibility into a successful run for the White House. Ostensibly oblivious to the nation’s crumbling economic infrastructure, he accepted the Republican Party nomination on August 11th, 1928, proclaiming, “Unemployment, in the sense of distress, is widely disappearing. We, in America today, are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land.�

After winning the election, Hoover continued to encourage an irrational exuberance, based on the bubble of the record highs of skyrocketing prices of pieces of paper, namely, stocks and bonds. Meanwhile, all the suffering of the marginalized populace and the other palpable signposts of the impending, wholesale societal collapse into The Great Depression went unheeded. Fair warning: Katrina might just be the tell-tale tip of a cataclysmic, cultural iceberg.

Black Star columnist Williams is an attorney, graduate of the Wharton School and a member of the NJ, NY, CT, PA, MA & US Supreme Court bars.
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