Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Easy Way Out


The mainstream media as always has failed to provide adequate explanations for the Katrina disaster. It has told the story that is easy to tell rather than the one that should be told. Heart rending human interest pieces, blame-shifting sound bites from local politicians on the ropes, Bush-bashing and the angry utterances of uninformed observers are the easy way out -- the inevitable Big Easy of the news media so many of us have learned to despise.

In the end, it will be largely sorted out by a vast Internet community dedicated to making honest sense of it all. Chris Regan and Bryan Preston have made an excellent start in a splendid piece published in the National Review Online. Did New Orleans have a viable emergency plan? Did the mayor make any credible effort to use available local resources to evacuate people he knew needed help? You can read the New Orleans and state plans and the history of both in dealing with threats comparable to Katrina if you know where to look. That is something the New York Times is incapable of doing.

Leighton Levy in the Jamaica Star expresses the heartache the majority of decent, hardworking black people feel when an antisocial black underclass takes the low road. The MSM instead features the self-serving bigotry of Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Randall Robinson. Another big journalistic Easy. Yes, Leighton, I too feel your pain. It is not because I share your color but because I respect and admire so many who share your skin color with you.

Bob Williams, a former Washington state legislator who knows something of disaster planning provides a brief and cogent analysis of how the hierarchy of disaster response is supposed to work and how it failed in New Orleans. You can't expect FEMA to take charge at a moment's notice of any disaster in every city and state in the nation. The planning has to be ground up.

Douglas Kern amongst others aptly points out that the National Guard is organized to round-out regular Army combat units. This comes at the expense of training and equipment appropriate to disasters like Katrina. Donald Rumsfield and the DOD have been working that problem and policies were put in place before Katrina to fix it.

Mac Johnson takes a good look at the deplorable condition of the New Orleans police department. It was, perhaps, the worst law enforcement organization in a major city in the United States. It was corrupt, poorly paid, poorly led, poorly equipped, understaffed and in the end almost entirely ineffective. Removing this pathetic outfit from New Orleans probably reduced the crime rate and increased public order.

A lot of people needlessly died because city and state politicians were loathe to make hard choices. They gambled with the lives of the most vulnerable and needlessly lost those lives.

The truth will come out in time although you may not discover it by reading the mainstream media. FEMA appeared to arrive late because no one else in Louisiana showed up early.

Monday, September 05, 2005

A Bit Too Easy

I have fond memories of New Orleans but no illusions about the general corruption and incompetence endemic at all levels of government in Louisiana. Going along to get along has been going on for so long that it is a local way of life. Wretched schools, corrupt police departments and politicians on the take are hard problems to fix. It is so much easier to go with the flow.

The general collapse in public order in New Orleans in the aftermath of major flooding was entirely predictable. Public order is always a problem in mainly black, low income enclaves. Watts in Los Angeles, Hunter's Point near San Francisco and East Palo Alto near Stanford University are a few examples from California. Other states also have urban concentrations of poor and uneducated blacks that are just one police shooting, major blackout or disaster away from violent anarchy. Disaster planning for those areas necessarily entails a swift and robust response by police and military personnel. That was notably lacking in the case of New Orleans. If you have trouble maintaining public order when things are more or less normal it should be clear that you will have a major problem if things get very abnormal.

When the whole story is told as it inevitably will be it will be one of leadership and communications failures across the board with the likely exception of the President. George Bush has no magic wand that he can wave to make all the unpleasantness go away. He doesn't control the weather any more than he controls the international free market price of oil. He doesn't spend his days auditing FEMA emergency plans or making sure that Lousiana is well governed by local authorities.

The physical security of New Orleans is first and foremost the responsibility of those who live there. It is their city. It is secondly the responsibility of what passes for a Louisiana state government. It is thirdly the responsibility of Louisiana's elected representatives in Congress charged with bellying up to the public trough of Federal money. FEMA and the National Guard are what you rely on when all else fails. They are supplements to rather than substitutes for effective local planning and action. They can help you help yourself. If you come apart at the seams as New Orleans did it will take a lot more time and effort.