Friday, September 09, 2005

New Orleans: Political Thugs

New Orleans has about 1,000 city and school buses. Most of them sat in their parking lots as the hurricane approached. None of them were used to evacuate people outside the city -- until after the hurricane when one of them was commandeered by a survivor to drive other survivors to Houston. The city of New Orleans did nothing to evacuate medically fragile people to suitable places or to provide anything like adequate supplies or staff in any of the "shelters of last resort". The mayor of NOLA hemmed and hawed and didn't issue the evacuation order until the storm was knocking on the city's doors. Very few spaces had been secured for evacuees in inland cities such as nearby Baton Rouge. The city cared so little about its poor and fragile citizens that it told them to head for the attics and hope for the best. People were left by their "leaders" to fend for themselves and die.

After the waters flooded the city, the mayor and his cronies then had the gall to pretend to be blameless and bitterly critized the president and federal administration in a vituperative attack with unprovable and unwarranted accusations of racism.

That's worse than merely passing the buck and biting the hand that's feeding one. It's more the mark of a desperate degenerate who hopes to focus blame elsewhere to obscure his own guilt. The federal relief effort had its problems, but to criticize it and ignore local failures is self-serving, hypocritical, and hugely irresponsible.

Much of the help that tried to come to the rescue was delayed, not only by federal agency bungling and stupidity, but also by an appalling absence of local coordination compounded by sniper fire from armed NOLA thugs who weren't restrained by local authorities. Apparently, a few of NOLA's finest (police) were among the looters and others simply deserted the force, leaving a much-overworked remnant of officers to try to police the streets in spite of having no provisions made by local officials to provide any support for them.

NOLA's leaders claimed they didn't have money to evacuate folks, buy food and water for their shelters, or even porta-potties and cots for the police. Never mind the fact that they have money rolling in by the ton from one of the country's biggest tourism industries, with heavy taxes on hotels, casinos, Bourbon street, conventions, cruise ships, superdome events, etc. Never mind all the money that comes in from having one of the most important ports in the nation and extensive petrochemical processing.

Maybe the money got diverted somewhere so it wasn't available to take care of the people that this boss hawg and his cronies claimed to love so dearly? Or maybe simply the expenses of running one of the largest of the old-time welfare states -- NOLA had something like 40% unemployment if one source I heard is to be trusted -- was draining the kitty. Perhaps the powers-that-be didn't want to educate their citizens and diversify their economy because that would make their clients "uppity" and less dependent upon the leaders.

FEMA has done enough stupid, clumsy, obstructive, bureaucratic, boneheaded things to be criticized on its actual merits and demerits. The mere notion that a survivor would have to call an 800 number to get registration information in order to log onto a website to have forms mailed to a postal address -- when many survivors have neither phone nor computer nor home remaining -- would be laughable for its out-to-lunch stupidity were it not despicable for the pain it has caused. And, FEMA has gotten in the way of trained rescuers with misguided attempts at "coordination".

Yet, FEMA and the Feds have also been doing some things right, such as handing out money cards to survivors, setting up relief centers, distributing tarps and supplies, and trying to see that help gets to places that might have been overlooked and that rescuers aren't putting themselves into grave danger. Further, the federal mobilization has been both rapid and massive by past standards and in the light of the fact that people in New Orleans thought they had been spared the worst in the hours immediately after the hurricane weakened and veered to the east.

The relief effort needs to be judged in the context that the scale of the disaster as it gradually revealed itself to the anxious world is almost unprecedented in our nation's recent history. Further, there are many places outside of New Orleans that have received less aid, gotten it more slowly, and yet have complained a lot less and done more to help themselves and their rescuers than many leaders and survivors in NOLA. The general understanding has always been that individuals and local governments bear the brunt of the responsibility for boarding up, evacuating, and making preparations as a hurricane approaches. What was not generally known to the outside world was how unprepared and incompetent local leadership was in New Orleans.

It doesn't do survivors any good to have politicians demand that the disaster relief officials be summoned to kangeroo court hearings, and neither truth nor the relief effort are advanced by having the relief officials sniped at by out-of-control, rabid partisans and venal politicians who see an opportunity to score points while corpses float through the poisoned waters.

These people disgust me almost as much as the armed looters who merrily piled up tv sets in their homes in between shooting at rescuers and preying upon weaker neighbors. The only real difference is that the political thugs were using the news media instead of bullets. What's hard to tell is whether the political thugs or the armed thugs killed more people. Thousands were doomed because of inept, self-serving, hoping-for-the-best behaviors of the politicians. Many additional people were doomed because the thugs seriously delayed rescue efforts while preying upon the weak. What's certain is that the collaboration between the armed and political thugs killed New Orlean's reputation as well as far too many of its neglected citizens.


At 2:28 PM, September 09, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 2:52 PM, September 09, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 11:41 PM, September 09, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The 'disaster relief officials' seem to have plenty of time to show up on every news station, photo op, and news conference they could find for the sole purpose of (political) damage control. I think they can make the time to explain their failures to the "kangaroo" court.

At 10:37 AM, September 11, 2005, Anonymous pL said...

Pat! Some of the School Buses were used, by "hijacker" who used them to drive to the AstroDome (where they were almost turned away because they were not official refugees from the SuperDome). What needed to happen on the local level (since the thought of helping those not able to evacuate before the hurricane obviously never came up) was use the school buses to load up families, send them to WallMart for some official looting of foods and sundries, and send them on to various destinations. That, obviously, never happened.

At 5:42 PM, September 14, 2005, Blogger Pat said...

I deleted a couple of "spam" comments. Updates and such:

Louisiana receives the largest amount of Corps of Engineers spending of any state, according to Carol Anne, 1.9 billion dollars in the last year. Unfortunately, it came in the form of "pork" and "make work" projects requested by Louisiana's congressional delegation and snuck in on "riders" to unrelated legislation. No money was spent to raise the levies -- just a whole lot of "busywork" to make locals feel like their politicos had brought home the bacon.

While mayor Nagin of New Orleans dithered, the governess of Louisiana did declare an emergency, as did the feds. However, local delays in requesting help did seem to add significantly to the delays in getting federal help into Nyawlins. It seems that the laws don't allow the feds to take over a community willy-nilly without being invited ... something about a free country, states' rights, rule of law, posse comitatus act, blah blah.

Exactly what the feds could do without local permission and exactly when who asked for what help is the subject of a whole lot of political debate and finger-pointing -- but it's pretty well established that the local authorities didn't do much, and they certainly didn't take effective action to get people out in time.

Some silver lining: people who were trapped by their "dear leaders" in grinding poverty got a chance to escape NOLA and there will be money spent to improve the infrastructure of the city, which was already fundamentally neglected before Katrina.

At 1:01 PM, September 26, 2005, Blogger Pat said...

Notwithstanding all my criticism of politicial posturing, I still want people to know that hurricane Katirna brought out many stories of heroism and sacrifice and that a lot of the folks in NOLA were and remain good, decent people who were trapped in terrible circumstances.


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