Monday, September 12, 2005

New Orleans - The Big Mess

Whilst there is plenty of blame for the Katrina response debacle to go around - a large share going to the federal government and FEMA - efforts to lionize the hapless Ray Nagin, mayor of now-waterlogged New Orleans, founder on one small point: Nagin's lack of action is as much to blame for the city's predicament as anyone elses. Of course, two factors weigh in Nagin's favorable PR spin. First, he had the good sense to get himself onto radio and TV as the city was flooding and yell loudly at everyone else. Second, he's black and therefore beyond criticism from white commentators, officials and media outlets. But consider the facts about this mayor, whom one BBC reporter hailed as "heroic":
As Lake Ponchatrain's waters began to drown his city, New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin had the colossal nerve to shout indignantly "Get off your asses, and let's do something" -- and then continued doing nothing himself, but add to the deluge by bursting into tears.

Having been prodded on Saturday into ordering an evacuation by President Bush and the head of the Hurricane Center and then delaying it for seventeen crucial hours until well into Sunday, Mayor Nagin is directly responsible for the AP picture of over 200 unused New Orleans buses marooned in four feet of water that might have evacuated more than 15,000 in one trip alone. Those were the buses that in the Mayor's own plan were to be used to evacuate 100,000 poor the city has long understood had no other means of transportation.

Nagin is also responsible for failing to pre-position generators, food and water, a medical presence and portable toilets for the two sites at the Superdome and Convention Center that he had proclaimed "emergency centers" for tens of thousands of the more than 30% of New Orleanians that lived below the poverty line. And then the Mayor failed to police them.

New Orleans leaders have known about the inadequate protection provided by the city's levee system for years. But rather than spend the necessary money to augment the levee system, or set aside the resources for a proper evacuation, the city of New Orleans did nothing, save to wait for someone else to do it. In a way, New Orleans, as a city, represents the exact mindset imbued in so many contemporary Americans by the welfare state. Basic necessities are to be provided by someone - anyone else - and if the worst happens, someone else is expected to pick up the tab. On the individual level, this mindset is equally well represented by the poor, minority girl living in some inner city ghetto who gets pregnant and shrugs the matter off, confident that welfare will sustain her and her child, just as it has sustained her mother and grandmother, and by well-off voters who sit by passively as their government borrows trillion and trillion from Asian investors to provide them with free-drug coverage, throw money at farmers, and fund thousands of pork projects in their communities. But, as in New Orleans, reality will eventually intrude on this economic fantasy ... and someday the bill will come due.
The violence that gripped New Orleans in the aftermath of the levees breach was also perfectly predictable. Mayor Nagin's vocal criticism of the federal government for not stepping in earlier is genuine - the flood exposed to the entire nation the chaos that has ruled the non-tourist-frequented areas of the Big Easy.
Of course behind all this is a dirty little secret well-known in New Orleans which is also the reason almost 30% of New Orleans police precinct members deserted during the Hurricane Katrina emergency. The police were afraid to try to enforce any kind of evacuations in the violent ghettos of a city that remains one of the most lawless in America. Anyone driving a school bus down a street in one of New Orleans's "projects" trying to enforce the mayor's evacuation order would be risking his life. Had the Mayor ordered police escorts, the desertion rate of the police would have been far higher than 30%. And that is the reason for the current argument between the Mayor and his own Police Commissioner, who still refuses to enforce his "mandatory evacuation" order.

Governor Blanco's ineptitude and indecisiveness was appalling. Her direct orders blocked the Red Cross's heroic effort to pre-position desperately needed supplies at the Superdome before it was cut off by the rising flood waters as well. Attempts by the Mayor, the Governor, and The New Orleans Times-Picayune -- which had extensively reported on the state's and city's similar failures on previous occasions -- to blame the Federal FEMA efforts for failing in its role in the immediate aftermath of Katrina are patently ridiculous.

Under white and black governments alike, New Orleans has always been one of the most corrupt cities in one of the most corrupt states in the United States. Three Louisiana officials were indicted for stealing emergency relief funds prior to Katrina. It should surprise no one that the Sicilian Mafia opened operations in New Orleans before it had a presence in New York. Even the "Louisiana Lottery" put in place by a genuine reformer to raise public funds quickly devolved into scandal.

The violence that embarrassed New Orleans after the flood has actually been raging for decades, but has generally been contained within the most destitute sections of the city. However, with the evacuation of the city, the majority of reasonably intelligent, law-abiding citizens left. Their absence removed any social check on the behavior of least intelligent, most impulsive, and most violent elements in the city. Ironically, when those who had been told to expect government to take care of them turned to that government, huddling in horrific swelter in the SuperDome, that government (and the well-intentioned white liberals who have promoted its ideal for decades) had already fled in their SUVs, leaving the remnant to fend for themselves - which circumstances and years of social training had rendered impossible.

Now, naturally, the media has descended on New Orleans, wringing its collective hands over the "discussion of race and class" that it demands America must have. Of course, by "fair discussion" of race, what the media actually means is blaming every social ill faced by the black community on white racism. There will be no discussion, for example, of why blacks commit so much more crime than other racial groups. No discussion of why black poverty persists even after three decades of massive public assistance - and certainly no discussion of why other racial groups seem to lift themselves out of poverty without such assistance. For a perfectly frank discussion of race in the New Orleans debacle, see Steve Sailer's latest essay, but don't expect any discussion in the mainstream media that doesn't fit inside the politically correct script already prepared.


At 11:50 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Be prepared for the next hurricane news or find another one that's similar. As the Boy Scouts say: "Be Prepared"!


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