Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Blame Game and Katrina

I was in Los Angeles today for a funeral of a good friend's wife. But before I went over I had the opportunity to have breakfast with my daughter and her boyfriend. I was asked what I thought about the response to Hurricane Katrina. I really had not crystalized my thoughts before then. I gave a couple of answers but as I thought about it today I came up with a set of responses that are a bit better thought out.

#1 - Coming home from the airport tonight I listened to Air America and one of their people (named Laura something) who said the results in Louisana were the result of conservatives making government out to be the problem. That is nonsense. The City of New Orleans has three boats for its police department - three. In a city that is underwater. The idiot who is mayor should be indicted for incompetence. He knew the storm was coming and yet he dilly dallied until after. Ditto for the Governor. Why did they not use the busses parked in the lot and visible on Google maps? Why did they not deploy the marines who are in the Port of New Orleans? Government's ability to respond to major emergencies is not very good. In the Northridge earthquake, Californians got back because FEMA was pretty good but more importantly, the Governor (Pete Wilson) cut through the normal BS and let a lot of contracts for repair with private companies. On the Air America site - the first thing you see is FEMA approved relief agencies - as if FEMA would have any competency in judging who could do well. There is a role for government but Laura and her ilk think it is primary - it may not be.

#2 - This morning my daughter's friend thought there should be some equity assistance - we are all in this together. I gave him a response which was not entirely reflective of my beliefs. Indeed we are all in this together. But we should not be forced to bear the responsibility for stupidity. A private insurer who had a house built in a storm zone might insure a place once but would raise rates for people who rebuilt in the same area - when storms or other perils were present. From the picture we get now neither the federal or state governments were sufficiently cognizant of their role in maintaining and improving the levees that keep New Orleans from the soup. The other consideration I think we need to work with here is who should provide the equity assistance - in my mind the first role of equity in society should be the private sector through charity. Government charity is not often very well done. But there are times when government can do things best. It should not be an either or - but it seems to me that a lot of people view government in the first role here and that may not be appropriate.

#3 - The media does not seem to recognize some things that are apparent to me. First, the political leadership in Mississippi and Alabama seem a lot better prepared than in Louisana - all three places suffered from a Category 5 hurricane but only Louisiana got hit (after the storm) with the massive break in the levee. Second, the federal government seems a bit slow in its response - the Governor of New Mexico (a democrat) offered assistance in advance of the storm - but the feds had to get their paperwork right. That delay is silly and inexcusable.

#4 - I am bothered that some are trying to make this into a political situation. Jesse Jackson is nuts - this is not about race. The mayor is a bigot and an idiot. This is not about global warming - I heard a national forecaster explain that hurricanes come in multi-decadal cycles and we just happen to be in a high cycle. The dems have jumped on Bush for this - and while some of that might be justified - it may not work in the way that they want it to. There are plenty of guard troops so this is not an Iraq thing. But the federal officials were a bit slow in ramping up - then so were the state people.

#5 - Where are the recovery models? New Orleans is an amusement park for sick people. It was, even before the flood (not the 1927 but this one) a city in decline. Compared to a hundred years ago, it is a wreck economically. It should be an economic powerhouse. But it is a ten week a year festival and then a couple of seedy conventions. At one time the city was a financial center of the South - it could be again with some vision. But the legacy of Louisiana politics will hold the city down. In 1906 San Francisco suffered a similar catastrophe - yet in a very short period of time it changed itself from a baudyhouse to a financial center of the West. How did they do that? With a lot of energy. With a great governor in Sacramento (Governor Pardee ran the relief effort from Sacramento) and with some civic energy. It is pretty clear that if New Orleans thinks that FEMA will serve all those functions that the city will continue on a slow death. Restaurants, Mardi Gras and Casinos and the Superbowl do not a city make.

#6 "There is always a little heaven in a disaster zone" - a quote from Woodstock. But in this case it is true. For the last couple of days I have watched colleges across the country think about how to accommodate the displaced students from the universities in New Orleans. Small colleges have made big offers. The higher education community in Washington is putting together a Craig's list equivalent to match students and institutions. A couple of religious denominations have begun an adopt a parish drive - one parish helping another. Radio stations in our area have done food, money and blood drives. Schools have done the same. The religious community of Houston is figuring out how to raise $9 million to feed the refugees in their city for a couple of months. That level of community - which is so often forgotten in our current times - is really inspiring.

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