Friday, September 02, 2005


I do try to generally keep this blog on the topic of writing. While you'll see an occasional politcal or current event post here, that's not the purpose of this blog, nor do I want it to become so. But I really feel I need to add my voice of outrage on what is (not) happening in New Orleans right now.

Katrina was a bona fide act of God. No one can stop a hurricane. But you can prepare for it, and several administrations (not just Bush, mind you, though under Bush the pace has accelerated) have consistently cut the funding for disaster preparation in southern Louisiana. A hurricane strike in New Orleans was predicted prior to 9/11/2001 as one of the three worst possible disasters that could hit the United States. Yes, we have troops and equipment in Iraq that are badly needed here (the National Guard was never intended to be deployed overseas, it was intended to protect us here at home), but in spite of what you may have heard, we do in fact have plenty of troops here in-country to get the job done. But military forces cannot, must never, deploy themselves. They must work only at the orders of the federal government. Where are those orders? We had known where Katrina was going to make landfall for hours before it struck -- and we had a pretty good idea days before. Why weren't the troops positioned and ready? Maybe the federal government was counting on us getting lucky (it's happened before, after all) and that the hurricane would miss the major population centers. You don't govern by luck, folks.

This was a crime in the first place, but that's spilt milk at this point. We can (hopefully, if we can see past the spin) get to the bottom of why the government wasn't ready much later when this is all over. But it is now very, very clear that there are not enough troops and supplies there now. No one in the government can be unaware of it. The governor of Louisiana, the mayor of New Orleans, and many others have issued desperate pleas for help. In a radio interview, the mayor said, "I need reinforcements. I need troops, man. I need 500 buses, man. Now get off your asses and fix this. Let's do something and let's fix the biggest goddam crisis in the history of this country. We authorized $8 billion to go to Iraq lickety split. After 9/11 we gave the president unauthorized powers, lickety split to help New York and other places. You mean to tell me that a place where most of your oil is coming through ... that we can't figure out a way to authorize the resources that we need?" Career politicians don't talk that way unless things are very, very bad. Right now, New Orleans looks like a scene out of a Mad Max movie. Bodies are floating down the streets. The police have locked themselves in their stations because they can't control the better-armed looters. Mob rule and anarchy have taken over. People are slowly dying one by one in hospitals as life support has been cut off. Elderly people and children are dying by the road side due to exposure and from injuries. Doctors and nurses are breaking down in tears because they can't get the resources they need to save people. People trapped on housetops or buried in rubble are dying because personnel have had to be pulled from rescue operations to help (unsuccessfully) to control looting.

Where are the troops? Where is the federal government? Bush's only response has been,"The results are not acceptable. I'm heading down there right now. I'm looking forward to talking to the people on the ground." With all due respect, Mr. Bush, they don't need you "talking to them on the ground." What they need are, to quote, reinforcements, troops, buses. And food. And medicine. And water. And sanitation facilities. Again, to quote, get off your ass and fix this, Mr. President. It's very simple: write the orders to mobilize troops from all over the country and use federal transportation resources to get people to safety and supplies to those who need it. If we can invade Iraq, surely we can help our own countrymen. Yes, this will leave our defenses spread dangerously thin (particularly with a significant fraction of our National Guard overseas). Yes, we will be incredibly vulnerable to a terrorist who wants to take advantage of the situation (and it's the perfect opportunity for it). But Mr. President, we already have a disaster far worse than any terrorist attack ever experienced. Face the danger that's here instead of the one that is imagined. In spite of what people are saying, we can't recall the troops from Iraq in enough time to do any good. We have to work with what we have. Was it a bad idea to spread us so thin with the Iraq War? Probably, but this is not the time to be second guessing that decision. We have to work with what we have available now. The crime, Mr. President, is that the federal government isn't even doing that. No one should have to wait six days for you to begin to move.

People are aghast at the looting going on in New Orleans right now. I am, too. We'd all like to think that people will pull together and help each other out like they did in New York on 9/11. But there is an important difference here. After 9/11, there was a very small fraction of the population in danger (which is not to minimize the magnitude of that tragedy at all). People out of danger were more than willing to help. There were rescue workers from all over the country immediately called in. No one's survival outside of those involved in the Tower rescue operations was threatened. Looting was at a minimum.

But right now, people are faced with a choice: steal water and food or let their children die. At first, people trusted that the authorities would help them soon, so they were content to sit and wait. Looting was at a minimum. But it as became increasingly clear that the authorities couldn't even provide the most basic needs, people realized that if they were going to survive, they'd have to take care of themselves. No one wants to die because they played the sheep and just sat by waiting to be helped without helping themselves. And once the authorities are no longer in control of the situation, the polite social contract we all agree to live by is declared null and void. We have to go back to primitive survival rules. There are scare resources, so if someone's kids have to die, I'm going to make sure it's not mine who do. The rule of law is the rule of the gun, to defend yourself from the agressive ones who also have guns. The alternative, if you can't escape the city, is to simply die.

These people are, for the most part, not stupid holdouts who decided to ride out the storm. Many couldn't afford to get out. Many wouldn't have a place to go if they could. Many were too sick or too elderly to make it out. I don't like to look at the dark part of my soul, but one of the talents of being a writer is the ability to place yourself in a bad situation and work out its consequences. I'd like to think I'd be noble and law-abiding if I were in that situation. But once the social contract is void, I would not allow my wife and kids to die like sheep. I'd steal what they needed to survive, and I'd steal a gun to protect them. I'm an expert Navy marksman, I know how to use it. I would not try to force my will on anyone else. I wouldn't attack anyone with that weapon. But by God, I'd defend myself and mine with it. And I like to think I'm a fairly nice, reasonable person. It's amazing how fragile "civilization" really is.

Who would believe that our modern, twenty-first century American society could come to this?

The crime here, folks, is that all of this could have been avoided. The administration says that they can't get in because of communications and travel problems. Hmm. The media is there and reporting. How did they manage it? I know for a fact that our troops are at least as brave as a CNN reporter. Think about this: Given our response to this natural disaster -- for which we had days of warning -- don't you think we're kidding ourselves that we could successfully respond to a biological or nuclear terrorist attack? Iraq had no nuclear weapons, sure. That's been pretty well established. But North Korea does and Iran will -- and North Korea has no qualms about selling them to terrorists. This is not just idle speculation. Our government has failed to do its most fundamental job: provide the essential needs to its people.

This is not an attack on Bush, per se. I'm a moderate independent. In general, I think both parties are staffed by idiots. Some of the funding cuts to New Orleans' levee system were made by the Democrats. Whoever is running the country now is not responsible for the mistakes of the past (though one could argue he's responsible for not trying to fix them), but he is responsible for how he responded to the situation as it presented itself. There needs to be an accounting. We've known for some time that the world is a lot less safe since we destabilized Iraq. What I don't think any of us realized is that our government has made us a lot less safe at home, too.

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