Friday, September 02, 2005

When it absolutely, positively must be screwed up overnight ...

It's bad enough that New Orleans and a considerable stretch of the Gulf Coast got whacked by Hurricane Katrina.

It's even worse that so much of the modern infrastructure we've come to depend upon collapsed under the pressure.

But to add insult to injury, to increase the deadly potentials of the situation and to make an untenable situation downright chaotic, the local, state and federal governments involved seem absolutely determined to plunge the whole region back into the Dark Ages.

What began as a severe humanitarian emergency has now metamorphosed into nothing less than politicians threatening American citizens with murder by American soldiers to make up for the fact that government wasn't ready or prepared to do the things that it has always claimed only government can do.

Let's take a hard look at the situation here:

- Some people in the affected area are no doubt still clinging to survival by a thin rope, awaiting rescue from flooded areas, running low -- or already out of -- food and fresh water.

- Others who have made it to shelters and assembly areas are going hungry, in many cases left without medication for life-threatening injuries or illnesses, and in some cases already dead, their bodies floating in the water or sitting in chaisse lounges outside the goddamn Superdome and raising the spectre of epidemic if they are not gathered and properly disposed of.

- In the shelter/assembly areas, tempers are running hot, fights are breaking out and the criminal element is functioning with impunity, because the police, emergency workers and troops who are supposed to be aiding and evacuating them are busy ...

Shooting salvors.

The government -- and by extension, the media -- are calling them "looters." That lets a prettier face be put on statements like this one:

"Three hundred of the Arkansas National Guard have landed in the city of New Orleans. These troops are fresh back from Iraq, well trained, experienced, battle tested and under my orders to restore order in the streets. They have M-16s and they are locked and loaded. These troops know how to shoot and kill and they are more than willing to do so if necessary and I expect they will." -- Louisiana Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco

By "restore order in the streets," of course, Blanco means "protect the goods in abandoned shops from salvage by those who are trying to survive this disaster -- and if that means a few more people die, go hungry or get raped in the evacuation assembly areas, well, I have other priorities."

In another forum, I have suggested that Louisiana could make better progress in addressing the situation if someone would stand Kathleen Babineaux Blanco up on a chair, tie a rope around her neck and to a lamppost, and give the chair a good hard kick.

Of course, I don't really want to see Blanco killed, at least not without a jury trial. I'd settle for her just shutting her trap and letting the grownups get the work done. If anyone even notices what I wrote, I guess we'll find out if I have the same protection for expression of overheated, exasperated opinions as, say, Pat Robertson has for cold-blooded appeals for political assassination.

It's not just Babble-Know Blank-Ho, of course. If you think that New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin's crocodile tears are any less hypocritical, think again:

"I have no idea what they're doing but I will tell you this: God is looking down on all this and if they're not doing everything in their power to save people, they are going to pay the price because every day that we delay, people are dying and they're dying by the hundreds."

... he said, even though he himself just "took 1,500 police officers off search-and-rescue duty to try to restore order in the streets."

Let's get right to the bottom of this whole "looting" canard:

- Substantial portions of New Orleans are under water.

- Food left unconsumed is going to rot if it's perishable, and even if it is canned it is going to be rendered useless for sale as water and humidity take their toll on labels. If it's not eaten, it's just going to go to waste. Either way and any way, it is going to be of precisely zero value to the store owners who abandoned it.

- Clothing? The humidity is effectively 100%. Daily temperatures are close to, if not exceeding, 100 degrees fahrenheit. Ever heard of mildew? Two weeks from now, any clothing left hanging on racks at The Gap will be a slimy black mass which someone, at some point, will have to scrape into a dumpster.

Store owners (intelligently) abandoned their shops and their goods. Right now they are sitting in hotel rooms in Memphis and St. Louis, filling out the paperwork for their (justified) "total loss" insurance claims.

The people grabbing food, clothing and other necessities of survival from store shelves in New Orleans aren't "looters." They're salvaging abandoned goods which will be nothing more than garbage if they aren't taken and used right now. Apparently Mayor Nagin and Governor Babineaux are more intent on preventing this kind of survival activity than they are on helping get people out of the situation that is giving rise to this kind of behavior.

Are there some genuine "looters?" No doubt. Now, which is more important -- getting a starving, pregnant woman the hell out of the city, or busting caps in some yahoo walking out of a store with a television which he can't even watch, which will almost certainly be non-functional by the time he could watch it, and which would be non-functional, useless and covered by insurance whether he took it or not?

As for the looters targeting innocents who are still in New Orleans, the answer is to get the innocents out of New Orleans. Put out the word about where the evacuation assembly points are -- boats with loudspeakers, skywriting, whatever has to be done. Send out patrols to protect people moving to those assembly points as best possible. And let the people who stay know that they're on their own.

Government is spending a lot of money in and around, and making a lot of big, self-important announcements about, the Hurricane Katrina Destruction Area. That's what government does: It spends a lot of money and makes a lot of announcements. And then it screws things up, every time. The people of New Orleans don't need purchase orders from FEMA bureaucrats and pompous pronouncements from mentally deranged governors. They need help -- and the only place they're going to get that is from the private sector.

Click here for a list of charities who are part of the solution instead of part of the problem. Help all you can ... and then call your congresscritter and ask him or her to push Adam Bernay's wonderful idea: A 200% tax deduction -- and to make it real, let's make it a deduction from your tax, not from your taxable income -- for donations to these charities.

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