(R) Alright, I'm only going to do this once, and then I'll resist the urge. We have yet another unassailable case study in governance of modern society. By now, no one is laughing at the idea that the United States isn't in some invulnerable supernatural state; natural disasters can still strike our 21st century perfection of a nation.
There has been enough coverage that people can see the scale of devastation and total breakdown of civil order, but not enough yakking by the talking heads who love personal tragedy-driven ratings to make people numb or sick of the story. Putting resources in long-term planning, civil engineering, infrastructure, disaster preparedness, and so forth is boring work, concerned primarily with the tedium and minutea that makes for poor infotainment and even poorer soundbite-driven politics. Yet, that's what is required.
The alternative, which many people are now experiencing, is anarchy. Anarchy is not abstract. It is real, and it is personal. It is starving, unable to get medical help, at the mercy of criminal gangs, trying not to get raped, desperately seeking a loved one, a child, a grandparent. And that's just in the short term. Then there's the property destruction and economic disruptions. Some historic things will be lost forever.
The power and fury of Katrina stems from God's Creation, but lack of governance creates the scale of human tragedy. This isn't a detailed policy analysis, a rundown of what the Army Corps of Engineers or FEMA or somebody else should or shouldn't have been given money to do; there is plenty of publicly available information by experts regarding that.
But it is a direct refutation of that most-loved phrase in the aftermath of catastrophe, no one could have seen it coming. The hard truth that ideologues, like those over the past five years in the Bush Administration who have been dismantling our real homeland security in the name of tax relief for the wealthiest of the wealthy, corporate welfare, and, more recently, terrorism, must deal with and be held accountable for
is that things could be better. Much better. We have the experts and professionals in place, but it requires policy makers to use science based in the real world, not platitudes from some fantasy one. It requires real leadership concerned with representing Americans, rather than corrupt aristocrats willing to trade their constituents' best interests to enhance their personal fortunes. It also requires the people harmed by a lack of good policy to demand no less from their leaders. To me, that is significant; it's why I have the same, if not more, frustration and fury with supposedly Democratic leaders. They should be out there selling this vision of government, how people really can be better off, rather than selling out to the same people as their Republican counterparts...just not selling out quite as well.
On September 10, 2001, flying a plane into the World Trade Center complex in New York City was one of the
classic examples of how to do mass damage easily. Heck, we had already deployed military anti-aircraft equipment to protect important meetings of state, while the Trade Center complex itself, aside from the academic attraction of it being both a densely populated area and the global symbol of American financial dominance, was actually attacked by Islamic terrorists less than ten years prior to 9/11. Go to a library and look at books on risk assessment from the 1970s; you'll see people writing about hypothetical attacks at what is now referred to as Ground Zero. Yes, of course the details of 9/11 were a tactical surprise, but it is a bald-faced lie by the political appointees that the professionals in government and academia had no idea something like what happened on 9/11 would occur.
Likewise, no one knew the particulars of 2005's hurricane Katrina. But similarly, New Orleans is (was?) one of the
classic examples of potential US environmental disasters. It sits below sea level, surrounded by water, with few evacuation routes. Its protective coastal wetlands have been handed over to rampant development. It is arguably the historical, cultural, and energy crown jewel of the South. Millions of people live along the Gulf Coast region through Louisianna and Mississippi. Human, animal, petroleum, and chemical wastes will fester in stagnant water creating terrible disease conditions. Civil governance breaks down, particularly with national guard personnel killing Iraqis rather than stopping looting, repairing Army
Corps of Engineering projects, performing search and rescue, and delivering critical food, water, and medicinal supplies.
Becoming involved in unnecessary foreign entanglements is a textbook example of how hawkish Republicans (and hawkish Democrats), not liberal Democrats, are undermining national security. There are literally armed gangs wandering the streets of New Orleans committing various acts of violence right now. In Baghdad, we allowed priceless cultural artifacts to be ransacked, but of course we at least protected the oil ministries because we knew looting is as natural as apple pie, if you'll let me mix metaphors there. I mean, think about this for a second. There are parts of New Orleans that are so lawless it is literally dangerous to be there.
But, I also want to point out that my concerns, at least in the three defining disasters of the Bush Administration, don't really affect me that much; they are of compassion, not self-interest. I don't have very many friends who have served in the armed forces overseas (and if I ever got drafted, I have the right interests and abilities to remain stateside doing financial work at the Pentagon or playing war games at Fort Leavenworth or being a liason with defense contractors doing advanced research like Boeing's Integrated Defense Systems here in St. Louis), I've never even been to NYC, and my only real attachment to the Gulf Coast is fun memories of Mardi Gras. I say that because what we have been doing (or more accurately, not doing) is a legitimate course of action. We could say that organizing society through government to provide services essential to keep society functioning isn't worth the tax dollars. But the New Yorkers saved by first responders and the people of New Orleans still awaiting a response speak loudly for a different conclusion. My position isn't based simply on a desire to free ride off of society; it is a legitimate desire to save lives and property.
What is so universal, from which I draw a lot of truth, is that in times of crisis, people beg for and celebrate governmental leadership. 9/11 rescued, in a very literal sense, both the Guiliani and Bush Administrations. You have desperate people in the Gulf Coast calling news outlets talking about running for their lives from their own neighborhoods and wondering when they are going to be rescued. You have people broaching otherwise un-American topics like price ceilings (which are completely the wrong solution, by the way; Stalingrad would have starved in World War II and probably fallen to the Germans if "price gouging" hadn't been allowed).
Sometimes it is frustrating having a vision for how the world could be better off, but usually I'm optimistic. It would be more efficient if we would decide to deal with problems before they become crises, but at least Americans seem pretty darn good at operating in crisis mode. Interestingly, even among supposedly the most hardcore small government conservatives, when disaster strikes, all of a sudden the government's supposed to do something. Imagine if Al Gore had campaigned in 2000 that he was going to massively reorganize the federal government, making it much bigger and giving it sweeping new powers. The Weekly Standard would have had a field day, and yet, we ended up with a global war, the Department of Homeland Security, the USA Patriot Act, and the systematic subversion of science by government authorities.
To this day, however, we still haven't gotten true leadership on some of the most pressing dangers we face.