Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Notes on Katrina and Government Failure

In the midst of all the stories of horror and misery coming out of the Gulf, one thing is abundantly clear: the government failed in every conceivable way. Its long-term negligence and inertia in dealing with the levees helped cause the catastrophic flooding. Its flat-footed response needlessly delayed rescue efforts and cost lives. It protracted the suffering, looting, and violence. It bullied the innocent it was supposed to be comforting. It failed in every way possible.

And let's not politicize this by making it a partisan issue, because it goes way beyond Dems vs. Repubs or left vs right. This is the essence of government. It produces nothing. It provides nothing. It does nothing well except coerce, bully, and destroy. Want evidence? Look how it handled Katrina's aftermath:

Guardsmen 'Played Cards' Amid New Orleans Chaos
"'The guard arrived 48 hours after the hurricane with 40 trucks. They drove their trucks in and went to sleep. For 72 hours this police department and the fire department and handful of citizens were alone rescuing people. We have people who died while the National Guard sat and played cards. I understand why we are not winning the war in Iraq if this is what we have.'"

The Dispossessed of New Orleans Tell of Their Medieval Nightmare
"It is the mess with the buses that makes Ms. Benson most angry. She and her family had abandoned their home in the projects last Sunday and fled immediately to the Superdome. The stampede for the buses began on Thursday. She described soldiers of the National Guard barking orders - 'Make a hole, make a hole, that was their favourite order,' she says - and making no effort to keep parents and children together. 'They treated us like dirt, like dirt. They wouldn't even help my kids when they got lost. 'Ma'am, you've got to stay behind the barricade' is all they said.' The soldiers did at least give them water while they waited - throwing bottles into the crowd. 'Just popping people on the head with them.'"

• It's always difficult to discern tone and inflection in a written piece but this is probably the most frustrated that Lew Rockwell has ever seemed:
"Moreover, every American ought to be alarmed at the quickness of officials to declare martial law, invade people's rights, deny people the freedom of movement, and otherwise trample on all values that this country is supposed to hold dear. A crisis does not negate the existence of human rights. It is not a license for tyranny. It is not a signal that government may do anything it wants.

"This crisis ought to underscore a point made on these pages again and again. Being a government official gives you no special insight into how to best manage a crisis. Indeed the public sector, with all its guns and mandates and arrogance, cannot and will not protect us from life's contingencies. It used to be said that infrastructure was too important to be left to the uncertainties of markets. But if it is certainty that we are after, there is a new certainty that has emerged in American life: in a crisis, the government will make matters worse and worse until it wrecks your life and all that makes it worth living."

Exactly. And contrast all of this failure with the fine relief efforts of the private and charitable sectors, most notably the Red Cross. We are constantly told that government is needed to protect us, especially in these crisis situations. So when it fails this miserably, when it can't even secure basics like protection of life and property, what exactly is it good for?

The worst part is the lack of accountability. You can't fire the government. Voting out individuals makes little difference when the problem is institutional. A company that fails to serve consumers goes out of business, but sadly, this is not true of FEMA. No, the Feds will scapegoat some figureheads and install new bureaucrats in their places, and they will no doubt promise "sweeping changes" and "full investigations into what went wrong." But in the end, no one in government will have to answer for gross incompetence. No government official will face civil or criminal penalties for negligence.

Look how the government treats people like Ken Lay and Martha Stewart: wouldn't it be nice if the same brand of ruthless justice was brought to bear on the state's bullying minions themselves?


Anonymous said...
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dirty sanchez said...

See, Jay, this is what you get for having a good blog. Blog spam!!! buahahahaha..... freaking spammers. On a serious note, good stuff on here, as always. Got a FEMA story for ya, as told to me by my boss. This woman in NOLA was trying to get into her home, Katrina moved it off the foundation to a few yards down the road. But the house was still up and intact for the most part. The woman was trying to get in to get a few pictures of her mother but the FEMA pricks didn't let her and bulldozed the home in front of her. Jerks!!!!!

Tracy said...

Brilliantly worded. I couldn't have said it better myself. I think Lew should have a link to your blog! Love you madly!

Mark said...

You know, the blame doesn't fall only with the Federal Government - the state and local leaders didn't do enough either. There have been several photos of lots FULL of buses that could have been used for evacuation purposes that were under eight feet of water.

Regardless of what Oprah, Kanye West, and anyone else have to say, the mayor of NOLO and the Governor bear JUST AS MUCH RESPONSIBILITY for the disaster as the idiots at FEMA. Stop trying to make this into a "race" thing because even though Oprah would dearly love for it to be a race thing - it isn't. What it IS is a class thing. Race really has nothing to do with it - but leave it to Oprah's inflated ego to try and make and extra buck off of other people's suffering.