Thursday, October 06, 2005

26 questions

The Louisiana Weekly is still puzzled about the disaster response in Louisiana, publishing a list of 25 unanswered questions about the disaster and the response to it. Some of their unanswered questions are, let us say, interesting:

1. Why did the floodwalls along the 17th Street Canal only break on the New Orleans (majority Black) side and not on the Metairie (largely white) side?

2. Who owned the huge barge that was catapulted through the wall of the Industrial Canal, killing hundreds in the Lower Ninth Ward-the most deadly hit-and-run accident in U.S. history?

5. Why did Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff not declare Katrina an "Incident of National Significance" until August 31 - thus preventing the full deployment of urgently needed federal resources?

7. Similarly, why wasn't the Baltimore-based hospital ship USS Comfort ordered to sea until August 31, or the 82nd Airborne Division deployed in New Orleans until September 5?

21. Where were FEMA's several dozen vaunted urban search-and-rescue teams? Aside from some courageous work by Coast Guard helicopter crews, the early rescue effort was largely mounted by volunteers who towed their own boats into the city after hearing an appeal on television.

22. We found a massive Red Cross presence in Baton Rouge but none in some of the smaller Louisiana towns that have mounted the most impressive relief efforts. The poor Cajun community of Ville Platte, for instance, has at one time or another fed and housed more than 5,000 evacuees; but the Red Cross, along with FEMA, has refused almost daily appeals by local volunteers to send professional personnel and aid. Why then give money to the Red Cross?

24. As politicians talk about "disaster czars" and elite-appointed reconstruction commissions, and as architects and developers advance utopian designs for an ethnically cleansed "new urbanism" in New Orleans, where is any plan for the substantive participation of the city's ordinary citizens in their own future?

25. Indeed, on the fortieth anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, what has happened to democracy?

Well, I can answer #25. Our founding fathers had a loathing for democracy, holding that it was the worst of all possible forms of government because the people were not qualified to govern themselves and would allow themselves to be swayed by demagogues and charlatons. Thus they designed a Roman-style republic instead, deliberately designed so that only the elites or their puppets would hold power. Which, in general, has been the case through the years, with a few notable exceptions. Similarly, they designed a strong Presidency because they wanted their war Caesar, George Washington, to be their peacetime Caesar (Emperor). While Washington refused to cross the Rubicon and be emperor, the job is still written into the Constitution, albeit with the requirement for periodical "elections" to detirmine who shall be Caesar for a particular four-year period.

The other questions, well, I can't answer them. All I can say is that the "official" response from FEMA and the U.S. government as a whole seems to have actually hindered the handling of the disaster. Much-needed volunteers and supplies were turned away. Chertoff and Brownie delayed the evacuation of the convention center and Superdome when they actually lied to Governor Blanco telling her that buses were on the way when they really weren't (in the end, FEMA provided only 100 buses to evacuate the Superdome and Convention Center -- the rest were either Louisiana school buses driven by National Guard soldiers from around the country, or volunteer buses that Governor Blanco rounded up by calling other governors around the country and asking them to please call their local charter bus companies and ask them to send buses).

The whole notion of centrally-managed disaster relief is as ludicrous as the notion of a centrally-managed economy when applied in a nation as rich as the United States. Like a centrally-planned economy, it only works when you have a competent leader. Like a centrally-planned economy, it tends to reduce the number of resources going into a disaster area, because it assumes that resources are limited and thus must be carefully dispatched only to the places where they are needed. We would have been much better off if the only centralized response to the disaster had been to send thousands of satellite phones to every affected community, whereby they could then appeal for volunteers and needed supplies themselves via the radio and television. In the end, if the death toll in New Orleans remains below 10,000, it is only because of those thousands of volunteers who sent a flotilla of boats into the city immediately after it was drowned -- and has nothing to do with the federal government, which merely delayed, obfuscated, and outright lied until such time as they were forced by the outrage of the Republican base to actually do something about the disaster unfolding on everybody's television screens.

Given this, I have a question to add:

26. If the Federal Government is largely useless, why have it at all? Feel free to answer in the comments.

- Badtux the Louisiana Penguin


  1. It's going to take a tax revolt to wrest our government from the hands of the oligarchs! Voting is useless when it's controlled and "corrected" by the one party in charge - and telling a politician what to do is useless unless you can vote them out if they don't do what you want.

  2. I think you'll find that your Question #26 is exactly the question our current administration wants everyone to ask... The idea being, "Why spend money on FEMA when FEMA doesn't work?" Now we can get rid of it altogether and spend it on oil in Iraq!


  3. No, the administration's question #26 is, "if FEMA doesn't work, why spend money on it?" My question #26 goes much further. My question #26 applies to the whole federal government -- starting with the President of the United States, who should be walking that unemployment line outside the homeless shelter just like 50% of Louisiana's population is doing right now.

    Personally, I believe it's time to end the federal experiment. The United States is no longer 13 sparsely-populated states with a combined population of less than 1.5 million people that had to hang together or hang seperately. If California were an independent nation today, it would be the 5th largest economy in the world. What we need is a loose union like the European Union which allows free movement of people and goods and provides for common defense, not a strong centralized government like we have now, which is too easily subverted and used to destroy choice by overriding the will of the peoples of the various states (like the Feds coming in against medical marijuana in California and assisted suicide in Oregon, despite the people of those states voting overwhelmingly in favor of those).

    The Constitution served its purpose -- to keep the United States from being conquered by the world powers of the era (France, Britain, and Spain). But its time is past. The Katrina response is just a punctuation mark on that.

    - Badtux the Libertarian Penguin

  4. BadTux-

    What a wonderful world it would be.

    The problem is that the real reason for a federal government is control. It's easier to keep the peasents in line if the government is some far away unknown entity.

  5. All I know is some idiots keep telling me that it's the States' responsibility to handle the desasters financially and all and if that's the case, I want to stop sending so much of my tax money to my Federal government and give more to my State government because right now we don't even have enough to keep firehouses, police stations, and schools open.

    I'm for the idea of something more like the EU over here. It can't be worse than what we have now.

  6. Living in Louisiana I see get to see FEMA in non-action, it truely sucks


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