Monday, September 05, 2005

Could this happen here in Hawaii?

The Big Easy rocked, but didn't roll
By Mark Steyn(Filed: 06/09/2005)

Readers may recall my words from a week ago on the approaching Katrina: "We relish the opportunity to rise to the occasion. And on the whole we do. Oh, to be sure, there are always folks who panic or loot. But most people don't, and many are capable of extraordinary acts of hastily improvised heroism."

What the hell was I thinking? I should be fired for that. Well, someone should be fired. I say that in the spirit of the Mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, the Anti-Giuliani, a Mayor Culpa who always knows where to point the finger.

For some reason, I failed to consider the possibility that the panickers would include Hizzoner the Mayor and the looters would include significant numbers of the police department, though in fairness I wasn't the only one. As General Blum said at Saturday's Defence Department briefing: "No one anticipated the disintegration or the erosion of the civilian police force in New Orleans."

Indeed, they eroded faster than the levees. Several hundred cops are reported to have walked off the job. To give the city credit, it has a lovely "Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan" for hurricanes. The only flaw in the plan is that the person charged with putting it into effect is the mayor. And he didn't.

But I don't want to blame any single figure: the anti-Bush crowd have that act pretty much sewn up. I'd say New Orleans's political failure is symptomatic of a broader failure.

I got an e-mail over the weekend from a US Army surgeon just back in Afghanistan after his wedding. Changing planes in Kuwait for the final leg to Bagram and confronted by yet another charity box for Katrina relief, he decided that this time he'd pass. "I'd had it up to here," he wrote, "with the passivity, the whining, and the when-are-they-going-to-do-something blame game."

Let it be said that no one should die in a 100F windowless attic because he fled upstairs when the flood waters rose and now can't get out. But, in his general characterisation of "the Big Easy", my correspondent is not wrong. The point is, what are you like when it's not so easy?

Congressman Billy Tauzin once said of his state: "One half of Louisiana is under water and the other half is under indictment." Last week, four fifths of New Orleans was under water and the other four fifths should be under indictment - which is the kind of arithmetic the state's deeply entrenched kleptocrat political culture will have no trouble making add up.

Consider the signature image of the flood: an aerial shot of 255 school buses neatly parked at one city lot, their fuel tanks leaking gasoline into the urban lake. An enterprising blogger, Bryan Preston, worked out that each bus had 66 seats, which meant that the vehicles at just that one lot could have ferried out 16,830 people. Instead of entrusting its most vulnerable citizens to the gang-infested faecal hell of the Superdome, New Orleans had more than enough municipal transport on hand to have got almost everyone out in a couple of runs last Sunday.

Why didn't they? Well, the mayor didn't give the order. OK, but how about school board officials, or the fellows with the public schools transportation department, or the guy who runs that motor pool, or the individual bus drivers? If it ever occurred to any of them that these were potentially useful evacuation assets, they kept it to themselves.

So the first school bus to escape New Orleans and make it to safety in Texas was one that had been abandoned on a city street. A party of sodden citizens, ranging from the elderly to an eight-day-old baby, were desperate to get out, hopped aboard and got teenager Jabbor Gibson to drive them 13 hours non-stop to Houston. He'd never driven a bus before, and the authorities back in New Orleans may yet prosecute him. For rescuing people without a permit?

My Afghanistan army guy's observations on "passivity" reminded me of something I wrote for this paper a few days after 9/11, about how the airline cabin was the embodiment of the "culture of passivity". It's the most regulated environment most of us ever enter.

So on three of those flights everyone faithfully followed the Federal Aviation Administration's 1970s hijack procedures until it was too late. On the fourth plane, Todd Beamer, Jeremy Glick, Thomas Burnett, Mark Bingham and other forgotten heroes figured out what was going on and rushed their hijackers, preventing the plane from proceeding to its target - believed to be the White House or Congress. On a morning when the government did nothing for those passengers, those passengers did something for the government.

On 9/11, the federal government failed the people; last week, local and state government failed the people. On 9/11, they stuck to the 30-year-old plan; last week, they didn't bother implementing the state-of-the-art 21st-century plan. Why argue about which level of bureaucracy you prefer to be let down by?

My mistake was to think that the citizenry of the Big Easy would rise to the great rallying cry of Todd Beamer: "Are you ready, guys? Let's roll!" Instead, the spirit of the week was summed up by a gentleman called Mike Franklin, taking time out of his hectic schedule of looting to speak to the Associated Press: "People who are oppressed all their lives, man, it's an opportunity to get back at society."

Unlike 9/11, when the cult of victimhood was temporarily suspended in honour of the many real, actual victims under the rubble, in New Orleans everyone claimed the mantle of victim, from the incompetent mayor to the "oppressed" guys wading through the water with new DVD players under each arm.

Welfare culture is bad not just because, as in Europe, it's bankrupting the state, but because it enfeebles the citizenry, it erodes self-reliance and resourcefulness.

New Orleans is a party town in the middle of a welfare swamp and, like many parties, it doesn't look so good when someone puts the lights up. I'll always be grateful to a burg that gave us Louis Armstrong and Louis Prima, and I'll always love Satch's great record of Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans? But, after this last week, I'm not sure I would.


At September 06, 2005 4:49 PM, Blogger Mike Hu said...

"It's not my job."


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