Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Lessons for Hawaii?

A Two-City Tale
New Orleans and Houston offer a study in contrasts.
by Noemie Emery 09/06/2005 4:36:00 PM

Late last week, as New Orleans was sliding into savage conditions, some talking heads were glowing with pleasure at the idea of a moral meltdown of such immense proportions that it would not only bury George Bush in its rubble, but erode forever the country's self confidence. Or, as Robert Scheer would happily write, "Instead of the much-celebrated American can-do machine that promises to bring freedom and prosperity to less fortunate people abroad, we have seen a callous official incompetence that puts even Third World rulers to shame."

Not quite. The reason New Orleans slid so quickly from civilization into Third World conditions was that it was pretty much a Third World city already, and didn't have too far to go. In its violence, in its corruption, in its reliance on ambience and tourism as its critical industry, in its one-party rule, in its model of graftocracy built on a depressed and crime-ridden underclass that was largely kept out of the sight and the mind of vacationing revelers, it was much more like a Caribbean resort than a normal American city. Its crime and murder rates were way above national averages, its corruption level astounding. The latter was written off as being picturesque and perversely adorable, until it suddenly wasn't, as it paid off in hundreds of buses--that could have borne thousands of stranded people to safety--sitting submerged in water, and police either looting or AWOL.

In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville defined a long set of traits that made Americans "different," and
that remain today just as valid: Americans are restless, inventive, pragmatic, entrepreneurial, socially mobile, and so future-oriented they are ready and eager sometimes to let go of the past. None of these things defined what once was New Orleans; in fact, that poor destroyed city played them in reverse: It was socially static, fairly caste-ridden, non-entrepreneurial (read hostile to business), and wholly immersed in its past, to the point where its main industry is marketing ambience and nostalgia. "New Orleans's dominant industry lies not in creating its future but selling its past," wrote Joel Kotkin in the Wall Street Journal's "Tourism defines contemporary New Orleans's economy more than its still-large port, or its remaining industry, or its energy production. Although there is nothing wrong, per se, in being a tourist town, it is not an industry that attracts high-wage jobs; and tends to create a highly bifurcated social structure. This can be seen in New Orleans's perennially high rates of underemployment, crime and poverty." New Orleans, in short, was the place you went to take a vacation, not to prosper in life and start a family, much less start a business. This lack of opportunity, or the upward ladder of social mobility, is perhaps one reason so many evacuees felt they were breathing fresh air when they landed in Houston, and are deciding to make it their home.

Let us look now at Houston, for it is the second city in this cosmic drama, and one in which Tocqueville would feel right at home. Like so many cities in the Sunbelt, it is expanding, entrepreneurial, based on the future, and the place where the "much celebrated American can-do machine that promises to bring freedom and prosperity to less fortunate people" comes roaring to life. "In l920, New Orleans's population was nearly three times that of Houston," says Kotkin. "During the '90s, the Miami and Houston areas grew almost six times as fast as greater New Orleans, and flourished as major destinations for immigrants . . . These newcomers have helped transform Miami and Houston into primary centers for trade, investment and services, from finance and accounting to medical care for the entire Caribbean basin. They have started businesses, staffed factories, and become players in civic life."

It is now no surprise that Houston is the place where in days they built a new city in and around the Astrodome, that has taken in 25,000 refugees from New Orleans, and is planning to feed, house, employ, and relocate most of them. Houston is the place where the heads of all the religious groups in the city--Baptists and Catholics, Muslims and Jews--came together to raise $4.4 million to feed the evacuees for 30 days, and to supply 720 volunteers a day to prepare and serve meals. If New Orleans was where the Third World broke through, Houston was where the First World began beating it back, and asserting its primacy. Are we surprised that the star of this show has been Texas, home of Karl Rove and both Bushes, widely despised by the glitterati as sub-literate, biased, oppressive, and retrograde? No.

Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.


At September 07, 2005 7:56 AM, Blogger Mike Hu said...

I hope it doesn’t take a hurricane of biblical proportions for Hawaii to move into the 21st century -- but societies and cultures have a poor track record of evolving willingly. Usually it requires the Hand of God to get them moving in the right direction.

There’s a lot of inertia in the Islands. The media, schools, even the University promotes it. They even claim history merely repeats itself mindlessly and hopelessly -- rather than evolving intelligently. It is even fashionable in these times for the universities, of all places, to teach the despair in human will and ability to improve. Then what are they there for and what do they have of value to teach?

The major sources of traditional information seem unwittingly determined to undermine their own function and purpose. The newspapers no longer even make a pretense of objectivity anymore but are openly partisan and self-serving. In interviewing experts on the education problem, you never see them ask the headmaster of Punahou or Iolani or Mid-Pacific as the cutting edge thoughts on successfully achieving it. No, they interview the HSTA president, who’s only solution for everything is more pay for the teachers -- so he can have more pay for himself.

And then the newspaper reporter will defend the next day, that according to studies providing by another union lobbyist, the pay for nurses in Hawaii are the highest in the nation -- but adjusted for the cost-of-living (union provided), is really the lowest in the nation. It reminds one of the years of the previous administration in which anytime a study came out showing Hawaii’s educational performance to be the lowest, the governor or the union would make an “adjustment for Hawaii,” that showed them at the top of the performance charts. And instead of challenging such outrageous assertions, the newspapers would be spreading the good news.

And so they became worthless -- as sources of credible and intelligent information, and in fact, one was likely to be less well-informed -- but misinformed, disinformed and ignorant by consulting those sources. The one area that should never be unionized is the media, schools and universities because they should be the sources of independent and objective information -- and not a tight circle promoting their own narrow self-interests. That is the unmistakable beginning of the end.

At September 08, 2005 7:23 AM, Blogger Mike Hu said...

For news you're not likely to see in the mainstream media:

The Left's False Assault on President Bush
by Peter Ferrara
Posted Sep 8, 2005

No one anticipated that the aftermath of Katrina would include a false and ignorant tidal wave of calumny against President Bush. Conservatives beware, because the goal here is to politically disable the President, and the conservative agenda along with him.

A few basic facts will help to detox the political environment. First, FEMA is not an agency of first responders. It is not the agency responsible for bringing people bottles of water and trays of fresh food, or transporting them out of harm’s way. It also has zero law enforcement authority, or personnel.

These first responder jobs are the responsibility of local and state government -- city police and firemen, city transportation and emergency services personnel, state police, and ultimately the state National Guard.

FEMA has always been primarily a Federal financing agency, providing funding to the locals after the crisis hits to help them respond and rebuild. That is why FEMA’s website baldly states don’t expect them to show up with their aid until 3 or 4 days after the disaster strikes.

Moreover, the National Guard is under the command of the Governor of each state, not the President. The President can Federalize control over a state’s guard on his own order, but doing so without a Governor’s consent to deal with an in state natural disaster would be a supreme insult to the Governor and the state. In addition, using Federal troops for local police actions is against the law and has been since the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878.

With this background, let’s examine who did what in response to Katrina. President Bush declared the entire Gulf Coast, including New Orleans and Louisiana, a Federal disaster area days before the hurricane hit, to enable Federal aid to get there sooner.

The disaster that struck New Orleans did not become apparent until the morning of Tuesday, August 29, as the levees broke after the brunt of the storm had passed. But that very day, the Army Corps of Engineers was already working on levee repair. And the Coast Guard was already in the air with helicopters rescuing people from rooftops, ultimately employing 300 choppers. These are both Federal agencies under Bush’s command.

In addition, before the end of that week, Bush had already pushed through Congress and signed an emergency aid package of $10.5 billion for the Gulf Coast region.

Now what about Governor Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin? President Bush had to get on the phone two days before the hurricane to plead with the Governor to order a mandatory evacuation. In response, she dithered and delayed. Mayor Nagin also had full authority, and responsibility, to order an evacuation. He dithered and delayed as well.

The city’s own written evacuation plan requires the city to provide transportation for the evacuation of those without access to vehicles or with disabilities. But Nagin did absolutely nothing to carry out this responsibility.

Instead, hundreds of city metro and school buses were ruined in the flood, as Nagin left them in low lying areas. Jesse Jackson and Kanye West, do you think Nagin cares about poor blacks in New Orleans?

Nagin asked residents who couldn’t get out to go to the Superdome. It was his responsibility to then provide water, food, portable bathrooms, and security for them. But, again, Nagin did nothing to carry out this responsibility in service to the poor blacks who primarily exercised this option.

Incredibly, we now know that even though the Red Cross was ready to bring food and water to the Superdome the day after the storm, Governor Blanco actually barred them from doing so! She didn’t want to encourage the survivors to stay at the Superdome due to such relief, but somehow thought they should disperse back into the flooded city once the hurricane passed.

President Bush pleaded with Governor Blanco that same day after the storm to get the National Guard into New Orleans. Not much happened. Seeing this, he asked her to give him Federal authority over the state’s Guard. She refused. As a result, the Guard didn’t show up in force in the city until near the end of the week.

Meanwhile, the New Orleans police department, under the authority of Mayor Nagin, collapsed, with hundreds of officers walking off the job, and others involved in the looting themselves. As a result, gangs of criminals took over parts of the city, robbing, raping, and even murdering survivors, looting stores and restaurants, and absurdly shooting at relief workers and vehicles. Blanco failed to use the state police or National Guard to maintain law and order as well.

But this mayhem in the poor, black neighborhoods is not unique to the hurricane aftermath. With only 1500 officers in the city police force at full strength, the residents of these heavily crime ridden neighborhoods have been regularly left to fend for themselves for security as a matter of city policy. The city basically has just enough police to secure the tourist and downtown business districts. Again, who is it that doesn’t care for poor, black people?

President Bush finally had to order in 7,000 Federal troops, including the 82nd Airborne, on Friday to get stranded residents out of the Superdome, and the Convention Center, where Nagin had also completely abdicated responsibility. These troops led the way to restoring law and order. This was of dubious legal authority, but with the total collapse of the state and local governments in dealing with the crisis, what choice did he have?

Then there was Aaron Broussard, head of Jefferson Parish just outside New Orleans. He broke down bawling on national television over the deaths of nursing home residents in his jurisdiction on Friday, blaming President Bush and a slow Federal response. But it was Broussard, with authority over the parish’s police, fire, ambulance and other emergency services, who had failed them. When asked why he had done nothing to help them, he lamely said he had been told the Calvary was coming from Washington.

Again, however, FEMA is not a first responder agency. The first responders are Broussard’s local bureaucracy. It is not the U.S. Calvary’s job to bring bottles of fresh water from Washington to nursing home residents in Jefferson parish, Louisiana.

Finally, we have not seen public officials in Mississippi, which was hit even harder by the hurricane itself, or Alabama, crying on television or complaining about the lack of Federal aid. They properly mobilized their local police, fire, transportation, ambulance and emergency services, and the state National Guard, to serve their roles as first responders. Unlike Blanco in Louisiana, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, Republican, announced looters would be shot on sight. That maintained law and order, without Federal troops.

Let’s shortcircuit the sickening and dopey political posturing now just beginning in Washington. President Bush organized the largest and quickest Federal mobilization in response to a natural disaster in U.S. history. Blanco, Nagin, and Broussard just need to resign in disgrace, as thousands of their own constituents died because of their misconduct.

Mr. Ferrara Ferrara is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Policy Innovation, and Director of Domestic Policy at the Free Enterprise Fund.


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