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September 5, 2005

An Unnatural Disaster: A Hurricane Exposes the Man-Made Disaster of the Welfare State

Topics: Natural Disasters

"Storm victims are raped and beaten; fights erupt with flying fists, knives and guns; fires are breaking out; corpses litter the streets; and police and rescue helicopters are repeatedly fired on."

"The plea from Mayor C. Ray Nagin came even as National Guardsmen poured in to restore order and stop the looting, carjackings and gunfire...."

In refering to uncontrollable crime and irremediable squalor, Robert Tracinski writes in "The Intellectual Activist" that a "man-made disaster" such as that which we are now witnessing in New Orleans didn't happen over four days last week. It happened over the past four decades - Hurricane Katrina merely exposed it to public view.

It took four long days for state and federal officials to figure out how to deal with the disaster in New Orleans. I can't blame them, because it also took me four long days to figure out what was going on there. The reason is that the events there make no sense if you think that we are confronting a natural disaster.

If this is just a natural disaster, the response for public officials is obvious: you bring in food, water, and doctors; you send transportation to evacuate refugees to temporary shelters; you send engineers to stop the flooding and rebuild the city's infrastructure. For journalists, natural disasters also have a familiar pattern: the heroism of ordinary people pulling together to survive; the hard work and dedication of doctors, nurses, and rescue workers; the steps being taken to clean up and rebuild.

Public officials did not expect that the first thing they would have to do is to send thousands of armed troops in armored vehicle, as if they are suppressing an enemy insurgency. And journalists--myself included--did not expect that the story would not be about rain, wind, and flooding, but about rape, murder, and looting.

But this is not a natural disaster. It is a man-made disaster.

That man-made disaster is the welfare state,.

Posted by at September 5, 2005 3:21 PM

Watching the events in New Orleans unfold from here in Europe, mostly via BBC World, we have the impression that the storm blew up a corner of the carpet beneath which America had long been sweeping some of its fundamental problems.

Among the fundamental problems revealed are:

(1) the enormous divide between rich and poor (which has expanded rapidly in the past two or three decades);

(2) the racial divide leaving blacks in the poorest class (nearly all the stranded, angry, unassisted poor we see on the TV screen are black),

(3) the failure to invest in infrastructure (not only the failure to protect the dikes and levies, but the failure to storm-proof the electric and telephone systems by burying cables, etc.);

And, perhaps most striking of all,

(4) the bizarre law-and-order mentality which orders the National Guard to shoot-to-kill looters (that is, to give priority to protecting property more than human lives).

Perhaps it is going too far to state that we are watching a collapse similar to the collapse of the Soviet Union fifteen years ago. Much as the total-collectivization and total-centralization of society in the USSR collapsed, eventually, of its own internal contradictions, we wonder whether or not America, too, with its ultra-individualistic, ultra-material ideology and its absence of much concern about the collective needs of society (health care, education, infrastructure, etc.) will collapse of its own internal contradictions.

One thing is for sure: America, whose reputation in Europe was already tarnished by its go-it-alone pre-emptive invasion of Iraq, has lost even more respect here thanks to Hurricane Katrina. This is only partly due to the slow and stumbling response of the federal government to the tragedy. It is due more to the revelation of some of America's carefully hidden social problems.

Posted by: sneezer at September 5, 2005 5:14 PM

Sneezer sounds like a guy that's never lived in America, and if he has, he never really got around to knowing the real America. He's been paying too much attention to the MSM and not enough time enjoying the freedom that American lives have bought and paid for.

Posted by: Richard at September 5, 2005 5:52 PM

Comments about America's decline from a European perspective warrant a response. As a political scientist, with a right wing perspective, I will do what I can to articulate the ongoings with Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

First, upon clear indication that New Orleans was determined to lie within the track of Hurricane Katrina, an evacuation order was issued. Evacuation orders in the past were not mandatory. If an individual or family desired to ride it out, their option generally was honored. In some dire cases, police went around and forced evacuation. This was not the case in New Orleans.

The media, for other reasons, had chosen to omit past performances and concentrated their coverage upon those who evacuated and those who remained. Why? It makes for good headlines that those who remained were mainly poor Black-Americans, residing in the projects of New Orleans. Directing cameras onto Black-American-only groups in distress further enhanced the message of the media. It has to be noted that White-Americans remained in New Orleans, as well. And, not to be overlooked, Black-Americans evacuated in large numbers, as well.

Some numbers may help in clearing up this media-abandoned scenario. Black-Americans comprise some 67% of the 500,000-resident population of New Orleans. If as many as 50,000 residents remained behind, then it follows that 90% of the population was evacuated. To me that constitutes an A+ for the efforts of the authorities. I believe, even extreme estimates have the media "abandons" at some 30,000 residents. If they were all Black-Americans, and they were not, that amounts to only 8% of the Black-American population of New Orleans.

Second, compounding the situation in New Orleans was a Christian compassionate choice to free the prisoners in the soon-to-be effected area. Had the prison administrators opted to keep the prisoners incarcerated with the potential for subsequent drowning in large numbers, the crucifixion of the authorities by the media would have been more severe. Unfortunately, many of the released prisoners opted to loot arms stores, resulting in an armed band of brigands roaming the streets of New Orleans exacting whatever they demanded. This was a damned if you do and damned if you don't scenario. I believe, fewer lives were lost by allowing the prisoners to flee than were lost at the hands of their mischief.

As for the shoot-to-kill orders, those same orders would be issued to law enforcement officials, if the prisoners had escaped and were being apprehended. This was not similar to the situations in Iraq. These were hardened criminals who were, in fact, armed and dangerous.

Third, the levee situation is another issue compounded by decades of redirection of funding. Every administration shares the guilt of not attending to this matter. Although enough evidence seems to be available that even under the proposed corrections, the water surge from Hurricane Katrina would have overwhelmed the levees by at least two feet. Some amount of flooding would have ensued. We can argue that we should have insisted upon a correct fix for all occasions; however, when we consider the San Andrea's fault that could send most of the California coastline into the Pacific Ocean, anytime, we must acquiesce to do the best we can accomplish within reasonable probabilities. That turned out to be the case in New Orleans. We gambled, and we lost.

Fourth, concerning your comment about the loss of America's reputation for going-it-alone against Iraq, the devastation of Hurricane Katrina seems hardly appropriate for a correlation. But, since you have mentioned America's omission of the European opinion in Iraq, it deserves a retort.

In 1919, at the Treaty of Versailles, America "went along" with the European nations in their humiliation of the Axis powers. In the subsequent decades, American divorced itself from European matters and watched as a humiliated German nation rebuilt itself for war. American watched the European nations acquiesce, as each Eastern European nation fell under German control. When America finally decided that German influence and aggression needed to be halted, most of Europe had succumb into the German nation. Some 100 million-plus dead (mostly Europeans) later, America succeeded in defeating the Axis powers and establishing a new world order. America never forgot the losses of World War II and the continuous liberal-backing down of the European nations in the face of the growing threat from the German nation. Accordingly, America, correctly sensing the impending repeat of the World War II scenario in the Middle East, decided to end this threat in its infancy rather than to sacrifice another 100 million Europeans to Islamic aggression.

To your children and your grandchildren, Sneezer: "You are welcome!"

Posted by: harry Author Profile Page at September 5, 2005 7:13 PM

Great reply to a European dimmi. And thanks to the U.S.A, he has the right to think, speak, as he or she wishes, without having to pay homage to the requirements and dictates of Hitler or Islamists.

Posted by: Richard at September 5, 2005 7:39 PM

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