An Unnatural Disaster: A Hurricane Exposes the Man-Made Disaster of the Welfare StateThen, someone else sent me this one:
An Objectivist Review
by Robert Tracinski | The Intellectual Activist
September 2, 2005
It has taken 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 has also taken me four long days to figure out what is 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.
The man-made disaster is not an inadequate or incompetent response by federal relief agencies, and it was not directly caused by Hurricane Katrina. This is where just about every newspaper and television channel has gotten the story wrong.
The man-made disaster we are now witnessing in New Orleans did not happen over the past four days. It happened over the past four decades. Hurricane Katrina merely exposed it to public view.
The man-made disaster is the welfare state.
For the past few days, I have found the news from New Orleans to be confusing. People were not behaving as you would expect them to behave in an emergency--indeed, they were not behaving as they have behaved in other emergencies. That is what has shocked so many people: they have been saying that this is not what we expect from America. In fact, it is not even what we expect from a Third World country.
When confronted with a disaster, people usually rise to the occasion. They work together to rescue people in danger, and they spontaneously organize to keep order and solve problems. This is especially true in America. We are an enterprising people, used to relying on our own initiative rather than waiting around for the government to take care of us. I have seen this a hundred times, in small examples (a small town whose main traffic light had gone out, causing ordinary citizens to get out of their cars and serve as impromptu traffic cops, directing cars through the intersection) and large ones (the spontaneous response of New Yorkers to September 11).
So what explains the chaos in New Orleans?
To give you an idea of the magnitude of what is going on, here is a description from a Washington Times story:
"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....
"Last night, Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco said 300 Iraq-hardened Arkansas National Guard members were inside New Orleans with shoot-to-kill orders.
"'These troops are...under my orders to restore order in the streets,' she said. 'They have M-16s, and they are locked and loaded. These troops know how to shoot and kill and they are more than willing to do so if necessary and I expect they will.' "
The reference to Iraq is eerie. The photo that accompanies this article shows National Guard troops, with rifles and armored vests, riding on an armored vehicle through trash-strewn streets lined by a rabble of squalid, listless people, one of whom appears to be yelling at them. It looks exactly like a scene from Sadr City in Baghdad.
What explains bands of thugs using a natural disaster as an excuse for an orgy of looting, armed robbery, and rape? What causes unruly mobs to storm the very buses that have arrived to evacuate them, causing the drivers to drive away, frightened for their lives? What causes people to attack the doctors trying to treat patients at the Super Dome?
Why are people responding to natural destruction by causing further destruction? Why are they attacking the people who are trying to help them?
My wife, Sherri, figured it out first, and she figured it out on a sense-of-life level. While watching the coverage last night on Fox News Channel, she told me that she was getting a familiar feeling. She studied architecture at the Illinois Institute of Chicago, which is located in the South Side of Chicago just blocks away from the Robert Taylor Homes, one of the largest high-rise public housing projects in America. "The projects," as they were known, were infamous for uncontrollable crime and irremediable squalor. (They have since, mercifully, been demolished.)
What Sherri was getting from last night's television coverage was a whiff of the sense of life of "the projects." Then the "crawl"--the informational phrases flashed at the bottom of the screen on most news channels--gave some vital statistics to confirm this sense: 75% of the residents of New Orleans had already evacuated before the hurricane, and of the 300,000 or so who remained, a large number were from the city's public housing projects. Jack Wakeland then gave me an additional, crucial fact: early reports from CNN and Fox indicated that the city had no plan for evacuating all of the prisoners in the city's jails--so they just let many of them loose. There is no doubt a significant overlap between these two populations--that is, a large number of people in the jails used to live in the housing projects, and vice versa.
There were many decent, innocent people trapped in New Orleans when the deluge hit--but they were trapped alongside large numbers of people from two groups: criminals--and wards of the welfare state, people selected, over decades, for their lack of initiative and self-induced helplessness. The welfare wards were a mass of sheep--on whom the incompetent administration of New Orleans unleashed a pack of wolves.
All of this is related, incidentally, to the apparent incompetence of the city government, which failed to plan for a total evacuation of the city, despite the knowledge that this might be necessary. But in a city corrupted by the welfare state, the job of city officials is to ensure the flow of handouts to welfare recipients and patronage to political supporters--not to ensure a lawful, orderly evacuation in case of emergency.
No one has really reported this story, as far as I can tell. In fact, some are already actively distorting it, blaming President Bush, for example, for failing to personally ensure that the Mayor of New Orleans had drafted an adequate evacuation plan. The worst example is an execrable piece from the Toronto Globe and Mail, by a supercilious Canadian who blames the chaos on American "individualism." But the truth is precisely the opposite: the chaos was caused by a system that was the exact opposite of individualism.
What Hurricane Katrina exposed was the psychological consequences of the welfare state. What we consider "normal" behavior in an emergency is behavior that is normal for people who have values and take the responsibility to pursue and protect them. People with values respond to a disaster by fighting against it and doing whatever it takes to overcome the difficulties they face. They don't sit around and complain that the government hasn't taken care of them. They don't use the chaos of a disaster as an opportunity to prey on their fellow men.
But what about criminals and welfare parasites? Do they worry about saving their houses and property? They don't, because they don't own anything. Do they worry about what is going to happen to their businesses or how they are going to make a living? They never worried about those things before. Do they worry about crime and looting? But living off of stolen wealth is a way of life for them.
The welfare state--and the brutish, uncivilized mentality it sustains and encourages--is the man-made disaster that explains the moral ugliness that has swamped New Orleans. And that is the story that no one is reporting.
Source: TIA Daily -- September 2, 2005
Copyright© 2002 The Intellectual Activist
Eyewitness Report from New Orleans
September 6, 2005
On Saturday September 3, award-winning filmmaker Gloria La Riva, internationally-acclaimed photographer Bill Hackwell and A.N.S.W.E.R. Youth & Student Coordinator Caneisha Mills, a senior at Howard University, arrived in New Orleans.
The following is an eyewitness report of the crisis in the area written on Sunday, September 4.
While 80 percent of New Orleans was submerged in water, Algiers is one of the few districts that have been spared the worst of the flooding as it sits higher than most of the city. An historic district established in 1719, Algiers is on the west bank of the Mississippi river, across from the French Quarter. Probably 15% of the residents still remain behind, most of them determined to stay in their homes. The majority of homes are still intact, although many have suffered damage. While their houses survived, the peoples’ chance of survival seemed very bleak since there was no electricity or disbursement of food, water or other supplies.
We arrived in the Algiers district of New Orleans after getting through seven checkpoints. We quickly learned that the current media reports that relief and aid have finally arrived to New Orleans are as false as all earlier reports that also had as their origin government sources. The people in the Algiers area have received nothing or next to nothing since the Hurricane struck. Left without any way to escape, people are now struggling to survive in the aftermath. Now they are being told they have to abandon their homes, even though they want to stay. They are not being given what they need to stay and survive, and are being told they must leave.
“Imagine being in a city, poor, without any money and all of a sudden you are told to leave and you don’t even have a bicycle,” stated Malik Rahim, a community activist in the Algiers section of New Orleans. “90% of the people don’t even have cars.”
One woman told us it was not possible for her to evacuate. She said, “I can’t leave. I don’t have a car and I have nine children.” She and her husband are getting by with the help of several men in the community who are joining resources to provide for their neighbors.
The government claims that people can get water, but residents have to travel at least 17 miles to the nearest water and ice distribution center. Only one case of water is available per family. Countless people have no way to drive.
While the government is touting the deployment of personnel to the area, there is a huge military and police presence but none of it to provide services. All of them, north and south of the river, are stationed in front of private buildings and abandoned stores, protecting private property.
The goods that the government personnel are bringing in are for their own forces. They are not distributing provisions to people who desperately need them.
Not one of them has delivered water to Algiers or gone to the houses to see if sick or elderly people need help. There is no door-to-door survey to see who was injured.
The overwhelming majority of people who have stayed in Algiers are Black but some are white. One man in his late 50s in Algiers pointed across the street to a 10-acre grassy lot. It looks like a beautiful park. He said, “I had my daughter call FEMA. I told them I want to donate this land to the people in need. They could set up 100 tractor trailers with aid, they could set up tents. No one has ever called me back.” He is clearly angry.
Although some of the residents do express fear of burglaries into houses, acts of heroism, sacrifice and solidarity are evident everywhere.
Steve, a white man in his 40s, knocks on Malik’s front door. He tells us, “Malik has kept this neighborhood together. We don’t know what we’d do without his help.” He has come in because he needs to use the phone. Malik’s street is the only one with phones still working.
Malik and three of his friends have been delivering food, water and ice to those in need three times a day, searching everywhere for goods.
There is a strong suspicion among the residents that the government has another agenda in the deliberately forced removal of people from Algiers, even though this particular neighborhood is not under water and is intact. Algiers is full of quaint, historic French-style houses, with a high real estate value, and the residents know that the government and real estate forces would like to lay their hands on their neighborhood to push forward gentrification which is already evident.
Downtown New Orleans
Although entry is prohibited into downtown New Orleans north and east of the Mississippi, we were able to get in on Sunday.
The Superdome is still surrounded by water and all types of military helicopters, army trucks, etc are coming in and out of the area; however, most of the people who survived have already left. On US-90, the only road out of New Orleans, convoys of National Guard troops are pouring into the city, too late for many. According to an emergency issue of The Times-Picayune, 16,000 National Guard troops now occupy the city.
Thousands of troops are in New Orleans but water is premium and still not available. One African American couple we met looking for water told us, “We have four kids. When they told us to leave before the hurricane we couldn’t. We have no car and no money.”
Undoubtedly it is similar in the other states that got the direct hit of Katrina, Mississippi and Alabama. On the radio we hear reports of completely demolished towns. What differentiates the rest of the Gulf coast from New Orleans is that the many thousands of deaths in New Orleans were absolutely preventable and occurred after the hurricane. On everyone’s lips is the cutting in federal funds to strengthen the levees of Lake Pontchartrain. Two reporters from New York tell us they just came from the New Orleans airport emergency hospital that was set up. We made our way to the airport.
New Orleans International Airport
The New Orleans International Airport was converted into an emergency hospital center. Thousands of people were evacuated there to get supplies and food, and for transportation that would take them out of the city. Many people arrived with only one or two bags, their entire lives reduced to a few belongings.
Some people did not want to leave their homes, but say they were forced to do so. For example, one white woman and her husband were forced to evacuate. She said, “The military told us that we had one minute to evacuate. We said that we weren’t ready and he said they can’t force us to leave but if we don’t leave anybody left would be arrested … but it was the end of the month. The two of us have been living for a couple of months on $600 a month and rent is $550. At the end of the month, we only had $20 and 1/8 of a tank of gas. There was no way we could leave.”
When it became apparent that nobody was coming back to pick them up, the couple walked five miles to the airport to see if they could get help.
Disaster Medical Assistance Teams, doctors, nurses and community organizations came from as far as San Diego, California and Kentucky to provide support during the crisis. None of them were dispersed into the community. When we arrived at the airport on Sunday, September 4, there were approximately 20 medical people for every one patient while people in regions such as Algiers and the 9th ward were left to fend for themselves.
The majority of people in New Orleans blame the local and national government for the catastrophe. One young Black man said, “The government abandoned us … [it’s] pre-meditated murder.” Another said, “Why would you [the government] protect a building … instead of rescuing people that have been without food or water for three or four days? It seems like that was the plan. … We couldn’t starve them out, the hurricane didn’t kill them, it seems planned.”
As we drive to Baton Rouge tonight to visit evacuated people, we hear on local radio that possibly 10,000 people have died in the flooded areas of New Orleans. Tonight in one announcement, we hear the names of some of the missing people still being searched for, a 90-year-old woman named Lisa, a man 102 years old, two women 82 and 85 years old. The elderly, the most vulnerable, left to their own devices.
Bodies are lying everywhere, and hidden in attics and apartments. The announcer describes how one body, rotting after days in the sun, was surrounded by a wall fashioned from fallen bricks by survivors, and given a provisional burial to give her some dignity. Written on the sheet covering her is, “Here lies Vera, God Help Us.”
At a Red Cross shelter outside of Baton Rouge, we meet Emmanuel, who can’t find his wife and three sons after the floods. His story is shocking but not unusual. His home is near the 17th Street Canal, where the Pontchartrain levee broke through.
“I stayed behind to rescue my neighbors while I sent my wife and kids to dry land,” he says. It is difficult for him to relate what happened. He had a small boat so he went from house to house picking up neighbors. While doing so, he encountered many bodies in the water.
“My best friend’s body was floating by in the water. One mother whose baby drowned tied her baby to a fence so she could bury him after she returned.” Because troops kept driving by him and others without helping them, he had to walk 30 miles north until he was picked up.
The people of New Orleans did not have to die; their lives did not have to be destroyed. This conduct of the government is a crime of the highest magnitude. There is not a single adjective that is adequate.
Negligence, incompetence, callous disregard while all are true, none are sufficient. Those who manage a system that always and everywhere puts the needs of business and private property ahead of the people, that always find money to fund wars that benefit the rich of this country rather than meeting people’s needs should be held responsible and accountable. The real problem however, is not with the managers of the system, but with the system itself. They call it the free market. It is the economic and social system of plutocracy, the system of modern capitalism, of, by, and for the rich that in words declares itself to be of, by and for the people. The reality, however, can now been seen in the streets of New Orleans.
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