Tuesday, September 06, 2005

A Tale of Two States

Despite almost all of the Katrina coverage being focused on Louisiana, Katrina hit Mississippi far worse. Yet, Mississippi did not experience the same chaos & anarchy. As a Chrenkoff reader points out:
...Free tip - contrast the Louisiana situation with the one next door in Mississippi - Gov. Barbour (R-MS). What's been lost in all the blather over New Orleans is that it was really Mississippi that took the big hit. The buildings in New Orleans are still standing; the Gulf Coast of Mississippi basically has been scrubbed, like God took out a pencil eraser and just erased it....

I really don't like to find fault at times like this, but one thing that was missing was a quick recognition that in such a situation the potential for civil collapse is nearly 100%. Once the weather settles, you need to immediately declare marshal law and send in the MPs. That's basically what Haley Barbour did in Mississippi - there were a few early problems but very quickly the MPs were patrolling what was left of Biloxi and Gulfport and keeping a lid on things. Back on Tuesday when I put on the news and we all saw Kathleen Blanco bursting into tears, I knew that was the wrong message and would bring trouble. Louisiana and New Orleans basically have those touchy-feely, "I'm okay, you're okay" soft-leftie types in charge. Their education took a few days and has been expensive...

Amidst all the hyperventilating that's going on, it's actually a good time for a civics lesson, particularly watching the competence of the people in Mississippi and the gross incompetence of almost all concerned in Louisiana. Who was responsible for what?...

Indeed, did Louisiana have anyone responsible for anything at the local level? The infamous photos of the unused school buses & the failure of the governor to deploy the National Guard immediately & the failure of Nagin to order a mandatory evacuation are damning.

Despite the health issues caused by the disaster, a state-of-the-art mobile hospital developed by the Dept of Homeland Security to specifically to deal with disasters & causalities was:
...as of Sunday afternoon was parked on a gravel lot 70 miles north of New Orleans because Louisiana officials for several days would not let them deploy to the flooded city...

While some of the criticisms of FEMA director Michael D. Brown, such as his refusal of offers for help by Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and the American Ambulance Association, are justified, the fact that neither he nor Dept of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff were made aware of the full extent of the problem by state & local officials in a timely fashion is indicative of major problems at the local level.

In his essay, Robert Tracinski discusses the role of the welfare state in creating the immoral characters who shot at rescue helicopters & looted jewelry & electronic goods & possibly even engaged in rape & battery (though there is a possibility that these were merely exaggerations). As he argues:
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.

In the summer of 2003, NYC experienced a blackout. While the famous blackout of the seventies produced a Louisiana-style anarchy, the 2003 black out resulted in only three outage related deaths & four crimes-with arrests for all four. The only major incidents were fires as a result of candles. People slept outside escape the heat & stranded commuters, unable to get hotel rooms, slept on the streets with laptops & other expensive electronic items lying unguarded beside them. The atmosphere was not a Hobbsian one with the strong preying on the weak.

Detroit, Michigan was similarly calm & orderly. Interestingly, parts of Ottowa, Canada did experience serious civil disorder & a state of emergency had to be declared.

As Heather MacDonald points out, not only did the NYDA act swiftly & decisively, they also anticipated looting & took action to prevent thugs from terrorizing people:
When the first window shattered on Brooklyn’s Flatbush Avenue, less than five minutes after the lights went out, the department immediately erected barriers along the avenue and maintained a highly visible presence there for the rest of the night. It did the same in other areas hit by thievery during the 1977 blackout, as well as in neighborhoods marked by recent shootings—a sign of a criminally disposed population.

The cops started making arrests soon after the power stopped, and in large numbers—up to two-dozen hoodlums at a time. Getting these early-birds in custody stopped them from wreaking further havoc and sent a strong message to copycats that lawlessness would not be tolerated. Admittedly, some of the looters weren’t much of a challenge for the police. For example, 23 would-be sneaker thieves cut into the roof of a Brooklyn Foot Locker store and dropped to the floor below, intending to walk out the door with their booty. They hadn’t noticed the locked gate blocking their exit. The police picked them up like bugs trapped in a Roach Motel.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

In NYC, the criminals were afraid of the police, not the other way around as in New Orleans. This was the result of the police force being large, well supported by the city administration & highly trained. The disaster training drills, which Mayor Guilani insisted upon even pre 9/11, were made even more frequent post 9/11, to the point where every borough commander, who was fully empowered to do what needed to be done, sprang into action efficiently.

Whatever happened to Louisiana's emergency plan?

In this age of mass media, the manner in which elected officials conduct themselves as well as the words they use go a long way in setting the tone. Contrast the calm & reassuring manner of Rudy Guilani & Mike Bloomberg to the hysterical ones of Ray Nagin, Kathleen Blanco, & Mary Landrieu. I do not recall Mayor Guilani ever threatening to punch anyone for critisism, fair or unfair. He countered criticisms with factual debate, rather than sink to the level of a common hoodlum.

Interestingly, just as 9/11 brought Mayor Guilani to the national spotlight & made him a potential presidential candidate in the minds of many, the wonderful handling of Katrina in Mississippi has prompted the same thoughts in the minds of some of Haley Barbour.

Let the record reflect Karol's prescience in the matter.

Hat Tip: lgf, Chrenkoff

A side note: I have a bit of a cold these days, so please excuse the spelling & grammatical errors. I hope I still make sence :) Please bear with me. Thanks.

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