Thoughts on Katrina

I’ve been struggling with what – if anything – to post about my thoughts on Katrina.  At the end of the day yesterday, I sat in front of a TV for the first time for two hours and watched CNN (I hate TV – I try to avoid it – but I was trapped at the car dealership waiting for them to fix my car, everyone had gone home for the long weekend so work had shut down, and all their magazines were from June) and muttered, mumbled, and swore non-stop.  I woke up this morning to yet another beautiful Boulder day, obsessively read all the Katrina news online that I could find, and muttered and mumbled some more.  As I caught up on email and blogs, I kept rolling over thoughts in the back of my mind on a blog post.

Fred Wilson did it for me.  He captured exactly what I’ve been muttering, mumbling, and swearing about.  I’m extraordinarily saddened for everyone caught up in this tragedy, once again thankful that it only impacts me indirectly, and very pensive about how it impacts us as Americans.  Thanks Fred for putting your thoughts out there.  I noticed that Nick Bradbury also had a post that captures some of my feelings.  I am humbled by Anita Taylor.  And – as always – my wife Amy is more articulate than I am.

I obviously encourage everyone to help out any way they can.  Amy and I donated to the American Red Cross Hurricane 2005 Relief Fund this morning (if you get my feed, you can do this by clicking on the banner ad that FeedBurner is inserting), I’ve added a Humane Society link under “Promoting Now” on my main blog page, and we’re paying attention to other things we can do to be helpful.  NewsGator also committed to give 3% of revenue for the month of September to the American Red Cross and I encourage other companies to do the same.

  • Steve Groves

    Not my writing, but an interesting perspective –

    Source: TIA Daily — September 2, 2005

    Charles A. Walters

    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.

  • After hearing of what deion sanders has proposed (every professional athlete donating $1000 to the Katrina recovery) I think the financial community should try to match this effort with every professional on the buyside, sellside, VC’s, etc. donating at least $100.

  • SM Pearson

    I do agree that the so-called welfare state is partly responsible for the reaction of the poor people of New Orleans.

    Problem is, the welfare state situation was created in response to a growing movement towards revolution within the poorer strata of society.

    It is actually quite easy to stop a revolution from happening: give more money and powers to law enforcement and give enough to the poor so they feel they have something to lose by revolting.

    This system of stick and carrot has worked for the last half century but the carrot part is starting to lose its effect.

    Poor people faced with the overwhelming gap between them and the rich are starting to wonder if they actually have something to lose. Add to that the fact that there are more and more poor people in the world and you face a potentially explosive situation.

    Towards trying to rein in this movement towards revolution, governments increase the powers and means given to law enforcement � the Patriot Act is just one example but most governments around the world are going that route.

    People have an unalienable right to the basic necessities of life and to a general measure of happiness. Capitalism is aimed at denying this to the masses by giving them just enough so they will keep the wheels of profit greased.

    Like it or not the mere notion of someone profiting from the blood and sweat of another is morally corrupt and obscene. Capitalism, as a social system, is bankrupt and can only lead to the total destruction of our species and our planet � this is happening right now.

    The people of New Orleans are merely having a knee jerk reaction to a system that has all but denied them their part of the so-called American dream. That dream is becoming a nightmare and, as the masses of the poor all over the world get over the boiling point, chaos is inevitable on a global scale.

    Unfortunately, poor people are notoriously ill organized and can hardly be expected to lead a viable revolution anywhere.

    The responsibility of changing things thus falls upon all of us. We need to understand the situation of the poor and to start feeling their pain. It is the only way we can make a difference. Solidarity, brotherhood and organization are essential towards making this world a better place not for the few but to all.

    There is still time but not much.

    The question is: are you in or out and, whatever your answer, are you ready to live with the implications and consequences of your choices.

  • American

    Obviously very late in the game finding this post but just back from north of the 49th for the first time on your far left coast. A midwestern moderate myself so my views are at best a mere view of both sides and always looking for a meeting of the minds.

    What you are not understanding north of the 49th in a socialist country…in relation to New Orlin’s (correct pronunciation as I would pronounce Canucks with a yuck) is the corruption within the police force, the low paying wages around 17K per year, the poverty and the mentality, yes mentality of those in the 7th ward. Had anyone read both sides of the actual story prior to jumpiing to any socialist conclusions or actually had family there as I have, you would know that many people in that area are being offered 25-100 dollars an hour to clean streets and those poverty stricken human beings of all races and creeds are looking at work with a big old you want me to do what? I must get up and do what? Who is offering help? Go look at the real news. 49 countries offered assistance and we accepted when we could. Having all that inundate that area with out a way in all at once would have been additional chaos if you had a blessed GPS map and looked at the situation with any logic…..along with a weather map of the area which was struck. It didn’t even have to come from the cable news eh? Just a little old common sense.

    Read some American news if you must and if you can swallow it, with regards to an entire puzzle or pizza…. Look at the demographics of the entire area which was hit which encompassed 44 million people.. How on earth does anyone expect to evacuate 44 million people in such a short notice… Yes, if you read any history the funding and budget cuts around NO go back to the late 1960’s and include both the DEMS and REPs….. But it’s human nature to complain and from a country who has what a tiny portion of the population of the Us and a prime minister who had HIS HEART SURGERY IN THE STATES! yep…. We read you north of the 49’rs well…. Your news kind of reads like our national enquirer awaiting the 3rd coming of christ and people actually believing it…. A well rounded debate or intellectual conversation comes from reading and understanding news comes from various sources. A. Liberal media B. Conservative media C. Unbiased media D. a vraitey of world media….

    Get over the Americans don’t get it.. our back bone is stronger than any mountain you have!

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