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a crack in the ice - Hurricanes and Right Reasons

Sep. 21st, 2005

02:45 am - Hurricanes and Right Reasons

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A couple of weeks ago, the city of New Orleans was effectively destroyed by an reasonably powerful hurricane which retires the name Katrina. Another one, named Rita, is roaring into the Gulf of Mexico. There have been a lot of strong hurricanes lately. They have much to teach us.

First lesson: we should not be quick to chalk all this up to Global Warming. I do not say this because I disbelieve that Global Warming is happening, or that it is due to human activity. I think it is reasonable to conclude, from the weight of evidence and expert opinion, that the world is getting warmer, and that our activities have something to do with it. That is precisely *why* we should be cautious in ascribing every possible misfortune, or even patterns of misfortunes, to Global Warming. Say we persuade ourselves, and everyone else, that hurricanes are symptomatic of a Warming, yet we are wrong? One possible consequence, if hurricane season eases up for a number of years, is that we mistake the calm for evidence that Warming is not happening after all. If it is important to persuade people that Global Warming is happening, it is equally important that they be persuaded for the right reasons.

Second lesson: we should not be too quick to make political hay out of the hurricanes' fallout. I do not say this because I disbelieve that there has been a massive failure on the part of American government to respond appropriately, or that people should demand change. It is clear that there were completely unacceptable failures by the local, state, and federal authorities. I believe that the failures of the Bush Administration in this regard should put the entire 'neoconservative' wing of the Republican party into the historical dustbin (where, I admit, I have long thought it belonged.) But we must also remember a reason most Democrats are for gun control: this is because most Democrats, when handed a loaded gun, skillfully and automatically proceed to blow their own brains out. Having as they do no brains, they will completely fail to see that this is a metaphor explaining how they lost control of the Empire, and why they may never regain it.

There were three related but separable failures of the Administration, and it is no use whatsoever to talk about any others. The three failures were:

1) The failure to execute a truly rapid urban evacuation of the City of New Orleans. I don't mean to ignore other affected areas (rural and small-town); but the failure to evacuate one major city indicates that the Administration has failed BY THEIR OWN STANDARDS. They sold us on the idea that they were uniquely qualified to respond to great urban disasters -- this after all is the nightmare scenario underlying the so-called War on Terrorism -- and despite massive reorganization of government and astronomical spending, COMPLETELY failed to respond adequately to an urban disaster for which we had plenty of warning. If a Dirty Bomb goes off in a major American city, or if someone manages to release a virulent bioweapon in one, we need stronger (and smarter) action than we saw in New Orleans.

2) The allocation of many National Guardsmen (and transport equipment) to Iraq. To say the least this is an inconvenient place to locate our last line of defense of civil order. There are three other armed services to take romping around the world, if you feel you have to do that kind of thing. The National Guard is, or ought to be, reserved for action here.

3) The appointment of a supreme idiot to head FEMA. I don't really need to talk more about this one, do I? Almost everyone I know is more qualified to head FEMA than this Michael Brown. Every administration produces a certain amount of bogus appointments for flunky friends of the dealmakers. After 9/11, you wouldn't think the head of FEMA would be one of them.

The Democrats, of course, cannot stick to the three issues that would suffice to turn the political tide. They must beat anything that even looks like a drum: the Global Warming drum, the Wetlands Protection Drum, the Neglected Infrastructure Drum, the Class Conflict Drum, and the Race Drum. Even if a drum is obviously rigged to explode when beaten, a Democrat will beat it: that after all is how CBS was tricked into throwing the last election.

Really, guys, if you stick to persuading people for the Right Reasons, you'll be a lot better off.

And truth be told, the Democrats deserve their share of the blame for Katrina. They held sway in Congress for almost sixty years: three times over long enough to have committed money to shoring up New Orleans' levies. They held sway too in New Orleans, and failed to do their part to implement the City Evacuation plan. I doubt they would have responded much better to the disaster (although admittedly it is hard to imagine anyone finding a bigger idiot than Michael Brown). It is probably lucky for them that they blew the last Presidential election: in its weakened state, I doubt their Party ever would have recovered from the political fallout of Katrina.

Poor Libertarians should just keep their heads down: there is little political capital they can hope to gain here. Big disasters like the one brought one by Katrina make people cry out for Big Government. This is unfortunate, as it is clear to me that centralization of disaster response is what made the disaster OF a response possible. How many aid resources were refused, turned away, delayed, or harried by a FEMA bent on protecting its turf? How many lives might have been saved if chaos -- including countless chaotic but capable efforts to help -- had been allowed to prevail? We may never know. But unfortunately, no matter how often centralized government abjectly fails, people ascribe the failures to the specific yahoos who are running the show that day. If their man was only in charge, they believe, everything would be different.

And this is why things in America are always the same.