Sunday, September 11, 2005

Revenge Of The Welfare State

Liberalism devastated New Orleans.

There. Finally, somebody has had the courage to speak the truth to idiocy.

Oh, sure, Hurricane Katrina was the catalyst for the past fortnight's travails. But before, during, and after landfall of the cat-5 killer, it was liberalism which, figuratively and literally, opened the floodgates.

Let's start with before.

Professor Bainbridge directs our attention to a buried LA Times story that didn't manage to sneak past him:

In the wake of Hurricane Betsy 40 years ago, Congress approved a massive hurricane barrier to protect New Orleans from storm surges that could inundate the city.

But the project, signed into law by President Johnson, was derailed in 1977 by an environmental lawsuit. Now the question is: Could that barrier have protected New Orleans from the damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina?

"If we had built the barriers, New Orleans would not be flooded," said Joseph Towers, the retired chief counsel for the Army Corps of Engineers New Orleans district.

Tower's view is endorsed by a former key senator, along with academic experts, who say a hurricane barrier is the only way to control the powerful storm surges that enter Lake Pontchartrain and threaten the city.

The greenstremist group that blocked this hurricane barrier was Save Our Wetlands (which now include most of metropolitan New Orleans). Get a load of the boasting about their successful litigation that made the past two weeks of misery possible:

While politicians talk, SOWL sues! SOWL has been involved in countless lawsuits involving Lake Ponchartrain on every subject....from the New Orleans Levee Board Airport Expansion Plan, Bucktown Marina Expansion Plan, New Orleans Mosquito Control Drainage schemes in wetlands of New Orleans East, Eden Isle Subdivision on the north shores of Lake Ponchartrain, Orlanda Subdivision, Corps of Engineers Hurricane Barrier Project, shell dredging in Lake Ponchartrain, Waterford Nuclear the Marathon Oil Company canals in the wetlands of St. Charles and St. John the Baptist parishes. ... SOWL has always fought bitterly against the United States Army Corps of Engineers.

Their "red on the inside" is now matched by the blood dripping from their litigious hands.

But they're not the only ones:

“[W]et and wild” has a larger significance in light of th[e tragic] events [in New Orleans], and so does the group using the phrase. The national Sierra Club was one of several environmental groups who sued the Army Corps of Engineers to stop a 1996 plan to raise and fortify Mississippi River levees.

The Army Corps was planning to upgrade 303 miles of levees along the river in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas. This was needed, a Corps spokesman told the Baton Rouge, Louisiana, newspaper The Advocate, because “a failure could wreak catastrophic consequences on Louisiana and Mississippi which the states would be decades in overcoming, if they overcame them at all.”

But a suit filed by environmental groups at the U.S. District Court in New Orleans claimed the Corps had not looked at “the impact on bottomland hardwood wetlands.” The lawsuit stated, “Bottomland hardwood forests must be protected and restored if the Louisiana black bear is to survive as a species, and if we are to ensure continued support for source population of all birds breeding in the lower Mississippi River valley.” In addition to the Sierra Club, other parties to the suit were the group American Rivers, the Mississippi River Basin Alliance, and the Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi Wildlife Federations.

The lawsuit was settled in 1997 with the Corps agreeing to hold off on some work while doing an additional two-year environmental impact study. Whether this delay directly affected the levees that broke in New Orleans is difficult to ascertain.

But it is just one illustration of a destructive river-management philosophy that took hold in the ‘90s, influenced the Clinton administration, and had serious policy consequences. Put simply, it’s impossible to understand the delays in building levees without being aware of the opposition of the environmental groups to dams, levees, and anything that interfered with the “natural” river flow. The group American Rivers, which leads coalitions of eco-groups on river policy, has for years actually called its campaign, “Rivers Unplugged.”

Over the past few years, levees came to occupy the same status for environmental groups as roads in forests — an artificial barrier to nature. They frequently campaigned against levees being built and shored up on the nation’s rivers, including on the Mississippi.
And because these envirowackos and their Clintonoid patrons refused (oh, I just love this irony) to "put people first," hundreds have died and thousands upon thousands have been rendered displaced and/or homeless.

So the Left did its best to expose the Gulf Coast - a part of the country in which Democrats have ceased to be competitive, I might add - to the ravages of any major storm that came its way. But what the heck, it's just the Bible belt, not anyplace important, right?

But if there's one part of Dixie that has remained antebellum, and in the grip of unchallenged, undiluted, and unopposed liberalism, it is Louisiana, and its heart is the Big Easy.

And this goes a long way in explaining why when a crisis came, New Orleans, unlike New York four years ago today, completely fell apart:

I have heard ever since reading about Huey Long of the 1930s that Louisiana is one of the most corrupt and dependency-prone states in the Union. Of all the cities in the south, New Orleans seems the one most welfare-oriented, least entrepreneurial, most state-dependent, and least economically dynamic. More than any other southern city, it is "Old South" rather than "New South." That, of course, is part of its charm. It refuses the modern bustle, says "Slow down, Be easy." It lulls. Its charm seduces. And it is also the prototypical, old-time welfare-state city.

The Census report shows what that means in vivid detail. In 2000, there were only 25,000 two-parent families in New Orleans with children under 18. By contrast, there were more than 26,000 female householders with children under 18, and no husband present. In other words, slightly more mothers all alone with children than married-couple mothers.

In addition, there were more than 18,000 householders who were more than 65 years old and living alone. Of these, most would normally be female.

If you add together the 26,000 female householders with children under 18, no husband present, and the 18,000 householders more than 65 years old and living alone, that is an estimated 40,000 female-headed households. That explains the pictures we are seeing on television, which are overwhelming female, most often with young children. The chances of persons in this demographic being employed full-time, year round, and with a good income, are not high. The chances of them living in poverty, and without an automobile, are exceedingly high.

George Bush didn't consign these people to poverty. Neither did Republicans. And their squalor has nothing to do with any phantom "racism." Liberalism did. Liberal welfare statism that encourages social and personal irresponsibility, erodes family structure and the social order and stability it upholds, and breeds rampant dependency.

The factors cited in the (Michael) Novak article above fit hand-in-glove with the ones cited by George Neumayr in the American Spectator:

An honest media would acknowledge that the civilizational vacuum into which New Orleans evaporated last week began with a breakdown of self-government and the absence of civilization's first government - the family. The absence of fathers, not FEMA, explains the images of women and children stranded in the storm. The absence of culture transmitted through stable families, not the absence of government money (gobs of which have been poured into New Orleans for decades to no effect), explains the Lord of the Flies scenario that took shape not after days of desperate privation but immediately once opportunities for looting presented themselves....

All of these problems require changes in self-government, not the federal government. But a liberal ideology that refuses to call pathologies by their proper name circumscribes the whole discussion, guaranteeing that these problems will never be solved.

With all of the above as dysfunctional cultural prelude, can it be any surprise that the so-called "leaders" New Orleansians and Louisianans elected proved to be complete busts, failures, and demagogues when their people needed them the most?

Each hurricane season Louisiana officials decided to play a game of Russian roulette with those lives. They knew disaster would eventually strike, but gambled that it would happen on someone else's watch. They did take the action that nervous officials typically take: They formed a working group to reassure themselves and look busy to everyone else. According to that Natural Hazards Observer article from November 2004, here's what the hard-charging working group came up with:

Unwilling to merely accept this reality, emergency managers and representatives of nongovernmental disaster organizations, local universities, and faith based organizations have formed a working group to engage additional faith-based organizations in developing ride-sharing programs between congregation members with cars and those without. In the wake of Ivan’s near miss, this faith-based initiative has become a catalyst in the movement to make evacuation assistance for marginalized groups (those without means of evacuation) a top priority for all levels of government.

So a working group decided that the workable solution to the problem of thousands of stranded citizens was to ask churches to set up a giant car-pool system. The plan further called for a DVD to get the word out, which was still in production when Katrina struck. A cynic might say that such a plan was drafted so city officials could say they had a real evacuation plan, written down on official letterhead and signed and announced and all of the other things that make bureaucrats swoon, but was in point of fact yet another exercise in passing the buck to the next schmuck to occupy the conference-table chair. If it was a real plan, it doesn't seem a stretch to say that as hurricane Katrina bore down on the Big Easy, the real plan really failed....

So not only did officials keep putting bus-utilization plans on hold, they only began using an ineffectively implemented contraflow system last year. The contraflow plan was to turn both sides of the highways into outgoing lanes, but all that did was move traffic tie-ups from nearer the city to the points where the contraflow was ended. And they couldn't make the entire highways contraflow for miles and miles because some lanes were needed to get things into the city (rescuers, etc.). City officials barely even scratched the surface of what could have been possible in competently evacuating that city using an early-warning system, buses, and contraflow.

In short, New Orleans was completely unprepared for Katrina even though everybody knew that such a disaster was not only possible, but inevitable. They just, in classic Clintillian fashion, tried to kick the contingency can down the road so that it would be in somebody else's lap.

The aforementioned NHO article laid out what would eventually take place two weeks ago like divine prophecy:

Regional and national rescue resources would have to respond as rapidly as possible and would require augmentation by local private vessels (assuming some survived). And, even with this help, federal and state governments have estimated that it would take 10 days to rescue all those stranded within the city. No shelters within the city would be free of risk from rising water. Because of this threat, the American Red Cross will not open shelters in New Orleans during hurricanes greater than category 2; staffing them would put employees and volunteers at risk. For Ivan, only the Superdome was made available as a refuge of last resort for the medically challenged and the homeless. [emphasis added]

Messrs. Regan and Preston add:

It was to take ten days for rescue to get everyone out, not counting the dead. And city and state officials knew it would take ten days. For them to cry in the current crisis that 72 hours is unacceptable rings more than a little hollow.

I frakking guess so. This shows beyond any possible penumbra of an emination of a shadow of a doubt that, far from FEMA "bungling" or "dropping the ball," if anything the feds were set up to "fail" by the very incompetence of the local yokels they were charged with helping.

The corruption of the latter manifested itself in hysterical finger-pointing and whiny, profane, weepy, foot-stomping temper-tantrums:

As Lake Ponchatrain's waters began to drown his city, New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin had the colossal nerve to shout indignantly "Get off your asses, and let's do something" - and then continued doing nothing himself, but add to the deluge by bursting into tears.

Having been prodded on Saturday into ordering an evacuation by President Bush and the head of the Hurricane Center and then delaying it for seventeen crucial hours until well into Sunday, Mayor Nagin is directly responsible for the AP picture of over 200 unused New Orleans buses marooned in four feet of water that might have evacuated more than 15,000 in one trip alone. Those were the buses that in the Mayor's own plan were to be used to evacuate 100,000 poor the city has long understood had no other means of transportation.

Nagin is also responsible for failing to pre-position generators, food and water, a medical presence and portable toilets for the two sites at the Superdome and Convention Center that he had proclaimed "emergency centers" for tens of thousands of the more than 30% of New Orleanians that lived below the poverty line. And then the Mayor failed to police them.

The rapes, murders, and needless deaths that took place in those "black holes" of New Orleans are his responsibility as well. Eighty armed policemen were too cowardly to enter the Convention Center after reports of the savagery inside as late as Sunday. Troops finally searching the Convention Center on Monday found an elderly man and a young girl, battered to death, among the corpses. New Orleans's would-be reformers thought they had elected a responsible leader in former cable executive Nagin and instead they got a classic "cable guy" with a million excuses and the same lousy service.

And, lest we let Governor "Draw a Blank"-o off easy....

Governor Blanco's ineptitude and indecisiveness was appalling. Her direct orders blocked the Red Cross's heroic effort to pre-position desperately needed supplies at the Superdome before it was cut off by the rising flood waters as well. Attempts by the Mayor, the Governor, and The New Orleans Times-Picayune - which had extensively reported on the state's and city's similar failures on previous occasions - to blame the Federal FEMA efforts for failing in its role in the immediate aftermath of Katrina are patently ridiculous.

Yet, doubtless some will argue that, given this Third-World-ism in an ostensible American cite and state, that should have put the onus all the more on the federal government to directly intervene and pick up the ball Nagin and Blanco fumbled away.

But understand what this would have meant:

For starters, the police power resides in the states. There is no general federal police power. It is the power to take care of a citizenry's health, safety and morals. It was described by Chief Justice Taney in the Licensee Cases this way:

But what are the police powers of a State? They are nothing more or less than the powers of government inherent in every sovereignty to the extent of its dominion. And whether a state passes a quarantine law, as a law to punish offenses, as to establish courts of justice, or requiring certain instruments to be recorded, as to regulate commerce within its own limits, in every case it exercises the same power; that is to say, the power of sovereignty, the power to govern men and things within the limits of its dominion.

"To the extent of its dominion," is the key phrase. For the federal government to act in the face of a natural disaster, it's help must be requested and its guidance accepted by the state and local officials.

“States are accorded wide latitude in the regulation of their local economies under their police powers," the Supreme Court wrote in the 1976 case of New Orleans v. Dukes, and that wide latitude extends to every aspect of disaster planning (or non-planning.)

Every effort to blame Bush (or laughably Secretary Rice) is simply demagoguery, and whether born of ignorance or malice, injures the very people it purports to be offered on behalf of.

The same Bush-haters who squeal with outrage at the idea of the feds tracking citizens' library activity now squeal with outrage that the President doesn't seize powers not grasped and exercised by any Chief Executive since the Civil War to cope with a disaster aftermath exacerbated grotesquely by local officials of their own political persuasion whose culpability they are loathe to admit. And as the Natural Hazards Observer pointed out, even with no local impediments FEMA couldn't have gotten to the scene and up and operating any faster than they actually did.

Put even more concisely, first libs shriek that Dubya is a "dictator," then they blast him for refusing to become one.

Mr. Neumeyr penultimatizes thusly....

The storyline of New Orleanians as victims and government responders as villains is just one more outrageous item in the media's voluminous catalogue of victimization. No reasonable calculus of accountability is ever brought to bear in these tales. Whether its needle-using, promiscuous AIDS patients or cigarette smokers or litigants in some self-propelled accident, the media will absolve the person who contributed most directly to the problem of responsibility while searching frantically for some nebulously malign force external to the person to villainize. Yet by their own standards of indulgence - if they can rationalize the decisionmaking of citizens who are told to evacuate but don't, why aren't they similarly tolerant of inadequate planning by FEMA? - their ferocious appetite for blame appears utterly capricious.

....while Mr. Lipscomb goes in for the kill:

If we are to learn anything from the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina, we will have to review the more practical expectations of the Framers of our Federal system. Local and state government are the primary responders. To keep their powers and responsibility intact the Federal Government is a resource they must administer wisely and decisively. Focusing on the habitual incoherence of Bush Administration communications is beside the point. There is no excuse for ignoring the key failures of local and state government in facing the challenge of Hurricane Katrina. Doing so will only ensure the next disaster. [emphasis added]

And that, too, will be "Bush's fault" - no matter when it takes place.