Saturday, September 03, 2005

Fish, Blame and the American Character

On the way to work today, I was listening to National Public Radio and its coverage of the New Orleans situation. They were conducting their typical anti-Bush harangue, this time in the form of Daniel Schorr’s commentary. Among the things he said, one stood out: “The federal government is ultimately responsible for its citizens.”

This, in a nutshell, is the dividing line between capital-L Liberals and capital-C Conservatives. Liberals believe that the highest level of government possible should handle a situation – thus their infatuation with the United Nations and the wish that the UN dictate policy to the United States government. Conservatives, on the other hand, believe that situations and problems should be solved at the lowest level possible.

Some things the federal government does very well – national security, the interstate highway system, the electrification of rural America in the 1930s – but most it does not. One thing that it does not do well is to micromanage experts or local leaders on events in their areas of expertise or familiarity. This includes natural disasters.

Daniel Schorr blamed President Bush’s administration for failing to do more before and after Hurricane Katrina hit. He cited FEMA’s 2001 study which indicated the three most likely disaster scenarios as 1) Terrorist attacks in New York City; 2) A major earthquake in San Francisco; and 3) A major hurricane hitting New Orleans.

The question regarding allocation of resources is this: How many billions of dollars should the federal government commit to protecting against something which, up to this week, had never happened? Especially when the locals themselves are not interested in contributing to that protection.

Prior to Katrina, there were suggestions on how to lessen the blow of a major hurricane. More marshland between New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico would reduce the storm surge, thereby lessening the damage. Exactly such steps were taken in Florida, which received $4 billion in federal aid to restore the Florida Everglades. To receive the aid, Florida had to match the federal funding dollar for dollar. In Louisiana, they were only willing to match 15 or 25 cents. "Our state still looks for a 100 percent federal bailout, but that's just not going to happen," said University of New Orleans geologist Shea Penland, a delta expert.

To the extent that any preparation could have lessened the damage from Hurricane Katrina, that preparation should have started decades ago – and that preparation should have started at the grassroots level in Louisiana, not with the politicians in Washington.

The old proverb says, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” The Liberal corollary to that is, “Give a man a fish, and he has to keep coming back to you for more fish.”

By keeping citizens dependent on government, Liberal politicians have stolen self-reliance, determination, ambition and fortitude from the American character. By cultivating a society of the needy, they have sown the seeds of decay and corruption that destroyed Rome.

UPDATE: 9/7/05

From the July 24, 2005 New Orleans Times-Picayune:

"In Storm, N.O. Wants No One Left Behind," by Bruce Nolan

City, state and federal emergency officials are preparing to give the poorest of New Orleans' poor a historically blunt message: In the event of a major hurricane, you're on your own.

In scripted appearances being recorded now, officials such as Mayor Ray Nagin, local Red Cross Executive Director Kay Wilkins and City Council President Oliver Thomas drive home the word that the city does not have the resources to move out of harm's way an estimated 134,000 people without transportation.

In the video, made by the anti-poverty agency Total Community Action, they urge those people to make arrangements now by finding their own ways to leave the city in the event of an evacuation.

"You're responsible for your safety, and you should be responsible for the person next to you," Wilkins said in an interview. "If you have some room to get that person out of town, the Red Cross will have a space for that person outside the area. We can help you.

"But we don't have the transportation."

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