To those who post comments
"America is often portrayed as an ignorant, unsophisticated sort of place, full of bible bashers and ruled to a dangerous extent by trashy television, superstition and religious bigotry, a place lacking in respect for evidence based knowledge. I know that is how it is portrayed because I have done my bit to paint that picture..." BBC's Washington correspondent Justin Webb, in a remarkably frank admission of his role in misinforming the British public about America and Americans
But it took Hurricane Katrina to expose the real emptiness under the US carapace. No wonder governing Iraq was far beyond the competence of a nation so feebly governed within its own borders.Even if we are to accept the questionable presumption that the government’s response to Katrina was “feeble”, it is clearly ridiculous to conflate its management of a calamitous natural disaster with every day governance. Surely Toynbee knows this, which, as I said, shows exactly her purpose…to exploit the tragedy of Katrina in order to advance her preconceived prejudices against American governing principles.
How does a state where half the voters don't believe in government, run anything well?A more interesting question might be how Toynbee can believe in so much government when the one she has runs hardly anything well. But we’ll leave that for another day, for her own question is built upon a fallacious caricature. There are virtually no voters, not even in Louisiana, who “don’t believe in government”. What many voters do believe in, however, is limited, decentralized government. But of course it’s a lot easier to rail against a straw man than an actual, substantive argument, so Toynbee, displaying a certain intellectual dishonesty, takes the path of least resistance.
A nation ideologically and constitutionally committed to non-government is bound to crumble at the core. Rome had no doubts about governance.It is, of course, manifestly idiotic to assert that a nation the founding ideology of which not only expressly endorses government but even goes on to explain its purpose – “…that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men” – is committed to “non-government”. But I am at a loss for words to describe the kind of bizarre thinking which concludes that a nation can be “constitutionally” committed to non-government, a constitution being the very laws and principles which define the functions and powers of, well, government.
What the great Louisiana catastrophe has revealed is a country that is not a country at all, but atomised, segmented individuals living parallel lives as far apart as possible, with nothing to unite them beyond the idea of a flag.How strange, then, that people from as far away as Connecticut are banning together to help out their fellow “atomized, segmented individuals” who have lost their homes. And that evacuees from New Orleans are currently being housed and cared for by people from as far north as Minnesota and Michigan, as far west as Arizona, and as far east as Florida and North Carolina. And that Massachusetts has budgeted $25m for relief of the victims of Katrina. And that California has deployed all kinds of resources to the disaster area. And that even a small township in New Jersey has set up its own relief fund. (This is not, obviously, an exhaustive list.) Not to mention the huge amounts of private funds that have been donated or relief.
The 40 million with no health insurance show the social dysfunction corroding US capacity. For the poor at the bottom of the New Orleans mud heap, there never was even the American dream to cling to.What is she talking about? Does Toynbee think that health insurance would have spared those who drowned in the flooding, or provided clean water for those stuck in the Superdome? Does she imagine that an American NHS might have saved those stuck on the roofs of their houses sooner? I’ve puzzled over this for some time now, and I am still at a loss as to its relevance, apart from as a generic denunciation of American free-market economics. What it has to do with Katrina is beyond me. Indeed, even taken on its own, the reference to insurance is incoherent. What “social dysfunction” is shown by those who lack health insurance? US capacity to do what? Does even Toynbee have the slightest clue what she is talking about?
…to talk of "average" incomes or GDP per capita in the US is meaningless: there is no "average", only first world and third world, with virtually no mobility between the two.The “US-as-third-world” theme has become all the rage among the anti-American left since the disturbing scenes of last week were broadcast, so it is no surprise that Toynbee raises it here. And while it may be true that the images we saw from New Orleans brought to mind images of the third world, or that it was indeed much like a third world country for the few days it took for the relief operation to gain steam after Katrina hit, the notion that the poor in the US regularly live in third world conditions is patently absurd. The poverty experienced in the US is primarily a first world kind of poverty.
76% of poor households have air conditioning. (By contrast, 30 years ago, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning)
97% of poor households have a color television; over half own two or more color televisions.
78% have a VCR or DVD player; 62 percent have cable or satellite TV reception.
As for the lack of mobility, that’s bunk too. This is not to belittle the hardships suffered by the poor in America, or even to suggest that serious poverty does not exist there. But for Toynbee to imply that third world conditions are a staple of life for America’s poor is simply beyond the pale.
Providing a particularly inapt metaphor (and not just because of the outdated understanding of economics it betrays), Toynbee says:
Who has what defines a nation, not how much is in the pot from which only the well-off feed.Considering that we are increasingly seeing reports about America’s obesity problems, and that the rates of obesity are highest among both blacks and the poor, the suggestion that the less “well-off” are having a hard time “feeding” out of the “pot” in America rings a bit hollow. Certainly, in any event, the suggestion that Americans are suffering from actual third world conditions is at least a tiny bit overwrought, don’t you think?
But before we get too piously smug about America, just imagine a flood crashing through the Thames barrier and drowning London and Essex.An interesting admonition, that, considering the piety and smugness she's shown throughout.
The question raised by the Katrina fiasco--and by the Pentagon's new Homeland Defense Strategy to protect against WMD attack--is whether the threat from madmen and nature is now sufficiently huge in its potential horror and unacceptable loss that we should modify existing jurisdictional authority to give the Pentagon functional first-responder status. Should we repeal or modify the Posse Comitatus Act so homicidal thugs have more to fear than the Keystone Kops? Should a governor be able to phone the Defense Secretary direct, creating a kind of "yellow-light authority" and cutting out the Homeland Security or FEMA middleman? Should presidential initiative extend beyond the Insurrection Act?
Instinct says the answer is forever no. Survival suggests we had better talk about it.
That’s fair enough, although strictly speaking it is inaccurate. The 35% was made up of those who described it as “good” (25%) or “great” (10%), not just “good”. The bad/terrible breakdown was 18% bad, 24% terrible. Whether this was just a simple oversight (probably) or a deliberate slight (well, this is the BBC we are talking about), I leave it to you to judge.
Mr Bush and Mr Chertoff have not escaped blame for the crisis in the Gulf states.
A CNN/USA Today Gallup poll published on Wednesday said that 42% of Americans rated the president's response as "bad" or "terrible".
Just 35% described his reaction as "good".
And so they have.
Residents who did not have personal transportation were unable to evacuate even if they wanted to. Approximately 120,000 residents (51,000 housing units x 2.4 persons/unit) do not have cars. A proposal made after the evacuation for Hurricane Georges to use public transit buses to assist in their evacuation out of the city was not implemented for Ivan. If Ivan had struck New Orleans directly it is estimated that 40-60,000 residents of the area would have perished…
To the Rescue
If a hurricane of a magnitude similar to Ivan does strike New Orleans, the challenges surrounding rescue efforts for those who have not evacuated will be different from other coastal areas….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…
Accepting the reality
Should this disaster become a reality, it would undoubtedly be one of the greatest disasters, if not the greatest, to hit the United States, with estimated costs exceeding 100 billion dollars. According to the American Red Cross, such an event could be even more devastating than a major earthquake in California. Survivors would have to endure conditions never before experienced in a North American disaster.
I suppose the rampant propagation of rumors is inevitable in chaotic circumstances like last week, but it would be nice if journalists did not help them gain currency by credulously printing them as facts. Younge does credit the rumors, true or not, with having expedited the relief process, although he provides virtually no evidence to suggest that is so nor any reason to assume that it is. Still, he deserves credit for at least attempting to provide some truth and perspective to the wild stories rather than simply repeating them.
There were two babies who had their throats slit. The seven-year-old girl who was raped and murdered in the Superdome. And the corpses laid out amid the excrement in the convention centre.
In a week filled with dreadful scenes of desperation and anger from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina some stories stood out.
But as time goes on many remain unsubstantiated and may yet prove to be apocryphal.
New Orleans police have been unable to confirm the tale of the raped child, or indeed any of the reports of rapes, in the Superdome and convention centre.
There are questions for the mayor, dubbed heroic by some, to answer.Wells, you will recall, is the BBC reporter who breathlessly called the mayor "genuinely heroic" as he scathingly ripped into Bush.
THE LACK OF National Guard troops because of the war in Iraq; the Bush administration's failure to protect coastal wetlands; the reorganization of the Federal Emergency Management Agency: All have been blamed, somewhat rbitrarily, for the stunning scenes of chaos at the New Orleans Superdome and convention center, for the unprecedented floodwaters in the city, and for the huge numbers of people without food or water. But if blame is to be laid and lessons are to be drawn, one point stands out as irrefutable: Emergency planners must focus much more on the fate of that part of the population that -- for reasons of poverty, infirmity, distrust of officialdom, lack of transportation or lack of information -- cannot be counted on to leave their homes after an evacuation order.
Lak doesn’t tell us exactly how long “not long” means, but in any event he should probably have hesitated a bit more, and not just because of the foolishness in taking a single disaster relief operation (out of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, that have been undertaken by the US, both domestically and internationally) as defining the capabilities of the US. He should have at least hesitated long enough to research the BBC’s very own website to see how the Indian relief operation was being reported at the time.
…I hesitate to say this at such an early stage of the relief effort here, but the authorities in India at least, and some other countries in the region, have become quite good at dealing with severe flooding, or earthquakes, catastrophic events on a tsunami scale, if you will.
Certainly quicker with both material and political comfort to survivors.
It did not take long for huge field hospitals and vast camps of toilets and clean water tanks to be set up in southern India for example, after the tsunami hit there last year, whereas here in Mississippi, the authorities are still begging people to boil their water and watch where they go to the toilet, lest they give or receive some
The Indian military now appears to be taking over the prime responsibility for the relief effort, removing overall control from the civilian authorities in what seems to be a sign that the operation to bring help to the stricken Andaman and Nicobar islands is struggling.The BBC later did a whole treatment on the political recriminations going on in India surrounding the handling of the relief operations during the tsunami crisis. One Indian commentary cited by the BBC said:
The regional military commander-in-chief, General BS Thakur, acknowledged that his troops were facing huge logistical problems in getting aid to the people who desperately needed it.
While the chief minister was surrounded by fish workers accusing the government of failing to organise relief activities the tsunami-hit simply asked Achuthanandan to stop making speeches and go away.The BBC noted that:
A commentator in the daily Eenadu agrees that the plight of the survivors did not seem to be uppermost in the minds of Indian politicians.It also noted that:
And still more:
Another writer in the same paper believes that the authorities' errors began even before the tsunami hit.
"It is the fault of the official machinery for its failure to alert people about the impending disaster of the tsunami, in spite of having a full 150 minutes from when the earthquake occurred."
"The authorities cannot escape responsibility by saying that it was a holiday," the article, entitled "Human error causes great havoc", adds.
Hmmm. The “slow arrival of aid”? Accusations of being on “holiday”? Failure to take pre-disaster measures? An uncaring political class? Does all this sound, perhaps, just a little bit familiar?
A commentary in Malayala Manorama puts the blame on the relief agencies for the slow arrival of aid.
"While the local administration and state government undoubtedly mounted a massive effort after an initial slow start," it says, "there was little coordination among the agencies involved in relief operations."
I am seeing and reading all the commentary about the "slow" Federal response to Katrina and, perhaps its my background as a military logistician (retired now for a number of years), but I'd like to offer a few observations. As we say in the military, no plan survives first contact with the enemy. We plan, pre-position and prepare and then have to adapt to the chaos of battle Clausewitz dubbed the "fog of war." While the shameless mayor of NewOrleans sounds off like an aggrieved pimp on the radio, a military operation, involving both Guard and active duty, that dwarfs our invasion of Panama has been gathering and underway since Tuesday. I saw the first alert orders go out Tuesday. (The President, BTW, issued disaster emergency declarations even before Katrina made landfall.) The first order of business for any operation, relief or military, is assess needs, routes of ingress and egress, etc. We're looking at a disaster area covering 90,000 square miles--this is not just New Orleans. Moving the right supplies and people to the right area in the right order is complex, even with a fully functioning communications net and an intact road network. Here we are, 96 hours after landfall, and thousands of troops, tons and tons of supplies, and a fleet of warships are there or due to arrive shortly. This is no small feat.
It should be noted that Gov Blanco was slow to ramp up the LA Guard--you don't simply call a Guardsman and tell him to report in two hours. By law, they can take as much as 72 hours to report so that they can get their affairs in order. If they show up sooner, great, but the point is, while all media--and some at the Corner--obsess over the Fed's performance, the flaccid response of local and state authorities in Louisiana made a daunting task even tougher. The Guard and military, for example, rely on local authorities to provide some idea of where victims are, and, as we have heard, Nagin's office didn't bother telling FEMA that Nagin had directed people to the NO Convention Center. Likewise, CSAR and medical units are not combat outfits. Having to bring in more troops to quell the animalistic behavior of some (and that behavior, BTW, broke out before the rains even stopped, though Blanco and Nagin didn't seem to care) means the flow of supplies and evacuees is slowed.
In any event, I hear a lot of people talking about the unprecedented scope and scale of the disaster, and, in the next breath, wonder what's taking so long. There is always room for improvement and this is not to say the Feds shouldn't take their share of knocks, but I've spoken with a number of military officers from other nations, including Third World states, who are studying here, and they are bemused by the spectacle of hand wringing and media panic.
As the subject line says, just my two cents' worth.