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September 08, 2005

Remember New Orleans: Conservatism is Over
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

It is not merely for today, but for all time to come that we should perpetuate for our children's children this great and free government, which we have enjoyed all our lives.  I beg you to remember this, not merely for my sake, but for yours......It is in order that each of you may have through this free government which we have enjoyed, an open field and a fair chance for your industry, enterprise, and intelligence; that you may all have equal privileges in the race of life, with all its desireable human aspirations. It is for this the struggle should be maintained...The nation is worth fighting for...

Abraham Lincoln to the 166th Ohio Regiment, 1864

Government is good. It's a common good. For such a prosperous and successful country, Americans have relatively few things that unite us, a language, some symbols, a few songs, a government.  All things considered, we've done really well as a nation built on a balance between cooperation and self-interest. 

My last post laid a good deal of blame on the current administration for negligence and lousy priorities leading up to the drowning of New Orleans. They didn't cause  the hurricane, of course.  Bush's campaign-recycled political appointees at FEMA aren't soley responsible for the chaos and incompetence in the response to Katrina, either.  It's not just the President to blame, with his fake photo-ops  his bizarre humor and his skittery, distant gaze during Katrina coverage.  It wasn't only his mother Barbara-- who thinks that the mostly poor storm refugees must be better off now that they are in Texas.  No, I'd go even further.  The pitiful disarray and our government's incapacity-- humiliatingly laid bare by Katrina-- is not an accident. It is, rather, an outcome.   This broken and feeble apparatus, the government that Lincoln so loved-- is exactly what the American conservative movement--ascendent for thirty years--has wrought.

Unlike their thoughtful intellectual ancestors, today's conservatives hate government. Suspicion of government--our common good--is incessant and pervasive.  Their dismal chorus has provided the political soundtrack of my cohort's lifetime.   It's near impossible to pinpoint actual intentions that lead to massive failure but it is important to delve into this gray area and state a basic truth: in politics, values are not priorities and it is a big mistake to confuse the two.  Everyone values New Orleans--yet building solid levees and saving the marshland to protect it has never been a priority.  Everyone values a rapid and competent federal response--yet creating a prepared and capable public sector is a low priority according to reigning conservative philosophy.  Bureaucracies are boring and wasteful and federal overhead is expensive.  Privatize it.  Then all of a sudden you need well trained experts and a helicopter to plug the levee. It needs to happen NOW-- not when a private company can make one available.  The helicopter doesn't come until its too late.  This is what happens when the people in charge don't own the assets.   Government atrophy is rarely the result of one distinct deliberate act. It happens when big problems--like hurricanes--get put in the "too hard" box and attendant concerns are never dealt with properly.

FEMA is not real government capacity, it is a contracting agency that relies on outside entities to carry out most of its mission.  The Department of Homeland Security did not even have an internal inventory of relief skills when Katrina hit.  The only organization in our government that is a healthy public service is the military.  But  if the only agency Congress will fund is the Defense Department, then pretty soon the Army is going to be responsible for everything. Witness Katrina.  Is that what we really want?   Here's the top ten list from the  President's Homeland Security Council. This list is from a July, 2004 internal planning document:

1. nuclear detonation 2. biological attack anthrax 3. biological disease outbreak influenza 4. biological attack plague 5. chemical attack blister agent 6. chemical attack toxic industrial chemicals 7. chemical attack nerve agent 8. chemical attack chlorine 9. natural disaster earthquake 10. natural disaster hurricane. 

Hurricane is number ten. This list should make the government haters take a long breath,  say goodbye, and give it up.


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Jonathan Chait had a good article on this subject 2 years ago, called the 9/10 President:

Consider, for instance, the problem of protecting the private sector--power plants, chemical facilities, trucking, office buildings, you name it... A Brookings Institution study suggested that some combination of mandatory safety standards and terrorism insurance would give the private sector the needed impetus to impose basic protections. The administration, though, has done nothing--literally nothing--to require this. (And, therefore, as The Washington Post reported this week, "Most U.S. businesses are electing not to buy terrorism insurance.") A forthright explanation for this inaction can be found in the administration's National Strategy for Homeland Security, published last July. The report insists that "sufficient incentives exist in the private market to supply protection."

So it's a good bet that they still haven't done anyhting about #6 (attack using industrial chemicals).

BTW, why is anthrax even on the list? Conventional explosives are more deadly.

Cal, conventional explosives aren't contagious, and they don't linger. Once they've gone off, you clean up the mess, rebuild what exploded, and life goes on. Dealing with anthrax contamination is a little trickier.


Government is good. It's a common good.

The difference between small-government conservatives and liberals is right there. Liberals look at the government, and see the good things it has done, and apparently think there is a correlation between the amount of government, and the amount of good done.

Nevermind that the most prominent example of a place where the government ran everything is the Soviet Union, which wasn't exactly famous for doing good. For some reason, most liberals avoid thinking about this.

Conservatives look at the government, and see the good and bad things governments (not necessarily our own) have done, and think that while a certain amount of government is necessary, one should keep in mind the potential for abuse of power, and avoid concentrating too much power in one position (power corrupts, etc...). That means looking for alternative ways to do things, and when the alternatives are better, using them instead of the government, and when some bit of the bureaucracy has outlived it's usefulness, getting rid of it.

Everyone values New Orleans--yet building solid levees and saving the marshland to protect it has never been a priority.

...even, apparently, for the state of Louisiana and the city government of New Orleans.

That seems very strange to me. After all, they're the ones with the most on the line in the event of a catastrophe, you'd expect them to be at the front of the line to do something about it, instead of saying "oh, well, the feds aren't going to pick up the tab, maybe next year".

The federal government should not be the end-all and be-all of getting things done, even big things. If it is, we might as well just abolish state governments and be done with it.

Everyone values a rapid and competent federal response--yet creating a prepared and capable public sector is a low priority according to reigning conservative philosophy.

What is your standard of 'prepared and capable'? How much will it cost? What are the benefits?

Rapid, by FEMA's standards, is 72 to 96 hours. By most of the world's standards, that is rapid.

While I am quite willing to concede that there are disasters that local governments are not capable of dealing with in the long term, I do not think it is too much to ask of a state government to hang on for 5 days.

Bureaucracies are boring and wasteful and federal overhead is expensive. Privatize it. Then all of a sudden you need well trained experts and a helicopter to plug the levee. It needs to happen NOW-- not when a private company can make one available. The helicopter doesn't come until its too late.

I doubt a government helicopter would have shown up on time, either- I've heard that most aircraft were flown out of the hurricane zone before it made landfall, and even if that's not the case, it doesn't matter if the assets are public or private when the communications system used to spread information doesn't work. Good communications are critical, and apparently that was one of the first systems to fail.

This is what happens when the people in charge don't own the assets.

This is wrong, police in most states have broad authority to commandeer equipment in emergencies, and compel the services of citizens operating them.

Don't believe me? Read this-

Government atrophy is rarely the result of one distinct deliberate act. It happens when big problems--like hurricanes--get put in the "too hard" box and attendant concerns are never dealt with properly.

I know, you want to use this as an example of the malignant effects of creeping conservativism, but you forgot to establish that New Orleans was run by conservatives, or that the city government had atrophied due to it, or that what happened in the aftermath of Katrina was attributable to that atrophy.

I know I'm being very critical, please don't take it personally. I wouldn't take the time to address your arguments if I didn't take you seriously.

Conservatism is over?

Not so fast. The GOP sound machine has been as slow to respond to the political fallout of this as FEMA was in responding to the storm's aftermath. But they're collectively clearing their throat and warming up the fat lady to start singing this news cycle to sleep. Just watch. Already, we're seeing the first signs: DeLay blames the Dem Gov and Mayor while praising GOP Gov's or MS and AL; BushMom says things are working out well for victims; Bill O'Righteous says 'they' had it coming to them for being poor (GOP code for "lazy" and "black"); Pat 'Yoda' Robertson says N.O. citizens are "doing it to themselves..." and "Mississippi got hit harder."

They're trying to rewrite the story, and the media is letting them. No one is cross examining their hate speech and it's being allowed, once again, to stand as the last word. If you truly believe that our government allowed possibly thousands of black urbanites to die needlessly, you should be burning up your cell phone minutes calling all the media outlets you can think of, as well as your congressional reps. It's your duty as an American citizen.

The pitiful disarray and our government's incapacity-- humiliatingly laid bare by Katrina-- is not an accident. It is, rather, an outcome. This broken and feeble apparatus, the government that Lincoln so loved-- is exactly what the American conservative movement--ascendent for thirty years--has wrought.

Unlike their thoughtful intellectual ancestors, today's conservatives hate government. Suspicion of government--our common good--is incessant and pervasive.

Well, the US and its political culture has pretty much always been anti-statist, even in Lincoln's time. And with good reason. The following statement is a far better representation of modern conservatism than your question-begging post:

The state is a divine institution. Without it we have anarchy, and the lawlessness of anarchy is counter to the natural law: so we abjure all political theories which view the state as inherently and necessarily evil. But it is the state which has been in history the principal instrument of abuse of the people, and so it is central to the conservatives’ program to keep the state from accumulating any but the most necessary powers.

– William F. Buckley Jr. (h/t: Say Anything)

What do you have when your "analysis" is so consistently just wishful thinking?

As the next few weeks go by, we're going to have to move from our initial gut reactions to the disaster, to a clearer picture of what really went wrong in our responses.

One nugget that might have quite a bit to say about the difference between the reaction of good and expert private sector resources (like the Red Cross) and politicized and inexpert public-sector leadership (like Governor Blanco) is just being revealed. (Before you complain that this particular source is FOX, the American Red Cross confirms the details.)

The Red Cross prepared for Katrina in a number of ways, including stockpiling food and water and medical supplies in trucks, ready to be moved into New Orleans (specifically, to the Superdome) as soon as the hurricane had passed.

Apparently acting on her own untrained instincts, the Governor of Louisiana ordered that in keeping with the "mandatory evacuation" -- people would flow out of New Orleans, good would not flow in.

The result is already infamous.

We all know that the locals didn't do everything right? What's FEMA's excuse?


There is a historical period where local and state governments fended for themselves with a weak or non exsistant federal presesnce; it was the first 7 or so years after the Treaty of Paris. Our founders were afraid of the abuses of a strong central government, and created a confederacy for the first 7 years of U.S. exsistance.

It was a disaster in much the same way it is now. We couldn't raise a tax by law or by enforcement of law to improve the infrastructure. The U.S. is chronically short of funds to maintain an infrastructure. The State of Louisiana, and the Mayor of New Orleans lack the Funds to maintain the U.S. city of New Oleans, used nationally as a port for the U.S. Missipi river system.

Because it was hit, everyone in the U.S. suffers. It needs support at a federal level. Further government needs to be answerable to its citizens, that why federal workers are supported instead of private employees who are answerable to their shareholders alone.

William F. Buckley isn't a modern conservative. He's what modern conservatives pretend to be. Rove, Bush, and Cheney are modern conservatives. They don't hate government--they hate any limitations on their selfishness and any presumption of accountability or responisbility. They really aren't conservatives at all. Properly speaking, they are oligarchs. They exemplify the degradation of conservativism into something true conservatives don't recognize.

And now for something disgusting...

Their has been a point being driven in liberal argument that there is a conscious end game of Bush to deliberatly reduce the poor liberal leaning population in America by any means necessary. That this comes to New Orleans in his policy to get the "right" people out of harms way. Some say that means white or rich.

I'd have to say I think this is a correct point.

Bush and conservatives see government as a bloated entitlement program to those who aren't worthy of such a leg up. If 25,000 people get put in those body bags, it should be pointed out that none of the people in those pictures looks like a productive American. They looked like idle poor.

Now here's the problem.

From a christian perspective, we aren't exactly taking care of Lazarus. From a useful middle class perspective, this "plan" of Bush's blows away national infrastructure, to kill a pitiful few. While a lynch mob wouldn't have gotten the numbers of Katrina, neither would it have blown away an entire city, stop shipping, cost jobs, and raise gas prices.

Next time you are on a "coon hunt" please just get your friends together in the middle of the night and do it then.

While all rational beings might hope Katrina will finally put to rest the oxymoron "compasionate conservatism", the Bushies are already orchestrating a coverup comensurate with the scale of the disaster. Calls for media to refrain from publishing pics of dead bodies is just the tip o' the iceberg. The story below is a truly amazing first hand account of two conventioners stuck in NO. One has to wonder if any of the criminal conduct by "rescuers" will ever see the light of day.


Hurricane Katrina-Our Experiences
Larry Bradshaw, Lorrie Beth Slonsky

Two days after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the Walgreen's store at the corner of Royal and Iberville streets remained locked. The dairy display case was clearly visible through the widows. It was now 48 hours without electricity, running water, plumbing. The milk, yogurt, and cheeses were beginning to spoil in the 90-degree heat. The owners and managers had locked up the food, water, pampers, and prescriptions and fled the City. Outside Walgreen's windows, residents and tourists grew increasingly thirsty and hungry. The much-promised federal, state and local aid never materialized and the windows at Walgreen's gave way to the looters. There was an alternative. The cops could have broken one small window and distributed the nuts, fruit juices, and bottle water in an organized and systematic manner. But they did not. Instead they spent hours playing cat and mouse, temporarily chasing away the looters. We were finally airlifted out of New Orleans two days ago and arrived home yesterday (Saturday). We have yet to see any of the TV coverage or look at a newspaper. We are willing to guess that there were no video images or front-page pictures of European or affluent white tourists looting the Walgreen's in the French Quarter.

We also suspect the media will have been inundated with "hero" images of the National Guard, the troops and the police struggling to help the "victims" of the Hurricane. What you will not see, but what we witnessed, were the real heroes and sheroes of the hurricane relief effort: the working class of New Orleans. The maintenance workers who used a fork lift to carry the sick and disabled. The engineers, who rigged, nurtured and kept the generators running. The electricians who improvised thick extension cords stretching over blocks to share the little electricity we had in order to free cars stuck on rooftop parking lots. Nurses who took over for mechanical ventilators and spent many hours on end manually forcing air into the lungs of unconscious patients to keep them alive. Doormen who rescued folks stuck in elevators. Refinery workers who broke into boat yards, "stealing" boats to rescue their neighbors clinging to their roofs in flood waters. Mechanics who helped hot-wire any car that could be found to ferry people out of the City. And the food service workers who scoured the commercial kitchens improvising communal meals for hundreds of those stranded. Most of these workers had lost their homes, and had not heard from members of their families, yet they stayed and provided the only infrastructure for the 20% of New Orleans that was not under water.

On Day 2, there were approximately 500 of us left in the hotels in the French Quarter. We were a mix of foreign tourists, conference attendees like ourselves, and locals who had checked into hotels for safety and shelter from Katrina. Some of us had cell phone contact with family and friends outside of New Orleans. We were repeatedly told that all sorts of resources including the National Guard and scores of buses were pouring in to the City. The buses and the other resources must have been invisible because none of us had seen them. We decided we had to save ourselves. So we pooled our money and came up with $25,000 to have ten buses come and take us out of the City. Those who did not have the requisite $45.00 for a ticket were subsidized by those who did have extra money. We waited for 48 hours for the buses, spending the last 12 hours standing outside, sharing the limited water, food, and clothes we had. We created a priority boarding area for the sick, elderly and new born babies. We waited late into the night for the "imminent" arrival of the buses. The buses never arrived. We later learned that the minute the arrived to the City limits, they were commandeered by the military.

By day 4 our hotels had run out of fuel and water. Sanitation was dangerously abysmal. As the desperation and despair increased, street crime as well as water levels began to rise. The hotels turned us out and locked their doors, telling us that the "officials" told us to report to the convention center to wait for more buses. As we entered the center of the City, we finally encountered the National Guard. The Guards told us we would not be allowed into the Superdome as the City's primary shelter had descended into a humanitarian and health hellhole. The guards further told us that the City's only other shelter, the Convention Center, was also descending into chaos and squalor and that the police were not allowing anyone else in. Quite naturally, we asked, "If we can't go to the only 2 shelters in the City, what was our alternative?" The guards told us that that was our problem, and no they did not have extra water to give to us. This would be the start of our numerous encounters with callous and hostile "law enforcement".

We walked to the police command center at Harrah's on Canal Street and were told the same thing, that we were on our own, and no they did not have water to give us. We now numbered several hundred. We held a mass meeting to decide a course of action. We agreed to camp outside the police command post. We would be plainly visible to the media and would constitute a highly visible embarrassment to the City officials. The police told us that we could not stay. Regardless, we began to settle in and set up camp. In short order, the police commander came across the street to address our group. He told us he had a solution: we should walk to the Pontchartrain Expressway and cross the greater New Orleans Bridge where the police had buses lined up to take us out of the City. The crowed cheered and began to move. We called everyone back and explained to the commander that there had been lots of misinformation and wrong information and was he sure that there were buses waiting for us. The commander turned to the crowd and stated emphatically, "I swear to you that the buses are there."

We organized ourselves and the 200 of us set off for the bridge with great excitement and hope. As we marched pasted the convention center, many locals saw our determined and optimistic group and asked where we were headed. We told them about the great news. Families immediately grabbed their few belongings and quickly our numbers doubled and then doubled again. Babies in strollers now joined us, people using crutches, elderly clasping walkers and others people in wheelchairs. We marched the 2-3 miles to the freeway and up the steep incline to the Bridge. It now began to pour down rain, but it did not dampen our enthusiasm. As we approached the bridge, armed Gretna sheriffs formed a line across the foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing their weapons over our heads. This sent the crowd fleeing in various directions.

As the crowd scattered and dissipated, a few of us inched forward and managed to engage some of the sheriffs in conversation. We told them of our conversation with the police commander and of the commander's assurances. The sheriffs informed us there were no buses waiting. The commander had lied to us to get us to move. We questioned why we couldn't cross the bridge anyway, especially as there was little traffic on the 6-lane highway. They responded that the West Bank was not going to become New Orleans and there would be no Superdomes in their City. These were code words for if you are poor and black, you are not crossing the Mississippi River and you were not getting out of New Orleans.

Our small group retreated back down Highway 90 to seek shelter from the rain under an overpass. We debated our options and in the end decided to build an encampment in the middle of the Ponchartrain Expressway on the center divide, between the O'Keefe and Tchoupitoulas exits. We reasoned we would be visible to everyone, we would have some security being on an elevated freeway and we could wait and watch for the arrival of the yet to be seen buses. All day long, we saw other families, individuals and groups make the same trip up the incline in an attempt to cross the bridge, only to be turned away. Some chased away with gunfire, others simply told no, others to be verbally berated and humiliated. Thousands of New Orleaners were prevented and prohibited from self-evacuating the City on foot.

Meanwhile, the only two City shelters sank further into squalor and disrepair. The only way across the bridge was by vehicle. We saw workers stealing trucks, buses, moving vans, semi-trucks and any car that could be hotwired. All were packed with people trying to escape the misery New Orleans had become. Our little encampment began to blossom. Someone stole a water delivery truck and brought it up to us. Let's hear it for looting! A mile or so down the freeway, an army truck lost a couple of pallets of C-rations on a tight turn. We ferried the food back to our camp in shopping carts. Now secure with the two necessities, food and water; cooperation, community, and creativity flowered. We organized a clean up and hung garbage bags from the rebar poles. We made beds from wood pallets and cardboard. We designated a storm drain as the bathroom and the kids built an elaborate enclosure for privacy out of plastic, broken umbrellas, and other scraps. We even organized a food recycling system where individuals could swap out parts of C-rations (applesauce for babies and candies for kids!). This was a process we saw repeatedly in the aftermath of Katrina. When individuals had to fight to find food or water, it meant looking out for yourself only. You had to do whatever it took to find water for your kids or food for your parents. When these basic needs were met, people began to look out for each other, working together and constructing a community. If the relief organizations had saturated the City with food and water in the first 2 or 3 days, the desperation, the frustration and the ugliness would not have set in. Flush with the necessities, we offered food and water to passing families and individuals. Many decided to stay and join us. Our encampment grew to 80 or 90 people.

From a woman with a battery powered radio we learned that the media was talking about us. Up in full view on the freeway, every relief and news organizations saw us on their way into the City. Officials were being asked what they were going to do about all those families living up on the freeway. The officials responded they were going to take care of us. Some of us got a sinking feeling. "Taking care of us" had an ominous tone to it. Unfortunately, our sinking feeling (along with the sinking City) was correct. Just as dusk set in, a Gretna Sheriff showed up, jumped out of his patrol vehicle, aimed his gun at our faces, screaming, "Get off the fucking freeway". A helicopter arrived and used the wind from its blades to blow away our flimsy structures. As we retreated, the sheriff loaded up his truck with our food and water. Once again, at gunpoint, we were forced off the freeway. All the law enforcement agencies appeared threatened when we congregated or congealed into groups of 20 or more. In every congregation of "victims" they saw "mob" or "riot".

We felt safety in numbers. Our "we must stay together" was impossible because the agencies would force us into small atomized groups. In the pandemonium of having our camp raided and destroyed, we scattered once again. Reduced to a small group of 8 people, in the dark, we sought refuge in an abandoned school bus, under the freeway on Cilo Street. We were hiding from possible criminal elements but equally and definitely, we were hiding from the police and sheriffs with their martial law, curfew and shoot-to-kill policies.

The next day our group of 8 walked most of the day, made contact with New Orleans Fire Department and were eventually airlifted out by an urban search and rescue team. We were dropped off near the airport and managed to catch a ride with the National Guard. The two young guardsmen apologized for the limited response of the Louisiana guards. They explained that a large section of their unit was in Iraq and that meant they were shorthanded and were unable to complete all the tasks they were assigned. We arrived at the airport on the day a massive airlift had begun. The airport had become another Superdome. We 8 were caught in a press of humanity as flights were delayed for several hours while George Bush landed briefly at the airport for a photo op.

After being evacuated on a coast guard cargo plane, we arrived in San Antonio, Texas. There the humiliation and dehumanization of the official relief effort continued. We were placed on buses and driven to a large field where we were forced to sit for hours and hours. Some of the buses did not have air-conditioners. In the dark, hundreds if us were forced to share two filthy overflowing porta-potties. Those who managed to make it out with any possessions (often a few belongings in tattered plastic bags) we were subjected to two different dog-sniffing searches. Most of us had not eaten all day because our C-rations had been confiscated at the airport because the rations set off the metal detectors. Yet, no food had been provided to the men, women, children, elderly, disabled as they sat for hours waiting to be "medically screened" to make sure we were not carrying any communicable diseases. This official treatment was in sharp contrast to the warm, heart-felt reception given to us by the ordinary Texans. We saw one airline worker give her shoes to someone who was barefoot. Strangers on the street offered us money and toiletries with words of welcome. Throughout, the official relief effort was callous, inept, and racist. There was more suffering than need be. Lives were lost that did not need to be lost.

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