Friday, September 02, 2005

Plenty of Blame to Go Around

I admit to recoiling a bit when relating so neutrally (or was it favorably?) Peggy Noonan's thoughts about looting and her willingness to defend those taking food and water. Something like what James Panero writes was going through my mind:

[Not balking at certain kinds of looting] demonstrates our willingness to tolerate petty crime and unlawful behavior when it is either committed by or enacted upon (the two tend to go hand in hand) poor people and black people. When we are presented with mitigating circumstances, whether it be poverty or a natural disaster, this seems to hold especially true.

Additionally, Nicole Gelinas, discussing New Orleans' chronic social and political problems, writes:

And the locals and outsiders who try to help New Orleans in the weeks and months to come will do so with no local institutional infrastructure to back them up. New Orleans has no real competent government or civil infrastructure—and no aggressive media or organized citizens’ groups to prod public officials in the right direction during what will be, in the best-case scenario, a painstaking path to normalcy.

The truth is that even on a normal day, New Orleans is a sad city. Sure, tourists think New Orleans is fun: you can drink and hop from strip club to strip club all night on Bourbon Street, and gamble all your money away at Harrah’s. But the city’s decline over the past three decades has left it impoverished and lacking the resources to build its economy from within. New Orleans can’t take care of itself even when it is not 80 percent underwater; what is it going to do now, as waters continue to cripple it, and thousands of looters systematically destroy what Katrina left unscathed?

New Orelans, with its perennial corruption and bad government, has sadly defied the gentrification, crime-reduction, and prosperity that so many other large American cities have enjoyed over the past decade or so. We're seeing the consequences of that now in things like looting and with people taking shots at helicopters trying to descend with assistance.

On the other hand, the Federal response has been rather anemic until today. As Newt Gingrich put it, "I think it puts into question all of the Homeland Security and Northern Command planning for the last four years, because if we can't respond faster than this to an event we saw coming across the Gulf for days, then why do we think we're prepared to respond to a nuclear or biological attack?"


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