[the shame of katrina]

Topic: United States

The disaster in New Orleans began as an act of nature, but it has by now become a gigantic national failure that raises some very serious and troubling questions about our country and its future.

What is wrong with Homeland Security?

Four years after 9/11, one would have expected that the well-funded Department of Homeland Security would have some plans in place for a disaster like the one we’ve seen. After all, in contemplating what terrorists could do, short of detonating a nuclear device, that would top 9/11 for casualties and visual impact, the simplest thing I could come up with was bursting a dam to flood a populated area. New Orleans, it turns out, would’ve been a perfect target. Yet it took federal emergency managers days to coordinate their response, and lawlessness and chaos reign, while thousands upon thousands of Americans are left without food, water, sanitation, medical care or the most basic requirements for safety and security.

Meanwhile, buses of refugees have nowhere to go. In four years, you would think that Homeland Security would have drawn up contingency plans for waves of refugees from major urban areas. It appears we have no such plans. Instead, there are pleas for more buses and for places to put people. And New Orleans is a small city, with fewer than half a million residents. A similar disaster in New York, Los Angeles or Houston would leave millions wandering aimlessly about the country.

What is wrong with the people of New Orleans?

A question that has so far been skirted is what the hell is wrong with New Orleanians. A corollary question is whether citizens of other American cities would behave as badly under similar circumstances. My guess is that it depends on whether the city has a vast black underclass that is hopelessly poor, uneducated and alienated. The mayor of New Orleans and the governor of Louisiana are publicly furious with the federal government — and rightly so — but the rest of us have a right to be angry with a city and state that have allowed a significant population to become so disaffected that they go Haitian at the first opportunity.

How can armed gangs take over an American city?

One simple answer: guns. There were plenty of gun shops to loot, and the looters are the ones who did so. If a similar disaster were to strike New York, it would be much harder for armed gangs to take over because we don’t have nearly so many gun shops. As in Baghdad, so in New Orleans: unsecured arms depots are a recipe for anarchy.

There may still be some diehard libertarians who believe that the power of lawless armed gangs to prevent federal government action in New Orleans is a sign of the health and vigor of our American freedom. Hopefully, most of the militia nuts will recognize that New Orleans is what their philosophy means in practice. Rule of the strong over the weak is not pleasant.

What is happening to America?

After years of shrinking government and a widening gap between rich and poor, Katrina has revealed deep domestic weaknesses. Neglected infrastructure, federal ineffectuality, poverty, poor education, understaffed police forces and many more problems came together to create the disaster now unfolding. The terrifying question is whether New Orleans is an abberation or a harbinger. I would like to believe the former, but I have few grounds for doing so. Mighty empires do fall, and the complete collapse of a major city is certainly not a good sign.