Friday, September 02, 2005

The Headline says it all...

Er, yeah. As we have already seen, a lot of the world thinks these are the only two choices...

Your view: Bush or God to blame?

UPDATE: On the other hand, one cannot help thinking that the failure of local government to have someone in place of the calibre of a Rudi Giuliani to hold down the fort until the big guns could arrive has quite a lot to do with what we are seeing. It makes the difference between a *successful* disaster and one that is entirely disastrous.

Rich Lowry, at NR, has similar thoughts.
That the reaction to the hurricane initially seemed uneven and slow is understandable, but even allowing for the hellish circumstances, the breakdown in civil order has been stunning.

Without order, which government exists to protect, nothing else is possible. Not even rescue operations, as New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has learned. On Wednesday night, as the city descended into an urban dystopia straight out of the 1981 film Escape From New York, he had to command nearly all the city’s 1,500 police officers to focus on reestablishing law and order instead of saving endangered people.

Everyone understands desperate people getting food or water by any means possible. Plundering tennis shoes and TVs, as a small thuggish minority has done, is another matter. And the problem is that there is no such thing as a little chaos. Once a climate of disorder is set, it has a logic of its own. First, it was stealing tennis shoes, then it was taking potshots at a helicopter arriving to evacuate people from the Superdome. Goons stole a bus from a nursing home and threatened its residents. Rescue workers report that rocks and bottles have been thrown at them and shots fired their way.

Unfortunately, the urban revival that had swept much of the country mostly left New Orleans behind. The atmosphere of lawfulness that stood New York City in good stead after 9/11 and during the 2003 blackout — although those were much less far-reaching disasters — was never established. The city never had a Rudy Giuliani. Even as murder rates continued to decline in other cities in recent years, the murder rate in New Orleans crept up. The police were plagued by allegations of corruption and brutality, and, according to the Associated Press, only had “3.14 officers per 1,000 residents — less than half the rate in Washington, D.C.”

Law enforcement, of course, is primarily a state and local responsibility, but in the age of the 24-hour news cycle, people look to the federal government and the president to solve any problem on their TV screens.
UPDATE II: Nicole Gelinas takes a similar line in A Perfect Storm of Lawlessness
[O]thers who stayed behind, unfortunately, are those who terrorize New Orleans on a low-grade level on a good day—and have now taken over the stricken city. What’s happened is the predictable civil deterioration of a city whose fragile civil infrastructure can’t control or contain its core criminal class in peacetime.

Katrina didn’t turn innocent citizens into desperate criminals. This week’s looters (not those who took small supplies of food and water for sustenance, but those who have trashed, burned, and shot their way through the city since Monday) are the same depraved individuals who have pushed New Orleans’ murder rate to several multiples above the national average in normal times. (New Orleans, without Katrina, would have likely ended 2005 with 330 or so murders—compared to about 65 in Boston, a city roughly the same in size.) Today may not be the best day to get into New Orleans’ intractable crime problem, but it’s necessary, since it explains how this week’s communications and policing vacuum so quickly created a perfect storm for the vicious lawlessness that has broken out.


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