Friday, September 02, 2005

Nawlins Realities

Major Mike

My previous post on New Orleans was, obviously, a fond retrospective of the city that saw me through my formative years…the Wonder Bread of cities. This piece is going to be as frank as a Louisiana shrimper about poor catches and government regulations.

Louisiana and New Orleans are arenas of political machinations that are likely understood by but a few total insiders. But, suffice it to say, most pols in Louisiana and NO are not elected for their previous, proven leadership. Their ascension to their current posts is less likely because of some trial by fire, and more likely because of the strength of their political machines and support. So, the finger pointing, lack of direction, carping about Federal aid, and the virtual throwing up of their hands, is to be expected. New Orleanians know this. It likely seems impossible for those who don’t reside in New York and Chicago to comprehend, but completely political politicians are not always at their best in crisis. New Orleans almost continually proves this point…Katrina is only shedding national light on the issue.

The lamentations by CNN commentators about lack of upkeep on city systems and levees seems logical, but to anyone exposed to even a modicum of New Orleans/Louisiana politics knows that without impetus, action in that direction would be able to get about the same momentum that a snail could get on 60 grit sandpaper. Without tragedy, the now obvious, upgrades would never be made. Of course there would be costly studies granted to local engineering firms. Environmental impact studies would be done…also granted to local firms. Staffs would go on junkets, and monies would be spent, BUT no improvements would be made. This is how New Orleans works.

The levees and city systems will now get the attention they deserve, and the Mayor of New Orleans and the Governor of Louisiana are both victims of past malfeasance and their own lack of leadership. They are in charge and they are fumbling, but in reality, that is all they were equipped to do.

Nobody, and I mean nobody could’ve have anticipated the specific types of obstacles now facing public and private entities in providing relief services. It was anticipated that, some time, the levees would give way, but no one could’ve accurately predicted the results. Which levees? Where? How wide a breach? How deep the water? All variables, while envisioned in some regard, impossible to calculate. Nobody…Nostrodamas, Yuri Geller, nor George Bush, could’ve envisioned that the floodwaters would have created dozens of islands of victim communities…some orderly, some lawless. No one was prepared (and realistically expected to?) to get to victims by a combination of land, sea and air. When was the last time the Red Cross was forced to use Waverunners to create a ferry across standing water in a city? Pundit all you want. Politic all you want. But if all you Monday morning Einsteins can see it so clearly today, where were you last week, last month, last year?

I have been blessed with a pretty good imagination, and there is no way I could have anticipated more than about 40% of the problems that the government agencies, and relief organizations are experiencing. So, as painful as it is to watch, understand that it is not going to get appreciably better in the near term and that the individual tragedies that would normally be avoided, will mount over the next few days, and all your lamenting will not change it. AND it is nobody’s fault. It is a result of a culmination of faults, failures and unavoidable circumstances. It cannot be easily explained, and it is difficult to stomach, but it is nonetheless true…there is no one to blame. So attempting to lay blame is an off-target and un-helpful endeavor that distracts from the main effort and serves no one. Knock it off.

New Orleans has always had an excess of ruffians. Always. Prosperity spurts, city growth, and welfare programs have not dented the size of this population. In the best of times, the NOPD is able to manage this population by a combination of tolerance and law enforcement. This takes a nearly continuous deft touch and engagement policy, which manifests itself in a mild peace that is most closely akin to the rumblings of a semi-dormant volcano. In the absence of law enforcement, this tenuous peace crumbles faster than a cookie in a toddler’s hands.

Without the lid held precariously over the garbage can, these elements are unleashed upon the weak. At any time, lawlessness is of course…criminal, but in extremis, this kind of lawlessness deserves the harshest judgment. I mean shoot to kill. I mean maximum sentences…without compassion or parole. I mean take all necessary means to re-gain control, and at no mercy to the ruffians and criminals who prey on the weak.

New Orleans should not be judged by the acts of a few, but they may want to review their strategies of engagement and tolerance of the criminal and near-criminal elements that do abound in the city.

Let’s get past the pundit-ing, and the politic-ing. There is serious work to get done, and blaming, name-calling and making fun does not help. Some of what is going on in New Orleans traces it roots back generations. Some was truly unimaginable. And some is unforgivable, but very little of it can actually be blamed on anyone.

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