Sunday, September 04, 2005

A different explanation for Blanco's words...

. . . has been supplied by Michael S. Pearl, whom I know from an online discussion list to which he and I both used to belong. Michael, who lives in Louisiana and can supply some context to Blanco's words, took the time to write me despite problems in linking to the internet. Here is what he posted in a comment to yesterday's blog entry:

The context of Blanco's remarks are critical to understanding the appropriateness of her remarks.

Her remarks may also explain why she seems to be becoming a scapegoat for the rampant incompetence exhibited by the response of the Federal government in general and FEMA in particular.

After days of countless promises and no actual activity on the part of the Feds, after days without providing personnel who could ensure safety, after days of not even having begun to deliver water or food to trapped people, it was no longer appropriate to soft-peddle in the typical politician manner.

Furthermore, no one who saw Blanco speak the words you cited -- either live or on tape -- would ever mistake what she said for bragging. The woman was clearly fed up with the inactivity, and some sign -- or symbol -- of strength and resolve was all that should have been put forth under the circumstances. As an emblem of the disgust building up in the people of Louisiana, she spoke for the people perfectly capturing the tenor of their infuriated dismay. By eschewing the speaking protocol of the political class, her remarks should be interpreted as intending to ratchet up the attention being paid to the situation in Louisiana. The mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, ratcheted up matters in his own way as well; the profanities usually reserved for private speech became the only mode of exclamation left, since no one in or from Washington evidenced sufficient attention or concern.

The risk of "killing over rescuing" only comes from an inability, an unwillingness, to distinguish between the activities of those who are seeking food and water over those who are marauding for television sets, DVD players, jewelry, antiques, etc.

It is this very inability/unwillingess -- in conjunction with the failure to deliver food and water to the trapped -- that is driving the trapped to a state in which they are ever more desperate. When George Bush was asked whether he considers those who break into stores for food and water to be looters as much as those who hijack television sets and the like and he so facilely opined that we should have a "zero tolerance" policy, he enhanced the likelihood of "killing over rescuing". The next day he seemed to ameliorate those remarks by publicly focusing on the utter ineffectiveness of the Federal effort; so, context is indeed key to meaning and understanding.

It is beginning to appear that Blanco and Nagin are going to be blamed for the Federal disaster -- and that is preposterous. Seeing as how I am only able to get internet access via long distance dial-up and since I am having to ration our own power by limiting how long we run our generator, I need to keep my remarks brief, but the following story should be sufficient to indicate just who/what is the real problem.

Yesterday, the mayor of Slidell here in St. Tammany Parish, got on the news and reported that FEMA had arrived in his city with generators and fuel, but FEMA refused to unload the relief supplies because the mayor could not provide a site inspection certificate authorizing the off-load location.


That single anecdote captures perfectly exactly how the Federal "emergency management" agency and the Federal government have been "helping" in Louisiana. Incompetence, lack of discernment, lack of intelligence -- call it what you will, but I'll just leave it there for now.

Oh, and by the way, I did not vote for Blanco; I voted for Bobby Jindal (who is now my Congressman).

Thanks for taking the time, under difficult circumstances, to provide an explanation. Perhaps if I had heard the statement by Blanco on television, I'd have gained a somewhat different impression. I rarely hear any American politicians speak in their own voice since I live in Korea and don't watch much TV but get nearly all of my news in the papers and on the internet.

I agree that the Feds have performed wretchedly in this crisis. FEMA sounds like a hidebound bureaucracy. The anecdote that you relate almost has me ready to affirm the Peter Principle: "Individuals rise to their level of incompetence and remain there." And I'd add a Hodges Corollary: "Especially in a bureaucracy!"

Deva Hupaylo, a friend from my high school days who's doing some volunteer work in Lake Jackson, Texas with refugees from New Orleans, wrote me some words on Friday that are consistent with your view of FEMA:

FEMA claims they had food stockpiled in [New Orleans] . . . before this event, but the people in the Superdome say they haven't eaten since Monday. Something doesn't seem right.

Deva's implication is that FEMA is either lying or incompetent (or a little of both).

I agree that Bush has not performed well in this emergency either. Since FEMA and other federal agencies were being so slow about responding to people's needs, Bush should have kick-started them. Indeed, as soon as the levees broke, he should have acted. And I agree that Bush's words about "zero tolerance" for looters made no distinction between thieves willing to kill and decent people who just need to eat.

However, I can't let Blanco completely off the hook. If she chose her words "to ratchet up the attention being paid to the situation in Louisiana," then I can understand her intent but not the content. The best sense that I can derive from the content is that she was threatening the violent looters stealing luxury goods. But those people probably aren't watching the news, and from the news reports that I've read, I don't see that she specifically directed her statement to them or that she distinguished between the violent luxury looters and the decent people breaking into stores for food alone.

Perhaps you're correct that she simply spoke in fury and disgust at the Federal government's incompetence. That mitigates the tone of her remark, but the harsh words still grate on my ears.

Thanks, again, for taking the extra trouble to write. Our best wishes are with you and all the suffering people of Louisiana and the entire Gulf coast.


At 1:51 PM, Blogger Hypersonic said...

Unfortunately I can understand Michael's remarks about context, as I saw governer Blanco on a news report here and she looked harried and shoked and on the verge of tears. How the federal government is going to shift the blame onto the state and city government is going to be a trick worth seeing, as there is ample evidence that this disaster had already been predicted by not only various agencies in and around New Orleans and Lousiana, but also by the US Army Engineers. A year ago. FEMA is a jobsworth organisation that is all but ineffective, as has been shown the last few days. And Gee Dubya is an ass who has not the ability to see beyond ways of lining his own and his corporate buddies' pockets. Just check out his form as an administrator in private companies. Most ended up in financial difficulties when he had his hands at the wheel. It would be highly unfair if the mayor and the governor are made scapegoats, but nigh on criminal if the federal government isn't also brought to brook over this. After all, he's the president...not God. He's an elected individual, not a sovereign by Divine Right. The USA is a democracy, isn't it?

At 1:52 PM, Blogger Hypersonic said...

I seem to have said 'shoked' instead of shocked. I am sure that Gov. Blanco has never shoked.

At 2:20 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Alistair, for the extra information. It seems that Governor Blanco was speaking from frustration and exhaustion, which makes her words more understandable.

Never heard of "shoked" -- is it a word, too?


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