Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Soft bigotry of low expectations for the Big Easy

I have been wondering why Larry Handlin [Archpundit] has been so easy on Mayor Ray Nagin for the last week, or so. Now, he seems to be saying: Look, he has a lot of poor people there, so their institutions are weak, i.e., what can anyone do in New Orleans with all of those poor people there? He doesn’t quite say this, but pretty darned close [See here].

A Tuesday Wall St. Journal article [available online by subscription only], “Behind Poor Katrina Response,” tells us Mayor Nagin’s plan: “Get people to higher ground and have the feds and the state airlift supplies to them—that was the plan, man.”

Mayor Nagin’s plan failed to take any basic steps to protect the telecom infrastructure.

No plan for adequate food and water at the Superdome.

Major Garrett on Fox’s Special Report told us on Tuesday, Sep. 6 about Mayor Nagin’s preparation to deal with Katrina and it was, well—entirely inadequate.

Mayor Nagin issued a voluntary evacuation order on 5:00 pm [EST] on Saturday [August 27]. He issued a mandatory evacuation order on Sunday morning [Aug. 28]. Nagin said he delayed issuing the mandatory evacuation order because he needed to research his legal authority.

But Garrett reported that New Orleans’ Emergency Guide outlines procedures for mandatory evacuation, suggesting Nagin had the authority or at a minimum the City contemplated its use.

Of course, if Mayor Nagin had gotten his citizens out, there would have been lots of damage to property, but most of the horrors of the last week would have been avoided.

He had the busses, but not the drivers, to get them out? Did the Mayor go to the Governor or the Feds and say, “this is what we need to get 100,000 poor people out of here.” Doesn’t seem to have been part of the Mayor’s plan.

And then there is Governor Blanco, whose D next to her name seems to have inoculated her from any harsh criticism from the media. Even blogger Archpundit has had relatively mild criticism of her.

Gov. Blanco [D- LA], “We [Nagin and Blanco] both stood there and begged people to leave. We told them how they could leave. We told them that there would be bus service.” [Video clip of Blanco] on Tuesday night’s Special Report.
Really? Bus Service? Everybody watching that in America missed that, but I am sure Blanco had something in mind.

Major Garrett asks why didn’t the City use its fleet of buses to evacuate residents? Garrett reports that Nagin says they were only used to transport people to the Superdome. Nagin said, “We dispatched the buses to neighborhoods to pick people up for free and take them to the Superdome which is the only shelter in the City that can handle a storm.” But, why not use the busses to get the poor out of the City?

Did the City prepare to provide services at the Superdome, asks Major Garrett?

No, Garrett says, telling us that the City’s website says, “Only minimal services will be provided at evacuation shelters. Bring your own food, water and bedding. Eat a full meal before arriving Nagin repeated that message Saturday, “Bring small quantities of food for three or four days to be safe, the Mayor said on local television.

Garrett asks, “Why didn’t the City use its buses to evacuate the Superdome.” Too much water, Nagin says. “The water was everywhere. There was no escape route.” Yes, but what if Nagin had started on Saturday, before the Hurricane hit? Garrett didn’t seem to ask that one, which gets us back to the main point. Why didn’t Mayor Nagin have a plan to get poor people out of the City? It appears he had the buses, had the drivers—or at least enough to accomplish a significant evacuation. Why didn’t he do it before the water was everywhere?

Did Democratic Governor Kathleen Blanco hesitate when offered federal military aid? Garrett reported that Mayor Nagin suggested she did in a Friday meeting with President Bush with Nagin stating, “There were two options for the Governor: I was ready to move today. The Governor said she needed 24 hours to make a decision.” Garrett reported that Blanco told reporters today the federal offer was too complex. The President’s spokesman declined to say if Blanco turned down military assistance to help quell the violence.

So where does all of the above leave us? It is clear you would not want to put your life in the hands of Team Blanco-Nagin. One, the mainstream media are fond of saying President Bush is a simpleton. Well, if so, clearly Gov. Blanco takes “simpleton,” to an even higher order of magnitude. Why aren’t the mainstream media yelling for her scalp? Must be that D after her name. It really does seem to insulate pols from criticism.

Two, Gov. Blanco seems to have had no interest in thinking about how to get 100,000 poor people out of Dodge. If so, she didn’t tell anybody what her plan was. Sorry, Governor, but “begging,” people to go in a press conference, doesn’t quite cut it.

Mayor Nagin. No plan, man. Getting a small portion of the 100,000 poor people over to the Dome and no one out of Dodge doesn’t quite make it.

But, wait, Mayor Nagin does have a plan to get some people, not necessarily poor people, out of Dodge. Pronto. Thank God for those National Guard:

Mayor Ray Nagin says that with National Guard troops in place in New Orleans, he's sending some overworked police officers and firefighters on Las Vegas vacations. Nagin says 1500 first responders will get $200 in cash for the trip, along with free hotels, restaurants, and Vegas shows. [See here, from Special Report’s Grapevine]

And, as to the poor people, Mayor Nagin told them earlier in the summer:
While some city and school buses would be deployed to move those without transportation, "you're responsible for your safety." This despite the fact that New Orleans' emergency hurricane plan places the responsibility for evacuation on the mayor and city's transit authority. [See here].

But, of course, how can you afford bus fare to get people out of New Orleans to save their lives when you are sending police and firefighters to Vegas.
Jeff Berkowitz, Host and Producer of Public Affairs and an Executive Recruiter doing Legal Search, can be reached at