Sunday, September 04, 2005

Mississippi versus Louisiana 

One of Chrenkoff readers reflects on different responses to the Katrina devastation throughout the South:

I read Gov. Blanco's (D-LA) statement too with some weird bemusement. Free tip - contrast the Louisiana situation with the one next door in Mississippi - Gov. Barbour (R-MS). What's been lost in all the blather over New Orleans is that it was really Mississippi that took the big hit. The buildings in New Orleans are still standing; the Gulf Coast of Mississippi basically has been scrubbed, like God took out a pencil eraser and just erased it. (Up in the northern hemisphere, since storms spin counterclockwise, the worst part of a hurricane is the "right-front" quadrant - because the wind is going with the momentum of the storm's movement, plus the wind pushes the storm surge along. The center hit basically at the MS/LA state line, so MS was on the bad side.)

I really don't like to find fault at times like this, but one thing that was missing was a quick recognition that in such a situation the potential for civil collapse is nearly 100%. Once the weather settles, you need to immediately declare marshal law and send in the MPs. That's basically what Haley Barbour did in Mississippi - there were a few early problems but very quickly the MPs were patrolling what was left of Biloxi and Gulfport and keeping a lid on things. Back on Tuesday when I put on the news and we all saw Kathleen Blanco bursting into tears, I knew that was the wrong message and would bring trouble. Louisiana and New Orleans basically have those touchy-feely, "I'm okay, you're okay" soft-leftie types in charge. Their education took a few days and has been expensive.

So I hope you're Watching Mississippi. Highly recommended - we may have found our next President out of this (you heard it here first).

Amidst all the hyperventilating that's going on, it's actually a good time for a civics lesson, particularly watching the competence of the people in Mississippi and the gross incompetence of almost all concerned in Louisiana. Who was responsible for what?

- The mayor of NO has been a good hyperventilator, but one thing became obvious quickly. NO is below sea level and it was inevitable that someday The Worst was going to happen. NO didn't even take the worse possible hit (MS did), but it was clear that no one in NO had ever planned for The Worst. Last weekend, the mayor said, "Everyone get out of town." It's obvious that lots of people weren't able to just load up the car and go - folks with no transportation like that, the incapacitated, patients in hospitals, etc. There was no plan to really evacuate the city, and it's the local officials (over decades) who were responsible for that.

- Why wasn't the National Guard called out sooner to maintain order? Responsibility with each state's National Guard contingent in situations like this (where they operate within state boundaries) is the responsibility of each state's governor. To put it bluntly, the responsibility for calling out the NG in LA rested with the governor. If it didn't happen on time, that's HER failing.

Mississippi got hammered much worse than Louisiana but is barely in the news because the leadership has been much more competent. Ms. Blanco is clearly way out of her league in this situation.

This was a good reminder that LA has for decades been our worst managed and most corrupt state. I briefly caught a bit of the News Hour last night, and David Brooks pointed that out; he also pointed out something that's pretty obvious - for the most part, the South has been booming for the past 25 or so years. The major cities went from backwater jokes to leading cities - Atlanta, Raleigh, Dallas, all of Florida, etc. The "hole in the map" in all of this has been Louisiana - it's like the last 25 or 30 years of southern growth have passed it right by. Get away from the gussified tourist areas and NO is a pretty awful city.

He also asked why we were so good at quick response halfway around the world in Banda Aceh while we seemed so unable to handle something right in the country. That's actually pretty obvious to me. Indonesia was a piece of cake because there was no bureaucracy out there - "What have we got over near there?" "The USS Lincoln battlegroup." "Send 'em in and let the Navy people on site to run the show." Inside this country, you have multiple interlocking bureaucracies that just don't know what to do on their own, let alone when they try to interact.

When I worked for ibm, the bureaucracy in the headquarters region in lower NY was so bad that the people "running" (sic?) the company even admitted that they couldn't manage it. The company's successes came from intentionally putting activities far away from there to keep the "system" from "managing" things. When ibm wanted to build its first PC, they set the project up in Florida to keep it far away from the HQ mess. The site I worked at was far enough away (eventually NOT far enough though) away to be able to get things done without interference. Those award-winning ibm laptops? That was all done in Japan, to keep it REALLY far away from HQ.

The most effective response to NO probably would have been to just turn the project over to the Navy immediately and tell everyone else to leave them alone. But of course that wouldn't happen because then all those bureaucracies would be forced to admit that they are much worse than useless when the crunch comes...


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