Tuesday, September 6, 2005


PowerLine does a complete smackdown of the NY Times' Paul Krugman who looks more intellectually diminutive every time he writes a column. In his latest he takes a potshot at the administration for its alleged tardiness in the wake of Katrina by citing the example of the U.S.S. Bataan:

The Chicago Tribune reports that the U.S.S. Bataan, equipped with six operating rooms, hundreds of hospital beds and the ability to produce 100,000 gallons of fresh water a day, has been sitting off the Gulf Coast since last Monday - without patients.

What caused that paralysis? President Bush certainly failed his test. After 9/11, all the country really needed from him was a speech. This time it needed action - and he didn't deliver.

But the federal government's lethal ineptitude wasn't just a consequence of Mr. Bush's personal inadequacy; it was a consequence of ideological hostility to the very idea of using government to serve the public good.

Bad choice of stories to employ against Mr. Bush, this one. As it turns out, a simple check of the facts would have shown Mr. Krugman that he was embarking down the road to personal embarrassment by building his case upon this story, but checking facts is for right-wingers. Lefties are unconstrained by such bourgeois and infra dig considerations. Read PowerLine to find out what has really happened with the U.S.S. Bataan.

PowerLine is going to have to start picking fights with people its own size. Picking one with Krugman is analogous to dwarf-tossing.

The Thuggery Was Predictable

Here's a question I've had ever since the frenetic stories of media reporters stationed at the Superdome and the Convention Center started coming in about the desperate state of people who were being victimized by thugs and rapists: Was the crime rate at these places significantly different than it is in New Orleans under normal conditions? Probably not, I thought.

Now City Journal writer Nicole Gelinas comes to a similar conclusion. She rejects Al Sharpton's feeble apologias on behalf of the looters in N.O. and proceeds to dissect the problem and apportions blame where it belongs. Her article, written before the military moved in to establish order, makes a lot of sense.

New Orleans' vicious looters aren't the real face of the city's poor-their victims are.

New Orleans hasn't even been disarmed yet, but the story of those who looted, trashed, and terrorized the city this week is already being re-written. Al Sharpton went on MSNBC Thursday night to say that "looters are people who pay their taxes whose infrastructure caved in on them." The final PC version of the story is likely to go like this: The desperate people left behind in New Orleans, nearly all black, had justification in brutally attacking their city because the help they frantically sought didn't come.

In truth, the looters, rapists, and murderers who have terrorized New Orleans since Monday began their post-Katrina reign of terror a full day before the situation grew truly desperate-and it was their increasingly lawless behavior that kept willing but unarmed professional and volunteer rescue workers away from the city and from the poor people who needed saving.

Let's go back to last Sunday morning-such a long time ago, it now seems. Most New Orleanians with means-the most resourceful poor, the middle class, and the affluent-left the city of nearly half-a-million residents that day, 24 hours before Katrina hit. They took planes, they drove, they hitchhiked, and some walked. Save for the home and business owners who valued their property more than their lives, most of the 100,000 or so who stayed behind were those not only poor in financial resources but in human capital as well.

Some who stayed behind are the New Orleanians who depend on the government on a good day-impoverished women, children, and elderly folks who went to the Superdome and to the Convention Center Sunday, expecting their government to take care of them. And those were the smart ones-those who moved rationally and proactively, despite a lack of transportation out of the city and a lack of government co-ordination, to secure their own physical safety. Thousands of others who stayed in their low-lying homes in the 9th Ward (which predictably flooded, as it flooded 40 years ago during Hurricane Betsy) drowned or now find themselves trapped-starved and dying of dehydration.

And the others 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.

During the mid-1990s, New Orleans made some progress in cutting down its murder rate from its one-time peak as the Murder Capital of America. With the help of the feds, the city weeded out the worst of its police force (including two murderers) and implemented some new policing techniques borrowed from successful cities like New York, including COMSTAT. But New Orleans-and the state judicial system-has never cemented a sustainable institutional infrastructure to build on early progress, and the murder rate had risen perceptibly again.

New Orleans, first off, doesn't have the middle-class or affluent tax base to afford the professional police or prosecution force it needs-crime has created a vicious cycle, pushing out taxpayers who fund the police. Nor have the city and state cemented the command-and-control direction of financial and human resources that police, detectives, and prosecutors need to do their jobs.

In New York, the mayor, police, and prosecutors know that taking one killer off the streets means preventing more killings, because a murderer frequently murders again. In New Orleans, killers and other violent criminals remain free, because in many cases, they aren't arrested or tried; conviction rates remain abysmal. The lawlessness these criminals create in pockets of the city breeds more killers and more lawlessness. Witnesses and crime victims in the inner city fear to come forward: they know that even if a criminal winds up arrested, his associates will be free to intimidate them.

On a normal day, those who make up New Orleans' dangerous criminal class-yes, likely the same African-Americans we see looting now-terrorize their own communities. Once in a while, a spectacular crime makes headlines-the shooting death of a tourist just outside the French Quarter, or the rape and murder of a Tulane student. But day in and day out, New Orleans' black criminal class victimizes other blacks. Churches put up billboards in the worst neighborhoods that plead: "Thou shalt not kill." The inner-city buses shuttle what look like hundreds of war veterans around the city-young black men, many of them innocent victims, paralyzed in wheelchairs.

This week, this entrenched criminal class has freely roamed the streets-and terrorized everyone. On Monday, New Orleans still had food and water stocked in stores across the city, but young looters began sacking stores, trashing the needed food and stealing TVs, DVDs, and other equipment. If the uncoordinated, understaffed New Orleans police had even a prayer of keeping order, it was Monday. By Tuesday, the looters had armed themselves with ample weapons supplies available in stores all across the city; by Wednesday, the armed gangs, out of food and water like everyone else, were not only viciously dangerous but desperate, hungry, and thirsty.

But while the looters have reportedly killed police offers and have shot at rescue workers, they're mainly victimizing, as usual, other poor blacks. The vicious looters aren't the face of New Orleans' poor blacks. Their victims are: the thousands of New Orleanians who made their way to shelter before the storm, and who rescued others and brought them to shelter during and after the storm-but who now cannot get the help they desperately need.

This week's looting was predictable. When Hurricane Georges, another potentially catastrophic storm (it spared New Orleans at the last minute) was about to hit in 1998, I foolishly refused to evacuate my Uptown apartment. More than one person said I should evacuate not due to the storm, but because looters would terrorize the city afterward.

Was this week's looting preventable? Failure to put violent criminals behind bars in peacetime has led to chaos in disaster. New Orleans' officials had only the remotest prayer on Monday of coordinating police officers with no electronic equipment to rescue survivors while at the same time stopping looting before it descended into wholesale terror. Now, those uncoordinated police officers are themselves victims-according to multiple accounts, dead officers, their bodies marked with gunshot wounds, litter the city.

Armed marauders have now taken over every dry area of a deluged city. They've hampered rescue efforts: without wanton looting, there was at least a chance that individual police officers could have distributed food in stores to those who needed it most. And they've likely hampered rebuilding efforts down the road: they've smashed much of intact Uptown and the French Quarter, which will surely be a pyschological barrier for those who knew that the storm didn't destroy their homes and their livelihoods-fellow citizens did.

Mayor Ray Nagin and Governor Kathleen Blanco lost whatever fragile authority they ever had over New Orleans early Monday, as the waters still rose. The federal government was unacceptably slow at assessing a rapidly deteriorating situation. Now, no civil authorities can re-assert order in New Orleans. The city must be forcefully demilitarized, even as innocent victims literally starve. What has happened over the past week is an embarrassment to New Orleans-and to America.

Even in the best of times Mayor Nagin ran a dysfunctional city. For him and others to blame the feds for not responding more quickly to the crisis largely created by their own lack of preparedness, seems like an act of deflecting fault that they know is their own.

Anyway, the good news is that once the cops got some reinforcements from the national guard they found a bunch of these hoodlums and terminated their activities, as well as the hoodlums themselves, in rather definitive fashion. There are reports that at least eight of these morons are permanently out of the terrorizing business.

We're waiting for the caterwauling howls of protest from the ACLU against police brutality to begin.

Why Are They Poor?

Most of us watch the nightly news reports from the Gulf Coast and see people, human beings, in desperate straits, but not so some of our friends on the left. They look at the footage and they see proof of white racism and oppression. They are unable to view the world except through the neo-Marxist lens of race and class.

Jack Shafer at Slate writes a somewhat confused essay about the fact that news journalists seem very reluctant to mention the race and class of the victims of the Hurricane and also of those who have exploited this calamity to rob and pillage.

Like a social bloodhound Shafer thinks himself to have caught the scent of racism in these scenes of human suffering and devastation, and he bays and sniffs avidly along the trail in avid pursuit of his quarry.

Unfortunately, he just seems to get himself tangled up in his argument, as if the source of the scent had run around in circles and then off in several different directions at once. You can read it for yourself. The blind alleys and cul-de-sacs Shafer starts us down only to turn us around and set us off in another direction when it becomes apparent that there's no prey to be found where we were almost wear us out. It's hard to tell exactly what his point is until we get to the closing paragraph which might serve as a synedoche for the whole:

By failing to acknowledge upfront that black New Orleanians-and perhaps black Mississippians-suffered more from Katrina than whites, the TV talkers may escape potential accusations that they're racist. But by ignoring race and class, they boot the journalistic opportunity to bring attention to the disenfranchisement of a whole definable segment of the population.

It could be interpreted as racist, he admits, to make an issue of the color of the people who didn't evacuate and who looted stores, but it's evidently also racist to ignore these pertinent facts because we'd be papering over the salient point that these are black people who've been disenfranchised and victimized by a racist society that allows, even compels, these wretches to live in poverty. One almost expects Shafer to point to Katrina's furious white clouds as proof that the whole tragic disaster was a racist plot by evil white meteorologists at the National Weather Service, Bush appointees, no doubt, to make poor black folk suffer.

His final line is: "What I wouldn't pay to hear a Fox anchor ask, 'Say, Bob, why are these African-Americans so poor to begin with?' "

Well, he's not asking us, but if he were, here's the answer we'd give him, though I'm fairly sure he wouldn't like it:

The reasons blacks in New Orleans, like blacks elsewhere in America, are often poor is because large swatches of the African-American population have, for various reasons, abandoned, or never embraced, the set of values that enable people to become upwardly mobile in our society. What are these values? Here are two which are conspicuously and tragically absent in many African-American neighborhoods:

Getting married before you have kids and staying married afterward. Nothing is more likely to guarantee that children grow up poor than to have them raised by a young mother with no husband. Such children are not only very likely to be impoverished, they are also more likely to be socially dysfunctional, i.e. involved with drugs, crime and early sex, than those who grow up with their biological father. The revolution in attitudes which resulted in single motherhood becoming an accepted and acceptable condition has been hard on the white population, but it has been devastating to African-Americans. Twenty eight percent of white children are born to unmarried mothers, but almost sixty nine percent of black children are born out of wedlock. This is an anchor around the necks of black kids which prevents them from climbing out of their penury and reaching higher socio-economic heights.

Valuing education. African-Americans too often fail to place the premium on education that other groups do. Black parents, for whatever reasons, tend to be less involved in their children's schools, they tend to read to them less, and to offer their children fewer enrichment activities outside of school. Critics sometimes say that inner city schools are in such a deplorable state that kids can't learn in them, but one reason they're in such bad repair is that too few parents of black kids simply care enough about their schools to demand that they be maintained, supplied, and hold to high standards of discipline.

Black kids too often suffer verbal and even physical abuse if they outperform their peers and are seen as "acting white." Young blacks are often encouraged by a depauperate culture to project images of black stupidity. Schools are charged with racism by the race hustlers if they try to teach black kids to be articulate or force them to dress in a manner that doesn't make them look like morons, with their pants at half-mast and their hats turned sideways. The peer culture in which they swim too often encourages them to emulate some "gangsta rapper" rather than a Colin Powell, Clarence Thomas or Condaleeza Rice, people who are often held in contempt by black "leaders" as Uncle Toms and sell-outs.

Children who go through school and never learn to speak articulately, to read effectively, and to do basic math are doomed. As bad as our urban schools may be, a child with a concerned family to go home to could still develop these basic skills in them. Too many African-American children don't, because they don't return to a home where learning is valued.

If Jack Shafer wants to know why there is an African-American underclass, that's the answer. Those who are chronically poor and who pass on their poverty from generation to generation place a low value on both marriage and education. So far from this being the result of a racist plot, it is much more likely to be the consequence of the disintegration of both sexual mores and academic standards that liberals applauded in the 1970s and which still plagues us today.

Just like Katrina, the liberalization of social attitudes has hit and hurt everyone, but they have hit African-Americans the hardest. If we sincerely care about ameliorating poverty in this country then we need to realize that nothing we do will have any lasting effect, and may even make the problem worse, as some forms of welfare did in the 1970s, unless we change people's attitudes about the crucial importance of marriage and education.