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Friday, September 2, 2005

The Collapse of Relief

I don't normally write my own comments directly in this blog. I usually prefer to simply quote the more poignant writings of others. But tonight I have a few observations of my own to make.

Observation #1: A question that began to bubble to the surface today with markedly greater frequency was on whom can we lay the blame for the delay in the lack of supplies, the response as a whole.

Very disheartening is that the very people who should be out in front providing hope and solutions and being the conduit of vital communications are either part of the problem complaining (using language as disgraceful as his complaint), or absent altogether. We've seen and heard from the governor of Mississippi multiple times before, during and after. The only official of note in Louisiana to say anything constructive has been their senior senator. Where's even the junior senator from Louisiana?

The words of our leaders can either build us up, or leave us to fall apart. Fortunately, today, there was a small taste of the former, but from Louisiana this week there has been much of the latter.

Observation #2: There are people who still need help—desperate help. And there are people all across the country prepared, ready to go, and waiting for a green light to bring relief.

This shouldn't be hard. People need help. People are ready to help them. And the two aren't meeting because...? Because FEMA won't give them the green light. In an unusual and welcome reversal of roles, even foreign nations are ready to offer aid.

The only real explanation that makes any sense to me, is we have a colossal failure in communication. There are no land lines, no cell towers, no power, no cable, no nothing.

This predicament seems to include the emergency management officials as well. How is it that FEMA Director Michael Brown didn't know until Thursday that people had been directed to the Superdome earlier in the week ... and were still there?!

But if there's no power or outside communication from officials to the general public as we have, and the media aren't talking to them, but just getting fighting survivors' stories to the public, maybe it makes sense in a dysfunctional sort of way, how they didn't know.

Observation #3: There has been a community of people in this country for a long time hidden, and sometimes ridiculed as outdated. And emergency officials of late have long neglected to even partially employ this valuable resource: the ham radio operators. It's been a cliche by which they've lived, but this week it's truth stings with renewed freshness: ham radio works when nothing else does.

But even through four major hurricanes in one year on one state, emergency officials convinced themselves they really didn't need the backup communications pipeline of amateur radio. As we've seen this week, that kind of communcation—that works with nothing but a radio, operator and batteries—would be quite useful. It seems officials don't even know it exists.

Observation #4: FEMA and those local officials who have decided to participate in coordinating the relief efforts are doing their best. I believe them. Is it adequate? No. How could it be? This is the largest series of disasters (hurricane, levee break, etc.) ever to hit at once. As much as help is arriving, there are and will still be those who have not been helped for a while. And some of those squeaky wheels are getting plenty of squeak (media coverage), but not the grease (help) they need.

The American government was created to be of the people, by the people, and for the people. But in recent years, Americans have allowed their government to be of the government, by the government, and for the government. Americans in turn have divorced themselves from the government, held the government up on an unattainable pedastal, and turned against the government when it can't live up to the impossible.

New Orleans' "leader" is simply acting out this mentality. After all, it's not his job to lead, it's the government's. Why shouldn't the government help? And who is the government—besides an opportunity for political pot shots?

Even before Katrina, there has been a disturbing trend of news stories of late that cite magnificent examples of local leadership and communities rallying around needs in ... their communities. From the Minutemen of the 1700s and the 2000s to communities welcoming home their men from Iraq, that's how it worked for 200 years. That's how it should work.

Yet, increasingly the question people and reporters are asking is, "Why should communities have to do this when the government could do it?" If you follow the results of that logic out to its comprehensive conclusion, you end up with economic collapse. Everyone wants everyone else to fix them. It's a lazy way to fake taking responsibility.

There once was a time when people asked why should the government have to do things when the people can do it? Earlier than that, people used to ask, how dare the government do things that people can do for themselves?

This week, some cannot help themselves. This week, the American people are helping. This week, the government is helping.

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