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Friday 02 September 2005

News Flash: Government Is Bumbling, Inefficient

This week, there have been a lot of conspiracy theories offered as to why chaos is enduring in New Orleans, days after it flooded in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina.

It’s because so many National Guard people are in Iraq; it’s because Chimpy McBushitlerburton hates black people; it’s because the evil Bush Administration spent all the levee money on penny whistles and moon pies. My favorite lunatic explanation is that this is all the result of some kind of Pentagon weather control machine gone wrong (or maybe this is JUST WHAT THEY WANTED!!!!1)

But I have not seen anyone suggest the obvious: that the government is solely in charge of every aspect of these people’s lives right now, and that the government is not particularly competent, particularly when the task at hand requires adaptability. In the aftermath of enormous government screw-ups, you always hear that the officer/bureaucrat/agency ‘acted according to procedure’. Generally speaking, if in government work you display some adaptability — even if you make the right call — you get reprimanded (and, in some cases, prosecuted). On the other hand, if you massively screw things up by following procedures, well that’s okay then.

So government workers will tend to watch things go to hell, as long as they go to hell according to procedures. The AP reports:

Thousands of people stranded in two swamped parishes south of New Orleans are just as desperate for supplies as those trapped in the city but can’t get the attention of federal disaster relief officials, their congressman said Friday.

And to make matters worse, says Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-La., he was unable to deliver that message to President Bush during his visit to New Orleans because the president’s security detail couldn’t clear him to board Air Force One.

After waiting 90 minutes Friday while a U.S. marshal using a satellite phone repeatedly tried, and failed, to contact Bush’s plane - located just 300 yards away at New Orleans’ Armstrong airport - a disgusted Melancon left.

Now, it might be the case that an additional meeting between two politicians wouldn’t have improved things any; but if this is the kind of stone wall of bureaucracy and frustration that a congressman runs up against, what hope does a mere citizen have?

Maybe it’s for the good, though: Americans do seem, on balance, to like their government weak and ineffectual: most of the time, the government’s incredible incompetence foils a lot of their mischief and leaves us freer.

In the last few decades, though, government in the United States has gained a lot of what I call iron fistery: I think this is primarily the result of the drug ‘war’ and the increasingly adversarial relationship between the government and the people that we’ve got as a result.

I got these pictures from here.


These guys are presumably U.S. Marshals; they seem to have showed up today, and they are guarding the courthouse and so forth.

Picture082Sm Picture188Sm

They are guarding the courthouse, it would seem, against families of refugees, who cannot use the sidewalk but must walk on the street instead. In the middle of the day. Because it’s not as if all federal buildings haven’t been retrofitted to be fortresses these days — and one of those kids might have a truck bomb in his bag.

The government, having claimed for itself a monopoly on force, has failed to maintain law and order in the city for the past several nights — so they’re going to use their authority to shove mere citizens off the sidewalks.

That’s not important in itself: there’s not a whole lot of traffic in New Orleans these days, so the street is as good as the sidewalk. In what universe, though, does this make sense? I’ll tell you: in the universe of the bureaucrat, who has a procedure somewhere that tells him to put marshals out on the sidewalk for the purpose of intimidating the people who pay their salaries.

This doesn’t look like an organization that can make decisions or set priorities. This is why I’m a libertarian. It’s not that I think that people don’t have obligations to their fellow members of society; it’s not that I think that people should be free to do whatever they like. It’s that the evidence seems to show, clearly, that government is far too blunt an instrument to do the things that are asked of it. While the government screws around, holds press conferences, and pats itself on the back, individuals like Jabbar Gibson take advantage of what’s at hand and solve problems:

Jabbar Gibson

Jabbar Gibson is the 20-year-old driving the school bus in this picture. He grabbed the keys from the wrecked office of the school bus yard, started the thing up, drove around picking up something like eighty people, and drove to Houston. They stopped three times for fuel along the way, collecting money from the people on the bus each time.

When they got to the Astrodome, the authorities at first didn’t let them in, because they weren’t official evacuees. Because, you know, the important thing is to make sure that people fleeing a destroyed city are doing it according to the official procedures. Christ.

In the coming days, the authorities will probably arrest him for stealing the bus. In the coming months, they’ll hold hearings and conclude that the government officials who didn’t use the buses in the first place to evacuate the city were ‘following procedures’.

Posted by tino at 22:48 2.09.05
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More Katrina Stuff
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Tracked: September 6, 2005 02:31 PM