Amid the horrific and heartbreaking stories this week from the Gulf Coast region, we have had the complete breakdown of civil order. One report even had Louisiana state police comandeering a bus at gunpoint that was supposed to take hospital patients in order to evacuate people in the BellSouth building. Far more prevalent than that however, have been the images of looting and lawnessness that we have all watched. Worse, rescuers in helicopters, buses and boats have all been forced to turn back because of shots being fired at them. No one in the city seems to have the foggiest idea of where to go to even get rescued, making rescuers jobs that much harder. Many have abandoned hope that they even will be rescued, believing, in the absence of receiving evidence to the contrary, that the nation has turned its back on them. Martial law has been declared but is ignored, and the police and national guard on the scene are overworked and undermanned.
First of all, I have one question. We KNOW where the Louisiana national guard is. In Iraq. So where are the feds? What about those billions of dollars we spent on preparing a 'rapid response' to a major tragedy? This isn't a nuclear attack, but it might as well be. The Homeland Security Department has now had SIX DAYS to get in there with their 'rapid response.' Nada. In fact, they even had about that much more in which Katrina was headed towards the coast and they had time to at least start planning. Still nada.
I would like to make some proposals about how to get this situation under control. The first is amazingly low tech. With no one knowing what to do, prepare and drop leaflets, similar to those used in WWII. These should be simple but direct. State clearly where the areas where people are to proceed to be rescued. Make it clear that rescue attempts this week have been cut short due to ground fire. I have a gut feeling that if this was made clear, then either those who have been shooting would realize that their own survival was being jeopardized, or the rest of the population there would 'realize it' for them and stand up to them once they realized that they were being themselves jeopardized by these losers. Maybe this is naive, but I believe that information would do a lot to curb the violence. And yes, the vast majority of such leaflets would probably end up as flood debris, but it only takes one to inform a crowd.
The second proposal is, once one or no more than several pick up places have been established, the army (remember, we have martial law) should in fact establish a secure perimeter around it. If they can keep a square mile of central Baghdad secure (the 'green zone') it isn't too much to ask that they can do something similar in New Orleans.
The third proposal is, that anyone caught looting should be immediately charged and locked up, at least until the evacuation is over. Then, we can deal with it on a case by case basis (and there are some who will take issue with me here-- I do see a big difference between someone who is looting bottled water from a supermarket and people pushing a rack full of new suits down the street. Both are wrong, and in the latter case I would say we should press charges but in the former case I think that some compassion should be allowed to temper the demands of justice).
I also would like to propose that the Congress consider emergency legislation to suspend the new bankruptcy laws scheduled to go into effect next month for people with zip codes in affected areas. These people have lost everything (including their incomes) and the spectacle of watching credit card companies or mortgage bankers end up with their homes, or at least the land their homes were on (probably still valuable in an urban area), the only thing of any value at all that they still may have claim to, when they can't make their monthly payments is sickening.