Thursday, September 08, 2005

Finding the silver lining in Katrina (updated)

It's certainly a tremendous national tragedy, but I can already see hints of the potential long-term benefits:

  • New Orleans will get a huge influx of federal and insurance money and a clean slate to redefine itself, hopefully keeping its best elements and shedding its worst. As I mentioned in my earlier post, I think there's a real shot at creating an "African American Austin". "Keep New Orleans Weird" bumper stickers, anyone?...
  • Tens of thousands people who were locked into stagnant poverty have a chance to start new lives with government and charitable support.
  • A chance for renewal in Louisiana state and New Orleans city politics. The corruption and inefficiency there was almost something they were proud of - an "inside joke" shared by the whole state. Now that joke has killed thousands, and it's no longer funny. A whole new level of political maturity may appear there.
  • Nationally, issues around our economic "bottom 80%" - and especially our "bottom 20%" - will get a whole lot more attention and sensitivity, especially from Republicans. I hope we avoid the heavy-handed protectionism, handouts and wealth redistribution route (Europe's dead end), but focus instead on investing in education, skills, and productivity to keep them competitive with the new "Chindia".
  • I may be going out on a racial limb here, but I think you'll see the African American community have an internal dialogue about the types of politicians they support and what cultural and social factors led to roving gangs terrorizing victims and shooting at rescuers.
  • The federal government may finally get serious about trying to streamline out-of-control bureaucracy and red-tape that keep its institutions from being effective. It's no longer simply inefficient - it's killing people.
  • There may finally be real efforts to diversify our country's energy base, which showed its concentrated vulnerability last week. There is the potential for compromise, with the left allowing careful tapping of new offshore and environmentally sensitive areas, and right getting serious about conservation and investing in realistic alternative technologies.
  • The temporary economic kickstart we're getting in Houston. (For example, the Chronicle says that our inventory of 70,000 empty apartments is disappearing rapidly)
  • The diverse new mix of residents Houston will gain. Maybe we need to designate a "Little New Orleans" in addition to our Chinatown(s) and Vietnamtown/Little Saigon?
  • Houstonians came together as a community and discovered the depths of their own generosity, which is a renewed spirit, pride, and identity that I think will far outlive this crisis.

Update: In a complete coincidence, David Brooks' column in the NY Times today is also titled "Katrina's Silver Lining", and he makes some similar points to mine above (although with far deeper understanding and detail than mine). An excerpt:

As a colleague of mine says, every crisis is an opportunity. And sure enough, Hurricane Katrina has given us an amazing chance to do something serious about urban poverty.

...

The lesson is that you can't expect miracles, but if you break up zones of concentrated poverty, you can see progress over time.

In the post-Katrina world, that means we ought to give people who don't want to move back to New Orleans the means to disperse into middle-class areas nationwide. (That's the kind of thing Houston is beginning to do right now.)

Wow. Somebody at the NY Times finally has something nice to say about Houston for a change.

23 Comments:

At 8:49 AM, September 08, 2005, Blogger kjb434 said...

The 10s of thousands of people locked into stagnant poverty were already receiving lots of government assistance. I don't want to pull all of it away, but goals should be set up for the assistance or it'll be taken away.

Some of the lofty points changing political climate would be amazing if it happens.

 
At 10:16 AM, September 08, 2005, Blogger Andrew said...

"I may be going out on a racial limb here, but I think you'll see the African American community have an internal dialogue about the types of politicians they support and what cultural and social factors led to roving gangs terrorizing victims and shooting at rescuers."

Being black this idea will never happen. 90% of blacks have been in the pocket of 1 political party for so long that any decent or talk of questioning that political party will bring the call of "Uncle Tom"!!
It is amazing that that political party ignored the black community during this past election cycle and now everyone is running to our defense.
Blaming Bush for black people being poor and disenfranchised is silly especially since New Orleans was poor and corrupt long before Bush got into office and I doubt that all those black people suddenly being poor when Bush got into office.

Having fair and balanced debate about black people and issues that occured in New Orleans will never happen!

 
At 10:33 AM, September 08, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"social and political" factors?

Try economic (unless it was a subtle racial troll). New Orleans was one of the worst as far as upward mobility. If I had nothing and didn't trust the government I'd be out there shooting at people too.

You want to avoid the "heavy-handed protectionism, handout" culture of the EU? Well, we've already failed at that -- investigate agricultural subsidies for more info. Seems it's alright to subsidize farmers in the midwest for more than their crop is worth but we can't give any assistance to poor blacks. Typical Houston response.

 
At 10:34 AM, September 08, 2005, Blogger kjb434 said...

^^^
Being white, I couldn't have said that. But living near New Orleans for most of my life and watching what happens there, I would agree. Maturity is one thing the politicos in New Orleans don't have.

It's their ineptness that led to the levee breach (not the Army Corps). New Orleans has a levee board, actually several. They control certain levees and have certain authorities. The system is all about a power struggle and very little about fixing problems. The city council won't enact reforms to fix these problems and board members won't do it either. The army corps wasn't in charge of the levee that broke. They'll oversee the levee design (back from the 70s) but are not responsible for maintenance.

Many levees in the US are run this way and have no problems. My own parish (LaFourche) has a 15-20 tall levee that protects much of the lower end of the parish. The Army designed and assisted in building the levee, but a local authority maintains it. They've kept a great system in place and the storm surge (around 10-13 feet along the levee) was kept out. The same levee work for Huricane Andrew which hit it with about the same fury.

New Orleans politics is much different than any other city in the US. The city is strangely tied yet separate from state government. Many state laws and some constitutional provisions deal specifically with the city. Many reforms within the city will take state responses to go through and some will require state votes. Thing run very much differently with having the Napoleonic Code as the basis for the state constitution versus the US Constitution.

Louisiana will need a tough governor who want to tackle the city of New Orleans corruption. Mike Foster for governor again anyone?

 
At 10:47 AM, September 08, 2005, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

"Try economic (unless it was a subtle racial troll). New Orleans was one of the worst as far as upward mobility. If I had nothing and didn't trust the government I'd be out there shooting at people too."

Many, many impoverished areas of the world deal with disasters without mayhem and attacking rescuers. Another example is Miami and areas south of it, which have many poor residents (mostly Latino), yet didn't do such things after Hurricane Andrew.

 
At 12:41 PM, September 08, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's important to remember that just because you didn't read about poor people in other parts of the world engage in mayhem doesn't mean it didn't happen. The American media has enough trouble with the basic facts (case in point: the media underreporting the deaths in the turkish earthquake of a few years back to the tunes of tens of thousands).

Here's an example of people in another country causing mayhem:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/262848.stm

And once again, I do believe the issue is economic. Florida has more economic mobility than New Orleans. It's true that latinos didn't riot, but you oh so conveniently fail to mention that neither did the blacks.

 
At 12:42 PM, September 08, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

whoops, here's the real link:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/262848.stm

 
At 12:43 PM, September 08, 2005, Blogger kjb434 said...

^^^^
There isn't a sizeable black population in the wake of Andrew. So he was correct.

 
At 12:52 PM, September 08, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How does that prove he was correct? According to him, it's black culture that promotes looting. So anytime there are black people in a disaster, there is looting, which is very clearly wrong. And having said that, there are quite a few blacks in Miami who were quite capable of looting yet who did not.

Here's an interesting take: it all comes down to gun control.

http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/news/archives/2005/09/02/up_in_arms.html

 
At 2:37 PM, September 08, 2005, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I very specifically did not mention looting - I said "gangs terrorizing victims and shooting at rescuers". I understand that most of the looting was food/water/basic needs based because local authorities in New Orleans did not stock adequate supplies at the "shelters of last resort." Even your link talks about looting for survival. The level of violence went to another level in New Orleans.

 
At 3:07 PM, September 08, 2005, Blogger kjb434 said...

^^^
Well I'm not surprised from David Brooks to here good news about Houston.

He's one of the few (maybe two) conservatives left at the New York Times. He doesn't automatically criticize Houston because it's Texas and Bush use to be Governor. Sometimes I think of the NY Times as a bunch of kids picking on others who aren't like them. There writing often shows the lack of maturity. Maureen Dowd anyone?

 
At 3:23 PM, September 08, 2005, Anonymous hh gwin iii said...

Anonymous actually does make a valid point about "upward mobility" as a safety valve and it works across class strata. I've read that NOLA's business community is an old-boy network to the extreme and that it often pushes smart, but unconnected young college grads (of all races) to Houston and Atlanta. I understand that the Krewes are passed down generations like furniture....

Rick Casey's article in the Chronicle yesterday specifically mentioned the way Mayor White's daily meetings involve members the activist community and community leaders from NOLA.

Houston certainly has its problems, but a stifling, insular business community is not one of them....our penchant for destroying pretty old architecture could be a metaphor for something that makes the city great.

Other than that, I'm not surprised that anonymous would indulge in a little race baiting over what most people would recognize as a legitimate comment.

 
At 3:28 PM, September 08, 2005, Anonymous RJ said...

Sometimes I think of the NY Times as a bunch of kids picking on others who aren't like them. There writing often shows the lack of maturity. Maureen Dowd anyone?

The world is full of obnoxious columnists, and Maureen Dowd is certainly one of them. I much preferred her recent substitute, Sarah Vowell. But it's a huge leap to suggest that the writing in the NY Times often lacks maturity, and frankly I don't buy that assertion.

 
At 4:09 PM, September 08, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with your post and let's take a bit further. Contact NORAD and Northern Command and point an ICBM with one warhead to each of the following locations,
- 5-mile radius of downtown Detroit.
- South Central of Los Angeles especially Compton area.
What I'm inferring from your post is, "Katrina wiped out the entire Lower Ninth ward for a good reason. Anyone who has lived there should thank God that this 'humane' God took them out of poverty and forced the gov't and charitable organization to re-take care of them again".

 
At 4:22 PM, September 08, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's take a look at this picture about urban poverty. Last week, during one of the Katrina coverage on Channel 13, an proper-manicured African American lady with 4 kids in tow, carrying a Louis Vuitton handbag wrapped in clear plastic, complained that the could not get a decent shelter for her children. What's wrong with this picture? Government can never solve urban poverty.

 
At 4:53 PM, September 08, 2005, Anonymous RJ said...

Government can never solve urban poverty

Sure it can, but the examples that we've seen are types of governments that we are not particularly interested in mimicking, and/or require expenditures and trade-offs that we are not willing to undertake.

 
At 5:33 PM, September 08, 2005, Blogger Ring Zero said...

Any system in which the people are allowed a reasonable amount of freedom will suffer from "poverty." I put the word in quotes because to some degree it is meaningless. The poorest 1% in New Orleans are better off than the average person in India, Eritrea, Mali etc. Just like one can compare different places, we can compare different times. A middle-class American of 1820 did not have a life as cushy as a 21st-century New Orleanian. The point is that it's a relative measure. The government sometimes reports that the poverty numbers have increased; but then, the government itself defines the poverty line, and the line moves. Think of the teacher that grades on a curve. The class could consist of Einstein, Newton, Hawking and twenty of their smartest friends--someone's still gonna get a crappy grade. As RJ said, we could fix the problem in a sense--give everyone a B, for example--but surely we don't want to go there.

 
At 10:04 PM, September 08, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My comment was hardly race-baiting. My point - which you clearly missed - was that including the word "economic" would make his statement about the black community correct. However, as it stands, it is certainly not correct in any way. The actions of a few American blacks at the end of their rope certainly do not merit an examination of "social/cultural" norms any more than the Gaza strip settlers throwing acid onto the Israeli soldiers who were trying to remove them is grounds for any kind of deep soul-searching by the Jewish community.

There's a thoughtful, carefully crafted comment on poverty rates, economic opportunity, and proliferation of guns, and then there is random fodder for suburbanite Bushbots to opportunistically push their oh so fair and balanced agenda.

 
At 8:09 PM, September 09, 2005, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

All I can say is that I fundamentally disagree. I actually *do* think it should lead to internal dialogue in the Jewish community if their citizens are throwing acid at soldiers doing their duty as ordered by their democratically elected representatives.

I don't object to including economics in the discussion, but I do object to the thesis that poor people aren't responsible for their behavior because they fall below some economic threshold. As soon as you make that assumption, they lose their dignity as free-thinking individual adults and become thought of as "children of the nanny state".

After the Columbine shootings, we had a national dialogue about white high school culture and violent video games. I don't see why the black community can't have the same dialog about hip hop videos that glorify gangster violence, regardless of whether they ultimately decide they're a key cause or not.

 
At 8:09 AM, September 10, 2005, Blogger Andrew said...

Tory,
Blacks will never confront such issues because we don't have 2 sides in the black community.
Different political and economic views from the normal Democratic views will be seen as sticking up for the white people (Bush).
What is amazing is as a community there is no decent from the democratic mindset. All magazines, tv shows, & music all say the same thing and if you are speaking different you will be treated like Powell and Rice (a House Nig_er).
Sorry but this is the hard truth.

 
At 12:12 AM, September 11, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not saying that poor people aren't responsible for their behavior if they fall below a certain line. I'm just saying economic issues are a *better* explanation than cultural or social factors as far as why roving groups of (allegedly) black dudes were going around shooting things.

In other words, if the African American community were truly interested in getting to the root of the issue they'd be having an internal dialogue about the types of politicians they support and what kind of economic/upward mobility factors led to gang violence in NOLA (even before Katrina) and why a place like Houston hasn't had a race riot since the very early 1900s (according to the Economist).

That's just my take on it (and like you said, you fundamentally disagree) though if you're still not convinced of my point of view, it might be worth it to consider the "social/cultural factors" that enabled hundreds of thousands of American blacks (more than any other group in memory) to peacefully evacuate despite being lied to by their government and being denied food/water for several days.

 
At 12:15 AM, September 11, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now that I think about it: there's a somewhat relevant article in the most recent Newsweek about Wal-Mart/anti-unionism and blacks. Good stuff, and (from my point of view) timely as heck too.

 
At 2:03 PM, September 11, 2005, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

On your comment about the peaceful evacuation: from what I read, the crowds did get so rambunctious that it slowed relief and evacuation efforts, because they had to wait to pair them up with adequate security forces. For example, in Mississippi helicopters landed with supplies and unloaded them in a orderly fashion to the survivors. At the NOLA convention center, early relief helicopters could not land because of the unruly crowds and had to simply hover and push their supplies out the back - which of course means the strongest take everything and the weakest get nothing.

As far as riots, my tongue-in-cheek response has always been that LA has perfect weather year-round for rioting, but in Houston we have anti-riot weather: you walk outside into 95 degrees with 95% humidity ready to riot, and you turn right around to go back into the air conditioning. NOLA, of course, had no electricity and no A/C after Katrina...

So our common ground would be that there should be a dialogue about economic, social, and cultural factors, but you believe that economic factors should be the focus and I believe that social/cultural factors should be the focus, but ideally everything should be included in the discussion.

 

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