Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The looting problem

It has slowly dawned on me, although apparently less slowly than on the President, that the situation in New Orleans is a genuine disaster. So I have been watching a lot of the tv coverage of the destruction of New Orleans and Biloxi and Gulfport. The only pictures I have seen of anything like this before was of the aftermath of the tsunami.

For a while there was wall to wall dramatic-rescue coverage. But beginning sometime yesterday, looting became a theme, particularly at Fox. Part of it is that they have a limited amount of footage to show, and any shot, particularly any dramatic shot, tends to get shown over and over. So I have seen the same 3 or 4 helicopter rescue dozens of times. Likewise, I have seen the same shot of black people running out of a darkened store, arms full of stuff, dozens of times now.
Most of the stuff appears to be food and drink. The voice-over, especially the dripping-with-faux-morality voiceover at Fox, or the scowling talking head at that same network, always mentions that the looters are taking Nikes and electronics.

Maybe that has been true in some cases. Most of what the cameras took pictures of, though, at least that I saw, was boxes of breakfast cereal and bottled beverages. Some people are shown carrying things along the street in black plastic bags. The unspoken assumption here is that a black person carrying things on the street in a black plastic bag is a looter.

Now there may be actual looting, in the sense of stealing computer games. But no one seems to have thought about the actual situation on the ground. Look. Ten, twenty, fifty, eighty thousand people, no one knows how many, have been left behind in the city. I have seen an estimate of 100,000 people in New Orleans who do not drive. Essentially, these people have been left behind to drown. Or more hopefully, sink or swim.

The "disaster plan" in place, turns out to be nothing more than for those who have cars and money to drive away. Those who do not have those resources, well, too bad. And since the Corps of Engineers does not seem to have had an actual plan in place to deal with levee failure, and no one has a plan to get food and drink and medical supplies into a water-bound city which essentially has no way in or out except helicopter, the only rational disaster plan if you should happen to be one of those left behind, is precisely what would have to be called looting.

The only food is in the stores. The stores are closed, and soon to be underwater. You couldn't buy food and drink if you had the money and desire to pay. What are you gonna do? Well, according to Fox, you should make your way to the Superdome, where the toilets don't work, and where you will have to stand in line in the water to get in, and wait to be issued food and water, if the authorities can get it to you.

Well, you might understand some on-the-ground skepticism about this plan. No doubt there is, or has been on occasion, some "real" looting, in the sense of thieves stealing stuff they can neither operate without electricity, nor sell, nor wear, unless they have by chance grabbed the right shoe size. But I confess a certain disbelief as to its extent.

I suspect most of the looting is an attempt by desperate, and at some point, fear-crazed, people, to get food, drink, and money, which presumably is still usable in some circumstances.

Attempts are car-jacking have been made, we are told. So what does that tell us? Psychopathic youths out joy-riding in stolen cars? Or people desperate to get out of the city, so as not to drown, starve, or die of disease? As fox news says, you decide.

Since our government, now a wholly owned and operated subsidiary of corporate America, is not stepping up to the plate here, it is left to those Americans who have a conscience to try to do something that will help the refugees and survivors. The only thing I can think of to recommend at the moment is to make a donation to the Red Cross, which actually seems to be trying to do something.

That, and, in the longer term, firing the people who are presently running the country. The real looters.

I just saw a typical bit, where the anchor, in New York or Washington, asks her on-the-ground guy in the French Quarter (a well fed, well dressed, and well-hydrated individual who obviously has a way out of this and and a home to return to) for a description of what was going on, who turned at the beginning of his report to point at some young people behind him who were carrying away what he said were shoes. He mentioned, sarcastically, that although they said they needed shoes because their families had fled with no shoes to wear, they seemed to have large families. Then the anchor asked, with the faux incredulous voice I have grown to know and expect, are there no national guardsmen, no police? Is nobody standing guard, with orders to shoot to kill? The man on the ground explains, sadly, that no, the police and National Guard have other priorities, like rescuing people. Guarding Walmarts and killing people taking shoes is not at the top.

One can sense the moral outrage all across red America.

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