Unprepared

Knee-jerk hypercapitalists may recall the words of their celebrated  spokesman Grover Norquist: “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” The quality of preparedness and response furnished by state, local and federal authorities to the people of Houston tells us the drowning was successful. Even though the “responsible” authorities knew that there would be widespread flooding, there was no evacuation plan, no advance provision for emergency shelter, no coordinated rescue strategy, nothing to indicate that Houston or Texas or even the USA has a functioning government.  You might hope that your state and city have made better preparations for big emergencies, but they probably haven’t. 

Not that anybody is asking. Well into the third day of the crisis in Houston, you can search high and low for journalistic criticism of government authorities, and you will find nothing. On the contrary, the media have been showering praise on the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which didn’t even show up until Day Two of the disaster, and the Texas National Guard, which is “mobilized” but still ineffectual as of Day Three. You might expect that the question on every reporter’s lips would be “Was any lesson learned from Katrina?” It’s not.

What do you have a right to expect from government in an emergency like the one in Houston? The answer seems to be, “Nothing.” The consensus among reporters is that this disaster is simply too big and too severe for government. Nobody is questioning the decision of authorities in Texas not to evacuate Houston in advance. The media people know perfectly well that it was a bad call, but they’re censoring the inadequacy of preparedness out of their coverage. You can see that there are few boats plying flooded neighborhoods, few cots in emergency shelters, few buses delivering refugees, no sign of responsible government whatsoever. Plenty of video of inundated neighborhoods and occasional rescues by private parties, but not much in the way of an organized response, and no comment from the media.

The censorship should come as no surprise. The corrupt institution we call journalism depends on access to government officials for a supply of press releases, statements, and leaks to feed the information stream we innocently accept as “news.” In return for access, news-mongers must refrain from criticism. It makes it difficult for us news-consumers to assess the performance of our leaders, but accountability is the price of freedom.

If all this sounds like capitulation, it is.  The Houston police and fire authorities are prepared, but not for this. Terrorism is the big risk, and the authorities are armed to the teeth for that sort of unlikely event. Heavy weapons, kevlar suits, shields, and armored personnel carriers have been distributed in abundance; boats for flood-prone areas, not so much.

It’s true that Texans voted for less government, but maybe they didn’t deserve to get it.

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