Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

9-21 Katrina

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- A recent column blamed the plight of many New Orleans residents on an expectation of entitlement, with no spirit of independence, self sufficiency or willingness to help their neighbors.
Naturally, such comments were bound to elicit strong responses. Some said I wasn't being tough enough and forwarded opinion pieces from national publications predicting it was just the first step toward the end of America as we know it because we are a welfare state.
And I received responses calling me hard-hearted because these were the poorest of the poor who couldn't help themselves and therefore were victims of a federal government that had allowed them to live in Third World conditions and a corrupt, incompetent local government that didn't plan for disaster relief.
The most interesting response, one I hadn't heard elsewhere, came from Kim Reed-Deemer, of Las Vegas, N.M. With a background in anthropology, she was drawn to the question of why people within a given social or cultural environment make the choices they do when those choices involve great risk.
Reed-Deemer says that question has been asked by medical anthropologists regarding issues involving public health and welfare and they have application to the Katrina situation.
She contends this is primarily a family values issue and finds it inexplicable that the motives of the residents of New Orleans who did not evacuate the city prior to the hurricane are being ripped by so many on the ideological right.
Enough individual stories have emerged from the disaster, she maintains, to indicate that many able-bodied people stayed because of strong ties to family, friends, neighborhoods and even pets.
"What if your elderly dad or grandpa refuses to leave or you don't know where or what your sister and her family are doing" What if your brother or uncle was a city employee and couldn't leave, or your shut-in neighbor can't or won't go?
Do you turn away and leave knowing they're in almost certain peril, or do you hang back to see to their safety? Hang back until it may be too late for anyone?" This, she says, is a real spirit of community.
In that same column, I also agreed with U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert that it may be unwise to spend billions in taxpayer money to rebuild a city that is below sea level and below the level of Lake Ponchatrain.
I received even more responses to that one. Some readers noted that New Orleans is one of America's great, historic cities. It also is our second largest port. The Big Easy will undoubtedly be rebuilt, they said.
Many noted that Hastert, an Illinois Republican, represents an area prone to floods, that now is suffering loss of crops due to drought. Should we cut off federal funding because those disasters surely will happen again?
Or how about earthquake-prone California? We rebuilt San Francisco a century ago. Should we do it again when the really big one comes? For an enjoyable parody on Hastert now wanting to return the Louisiana Purchase to France, check
As an example of unwillingness to help neighbors, I cited a story from Biloxi, Miss., about Air Force personnel who played basketball across the street from an evacuation center.
Larry Furrow, a spokesman for White Sands Missile Range, asked me to take a second look at the story, which he found hard to believe. Certainly the current actions of the military are more than commendable.
I'm trying to track the veracity of that story. It isn't on, yet. But do look there for investigative work on much of the finger-pointing going on these days.
Although no government officials were willing to cut through red tape to provide quick aid, many private individuals and businesses began their efforts almost immediately.
Wal-Mart has been at the front of that pack. And now little Sandia Pueblo has joined the big time with a $1 million donation, plus more from its employees.
WED, 9-21-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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