I am writing this editorial as Hurricane Sandy is heading up the East Coast with an expected landfall a little south of New York.
The mainstream media in its usual flair for the dramatic are hyping imminent catastrophe. Our television screens and newspapers are full of advice to citizens expected to be in the Category 1 Hurricane's path as though they are children devoid of common sense. Hurricane Sandy is likely to cause serious problems for people living in its path but the average American is resourceful, not easily beaten by whatever life throws at them. It is now common place for government to use the media to get its word out and there is good reason for that in an emergency situation but in this editor's opinion the media has relinquished its independence from government authority by becoming a rubber stamp for their agenda by agreeing to treat people like idiots. It is worrying to watch advice being disseminated to the public that history has proven may not be what is best for people. I have just watched New York Mayor, Mike Bloomberg, say at a public safety news conference that emergency officials have imposed a mandatory evacuation of an area called Zone A, which is closest to the Atlantic Ocean. Adding that all utility services to public housing projects in Zone A would be shut off, including heat, elevators and electrical service. The Mayor advised residents to go quickly to government set-up shelters where they would be safe, but really he was saying he wanted the poor people of the area where they will be less trouble for his administration.
Remember how people were treated that went to government shelters for safety when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. Once there, they were locked in under armed guard without adequate food, water or hygiene facilities. Basic human needs were denied them. Meanwhile emergency personnel enjoyed the regular comforts captive citizens were refused. The media did try to report shelter conditions at the time but little coverage was made of the aftermath and government accountability for abusing its citizens. There were serious human rights violations, abuse of women and children, threats of imprisonment for trying to leave a shelter and official misconduct worse than anything happening in Iraq or Afghanistan, yet the mainstream media played it down. Now again, in the wake of another serious storm the media are advising people to heed the advice of the same emergency services that removed peoples rights during Katrina. Giving unquestioned airtime to Bloomberg even though he threatened to cut off basic services to force people into government shelters.
The reason for again forcing people into shelters will not come as a surprise to the citizens of New Orleans. Bloomberg made it clear that his concern was for emergency service personnel having to risk their safety rescuing members of the public. In New Orleans, people were herded into shelters like animals, not for their own wellbeing, but for the convenience of the authorities. They were there to be controlled, not to be helped. When conditions become unbearable, they were prevented from leaving by force. At that point which was the biggest threat to families, Hurricane Katrina or government? Will the same happen this time?
Katrina proved emergency services in New Orleans were more concerned with their own safety and comfort than that of the people they were sworn to protect and Mayor Bloomberg's comments show nothing has been learned to make it any different in New York.
Although the media can serve as a convenient resource for emergency information, their prime function is to relay news of events and analyze what is happening. I did not hear any comparisons with Katrina, or questions as to why people were being forced into shelters using removal of basic services to their homes to make them comply, or even what steps had been taken to insure the events of Katrina were not repeated. There were no questions if the power was being shut of to all homes in Zone A or just the housing projects. And if so, why?
As part of the media, unless I could be sure people were to be treated with dignity and be better off in a shelter than at home, I could not, in conscience, advise them to go to a government shelter without warning of the possible consequences. People choosing to go to a shelter is how it should be in a free society, forcing them by removing basic services is not hardship being caused by a bad weather event but by a controlling government. I would have advised people feeling the need for shelter to go to one organized by a charitable organization like the Red Cross, Salvation Army, or a church group. These places will not prevent you from leaving if you want to.
Bloomberg is wrong, people should have a free choice in using a shelter, even if they are poor and if they need rescuing, that is what emergency services are being paid for. Only volunteer rescuers deserve extra consideration, professional are doing their job.
The treatment of ordinary families during Hurricane Katrina has proven government sponsored emergency services cannot be trusted to be on your side. Soon we will know if trust can be returned.
That's what I think. What do you think?
This is a footnote to the above article which was written before the storm had made landfall.
The brunt of Hurricane Sandy has passed and coastal areas now face the monumental task of clean-up. It seems many people were paying attention to what happened during Katrina and ignored advice to go to a shelter. Shelters report only sparse occupancy while people refused to leave their homes, but government agencies are still in control mode, trying to move people out of devastated areas and refusing entry to those wishing to return to their homes. The idea that government control is the answer to clean-up and fast return to normal seems to have permeated throughout the whole region. New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, one time hopeful for the Tea Party and conservatives to rein in out-of-control government has jumped on the Bloomberg bandwagon. Saying he needed to get people out of their homes so as they weren't a burden to rescuers and clean-up crews showed his true colors. There is still a consensus by many officials that they will clean up the devastation when history has shown that neighborhood clean-up only begins when government gets out of the way, and takes a secondary role assisting homeowners and businesses in the task.
People like Bloomberg and Christie need to understand that ordinary Americans built our cities and they are the best ones to repair them. Government needs to help that happen, not hinder it.
President Ronald Reagan said it best. "Government is not the answer, it is the problem."
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