As Matt Welch mentions below, as part of its ongoing effort to win Barack Obama another triumphant four years in the White House, during which time he can complete the task of raising the United States to the glorious heights of Great Britain circa 1975 take a moderate, restrained tone on matters of national import, The New York Times tells us that Mitt Romney is bad bad bad — and wrong — to suggest that anybody other than ginormous central government has any business responding to storms and tantrum-ish eruptions from Mother Nature. As it so happens, Mitt is bad bad bad — and wrong, but not on this issue. Even if he did squishily back off his point, a bit.
Editorialized The New York Times:
Disaster coordination is one of the most vital functions of "big government," which is why Mitt Romney wants to eliminate it. At a Republican primary debate last year, Mr. Romney was asked whether emergency management was a function that should be returned to the states. He not only agreed, he went further.
"Absolutely," he said. "Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that's the right direction. And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that's even better." …
It's an absurd notion …
As it so happens, I've written on this issue before. So let me lazily quote myself rather than come up with something new. Specifically, I'm pulling from a piece I wrote for the Las Vegas Review-Journal after Hurricane Katrina.
FEMA apparently learned that thousands of people were waiting for rescue at the convention center from TV news reports. Local officials have little reason to boast; the already notorious New Orleans Police Department fell apart as soon as the storm hit. According to The New York Times, about a third of the force simply walked off the job. Local reports say that many officers used their badges and guns to join the ranks of looters. Says the on-the-spot Interdictor blog, "The people we've been talking to say they are not recognizing the NOPD as a legitimate authority anymore."
Even as they fumbled their own responses to the disaster, government officials found time to block private relief efforts. The Salvation Army was initially forbidden to send boats to rescue refugees sheltered in one of its facilities, one of the group's officials told the press. It seems the private relief organization's efforts didn't fit the government's schedule. Likewise, the American Red Cross said. Days after the storm hit, "The state Homeland Security Department had requested—and continues to request—that the American Red Cross not come back into New Orleans following the hurricane."
Aaron Broussard, Jefferson Parish president, put it best when he told interviewers, "Bureaucracy has murdered people in the greater New Orleans area and bureaucracy needs to stand trial before Congress today."
I do apologize for a mention in that column of "Road Warior" conditions in the Superdome, since we learned soon after I penned those words that the carnage was way overstated and not so carnage-y, after all.
But government officials really did prevent experienced private relief organizations and convoys of supplies from reaching people in need in the wake of Katrina. Police and bus drivers really did abandon their posts. And private companies really were ready to help. Somebody at the Times must listen to NPR, and just may remember a 2011 report in which that exalted media outlet told us:
Forecasters don't expect Hurricane Irene to make landfall until Saturday. But for nearly a week now, big-box retailers like Walmart and Home Depot have been getting ready.
They've deployed hundreds of trucks carrying everything from plywood to Pop-Tarts to stores in the storm's path. It's all possible because these retailers have turned hurricane preparation into a science — one that government emergency agencies have begun to embrace.
"Begun to embrace," because they're learning from companies like Wal-Mart, which was on the scene at Katrina with convoys of emergency supplies. Continued NPR in its nasty, right-wing way:
Mark Cooper is Walmart's head of emergency management. Before his current job, he was the head of emergency management for the state of Louisiana. But in 2005, he was an emergency worker from Los Angeles who was sent to New Orleans as a first responder after Hurricane Katrina.
"We were there a week after the levees broke, and actually it was a Walmart that I went into to get supplies for myself after we arrived in Louisiana," Cooper says.
It was one of the few stores still operating, he says.
Walmart is able to anticipate surges in demand during emergencies by using a huge historical database of sales from each store as well as sophisticated predictive techniques, Cooper says.
Maybe it's true that "disaster coordination is one of the most vital functions of 'big government,'" But we should probably take that job away and let people who know what they're doing handle the heavy lifting.