Magic Marker Strategy - New York Times
Blogger Thoughts: Didn't realise how outrageous Tierney was.. until now.
September 6, 2005
Magic Marker Strategy
By JOHN TIERNEY
It was the climax of George W. Bush's video introduction at the Republican convention: the moment at Yankee Stadium during the 2001 World Series when he threw a pitch all the way to home plate. The video ended, and the conventioneers cheered as Mr. Bush strode onto a stage shaped like a pitcher's mound.
Well, live by the pitch, die by the pitch. When you campaign as the man on the mound, the great leader whose arm rescues Americans in their moment of need, they expect you to deal with a hurricane, too.
Mr. Bush made a lot of mistakes last week, but most of his critics are making an even bigger one now by obsessing about what he said and did. We can learn more by listening to men like Jim Judkins, particularly when he explains the Magic Marker method of disaster preparedness.
Mr. Judkins is one of the officials in charge of evacuating the Hampton Roads region around Newport News, Va. These coastal communities, unlike New Orleans, are not below sea level, but they're much better prepared for a hurricane. Officials have plans to run school buses and borrow other buses to evacuate those without cars, and they keep registries of the people who need special help.
Instead of relying on a "Good Samaritan" policy - the fantasy in New Orleans that everyone would take care of the neighbors - the Virginia rescue workers go door to door. If people resist the plea to leave, Mr. Judkins told The Daily Press in Newport News, rescue workers give them Magic Markers and ask them to write their Social Security numbers on their body parts so they can be identified.
"It's cold, but it's effective," Mr. Judkins explained.
That simple strategy could have persuaded hundreds of people to save their own lives in New Orleans. What the city needed most was coldly effective local leaders, not a president in Washington who could feel their pain. It's the same lesson we should have learned from Sept. 11 and other disasters, yet both liberals and conservatives keep ignoring it.
The liberals bewailing the insensitivity and racism of Republicans in Washington sound like a bad rerun of the 1960's, when urban riots were blamed on everyone but the rioters and the police. Yes, the White House did a terrible job of responding to Katrina, but Democratic leaders in New Orleans and Louisiana didn't even fulfill their basic duties.
In coastal Virginia - which, by the way, has a large black population and plenty of Republican politicians - Mr. Judkins and his colleagues assume that it's their job to evacuate people, maintain order and stockpile supplies to last for 72 hours, until federal help arrives. In New Orleans, the mayor seemed to assume all that was beyond his control, just like the mayors in the 1960's who let the riots occur.
They said their cities couldn't survive without help from Washington, which proceeded to shower inner cities with money and programs that did more damage than the riots. Cities didn't recover until some mayors, especially Republicans like Rudy Giuliani, tried self-reliance.
Mr. Giuliani was called heartless and racist for cutting the welfare rolls and focusing on crime reduction, but black neighborhoods were the greatest beneficiaries of his policies. He was criticized for ignoring social services as he concentrated on reorganizing the Police and Fire Departments, but his cold effectiveness made the city a more livable place and kept it calm after Sept. 11.
Yet Mr. Bush, with approval from conservatives who should have known better, reacted to Sept. 11 by centralizing disaster planning in Washington. He created the byzantine Homeland Security Department, with predictable results last week.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, often criticized for ineptitude, became even less efficient after it was swallowed by a bureaucracy consumed with terrorism. The department has spent billions on new federal airport screeners - with no discernible public benefit - while giving short shrift to natural disasters.
The federal officials who had been laboring on a one-size-fits-all strategy were unprepared for the peculiarities of New Orleans, like the high percentage of people without cars. The local officials who knew about that problem didn't do anything about it - and then were furious when Mr. Bush didn't solve it for them. Why didn't the man on the mound come through for them?
It's a fair question as they go door to door looking for bodies. But so is this: Why didn't they go door to door last week with Magic Markers?
For Further Reading:
The Prince of the City: Giuliani, New York and the Genius of American Life by Fred Siegel. Encounter Books, 386 pp., May 2005.
A Delicate Balance Is Undone in a Flash, and a Battered City Waits by Peter Applebome, Christopher Drew, Jere Longman and Andrew Revkin. New York Times, September 4, 2005.
Hampton Roads Daily Press, Newport News, VA