Monday, September 1, 2008

It's A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall

For the 2nd time in three years, the City of New Orleans prepares this morning to be blasted by a powerful hurricane. The devastation wrought back in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina is now legendary, but a great deal of that horror was not a creation of God, or Mother Nature, or any kind of natural or supernatural being or event. The devastation was brought on man by man. For at least decades, the governments, both local and regional, and the people of the Gulf region were warned that this was going to happen, it was just a matter of time. It is not the responsibility of the federal government to build giant walls and roofs so that men can be protected from every possible disaster. Men need at some point to take responsibility for their own actions and lives. When you purposefully and intentionally make the decision that you and your family are going to live in an area that is historically prone to certain natural events, then you have chosen to take on certain risks and have the responsibility to ensure that you and yours can survive and recover when those events occur. And the key word in that entire statement is 'when', because this is not an 'if' scenario. Hurricanes barrel through the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico every single year, they have done so for all of recorded history, and they will continue to do so into the future. In the U.S., this means that coastal states such as Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and the Carolinas are always going to be vulnerable to these types of events. Anyone who moves into or remains living in those states near the coastlines makes the choice that the beauty of everyday life there is worth the trade-off in having to evacuate or baton down when these strong storms hit. When they do hit, those who have made those decisions, along with their local and state governments, should be responsible for any recovery and rebuilding. It is not as if these events are a surprise, a sudden calamity that could not have been forecast. While any particular storm cannot be foreseen, the fact that there will be storms year after year, and that some of these will be of the devastating variety, means that people who live in these areas are rolling the dice. When we gamble and win, it is considered being 'lucky', it is not usually considered smart. When you gamble and lose, it should not be my responsibility to bail you out and put you back on your feet. Do people need help out of the goodness of others hearts? Sure, that is the point of charity and volunteerism. But for the federal government to continue to take hundreds of millions of dollars in hits because of the continued and repetitive gambling of some of our citizens is ridiculous. Every time that a natural disaster hits, the first question is "What is the federal government going to do about this?" The fact is that members of local governments have made the choice to be citizens of those communities, and they need to be responsible. They need to educate their fellow community members, prepare for responding to these incidents, and prepare for recovery from these incidents. The local governments and businesses and citizens of New Orleans and the surrounding parishes were told that a Katrina-like event was going to happen, and they chose to make other decisions over the years and decades in their spending that did not address the issues of basic protections against such a storm. Instead, the federal government was expected to protect them from their choice to live in that area, and bail them out in recovery when the event actually happened. And this is not the only example of this type of thinking and lack of preparation. For decades, the people in the San Francisco and Oakland areas, and many other communities in southern California, have been warned that a major earthquake of a devastating magnitude is going to strike at some point. Not some point hundreds of years in the future, but likely at some point in the next few years or decades. It is going to happen: buildings, bridges, roads, homes will topple and hundreds if not thousands or more of people are going to die. It is a fact of the future that every one of those people has been warned about. But they have chosen to live in those areas anyway because there are many benefits on a day-to-day basis. I respect and acknowledge the right of those folks to live in those areas. But they have chosen to live there in a known disaster-waiting-to-happen neighborhood, and when it happens, likely in my lifetime, it should not be my responsibility to bail them out and help them rebuild right there so that it can all happen again someday. Sudden, unexpected events are one thing. Predicted and expected events are another. One results in a tragedy, the other results in a bad choice coming home to roost. It appears that Hurricane Gustav, which will slam into Louisiana today, will not be nearly as bad as Katrina was, but it will be a strong storm that will beat down an area already beaten badly. The fact is that a hard rain is going to fall, and the further fact is that it won't be the last time.

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