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Welcome to STop, the Seattle Times Opinion blog where our editorial writers and editors share their evolving thoughts on a variety of issues. STop is a place where opinion writers and readers can exchange views and readers can learn more about how editorial positions are formed.

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September 04, 2005

The Katrina Pulpit

It’s sooo predictable how a disaster brings out each political partisan to explain why the disaster is the result of not heeding him. First to bat was Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who blamed the disaster on the Bush administration’s failure to sign the Kyoto Treaty:

As Hurricane Katrina dismantles Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, it’s worth recalling the central role that Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour played in derailing the Kyoto Protocol and kiboshing President Bush’s iron-clad campaign promise to regulate CO2. (Read the rest here.)

There was antiwar writer Paul Craig Roberts, who blamed it on the Iraq attack:

Chalk up the city of New Orleans as a cost of Bush's Iraq war. There were not enough helicopters to repair the breached levees and rescue people trapped by rising water. Nor are there enough Louisiana National Guardsmen available to help with rescue efforts and to patrol against looting…The National Guard and helicopters are off on a fool's mission in Iraq. (Read the rest here.)

There was the view of Randal O’Toole, light-rail critic, who blamed it on the lack of cars:

Those who fervently wish for car-free cities should take a closer look at New Orleans. The tragedy of New Orleans isn't primarily due to racism or government incompetence, though both played a role. The real cause is automobility -- or more precisely to the lack of it.

"The white people got out," declared the New York Times today. But, as the article in the Times makes clear, the people who got out were those with automobiles. Those who stayed, regardless of color, were those who lacked autos. (Read the rest here.)

Of these three, the Kennedy piece is the weakest. He makes the same assumptions so many environmentalists do: that effectiveness is measured by intentions. That is, they assume that had the United States signed and ratified the Kyoto deal (either under Clinton or Bush), the amount of global warming would have been less, and that would have affected the storm. I don’t know whether preventing the warming of the Earth would have affected the storm, but I am very clear on the distinction between signing a treaty and actually preventing the warming of the Earth, or changing the composition of the atmosphere.

Roberts has a point: If we’d spent less in Iraq, and kept all those Guardsmen and helicopters here, we might (might, might, might) have spent more on the levees in New Orleans, and have responded better.

O’Toole has the most interesting point. Cars can be life-savers. We all saw the photos of the cars plugging the freeways, trying to get out of New Orleans before the storm. And we all probably thought, “Traffic jam! Too many cars, and nobody gets out.” But the people with cars did get out.

Respond to Bruce.

 
Posted by Bruce Ramsey at September 4, 2005 03:39 PM



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