Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Messin' with Texas

Bill Woodall
Kilgore News Herald
Kilgore, Texas

Dear Mister Woodall,

I read your letter to CitiBusiness on the subject of the National Guard in New Orleans, and have to ask you: on your last trip here, did you visit anyplace outside of the French Quarter and the CBD, the "sliver by the river"? If you had, perhaps you would understand why the Guard are here

They returned to patrol the vast areas of a major American city that are largely uninhabited, in fact uninhabitable until services are restored--an area closer in size to Gregg County than to the little town Kilgore, TX, where you publish your newspaper. The Guard are here because America can't seem to handle what happened to New Orleans.

The folks in camo are here to patrol areas like the Ninth Ward, where tsunami relief workers were incredulous that such devastation could still exist in the United States ten months later. They are hear to patrol Vista Park in Gentilly, which ten months later looks little different than it did when the flood waters receded. They are here to patrol New Orleans East and Lakeview, where looting of homes continues to this day.

Like too many Americans, including many who may have come to visit their favorite spots in the French Quarter or Uptown, I think you just don't get it. We are at the center of a disaster are that covers 23,000 square miles, in a city where half the people are effectively still homeless, where we are still waiting for real relief almost a year later.

Or perhaps you do get it and are too embarrassed to admit the real situation. Most newspaper editors aren't idiots, not even the ones I used to work for. So, I think you do get it, and are just a bit ashamed about New Orleans.

We're not embarrassed to have the Guard here. We kiss the damn ground their boots have touched. I've said it before and I'll say it again, this is what embarrasses me: to be a citizen of the richest country on earth when, almost a year after the flood that followed the failure of the federal government built levees, we need the national guard to patrol a vast ruin of neighborhoods in a major American city, while the bureaucrats in Washington demand reams of plans before they will begin to give us the most meager compensation for the loss they caused.

Yes, the Guard and the State Police are freeing up the NOPD to patrol high-crime neighborhoods. God knows we need it. The Flood exposed the dark underbelly of urban America. And it's not just New Orleans. I fled Washington, D.C. in the early 1990s to escape the Clockwork Orange turn urban living took during the first years of the crack wars. Its a problem, everywhere.; even, as you point out, even in Marshall, Texas.

What we have in New Orleans today is the Wild West, a concept that someone from Texas ought to understand on at least on a dime-store novel basis. Much of Orleans territory is not recognizably a part of the settled United States. There are a lot of people here still don't have gas or electric service or telephones; forget internet or cable television. Potable water was only restored to the Ninth Ward weeks ago, and a lot of people don't have garbage collection. Many more do not get their U.S. mail. Those who have returned to Lakeview and Gentilly and the East are truly settlers, determined to carve out a home from an urban wilderness, and willing to take their chances.

Roaming this territory are the new marauders. Instead of rootless, jobless and well armed former Confederate raiders and veterans of Sherman's looting horde, we have a 21st century version of the same sort: aimless in the vast urban wasteland that mirrors the bleak emptiness of the high plains, schooled in blood, unafraid of death and well armed, these are the new desperados in a town that after the flood is as open and lawless as the unfenced West.

In those books and movies of the long ago, the lone sheriff could stand up a dozen fellas who, except for their dress, were pretty much the same sort we have running amok in Central City. I think we both know that, in the real world, it would have taken more than the lone sheriff or even the Magnificent Seven to handle that situation. Enter the Calvary bugle blowing, without which America would have run out of fools trying to go west long before the natives ran out of arrows or bullets.

Maybe this analogy is completely lost on you. Perhaps, like W, you're not a real Texan. Could be you don't know who the hell Doc Holliday or Gary Cooper is. Texas is like DC or California, full of people from somewhere else with the right clothes and no idea, and you might be one of them. If so, that's fine. Maybe Governor Kinky can explain it to you some day.

If you were a real native of Kilgore, you might recall that Texas Governor Ross Sterling had to declare marshall law in Kilgore in August, 1931 to control the 1930s version of the Wild West, the east Texas oil boom. Must be those Texas Rangers aren't all they're cracked up to be, to have to send in the troops along with them. How embarrassing. That Sterling must have been one Texas-sized idiot, right up there with our mayor.

I think the real problem is we that we're an embarrassment that you, as an American, own lock, stock and barrel, but would rather not admit to. Well, that's too damn bad. We're the poster children for what greed and race and Jesus have done to this country, writ large and ugly. Like the folks of the old west, we're not taking this lying down. We're in here mucking out and building up, even as the desparadoes and threatening natives circle around us, fighting with FEMA drones and insurance companies whose conduct would shame an Indian agent. We're not going to stand for living this way forever, and will do whatever it takes to bring some law-and-order, to bring civilization [back] to this bit of the bayou. When the cavalry rides in, we're damned glad to see them.

If that doesn't please you, perhaps we should reconsider our desire to resume full membership in the United States and its economy. Maybe we should start to look for another country that would like to have us. Or start our own. That way we'll be certain to get our fair share of the oil revenue that comes from or crosses our land. And we needn't be an embarrassment to you or that eastern banker's son who pretends to be from Texas or the rest of Katrina-weary America.

We'd like to have good relations with the Republic of Texas, but your letter was not a good start.

Yeee-freakin-haaa! I hope you're actually sending it to him.
Yessssss! That's my kind of head-butt!
Giddy up
GOD. DAMN. Right!
Beautifully said.
Nicely said.

I'm not so sure how all-fired happy I am about the idea of National Guard folks roaming around the city, either, but I take big issue with loudmouths from elsewhere feeling as if they're competent to tell us how to run/save/reconstruct our home.

There's a mentality out and about that New Orleans is "just fine", and that we're all a bunch of whiners for refusing to stop trying to call attention to the mess we're in down here. In my own dealings with folks from up north, I couldn't have failed to notice the glazing of the eyes and the restlessness that inevitably appears when I try to share with them just how bad it is.

They really don't get it, some of them. Friends from the Midwest keep trying to compare hurricanes to tornadoes and blizzards, and I'm shocked at how hard they seem to find it to see the difference.

The darker truth, though, is that most of this is about the "loving people of America" simply looking for any reason to avoid taking any responsibility for what's happened to this city. Love for New Orleans is fine, so long as it doesn't cost anything.

Oh, and if this goober thinks the NOPD should be handling everything, maybe he can tell our police where they can live while they work.
Get real Markus. Don't know if you're accidentally comparing apples and oranges, or deliberately distorting things. All the troops did in Texas was restore market equilibrium. Only liberal academic types say they interfered in a political/economic struggle or kept rightful owners away from their own land, so that the rich and powerful could get richer. Not true at all. The government troops just restored the natural order that the market would naturally have, in the absence of government interference.

In New Orleans, as I understand it, the troops were mainly brought in to patrol deserted areas. What kind of socialist coddling is that? People too lazy to come back and take care of their own property want the troops to watch it for them. If it's that they can't afford to take care of it, the market dictates that they sell, not expect the government to take care of it for them. I'm really sick of New Orleanians acting like their city was the only place to ever experience a natural disaster.
Seriously though, that post reminded me of a book that I recommended once before: CRONIES, by Robert Bryce. Good chapter on what you described, just wish the author had left the Bushes out of the subtitle--makes it seem like a political hack job, it's not. It's also in both the N.O. and J.P. pubic libraries.
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