Monday, September 19, 2005

#199 - Elect Me, and I'll Steal Your Stove!

Disasters always bring out extreme versions of those who suffer through them. One who has endured personal disadvantages (too much personal debt, for example) and sees no relief in the immediate future might tend to become one of those opportunists who turn to looting. Others who always cling to their moral compasses become those who think on their feet and find ways to help, no matter how daunting the task.

With that in mind, you need to read a couple of articles. The first one is based on a UPI report as published by Monsters and Critics. Now read an article (may require registration) that enlarges on the UPI report in the Washington Post.

Besides the word count, notice the difference?

The real story here is the ingenuity, fortitude, and desire to serve being demonstrated by a number of local political leaders in the Gulf region in the aftermath of Katrina. These men and women clearly have their priorities straight. They have shown courage in the face of innumerable obstacles, none the least of which appears to be the federal government.

To call any one of them a "crook" needs some serious context.

Mayor Brent Warr was called one in both reports. Granted, the things he did were technically illegal. One does not hijack a fuel truck or steal a stove and expect to get away with it. Not usually, I should say. But when you find yourself the leader of a city without power and thousands of citizens who are suffering, you might need to take extraordinary measures.

Fortunately, the Post added some crucial context to Mayor Warr's situation. Yes, he hijacked a truck. Even got an inmate from the city jail to do it. But that fuel was immediately routed to a local hospital to power their generators and, ultimately, keep patients safe and relatively healthy. Of course he "stole" a stove. When you have over 500 first responders working themselves into oblivion with nothing to eat, you bet you confiscate a stove. You also set it up in the parking lot of City Hall and continue to use it to feed those good samaritans while there's work to be done. You also (the UPI fails to mention this) watch helplessly as your own family business is itself ransacked and looted.

A criminal? Hardly. A visionary leader with the guts to act? All the way. Is he alone? Nope. Able-bodied citizens from around the region are pitching in to lend a hand in any way they can.

It's too bad, really, that we have to hear about the in-fighting and finger-pointing that have apparently paralyzed New Orleans and Louisiana politicos in this crisis. FEMA certainly deserves its black eyes in this mess. But we also need to hear about folks like Warr and other Gulf area leaders who refuse to wait for the paperwork to clear. Get the job done now, whatever it takes, and sort it all out later. Will the owner of that fuel be compensated? Eventually, I'm sure. The owner of that "confiscated" stove? Use it with my blessing, Mayor. Warr and other mayors meet to decide how best to help the people in the cities they love so well. They need help, and they're asking for it, but they're not just sitting on their brains all day with wringing hands waiting for the feds to come through.

Even the Mississippi governor's wife is helping by driving supplies into stricken areas with a pickup truck. It's cynical of me to have a hard time imagining Maria Shriver doing such a thing in California, but one never knows.

As I say, disasters will either bring out the worst, or the best, in just about everyone.

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