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The Jehoshua Novels


There Are Somethings Only Government Can Do…

…And even then, there’s no guarantee they will do them well:

“I asked, ‘Why haven’t you been sent out?’” he says. “Then he just lays the story on me, tells me about all the personnel they have out there, more than 100 ambulances, two paramedics per ambulance, everybody waiting for marching orders.”

Horrified, the logistical worker offered to help transport them to a place where they could be useful.

“He said they couldn’t do it because FEMA had them all under contract, and they couldn’t go out without FEMA’s say-so. They were so frustrated. They came all this way, and now they’re not going anywhere, and there’s something in their contract telling them they can’t even throw up their arms and say ‘Fuck it’ and go into the city and do good.”

In fairness to FEMA as well as the city and state Offices of Emergency Management, the need and ability to send in this medical assistance to the Rockaways was a lower priority than clearing the roads and making the peninsula safe for medical workers to go in and give, and I stress this part, non-emergency medical assistance. As far as I know, medical calls were still being handled via an alternate overland route which had already been cleared.

But this is one of the more glaring examples of what happens in a major crisis: communications gets fumbled — FEMA blames the city and state for not directing where to send these responders, while the city and state maintain the Federal contract put them under FEMA’s jurisdiction — and what ends up happening is a misdirection and misapplication of resources, like sending ice destined for New Orleans to Maine.
 
It was less of a problem in NYC because volunteers were able to get in and assist people with some of the most basic needs, like the occasional hot meal or help pumping flooded basements, but make no mistake: had this entire operation been privatized, the slow-ish response of government agents would have seemed lightning fast by comparison.
 
The first groups in were religious groups. Indeed, the most notable among these were Sikhs from all over Queens, serving an estimated 15,000 hot vegetarian meals long before FEMA and the OEMs showed up.
 
The Occupy movement, Occupy Sandy, also arrived early, assessing needs and trying to help residents help themselves, particularly in the parts of the Rockaways that are poorest and therefore, most vulnerable. Church groups and motorcycle clubs beat even the Red Cross to the scenes of the disaster.
 
And the Red Cross is about as privatized as you can get when it comes to disaster relief.
 
So the next time some conservative tells you we need to drown government in a bathtub, ask him how he plans to keep himself from drowning?

1 comment to There Are Somethings Only Government Can Do…

  • Your arguments seem confusing. First you seem to say that government agency is necessary for disaster relief, pointing out that, “had this entire operation been privatized, the slow-ish response of government agents would have seemed lightning fast by comparison.” Possibly so, but then you go on to talk about all of the private agencies that got there first and how much good thay did, including the Red Cross, which is “about as privatized as you can get when it comes to disaster relief.”

    Even your title is confusing with its “and even then” cojoiner. If the piece is in defense of government disaster relief the more logical phrase would be along the lines of, “but that does not mean there is a guarantee…” If it is in condemnation of government disaster relief than the first part, “There Are Some Things Only Government Can Do,” doesn’t make much sense, because your article points out that privare agencies are doing it faster. They may be doing it in insufficient scale, but you don’t say that.

    Actually, based on the news I’m seeing, the government is doing it on seriously insufficient scale, so…

    I do get that you are saying that government relief is slow. Are you saying that the government relief is necessary, or that it is not necessary, and are you saying that it is doing well, or that it is not doing well? I do sort of think from your last sentence that you think we should keep it, but I’m not sure from the body of the article why you think that.

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