Monday, September 05, 2005


From Mark Steyn's column today about how nothing has changed since 9/11:

One thing that became clear two or three months after "the day that everything changed" is that nothing changed -- that huge swathes of the political culture in America remain committed to a bargain that stiffs the people at every level, a system of lavish funding of pseudo-action. You could have done as the anti-war left wanted and re-allocated every dollar spent in Iraq to Louisiana. Or you could have done as some of the rest of us want and re-allocated every buck spent on, say, subsidizing Ted Turner's and Sam Donaldson's play-farming activities. But, in either case, I'll bet Louisiana's kleptocrat public service would have pocketed the dough and carried on as usual -- and, come the big day, the state would still have flopped out, and New Orleans' foul-mouthed mayor would still be ranting about why it was all everybody's else fault.

Those levees broke; they failed. And you think about Chicago and San Francisco and Boston and you wonder what's waiting to fail there. The assumption was that after 9/11, big towns and small took stock and identified their weak points. That's what they told us they were doing, and that's what they were getting big bucks to do. But in New Orleans no one had a plan that addressed levee failure, and no one had a plan for the large percentage of vehicleless citizens who'd be unable to evacuate, and no one had a plan to deal with widespread looting. Given that all these local factors are widely known -- New Orleans is a below-sea-level city with high crime and a low rate of automobile ownership -- it makes you wonder how the city would cope with something truly surprising -- like, say, a biological attack.

Read it all.

This "pseudo-action" is the hallmark of government on all levels, from the local to the federal. From NASA to FEMA to the Post Office. Somehow, all these agencies are able to transform huge amounts of money from the taxpayers into the appearance of doing something, when in fact, they fiercely resist any change, any improvement, any suggestions. They remain fixated in granite from their points of origin, determined not to adapt or change with the times. This attitude is insured by the creation of new levels and levels of bureaucracy after every crisis or failure.

The drill is simple. 1) things are going along "nicely", then some "unimaginable" disaster occurs; 2) A panel/commission/committe/ of agency/government/former agency/former government officials is appointed to look into the causes and come up with suggestions for preventing future disasters; 3) It is discovered that it wasn't so "unimaginable" after all--someone, a Cassandra in Argos--predicted the disaster, or there had been data for months, years, decades before that there was a problem; but it was universally ignored; 3) blame is assigned to the innocent and the real guilty parties are praised (since many of them get on the investigating committees); 4) the recommendations always include more government or government oversight by another bunch of bureaucrats of the kind that ignored the problem to begin with.

We have seen this drill executed with Challenger, Columbia, 9/11 and every other major disaster in the US in the last 100 years (and possibly longer). The commissions themselves are usually circuses; that fail to look at the real problems inherent in these agencies; and then recommend pseudo-action.

You all know what "pseudo-action" is. It is pretending to address the pseudo-problem, because noone wants to voice what the REAL problems actually are.

The real problems are almost always 1)leadership that is more preoccupied with the perogitives of power than with accomplishing anything; 2) group cultures that have evolved to adapt to such leaders; and 3)incompetence on a scale that truly is unimaginable, but which is accepted as part of the culture.

In other words, it is narcissistic and incompetent leadership, more concerned with image and power so that they can't be bothered by reality; which leads to a culture of denial and general blind incompetence; and which, when disaster strikes, are willing to do anything to improve-- except to change their leadership or change their group culture.

Thus, the appearance of actions that purport to make sweeping changes to head off future disasters is just that--appearance. No real change occurs--except (and this is a big exception) it becomes harder and harder for the few competent people in the agency to work. They will usually leave because they figure out quickly that they will be scapegoated the same way that messengers are killed when they bring bad news.

Watch for a flurry of pseudo-action in the coming months about Katrina.

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