Near Fort Pickens, a tourist carried an oil-covered dolphin to shore, and several bystanders, including some children, rushed to save the poor animal. It was crying as they used their hands to scrape the oil off its body and out of its eyes. These efforts were in vain, however. The creature died while on its way to Gulf World Marine Park, a rescue facility in Panama City.
The dolphin was crying, I am now crying — and soon Florida Gov. Charlie Crist will be crying as he can't get the help he needs for the clean-up.
And so I find myself fantasizing about what it would be like to recruit a few Japanese gangsters, or yakuza, to get the clean-up under way in the Gulf States, for these four reasons:
1) They can cut through red tape.
Just over two months into this oil spill crisis, clean-up efforts have been thwarted by the lack of a clear command structure. No one seems to know who is in charge: BP, the Coast Guard? As Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has repeatedly attested, there is a labyrinth of agencies involved in the decisionmaking. For instance, he stood by helplessly as barges for vacuuming up oil sat idle for days, awaiting Coast Guard approval.
I've seen this movie before: when the Great Hanshin Earthquake struck Kobe — the worst quake to hit Japan since the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. I remember being appalled that official support was inconsistent and chaotic for several days. I also remember being impressed when the yakuza stepped up to the plate, providing on-the-scene assistance to earthquake victims long before the national government resolved to act. Japan expert Glen Fukushima offers this analysis:
Kobe was lucky that, in the absence of prompt and effective response by Japanese governmental authorities, non-governmental organizations such as the infamous yakuza — relying on their nationwide network and clear lines of authority — were able to transport relief supplies (water, food, toiletries, diapers, etc.) to the Kobe area and distribute them to local residents with considerable aplomb and efficiency.2) They have networks that can be mobilized quickly.
Alabama Gov. Bob Riley ran into trouble when he asked the Coast Guard to find ocean boom tall enough to handle strong waves and protect his shoreline. The Coast Guard went all the way to Bahrain to find it — but then moved it to Louisiana.
As Fukushima mentions, for the Kobe recovery, the yakuza quickly mobilized their network across Japan to get supplies to Kobe. (If need be yakuza can also reach across borders — a key advantage of being a transnational criminal organization, though I'm not advocating that aspect of their services...)
3) They understand the need to empower people who are on the scene.
David Brooks has written eloquently of how the United States has vested too much authority for handling the Gulf crisis in national officials who are smart but too distant. "We should be leaving more power with local officials, who may not be as expert, but who have the advantage of being there on the ground," he asserts.
In the immediate aftermath of the Kobe earthquake, the Yamaguchi-gumi, the Kobe-based yakuza clan, took charge. They were handing out 8,000 meals a day — including bread, powdered milk, mineral water and fresh eggs — from a parking lot next to their headquarters. The group also used motor scooters, boats and even a helicopter to move food and other precious goods into and around the city, as roadways had become dangerously clogged due to quake damage. (The authorities, meanwhile, made little use of the boats, despite Kobe being a port city.)
4) They stand up for the little guy.
We all know by now that the Minerals Management Service had a cozy relationship with Big Oil. So how does that help people like fisherman Hong Le in their hour of need? Le came to the U.S. from Vietnam, rebuilt his home and business after Hurricane Katrina wiped him out, and is now facing bankruptcy again. (He was working as a welder on commercial fishing boats. "No fishing, no welding," he told an AP reporter.) Like others in this situation, Le has received $5,000 from BP, but that money didn't last long.
After the Kobe earthquake, Japanese gangsters bullied local businesses in Kobe into giving them the food free or at a discount for distribution to the homeless, many of whom were socially disadvantaged. Similar to the case of the oil spill, victims of the Kobe quake tended to be the poor, the elderly, the disabled, Koreans and other immigrants — people who had no choice but to live in hazardous areas, in buildings or near roadways that hadn't been built to a standard to withstand earthquakes of a high magnitude. They were victims not only of the earthquake but of the Japanese Ministry of Construction. It had been too busy developing cozy relationships with the building industry to exercise proper oversight.
There have been other disasters. There will be other disasters. I don't mean to discount the need for taking precautions, recruiting experts, and respecting the need for a legal framework. But in dire situations like these, it helps to be able to call on a group of nimble, public-spirited, well-connected outlaws with a strong sense of honor — the sort of people who have no qualms about slicing their fingertips off if they do something wrong — to cut through the red tape and get things started. If nothing else, their efforts would embarrass authorities at various levels into taking action.
One vital detail I've omitted in painting this chivalrous portrait: The yakuza would also demand a share in the reconstruction business, as well as a cut in the oil profits once drilling is resumed.
Question: Am I dreaming in another language, or do I have a point?