POLICY/POLITICS: Blame for Katrina–enough to go around but it’s FEMA in the lead, with UPDATE

With all the BSing that’s gone on from the Administration about what went wrong and finger pointing, there is clearly much blame to go around. I’m impressed that New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin went ballistic when nothing was happening last Thursday night, but there are reasonable questions being asked of him by the right wing bloggers about why he didn’t or couldn’t use the city’s municipal and school buses to evacuate people in advance of the Hurricane or after it (I assume that after it he didn’t have anyone to drive the buses). Not that of course those questions are being asked in a particularly nice way, but I won’t discuss my last post or Nagin’s ethnicity.

However, even if there is local and state blame, that doesn’t absolve the Bush Administration for two reasons.  The first one is that there is a clear line of command in these situations, and this comes straight from Bush’s mouth on August 28, the Thursday before the storm.

Bushdisaster9kr THE PRESIDENT: This morning I spoke with FEMA Undersecretary Mike Brown and emergency management teams not only at the federal level but at the state level about the — Hurricane Katrina. I’ve also spoken to Governor Blanco of Louisiana, Governor Barbour of Mississippi, Governor Bush of Florida, and Governor Riley of Alabama. I want to thank all the folks at the federal level and the state level and the local level who have taken this storm seriously. I appreciate the efforts of the governors to prepare their citizenry for this upcoming storm. 

Yesterday, I signed a disaster declaration for the state of Louisiana, and this morning I signed a disaster declaration for the state of Mississippi. These declarations will allow federal agencies to coordinate all disaster relief efforts with state and local officials. We will do everything in our power to help the people in the communities affected by this storm.

In addition here’s an article which basically shows that even within all the bureaucratic BS going on, the Federal government is in charge in a disaster situation, and FEMA has the ability to do basically what it likes–which those of you hooked on The X-Files know has always been the case (although alien takeovers weren’t the issue last week)

But the main point is that, whatever the bureaucratic BS, a real leader would have got those buses into New Orleans and got the people out by Wednesday at least. That would have to be a Federal effort rounding up a few hundred buses in neighboring cities and getting them into New Orleans, while setting up tent cities to deal with the volunteers. It was this lack of action after the flood between Tuesday night and Friday morning that is the really criminal part, and even if the locals had screwed up, that does not mean that the Federal government is absolved of blame. We needed Presidential leadership, and we got little boy lost — again.

And as for health care, that goes for the evacuation of the hospitals too. It’s clear that that ended up being largely a private effort (and well down to HCA’s management which really stepped up in the crisis when it realized that the Feds weren’t helping.  Perhaps we should have completely for-profit private health care organizations so that all rescue efforts can be run out of Nashville! But if that’s not going to happen, and if every victim isn’t going to be in a hospital — as is clearly the case — then we have to depend on the Federal government.  After all this is the same Federal government that’ll move heaven and earth to make sure the sick people don’t smoke pot.

UPDATE: Brown was basically fired this afternoon–one week after Bush said "Brownie, you’re doing a hell of a job".  Odd.  Usually these incompetents get awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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  1. Good news Matthew. The President has replaced the FEMA Director with a Floridian. Hurricane Governor Jeb Bush trained and certified. President Bush is quick to adjust, as always.
    It just goes to show you that FEMA in charge of your Medicare or Social Security is a bad idea. The Federal or State governments can’t focus on your needs like you can as an individual in a modern world. Nobody wants LA Governor blankstare Blonco in charge of their health care. So Socialism is out and free and open markets are in. That’s the vision of the “Ownership Society.”

  2. Terry–It doesn’t matter who’s to blame, we should find out.
    And after the local level screw-up, that’s when a real national leader would have realized that something big and fast needed to be done, instead of sitting on his arse, going to fundraisers, and ignoring it — hoping that the apparently incompetent locals and failed Arab horse-show adminisrators would sort it out.

  3. The primary fault lies with the Mayor. The bestway to save the people of NI from the trials and tribulations of Katrina was ti execute and enforce the mandatory evacuation he called for. That’s a cioty/state responsibility, not a FEMA task. Nagin and the Governor screwed it up. There were no buses made available for the poor although they were available and part of the intergovernmental response plan. My source for this BTW is the NY Times.
    The untold story here is racism–and none of it federal. The people in the Superdome could have WALKED out of N.O. But they were held there at gunpoint by LA state troopers with shoot to kill oirders to keep them out of NO’s white suburbs. My source for this by the way is NPR. Perhaps this is why the Democrats are boycottong the Republicn led Congressional inquiry–because there is bloody water on THEIR hands.

  4. Sadly, the magic of self-help and and community of faith did not kick in. The freedoms provided by the Constitution create some need for some planning and construction of society at the local level. Civilization: it’s a good thing.

  5. Man, you people really need to stick to medical issues…
    FEMA: Job description is relief after the fact. Not evacuation, not search and rescue, but food, clothing, shelter after the fact. Blanco and Nagin refused the let them in immediately after the storm struck. They also refused access to the Red Cross…
    Posse Comitatus Act: It means that the only way the feds could go into LA was by a personal invite from the governor, which didn’t occur until three days after the storm hit.
    Insurrection Act: Which means that the feds can do nothing with federal troops unless martial law is declared. Which means that you and I would now be living under a nationally declared state of martial law had the feds done so.
    Then there’s that pesky Constitution thingy, and the fact that the President is a president and not a dictator or tyrant. Plus, there’s something called Congress…
    Then there’s that little thing about Nagin and Blanco not following their own disaster plans…
    Please note that other devastated states did not experience the same problems…
    The reality of logistics also shows that it will be three days before any federal assistance reaches any devastated area…and 90,000 square miles were flattened by Katrina. It is an area that is larger than many nations, and only ten states in the US are larger… Imagine if your entire state were flattened…roads, railways, airports, communications, electricty, water, and sewage…the entire state…
    It is an unprecedented disaster on American soil, and local leadership failures in LA and New Orleans contributed to the death toll…
    Oh. Did I mention that only one road was open into New Orleans? The rest, including railways and airports were blocked by debris and damaged by the storm. It takes time to clear them and make them ascessible…
    Oh, yeah. Blanco did not deploy any state resources until some two days after the flooding began…

  6. What I think Katrina blows away is the Conservative myth the wonder that is American personal volunteerism (somehow related to “faith and values”) will solve any problem, so therefore no social services are necessary.
    One thing I’ve always found curious about this, from a historical perspective, is that the Protestant Reformation was in part a rejection of Pelagianism – i.e., the idea that every person had the strength to meet the requirements of salvation if they just took the “personal responsibility” and did the work. Having rejected this concept in the spiritual sphere, the “moral majority” then turned around and insisted on Pelagianism in the secular sphere. Note that this means the religious idea of “liberty” is the exact opposite of the secular idea of “liberty”. Having liberated themselves from psychological burdens in favor of dependence on the grace of God, the fundamentalists then turned around and insisted on inflicting personal burdens and denying dependence on community effort in the secular sphere. The irony would be almost amusing if there weren’t real human beings injured and dying because of this secular Pelagianism.

  7. The truth is like Katrina, it will blow your arse away.
    Jesse Jackson looked pretty silly last night on Hannity trying to blame only the President and Hannity was showing high definition (HD) photos of the fooded buses saying, “At the exact same time the mayor was screaming for relief efforts on National TV, because he didn’t use his own 1,000 buses, the Governor was stopping relief efforts from coming into the city. How can you only blame the President?”
    It’s like Karl Rove magically called up Katrina and the Democrats, without thinking, all blamed the President before the sad sorry truth came out.
    It is also like the White House is reading this blog and came out with Medicaid for everyone. They didn’t even bother suggesting COBRA extensions, paid for over-priced group health plans, by politically connected group insurance companies. If Kerry was President today, he certainly would have wanted tax payers to pay for COBRA. That’s always his first thought.
    So now I suppose we will have rich lawyers and doctors with vacation homes and BMWs getting Medicaid, paid for by poor American tax payers, that can’t afford health insurance on their own families, sick.
    I can’t wait for the Medicaid numbers to come out on Katrina. This Katrina business certainly is a wake up call like Matthew says.

  8. And a true leader would have realized in October 2001, “hey, historically state, local, and federal officials don’t play nice. Therefore, as part of my disaster emergency plan, I’m going to set up clear protocols that are agreed-upon BEFOREHAND as to who’s in charge and how things are gonna work if something really catastrophic happens. I think one city I’ll pay a lot of attention to is New Orleans, which EVERYONE EVERYWHWERE has been saying for YEARS is our most likely nightmare scenario and one that’s got a lot of potential to be mitigated with good planning.”
    I’m now wondering if George Bush’s management of FEMA will end up as a case study at Harvard–one of those, “okay, how many ways did THIS go wrong?” studies.

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