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Bush, Blanco, and Blame:
A number of commenters to my earlier post "Where's George?" raised very good points in response to what was an admittedly inarticulate post. I thought I would respond with two additional (and hopefully clearer) thoughts.

  First, I have absolutely no interest in assigning blame. My sense is that the crisis is sufficiently great that we need to be forward thinking right now. Assigning blame looks back; it's something you do when the emergency is over, and you have time to reconstruct what happened and see how you could do better next time. I don't think we're there yet. So for example, while I strongly agree with the many commenters that this should have been a state and local issue, the fact remains that the state and local governments seem to have been overwhelmed by the crisis and are not providing any kind of effective leadership. The key question is what to do next.

  Second, a few words about symbolism. A number of commenters argued that whether Bush goes down to Louisiana or stays in DC is merely symbolic, and thus won't actually help anything. I disagree. Symbols matter in times of crisis. Symbols frame mindsets, and mindsets influence conduct. Part of what is so astonishing about the current situation in Louisiana is the sense that no one seems to be in control, or is even willing to take direct responsibility. Right now the home page of CNN is blasting the headline: "WHERE'S THE HELP? STRANDED, SICK, DYING STILL WAITING." I don't know how many days or weeks of such headlines there needs to be before it begins to shake the confidence of the American people in ways that have pretty profound long term implications. But I think someone need to fill the vacuum, even if mostly only symbolically, and I think the only person who can do so right now is the President.

  That's my sense of things, at least. I may be wrong; this is far out of my area of expertise, obviously, and I'm just riffing like everyone else. Still, it seems like a very important question so I wanted to address it. Additional comments very welcome.

  UPDATE: As of 1:23pm, CNN.com is now posting what I hope is an important development:
  A convoy of military vehicles plowed through the flooded streets of New Orleans on Friday bringing food, water and medicine to the thousands of people trapped at a downtown convention center
Stay tuned....
billb:
Actually, now that you've pressed the 'post' button, they're blasting the headline 'CONVOY OF HOPE: Days after storm, aid arrives,' but the point remains: they were blasting that headline all morning. Anyway, there does appear to be help on the way to the convetion center now.

I should probably get back to work now....
9.2.2005 2:14pm
GG (mail):
The real problem is figuring out why the hurricaines hate America.
9.2.2005 2:18pm
gklne (mail):
Throughout history, horrific weather and natural disasters have generated mass movements of scapegoating. It's just part of who humans are, and what we do. We should recognize that about ourselves and should resist that tendency.

Let's all do what we can to alleviate the suffering and avoid the finger pointing.
9.2.2005 2:25pm
Cheburashka (mail):
I rather think the Mayor of New Orleans and Governor of Louisiana should stop panicking, pandering, and race-baiting, grow up, and start acting like responsible public servants.

They're spending more time whining on CNN than actually coordinating a response.
9.2.2005 2:32pm
Dave! (mail) (www):
"while I strongly agree with the many commenters that this should have been a state and local issue, the fact remains that the state and local governments seem to have been overwhelmed by the crisis"

I agree... but what is one of the resources state and local officials turn to in times of crisis of this magnitute? Their National Guard units. 50% of whom are off fighting in another Gulf. Now, I don't want to argue about the right or wrong of Iraq, that is beside the point. The point is, when the states have made that sacrifice to the Federal Goverment, and a crisis hits while they are short-handed, that makes it an issue for the Federal Government.
9.2.2005 3:04pm
Adam (mail) (www):
Am curious: why is the Vice President still on vacation in Wyoming?
9.2.2005 3:12pm
Tom Perkins (mail):
Adam, because the Vice Presidency isn't worth a bucket of warm spit.

Dave!, the NG has always been a federal force anytime the feds want it. If the states want to organize other resources based entirely on their own authority, they can do it, pay for them with their own taxes, and then use them how they like inside their borders.

The feds need local permission and direction to operate in a state, and I don't think LA and NO were quick to give either. That's a local issue.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
9.2.2005 3:22pm
cirby (mail):
"I agree... but what is one of the resources state and local officials turn to in times of crisis of this magnitute? Their National Guard units. 50% of whom are off fighting in another Gulf."

Considering that there are another QUARTER MILLION Guard troops available in the US right now, that's one of the least convincing arguments you could have tried.

You should also realize that the National Guard are soldiers *first*, and disaster relief personnel second.

When planning a disaster response, you don't rely on troops internal to the state, since they're going to be affected, too.

You also have to realize that, even if Louisiana had 100% of their troops in-state right now, the botched planning and execution by the Governor and her administrators made that a moot point...
9.2.2005 3:48pm
frankcross (mail):
I don't think local permission is the problem. The feds began taking action immediately after the hurricane, according to the papers.

And I think much of Rudy Giuliani's praiseworthy work after 9-11 was symbolic.

Right now, it looks like everyone is bungling it, local, state and federal. And they didn't do a great job in advance preparation, either.
9.2.2005 3:54pm
cirby (mail):
frankcross:
Actually, the first Federal action was Saturday, right after the President declared the coast area to be a disaster area. They started prepping and calling people in that night, at least 36 hours before the storm landed in the mouth of the Mississippi.

The local and state folks did a horrible job of prep - practically nonexistent. Those were the people who are supposed to be the leads in any major disaster, and they completely dropped the ball. All of the Federal efforts are supposed to key off of those local and state moves.

The Feds? It's four days after the storm, three days after the levee breaks, Two days after the locals admitted that they had no clue, one day after the roads got cleared enough for mass movement, and there are *thousands* of people doing insane amounts of work all across the area. We have troops in NO, people being evacuated, food and water being handed out.
9.2.2005 4:02pm
Walt Quist (mail):
Todays Wall Street Journal has a number of articles concerning the real problems. Since this is a legal blog, I will refer you to the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. Federal troops are not allowed to do law inforcement unless the governor requests federal troops because of widespread disorder. See (which may require you be a subscriber):
9.2.2005 6:19pm
Dave! (mail) (www):
"Considering that there are another QUARTER MILLION Guard troops available in the US right now, that's one of the least convincing arguments you could have tried."

Then where the [explitave deleted] are they? Hmmm??

My point wasn't that they shouldn't be in the other Gulf, it's that for all of the attention we've lavished on saving other parts of the world, we should be doing a much better job of taking care of our own.

And we aren't talking about using Federal troops for law enforcement, we're talking about using them to deliver food and water, or to evacuate people.
9.2.2005 7:52pm
TDPerkins (mail):
Dave! They aren't allowed to do that--perform civilian functions--unless the Governor asks them to, and she didn't for far too long.

Sigh.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
9.2.2005 10:23pm
Walt Quist (mail):
Most of my email got discarded because of problems with my link. Dave says there are 250,000 guard troops available in the US now. They are under the control of each governor. The reason that I brought up the Posse Comitatus act of 1878, is that active duty Army, Marines, Air Force, and Army are much faster to mobilize than the National Guard. It can take several days to mobilize a guard unit because the people are spread hundreds of miles from the mobilization point. As the WSJ article points out, maybe it is time to change that law so active duty troops can respond quickly.

It appears to me that the mayor of New Orleans and the governor of LA are spending their time trying to shift the blame instead of working the problems.

This is a MASSIVE logistic problem complicated by "terrorists" in New Orleans. I heard on the news today that military helicoptors could not fly into the city last night because of gun fire from the ground. There have also been reports of civilian agencies that could not enter the city because of the threat of gunfire. The federal troops cannot enter the city until the National Guard secures the place or they would be accused of violating the Posse Comitatus Act.

The military (I am retired USMC) always does an after action report that stresses what could have been done better and what worked. That is the time and place to assign blame. Not by reporters who don't understand how things work.

I would highly recommend to anyone interested in what the real problems are, to get the September 2, 2005 issue of the Wall Street Journal
9.2.2005 10:44pm
Glenn:

Right now the home page of CNN is blasting the headline: "WHERE'S THE HELP? STRANDED, SICK, DYING STILL WAITING." I don't know how many days or weeks of such headlines there needs to be before it begins to shake the confidence of the American people in ways that have pretty profound long term implications.


Great. As if a natural disaster wasn't enough, now we have to worry about the "long term implications" of CNN's headlines.

Does this sound utterly ridiculous to anyone besides me?

I now see Drudge posting something suggesting cannibalism. After only 100 hours? Science suggests a person can live weeks without food if they have water, and people are eating the dead after only 100 hours or so?

This panic I see (even among some of the normally rational on this blog) is regrettable. Those of you who are freaked out about CNN's headlines, get a grip. The "do something, even if its wrong" school of thought works poorly in emergencies like this.
9.3.2005 1:03am
cirby (mail):

"Considering that there are another QUARTER MILLION Guard troops available in the US right now, that's one of the least convincing arguments you could have tried."

Then where the [explitave deleted] are they? Hmmm??


About one out of eight of them are on the ground right now.

A lot of the rest of them are doing support work that you're never going to see or hear about, and most of them are waiting in case they're needed, or to rotate in for units that get exhausted by the hundred hour work weeks they're going to be doing for the next month or two.

Remember that for every person we put in the field, there are eight to ten somewhere else putting together the support structure to let those people do something.

If we put that quarter million troops in the field, they'd be dying of thirst and disease in about four days without serious support.

And, of course, folks would then start complaining about sending in soldiers without sufficient prep.

One more thing: You do realize that the primary job of the military is not disaster recovery, right?
9.3.2005 2:48am
Paul doson (mail) (www):
Very rightly written article, it arrests the attention of the reader. The subject is outlined with clear understanding and focus.
9.3.2005 7:49am