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Orin on 'Where's George":
It is not my intention to express a strong opinion on the handling of the catastrophe in New Orleans. Like everyone else I only know what I see on TV, and it has been horrific at times. And almost any opinion one now expresses--apart from offering assistance to those in need--can seem like an attempt to exploit this disaster to score a political or ideological point. But I will nevertheless hazard offering two observations.

First, I think we should distinguish attempts at blaming the President for the horrible consequences of the hurricane--as some on other blogs and in the comments are apparently doing--with criticisms of how he is performing NOW in response to events in his capacity as President. I take it that the latter, not the former, was the thrust of Orin's original post. One could completely reject any culpability for these events (via, e.g., theories based on funding for the Corps of Engineers, or National Guard troops diverted to Iraq, etc.) and still be highly critical of the President's current public performance. Whatever one thinks of the former sorts of criticisms, the latter seem perfectly reasonable to offer in a blog--especially from a blogger who might otherwise be more likely to support the current administration. Whatever may or may not be occurring behind the scenes, the President's current public performance is there for all to see and comment on. I cannot say that I have been favorably impressed so far.

Second, government at all levels has obviously not lived up to its promise of being able to anticipate and react to disasters and other social calamities better than nongovernmental institutions. This should not be surprising. Governments are comprised of ordinary human beings with the same limitations of vision and self-interests as those in the private sector (and often, but not always, with far worse incentives)--that is, these human beings confront pervasive problems of knowledge, interest, and power. I have the same reaction every time there are calls for increased government oversight in the aftermath of some failure in the private sector. What gives anyone confidence that government institutions will act with any more prescience? Moreover, it seems often the case that the core functions that are most often used to justify the existence of governments--such as public safety, national defense, and public infrastructure--are often the very tasks that are given short shrift by real world politicians in search of more "elevated," seemingly less pedestrian goals than these. This seems especially the case when the failure to provide these "essential social services" can so often be obscured from public view or, when revealed, responsibility for failure can be shifted to others.

Update: Steve Bainbridge has a nice roundup of other writers who, one way or another, greatly expand on the sentiments of the last paragraph. And it certainly is not "heartless" (in the words of one commentor) to examine the 'root causes' of what seem to be inadequate government responses to this disaster beyond whatever culpability may be attributed personally to George W. Bush.

Update: Lots of good comments in the comment section.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Orin on 'Where's George":
  2. Bush, Blanco, and Blame:
  3. Where's George?:
  4. Where's Rudy?
Cheburashka (mail):
Didn't we already establish that the whole thing was Clinton's fault?
9.2.2005 3:56pm
Greedy Clerk (mail):
Whatever one thinks of the former sorts of criticisms, the latter seem perfectly reasonable to offer in a blog--especially from a blogger who might otherwise be more likely to support the current administration.

Randy, why is it not "reasonable" to criticize the President for the former???????? I didn't know that it is no longer even "reasonable" to question our leader's conduct in the last four years. If in fact there is nothign to criticize, then explain why, but don't imply that it is unreasonable to ask why the hell we are in a situation where there are tens of thousands of nat'l guardsmen in Baghdad but it takes days to get them to New Orleans, as people are literally dying in the streets. And don't say it is unreasonable to even question the funding for the army corps of engineers, or stacking FEMA with political cronies who don't know the first damn thing about disaster relief.

Sorry, Randy, contrary to the way things look in the New Orleans (ie like a third world country), this is still the United F-cking States of America, and I will exercise my goddamn right to criticize little Bush every day, and you ain't gonna tell me it is unreasonable.

9.2.2005 4:20pm
fling93 (www):
Greedy Clerk: Randy, why is it not "reasonable" to criticize the President for the former?

He's not saying that. He's saying that the latter criticism is reasonable regardless of whether or not you think the former is reasonable. That's what he means by the unfortunately worded: "One could completely reject any culpability for these events...and still be highly critical of the President's current public performance."
9.2.2005 4:29pm
Carl Sanders (mail):
Clark, carefully re-read the sentence you quoted, and then your first sentence.

I guess my point in the other thread was that our need to place blame might affect our evaluation of the second type of critcism as well, especially given there are so many levels of government that have responsibilities here.
9.2.2005 4:30pm
Sasha (mail):
Greedy Clerk -- I don't think Randy was saying Category A is unreasonable, he was just saying Category B is reasonable. Note the phrase "Whatever one thinks of the former sorts of criticisms" -- he expresses no opinion on Category A, perhaps because he recognizes that some people don't think they're appropriate now, see, e.g., Orin's post below on the need to be "forward thinking right now." In short, that part of Randy's post is pure defense of a particular category of argument.
9.2.2005 4:33pm
Sasha (mail):
Well, I think we've just hammered that point to death.
9.2.2005 4:36pm
irregular duty:

Second, government at all levels has obviously not lived up to its promise of being able to anticipate and react to disasters and other social calamities better than nongovernmental institutions.


Randy, don't you find the "former types of criticisms" at all related to the question of whether government is best equipped to respond to this type of event? It would seem to me to be somewhat intellectually dishonest to on one hand criticize the government's capacity to respond while at the same time ignoring evidence that the current administration had intentionally crippled that capacity.
9.2.2005 4:51pm
Justin Kee (mail):
From the parent post, "What gives anyone confidence that government institutions will act with any more prescience? "

The previous head of the Army Corp. of Engineers was interviewed last night on ABC, and he stated that the cost-benefit of protecting New Orleans, via expanded levees, was not justified in protecting New Orleans from a hurricane of greater than category-3.

The scientific evidence regarding this event was, is, there . The evidence could not be anymore obvious. It is not prescience that is the issue, but the political will and the finacial capital to have done what was necessary.
9.2.2005 5:05pm
Goober (mail):
Upon first reading this entry, I was going to ask for links to other blogs supposedly blaming the president for the hurricane's consequences. I expected to be treated to some lunacy about Bush having a Bond-villian type weather machine and an unchecked hatred for Mardi Gras. Then I read further and discovered that Prof. Barnett was referring to "theories based on funding for the Corps of Engineers, or National Guard troops diverted to Iraq." I must say I'm confused: How is the decision to provide less funding for the Army Corps or to employ the Guard in other locations not fair game for discussion? The Corps and the Guard are often the first-responders to natural disasters. If a politician cuts the police force and crime goes up, he ought to be blamed for his decision, and I don't see how that differs from criticizing policies that underfunded and diverted the state resources that often address these situations. So instead I'm assuming he meant to write that we should distinguish between blame for the decision to build New Orleans below sea level, or not to make the levees unbreachable.

As for Barnett's second point, I really cannot emphasize how heartless and uninsightful I find the sentiment that government doesn't do anything right, so what else should we expect. What gives us confidence that the government will be able to do things that ordinary citizens can't do for themselves? For crying out loud! The government has helicopters and amphibeous vehicles, the ability to procure large amounts of food and water and to organize emergency shelters, and generally the capacity to address the needs resulting from natural disasters. "Prescience" is beside the point entirely; you don't need a crystal ball to know that hurricanes can displace a lot of people and create a need for food, water, medical care and shelter. And yet a hurricane which was known to be headed for a major metropolitan area particularly susceptible to damage from rising water levels was preceded by what buildup in rescue resources? The perfectly normal and knowable consequences of the storm were anticipated... how, exactly?

And my outrage over the government's response to this situation is only exacerbated when I hear philosophically-inclined libertarians opine that t'were ever thus. The situation in Louisiana and Mississippi is not due to some internal paradox of government regulation or the bizarre incentives of agencies not subject to the free market. This is an emergency. This isn't a case where the government is powerless to help, or its help will create perverse side-effects and so it's wisest to abstain. The Bush administration could have, and should have intervened to help the people affected by Katrina. It just didn't.
9.2.2005 5:21pm
Goober (mail):
Sasha: Yup. And I, apparently, missed it. Whoops.
9.2.2005 5:26pm
Bob Flynn (mail):
This is getting embarrasing. When did so many whiners and arm-chair commentators get so many bull-horns? New Orleans is in the midst of a tragedy. People who couldn't leave or chose not to, are taking the brunt from the result of poor engineering for the levees.

It is mostly up to the people there, on the ground, to square the situation away.
9.2.2005 5:40pm
cmn (mail) (www):
If it is assumed that this sort of disaster relief is properly a responsibility of the federal government (and Bush has certainly not claimed otherwise), then of course the administration's handling of it is fair game for criticism.

I'd actually be more interested, though, to hear Randy's thoughts on the constitutional question of the extent to which the federal government ought to be involved in seeking either to prevent or to respond to local weather calamaties. Is FEMA justified by the Commerce Clause?

I think Mike O'Hare's discussion of the broader policy question is worthwhile as well:
9.2.2005 6:20pm
Greedy Clerk (mail):
It does not matter if FEMA is constitutional under the commerce clause, it is constitutional under the Spending Clause, but thanks for playing.
9.2.2005 6:26pm
Carol Anne:
Federal Government responsibility for saving lives and property for major national catastrophes is simply logical. If each homeowner and each business were responsible, it would lead to local non-optimization (i.e., people would prepare for things that--by luck--never happen).

What the federal government can do is to help regions prepare (e.g., Gulf Coast, California's earthquake zones), and to have all the resources that can be dispatched to the very place in trouble.

That having been said, the Federal Government has done a lousy job of planning for and executing such a plan. They didn't use the days before the hurricane arrived to stage resources near the path (or ready to be airlifted into staging areas after passage). They didn't provide any comprehensive planning (and cut budgets for levee planning that had been done). And, they waited entirely too long to find out how many people needed help and marshall that support.

Anybody who believes Brown (FEMA) and Chertoff (Homeland Security) didn't know about the problems of masses of (largely black) folks at the Superdome and Convention Center just hasn't been watching. Any comprehensive fly-over by a survey team in a helicoptor would have seen the thousands of people outside, on rooftops, in the open.

It's easy to cut budgets (especailly for tax cuts) for emergency preparedness: There is never a large body of people saying, "You're hurting ME!" They just haven't become victims yet. But lack of planning, lack of budgeting for stored water and food, lack of staffing of forces ready to move in on a day's notice are all evidence of this abrogation of responsibility on the part of erstwhile "leaders."
9.2.2005 7:27pm
cmn (mail) (www):
Greedy Clerk: Try raising your game a bit. Madison took the position that the spending clause only authorizes spending pursuant to the enumerated legislative fields committed to Congress. Yes I know his view lost, but obviously I'm not asking a question about present prevailing doctrine but about Randy's view in the context of his broader arguments as to the way the constitution ought to be interpreted.
9.2.2005 8:05pm
Some Jarhead:
You can't respond to a disaster until after it happens.

Consider food relief. Domestic stockpiles of disaster supplies (food, medicine, water, clothing, etc.) are held in climate-controlled, strategic facilities. It takes time to unpack those supplies, load them onto trucks, and move them to the site of the disaster; a day or two from the moment the order is given, minimum. Once they're loaded, they must be used. Exposure to the elements makes these supplies unfit for further long-term storage.

The same goes for military-type rescue equipment, which is spread around the country as part of the training fleet but available for relief efforts as circumstances require, with some additional equipment as dedicated rescue units (such as Coast Guard assets). This equipment takes time to move, and moving it leaves the place of origin without that particular asset. This creates the catch-22 of sending equipment to a place it eventually isn't needed, and having a second disaster hit in the place where the equipment came from.

I don't think I need to explain the dangers of transporting blood and plasma reserves without knowing that they are actually necessary - for these types of perishables, it's a one-way trip.

Anyone who says that the New Orleans situation was clear from before the storm made landfall is either a liar, or has somehow learned to predict the future.

Finally, there's the important question about the legality of federalizing the National Guards of surrounding states and deploying them to a place with a functioning and independent government on a hunch that things are about to get much, much worse.

The blame for New Orleans rests squarely on the Mayor and the Governor. Today, the people of New Orleans wish they had Rudy Giuliani as Mayor and George W. Bush as Governor.
9.2.2005 8:12pm
DanB:
Something people seem to be forgetting is that New Orleans was not the only place hit. It's just the most photogenic place hit. Now, disaster relief always involves triage -- you focus your efforts on the people you can best help, first. You face the tougher problems when you are able to.

New Orleans is, today, a big lake inhabited by criminals who shoot at rescue workers. The rest of Louisiana and Mississippi is filled with hundreds of thousands of people who *also* desperately need help and who are a lot easier to get aid to. Those people, so far as I know, have been getting aid.

It does not seem to me to be an obvious failure of government that New Orleans is still in a bad situation. It appears that there was a decent original response, but it got rebuffed by local thugs. It has taken time to reorder the relief effort so that it can be carried out without endangering the lives of relief workers. I don't blame the government for not thinking, in advance, that it would need to provide armed escort for relief workers in a modern American city.
9.2.2005 8:19pm
Al Maviva (mail):
Anybody who believes Brown (FEMA) and Chertoff (Homeland Security) didn't know about the problems of masses of (largely black) folks at the Superdome and Convention Center just hasn't been watching.

Yeah, it's a big conspiracy against black people, led by the folks at Homeland and FEMA who brought you the black helicopters...

The simple fact of the matter is that there are 90,000 miles under emergency conditions, and maybe 10 million people affected by the hurricane, and the ongoing flooding is another disaster in and of itself. The roads are out, fuel is short because the U.S. just lost 20% of it's fuel supply, and most of the regional lift that would normally haul relief supplies is either under water, out of communications and electricity, or storm damaged. Adding to that, the National Guard troops by law, have 72 hours to report. Time it out from Tuesday until today, and Gen. Honore's massive relief columns are right on time with that 72 hour timeline.

Neither FEMA nor DHS as a whole is set up as a search and rescue agency. Search and rescue - which is by definition what helicopter rescue, boating down flooded streets and hacking into the attics of flooded (perhaps) occupied houses, is a first responder issue. Coast Guard can handle some of it, and has rescued several thousand individuals, but the Coast Guard is a tiny little agency, with roughly 30,000 active duty sailors. And it's not like they can just leave the rough seas in Alaska and off Maine and the dangerous ports of New York and Miami unpatrolled.

You want the Fed Gov to open a giant federal fire department, and a giant federal local police department? Sorry, it doesn't work that way, not under this constitution anyhow. The fine details of planning a city evacuation aren't up to the federal government. There are a lot of freaking cities in the U.S. if it's up to a single Department in D.C. with 120,000 full time employees to not only foresee all the local needs, but also respond to them... well, the Department is way too small, by at least a couple orders of magnitude.

The terrible fact is, sometimes, we're at nature's whim, and we just don't have enough resources or people to have a detailed, pre-positioned logistical tail in place to deal with every possible contingency. What happens if terrorists hit New York tonight? Well, we will be in sh** state, because the President and a half dozen key cabinet members are cruising around Louisiana trying to pound square pegs into round holes faster.

The overall principle is that if preparing every city for every possible contingency is top priority, then nothing is top priority. I don't think the recriminations are going to be so stark in a week's time, when the full scope of federal relief efforts becomes known. I think the city's and the state's gaffes will look a lot worse, however. Anybody seen the school buses photo, for example?
9.2.2005 9:59pm
TDPerkins (mail):
I had a big post in mind tearing up Carol Anne's post, but, I need to go to bed.

What Al Maviva said.

Yours, TDP, ml, sml, &pfpp
9.2.2005 10:21pm
Splunge (mail):
Bravo, Al Maviva. Well said.
9.3.2005 7:38am
Doc (mail):
May I add, "Where's Cheney?"

Reports say vacation or sick but where *has* he been?
9.3.2005 9:01am
=0=:
The blame for New Orleans rests squarely on the Mayor and the Governor. Today, the people of New Orleans wish they had Rudy Giuliani as Mayor and George W. Bush as Governor.

That's not what I'm hearing from folks who are actually there. Ray Nagin is becoming something of a folk hero, in the same vein as Rudy. (And I was here for Giulinai's excesses, too - anyone remember those? But he did do a lot of good that day.)
9.3.2005 12:48pm
Carol Anne:
Al Maviva writes, in part: Yeah, it's a big conspiracy against black people, led by the folks at Homeland and FEMA who brought you the black helicopters...

Nonsense. You can always inflate that which you don't understand into a "conspiracy" theory.

In fact, this was just plain incompetence. The fact that people were being urged to go to the Superdome, then the Convention Center, was known by Sunday. If FEMA and DHS were not monitoring what local government officials (e.g., Mayor) were doing and saying, then they weren't doing their jobs. "Intelligence" is not exclusively a military function...but, it requires some competent attention to information that is widely available.


Al Maviva writes (further): Neither FEMA nor DHS as a whole is set up as a search and rescue agency I'll grant DHS has other responsibilities, but to suggest that FEMA (which is now part of DHS) has no "search and rescue" responsibility is absurd. In fact, look at the FEMA website: http://www.fema.gov/usr/. Similarly, DHS has a site worthy of study: Emergencies &Disasters.

Finally, Al Marviva writes: You want the Fed Gov to open a giant federal fire department, and a giant federal local police department?

I made no such assertion. What I said was that it makes sense for the federal government to have resources in place to deal with emergencies, because they can be deployed in response to disasters as necessary. It makes economic sense to centralize that function (as DHS/FEMA have been set up to do), because the "local optimization" is a wasteful strategy.

However, it is incumbent on those national resources to respond quickly, and where advance notice exists (e.g., hurricanes) to preposition resources where hazards are likely to appear. The fact that on Monday, National Guard units were ready to move from other states into the area, but weren't approved in Washington 'til Thursday is just inept.

If you can't read, don't post. And, if you can't understand, don't try to explode what you don't understand into something outrageous. That is simply counterfeit argumentation.
9.3.2005 1:46pm
Penta:
Carol Anne: You neglect that half of the NOPD walked off the job. As reported by the NO Times-Picayune.

Also, the local&state response was basically useless.

Finally, this is basically a logistical nightmare. It was going to take time.

FWIW, you're basically hearing people sing the praises of fed work since Bush toured yesterday.

I would say that, yes, we should have a vicious After-Action Review. But it's sickening to see this being used for partisan or ideological point-scoring.
9.3.2005 4:29pm
Challenge:
If the Dems want to turn this into a political battle, I am not sure they will like the results. The FACT is that this sort of disaster is supposed to be managed, planned for, and ultimately dealt with by local and state authorities, with the AID of federal agencies. Federal relief is a complement to the main thrust of first responders and evacuation. Sadly, the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana performed exceedingly poorly. That is tragic.

If Bush would have bypassed state and local authorities and took control of the situation on the day of or before the hurricane, the partisans would be screaming about what a tyrannt he is, and that he subverted the well-laid plans of state and local authorities.

WHO FAILED TO EVACUATE NO'S POOR AND INDIGENT POPULATION PRIOR TO THE HURRICANE? Is that the Federal government's responsibiity? I don't think so.

NYC did so well in the wake of 9-11 because they had the plans, training, and infrastructure in place to respond. The NO disaster is a disaster because NO's failure to plan, train, and build the necesssary infrastructure to handle an emergency of this kind and magnitude.

What we have seen this last week is primarily a failure of city, local, and state authorities to adequately prepare for this kind of disaster.
9.3.2005 5:25pm
Al Maviva (mail):
Nonsense. You can always inflate that which you don't understand into a "conspiracy" theory.

Okay, so is what you are saying, that Bush really does hate Black people, but it's not a conspiracy? Because if my sarcasm is inflating "something [I] don't understand" into a conspiracy theory, the clear implication is that Bush's Black hatred is factual, and I just don't get it.

If FEMA and DHS were not monitoring what local government officials (e.g., Mayor) were doing and saying, then they weren't doing their jobs. "Intelligence" is not exclusively a military function...but, it requires some competent attention to information that is widely available.

Given that there are several hundred localities in the affected area, do you honestly believe it was the job of FEMA (with 10 - 15,000 employees) to monitor what each was doing, or rather was it for the localities to execute pre-designated plans, and report variations to FEMA, the coordinating body? And in age of the PATRIOT Act, do you really think federal "monitoring" of local government activities will go uncommented upon? Do you really want FEMA staff sitting around watching CNN, or going out into the field and actually coordinating things?

I'll grant DHS has other responsibilities, but to suggest that FEMA (which is now part of DHS) has no "search and rescue" responsibility is absurd.

Fine Carol Anne. Point me to a listing of FEMA's actual SAR assets. I'm not talking about their list of local first responders they can call on for special events - in a catastrophe, they are non-existent, they have other local duties, except for those teams (like the ones that deployed from all over the country on Wednesday and Tuesday) that are free to go to the affected region. Likewise the medical teams - FEMA moved just about all their available volunteer medical response teams into place on Tuesday and Wednesday. The cabinet is bare. And in the absence of organic SAR, medical, and law enforcement capacity, FEMA relies on... wait for it... state and local officials, and what federal assets can be scrounged from other agencies, to provide SAR assets. FEMA has some responsibility for coordinating such efforts, but honestly, they are a tiny little coordinating agency. The evacuation of the remnants of New Orleans, with perhaps 150,000 people stranded in areas that have been under water and mostly inaccessible to roadgoing vehicles, is multiple orders of magnitude beyond FEMA's organic capabilities. Helicopters are nice, but it would take maybe 30,000 sorties to airlift that many people out. In the absence of a huge organic federal SAR capability, FEMA relies on the national guard, which is under state control. For legal and policy reasons, DOD is highly reluctant to commit active duty forces to such operations, at least on a large scale. They greatly prefer National Guard troops to go, and these are under the control of the governors. If you doubt the real legal and policy obstacles to employing regular duty troops, let me know here and I will summon up a long list of groups opposing the use of Title 10 troops on U.S. soil for domestic activities, really throwing out inflammatory rhetoric about it and threatening lawsuits. ACLU leads the list, yes, but CATO and some PaleoCons have been extremely critical of any such efforts. Remember Waco and Delta involvement? It's an ongoing controversy and DOD is once burned, twice shy.

Finally, this is an operation that probably exceeds the scope of any logistical effort you've ever seen. I have been involved in major military and humanitarian relief operations, and have seen the logistical tail that it takes. It's not as simple as loading a bunch of people into trucks and driving them to a spot. You can send 20,000 people at a moment's notice, but if you don't have a relatively secure place to house them, feed and water them, and to set up ops centers, you will only make the situation worse. You can load up 18 wheelers with MREs and water and try to drive them in - by the way a full supply of food enough to fill everybody's belly and enough medical supplies for a few days would probably be a roughly 20 mile long convoy - but if you try to drive semis over the few roads still operable, you will likely crush the low weight bridges and preclude ambulances and Hummers from getting into and out of the city, and then the city is really screwed. I know, I know. You can just whip up an Army Engineer unit from Ft. Hood and build new bridges. That only takes them a day to get there, and a day to build, and oh by the way, you don't need one bridge, you need about 10 lanes. The clear failure to anticipate that need by about Sunday is obvious evidence of incompetence on Bush's part, etc...

And on and on it goes.

It ain't so damn simple. If it was, it would have been done. If it was simple, even a bunch of incompetents would have figured it out. Do you really, truly think the Bush administration is so politically stupid, that they would intentionally blow this operation? There will be hell to pay. Or is blowing the operation part of some larger, more fiendish Rovian plot? Honestly. Nobody is that stupid or Nagin and Blanco would have fixed things - they have millions of dollars, thousands of buses and tens of thousands of guard troops at their disposal. Why didn't they do it if it's that simple? The only other alternative is that it's pure evil on the part of the Bush Administration that has led to this pass.

Is it just possible that maybe some mistakes have been made, but a situation where a whole city and its entire infrastructure gets wiped out in a day is actually beyond our ability to comprehensively deal with in the space of 48 hours?
9.3.2005 5:31pm
Splunge (mail):
Carol Anne, you've made some strong statements, viz.:

...it makes sense for the federal government to have resources in place to deal with [local] emergencies....It makes economic sense to centralize that function.

The fact that on Monday, National Guard units were ready to move from other states into the area, but weren't approved in Washington 'til Thursday is just inept.

Do you have any training or experience in large-scale emergency management or large-scale logistics that forms the basis for these opinions?
9.3.2005 6:08pm
Goober (mail):
Al Maviva---

Slow down, take a breath. People are critical of the president because he doesn't seem to give a good darn about what's happening, or at least it looked like he didn't until he started getting criticized for it. Whether you accept it or not, the inference is at least permissible that he simply didn't think a grave humanitarian disaster was worth his attention; people are certainly free to conclude that his priorities are screwed up and a lot of people drowning doesn't get his attention as much as, say, embryoes. That's not the same criticism as accusing the president of actively cheering or cooperating in the deaths of a lot of people because they're black; it's an accusation of indifference, not desirousness. A statement that the president actually wants Americans to die, whether here or in Iraq, is beneath the dignity of serious discussion; but a statement that the president doesn't properly measure the cost of American lives, in Louisiana or Iraq, is quite obviously not. It's a little shifty to pretend a statement of the latter sort is simply the same as one of the former sort and so refuse to answer it.

I think a shorter way to phrase these questions is: Did the president do enough, or fast enough, or eagerly enough, to help the victims of Katrina? And does that say anything about his priorities? Does the president's actions in response to Katrina, as measured against his actions in response to the estate tax, or legal abortion, or in conducting military policy, reflect priorities that Americans wish their president would have? And, further, one could (but need not) speculate whether the president would have done anything differently if the victims weren't largely black, or poor, or Democrats. Even in this last form, these questions might not be totally serious, but they're not as trivial as actual "conspiracy theories." Anyway, that's my take.

Since I've been referenced if not named, I'll follow up on my accusation of heartlessness.

It's particularly distressing, when we observe what I think has to be conceded is a troubling response by the national government to a humanitarian situation that rises to the level of a national problem, to hear libertarian theorizing that government action is inherently disfunctional. It's simply impossible to read such responses except as justifying government inaction (at least, in part). The government didn't do a good enough job of saving people's lives; to say that the government can't do a good job is inherently to rationalize the inadequate response of officials who just are responsible for helping people in this situation.

Prof. Barnett took a rather temperate stab in this direction by voicing his observation that government seems not to do this sort of job very well. (I doubt his recollection; I don't at all recall the government dropping the ball this badly when the people in charge of the government were not of Prof. Barnett's view that the federal government's role in protecting people from their choices should be limited. Intoned with maximum sarcasm.) John Tierney took a more ludicrous step in his column where he speculated that FEMA protection creates a moral hazard that discourages people from avoiding flooding risk. I don't think anyone affected by Katrina expects to be made whole by federal assistance, insurance money and private donations; indeed it's almost absurd to think so. Yet the theory that only by abandoning the social safety net can we encourage adequate individual responsibility remains, mystifyingly, unstoppable, ignoring all contrary facts in the pursuit of ideological purity.

Why do I call it "heartless"? Because when I encounter a writer whose first reaction to Katrina is "Ah, government fails. Just as my perfect philosophy would have predicted," rather than "People are dead; could we have done anything better?", I simply do not know another word for it.
9.3.2005 6:38pm
Challenge:
Goober, what the exactly are you trying to say? Brevity, my friend, brevity.
9.3.2005 8:10pm
Challenge:
"Did the president do enough, or fast enough, or eagerly enough, to help the victims of Katrina?"

How about directing those questions where the responsibility typically rests--with the local and state officials.

So much of the criticism is made by people who simply do not understand how this disaster relief is typically executed. It's a state responsibility, federal aid is provided at the request and direction of state authorities, not directed by POTUS and federalized troops. If Bush would have ASSUMED the incompetence which eventually materialized, then he would have been roundly criticized for disregarding federalism and state sovereignty.
9.3.2005 8:18pm
Andrew J. Lazarus (mail):
When George W. Bush was governor and disaster hit Texas during the Clinton years, he had the good fortune to find FEMA headed by a disaster professional—so good, Bush even complimented Clinton's FEMA in a debate against Al Gore.

Gov. Blanco looks incompetent, but she also has the misfortune of having disaster strike while FEMA is headed by a GOP-connected hack with no relevant experience or training whatsoever who literally got fired from his previous job as commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association.

It's quite obvious we don't have the resources (either human or physical) to deal with a catastrophe of this magnitude. The question is: after umpty-billion dollars and four years, why not?
9.3.2005 8:28pm
Carol Anne:
To respond to Al Miviva's sole relevant point, above, Fine Carol Anne. Point me to a listing of FEMA's actual SAR assets.

You grossly misunderstand FEMA's charter and responsibility. It is empatically not FEMA's responsiblity to maintain "SAR assets." They are the "Federal Emergency Management Agency," with responsibility to manage other assets, perform command-and-control. I wrote earlier about Vancouver, BC readying six airplanes, SAR teams and supplies, but FEMA's parent, DHS, refused them entry into the U.S. Then, we learn, Mayor Daley of Chicago ordered his SAR resources to New Orleans on Monday, but FEMA stopped that operation. (Gee, did they decide they didn't need them? That's a failure of management, largely because Bush has put a Republican hack in charge of the Agency in the pattern of patronage that has been evident for the past (nearly) five years. The Washington Post today has a story on how FEMA's budget has been slashed at the same time.

As to Splunge's query: No, I am not a nationally-recognized authority on large-scale logistics or large-scale emergency management. I'm just an informed voter and minor, local politician in my town. But, having been engaged in major emergency planning for large chemical factories (and requisite evacuation plans) in my career, I've learned a few things about how proper planning and execution are done. Or, was that just a rhetorical question, designed to challenge the author's qualifications to write such assertions? Perhaps you might reveal your experience in these fields, and show from that experience where my logic is in error?
9.4.2005 11:57am
Al Maviva (mail):
In a past career, I worked on emergency planning at the federal level, along with working logistics and security for humanitarian relief missions at the international level. I've never seen an operation of this scale or complexity before, other than military expeditions into foreign nations. Nothing even close to it (though I've seen bigger disasters).

I'm amazed at how simple everybody thinks it is, to spin up what is essentially a self-sustaining expedition of 30,000+ rescuers, with enough food, water, fuel, shelter and security for themselves, and everybody in New Orleans; and to send that column into a 90,000 square mile region where there is no fuel, broken interstates and bridges, no power, and a populace at times just as likely to shoot at the rescuers, as accept aid from them.

Oh well, never mind. I'll just agree with y'all and conclude it's all Bush's fault. That's much easier than having to get our minds around ideas like the capriciousness of nature, our inability to move tens of thousands of tons of materials instantaneously from safe spots into devastated areas, and the inability of the President to make us all feel good about federal efforts while people are dying.

There, that's much easier than having to face the hard facts about the limits of federal, and human endeavors.
9.4.2005 12:49pm
Tom Perkins (mail):
Carol Anne has asserted that the federal DHS has refused entry to an international SAR team and asserted that FEMA stopped several domestically raised relief operations. I assume that if this has happened, she can make citations to support her assertins and that if some explanation for it is given that she will repeat them so they can be examined for plausibility.

I also assume she will continue what amounts to being smoke and mirrors and handwaving to try to distract us from the fact the local authorities did not follow the agreed upon plan for handling this emergency, and that is why anyone in any numbers remained in the city to be stuck in the Superdome and convention center in the first place.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
9.4.2005 2:29pm
Tom Perkins (mail):
Until someone mentions something fundamentally new, this will be my last post on this topic:

These links can be found at Instapundit.com

I hope no one will mistake the significance of what even the Democratic party organ called the Washington Post sees fit to write and quote.


First Article

"Other federal and state officials pointed to Louisiana's failure to measure up to national disaster response standards, noting that the federal plan advises state and local emergency managers not to expect federal aid for 72 to 96 hours, and base their own preparedness efforts on the need to be self-sufficient for at least that period. "Fundamentally the first breakdown occurred at the local level," said one state official who works with FEMA. 'Did the city have the situational awareness of what was going on within its borders? The answer was no.""


Second Article

"Behind the scenes, a power struggle emerged, as federal officials tried to wrest authority from Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D). Shortly before midnight Friday, the Bush administration sent her a proposed legal memorandum asking her to request a federal takeover of the evacuation of New Orleans, a source within the state's emergency operations center said Saturday.
The administration sought unified control over all local police and state National Guard units reporting to the governor. Louisiana officials rejected the request after talks throughout the night, concerned that such a move would be comparable to a federal declaration of martial law. Some officials in the state suspected a political motive behind the request. "Quite frankly, if they'd been able to pull off taking it away from the locals, they then could have blamed everything on the locals," said the source, who does not have the authority to speak publicly."

And given the failure of the locals to follow the plan, I ask why it shouldn't be blamed on the locals, since as the first paragraph quoted shows, even as late as they have been moving, the feds have been doing pretty much what they said they could do before hand.

And


"Louisiana did not reach out to a multi-state mutual aid compact for assistance until Wednesday, three state and federal officials said. As of Saturday, Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency, the senior Bush official said.
"The federal government stands ready to work with state and local officials to secure New Orleans and the state of Louisiana," White House spokesman Dan Bartlett said. "The president will not let any form of bureaucracy get in the way of protecting the citizens of Louisiana."
Blanco made two moves Saturday that protected her independence from the federal government: She created a philanthropic fund for the state's victims and hired James Lee Witt, Federal Emergency Management Agency director in the Clinton administration, to advise her on the relief effort."

CYA Blanco, babies died of thirst and you and Nagin are CYA.

That's leadership.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
9.4.2005 3:49pm
Goober (mail):
Challenge illustrates my point nicely:

How about directing those questions where the responsibility typically rests--with the local and state officials.

People are dying, and what is Challenge's response? An appeal to the principles of federalism! I think we can all agree that such an appeal can wait 'til tomorrow. The federal government has resources that can fix the problem; I don't have a lot of patience for arguments against the practical and necessary step of federal intervention when time could be better spent saving lives. (But perhaps that's not a "heartless" response, either.)

Maviva makes the case that the emergency management effort could not have been handled any better, and asserts that he would know because he's "seen bigger disasters." (I assume he's talking about New York City, or perhaps Mogadishu.)

As for his point about "limits of federal [action]," I don't agree; a majority of the country doesn't agree; the president, who called the relief efforts thus far unacceptable, doesn't agree; Prof. Barnett, whose initial post on the government underperforming in response to a disaster necessarily assumes that better response is possible, doesn't agree. But perhaps we're all wrong! Perhaps what we've seen the last week is really the best the government could have done!

What we get from Mr. Maviva is a plaintive insistence that "It's not Bush's fault!" I hear that a lot. Well, the buck stops somewhere else, I guess. But it's plainly dishonest for someone of such infinite intellectual flexibility that can exculpate the president from seemingly any failure to accuse all who disagree with him of being blinded by partisanship. The whole country knows the administration's inaction is costing lives; I'm not going to waste any more time demonstrating the obvious.
9.4.2005 6:36pm
Andrew J. Lazarus (mail):
Mr Perkins should note that the WaPo has had to retract the statement that there was no Blanco State of Emergency, it was declared Aug 26.

The official defend Bush at all costs talking points are coming out, though.
9.5.2005 11:39am
TDPerkins (mail):
Mr. Lazarus should note the "State of Emergency" declared on the 26 only referenced the Stafford Act, which authorizes only federal money, not personnel.

Mr. Lazarus should note that the state is still insisting on maintaining control of the relief efforts in spit of its abject incompetence.

The feds are sitll in the position of responding to locals requests, which means they can be no more effective than the locals have a clue.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
9.5.2005 11:47am
Carol Anne:
Tom Perkins, in an attempt to "shoot the messenger" rather than provide information, challenges me to provide "citations" to my assertions about Vancouver and Chicago offers of help that were rebuffed.

For Vancouver, see: The Press Release, positing an 8:00 pm departure on August 31st.

I can no longer find the source I had that said they were delayed, and I may have been wrong, By 10:00 am )PDT) the next day, they were reporting on condition in New Orleans: http://vancouver.ca/usar/ I had been informed, but not seen in the press, that it took P.M. Paul Martin's telecon with President Bush, early in the day on September 1 to get the flight approved. Perhaps the facts will emerge in the inevitable "after-action" analysis.

As for Chicago being rebuffed, I refer you to Daley 'shocked' at federal snub of offers to help.

I'll grant the first report (Vancouver) was unverified and might prove wrong. But, the second (Chicago), and the new-frequent reports of "turf battles" taking place in Washington while Katrina was still active, and the recent attempts by the White House to deny Governor Blanco issued a declaration of emergency (which, in fact, whe did on August 26th, see http://gov.louisiana.gov/Press_Release_detail.asp?id=973), led me to believe my (unofficial source) was probably correct.

Now, those who resent my participation here can jump on me for not substantiating the first report, while the second goes uncommented upon. :-)
9.5.2005 1:37pm
Carol Anne:
TDPerkins writes (in part): the state is still insisting on maintaining control of the relief efforts

How do you account for Lt. General Honore's evident role; Is he not part of the U.S. Army? How does "the state (of Louisiana)...control" his efforts?

How do you account for the obvious claims of ownership of the "...tremendous effort..." claimed by Chertoff, Secretary of DHS, or Bush's crediting Michael Brown with "..a heck of a job?"

Are there other reports of any explicit efforts Governor Blanco or her staff have taken to wrest control from the Feds?

I see no evidence of any attempt Louisiana's government is "...insisting on maintaining control of the relief efforts..."

It is clear, however, that DHS has responsibility: Specifically, in the National Response Plan, on page 27, says, "...the Secretary (of DHS) is also responsible for coordinating Federal resources utilized in response to or recovery from terroist attacks, major disasters, or toher emergencies if and when any of the following four conditions applies:
(1) a Federal department or agency acting under its own authority has requested DHS assistance,
(2) the resources of State and local authorities are overwhelmed and Federal assistance has been requested,
(3) more than one Federal department or agency has been substantially involved in responding the incident, or
(4) the Secretary has been directed to assume incident management responsibilities by the President..."

It appears that, contrary to White House assertions to the contrary, Governor Blanco complied with (2), above, on August 27th, two days before Katrina hit the Gulf Coast shore on the morning of August 29th. Of course, our esteemed President stayed on vacation until two days after that (August 31st).
9.5.2005 2:21pm
Carol Anne:
Links lost from above post:

DHS National Defense Plan.

Gov. Blanco's Formal Request of President.

(The gov.la.gov site may report "document not found," or some-such. Just click on "refresh" in your browser 'til you get it; their site is being overwhelmed.)
9.5.2005 2:46pm
Challenge:
Carol Anne, what are you blathering about? Are you insisting that the state of LA and Governor Blanco have turned over control of the operation to the feds? That's news to me and the rest of America.
9.5.2005 5:05pm
Challenge:
"People are dying, and what is Challenge's response? An appeal to the principles of federalism! I think we can all agree that such an appeal can wait 'til tomorrow."

But blaming Bush and attempting to score points because of LOCAL failure can't wait?
9.5.2005 5:07pm