September 06, 2005

Brooks on Katrina

David Brooks:

As a result, it is beginning to feel a bit like the 1970's, another decade in which people lost faith in their institutions and lost a sense of confidence about the future...

...Americans in 2005 are not quite in that bad a shape, since the fundamental realities of everyday life are good. The economy and the moral culture are strong. But there is a loss of confidence in institutions. In case after case there has been a failure of administration, of sheer competence. Hence, polls show a widespread feeling the country is headed in the wrong direction.

Katrina means that the political culture, already sour and bloody-minded in many quarters, will shift. There will be a reaction. There will be more impatience for something new. There is going to be some sort of big bang as people respond to the cumulative blows of bad events and try to fundamentally change the way things are.

Reaganite conservatism was the response to the pessimism and feebleness of the 1970's. Maybe this time there will be a progressive resurgence. Maybe we are entering an age of hardheaded law and order. (Rudy Giuliani, an unlikely G.O.P. nominee a few months ago, could now win in a walk.) Maybe there will be call for McCainist patriotism and nonpartisan independence. All we can be sure of is that the political culture is about to undergo some big change.

We're not really at a tipping point as much as a bursting point. People are mad as hell, unwilling to take it anymore.

Damn right. More on Katrina later tonight.

Posted by Gregory at September 6, 2005 02:13 AM | TrackBack (1)


Before you buy the BS from the Times Picayune bullcrap consider the following and read the timeline at Rightwing Nuthouse.

1) The New Orleans disaster plan called for the buses to be used to evacuate New Orleans. The responsibility for not following this plan lies at the feet of mayor Nagin. If we say there were no drivers available, then the plan itself was faulty, which again lies at the feet of Mayer Nagin.

2) The fault for not providing supplies and security at the Superdome and convention center lies squarely at the feet of Mayor Nagin.

3) The fact that both of the above problems were made evident last year during Hurricane Ivan and were not fixed, lies at the feet of Mayor Nagin.

4) The federal disaster plan includes the warning that federal aid will not arrive for between 72 and 96 hours, and it is the responsibility of the city and state to provide for their citizens until then.

5) Brown may be tone deaf, even incompetent, still Federal aid arrived in Louisiana quicker than any natural disaster even close to the same size and scope. Andrew took 9 days, Katrina less than 4 as the scope of the flooding was not fully understood until Tuesday, the 31st..

6) Why did things in Mississippi (which was hit as hard, if not harder than New Orleans and Louisiana) go so much smoother? Answer: Effective Municipal and State plans and competent leadership.

Posted by: RiverRat at September 6, 2005 05:43 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The complete collapse of municipal and state authorities is impossible to escape. DHS and FEMA are supposed to work with, lead, and coordinate with the locals. Can't do that if the locals effectively cease to exist as effective authorities. Bush-bash all you want and like, but you can't ignore what actually happened with half-assed wishing and speculation. And a resurgent progressive era would need to have a progressive movement that can be trusted with defense. One trusted with defense would never make it past the liberal special interests and primary gate keepers.

Good luck with that.

Posted by: Brad at September 6, 2005 06:25 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The failure of the Bush administration to promptly and effectively respond to the tragic situation in New Orleans is likely to foreshadow consequences similar to those suffered by the Johnson administration following the Tet Offensive. Certainly, the tragedy in New Orleans does not rest exclusively with the Bush administration.

Nevertheless, it is President Bush who will bear the brunt of the blame, and, indeed, he will be lucky not to find himself labeled, with a Jacksonian twist, as the "hero of New Orleans," just as Churchill was once characterized as being the "hero of Gallipoli".

The "loyal opposition" will not forgo indulging in a new version of Washington's "blame game", which will be even more devastating to the Bush administration because, as BD has noted already, the disappointment with the Bush administration's handling of this crisis is, as it should be, bi-partisan in nature.

President Bush also bears personal responsibility for the "appearance" that, by attending functions in Arizona and California, he was insensitive to the problems in New Orleans, just as Putin's failure to immediately return from vacation when the tragedy of the Russian sub materialized, was taken as a sign of his insensitivity to the human plight of those aboard that stricken vessel. Putin, however, with a certain degree of control over the Russian press, was able to recover from his public relations error. It is unlikely that President Bush will have a similar opportunity to resurrect his own public image.

In the coming days, together will a lot of well founded criticism, a great deal of mud will fly in Washington, and a lot of it is going to stick.

It is, however, regrettable that some are characterizing the Bush administration's apparent insensitivity to the broad problems in the wake of Katrina as being a specific, and calculated, insensitivity to the plight of the poor in New Orleans, and, more specifically, that of the city's black community. In some sectors, that argument will find resonance. However, the tragedy in New Orleans was not the consequence of a lack of compassion by President Bush or any of the members of his administration. Rather, it was the consequence of a lack of planning, and a shortsighted view of the potential crisis facing that city prior to the time when Katrina made landfall, all of which was compounded by years of failure to prepare for a worst case scenario in New Orleans.

At the most fundamental level, it is the obligation of the federal government to do for the people what they cannot do better for themselves, and what their local and state governments are less equipped to do for them. In this instance, however, the federal government was either not prepared to fulfill its responsibility or was reluctant to take responsibility for dealing with this crisis.

Either way, the Bush administration stands indited by its failure in this regard.

David A. Crossman

Posted by: David A. Crossman at September 6, 2005 06:26 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If the best one can do is self-righteously blame Bush and his administration for the very tragic state of affairs in New Orleans, then God help America.

And the world.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at September 6, 2005 08:04 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

River Rat and Brad, you're missing the point, or at least are talking past critics of Bush.

Unlike the President, Mayor Nagin was there. Whatever his mistakes, he was actually dealing with the aftermath. The Governor was there and dealing with the aftermath. Where was the President?

While I'm sure many defenders of our dear leader are right, that local leadership failed on several levels, the Bush failures are much worse because he and his administration demonstrated (once again) a stunning lack of sympathy and honesty about the situation.

It's not the execution so much as it is the bullshit, to be quite frank. Congratulating Brown? What the heck for? No one anticipated the breech of the levees? WTF? Look, I'm willing to cut Bush (and all the pols in this mess) a bit of slack for guessing/being wrong about the damage, the levees, whatever. But I can't stand the dishonesty... the anonymous Bush official claiming that Blanco hadn't "even" declared a state of emergency. The bullshit means that they're more interested in covering their asses than helping.

It's got to stop.

Posted by: just me at September 6, 2005 08:28 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It's the bullshit *and* the execution.

From an interview with the president of Jefferson Parish:


MR. RUSSERT: Hold on. Hold on, sir. Shouldn't the mayor of New Orleans and
the governor of New Orleans bear some responsibility? Couldn't they have
been much more forceful, much more effective and much more organized in
evacuating the area?

MR. BROUSSARD: Sir, they were told like me, every single day, "The cavalry's
coming," on a federal level, "The cavalry's coming, the cavalry's coming, the
cavalry's coming." I have just begun to hear the hoofs of the cavalry. The
cavalry's still not here yet, but I've begun to hear the hoofs, and we're
almost a week out.

Let me give you just three quick examples. We had Wal-Mart deliver three
trucks of water, trailer trucks of water. FEMA turned them back. They said
we didn't need them. This was a week ago. FEMA--we had 1,000 gallons of
diesel fuel on a Coast Guard vessel docked in my parish. The Coast Guard
said, "Come get the fuel right away." When we got there with our trucks,
they got a word. "FEMA says don't give you the fuel."
Yesterday--yesterday--FEMA comes in and cuts all of our emergency
communication lines. They cut them without notice. Our sheriff, Harry Lee,
goes back in, he reconnects the line. He posts armed guards on our line and
says, "No one is getting near these lines."


From an article from back in 2004 about the weakening of FEMA which started back in 2000:


...former FEMA director James Lee Witt recently restated it in strong terms. "I am extremely concerned that the ability of our nation to prepare for and respond to disasters has been sharply eroded," he testified at a March 24, 2004, hearing on Capitol Hill. "I hear from emergency managers, local and state leaders, and first responders nearly every day that the FEMA they knew and worked well with has now disappeared. In fact, one state emergency manager told me, 'It is like a stake has been driven into the heart of emergency management.'"


Brendan Loy on the current director of FEMA:


I am so angry, I am shaking as I write this, and I find myself almost at a
loss for words. Instead of writing out rational thoughts, I'd rather just
scream my head off....

No one -- NO ONE -- who knows anything about New Orleans's geography and
topography and levee system would ever have thought for a single moment on
Saturday and Sunday that Katrina, if it followed the predicted path, was
going to be a "typical hurricane situation." Jesus Christ!! For how many
years now has this article been out there?!? And this one? And many more like
them? Did Michael Brown never read them? Was he not familiar with the
science? Was FEMA's director unaware of what has been acknowledged for many
years as the #1 most serious natural disaster threat in all of America?!?
(Or, more immediately, did he not read the National Weather Service's
statement on Sunday morning which predicted that Katrina would cause "human
suffering incredible by modern standards"?)


Speaking of bullshit --- Bush stages a photo-op:


She reports that the big levee-fixing operation she watched with GWB yesterday turns out to have been merely a show for the cameras.


Finally, I have to just say, this email to Andrew Sullivan just gets it:


I've considered myself a socially libertarian, fiscally conservative
Republican for a very long time. I got along with the idea that I wasn't
going to get a whole lot of help. College wouldn't be free. Job training
would cost money and time. And I'm probably a decent example of

But after watching what's happening in New Orleans-an American city that I've
loved, visited and have always wanted to return to - I can't ever vote for
these people again.

Being a Republican means that you expect the government to do just a couple
things for you and nothing else. Build a road. Defend us from enemies,
foreign and domestic. Stuff that would be a lot less organized if we all had
to do it ourselves. Everything else is just gravy.

And as we poured money into Department of Homeland Security, and the Federal
Emergency Management Agency, I thought, "Right on," because some of that
money's bound to fall on my head.

Well, something else would fall on my head first.

I work for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. And that means that if something really catastrophic happens in MY city, and they ask me to stick around, that's the job. We have A and B teams and I'm a disaster recovery specialist on Team A. I've drawn up plans with names like Drawbridge and Smoldering Crater.


Some people say that you can't hold the President responsible for this. Oh,
yes you can. Because when he looked over at John Ashcroft after the jets hit
the towers and said, "I want you to make sure this never happens again," it
was not meant to be specific to "no more planes hitting large buildings on
the East Coast, right, boss." It was meant that no American should have to
run for his life through an American city. While Americans may perish in a
senseless, unforeseen disaster, we'd save the ones we could.

And the Cabinet appointees were mushwits and he could barely speak a complete sentence and we're sending people overseas for God knows how long to help people who are indifferent at worst and hostile at best, but they were going to protect us. In 2004, that's all a lot of us needed. Well right now, it's
obvious that they can't.

Ask yourself this: What if Al-Qaeda blew up the levees instead of the
hurricane? Would the response have been any different?

No. It wouldn't. That city flooded in a day. And if it were Las Vegas, I would
have been in some operations center watching people try to decide who gets to
starve to death and who gets to get on a bus to Los Angeles or Phoenix. And
there would be no certainty that I'd be on that bus in time to protect my
wife and kids.

But one thing sure would have been different.

They wouldn't have had a whole week to sort it out and know what's coming.
They were supposed to KNOW this already. It will have been FOUR YEARS next
weekend since someone probably said, "Hey, what if..."

And for that, the whole stack of them should be fired.


Posted by: Mitsu at September 6, 2005 10:06 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As an Aussie conservative from what in your country would be called a "Red State" area, both myself and my family are aghast at the situation in New Orleans and our prayers are with its citizens. Also, I am dismayed at President Bush's handling of the situation. As Andrew Sullivan says, in a parliamentary democracy (like here in Oz), such a government would soon be booted out through a no confidence motion. I only hope that in the next few years you Yanks don't have to suffer from the incompetence of your government in the manner that you have done (in full view of the international community) within the past week.

Posted by: Leigh McK at September 6, 2005 11:21 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As an Aussie conservative from what in your country would be called a "Red State" area, both myself and my family are aghast at the situation in New Orleans and our prayers are with its citizens. Also, I am dismayed at President Bush's handling of the situation. As Andrew Sullivan says, in a parliamentary democracy (like here in Oz), such a government would soon be booted out through a no confidence motion. I only hope that in the next few years you Yanks don't have to suffer from the incompetence of your government in the manner that you have done (in full view of the international community) within the past week.

Posted by: Leigh McK at September 6, 2005 11:22 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Its no wonder you turned comments off on your most recent post (rant?) that is above this one.

What used to be a quality blog has just gone so steadily downhill over the last few months. Frankly, I never thought I would say this but I am done with BD.

The things that made this blog great - reasoned, rational analysis coupled with excellent writing - are long gone. At first, I bought your line about time constraints, but your posts have been fairly bad, poorly reasoned, and ever lefty drifting recently. You have gone from a must read and a site checked 4 or 5 times a day to being off my bookmarks.

At least Andrew Sullivan did not have all that far to fall...

Best of luck - I just had to get that off my chest.

Sean Giovanello

Posted by: Sean Giovanello at September 6, 2005 02:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Guiliani, well, don't make too much of his 9/11 success.

I heard the first plane hit, saw the whole, and watched the second plane come in.

That whole day, like (seemingly) most everyone else, the only politician who didn't sound like a gasbag was Rudy.

He'd come modestly close to dying, trapped in a basement in the dark.

That made it real.

Past that? He became his regular self. He didn't have a lasting moral epiphany, he didn't become enlightened, he was the same old cheat-on-his-wife, give-the-girlfriend-a-government job Rudy.

This photo-op President doesn't live anywhere near reality.

Posted by: JS Narins at September 6, 2005 02:53 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


As of August 27th, when Bush declared the entire Gulf Coast a disaster area (before Katrina hit) most of the authority for dealing with this disaster devolved to the federal government.

Did local officials make mistakes? Sure....a couple of thousand more people could have been evacuated on school buses before Katrina hit-----but the question is, evacuated to where? I've seen no evidence that FEMA has set up shelters well outside the potential path of Katrina for evacuees from New Orleans in the days before landfall. And that still would have left over 100,000 people in New Orleans.

As for this idea (advanced by your far-right readers) that someone Nagin was neglicgent for not making proper preparations for the Superdome and Convention Centers....that is total bullshit. Those facilities were there as "emergency shelter" where people could ride out the storm----and they peformed that function. They were never intended as long term housing for evacuees......EVERYONE, including the federal government, recognized that if the levees were breached in a major way that the city would be flooded and that a massive FEDERAL effort would be required to relocate those who had no means of their own to get out of the city.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at September 6, 2005 03:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Regarding the "blame the locals" explanation, as Andrew Sullivan points out:


The 2004 National Response Plan explicitly states that, at times of "any natural or manmade incident, including terrorism, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the population, infrastructure, environment, economy, national morale, and/or government functions," the federal government pre-empts local and state government in its responsibility to act quickly.


It's not just Greg on the right who is critical of the federal government: even Christopher Hitchens is scathing on this one:


TONY JONES: If it is a hinge event, is there any way he can use it to his advantage, as he ultimately did after a very shaky start immediately after September 11?

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Well, no, I think people forgave him for blundering around on that day, and not quite knowing what to do and making what must have been one of the worst speeches ever given by any politician. That could, as it were, be forgiven because everyone felt I'm sure, my God, how would I have held up on a day like that? This is worse because, a) it could be seen coming and b), I might just add, by the way, I mean, these States that have been devastated, Louisiana and Mississippi and Somerset and Alabama, they're all in the Republican column. The President is supposed to care about and nurturing the South, so is Karl Rove. What were they thinking? What were they thinking? I have no answer to that question that doesn't come up with a revelation of the most, really, catastrophic incompetence and insouciance.


Posted by: Mitsu at September 6, 2005 05:10 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I have never really liked Bush, and definitely do not want to come off as an apologist as many of the commenters above. Please take these remarks with the knowledge that I think Bush's mediocrity has finally shown through all the Deaver-like/Rovean theatrics and he will be a diminished Prez for the rest of his term. Katrina was his Monica.

That said, prior to the last two weeks my main knock on Bush re domestic policy was that he was too eager to shovel money out the door for political gain --look at his effective response to Hurricain Ivan, et al that hit Fla and the Carolina's last year. When he has effective tools to work with, i.e., a Rudy, a Jeb, a Haley Barbour, his "attaboy's" don't sound so phoney.

If there is an investigation of this by congress, please address why we spend untold billions on SDI to prevent some nefarious Dr. Evil from sending a nuke our way, but we do not have the funds to make the levees strong enough for a Category 5 storm.

Posted by: wayne at September 6, 2005 06:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The problem is that people are mad as hell and do want to take what is not anyone's to give.

The federal government promises to protect you, your pension, your bank account, whatever, but can't really keep the promises except in the most limited and expensive way - when a small disaster strikes, they overwhelm the victims with largess, so it creates an illusion they can do that with anything bigger.

The republicans and democrats both have gotten on board this train because they don't expect to have to really make good on the promise. What are the chances of a terrorist plot destroying the world trade center in NYNY or a category 4 hurricane flooding NOLA, or of a big earthquake in SFCA? Oops. But then they can rush through emergency spending (but why are we paying them now - to be unprepared?).

Also note we can make levees that will survive cat 5 storms everywhere, lead-plate buidings to survive nuclear wars, and build exoskeletons so everywhere will withstand an earthquake (including the new madrid fault where there were really bad earthquakes, but only every few hundred years so there are no building codes). But each of these things costs money. Would you pay double the taxes?

We can't even fund the pension guarantee fund, the FDIC, much less social security (the surplus is stolen and spent).

Posted by: tz at September 6, 2005 07:49 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Hold on, just me. Who's responsibility is it to evacuate the city in a mandatory evacuation? The National Guard? DHS? How about the local municipal authorities? Bingo.

Don't confuse two things, a potential terrorist act which would be much worse with an incompetent mayor. Even if the Federal government moved heaven and earth immediately after the levees broke, the Mayor's failure to evacuate 100,000+ people and preserve his buses/resources for later would cause people to die. A terrorist attack would be far worse, but the complete capitulation of municipal and state authorities is undeniable, and has undeniably cost lives.

You need only contrast Mississippi with Louisiana to see the remarkable difference and shameful dissonance in criticizing the national response for two disasters...a hurricane plus a flood with the destruction of civic authority in an entire city. Mistakes will have been made, bureaucratic mistakes, failures of execution and imagination, but I have yet to read anything here that is serious and should be taken seriously.

Posted by: Brad at September 6, 2005 08:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Brad, it's reading comprehension time!

The 2004 National Response Plan explicitly states that, at times of "any natural or manmade incident, including terrorism, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the population, infrastructure, environment, economy, national morale, and/or government functions," the federal government pre-empts local and state government in its responsibility to act quickly.

So who's responsible Brad?

Who's responsibility is it to evacuate the city in a mandatory evacuation? The National Guard? DHS? How about the local municipal authorities? Bingo.

Wrong again. By the way, the possessive form of 'who' is 'whose'.


Posted by: dear brad at September 6, 2005 08:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If not for Nagin and Blanco, relief would have arrived in New Orleans days earlier. The corrupt Louisiana pols don't mind sucking at the federal teat, but they aren't willing to be responsible when it counts. Give all those Louisiana incomp pols the boot. FEMA and DHS are badly flawed, but nowhere near as bad as those fools in Louisiana, those corrupt sinecured do nothing idiots. Clean that house in Louisiana, clean it well.

Posted by: Dearest Brad at September 6, 2005 09:35 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Keep the analysis coming.

I am shocked and disgusted at our Federal Government.

Posted by: Chris at September 6, 2005 10:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Hahahahha. Dear Brad and Dearest Brad. Good work, Gents!

Posted by: Chris at September 6, 2005 10:05 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Dear Brad,

You and Sullivan are quoting selectively from the National Response Plan. Read the whole document and you will see that it puts responsibility for the evacuation and initial response in the local hands. In fact you have actually turned what it says completely on its head. In general I even think that it is wise for this power to reside locally, though in the case of my poor state and one time home, New Orleans, it was obviously not. Maybe the plan would have to change, but that would not only require changing the plan, but enacting far reaching legislation altering how our republic is run. My guess is that it would fail even after this disaster. I cannot imagine the states allowing the federal government such power over them.

That however is another subject. Your quote is misleading, an inaccurate representation of what the document actually says, and I suggest you have to increase your understanding of this issue before you continue along this thread of argument if we are to take you seriously.

Posted by: Lance at September 6, 2005 10:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I have been wondering when we would find some potential rallying points for those of us who feel poorly represented by the louder voices and special interests in each party.

Effective government, government which can truly prioritize and which can focus it's resources and those of a nation during crisis is one shared value. Obviously to varying degrees this applies to a large set of problems. When the bureaucracy and business as usual fail, make the guilty pay and reorganize.

This of course threatens every special interest and it isn't fun when your "side" is the one holding the buck, but we need it.

My inclination towards the Republican party has been because of the rhetorical stance towards waste and the call for greater efficiency. Yet with both Reagon and Bush we've had the proportion of GNP going to federal government increase significantly and with Bush it wasn't just the WOT. With Clinton (and divided government) it actually fell, red tape decreased and a number of departments (the VA and FEMA come to mind) were significantly better if not perfect.

It is interesting to me how Republicans who called that time of falling crime, reduced welfare, reduced out of wedlock births, reduced unemployment and a long list of other improvements (which incidently I don't think Clinton necessarily caused) a living hell and the decline of the nation; can white wash every serious problem that develops and classify any criticism as hateful partisan division completely unconcerned with the well being of the nation.

I hope this is coming to the end.

Posted by: sad republican at September 6, 2005 10:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Let's get some facts down. To gather and direct resources both public and private in face of emergency is one of the sanctioned roles of federal government. Habg together or hang separately. As a rule Republicans are somewhat critical of Democrats for being too concerned about civil rights during such crisis.

Our party claimed to have reorganized government to better prepare for and respond to crisis. Cutting funding to meet what was classed one of the 3 biggest dangers while approving 200 million dollar bridges to esentially uninhabited islands in Alaska is not a good example of setting priorities.

We had a hospital ship off New Orleans, we refused to use it. We had military troops who could airlift in a battalion at a time and use those same helocopters to begin pulling out. We had a private supply network which simply by diverting 10 or 15% of normal food deliveries in the region could have brought in supplies.

We had a crisis beyond the ability of any local government too respond and we *knew* LA had a history of incompetence and corruption. Now suddently those who rail at bureaucrats and paper pushers find all kinds of reasons we couldn't rally the resources of this nation and go in.

In point of fact our federal government through FEMA blocked many local and private efforts. And at the same time it did not mobilize most of the helocopter power in the eastern US, the experienced troops or even most of the coast guard copters on the east coast.

I will tell you something if you had the power to rush into an emergency and save thousands of lives and you didn't do so and then said "It was that guys job and he didn't do it" you would be pathetic. That's what you so called supporters of "personal responsibility" are. Always finding excuses, always being victims of the mean people who say anthing bad about your side, always blaming someone else.


Posted by: mad republican at September 6, 2005 10:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Well mad, I am no republican so I could care less about you being mean to any side, but I will say this, most of what you wrote is not true, urban legends. No other way to put it. Stop wasting our time.

Posted by: Lance at September 6, 2005 11:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Why are there no complaints about Mississippi? Because THEY did it right,that's why.

Please,THEY were the ones whacked by Katrina,not Louisiana. So WHY is Mississippi not causing problems?

Why are you wise people not challenging BUSH's role in Mississippi?

Because the locals are the first responders and they got after it,Louisiana didn't . How is it Bush is such a failure in Louisiana and in Mississippi,which was FLATTENED, Bush must be a hero,right?

There's a lesson in here somewhere. It ain't the one Greg learned.

Posted by: Patrick at September 6, 2005 11:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I am not a republican so I don't care which side you mean people decide to attack. However, I would like to point out that almost everything you write about above is untrue. Nothing much more need be said. Unused hospital ship? You fell for that? You are wasting our time as it would take whole pages to take each of your unsupported urban legends out to dry. This pitiful effort by my state and the confusion at FEMA are bad enough without having to listen to the political equivalent of giant alligators in the sewers stories (though in NO those legends may finally be true!)

Oh and Greg, I respect the hell out of you, and I think you know that. However, I have seen this thing unfold up close and the Picayune's own reporting shows that editorial to be a crock. Not your fault, but there it is. Anyway, given the nonsense floating around in all quarters I suggest holding off making any sweeping condemnations at the moment. I see the "facts" changing before my eyes on a daily basis.

Posted by: Lance at September 7, 2005 12:22 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Sorry about repeating myself. Not sure what happened.

Posted by: Lance at September 7, 2005 12:23 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Wow, this blog has really gone down hill. Greg, you are hyperventilating. Someone really needs to smack some sense into you. If you can not understand the difficulties in dealing with a disaster like this, it is an indication that you have no understanding about the limitations of the human race. But regardless, the simple fact of the matter is that if the NOLA government had done its job and evacuated the people of NOLA, things would have been vastly better. We have a federal system of government for the very reason that we expect that local government will be more responsive to the needs of the local citizenry than a government based a thousand miles away. More than 9 times out of 10 this happens to be the case. It is reasonable to expect that they will understand specific local problems, like the fact that they have a huge population of poor people who will not be able to evacuate on their own and make plans to deal with it. Moreover, local governments are aware that they should not expect federal aid for up to 3 or 4 days after a disaster. It is unreasonable to expect the federal government and other states to be able to assess damage and move assets in faster, particularly when the local officials who you rely on for intelligence and assessments of the situation are failing in their jobs. The local and state governments' failure to do what they promised to do has made the federal government's post disaster task orders of magnitude more difficult.

As for "international embarrassment" that is the cost of having a free society with a free press. If you don't want to get embarrassed, be like China and keep control of your press and the foreign press.

As for the commenters talking about the failure to upgrade the levees to cat 5 standards, that is a project that will take the better part of a decade. You should ask why it wasn't started in the 90s.

Posted by: ATM at September 7, 2005 01:10 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Sure, the local government fell down on the job in New Orleans. But the fact is the disaster in New Orleans was far worse than Mississippi, and the local resources were simply strained to the breaking point. Disasters such as the breaching of the levees in New Orleans dramatically outstrip the capability of any local authority. That's the whole reason the National Response Plan correctly states the once a disaster has gotten beyond a certain scale, the federal government can and should take over.

It's well known that FEMA under James Lee Witt in the Clinton Administration was a huge improvement over FEMA before. And FEMA since Bush was elected has steadily devolved to the point of being totally incompetent.

Let's say we can assign a lot of blame to the locals. Does this mean that the Federal government could *not* have tried to fill in the gaps a hell of lot better than they did? In fact, it wasn't merely that they failed to fill in the gaps: they actively *interfered* with local attempts to mitigate the disaster:

Just a partial quote:

# 1000 folks from the Lafayette area with 500 boats head to NO to aid the rescue get turned back by FEMA.

# Wal-Mart trucks with food and water get turned back by FEMA. More here

# The USS Bataan off the coast of LA ready to help, but underused by FEMA. See also here

# Shipments of diesel fuel being turned back by FEMA

# firemen from Houston turned away by FEMA

# More fire fighters turned away.

# Angel Flight South Central seaplanes getting a run around from FEMA

# DMAT Teams available but still on call.

# Red Cross kept out of New Orleans. Note: this is actually attibuted to the state Homeland Security department. More information on who is responsible for this decision would be helpful. See also here

# Northcom ready to act, but not given needed orders.

# Mobile medical lab stalled in Mississippi. Doctors and hospitals offering aid but not getting response. This article is a bit confusing as to whether the problem is at the state or federal level or both.

Posted by: Mitsu at September 7, 2005 03:44 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Dear Dear Brad,

Oh, such charm and wit! Yet still there was no link, and the part you highlighted, [sigh] that part was not the part that was in quotations. So if that was a passage from an official document, those are someone else's words. Not going to hold me responsible for someone else's "understanding" of official plans are you, dear me?

But even if what you write is true, my point still stands (I know, its infuriating!). Its the responsibility of the local and state authorities to take action before a catastrophe happens, like, oh, say evacuating 100K+ folk with the 500-2000 public buses available like in, say, a mandatory evacuation. Why issue a mandatory evacuation if its not, like, mandatory or something?

Or should the government take, say, preemptive action for potential crisises? And it still IS the responsibility of the municipal authorities to evacuate the city.

Conduct of an actual evacuation will be the responsibility of the Mayor of New Orleans in coordination with the Director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness, and the OEP Shelter Coordinator.

From the City of New Orleans Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan from Annex I: Hurricanes, Part II, Section II.

So yes, indeed, it's totally like the responsibility of the Federal government's responsibility to administer federal aid after the municipal government strands 100K people needlessly in harm's way. Next time try to get the big details right before you dick with g-r-a-m-m-a-r.

Posted by: Brad at September 7, 2005 04:01 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Patrick writes: " Please,THEY were the ones whacked by Katrina,not Louisiana. So WHY is Mississippi not causing problems?"

Because New Orleans alone is 5-10 times the population of the parts of Miss. that were hit, that's why.

Duh. It's a lot easier to handle a disaster that effects 80% fewer people.

Posted by: Jon H at September 7, 2005 04:16 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Jon H,

Your population figures are wrong.


Much of what you are citing is incorrect or misleading like much of the reporting coming out of here. I know you are attempting to write in good faith but your source is obviously spinning. The feds had problems but it is my local officials who dropped the ball for the most aprt. Even most of the feds screwups have been caused by problems dealing with our elected officials.

Posted by: Lance at September 7, 2005 05:28 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Let's agree that the local officials should have ordered an evacuation sooner, they should have provided transportation to people who couldn't get out, etc. There's no doubt whatsoever that this is the case. One can certainly understand the reticence of a mayor in ordering an evacuation of a city that has never, in hundreds of years of history, been evacuated before ... but there's also no doubt the order came late and was insufficient.

Regarding what I am citing as "incorrect or misleading" --- I'd like you to provide specific details. It's incorrect that FEMA turned back 1000 boats from Lafayette? It's incorrect that they turned away firefighters and doctors? I've read these reports in multiple news reports, so if they're incorrect, I'd really like to see and read your sources.

It seems to me that partisanship ought to be set aside in a situation like this. Instead of trying to fish for facts that support "your side," it makes sense, to me, to look at the whole picture.

Regardless of Nagin's failure to order a forced evacuation, once the hurricane struck and the levees broke, the disaster became a problem too large for the local authorities to handle on their own. The local police department was simply too small to deal with the situation. FEMA should have swooped into action and provided help immediately and in an organized and effective manner. This is, in fact, what happened under the Clinton Administration --- whatever your political proclivities, that's simply a well-documented fact.

I have a great deal of sympathy for people who think government shouldn't be too large, that free markets should rule, etc. There are exceptions to this, however, places where government can and should do the job that local government and free markets cannot --- and that includes things like building roads, providing a judicial system, and, in particular, disaster mitigation and recovery. The Bush Administration has been hostile to FEMA and its mission for years, based on what I think is a strained interpretation of "small government" theory. In today's environment, with the threat of terrorism, we need a robust FEMA, and we don't have it. New Orleans is ample evidence of this, and if you don't see that, well, you really are looking at the world through a very biased lens.

We should be Americans together in this. Not Republicans or Democrats. If it was a Democrat who failed as badly as this, I would be just as angry.

Posted by: Mitsu at September 7, 2005 05:46 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The day the storm hit I commented on these pages that it was a test of how well we have advanced in Emergency Preparedness (something we have put lots of funding toward since 9/11). I don't think anyone can say we have done well.

Given that we had some degree of advance warning about the power and course of the storm and the basic well understood topography of New Orleans and the vulnerabilities of the Gulf Coast, it was obvious that there was the potential for an extraordinary disaster. Extraordinary precautionary measures were needed and clearly not taken.

The city followed its preexisting disaster plans of ordering a mandatory evacuation and establishing the Superdome as a shelter. From my reading, most experts correctly predicted that some 20% of the city would remain after evacuation for a variety of reasons. In addition, any city wide evacuation in a disaster setting is ripe for a looting crisis so the need for military involvement for security should have been obvious. Again, fault local officials for not screaming for military help more loudly and Federal officials for demonstrating zero sense of anticipation.

It is clear that the precautionary government performance at all levels was poor. New Orleans authorities should have been screaming for Federal help as the storm was bearing down on them, not after. But having a poor performing state and local government is hardly an excuse for the failure of DHS and FEMA who bears primary responsibility for a disaster of this magnatude. (people think of Guiliani's leadership on 9/11... but they forget how poorly his city police and fire departments did in coordinating their responses... his city was not prepared for disaster either). The reason we spend hundreds of millions of tax dollars every year on Federal emergency preparedness is because local authorities lack the ability or the authority to cope with disasters of this scale.

The Brown memo (and observed response) demonstrate that FEMA and DHS leadership (nor the White House) had no sense of the potential disaster in play and took no extraordinary precautions. That is a huge failure of natural disaster planning in and of itself. Ironically, it also put in plain view the bigger failure here -- the ability to respond to a massive disaster with no warning (like a terror attack).

The primary failure of New Orleans, IMO, was in the response after the levees broke in the wee hours late Monday night (or very early Tues am). As soon as the Federal government found out the levees broke, it was then obvious to all that New Orleans would fill up like a soup bowl trapping around 80K Americans. At that moment, it was the equivilent of four World Trade Centers being on the verge of collapse or a WMD event.

So by Tuesday mid day we should have seen the President in full command mode, with major mobilizations of US military and Federal assets racing to New Orleans and full evacuation efforts underway by mid-day. Just as on 9/12/2001 we in Washington and New York saw Humvees on every street corner and massive rescue operations underway ground zero and at the Pentagon, so should we have seen in New Orleans last Tuesday. We did not see the Bush Administration get mobilized to that degree until Thursday or Friday and that delay of 48-72 hours is the problem. In a WMD disaster, reaction in the first 48-72 hours can be the difference between 100 deaths and 100 thousand deaths. Not to mention the possible economic impacts.

So we have some work to do. My guess is that Brown is "fired" and Chertoff takes consequences management a lot more seriously than he did before. This is, by the way, one of the reasons why some folks were unsure about Chertoff's background to be DHS chief. As a lawyer, he lacked the perspective of a Mayor, Governor, or even senior DoD official who all well understand the management challenges of coordinating government response in a crisis. Even on TV this week, he has sounded like a lawyer arguing the Administration's case rather than LEADING the recovery effort. But my guess is he now gets the message.

The harder question to answer is whether the very different politics of New Orleans and the Bush Administration contributed to the slow response. My instinct is that it did -- which is a shame. But that aspect of the blame game is more easily denied so I'll let others make that case.

To Bush administration apologists: your attempts to lay this national disaster at the feet of one mediocre Mayor is pathetic and laughable. Similarly, your ability to differentiate between what happened in Mississippi and New Orleans is pathetic. Its times like these when conservatives that are responsible and serious stand out from those who are blind loyalists (or just idiots). Stand up and take responsibility.

Posted by: POTUS B at September 7, 2005 03:19 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Sorry, but you're wrong. The factors I mention above might be off, but New Orleans and vicinity has a population over a million, and a high population density. The cities along the Miss. coast are comparatively tiny, and that population is less densely packed. Mississippi has no cities that even come close to the population of the New Orleans area.

Biloxi: Total persons 50,644

Community Statistics Jackson County population: 115,243 (1990 Census) County Seat: Pascagoula Gautier population: 10,088 Moss Point population: 17,837 Ocean Springs population: 15,000 Pascagoula population: 25,899 Harrison County population: 171,740 (1990 census) County Seats: Gulfport and Biloxi Biloxi population: 46,319 Gulfport population: 63,393 D'Iberville population: 6,566

Population Density:
Harrison County: 326.3 person/mi^2
Jackson Count: 180.8 persons/mi^2

As for New Orleans:

Orleans County: 469,032
New Orleans City: 484,674
St. Bernard Parish: 66,113
Jefferson Parish: 452,459
St. Tammany Parish: 207,743

New Orleans population density: 2,684.3 persons/mi^2

Posted by: Jon H at September 7, 2005 03:38 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Thatís a hell of a stretch. The feds should have foreseen the incompetence of the local authorities and been proactive. I've seen some twisted logic used to pin this on the feds. But that one wins the prize. The feds canít do a thing until the state authorities invoke the proper statutes. Bush asking the governor to make the proper declaration that would federalize the emergency effort. Only to have her respond "give me 24 hours to think on it". Isnít demonstrative of any disconnect on W's part. But its borderline criminal negligence on the governors part.


Posted by: Mike at September 7, 2005 07:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Wow, you are some twisted one's over here. The logic is whacked. yeah, I'm the president, major caca goin' on down there, I can see it on FOX, but I should wait for a phonecall from someone to do something, huh? Hey, where's that gee-tar?

But don't take my word for it. Today's Bush approval rating, 38%... sinking like the stoner he is.

I know, I know, it's the liberal media. Urban legend as some genius upthread says. Always the boogeyman with you chickenhawks.

The only remaining urban legend out there today is that Bush is a strong, resolute, error-free leader. Hell, I can't even type that with a straight face.


I hold shrub and all his shrub-chomping sheep in complete contempt.

Now hop in your Hummer's and run along. (How much did that tank cost ya, anyways?)

Posted by: monkey at September 8, 2005 08:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

By the way, things aren't so great in Mississippi, you just haven't heard of the problems:

From the AP:

And consider Bay High School in Bay St. Louis, Miss. It was an unofficial shelter turned cesspool, the sight of which Gary Turner, Trudy Roberts and Felix Ruiz said should be considered a crime.

The three strangers became a rescue team of sorts when they fled to the high school themselves and found people in their 70s, 80s and 90s wallowing in their own waste on the auditorium floors. They had been brought to the school and aban doned, most unable to move without help.

"Rats wouldn't even go in there," said Turner, of Bay St. Louis.

Posted by: Jon H at September 9, 2005 01:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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