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September 04, 2005


I have been gone for a while, and have not commented about Katrina. I have family who live(d) in New Orleans (all safe, thanks) and I once lived there briefly myself. I have visited often and know it reasonably well. My rage at the incompetence and idiocy of the response to Katrina has made me unable to say much coherent about it.

But I can say this. Naming someone like Brown to run FEMA ought to be regarded as a criminal act. There is no doubt in my mind that people, possibly many people, have died because he is unqualified and incompetent. His utter unsuitability was clear at the time he was named. To appoint someone like this to a job the essence of which is to plan for and deal with situations where many lives are at stake is an act of incomprehensible irresponsibility. Measured in terms of expected lives lost it is far worse than driving drunk, or even firing a gun randomly into a crowd.

Perhaps those who supported Bush on "national security" grounds should reflect on that judgment, in the light of Katrina.

Bernard: I'm glad to hear that your family is safe.

For my part: I don't like patronage appointments in general. But I distinguish between jobs that can safely be given to incompetents -- ambassadorships that are largely ceremonial, for instance (e.g., not Iraq, or even a country that might blow up, like Sierra Leone) and those that cannot. like the directorship of FEMA. I agree with you that it's an act of incomprehensible irresponsibility. In an ideal world, it would be criminal.

There was a press conference on CNN today a little after 1 PM featuring Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Meyers (who were with Chertoff, Brown, and Honore) offering testimonials to the effectiveness of FEMA's efforts so far. My head almost exploded. This struck me a lot like Mo and Larry praising the managerial skills of Curly.

During Chertoff's spiel during that press conference I thought I heard him say that the only problem was that the disaster was too large, "almost biblical" was the phrase I think he used. If I heard right I think that was a very unfortunate phrase to use.

Suzette Haden Elgin asks

They keep saying it .... "This is a disaster of biblical proportions." "This is a catastrophe of biblical scope." What do you suppose they think they mean by that?

I suppose -- in the spirit of "Mistakes were made" and "It's just plain astonishing how quickly we've moved to Reach Out to the people trapped in New Orleans!" -- what they mean is "Don't blame me, blame God."

Good news Bernard. I imagine you are finding yourself feeling like me, wondering about all the people who I have lost touch with, all of the people who I didn't keep touch with, but knew. It's strange, because had this never happened, they would probably have not ever come up, but now I wonder and scrape my memory for a name when I look at the lists.

The Times-Picayune is online with this open letter to President Bush. The whole thing should be read, but I excerpt this:

Bienville built New Orleans where he built it for one main reason: It’s accessible. The city between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain was easy to reach in 1718.

How much easier it is to access in 2005 now that there are interstates and bridges, airports and helipads, cruise ships, barges, buses and diesel-powered trucks.

Despite the city’s multiple points of entry, our nation’s bureaucrats spent days after last week’s hurricane wringing their hands, lamenting the fact that they could neither rescue the city’s stranded victims nor bring them food, water and medical supplies.

Meanwhile there were journalists, including some who work for The Times-Picayune, going in and out of the city via the Crescent City Connection. On Thursday morning, that crew saw a caravan of 13 Wal-Mart tractor trailers headed into town to bring food, water and supplies to a dying city.

Television reporters were doing live reports from downtown New Orleans streets. Harry Connick Jr. brought in some aid Thursday, and his efforts were the focus of a "Today" show story Friday morning.

Yet, the people trained to protect our nation, the people whose job it is to quickly bring in aid were absent. Those who should have been deploying troops were singing a sad song about how our city was impossible to reach.

This is from the T-P's weblog

Even though streets are strewn with storm debris, some neighborhoods remain flooded and almost all homes lack electricity and drinking water, Jefferson Parish residents will be allowed to return Monday at 6 a.m., Parish President Aaron Broussard reiterated Saturday, despite widespread skepticism from state and other parish officials.

Parish officials will begin allowing residents entry, providing the driver of the car has identification showing a Jefferson address. Residents will be able to access their homes only via Airline Drive or Jefferson Highway in East Jefferson and U.S. 90 on the West Bank, Emergency Management Director Walter Maestri said.

Aaron Broussard is also the president of Parishes Against Coastal Erosion (PACE). He was on Meet the Press video here and transcript here and he said this:

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." Sheriff Harry Lee said that if America--American government would have responded like Wal-Mart has responded, we wouldn't be in this crisis.

If the MSM begins to focus on the neighborhoods like Chalmette and Jeff Parish, I think that it is really going to rip the lid off this.

Planning for disasters of Biblical proportions is what FEMA is supposed to do. There could be a magnitude 8 earthquake in SF or LA; there could be a nuclear bomb set off in any city; there could be an epidemic caused either naturally or by terrorists, or, well, there could be a hurricane in New Orleans. It's their job to plan for these things.

I cut people slack in situations like this. Suppose that the people who had not been fed were a family in an attic, or even a group of 100 stuck in a hotel: it would be easy to see how a perfectly competent rescue operation could have missed them. But there is no such explanation available for -- oops! -- not finding out about a crowd of up to 25,000 people for days. None at all.

It's also striking how many of the stories about aid that was turned away locate the problem with FEMA.

Another side-effect, from MSNBC's Breaking News:

Police shoot 8 people in New Orleans on bridge, killing 5 or 6. -

Here's a link to Mary Landrieu's helicopter interview on This Week. She tells about how they were able to evacuate the prisoner population from the main criminal justice building. Unbelievable.

"When you put unqualified people in jobs, it's completely predictable that they will do a terrible job."

At risk of picking on a very small point, I feel a need to say I find this just a bit over-strong. "Highly likely," sure, or "extremely likely," or "unsurprising," or any number of other formulations, I'd completely agree with. But "completely predictable" seem to me to imply, though not explicitly, that there is no possibility of an inexperienced person stepping up to the plate and hitting it out of the park. Which bothers me more than it should, since it's such a small point in context, but I have seen it happen, and history is replete with it happening. Col. Joshua Chamberlain, for instance.

No one would complain or have fair ground for complaint if Brownie hit this one out of the park; it's only because he didn't that the inexperience and lack of apparent qualifications become relevant (and they certainly are, as I've blogged for days).

Gary: I didn't mean that there is no possibility that an unqualified person might do a good job; just that it was foreseeable (= no one should be surprised) that he doesn't. But I should have been clearer.

I do think, as I said on some earlier thread, that it's fine to appoint someone with no qualifications of the sort that could be gathered from his resume, if one has some good reason to believe that he is, despite this fact, the best person for the job, and will do wonderfully, and if one is willing to take this sort of gamble. But it is a gamble: it's staking a lot on your judgment of character. And if you lose, you lose.

Katrina was downgraded from Cat 5 to 4 before it hit land, it also changed course by 50 miles to the north. As a result the highest winds to hit N.O. were 100mph, so efectively only a high Category 2 storm hit N.O. The levees were supposed to be able to take a Cat 3 storm, but funding for improvements and maintainence were cut drasticly from 2001 onward by the Bush administration. Maybe they would have failed anyway, but that doesn't look like the way to bet. Just my 2 cents.

In a previous thread, Dave Schuler said To the best of my recollection every FEMA head since its inception has been a political crony.

I offered contrary evidence, Clinton's appointment of James Lee Witt. Dave nitpicked, asking if I was saying that Witt, who was part of the state government in Arkansas, was not a political crony. Of course he was; I understood Dave's point to be that all FEMA heads had been nothing but political cronies.

And James Lee Witt was the first (and so far only) FEMA head who had a professional background in disaster management. Here is what a reader wrote in to Josh Marshall:

I'm not a Clinton admirer as you know, but I remember what the pre-Witt FEMA was like. In terms of the difference he made to his agency, Witt was Clinton's best hire. ... you can't overrate the importance of having a first rate person running an agency like that. They are not easy to find.

A Knight-Ridder article describes Witt as "a former Arkansas disaster chief who won bipartisan praise on Capitol Hill during his tenure.".

Over and over and over again, this administration has demonstrated that competence does not matter as much as political loyalty. Loyal f*ckups are promoted, "disloyal" professionals (experts objecting to policies or telling the truth about them based on expertise) are fired, slandered, mocked.

Brownie's doing a terrific job. Rumsfeld is the greatest Secretary of Defense ever. 2+2 = 5.

There is blood on George W. Bush's and Dick Cheney's hands. Some is due to the basic policies they have put into effect, but even more is due to this Orwellian refusal to see or acknowledge criminal incompetence in execution. And that is terrifying, because it gives no reason to believe that anything will improve for the next three and a half years.

This is a good timeline with links

A bit of confusion has resulted in discussion of the levees breaking, in that many computer models suggested that the levees would hold, but overtopping would fill New Orleans with water, but I don't believe that they took into account the condition of the levees. It is hard to get a good picture of precisely what levee maintenance and repair programs were in place, but this link at a left leaning site gives some idea of the funding shortfalls.

It also had this:
When members of the Louisiana National Guard left for Iraq in October, they took a lot equipment with them. Dozens of high water vehicles, humvees, refuelers and generators are now abroad, and in the event of a major natural disaster that, could be a problem.


The NYT has this great set of graphics that allows you to click and see various information about the stricken area of the city, see a day to day plot of flooding, and shows the evacuation routes among other things.

The Czar is getting off lightly, so far.


More on Jabbar Gibson.

Salem Pax is tired.

More on foreign aid here and here, including Qatar's offering $100 million.

Britons abandoned, they say; children separated from parents; housing materials shortage expected across America; generosity in Mississippi; Dysentery reported in Biloxi. "Entire delta gone, destroyed." The balance undone. The timeline.

Katrina's victims poorer than U.S. average; details.

Six days in Chalmette.

Two open bars in the French Quarter.

The dead.


The police and firefighters.

Michael Brown is Dr. Smith.

The deputy Iraqi Ambassador's perspective.

The naked Superdome.

Broussard's breakdown.

Brownie quotes.

Paycheck to paycheck.

Who I've been thinking about lately.

And so on and so forth.

But it is a gamble: it's staking a lot on your judgment of character. And if you lose, you lose.

Pshaw. Bush undoubtedly looked into Michael Brown's soul and saw that he was a good man. What are you, objectively pro-hurricane?

The National Response Plan

Commentary here.

Which bothers me more than it should, since it's such a small point in context, but I have seen it happen, and history is replete with it happening. Col. Joshua Chamberlain, for instance.

That's an interesting point, but Chamberlain was a volunteer and a classics professors (I'm not saying that classics professors are particularly suited to command positions-I shudder to think of Victor Davis Hanson in any kind of leadership position, but you've got a better chance with someone who knows some history) and the Civil War was, on the Union side, a Darwinian experiment in creating leaders.

At any rate, it is a real insult to Chamberlain to claim that he was a political appointee. I'm trying to think of a Civil War political appointee who was successful. Burnside was apparently effective on a tactical level, but when promoted to a position of strategic importance, he foundered terribly. Fremont had some small success, and his appointment was a sop to abolitionists. While we are talking about New Orleans, special mention should go to Benjamin Franklin Butler. Taking an idea from the last line, perhaps portapotties with the current president's mug might be in order. (free association, from Wonkette, I think, at least one EPA staffer is calling the waters in New Orleans 'Lake George')

People with little or no experience do show surprising leadership abilities when placed in such situations which had me give my attempt at self-deception that Bush, after 9-11, would prove to be like Lincoln, a person who became more than himself. I'm certainly a lot more pessimistic on the idea now, and Brownie only reinforces that opinion.

Other info, from the Times-Picayune weblog, this FEMA datapoint.

Authorities also tried to quell rumors that numerous law enforcement officers had been shot, saying that no officers had been shot.
Meanwhile, public officials and private citizens alike throughout the parish continued to rail at the slowness of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to get disaster relief teams into the area.

Parish President Kevin Davis, who sent 500 gallons of gasoline to keep the Slidell emergency operations center generator operating, was clearly frustrated. “They keep saying they’re coming, but they’re not here,” he said on a radio show.

Slidell Mayor Ben Morris was the most blunt. “FEMA has been seizing private fuel trucks and a Cleco helicopter, but you know, I haven’t seen a single person I can talk to,” he almost spat in a profanity-laced tirade.
“If they don’t open the fuel supply chain soon, we’re going to lose everything we’ve gained” since the storm.

Morris called FEMA managers “the most incredibly stupid bunch of people. Where are they? Where is the gas? Cleco’s been doing a great job. We may have electricity back from private utilities before (FEMA) gets here.”

"...calling the waters in New Orleans 'Lake George')...."

It's been going around lots of blogs for a few days now.

OK, Hil, let's recap.

The current post: critical of FEMA and Mike Brown.

The previous post: Explaining why it's OK to criticize the Bush administration, and then doing so, using the subpar response by FEMA as an example.

The apolitical story about Gibson.

A story about Chertoff with a sarcastic title.

The story about the National Guard and FEMA suspending rescue efforts.

A response to Thomas at Redstate explaining why it's OK to criticize the Bush administration.

I wrote a comment in another thread that there's plenty of blame to around. For example, New Orleans has a disaster plan. Why didn't the mayor implement it? These very issues were raised a year ago and long before that. In the Washington Post article which took FEMA to task:

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."
This means that state and local authorities should have had plans and should have taken action to alleviate the situation until Friday or Saturday morning. It didn't happen, and things fell apart pretty quickly. In this WA Post article, Governor Blanco resisted efforts to cede authority
in recovery efforts, even though the state has fallen well short of doing the job. The governor is responsible for getting National Guard troops to the scene, for example. What troubles me, Hil, is that all of your focus has been on the federal government and you've written nary a word on the lapses by state and local officials. Those state and local officials also happen to be uniformly Democrats. That is why I believe that you are politicizing this tragedy. As far as I'm concerned, there's plenty of blame to be spread around, and there were failures at all levels of government. The Bush administration is not immune from cricitism, and I agree that FEMA isn't doing the job, but I don't think it should stop there.

"At any rate, it is a real insult to Chamberlain to claim that he was a political appointee."

I thought he was appointed by the Governor of Maine, but I could be misremembering, and thinking of Col. Robert Gould Shaw, who definitely was appointed by the Governor of Massachusetts.

In any case, neither being a volunteer or a political appointee was actually relevant to my more general point about sometimes inexperienced people can step up to the plate and succeed, although they do make interesting sub-questions.

Brownie clearly, at best, fouled out. Or had two strikes and bunted a single. Something more awful, probably.

Non-sequituring, I'm bemused by the small but noticeable "don't call them 'refugees,' they're Americans!" meme going about, as it seems entirely ludicrous to me. "Refugees" are people seeking refuge, and that's all, and the term has nothing nationalistic or pejorative about it, of course.

It appears I was wrong about Chamberlain:

then promptly enlisted and received a commission as lieutenant colonel of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment, part of the Union Army of the Potomac.

He fought with the regiment at the Battle of Fredericksburg, Antietam, and at the Battle of Chancellorsville, where he was promoted to colonel of the regiment upon the promotion of its first colonel, Adelbert Ames.

I withdraw his name and replace it with Col. Robert Gould Shaw. :-)

We can debate the pre-Katrina info: who was appointed, what funding was cut and why...

But Bush will show his true colors, and the arrogance and corruption of the administration will be obvious (again) when Mike Brown is either kept on or allowed to resign quietly. Ditto all of those at HMS who made bad decisions. Hell, it wouldn't surprise any of us -- supporters and critics -- to see Brown or Chertoff awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom. The precedent is there.

So far, Bush is staying consistent. On the day after the hurricane, when he was in San Diego talking about Iraq, he again praised Don Rumsfeld. And we all heard him tell "Brownie" what a great job he was doing on this latest disaster.

So there's no need to argue to pre-Katrina decisions until there are people in place who would listen. For now, only the most knee-jerk supporters of Bushco will support his continuing to place more importance on loyalty than on competence.

Charles, Bush ran for office on the theme that he was going to keep us safe from terrorism, or some such slogan. And yet he appointed an incompetent to be in charge of FEMA. There is an obvious contradiction there. A competent President would make sure he appointed qualified people to the agencies dealing with the issues he considered most critical.
So much for defending us from terrorists.

The legal meaning of refugee is: someone who has fled their country because of persecution on account of race, nationality, religion, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. In legalese, the people fleeing Katrina are internally displaced persons, or IDPs. There is of course a common usage of just "someone fleeing from danger", but it's possible that the legal definition has crept into people's use of the term.

I still think it's completely beside the point. People calling them refugees are not trying to imply they're not American citizens.

It's probably too late to stop this meme, since Bush partisans are falling on it like a life preserver, but the "Blanco refused to declare a state of emergency even after Bush asked her to" story on WaPo is inaccurate.

Blanco declared a state state of emergency on August 26. It's in a press release.

Also, Bush declared a federal state of emergency for Louisiana on August 27, after Blanco requested it. That, too, is in a press release.

One assumes that declaring a Federal state of emergency means that the Federal government is supposed to do something. Something besides sit there and say "No one could have expected this to happen," that is.

The local authorities got people who couldn't leave NO to emergency shelters, as was their responsibility. The federal government was supposed to take over at that point, since the federal government had what the locals didn't have: transportation, communication, and supplies.

The local authorities trusted FEMA to do what FEMA is supposed to do.

FEMA had... "other priorities," I guess. I'd be interested to know what Brown was doing, from August 27 thrugh September 2, since he apparently wasn't mobilizing any response to the emergency order.

I mean, Harry Truman had airplanes dropping supplies on West Berlin less than 24 hours after the Berlin Wall went up.

I was under the perhaps mistaken impression that communication-control-response capabilities had improved somewhat since 1948.

I thought he was appointed...
received a commission as lieutenant colonel of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment, part of the Union Army of the Potomac

Just curious, but does receiving a commission represent an 'appointment'? I ask not to highlight this, but I think it has a relationship to the question of who orders the respective Nat Guard units into action. I'm sure this is going to surface on the rightward blogs, right after they finish hashing out why the posse comitatus law prevented Bush from rushing help to the disaster...

About Brownie and his great job, well, he didn't know about the Convention Center, where people were ordered to go, and then claimed that the people there were getting meals, so my question there is whether it is possible to have a negative batting average.

Following your observation, I think it is interesting that refugees has become the word of choice, rather than evacuees. Refugees implies that there is no possibility of return, evacuees suggests that it is only temporary, I think. Jesse Jackson has been the target of a lot of criticism about this, but his point that you want to have refugees/evacuees housed within the state (and therefore US military facilities in LA should be set up to take them) is one to think about. Here is a link to LA military facilities. Salon has an ongoing story about England AFB, which was closed in the 90's, and is lying unused. This story says that England AFB has been converted to a staging area. The uncharitable thought that the dispersal of "refugees" is to be able to minimize the impact and flood the airways with images of privatized 'americans helping americans' images does surface.

And Charles, I hope you could comment on 2shoes cites of the National Response Plan and Larry Johnson's analysis. It would undercut most of the substantive points of your comment. As for your attempts to undercut Hilzoy, they certainly speak to your focus at this time of crisis. from the NRP

The NRP establishes policies, procedures, and mechanisms for proactive Federal response to catastrophic events. A catastrophic event is 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. A catastrophic event could result in sustained national impacts over a prolonged period of time; almost immediately exceeds resources normally available to State, local, tribal, and private-sector authorities in the impacted area; and significantly interrupts governmental operations and emergency services to such an extent that national security could be threatened. All catastrophic events are Incidents of National Significance.
(emphasis mine)

I may have missed it, but I didn't see any sort of time limit in that document, like leaving a cake to bake in the oven.

Charles, I think the problem is that the failures of the state and local government are less self-evident. Photos of submerged school buses might very well be damning when all the facts are in, but tens of thousands of hungry and dehydrated people locked into a pit of human waste and corpses for all the world to see on TV while our leaders, with all the resources of the federal government behind them, deny even having knowledge of the situation and then fail to deliver relief for days and days, is a pretty open and shut case for colossal incompetence.

CB, I don't see why a failure of state and local authorities -- if there was one -- would excuse a failure by federal authorities. It's not as if what state and local authorities were doing, or not doing, was concealed from the feds.

Did the feds perform as well as we should expect? If your answer is yes, please say so.

BTW: I'm in Boston for the weekend, and local news last night was Gov Romney talking about taking in 2000 refugees, on a fairly long term basis, housing them at Otis AFB. Sounded like the right thing to do. Are other states stepping up in the same manner?

Local news tonight.

Blanco declared a state state of emergency on August 26. It's in a press release.

The facts won't stop the Administration from spreading a convenient lie.

I would just like to add this the most bezaar
and the most callous of the compassionate leader.

You can find the original on http://www.warandpiece.com/ part way down on the September 4 page.

German TV reports. Thanks to readers FD and DZ for the links and translations. From DZ:

German TV channel "ZDF" video (in German):

It´s the video called "Verzweiflung in der Anarchie" ("Desperation in Anarchy"). Bush visit coverage in Biloxi starts around 3:15.

A short summary of her comments are also mentioned in this ZDF article:

starting with: "Raeumarbeiten nur für Bush?"
[My translation:] "Clean-up operation only for Bush?
Where the US President visited the disaster area, aid units cleaned up the area. But only there. Reporting from Biloxi, ZDF correspondent Claudia Rueggeberg cited desperate inhabitants [of Biloxi telling her] Bush should have transported aid materials inside his limousines instead of a bunch of body guards and media correspondents.

[Now citing Claudia Rueggeberg directly from the video:]
Along his [Bush] travel route aid units removed debris and recovered corpses. Then Bush left and along with him, all aid troops left too. The situation in Biloxi remains unchanged, nothing has arrived, everything is still needed."

What can one say. Who would have thought to find a potemkin setup here in 2005. IT IS SICK AND BASICALLY SHOWS WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE IS REALLY INTERESTED. IT SURELY IS NOT IN SAVING LIFES.

Bernard, I fully expect the GOP to keep spreading that convenient lie, and I fully expect Bush partisans to keep believing it.

What I'm desperately hoping for is that no one outside that hard core will.

Because we've got three more years of this Administration's lethal misrule to endure. I'm thinking of what more can happen in that three years - earthquakes, terrorist attacks, more Cat 4/5 hurricanes - and how many more Americans will die and American cities be laid waste.

Charles, there's a certain amount of fairness to your critique. That said, I'm going to undertake a long and rambling counter-argument from the point of view of someone who lives in New York City, the epicenter of local responsibility for such matters.

After it became clear that the levees were breached and that all hell was breaking loose, I went to NYC's emergency planning website to see what kinds of plans were in place, and available to the public. Evacuation plans for NYC also emphasized "leave as you can and plan to stay with friends or family," but there were promises of evac shelters for those who couldn't find places to go. (That would be me: I've no car, and my people are either in the city or in the West.) The internet site informed me, based on a javascript imput of my address, that I would be under no immediate danger of flooding if a major hurricane struck. I was advised to heed news reports and to call 311 for information in the advent of an emergency. Not exactly a plan, but on some levels, I think to myself, Still, the NYPD and NYFD are fricking competent; they've got the feds beat solid.

And I pretty much stand by that. I'd rather have a tightly coordinated NYPD/NYFD response to a NYC catastrophe than a federally organized mess.

But the NYPD has also concluded that it's better than the federal government at protecting NYC. Did you read that July 25 New Yorker article by William Finnegan, "Defending the City"? Commissioner Kelly so mistrusts federal sharing of intelligence that he's sending NYPD officers overseas to collect intelligence. The NYPD has such great staff that it's sharing linguists with the feds. I know a HazMat FDNY specialist who goes around the country training other firefighters, private security organizations, and, yes, feds. Mayor Bloomberg has Kelly's back against all flack, willing to spend what it takes, and NYC's special vulnerability--and victim status from 9-11--has the feds accepting measures that would normally seem outrageous from locals. From Finnegan's article:

"It was as if the Feds, reeling from September 11th, silently acknowledged New York's right to take extraordinary defensive measure. (Or, as one senior police official said to me, "Do you think anybody in Washington has the balls to tell Ray Kelly he can't do something he decides to do?")

NYC has the absolute best local emergency and security force in the country (a local army, frankly), and of course when I fill out my state taxes, I get a special line of pain for living in the city.

With all this, if a major evacuation came down on NYC, I really do wonder whether all of our wealth, preparedness, and local army would be enough to move people out of the city or to find and rescue stragglers. (Military conveys arrived in NYC by 1pm on September 11th, as I remember.)

It may seem a bit extreme to compare the very poor New Orleans with the very wealthy New York. I hope it seems extreme because the NYPD model of everything from disaster response to zero-tolerance policing is often invoked as a model for other cities to emulate. These agencies require extraordinary manpower, money, and political will. People have to believe in the threat for such protective measures to be political viable. Abstract or scientifically complex threats will be very difficult to demogogue when a local politician has to answer pressing questions about immediate need--and if anything, the past week's coverage of the very poor of New Orleans shows that that was a city that has suffered of immediate needs for a while.

I'm not among those who really believe that shoring up the levees would have prevented this destruction. Maybe more levee work would have prevented this nightmare from happening this year--which agreed, would have been better--but levees will fail eventually. What leaves me heartbroken is the aftermath. If it is true that 80% evacuated, that's amazing. I doubt 80% of New Yorkers would or could evacuate if faced with a threat, no matter how super-top-efficient our local politicians. But once the local officials admit that a situation is beyond the scope of their ability to deal, one really hopes that the federal government can *help*.

I know that the NY local agencies would resist turning over authority to the feds, but that was clearly not the case in New Orleans, where the locals knew they didn't have the wherewithal or manpower to cope with the challenge. Maybe they should have better coordinated with FEMA/DHS, but evidence is mounting that Louisiana tried and that the feds weren't listening.

And yes, the locals are Democrats. Democrats tend to emphasize poverty-alleviating measures over security matters, and maybe, in the case of New Orleans, that was an oversight. But could it not also be the case that Democratic local officials lacked the Washington clought to get their agenda heard in a Republican-dominated Washington? It's been total warfare on Capitol Hill for some time now, and the disaster-preparedness needs of local areas has been low on people's priorities.

New York had the civic wealth to take matters into its own hands; New Orleans didn't.

Charles, a question: What would you expect Nagin and Blanco to have done that they failed to do? (Besides the issue of the busses, that is; I think everyone can agree that was a screwup of serious proportions). Serious question. I think we've all heard the list of problems with the federal reaction; what problems would you identify with the state and local reactions, too?

Another question: does the federal government really expect states (particularly poor states like those on the Gulf Coast) to be fully self-sufficient in terms of evacuee rescue, shelter, and supply for three to four full days? That seems from my perspective to be slightly unrealistic. (I would also be a little wary taking the word of those unnamed federal officials in the Roig-Franzia article as gospel, considering that at least one of them told a barefaced lie about the state of emergency declarations, but that's a side issue).

"For now, only the most knee-jerk supporters of Bushco will support his continuing to place more importance on loyalty than on competence."

See the poll results. Click through for the fuller stories. Your assertion is not yet borne out, though it may indeed be in time, of course (I can but hope).

Charles- Why would the failures of the N.O. mayor or Louisiana gov. be fodder for national discussion anyway? We have enough on our hands talking about the Bush administration's failures, particularly the failure to prepare for emergencies/mass casualty events, which Bush has made more likely. Local government failures are matters of local concern, national government failures are matters of national concern.

No, in the end it should be a matter for national discussion whether local authorities are really equipped to deal with catastrophes of this magnitude. Some local authorities might indeed be, and they would deal with it better and with a tighter chain of command than could the feds. Unfortunately, many local authorities cannot cope with such tragedies because they lack money, clout, or whatever. Should the populations then suffer? I would hope not--and particularly not when the specifics of the tragedy have been so widely forecasted.

To follow up on Mark's comment on how long local officials are supposed to hold out. They were able to evacuate maybe 30-35k to shelters in good order. The entire week before, preparations to make the Superdome a shelter were being set. The grid goes out. How long are they supposed to wait until cavalry arrives?

Mark also notes the problem with buses. On several rightward sites, they are wondering why the mayor didn't simply take all the school buses and bus those in the shelter outside of New Orleans. Like they were going to find a big Holiday Inn to drop them all off between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Or perhaps they should have kept them all on the bus. The point is that the city officials did what they needed to do, which was to get their residents through the storm. Even being on the outer limits of a hurricane in a vehicle, let alone a yellow school bus, is not the most intelligent route.

Again, not to get all vitriolic on you, Mark, but I think this meme started from the CNN shot of the flooded school buses and is taking a life of its own.

for example, New Orleans has a disaster plan. Why didn't the mayor implement it?

Are you familiar with IEM?

According to a SurveyUSA poll sited on Kos, Bush's approval rate for Katrina is 38% and disappove is 55%. This is the sort of thing that takes awhile to sink in. Iraq is making Bush look like a loser. Katrina is making him look like a loser. Everybody hates a loser. I do believe his chickhens are finally on the way home.

For what it's worth, there's a simpler explanation for my focus, thus far, on federal officials. I am trying to be careful in my criticisms (where 'careful' means: I want to get things right, not to respond to outrageous facts with a measured lack of outrage.) As I've said earlier, I am trying not to blame people for the sorts of screwups that go with human fallibility.

That, plus the fact that there are lots of chunks of the story that I don't think anyone has really gotten a handle on yet, means that I'm restricted, for now, to extreme cases in which, whatever the explanation for what happened turns out to be, it cannot possibly be tolerable. Appointing an incompetent to run FEMA is one such thing; failing to get food and water to the people at the convention center is another.

Failing to try to bus people out is probably a third. However, I really do not have a good handle on why it happened: who made the decision, on what grounds, and so forth. In general, there has been a lot more coverage of the federal effort, largely (I think) because the full-bore, wall-to-wall coverage really only got started on Monday morning, when the locals and everyone else were in the actual middle of the hurricane, and thus unlikely to be e.g. effecting evacuations, and continued through the phase when the feds should have been doing a lot more than they were. CNN's reporters were not doing breathless reports on the pre-hurricane evacuation plan and its execution, though they did have the odd reporter flying over the congested freeways.

So I don't have anything like a good grasp of that part of the story. Even if I wanted to skew things, I really have no particular brief for the mayor of NO, or the governor of LA, and will be happy to blame them as appropriate when I do.

There are two other things that are probably relevant. One is that I have a lot more background knowledge of the Bush administration than I have of LA politics, and so it's easier for me to make sense of things. (Even just in terms of knowing what the relevant agencies are, and what responsibilities they have. I mean, don't they still have fundamentally French law in LA?)

The second is that the federal government is a matter of more urgent concern to me, since it will bear the brunt of responding to any future major calamity, which I devoutly hope the government of LA will not (at least for another century or two); and also since it's my government, which the government of LA is not.

For what it's worth, 'Katrina', 'Katrina: Disaster', and 'Oh Dear God' were all efforts to keep a thread up on the front page for hurricane discussions, and I wasn't attempting to make any particular point with them, just (in the case of the first) trying to get basic info out, and (the other two) putting up whatever was handy. 'Glad To Know They're On Top Of Things' was another attempt to have a thread on the front page with whatever was handy, but in that case what was handy made me want to burst into tears and strangle someone, simultaneously, so it was also, obviously, critical.

Anarch: I googled IEM, and got all sorts of nice things, like the Iowa Electronic Markets; the The Institution of Engineers, Malaysia; International Electronic Machines ofAlbany, NY; Institute for Electronic Music; Irish Energy Management Ltd.; Iekšlietu Ministrijas (I think this is Latvian); and İstanbul Emniyet Müdürlüğü (gotta love them Turkish letters. I always ask myself: why go to all the trouble of adopting Roman script if you're going to pronounce 'c' as 'j', 'g' as a sort of glottal 'y', and so forth?)

Somehow, I don't think these were what you had in mind, though. I'm betting E is for Emergency, and M is for Management...

For what it's worth, 'Katrina', 'Katrina: Disaster', and 'Oh Dear God' were all efforts to keep a thread up on the front page for hurricane discussions...

Yep. Objectively pro-hurricane.

And, by the bye, knowing that Tolkien was a linguist, can there be any doubt that Turkish was the inspiration for Orkish?

Following CNN it also appears, to me at least, that FEMA is also blowing it big time in Mississipi, with no food or water to the coast until Friday. Telling small towns with no medical or emergency resources that they're on their own for 4-5 days is unrealistic.

And what is IEM, pray tell?

In seriousness now, hilzoy: see here for starters. I'm fairly sure the story got carried further elsewhere, but this was more or less the beginning AFAIK.

*ritual genuflection Farberwards, three Hail Giblets' and look of contrition for the inevitable counterpost*

Here is the China Mieville post on IEM that I got via Crooked Timber.

Innovative. Yeah.

Anarch: oh, right, them. The beneficiaries of privatizing disaster management.


I think I'll stick with İstanbul Emniyet Müdürlüğü.

This from Eric Muller, who worked under Chertoff. Thought it would be interesting in light of our discussions of appropriate qualifications.

LJ, it's hard for me to behave rationally about any Mieville post: no matter his evidence or his arguments, some hindbrain of mine signals he's so hot and then dissolves. That said, your link seems indeed to demonstrate a cover-up in the making.

I thought it was In Ear Monitoring.

Charles: you're entirely free, should you so desire, to cherry pick the facts from the vitriol at Red State and point out all the reasons that this was, in fact, Blanco and Nagin's fault. After all, as they are Democrats, you have a horse in the race that Hilzoy does not, just as she has a horse in the race to point out the grotesque fuck-ups perpetuated at the GOP-dominated federal level.

Good night and peaceful thoughts to all. May we all focus our thoughts towards a better and a safer union.

Josh Marshall has more on the lies about Blanco being spread by the Bush administration, which have snookered at least two major news outlets.

RedState is wondering why we don't privatize disaster relief. As I don't comment there (liberals seem to give them hives), I don't have the heart to tell them about IEM...

Oh foolish McDuff (who I saw slay Macbeth not last week; jolly well done on that), don't you know that it's hilzoy who's politicizing this disaster and not our nuanced Charles?

RedState is wondering why we don't privatize disaster relief. As I don't comment there (liberals seem to give them hives), I don't have the heart to tell them about IEM...

Good lord. How appallingly clueless...

McDuff: I have a horse in the posting rules. Whatever that means.

Gromit: the thing that always gets me about stories like the one Marshall is recounting, about both the WaPo and Newsweek getting spun, is: What ever happened to the idea that journalists check their facts? I mean: I am a humble blogger. I do this in my free time. I try to check my facts. I think: having any sort of audience, even a tiny one, gives you a responsibility to be accurate.

The facts they got spun on are readily available on the web. Are the reporters who didn't bother to check them really just stenographers?

Minor tidbit: while driving to the grocery store, I switched on the AM station, which had Hugh Hewitt on. (Having seen him on TV in LA, it never ceases to amaze me that he has successfully gone national. But then, I heard Rush Limbaugh well before he got famous, filling in for another talk show host, and thought: geez, even by the standards of talk radio this guy is an idiot. So clearly I am a bad judge of these things.)

Anyways, his topic was: is this another Wellstone Funeral moment for the left?

No kidding.

He also noted various universities who were taking in students from universities closed by Katrina, and said that Harvard was not among them, and made some snooty comment about their possibly eventually deigning to do this. In fact, this is false: Harvard is taking in students, tuition-free.

"As far as I'm concerned, there's plenty of blame to be spread around, and there were failures at all levels of government. The Bush administration is not immune from cricitism"

Fine. Take politics out of it. Blanco and the Mayor(sorry) and Brown and Chertoff and George W Bush should resign. I am ok with that.

majikthise has this very interesting link that I haven't seen, even at Gary's place (if I missed them, my apologies)

FEMA refuses Chicago aid

A visibly angry Mayor Daley said the city had offered emergency, medical and technical help to the federal government as early as Sunday to assist people in the areas stricken by Hurricane Katrina, but as of Friday, the only things the feds said they wanted was a single tank truck.

That truck, which the Federal Emergency Management Agency requested to support an Illinois-based medical team, was en route Friday.

"We are ready to provide more help than they have requested. We are just waiting for their call," said Daley, adding that he was "shocked" that no one seemed to want the help. [...]

Daley said the city offered 36 members of the firefighters' technical rescue teams, eight emergency medical technicians, search-and-rescue equipment, more than 100 police officers as well as police vehicles and two boats, 29 clinical and 117 non-clinical health workers, a mobile clinic and eight trained personnel, 140 Streets and Sanitation workers and 29 trucks, plus other supplies. City personnel are willing to operate self-sufficiently and would not depend on local authorities for food, water, shelter and other supplies, he said.

unbelievable. Someone needs to start a FEMA watch blog.

This overlaps with other people's points, but what the heck.

I don't live in New Orleans. I live in Seattle, grew up and have relatives in Los Angeles, and know and care about a bunch of people in San Francisco (and New York, and Chicago, and some other areas at risk). I'm most concerned about the federal performance because it's the part that will bear on any or all of us, should a big emergency arise, and it's the part that I can't go research and deal with locally.

And I feel a lot more scared for all of us than I did this time a week ago.

I expected that there'd be problems, because there just are, and I expected that there'd be some avoidable problems because the Bush administration does things that way. I did not expect - and here someone may well be entitled to say "shame on you" - this caliber of complete hell-sucking awfulness. And this is the part that bears on us all: if Mt. Rainier becomes active, if there's a tsunami in the central Pacific or a collapse of the Channel Islands, if terrorists attack in the Great Lakes, to the extent that any of us anywher in the US need the services assigned to FEMA...we won't get them.

Now, it is just possible that a revitalized Congress and/or a chastened administration could get things changed. But so far their record on that is not such as to warrant putting the slightest shred of hope in it. The reality right now is that we can expect nothing better until there's a change of administration plus the time it will take to purge and reorganize FEMA. This is it. This is what we must take into account in making our plans, individually, on the community level, every step short of federal. This affects us all.

The people of New Orleans (and the surrounding areas) need a full prompt accounting of what their local organs did right and wrong, and that's surely of interest to the rest of us. But it's not relevant in the intensely immediate and profoundly scary way that the federal response is.

Because...I don't mean this at all melodramatically, either...

If I'd been stuck in New Orleans and not reached with supplies until Friday and evacuated until, say today, I'd have been dead. My immune and neurological system couldn't survive. At least one of my parents would die. At least one of my brothers would die. Something like half my close friends would die. We have problems that can't wait that long. Most of us know what we'd do if cut off for a day, or two days, maybe three, but we didn't imagine that the federal performance would be such that we'd have to plan for more. This is going to tie up money and resources I wish i could use other ways, but I'll do what I can to prepare the extra, and so will those I care about.

Among the dead in New Orleans tonight are people with problems like mine, and like my family and friends, who could have lived if they'd gotten necessities a day or two after the hurricane left and been removed a day or two after that. I am scared, deeply, in a way I haven't been for a long time.

Holy god, LJ, that's... wow.

Y'know, isn't it part of FEMA's mission to check on local disaster plans? It's not like it's real tough. A couple of interns to make the phone calls, and then weigh the things when they come in. Too light=unrealistic plan. You could even have the interns read the damn things, too, for extra credit.

There's plenty of blame to go around. But FEMA has, just last year, been able to respond promptly to hurricanes in Florida. Water, food, tarps, and medicine was in affected areas within 48 hours. If relief had been in NOLA on Tuesday, this thread wouldn't exist, and there would be hundreds more citizens alive today.

majikthise has this very interesting link that I haven't seen, even at Gary's place (if I missed them, my apologies)

FEMA refuses Chicago aid....

at Chicago aid being turned down.

alex: But FEMA has, just last year, been able to respond promptly to hurricanes in Florida. Water, food, tarps, and medicine was in affected areas within 48 hours.

Is there any obvious explanation (aside from the explanations which I can see for myself and would, actually, prefer not to believe) why FEMA were able to respond helpfully to hurricane victims in Florida last year but ignored hurricane victims this year in Louisiana and Mississippi?

Well, Gary, this time I can say: I linked to it too, though not in an obvious way. (Third link in: "the offers of aid delayed for days by paperwork or even turned down", in 'Post w/o a name.)

There's also this:

"Volunteer physicians are pouring in to care for the sick, but red tape is keeping hundreds of others from caring for Hurricane Katrina survivors while health problems rise.

Among the doctors stymied from helping out are 100 surgeons and paramedics in a state-of-the-art mobile hospital, developed with millions of tax dollars for just such emergencies, marooned in rural Mississippi.

"The bell was rung, the e-mails were sent off. ...We all got off work and deployed," said one of the frustrated surgeons, Dr. Preston "Chip" Rich of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"We have tried so hard to do the right thing. It took us 30 hours to get here," he said. That government officials can't straighten out the mess and get them assigned to a relief effort now that they're just a few miles away "is just mind-boggling," he said."

And other similar stories.

And Bruce: yep. FEMA's screwups affect a lot more people than LA state government does. I have medical conditions that, while not as alarming as yours sound, also mean that running out of medication would be a real, serious problem; whether life-threatening or not would depend on a lot of completely contingent details. But I saw people on TV who had not had dialysis while they were stuck at the convention center.

The price we all pay for having someone in charge of FEMA who was forced out of the International Arabian Horse Association for management failures. And for electing someone who didn't see why appointing him to that job was not a good idea.

Anyone want to place bets on whether Brown still has a job within, say, three months?

Jes: fwiw, my explanation for the differences in the responses to Florida's hurricanes and Katrina is a combination of electoral politics and the fact that the hurricanes last year, while horrible, were much less of a challenge than this one. About the possibility of racism, I basically agree with this post at Legal Fiction (short version: not in the obvious sense, but race nonetheless has everything to do with it, in a more roundabout way.)

I'm not sure that thinking racism was at the bottom of it wouldn't be better than putting it down to election-year politics. At least racism would be consistent with thinking that this administration was willing and able to take its responsibilities seriously for some of its citizens, even though (if it were racism) it would be excluding others in the most unjust imaginable way. The election politics explanation depresses me because it's a literally bottomless, unfathomable cynicism and irresponsibility about the lives of other people.

Well, Gary, this time I can say: I linked to it too, though not in an obvious way.

I extend my apologies to Hilzoy and will stick to links like this (and if your browser plays asf files, you can listen to it too!)

I have a bad feeling that Brown won't be unemployed in three months. Circling the wagons always gives the administration shorter lines of communication and reinforcement.

I think a large reason that Florida got a quicker response was because of Jeb, from the simply standpoint that he could cut through the phalanx of advisers, many of whom were on vacation (TPM link that goes to a WaPo article)

Hilzoy: Anyone want to place bets on whether Brown still has a job within, say, three months?

I'd lay money on his still having the job. In three months time, I anticipate (wincingly) that there will be a standard story about Katrina, which will exculpate Brown (and Bush, but naturally) from any blame. Anyone who tries to bring up the actual events of the past week will be slammed for being "partisan".

This is the way this administration works. Take no responsibility, accept no blame, fire no one on their team: work on "correcting" the media spin, not on changing anything they've actually done wrong. Really: let's go back to this in three months (Monday 5th December?) but I bet I'm right, though I wish I wasn't.

And actually, electoral politics was one of the reasons I'd have preferred not to believe, for much the reason you outline.

I realize that I just said I wasn't going to try and keep up with Gary on links, but this telling point (especially for the regulars here) from Newsweek

Up to now, the Bush administration has not hesitated to sweep aside the opinions of lawyers on such matters as prisoners' rights. But after Katrina, a strange paralysis set in. For days, Bush's top advisers argued over legal niceties about who was in charge, according to three White House officials who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the negotiations. Beginning early in the week, Justice Department lawyers presented arguments for federalizing the Guard, but Defense Department lawyers fretted about untrained 19-year-olds trying to enforce local laws, according to a senior law-enforcement official who requested anonymity citing the delicate nature of the discussions.

also this

At Tulane University, Dr. James Robinson, a prominent AIDS researcher, and his wife, Monique, decided to stay behind to protect some cell lines—white blood cells infected with the disease—that represent decades of research on his part. He packed his lab with food and water and relied on generators to keep his freezers and incubators operating. He and his wife even managed to have a glass of wine and watch a DVD on a computer after the storm abated. But by Wednesday, with the water rising, his generator failed. Fearful of getting robbed or drowned, the Robinsons made their way to a Tulane parking lot, secured by guards, where he called his daughter in Providence, R.I., to tell her they were all right—for now. "I didn't dare ask him about his work," said his daughter, Lisette Dorsey. "I fear it's all probably a loss."

Jes: yes, that's the only reason I think bets are in order (in any other administration, he'd be toast.) What remains to be seen, I think, is whether there's any combination of incompetence and political embarrassing-ness that will prompt an actual firing from this crowd.

Oh, and lj: yes, I forgot about Jeb. You're right, of course.

Hilzoy: What remains to be seen, I think, is whether there's any combination of incompetence and political embarrassing-ness that will prompt an actual firing from this crowd.

Well, this is no worse than the incompetence they showed in Iraq in 2003 - indeed, it's precisely the same kind of incompetence. The only difference between now and then is that these are Americans who are suffering, not Iraqis, and they're on video, and the video of their suffering is going out on the primetime news. But if they deserved to go for being this incompetent, they deserved to go last year.

I posted about this on my livejournal, as a reminder to come back to this on 5th December.

The only difference between now and then is that these are Americans who are suffering, not Iraqis, and they're on video, and the video of their suffering is going out on the primetime news.

A big difference is that so many people are maybe 2 or 3 degrees of separation from those who were affected. While the walls that separate people by class (and yes, by race), I think that most Americans know someone who knows someone whose fate is unknown. This isn't to excuse the blindness that has existed to what has been happening in Iraq, just an observation.

"I'd lay money on his still having the job. In three months time"

This is not a matter of guesswork, but of calculation. The questions at issues involve vote counts in the Senate on Scotus nominations, estate tax cuts, whatever Linear-B phonebook Bill Thomas reports out of committee which will include pork, Medicare cuts and Social Security "reform".

This WH will feel no pressure from the press, the people, whatever. They will ignore or spin it away. But a few key Senators can still be embarrassed. The immediate problem is the estate tax. There must at least be some distraction, or a show of competence at handling the media. If it is necessary to sacrifice Brown (Chernoff knows too much) they will.

As I said, Bush only responds to his right. The video of looters hurt him badly. Without those scenes, they might have done nothing at all.

Not that I want to worry anyone but there's a big bastard of a typhoon getting ready to slam into Japan (equivalent of a Cat4 and getting stronger). LJ, you keep safe now, y'hear?

bob mcmanus, hear, hear!

Tuesday it's business as usual for the Republicans in DC: estate taxes to abolish, a Supreme Court to pack, and doubtless more of the ilk of Brown and Bolton to "administer" the government of our benighted republic.

Thanks for thinking of me. We are all ready (just got our emergency kit assembled and updated yesterday morning and we've had some experience with hurricanes coming over (about 7 years ago, one came directly over Kumamoto, the sudden drop in air pressure was truly eerie) My biggest problem is that my 6 year old daughter is very scared because I've had CNN on the past week.

Here's the website I generally follow the typhoons. This is also an interesting site with this depressing prediction for the Atlantic 2005 hurricane cycle (even if I don't quite understand the statistical notation).

There is a 100% probability that the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season ACE index will be above average (defined as an ACE index value in the upper tercile historically (>113)). The 55-year period 1950-2004 is used for climatology. If verified, the forecast values for the ACE Index and numbers of tropical storms would be the highest on record.

Fortunately, the Pacific is generally cooler (Katrina went over a section of the gulf that had extraordinarily warm water which allowed the storm to gain in strength) so I don't think Cat-5 have struck Japan. We've also got a kousui hazaado map, which gives detailed information about areas of town that are prone to flooding and evacuation routes, along with information about how much rain over how many days would produce flooding.


Katrina was downgraded from Cat 5 to 4 before it hit land, it also changed course by 50 miles to the north. As a result the highest winds to hit N.O. were 100mph, so efectively only a high Category 2 storm hit N.O. The levees were supposed to be able to take a Cat 3 storm, but funding for improvements and maintainence were cut drasticly from 2001 onward by the Bush administration. Maybe they would have failed anyway, but that doesn't look like the way to bet. Just my 2 cents.

As of Sunday night, it looked like it would be a direct hit. It veered off course in the last few hours. Besides, that's moot. There's something missing in your notion of a "bet". We don't just weigh outcomes on their likelihoods, but a relationship between their likelihood and their payoff. The levee's breaking was a foreseen and catastrophic event. There should have been a federal mobilization beforehand even if it were unlikely. This is the reason we buy insurance: because some eventualities are intolerable even if they're unlikely. You could say of life insurance too that premature death "doesn't look like the way to bet", but you'd be missing something about why people are quite reasonable to buy life insurance.

this story from the LATimes was the one that broke me. I'm going to shut off the computer for the rest of the evening. See you tomorrow.

I spent yesterday with my dad for Labor Day, and because his 60th birthday is next week, and boy, is he pissed. He spent 25 years in the military, the bulk of it in the US Army COE, and wants to know why, with the HQ of the Army Engineer School less than 1,000 miles away at Ft. Leonard Wood, MO, the president hasn't mobilized massive numbers of engineers to stop up the levees and get the pumps working. ("Get me down there and give me two companies and I'll get the goddamned pumps going.") Or why the government isn't housing evacuees at the dozens of military installations within a 500-mile radius, most of which HAVE to have lots of empty beds in the barracks, BOQ and on-base housing right now. He is really, really ripped.

Real http://divinegravity.blogspot.com/>outrage.

Real outrage.

*clicks on link*

Yeah - and thinking like that is why Brown will still have his job come December 5th. There are enough right-wingers gearing up to forget and forgive the Bush administration, yet again.

Piscator- I must not have expressed myself clearly enough, I wasn't trying to excuse the administration. Its tough since they are trying to have it both ways on this.

1. It wasn't the administration's fault, because no one expected it to be this bad.

2. It is the fault of the survivors in New Orleans, because they should have known it would be this bad.

Thinking about why the levees failed the way they did. Maybe the new sections were cast without reinforcing rods? Concrete will float under certain conditions I'd bet thats what happened here.

Frank, everything I've read said that the levees are earthen. When they are overtopped and running water goes down the backside it's game over.

Tim- I've read in a number of places including Making Light that the part of the 17th street levee that failed was the new concrete part. (finished in the last 2 years)

LJ: I found out through Typhoon2000, which looks like it'll be worth bookmarking for the future.

on appropriately spreading responsibility--

One common circumstance when responsibility for an outcome is not a zero-sum game is when a variety of agents or factors were made responsible for preventing that outcome, and all of them failed.

Suppose I wear a belt and suspenders to keep my pants up. If my pants fell down because my suspenders snapped *and* my belt came loose, then it is fair to say that my belt bears some of the responsibility, and that my suspenders bear some of the responsibility.

Blaming the belt does not exculpate the suspenders; its *job* was to take up slack if the belt failed. And blaming the suspenders doesn't exculpate the belt: if the belt hadn't failed, my pants would still be up.

Because we know that humans, human agencies, and human artefacts, are all fallible, we try to build in reserves, redundancies, insurance-policies, and safety-nets. We connect the trailer to our car with a trailer-hitch, *and then* we hook up the safety-chains as well, just in case the trailer-hitch should break. We drive carefully and keep our car well-maintained, and we *still* wear seat-belts. And to back-stop the seat-belts, we have air-bags, too.

Many people above have pointed out good reasons why people who do not live in LA should feel more outrage about the failures at FEMA than the failures in the Mayor's office--because it affects the whole country, because its jurisdiction sometimes supercedes the states', because it has been charged with interstate coordination, etc.

I just want to emphasize this further point, that even for the residents of Louisiana, there is room for outrage that the ultimate safety net failed. The final back-stop. The one we have been hearing about for four years, the one that was supposed to step in if everything else failed.

Instead, it turns out that this safety net had been rendered useless, by a combination of neglect and intentional undermining. Some of the strands had rotted, and some had been cut through, and some had been sold to a private netting-syndicate. We were counting on it, and it did *nothing* when the crunch came.

SO: if I'm on an ocean liner and it sinks, then the builder of the liner has some responsibility for the sinking. And the builder of the life-boat bears some responsibility when the life-boat breaks apart at the first wave. But I can tell you that my last curses will be reserved for the Acme Life Preserver Company, when I pull on the inflation-toggle to blow it up, and a fifty-pound anchor pops out instead.

So, yeah, if I seem to be focusing the blame disproportionately on the people who want to sell off every safety-net in sight, maybe that's why.

Jes -

*clicks on link*
*scowls at image in mirror*
*arches back*
*extends sharp claws*

Blogbudsman: yeah, but is she _wrong_?

Frank: I think what I've heard is that the concrete part held, but that once the levees were overtopped, the waters scoured away the earthen foundation of the concrete, leading to the breach.

Glad you've got the typo in your username sorted out, blogbuds.

*clicks on link*
*scowls at image in mirror*
*arches back*
*extends sharp claws*

Awwwwwwww.... kitty! :D

"Awwwwwwww.... kitty! :D"

Careful. It might be armed.

What is interesting is that the mainstream media has had no choice but to bring up how imcompetent Brown is, but they still aren't asking very hard questions- perhaps they should ask Bush himself in a press conference (HA! Like he'd have one right now) or his Press Secy about WHY he appointed Brown to such an important post with NO EXPERIENCE.

UPDATE:very little charitable can be said about this. Losing your mother: horrible. Making up stories about it so you can avoid any responsibility: I have no words for this.

My own reaction is:

a) who gives a flying frigg if Broussard misstated the day? I misstate days all the time, and even without having gone through an effing disaster.

b) Anyone accusing anyone who suffered through what happened in the gulf coast of having "crocodile tears" and of "lying" and who goes on to mind-read political motivations and accuse that person of "taking advantage of a tragedy in order to gain political capital" (unlike the quoted post, which is only about raising funds for victims; oh, wait, it isn't, it's solely about mindreading, name-calling, accusing, and politics) is way, way, way beyond despicable.

"Russert didn't challenge him, even when he made wild accusations of FEMA "cutting [his parish's] emergency [communication] lines" and ordering the Coast Guard not to give them badly needed fuel."

Why, that's almost as wild and unbelievable as claiming that tens of thousands of New Orleanians were prevented from walking out of New Orleans by police armed with shotguns who fired over the heads of the crowds. But when one's primary source is messages in one's teeth -- "Like a lot of people, I didn't think Broussard's story passed the "smell test". We were right: He was lying." -- one doesn't need actual proof or disproof.

"Making up stories about it so you can avoid any responsibility: I have no words for this."

How about "mindreading"?

Also: out-right misstatement. "So, Thomas Rodrigue says he was calling the St. Rita's nursing home, and St. Bernard Parish officials on Saturday, August 27th, asking them to send the local sheriff to evacuate the nursing home."

This is not demonstrated by the provided quotes, which, incidentally, are cited with no link. Saying it's so is false. At best, the quoted statement by Rodrigue might be interpreted to indicate that. Which means any declaration based upon that statement that something else is a "lie" indicates in itself, either an inability to read and interpret English, or an inclination to deliberately mistate.

But, then, this apparently all takes place on some parallel world, anyway, given this claim: "CANDIOTTI: Sunday night [August 27th], as Katrina struck...." [...] So, Thomas Rodrigue says he was calling the St. Rita's nursing home, and St. Bernard Parish officials on Saturday, August 27th...."

So: a) the allegations aren't supported by any provided fact. b) the entire claim is all about dates, and the provider can't even get right what day August 27th was, or what date that Saturday was.

Nice to see you back, Gary.

You know, one of the points that we began with was Hilzoy's 'Human Filth Speaks' post where she wrote:

Since he is from Louisiana, I'll give him a pass on the rhetoric: I don't get bent out of shape by what people say two days after large chunks of their home state have been destroyed.

There are other flaws in Broussard's testimony as well. Like, for instance, this one.

Could be PTSD, though, sure. Should we discount all testimony by folks from NO in a similar way, or just Broussard's?

Why, that's almost as wild and unbelievable as claiming that tens of thousands of New Orleanians were prevented from walking out of New Orleans by police armed with shotguns who fired over the heads of the crowds.

It is? Really, Gary, if FEMA had cut anyone's emergency communication lines, and there was even one witness to the fact, wouldn't we be hearing more about that? Wouldn't we have at least something as basic as cut wires to show? This isn't one of your better points, IMO.

Could be PTSD, though, sure. Should we discount all testimony by folks from NO in a similar way, or just Broussard's?

I think we should avoid suggesting that anguish is just 'crocodile tears' and saying calling them 'liars'. You've said that your reading habits are brownian motion, but you've really managed to move into a very unpleasant neighborhood, and I'm not sure how to get you out. Not one of your better links, IMO.

btw, note how the story gets worse as it goes through the trackbacks. One of the trackbacks writes

So, in a tearful on-air tirade about the supposedly slow federal response he blames for his mother's death, Aaaron Broussard claimed that he was talking to his mother on the phone through the Thursday after the storm.

It wasn't his mother, it was the mother of someone working on emergency dispatch.

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