Friday, September 02, 2005

The Blame Game

Well, I see that the media devoted a full day and a half of good coverage to the destruction and suffering in New Orleans and elsewhere on the Gulf Coast before moving onto more entertaining "news," like whom in the federal government to blame for the "slow response" and how ultimately it's all Bush's fault. New Orleans officials have been more than happy to provide the sound bites accusing FEMA of gross incompetence.

Well. If that ain't the pot calling the kettle black. For starters, disaster planning happens at the state and local level, not with FEMA. FEMA helps coordinate federal disaster response, at the direction of local authorities, in accordance with the plan. But here we have Ray Nagin on TV talking about how "we're getting a plan together." Excuse me? You're the mayor of a city that sits below sea level, is surrounded by higher water, depends on a levy system designed for a Cat 3 hurricane, and are about a decade overdue for a Cat 4 storm...and you didn't have a plan in place for widespread flooding following a hurricane? I understand, hindsight is 20/20, but these guys are paid to be thinking ahead, and this was not an unimagineable scenario. And then, to deflect attention, they blame a very convenient target: the feds. The media is happy to play along.

Most disaster planners recognize that outside help may not be available for a certain period of time, and plan accordingly. In Florida last year, the hurricane plan provided for three days without federal help. In the area around New Orleans, transportation infrastructure is shattered. I-10 is in shambles. Rail lines are impassible. The airport is largely under water. And three days into the crisis, the locals are screaming that the cavalry was too slow in getting there. Well, shouldn't your plan have anticipated that contingency and provided for some degree of self-reliance?

The cesspool at the Superdome has become the focal point of the media's criticism. Apparently, while first responders were busy rescuing families off rooftops, evacuating hospitals, and trying to avoid getting shot at by the hoods that've been roaming the streets, they also should've figured out how to materialize a convoy of air-conditioned coaches out of thin air, willed them over destroyed streets, and whisked everybody off to Houston. Mind you, the Superdome itself is in a relatively dry area. Nobody was in danger of drowning. Nothing prevented anybody from leaving the rank confines of the Superdome. Indeed, the only reason they were there in the first place was to ride out the hurricane. Katrina was gone by Tuesday morning.

Yesterday CNN's Suzanne Malveaux was interviewing former Presidents George HW Bush and Bill Clinton. She was parotting criticism of the federal government's response when Clinton had the following to say:
CLINTON: Let me answer this. The people in the Superdome are in a special position. And let me say, I've been going to New Orleans for over 50 years. There's no place on earth I love more. They went into the Superdome, not because of the flooding, but because we thought the hurricane was going to hit New Orleans smack dab and they'd be safe in there if they didn't leave town.

What happened was, when the levee broke and the town flooded, what did it do? It knocked out the electricity and it knocked out the sewage. They're living in hellacious conditions. They would be better off under a tree than being stuck there. You can't even breathe in that place now.

So I understand why they're so anxiety-ridden. But they have to understand, by the time it became obvious that they were in the fix they were in, there were a lot of other problems, too. There were people -- they were worried about people drowning that had to be taken off roofs.

MALVEAUX: So you two believe that the federal response was fast enough?

CLINTON: All I'm saying is what I know the facts are today. There are hundreds of buses now engaged in the act of taking people from New Orleans to the Astrodome in Houston. And you and I are not in a position to make any judgment because we weren't there.

All I'm saying is the way they got stuck there, I see why they feel the way they do. But the people that put them there did it because they thought they were saving their lives. And then when the problems showed up, they had a lot of other people to save. Now they've got hundreds of buses. We just need to get them out.

Finally! Some common sense in all this. Now...can we please get down to continuing the rescue efforts, collecting and burying the dead, and beginning the recovery process? There will be plenty of time for criticism later, for those who seem to be rather inclined.

10 comments:

matli said...

I totally agree that this blame game is insane. And I think it's even worse here in Sweden, where media is totally left-biased and Bush-bashing as always. I feel ashamed on the behalf of some of my countrymen.

But you can rest assured that there are a lot of people here in Europe that are truly concerned about the situation and wish you all the best, even though that's not always the picture shown by media...

david said...

Note how the conditions (particularly the lawlessness and infrastructure failures) in New Orleans resemble the conditions we heard about in Bagdad during the first couple of months of the U.S. occupation. One situation was caused by a war, and one by a natural disaster, but in both cases it's clear that the U.S. and other first-world countries need to find ways to establish and maintain at least a minimum level of services and rule of law quickly in a broken-down city, before things get to the point that even APCs get attacked driving to the airport (Bagdad) or medevac helicopters cannot land because of snipers (New Orleans).

Traditionally, we've always tried to deal with the most pressing problem first (defeat the enemy, or rescue the survivers) and then tried to restore order, but I'm not sure that they work well in sequence -- the breakdown of services in Bagdad strengthened the insurgents, and the breakdown of law and order in New Orleans has crippled the rescue effort.

Anonymous said...

"Nothing prevented anybody from leaving the rank confines of the Superdome."

Except maybe a lack of food, water, transportation, etc. You're not an idiot. Think just a bit before blaming the victims.

Sam said...

Anon, reread my post. I wasn't blaming the victims, I was simply saying that the Superdome refugees were a bit low on the priority list because their lives were not in immediate danger at a time when many people elsewhere were in need of immediate rescue. I wasn't blaming the Superdome folks for not setting out for Houston on foot. I was critisizing those who hold out the fact that they had to wait for help as evidence that the federal government was horribly negligent in its response.

FWIW, as more information is coming in, it seems that FEMA *did* do a less than stellar job in responding, but their failure pales in comparison to that of the city and state in both planning and response.

Anonymous said...

The federal government, the only organization with the size, scope and resources necessary to respond, sat on its ass for DAYS. FEMA waited until well after landfall to even request permission (!!!) to dispatch staff to the region, and even then gave them 48 hours to do so. Meanwhile, our esteemed President, waited THREE DAYS, vacationing, eating cake with McCain, playing country music star and wanking himself over Medicare in the meantime, to even bring himself to survey the damage.

Sure, there will be plenty of time later to assess blame, but it seems plainly obvious at this point that our federal government failed.

Sam said...

Ah hah! The truth comes out! Katrina was the work of that evil chimp Hitler-wannabe country bumpkin village idiot of a President who, despite barely having the brainpower to pronounce three syllables correctly, is constantly plotting schemes to declare war on the world, steal all the oil and/or send gas prices up, enrich Haliburton, turn America into a theocracy, cut down all the forests, AND leave all those poor black people to rot in NOLA while he clears brush at the ranch with an evil chuckle. Luckily for us, Anonymous was on the scene and caught the bastard red handed! Bravo! Bushitler won't get away with it this time!

Okay. Enough silliness. I think there will be plenty of blame to go around, and FEMA will take it's share - Michael Brown in particular. But your comments betray a certain ignorance of the facts and an eagerness to parrot the blame-Bush crowd.

" The federal government, the only organization with the size, scope and resources necessary to respond..."

The federal government has the unlimited budget, but beyond funding their role is largely secondary to locals, particularly in first response actions. State and local governments have much more manpower and equipment in place. As such, they are *expected* to be the first responders, with federal assistance coming in later. In this case, the local resources were not used correctly - note Nagin's huge fleet of school buses sitting underwater. With last year's hurricanes in Fla, or even NYC on 9/11, ALL of the initial response was local.

"sat on its ass for DAYS"

Oh? Bush released FEMA funds and declared an emergency in LA a full two days before Katrina hit. The coast guard staged 40 aircraft and 30 vessels at a safe distance from Katrina on Sunday, and moved in almost as soon as Katrina was gone, rescuing over 3000 people by Thurs morning. Brown arrived in Baton Rouge at 11am on monday, as soon as the storm was clear. By Tuesday morning, the US military had massive convoys heading for NOLA at FEMA's direction. The Army Corp of Engineers worked all of Tuesday trying to plug the 17th street levee. The USS Bataan had their helicopter squadrons doing S&R that day. The locals decided to evacuate the Superdome on tuesday night; the feds arranged for 475 buses that started arriving midday Wednesday. Now: does this qualify as sitting on their asses? Keep in mind that in federal disaster planning guidelines, NO federal assistance is guaranteed for 72 hrs.

"FEMA waited until well after landfall to even request permission (!!!) to dispatch staff to the region, and even then gave them 48 hours to do so."

Bull. Bush gave FEMA the authorization on Saturday, and FEMA had staff in place in the Gulf Coast by Sunday night...BEFORE Katrina hit.

"Meanwhile, our esteemed President, waited THREE DAYS, vacationing, eating cake with McCain, playing country music star and wanking himself over Medicare in the meantime, to even bring himself to survey the damage."

Is that so? Three days of vacation? Lessee. The massive flooding took place on Monday afternoon. Bush ended his vacation Tuesday afternoon. He surveyed the city via Air Force 1 on Wednesday morning on his way back to Washington, circling several times at an altitude of 1500-3000 feet. Okay, so he didn't actually step foot in NOLA until Friday morning. I don't think he was vacationing and/or "wanking off" in the meantime.

"Sure, there will be plenty of time later to assess blame, but it seems plainly obvious at this point that our federal government failed."

I would say government as a whole failed - local, state, federal. I would also say that those who lay all the chaos and suffering of NOLA solely at the feet of the feds are doing so because they detest the man who holds the office of President.

Anonymous said...

Ah hah! The truth comes out! Katrina was the work of that evil chimp Hitler-wannabe country bumpkin village idiot of a President who, despite barely having the brainpower to pronounce three syllables correctly, is constantly plotting schemes to declare war on the world, steal all the oil and/or send gas prices up, enrich Haliburton, turn America into a theocracy, cut down all the forests, AND leave all those poor black people to rot in NOLA while he clears brush at the ranch with an evil chuckle. Luckily forne click out of 10 pops, I'll be doing good." I mean, come on. This has got to be one of the reasons people hate visiting websites. And then there's the popup stopper software people making money off the people who don't want the pops. Nothing like creating markets. All I say is, if someone could chill on the OCD popups. People that plan out 10 pops on one site visit. That's just a bit much. It's like this site on ac3 dvd authoring -- not one popup. Why can't the entire internet be like that?- not one popup. Why can't the entire internet be like that? after Saddam was ousted could have been ready.

On top of our embarrassing lack of planning and resulting mayhem, we lash out at those who don't support our hasty moves. Freedom Fries. The French have been US allies forever. They stood up for what they believe in, doing exactly what we in the US pride ourselves in doing, and we attack them for it. We call them cowards, and rename our toast and potatoes. It's ridiculous. I wonder why US-international relations are so strained... no seriously, I wonder.
all them cowards, and rename our toast and potatoes. It's ridiculous. I wonder why US-international relations are so strained... no seriously, I wonder.

Sam said...

Hmm. Not sure where the popup thing came from, did you do an accidental Ctrl-V in the middle of that?

If you want to debate how stupid and arrogant and greedy and insipid Bush and red-state america are, well, there are websites for that. Knock yourself out. I was making a point about prematurely blaming the feds, largely because of Bush-hatred, and I stand by it.

Back to better subjects like the #4 thrust bearing failing on the PW150A, and how close to heaven the peach cobbler at Chicken-N-More @ GEG is.

Aaron DeAngelis said...

Great post, Sam. I agree. The blame placing and finger pointing is annoying.

On another note, the response above ( Ah hah! The truth comes out! ... ) is a work of art.

Anonymous said...

Federal response to Katrina has been so craptacular that FEMA chief Michael Brown has been granted unrequested vacation time. Maybe he'll get a crack at that new Presidential Six String. Perhaps he can resume Bush's Medicare tout tour, too.