September 27, 2005

"My biggest mistake was not recognizing by Saturday that Louisiana was dysfunctional."

Ousted FEMA director Michael D. Brown testifies before a House panel today and lays the blame on the governor and the mayor:
Brown told the committee, FEMA's approach worked in Mississippi and Alabama, whose governors are both Republicans.

Of the disastrous flooding that stranded thousands for days in New Orleans, he said, "The only variable was the state government officials involved."

The way FEMA works with state officials in disasters is "well established and works well," Brown said in emphatic tones in his opening statement, pointing his finger and shaking a clenched hand at lawmakers. "Unfortunately, this is the approach that FEMA had great difficulty in getting established in Louisiana."

... "I very strongly, personally regret that I was unable to persuade Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin to sit down, get over their differences and work together. . . . I just couldn't pull that off."

57 comments:

Sloanasaurus said...

I don't think it matters what party the mayor and governor were in Louisana, the fact is that Louisana has a long history of corrupt and dismal political leadership. This fact came to light during the disaster from the governor down to members of the New Orleans Police Force. You can further see it with the Bloviating Broussard on Meet the Press.

The citizens of Louisana may not deserve better, but they need better. They should hold a special election today.

Michael said...

It's unfortunate that what will be seen-- rightly-- as lame excusemaking by the hapless, hopeless Brown also happens to be totally accurate.

(By the way, Ann, I'm not a spambot but I feel like one when I try to read the font on this word verification thing. We'll see if I guess what some of those contorted characters are correctly... Nope! Let's try again!)

Condoleesa said...

I have to agree with Brown. What a mess.

Too Many Jims said...

Agreed, they are dysfunctional. Of course, their dysfuntion does not absolve him of his responsibility. Will the governor/mayor get away with saying: "My biggest mistake was believing that the federal government would be competent." I think not.

EddieP said...

Brown described exactly what went wrong in Louisiana. Unfortunately the MSM stuck on stupids will never let him off the hook. I'm mad that Bush sacrificed him to the font of deceit and misinformation that makes up our national media. I suppose there had to be a sacrificial lamb, and Brown was the logical choice, but the vaunted Bush loyalty thing seems to work in only one direction.

TidalPoet said...

I'm guessing that Bush sacraficed him based on the erroneous news coming out of New Orleans. Nasty little ordeal this.

Mary said...

N.O. Police Supt. Eddie Compass resigned today too.

From an AP story: Earlier in the day, the department said that about 250 police officers — roughly 15 percent of the force — could face discipline for leaving their posts without permission during Katrina and its aftermath.

Lt. David Benelli, president of the union for rank-and-file New Orleans officers, said true deserters should be fired.

"For those who left because of cowardice, they don't need to be here," Benelli told the paper. "If you're a deserter and you deserted your post for no other reason than you were scared, then you left the department and I don't see any need for you to come back."

Maybe something good could still come of this mess, a cleaning house of inefficiency, so to speak.

PatCA said...

I have to think that most people in danger zones, like in CA, know through experience that FEMA is not a first responder. They come in after the dust (and earth) settle and do a very good job of long term management. Our local PDs and FDs train all the time for the Big One and learn from mistakes on the Almost Big Ones we've had. I think FEMA will regain some of the approval it lost recently after the media's full court press against it.

whit said...

I don't know the details of what went wrong at FEMA. With time, we'll see what needs to be corrected and hopefully FEMA will be able to fine tune it's operations. What disgusts me however is the vitriole hurled at Mr. Brown in the midst of the Nagin/Blanco Katrina chaos. The left just outdid itself in it's bloodlust for Bush and anything Bush. One of the slanders they loved to post was his Horsemen's association background. I hear hardly a word about his experience as FEMA Director during Florida's four hurricane of 2004. Do not doubt that the left is waging war.

whit said...

Could something please tell me exactly what Mr. Brown did that was so wrong?

whit said...

Pelosi - with comments like this why would any Republican in Washington give her the time of day.

Partisan positioning began even before Brown made his way past a gantlet of television cameras at the House Rayburn Office Building.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called the hearing a sham "photo opportunity" orchestrated by a GOP leadership in lieu of stringent congressional oversight of the administration.

"Questioning one Republican crony will not get to the truth of the disastrous federal response to Hurricane Katrina and prevent it from happening again," Pelosi said

Jimmy said...

"Of the disastrous flooding that stranded thousands for days in New Orleans, he said, "The only variable was the state government officials involved."

I'm not familiar with Alabama and Mississippi so I may be wrong here. I think the main variable was that those two states did not have dense urban areas filled with hundreds of thousands of people and kept dry only by old levees surrounding the city.

Brown is being sleazy. Could any amount of negligence bring about a New Orleans scenario in Alabama and Mississippi?

Elizabeth said...

Brown's wrong about Mississippi--he's just pushing the party line, and I'm sure Haley Barbour will be a good little Bush soldier and back him up. But anyone following the local news knows Mississippians were complaining of the same neglect for days and weeks after Katrina. Areas of the Gulf Coast didn't see a FEMA rep for weeks, and the citizens know this, and were vocal about it. So to argue that the GOP led states were just fine is crap. Utter lies. But don't expect any different. The die is cast, and the strategy is, as always, to shift blame. There has never been, and will never be, a moment of accountability for this administration.

F15C said...

"Of course, their dysfuntion does not absolve him of his responsibility."

As has been asked on this and many other forums: What *exactly* was Brown's responsibility and what did he do wrong wrt that responsibility? I have no doubt that he was less than perfect and did some things wrong. But please explain so we can discuss in the context of what really mattered in terms of saving lives just before, during, and just after a disaster like Katrina.

As a Californian who has been through a significant earthquake and several floods, I'm too familiar with disaster response from a volunteer logistical manager's perpspective. There is no perfect or even text-book disaster response. You need a lot of selfless, well-trained, smart people that can think on their feet, who know the 'terrain', can make decisions under pressure, and are not afraid of making mistakes. Any response to a disaster that goes well is due solely to luck, and the quality, training, and dedication of state and local authorities - but not the federal government. The reverse is just as true.

Think about it: Almost no one has ever seen (or ever will see) a FEMA employee or vehicle. Yet we all see many city, county, and state employees and vehicles. Who is going to be there when the big disaster hits with lots of trained feet on the ground and knowledge of the area and what needs to be done? If you answered FEMA, you would be dead wrong. Yes folks, it is our city, county, and state employees, and our state national guard (commanded by the governor) that are responsible for helping us get through the next disaster. FEMA will coordinate federal money, organizations, and materials, but the vast bulk of temporaneous response belongs to our neighbors and us.

Scipio said...

I wonder what will happen to the NOLA cops who deserted because of the opportunity to take stuff, rather than having to extort it?

Do they get medals?

Eli Blake said...

Ann, I am a bit surprised and disappointed in you (which I haven't been in several weeks of reading and posting on this blog). I know you are a conservative, but--

What do you expect for a hired political gun (let's not forget that Michael Brown is listed as the General Counsel (Associate) Rules Chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party in his own Findlaw listing), of course he will throw partisan crap around. And of course right wing bloggers will pick it up if they can't find anyone more authoritative. I would expect this from Rush, but I am a little surprised that you would grab this, Ann.

The truth is otherwise. And I will access Joe Scarborough to refute it (not a liberal source by any stretch of the imagination). Joe did a story about a week after Katrina on why aid wasn't getting in to Mississippi, and on his blog just recently he wrote,

We have seen it with 10,000 vaccines that we couldn't get from Pensacola, Florida, over to New Orleans. We have seen it with food shipments that FEMA stopped. We have seen Trent Lott talking about how FEMA and the Mississippi groups would not allow trailers to come in. I‘m telling you, it is a scandal of epic proportions.

As a liberal blogger, of course I could find plenty of quotes from people like Howard Dean, Michael Moore or other Democrats holding partisan positions to buttress any of my arguments. But I make sparing use of them, because that would be too easy and mindless, and I consider myself capable of digging a little deeper than that.

Elizabeth said...

No, Scipio, to get a Medal of Freedom award you have to be a Bush appointee accused of failing in your duty. The police who abandoned their posts will be prosecuted.

Elizabeth said...

Eli,

I too am disappointed. Ann posits herself as a moderate, yet she does little to moderate the preponderance of right-leaning positions in the comments section of the blog. I believe she actually is a liberal, since it's a habit of liberals to engage in self-defeating apologies and to over-acknowledge competing views.

Eli Blake said...

Elizabeth:

I have trouble believing that Ann is a liberal. She has been quoted in a number of media sources and is anything but a liberal.

I classify her as center-right, but picking up garbage from a Republican stooge is beneath her (or at least I though it was).

Cat said...

Eli and Elizabeth -

Are you the same person?

I don't understand the accusations, "You claim you're a liberal," but she isn't because she doesn't agree with you? She posted a quote for crying out loud, not her personal view.

If you don't like her, stop you belly aching and whine at the Daily Kos. Sheesh

Barry said...

Ann, feel free to delete this if you don't want the conversation going this way (not that I have to tell you that). I rarely like to bring more attention to these things, but I think Elizabeth and Eli are confused at best...

I'm not sure what exactly you two have against this blog, or what you're seeing here as bias. Ann has simply posted a portion of a news article concerning Brown's testimony, including some of what he said. She does not editorialize or comment on the article at all, I assume because she'd like to free up the discussion here in the comments.

To me, Brown's comments seem lame at best, though somewhat correct. Many on both sides of the aisle have commented on the state and city's political corruption, and I think it's apparent that all levels of government made some huge mistakes. Brown seems to be trying to lay it all on the locals, where the more appropriate thing would have been to highlight all the mistakes made, federal included, equally. And I got all that from reading Ann's post and the article she linked to, despite her supposed right-leanings.

I've rarely seen a blog as purposely even-handed in most things as Althouse, and it baffles me that she receives so many pointless critques and accusations of bias here. There are much bigger bogeymen, ones actually shilling for their self-righteous sides, to unearth out there.

The fact that Ann rarely censors comments (as far as I can tell) is more of a sign of her desire to communicate than a sign a of her political leanings. And I applaud her for her attitude, and for the community she's fostering here.

It's no wonder those of us "left of center" get treated like loons when so many of us are out castigating anyone for any type of perceived bias not our own.

Ann Althouse said...

Cat, Barry: Thanks.

I did, in fact, put this up to give people a chance to talk about it. I had no particular spin I wanted to add. Putting it up unspun did produce an interesting test of how readers project their opinions onto me, didn't it?

XWL said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Aaron said...

Ms. Althouse is quite socratic in her blogging approach. Perhaps it has something to do with whatever she does for a living.

XWL said...

Nowadays the facts seem to spin themselves.

There seems to be two predominate competing systems of approaching facts that automatically send any musing, mumble or statement spinning rapidly into one direction or the other.

I don't believe this is new, it's just more naked, and possibly because of this despite the background noise more people are more aware of more aspects of what approaches truth than ever before.

(and through the filter of my personal biases I believe that the right-handed spin is the one that approximates the truth better, and is also the one that is winning converts rather than spurring whiners, as with everything in life, your results may differ)

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is proving to be a prime example of this phenomenon.

Reality isn't marked by a left-right dichotomy, it's a continuum with events happening completely separated from the political divide.

But events as momentous as a 100-year storm are bound to cause ripples and I guess everyone is afraid that those ripples will effect their preferred political goals adversely.

Charles Giacometti said...

Commenter "Whit" is awfully upset at Congressman Pelosi's remarks about the hearings, but it turns out Pelosi is representing a solid 81% of Americans. To me, the real story is that the Republican leadership in Congress is clearly not listening to the American people.

Kim said...

I think the perception that Ann is conservative comes from the "facts" that (a) more than half of her regular commenters are Bush-supporters; (b) a small subset of the Bush-supporters are highly opinionated and *very* pro-Bush; and (c) a subset of *this* group tends to comment early in a thread, and with comments that don't raise the level of discourse much beyond "those lying liberals and the lying liberal media are always making up lies to pick on Bush." Although they are a minority, these few can set the tone for the entire thread ... which is, of course, presumably why they do it. (I put "facts" in quotes because although my claims are testable, I have better things to do than go through Ann's archives of comments to test them.)

Ann Althouse said...

Kim: That doesn't strike me as a fair description of the commenters. I think the lowest quality comments are from lefties around here. There are thoughtful comments from both sides, but the proportion of thoughtful comments on the left is much lower. It's also quite noticeable that the intentional mischief-makers are lefties. I don't know that I've ever had a righty commenter who came by just to try to screw things up.

ATMX said...

I would imagine a significant portion of those 81% of Americans aren't aware of Able Danger or don't understand the implications of Able Danger for the "bipartisan" / "independent" 9/11 commission.

XWL said...

Prof. Althouse, I resent that remark (just kidding), As a right-leaning commenter I've often thrown a bit of troll bait mixed in with (hopefully) thoughtful (or at least provocative) remarks!

I just feel that I haven't earned the right to cause some intended mischief unless I've also contributed positively to the discussion, but it does seem like those purely interested in throwing bombs are on the left, and they also have the habit of immediately personalizing (quxxo, ploopusgirl, bosox I'm talking to you, and now I am engaging in your tactics to my shame) every discussion and demonizing all perceived sources of dissent.

Another noticeable difference is that the committed leftist rarely seem to comment on the lighter non-political threads whereas even the staunchest defenders of the current administration seem to have a more omnivorous appetite for interaction and the blessing of being able to lighten up once in awhile.

Jonathan said...

I support Bush on the war; I certainly do not support his big-spending, big-government ways in other areas. I am essentially a libertarian who thinks that the Democrats aren't serious about the things that matter most and that the Republicans are usually the lesser of evils. Do my views make me a "Bush supporter" or a "highly opinionated and *very* pro-Bush" Bush supporter or what?

Political labels are decreasingly helpful and I distrust people who throw them around. In a political environment where lots of people chose one from Column A and one from Column B, lumping someone as a "Bush supporter" is IMO a form of ad-hominem attack. It's the quality of the argument, not the background of the arguer that matters. If you find it necessary to point out that your interlocutor is a Bush supporter (or a liberal, for that matter), maybe your argument is too weak to stand on its merits.

Elizabeth said...

Cat,

I'm baffled by why you think Eli and I are one person. Our comments have little in common, especially in tone. I have not, nor would I, use language like "picking up garbage" to describe this blog or Ann. Ann, if I gave that impression, I apologize. Perhaps my disappointment more appropriately lies in the lack of good leftist response to the more numerous rightwing commenters. I don't consider the guy who posts "my fine Rethuglican" whatever a credible or worthwhile commentator, and there's too much of that on my side of the fence on this blog. That frustrates me, but it's not Ann's responsibility.

Ann Althouse said...

Elizabeth: You are clearly one of the excellent commenters on the left here. I wish the proportions were better!

Too Many Jims said...

"What *exactly* was Brown's responsibility and what did he do wrong wrt that responsibility?"

I went through this exercise on a prior thread and, quite frankly it exhausted me (not that I am necessarily correct). I would give an example and someone would say FEMA couldn't (legally or practically) or that I was just "second guessing". I would disagree. Etc. I came to the conclusion that I would have to agree to disagree.

I had a feeling this thread would take the turn and tone that it has and so I was reluctant to post. The only reason I did was because I thought it provided some symtry with the Lyndie England post Ann had recently.

To me, it is not taking responsibility when one says "My biggest mistake was that others made bigger mistakes."

Elizabeth said...

To address the topic, and not the meta-topic of who comments how and why:

It appears to me that most of the defense of Brown comes down to a few points:

1) It's not government's role to deal with disasters, anyway.
2) What did Brown do wrong, huh? Tell me that!
3) We all know Louisiana is corrupt so it's all their own fault, obviously.
4)Everything was fine in Florida in 2004, and in Mississippi and Alabama and Texas now, so it's all Louisiana local officials at fault.

I find these arguments weak. We've already argued over the role of government, and it's a philosophical difference. My position is, what the hell is government FOR, if not to deal directly with the health and safety of its citizens? This isn't of interest just to Gulf Coast residents--putting FEMA under Homeland Security, cutting Corps of Engineer budgets, misappropriating federal dollars for flood control at the state level are all issues that can be repeated in diffferent forms in other states, with other disasters, natural or man-made. We must honestly assess all levels of government, and learn from Katrina.

The litany of FEMA errors and missteps by Brown, Blanco and Nagin are all easy enough to find in a number of media and internet sources. People who persist in ignoring the information and timelines that demonstrate the actions of any of these officials and agencies simply don't want to know about them.

Louisiana is not simply a corrupt, dysfunctional state. That's an unhelpful, narrowminded simplification. Nor have Mississippi and Texas escaped problems with corrupt politics. I'd urge anyone wanting a better understanding of the local politics, police, and people to read the local media along with national media and blogs. Go to nola.com and wwltv.com for good local coverage, and to read the forums where New Orleans-area citizens are discussing all these issues with vigor. I do agree that Katrina may turn out to be a big help in rebuilding the NOLA schools and police from the ground up, and that can only be a good thing.

As for other states, it simply isn't true that everything went swimmingly for them. Why be surprised that FEMA would respond quickly and efficiently in Florida in an election year? And why ignore the problems reported in Mississippi this year, problems that are still ongoing? Texas failed to initiate contraflow in its evacuation traffic for Rita until it was far too late to do any good--people were stranded on the north- and west-bearing roads with no gas while the south- and east-bearing roads were empty of traffic. Texas had ample time to learn that lesson from Katrina, as Louisiana learned it from last year's failed evacuation during Ivan. And just as New Orleans failed to evacuate its poorest residents, so did Houston last week with Rita.

Michael Brown told the committee today that he was fired over rumors about his resume. The GOP representative questioning him at the moment shot back that he was in fact fired for not doing his job. Brown appears to be laboring under the delusion that he was persecuted, that he did nothing wrong or inadequately, and that all the blame lies with the state officials. That kind of thinking will not lead to learning what we need to from Katrina, nor does it lend confidence to Bush's claiming accountability last week. The fact that Brown is still on the payroll, and has a role in determining what went wrong with Katrina, is all the more disturbing after today.

Elizabeth said...

Thanks, Ann. This is one of only a few blogs that I read, and I enjoy the atmosphere more than any other.

Barry said...

leroy w said: "the committed leftist rarely seem to comment on the lighter non-political threads whereas even the staunchest defenders of the current administration seem to have a more omnivorous appetite for interaction and the blessing of being able to lighten up once in awhile."

I guess I would be a "commited leftist" (though I agree with jonathan that "Political labels are decreasingly helpful") and you'll find that I comment more (if at all) on Ann's lighter threads. That's because I'm terrible at debate and long ago became worn out with online right/left bickering. I found out that it's really easy to come across like you know the absolute truths, when in realty things are much less clear and much less knowable.

But I don't mind the right-bias of commenters here, and in fact read a lot of right-of-center writing. It's important for me to know the arguments of "the other side".

And, BTW - nice thought-provoking follow-up, elizabeth.

Eli Blake said...

Ann,

I'm sorry if I offended you, however, as you will note, I was surprised that this made its way onto your blog. I certainly wouldn't expect you to post, for example, a quote by Michael Moore (I don't on my blog, and I'm a liberal). So this sort of surprised me because it is unlike what I usually see from you.

I do, however, perceive that you tilt towards the right. Maybe that is from my view as a lib, but that is my perception.

To all,

The point has still to be made that the situation in Mississippi was not handled any better than the situation in Louisiana. I quoted Scarborough on it, but he isn't the only one who has commented on it. So it isn't all about Louisiana.

OddD said...

Yeah, there's a whole bunch of projection here. There are right-leaning bloggers (Malkin) who want Brown's head on a platter, it should be noted, and find his ass-covering worthy of derision (as well as his appointment in the first place).

But it's not really a left/right thing, is it? It's a Dem/Rep thing. It's funny how our politics are now defined by which way we point our finger when blaming.

Jonathan said...

IMO one of Bush's failings is his unwillingness to fire people. For example, I think he should have fired the top management, or at least the directors, of the CIA and FBI after 9/11. I think he should have fired Norman Mineta, etc. When there's a big institutional failure, it can be helpful to fire the people on whose watch the failure occurred, even if they were not entirely to blame. Doing so establishes accountability.

I don't know if Bush should have fired Brown, though I don't think it should be a big deal one way or another: risk of dismissal should come with the territory for public officials with a lot of responsibility. However, by not in the past firing many people for poor performance, Bush now makes it appear, probably accurately, that his firing of Brown was a panicky overreaction to the bad press the Administration was receiving. Maybe Bush would have taken less political heat in this case if he had a history of firing officials who make avoidable errors, but perhaps that's wishful thinking on my part.

amba said...

Jim beat me to it: I was going to say that we ought to fix up Michael Brown with Lynnddie England.

Not that Brown gets all the blame, far from it, but let him be a man, set an example, and shoulder his share of it. The shameless buck-passing is really embarrassing.

Charles Giacometti said...

ATMX,

Red herrings are dreary.

But, I will go with you on this because I am bored this evening.

Very simply, Able Danger or no Able Danger, when 81% of the electorate wants something done, Congress should listen.

Besides, returning to reality for a moment, you have no proof, one way or the other, what people know about Able Danger. Those 81% could understand it fully and still want a real investigation. They could understand it fully and want an investigation to proceed and avoid the pitfalls of the past. Or they could understand it fully and think it is a hill of beans.

Charles

Jonathan said...

Also, the subtext of this discussion, as Elizabeth pointed out, is a dispute over the proper role of government, mainly the federal government. People who agree with her that the, or a principal, purpose of government is "to deal directly with the health and safety of its citizens" are at odds with people like me who think the main purpose of government is to secure the rights of individuals. This is an irresolvable disagreement, though there may be some overlap in the area of "safety," since most of us believe that one of the main purposes of government is protection of citizens against attack.

Elizabeth said...

Jonathan,

I agree that government's purpose is to secure the rights of individuals. No doubt we'll arrive at some different conclusions from that shared assumption.

In the other purpose, defending its citizens against attack, do you define attack only as coming from a sentient force, a military or terrorist attack? Several military commentators described Katrina's strike as being almost military in nature, and in effect. It would have been hard for a human attack to have done more damage: loss of life and property, as well as damage to the economy, our foreign and domestic shipping and trade system, and our energy industry. A storm like Katrina is far outside of the ability of local and state governments to deal with, as are other major natural disasters. I'd argue major natural disasters come under the same imperative of protection. The common need for protection against overwhelming forces, natural or human, is one of the instigations for forming societies.

Sloanasaurus said...

I support Bush strongly in most instances because I want us to win the war in Iraq (the war on terror) and I want Bush to appoint non-activist judges to the Court. Victory in Iraq is so important and it is so important that we maintain public support for the war that Bush needs to be defended. If opponents of Bush were to say "I support the effort in Iraq, but I think Bush failed on Katrina," more people would feel free to criticise Bush because they would feel assured that the war would be supported if Bush lost public standing. Unfortunatley, most on the left want Bush to lose political support PRECISELY so the Iraq war will be lost and that public support will dwindle to the point that we will pull out of Iraq. This is the goal of Ciny Sheehan. They also want Bush to lose support PRECISELY so Bush will lose political capital to appoint a more conservative minded justice. The commentary in the meda was obvious on this point in that the media was foaming at the mouth about Bush being weakened enough from Katrina so that he would have to moderate his policies. These types of comments sound more like a media with an alternative political agenda than a media reporting the news.

Sloanasaurus said...

I agree with Elizabeth on the possible role of the military in disaster relief. We should also understand, however, that the law as it stood prevented the military from taking quick action in Katrina. I wish people on the left would admit this.

The involvement of the military in domestic affairs needs to be debated carefully. THere is a long American tradition of the military not involving itself in domestic matters. In my opinion, we should maintain the current legal structure where the state Governor should be required to request federal assistance. I don't think it is prudent to ever allow the military to invlove itself without the request/approval by a state governor and continuing the request by the state legislature for federal assistance.

Perhaps we can set up a law that allows the feds to act if the governor is temporarily unable to make a decision or is deemed incompetent (has a mental breakdown or something).

Eli Blake said...

Sloanasaurus:

The problem with your take on the left in Iraq was that 1) Many on the left believed then (and believe now) that war should be a last resort, never a first option, and in that case it was not, that 2) we predicted that it would become a quagmire, as it has-- and NO ONE who rushed us into war on the right predicted that we would still be fighting there two years alter, but here we are, and 3) Now that what was predicted has come to pass, we believe that it is not worth losing any more American soldiers over (especially since the best outcome we can hope for is an Iranian style Islamic republic friendly to Tehran, precisely the biggest fear that we had in the 1980's when we supported Saddam during the Iran-Iraq war). There is no good reason to remain in Iraq, and it is hard to see how us having our army in Iraq will prevent terrorists from attacking us in the United States.

I do fully support the President in his quest to destroy al-Qaeda. And it is true that because of our fumbling in Iraq, they have flooded in there to attack us. But that is hardly a hallmark of success on our part, and in fact they are recruiting new terrorists there as fast as we can kill the old ones (or they kill themselves). So I don't see how staying there gets us any closer to getting rid of Osama or the rest of the organization. What it does do is gives them plenty of 'ammunition' (every time we look at someone crosseyed on Al Jazeera) to recruit more members.

Sloanasaurus said...

Eli blake, the tired appeasment arguments you make about creating more terrorists are the same arguments used by the appeaasers at Munich who thought giving in to Hitler would make him less angry. I disagree with all your arguments, but little matter as the war has been argued and reargued on this board. People are partisans on the issue. Nevertheless, you have proved my point, that we who want to win in Iraq must be suspicious of the motives of those like yourself who want to retreat from Iraq. You and your ilk are on the wrong side of history and have learned nothing from the trials and tribulations of our Republic.

West Coast Independent said...

One of the many lessons in leadership that I personally learned in my life is that a leader overcomes obstacles and does not sit still and watch a disaster unfold because of the incompetence or inaction of others. Unfortunately for Michael Brown (and the people of New Orleans), when the Louisiana governor and New Orleans mayor froze-up, Michael didn’t forcefully act. Sometimes failure is not an option

Personally I thin k that before hurricane Katrina, Mr. Brown’s management of FEMA was fine but not extraordinary. In fact I wonder if any previous FEMA administrator could have done any better. What Katrina exposed and made abundantly clear was Mr. Brown’s weak leadership qualities (was well as Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin ). When Mr. Brown had to go beyond FEMA’s normal operating procedure and quickly initiate Federal response he didn’t. This failure to take responsibility for the lives and well-being of New Orleans clearly demonstrated that Mr. Brown is not a leader; not a take charge kind of guy..

Based on the few minutes of his testimony that I heard today; I’m convinced that he hasn’t learned his lesson about leadership. Bush made the right decision to replace Mr. Brown.

Jonathan said...

Elizabeth,

I don't think the federal government should serve as the insurer of last resort. While individuals and local governments are generally unable to defend against military attacks, they are generally better suited to responding to local weather emergencies than is the federal government, so your comparison is inapt.

Nor do I think a central bureaucracy can be very effective at responding to local problems. Its centralized nature prevents it from having the knowledge or incentive to do so. (If it were otherwise, communism would have been successful.)

DaveG said...

The whole FEMA/military response discussion boils down to one thing: the American desire for instant gratification. FEMA and/or our military simply cannot respond in 24 - 48 hours to the most devastating (WRT communications and transportation infrastructure) natural event that we have suffered in modern times. To expect any meaningful response in less than 72 hours is simply impossible without spending (wasting) billions of dollars by staffing and positioning resources in every single disaster-prone location in the country.

The ONLY way it can work is to have the local municipal and state geovernments understand their role as responders. The Federal gov't absolutely has to be able to count on those responders to act correctly. That didn't happen. That is what Brown is saying. Unfortunately, he is a victim of a witch hunt and never stood a chance at fulfilling the unreasonable expectations of a populace that 98% of had never even heard of FEMA until the media decided to use them as a voodoo doll proxying the "evil and incompentent" Bush administration.

Was Brown the right man for the job? Maybe, maybe not. I think one needs to understand the limitations of an appointee. Appointee positions almost by definition are never going to be the most experienced in the day-to-day operations. Similar to Senators and Congressmen (and women), they have to rely on non-appointee careerists to get up to speed. Sure, he could have made more appropriate statements, and I suppose he could he made ad hoc decisions rather than strictly follow the plans, but you know darn well that would have opened another line of attack, much like the make-it-up-as-you-go mentality in Baghdad did. Brown, whatever his faults and/or strengths, was a handy foil for Bush's enemies to use against him. He is simply guilty by association, and can be considered collateral damage in the never-ending Get Bush! battle.

Elizabeth said...

Jonathan,

Calling Katrina a "local weather emergency" is an understatement of an exponential degree. Talk about an inept description!

As for Blanco and Nagin, many, many mistakes were made, but to say they froze up is simply wrong. Blanco and Nagin both are responsible for the fact that more than 80 percent of the New Orleans area population evacuated by Sunday. Keep in mind a few facts:

On Friday, Katrina was crossing Florida. By mid-afternoon Friday, it was predicted to make a sharp north turn toward Tallahassee. I started paying attention to the storm at this point.

By late Friday afternoon, about 6 pm, as I was getting ready to go out to dinner, the storm prediction was moving west. I thought, "Gee, those poor bastards on the Flora-Bama coast are going to get slammed again!" But at the same time, I realized the westward prediction was changing quickly, moving quite a bit over just a few hours. Our local weather reporters started urging people to keep in mind that they might have to evacuate, and the mayor was by then urging New Orleanians to prepare in case an evacuation was necessary.

Friday night, 11 pm, I get a cell phone call from a friend saying "It looks like it's coming right for us." We filled up the car on the way home, and by that time, the late night newscasts were more urgent.

Saturday morning we got up and started packing. The news stations were urging it, and most importantly, so were Blanco and Nagin, both of whom were saying "This is it. This is the storm we've heard about, and dreaded." Contra flow was kicking in Saturday, so the traffic would be running west and north only, to expedite the exit.

The governor and the mayor continued all day to make the case for evacuation; I didn't need a "mandatory" call, because I'd already made my decision. But there was no mistake that the two levels of government were saying leaving was necessary. The Dome was only for elderly and ill people who could not leave, and pickups were arranged for them via a phone number.

By then, Bush had already declared a disaster, before the storm even struck, which should have allowed for money and resources to be lined up ahead of time, ready to move in and be delivered after it passed.

Nagin's major mistake at this point was not arranging buses to evacuate the poor, people without cars (including tourists; the airport closed Saturday morning to allow the airlines to get their planes out of town.)

The other major error was not preparing for people to be in the Dome for several days after the storm. There was food and water in the Dome, but not enough for a week. Nagin's approach--very libertarian of him--was to urge citizens to get out of town, to help their neighbors who had no transportation, and if they couldn't do that, to bring food and water with them to the Dome.

That's not freezing up, or getting mired in infighting. Once the storm had passed, New Orleans needed federal help, and quick. It needed equipment, it needed water and food, it needed personnel--yes, bad cops deserted, but the majority did not, nor did they shirk their duties, even while worrying about their homes and families.

Blanco and Nagin's actions ensured that by Sunday afternoon, about 12 hours before the storm would make landfall, more than 80 percent of the people were safely out of harm's way. That storm was not headed for Louisiana until late Friday afternoon. They had less than 72 hours to do this. While there will be failures for which they are responsible--Nagin is currently incoherant, and I don't trust him--but they did not ignore the threat posed by Katrina, and they worked together to save all but 1000 lives in a Metro area of nearly a million people.

Once the "local weather emergency" had devastated an area the size of England, local resources were no longer remotely enough to handle the disaster. That's what Federal Emergency Management is for. What else do those words mean?

Sloanasaurus said...

Elizabeth, you make a pretty strong defense of Nagin and Blanco. Perhaps you can understand why people defend Bush under the same type of criticism.

I tend to agree with you on your implication that only so much can be done in these instances. There is always going to be a certain percentage of people who don't listen or follow directions.


Nagin did tell the people going to the Superdome to pack supplies. Undoubtedly some of them did, we just don't hear about them. For the people that did not, is it right to expect the government to bail them out? Should the taxpayer bail out those who forget to pay their homeowners insurance when their house burns down?

I think we should be charitable to those who made the mistake of not following Nagin's request. Everyone makes mistakes and forgets. However, whether those people have the right to complain is another question....

Elizabeth said...

Sloan,

I'm pretty sure neither Blanco nor Nagin will be re-elected, and I'm not upset about that. I want to see the investigation go on, and I want it to be fair. Brown's accusations were not accurate, so that's a problem. Bush has a long history of deflecting responsibility downward, and of taking care of cronies, so we need to watch carefully as the partisan, GOP-led investigation progresses, and as Brownie continues to feed from the government trough, this time "consulting" on what went wrong with the Katrina response. Don't expect me to trust that arrangement!

I can assure you, my support for Nagin (for whom I did not vote) and Blanco (for whom I did, in the run-off but not the primary), does not run as deep as the average Bush supporter. And I understand defending Bush from unfair criticism. It's the kneejerk defense of Bush against every shred of criticism, day in and day out, that I'll never comprehend, and it seems to be epidemic among the faithful. There's a Bush cult of personality out there that makes me wonder if America is split among alternate, transparent universes.

As for the people in the city in the days after the storm, we can debate and set reasonable rules and limits on government support for people who fail to care for themselves, but water, food and safe haven after a Cat 4 hurricane seem obvious to me; you can say it's bailing out someone who should have taken care of himself, but I don't care. It's the moral thing to do.

Stepping in for a person's lack of insurance? That's a very different scope. Slippery, that slope.

DaveG said...

It's the kneejerk defense of Bush against every shred of criticism, day in and day out, that I'll never comprehend

Elizabeth:

You see the problem, but then again, you don't. There are many of us that voted for Bush because he was the lesser of two evils, or adopted a "better the devil you know" philosophy. Personally, I was "anybody but Bush," right up until I started hearing the ludicrous and lame "Reporting for duty" drivel from Kedwards. I soon became "anybody but Bush, except for the insufferable Kerry and his ambulance chasing sidekick."

Many of us did not make that decision lightly. We now are entrenched in our decision due to the constant "day in and day out" sniping, ankle biting, ridiculous assertions of impending dictatorship, yada yada yada which wear on our nerves. The media has cried Wolf! so many times, that our first reaction is to simply assume any hyped story is simply another agenda-driven attempt at Gotcha!

The problem with such a flood of criticism is that we erect mental barriers, and when something comes along that does warrant criticism, we don't want to hear it. It doesn't help that the media these days has less credibility than a used car saleman, at least to those of us that get a fuller and more mature picture from some of the better blogs, such as this one.

I'm sure hoping for a better pair of candidates in 2008, but I'm sure not holding my breath. To a very appreciable degree, our problems arise from the fact that our system of representative gov't is nearly irreparably broken.

Sloanasaurus said...

Elizabeth, I have heard the "Bush has a long history of deflecting responsibility downward" argument from you before. But, your argument would be more foreceful if you could provide some concrete examples.

The constant argument that Bush is defended against every little criticism is just a straw man put up by his opponents. Bush is constantly criticised every day from the right. You name it... spending, immigration, failure to be more forceful on abortion, failure to have more tax cuts. You just happen to oppose these criticisms in the first place, so you fail to take note of them. It may be true that people defend Bush more from attacks from the left. But, that is to be expected.

I agree with your comment about having the moral responsibility to help. My point is that I think it's reprehensible for people not to be grateful for the help.

Elizabeth said...

Sloan,

I'll agree that, recently, Bush is getting more criticism on the right, especially about his spending. When I refer to that knee-jerk response, though, I'm including forums such as this one, and herein you'll find quite a few regular posters who seem to have "Bush Derangement Syndrome" on a function key. We can plow through months of comments to demonstrate that if you want, but I don't why we'd have to bother.

I'm all for less knee-jerkdom all around.