September 6, 2005

The good news from New Orleans.

Here. Ordinary people, I assume, will eagerly consume the good news. Are you absorbed in political finger-pointing? I'm not — and I was last week when I felt that people were suffering and dying because of bad decisions. That's not to say I don't think there should be studies of what went wrong. I do. But I'm interested in things that are oriented to solving problems, and I'm very mistrustful of people who are providing analysis as a means to advance one political interest or another.


ALH ipinions said...

Ann - I appreciate your point.

However, offering positive criticism (even if it's calling for hearings into "what went wrong") is actually consistent with "solving problems". Moreover, if it were not for "political finger-pointing", it is entirely probable that we would not be seeing the little progress that is being made in New Orleans today...

Ann Althouse said...

It's true that the fear of getting pointed at is an incentive. I'm mostly expressing my own lack of interest in this sort of thing now and my sense that ordinary people will feel the same.

Sloanasaurus said...

The hearings will just be partisan grandstanding. The battle lines have already been drawn, and the facts already tossed out.

It is unfortunate.

Brando said...

George Bush: We got to solve problems. There will be ample time to figure out what went right and what went wrong

Ann Althouse: That's not to say I don't think there should be studies of what went wrong. I do. But I'm interested in things that are oriented to solving problems

Conspicously, ordindary person in Chief, Mr. Bush, seems to agree with you, Ann.

Ann Althouse said...

Brando: Further proof I'm just passing along Republican talking points!

jeff said...

Finding e.Coli is good news?

Elizabeth said...

Sloan, if you keep saying the facts are irrelevant then whatever facts point to fault with people you support will be irrelevant. That's a handy strategy.

Last week, it was crucial to point fingers, shout, scream, and get attention. That fingerpointing went in all directions, as needed. I've been dismayed that the looting footage, looped and looped over days, painted the picture of New Orleans as a lawless, barbaric anarchic town, but those pictures got some response. Now, with the most critical evacuations done, the worst of the crime shut down, and the levee plugged (yay!), the cycle naturally changes to more subtle reporting, and more differentiated stories. That's as it should be.

And there will be hearings. They should result in changes to policies, accountability on all levels of government and in city, state and federal agencies, and a shaping of the coherant story, facts and all. That's later. There are still people, and animals, to save, water to drain, disease to fight, economic adaptations to be made.

I'm waiting for permission to enter the city and deal with my home. I'll be happy to report what news I observe for myself, good and bad, once I do.

ploopusgirl said...

More good news (not necessarily directly from New Orleans).

And the whole family is at Fenway Park tonight for the Red Sox game, under clear blue skies and low 70s temperatures. Nice way to get one's mind off of last week!

ziyahaaq said...

You might not be, but the bulk of the media is, with a "stick it in Bush" motif with a particular glee. The Times is piling it on deep, and pray tell, with no hint at the shortcomings regarding the inept behavior of the local and state. Bush can be faulted for one thing, he forgot that New Orleans government barely gets by with day-to-day problems. And Lousiana in general isn't far behind. And the Feds are like vampires, they have to be invited in. Mr. Barbour, next door, ordered his Guard into service double-quick.

Larry said...

Because A happens after B doesn't mean that B caused A (an old fallacy). It may be, I suppose, that an appropriate response wouldn't have been forthcoming without a lot of, as Elizabeth calls it, finger-pointing, shouting and screaming, but it may be, too, that this just became part of a 24-hour media circus that people trying to help also had to contend with. In my view we could have done with "more subtle" -- i.e., more objective, comprehensive and intelligent -- reporting from the start, but better late than never.

Gene C Evans said...

'Are you absorbed in political finger-pointing? I'm not — and I was last week when I felt that people were suffering and dying because of bad decisions.'

I noticed :)
I'm glad that you are willing to admit it, some people would sooner have dental work without anesthesia than concede such a point.


Ann Althouse said...

Gene: I'm not saying I'm sorry. I don't regret it at all. When people were actually dying, it was important to create pressure and let them know it was unacceptable.

Elizabeth said...

Thank you, Anne. There's nothing to concede here, no apology to make.

Larry said...

In an interview with the Picayune-Reporter, one of the disaster recovery officials, who asked to remain anonymous, was asked this very question:

"Did you feel that people dying was just 'acceptable'?"

"Yes!" he replied, "I mean, you know, come on, it's a disaster and everything. We thought it was acceptable! But then the bloggers started telling us it was unacceptable! Okay, mistake. That was when we realized that maybe we'd better finish watching Gilligan Island reruns later."

Ann Althouse said...
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Ann Althouse said...
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Ann Althouse said...

Larry: Funny, but I actually do think politicians have staff members who monitor the blogs a bit and try to get out in front of the criticism. Why shouldn't they? But whether it has any effect or not, I wanted to say what I said.

Larry said...

Fair enough, Ann. And you may, after all, be right. Things were and are certainly bad, but they seem to be improving now, however slowly, and for whatever reason.

Elizabeth said...


Here's tonight's update on some FEMA actions:

" 9:28 P.M. - WASHINGTON (AP): The government's disaster chief waited until hours after Hurricane Katrina had already struck the Gulf Coast before asking his boss to dispatch 1,000 Homeland Security employees to the region – and gave them two days to arrive, according to internal documents.

Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, sought the approval from Homeland Security Secretary Mike Chertoff roughly five hours after Katrina made landfall on Aug. 29. Brown said that among duties of these employees was to "convey a positive image" about the government's response for victims."

And sadly, ulike your quote, the following isn't satire:

" 7:02 P.M. - ATLANTA (AP): Hundreds of firefighters have been sitting in Atlanta, playing cards and taking FEMA history classes, instead of doing what they came to do: help hurricane victims.

The volunteers traveled south and west from around the country, leaving their homes in places like Washington state, Pennsylvania and Michigan. They came after FEMA put out a call for two-thousand firefighters to help with community service.

Firefighters arrived, as told, with lifesaving equipment and sleeping bags.

But one of the waiting volunteers says it might have been better if they'd brought paper and cell phones. That's because some of the emergency responders are being told they will go to South Carolina, to do paperwork.

Others don't know where they'll be put in action.

The FEMA director in charge of firefighters says he's trying to get the volunteers deployed ASAP, but wants to make sure they go to the right place.

One firefighter points to nightly reports of hurricane victims asking how they were forgotten. He says, "we didn't forget, we're stuck in Atlanta drinking beer." "

I don't think critically examining the performance of all actors, including FEMA, is solely a means to advance political goals. I think these are facts, and what they add up to needs to be examined, coldly and without kneejerk accusations from the left or the right.

Meanwhile, this crisis is nowhere near ended, nor even under control, and I think it's fair to demand that Brown step aside or be replaced, and someone else be given his responsibilities. He's not up to the job, and there are yet many problems to be solved.

Larry said...

Elizabeth, you may be right. But at this point I just don't know. I don't know how long it normally, or even ideally, takes, for example, to move 1000 people to the right place. I don't know what the likelihood is, even with the best of intentions and the most expert and capable administration, when moving large amounts of people, equipment, and supplies around a vast area as urgently as possible, that some of those elements will, at least for a time, be misplaced. I don't know how the response to this disaster as a whole, and taking its scale into consideration, compares with the response to other, previous disasters, and in particular I don't know how Brown's performance here compares with the performance of other disaster officials in comparable situations. I certainly don't know how or whether replacing him at this juncture would help matters. In a disaster of this scope, it's certainly true that anybody can find anecdotes of incompetence, both real and apparent. And in the end, you might, as I say, be right that all of these things are evidence of gross incompetence and culpability, on the part, I suppose, of federal officials, Brown in particular, and of course Bush. But at this point I just doubt that you know much more than I do.

At the same time, I do recognize that you've been affected by this tragedy in a way that I have not, and I respect that and extend my sympathies and good wishes, realizing that's of little help.

Elizabeth said...

Larry, the firefighters quoted seem to be unhappy with sitting and drinking beer in Atlanta. They have their equipment, and are ready to work. I'll take their word over the Brown's.

I'm probably more inclined to ask for accountability now, because I'm invested in a way that others may not be. The list of "we don't knows" you offer, while mostly reasonable, is more tentative than I believe we can afford to be, or need to be. It doesn't take days to get 1000 people from Atlanta to New Orleans. These guys got to Atlanta quickly, apparently on their own, with their equipment in hand. I disagree that these are mere anecdotes, but instead, a building list of characteristic failures. I'd much rather see us look to people with military or business experience, perhaps non-profit agency experience, than folks who are friends to whatever administration is in power, as seems to be the case in the top FEMA positions right now. We do have bases for comparison, in past FEMA actions, in other types of mobilizations (military and recovery).

As for judging Brown, that AP story on his memo to Chertoff likely had to come from within, from a leak. That tells us something, doesn't it? We ought not to keep him in charge if he's floundering. It's unfair to the people who need competent leadership to do their jobs, and to the people they are trained to help.

And thanks for your kind words, Larry; they are helpful. While I'm following pretty much every news source and many blogs, this blog is my main refuge, because it is driven by generally thoughtful and reasoned discourse. I appreciate that we can disagree while still expressing concern and respect.

Brando said...

Brown said that among duties of these employees was to "convey a positive image" about the government's response for victims."

Larry, Ann, Sloan or any of the other Bush apologists around here: Can you explain how the ordinary person should respond to the fact that among the highest priorities of the federal government’s (dilatory) response to the greatest natural disaster to strike the US involves spinning the situation for the good PR coverage? That among the rescuers’ duties is to worry about conveying a f*cking “positive image”?

[repeat]everybody's working hard, Brownie you're doing a great job, lots of hard working here, nobody anticipated the levees would break, but we thought NOLA had “dodged a bullet,” it's time to solve problems not point fingers, it's the state and local government's fault, let's not make this a political issue, w-w-working hard, time to cut taxes, the gov’ner didn’t declare state of emergency till Saturday, we are concerned about saving lives: smile for the camera, workin hard[/repeat]

U said...

It doesn't occur to you that "ordinary people" can be eager for good news from New Orleans and demand accountability from those who screwed up the situation so badly (and who are even now apparently more focussed on controlling the political fallout than actually helping people) at the same time? "Ordinary people" can walk and chew gum at the same time, believe it or not. Can you?