Hurricane Katrina: Open Post

With Jim Bacon out of town, I will reprise the Alexander Haig role.

This open post is offered for anyone to comment on any aspect of the Hurricane Katrina relief effort and on those involved in that effort. It will not and cannot replace the posts and comments on the subject that were deleted, but Bacon’s Rebellion is not about censorship.

Naturally, I would ask that personal attacks on commenters be avoided, but the passion this terrible disaster has aroused is almost unprecendented. Consider the comments section of this post a free speech zone.

When Jim returns, we’ll sort out any long-term lessons.

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  1. What happened Will? Did I miss something? Usually this blog is pretty civil. I’m sorry to hear there was a problem.

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    People are talking about rebuilding New Orleans and the gulf coast area. Maybe it is time to consider other options. Maybe we should just declare a flood plain national park and not rebuild: let it become a gulf coast version of Virginia’s barrier islands.

  3. We really ought to ask ourselves if the feds should be involved in rebuilding the city, should that be the chosen course of action. It will require a monstrous financial committment, a nasty impact on the environment, and will simply put us back where we were at the start of last month.

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    This may be old news to many. But, I recommend that everyone take the time to listen to Mayor Ray Nagin’s 10-minute interview with WWL-AM. There is more to it than just the sound-bytes many might have heard.

    The audio link is at the bottom of the second paragraph.

  5. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Just got off the phone with my brother in San Antonio. They have almost 20,000 evacuees in the Alamo Dome now, but the local agitation is growing to move them out to empty storage buildings on Kelly Field so they can use the stadium for N.O. Saints home games. Compassion only goes so far…

  6. Will Vehrs Avatar

    In the deleted threads, what some might have seen as my defense of President Bush was more my unease with being swept up in a simple, convenient conventional wisdom.

    I’ve said before that Mickey Kaus is one of my favorite bloggers and it’s because he dares to say “Wait a minute!” I commend his various posts on the journalistic and political aspects of Hurricane Katrina:

    Sometime, someone will piece together a timeline from the time Katrina passed through Florida into the Gulf of Mexico through today, the day after President Bush’s visit to the stricken area. This timeline will post documented actions ordered or requested by local, state, and Federal officials and documented response time to those orders.

    To anyone reading this: imagine the organization you work for got a call today to deploy to a flood in Missouri. How soon until you and at least three colleagues could be on the road with useful supplies and equipment? On the way you encounter two injured people. Do you stop and offer immediate help, or do you pass them by to get to a possibly larger group you can help?

  7. Not Larry Sabato Avatar
    Not Larry Sabato

    New Orleans is not Atlantis.

  8. Will Vehrs Avatar

    Steve, your comment might presage the next great issue of this crisis–once everyone is out of New Orleans and the other stricken areas, how long before these resettled folks begin to “wear out their welcome?” Lord knows, most of us can’t handle our in-laws for very long. Figuring out how to get the refugees back to some semblance of their former lives quickly will be an enormous challenge.

    I found a discussion transcript that I think is very useful–David Brooks, Tom Oliphant, and Clarence Page on PBS’ The News Hour, talking about Katrina:

    It’s interesting for a number of reasons. Brooks is harsh on Bush, but Oliphant is more cautious, the opposite of what you might expect. The three openly discuss class, racial, and partisanship issues. The two politicians whose past performance or ideas make them more relevant as future national leaders in the wake of this crisis are Rudy Guiliani and John Edwards.

  9. Its interesting to read the commentary and the posts on the subject of Katrina. Rehortic and position taking on the different aspects of how things have gone right or wrong, appear rampant. Yet, when I read all the convoluting arguments. I have a simple question. What are you doing to aid the victims of Katrinia? Words are cheap, actions speaks volumes. Our blog is proud to be intertwined with 750 members of Lynchburg Freecycle that have as individuals and has as a group is taking positive action in the relief effort.

  10. Will Vehrs Avatar

    B O B, congrats on your efforts to take positive action.

    I think the individuals who post to this blog are doing what each of them can, individually or as part of a group, to help the victims.

    They can simultaneously speak out, too.

    As I was working outside in the yard, I began to wonder if a response to this disaster might be a WPA-type effort, where the victims return to Louisiana and are employed in the clean-up and supporting functions.

  11. For anyone involved with emergency operations, the transcript of Mayor Nagin with WWL is frightening in it’s lack of fundamental knowlege about what needs to be done, how it’s done legally and realistically, who’s in charge (he is!), and who’s responsible. The Mayor’s intimacy with petty criminal behavior, as an excuse for horrendous lawlessness undermines his credibility further.

    An interesting development is the Governor’s hiring of James Lee Witt, former FEMA administrator under Clinton, to direct the state’s efforts and act with her proxy on joint operations.

    Local live coverage and interviews from WWL television. In an interview, the NOAA website has relatively current, navigable (and huge!) satellite photos of the areas.

    Louisiana’s Emergency Operation Plans, including the New Orleans region (PDF) and federal response (PDF) should probably be looked at before commenting on the action taken. Examination may (later) prove to be helpful to Virginia.

    Interesting: an interview with Tabb Troxell (sp?), EOC of a neighboring parish, who was urging residents to return. The concept was that –once it’s safe– residents do a better and more comprehensive recovery. St. Tammanny Parish had no (<12 arrests in 3 days) lawlessness.

    Cerulean Canine – In civil society we don’t simply take what we emotionally want, whether it’s food, goods, sex, or drink. Civility and ethics are supposed to, and usually do, override our baser emotions. But other events cause emotional responses too; “morbid curiosity” is a fact of (our) human life. Until a person’s hardened to death and catastrophe, its presence is strongly emotional, and the effects are strong too.

    Positive physical action is the most effective and best displacement activity –fundraising, cleanup etc. Otherwise displacement tends to focus on, and amplify, pre-existing (often non-productive) ideas. [Not-a-doc. Just been-there, done that]

  12. Politics! Partisanship!
    After hearing R-vs-D stuff, here’s a view from a New Orleans Liberterian on The Interdictor’s blog. Apparently these folks have been securing –literally at times– the upper floors of a downtown building all through this disaster.

    Unreliable (probably overloaded) web-cam feeds one, two, and three through the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

    Now if Russ Potts can weigh in on this, there’ll be balance in the world.

  13. Anonymous Avatar

    Franky, I see the “how dare you be partisan” line as a decidely self-interested partisan pose in itself. We are a society of 24/7 political discussion about all things, all the time. We can, incredibly enough, act AND think and discuss issues of the day. Trying to accuse critics by smearing them with emotionalized “well, what are you doing” is a painfully desperate tu quoque.

    Regardless of who was at fault, I think we’ve now realized that the Democrats and Republicans who claimed to have been making our country safer and better able to respond to disasters have been tremendous failures. I don’t know what lessons we should take out of that: is it the federal government that’s too bloated and full of nepotism to be trusted? Or are the state governments at fault? Did we privative disaster response and prevention too much? Too little? Did we have the wrong priorities in how we spent limited resources to secure our nation? Or were they the right priorities because there are worse things that we’ve prevented and this is just the price we pay for that choice?

    I can’t jump to answers on any of these questions.

    I do think it’s hard to deny that the President failed, both as a symbolic leader and as a leader of the federal government. Yes, the cities and states failed as well. But the buck stops with the President. And until the public backlash and some coaching, he and his people have been remarkably tone deaf to the situation. He let his subordinates spend time on TV praising each other and spinning instead of working 24/7 to fix the glaring problems and miscoordinations apparent to even a layperson. You can’t cry “oh noes: that’s politics!” on this one. These were the people who ran on the premise that you must support us, because we’re the ones to trust, we’re the only ones mature and stable enough to count on in a crisis. And whatever plans they had to mobilize in the face of a major disaster, no matter what the cause (terrorism, act of god, whatever), this was simply and utterly unacceptable to most Americans. This is NOT what we want to see from our leadership if Al Qaeda next attacks. And it’s thrown a VERY harsh light on one of the downsides of this administration that even the most ardent defenders must admit: the elevation of loyalty over expertise, of a politically extremely effective focus on Public Relations over results and reality.

    Bush is our President. Like him or not, he will be leading this country for the next handful of years, in charge in the face of some pretty major and dangerous waters (from a rising China to empowered terrorism and so on). I don’t want him marginalized as a lame duck. We need a President and a leader, and he’s what we’ve got. What I want is for him to really take this crisis to heart and admit that he failed: that whatever he thinks is his “hard work” wasn’t the right work. He has nothing at all to lose politically: his political career IS a lame duck. Fire all the nepohires. Listen to critics. Dump the PR hounds who run the show instead of the policy people (conservative policy people of course, that’s to be expected!). And make sure our federal government, our state governments, our cities, REALLY figure out how to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

  14. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    RE Anon- I do think it’s hard to deny that the President failed, both as a symbolic leader and as a leader of the federal government.

    I deny it. I blame him where I see fit on the Border and Immigration, not firing Rumsfeld, spending, not fixing SS and Medicare and Medicaid etc. But, geez louise give the blame game a rest. My same encouragement to a hot and bothered Barnie. Just let the disaster dust settle a bit. Then go for the facts.

    There are folks in my town still in trailers 2 years after Isabel and others still rebuilding.

    Disasters, like war, create chaos. You can NEVER plan for everything. What goes wrong will be exactly what you didn’t plan. You can scream never again all you like, but it is pointless and intellectually dishonest – or terribly immature.

    Humans, and humans in organizations, will make mistakes. We will find out who-shot-john soon enough.

    Guess what – no matter who is Prez – when the Islamists attack again, if they get their act together (thank God they are such screw ups militarily) – it will be a confused, screaming nightmare of chaos. And then when it is all over you can 1) Whine about not being protected 2)Find out if there was real failure, fire the guilty, fix the problem and get ready for the next failure – how to react to it better 3)Support the people who get on with fixing things including hunting down and killing the Islamists.

  15. There are around 3000 counties in the U. S. If there are 3,000,000 displaced by the storm, every county is going to have to make room for a thousand refugees. Affluent counties will attract far more than that.

    Are we ready?

  16. Barnie Day Avatar

    Will, and others: I deleted the two Katrina posts I had authored, disgusted no end by the tone and temper of the discussion that ensued, but little thinking, or realizing, that in so doing I was also removing the comment work of others. I believe I have every right of ownership to delete my own work. I wanted to be no part, in name or participation, to what was developing. And, please, it is not thin-skinnedness on my part. I have rhino hide. It was an inner sense of dismay. That my work was inextricably, and
    fatally, linked to that of others is regrettable. I regret the collateral damage. I would have made this response in a separate post, but I am in a hotel in Williamsburg and something about the “cookies” arrangement here will not permit it. BKD

  17. Dave Burgess Avatar
    Dave Burgess

    I hope I was not part of the cause of Barnie’s, “disgusted no end by the tone and temper of the discussion”.

    I had just finished watching the NBC Concert to benefit the victims of Katrina and was checking the blogs before lights out still full of emotion from the show. That’s when I saw Beanie’s critical post about the government’s reaction to the disaster.

    At that point in time, angry that one would seem to dwell on failure rather than concentrate on the much-needed prayers and support these people needed, I fired off this response…

    First Katrina…now Barnie’s blowhole. Barnie we know about the government failure already. Hey, many people blew it. Democrat, Republican, or Independent, they all blew it, this is true. Now is not the time to relish in their failure. Let’s just concentrate on the now and await the BLAME game for another day. Again…just SHUT UP!”

    OK, I may some what regret letting my emotions cause a rough, “tone and temper”, however, I will not apologize for the spirit of the message. That is some people relish or make the most of their opposition’s failures at some inappropriate times.

    Knowing that Barnie will jump on Potts’ like a sailor coming home after months at sea only to exasperate Kilgore’s campaign, likewise my emotions made me feel Barnie’s commits about the failure of the governments reaction was only to highlight the failure of the Bush administration to react to the disaster.

    Again, it was an emotionally driven response more than logical.

  18. Will Vehrs Avatar

    DAB, I, for one, appreciate that you referenced your comments, acknowledged their nature, and tried to put them in context.

  19. Anonymous Avatar

    JAB, I respectfuly disagree. We are a democracy, a system in which ordinary citizens are called to engage in evaluating government policy and results all the time. Our opinions are precisely the sorts of pressures that keep politician’s feet to the fire.

    And it’s hardly fair to call a temporary pox on politics, when all you mean is on one side. It’s not like any politician has sent home their media teams or told them to go help with disaster relief. I’ve seen FAR more thought put into media response and PR coordination than I have any evidence of thought put into making sure our government was prepared for a major disaster (heck, a terrorist attack on a major city might even have come without the warnign we had on this disaster).

    This criticism is very harsh. It’s even, probably, politically motivated (and, lets be real fair here: I didn’t hear too many calls for holding off on political criticism when Waco was happening, the Cole bombing, and so on). But that’s because we are a democracy run by, of all people, politicians. That’s how our system works, for better or worse.

  20. Dave Burgess Avatar
    Dave Burgess

    2:06 Anon, I agree whole-heartedly. We are a democracy, Barnie is indeed entitled to his opinion, and we are called to engage the government.

    Nevertheless, like I said, it was at an emotional time and I thought it was just bad timing on Barnie’s end (again at that very moment). I just plainly vented. I am sure I am not alone in saying that even the best of us have our not so best moments.

    Anon you can be assured that my outburst was not politically motivated. However, my button was push when I felt Barnie was exploiting the failure for political reasons. I still feel that way. I think Barnie is an opportunist and his strength is picking on the negatives rather than focusing on the positives. Just my humble opinion.

    Anon, I already agreed that there was failure. Moreover, I am sure I will be joining in as the focus changes from search and rescue to future prevention.

    Finally, you can hardly compare a natural disaster that effects over a million people, covers more land than Great Britain, and will endure for months to relatively quick and limited events like Waco and the USS Cole. Not to downplay those event, but you could almost immediate start their inquiries. This disaster will probably be with us even longer than 9-11. So, why rush to the hanging tree with Barnie, when there will be plenty of time later? Yes, it a democracy so I will not say you cannot run to the tree. However, at this moment, I would implore to your sense of human decency to pray for the victims and search for ways you can help. Just my humble suggestion.

  21. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Anon: If engaging in politics is the exercise of free speech = which in fact means taking pot shots without any knowledge or basis in facts, extrapolating from science to the absurd (Kyoto Treaty concurrence would have changed the hurricane), and having a particularly, vicious, divisive accusatory invective coated with race and class, then Y’ALL go ahead. Let one side be known for speaking from stupidity, not waiting for truth to develop knowledge and making the most personal and poisonous accusations just to gain a few political points somewhere. Let it be known that ONE side alone engages in this form of ‘free poltical speech. Make sure your political identity is well known, wear your labels proudly, when you pursue this demeaning path.

  22. Anonymous Avatar

    But the time to fire the incompetents (such as Brown) is now before more people die. For example, here’s this late breaking story.

    Dr. John Simkovich, director of the Charleston, S.C.,-based Department of Health and Environmental Control, got word from FEMA to prepare for a planeload of Katrina victims from New Orleans. He was able to assemble a team of physicians to greet the plane, which, FEMA officials told him, was due to arrive in just half an hour. And then . . . .

    “Unfortunately, the plane did not come in,” Simkovich said. “There was a mistake in the system, coming out through FEMA, that we did not receive the aircraft this afternoon. It went to Charleston, West Virginia.” A line of buses and ambulances idled behind him at Charleston International Airport as he described what happened.

  23. Jim Bacon Avatar

    I am shutting down this thread and any other thread connected to Hurricane Katrina — unless there is a clear and compelling Virginia angle to it. If you want to assert George Bush’s culpability in the disaster, then fine another blog. If you want to defend George Bush, find another blog.

    If you want to discuss what Katrina means for Virginia, I recommend any number of posts that already appear on Bacon’s Rebellion. Our contributors have raised any number of serious issues already. Development of vulnerable coastlines. Erosion of the wetlands that buffer hurricane storm surges. Evacuation routes out of Hampton Roads. Reshaping government entities with appropriate size and authority to respond to emergencies. Empowering communities to respond to emergencies. Virginia’s response to the Katrina catastrophe. The Governor’s response to Katrina.

    There are any number of other useful questions that could be addressed here. What are the major threats that face Virginia? Where are the gaps? Who has first-responder responsibility, and how long would they have to operate alone before FEMA could arrive on the scene? What is the condition of Virginia’s emergency communications infrastucture — how interoperable are state, local and federal communications sytems?

    I welcome discussion on any of these topics. However, I will delete any post that veers back into partisan blame mongering/defending of President Bush, FEMA or anyone else for their role in Katrina.

    This decision is not targeted at any individual or their comments No one person’s actions or comments have inspired this decision. (Salt Lick, take note: This is not about your use of a particular word.) I don’t blame people for having strong emotions. I just refuse to allow Bacon’s Rebellion to become a forum for bitterness and divisiveness.

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