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Friday, September 02, 2005

How Can This Pathetic Response Be Justified?

There's a massive wave of discontent sweeping over the country about the federal government's reponse to the tragedy in the Gulf Coast.  Why is it taking so long for help to arrive?  Why wasn't there a better plan in case of a disaster?  Aren't we supposed to have a plan in place if a major American city needs to be evacuated in the event of a terrorist attack?   New Orleans isn't close to being in the Top 10 largest American cities.  Imagine if this happened in an even larger city.   Why are officials so dazed and confused here?  We've had hurricanes before.  The problem with the levees breaking wasn't a big surprise -- people knew about it beforehand and feared it might happen.  So why wasn't there any planning?  What about the wonderful DHS that the Bush Administration created to handle issues of homeland security more efficiently?  So much for efficiency.  And so much for leadership.

Todd Zwyicki at the VC says we need Rudy Guiliani to help.  Rudy was, after all, the true leader who held America together after 9/11.  While Bush was mumbling little kiddie phrases from movies about smoking terrorists from their caves and posing for photo ops with a megaphone, Rudy was speaking to America on television each and every day, eloquently reassuring us that things were being done.  He took charge of the recovery efforts and was deeply involved. 

Orin Kerr at the VC asks "Where's George?"  He writes:

[M]y sense is that given the scale of the crisis, there is really only one person who can take command and be the new Rudy: the President of the United States. And at least so far, President Bush isn't measuring up. The American people want someone who is going to go down to New Orleans and take command and responsibility on the ground, not someone who is going to take an aerial tour of the disaster or have a press conference.

A New York Times editorial states:

George W. Bush gave one of the worst speeches of his life yesterday, especially given the level of national distress and the need for words of consolation and wisdom. In what seems to be a ritual in this administration, the president appeared a day later than he was needed. He then read an address of a quality more appropriate for an Arbor Day celebration: a long laundry list of pounds of ice, generators and blankets delivered to the stricken Gulf Coast. He advised the public that anybody who wanted to help should send cash, grinned, and promised that everything would work out in the end.

If this is how the federal government responds to a major crisis in not even one of the largest U.S. cities, I have no confidence that it is adept to handle a crisis in an even larger city.  Supposedly, Bush was to be making us safe from terrorism and prepared for emergencies on our soil.  I guess not.  And we have no leadership at a time we need it the most.   

Posted by Daniel Solove on September 2, 2005 at 10:39 AM in Current Affairs, Daniel Solove | Permalink


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Tracked on Sep 6, 2005 6:43:34 PM


Actually, I anticipated that rescue-workers would come under fire the minute I saw that New Orleans police were doing nothing to stem the looting and breakdown of civil society. Of course, when I suggested that an early aggressive response was needed to make rescue possible, I was told by Eric Muller and others that I was just an evil and lawless person.

Posted by: Ted | Sep 4, 2005 4:47:26 PM

Simon: yes. I think Nagin's an incompetent too, even though he's a democrat, and I'm not sure about Blanco. (Although I think I recall Blanco being a moderate republican, but whatever.) Every single politician all the way up the chain screwed this one up.

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Sep 2, 2005 9:54:04 PM

This isn't rocket science, MJ. The politicians just can't hide behind your appeal to authority: "oooh, you don't know how HARD disaster recovery is." Bullshit. They knew what would happen sooner or later, they knew the resources that were available. They have a responsibility to prepare. It's not hard. (1) troops. (2) rescue workers. (3) vehicles. (we do HAVE vehicles that can move through flooded territory, you know! Any number of military vehicles, for example, are perfectly capable of traveling in wet areas.) Put enough of those three things together under a semi-competent commander, both BEFOREHAND (when there was a chance to actually evacuate people while the roads were dry) and AFTER (immediately, not five days).Pursuant to my comments in the sisterthread to this one (Blame George Part Deux), would you not agree that these criticisms also apply, all the more so, to the governments of Louisiana and New Orleans - which, uncomfortably for many of those who are making comments similar to yours (which isn't to say this applies to you, which is why I'm asking) are run by Democrats?

Posted by: Simon | Sep 2, 2005 9:16:15 PM


All progress comes through hindsight.

Daniel's last post was indeed a reasonable response.

But do you think we're ever going to get "their side of the story?" When has a politician ever given an honest explanation for a screwup?

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Sep 2, 2005 9:09:22 PM


Absolutely typical ranting and raving about how this should have been done better and that should have been done better, and this isn't rocket science, blah blah blah...

Yes NO had a terrible police force for decades. Yes the city is below sea level and the levees have been neglected for decades. Yes, the city could have had all of the resources in place faster. But you gloss over the most two biggest mitigating facts. First, no one, not even the sages at the Times-Picayune, anticipated that aid workers would come under fire and attack while delivering the initial aid and supplies. That delayed things during a critical time. The second important fact: all of this is in hindsight after the biggest hurricane in our history. No kidding, all of the mistakes are obvious after a disaster happens. Just like all of the professional second guessing after 9/11. No shit, you can go back and say "Knowing what we know now x, y, and z clearly should have been done." No kidding. And we should have picked up the 19 hijackers before 9/11, after all, we knew Bine Laden wanted to hit us here. Incredibly easy to say after the fact.

My point is that it is soooo easy to sit around after the fact and point out what should have been done. Yes, people get complacent and that leads to overrlooking proactive measure that could have been taken. That does not mean that the people working their ass off now deserve scorn and critisism without being given the benefit of the doubt until they get to tell thier side of the story. That is the least we can do for people in public service.

And, yes, I'm sure that some mistakes have been made. Shouldn't we at least wait to her from the decision makers about what they were facing and why they made the decisions they made before we denounce them as incompetent hacks?

I think Daniel's last post was a reasonable response. Nothing wrong with asking tough questions, but it is incredibly arrogant to suggest that we already know all the right answers. All I am saying is that we should extend to these people the courtesy of at least hearing their side of the story and not sit back and pronounce ourselves as the enlightend on what "obviously" should have been done. That is the benefit I would want and that is what I think these people deserve.

Posted by: MJ | Sep 2, 2005 7:31:36 PM


My post was written because of my extreme anger at several aspects of what's happening down in the Gulf. First, there's the issue of planning. After 9-11, one of the primary mandates for government was to vastly improve emergency responses for disasters on our soil. A lot of money and resources were spent on this. The situation in the Gulf is indeed overwhelming and I am by far no expert on dealing with such disasters. But I think it is important to demand that the government do better -- now and in the future. This is their job -- and yes, I concede it is very tough -- but our government has unparalleled resources. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think that a better job could have been done, and the plans and preparations that were made before this disaster obviously weren't good enough. Instead of saying "that's ok, this is tough," I think it is extremely important to demand improvement.

Second, the reasons for the delay in the full federal response that we're seeing today is something that must be looked into. People should be held responsible, and we should demand that the government does better. Part of my anger stems from the fact that many officials kept patting themselves on the back talking about how much they were doing when the reality was very different.

Third, I believe that we have a lack of good leadership now. Nobody has stepped to the plate. Rudy Guiliani did what I think a leader should do in times of great catastrophes. It is a shame that nobody has come close to doing what he has done here. The state and local officials could have done better. I wish more senators -- both Republicans and Democrats -- were doing more, as they did after 9/11. So I don't only want to blame Bush, but the buck ultimately stops with the President.

You may call this Monday morning quarterbacking, but I think that we must demand leadership from our leaders, and that is is vitally important to always assess their leadership to the best extent we can, even when we're not experts. I don't think that we should ever just give our leaders a "break."

Posted by: Daniel Solove | Sep 2, 2005 3:58:59 PM

Conclusion oriented reasoning? That's a ridiculous accusation. Even the (National Review, i.e. hardly a source not known for its "conclusion oriented reasoning") article you reference notices that fully a third of Louisiana's national guard troops are deployed to Iraq. 3,700 troops, actually. Those 3,700 troops could have been in New Orleans much faster than the hodgepodge of units from other states that are now trickling in. That post article also notes that more than a third of Mississippi's troops are in Iraq too.

What's conclusion-oriented about that?

As for FEMA and DHS, the fact is that everything in DHS has been in bureaucratic chaos because of all the reorganizations. FEMA's mission was changed at least once when it was made a part of DHS.

The fact is, this is someone's fault. Your contention that "things that nobody thought of or things on a much bigger scale than anybody dreamed of [might have] happened." is patently false, because it has been well known for years and years that this would happen when the big hurricane hit New Orleans. The Times-Picayune did a series on it in 2002. Everyone -- and I mean everyone -- knew that the city was terribly, terribly vulnerable. Yet the levies were neglected. Everyone knew the difficulties with evacuation. Yet no resources were kept on hand to get the job done. Anyone who has spent more than a week in New Orleans knows about the drug addicts who like to shoot guns (cf. Nagin's interview again above) and the loser incompetent cops who, predictably, threw down their badges. Yet nobody ever did anything in the years that were available beforehand to clean up the cops or the druggies or to have sufficient resources to deal with expected violence.

This isn't rocket science, MJ. The politicians just can't hide behind your appeal to authority: "oooh, you don't know how HARD disaster recovery is." Bullshit. They knew what would happen sooner or later, they knew the resources that were available. They have a responsibility to prepare. It's not hard. (1) troops. (2) rescue workers. (3) vehicles. (we do HAVE vehicles that can move through flooded territory, you know! Any number of military vehicles, for example, are perfectly capable of traveling in wet areas.) Put enough of those three things together under a semi-competent commander, both BEFOREHAND (when there was a chance to actually evacuate people while the roads were dry) and AFTER (immediately, not five days).

The problem is nobody with sufficient authority to command the necessary resources (i.e. the president, or at least the governor) actually took action quickly enough.

For example, why should it take five days to get enough troops in, when it was clear on day 1 that they would be needed? How does it take five days to get 12,000 troops or so in? Where were they coming from? And when did they set off? These questions need to be answered.

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Sep 2, 2005 3:38:06 PM

Oh, and as to your insinuation that there are no guardsmen left to help out because they're all in Iraq, the numbers don't even come close to bearing you out:


What you are doing, Paul, is conclusion oriented reasoning: I don't like Iraq, which is this administration's fault,therefore Iraq must be to blame for what is happening in LA = everything is this administration's fault.

Posted by: MJ | Sep 2, 2005 3:07:33 PM

My answer is that I don't know what the delay is and I don't know why things are going so badly. Neither do you. It could be that the looters and shooters created an unanticipated obstacle to troops and supplies going in. 7,500 troops from LA and surrounding states were in NO within 24 hours. http://www.ngb.army.mil/news/story.asp?id=1742

It could be that the Gov. and Mayor have screwed up and are trying to deflect the blame. I'm sure they're doing their best, though I have no idea how the leader of a state could say that they don't have any authority or resources to handle a catastophy in their city.

It could be that FEMA and DHS dropped the ball, but I don't see how suddenly they are unable to deal with this after having been so effective in FL for the last year. That makes me think that the failures must be local and state level decisions, but I don't know that for sure.

It could be that all of the plans in the world had to be thrown out the window because things that nobody thought of or things on a much bigger scale than anybody dreamed of: happened.

Neither of us knows, so neither of us should be pointing fingers. Especially if the persons pointing fingers 1) Don't know anything about massive scale rescue operations 2) Have an agenda that they are trying to use this as an opportunity to promote.

Posted by: MJ | Sep 2, 2005 3:02:21 PM

MJ: That's odd. The "local official" most responsible seems rather not satisfied with the federal response. He says he doesn't have any authority or resources.

Now, admittedly, Nagin's been an incompetent since the day he was born. (I have some personal stories...) but obviously nobody has put him in charge of any resources. Ok, so lets take a step up?

The next level of "local official" doesn't have the troops, and is begging for more. Where'd the troops go, anyway?

So whose responsibility IS IT?

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Sep 2, 2005 2:35:48 PM

I'm right with you, Dan. Enough excuses and rosy outlooks from this Administration. The time is for leadership on a national level and history will one day properly judge the incompetence and arrogance of this Administration.

Posted by: Paul Secunda | Sep 2, 2005 12:56:45 PM

I'm surprised that this blog has come to this issue with such inanity. First of all, this is an issue that is 100% under the command and control of local and state authorities. They are the ones responsible for directing how, where, and when the aid, resources and responders to be utilized - not FEMA, not DHS, and damn sure not the White House. You wonder why Rudy Giuliani is so rightly lauded for his work after 9/11? Because it was his show to run and he ran it.

Second, before you castigate the local and state official from the comfort of your offices, imagine what it is like to be standing in their shoes right now. This is not a big event in a limited location, this is hundreds of square miles utterly devastated by mother nature. They are not above criticism, but that doesn't mean that all criticism of them is fair.

Third, you want to make veiled statements to the effect that FL would be handled differently because the President's brother is the governor. First of all that is an idiotic and craven thing to say. Most if not all of these officials at the state and federal level are dedicated public servants who bust their ass and risk life and limb for people they don't know under the gravest circumstances. To suggest that they are somehow indifferent because LA isn't the "right" state is pathetic. Second, did it occur to anyone that things in FL get done more efficiently because the STATE and LOCAL officials there are talented, dedicated, far more experienced, and were dealing with far less catastrophic events that the folks in LA?

Third, how can anyone possibly think that they know enough about what is going on on the ground to make judgements about what should and should not have been done by now? These officials are up against probably the greatest national disaster in the history of our country. There is no play book, only general principles of what to do that I'm sure are being changed by the reality on the ground, which is in turn changing minute by minute. Just like in battle, no plan has ever survived contact with the enemy.

Give all of these people a fucking break. They are trying to sort through pure chaos and hell right now and I'm sure they have reasons for the decisions that they are making. It is the height of arrogance to sit back in comfort and Monday morning quarterback something that you don't know a damned thing about.

You almost sound like the media.

Posted by: MJ | Sep 2, 2005 12:36:53 PM

"Imagine if this happened in an even larger city."

Let's imagine this had happened in Florida. Anyone want to argue that the response time would have been the same?

Posted by: Mike | Sep 2, 2005 11:16:36 AM

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