Monday, September 05, 2005

One More Time On Katrina

I just want to say that I hope that there are extensive investigations into why the local and state governments did not have a plan to evacuate those who could not evacuate themselves (the poor, the elderly, and the infirm); why the federal government, with its now obviously stupid cost-benefit analyses, could not, in the last 7 years, fund the $14 billion improvements to the levees and restoration of the coastlines that New Orleans had asked for; and why, why, why FEMA is such a disaster in and of itself. On the last one, I hope heads roll. Obviously, FEMA's director must go as soon as possible, but I hope that every single responsible party is exposed and fired, if not beheaded. While it's not clear, yet, what role Bush played in all of this, it's not a good sign that his administration has already begun to use its typical ass-covering strategy: blaming anyone else in the room. I can only hope that no one at the federal level impedes an investigation that is likely to leave almost everyone in Washington with mud on his or her face, or worse.

OK, that's all I can muster. My heart swells high with rage.

Your regularly scheduled cognitive science blogging will return shortly.

29 comments:

Matt McIntosh said...

Re: the feds -- it's not just the last 7 years. This neglect goes all the way back to the Carter administration.

Chris said...

Yeah, I wouldn't doubt it. I just said 7 years because New Orleans began asking for the $14 billion in 1998, and Congress began turning them down that year.

coturnix said...

I have linked to a good article on the History of FEMA on my blog (as well as lots of links to good blog coverage of Katrina).

My review on Chapter 2 has been sitting, half-written, for a week now, waiting for my head to get out of Katrina. I'll finish it and post it one of these days, I guess.

BTW, I hope it was not just $14!?

Chris said...

Oops! It's $14 billions. I'll fix that.

Clark Goble said...

While I agree with most of what you say. I'd add, however, that I think the Governor of Louisiana has the most to answer for, followed quickly by the Mayor of NO.

Chris said...

The more I learn about the pre-hurricane failures of the mayor, and the post-flood inaction of the governor, the more responsibility I perceive on their part. However, since 9/11, it's been the federal government's job to respond to disasters like these, and the actions and inactions of FEMA are inexcusable, regardless of the communication difficulties between them and the state and local authorities, or the incompetence of the governor. To me, it looks like the state and local officials bear most, if not all of the responsibility on the front end of this disaster, and FEMA bears most of the responsibility for the aftermath.

Clark Goble said...

Actually while some of us think 9/11 should have changed things, it didn't change it here. The local authorities have responsibility for the first 72 hours of any disaster. After that all federal aid is under the control of local authorities. It's a pretty big point of law. The Governor can federalize efforts. But they have to do it. Yet as of the weekend the Governor was still refusing to do that.

That's not to excuse the many failures of FEMA nor the ignorance of the head of Homeland Security. But it is a pretty significant point of constitutional law.

Clark Goble said...

I should add that it might be some time before the truth comes out. A lot of stories (from both the right and the left) that have been repeated and taken as doctrine turn out to be false upon closer examination.

Anonymous said...

try this.

http://billmon.org/archives/002128.html

anyway, i've read primary witness reports of FEMA agents turning away shipments of aid-- and, in case you're wondering, no, there wasn't any reason why that was appropriate.

and even FOX news showed very clearly that the people were being held at the convention center (or superdome, i forget-- if there's a difference), because the military checkpoint on the bottleneck out of town wouldn't let anybody leave.

most of the horrendous failures, on the ground, seem to be the direct responsibility of FEMA/DHS.

these are the people who took billions of dollars and said "we will protect you." DHS's own mission statement on their web-page says they will take 'primary responsiblity' for crisis including "natural disasters." i've seen a usual refrain of putting a lot of blame on state and local officials. i can't say i'm familiar with the protocol of authorizing federal intervention, but i have to say that the biggest STINK is coming from FEMA/DHS, every press comment i've heard, and from all the reports of normal people on the ground.

it goes beyond them too. it's the entire federal authority:

http://americablog.blogspot.com/2005/09/jt-chiefs-chairman-general-myers-is.html

it's pretty jaw-dropping to consider that all the native concerns of "there's no aid. there's no troops. there's nobody, there's nothing coming" that lasted so many days really hinged on a local/state lapse in the transfer of authority. it seems very clear that FEMA/DHS and the current administration's bureaucracy of cronies got caught with their pants down. the state/local level just doesn't have the capacity to address these kinds of disasters. (especially not with half their guard resources overseas...)

pretty much the same old story: ignored security threat memos pre-911, total lack of commitment to getting osama, and so on, and now pretty much an entire city underwater (putting aside regional death and damage). they didn't do anything.

operation cover-our-ass is in full swing. it's pretty pathetic.

Clark Goble said...

As I said, I think it's a bit early to say. I'd definitely like answers to why things weren't allowed in. There were people with boats, airboats, and trucks, waiting to enter and rescue people who were denied. It isn't clear to me though whether the perimeter was enforced under orders of local officials or FEMA. (I know FEMA's getting the blame - just that I've not seen explanations yet) Our own church sent 14 semis filled with food and water to New Orleans the day of the storm and they were denied entry.

Clark Goble said...

Just to clarify, they left the day of the storm. I think they arrived early day three. We also had an evacuation plan in the area for all poor members that got everyone out. The Times Picayne had a writeup on it in a story that's been widely posted around the net. (I saw it on Brad DeLong's blog) We got everyone out before the storm, including the many (if not majority) of members without cars. I'm not at all understanding why the city couldn't have done something similar.

Anonymous said...

we've moved way beyond the don't-allow-supplies-into-the-city-or-dome stage. now FEMA and guards are turning away media, and forbidding photographs of the "deceased."

no official word yet on why in so many pictures i'm seeing soldiers with WEAPONS at the READY, in tense hands, (yes, fingers on trigger, hands on barrel grip) as if they're standing off on the outskirts of fallujah rather than standing in front of a bunch of docile, broken, helpless american citizens.

Clark Goble said...

Anonymous, don't you think that might have something to do with the speculation last year that terrorists might make use of a hurricane hitting New Orleans to reap havoc?

But even beyond that, don't you think the police officers who were in numerous firefights and the snipers trying to kill the workers on the levee only a few days ago might have something to do with that?

I can think of many valid criticisms of effort. But being afraid of being shot by a bunch of crystal meth and heroin junkies who had to go cold turkey all at once isn't one of them.

Bonhomie said...

May all of the people who can help in times like this be brave enough to share the power instead of monopolozing it to realize thier hidden agenda. May the cries of the victims be heard. May the God of justice have mercy on us all.

coturnix said...

Mob Rule

Anonymous said...

come on, clark. suddenly we're planning for the contingency speculation that terrorists might use the hurricane to reap havoc? but the speculation that said "terrorists might use planes as missiles" just got thrown aside.

i understand your concerns, but terrorists can't make use of a destroyed, flooded area to wreap havoc. if anything they would attack somewhere else while resources/attention was diverted to the gulf. so it doesn't make any sense to respond as if the place can suddenly erupt into terrorism at any moment. secondly, the groups of people who the troops are poised to gun down are just tattered citizens (mostly black). can they really be justifiably thinking "...could be some terrorists, among them" ??

as the mayor admitted, there's a drug problem in NOLA, and he seemed pretty sure that it was some crackpot druggie who fired at the military chopper last week (which then turned away, and stopped its operations completely, despite the fact that it was military equipment on a military operation). but anyway, there haven't been any incidents like that at all by the big gatherings, the domes-- and roving maniacs in these areas would have already been put under restraint. that's what i'm talking: i see troops practically pointing guns in the faces of a bunch of hobbling women and children, it's like the gun in the face of elian gonzalez years ago, multiplied across entire sections of a city. it's a relief operation, yet every man is "locked and loaded" and the chiefs have press-released a bunch of chest-thumping "these men are trained to shoot to kill, and will do it" crap

everything i've seen is a picture of misery, not of chaos, nor a warzone.

i've yet to see pictures or hear reports of any military or police combat engagements, i haven't seen any roving thugs bearing arms. in everything i've seen and read, have i somehow just missed these police firefights? officers and guardsmen killed would be huge news i assume.

at this point the only excuse i see for a war-time response is "There were cottonmouth snakes and gators floating around." read the print elsewhere: the troops went in poised to fight another somalia. here's a very mild example: "I really didn't know what I expected, if it was going to be a little Mogadishu or what," said Staff Sgt. Andraus Williams, 33, from Modesto. "When I got here it really didn't look as bad as the news was portraying it to be. I didn't want to be bullying people around. They've been through enough.

He added, "These people just wanted hope and to realize we were here to help them."

(again that's the most mild example of that kind of mix-up)

i'm not trying to turn a blind-eye for any violence that might be occurring, i just haven't seen any evidence. i have a foreign friend who keeps reading the NY Times and asking me, "what is a 'thug'? what is this word, 'thug'?" i explain it to him, then i read the article, and guess what, there's no evidence of lawless thugs doing anything

i'm reminded of this: "In the 1923 Kanto earthquake in Tokyo & Yokohawa, as estimated 6,000 ethnic Koreans were murdered by Japanese militias on rumors that they were looting, committing arson, and poisoning wells, when in fact the minority Korean community had lived relatively in peace there."

Clark Goble said...

Note that those weren't my concerns. I thought them rather silly. Rather I was just pointing out that paranoia because of all the criticism when no one anticipated airplanes as bombs made FEMA and DHS anticipate terrorist involvement in any catastrophe. That is, their Standard Operating Procedures included the possibility of terrorism. Now I personally think that stupid. Although I do understand the planner. The war game last year wasn't an already flooded New Orleans but rather terrorists using the hurricane to flood New Orleans.

But don't think I'm making excuses for FEMA. I think this is a perfect example of "fighting the last war." I tend to be a bit pessimistic about government and think they do ultimately what will keep them elected. And that meant with all the panic an accusations of terrorism that they took it seriously, like the public wanted. The public didn't make an outcry about disasters, so the government downplayed it.

Now we'll get a repeat of the 9/11 hearings with a bunch of single minded reforms of FEMA that will probably neglect terrorism and other problems. It's the way government works in our country and is, I feel, our greatest weakness. I'm strongly convinced that America is only as strong as the grass roots people who become informed. And I fear, because I think we're largely an uninvolved politically and ill informed populace. And we get the government that reflects it. Most elections are picking the lesser of two evils rather than someone really super competent.

So don't think I'm acting as apologist for the government. Sadly, especially after living in Louisiana, I think all of this is pretty much unavoidable in practice.

Now I do think there are some things that could be improved. Mainly militarizing more of disaster planning. But that'll take huge public pressure and really will be a significant revolution of our current structure of government. But even there I can see dangers. After all there was a very good reason why our government has tended to fear such military intervention in domestic affairs.

Clark Goble said...

Oh, regarding firefights with police. They've been in the press a fair bit. However a lot that the press reported turned out to be false. However people going in will go by reports as that's all they had to go by.

mccm said...

Wasn't our regularly scheduled cognitive science posting supposed to resume shortly?

Anonymous said...

What are Bloogers?

Anonymous said...

http://www.realcities.com/mld/krwashington/12801034.htm

hey everybody, whaddya know? No evidence backs up reports of rescue helicopters being fired upon.


and by the way, i've read at least one report of POLICE firing shots above the heads of refugees to stop them entering their jurisdictions.

Wade said...

"They constantly try to escape
From the darkness outside and within
By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.
But the man that is will shadow
The man that pretends to be."
TSE - Choruses from 'The Rock'

On a side issue, want to talk about whether the blogosphere can act as a self-tuning connectionist engine and synthesize social perception of emergent concepts beyond the ability of individuals to comprehent, much as the image rises above the pixels, and, suddenly, takes on a life of its own and starts telling the pixels what they are allowed to do?

Clark Goble said...

Yes, it now appears that the MSM did a horrible job reporting. Nearly everything they reported was false. However one at the time was probably justified to think that the media hadn't done that bad a job. I was merely nauseated at the self-serving way they put themselves in the stories. That they also were massively incompetent at investigating stories and spread rumor as fact (probably in large part contributing to the confusing and the delays). And, of course, few took responsibility for their actions.

Clark Goble said...

Yes, it now appears that the MSM did a horrible job reporting. Nearly everything they reported was false. However one at the time was probably justified to think that the media hadn't done that bad a job. I was merely nauseated at the self-serving way they put themselves in the stories. That they also were massively incompetent at investigating stories and spread rumor as fact (probably in large part contributing to the confusing and the delays). And, of course, few took responsibility for their actions.

Dave Harmon said...

Perhaps you should analyze the cognitive deficits and illusions that led to the Katrina fiascoes?

Anonymous said...

I miss your regular column. Please return!

Anonymous said...

I miss you too!

Anonymous said...

In Response To:
As I said, I think it's a bit early to say. I'd definitely like answers to why things weren't allowed in. There were people with boats, airboats, and trucks, waiting to enter and rescue people who were denied. It isn't clear to me though whether the perimeter was enforced under orders of local officials or FEMA. (I know FEMA's getting the blame - just that I've not seen explanations yet) Our own church sent 14 semis filled with food and water to New Orleans the day of the storm and they were denied entry.

The Florida Airboat Association was responsible for getting over 100 airboats into New Orleans despite the bureaucratic boondoggle.
It should be specifically understood by all that the whole New Orleans fiasco was not the fault of the federal government. Rather, the responsibility lies with the Louisiana state government and Governor Blanco. I personally made several calls to the Governor's office attempting to get authorization for the airboaters to enter Louisiana and New Orleans without success. Later, attempts were made through Washington, D.C. to get through to Louisiana senators and congressmen to get their attention. I even got one senator's aid out of bed at 5:30 am.
It should be understood that the U.S. Government, FEMA or other agencies, particularly the military cannot enter a state without a specific request of that state's governor . . . in the case of New Orleans, Governor Blanco. The federal government MUST be invited.
The fact of the matter is that the Florida Airboat Association had upward to 300 airboats and operators prepared and willing to respond to New Orleans. Many were only a matter of 8 hours away and the Louisiana state government refused to recognize them.
In addition, those civilian airboaters who did travel to New Orleans and provide their services did so at the own uncompensated expense. Many of the volunteer airboaters sustained damage to their vessels that exceed $2,000 per boat. That, in addition to the uncompensated fuel and expenses, became quite costly to the good-ole-boy working man that sought no other reward then the helping of his fellow man in a time of need.
Each volunteer civilian airboater that responded to New Orleans knew that he/she had an valuable and unique resource that was inherently suited to perform the job and was unmatched by any other entity.
Those volunteers risked their health and safety and well being to help those in need.
Further, to date the State of Louisiana has yet to recognize the volunteer airboaters for their efforts, while the Louisiana Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries continues to take credit for the rescues and evacuations.

Safety Committee
Florida Airboat Association

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