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September 01, 2005

The Blame Game

Matt's got a post on What Went Wrong in New Orleans that's very much worth reading. In short, it wasn't that the levees and procedures didn't work as they were supposed to, it's that they weren't supposed to work in these sorts of conditions. Judged that way, they functioned exactly as we expected they would. That New Orleans was left unprepared for a Category 4/5 hurricane is criminal, not least because everyone from local papers to FEMA experts had been sounding that alarm for awhile. But on that, there's much blame to go around, and it lands just as heavily on Louisiana's Democratic state government as Bush's FEMA cuts. Maybe heavier.

This is not something to politicize. It's really not. As the days drag by, we'll uncover a slew of administrative and economic failures, some negligent, some short-sighted, some idiotic, some accidental. The blame, I promise, will spread wide. Short-sighted prioritization will likely assume a starring role as a heavily-muscled hurricane seemed less immediate than wars, deficit reduction, and social programs -- and that goes for both the federal government and the state/loclaadministrations. The blame will arc wide, from Blanco to Bush to Breaux, and trying to zero it in on the President will be neither good politics nor honest. His great failure in all this was in abdicating leadership when it happened, in being weak and unfocused, in responding as if it America needed a laundry list rather than leadership. Bush was a poor president this week and for that, he deserves what he gets. But the blame game? Let's wait till the waters stop, and let's not make it a partisan football: when we do that, nothing gets solved. And for Louisiana's sake, we need to look for solutions.

But before solutions, we need stopgap measures. We need money for the displaced. The liberal blogs are running a fundraising drive. All donations go to the Red Cross. We're trying to get a million dollars together. Sound high? Well, I have about 3,000 daily readers: if you all donated $50 bucks, it'd be $150,000. Now, that won't happen, but insofar as you can, you really should try and give something. Last week I mentioned that I don't have a tip jar on the site because I don't think myself a particularly worthy cause. This is. Last night, I started us off with a $100 donation. I know you guys can outdo a college student. Please be generous. Please go donate.

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Comments

"This is not something to politicize. It's really not. As the days drag by, we'll uncover a slew of administrative and economic failures, some negligent, some short-sighted, some idiotic, some accidental."

Wrong. Couldn't be more wrong, Ezra.

The only thing that spurs some public servants into action is politics: potentially losing their job. I don't care if it is good politics or not -- this is precisely what a good citizenry should demand: accountability, not an eventual commission whose findings may or may not be in public view.

We talk about this now, not when the cameras turn to another celebrity trial or missing white girl. I don't want this to be forgotten in six months or a year and those responsible shielded by time and attention span: we've had enough horrific public management exposed too late and on page A-16.

And this isn't solely partisan: the state of Louisiana is run by a Democrat.

Posted by: Chris R | Sep 1, 2005 12:26:16 PM

It is already politicized. Last year Florida got slammed with a terrible hurricane and CANDIDATE Bush visited a number of times in the first few days. He got $2B in aid released immediately from Congress.

No visit. No call for an emergency session of Congress. No extra money.

Bush doesn't believe that emergency management is a proper government role, and that small-government idea extended by the Republican party is what allowed a disaster to turn to a tragedy.

When you compare 2004 Hurricane Bush and 2005 Hurricane Bush you can see that the President is politicizing disater relief without any help from the rest of us.

Posted by: Nathan Rudy | Sep 1, 2005 12:31:27 PM

Which is exactly my point. Politicization isn't pointing out failures, it's using it for political gain. This cuts across both sides of the aisle, R and D, national and state, and everyone should get the blame they deserve. But Democrats shouldn't ignore their failuresa and Republicans shouldn't overlook theirs. We need wide, accurate inquiries that place blame where it sghould be placed, not two sides warring to keep the onus on their enemies and obscure everything done by their allies. That's politicization.

Posted by: Ezra | Sep 1, 2005 12:32:06 PM

That the U.S. lacks the capacity to evacuate 20,000 people from New Orleans -- or anywhere else -- in a dire emergency, ought to worry everyone, four years after 9/11.

The capacity to respond to a natural disaster is exactly the same as our capacity to respond to a catastrophic terror attack. Bush has done nothing to prepare -- and now that is obvious. The money for levees went to Iraq. A third of the National Guard and half their equipment are gone to Iraq. FEMA is an impotent shell.

And, Bush wants us to donate to the Red Cross. (I want us to donate to the Red Cross, but Bush should shut about it.)

Posted by: Bruce Wilder | Sep 1, 2005 1:05:50 PM

I'm just saying: don't concede to their (not R or D, but all public servants) initial talking point (I saw it from Barbour this morning on CNN defending the Feds, from the FEMA director last night and from Sen. Landrieu):

"This isn't the time. There will be plenty of time for blame and let's not get politics get involved."

It is the talk of people who know that delay is the only thing that can save their jobs and their prestige.

I agree: we need a commission, eventually. But let's at least *acknowledge* -- universally -- that this is completely unacceptable and hold public officials' feet to the fire.

And I apologize for the irrationality of these comments, Ezra. But Social Darwinism (let the poor folks who didn't, ahem, "CHOOSE" to leave -- as if it was a coincidence that the folks who "chose" to stay we see are predominantly African-American) as a way to respond to a public crisis is simply not something a society such as ours should accept.

I'm angrier than I've ever been at my government -- and that includes Iraq, where at least I saw there was a rationale, however faulty. This is just inexcusable.

Posted by: Chris R | Sep 1, 2005 1:06:05 PM

Let's just be clear here: I'm not saying we shouldn't blame. And I'm not saying we shouldn't attack. I'm just saying this shouldn't be a partisan bloodletting. There's more than enough failure to go around, and I don't want anyone protected because electoral gain supercedes honest accounting.

Posted by: Ezra | Sep 1, 2005 1:14:42 PM

"This is not something to politicize"

I tried making this point a few days ago and I got pummelled.

Armando at Kos tried making this point and Wolcott tore him a new one.

Best wishes, Ezra.

Posted by: Toast | Sep 1, 2005 1:26:21 PM

The dropcash site doesn't say whether PayPal will be taking its cut of the contribution or not (it says "All proceeds will be sent to the American Red Cross fund for hurricane relief. " which is different from "100% of your contribution will be sent to the American Red Cross.") Make all your contribution go to relief and use the Amazon donation link from their homepage instead.

Posted by: gerb | Sep 1, 2005 1:29:48 PM

Okay, so your point is that everyone who is responsible should be pummeled, and the best way to do that is to make our first task to find out who's responsible, and, as much as possible, keep out political agendas out of the way while we do that.

I agree.

At first glance, and increasingly so, the onus seems to be on this administration, for starving prevention efforts since 2001, for developing wetlands that Clinton, in order to prevent just such a catastrophe, had kept developers away from, for being tardy in the initial response to the oncoming catastrophe, and, now, for lying to the media that 'no one could have seen this coming,' when the administration fired the head of the Army Corps of Engineers a few years ago for complaining about underfunding.

It may be that the Democratic leadership in Louisiana fucked up. I'm sure they did. And they should be, at least, jailed for their mistakes. But the reason we're not as aware of their fuckups, just now, is because they didn't make the big decisions that made this catastrophe possible. They don't control federal funds. They don't control the deployment of the national guard or the refusal of Homeland Security to let in Canadian disaster help. We should find out what the fuckups in LOuisiana were. But the great blame should fall on those with the greater power, and it just so happens that they're all Republicans. Go figure.

Posted by: Karl the Idiot | Sep 1, 2005 1:44:15 PM

Ezra, I concur. Obviously, in hindsight (and we're all wheelchair generals and Monday morning quarterbacks now) it would have been wiser never to have developed the below-sea-level parts of New Orleans.

All the folks huffing and puffing about how the nasty, horrible Republicans are responsible, blah, blah: What would you do, right now, to protect Long Island and the Jersey shore against a Category 3 hurricane? You do realize, don't you, that a Category 3 on the right course would just wipe Fire Island off the map? and wash large parts of the south shore of Long Island out to sea? What, exactly, do you think the Government should be doing to prevent that from happening? Evacuate now (Omigod, all those millionaire Democrats in the Hamptons, would they have to leave, too)?

It's not so simple, is it, when you don't have the benefit of hindsight.

Posted by: DBL | Sep 1, 2005 1:54:23 PM

What would you do, right now, to protect Long Island and the Jersey shore against a Category 3 hurricane?

That's a very good question. Off the top of my head:

* I would fully fund the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or at least I wouldn't stop funding it until I had an adequate substitute operation in place.

* I would get somebody to run that operation with actual qualifications, and not just some old friend's college roommate.

* I wouldn't take money away from storm shelters and other protective services on Long Island and the Jersey shore so that I could spend it on a boondoggle aimed at settling some Oedipal thing I've got going with my dad.

Posted by: alkali | Sep 1, 2005 3:17:08 PM

I'm just saying this shouldn't be a partisan bloodletting.

By who? For what audience? On what planet?

I'd think it would be obvious enough by now, that any comment that is even slightly critical of the Bush administration, or any other Republican, will be immediately labeled as "partisan bloodletting" by the Noise Machine. Truth is not of interest. Facts are biased.

If there are no political consequences to this horror, then it will only be repeated.

Posted by: tatere | Sep 1, 2005 8:05:52 PM

Tatere is right. Even non-partisan attempts to extract some sort of accountability will immediately be turned into heart-rending cries of "politicization" and "Bush hatred."

The images I am seeing should not correspond to an American city in 2005. Period.

And donate. OK, period for real this time.

Posted by: norbizness | Sep 2, 2005 12:46:24 AM

After seeing Mary Landrieu's performance with Anderson Cooper, I think both the Republicans and the Democrats have responded abysmally to this horrific situation. Too bad it's not an election year, and that LA doesn't have more electoral votes - then both Repubs and Dems would be fighting over who could give more aid.

I'm disgusted by both of the parties right now, and I've been a registered Democrat my entire voting life.

Posted by: maurinsky | Sep 2, 2005 1:21:44 AM

It is time to politicize. And it's also time to economize, as follows. What was cheaper -- fully funding FEMA, or rebuilding New Orleans? What will be cheaper -- passing and strengthening Kyoto, or rebuilding from the stronger hurricanes to come?

The way we're going to get a strong Democratic majority is not by convincing people that individual Republicans are no good. It's by convincing them that the Republican brand as a whole is suspect. In this example, it's clear that smaller government (no FEMA) was not the answer, and the party that claims to be for small government should be made to answer for the failure of this philosophy.

Posted by: Allen K. | Sep 2, 2005 12:03:05 PM

A little knowledge goes a long way:

Showing black looters in New Orleans is racist. - Anyone from the South is fully aware that several of the major metro areas here are heavily or majority black. NO itself is/was almost 70% black. Of course there is more footage of blacks from NO doing ANYTHING. Put things in context.

Kyoto would have saved NO and Bush blocked it. - Do some homework: when was the Kyoto protocol developed, when was it introduced to Congress, what was the Senate vote, which president (hint: not Bush) allowed it to languish with no presidential sign off? Which two large industrial countries are exempted (offsetting any Kyoto goals significantly)? Are you serious?

Bush underfunded (insert gov program of choice here). - Monday morning quarterbacking. I am sure all of you whining about this are on record for sending multiple letters to your congressmen and protesting in Washington demanding extra funding because you were so aware of this very issue. Please.

Feds (read Bush) have more responsibility than anyone else for responding to the disaster. - Really? More homework - compare and contrast the emergency preparedness and leadership of Rudi Giuliani and 9/11, Jeb Bush and any hurricane and Mayor Nagin and Hurricane Katrina. Jeb Bush routinely has busses ready to evacuate people and major emergency vehicles are moved out of the areas to avoid being trapped in the storm surges and to come back in when needed. All we have seen the NO Mayor do is tell us everything was under control and then yell, curse and point fingers when it was clear it wasn't. State National Guards are under the command of the state's governor (she's been impressive, hasn't she?) and could have been called in early in the looting if there had been political will or leadership on the part of the LA governor. Blaming Bush is easy but it's not accurate.

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