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September 07, 2005

A Dozen Thoughts on the Katrina Crisis Thus Far

The commentary on the hurricane here at SCO has been excellent; although I’ve been paying attention, I have been too busy to write much, partially because I have clients that are responding to the Katrina devastation.

Here are 12 thoughts on the hurricane-force disaster, responses, and politics.

1. Recognize Personal Responsibility: Perhaps the most important lesson of the last week is that we are all responsible for ourselves and for our families, and in a society that works people take care of their neighbors. We should not expect the government to come to our rescue; although it may be able to, it is by nature a slow-moving bureaucracy.

It will be years before people ignore hurricane warnings again. The people in New Orleans who were the greatest victims were those who chose not to act responsibly, and those who were unable to leave. The fact that friends and relatives did not help the old and disabled-—and that there were more looters than good neighbors--reflects the utter failure of community.

2. Make Changes at FEMA: FEMA chief Mike Brown must resign because he is now a symbol of a bureaucracy caught acting like one. I’m sure he’s a fine guy and that he didn’t intend to harm anyone, but he is in now as politically toxic as the New Orleans sludge. Politics is largely perception. The foot-dragging at FEMA costs lives--this reality is heartbreaking and the political perception is even worse. Brown’s resignation should be on Bush’s desk shortly; and Bush should accept it with all the right regrets. There is no reasonable alternative.

3. Look to the Private Sector. Salvation for the victims of Katrina will come from the good people of the nation driven by a moral impulse to help those in need, and from the private institutions they support—-from local churches to large agencies such as The Salvation Army and Samaritan’s Purse. These private groups can pull together the “little platoons” of compassion and head to the gulf for a weekend of building or a decade of support.

4. Don’t Forget Mississippi: The most old-fashioned hurricane devastation is not in Louisiana, but the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Biloxi and Gulfport are virtually destroyed and need massive assistance.

5. Impeach the Governor: Although the electoral process has a way of taking care of incompetence, it would be good for the Governor of Louisiana to resign in the next few weeks. Her delays and political turf games are probably the closest to criminal negligence of any public official involved in this crisis. It may be that the Mayor of New Orleans should do likewise. His failure to call for a general evacuation on Saturday, and his mysterious refusal to follow the city’s own crisis plan are mind boggling, at least in hindsight.

6. Call for Leadership: With the Governor and Mayor paralyzed by the crisis and FEMA contemplating its collective belly button, there was no one who stood tall and acted “Guilianian.” There needed to be a figure of grass roots leadership in the first hours and days of the crisis. There wasn’t then, but the recovery and rebuilding is going to take years, and it isn’t too late for someone to step forward and lead. The President will have a role, but there needs to be someone focused just on this problem.

7. A Regional New Deal: The aftermath of Katrina may be more akin to a regional version of the Depression than a southern 9/11. We may need to establish work corps similar to Roosevelt’s—-to rebuild an entire region and to put thousands of people to work.

8. Lay Off President Bush: Despite the political opportunism of Bush opponents, Bush has done fine, although he has to take responsibility for incompetence anywhere in his Administration. He has done that--his recognition of the slow response and his strong efforts to fix it changed everything. He couldn’t go back and fix the slow response, but he’s rallied the troops since then (and still needs to accept Mike Brown’s resignation). Bush is a naturally genuine and compassionate man, and that comes through when he addresses the suffering of others.

9. Put the Reporters to Bed: Television reporters got a kick out of using their broadcasts to direct the relief and military efforts, which was OK at times, but it went beyond the confines of journalism and got out of hand. Also, a lot of reporters became “Geraldo-like” (including Geraldo), with histrionics that did little to inform the public and made the reporters look like they needed a nap (most did).

10. Condemn Irresponsible Rhetoric: While the politicizing of everything has become commonplace, the most damaging rhetoric of the week was the charge of racial prejudice in the slow response to the crisis. That was irresponsible and terribly dangerous--also obviously false. Are we trying to promote tribalism, where the whites and blacks of America become the Tutsi and the Hutus? Also the remarks by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. were as insensitive as Jerry Falwell’s after 9/11.

11. Unpredictable Predictability: There’s a lot of coulda, shoulda, and woulda going around—-but seriously, on Monday afternoon the word was that New Orleans had averted the bullet and the hurricane’s fury had turned to Mississippi. No one was sending National Guardsmen to New Orleans at that time. The levee's breach wasn’t a surprise in an emergency scenario-planning sort of a way, but it was a “late breaking” surprise on Monday. Second, who could have predicted that the inmates would gain control of the asylum; that thugs would create an atmosphere of total anarchy, requiring troops to protect relief workers. What is this, the Democratic Republic of Congo? (international relief workers have faced menacing rebels and marauding bands in that nation).

12. Les Miserables: New Orleans is a miserable city. I’m sure there are a lot of great people there, but it is not a great city. It’s not just the decadence of Bourbon Street; it’s the broad absence of moral strength and civic vision. New Orleans was such a depressed and dysfunctional city that it did not have strength to rise above the challenges of the week. We wouldn’t be having a debate about when the federal government should use its force if there was any semblance of competence in the New Orleans or Louisiana government.

Posted by Jim at September 7, 2005 10:49 AM

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According to Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters, ABC News is reporting that the city of New Orleans did not follow its own previously drawn-up hurricane disaster plan. They then commented on the reaction of Louisiana Governor Blanco in regards to FEMA'... [Read More]

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“We should not expect the government to come to our rescue.” Perhaps, but there are two schools of thought on this. When we adhere to yours, we get slow disaster relief from the feds. You get what you demand from your government.

“FEMA chief Mike Brown must resign… Politics is largely about perception.” Brown must resign not because of politics but because he is inept. And it wasn’t just foot-dragging that cost lives. FEMA actively prevented many first responders from helping victims, including the Red Cross and local law enforcement.

“Look to the private sector.” We have no choice when the government fails us. And as I said in comment 13 of Abigail’s post on Sep 3, we must oppose repeal of the Estate Tax since that tax favors cheritable giving.

“Impeach the governor” and “Lay off President Bush.” Wishing it so doesn’t justify your demand. Again, as I said in comment 13 of Abigail’s post on Sep 3, locals seem to blame the feds and credit their local and state governments for their actions. Here are several links. Click on the video from Sep 4 to view the first one:
As for the mayor, from what I’ve read, the locals seem to think he did the right thing. If you have evidence he failed the people, please support your charge. As to your claim that “Bush has done fine”, perhaps you should take a long, hard look at where his thoughts were and how concerned he was as people were dying:
Keep in mind he said "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job,” as people suffered. Did Bush not know what was going on or did he just not care? Couldn't water and food have been dropped from the air to provide assistance to people at the Superdome?

“A regional New Deal.” I think that’s a great idea.

“New Orleans was such a depressed and dysfunctional city that it did not have strength to rise above the challenges of the week.” Is the weakness to which you refer actually that of the government or of the citizens themselves? Because if it’s the latter, it sounds like you are blaming the victims. And for most of them, their weakness was that they were poor. It is hardly fair to blame them for that.

Posted by: dem at September 7, 2005 01:57 PM

Great post. I agree with the evident lack of personal responsibility among some of those remaining in New orleans and who (at least it appears to me) have been given the most time on camera to complain loudly about how the federal government has not helped. In fact, the federal government's primary role will be in financial assistance to rebuild the devastated areas. The federal government is not equipped to provide immediate disaster relief as this is a task left to local and state governments as well as local charities such as the American Red Cross and Salvation Army that have proven themselves to be better channels for delivering aid immediately after a crisis.

I also agree with your last point about New Orleans. I made my only visit to the city last fall on a business trip and stayed downtown just off Canal Street. I was overwhelmed by the depressing atmosphere of the city. Apart from businesses geared towards tourists there was very little in terms of commerce in the city. Clearly there are underlying social and political issues that hampered (and continue to hamper) the city's recovery from this disaster. Those issues will have to be addressed as well as the physical reconstruction of the city if New Orleans is expected to survive this disaster.

Posted by: Tom at September 7, 2005 02:06 PM

I have a computer and internet access, I am doing what I can to help Katrina victims, see for the Crisis Search Engine I made...

Posted by: Sir Seek at September 27, 2005 10:03 PM