Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Katrina blame thrower

I got carried away a few days ago, mostly out of frustration, by laying most of the blame for 's lack of response directly on Bush's hands. A large number of Bush's apologist today are placing the blame squarely on New Orleans' mayor, or Louisiana's Governor. Today I have a somewhat better picture of the whole complexity of the issue, so let me qualify, to my current understanding, the different instances were blame should be assigned.

New Orleans mayor Nagin

The mayor made quite a few judgement errors by not forcing people to evacuate during an scenario that had been predicted for many years. He decided to let personal rights trump common sense, and until today he chooses to allow it (I find it hard to blame him for that because freedom to die because of our stupidity is still a right that many would applaud). He did not fully foresee the consequences of leaving people, without resources to evacuate the city, inside their homes, and to evacuate some of them into the Superdome. In his defense, he is the mayor of New Orleans, his jurisdiction is restricted to the city, he depends on the Governor and the Federal government for the larger picture. And in foresight it's easy to see all the faults with the implementation of the evacuation plan (or lack thereof). But to blame him for what happened after the storm, is just a low blow, he made a mistake, but he is now a mayor without a city, his forces where the only people on the ground during the first few days after the disaster. His obvious desperation to get some relief on the situation is what prompted me to write that particular article. I hope that he raises to the stage to accept his portion of blame however big or small it might be. That would shut-up quite a few 'media types' and would allow for adequate coverage of the bigger instances of blame.

Louisiana Governor Blanco

The biggest portion of blame falls on her hands. My Louisiana friends call her the most inept governor in a long history of inept and corrupt state governments. From my perspective her career would now be over. She failed to activate the state's disaster plan, to declare a national disaster on time, to order the mayor to evacuate the city, for the rupture of communication at many levels, for not requesting or allowing federal support at the earliest possible time, for not mobilizing the national guard early enough (though the jury is still out on that one), for lack of coordination with NO's mayor and federal agencies. For giving orders in the media without giving orders through the proper channels. For trying to play politics while people were dying. In short for absolute and utter mismanagement of a looming and ongoing crisis. Correction 10:13 AM: Ivan correctly pointed out that there was an state of emergency in place 2 days before the hurricane hit as acknowledged by Washington. Also when I take some time to review the detailed timeline I might further change my perception of the events (I have no problem with flip-floping when I find further information). It seems that the Federal government's share of blame keeps going up.

Federal Instances: Congress

Congress has failed for many years to pass the necessary budgetary laws to improve New Orlean's levee system and to improve its crisis management infrastructure. A spending that many have seen as just pork barrel for Louisiana. Also they confirmed Michael Brown as FEMA's director back in 2003. Let's hope that they don't further compound the problem by covering up the responsible for the chaos that ensued. Maybe you should start contacting your representatives to let them know how you feel.

Federal instances: Homeland Security/

Homeland security and FEMA's director are to blame, for the several days of delay that they introduced in the bureaucracy of crisis management, for not 'forcing' Louisiana's governor to acknowledge the magnitude of the crisis, for trusting the incomplete information they received through internal channels, instead of the dire images that everyone could see on TV. I could not believe the declarations of FEMA's director when he said "nobody knew the levees would break" (which Bush also said at some point), a problem that has been considered and studied for many decades under this particular scenario. He will deservedly become a scape-goat for this whole mismanagement of a crisis. I just heard in the news that a FEMA rescue plane ended up flying to a different state yesterday!!, what is going on inside that institution?!!. Homeland security should be able to handle this kind of emergencies faster, mayor or no mayor, Governor or no Governor. Such a breakdown in communications, in an announced tragedy like this, is completely unacceptable. Just check the Homeland Security mandate, they have done a miserable job of implementing it the way I see it:
NIMS establishes standardized incident management processes, protocols, and procedures that all responders -- Federal, state, tribal, and local -- will use to coordinate and conduct response actions. With responders using the same standardized procedures, they will all share a common focus, and will be able to place full emphasis on incident management when a homeland security incident occurs -- whether terrorism or natural disaster. In addition, national preparedness and readiness in responding to and recovering from an incident is enhanced since all of the Nation's emergency teams and authorities are using a common language and set of procedures.
And from my perspective the incompetency of the Homeland Security and FEMA directors, and the inadequacy of its structure, falls directly onto The White House's hands.

Federal Instances: Washington and

Washington also blocked Louisiana's infrastructure improvements from federal budgets multiple times ('W' as well as previous presidents). And, though it now seems to me that this might be a non-existing problem, it still early to ascertain the influence that the diminishing of national guard troops and resources, now committed to Iraq, had on this disaster. But there is an effect that has been felt (from Wikipedia):
On June 8, 2004, Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; told the Times-Picayune: "It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us."
Also Washington tried any photo-op, media interviews, and press conference opportunities to raise the falling president's image, delaying rescue efforts while people were dying. A president that hesitated in leaving his vacation to ascertain the magnitude of the disaster, while a military support vessel was stationed off the coast of Louisiana for days waiting for his direct orders for goodness sake!. A pet peeve of mine: every time I hear declarations of: "I have heard none of the victims complain when we rescue them," I have to shout: "what did you expect?, have you heard of Stockholm syndrome?". Kidnapping victims would normally face more humane conditions. But to me the main blame to place in Bush's hands is his complete ignorance and disregard of anything that science has to say, and in this particular case, of the many scenarios that had been predicted and that came to pass with Katrina. To surround himself with advisors that obviously have no idea of anything coming out of the scientific community, and probably of anyone critical of his actions. The same attitude that he takes towards global warming, Iraq, or plain critical thinking. In short, his utter lack of good judgement, and in my view, a sign of a lack of true leadership skills. In the words of Daily Show's John Stewart:
This is inarguably a failure of leadership from the top of the federal government.... Hurricane Katrina is Bush's Monica Lewinsky, the only difference being that tens of thousands of people were not stranded in Monica Lewinsky's vagina.

The media

For the first time in a long time the media seems to be doing their job. After the exploitation of humanity that this tragedy became they have started asking the right questions and using their power for the right reasons, avoiding the spin, and the White House talking points, thus forcing action from the different government instances. Who knew that there was still a spine somewhere in there?. Let's hope that this is not just a 'phase' that they are going through.

Rescue personnel

All this said, the people on the ground have done a wonderful job, the police officers, the military, the rescue personnel, the random volunteers, and most of New Orleans' citizens. All this in spite of the mismanagement, the lack of resources, the lack of a working management structure, the breaks in communication, and the lack of basic necessities. The fact that they managed to function under these circumstances is a testament to the spirit of the true leaders inside the community, and of what a human being should really be.

The Venezuela analogy

I cannot let this opportunity pass without talking about these instances of power in Venezuela. The fact that so many instances of government can share blame, even in a leadership crisis like this, is because there are many instances of decision. The democratic structures of the U.S. are mostly intact. In Venezuela Chavez has ruled by removing anyone from power that disagreed in any way with him, or that was just too honest to stay around. Now the whole government is just under his control, though he claims that he does not want it to be this way. Anyone under him (including all the courts, electoral instances, and 'congress') is too scared to contradict him and subsequently to be removed from their sources of income (if you catch my drift) or to have the Chavez thuggery thrown at them. This has created a lawless government structure in which nothing is done unless he implies it, suggests it, authorizes it, condones it, or has shown his willingness to ignore it. So in Venezuela there is only one instance to blame for the total ineptitude and corruption of the state, the pillage of democracy, and the destruction of Venezuelan values and infrastructure: 'El Supremo' himself.
For further reading:
  2. Opinion: No time for turf wars
  3. Outraged Americans clamour for Katrina scapegoat; FEMA head may fit the bill
  4. Exposed by Katrina, FEMA's flaws were years in making
  5. Dean Blasts Hurricane Katrina Response
  6. Left Behind part of the population cannot be counted on to leave their homes.
  7. Long term housing a staggering process
  8. Constitutional Topic: Martial Law
  9. Bush sees hurricane damage from air, vows to rebuild 3 days later, that is.
  10. Magic Marker Strategy
  11. Hair-rising first hand account
  12. Dispatches surrounding Katrina
  13. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Hurricane Relief Support and Levee Repair (pdf)

Update 7:37PM: The more I read about this, the more I am seeing the magnitude of the looming scandal, and the amount of blame on the multiple instances of the government, this post and this post will show you what I mean.
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