I really am naive. I did not expect this degree of unpreparedness and incompetence. I did not expect this even though I knew that the Bush administration is worse than you can imagine, even after having taken account of the fact that it is worse than you can imagine.
Paul Krugman more than half expected this. Another sign that he's wiser and more reality-based than I am:
Paul Krugman A Can't-Do Government - New York Times: Before 9/11 the Federal Emergency Management Agency listed the three most likely catastrophic disasters facing America: a terrorist attack on New York, a major earthquake in San Francisco and a hurricane strike on New Orleans.... So why were New Orleans and the nation so unprepared? After 9/11, hard questions were deferred in the name of national unity, then buried under a thick coat of whitewash....
Why have aid and security taken so long to arrive? Katrina hit five days ago - and it was already clear by last Friday that Katrina could do immense damage along the Gulf Coast.... [T]he evidence points, above all, to a stunning lack of both preparation and urgency in the federal government's response. Even military resources in the right place weren't ordered into action. "On Wednesday," said an editorial in The Sun Herald in Biloxi, Miss., "reporters listening to horrific stories of death and survival at the Biloxi Junior High School shelter looked north across Irish Hill Road and saw Air Force personnel playing basketball and performing calisthenics."...
Why wasn't more preventive action taken?... [T]he Army Corps of Engineers... "never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security - coming at the same time as federal tax cuts - was the reason for the strain." In 2002 the corps' chief resigned, reportedly under threat of being fired, after he criticized the administration's proposed cuts in the corps' budget, including flood-control spending....
Did the Bush administration destroy FEMA's effectiveness? The administration has, by all accounts, treated the emergency management agency like an unwanted stepchild.... Last year James Lee Witt, who won bipartisan praise for his leadership of the agency during the Clinton years, said at a Congressional hearing: "I am extremely concerned that the ability of our nation to prepare for and respond to disasters has been sharply eroded. I hear from emergency managers, local and state leaders, and first responders nearly every day that the FEMA they knew and worked well with has now disappeared."
I don't think this is a simple tale of incompetence. The reason the military wasn't rushed in to help along the Gulf Coast is, I believe, the same reason nothing was done to stop looting after the fall of Baghdad. Flood control was neglected for the same reason our troops in Iraq didn't get adequate armor.... [O]ur current leaders just aren't serious about... the essential functions of government.... Yesterday Mr. Bush made an utterly fantastic claim: that nobody expected the breach of the levees. In fact, there had been repeated warnings about exactly that risk....
America... has a can't-do government that makes excuses instead of doing its job...
Nor did I expect blame-the-victim to start so early, especially not from federal officials who did nothing to roll a single busload of refugees out of New Orleans before the hurricane hit.
Tim Burke writes:
Tim Burke: Michael Brown, director of FEMA, may or may not be incompetent in technical terms. But blaming people for not evacuating, and that's exactly what he's doing.... It's a kind of whining, an anti-leadership. What, he thinks it is not appropriate to talk now about why megamillions in contingency planning failed so grotesquely but it is appropriate right now to scapegoat people who mostly lacked the means to evacuate and were provisioned with no meaningful assistance in evacuating? Yes, some people just decided to stay, for a variety of reasons. However, look at the people we've been seeing on television: it's plain that many of them could not get out unless someone expressly helped them get out. There was no consistent provision of such assistance....
There's... the ability of political and bureaucratic leaders as well as pundits and ordinary folk to show a kind of common-sense decency in grappling with the situation, in understanding its meaning to us as human beings.... There are many leaders and observers and ordinary folk who are making me proud to be American. Michael Brown makes me feel the opposite. Jonah Goldberg, cracking cheap jokes about Waterworld and then making a non-apology apology that's almost worse, makes me feel the opposite. Whomever the deranged assholes are who are shooting at helicopters and threatening to loot hospitals make me feel the opposite. There are two tests here: can we do better as a society in understanding and solving major problems, and can we be decent, can we demonstrate character...
And here we have FEMA head Michael Brown:
WSJ.com - Katrina News Tracker: FEMA's Michael Brown tells Ted Koppel: "We were not prepared" for the thousands of people who did not evacuate the city despite calls to do so. "We move in when its safe to move in, we worked with the state."
Jim Henley is polite in response:
Unqualified Offerings: The Hurricane Pam exercise (discussed downblog) leaves no doubt that federal, state and local agencies recognized in advance that hundreds of thousands of people would remain behind because they were too poor to get out. The White House itself was briefed. So it's beyond unforgiveable for people like Brown and Chertoff to pepper their comments with "people who chose to stay behind"s.
Kevin Drum is a little less polite:
The Washington Monthly: EVACUATING THE POOR.... Why did so many people who lacked the means to evacuate New Orleans get left behind?
Brian Wolshon, an engineering professor at Louisiana State University who served as a consultant on the state's evacuation plan, said little attention was paid to moving out New Orleans's "low-mobility" population -- the elderly, the infirm and the poor without cars or other means of fleeing the city, about 100,000 people. At disaster planning meetings, he said, "the answer was often silence."
It's not that no one had thought of this problem. They just didn't consider it important enough to spend any time on.
Patrick Nielsen Hayden cannot be polite any longer:
Making Light: Another term for it would be "lying sack of shit": The director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Thursday those New Orleans residents who chose not to heed warnings to evacuate before Hurricane Katrina bear some responsibility for their fates. Michael Brown also agreed with other public officials that the death toll in the city could reach into the thousands. "Unfortunately, that's going to be attributable a lot to people who did not heed the advance warnings," Brown told CNN. "I don't make judgments about why people chose not to leave but, you know, there was a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans," he said.... Asked later on CNN how he could blame the victims, many of whom could not flee the storm because they had no transportation or were too frail to evacuate on their own, Brown said he was not blaming anyone. "Now is not the time to be blaming," Brown said.
Summing up: If you didn't leave New Orleans before the storm, your problems are your own fault. Not that we "make judgements", of course. And remember, "now is not the time to be blaming."
And the thought briefly, briefly penetrates Jonah Goldberg's lizard brain that he's on the side of the bad guys:
Rising Hegemon: No longer such a joke is it?: Jonah Goldberg has something rare in today's Republican enablers...an attack of guilt.
So the question is, would the money have been better spent if the Republicans hadn't gotten their way? And, though it sickens me to say so, that is at best an open question. I have the utmost faith in the kleptocratic and dysfunctional governments of New Orleans and Louisiana to waste and steal money. But, we were supposed to be preparing -- at the national level -- for a major terrorist attack for the last four years. I just don't see much evidence of that preparation. Congress re-assembled lickity-split to deal with Terri Schiavo -- a decision that didn't and does not bother me the way it bothers some. But however you define the issues involved in that case, in terms of real human suffering they are very hard to stack-up against what's happened in New Orleans. Congress should have convened yesterday and rescinded the highway bill. It should have broken-open the farm bill like a piñata and reallocated the monies therein.
But the moment is brief. In the next paragraph all sign of intelligent thought vanishes:
For supporters of the war, this spectacle is going to be particularly hard to accomodate because it is in the interests of the political classes to keep their pork and it is in the interests of the antiwar left to frame this as a choice between Baghdad and New Orleans...
Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.