September 2, 2005

"The reason I'm mad as hell over Katrina is precisely because I'm a conservative and this kind of thing is exactly what government is for."

Andrew Sullivan writes:
Kevin Drum wants to say that the difference between conservatives and liberals is that liberals believe in funding organizations like FEMA or the Corps of Engineers and conservatives don't. Nuh-huh. Real conservatives believe that the state should do a few things that no one else can do - defense, decent public education, police, law and order among the most obvious - and leave the rest to individuals. Funding FEMA and having a superb civil defense are very much part of conservatism's real core. It's when government decides to reshape society, redistribute wealth, socially engineer, and take over functions that the private sector can do just as well that conservatives draw the line. The reason I'm mad as hell over Katrina is precisely because I'm a conservative and this kind of thing is exactly what government is for. Bush in this sense is not now and never has been a conservative.
Like Drum, who responds to Sullivan in an update, I don't know what the "real core" of conservatism is. I note that good rhetoric can be squeezed out of such ideas. I'm the real conservative. No, I am. I don't personally care that much about that sort of debate. I don't define myself as a conservative and am continually bemused by the tendency of other people to call me conservative. But I do agree with Sullivan that this is what government is for — especially, I would add, when you're talking about restoring order.

But I note that Sullivan doesn't address the line between the federal government and state and local government. Basic order is the responsibility of the city, which failed catastrophically here. The state also has an important backup role, which it seems to have performed badly. The role of the federal government in funding public projects is more complex. I think Drum is right that liberals are more willing to keep taxes high and fund more projects. And I tend to think the federal government should be blamed for not spending the money to solve the glaring disaster-waiting-to-happen that was New Orleans.

56 comments:

Ron said...

I certainly agree with you Ann, that at some level the federal government is to blame, I don't think that necessarily falls along partisan lines; A project of this size would probably go beyond the scope of one administration, and, not knowing who would be elected next, aren't we saying that a project like this should come from the feds "institutionally?"

Brendan said...

In what bizarre universe is Sully considered a conservative? I removed him from my bookmarks when he sided with Sen. Durbin's Nazi smear and have never looked back. Yes, he backed the Iraq war, but backpedaled furiously when it wasn't being waged to his (hindsighted) satisfaction. How many conservatives

1) Endorsed Kerry for Prez?
2) Endorse gay marriage?
3) Troll the Net for anonymous, unprotected gay sex?
4) Endorse drug legalization?
5) Go on Bill Maher's show and crack jokes about "eating p*ssy"?
6) Routinely deride religious leaders as Taliban-like "theocrats"?
7) Attack SUV owners as working hand in hand with terrorists?

Libertarian. Perhaps. But not a conservative in the traditonal sense.

Jenny D. said...

Ann, someone should write more about the poor coordination between loal, state and federal work on relief. Turns out the National Guard is supervised by the state emergency management folks. Just heard it on NPR from one of their reporters.

So then Louisiana state and local officials were first in line to coordinate and plan evacuation and rescue efforts. I guess they did some things, and then started calling for federal assistance.

My point is that there is plenty of blame to go around here, and maybe we should just skip the blame and shame part of the program.

Pastor_Jeff said...

Ann, Ron,

I agree that this is exactly the kind of large-scale, long-term project that the federal government should be doing. Sadly, these kinds of things aren't very sexy, so instead we get all kinds of stupid pork like Alaska's bridge to nowhere, the museum of the steam engine, and so on. And with increasing environmental regs, these large projects get harder to do.

I seem to recall some study recently that tried to estimate the needed reapirs and upgrades to infrastructure, and the amount was staggering. If we don't keep up roads, sewers, water plants, etc. we're in very big trouble.

I think it's partly a dem/rep issue, but moreso a leadership issue. Our politicians would rather spend $ on social programs that generate political capital than on long-term needs that nobody ever thinks about.

Personally, this week has made me very thankful for electricity and running water. Maybe one positive from all this will be increased spending on real infrastructure needs.

mcg said...

Basic order is the responsibility of the city, which failed catastrophically here.

I'm a bit more sympathetic here, and say that this wasn't really a failure of execution---in the important sense that they simply weren't prepared to address a tragedy of this magnitude. I don't think that it's really failure if you never planned to try.

This is actually true on several jurisdictional levels. For example, a representative of the Army Corps of Engineers decided a long time ago that it simply cost too much to make the levee system strong enough to withstand a Cat 4 or 5 hurricane. In other words, it was really no surprise that it failed here. In fact, the NYTimes reported today that the point of failure was recently reinforced. Yes, you heard right, they had been keeping up regular maintenance on the very portion of the levee that gave way here.

Was it a failure of imagination (a la Apollo 1), then? I'm not so sure about that, either. The decision to strengthen only to a Cat 3 level was made a long time ago via cost-benefit analysis. So they certainly considered the possibility that a disaster of this magnitude could happen, just wrote it off as too costly compared to the expected costs of the disaster. Arguably they should have jacked up their estimates of those "expected costs", but you can't prepare for everything unlikely, can you?

Nor was this unknown to the citizens of New Orleans. People have been well aware for a long time what would happen to New Orleans if a Cat 4 or 5 hurricane knocked out the levee system. I've heard the interviews, conducted well before this happened: people expressed a resignation that this was going to happen eventually!

So now it's happened: the doomsday scenarios that both government experts and common people analyzed and dismissed has come to pass. The various governments are doing their best do address the situation; and, well, it's going to look clumsy. And I don't mean to be cavalier about the loss of life, it is truly tragic, but let's put the blame where it belongs for that, on the natural disaster itself.

mcg said...

For example, a representative of the Army Corps of Engineers decided a long time ago that it simply cost too much to make the levee system strong enough to withstand a Cat 4 or 5 hurricane.

A correction. A representative of the Army Corps of Engineers recently shared with the press that it had been decided a long time ago that it simply cost too much to make the levee system strong enough to withstand a Cat 4 or 5 hurricane. I point this out because people have argued that the levees broke because Bush cut the funding. The only thing is, there never has been any intention under any president to strenghten the levees to the point required to withstand a Katrina-scale hurricane.

mcg said...

My point is that there is plenty of blame to go around here, and maybe we should just skip the blame and shame part of the program.

I for one would LOVE to do this. Maybe people should set up little "curse word jars", and every time they utter a curse about this or that planner or government official dragging their feet on this, they have to put a dollar in the jar---no, $10---and send it to the Red Cross.

Charlie (Colorado) said...

Maybe people should set up little "curse word jars", and every time they utter a curse about this or that planner or government official dragging their feet on this, they have to put a dollar in the jar---no, $10---and send it to the Red Cross.

Yes.

Ann Althouse said...

You know Katrina was Category 3 when it hit.

Anyway, the city should have had plans. The threat was plain. And even without plans, it should have done better with its police force and rescue workers. Compare it to NYC after 9/11. Were the NO police anything like what the NYC police and firefighters would have done under the same circumstances. It was an ill-run city, and the disaster cast a spotlight on that. Maybe I'm wrong. Let's see what the investigations show.

Ann Althouse said...

Sorry. I'm not letting the government off the hook. They need to know to take precautions. People are suffering while you're busy forgiving the poor little government, and people in the future will suffer if government officials can count on this blind forgiveness. I want to know why this happened. I hope those of you who are so into overlooking all the lapses aren't the same people who care about the Able Danger story.

Internet Ronin said...

Bush had to lean on Governor Blanco to get an eveacuation order at all. (See AP story dated 8/28/05: http://www.wwltv.com/local/stories/WWL082805catastrophe.f4dd3f.html ) Prior to that, the Mayor was saying no need to leave. About 200 school buses that could have been used to evacuate up to 8,000 of the poor without transportation still sit in their parking lot, now inundated with water. ( http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/050901/480/flpc21109012015 ) How many mass transit buses does a city of New Orleans have? 200? Wonder how many of those were used to evacuate the poor - could have helped another 8,000 or more avoid the disaster.

It sure sounds like the state and local governments did almost nothing, and then only after prodding by the President himself. Their failure to prepare laid the foundation for the human tragedy we are witnessing.

As disaster planning is NOT a political exercise, but a bureaucratic one that goes on almost entirely independent of changes in political administrations, the failure to anticipate something this huge falls on the shoulders of the administrators of FEMA and Homeland Security, not the political appointees who come and go. (If National Geographic could imagine what would happen if a category 5 hurricane hit New Orleans, is it unreasonable to assume that FEMA should have as well?

I think it is fair to criticize Bush as well, but others are doing a much better job of it than I could ever hope to.

mcg said...

You know Katrina was Category 3 when it hit.

I believe you are mistaken. I am pretty sure it was Category 4 at that point. But I will double-check. And again, the portion of the levee that failed had undergone recent maintenance, so in theory it least it had the best chance of surviving the storm conditions it was planned to survive.

Anyway, the city should have had plans. The threat was plain. And even without plans, it should have done better with its police force and rescue workers.

How do you know it could do better? I mean the situtation was pretty dire. None of us were in the midst of it so it is awfully easy to second-guess. Can you honestly expect more from people if you don't know for sure you could expect it form yourself?

Compare it to NYC after 9/11. Were the NO police anything like what the NYC police and firefighters would have done under the same circumstances.

These aren't the same circumstances, Ann. The entire city is trashed. All of it. NYC, in contrast, had far less damage to infrastructure, supply, transportation, and the like. And I hate to be morbid, but dead people are easier to deal with than stranded, dehydrating, starving people.

It was an ill-run city, and the disaster cast a spotlight on that.

I won't disagree with this in the general sense. But I dare say that NYC would have been even more unmanageable if 80% of its land area was underwater.

Maybe I'm wrong. Let's see what the investigations show.

And maybe I am too.

mcg said...

President Bush said this here:

According to the Army Corps of Engineers, the levees were designed to withstand a Category 3 storm, the middle level in a system (1 to 5) that measures hurricane intensity. The force of Katrina was more than the levees could withstand, the Corps said. The agency was to begin a feasibility next year on what it would take to protect the city from stronger, category 4 or 5 storms.

Read the whole interview.

mcg said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
mcg said...

Ann---we are both right. From the National Hurricane Center:

KATRINA TURNED TO THE NORTHWEST AND THEN NORTH...MAKING LANDFALL IN PLAQUEMINES PARISH LOUISIANA JUST SOUTH OF BURAS WITH 140 MPH WINDS...CATEGORY 4...AT 610 AM CDT ON 29 AUGUST. CONTINUING NORTHWARD...KATRINA MADE A SECOND LANDFALL NEAR THE LOUISIANA/MISSISSIPPI BORDER AT 1000 AM CDT...WITH MAXIMUM WINDS OF NEAR 125 MPH...CATEGORY 3.

mcg said...

OK, last post before I wait for more comments, I promise. But Ann, this is an idea that I think we could both latch onto!

Republicans Urge Bush To Ask Giuliani To Guide Relief Effort

Ann Althouse said...

MCG: I think what hit NO was category 3. It clearly wasn't 5.

"These aren't the same circumstances, Ann." Yeah, I know. My point is picture those NYC people in the situation in NO. I'm saying they would have performed FAR better. You disagree?

Ann Althouse said...

According to this recent report, what broke the levees was the storm surge and that was at the level that goes with Category 5.

Simon Kenton said...

Internet Ronin -

Sorry to keep harping on this, but the Guard comes at the direction of the Governor; FEMA can't come until invited; and because its people cannot be cognizant of local conditions and local geography for every place in the US that suffers a disaster, is always under local control until the locals ask to have the agency take over.

mcg said...

I'm saying they would have performed FAR better. You disagree?

I'm saying there's no way to know. Look, I might be willing to agree that had a 9/11-equivalent disaster occurred in NO, that they would have handled it worse. But again, this disaster is simply far more comprehensive, in terms of the percentage of people and city services affected. So even if I grant that they would have tried harder there's no guarantee they would have actually executed better.

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks, Simon. You know, I really think a lot of people are going to look awfully foolish for some of these accusations when this reality eventually sinks in.

Internet Ronin said...

Simon (and Ann) -

I'm sorry that my comment gave you the wrong impression. Yes, I do know that FEMA and the Guard can only come in at the request of the governor. (I think this particular governor has been quite inept, to be polite about it.) I thought I made it clear that the local response contributed greatly to this disaster.

At the same time, it seems to me that FEMA and others have been hampered by a lack of planning for such an eventuality as this. Now that things are finally rolling, they will do a great job, I am sure.

I don't attach blame for the delays to sinister ulterior motives or President Bush.

Mistakes happened. They happen all the time. Let's figure out why and avoid such devastating consequences again.

Jack said...

I'm not sure that planning is the relevent issue here. The vulnerability of New Orleans to large-scale flooding has been known for decades. I first learned about it through a storm-chaser video that my wife rented long before the movie Twister came out, so it was some time in the 90s. If I, being generally clueless about such things, knew about it then, I'm sure the relevent disaster relief agencies knew about it far sooner.

But my experience on various task forces trying to get people to prepare for the Y2K bug has convinced me that you can plan all you want, but if bureaucrats do not implement the plans they are meaningless. Most plans specify costs and most administration types are unwilling to accept the costs for what they consider remote problems that will probably not affect them.

I don't know that this is the case here, but that's where I would put my money if I had to bet.

leeontheroad said...

Point of reference: Blanco requested FEMA on August 28th-- in advance of the storm. Here's the PDF of her letter to the Pres., via the regional FEMA Dir.

mcg said...

Yes, and they were there, too. From that LA Times interview I quoted.

Food, water and other supplies, as well as search and rescue teams, were brought in in advance of the storm. "In New Orleans we were ready to move in as soon as Katrina moved out," but levee failures then made it unsafe to move into many parts of the city, Brown said. And broken communication systems made it difficult to send supplies where they were needed.

Then there was the sheer scope of the devastation. "Everything that we pre-positioned and had ready to go became overwhelmed immediately after the storm," Brown said.


(I was wrong, BTW, about the article's content. It is not a Pres. Bush interview.)

RSwan said...

The president failed.

FEMA failed.

The state governments failed.

The local government's failed.

We all failed.

This is undisputable. But the real question is could they have succeeded?

It takes time to figure out what needs to go where. And there is a lot of where. (Find a map with a picture of Great Britain. That is the size of the area FEMA is dealing with)

Once you figure out what needs to go where, you then need to gather the stuff. And that takes time.

And then you have to figure how to get the stuff to where it needs to go. And remember, everything you would normally use to get there, may not work. And that takes time.

Once you figure out how the stuff is going to get there, you need to transport the stuff to the disembarkation point you need to load on to the transport in such a way as to enable safe transport. And this takes time.

The transport needs time to get to where it is going. And it may not be able to travel it's normal path due to the disaster. And this takes time.

Stuff from outside of the disaster area usually does not get shipped directly to where it is needed. It is shipped to a depot, where it then gets placed on another transport (usually smaller) with other stuff to travel to where it is needed. And this takes time.

Some of these can occur simultaneously, but not most of them. Some of these need to be created before stuff goes there and this takes time. Stuff needs to be tracked so stuff goes where it is needed. Communications need to be set up so as the situation changes, so can the stuff.

Based on the way things are today, technology and , I don't think we could have succeeded.
Were mistakes made? Absolutely.

Are things being done as fast as they can? Probably.

Is this fast enough? No.

Apollo 13 was described as a successful failure. The mission did not succeed but amazing things had to be done just to bring the crew back alive. That may be the best way to describe the relief effort for Hurricane Katrina, a successful failure.

Ann Althouse said...

It was obvious on Tuesday that the priority needed to be the people trapped in the New Orleans flooding. That's not the size of Great Britain.

Larry said...

I don't care if you're a real conservative, a true liberal, a wingnut, a moonbat, or a Martian. What I don't think you are is an expert in disaster recovery who is actually on the spot, any spot, and actually working to do anything, anything at all. Nor am I, but I at least have the decency to shut up about the work until more is known other than the wrenching fact of human suffering. The instinct to find someone, anyone (apart from oneself), to kick when things go bad, is not one of the finer aspects of our nature. At some point, certainly, assessments of the preparations and the response will need to be made, blame and responsibility laid where appropriate, and actions taken to correct for the future. We're nowhere near that point now.

You know, I really think a lot of people are going to look awfully foolish for some of these accusations when this reality eventually sinks in.

I think that at least is true, in a broad sense.

mcg said...

Half of the "God Squad" speaks.

John A said...

Michelle Malkin (
*THE BLAME GAME*) links some interesting background about half-way down. Among other things, funding:
1. Cuts were most prevalent in the Nineties, but trace back to at least the Sixties - which is also when plans were made to provide CAT3, not CAT5, protection (I think not as bad a decision as it may sound)
2. Louisiana has long had trouble, or been unable, qualifying for federal matching funds.
Some other stuff, too.

Ann Althouse said...

Larry: I don't get the "shut up" point. I think it's important to pressure the government to act while people are suffering and dying. It's an emergency! There's no requirement to sit back and wait for the investigation into why thousands died. That will be interesting, but right now, it's important to demand action!

Larry said...

It's an emergency!

Well, duh! To whom do you suppose that comes as news, Ann? Sorry, but I think this sort of statement, complete with exclamation mark, just doesn't come across as either insightful or helpful. This isn't about dithering over a bond issue, and, in this circumstance, people on the sidelines "demanding action" can easily become just a part of the problem.

Ann Althouse said...

Larry: You're being too rude. I didn't read your comment.

Dale B said...

"Most plans specify costs and most administration types are unwilling to accept the costs for what they consider remote problems that will probably not affect them."

That's what it boils down to, cost. OK, a levee breaks in NO and the city is flooded. There are 100,000 people who have to be rescued. You need boats. Lots of boats. Say that you want to get those 100,000 people to safety in 48 hrs. Say that your boat is 20' long and can carry 10 people safely (a stretch) and that each trip to a point of safety takes an hour (also a stretch).

This will take about 210 boats. A basic 20' open aluminum boat with an adequate outboard engine costs about $7000. That is $1.5M for boats. These boats have to be stored somewhere in NO.

The storage facility will have to be able to withstand the event that caused the levee break, say a cat 4 hurricane. This is one tough building. Probably $10M. This building and the boats need to be maintianed and ready to go at a moments notice. I'd guess $1M per year operating expenses. Total so far, $11.5M capital and $1M annual expense.

This is a lot of money but not beyond the means of a city like NO if they want to get serious. But we're not done yet.

We have to get the people away from where they were dropped by the boats. Busses. Those school busses that are now all under water. Of course They would all have to be moved to a safe place before every storm that could hit the city. The bus company would love to do that, right? For free, right? Fat chance but I'll assme that the busses are free anyhow. We still need a secure place to put them. This place would have to be secure and close enough so that they could begin operation right away. I'll assume like the boat place, the bus building is about $10M and $100k a year to operate/maintain.

total so far $21.5M capital and $1.1M annual expense. Affordable but a tough sell.

These 100,000 people who the boats removed plus another 100,000 who made it out on thier own now are out of danger. Where are they, on the side of the road somewhere? They need food, clothing, a place to stay, and some need medical care. And, they're going to need this for a long time, probably at least two months. Say that you can feed a person for $5 a day. For 200,000 people that means $1M a day for food. Figure 1 weeks worth in position in a secure facility. $7M worth of food in a $5M building. The rest of the foood can come in from other places after the storm.

Total $33.5M capital and $1.1M expense. And this is probably WAY low.

I'm getting tired and these 200,000 people still don't have anyplace to stay for two months. Sleeping quarters, sanitary faclilities, laundry, clothing. How much will this cost and where is it located??

Is there a city council in any city in the USA that would do this? They could. NO or any other similar sized city could afford this but don't count on it making it through the political process. Maybe the feds could pay. Sure, in place of someones pork. Maybe in 20 years, if you're lucky.

JB said...

I can understand the desire to have a levee system withstand a Cat 5 storm, and some of the comments people are making about it. But here's the thing...a Cat 5 storm is generally categorized by anything less than 920 mb of pressure and winds of greater than 155 mph. And theoretically it goes as high as it is going to go.

You can't engineer around a storm that conceivably could be unimaginably destructive.

I live in Cali, earthquake prone Cali, everything is nowadays seems built to withstand a 8 ish and up earthquake. But what of it, the destruction of a 9.0 earthquake is so much more immense you just can't enginneer around it. At some point, the same is true of a hurricane. It's a terrible tragedy what happened, by the idea that someone needs to be blamed for not building up the levees up to Cat 5 standards just isn't fair.

If the big e/q hits I don't know how much it really matters what they said the Bay Bridge could withstand. You can always imagine something more destructive, you plan for the worst, but you can't always protect against it. After all, no levee system could protect against another hypothetical Noah's flood. Even had the levee's been up to Cat 5 standards ;-).

Sloanasaurus said...

I am not sure if Sullivan should be considered a "conservative," but everyone is entitled to their own description of themselves.

Perhaps the conservative/liberal analysis could be applied to the victims of the flooding. If conservatives are generally people who mistrust government or don't expect (or want) the government to help them, such "conservatives" may have not waited around for the government to rescue them. In contrast, liberals may be "expecting" the government to save them.

I have heard that more than 50% of New Orleans population was on the dole. Perhaps this reliance on government has added to the disaster in that too many people were relying on government to save them.

Maybe it is as simple as not knowing how to swim. This website http://www.news-medical.net/?id=998 reports that 37% of kids have never taken swimming lessons.

Of course I am not there in New Orleans, so I don't know how difficult it would be to "get out of town." It's just a theory so don't call me despicable.

Charlie (Colorado) said...

It was obvious on Tuesday that the priority needed to be the people trapped in the New Orleans flooding. That's not the size of Great Britain.

Honest to God, Ann, so what?

First off, it may be obvious to you, but I bet it's a lot less obvious to people in Slidell, Biloxi, and Gulfport. (I've got people in Slidell, still waiting for word if they're okay.)

But beyond that, we've got a saying in the engineering and computer science business: "If it's impossible, high priority doesn't make it more possible." When the flooding started, all the routes into NO were blocked, most of them had been destroyed, and power, phones, and services were gone for a hundred miles inland. You can't get trucks through, a hurricane has just swept the sea clean*, airplanes can't land (we don't have big seaplanes any more) and helicopters aren't magic carpets: they can't carry big loads and they can't fly really long distances.

(* Just for review: Hurricane big: Ship little. You don't mess with them, even in an aircraft carrier.)

So now I tell you it's the top priority. What do you do?

I'll tell you: you do the best you can, within the limits of physics and mortality. And after a while you just have to dismiss the second-guessers and do the job the best you can.

Larry said...

I don't mean to be rude.

Look, I watch the images too -- I too feel upset, frustrated, angered, puzzled, and critical. So, I'd venture to say, does almost everyone. But I also recognize that the situation is, to put it mildly, vast and complex, larger and worse, as far as I know, than any single disaster that the US has ever encountered. And in light of that I find my sense of frustration only worsened by a chorus of critics who feel that they're accomplishing anything by telling us, or telling "the government" (which government? which agency?, who?) what a disaster it all is.

Despite that, apologies again for rudeness. I generally respect you, your writing, and your insights -- just not on this one.

Sloanasaurus said...

dale b: it would be interesting to see how long it would take a boat to drive across New Orleans. You probably could not go much faster than 5-10 mph considering all the obstacles you would have to steer around. Further, you probably could not take a straight line to your intended target. I would guess your trips would take 2-3 times longer than an hour.

Additionally, I think a 20 foot boat might be pushing it. Because the average street is not much wider, it might be too risky to bring that big a boat in.

RSwan said...

Larry, did you you call me a disaster expert? Your right I'm not. Good thing I didn't talk about that. Instead I talked about something called logistics, you know the organized movement of materials and sometimes people. And while I'm not an expert, I do know something about it.

What I'm saying is that we may be expecting to much from the relief effort. It takes time to get the massive amount of food, water, and other basic necessities down to the people who need it. We don't want water delivered to one set of people but no food. We just can't throw stuff at the problem, that will only make things worse.

And Anne, the area Katrina affected is the size of Great Britain. There are towns that are are just piles of rubble. There isn't a building left standing. Just like New Orleans, there are people there who haven't eaten since the hurricane came through. FEMA and the states have to deal with these places as well. They just can't worry about the places where most of the cameras are located

bos0x said...

Sloansaurus, you are such a goddamn genius! That's a real solution you've thought up there! Why hasn't anyone thought of it before?? I guess silly liberals minds can't handle real logic like that.

People in New Orleans, if you can read this: Just start swimming, okay? I know, you're not supposed to go in the water because of all the bacteria and disease and dead animals rotting in it and stuff, but look, a little vomiting and diahrrea never killed anyone. Once you get to dry land you might see some looters and rapists and there's still no food or water or anything but I saw President Bush walking around hugging people on the news so if you see him you might get a hug too! But you definitely won't if you don't start swimming, so hurry! Goesh from the Internet fought TWO thugs once and then there were these really awful tornados also which is at least eighteen million times as bad as anything you could possibly experience right now ok and he never complained about it once. Ok?

Sloanasaurus, if the goverment is not for saving people after devastating natural disasters, what is it for, exactly? Oh, I forgot - it's for making sure gay people aren't marrying and your kids aren't smoking pot. Sorry!

But really - tell me more about your conservative/liberal analysis. The conservatives are the people who evacuated before the hurricane hit, and the liberals are the people too poor to leave? Or the conservatives are the people who looted shoe stores and stood on the street selling shoes to everyone else, while the liberals are the people who just want to stand around and burden the government with requests for aid and such? Or the conservatives are the people who drink the infested floodwater and eat decaying animals with the power of their superhuman right-wing digestive systems, while the liberals stand around waiting for frivolous things like "food" and "water" from the government?

Elizabeth said...

Sloan, your analysis is way off base. Liberals left, conservatives stayed, ya da ya da. People who had means left (both liberal and conservative), people who didn't stayed (again, no way to class that by political leaning), people who are stubborn and cling to tradition stayed (sounds conservative to me, but I'd be wrong--individuals stayed, not political party organizations!)

You're unaware of the indentity of New Orleans and its suburbs; the city is more liberal than the suburbs in general, but again, people stayed and left in no predictable patterns other than the large group of poor folks. I know of at least some who felt they were in new, well-built homes in high-ground areas. Guess what party they belong to? You can't, I suspect.

And of those waiting for help, do you really think the conservatives will meet the Guard at the door and say "no thanks! We're conservative, we'll save ourselves."

Sloanasaurus said...

"....if the goverment is not for saving people after devastating natural disasters, what is it for, exactly..."

I think you would get a great deal of debate over this resolution....what is the role of government?

Sloanasaurus said...

Elizabeth said "...people who are stubborn and cling to tradition stayed (sounds conservative to me..."

I agree with you on your point about the initial evacuation. I probably would have been one of those stupid stubborn ones. My point was about leaving after the flood occurred, but I admit it is a weak argument (slightly strengthed by Bosox's rant).

I think, however, that the evacuation will turn out to be the key mistake. I don't think the city ever had a plan to evacuate the city's poor, and I doubt whether they were ever asked.

peter hoh said...

On NPR this afternoon, I heard a traffic engineer from LSU (I think) who talked of participating in many disaster planning meetings. He said that they always guessed that about 100,000 people would not be able to evacuate NO on their own, but they never pursued a plan to do anything about it.

Give them credit for estimating fairly well.

Elizabeth said...

Sloan,

I think your breakdown of the key failures is pretty good, with a few disagreements here and there, especially on the levees. But that's not worth hashing around with.

The evacuation was a tragedy. I am realizing now I've got a dose of survivor's guilt. I really am not stoic, and the stories of the people left behind, little details about lost pets even, are wearing me down.

I know that my emotions would be in much better shape had the bulk of this tragedy been to property. God knows I love every brick in that city, but not even the loss of my own home, my family photos, the paintings of artist friends, every gift my partner has given me since we met 20 years ago--none of that would cause the grief I keep feeling wash over me with the tragedy of these poor people and animals left behind. The evacuation was key.

I was able and willing to evacuate. I'm only now understanding just how monumental both my decision and my resources were. All of us pre-storm refugees face uncertainty for the near future, but so what? We're alive, we kept some semblance of dignity, and will never know the fear and sorrow that our neighbors who stayed are still experiencing.

You're absolutely right. Fix the evacuation procedures, and everything else can be dealt with more rationally, more deliberately.

Yevgeny Vilensky said...

I am morbidly amused by this entire discussion. Certainly, we would want the government to take care of natural disasters. But the question isn't about the ideal government, but rather what our government is like now. Look, we already have an expansive government which tries to tackle many so-called national problems. But then the money gets wasted on Lisa Murkowski's bridge. The point isn't that all conservatives and libertarians are categorically opposed to government. It's that most conservatives and libertarians realize that the way real governments function is far from perfect. Beureaucrats have little in terms of incentives to do a good job, people are wasteful, those with power will attempt to get more of it, those with power will use it to the benefit of their own. As such, so what that we have more than $400 billion in annual domestic discretionary spending? With that money, you could probably build a 50 foot high retainer wall around the entire Gulf coastline. But no, instead, we spend it on tropical rainforest research in Iowa because Chuck Grassley personally lobbied for it and the cowgirl hall of fame in Brownsville (?) Texas because some other good ole' boy lobbied for it. There was certainly plenty of money spent in the federal budget on discretionary things.

So, as far as I am concerned, conservatives and libertarians have been vindicated. As evidenced, when push comes to shove, government officials are not trying to enact the ideal form of government, but are rather busy maintaining their hold on power.

To answer Kevin Drum: look, as a practical matter, the Left has won the grand debate about whether we should have more government or less government. Even some on the Right enjoy having more government (see Tom DeLay's lovefest with Jack Abramoff). What of it? The government still couldn't get its act together and make sure that America was safe from a hurricane.

Sean said...

this is one of the best threads i have read on the internet regardign katrina.
thank you, all of you for disagreeing (mostly) like intelligent humans on the same team.

elisabeth
losing a home is painful, i wish there were words that could make a difference.

The city if No gets over $4.9 billion a year from tourism. think maybe a small hotelt ax could have helped pay for better levies. (even though i agree that that would only have had limited effect.) Ultimately it still comes down to the state making it a priority. they have senators too, who get pork also. why not this?

the cold hard fact is, you evacuate. the city had no real plans and sent mixed messages. How serious would you take an evacuation plan that did not evacuate the hospitals, and did not set in place emergency responses? i wouldnt take it that seriously.

I think the mayors reaction ahs been dispicable. at least the gov has nto run around blaming others. he is on the radio sursing and screaming and declaring God's wrath on the federal officials. (think its guilt eating at him while he sits in Atlanta?)

has anyone seen or heard from the chief of police from NO? (nope) that would not be acceptable in any major city.

if you want to blame fema, or Bush go ahead. but back it up. the truth is the first responders in every disaster is the local and state authorities. They saw Katrina was cat3 and was hitting Miss first, therefore assumed it would be weakened if it ever got to NO. Now they do not want to admit they underestimated the damage. NO had always feared a DIRECT hit from a hurricane, but did not think katrina would be direct.
bad assumptions.

Sloanasaurus said...

The evacuation was key. I will be surprised if any more than 10% of the deaths resulted from the lack of food or water or criminal activity after the flood occurred. It seems very negligent not to have plan to evacuate everyone in the city including the people who whould have no place to go or no means to get out.

Bush, called for an evacutation. Maybe he should have double checked to make sure one was actually occurring.

Charlie (Colorado) said...

Rabbi Marc Gellman acts like a grownup.

mcg said...

Yes he does, Charles!

After ruminating on this for awhile, away from the thread, I've come to a conclusion that aligns somewhat with Sean's and Peter Hoh's above. That is, the biggest failure here was a failure to evacuate in advance. I read the NOAA's reports, they sounded positively dreadful---and yet 100,000 people are still in the town when it comes true? That's unacceptable.

There is plenty of blame to place upon the people themselves. Don't get me wrong, I know people THINK they can't afford to evacuate. But let's face it: I'm sure that now they realize that the couldn't have afforded NOT to. That is, if they are still alive to think.

On the other hand, the NO government could have done quite a bit to facilitate evacuations. Buses patrolling the streets, with PA systems blaring about a REQUIRED evacuation to a controlled shelter, would have gone a long way to convince many, methinks.

Then again, if that controlled shelter was the Superdome... :(

No easy answers.

Elizabeth said...

mcg says "no easy answers" and that's right. In NOLA, we've had several voluntary evacuations without a hit following, and people got comfortable with the idea that staying was an option. It probably sounds absurd to anyone who hasn't been in this situation, but the question of "can I afford this?" is very real. What if I lose my job because I'm 24 hours away (due to evacuation traffic) after storm misses us, as with Ivan last year, and can't be at work on time? In my case, I was frustrated because it took too long with Ivan, with Cindy, and with Katrina, for my employer announce the school closing and tell us we could leave. UNO stayed open for Saturday classes! What foolishness. People in subsistence-level jobs are very afraid to irk their employers. There's 100 people waiting for their position.

There was, I think, a deep fear to evacuate the city mandatorily due to the economic impact. The mayor had to have been worrying "What if the storm misses us, and we've sent everyone out? How will we survive that economic hit?" These things are all trifles in retrospect, but at the time, they were relevant.

Yevgeny Vilensky said...

Elizabeth--

That's a really good point and I didn't hear anyone address that. However, I do think it is noteworthy that the actual hurricane was predicted to be much worse in NO than it actually was. And it didn't hit NO as much as it could have. Its landfall was a bit to the east of NO. And we still had horrible damage. I completely agree with you that there are other considerations in effect. But then again, it has been known that if there was even a moderate hurricane, NO would get crushed. So, even if it had shifted course, as it had, it was pretty obvious that NO would still be in huge trouble, as it is now.

Elizabeth said...

Yevgeny,

NOLA has survived moderate hurricanes before, so that has lulled some into complacency.

As for the location and strength of Katrina, I heard yesterday that this is being reassessed, and that it probably hit much closer to the city, and that winds were closer to 175, not 140. That's about as bad as can be.

Nonetheless, we long ago decided that if a Cat 4 were predicted to strike anywhere near--say from Mobile to the Texas border, we were getting out, no questions asked. It isn't easy, though. I was quite anxious about my job. I left behind neighbors I feel guilty about not helping more. I had friends decide to stay, and I didn't knock them over the head and toss them into the back of my car. My own brother decided only late Sunday morning to leave, and I was both frightened for and angry at him the whole time.

There's a psychological aspect that's just too difficult for me to understand myself, even though I know it when I encounter it. We needed our mayor to overcome it, and to basically make sure we all abandoned ship, damn the consequences of being wrong.

Yevgeny Vilensky said...

Elizabeth--

Very true. We're all glad that you did get out though. Thanks for helping us understand more about this.

Nick said...

Don't worry Ann... I would never call you conservative in a million years.