Monday, September 05, 2005

Politics and Katrina

The last few days have seen unusual numbers of posts here and unusually caustic language. While I usually prize open-mindedness (if not moderation), I've been unforgiving and unapologetic. One commenter said that he held me in contempt for one post. There's a lot of contempt going around.

When I criticize Bush personally, FEMA administrator Brown personally, or the general incompetence that brought us where we are, I'm not doing so out of partisan intolerance.

Unlike Noah at DefenseTech, I think that this is about politics. I agree with everything else he says, but where he says it isn't about politics, I say it isn't about partisan politics. Senator Mary Landrieu has been aggressively demanding answers to obvious questions about the failure of the Federal government to prepare for Katrina and to respond to the devastation which was inevitable after it. I'm shocked and disturbed at how little Senator David Vitter has been saying. Google News has about 50 stories involving him and the hurricane, while Landrieu has hundreds.

They serve the same constituents, and those constituents were let down. It doesn't matter whether you have an R or a D next to your name on CNN, what matters is that everyone who was serving Louisiana failed dramatically. We saw this storm coming for a week, we knew it would be above Category 3 when it hit New Orleans, and we knew that the levees around NO are only rated up to a Cat. 3 storm.

Various people have made clear that they were gearing up to stage equipment and move in, but poor planning and a failure of coordination kept simple things from happening, like the air evacuation of the sick and elderly before the storm hit, the establishment of emergency shelter closer than Houston, and the delivery of clean water and food to areas after they were hit.

That coordination and planning is the fault of Michael Brown. He failed. When the President said "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job," I have to say, "No he isn't." Anyone with eyes to see knows that.

For all the reasons that Noah's arguments at DefenseTech are exactly right, this is about politics. Politics is the coming together of the people for a common purpose. It doesn't have to be zero-sum. There was a failure. People died and will continue dying. There's a common purpose to be found here, and there's a desperate need for a coming together.

This isn't about contempt, it isn't about hate it isn't about blind rage. It is about rage, but not rage at individual politicians. It's about rage at a disaster that was preventable and that still can be fixed. It's also about a failure that cannot be allowed to happen next time there's an emergency. And there will be another, and if the response is as badly bungled as it was this time, the consequences can't help but be dire.

I haven't heard my father so angry since I was a rebellious teenager. I haven't felt so angry since… who knows when. This is bad, and blind deference to power is no more fruitful than blind opposition.

I've written as much as I have about this because we need a national and regional discussion. How do we fix FEMA? How much power should FEMA have to just act? How many people should stand between FEMA, the DoD, and people in need? These are serious questions. Posse comitatus puts sensible limits on what the military can do domestically, and we want to prevent FEMA from staging a coup or imposing martial law. But an overly complex command structure prevented resources from being effectively deployed before and after this crisis. We can achieve rapid response without sacrificing our freedom, but we aren't there yet.

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