Friday, February 10, 2006

Armchair First Responders

After Hurricane Katrina, Michelle Malkin coined the phrase "armchair first responders" to describe the individuals who carped left and right about the federal response to the disaster in the hours and days following the hurricane.

And here we go again. The Administration knew of the levee breaches. They knew in enough time to...what? The unmitigated gall of Democrats is amazing in this regard. Perhaps there was something that the President could have done, but such mean-spirited second-guessing would be impossible without benefit of months of hindsight and extensive postmortems.

But I return to the place from which I have argued since this tragedy first occurred: it was the responsibility of the local governments to do something about their own people

The concern that the levees might be topped by a storm surge was significant, but it never happened. Instead, a section of one of them gave way, spilling water into the mostly below sea level city and flooding almost all of it. But these concerns beg a single question--what was the Administration supposed to do?

The City, whose duty it is, beyond encouraging tourism, heavily taxing its residents, and undereducating city students is that of actually protecting the citizens. In this case, Ray Nagin, the Mayor of New Orleans had a duty to bus the people out of New Orleans. But when the mayor, in his one shot to display competence in crisis, leaves approximately 350-700 buses to be flooded and therefore useless for bussing out city residents, it's a little hard to evacuate people. Not that he couldn't have done all of that prior to the coming of the hurricane to minimize risk to health, safety and life when it would have been easiest, but I suppose that somehow was missed during the planning lunch. And in that respect his degree of concern prior to the hurricane is even more disturbing given that he told the people of New Orleans, most of whom own no private form of transportation, save a pair of shoes, that they were largely on their own to get out of the city. Likewise, Gov. Kathleen Blanco barred relief agencies from entering New Orleans, which could have ameliorated the after effects of the disaster, and even held off federal relief for 24 hours after an offer from the President.

So whatever the criticism of former FEMA director Mike Brown's incompetence, and that of the Administration, there is this whole notion of causation. Their incompetence had to have had an effect beyond the already-existing failures on the ground by state and local officials. And if their services can't get into the city because the governor opposes it and the people are stuck in the city because the mayor proved that he cannot perform his function as a leader in a time of crisis, the question then becomes what the feds had to work with in the first place.

So if the President could have 1) evacuated everyone in time to avoid the worst of the flood as the water was actively spilling in, and 2) avoided a problem with state sovereignty and overrode the governor's snub of an offer of help, I would be very open to hearing suggestions as to how that could have been done based upon the knowledge available to him at the time.


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