Chris's Rants

Sunday, September 11, 2005


From today's WaPo -- The Steady Buildup to a City's Chaos:
As the floodwaters recede and the dead are counted, what went wrong during a terrible week that would render a modern American metropolis of nearly half a million people uninhabitable and set off the largest exodus of people since the Civil War, is starting to become clear. Federal, state and local officials failed to heed forecasts of disaster from hurricane experts. Evacuation plans, never practical, were scrapped entirely for New Orleans's poorest and least able. And once floodwaters rose, as had been long predicted, the rescue teams, medical personnel and emergency power necessary to fight back were nowhere to be found.

Compounding the natural catastrophe was a man-made one: the inability of the federal, state and local governments to work together in the face of a disaster long foretold.
The thing that struck me most, in this otherwise decent report, is the lack of specificity as regards to exactly which "officials" to which certain of the missteps cited should be attributed. State? Local? Federal? Here's an example (emphasis mine):
Starting Wednesday, Amtrak offered to run a twice-a-day shuttle for as many as 600 evacuees from a rail yard west of New Orleans to Lafayette, La. The first run was not organized until Saturday. Officials then told Amtrak they would not require any more trains.
Was it FEMA? The WH? Nagin? Blanco? Seems to me that identifying the clueless moron who told Amtrak "thanks, but no thanks" would be important.

However, it seems clear that much of the culpability can be left at the feet of FEAM and the White House:
Anger was also rising at federal officials, who often seemed to be getting in the way. At Louis Armstrong International Airport, commercial airlines had been flying in supplies and taking out evacuees since Monday. But on Thursday, after FEMA took over the evacuation, aviation director Roy A. Williams complained that "we are packed with evacuees and the planes are not being loaded and there are gaps of two or three hours when no planes are arriving." Eventually, he started fielding "calls from airlines saying, 'Well, we are being told by FEMA that you don't need any planes.' And of course we need planes. I had thousands of people on the concourses."
From the NYT coverage -- Breakdowns Marked Path From Hurricane to Anarchy:
The official autopsies of the flawed response to the catastrophic storm have already begun in Washington, and may offer lessons for dealing with a terrorist attack or even another hurricane this season. But an initial examination of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath demonstrates the extent to which the federal government failed to fulfill the pledge it made after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to face domestic threats as a unified, seamless force.

Instead, the crisis in New Orleans deepened because of a virtual standoff between hesitant federal officials and besieged authorities in Louisiana, interviews with dozens of officials show.
This graph in the NYT coverage really caught my eye:
But Richard A. Falkenrath, a former homeland security adviser in the Bush White House, said the chief federal failure was not anticipating that the city and state would be so compromised. He said the response exposed "false advertising" about how the government has been transformed four years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"Frankly, I wasn't surprised that it went the way it did," Mr. Falkenrath said.
Oh, oh... Looks like we have YADFBAE (yet another disgruntled former Bush administration employee) on our hands.

I did note one discrepancy between the WaPo and NYT reporting. Here's what the WaPo had to say in its section on Tuesday, August 30:
Blanco ordered the Superdome evacuated, but Col. Jeff Smith, Louisiana's emergency preparedness chief, grew frustrated at FEMA's inability to send buses to move people out. "We'd call and say: 'Where are the buses?' " he recalled, shaking his head. "They have a tracking system and they'd say: 'We sent 349.' But we didn't see them."
Here's what the NYT reported:
Drivers Afraid

When the water rose, the state began scrambling to find buses. Officials pleaded with various parishes across the state for school buses. But by Tuesday, Aug. 30, as news reports of looting and violence appeared, local officials began resisting.

Governor Blanco said the bus drivers, many of them women, "got afraid to drive. So then we looked for somebody of authority to drive the school buses."

FEMA stepped in to assemble a fleet of buses, said Natalie Rule, an agency spokeswoman, only after a request from the state that she said did not come until Wednesday, Aug. 31. Greyhound Lines began sending buses into New Orleans within two hours of getting FEMA approval on Wednesday, said Anna Folmnsbee, a Greyhound spokeswoman. But the slow pace and reports of desperation and violence at the Superdome led to the governor's frustrated appeal in the state emergency center on Wednesday night.

She eventually signed an executive order that required parishes to turn over their buses, said Lt. Col. William J. Doran III, operations director for the state Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
So, the NYT reports that FEMA wasn't asked for busses until Wednesday, and yet on Tuesday, someone from the Louisiana emergency management office was calling them asking where they were and FEMA reported that they had sent 348? Clearly, someone is not being forthcoming.

I guess I can understand why many of the state's usual school bus drivers (many of whom are stay-at-home moms who drive the local school bus as a part-time job) would be afraid, but isn't that why we have the National Guard? Was no one thinking about who would actually drive the busses?

Also, this line in the NYT article caught my eye:
"I've heard stories," Mr. Cartwright said. "Because rescuers didn't come, people were succumbing to the heat." Mr. Cartwright said some nursing home managers ignored the mayor's mandatory evacuation order, choosing to keep their frail patients in place and wait out the storm.
No surprise there. Nursing homes are notorious for their penny-pinching. My guess is that they were reluctant to shell out the $$$ to pay for the evacuation. Frankly, the owners who chose to refuse the mandatory evacuation order should lose their license to operate a home, at the very least. I'd like to see them brought up on criminal charges of manslaughter. They deserve a special place in hell for their miserly calousness.

From the L.A. Times coverage:
Put to Katrina's Test
# After 9/11, a master plan for disasters was drawn. It didn't weather the storm.

WASHINGTON — It was conceived as the solution to confusion and bureaucratic logjams that hampered responses to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — a 426-page master plan to coordinate government agencies in a disaster.

When it was unveiled amid fanfare in January, the Department of Homeland Security's National Response Plan promised "vastly improved coordination among federal, state, local and tribal organizations to help save lives" from storms, floods, earthquakes or terrorist assaults.

Hurricane Katrina turned out to be its first real-world test — but the plan broke down soon after the monster winds blew in.

Its failures raise unsettling questions about the federal government's readiness to deal with future crippling disasters. An examination of how the plan was administered during the crucial early hours of this natural disaster reveal more confusion than coordination and repeated failures of leadership.

The plan on paper was not always apparent on the ground. Cooperation among government agencies faltered at almost every level, right up to the White House.


After the levees broke, governors from around the country pledged their National Guard troops for the relief mission, yet their efforts were occasionally ensnared in bureaucracy.

On Aug. 29, when Katrina hit, Richardson, the New Mexico governor, telephoned Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, and asked if there was anything his state could provide.

"She said, 'We need truck drivers and National Guard,' " Richardson recalled. He told her, "I'll get moving on it."

Richardson said he immediately authorized his Guard commander to send 200 troops to Louisiana. Then "red tape and paperwork" intervened, Richardson said. Instead of hours, it took four days.

"My National Guard commander … tried to get approval from the Guard bureau in Washington, and it wasn't until Thursday night that he got it," he said. "They kept saying they needed a definition of the mission in their orders. I said how about, 'Helping people.' I kept bumping into my National Guard commander and he kept saying, 'No, they haven't left yet.' "

A spokesman for the National Guard bureau in Washington declined to address Richardson's allegation. He said there are specific, formal procedures in place that governors have to follow to send National Guard troops to other states.

And Top Pentagon officials denied that the Iraq war had any impact on the ability of the National Guard to respond to the disaster.

"That's just flat wrong. Anyone who's saying that doesn't understand the situation," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said last week.

But when the hurricane hit, nearly 35% of Louisiana's Guard forces and 40% of Mississippi's were deployed in Iraq. Two brigades, Louisiana's 256th Infantry and Mississippi's 155th Armored, each contain hundreds of troops in what the military calls "combat support" roles — engineers, truck drivers, and logisticians — who specialize in the tasks used regularly in disaster relief.

As the situation worsened and local officials appeared incapable of organizing an effective response, senior officials gathered at the White House on Wednesday night, Aug. 31, to discuss the possibility of "federalizing" the relief effort, which would have given the Pentagon command over the National Guard troops in the affected states.

Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales suggested that Bush invoke the 1878 Insurrection Act, which gives the president the authority to use the military to maintain law and order in national emergencies, Pentagon sources said.

At that meeting and later sessions, Rumsfeld expressed misgivings about such a draconian measure, and argued that federalizing the National Guard would not speed up the flow of troops into the area.
Once again, Rumsfeld demonstrates his serial criminal incompetence. He should have been fired three years ago for failing to heed the advise of Gen. Shinseki and for not being prepared to secure the peace after the initial invasion of Iraq. He should have been fired a year and a half ago for the abuses at Abu Ghraib, Gitmo and Baghram. He should certainly be fired now for being a clueless idiot for his "expressed misgivings".

Further, it seems that once again Rummy is either a lying sack of horse crap or is completely out of touch with reality. Surely, his views continue to be contrary to those of his top commanders:
Also, although the Pentagon has insisted that troop deployments to Iraq did not stretch the National Guard too thin to respond quickly to Katrina, a top National Guard general appeared to contradict that. Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said deployments of thousands of Louisiana and Mississippi Guard troops hindered initial response.

"Had that brigade been at home and not in Iraq, their expertise and capabilities could have been brought to bear," Blum said in an Associated Press interview.
No shit, Sherlock.

The L.A. Times was most scathing in its assessment of the president's failure of responsibility (emphasis mine):
Ultimately, the National Response Plan says the president is in charge during a national emergency, but it leaves it up to the White House to decide how to fulfill that duty. "The president leads the nation in responding effectively and ensuring the necessary resources are applied quickly and efficiently," the plan says.

Bush has always prided himself on his leadership style, which he has described as akin to a corporate CEO: delegating maximum responsibility to subordinates, but demanding accountability for their performance.

Some officials have grumbled that White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., a canny bureaucratic warrior, and chief political advisor Karl Rove, an assertive policy kibitzer, don't delegate enough.

In response to Hurricane Katrina, Bush and his aides left most of the management to FEMA, and stepped in to correct problems only after they had a full-blown political crisis on their hands.

When Katrina was heading to the Gulf Coast, most of the top White House staff was on vacation, taking advantage of the president's five-week stay at his ranch near Crawford, Texas, to get time off from their normally hectic jobs.

Card, a veteran crisis manager who managed the federal response to hurricanes for the president's father, was relaxing at his lakefront summer home in Maine.

Vice President Dick Cheney, who acted as the administration's top crisis manager on Sept. 11, 2001, was at his ranch in Wyoming.

Frances Townsend, the White House coordinator for homeland security, was vacationing, too. After Katrina struck, she attended several meetings in Washington, then left on a previously scheduled trip for Saudi Arabia to work on joint counterterrorism projects.

Bush urged Townsend to make the trip despite the crisis at home as a "signal to … the enemy" that the hurricane had not distracted his attention from terrorists, one aide said.

White House spokesmen declined to say who was in charge of preparing for the hurricane in Washington. They maintain that Bush and his aides can run the government just as well from their summer homes.
First of all, isn't pride one of the seven deadly sins? In fact, Bush's pride has never been substantiated; he has never once held anyone on his staff accountable for their incompetence or failure.

Secondly, Bush's overwhelming obsession with terrorism lead him to take his eye off the ball. The vague threat of "terrorism" pales in significance to the situation that was staring him in the face, but he is blinded by his obsession. Does this idiot really believe that "the terrorists" pay attention to which administration hack is sent to participate in some obscure "joint operations" in Saudi Arabia?

terrorism : Dubya :: Moby Dick : Captain Ahab

We all know the fate of the Pequod.

Be very afraid.


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