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The aftermath, and the bodyguard of lies, and no one's to blame...

Mary Madigan -while writing at Dean's World- recently quoted a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll to the effect that " 38 percent said no one is to blame" for the Katrina disaster.

Not to break up the mutual-congratulation party, but FEMA has come in for a bit of legitimate criticsm, including Republican reps in Congress.

Apparently Mike Brown's performance has underwhelmed more than a few folks who can't be called Bush-haters. Some folks have pointed out his absolute lack of anything resembling experience for his appointed position, while others say that his role is primarily ceremonial.

Either way I see no problem with shit-canning him. Even if he didn't screw up, it would be a tremendous confidence-builder for the nation.

For those who consider this somewhat harsh, I recommend dropping by Castle Arrgggh! and seeing what John has to say about all this, such as this:

And obviously, it doesn't look good for the people in charge. And I fault the people in charge.

John Derbyshire's arrogant ignorance kept pissing me off. Until I realized what I just said. Ignorance. Lack of knowledge. Derb isn't stupid, he's ignorant. And whose fault is that? Not his.

In order -

The Government of Louisiana, Kathleen Blanco, Governor. It was their job to get the ball rolling. The Federal government doesn't respond, by law, until the Governor asks them to. (If you think FEMA in their Ops Center at Weather Mountain wasn't already alerting you're wrong, but *acting* is governed by law).

The Federal Government, George W. Bush, President.

Because neither of them have got the Public Face of the Government getting out the info. Believe it or not, that, to my mind, is actually the Most Important Thing to be doing up front and early. Because the professionals will be handling the details of getting the response moving. That isn't the politicos job. Crying on camera is fine - as long as it's preceded or followed by "This is what we're doing, this is how we're going about it, and this is how we're coordinating for more help." Not just being stunned. Getting.Out.The.Word. Guys like me will be getting out the Stuff.

I think the President should have called off the California gig and headed for Washington.

WTF? Donovan is saying getting talking heads out putting out info is more important than Boots on the Ground, rescuing people and delivering aid?

Yes. That's what I said.

Why? Because Controlling The Perception of The Disaster in it's early stages will help shape the form of the follow-on actions. Guys, I've worked with FEMA. They're smart people and well-organized.

BUT IT TAKES 3-5 DAYS TO GET PEOPLE IN PLACE AND FUNCTIONAL. Minimum. Not the prepositioned people in the waiting-to-be-activated DFO, Disaster Field Office... the Outside Responders.

One solid criticsm I've heard re:FEMA is that they really should have anticipated a quick breakdown in New Orleans. After all, isn't the corruption of the "Big Easy's" government proverbially infamous by now?

In other words -for this city at least- the feds should have counted on an early breakdown, instead of surprised.

... While I was double-checking the links, I re-read an update by John here, where he seems to be coming around to that line of thought:

As I read through this - while I think NOLA screwed the pooch, they were hip-deep in water while they did it.

More and more, my jaundiced eye is looking at the Louisiana State government, especially it's Department of Homeland Security, as being damn near criminally negligent in the performance of their duties - and with the leading elements of the Federal response (to include the President) as being insufficiently sensitive to that fact.

(emphasis added)

For that matter, what would you call leaving one thousand first-responders (firefighters) hanging in Atlanta taking a sexual-harassment class instead of heading for New Orleans.

Instead, they have learned they are going to be community-relations officers for FEMA, shuffled throughout the Gulf Coast region to disseminate fliers and a phone number: 1-800-621-FEMA.

On Monday, some firefighters stuck in the staging area at the Sheraton peeled off their FEMA-issued shirts and stuffed them in backpacks, saying they refuse to represent the federal agency.

Federal officials are unapologetic. "I would go back and ask the firefighter to revisit his commitment to FEMA, to firefighting and to the citizens of this country," said FEMA spokeswoman Mary Hudak.


Me, I would go back and ask Mary Hudak to "revisit" my rear end, but hey, that's just me talkin'...
The firefighters - or at least the fire chiefs who assigned them to come to Atlanta - knew what the assignment would be, Hudak said.

One fire chief from Texas agreed that the call was clear to work as community-relations officers. But he wonders why the 1,400 firefighters FEMA attracted to Atlanta aren't being put to better use. He also questioned why the U.S. Department of Homeland Security - of which FEMA is a part - has not responded better to the disaster.

The firefighters, several of whom are from Utah, were told to bring backpacks, sleeping bags, first-aid kits and Meals Ready to Eat. They were told to prepare for "austere conditions." Many of them came with awkward fire gear and expected to wade in floodwaters, sift through rubble and save lives.

"They've got people here who are search-and-rescue certified, paramedics, haz-mat certified," said a Texas firefighter. "We're sitting in here having a sexual-harassment class while there are still [victims] in Louisiana who haven't been contacted yet."

The firefighter, who has encouraged his superiors back home not to send any more volunteers for now, declined to give his name because FEMA has warned them not to talk to reporters.

... [snip]

[Salt Lake Fire Chief Steve] Foote said his crews would be better used doing the jobs they are trained to do.

But Louis H. Botta, a coordinating officer for FEMA, said sending out firefighters on community relations makes sense. They already have had background checks and meet the qualifications to be sworn as a federal employee. They have medical training that will prove invaluable as they come across hurricane victims in the field.

So, Louis, what you're saying is that you more interested in the bloody paperwork than oh -I dunno- looking for, and finding victims to save!?

Christ on a fracking crutch! Have we decayed to the point where some bureaucratic paper-pusher is more worried about someone's paper trail than actually helping people in need?

I repeat:

Federal officials are unapologetic. "I would go back and ask the firefighter to revisit his commitment to FEMA, to firefighting and to the citizens of this country," said FEMA spokeswoman Mary Hudak.
(emphasis added) You know, like maybe they should re-think the whole "saving people" thing, or something.

But, hey, the got to do something important:

But as specific orders began arriving to the firefighters in Atlanta, a team of 50 Monday morning quickly was ushered onto a flight headed for Louisiana. The crew's first assignment: to stand beside President Bush as he tours devastated areas.

Not to worry, as the local authorities have now announced that no civilians will be allowed firearms in New Orleans, despite the 2nd, 4th, and 5th amendments.

One historian said about Pearl Harbor: "there's enough blame to go around."

Another wit once said: "to err is human; to really screw things up it takes a computer!"

In this case they might have said "it takes overlapping levels of unaccountable bureaucracy" instead.

Now. Yodeling "IT'S ALL BUSH'S FAULT!!!," while morally satisfying, is ultimately non-productive. New Orleans has become a Bitches' Brew of feckless human incompetance, from the corrupt New Orleans PD, to Mayor "Where's the buses?" Nagin, through governor "tears" Blanco, up to "What me, worry?" Mike Brown.

I also think it's very arguable -in this case- that Bush fumbled the directive which John outlined above, of "the Government getting out the info."

Both the military and the engineers of our country have a process called "lessons learned," in which a study lists the mistakes made during a specified exercise/project, why the mistakes were made, and how we can do better in the future.

One of of the key features of these studies is their dispassionate nature. Very few engineers or soldiers are interested in CYA excuses. They tend to ask hard questions such as "did the person in charge have sufficient knowlege? Did they show foresight, or recieve appropriate guidance and direction? Could they (in fact) have materially changed the course of events by their personal actions?"

The studies aren't limited to specific decision-makers, but to organizations as well. What worked? What didn't work? What can we change to do better next time?

Winston Churchill once said that "In war-time, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies." In modern America, that has been twisted to "In peace-time, our political goals are so precious that they should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies."

We -all of us, as Americans- have already stepped to the challenge of Katrina. The contributions of time and money, as well as "blood, toil, tears, and sweat" have demonstrated that.

Aside from the ongoing challenge of rebuilding, which I don't doubt will take many years, we -as Americans- need to face the challenge of an honest and dispassionate examination of "what went wrong, and how do we fix it?" in terms of Katrina.

The next disaster may be another hurricane, or a bioweapon disaster, or a dirty bomb. It might even be something as prosaic as the Spanish Flu.

The supreme defense against that sort of challenge are citizens who recognize the grey challenge.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on September 10, 2005 12:47 AM.

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