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No bullshit

Credit where credit is due

Still hesitant to engage much in the way of Hurricane Katrina commentary, but noting a couple of items:
  • First, a great use of Google maps and "Wiki"-style community contribution. Wicked smaht; I hope it helps many people.
  • Second, those wanting to make a hero out of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin (especially while criticizing the response of other authorities) have some serious questions to answer first (via Nagin's Wikipedia entry):
    Nagin's performance in the Hurricane Katrina crisis has been criticized as well and Nagin has been accused of deflection. As mayor he was responsible for establishing evacuation centers and keeping local order. Yet apparantly there were no meals ready to eat (MRE's) stored at his designated evacuation center—the Superdome. There was no water purification equipment on site, no chemical toilets, anti-biotics or anti-diarrheals stored for a crisis. The mayor had not designated any medical staff to work the evacuation center. The city had not established a secure sick bay within the Superdome. The city had not sent police or other vehicles through the poorest neighborhoods with evacuation announcements prior to the storm. There were no functioning backup emergency communications police or fire-rescue radios available. Additionally, the city stored the school buses on low ground where they were flooded and then not available for evacuation.
    Dude. Duh. There's just no way to throw stones at FEMA, et al. without completely wrecking Nagin's glass house (something not well understood by self-absorbed grandstanders like Kanye West). While others take heat while also managing multiple priorities on state, regional, national, and global levels, Nagin had a single area of responsibility—New Orleans, the city that elected him—and biffed it in ways that contributed immediately and directly to the suffering residents continue to face. When the time comes to debrief and assign blame (not yet, Kanye—simma da na!), he would do well to prepare for a steaming helping.


Thanks. There's going to be plenty of blame all round, but what were mayoral/city council debates like before this? Were they screaming about the lack of hurricane preparedness before this? It's the mayor's job to look out for his people too, not just to attack the federal government. FEMA is an easy target, and I've heard a few insensitive or dumb things come out of their mouths, but most criticisms have been panic and prejudice. There are a lot of places, like here in LA, that are unprepared for inevitable disaster.
It seems we always have and will have a dubious relationship with government (see ancient Israel's desire for a king as a prime example). Here, we resist federal control (often with good reason), but when local goverment fails in its basic responsibilities, there's an outcry of "where were the Feds?" The answer, largely, is that they were being the federal government—that means expecting state and local governments to cover their responsibilities and mobilizing when called upon by those governments (which should have been days beforehand).

Bush, of course, will be criticized either way: if he takes control of an out-of-control city preemptively, he's a fascist; if he waits until they fail, he's a bastard who hates African Americans and the poor.

We see things through our usual lenses. Those already in a Bush-critical mode will just heap everything onto him—it's easier that way and turns difficult questions of "why?" into righteous indignation (which is much more comfortable). My lens tends to be heavily weighted toward personal responsibility, so Nagin pops up in my field of vision pretty quickly. It's challenging for all of us to suspend drawing conclusions and respond to the situation as it is.

Seattle has some serious holes in its preparedness, too.
I've been wondering the same things!

Your commentary leads me to question the emergency preparedness of any city in the U.S.
In my old university job, we conducted a major earthquake response simulation. I quickly learned that the wisest course of action was to abandon the confines of the plan and stick close to the ROTC commander.
My parent's and I were just talking about Nagin's performance in all of this mess, and from reading the quote above I now realize it was far worse than I was aware of. It's really quite infuriating when you think about all the lives that were and are at stake. And at this point it doesnt look like he is willing to take responsibility for the mistakes that he has made. They need to get the people out of the city and get them fed and taken care of. There is no excuse for the children, sick and elderly people still being in city after five days. It's unbelievable.

Have you heard this Nagin audio interview?

I'm with you on individual responsibility first, radiating further and further outward as greater help than each "individual" can supply is needed. I definitely think they underestimated the security problem until it was too late and now they're stuck overreacting to the people that are merey paralyzed by the tragedy and the lack of basic needs supplied.

I also hear a lot of people complaining how long this response has taken (because, living in our country, we expect a lot). In other disasters it's taken this long (at LEAST) to respond as we have so far and we've never had a situation with these circumstances. Still, I understand the outright desperation of people being forced to stay in a dangerous and unstable situation (like the Superdome) without anyone coming in to help them until they could respond with significant force.

It frightens me when a situation that had some notice is this poorly responded to when we're all at risk of terrorist attacks and down here in CA we're gonna fall off into the ocean some day. I know there will be some looting and lawlessness here too, when that happens, but it's unlikely that the residents of the communities near me will react exactly the same as in a community that had as much crime and poverty as New Orleans. It's frightening for the good people there who feel they haven't been protected/helped at all.

And now hooligans are continuing and burning down their city.
I'd heard part of that.

I love how he fails to do what he's responsible for in advance of the crisis, then when it occurs, Nagin doesn't just want help, he wants more authority delegated to himself (yet later seems to understand that it's not going to happen). He let his school busses be submerged, then wonders why Greyhounds haven't been mobilized. He defends what he's done regarding requesting support and martial law, but when asked for specifics, he replies with generalities like "everything" and "everybody," then doesn't seem to know how anyone is responding. He's conveniently clueless in ways that absolve him of any responsibility for doing his own job well and right.

I'm sorry, but he sounds like a total asshat and I wouldn't want him leading me down the block.
I've been wondering what responsibilities New Orleans had in their own ability to respond to this situation.

Interesting question.
I have a friend who used to work at Tulane. I watched her watching the footage on television and recognizing the now-destroyed places where she used to live and work. She lived through two hurricanes when she worked there. She says that folks have known for a long time that the levees wouldn't hold under circumstances like these. People were counting on there not being these circumstances. It's always a gamble - do you spend the money and then the storm never comes or do you prepare for the storms and then cut the rest of your city budget and things like education, police, etc.? American cities are in a world of hurt right now. They have little extra money (even in cities that at least get some revenue from tourist-oriented casinos). Federal funds for the Army Corps of Engineers projects to shore up the levee were cut not too long ago.
So Kanye's completely wrong, and the mainstream media hasn't been portraying black folks as looters and white folks as survivors of a tragedy "finding" things? How can it even be called looting when 80% of the city's under water and for the first days, no supplies were coming in? And that's just one city.

I actually don't think the president gives a rat's ass about black people (except maybe Condoleeza Rice). There is plenty of blame to go around, and you're right - it will come out sooner or later. But Kanye West was *right on* (even if his ego *is* the size of the Cold War era USSR). I don't know if you saw the actual footage (and not just the reports afterwards), but it wasn't grandstanding. It was a visceral, emotional response. And he was saying what a *lot* of black people (myself included) are thinking, and he said it with some actual humility. You can disagree with what he said, of course. But if you haven't already, find the time to actually download the clip from somewhere, because the way he sounds is the way I've been feeling. This country has a *long* history of considering poor blacks to not be important. There's a lot of good work going on on the ground, and that work's being done by people of all backgrounds to help people of all backgrounds; but it's no thanks to that smirking monkey of a president we have (who at least bothered to come off of vacation - he, who in his first term alone took more vacation days than any other US president, war or no war - a few days after the event to bother with his photo ops).
Nagin let his evacuation fleet be submerged. That's not Bush not caring about black people—it's a mayor failing in his duty. Same with the nonexistent preparation of the Superdome for people left in the city (many of whom lived in areas where Nagin didn't even bother dispatching vehicles to warn). According to Blanco, Bush's personal appeal for a mandatory evacuation preceded Nagin's order.

Bush is an easy target. He's a familiar target. He's a powerful target. He's a rich target. He's a white target. I can appreciate the visceral response to lash out at him. But that city could have been cleared, and the fact that it wasn't doesn't have much with what Bush may or may not feel regarding black people.

The whole thing is a tragedy and a mess; I just don't think it's one that accurately can be attributed to the President's actions and attitude, regardless of how one may feel about him. It feels comforting and right to say someone needs to do something, because we know things aren't supposed to be this way. But I'd categorize West's redirection of the benefit toward his personal agenda very much as grandstanding, regardless of whether he was emotional or whether I agree with him.

There's certainly a larger dialogue that's been procrastinated regarding poverty and race that this tragedy exposes, but I believe efforts are better directed toward saving and helping those we can at this point. That's what the benefit was supposed to be about.
Well said.

As a side note, all of this has caused me to think about what I'd need in an emergency: water, food, important documents, etc. I'm going to create an emergency kit with the necessities. After all, we can't and shouldn't rely on our government for everything.
A lot of "Woulda, Shoulda, Couldas" being thrown around, but best to take problems as they are now. I have a feeling the finger pointers will get it thrown back in their faces when all is seen and done.
i agree. while the fed.gov. may be having severe problems sending help, i think locally is where the biggest problem is.