Plenty of Blame to Go Around (III)

Until we get all the facts out, any assignment of the responsibility for the human component of this natural and human-enhanced disaster must have an air of tentativeness to it. Nevertheless, here’s how it looks right now.

Besides the universal condemantion of FEMA’s failures, much of the early sparring seems to be centered on the role of Mayor Ray Nagin. A series of posts at Sivacracy suggests that the Rove machine has picked on him to be their fall guy:

  • Blaming the Mayor (in which the city is accused of having failed its role as a first responder)
  • Rove’s Talking Points: Blame the Mayor (in which the WSJ comes up with a surprisingly similar argument, with the bonus that the governor is also to blame for FEMAs failure to anything since she didn’t send “a timely request for specific aid” — those guys at FEMA just can’t think for themselves, you see)
  • Blaming the Mayor: Part 3 (looking into who is spreading this it’s-the-locals’-fault line)

Whoever is spreading this story — most likely a part of the larger disinformation campaign — from what I can tell (and we don’t have all the facts) it seems to be pretty much baloney. We have federal supremacy; we have FEMA because a locality devastated by a huge disaster has lost the ability to act as first responder and/or is likely to be overwhelmed. And it sure isn’t the case that FEMA couldn’t act without an instruction book from a mayor or a governor as to whether food and water and doctors were needed.

But that doesn’t make the local officials heroes either. This mayor — and past mayors — are not blameless for the state of the infrastructure. [Although it’s notable that the Bush administration slashed federal funds to strengthen the levees and then (I gather) raided what was left for another purpose–Iraq.] This mayor — like past mayors — is not blameless for signing off (weeks in advance) on an evacuation policy that was, at best, radically insufficient to meet the needs of the poorest and most helpless. And this mayor, at least in hindsight, seems to have waited a long time to order an evacuation.

Even after the storm, there have been a number of very ugly reports of local authorities either blocking the Red Cross, or acting like racist thugs.

None of that excuses the total evil of FEMA’s sloath, failure and malfeasance both as the hurricane was approaching and after it hit: turning away help, providing too little itself, too late.

Nor does it excuse the person who appointed the incompetents at the helm. Oh no, not at all.

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8 Responses to Plenty of Blame to Go Around (III)

  1. Sven says:

    There’s something very fishy about Nagin. I’ve also noticed him shifting alot of his fire toward the governor of late, and playing buddy-buddy with Bush.

  2. Chuck says:


    THE S.O.P.


  3. Michael— “Katrina” was really two disasters. The first was the hurricane, which in a 12 hour period spread death and destruction over a huge swath of the Gulf Coast—–and New Orleans was not the hardest hit area. If you go back and look at the news coverage in the period immediately after Katrina was gone, the “New Orleans” story was fairly “upbeat”—with words like “dodged the bullet again” being bandied about, while coverage focussed on the destruction of places like Gulfport.

    On the whole, the local and state response to this first Katrina disaster was adequate. One can criticize Nagin for perhaps waiting too long to order a mandatory evacuation (evacuation was recommended but not mandatory before the order)—–but the reality is that those who could (and wanted to) get out did get out. A few thousand more people might have been evacuated with school buses—-but there was no where for them to go. Nagin’s plan (get people to the high ground, and rely on state and federal help if the city started to flood) while widely criticized, is the ONLY thing that a mayor of New Orleans could do—-80% of his city is below sea level.

    It was only after the “first” disaster was over that the second, and far more serious disaster, occurred. Key levees were breached, and the city started being flooded with water—-at a time when local officials had no means to act, state officials were overwhelmed, and ONLY a federal response could prevent a disaster from taking place. Tens of thousands of people who had gone to the Superdome and Convention Center only to ride out the storm were trapped there, while tens of thousands of others were stranded in houses that were rapidly filling with the waters of Lake Ponchatrain. Only the federal government had the means to deal with this crisis at that point — and it failed, and failed catastrophically, to do so—-to the point where abled bodied people who wanted to walk out of New Orleans WERE FORBIDDEN TO DO SO BY FEDERAL OFFICIALS.

    There may be “plenty of blame to go around” for the real tragedy of Katrina–what happened after the hurricane had passed—but the targets of that blame are not that numerous. First and foremost, the blame lies with George W. Bush, who put political hacks in charge of DHS and FEMA, and who ignored the evidence of a developing catastrophe that the rest of the nation watched unfold on their televisions.

    What is most frightening is what this tells us about this administration, and its “preparations” for a terrorist attack. What if the breach of the levees wasn’t caused by a hurricane, but by terrorists who deliberately destroyed far larger parts of the levees? How would we have responded to literally hundreds of thousands of New Orleanians desperately trying to escape from a city that was rapidly drowning?

  4. wcw says:

    Nagin is a re-registered Republican.

    Given the way this administration operates,
    he would appear to be an ideally soft mark
    for their style of ‘persuasion’.

    I expect he has been promised something of
    value personally, whether power or money or
    both, and that the ‘fishy’ behavior is just
    his falling into line with Rove’s diktats.

    I had hoped watching the worst-off of his
    city left to rot might lead to some soul
    searching (for Nagin’s administration is
    far from spotless in this tragedy). Alas,
    it was not to be.

    In my fevered dreams, the press wakes up.
    In my nightmares, it’s back to business
    as usual for them, too. Lickspittle
    cooperation with Bush photo ops would
    seem to indicate no dream for me.

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  6. Gwendolyn High says:

    Seems like the following (from Tom Tommorrow’s blog be interesting to consider on this topic (apologies for lack of fancy link-live-ness):

    September 06, 2005

    Tom Tomorrow:
    Blame game, set and match
    Chris Floyd settles the matter:

    Look, it’s really very simple. On Saturday, August 27, 2005 — two days before Hurricane Katrina made landfall — President George W. Bush assumed responsibility for the coordination of “all disaster relief efforts” in the State of Louisiana. This is the specific, undisputed language of Bush’s declaration of a State of Emergency, issued that day by the White House, and still available for viewing on the White House website. The responsibility for coordinating all disaster relief efforts in New Orleans clearly rested with the White House. Despite all the post-disaster spin by the Bush Faction and its sycophants, despite all the earnest media analyses, the lines of authority are clear and indisputable. Here is the voice of George W. Bush himself, in the proclamation issued in his name, over his signature on Saturday, August 27, 2005:
    “The President today declared an emergency exists in the State of Louisiana and ordered Federal aid to supplement state and local response efforts in the parishes located in the path of Hurricane Katrina beginning on August 26, 2005, and continuing. The President’s action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures”

    Bush goes on to say: “Specifically, FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency.”

    (Here’s the White House link.)

    …or maybe not. Reader Brian L., among others, notices an oddity:

    Note the salient text:
    “The President’s action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts…in the parishes of Allen, Avoyelles, Beauregard, Bienville, Bossier, Caddo, Caldwell, Claiborne, Catahoula, Concordia, De Soto, East Baton Rouge, East Carroll, East Feliciana, Evangeline, Franklin, Grant, Jackson, LaSalle, Lincoln, Livingston, Madison, Morehouse, Natchitoches, Pointe Coupee, Ouachita, Rapides,
    Red River, Richland, Sabine, St. Helena, St. Landry, Tensas, Union, Vernon, Webster, West Carroll, West Feliciana, and Winn.”

    Conspicuous by their absence are Orleans, St. Bernard, St. Tammany, Plaquemines, Jefferson and basically every coastal parish, and the next parishes closest to the coast. So then, let me understand this: Team Bush saw by 26 August that Katrina would be sufficiently dangerous to warrant a preemptive disaster declaration for what looks like about 65-70% of the land area of Lousiana, and he declares it for the _landlocked_ parishes?

  7. Larry says:

    I find the truth of the claim that Bush couldn’t act because the city and state wouldn’t let him to be less interesting than the implication of the smear.

    The implication is that Bush lacked the balls to cut through the red tape and save American citizens.

    The defense of Bush seem to center on the fact that, like his father, the president is a Wimp.

    George Wimp Bush Jr.

    And if you think about it, the wimp factor explains a great deal about the president’s actions for the past five years… too much the wimp to veto a bill… too much the wimp to stand up to the neocons… to much a wimp to preserve and protect us all.

  8. Rich J. Fox says:

    This post is actually very interesting and quite similar to a recent post on my blog:


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