Katrina mon amour

Friday, August 25, 2006

Well it is late August and so it is time once again to revisit the Super Dome in New Orleans. Democrats and critics of the Bush administration are lining up to criticize the rebuilding the efforts the same way they did the rescue effort.

Gale's attitude is a simple one, after all he is a simple man. He says "Those people ought to suck it up, you'd think they were the only people on the planet that anything bad ever happened to." How insensitive of him. When he was a kid Gale was in a blizzard, a real honest to God deep snow blizzard. Dad went out to dry and dig out the road and did not come back for dinner. His Mom sent him out to look for his Dad and Gale found him dead under the tractor, it had rolled over on him because he could not see the ditch. That was a disaster and no one came to help but the neighbors.

Neighbors. Remember them?

Once upon a time when faced with disasters people did not wait for the people in DC to come to the rescue, they helped themselves. Why was this time so different? I am sure the sheer scope of the disaster played a part in the domestic soap opera that engulfed the coverage of Katrina, but the number one culprit was politics.

Now the charge will be made that Bush has not done enough to rebuild. Well once again, the locals are supposed to carry the ball here as well. They are the ones who decide what neighborhoods will and will not be rebuilt, who will and will not get building permits and septic permits etc. Nor should we overlook insurance companies slow to pay claims and ever ready to charge fraud.

But once again it seems the locals can not get it together to do what everyone else in the region is trying to do and that is move on. Nagin has proved himself incapable of making the tough decisions, again.


Knucklehead said...

A city with a population of a half-million people with a demonstrated addiction to corrupt city government in a state of 4.5 million people who have not demonstrated any particular desire for good governance (is their any measure of for which MI doesn't rank in the bottom 5 or so for all states?).

And yet millions upon millions of Americans want to blame a hurricane and its aftermath on one man. This is one of those matters where it takes all the self control I can muster to not reach out and slap people across the face about. I just want to slap them and say, "Grow up. Just grow up. Until you grow up, shut up."

Skookumchuk said...

At some point I'll put up a long-winded post, or series of posts. Even longer than this one...

For the moment, there are some systemic problems that few are looking at. To oversimplify:

It is relatively easy for a single, vertically integrated organization - a Wal-mart, a UPS, a Kroger or a Safeway - to know where large numbers of things are at any given moment. UPS for example has a global fleet of nearly 90,000 vehicles, each full of packages, moving around on any given day.

But these organizations can do this in a "peacetime" environment where network connectivity is assured and where the details of demand are well known and can be forecasted with some reliability. A Safeway knows things like how often people in your ZIP Code buy fresh lima beans. And they've noticed that people who buy fresh lima beans also buy bagged broccoli florets and certain types of salad dressing. As opposed to the next ZIP code over, where they buy slightly different things.

Thus a feedback loop exists that makes system behavior predictable. None of that is true in a disaster response. The military does somewhat the same thing as does the retail sector, even in the absence of assured network connectivity - as on the battlefield - by implementing broadly similar technologies and management techniques as used in the retail sector. It gives impetus to those who say the military should be in charge of this stuff. They already have many of the tools. All these examples are single entities with unified chains of command.

But we are not monolithic. Our response to disasters is by design an amalgam of the local, the State and the Federal, plus volunteer agencies, public utilities, many private contractors, and many others.

And in this sense, critics of the Administration have it correct, or nearly so, in that insufficient attention has been given to local capabilities and exercises. If a fragmented system is going to work, people from the various pieces of the system have to a) get to know one another and b) practice together frequently. We don't do either A or B. And the honest reply to critics of this Administration is that we never have, in any Administration, Republican or Democratic.

Hey, I know. All contributors to Flares should dig their baseball mitts out of their attics and tomorrow we'll go play the Yankees! We're all nice and talented people. We'll do fine!

The thing is, it appears that people are developing the same expectation of the disaster response community that they have of the Safeways and the UPSes in everyday life. Taken to its logical, inexorably bureaucratic conclusion, it means either we delegate all this to one central entity, the Army say, or maybe Wal-Mart, take your pick, who would be directed to run roughshod over the locals to implement what some planner wants as a result of the 10AM conference call in DC, or we diligently implement A and B above and keep the system we have.

Keeping the system we have means lots of work, canning people, reorganizing, and developing performance metrics for bureaucrats. This Herculean task makes it tempting to give it over to those entities that already have cultures with performance metrics and a unified chain of command. Such groups, like the Coast Guard and the National Guard, did very, very well indeed.

If we want to keep local control, and it wouldn't be the America we know if we didn't keep it, we have to recognize that there is no substitute for good government, particularly good local government. Also, there is no excuse for not practicing before the Big Game.

Coisty said...

Large bureaucratic organisations such as the US government are always lousy at this type of thing. It would have been the same mess under clinton.

What strikes me is how Mississipians handled it better than those in Louisana, particularly the Third World city called New Orleans. In NO they just sat on their fat asses waiting to be rescued. The very idea of taking responsibility for their own lives seemed foreign to them. Then they go and re-elect Ray Nagin (the other day he ridiculed NYC for taking too long to decide what to do with "a hole in the ground" ie., Ground Zero). This is a case of getting the government you deserve.

terrye said...


The folks in Missisippi had the casinos. They are not the military, but they are organized.

I think the historic parts of New Orleans should be preserved, but a lot of the rest of it might be better off done away with.

Skookumchuk said...

Mississippi was well organized from the very beginning. Basically, the more practice you have (Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas) the more well-oiled the machine and the better the response.

All other things being equal. And assuming competent government.

Jamie Irons said...


What I am about to say I said the other day in much the same way over at Belmont Club.

As one who went to college with GWB, and who fretted endlessly when he was elected in 2000, then voted for him in 2004, as one who has come to deeply admire the man in many ways, but is constantly exasperated by many of the things he does, it astonishes me that people on both sides of the political spectrum, and many in the middle, attribute such preternatural power to the man.

Hey, he is just one human being, who is trying to do his best with a whole slew of absurdly difficult problems.

The world is the world, and will remain the world in January, 2009, when Dubya steps off the stage.

What -- or whom -- are people going to blame for their diffculties then?

Jamie Irons

terrye said...


No kidding. I do not defend Bush because I think he is perfect, who is? I defend him because people are blaming him for things no single human being can control...and that sits a bad precedent. Some folks on the right think this trend will end when a Democrat is in the White House, but I am not so sure.

I am beginning to think the problem is the public and its ever growing expectations.

I grew up in a time when it was just not the responsibility of the President to make everyone rich or happy or contended or beautiful or immortal or whatever it is people expect today. And this kind of need creates cynicism because it is unrealistic.

Rick Ballard said...

"What -- or whom -- are people going to blame for their diffculties then?"

There won't be any change. All difficulties will remain the responsibility of the Republicans, anything good that happens will have been caused by the Democrats. The best thing would be that Jeb were elected - it would save on changes to the template and the savings could be very important, given the rapidity with which the assets of those who own and maintain the template are disappearing.

Which is also the Republicans fault. Just remember - when you hear a baby cry, look for the Republican who pinched her.