Posts about Politics

Damn them

There is so much so terribly wrong in this lead to today’s Washington Post report on the government scandal of New Orleans:

Tens of thousands of people spent a fifth day awaiting evacuation from this ruined city, as Bush administration officials blamed state and local authorities for what leaders at all levels have called a failure of the country’s emergency management….

Behind the scenes, a power struggle emerged, as federal officials tried to wrest authority from Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D). Shortly before midnight Friday, the Bush administration sent her a proposed legal memorandum asking her to request a federal takeover of the evacuation of New Orleans, a source within the state’s emergency operations center said Saturday.

The administration sought unified control over all local police and state National Guard units reporting to the governor. Louisiana officials rejected the request after talks throughout the night, concerned that such a move would be comparable to a federal declaration of martial law. Some officials in the state suspected a political motive behind the request. “Quite frankly, if they’d been able to pull off taking it away from the locals, they then could have blamed everything on the locals,” said the source, who does not have the authority to speak publicly….

Yesterday, Mayor Ray Nagin said he told the governor and the president to sit down and get their acts together. This is precisely what he meant. Note also that the mayor said he’d be happy to hand over authority to Gen. Russel Honore if that would get things done.

They should be ashamed of themselves. No one is in charge. And people are dying because of it.

: There is hard work and heroism everywhere. There is tragedy everywhere. And there is shame in too many places. Here‘s N.O. Mayor Nagin in the breaking news blog:

Nagin’s ire began to rise anew as he recalled a foiled strategy to send able-bodied refugees over the Crescent City Connection to the high ground of the West Bank.

“We were taking in people from St. Bernard Parish,” he said. “If we had a bottle of water, we shared it. Then when we were going to let people cross the bridge, they were met with frigging dogs and guns at the Gretna parish line. They said, ‘We’re going to protect Jefferson Parish assets.’

“Some people value homes, cars and jewelry more than human life. The only escape route was cut off. They turned them back at the parish line.”

: It’s not just about politics and greed. It’s still about incompetence and bureacracy. Another Washington Post story asking what went wrong:

The killer hurricane and flood that devastated the Gulf Coast last week exposed fatal weaknesses in a federal disaster response system retooled after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to handle just such a cataclysmic event.

Despite four years and tens of billions of dollars spent preparing for the worst, the federal government was not ready when it came at daybreak on Monday, according to interviews with more than a dozen current and former senior officials and outside experts.

Among the flaws they cited: Failure to take the storm seriously before it hit and trigger the government’s highest level of response. Rebuffed offers of aid from the military, states and cities. An unfinished new plan meant to guide disaster response. And a slow bureaucracy that waited until late Tuesday to declare the catastrophe “an incident of national significance,” the new federal term meant to set off the broadest possible relief effort.

: The Post does have a great package today. Another explains why so many could not leave.

: Doc calls the Katrina Scandal the War on Error.

No one is in charge

I’ve started writing a post under that headline a half-dozen times this week. But new evidence to back up that line keeps pouring in.

The leaders we have give us pap (from Bush, who didn’t have the guts to set foot in New Orleans itself, and Blanco), excuses (from Chertoff and Brown), or anger (from Nagin). But none of them gave us action commensurate with this terrrible tragedy. They didn’t give us decisive and effective management. No one is in charge.

Where is Rudy when we need him? (And I’ve said long since that he should have been appointed head of Homeland Security.)

I agree with what Fred Wilson said today about government and management:

I hope and believe that we are on the cusp of a new political order. We’ve had the liberal excesses of the democrat’s run from the depression through Vietnam. We’ve had the conservative excesses of the republican’s run from Vietnam through Iraq.

It’s time we get back to electing people to govern who know something about leading, operating, and managing. We need pragmatic moderates who make the hard decisions without caring about the political impact. We need civil servants in the mold of George Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower. We need people who care about the details of governing rather than the details of getting elected.

I don’t want elected officials who think they are moral leaders — because they are not and because that’s not their job. I don’t want leaders who are driven by ideology — when they should be paying attention to their job.

The job of government is to keep us secure. The job of officials in charge of government is to manage that. Period.

I wish I were as optimistic as Fred, but I agree that we must return to standards of civil service and management. The criteria for election is competence. But, of course, that’s up to us. It is also up to media, who goad politicians into fighting over the bullshit that doesn’t matter.

Katrina is a scandal more profound than any ‘gate. It isn’t about cheating or lying or ideology or infighting. It is a scandal of incompetence.

We can only hope that this changes the way we govern.

: LATER: Andrew Sullivan in the Sunday Times of London:

Like many seismic events, Katrina’s true impact might take a while to absorb. What started as a natural disaster soon became an unforeseen social meltdown and potential political crisis for the president. The poverty, anarchy, violence, sewage, bodies, looting, death and disease that overwhelmed a great American city last week made Haiti look like Surrey.

The seeming inability of the federal or city authorities to act swiftly or effectively to rescue survivors or maintain order posed fundamental questions about the competence of the Bush administration and local authorities….

There seems to me a strong chance that this calamity could be the beginning of something profound in American politics: a sense that government is broken and that someone needs to fix it….

: And David Brooks in tomorrow’s NY Times:

As Ross Douthat observed on his blog, The American Scene, Katrina was the anti-9/11.

On Sept. 11, Rudy Giuliani took control. The government response was quick and decisive. The rich and poor suffered alike. Americans had been hit, but felt united and strong. Public confidence in institutions surged.

Last week in New Orleans, by contrast, nobody took control. Authority was diffuse and action was ineffective. The rich escaped while the poor were abandoned. Leaders spun while looters rampaged. Partisans squabbled while the nation was ashamed.

The first rule of the social fabric – that in times of crisis you protect the vulnerable – was trampled. Leaving the poor in New Orleans was the moral equivalent of leaving the injured on the battlefield. No wonder confidence in civic institutions is plummeting….

As a result, it is beginning to feel a bit like the 1970’s, another decade in which people lost faith in their institutions and lost a sense of confidence about the future….


Homeland Security boss Chertoff just said regarding the slow move-up of military to New Orleans: “We don’t ask them to pack up in 24 hours unless it’s a real emergency.” Incredible.

More than a tragedy — a scandal

This terrible tragedy has now become a scandal.

Aaron Brown just asked a correspondent whether he thought he’d ever stand on the soil of the United States of America and report what he is reporting from New Orleans.

Through a lack of quick action and resources and any semblance of planning, the people left in New Orleans have been condemned to thirst, hunger, filth, disease, fear, crime, danger, and in too many cases death.

The convention center in New Orleans is a symbol of shame. How can we not figure out how to get water there? Babies are starving. People are dying. There is no authority; police have pulled back to defend their own stations or, according to CNN, deserted their posts.

Authorities — from Bush down to cabinet officials down to legislators down to state officials down to the soon-to-be-former-mayor down to those police — have failed these people. No one would argue that this was going to be smooth or easy. But the basics — water, food, safety, goals — are abandoned.

Political careers at every level will end because of this failure.

That is to say nothing of the storm’s terrible toll or the economic crisis that is building. This is about the failure of authority and thus civilization in the heart of New Orleans. This is a scandal.

: LATER: Angelos adds in the comments: “This is America, and this is the best we could do.”

Roberts’ insult

Newly released documents from John Roberts reveal an insult I find offensive. He sniped at a Congressional vote to give its Gold Medal to the late Rep. Leo Ryan, who died taking people away from cultist Jim Jones’ suicide camp in Guyana. Roberts wrote:

The distinction of his service in the House is certainly subject to debate, and his actions leading to his murder can be viewed as those of a publicity hound.

This is a personal one for me: I was at the Examiner in San Francisco then and edited many of the stories that led to that trip and many of the stories that came afterward and saw one colleague killed and another injured there. This was hardly PR.