OK, You Got What You Wanted

Those of you who wanted a strong federal welfare-nanny-state response to New Orleans, you have got your wish:

It is impossible to over-emphasize the extent to which this area is
under government occupation, and portions of it under
government-enforced lockdown. Police cars rule the streets. They (along
with Humvees, ambulances, fire apparatus, FEMA trucks and all
official-looking SUVs) are generally not stopped at checkpoints and
roadblocks. All other vehicles are subject to long lines and snap
judgments and must PROVE they have vital business inside the vast
roped-off regions here. If we did not have the services of an off-duty
law enforcement officer, we could not do our jobs in the course of a
work day and get back in time to put together the broadcast and get on
the air.

This is not poor federal management - this is exactly-what-you-always-get federal management.  Putting a premium on control and process over results is built into their DNA.  My prediction is that those areas outside federal control and allowed to be accessible to private aid and to individuals who want to, yeah I know its crazy, come into the area and take responsibility for fixing their own house rather than waiting for the feds to do it for them will fair much better in the long run.  More on the federal urge for technocratic control here  and here and here and here.

Something about this reminds me of an observation made over and over in interviews with American soldiers from WWII.  They recounted that in German villages, after a battle, the German citizens were out in the streets, starting to clean up and rebuild before the dust had even settled, while in France, villagers would just sit forlornly in the debris and wait for someone to come do something about it.

Update:  I know you are getting tired of these stories, but here is yet another example of the FEMA folks opposing private relief efforts in the name of "control"

Starting right after midnight I began receiving calls from FEMA, HHS,
TRANSCOM and other groups whose acronyms I still cannot explain.  LCDR
Kennedy from FEMA called to understand what I was trying to do.  I told
him.  Fifteen minutes later Mimi Riley, Deputy Director from NDMS
called to beg me in a plaintive and exhausted voice not to carry out
this mission.  She had many reasons "“ you need doctors on the plane,
Chicago is too far from their home, how will we track the patients,
this is a military operation and we were not military. 

I
explained to her that we had two doctors on the plane one of whom was a
retired Air Force Doctor who had run the military hospital in Baghdad
after the invasion.  I thought we could trust him to run an airplane of
people from New Orleans to Knoxville.  We were working with NDMS
hospitals in Tennessee and Chicago so they would have a good tracking
system.  (I guess Mimi never heard of the Great Migration of African
Americans from New Orleans and the south to Chicago after the flood of
1927 and during the Depression.  Many people from New Orleans are more
at home in Chicago than Houston. )

Mimi was unmovable.  We
were not military and that was that.  She tried to sound grateful for
our intentions but she was not going to have outsiders help.  I even
offered to GIVE her the planes and the crews and the hospitals and let
her run it through her NDMS system but she would have none of it.  She
asked me at least to delay until noon the next day and I said I would
try.

A good revamp of FEMA after this is all over would put a heavy emphasis on private action and FEMA's role in aiding rather than controlling and limiting this effort.  Unfortunately, I don't expect that to be the outcome.  I fear that large government technocrats and lefties who are always suspicious of private bottom-up action will control the agenda in framing the FEMA debate.

OOPS:  Did I say that technocrats and lefties distrusted anything but top-down federal power.  I forgot the righties as well (from dubya's speech the other day):

It is now clear that a challenge on this scale requires greater federal
authority and a broader role for the armed forces -- the institution of
our government most capable of massive logistical operations on a
moment's notice.

Sounds like Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society.  As a libertarian, I dread the next election.  Two parties competing to see who can enhance federal power more.  Blech.

Yet another:

The patients and staff at Methodist could have been evacuated before
Hurricane Katrina hit. But instead they were condemned to several days of fear
and agony by bad decision-making in Louisiana and the chaotic ineptitude of the
Federal Emergency Management Agency. Some of the patients died.

Incredibly, when the out-of-state corporate owners of the hospital responded
to the flooding by sending emergency relief supplies, they were confiscated at
the airport by FEMA and sent elsewhere.

  • I'm working from often faulty memory cells here, but I seem to recall that stories went around after hurricane andrew about the heavy-handedness of the FEMA bureaucracy.

    One story I heard, but never sought to validate, was that if you went into a shelter you had to turn in your identification (such as driver's license) and they would "hold" it for you. In doing so, you either lost the right to come and go as you pleased, or your rights were severely curtailed.

    Based on that, the superdonme was "deja vu all over again"

  • Respectfully disagree. Arguments against classical welfare liberalism don't carry over artfully against FEMA type role. Emergency response issues easily cross many local jurisdictions due to pipelines, transportation grid, scope of hazmat emergencies, multi-state aspect of hurricanes, etc, plus the capacity of some problems to incapacitate/overwhelm local/state abilities.

    So, large-scale emergencies do require a good federal agency. You should consider how much FEMA was messed up, both w/priorities and staffing, by budget cuts and being swallowed up under the DHS mission (anti-terrorism).

    I've tried to cover some of these points in my posts, though I admittedly don't do the subject justice. Take care, respectfully,

    Kaspit

  • Max Lybbert

    I agree w/ the original article. Yes, the government has a role in the aftermath of serious disasters, but it's pretty apparent that the role government has tried to play isn't helpful. It ought to look at being a great facilitator instead of a great provider.

  • casey

    Fema was fine before Bush and his crony style of leadership fucked it all up. I guess that's what happens when you put party before country. I voted for him in 2000. Big mistake. I have voted for many republican as well as dems. I didn't think Bush would be such a "Fuck the Poor" libertarian in republican clothes. I can't believe the administrator of this blog isn't happier about getting to realize his libertarian dream. The bottom line is that half the country wants it one way the other half wants it their way. It's always been this way. Burr shot and killed Hamilton remember. If we could compromise we COULD HAVE an extremely efficient small govt that wasn't on your back but that had your back. Heres the kicker. It would need to be staffed with professionals that have experience and can actually do the job. It's not a liberal idea to give people a free ride or a free pay check for the rest of their lives. It is a liberal idea to help those who do seek a better life find it. Sorry to say that's not on the libertarian or republican agenda, and barely on the Democratic agenda. Some of these people we are talking have nothing. I hear alot about private sector this private sector that. What is the federal govt if its not the private sector. Are we not the federal govt.? Why are some people openly trying to make the fed govt.weak? Do they knock down their whole house when a lightbulb goes out or a pipe under the sink breaks? I think not.