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The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
A late blame game meme
Well, douglain had a post last week about spending the weekend doing the blame game on Katrina's death toll. Annoyed as I have been with the general hysteria on all fronts when it comes to addressing the subject, I was going to refrain, until I finally realized this morning that I do blame something, and the something that I blame is political factionalism and partisan whinging... which I can lay at all of our feet, because we support it by buying into it and voting for politicians who indulge in it.

That the levee in New Orleans broke was no one's fault, or everyone's fault. The levees have been there a long time, people have known for years that they could fail in the case of a massive hurricane, and they were ignored anyway. The Feds could have worked on it at any point (it would have been a soft target for a terrorist attack), the locals certainly could have worked on it, and the state could have worked on it. It would have been an excellent public works project really any time during the last century. We may as well blame F.D. Roosevelt or JFK as Nagin or Bush for the failure to upgrade the New Orleans levees. Every day that passed without a catastrophe made us more complacent that things were fine as they were, even though respectable scientists mentioned it from time to time as a danger zone. That's human nature, and if I'll blame something for the levee breach, I'll blame human nature for it. We all know better.

It's the fiasco afterward that I'm blaming on factionalism and demagoguery and general whininess. In order, I'd probably blame local evacuation tangle-ups, state lack of preparedness, and then federal bungling of the fallout, but on the whole, I don't blame any of the bureaucracies for the crime of... being bureaucracies. Bureaucracies are just like that. It's the tone of discourse that's been problematic. For years, we've allowed our political system to degrade into mutual sniping and pitched camps. When Clinton was in office, opponents accused him of having a "hit list" of enemies; with Bush in office, he's accused of being a genocidal maniac. There is no point at which people on one side say, "Hey, okay, this is the situation for this four years, we'll deal for now, and put up someone better next time." Elected legislators rally to their parties instead of to their constituencies, and political pundits of all stripes have nothing better to do with their time than snipe at each other and the governmental representatives of the various ideologies.

When things are fine, that's entertainment, baby. I mean, hey--who doesn't like a little blood sport? (Except for me, apparently.) It's all fun and games until there's an actual disaster.

'Cause, see, at that point, we actually need to cooperate.

And what we got after Katrina was a political morass of competing interests, politicians pointing fingers at each other before the water even started to recede, and a generally disastrous response to a natural calamity. And yeah--the fed response sucked. Big time. So did the state response, and so did the local response. Nagin should have gotten those school buses running and forced evacuations. Bush should have been a more inspiring leader and gotten in there earlier. Blanco should have had evacuation centers ready on higher ground, and called in the Louisiana National Guard in force earlier. And hey, as long as we're blaming, there are some good citizens of New Orleans who probably shouldn't have started shooting, raping, and generally making life miserable for their neighbors. And if one, for whatever reason, was unable to do what it needed to, then the others should have been there to pitch in. FEMA's communication and knowledge were abysmal, which means that government communications were fouled up.

And why might government communications be fouled up?

Oh, I don't know... because we've spent the last thirty years or so in pitched camps whose main goal is to protect political turf and score points off each other?

Somehow, on 9/11--maybe because the threat was external--we were able to set the squabbling aside for, oh, almost a week, maybe two. Long enough to let the dust settle and get through the rescue operations, anyway. But in this disaster, the camps were fortified before the storm had blown past, and long before the waters started to go down. Word wasn't getting around, agencies were backbiting each other, and meanwhile, people were dying.

So that's where I place the blame. I have a funny feeling that wasn't the goal of the meme.
17 comments or Leave a comment
subsidaryforge From: subsidaryforge Date: September 12th, 2005 03:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hear, hear.
forlackofalife From: forlackofalife Date: September 15th, 2005 01:40 am (UTC) (Link)
I love Logan. SEPTEMBER 28th!!!!

*ahem* I agree with this. Comepletely. I kind of think everyone screwed up and people are too concerned with blaming each other to help.
kakegoddess From: kakegoddess Date: September 12th, 2005 04:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you!
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 12th, 2005 05:15 pm (UTC) (Link)

neotoma From: neotoma Date: September 12th, 2005 05:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
The Feds could have worked on it at any point (it would have been a soft target for a terrorist attack), the locals certainly could have worked on it, and the state could have worked on it.

*Could* the locals worked on it, though? It was an Army Corps of Engineers project, and had been since forever. I didn't think state or local governments had any authority over ACoE projects.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 12th, 2005 06:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
As I understand it, there was a lot of pork barrelling going on with the ACoE assignments, but if this was getting in the way of what the locals perceived as a pressing need, then they would have been making huge amounts of noise about it, and there's no evidence that this happened.
rabidsamfan From: rabidsamfan Date: September 12th, 2005 06:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
I figure the voters of New Orleans will hold Nagin responsible for his failures and the voters of Louisiana will hold the state government responsible for the failures there. I vote at a federal level, so it's my responsibility to hold the federal government responsible for the failures at that level. There were huge errors here at all levels of government, and our responsibility now is to exercise our duties as citizens and reject the politicians whose practices in ordinary times have aggravated the conditions which made the failure of civil discourse and cooperation possible in this time of crisis.

ladylavinia From: ladylavinia Date: September 12th, 2005 06:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
I blame Mayor Nagin and his local administration, Govenor Blanco and her administration, and President Bush and his administration. It amazed me how much the local, State and Federal governments just dropped the ball, during this disaster. I can also blame FEMA for their lackluster attempts to help the hurricane and flood survivors. I blame the looters and other criminals who made it difficult for those who were making a great effort to rescue the survivors. And I blame the media for focusing more attention on the looters than on the ordinary citizens trying to survive (at least during the first several days).

I suspect that in the end, we simply just failed as a nation during this catastrophe.
lilac_bearry From: lilac_bearry Date: September 12th, 2005 06:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
Makes a lot of sense!
sixth_light From: sixth_light Date: September 12th, 2005 07:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
This is where I really fail to understand American politics, because I just don't get a system of government where party politics could interfere with the working of the bureaucracy.

But I will note that the lecturers in my geohazard management course took the time out to use the response both before and after Katrina as an example of How Not To Manage Geohazards, with particular attention to the fact that most of the deaths were, ultimately, preventable. As people whose jobs it is to deliver warnings and facilitate this prevention, they find this pretty reprehensible. They don't have a political aim, other than trying to produce a class of students who will go into government and stop the same sort of thing happening in New Zealand, as it undoubtedly will.

So...yes, I'd say there is blame to be laid, and not just on the bickering. The government, at all its levels, was told that this would happen. And the government failed to take many of the most basic steps to limit the damage. That's blameworthy.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 12th, 2005 07:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, but in a democracy, the government is determined by the people, and the people are the ones who've encouraged this idiotic sniping, more or less since Watergate showed them that hey, they could hound a president out of office before his term was up if they really tried hard enough. Any bureaucratic system tends to have people involved in turf-defense--I don't care where it is; bureaucracy is just human nature--but the government shouldn't aid and abet this during catastrophes.

As to the levees breaking and New Orleans flooding, yup, they've been told. Over and over. And even they hadn't been, it's a bowl-shaped city on the coast below sea level, surrounded by water on three sides. It was intuitively dangerous. But people get complacent, because after all, it was there for three hundred years, it's all good, right?
caitie From: caitie Date: September 12th, 2005 11:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
more or less since Watergate showed them that hey, they could hound a president out of office before his term was up if they really tried hard enough

I've *never* heard that point of view before. Are you implying that it's a bad thing that criminal activity in Nixon's administration forced him to resign?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 13th, 2005 02:19 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm saying I see the point of it and Nixon was a scumball, but I'm not sure the political fallout has been worth it in the long run.
hughroe From: hughroe Date: September 13th, 2005 02:36 am (UTC) (Link)
Can't really agree on the scumball thing, a real scumball would have let Dean hang, instead of trying to protect him, Illegally I will admit, but Nixon showed more loyalty to Dean than Dean showed him.
From: sleepingfingers Date: September 12th, 2005 08:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
I can't say much more other than that I agree. The people of this country as well as the political parties have snipped at each other for long enough that they seem to forget how to cooperate. If they disagree with a president elected, they should deal with it and try to cooperate to make things better during those 4 years instead of sitting back and stabbing each other in the back in time of national crises.
scionofgrace From: scionofgrace Date: September 13th, 2005 02:40 am (UTC) (Link)
Word. Very word. It's amazing how complete and thorough the breakdown was: it definitely wasn't any given branch of government alone, and the citizens didn't make things any better.

Your thoughts got me seeing it that all of us--politicians and agencies and citizens and all--are so busy fighting the artificial war of politics that when the real war shows up (be it against organized terrorism or the chaos of natural disasters), we're too busy sticking ideological swords into one another to do anything useful. We get creamed.

...meanwhile, people were dying.

Yes, and isn't that supposed to be the point?
sabrinanymph From: sabrinanymph Date: September 13th, 2005 04:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
Pretty well said. For all the pointing fingers at the federal government in the days immediately following the catastrophy - mostly from people who look for any excuse to yell about how Bush is an idiot - there has been a lot more information recently pointing out that the fault doesn't start at the top and end there. It starts at the bottom and move up.

I think there's a lot of blame to go around, but in a system where the states are supposed to respond first and request aid from federal official - because we are still in a state-centric democracy, not a federal dictatorship - I can't help but be horrified at how poorly organized the local governments were.

Mostly, it just goes to show that the people of this country pull together and help each other out. Forget the politicians.
17 comments or Leave a comment