Friday, September 02, 2005

The Gulf Coast Disaster

I haven't done much the past few days other than read and watch media reports about the disaster in the Gulf Coast area. I grew up in that general area and lived there for periods as an adult. The magnitude of what's happening there is unbelievable, and it feels very personal.

On Monday we thought New Orleans had dodged the bullet, as it has many other times. We knew the coastal areas of Mississippi and Alabama might get hit fairly hard, but in general people were more upbeat than they were as the hurricane approached. This optimism was led by the professional meteorologists. Then all hell broke loose. New Orleans flooded in the aftermath of the hurricane, and the damage in other coastal areas turned out to be massive.

Aside from a few individuals and a limited number of military and civil first-responders, the early response to this disaster has been disappointing. That's because of the almost unprecedented severity of the situation and perhaps because of inadequate planning and preparation by government at all levels. Once the emergency is over, we need to take a close look at what happened and how we can better manage future disasters.

What we don't need now is the constant refrain of accusations spewing from the media. CNN, for example, is absolutely obsessed with blaming government, and particularly the federal government, for failures of every imaginable kind.

Anderson Cooper, CNN superstar, often appears to be in tears and nearly hysterical as he makes his reports. As just one example, he berated Senator Mary Landrieu in an interview, almost demanding that the federal government apologize. This pampered dilettante from limoland has never been responsible for leading large numbers of people or managing a large enterprise under stress. He doesn't know what he's talking about, and he has no idea who should apologize to whom for what. Senator Landrieu, to her great credit, has been doing a good job of helping organize relief efforts and injecting a much-needed sense of calm into public discussion. She kept her cool during Cooper's tirade, tried to calm him down, and assured him there would be plenty of time later to assess blame.

As one more example of many, CNN's Miles O'Brien similarly berated Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, repeatedly interrupting him and trying to get him to say that there aren't enough National Guard troops to respond to this disaster because of Iraq. This liberal talking point has been a standard refrain at CNN. Governor Barbour finally said that he didn't know whether he was involved in an interview or an argument but that he wasn't going to be forced to say something that isn't true.

I checked a few liberal blogs, and they're also obsessed with criticizing the government, even though they, like much of the media, don't know what they're talking about. You don't need to waste time reading them--you can get the same line from media reports.

Another issue being distorted and misrepresented by some in the media and others is the looting, mostly in New Orleans. The fact is, the looters fall into two groups. One is people who are hungry and otherwise distressed and have broken into stores to take food and survival supplies. As political leaders have noted, what they're doing is understandable and no one blames them for it.

The other looters are stealing high-value items like electronics equipment, clothing, drugs--and guns. These are the same scum who are shooting at police and rescue helicopters and brutalizing and raping their fellow citizens. These are the same thugs who would have been committing violent crimes on the streets if there had been no hurricane. And you can be sure that those who survive will be committing violent crimes in the city once it recovers. Governor Barbour of Mississippi and Governor Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana have both taken an appropriately hard line against these criminal looters.

Finally, and perhaps most disappointing, some in the media, some bloggers, and a few politicians are trying to inject race as a principal issue. That is beyond despicable.

In reality, there is no adequate response in the immediate aftermath of major disasters. No matter what resources may be available, there are practical limits to how much assistance can be pushed into an area where the infrastructure has been destroyed.

Consider the situation we'll face when there is a devastating earthquake in a major population center. We know that one is coming, too. In the first few days after the earthquake, the response will be inadequate in terms of the magnitude of the disaster. And critics in the media and others who have no responsibility and who lack the knowledge to even understand the situation will point fingers of blame again long before anyone knows who, if anyone, is at fault. Perhaps the saddest fact is that the nature and content of this criticism will be determined to some extent by which political party is in power.

There are only a few useful things those of us on the sidelines can do. Those so inclined can pray--it might even help. We can send a contribution to the Red Cross. Then we can resist the temptation to add more uninformed opinion to an already confused discussion.

26 Comments:

Blogger Amal said...

Those who are quick to criticize should try it. Do I think they should have gotten more people out? yes. Do I think that they should have gotten food dropped in? Yes. But it is easy for me to be an armchair critic. When I criticize, it is because I am so overwhelmed with sadness for the people stuck there. You are right, everyone is so busy pointing fingers, no one is getting the point that you cannot control what the weather will do and what you will need to be ready for.

7:29 PM, September 02, 2005  
Anonymous Kevin said...

Well Tom, Newt Gingrich must be a liberal 'cause he criticized pretty much the entire Homeland Security operation of the last 4 years:

"I think it puts into question all of the Homeland Security and Northern Command planning for the last four years, because if we can't respond faster than this to an event we saw coming across the Gulf for days, then why do we think we're prepared to respond to a nuclear or biological attack?" Newt Gingrich

7:57 PM, September 02, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Thanks for your comment, Amal. It's always irritating to watch those who can't and don't sit on the sidelines and criticize those who can and do.

Kevin, I said in the post there may not have been adequate planning and preparation and we ought to look closely at that, after the crisis has been dealt with. You don't have to be a liberal to see that things didn't work well the first few days. However, it will take more than just shoot-from-the-hip opinions to figure out what went wrong and what to do about it.

What it does take a far-left liberal for is to immediately use this disaster to continue the tired old attacks on the Bush Administration and to engage in pro-forma race baiting. What, exactly, would it take for these narrow-minded, one-track thinkers to simply shut up and feel some solidarity with the rest of their country, if only for a little while?

8:14 PM, September 02, 2005  
Anonymous Kevin said...

Tom, I'm not sure how many far-left liberals aren't feeling any solidarity with Katrina's victims as you seem to be implying.

Of course, much depends on how you wish to define far-left liberal. But, I know that all the big names on the left (Air America, MoveOn.org, etc) are actively engaged in either soliciting donations to a recognized charity or are otherwise trying to constructively help or both... WHILE criticizing the abysmal federal response. If you're not aware of those activities then it's because you didn't want to be aware of them. Nobody that I've seen on the Left has made any secret of their empathy with Katrina's victims. Nor have they made a secret of their activities on behalf of the victims and/or major charities.

Here's the thing, though... How do you know that what you are seeing as political opportunism isn't actually justifiable indignation and anger? People are dying in New Orleans. If the government's response has in fact been inadequate and continued to be inadequate, what do you propose would cause it to become adequate? Sending out warm, fuzzy solidarity vibes?

11:53 PM, September 02, 2005  
Blogger Kevin said...

Well again here is the problem with the left. The problem that will continue to haunt them.

Identifying the problem is not solving the problem. They identify a problem and scream that it is a problem. So far all these people have not come up with one solution workable or not.

The fact is that money that could have been used to shore the levies was spent on other programs over the years. If the levies had been constructed and shored properly, then the damage to New Orleans would not have been as bad.

Of course many people do not know how the government at all levels responds to disasters. Many of the initial responses are planned to be by the local authorities. Then State and then Federal. In this particular case, most of the resources of the local government simply does not exist. Of course, FEMA pretty much will tell anybody with an interest this plan and you can take courses about the Federal Response Plan free at the Emergency Management Institute.

My suggestion to Kevin, Newt Gingrich and all the other talking heads is to come up with a solution to the immediate crisis, from wherever you are. But that may be too much to ask; much more important to score political points than to actually know what is going on.

12:57 AM, September 03, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Kevin/PK, you know perfectly well what I meant. I didn't say that anyone wasn't interested in or trying to help the victims of the disaster. At times like this we should have a sense of solidarity with our fellow citizens and our country. Using this disaster as just another excuse to express blind hatred for the President isn't exactly consistent with that concept, even if the haters are contributing to the Red Cross at the same time.

CNN has modified their line of attack, by the way. At first they were hammering on the idea that there wouldn't be a sufficient response from the National Guard because of Iraq. I guess that was a leftist's ideal line of attack--undermine the military and beat up on Bush, all at the same time. Since that didn't work very well, CNN is now playing the race card. Example: Larry King told Jesse Jackson that someone had said that President Bush doesn't care about black people and asked if Jackson agreed with that statement. After ducking the question repeatedly, Jackson finally said, "Well, he doesn't show it." Let me guess, Kevin--you agree with Jackson, right?

CNN has been waging a withering attack against the President since this disaster happened. Yesterday CNN International showed video of Bush walking in the disaster area, and the anchorman said that the President has been under "withering attack" over his inadequate response to the disaster. That's typical--participate in the attack, then report the attack.

Kevin/StratRev, you're right that for some people it's a lot more important to score attack points than to try to understand problems and participate in solving them.

5:25 AM, September 03, 2005  
Blogger Anastasia said...

From this end of 'town', this part of the world the media has been the same in putting forth the view that the US federal government was too slow, some other publications have gone as far as to say that they 'knew the hurricane was coming and they could have prepared for a disaster such as this', however there's also the fact that no one anticpates a disaster of such huge scale, there's that as well.

It boggled my mind as well, and I don't know who to 'blame' for this, do I blame US identities that go back as far as a century who proclaimed that the US could withstand just about anything or conquer anything? There has always been the notion that the US is a nation without limit to it's tenacity to succeed and that can't be blamed. If it (as a government/nation) wants to get a job done, it will get the job done and this has been the underlying current for decades so it is a surprise to see the result of such a disaster and the delays as well, but no one is perfect and newspapers don't 'get this' or they do but it doesn't make for good ratings. To see a person on TV say they haven't eaten in five days is something that one would expect a person in a Third World country to say...then again, when a person sits in the comfort of their own home, within their immediate non damaged environment there is also no way they can put themselves in the place of a person that is trying to survive (among thousands of others in the same position of limited food etc) in the middle of a disaster zone.

Early this morning as I was reading the latest round up in our papers here, the event is considered to be a higher disaster than September 11 and it is considering the numbers of people that have been displaced, the looting. It doesn't matter how large a society is or how organised it is, once it's fundamental infrastructures are damaged anything is possible and just because the US is the US it doesn't make it any less vulnerable.

The other reality is that people do what they do in such situations: the best that they can do and for the media to sit there dishing out continual criticism, which is what they'll do for ratings (particularly CNN), doesn't really help things.

What gets me the most and it's almost disturbing, because there is a growing trend in this attitude, is of a certain sector, whom I call the millennium hippies, who forget that someone like a president is 'one man', as in a human individual who can't control everything. Shit, that's why there are others there in cabinets to co-ordinate things and they have the added problem of the crime/looting to control before they can distribute aid across the board because if the surge of post disaster crime doesn't stop or some measures aren't employed, then it makes any donation/aid etc difficult and this has been seen in the tsunami earlier in the year where aid was delayed by weeks due to (not crime, but it may as well be considered a crime) 'bureacratic' delays in recipient nations who delayed customs approvals for such aid (probably so they could shave off a few 'dollars').

5:53 AM, September 03, 2005  
Anonymous Kevin said...

At times like this we should have a sense of solidarity with our fellow citizens and our country.

Who gets to define how that sense of solidarity ought to take shape? You?

CNN has modified their line of attack, by the way. At first they were hammering on the idea that there wouldn't be a sufficient response from the National Guard because of Iraq. I guess that was a leftist's ideal line of attack--undermine the military and beat up on Bush, all at the same time.

LOL nice spin, Tom. Criticizing the methods and means which politicians are using to wage the quagmire in Iraq is now equal to undermining the military?

That makes as much sense as claiming that criticizing the way that "Tommy boy" and the other top executives at ENRON ran their scam is tantamount to blaming the poor ENRON grunts who lost their entire retirements.

Of course you know better. But, you've got political points of your own to score.

Pot versus Kettle...

11:44 AM, September 03, 2005  
Anonymous Schmedlap said...

Kevin,

Criticizing the methods and means which politicians are using to wage the quagmire in Iraq is now equal to undermining the military?

That makes as much sense as claiming that criticizing the way that "Tommy boy" and the other top executives at ENRON ran their scam is tantamount to blaming the poor ENRON grunts who lost their entire retirements.


That's a poor analogy. The Enron debacle was a legal case involving fraud. It didn't matter what the public opinion of the situation was. The war in Iraq is all about public opinion, because the aim of the insurgency is to break the will of the American people to continue fighting and to increase the will of insurgent sympathizers to plod on.

The political mudslinging is the Left's means of undermining the war effort by framing the war as a right-wing endeavor, motivated by greed, rather than a war being waged for our physical security.

On that note, it is nice to see that some of the National Guardsmen called up to assist in Louisiana are OIF veterans - hopefully combat veterans. What I wouldn't pay to be sitting on Canal Street in downtown New Orleans, putting 7.62mm of justice into the chest of every scumbag attempting to rape a woman or loot an electronics store.

This disaster has brought out the worst in many people. This is an ideal time to identify a lot of criminals and take advantage of the suspended civil rights afforded by this disaster. It is unbelieveable to see what new lows people have sunk to amidst this disaster. May justice be swift and unforgiving.

1:26 AM, September 04, 2005  
Anonymous Kevin said...

The war in Iraq is all about public opinion, because the aim of the insurgency is to break the will of the American people to continue fighting and to increase the will of insurgent sympathizers to plod on.

So, You're saying that Bush Inc. decided to invade Iraq because of the popular will of the people? It hadn't even crossed Bush's mind to invade Iraq until popular opinion forced him to consider it?

Could you possibly be more obtuse?

Everyone knows that the popular will of the American people was in reaction to the PR blitz by Bush Inc., not the other way around. And even then it wasn't anything like the unanimity of opinion like we saw with the Afghanistan invasion.

The Bush administration worked very, very hard to sway public opinion in favor of invading Iraq.

Afghanistan was the exact opposite. He'd have been tarred and feathered if he hadn't attacked them.

The fact of the matter is, as Tom knows perfectly well, that soldiers and sailers don't get to pick their assignments. They go where they are told to go. Whether they concur with the assignment or not is completely irrelevant to whether the assignment is undertaken and executed.

Criticizing the way the War in Iraq has been prosecuted is one and the same thing as criticizing the civilian Commander In Chief who sent them there and is the immediate supervisor of those who did and do the planning.

As Truman famously stated: "The buck stops here!"

12:02 PM, September 04, 2005  
Blogger Esther said...

Great post, Tom. To me, this seems like a failure more on the state and local level than on the federal, though I'm sure there's plenty of blame to be had there too. But what were they to do if the governor (LA) didn't want to issue a mandatory evacuation? If she didn't declare the state a disaster area for a few days? The way our constitution works, that ties the hands of the federal government. What a sad, sad mess.

1:46 PM, September 04, 2005  
Blogger Orikinla Osinachi. said...

Mr. Carter,

Thank you for your maturity and objectivity.

All those blaming GWB,Kathleen Blanco and other government officials are just ignorant.

And ignorance does more harm than good.

Most of their accusations were so childish and foolish.

They said most of the National Guards have been sent to Iraq and that most of the choppers too were in Iraq? So, the government did not have enough officers and choppers to rescue the victims of the catastrophic hurricane Katrina.

Imagine such ignorance. Even pupils in junior high wouldn't be so daft.

2:18 PM, September 04, 2005  
Anonymous howard said...

Tom,

I guess there is a contingent of folks out there striving to paint the situation as a direct result of the Iraq war, or whatever else. Maybe now isn't the time for those things, but at some point in the future it will be. When it is, I sincerely hope we stop feeling our "solidarity" long enough to figure out why so many government officials (including those at FEMA, who shouldn't have come off as such amateurs here) have looked so ineffectual over the past few days.

As for the Anderson Cooper flap with Landrieu, whatever you think of Cooper, Landrieu's response more closely resembled an acceptance speech at an awards banquet than any kind of answer. She deserved what she got for that. She deserved what all politicians deserve when they submit to an interview and then try to hi-jack it into a personal press conference.

If she had no intention of answering the question asked, she should have known enough to switch off politics mode and just say she wasn't going to answer the question.

I have zero sympathy for any politicians that puts on the happy face and starts handing out thank-you's while her constituents are dying. Whatever Anderson Cooper's sins may be, her behavior was inappropriate. At least someone gave the proberbial slap in the face for it.

It's like the story of Balaam's ass: if the truth needs speaking, let it be spoken from whoever's willing. I'm not going to dismiss the truth simply because of where it comes from. None of us should.

6:20 PM, September 04, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Thanks to all for your thoughtful comments.

Howard, Senator Landrieu was doing the right thing in the interview with Cooper (although it looks now like she may be joining the "blame game"). He was demanding that the federal government apologize, which is silly to even talk about. First, no one knows who is to blame for what. Second, with a lot of people risking their lives to try to save the lives of a lot of other people, now is not the time to blabber about blame, racism, and whatever else the media and others are trying to use the disaster for.

I agree that the initial response seems to have been slow. However, knowing a good bit about how these things are done and the obstacles that must be overcome, I think some of the criticisms about response time may be overstated. It's also emerging that a whole lot of fault will probably end up on the doorsteps of local and state officials.

For now, I just wish we could stop all the blaming and criticizing, especially since so much of it is coming from people who don't know what they're talking about.

7:40 PM, September 04, 2005  
Blogger Shelle said...

I'm a die-hard extreme right winger - but living here and seeing what's going on - has devastated me. My husband is in Iraq - they won't let our Mississippi boys come home to help, and the Red Cross is pissing me off. I've become decidedly PISSED OFF! I agree with some of your comments, and not others. I wonder how much this is affecting you... and if it would make a difference. Right now - I'm working hard to find famlly members of our Mississippi guys in Iraq - because they've heard nothing yet from anyone. And, our wonderful government is not letting anyone come home unless someone is DEAD! I'll tell you, somewhere in the middle of bleeding heart Liberalism and the right-wingers is sounding really good to me right now.

12:04 AM, September 05, 2005  
Anonymous Schmedlap said...

Kevin,

So, You're saying that Bush Inc. decided to invade Iraq because of the popular will of the people?
No.

It hadn't even crossed Bush's mind to invade Iraq until popular opinion forced him to consider it?
No.

Here is what I typed, with some added boldface, in hopes that it will be a little clearer...

The war in Iraq is all about public opinion, because the aim of the insurgency is to break the will of the American people to continue fighting and to increase the will of insurgent sympathizers to plod on.

5:23 AM, September 05, 2005  
Anonymous Kevin said...

Shelle,

I heartily agree that somewhere inbetween bleeding heart liberal and rightwinger sounds pretty ideal.

I know that I come across as a liberal. But, the truth of the matter is that I'm harder on Republicans because they've decimated the moderate "Rockefeller" Republicans that I absolutely love to vote for.

Schmedlap,

Putting a word into bold doesn't change the reality about how we ended up in Iraq. Nor does it change the fact that the present situation is largely attributable to the initial phase of occupation having been badly bungled. Which is pretty much what we've been seeing in NOLA too.

As the old saying goes, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

12:22 PM, September 05, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Shelle, I understand your frustration, both with the left and right extremes in politics and military policy regarding letting soldiers from the disaster region come home.

I'm not directly hit by the disaster, but much of my family is from Mississippi, I went to high school there, and I lived in south Louisiana both as a kid and an adult. I'm traveling to Texas soon, and there are a lot of evacuees where I'm going. I'm going to see if I can do anything useful while I'm there.

Soldiers can get emergency leave for reasons other than death in the immediate family, but the policy is pretty restrictive. I think this would be an excellent time to make exceptions where possible, to include rotating local National Guard units out of Iraq as soon as possible. That's very hard to do, but they should try.

1:24 PM, September 05, 2005  
Anonymous Schmedlap said...

Kevin,

I think that you're assuming that we disagree about something that we agree on. Believe me, I know firsthand how badly Iraq has been bungled. I was in OIF I, spent 5 months watching the US Army treat Baghdad like Bosnia, and now I'm 8 months into OIF III, watching 90% of the US Army live a life of luxury in their Forward Operating Bases, while 10% of the Soldiers do all of the fighting and patrolling with ridiculously restrictive ROE. So, we're in agreement that this thing has been a goat rodeo from day 1.

My only point was that your analogy of OIF to Enron confused the issue because Enron's case was a legal issue decided upon by objective (in theory) legal procedures, whereas OIF will be decided by the will of the American people to persevere (public opinion).

And that is why the media is so despised by many of us in the military. They claim to be objective and above the fray, but they are nothing more than allies of our enemies, inciting the Arab street, stirring up controversy to confuse the American people, and exploiting the ensuing disquietude for more ratings, for their personal agendas, and their own egos.

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