OK, I am becoming a Libertarian

by Kieran Healy on September 5, 2005

I’m a little late to notice this, but via Alan Schussman and AmericaBlog, I just read the following press release, which was issued on Friday:

CHICAGO, IL—(MARKET WIRE)—Sep 2, 2005—Hyatt Regency New Orleans and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) today announced the evacuation of hurricane victims—including both guests and employees—from the hotel. With the exception of a small group of Hyatt executives, safety experts, city officials and FEMA representatives, all guests have vacated the premises. … A convoy of food and supplies provided by Hyatt hotels in Atlanta and Houston arrived at Hyatt Regency New Orleans on Wednesday of this week.

Hyatt had a convoy arrive by Wednesday? As Alan notes, Google Maps helpfully tells us that the New Orleans Hyatt Regency is less than two tenths of a mile away from the goddamn Convention Center. I guess FEMA couldn’t figure out the last leg of the trip or something?

Update: Look, just to be clear, this post isn’t really about whether the disaster should make me or anyone else want to become a libertarian. Examples like this show—in case you needed more evidence—that there is absolutely no good reason the federal government couldn’t have mounted a serious relief effort for the people of New Orleans much, much faster than it did, and especially for the thousands at the convention center and the Superdome. Commenters who claim I’m somehow ignoring the way the problem scales up are mistaken. You can fit an awful lot of food and water into a few container trucks. Don’t tell me that isn’t within the operational capacities of the U.S. army. The people down there could have at least had a minimum of care. Instead, they were abandoned. I don’t accept that evacuating the people at the center and the Superdome was some kind of impossibility in the first day or two, either: sports stadium- and convention-center-sized groups of people are moved via train or bus all the time, filling and emptying venues in the space of a couple of hours. It’s a question of good organization, that’s all.

{ 4 trackbacks }

Catallarchy » Say It Is So!
09.06.05 at 12:31 am
tjic.com » Blog Archive » the government dithers, the market provides
09.06.05 at 9:22 am
Libertarian Drive-By Hurricane Blogging § Unqualified Offerings
09.06.05 at 10:30 pm
Positive Liberty » Blog Archive » By What Strange Addiction…
09.10.05 at 2:33 pm

{ 62 comments }

1

Rich Puchalsky 09.05.05 at 10:46 pm

Standard Bush administration cycle: tear down an agency, pocket funds for corrupt privatization, wait for catastrophe, say that the catastrophe proves that government doesn’t work, pick another agency and return to step 1.

2

Mike Maltz 09.05.05 at 10:47 pm

The problem is not with government, but with this government. Your headline plays right into the hands of the Grover Norquist wing of the Republican Party.

3

Kieran Healy 09.05.05 at 10:57 pm

I don’t think Grover needs my help. I can’t write prescriptions. As you correctly suggest, the right inference is, if a hotel chain can drive a truck up there on Wednesday, what is stopping the Federal Government / National Guard from doing its job?

4

ogmb 09.05.05 at 11:14 pm

Competent organization can. Incompetent organization can’t. I don’t see how this leads to the conclusion that government = incompetent organization.

5

eudoxis 09.05.05 at 11:20 pm

“I guess FEMA couldn’t figure out the last leg of the trip or something?”

Scaling up from some 700 people at the Hyatt to 30,000 people at the Superdome should be instant?

With current technology, personnel, and equipment, there is no way to evacuate a city the size of NO in 48 hours. There is, also, no way to mobilize a perfect feeding, medical, security and evacuation scenario to 100,000+ stranded, scattered, and hidden hurricane victims in less much less than the time it has taken.

I am more astounded every day at the enormous and ludicrous expectations of perfect “America” in the face of this massive hurricane.

It’s one thing to criticize a 200 year history of a country that led to a social structure that allowed poor African Americans to live in an unprotected swamp. But this enormous natural disaster is not a culmination of that.

6

brayden 09.05.05 at 11:27 pm

I’ve heard on NPR reports of many similar screw-ups during the recovery process. The pace of charitable contributions far exceeded the ability of FEMA to put those funds to good use. In many cases, it appears that charitable organizations like the Red Cross were actually impeded from doing good by local and federal officials.

I don’t think you can blame it entirely on the incompetence of any single organization, but it’s clear this was a massive organizational failure. Political liberals have to be careful that we don’t start looking as silly as the market apologists who find post hoc efficiency gains when it was obvious market failures existed. Right now all of us need to start thinking about how our public bureaucracies might be better organized for the next disaster.

7

Keith M Ellis 09.06.05 at 12:00 am

Well, they could have, you know, brought water and some medical supplies to the Convention Center. Don’t insult our intelligence.

8

Matt Austern 09.06.05 at 12:01 am

If the Federal government had tried to evacuate 100,000 people and only managed to save 78,000 of them, then that would be an example of imperfection. Yes, we live in an imperfect world. Partial success is to be expected.

But then, partial success is what you see when someone bothers to make an attempt. In the real world, we didn’t see imperfection and partial success. We saw 100,000 people starving and rotting in squalor, and their Federal government stood around making excuses instead of even trying to save them. That’s not imperfection, it’s depraved indifference.

9

minnesotaj 09.06.05 at 12:13 am

eudoxis – as a former military truck driver, I somewhat agree with you (people vastly underestimate logistical hurdles), but honestly: you could feed/water thirty-thousand people with a couple convoys of 5-tons hauling water buffalos a week… not impossible for a National Guard unit, even one depleted by OIF (and they aren’t all in Iraq).

In the meantime, am calculating that if this is 1927 Flood, we’ve got two years ’till Depression starts, five until the vets storm D.C., and fourteen until we go to war with China.

The wonder is: do the Freepers, et.al., look forward to this? A colleague of my wife’s (thankfully: a contractor!) remarked in passing last week, “Well, I guess the time IS coming!”

10

eudoxis 09.06.05 at 12:15 am

I think we are seeing a sizable attempt.

Imagine a workable plan to deliver food and water to the people who were massed in safe places and imagine that there may have been a way to carry out such a plan with perfection. Would it have gained 24 hours? How many lives would have been saved by it? A handful, maybe.
Remember that the people who are dying are scattered throughout the city. How do you find and reach them?

11

minnesotaj 09.06.05 at 12:15 am

… actually, on further calculation, make that: a couple convoys a day.

12

dsquared 09.06.05 at 1:21 am

With current technology, personnel, and equipment, there is no way to evacuate a city the size of NO in 48 hours.

Absolute rot. How do rock festivals happen? New Orleans had a working train station and a big interstate highway going out of it. It is entirely technologically possible to move that numer of people, and the availability of “personnel and equipment” is precisely what the authorities are being criticised for.

13

David Sucher 09.06.05 at 1:53 am

I can’t quite figure out why observing governmental incompetence (to whatever degree there was) would make one a libertarian. The connection escapes me. The “lesson” of governmental incompetence would be to improve government. No? Unless the author thinks that government cannot, even in theory, do anything correctly, in which case watching it do something foolish should make no difference. Oh well.

14

David Sucher 09.06.05 at 1:58 am

As to comparing a rock festival with New Orleans, that is a flawed comparison in so many respects: size of area, age/health of population, common expectations etc. One might as well say that one can empty the Superdome in 3 hours and therefore one should be able to empty all of New Orleans in roughly thrice as long.

I am not trying to make excuses but let’s put the logistical problems in perspective.

15

eudoxis 09.06.05 at 2:13 am

How do rock festivals happen?

Pure silliness. Rock festivals are physically prepared by all involved for months in advance.

Only in an ideal world is it possible to move unprepared, unorganized, unable, and often, unwilling people in a smooth and fast transaction using a system already strained by those who were leaving on their own. Seemingly simple decisions such as which unique individuals to move first, the most needy or the most accessible, etc, or assessing their needs for the move (what to pack) takes extraordinary time even with a practiced routine. New Orleans simply could not make up for a lack of preparedness and for dismal local conditions in such a short amount of time.

After the storm hindsight is easy, but at every step a vast decision tree was waiting and the right decisions can’t possibly be made during a natural catastrophe because of lack of communication, inherent weakness of command structures that have never been operational, a dearth of information about the location of people, disorganized and incompetent personnel, restricted access, and so forth.

Even if it’s entirely human to direct anger at the actions of people rather than nature, I think that the size of the hurricane should mitigate some of that.

It’s another myth that people, especially Americans, can be risk free with well laid plans.

(I was raised in Europe during much of the Delta Werken discussions and building. Experts there say that the levees cannot protect against the 200 year floods (for which they were built)because of underestimations of wave lengths during storms, soil reduction inside the levees, increased rainfall and rising sea levels. The risks stand high because of heavy industry and large populations in that area. Still, “Luctor et Emergo!”)

16

bad Jim 09.06.05 at 2:21 am

People: no relief arrived at the Superdome or the Convention Center for days, yet news crews managed to get in and out. FEMA could do nothing, but Hyatt could.

Do you actually understand the disconnect? It isn’t that the federal government was hampered by logistical problems in the aid it delivered, it’s that they went days before providing any aid whatsoever.

A competent crew would have changed the situation there in short order, as the newspeople on the scene vainly reminded us. The problems weren’t logistical, they were managerial. There was no one in charge.

17

abb1 09.06.05 at 2:39 am

Actually, this was quite a libertarian episode: everyone being free to take care of themselves as they wish and according to their ability. Those with money were helped, those without left to rot and die. How much more libertarian could it be?

18

Jack 09.06.05 at 2:44 am

Eudoxis you are moving the goal posts. Nobody is trying to say that there could be no risk and no doubt the logistics are more complicated than a trip to Walmart but you could say the same about the potato famine. The point is that it is very clear that things could have been done much better and in some cases the reasons and extent to which they weren’t are embarrassingly transparent.

19

cbu 09.06.05 at 3:32 am

… I am not trying to make excuses but let’s put the logistical problems in perspective.

… decisions can’t possibly be made during a natural catastrophe because of lack of communication, inherent weakness of command structures that have never been operational, a dearth of information about the location of people, disorganized and incompetent personnel, restricted access…

And you can file these comments in the of “Nobody anticipated that those levees might break” bin. My guess is that david and eudoxis could each spend an afternoon thinking about potential natural disasters in their own cities and figure out different scenarios, consider various options, identify some potential problems and put some sort of plan together in a 3-ring binder. Keeping in mind that FEMA stands for Federal Emergency Management Agency, I assumed that there was an office somewhere in WDC where people created plans for managing emergencies using the resources of the federal government. People who were trained in this sort of thing, or who at least read one or two “Worst Case Scenario” booklets; people who tried to work out some of these logistical issues in advance.

And I further assumed that “managing emergencies” included a primary focus on tending to the needs of the displaced, the elderly and the infirmed, the ones who had just lost everything. Instead, we have tens of thousands of people stranded for days with no water, no bathrooms, and no information, and it is being broadcast across the world on live television. If just some of the initial reports are true, FEMA was actively obstructing relief efforts. Here’s one example:

Far from deferring to state or local officials, FEMA asserted its authority and made things worse, Mr. Broussard [president of Jefferson Parish, south of New Orleans] complained on “Meet the Press.”

When Wal-Mart sent three trailer trucks loaded with water, FEMA officials turned them away, he said. Agency workers prevented the Coast Guard from delivering 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel, and on Saturday they cut the parish’s emergency communications line, leading the sheriff to restore it and post armed guards to protect it from FEMA, Mr. Broussard said.

(Curiously, there was no need to take a trip to Wal-Mart, as Wal-Mart was attempting to deliver.)

Yes, evacuating those left behind was a logistical nightmare involving myriad levels of government as well as private companies. The failure to provide food, water, toilets, and leadership when those resources were at hand, however, goes beyond incompetent execution and strikes me as depraved indifference. I make no apologies for expecting my government to do better, and for being ashamed that it added to the suffering and the misery and the death count in New Orleans.

20

cbu 09.06.05 at 3:49 am

… Here’s one example: …

Forget to properly add the link, it was a NYTimes article. There are many similar stories out there, I’m sure we’ll hear much more about them and their veracity in the various congressional hearings to follow.

21

yabonn 09.06.05 at 4:02 am

Hyatt had a convoy arrive by Wednesday?

Yes yes, some will add it to the “incompetence” column. But this ones grows so much i begin to look elsewhere. Maybe the only beggining of a plan that was applied, the first reflex of the goverment, was to control the blacks.

Everywhere it is said there was no plan, or the plan wasn’t applied, or badly applied. I’d like to know why the police was holding checkpoints (as seen on fox news, people), blocking people fleeing, and if this was in application of a plan. I’d like to know if their plan in case of flood, and the only one that was applied in this mess, wasn’t something like, say, “make sure black people don’t cause no trouble”.

22

gzombie 09.06.05 at 5:32 am

I am more astounded every day at the enormous and ludicrous expectations of perfect “America” in the face of this massive hurricane.

That’s a nice straw man you got there. Does he have a name?

All we need to do is compare the response to this hurricane and the responses to previous hurricanes. To suggest that the response to this one is the best that could have been done is to suffer from amnesia.

23

winna 09.06.05 at 6:09 am

Does anyone have any idea why FEMA would cut emergency communication lines? I can’t think of any good reason to do so, and I’m trying. I am hoping there is one.

24

abb1 09.06.05 at 6:18 am

To defeat the insurgency.

25

Jonathan 09.06.05 at 6:22 am

Any hollywood director would have planned a better rescue and evacuation plan than this governement…

26

RS 09.06.05 at 7:27 am

“Hyatt had a convoy [of food and supplies] arrive by Wednesday?…I guess FEMA couldn’t figure out the last leg of the trip or something?”

“Scaling up from some 700 people at the Hyatt to 30,000 people at the Superdome should be instant?

With current technology, personnel, and equipment, there is no way to evacuate a city the size of NO in 48 hours. There is, also, no way to mobilize a perfect feeding, medical, security and evacuation scenario to 100,000+ stranded, scattered, and hidden hurricane victims in less much less than the time it has taken.”

Why is the explanation for why food and water couldn’t be delivered to the disaster zone that evacuating 100,000 people is difficult? Am I missing something?

27

jet 09.06.05 at 7:35 am

It appears there was stiff state resistance to federalizing the disaster. MS had national guard and FEMA running the show the day after the disaster and things have gone comparatively well there (even though they were hit much harder). The governor of LA didn’t call in the NG for police duties until Thursday and would not allow Bush to put FEMA in charge of all operations as late as Friday. The poor security situation is completely the fault of the governor as she was responsible for calling up the NG. 200+ cops deserted their posts? Anyone of them who mentioned security as a reason can be put on the governor.

When the Congressional investigation ends, we are probably going to find that the poorest most corrupt state in the Union has a government to fit. They will find that the state’s inability to function in the disaster coupled with their unwillingness to relinquish control is what caused this.

winna,
If someone cut communications lines to a Sheriff’s command post, that is probably a felony. Just because some president of a parish who’s never going to win another election is making that claim (and trying to cover his rear), doesn’t make it true.

28

Uncle Kvetch 09.06.05 at 8:04 am

When the Congressional investigation ends, we are probably going to find that the poorest most corrupt state in the Union has a government to fit.

Will that be before or after Michael Brown gets his promotion?

29

Richard Zach 09.06.05 at 8:24 am

A full-scale repair effort for oil infrastructure was also planned for and well under way within 24 hours.

30

Tim 09.06.05 at 8:34 am

Exodus:
Imagine a workable plan to deliver food and water to the people who were massed in safe places and imagine that there may have been a way to carry out such a plan with perfection. Would it have gained 24 hours? How many lives would have been saved by it? A handful, maybe.

IMO, if it saved the 7-year old girl whose throat was cut in the convention center, or the 5-year old who was allegedly gang-raped before she was killed, it would have been worth it. (See BBC news site.) Who are we to say that a “handful” of lives — irony alert: even if they are poor black ones — isn’t worth it?

31

Jeremy 09.06.05 at 8:43 am

It never fails… some people are lost without the belief in an omnipotent state… otherwise, they’d not just be on their own, they’d have to take responsibility for being on their own!

And yet, any beliefs to that effect in NOLA were powerless to change the reality that the Feds cannot deliver.

32

Jeremy 09.06.05 at 8:50 am

Why is the explanation for why food and water couldn’t be delivered to the disaster zone that evacuating 100,000 people is difficult?

Yeah, you’re missing the part where the Federal budget is $2.5 trillion.

I can’t believe that’s not enough to get the job done. Apologists for gov’t ineptitude will always set their standards lower than human dignity requires, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept it.

33

Dylan 09.06.05 at 9:02 am

The size of the total Federal budget has nothing to do with actual resources, given that most of it is transfers. My sister and I could pass a $100 dollar bill back and forth 10,000 times, but that doesn’t give us a budget of $1,000,000 to spend on anything. Use real numbers; you’ll be able to make your point without looking silly.

Going higher in this comment thread, the government couldn’t do what Hyatt did because big organizations can never react as quickly as small. No one at Hyatt was going to get fired for ordering this. Someone at FEMA doing it might have moved resources that a higher up had decided were needed elsewhere. You can have the benefits of scale (large effect) or distributed individuals (fast, flexible), but not both.

34

dglynn 09.06.05 at 10:06 am

Can anyone explain why barges with Guard and supplies weren’t docked at the Riverwalk on Tuesday?

35

derek 09.06.05 at 10:30 am

What a dumb title, when even the author has to post a correction pointing out that the content of the post contradicts it.

36

Kieran Healy 09.06.05 at 11:00 am

Oh, for Christ’s sake. I guess we’ll just have to treat our readership like idiots and be relentlessly literal from now on. I’ll try to keep it down to words of one syllable.

37

mpowell 09.06.05 at 11:50 am

Yeah, it would be pretty silly for anyone to become a libertarian based solely on events like these, and knowing Kieran’s aversion to the philosophy, I thought the gist of the post title was pretty clear.

That being said, many people, including me, who frequently favor less government, do so b/c they believe the government is inefficient at delivering services. Obviously, this goes beyond the pale of what is an acceptable level of inefficiency or gross incompetence. But given what the political process is, I view it as inevitable from time to time. Of course, I have also noticed that this perspective is not shared by many.

38

Peter H 09.06.05 at 12:33 pm

Kieran,

Maybe the problems of the post-Katrina response say more about the American system of federalism than about government competence in general (or even the competence of our current President).

For example, fiscal federalism may give individuals the ability to “vote with their feet” and promote inter-government competition. The flip side of fiscal federalism is that it is when coupled with severe stratification along racial lines, the result may be severely cash-strapped urban centers who are forced to tell its poorest citizens before a hurricane, “You’re on your own.”

Similarly, the existence of (at least) 3 different levels of government with overlapping responsibilities is a recipe for miscooridination and finger-pointing, as we’ve seen the past 3 days.

39

russell 09.06.05 at 12:49 pm

If the point of the post escaped you, derek, it is possible that you are not familiar with Kieran’s politics and with his sense of humor. It’s not your fault. But it certainly isn’t a dumb title. It’s a funny title.

40

luci phyrr 09.06.05 at 12:51 pm

Per this story about food and water delivery to the Hyatt personnel – I’ve a question: did the highway nearest the Superdome (I-55?) remain open the whole time? I’ve seen other references to people driving in and out, and the NYT showed a map (two days ago) showing that I-55 remained open as the best evacuation route.

Is that true? If so, it’s unfathomable that at least some relief trucks didn’t bring water to the people at the Superdome.

It’s one thing to discuss the logistical problems of evacuating the city, but Houston is 8 hours away, Baton Rouge is just a couple. Why did it take five days to start driving water and food in?

If all the roads in were impassable, then couldn’t a barge bring supplies, then have them ferried over on smaller float-bottom boats, or carried? (the water around the Superdome was nonexistent or shallow). Helicopters?

Those who didn’t (or couldn’t) evacuate were told to go to the Superdome. Authorities knew there were thousands of people there. Everyone knew there was a significant likelihood of NO flooding (news reports in California discussed it more than 48 hours before the levees broke).

What was the problem?

41

Thomas 09.06.05 at 2:04 pm

“Don’t tell me that isn’t within the operational capacities of the U.S. army.”

Yes, please stop confusing Kieran with facts. After all, it’s hard to tell those tidy moralistic stories he likes, when the facts get in the way.

42

soubzriquet 09.06.05 at 2:21 pm

Thomas, don’t be an ass. The statement you quoted is unabiguously correct. Clearly there was operation capacity to do very many things that were not done. Why these were not done, is a different (and difficult) question, although it is equally clear that some possibilities may have been impractical. You tossing off glib non-sequiturs like this is really getting tedious, and I can’t see what you hope to gain by it. It certainly doesn’t help any point of view you want to promote, and just makes you look the fool.

43

Thomas 09.06.05 at 2:48 pm

soubz, how is the statement “correct”? It’s in the imperative mood, not the declarative, so, as I read it, it’s not something that even pretends to be correct.

Kieran may know an awful lot about some things, but it isn’t clear that those things include the operational capacities of the United States military. And, as it it isn’t clear that the operational capacities of the US mililitary is one of his areas of expertise, it might be–can it be said?–premature to offer an unqualified opinion on the subject. Even if the delay in offering such an opinion prevents one from telling the kind of stories one likes to tell.

44

soubzriquet 09.06.05 at 3:33 pm

thomas, you are being disengenuous now. Why are you splitting hairs about the quote when it is entirely clear in the context of the entire paragraph what he meant?

Or are you actually going to attempt to defend the laughable idea that the US military was `operationally incapable’ of `delivering a few container trucks’. You don’t have to be an expert to see the fallacy there, you simply have to not be an idiot.

45

Gomez 09.06.05 at 5:30 pm

Eudoxis writes that many of us have a ludicrous expectation of a “perfect” America, one that could quickly and adequately respond to Katrina. I agree in part. Our expectations of what our government can do are very high, maybe unrealistic.

But I blame the Bush administration for those expectations. The Bush administration told us that we could blast Iraq back into the stone age and then rebuild the country as a democracy. The message here has been “we can do anything” because we are the world’s only superpower. But if we can allegedly reshape an entire country, why can’t we have a better response system setup for predictable tragedies like Katrina?

46

Anthony 09.06.05 at 5:50 pm

The answer to Kieran’s last question: the Hyatt folks weren’t shot at.

Functionally, governments are incapable of moving as fast as corporations, and most people would prefer it to the alternative, if they thought through the alternative. In a government, there are many restrictions on people’s ability to take positive action, to prevent abuse of governmental power. Those restrictions, even when not written into law (as the requirements for State-level acquiescence for certain federal-level actions), create a corporate culture within the government which creates delays in acting.

47

Louisiana Law Student 09.06.05 at 6:44 pm

In an effort to provide some clarification, I-55 was impassable into New Orleans proper from either side at one point. What is the source of information regarding the Hyatt?

Baton Rouge, LA

48

Robin 09.06.05 at 7:08 pm

Thomas clearly does know that it is not within the operational capacity of the US army to deliver food and water to places in need of it. Logistics and supply chain management, the army, please–as if troops in wars eat and drink water.

49

lyle 09.06.05 at 9:03 pm

I blame Bush too. He is responsible for the governor of LA and mayor of New Orleans. He should be fired for hiring them. Oh wait, wrong country. Sorry…the mayor and governor totally failed their constituents by failing to do a total evacuation and to take care of emergency response for the first 2-3 days as they are legally required to.

Impeach Nagin! Impeach Blanco!

50

Mark Anderson 09.07.05 at 12:35 am

Let’s inject some numbers into this debate. Take the task of supplying the dome; how hard is this really?

Assume each person averages to needing 1 gallon of water, 2 MREs and 1 pound of sundry supplies (diapers, formula, medical, etc.) That’s a pretty generous base; people could survive for a long time on half that. Assume 30,000 people at the dome and surrounding area. A case of 12 MRE’s weights 20lbs, a gallon of water 8.5. Rounding up for packaging and the like, that’s about 195 tons of lift a day. Water is the bulk of this; if one of the USMC reverse osmosis units is available you could chop the daily lift to 60 tons/a day. MREs are not the most efficient food packaging method; you could trim off some with different food source, but MREs are likely to be sitting around ready to go.

195 tons may sound like a lot, but that boils down to about 11 48′ semis, 30 US Army M813A1 trucks, 160 HMMWV, or 100 CH-46 or 5 LCAC sorties. While LCAC’s and airlift might be scarce, semis and Army trucks aren’t. As far as accessibility goes, they seem to be getting non-articulated buses to the dome, which in my experience are a whole lot harder to maneuver than a semi with trailer. Use army trucks like the M813 if you think off road travel is needed.

While this is non-trivial, it seems that a convoy of this sort should be ready within 48 hours. Pick a big warehouse somewhere as your logistics center. If you are clever, you pick a big grocery operation; a lot of stuff like water will already be there (a lot of these operations have already volunteered aid, so this shouldn’t be too hard.). Locating the MREs should be a matter of a phone call to the Defense Logistics Agency. Allow 24 hours to chase down the rest of the stuff and get it to the warehouse. Vehicles and drivers should be straightforward to find, especially if you start out at a logistics center. Loading the trucks should take less than 4 hours given that everything will be palletized. With relief drivers and a convoy speed of 40mph, you should be able to start anyplace convenient within 500 miles. Run it into NOLA in a convoy. If you are being paranoid, assign a couple of National Guard HMMWV’s as security escort as you get close to the disaster area; that might be the hard part since it involves cooperation between possibly unconnected groups. This is not rocket science, and there are a lot of people around with this kind of know-how. Many just-in-time logistics operations, including Wal-Mart and the U.S. military, run with a far shorter response window. Given that the National Guard has been the source of a lot of the logistics troops in Iraq, I bet you even could find a few specialists in handling hostile environments.

We have had private individuals and companies try to organize this sort of relief already, but turf wars, bureaucratic obstacles and the like have sabotaged things. The problems go beyond the absence of planning into incompetence and active interference with the relief effort. There are any number of news reports with instances of relief operations being blocked, agencies at loggerheads and the like. That points to what is the biggest failing here: there was no one in charge. The government agencies were either incompetent (FEMA, DHS) or were not activated in a timely fashion (Military). If one agency is unable to do the job, yank them and find someone who can. Decisive command decisions could have made the situation far better. A lot could have done with a few executive orders, and I’d much rather see the Commander in Chief back in DC making things happen than doing touchy-feely tours of the disaster area. Instead we had the government thrashing like a headless snake.

51

Thomas 09.07.05 at 7:55 am

Mark, that’s a very good post. Of course, on the essentials, it emphatically disagrees with what Kieran’s insistent understanding of the world, in which no delay–and certainly not a delay of 48 hours–is understandable. After all, people leave stadia every day, or something completely irrelevant like that.

Now, if one starts with a different understanding of the facts–with the understanding that, as the NOLA newspaper blog reportted, food (in the form of more than 300,000 MREs) and water was provided to the Superdome prior to the storm–then any delay in providing additional food and water to the Superdome might be understood as simply a matter of priorities. On this line of thought, the Superdome has food and water, while many other places in the 90,000 square mile region do not, and even though these other places aren’t on television, they are no less real for that. If those are the facts–and as always, we really don’t know much right now–then Kieran’s insistence on providing additional food and water to those folks he can see, at the expense of those he can’t, must be understood as something truly monstrous: we should afflict particular individuals, and comfort others, not based on need or available resources, but simply based on the level of comfort we can give those academics watching the scene on television at home.

robin, I do understand that the US army is in the logistics business. That doesn’t mean they move quickly; to the contrary. (BTW: I don’t doubt that we could have bombed LA very quickly–it isn’t that the US can’t respond militarily very quickly, just that we can’t deploy troops on the ground very quickly.)

52

John Emerson 09.07.05 at 8:25 am

The George W. Bush who sat by helplessly for three days waiting politely for a formal request from Governor Blanco is not the man of action we were sold in 2004.

Republicans are normally “can do” when it comes to things like economic growth, technological progress, and military invasions of third world countries. They are also big about cutting red tape and bypassing bureaucracy.

But in this particular case of disaster relief, they’re defeatists. Bush scarcely even tried, but that’s OK, because it would have been impossible to do anything anyway. Bush waited three days for a proper invitation from Governor Blanco. His hands were tied.

I don’t see any reason other than Republican loyalism and pure contrarianism (hi, Abb1!) to evade the judgement that from Jan 20, 2001 until a couple of days ago, almost every decision Bush made affecting New Orleans safety was disastrously wrong. (If you want to argue that the proportion was only 80% or 50%, cool).

This issue is especially important because it is a very bad sign about the administration’s ability to protect us from terrorist attacks on American soil — supposedly one of the Bush administration’s high-priority items. FEMA and DHS seem to be dead in the water.

The Republican talking points are 1.) the violence in New Orleans and 2.) the late federalization of the Guard. I’m pretty sure that the second of these issues is bogus, and the first is exaggerated, but who cares? There are dozens of criticism of Bush’s non-performance, and these two points, even if valid, would partially exonerate him on only a few of them. But by repeating the talking points often enough, people start to believe that they are the main point.

And last — no one here has exonerated the mayor of NO or the governor of LA. There’s enough blame to go around, and LA is notoriously one of the most corrupt states in the union. LA Dems are, furthermore, mostly low-tax low-service conservative Dems who are in the pocket of the oil companies and other big business.

It’s dishonest to divert attention from Bush to the local officials. These are separable issues, and for those of us not in LA, the federal issues are much more important.

53

Uncle Kvetch 09.07.05 at 8:31 am

Of course, on the essentials, it emphatically disagrees with what Kieran’s insistent understanding of the world, in which no delay—and certainly not a delay of 48 hours—is understandable.

48 hours would have been awful enough. It was far worse than that.

“And he said, ‘Yeah, Momma, somebody’s coming to get you. Somebody’s coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody’s coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody’s coming to get you Thursday. Somebody’s coming to get you on Friday’ and she drowned Friday night.”

54

Uncle Kvetch 09.07.05 at 8:34 am

The George W. Bush who sat by helplessly for three days waiting politely for a formal request from Governor Blanco is not the man of action we were sold in 2004.

He had no choice, John…we all know how seriously he takes the US Constitution. He’s a strictly by-the-book kinda guy.

55

Thomas 09.07.05 at 10:30 am

John, that’s very clever stuff, and I’m sure those in the choir find your preaching very persuasive. I particularly like your willingness to look past your narrow partisan interests, to serve your broader ideological interests–you’ll throw over Democrats, if necessary, if they’re not the right sort of Democrats. High principle? It depends on what you mean…

UK–I think you’re confused about the subject. Kieran didn’t see that poor woman die on her tv, so he doesn’t have any immediate interest in what happened to her. Further, it isn’t clear to me how supplying food and water to the Superdome (which had food and water) and the convention center (which didn’t) would somehow rescue this woman from a place 20 miles away. Is there something I’m missing? It seems to me that the impact of supplying food and water, in some cases to those who already had food and water, would have meant diverting resources away from search-and-rescue. But you were in favor of that diversion, weren’t you? I mean, if you’d been in charge, no one would have been rescued in Jefferson Parish until the people that the tv crews were showing were given food, water, a shower, new clothes, and an evacuation to a place of their choosing.

Finally, if you can find anyone anywhere in the Bush administration or elsewhere who has made a serious argument that the “vesting clause” of the constitution gives the president the power to do anything he might want to do in the event of a natural disaster, then, please, provide a link, a quote, some evidence for that position. (If you don’t know what the “vesting clause” is, then skip it, because you’re in over your head as it is.)

56

Chris Bertram 09.07.05 at 10:53 am

“Fafblog – With Great Power Comes Little Else”:http://fafblog.blogspot.com/2005/09/with-great-power-comes-little-else.html is worth a look. Is Thomas the Medium Lobster?

57

Uncle Kvetch 09.07.05 at 11:18 am

But you were in favor of that diversion, weren’t you?

Thomas, you clearly know more about my opinions than I myself do, so there’s no reason for me to stick around. You just go ahead and debate the Uncle Kvetch that lives in your head. Enjoy.

58

Thomas 09.07.05 at 11:49 am

Chris, I suppose I should thank you for not editing my prior post, but it’s still early.

And the link is funny stuff. A more humorous take than yours, even if it makes some of the same elementary mistakes. To avoid further confusion on the most basic issues: The National Guard really does respond to the Governor’s orders! Really! And there really isn’t a federal emergency power to seize assets! No kidding! Chris, do you know those things? No extended discussion on factivity needed, though clearly there are good reasons for you to want to take the discussion in that direction.

59

Louisiana Law Student 09.07.05 at 1:32 pm

I personally will not be so quick to place fault on the mayor of New Orleans or the Federal government’s speed in movement. In accord with the Stafford Act (42 USCS @ 5121-5206) jurisdiction over declaration of a disaster is placed first in the hands of the state. Following the formal request by the State of Louisiana the Federal Government is then allowed to start the process. Blanco’s request as I found it via LexisNexis was dated Saturday the 27th, less than 48 hours before the hurricane. The approval to start the process of the Federal government was dated Saturday the 27th. According to the state wide evacuation map, it takes 30 hours for traffic evacuation from New Orleans http://www.lsp.org/pdf/Web_StateMap2.pdf

It does not follow logically that 30 hours of traffic not including the creation of public awareness to act should be placed into the paper work request pile 48 hours before the event.

What events transpired post the hurricane are a whole different ordeal, but the fact remains that the purpose of evacuation was to not be where we are now.

I qualify my statements with the fact that I am a Louisiana resident and have been here the entire time. I am not writing this supporting one party over another, but I can not expect steps 2+ to work with the first one was not followed.

Pointing blame does not necessarily create the action to resolve the problem.

Baton Rouge, LA

60

Louisiana Law Student 09.07.05 at 1:32 pm

I personally will not be so quick to place fault on the mayor of New Orleans or the Federal government’s speed in movement. In accord with the Stafford Act (42 USCS @ 5121-5206) jurisdiction over declaration of a disaster is placed first in the hands of the state. Following the formal request by the State of Louisiana the Federal Government is then allowed to start the process. Blanco’s request as I found it via LexisNexis was dated Saturday the 27th, less than 48 hours before the hurricane. The approval to start the process of the Federal government was dated Saturday the 27th. According to the state wide evacuation map, it takes 30 hours for traffic evacuation from New Orleans http://www.lsp.org/pdf/Web_StateMap2.pdf

It does not follow logically that 30 hours of traffic not including the creation of public awareness to act should be placed into the paper work request pile 48 hours before the event.

What events transpired post the hurricane are a whole different ordeal, but the fact remains that the purpose of evacuation was to not be where we are now.

I qualify my statements with the fact that I am a Louisiana resident and have been here the entire time. I am not writing this supporting one party over another, but I can not expect steps 2+ to work with the first one was not followed.

Pointing blame does not necessarily create the action to resolve the problem.

61

tz 09.07.05 at 10:01 pm

Efficient government is like a non-stinging scorpion. Aesop’s fable always ends the same way – with both the scorpion and toad drowning because of the nature of the scorpion.

Government will always tend toward a system that people want to reward their friends with positions instead of finding the best person. Where they will play by some rulebook instead of doing things which make sense (large, bureaucratic corporations do the same) because they can’t be blamed. Where they won’t take risks or hurry because they will suffer a lot if they can be fingered and blamed for initiative, but will generally be ignored if they make sure paperwork is done (consider the FDA – approve a thalidomide and you’re deadmeat – hold a life-saving drug off the market for an extra year where 2000 die – you will just be thought of as being careful since no one will know the names of the 2000 dead).

The market works on incentives. If people got a big bonus for getting water to NOLA, it would be overflowing with fresh water. Instead you want the army – which is trained to do war – to be nice and turn into teamsters or longshoremen, and be really good at it. They have a logistics section, but that is set up to help the army, not something like rescue.

Government can’t be efficient – the incentives are more perverse than Abu Gharib. The market can be. Even non-profits or private citizens can be.

So as often as we do the experiment, the scorpion and toad drown when the scorpion stings the toad, but people still imagine we can just find a better scorpion or toad and it will all work better next time.

I’ve heard insanity defined as expecting a different result when you do the same thing. While the market might not be socially optimal, Libertarians aren’t insane enough to expect government to work except by a lucky exception and typically when it is destroying something.

62

PP 09.09.05 at 10:13 pm

He had no choice, John…we all know how seriously he takes the US Constitution. He’s a strictly by-the-book kinda guy.

Not true Uncle Kvetch…according to the Department of Homeland Security’s Proactive Federal Response to Catastrophic Events plan, they contend that they do have the authority to take control.

http://www.dhs.gov/interweb/assetlibrary/NRP_FullText.pdf

Comments on this entry are closed.