Tuesday, September 06, 2005

49er's Updated Grades

NOTE: None of what follows will be supported by links or references. Mainly, because most of it has been freely available to everyone wishing to look. Later, if challenged, I reserve the right to look it up and add it – if it suits me, and I can find the time.

After bouncing around between the net and the tube, including some of the side stories that have yet to receive wide spread recognition, the 49er has come up with the following weighted governance grades IN HIS OPINION for the period beginning three days before Katrina blew through FL, until midnight NOLA local time yesterday, 9/5/2005:

NOLA governance C minus
Orleans parish governance D minus
LA governance F
FEMA relief efforts D minus
GWB relief efforts C minus
Neighboring states’ relief efforts A
Other national statesmen’s efforts D minus
MSM local coverage efforts B plus
MSM national coverage efforts C minus
Kicking people when they’re down efforts A
International responses A minus

Here is his reasoning, much of which is repetitive from other postings (He’s tried to depersonalize this as much as possible).

The city of NOLA receives good marks for forcefully telling everybody to leave town ahead of time, and later for warning those going to the superdome to take food, water and blankets because they would be there on their own for several days and it would be ‘rough’.
They receive bad marks for earlier in time allowing the installation of a police radio system that could fail so completely during the foreseeable disaster they’ve since suffered. Whoever spec’ed out and okayed that system should be investigated criminally for neglect of duty. An emergency response force is useless if they can’t communicate on multiple levels. Many reports suggest the only communications left to them were primitive line-of-sight single-frequency “tach” channels. Cops outgrew those in the 1940s.
They receive a failing mark for saving their buses but not their citizens. Reports say during planning meetings when they came to the question of how to help evacuate the poor, the answer was silence. Effective leadership would have years earlier directed a team of action people to resolve that dilemma. No evidence has yet surfaced that this was attempted. (And, yes, besides reading of the city buses that were driven to safety, 49er saw the photo of the school bus yard containing over 300 partially flooded school buses). [He hates it when arrogant “suits” make final decisions based on their limited knowledge and ability. It still happens to him, and he’s retired – for crying out loud].
The city receives good marks for ‘getting with it’ once the scope of the flood was finally understood. When your power is out and you are operating on batteries, and your emergency services people can’t talk and report back at will because their communications are down, leaders are blinded and naturally hesitant. They recovered from that problem fairly rapidly, apparently, so he gave them the benefit of the doubt.
NOLA also receives good marks for making a controversial decision to oppose anarchy by forsaking some safety and recovery efforts, and directing increased enforcement resources back against looting, crime, etc. The humanitarian drama steals our emotions, but anarchy is extremely insidious and once it had been allowed to gain a foothold the human cost could easily have been worse and longer lasting than from the flood.
And they receive good marks for yesterday realizing their emergency responders were wearing out and badly needed personal and recreational time away from the disaster zone. Sending them to Atlanta and Lost Wages was a good idea. Their local knowledge will be vitally needed as the body recovery program begins in earnest, and when they return they should have clearer eyes and strengthened hearts.

Orleans Parish seems to be almost completely composed of the downtown portion of the Crescent City. 49er has found little to clarify its relationship with NOLA city governance. It may be that some city officials wear two hats, similar to the city and county of San Francisco, but he cannot confirm that at this hour. Never the less, the parish portion of the job seems extremely poorly done. For a parish that lived for decades under the threat of total disaster if a hurricane of a certain size descended upon its neighborhood, disaster planning was terribly lackluster and incomplete. Their web-page was/is a laugh. The term “second rate” gives it too much praise. As the interim level between city and state, it should have been jumping the gun to get things going days before Katrina hit, and then once again when the levies were breached. To this day he can find no record of them responding. Curiously, 49er can find response activity records for neighboring St. Bernard, Jefferson, and Plaquemines parishes, just not Orleans.

State governance did a good job of facilitating the original motorized evacuation a couple of days before Katrina’s second landfall. That went by plan and was pretty smooth. Personal friends that were in it said it was slow at first, but they reached Houston safely in well less than a day, and were pleased with the support they received.
LA state authorities were given access to resources and “federal disaster area” legal status a full day ahead of time by the feds, but seemed to “sit on it”, rather than take pre-cautionary actions. Why this failure to act occurred will be interesting to determine. It is probably the worst and most critical failure noted. A state can always step in and override a parish or city, but the feds cannot override a state without approval from congress.
The worst failure of the state, in 49er’s HO [Ok, tm is right. He’s not that humble], is for years accepting the limited safety of a defective levy system that was too low and too old. (A new type of system – originating in LA –for reinforcing their bases with permeable clay and building up levies was only partially used in and around the mighty Mississip, before it was imported to other river cities such as Sacramento and St Louis, etc.) If a levy is too low, it is TOO LOW. If it is too old, it is TOO OLD. The state of Louisiana failed miserably to make that dangerous situation a matter of the national conscience. That was their collective duty. They blew it.

FEMA is too full of bureaucrats (sorry, Q). There is a place for them, but that number should make up less than 1/5th of the staff. Instead, they seem to run it. And the way they run it is about three decades behind the times. Two examples. First, officials in St. Bernard Parish, east by southeast and seaward from New Orleans, as of midnight last night had still to hear a from anybody at FEMA even though they had been leaving phone messages at FEMA headquarters for five days.
Second, for any flood victim to apply for aid – as of 5 PM yesterday – required them to phone or email for a packet, WHICH WOULD BE MAILED to the claimant’s address for them to complete and mail back. So now to qualify for disaster aid, a citizen must not be in so much of a disaster as to lose either phone or email service, and/or a bona fide mailing address. Ridiculous. FEMA needs a good flushing of its top-level administrators. They don’t need to just administrate “smarter” (the old saw), but they need to administrate “realer”, to coin a phrase.

Interesting comment last night on Fox from Newt Gingrich, when asked why the delay in response from GWB. His reply, “He was getting too much conflicting information”. Since 49er and others believe that has been true for two or three years, it is easy for them to accept. If he learns otherwise, he reserves the right to alter his grade.

Texas, Mississippi, Alabama all came through this with their states performing like champs --even though vast areas of the last two had been wiped out. Was the flooding the only difference? Maybe, maybe not.

Life on the Bayou and Gulf Coast always brings out vile and pesky critters that can prove to be very bothersome. They are considered nuisances. Some of the nuisances do not have wings or feelers, but instead ride around in limos and hang out in the halls of congress. Those critters are now coming out in force hoping to put a political spin on anything done in the name of humanity. If we only hadn’t rid ourselves of the protection afforded by DDT, maybe they wouldn’t be so pesky.

These last grades are based on much shorter observation time periods, and are therefore subject to adjustment, later, as warranted.

Great job (in 49er’s opinion) by national, regional and local media in bringing accurate and timely local stories to light. Kudos to several for informing the world – and the authorities – of problems not previously known to exist.

On-the-other hand their big media brothers back on the least coast have wasted little time in ‘spinning’ negative comments and critical specials. Exceptions noted were MSNBC and FOX, but 49er is probably biased. (He feels we don’t need to be told what to think. Given facts we are capable of reaching our own conclusions, apparently unlike the vast hordes national MSM talking heads are trained to inculcate).

The Al Sharpton wannabe brigade has been hard at work, winning stellar marks for turning tragedy into race-baiting opportunity. When will a national black leader with the courage to tell it like it is – both ways – emerge?

Lastly, the response from almost every quarter of the world has been enlightening and edifying. Most peoples – if not their governments – truly wish to be kind to the down-and-out, and their communications and offers of help have been extremely heartwarming.
Good show!


49erDweet said...

Q, let me know if you wish this cross-posted on Simply Put. My assumption is you won't. And yes, that is one of my other lives.


Stephen (aka Q) said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Stephen (aka Q) said...

I notice you're pretty tough on FEMA, giving them a C minus and offering two examples of their incompetence.

But who appointed the head of FEMA? George W. Bush, of course. He installed Michael Brown, who has failed completely in the responsibility. Moreover, Mr. Brown's failure in the job was eminently foreseeable but he was appointed anyway because he was a buddy of a buddy of George Bush. The Washington Monthly summarizes:

Michael Brown had no previous disaster management experience. Not only was he a former attorney for the Lyons, Colorado based International Arabian Horse Association, but he was actually *fired from* the International Arabian Horse Association. A Kos poster writes that his colleagues says he was fired for being an "unmitigated, total...disaster". Brown was the lawyer for the horse association not back in the 1980s or 1990s, but until 2001 when he was brought into FEMA as deputy director.

Bush Watch quotes Paul Krugman:

The undermining of FEMA began as soon as President Bush took office. Instead of choosing a professional with expertise in responses to disaster to head the agency, Mr. Bush appointed Joseph Allbaugh, a close political confidant. Mr. Allbaugh quickly began trying to scale back some of FEMA's preparedness programs. As many people have noticed, the failed response to Katrina shows that we are less ready to cope with a terrorist attack today than we were four years ago. But the downgrading of FEMA continued, with the appointment of Michael Brown as Mr. Allbaugh's successor. Mr. Brown had no obvious qualifications, other than having been Mr. Allbaugh's college [buddy]. The Boston Herald reports that he was forced out of his previous job, overseeing horse shows. And when Mr. Allbaugh left, Mr. Brown became the agency's director. The raw cronyism of that appointment showed the contempt the administration felt for the agency; one can only imagine the effects on staff morale.

And you blame FEMA's failure on innocent bureaucrats! For shame, 49er! Bureaucrats always get a bum rap! ;)

But seriously, you're pretty tough on the government of New Orleans for allowing the installation of a police radio system that could fail so completely during the disaster. How come the disastrous appointment of Michael Brown doesn't factor into GWB's grade?

49erDweet said...

Fair questions, Q, on the surface but look a little deeper, I say. The grades are based on an agency's actual performance, not the popularity factor of its leaders. Regardless of how able/inept its current boss, the agency did what it has always done, in pretty much the same way. Even if I were to agree somewhat with the "benign neglect" premise, or the “Brown is a total failure" crowd, they haven't gone backwards, just haven't improved.

They may not be the sharpest tack in the government, but they were there for LA, whether wanted (and used) or not.

Some of the carping about Brown's appointment is pure politics. (You remember PMPM's recent appointment of a female cabinet minister who some say switched parties for the position)? Some criticism may be valid. But you of all people know that an administrator is an administrator is an administrator. If he or she is a talented administrator, they can adapt to virtually any agency. (This presupposes they are alive and actually wish to be useful).

So I'm not downgrading GWB's grade just yet merely for earlier appointing Brown to a post at which he might be less than useful. A list of names falling into that category going back only as far as the Carter administration would fill a Who’s Who in Government volume. Only when Brown's failures are enumerated, rather than inferred, would that be the bureaucratic thing to do. ;)