Friday, September 09, 2005

When amateur legal hobbyists go wild

I was thinking that the local and state governments do bear some of the responsibility for the Katrina fiasco long before the Republican spin machine started hounding it. Primary responsibility? No, but some. There were those buses, floating in the floodwaters abandoned, unused. There were the shelters - apparently undersupplied. I had assumed that no city would send tens of thousands of evacuees to a shelter without supplying it with enough food & water to take care of those evacuees. Thanks to the Spin machine, I'd even begun to wonder if maybe, just maybe the mayor and governor HAD done everything in their power to ameliorate the tragedy. Maybe they hadn't jumped through the correct beaurocratic hoops. Maybe they hadn't formally asked for the right amount of help early enough. Maybe it was just a tragic legal misunderstanding, where the Feds DID have their hands tied until the locals did something.

Then I started to wonder - who does bear that primary responsibility? And here's what I found, right on their own mission statements:

FEMA: On March 1, 2003, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) became part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). FEMA's continuing mission within the new department is to lead the effort to prepare the nation for all hazards and effectively manage federal response and recovery efforts following any national incident. FEMA also initiates proactive mitigation activities, trains first responders, and manages the National Flood Insurance Program and the U.S. Fire Administration.

DHS: Specifically, the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will have three primary missions: 1) Prevent terrorist attacks within the United States, 2) Reduce America's vulnerability to terrorism, and 3) Minimize the damage from potential attacks and natural disasters.

Within the DHS charter, under "Emergencies & Disasters" it simply states:
"In the event of a terrorist attack, natural disaster or other large-scale emergency, the Department of Homeland Security will assume primary responsibility on March 1st for ensuring that emergency response professionals are prepared for any situation. This will entail providing a coordinated, comprehensive federal response to any large-scale crisis and mounting a swift and effective recovery effort.

Nothing at all about "the Feds will only provide EXACTLY what the state/local gov'ts request", which is the most recent spin (i.e. Gov. Blanco did not *specifically* request x number of troops, just "send me everything") . Just simply "we will bear primary responsibility for any large-scale crisis or natural disaster".

Part of the Louisiana governor's letter to the President asking for a federal Declaration of Emergency says "Pursuant to 44 CFR § 206.35, I have determined that this incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the State and affected local governments, and that supplementary Federal assistance is necessary to save lives, protect property, public health, and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a disaster. I am specifically requesting emergency protective measures, direct Federal Assistance, Individual and Household Program (IHP) assistance, Special Needs Program assistance, and debris removal.

The states DID their jobs - they declared the natural disaster 3 and 4 days ahead of time. Bush even declared the national disaster a couple of days ahead of time. The ball was clearly, and I believe legally in the Fed's court. And they dropped the ball.

Many many questions still remain in my mind. At the moment, it's unclear who, exactly prohibited the Red Cross from entering the city immediately after the storm. Lefty sites blame FEMA, of course (why was busy keeping everyone and everything out of the city - from donated supplies to fuel to search & rescue personnel) but the wingnuts (via Fox news) apparently have video proving it was Gov. Blanco.

Given the source, Fox News - I'm not inclined to find that credible but I won't get a chance to watch the video myself until I get home. If true, however I'd like more information as to context. I'm not one to paint the locals entirely blameless - I just want all the facts.

On a sidenot, I watched the author of this book "Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 & How It Changed America" on CSPAN overe the weekend and he provided some fascinating background. Amazing how history repeats itself. Sad, but amazing. Anyway, it gives some clues as to what we can expect in the coming months. Even if Shrub & Co. were totally oblivious to the fact that Katrina presented a threat of Biblical proportions (despite all warnings to that effect), the rest of the country is not so unaware. Floods in the past have proven to be major watershed events, and Katrina should prove no different in causing consequences of a historical nature. Political fallout in the form of rolling heads first... but secondarily also in the sheer number of displaced Americans which will have a significant impact on local & state politics.

The Red State/ Blue State deadlock may finally be broken - though events will yet prove to whose benefit. You can bet that Rove & his strategists are busy trying to figure that out right now, however. We need to get on top of it before they do.

No comments: