Sunday, September 04, 2005

A couple interesting posts...

From Glenn Reynolds:
    a reader sends these comments:

    Buried at the end of the WaPo's critical article on FEMA's decline is this crucial paragraph:

    Other federal and state officials pointed to Louisiana's failure to measure up to national disaster response standards, noting that the federal plan advises state and local emergency managers not to expect federal aid for 72 to 96 hours, and base their own preparedness efforts on the need to be self-sufficient for at least that period. "Fundamentally the first breakdown occurred at the local level," said one state official who works with FEMA. 'Did the city have the situational awareness of what was going on within its borders? The answer was no."

    Measuring from the passage of the storm from the target area -- say 1500 hours on Monday, THE PLAN would therefore expect federal aid at the earliest at midday Thursday.

    Does this excuse any bureaucratic errors that we will find to have been made? No. But it should put the federal response in perspective.

    Oh, and all the blithe comments on how quickly we were able to get troops to Iraq and the Navy to Sumatra shows a short-term memory loss. The buildup for Iraq took place over a period of months, and the Navy's trip from Asian bases to the Indian Ocean, unimpeded by crumbled infrastructure, took a number of days.

    As I've noted before, it's not like calling Domino's. I think that all the efforts at politcal point-scoring now are misplaced. There's plenty of blame to go around, and plenty of opportunities to figure out how to do better in the future. Those are likely to get lost in the fog of name-calling.

From the same post:
    This story from the Washington Post suggests problems with coordination between state and federal authorities:

    Louisiana did not reach out to a multi-state mutual aid compact for assistance until Wednesday, three state and federal officials said. As of Saturday, Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency, the senior Bush official said. . . .

    Blanco made two moves Saturday that protected her independence from the federal government: She created a philanthropic fund for the state's victims and hired James Lee Witt, Federal Emergency Management Agency director in the Clinton administration, to advise her on the relief effort.

    I'm all for federalism, but this doesn't seem like the time for that sort of thing. I'm not clear on what legal authority the President has to simply take charge over a governor's objections; I'm not aware of that problem coming up before. Presumably Congress could -- subject to some fairly limited Constitutional constraints -- address this via legislation if necessary, though it's probably too late for that to do much good now.

    Several readers note that the Post story seems to be wrong -- at least here is a proclamation of a state of emergency by Gov. Blanco from August 26. I suspect, however, that what the Post article refers to is a declaration that would place the National Guard under federal control. Here's a piece from the L.A. Times on that:

    Although active-duty U.S. troops are being used in the relief effort, constitutional limits prevent them from performing law enforcement duties.

    Pentagon officials stressed that only National Guard troops, which are under the control of governors when operating within the United States, may be given law enforcement duties.

    Only a presidential decree would allow active-duty federal military troops to be brought into a law enforcement mission, and officials said they did not envision that would be necessary in this case.

    This sounds right, though I haven't researched it independently:

    Here’s the quick legal skinny: There’s a difference between money and boots on the ground; the governor (surprise!) immediately asked for the former.

    Under the Posse Comitatus Act (18 U.S.C. § 1385), the president can’t use armed forces (including national guard in federal service) for law enforcement absent congressional directive. (Some courts, however, have held that this does not apply to the Navy (U.S. v. Yunis, 924 F.2d 1086 (C.A.D.C. 1991)) and the Coast Guard (U.S. v. Chaparro-Almeida, 679 F.2d 423 (5th Cir. 1982)), both of which seem to be more useful here, since it looks like that nobody without boats can provide any serious logistical or enforcement functions in NO.)

    But upon request of the governor, or perhaps on his own initiative, the president can use the federal military by invoking the Insurrection Act (10 U.S.C. §§ 331-34). What’s happening in NO might be called “insurrection” or “rebellion,” but that’s a politically-dangerous stretch.

    Much more here.
From Jonah:

    I've got to say, I'm begining to revise my views on the Bush response. I do think Bush missed an important political opportunity. I don't mean this in a partisan sense (however the partisan benefit for him would have been obvious). There was a window of opportunity for Bush to seem like he was out in front of this and I do think that window was missed. He's played catch-up admirably, but the political problem he created for himself will endure. That said, it's becoming increasingly less obvious that more first responders etc, would have made an enormous difference in the aftermath of this unfolding calamity. The disaster zone after 9/11 was less than 40 square blocks. Rescue vehicles shot straight down Broadway, Fifth Avenue, the West Side Highway etc. The disaster zone, as the President mentioned, is the size of Great Britain. Would relief vehicles have made it to the center of Ground Zero on 9/11 immediately if the rim of the disaster area was deep inside New England? All of the truly damnable mistakes were made before Katrina hit land. Why weren't more people evacuated? for example. Such mistakes are legion and fall disproportionately at the state and local level. And whatever criticism I stil think is valid for the President, the hysteria about how Bush doesn't "care" about black people is as stupid as it is disgusting.
More thoughts soon.

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