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September 02, 2005

A Katrina Commission
Posted by Derek Chollet

The finger pointing has started.  Regardless of your political persuasion or party affiliation, one cannot watch the horrifying images coming out of New Orleans – and read the articles about how officials knew for a long time that something this terrible could happen -- and conclude that the recovery effort has gone well. 

Of course, the aftermath of this disaster will have huge political consequences, and there’s no doubt that the White House is hoping that today’s images of President Bush “taking charge” and of troops and supplies pouring into New Orleans will quiet the political beating he has taken during the past few days (of course, this morning there were already dueling press events, with the Congressional Black Caucus slamming the recovery efforts, while Bush was in Alabama flanked by two Republican governors and Mississippi and Alabama Republican Senators praising his efforts).  Yet with lawmakers returning to Washington next week, don’t expect any of this to go away.

But as Suzanne and Lorelei here at DA and many others in the blogosphere, on TV, and in print have been writing for the past few days, our government’s response to this disaster raises many serious questions about its preparedness to anticipate and handle another such event, whether from a natural disaster or a terrorist attack, especially a chemical or biological attack that would impact a large geographic area.  Why didn’t more people leave New Orleans when the warning went out?  Why has the relief and refugee effort in the city been so screwed up? Why has it taken troops so long to get on the ground and for food and supplies to arrive?  Why did FEMA appear to be slow out of the gate?  Could more have been done last weekend before Katrina hit?  Or more fundamentally, why wasn’t more done years ago to ensure that levees could withstand anything greater than Category 3 storms?

We need answers to these and other questions, and we have to learn from these mistakes.  We need to ensure that nothing like this happens again, and yes, hold our leaders accountable.

This morning over at TPM’s America Abroad, Juliette Kayyem suggests that an independent investigation like the 9-11 commission – let’s call it the “Katrina Commission” -- should be launched to do just that.  I agree.  I don’t think it is an overstatement to say -- as many have -- that this is an event of 9-11 proportions – on our economy, on our politics, and as a wake up call to leaders at local, state and the federal levels and for people all across the country who are thinking and worrying about how their cities and communities are prepared (or not) for a similar catastrophe, whether natural or manmade.

The President said this morning that he’s going to find out what’s not working and fix it, and find out what is working and duplicate it – well, if he’s smart he should ask Congress to help him appoint two well-known leaders from each party to form an independent commission to report on what happened and why and to make recommendations.  How about Newt Gingrich and George Mitchell (they did a great job as co-chairs of a recent commission on UN reform)? If he doesn’t do this, Congress should do so when it returns to Washington next week.  Obviously such a commission won’t alleviate the suffering of anyone right now – and that clearly should be the priority – but if done right, it could be an important step in ensuring that no one ever has to go through this again. 


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Wake up everybody. The lack of help is due to the fact that the _LOUISIANA_ National Guard is in Iraq. Most units of the National Guard have the police, EMT, mechanically inclined, heavy machine operators and communications specialists and the attendant equipment necessary to deal w/ the exigencies of a natural disaster. they were not there to help and the Dept of Homeland Security, that now includeds FEMA, did not plan for how to replace them in case of any domestic emergency. Nor should either party go patty themself on their backs. I'll bet dollars to donuts that so much of the spending for domestic security went to places based on how powerful a committee there local representative sat on not real need. In short this disaster is a result of no one really looking at how sausage is made when it comes to emergency spending.


The commision will be stonewalled, and dragged till after 06, blaming looters and some low level employee at FEMA. Not just for the Levees' but for leaking the Valerie Plame info to Novak.

Meanwhile Mike Chertoff is awarded the Medal of Katrina Freedom.

Anyone see that part of Superman the movie, where Lex Luthor is unveiling his plan for the new coastline?

As I have posted elsewhere, (, sorry, not sure if I can hyperlink,

I hope we do not politic this disaster.

A commission, panel, committee or whatever with a serious charter to learn from the problems and improve the response to future disasters is a good idea. Certainly learning from all the mistakes that have been made, going back 20 years or more, is a good idea whatever form that takes. That said, having a commission to score political points or, as with the 9/11 commission, to provide political cover for both major parties is not such a good idea.

"I hope we do not politic this disaster."

Sorry, it was political before it happened.

The neocons politicised 9/11 in minutes. I don't know why they were slower this time when they had two days warning.

Are you seriously proposing a "blue-ribbon commission" to look into "what went wrong with relief efforts" while we're in the middle of rescuing tens of thousands of disaster-stranded Americans? Shouldn't we at least wait until everyone is safe before we empanel a commission to figure out who failed to save them?

I'd be shocked if we hadn't just been witness to the spectacle of a Mayor who has spent the whole disaster in front of TV cameras demanding to know why the Federal government wasn't already there (when he should have been, for example, using the city buses to evacuate poor New Orleaners, as their formal disaster plan called for). Not to mention, the new revelation (via the Washington Post) that the Governor of Louisiana was already thinking primarily about who to blame when she refused Federal assistance in the evacuation offered Friday, before the hurricane, and refused to authorize Federal assistance until the following Wednesday.

Clint, that's an ingenious interpretation of that article. I have to congratulate you on your creativity in interpreting the reporters' interpretations of their anonymous sources.

J Thomas-

Fair point, about the anonymous sources. But even if that wasn't the Governor's actual motivation, the enormity of the local failures remain.

It can't possibly be the responsibility of the Federal government to make sure that every local city government actually stores supplies in its disaster shelters, or to (illegally, if they did it) commandeer city-owned buses to implement the city's evacuation plans.

It certainly is the responsibility of the Federal government to get troops and National Guard units in to help evacuate survivors and supply food, water and medical aid, within seventy-two hours of such a crisis. And -- after the rescue is done -- I'll be right there with you calling for explanations of why things took as long as they did. Unlike many others here, however, I suspect that reasonable explanations will be forthcoming. I'm more skeptical about there being reasonable explanations for the lack of supplies at their long pre-planned emergency shelter, or for not using city buses on Monday and Tuesday to evacuate people.

Clint, if I was a citizen of louisiana I'd be very concerned about the state government's responses. Since I am a US citizen I am extremely concerned about FEMA's tragic failure.

It isn't just NOLA, where the problems started looking worse than expected a day later. (If they had prepared for the bad case, as they should have with a Cat5 hurricane approcahing, they would have been far better prepared when the worse disaster struck a day late.) The hurricane relief effort has been slow all along the coast and inland. Consider for example the hospita ship. In the usual course of things, in a few days it's starting to get sorted out, and about the time they can get severely injured people to the ship and emergency response teams from the ship to the problem spots, then they have a good chance to save lives. There could be a few people with serious injuries in the original disaster who survive 3 days to be rescued and treated. But that ship arrived *yesterday*. Most of the people acutely injured in the disaster will have died already.The ship was late. And to argue that with a Cat5 hurricane approaching the coast it should stay at Norfolk until one of the states asks for it is simply ridiculous.

Good -- a concrete example.

I assume we're discussing the U.S.N.S. Comfort. According to everything I can find, it hasn't yet arrived off New Orleans, but is still en route. It finally left port in Baltimore on Friday, and will arrive on site sometime this week.

This might sound ridiculously late if you don't realize that it requires five full days to prepare to set sail (see for full data on this class of ship, of which we have two. Key sentence: "Each ship can be fully activated and crewed within five days.")
-- indicating that the order for them to activate and sail to the Gulf was given on Sunday, the day before Katrina hit. IIRC, this was also the day that Katrina was declared Category 5, and the day that the mandatory evacuation of New Orleans was ordered.

I can't see blaming the Federal government for not giving this order sooner than that.

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can't see blaming the Federal government for not giving this order sooner than that

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