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Katrina One Year Later: Myths Still Prevail

It has been one year after the largely ineffectual response to the disaster of Hurricane Katrina. Despite the failures on all levels of government, it seems that history shows that Bush bears the full brunt of the blame for the failures. While Bush and FEMA do bear some blame for the aftermath, there are many failures that must be noticed if they are to be rectified. It may be politically helpful to pick a favorite scapegoat for political gain, however, lives are lost if all the lessons aren't learned. After action reports have been discarded for political talking points.

First, the United States is a grouping of 50 sovereign states. The president has no authority, absolutely none, to tell a governor what to do with their own resources. Governors cannot be selected by the President, they are not accountable to the President, and most importantly, they cannot be removed by the President. It may be simple to say "The buck stops at the top" but it reflects a sad lack of understanding of the US governmental system. Bush is responsible for some aspects of the aftermath, but Louisiana Governor Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin bear a good chunk of the blame themselves. They were elected to be sole stewards of their governmental assets and they utterly failed their constituents.

Second, it is important to note that the disaster plan was written by the State of Louisiana and the City of New Orleans alone. It was their plan. They are responsible for what their governments do leading up to a disaster, it was their responsibility to be prepared to deal with a disaster as much as possible, and it was their responsibility alone to deal with evacuation. FEMA responds after a disaster strikes; it is the local and state governments which must take action to mitigate the potential damage.

Third, the failure to call for an evacuation until virtually the last effective moment only maximized the number of people in harms way. Mississippi managed to handle the disaster effectively with minimal loss of life. Florida did as well. All the tales of horror came from Louisiana, and in particular, New Orleans. This was largely because those officials did not call for an evacuation. In fact, the President got on the phone to ask them to evacuate when it was clear they weren't doing so. An extra 24 to 48 hours would have been more than enough to evacuate every man, woman, and child from the New Orleans area.

Fourth, the decision to leave fleets of unattended school buses in parking lots to get destroyed was a critical failure of Mayor Nagin. There were enough buses to evacuate every single person without their own transportation from New Orleans. The fact the buses went unused and the images of buses floating in the Mayor Ray Nagin memorial parking lots should serve as a testament of local government failure spearheaded by Mayor Ray "School Bus" Nagin.

Fifth, when disaster struck, Governor Blanco simply did not lead. Not only did she get on national TV and cry, she was clearly unable to make necessary decisions. The state government and disaster planners looked to her for leadership as the head executive of the state of Louisiana and she failed them. When 9/11 struck, there was no doubt that Rudy Giuliani was firmly in charge. When Katrina struck, no one knew who was in charge because the local and state government fell apart.

Sixth, when Katrina struck from one to two-thirds of the New Orleans Police Department simply walked off the job. For their efforts, they were given free family vacations to Vegas and are portrayed on billboards as symbols of courage. In the military, if a soldier walks off the job during war in a forward area, they can be summarily executed. In New Orleans, they get rewarded.

About John Bambenek

John Bambenek is a political activist and computer security expert. He has his own company Bambenek Consulting in Champaign, IL that specializes in digital forensics and computer security investigations.
  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com Andy Marsh

    Clavos – in that case, 20 years ago I was making less than half that…so, it’s still a lot of money…you may not be rich…but you’re sure as hell well off!

  • Nancy

    Anyone that can afford a $100K property 20 years ago is pretty damned well off by any definition. However, I do have to agree w/Clavos about the grandfathering aspect. At any rate, I think it’s a good idea, IF we could figure out a way to close corruption loopholes.

  • http://victorplenty.blogspot.com Victor Plenty

    Simple solution: require all waterfront development projects to include construction of hurricane-proof and flood-proof domes that completely cover the buildings.

    Come on, people. It’s the 21st century already. We were supposed to have domed cities by now.

    If we weren’t so far behind schedule on this, we wouldn’t have to squabble over little things like insurance compensation for storm damage.

  • Clavos

    JOM,

    thats why the government shouldnt “BAIL YOU OUT OF A BAD INVESTMENT”

    You really don’t get it, do you?

    Waterfront property is anything BUT a bad investment, and I’m NOT trying to “bail out”–I was just addressing (and acknowledging) the complaint, which has merit, that both the taxpayers and other insureds are to some extent ALREADY partially subsidizing me and all waterfront property owners.

    But, if you want to continue to do so, I’m fine with it; I’ll just keep on rebuilding every time it gets blown down.

  • Nancy

    Well, no, you’re right: as the law currently is, there are no restrictions on property holding or development, so any sort of government reversion would have to provide for fair market value, even if they do take it by eminent domain. The problem would be, what is fair market value. The law could then provide for banning all future sales & development on such properties, altho you’d get everyone who had swampland then claiming that you were destroying their property rights, etc. etc. ad nauseam.

  • Clavos

    Andy,

    You have heard that eminent domain requires the government to pay fair market value, haven’t you?

    If you’re referring to Kelo (and others), those are being fought by the landowners not because of unfair compensation, but becdause they simply don’t want to sell–different situation.

    city, state and fed…allowed it to happen…but developers wouldn’t build there if people wouldn’t buy there…

    You’re right–that’s why I’m proposing it not be allowed anymore, and that New Orleans not be rebuilt in the same spot.

    nd I bet your bay front property is worth a lot more than $100K today Clavos…so, better do one of those equity things on your house before the next hurricane takes it away.

    Of course it’s worth more..considerably more. That’s why, if it’s taken from me, I would want to be paid for it.

    I don’t need to do the “equity thing”. It’s insured, for enough to let me rebuild, which is what I’m talking about: you and every other homeowner in the country pays higher insurance premiums because I can do that.

    Wouldn’t it better to pay off all the waterfront people ONCE (and only the difference between their insurance payoff and the market value of their property), kick ‘em out, and STOP subsdizing them?

  • Clavos

    Nancy,

    Thank you, YOU get it.

    You’re right, there would be a lot of problems to resolve, but it’s worth exploring, don’t you think?

  • http://jonsobel.com/ Jon Sobel

    the Corps of Engineers did a crappy job of building and maintaining them.

    The Corps takes the blame for this in its own report. As no one seems to have noticed, the Corps is a federal agency, not a state or a city one. In that sense, the ultimate blame for the disastrous floods in NO lies at the federal level. This article, like most Katrina bloviating, fails to recognize that. Also, I think John B. was rather late to the party. It’s widely recognized now by pretty much everyone that there’s lots of blame to go around.

  • Nancy

    Oh absolutely I do. And I think you have a great idea – not that any politician would ever go for it, mainly ’cause most of them & their buddies are the special interests holding all the swamp lands. Unless they could figure out a way to inflate the prices & make a killing off worthless land, that is.

    It might even just be better to let them have their inflated values and save the money on lawsuits. Once it’s out of their dirty little hands, they can’t get it back.

    Interestingly, Hawaii has done just this: ALL beaches and lands immediately adjoining any waters (such as waterfalls, streams, rivers, ponds, etc.) are public lands. No one can bar access to any beach or natural body of water anywhere on Hawaii, and no one can claim ownership, sell, develop, or bar at least one public access route to it. They also have some really interesting state laws about how close to a body of water you can develop or build, and obviously, if beaches and riverine land adjacent is public land, nobody can develop it or build on it, so that puts paid to substandard housing built on beaches and sandspits. Good, huh?

  • Clavos

    Yes it is.

    Did you know that all lakes built by the Corps of Engineers (and there are literally hundreds of them nationwide) already have a much more limited version of this idea? You can buy and build waterVIEW land, but the Corps always retains title to (and restricts the use of) the waterfront. I’m not sure whether they have elevation restrictions; probably not, because those lakes are formed by dams, and their level can be lowered at will, eliminating the possibility of flooding.

  • Clavos

    Andy,

    One other thing:

    Clavos – in that case, 20 years ago I was making less than half that…

    Twenty years ago, I was making about a third of that–the real estate agent told me I should buy a house worth about three years’ gross earnings–which I did.

    Today, without the equity in that house, I couldn’t even dream of buying it–or even one worth considerably less. I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

  • Nancy

    Still you must have been pretty well off to be able to get financing for it. in today’s dollars a $100K piece of property would be about half a mil., hardly what the average joe could afford, then or now.

  • Nancy

    LOL – I was amused to find that my little cheap-o condo is now selling for 5x what I paid for it, even in the current ‘burst bubble’ of housing sales slowdown. I certainly couldn’t afford to buy it these days.

  • Clavos

    No, Nancy 62;

    As I said just above, I was making $35K and had enough savings to make a 10% down payment ($10K), plus closing costs. Not exactly a Donald Trump land deal. :>)

    I am a saver–I try to put at least a little in the bank every month–even if it means giving up something else (obviously non-essentials).

    And, except for house and cars (which I keep a minimum of 8 years–most ten years), which I must buy on time, I keep this rule: if I can’t afford to pay cash for it, I don’t buy it, and never have. So, I don’t have a fancy watch or a big screen TV, etc.

    Oh, the other exception is our portion of my wife’s medical bills, which are considerable, and for which I negotiate payment plans with the providers, who are cooperative, as long as you talk to them and commit to pay something monthly.

  • pleasexcusetheinterruption12

    Clavos #40.. lol, the government pay you for your destroyed house? hahaha what a joke.

    Actually, that’s not so absurd at all. Isnt that what we’re doing for NO? Funny, Andy wants to rebuild the poor folks homes in NO, but apparently you’re not deserving of his tax dollars. I guess he doesnt like you.

    I dont understand where this combination of funds from the gov. and your insurance is coming from though. Either your insurance covers flood damage or it dont. And I think you forgot, Long Island, NYC, Providence, and Cape Cod are all surge prone areas as well. Much of Providence was flooded by some storm way back.

  • Clavos

    PETI,

    It’s simple. You’re forgetting the land. The insurance pays me for the house, but not the land, which is actually worth WAY more than the house.

    I didn’t forget those areas, although I can’t remember the last time Manhattan saw a storm surge. I’m advocating this idea for ALL tidal water residential coast land with an elevation of less than 25-30 ft. (not the 50′ I stated above-mistake) and all river and lakefront residences meeting the same criteria, everywhere in the country that is prone to flooding of more than a few feet, whether due to hurricanes or river and lake flooding. In short, any place where the need for rebuilding over and over is impacting everyone else’s insurance and tax bills.

    I know it’s not really going to happen–I’m just pointing out what I consider to be a major flaw in our system, and, at that, to my own (and every other waterfront property owner’s) detriment, since currently we are the beneficiaries of that discrepancy.

  • pleasexcusetheinterruption12

    oops, forgot about the land.

    And concerning hurricanes in NY … several force 2 and 3 hurricane hit Long Island in the 20th century. Not as likely as disastor in NO, obviously, but it meets your criteria.

  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com Andy Marsh

    So Clavos…because your investment…your land in other words…would become a bad investment the govt should reimburse you? Does the govt reimburse people that pick the wrong stock? No! So why should they reimburse you for picking the wrong land?

  • Nancy

    They’re not, Andy. Under his proposal, he’d be reimbursed for the government taking his land so he couldn’t rebuild, thus incurring more future expenses if another storm came along & did the same thing. Sort of a form of emininent domain. Right, Clavos?

  • Clavos

    Exactly correct, Nancy.

    And Andy, as I said to JOM in #54, it’s NOT a bad investment–NO waterfront property in FL is, that I know of.

    Every time it does get damaged in a storm, I repair it with the insurance money, and YOUR (and everybody else’s) insurance premiums go up. But the house (or rather the land, really) keeps increasing in value, steadily and continuously. Hardly a bad investment. Even now that property values are declining, it continues to increase, because it’s waterfront.

  • Nancy

    There’s something about water that fascinates humans. You’re lucky to have been smart/fortunate enough to snagged a waterfront parcel; it was a good investment…unless as predicted, sea levels rise, in which case you’re going to be holding title to 1/2 acre of ocean floor, and then what? Flood insurance doesn’t cover sea level increases, does it? I am surprised that NYC would be subject to storm surges, unless they were ‘way major. It would take something to get over those seawalls & up the streets, even down on the tip of the island. How big a surge did that? I should think it would take even more to effect Boston, since Boston/NE is protected by the cape. Comment?

  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com Andy Marsh

    but you want me to pay for your overvalued property if the govt decides to take it away…that makes it a bad investment…for me anyway!

    I understand that waterfront property isn’t a bad investment…right now…but if your plan comes together…then you want the govt to use my money to line your pockets…that makes it a bad investment for me…yeah yeah…my insurance premiums might go down…not likely…but they might…

    Maybe…just maybe…if insurance companies refused to insure waterfront property…what do you suppose would happen to the value of your property then? It’d probably fall like a rock! Then…that imminent domain I was talking about would work against you…yeah the govt would have to reimburse you…but not at the ridiculously high value that you’d like…or think you’re entitled to.

    Clavos…I understand where you’re coming from…and if I had a piece of waterfront property I’d probably agree with you…but I don’t…so I don’t!

    Like I said…because I live within 50 miles of the outerbanks…I get screwed on my insurance premiums…and I just don’t get it…I’ve never made a claim on my house…EVER…but because some people like to live on the ocean…and make several claims a year…my premiums go up…if I owned the insurance company…you wouldn’t be able to get insurance on your home…one of those high risk deals…or you’d be able to get it…if you could afford it…but for some reason…I have to subsidize your insurance…and that sucks the big one!

    Tell me you at least have a boat on that waterfront property!

  • Nancy

    Andy, currently the way the law is written, if the government takes over property, it has to pay for it, which means you & me. Now, in the case of a hurricane flattening Clavos’ theoretical house, and the gov. deciding to buy it in for the public interest, value will be set (probably, unless he has friends in high places, like Jeb Boy) according to his latest property tax averages, and that will be considered fair market value. And frankly, sometimes it’s worth it to pay the owner a little more than you COULD dick him out of, just to save legal issues and costs down the road. I don’t know what influence insurance has on property values; if something becomes uninsurable, whether its value falls; in the case of real property, I doubt it. The HOUSE on the property may become worthless, but not the land itself – unless, as I postulated above, sea levels rise and he ends up owning prime ocean floor footage, in which case, barring a nice big reef thereon, or oil underneath, he’s outta luck, I suspect.

    In any case, such a project, of buying up building rights, etc. on behalf of the public, makes a good deal of sense, since it permanently removes possibility of private development and further damage claims on the public.

    But in any event, if you take the land, you have to pay the holder of title. They were even going to do that with slaves, remember: free them by paying the slaveholders fair market value, because by law they couldn’t just deprive them of their property. This deprivation was made moot when the south lost the war, but the principle was the same.

  • Clavos

    Andy,

    Like I said…because I live within 50 miles of the outerbanks…I get screwed on my insurance premiums…and I just don’t get it…I’ve never made a claim on my house…EVER…but because some people like to live on the ocean…and make several claims a year…my premiums go up…if I owned the insurance company…you wouldn’t be able to get insurance on your home…one of those high risk deals…or you’d be able to get it…if you could afford it…but for some reason…I have to subsidize your insurance…and that sucks the big one!

    Now you’re getting it. One last piece of the puzzle:

    Insurance companies work on the basis of the POOL of funds they collect from everyone. They take that money and invest it until needed to pay claims, which makes them more money. the idea is that they’re spreading the risk among millions of customers; most of whom will not make a claim in any given year. That’s why, when they have massive claims, as in NO, everyone’s rates go up. That’s a bit simplistic, but it covers the basics.

    The insurance company will continue to insure me without raising my rates prohibitively because they don’t have to–they can get you to pay for it. That’s unfair; that’s why I’ve come up with this idea.

    BTW: I rather think other waterfront property owners would NOT like my idea, which basically forces them to move inland. They live on the water because they LIKE it. I don’t think too many would be happy with it. And Nancy’s right; The only scenario (other than economic collapse) that’s going to stop the steady rise in the value of waterfront property is if the environmentalists are right and it all goes permanently underwater one day. Otherwise, people will continue to demand it because, they way it works now, there’s no risk.

    As for the insurance company refusing to insure me: It’s already happened here in Florida; the commercial insurors began to refuse to sell flood insurance to anyone in the state. What happened then? The STATE formed an insurance company and started selling us (everyone–not just waterfront) flood insurance. You KNOW where the state gets its money.

    Also, though my property has increased substantially in value over the years, it’s not overvalued–there’s a limited supply of waterfront (much more limited than land in general, obviously), and as long as buyers demand waterfront property, the price will continue to rise.

    And last: There’s a dock, but no boat. I live in a rental apartment in Miami, the house is on the Gulf coast in St. Petersburg.

  • Clavos

    nancy 71:

    It was mostly dumb luck. I was transferred by my employer to the Tampa Bay area at a time before the surge in prices, so we were able to buy it at an affordable price. I couldn’t touch it now.

    BTW, it’s anothing house: 2 BR, 1 bath (only) and 1550 sq. ft. Killer location, though.

  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com Andy Marsh

    Oh…in that case…thanks for sending this weather up here!

  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com Andy Marsh

    and yeah…I know it was you…don’t try to blame the president!

  • Clavos

    (smiles sheepishly)…Damn, Andy. you’ve outed me.

    BTW, Love the Outer Banks. My wife and I cruised them in a little trailerable sailboat many years ago. Towed the boat to Oriental, cruised up the Alligator river to Abermarle Sound, over to Manteo, then down the islands and finally back to Oriental. Wonderful fond memories of the people and places!

  • Nancy

    A lovely area, St. Pete’s, altho I hear Miami sucks these days. I remember when it used to all look like the old Coral Gables, with the canals & palm trees & beaches all over the place, very quiet, almost small town. As I said, a loooooong time ago. I grew up on the ocean, in northern MA., messing about with boats, as Rat says. I miss it a lot, so I understand the draw to waterfront life, even if it’s on the edge of a swamp or a large puddle. A canal, even.

    Meanwhile, until the policies of Hawaii are universally adopted, the rest of us are out of luck as far as equitable application of insurance robbery goes.

  • Clavos

    Nancy,

    Si hablas español, Miami es muy lindo.

    Clavos

  • Nancy

    Uhhhh…no. I got the ‘muy’ part, but don’t know “lindo”. Last I heard, Miami was very violent & full of crime. And Cubans who have no intention of becoming Americans.

  • Clavos

    Nancy,

    Sorry for the lag–had to run some errands.

    Lindo means beautiful.

    Miami is not crime free, but it’s no longer one of the worst. For example the murder rate in Miami for 2004 ranked it 26th in the US. Twenty years ago, it was one of the top-ranked cities, but the authorities woke up and started cleaning it up to the point that our violent crime rates have been dropping rapidly for several years now.

    As for the Cubans, probably more than 85-90% are citzens, and most of the ones who are not are relatively recent arrivals.

    The Cubans are now outnumbered by all the rest of the Latinos-about the only latin country without a large contingent here is Mexico-probably because they prefer the Southwest and CA.

    We also have substantial communities of Russians (second in the US), Brits, Spaniards, Central Europeans, Puerto Ricans, Brazilians, Argentinians, Haitians, Jamaicans, Bahamians, Nicaraguans, Costa Ricans, and people from virtually every other Caribbean island.

    In fact, 51% of the people in the metro area were born in another country.

    Demographically, the metro area is 57% Latino, 21% native born white, 19% African American, and 3% all others.

    It’s actually quite exciting-almost like New York must have been at the turn of the twentieth century. There are wonderful ethnic restaurants all over the place, lots of art and theatre (in four or five languages), great clubs (South Beach) and the city never sleeps. The biggest downside is the traffic, which is horrendous almost all day long.

    It’s a very vibrant and interesting city in a gorgeous setting.

  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com Andy Marsh

    Clavos – you can come up here and get your weather back any time!!!

    Wind has kicked up…roads are flooding…my roof is leaking!!!

    …and I haven’t bought my boat yet…maybe I need to start building one…what’s a cubit???

  • Nancy

    Andy: ROTFLOL-!

    My understanding is a cubit is the measurement from elbow to mid-finger-tip of the King, which means it can range from 17.5″ to over 24″. A more pressing problem will be where to get gopherwood? I don’t think Lowe’s or Home Depot carry it.

  • Clavos

    Andy,

    That IS one of the classic comedy bits, isn’t it?

    (zhhoop-zhhoop, zhhoop-zhhoop, zhhoop-zhhoop) Heh.

    I see you guys have kicked ol’ Ernie on up the line, but with no punch anymore. You came through it OK, I hope?

  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com andy marsh

    Not bad…neighbor lost a Bradford Pear tree…they’re notorious for spliting at the “V’s” when they get a little to big and that’s exactly what the tree did…my fence that Isabel tore up last year handled this one with no problems…the exhaust on my Dakota sounded like a boats’ axhaust a couple of times on the way home yesterday…more flooding around here than I’ve ever seen in the past…I’m due for a roof on this 20 year old house soon…there’s been a small leak lately…but even with all the rain yesterday it didn’t leak but a tiny bit…couple of drops…it was raining sideways…and from the other way, so that part of the roof was kind of protected…guess we got lucky.

    When I typed that “what’s a cubit” thing yesterday…I could almost hear Cosby saying it…one of the funniest things I think I’ve ever heard.

    It’s in the 60′s this morning…feels great! The rest of the clouds are supposed to pass this morning and it might hit 80 today. Should be a great golf weekend! I saw some pics on the TV from Asbury park, NJ this morning…monster waves in Jersey…don’t see that very often!

    Nancy – thanks for the info on the cubit…looks like I’m safe for a while…I’d be afraid to go to sea on a wood structure I made anyway…

  • Bliffle

    Now suppose that, in contrast to the failure of the city, the state, and the feds, to supply some relief and help, some independent outfit, let’s call it “Rezbolah”, starts helping NOLA people out. Would they be establishing a state within a state?