Not Every Disaster is a Federal Case

Katrina, 9/11, the desire to bash Bush & plain old federal mission creep have combined to create a destructive paradigm for disaster relief. Decisions should be made as close a possible to the problem and as much as possible by those affected by the decision and whenever possible by those who will carry it out.

I recently listened to an excellent talk on grassroots response to disaster, which gave me some ideas and got me thinking about the subject. The federal government should step in when community, local and state resources are insufficient to the task. The Feds are not the first or the default responders. If a tree falls on your garage, you do not call Washington and even if lots of trees fall on lots of garages, Washington still might not be the appropriate place to look for help. We should not depend on far away bureaucracies for "routine" disaster relief. Take the example of reopening roads and doing initial clean up. While it is true that the U.S. military & National Guard have dump trucks, bulldozer or front end loaders, most local jurisdictions, departments of transportations and local contactors have many more of these things. They are also closer and have local connections and expertise.

Beyond that , individuals, families and communities must take a significant role in helping themselves. The rule of thumb used to be that you should be prepared to survive on your own resources for 48-72 hours. If you are trapped in your home, it should be relatively easy to accomplish this. Even if you are forced to move, a healthy adult can carry 72 hours worth of provisions and the strong can help their weaker neighbors. This is the essence of community. By the end of your provisions, local authorities, perhaps backed by state and federal resources, should have reestablished order and supply chains. Life still may not be pleasant, BTW, but it should be possible.

This will come up again soon. Last year's hurricane season was extraordinarily benign. It does not get any better than that. This year almost certainly will be worse, so we will be hearing a lot about FEMA and the Federal response. Looking to the feds is a dangerous point of view. When people lean on government, they depend less on themselves. The Federal government cannot replace local authorities or the judgment of individuals and should not try, but it will. Much of this increased Federal profile is attributable to a perfect storm of silliness that has been going on for a long time. This is one place were I do blame Bill Clinton (although Reagan was also a good actor). Clinton was good at "feeling the pain" of people with whom he shared photo-ops. He or members of his administration showed up at every disaster. Even the wives got into the act. Remember when Tipper Gore went to help after Hurricane Mitch. Her press secretary explained that Tipper would toss exactly eight shovelfuls of mud before pausing to wipe off the sweat. Great pictures, though, and TV viewers came to expect them.

Local officials prefer to have their disaster federally certified. It brings increased attention and Federal money. So far this year we have had more than 50 disasters, emergencies or federal fire assistance declarations. This year, we had emergencies for snow in Colorado, Iowa, Indiana & New York. I guess that came as a surprise to everybody, but with the wisdom and hard work of your federal government, all that snow is now melted clean away. Maybe a thank you note is in order.

Besides the desire to get a bigger fistful of taxpayer dollars, several other things have increased the federalization of disaster. As I mentioned above, politics plays a big role. National politicians like to be pictured "helping" at the scenes of a local disaster. A politician personally assessing the damage is as useful as a one-legged man in a keyster kicking contest, but if he does not show up with a concerned look on his face - maybe toss eight shovelfuls of dirt - he runs the risk of being seen as cold or detached. It got even worse after 9/11 federalized a lot of what used to be local. We cobbled together a bureaucracy to deal with terrorism AND other disasters. If you build a bureaucracy to address disasters, it will look for something to do and it will find it. After it finds enough to do, it will need more resources to pay for the things it does. A bureaucracy is like the blob that absorbs energy around it.

But I see one of the biggest drivers of the federalization of disaster has been the sport of Bush bashing. It started with Katrina. The hurricane hit one of the poorest and most corrupt cities in the country. Naturally, the local response was poor and lots of poor people were revealed to be living poorly. Bush bashers saw and opportunity to smack the president. It was fun for them and reasonably effective, but it fed the federalization monster. Bush does not want to be embarrassed again, so he is determined that the feds will be firstest with the mostest at any disaster. When the proper response would be to wait 72 hours and then help the local authorities to the extent they still need it, federal authorities will be on the spot calling the shots.

Take the example of the recent Greenburg, Kansas tornado. This was an especially devastating tornado, but it is not the first one to hit the sunflower state. The state and local authorities have the resources to handle this disaster. Local contractors have the equipment to move the debris. Local farmers own tractors and chain saws. Local grocery stores have supplies for relief efforts. Federal bureaucrats are as useful as ... federal bureaucrats in a Kansas disaster zone.

Right about now, somebody is getting to ready to write how heartless I am for writing the above paragraph, but think about it. I am not downplaying the suffering and I AM advocating that people affected be helped – quickly. The question is who can best and most quickly furnish the needed help. You do not call 9-1-1 to order your prescription drugs and this just is not a federal case. It did not overwhelm state and local authorities. They are not dependent on the federal government to fix this.

Federal bureaucrats tend to make people more dependent. They are well meaning, but bureaucracy means rules and regulations that limit initiative, innovation & self reliance. In the Kansas case, FEMA would not let people go back to the town to check out their homes and property. They will impose bureaucratic procedures. When do you think those local fellows who own tractors and chain saws could start cleaning up? Not until it has the bureaucratic seal of approval was firmly fixed and even then there remain liability issues.

So be careful what you ask for. Getting the Washington bureaucracy involved in local issues is like lending somebody your wrist watch and then depending on him to tell you what time it is AND being grateful for it. Trouble is, after he's got your watch in his pocket, he decides what time it is and when you need to know.

Posted by Jack at May 21, 2007 9:33 PM
Comment #220987

Jack, that’s an interesting article, and I’m inclined to agree that the feds shouldn’t be called in if the local authorities can handle the situation.

But when the local authorities DO call in the feds, they should be ready to roll.

There’s no excuse for what happened after Hurricane Katrina. The federal government dropped the ball because President Bush appointed completely unqualified and incompetent people to manage the federal disaster relief agencies.

Posted by: American Pundit at May 21, 2007 10:20 PM
Comment #220989


The Feds did drop the ball during Katrina, but it was an exceptionally poor pass. Louisiana in general and New Orleans in particular are very poorly run and corrupt places. It is not coincidence that Mississippi, harder hit and similarly situated economically & demographically, did not have the same sorts of troubles. In some of the poorer areas in New Orleans, I am not sure much more could have been done.

You may have read about the methods used after the San Francisco earthquake. I do not think we could employ those methods in today’s America.

BTW - I still think it would be a very bad idea to rebuild the at or below sea level areas of Louisiana. One of the reason Katrina was such as disaster was because the whole area was a disaster waiting to happen.

Posted by: Jack at May 21, 2007 10:29 PM
Comment #220994

So… Are you suggesting we resettle all the Dutch and let Holland sink? If all of America were like Holland, would you suggest that we abandon America, Jack?

C’mon, Jack. New Orleans is a vital shipping port and one of the coolest cities in the US. Why can’t New Orleans have the same type of levee system that Holland has? Are we not America?

That’s what kills me about Republicans. You guys have no faith or pride in America. You’re so ambivelent to the deline in America’s leadership, our economic power, our manufacturing strength, our military might…

Seriously, where’s the Reagan optimism? Would Reagan have admitted defeat and just gave up on New Orleans, as you and President Bush and the rest of the Republicans have?

No! Reagan would have spit in the eye of Mother Nature and rebuilt New Orleans better and stronger than ever.

I don’t know what happened to you Republicans, Jack. You guys got your tax cuts for the wealthy and then just ran out of ideas and energy. You guys just don’t care about America anymore.

Oh, you like the idea of America as a shining city on the hill, but you despise and reject the real America. The America full of individual people and families that can make this country great again.

Jack, if America was populated by robots, then yes, it would be logical to move everybody out of New Orleans and let the sea reclaim it. But America is about people. And people have strong feelings for the great city of New Orleans and for America. Why don’t you?

Posted by: American Pundit at May 21, 2007 10:53 PM
Comment #220997


I think caring for America is just exactly what Jack is talking about. Having faith and pride is about helping your neighbors, not waiting for the Feds to come in and clean up after everyone else has high-tailed it. Reagan’s shining city on a hill was not Washington, D.C.! It was Anytown, U.S.A.!
During the Great Mississippi River Flood of 93’ alot of folks got misplaced and were not allowed to move back into their flood plain homes. Wasn’t Clinton the President then? How could he be so heartless as to not rebuild their lost lives like they were before the flood?
It takes more than a little music and feelings to rebuild a great city. And, it is not unrealistic to think there might be a better location or another way. It would have at least been helpful if the people of New Orleans had elected some new blood down there after the debacle that was created by the Democratic-run local and State officials. But, alas, the people of New Orleans and Louisiana settled for the same old same old, which is probably just what they’ll get the next time a hurricane has them singing the blues.


Posted by: JD at May 21, 2007 11:21 PM
Comment #221001
Reagan’s shining city on a hill was not Washington, D.C.! It was Anytown, U.S.A.!

That’s exactly right, but God forbid Anytown should be in a flood zone. You and Jack would abandon it rather than save it.

Posted by: American Pundit at May 21, 2007 11:43 PM
Comment #221013

I think the greater issue is why after YEARS New Orleans still isn’t rebuilt.

How much money did those no-bid Contractors pocket?

Posted by: Juan dela Cruz at May 22, 2007 5:35 AM
Comment #221015


America is a big country. The Dutch fought nature so heroically because they had only a small part of land. It would be exceedingly foolish for us to do a Dutch style defense of the below sea level parts of New Orleans. If you believe global warming is happening, it would buy us only a few years. The sea will not “reclaim New Orleans.” The French Quarter and much of what we love about the city is ABOVE sea level. That is the part worth saving. Some other parts were cypress swamps 100 years ago and will be cypress swamps again, on matter if we waste our money and harm the ecology or not.

And we generally should be careful where we build. It is just dumb to build on a place that periodically floods.

The difference between me and many democrats is that I actually believe we should live in harmony with nature while they just talk about it. My strong belief about the below sea level parts of New Orleans is that anyone who seriously proposes rebuilding them is not concerned with the environment and cannot really believe in global warming. BTW - does Al Gore have a position on this?


Most of historical New Orleans is rebuilt and open for business. Much of the rest should NOT be rebuilt. Thankfully there is enough fighting about that so maybe it will not be. We should (and have) help the people. We have no responsibility to the place. Before you jump on the history bandwagon, the historical parts of the city are above sea level and rebuilt (see above).

Re corruption, you are problably right. I will remind you that New Orleans & Louisiana hava a history of this sort of thing. It is a city run by Democrats, in a state run by Democrats with a history of corruption. I think it has been run by Democrats since the end of reconstruction, so we should not be surprised if some money has gone missing.

Posted by: Jack at May 22, 2007 7:58 AM
Comment #221016

What you’re saying here isn’t heartless, just extremely naive. First, emergencies are emergencies. Locals’ knowledge of the area is invaluable, and they should lead on efforts to mitigate disasters, but to say the federal government should not be involved for that reason is to forget that while major disasters can spare the brains in the area, they don’t always spare the resources or the communications, in which case, large-scale federal help is needed to keep things under control.

I think it’s sad you bring up Bush-Bashing as a factor. Bush wouldn’t be so bashed if he hadn’t screwed Katrina up. Political ideology aside, the disaster of Katrina was so profound and widespread in geographical terms that no state could possibly have held up under it. What’s more, the responsibility for maintaining the Levees that failed was on a federal agency which Bush chose deliberately to underfund. To add insult to injury, equipment that might have helped people there was off in Iraq, along with much of the National Guard, which is supposed to handle this. Oh, and by underfund, I don’t mean dropping a few billion dollars of the item. I mean, they asked for about 23 billion, and got only about three. We can argue about whether repairs would have taken place in time, but I’d say it’s at least slightly more dignified to be caught with your fly open than with them down around your ankles.

As for getting people on the scene, the Coast Guard, with terrible basing conditions and other problems managed to get there almost immediately. There was nothing that would prevent a military with the ability to show anywhere in the world in 20 hours from getting to the affected areas.

If you want an idea of the problem that Bush has, reflect on this: While New Orleans was drowning, Bush’s political staff had him doing fundraisers. It took them the better part of a week to realize that they had a humanitarian crisis on their hands. When he finally came in and made a speech at a levee site, he brought in a s***load of equipment. Rather than leave it when he went, he took it with him. Then, when he made a speech in the French Quarter, they got their lights on for the time he was there, and then they were back off again.

He can talk about rebuilding, but he’s missed his chance. He’s too busy playing politics and political theatre at all times. He’s too much the expert on that, and not enough the student in the relevant disciplines of governance.

Republicans excuse him by saying that this isn’t what government should be doing, or what it can handle. History proves the latter assertion wrong. Disasters of this magnitude have been handled better in times technologically primitive to our own. It didn’t take us a week to respond to the 1906 San Fransisco Earthquake. The other part, the political point about what government should be doing? Well, that’s not what most people think.

People are going to ask for help, are going to need it, and if the federal government tells them to get lost, or isn’t prepared to deal with the matter, there are plenty of politicians who are going to quickly find themselves rather unpopular.

There’s a book you should read by Stephen Flynn called The Edge of Disaster. According to it, Bush’s allowing people to build right up to the levees again, and they’re not being built any stronger. Perhaps years of regional Democratic Party corruption has played a role in the disaster, but there will be no perhaps concerning Bush’s role here, because there has been both the motivation and the opportunity on this administration’s part to do better. They just haven’t followed through.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at May 22, 2007 8:33 AM
Comment #221017

You left out a whole big thing here in the State of Oregon Washington and Idaho. Oregon is 51% Federal land. Any emergeny that starts on federal land SHOULD be handled by the federal government. Why its THIER land and they refuse to take care of it. So as it threatens Our land their is nothing we can do about it.
And for Katrina, Remember it was a GLANCING blow and a Catagory III Huricane. Just imagine if it had been any larger. The levee system was suposto hold up to a CAT III.
What other systems are we leaving under repaired. Hell Just after Kitty The Govenator asked for more fed dolars to fix-up the Sacramento levee system that is also in disrepair and got shot down. This admin doesn’t care about the people stop trying to defend it. All this does is make you look bad, Jack you have some really good ideas and I really feel if you were to examine your beliefs and what this admin has done you would be up in arms.

Posted by: timesend at May 22, 2007 8:58 AM
Comment #221020


I think you’ve hit on a fundamental truth here.

Those on the left think that government should handle things…while those on the right believe that when their “strong right arm” fails, THAT’S when the Federals should be called in.

To be fair, Bush and his folks blew it concerning Katrina. Katrina was big enough that he and his folks should have known that New Orleans and the Gulf Coast would need Federal help in a big way. When something as big and destructive as Katrina hits, the Feds should be there with the 1st responders.

To be fair again, local and state officials blew it too. Big time.

There’s enough blame to go around for everyone.

Did I see the Republicans there with a rake in one hand and a shovel in the other…or were they hiding under their desks in Washington, ducking and covering?

Did I see the Democrats there handing out bottles of water and MREs…or were they sitting on their flat duffs in Washington figuring out how they could use these poeple’s suffering and pain to pick up a couple of seats in the House of Reps?

Was the “finger-pointing” part of the solution? Or was it part of the problem?

There’s plenty of blame to go around.

By the way, the reason you didn’t hear about the Mississippi Gulf Coast as much was that New Orleans is much more newsworthy than small towns like Gulfport, Pass Christian, Long Beach and Biloxi. Plus, the moment Katrina passed, people from all over the state dropped everything and went to help. Doctors, lawyers, police, ambulance drivers, communications workers, farmers, Wal-Mart greeters, burger flippers…they all went and they all helped out. Those that did not go organized collection points for clothing, shaving needs, shampoo, bars of soap, furniture and any of the other myriad of daily needs. May God bless them all for their selflessness.

I remain convinced that the most important help in any disaster is the “eyeball to eyeball” help that comes with neighbors helping each other…certainly not from politicians pointing fingers at each other.

Friends and neighbors first, concerned people second and, when the former are swamped and overburdened, then government.

Posted by: Jim T at May 22, 2007 11:47 AM
Comment #221021

Clinton did the right thing. It’s no use claiming that Anytown, USA is a bright shining city on a hill when it’s under several feet of water anytime we look at the nearby body of water funny. Folks rebuilt, they just didn’t rebuild where they got into trouble.

The Mississippi flood stands as one of disaster management’s success stories, in part because federal assistance did what it was supposed to. It was pretty much Clinton’s FEMA that responded to 9/11.

As for relocating New Orleans? Aye, that’s the rub. When it comes to cities, location matters. Whether or not you like what you have to do to keep a city like New Orleans running, it’s there for a reason. New Orleans is basically located at the first place where you can put a reliable port in the Mississippi delta. It’s got years of infrastructure built up for its use.

Given an opportunity to make a safer more productive New Orleans, though, Bush has failed miserably, putting new housing right up to the levees, despite recommendations other wise, and building them to the same level they were at despite the failure. Jack and you can talk about your grand ideas for moving New Orleans, but Bush doesn’t listen to folks like you. Anytown USA only becomes the bright shining city on the hill for people like Bush when they have to convince you of that. Otherwise, they were listening to their lobbyists.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at May 22, 2007 11:58 AM
Comment #221023


Louisiana in general and New Orleans in particular are very poorly run and corrupt places. It is not coincidence that Mississippi, harder hit and similarly situated economically & demographically, did not have the same sorts of troubles.

What an inane statement!

If course Mississippi wasn’t in the same boat as LA. They don’t have Cities the size of New Orleans! And the regular people should suffer because of the corruptness of their leaders? That’s like saying All Americans should suffer because Bush is inept. (HUM>>.I’ll need to get back on that analogy)

However, that is not my actually response to your post.

“somebody is getting to ready to write how heartless I am for writing the above paragraph,”

Well,Dear,that somebody is me,- of course.

I have served with the Red Cross during the flooding in southeast Texas, the tornadoes of Alabama, Georgia, and Kansas, and the flood waters of Maine.

I have seen up close the devastation Mother Nature can cause. I have seen empty spots where hospitals used to be, holes were schools once were, houses partially sitting in trees and scattered all over into other lots. Workplaces not longer visible or wearing the wrong signs - and the local Taco Bell sign hangs above what once was an old shoe store. Grocery stores that have imploded with people trapped in side meat coolers.

I have also seen as the adage says: how the worst brings out the best in people. Because in a disaster, every one has one thing in common. They lost something, or worse someone. They are survivors, but they have to learn to deal with survivors guilt. I don’t even want to go there.

It would be nice if the person trapped in his room could be able to get out,problem is sometimes its just not that easy. Roofs have a tendency to fall off of walls, and walls fall down on people. But, Lets’ assume your guy got out of his home. Lets see, first he wants to find the rest of his family.

Problem 1. Where are they? How are you going to reach them. Electricity is down, and darkness is falling soon. Most cell towers are down. Oops - your car’s no help - it’s swinging from a tree, oh dear, day light is turning into darkness, assuming you were lucky and the storm didn’t hit at night. The security lights are gone.

Problem 2. You walk and walk through rumble, slowly, seeing other people like yourself, wandering aimlessly around, to where you think you remember your local ATM to get some money -oops the machine is gone. Okay. Okay this can be handled. So you go find your bank. After walking for what seems like hours you recognize the corner where you bank once was, except it has a major hole in it.

Maybe you can find your children at the school, the designated “SAFE shelter. If it’s still there. You pray for their safety. Church after church, house after house, business after business is gone.

You finally hours later arrive at the school. Only when you arrive, there children after children and soon you’d almost be willing to take any child that looks like you. When you do see your children, and, they are all safe and secure in a Red Cross Shelter Tent, You don’t care that your son has lost his shoes, or that you daughter has tore her blouse, and that all three of you have holes in your jeans. However there is little too no food. The power is still off, and the grocery stores have been wiped out. Suddenly you realize… where is your wife? You wait in line after line, hoping , praying she’s alive. Hoping for some information about her, is she alive? Has she been hurt?
And on it goes… for hours, for days…

The Red Cross are the only people there to help. But they can offer only so much. Lack of donations means maybe a 3 day supply of emergency clothing, food, a little houses , if it can be located. But when everything is wiped out, where do you get these supplies?

Both the State Disaster and Federal FEMA departments have been called in - but as usual, they have reserved all the rooms for themselves, regardless of how many they actually need. In fact they have taken all of the nearest rooms - regardless of how far away they are. Assuming they are willing to get dirty by walking and climbing in to the area, you may see a few wandering around. If and ONLY if the Governor, or President declares this to be a disaster area, then and only then, will the State disaster departments and FEMA will some kind of workplace be set up, and they assume the victims will have transportation to get to them. By the time they have arrived, you have hopefully received labor, materials, (tarps, and such), food, clothing, and medicine from the various churches across the state, and the Red Cross. You try to repair your home, but you still have no job, no bank, no money, scam artists are running rampant, and your family is scattered everywhere.

These are the people you don’t think deserve to be helped, Jack. Are you sure you are human?

Your fellow Americans.

Posted by: Linda H. at May 22, 2007 12:37 PM
Comment #221026

We should not depend on far away bureaucracies for “routine” disaster relief.

We don’t. The federal government does not send FEMA or any other resources unless the situation is deemed an emergency. I am appalled you compare hurricane, tornado, and blizzard federal relief programs with trees falling in someone backyard or ordering prescription medicine.

Even if you are forced to move, a healthy adult can carry 72 hours worth of provisions.

In any situation where mass numbers of people will be without food for 72 hours the Federal government better move fast. There is more than simply the healthy to think about here.

So far this year we have had more than 50 disasters, emergencies or federal fire assistance declarations. This year, we had emergencies for snow in Colorado, Iowa, Indiana & New York.

First off, those were real emergencies, with airports and other facilities completely shut down. Did it ever occur to you that perhaps it’s cheaper in these cases, where billions of dollars are at stake, to have a centralized resource help a state out of jam as quickly as possible? Are you so tied to your romantic notion of regular folks helping out themselves that losing large sums of money or lives is okay?

But I see one of the biggest drivers of the federalization of disaster has been the sport of Bush bashing. It started with Katrina.

No. It started with Hurricane Andrew, and Bush Sr’s incredibly slow response, which helped to create over 23 billion in damages. Clinton never forget Andrew, and it convinced him that an organization like FEMA was critical to our safety. Bush Jr. decided to handicap it, for the same reasons you list, and the result was disaster. From a purely financial perspective, we would have saved billions upon billions if we had simply been better prepared for Katrina. Bush’s weak performance during the emergency was inexcusable. Republicans and Democrats alike criticize him for Katrina.

Clinton was good at “feeling the pain” of people with whom he shared photo-ops. He or members of his administration showed up at every disaster.

Only he did more than act. He put together a federal emergency task force that operated brilliantly on 9/11. Only after Bush was through with FEMA, it was incapable of acting during Katrina.

Right about now, somebody is getting to ready to write how heartless I am for writing the above paragraph.

I don’t believe you are heartless, but it’s hard to believe anyone would be suggesting we do not need centralized Federal assistance during emergencies in this day and age. Getting rid of the Federal programs like FEMA will end up costing us more, not less, in lives and money, and would make this country less secure for obvious reasons.

Posted by: Max at May 22, 2007 1:01 PM
Comment #221028

>>I think it has been run by Democrats since the end of reconstruction, so we should not be surprised if some money has gone missing.

Posted by: Jack at May 22, 2007 07:58 AM


The Longs and others ‘since reconstruction are and have been more in line with dixiecrats, i.e., carpetbagging Republicans than Democrats though…right?

Posted by: Marysdude at May 22, 2007 1:40 PM
Comment #221044


Your benevolent republican outlook is not surprising . It reflects exactly what is wrong with the republican party these days. It is that everyman for himself first attitude which really sucks. The idea that our government should help only those who are deserving in your eyes sickens me. A forecast catastrophe of such massive size as Katrina should never under any circumstances have been so poorly handled and so slowly responded to. Bush deserved every bit of bad press. It was his administration which totally dropped the ball in the wake of disaster.

What sickens me even more is that Bush is willing to hold fast on his demands for hundreds of billions of dollars to secure oil in Iraq for the oil industry while we can only supply a pittance to help our own when they truly need it. What does this say about his priorities? The man is a failure and a bum and is not deserving of praise.

Posted by: ILdem at May 22, 2007 5:09 PM
Comment #221045

I would like to see regional multi-state insurance groups established to handle regional disasters which, do not threaten the nation’s economy or national security. Let regional states with similar risk patterns form insured Statehood groups, and let the states of that group collect the taxes for the premiums to insure that region.

This would more fairly put the cost of risk-taking where it belongs, on those who choose to reside and do business within that geographic risk area. Hawaii, California, Oregon, and Washington face earthquake and volcano risks. Let them insure each other for those risks, for example, rather than depend upon the nation’s taxpayers to bear that risk. Midwestern states share the risk of drought and flood, let them insure each other for such risks and collect the premiums from those who choose to live with those risks.

Posted by: David R. Remer at May 22, 2007 5:12 PM
Comment #221046

And to address Ildem’s issue, the federal government would step in with assistance if and when, the regional insurance group of states is tapped out by a disaster so large as to threaten the nation’s economy or national security. This would minimize the cost to the nation’s taxpayers as a whole, but, also assure that major disasters like Katrina do not leave the entire region bankrupt of rebuilding resources, which is certainly partially true of Louisiana today.

Posted by: David R. Remer at May 22, 2007 5:17 PM
Comment #221056

Good luck finding any insurance agents in a disaster area. The ones there usually are trying to fix their own homes - and heaven forbid the companies send anyone out n a timely manner.

Posted by: Linda H. at May 22, 2007 8:46 PM
Comment #221058


Locals responded well in Mississippi & Texas. They even did a good job in many parts of Louisiana. It is just that New Orleans was so poorly managed and such a mess. The Feds did not do a great job, but they are not supposed to be first responders.

Re the levies - that was a long term problem & it was a problem that should not have been created. We certainly should not rebuild the below sea level parts of New Orleans. Do you believe global warming is happening? If you do, you cannot advocate building below sea level. We have plenty of higher ground.

Re San Francisco - there is a very good book by Simon Winchester called A “Crack in the Earth”. After you read that, tell me about how long it took for federal aid to arrive and how the locals responded. You know in SF they shot looters and forced people to work on cleanup.

Re Bush rebuilding the levees, he is not the king and he is not the only one making those decisions. BUT to the extent that he is complicit in rebuilding levees to allow people to rebuild below sea level, BUSH IS ALSO WRONG.

We should not build anything new on those low lying places and we should not rebuild anything nature has reclaimed. It is stupid financially, destructive ecologically and cruel socially. Can anybody advance even one logical reason to rebuild below sea level?

Re relocating New Orleans - most of the old city and most of the port infrastructure was and is intact. The part that is not rebuilt is the part that should not have been built in the first place. New Orleans should be a smaller city. Much of the lower parts should be “green reserve” with lots of trees, some meadows and not many people. You know, things that can be flooded w/o being destroyed. That is the smart way to go.


The feds should take better care of their land. For example, they should thin the forests and do some prescribed burns.

I am only defending the administration tangentially. Generally, I am defending the idea of federalism and arguing against the centralization of authority. It is a recipe for disaster, no matter who is in charge.

Jim T

That is an important point. In MOST places the people helped themselves and their neighbors. That is as it should be. The federal government is like catastrophic insurance. You expect that they will help when you cannot, but it is not their job to do your work for you.

Linda H

You are missing the point. We can talk all we want re suffering. What I am saying is that suffering is best alleviated or avoided if we foster more empowerment in local communities and among individuals.

Think of it with your kids. Are you doing them favors if you do everything for them? It is very hard for parents to let their kids make mistakes. We all hate to see them have a hard time. It is tempting to do their homework for them or let them avoid their chores, but if we do they suffer much more.

Re people needing help - the best situation is for people to be self reliant and not require help. We want to develop self reliance. Why do you think that is such a bad thing? We should still help those who are unlucky or unable to be self reliant. But when communities come to depend on the largess of the government, they lose the ability to rely on themselves and their neighbors.

Local and community responses are best. Federal responses are the last resort, not the first response.


Centralized planning does not work. I lived in countries that tried it. It is always tempting to bring in the big guys. They CAN move masses of resources and they CAN respond to any particular problem more massively than the locals. But as the central authorities get involved, local capabilities atrophy. You can see that in any organization and you can see it in whole countries.


I understand that you think that any Dem you do not like is acting like a Republican, but they were Dems. And is there any way the Huey Long’s ideas on wealth redistribution have anything in common with Republicans? New Orleans and Louisiana are run by Dems today. Are they also not true Dems?


It is not every man for himself. I believe in community. You help your neighbors. You do not wait until the federal bureaucrat shows up to run the operation. You also do have the responsibly to develop self reliance. For every person who can rely on his own resources, there is one more person who does not need to be bailed out. And someone who can rely on his own resources can usually help those who need it. It is best if you can avoid becoming a victim. Do you not agree?


Your insurance idea is good. You know that insurance companies have done a lot more to improve fire safety, auto performance and home risks than regulations. That is because they have the power to deny coverage or raise premiums. If a person wants to live on a flood plain, he should pay more for insurance. It is the risk involved.


Some insurance firms have behaved poorly, but others are being ripped off. If a homeowner did not buy insurance or did not buy the right kind, he should not get paid by insurance firms. We should also not subsidize things like flood insurance. There are some places we should not build.

Posted by: Jack at May 22, 2007 9:27 PM
Comment #221107


My everyman for himself view stems from the fact that I know many people who look down on the downtrodden and less fortunate and truly do not believe that they are worthy of any sort of help. And to be honest most of these people are hard core republicans. They refuse to look further into the shadows to ascertain why these less fortunate peoples lives are such as they are. It is the attitude that because their individual lives have always been rosey and easy then this is the way it should be for everyone. And if it is not then it must be their fault. Yes for some it is their fault. But for most they are a result of bad fortune, poor upbringing, lack of education, mental or physical disabilities or they have just never been given an honest chance. I wonder if every sub standard person in this country living in a less than desirable area were to leave their respective areas of corruption and filth tomorow, where would these people go. Would we openly welcome them into our nieghborhoods and extend a helping hand to try and get them on the right track. I think not. Most of them are stuck in these areas because they are not welcome eleswhere and society makes sure that they do not infringe on our perfect little worlds to any great degree. There is much more to becoming a respected and valuable member of society than simply wishing to be. And a large portion of that problem lies with those of us who insure that they do not move beyond a certain level of comfort. There simply are not enough people willing to share the wealth to make everyone comfortable, productive and happy. Of course a small percentage will be able to escape the trap. But the rest, because there is not enough for all, must remain where they are.

Yes I do believe that it is best to avoid becomeing a victim if at all possible. But because of what I stated above many have no choice. It has been my experience that when catastrophe strikes people in general, regardless of party affiliation, are generous and helpful. We all become good nieghbors when it is necesary. This is just human nature and I always find it heart warming and a wonder to witness when people that normally would not give each other the time of day come together to overcome tragedy. I do agree in general with your thoughts on the matter. In a perfect world your ideas are good. But I think you narrow mindedly over simplify what is a very complicated and unfortunate matter for those who mostly have no choice.

Posted by: ILdem at May 23, 2007 8:04 AM
Comment #221110


Everybody has choices. We do nobody a service when we assume the poor are too unlucky or too dumb to make choices.

My goal is to make the poor not poor or at least less poor and to make poverty less painful. To do that, we have to enlist the help of the poor themselves. Their plight may not be their “fault” but they certainly have more at stake and a greater ability to change their situations than anybody else.

We certainly should make available opportunities and help with it is needed. We should start by addressing the appalling state of many of our public schools, vouchers and charter schools would be good alternatives to many of the failed systems.

The problem with big government solutions is that they often produce a negative result. By treating the poor as hapless victims, we encourage them to become just that. As a result, the total suffering is significantly greater.

Beyond that is the simple fact that decisions made closer to the problem and by those who have to live with them (and pay for them) tend to be better than those made far away.

I do not live in a perfect little world. I live in a big world that is very imperfect and in a constant state of becoming something else. Nobody can make the world perfect or even define what a perfect world would look like. But we can encourage options and proper choices.

One of my main themes here is that federal help can often be a bad thing. Think of New Orleans again. Only the federal government can supply the resources to rebuilt the low parts of New Orleans and make the levies higher. This is something they SHOULD NOT do. It will create greater suffering in the future, just as earlier federal “solutions” that allowed building in the wetlands destroyed the local environment and created the suffering we see today.

Most problems start off as solutions and the only the feds can do the real big ones.

Posted by: Jack at May 23, 2007 8:24 AM
Comment #221123


…the best situation is for people to be self reliant and not require help. We want to develop self reliance.

God help you if you face a total disaster, Jack, because no one is or can be self reliant in our world today. The Gillian’s Island concept (as we saw on the show) is a fallacy these days.

Even a hermit has to figure out a way to bring home the bacon (literally). In some way we all rely on others, from the stores that feed us, to the pots and pans we use, to the medication we need, to the toilet paper in the bathroom, to the gas to run your generator… While you wait for the poser and phnes to be restored.

Good luck, Jack, when the Red Cross is gone, your insurance is denied, and the churches are out of supplies, and your still hoping to pay for your toilet paper, and medication, etc.

Posted by: Linda H. at May 23, 2007 11:52 AM
Comment #221134

You are reading too far into it Linda.
The more people who are self reliant and do not require help means govt can be more effective in helping those who really need help in real emergencies.
We have gone in the opposite direction though. We have a dependent populace who rely on govt for everything. This creates resentment from others and puts an unneccessary burden on govt.

When I volunteered to help during the midwest floods of the 90s, it was volunteers and locals who were sandbagging and evacuating. Not once did I hear “where is the Federal govt, they should be here protecting my interests or helping me rebuild.” People acting together, rather than waiting for govt, are what saved many lives and homes.
From what I am told by those who were there, the feds showed up about 2+ weeks after. Why they are expected to be there an hour or day after now, I do not know. But we have got to get this stupid idea of govt being the answer to everything, out of our heads or we are done being free.

Posted by: kctim at May 23, 2007 3:42 PM
Comment #221146

kctim said: “We have a dependent populace who rely on govt for everything.”

Not completely true, at all. We are dependent, that is true. We are dependent on the whole rest of the world for everything from shoes to dental care to educating our children. In the free market world of global interdependence, we as consumers are vulnerable to every trickster, con man, and profiteer human greed can devise. Since, the power to ferret out, and prosecute those who would cheat, harm and deceive us is not in our individual abilities, we do indeed rely on our government, more and more. As that interdependence grows, so does our reliance on government to protect us from tainted foods, dangerous faulty medicines, and a host of other deceptive practices which seek profit at the lowest cost.

When understood this way, reliance, even dependence, upon government protective services is highly predictable, and in fact, has been predicted since the late 19th century to reach these proportions eventually.

Since, we cannot count on deception and greed to leave the earth, the only choice is to exercise our power to insure that our government is responsible, accountable, and reliable in our best interests.

That means removing the influence of bribery and blackmail, legal and illegal, from the realm of influence where government policy and decisions are made. Government must be made responsible to the people and the nation’s future, and special wealthy interests must be removed from our government in their capacity as bribers and blackmailers of politicians.

Money is power. Money in the hands of those with an agenda and access to distribute money to politicians is the very definition of corruption. That money will and does corrupt our laws, our Constitution, our founding principles at every turn, where it finds them in the way of their special interest or greed.

Posted by: David R. Remer at May 23, 2007 8:28 PM
Comment #221150

Linda H

You should listen to kctim

You have lost the idea of real community and replaced it with a government run pseudo community where we are all victims dependent on the generosity of the rulers. We have voluntary organization (which I support with time and money). We have government (which I support with taxes). These organization help people when they need it. On the other side of the equation individuals support these things. If an individual takes care of himself, he removes the himself from the dependent category and can move to the contributor category. The best case is to have lots of people in the contributor category and few in the victim category.

There are ways that society and government influence behaviors and behaviors influence who becomes victims and who becomes contributors. If we encourage self reliance, we get more contributors and fewer victims. If we treat everyone as victims and discourage self reliance, we increase total suffering.

The New Orleans case is very clear. Many of the victims made very poor choices. Had they been more self reliant, some would have saved themselves and other would have had the capacity to save those less fortunate.

Since I have made myself more self reliant and less of a victim, I can be a better citizen and create more net good for my society. Misfortune can happen to anyone, but many misfortunes enter through the door left open for them.


Many things are not scalable. An ant the size of a horse could not move. A brick building cannot be built too high. And a government cannot function well when it gets too big. You mention the problems of bribery and mismanagement. That comes with large size. The U.S. government has actually been remarkably good for something this big, but there are limits.

When the federal government gets down into local management, it screws it up. It is just an organizational problem. It really cannot be otherwise. The problem of managing thousands of unique small consituencies is just too complex.

Posted by: Jack at May 23, 2007 9:09 PM
Comment #221152

David, we cannot insure “government is responsible, accountable, and reliable in our best interests” if we are dependent on them to survive. When we become dependent on govt, we become beholden to it and will vote solely based on what is “given” to us. Promise a higher welfare check and the politicians corruption is tossed out of the equation when voting.
People are lazy and as it has been proven, people will gladly give up rights in order to do less.

Our founders knew that when govt controlled the people, corruption would reign. That is why we were given individual rights and freedoms and limits were set on what govt was supposed to do and was allowed to do. We were to run our lives and govt was to run the nation, protect us against foreign enemies and preserve our rights and freedoms.

People no longer care as much about corruption. They care about “their” party and what govt will “give” them.

When people become dependent on govt, they lose their control over govt.

Posted by: kctim at May 23, 2007 9:25 PM
Comment #221202

kctim and Jack,

Now it sounds like you are talking about “Welfare, WIC, Medicare, etc. Those are completely different issues. Personally when it comes to those,particularly welfare, I PREFER “Work are”.

Jack started off with a topic on DISASTERS. I am responding only to that.

I am referring to those people who have had an actual natural or man-made disaster occur. Those who have lost everything due to a governmental glitch in the Love Canal Area, in a hurricane, or tornado, earthquake, fire,dust storm flood.

Not all of them made “poor” choices - unless you think placing Andrews Air Force base in Homestead Fl. was a bad choice., Camp LeJuene in a hurricane prone state.

There are many flood, hurricane and tornado prone areas. So lets just move everyone out of these bad weather areas and put them - where? How about the snow storm areas, or earthquake ones, or better yet, lets’ put them n the mudslide areas.If there is a truly save place to live, I’d move there in a second.

Yes, States should and are the first recourse. But when the area is so massively damaged, and the only way in is to climb or use massive emergency equipment - who has those? The National Guard has some, but many times it takes a Federal mandate to use emergency equipment.

If you don’t think the community doesn’t bond and try to help itself, or others affected, maybe you need to see for yourself. These are the people to be called heroes. They give of themselves until there is little else, and then somehow, they give more. They do NOT sit back and wait for FEMA or Federal aid\money to arrive. If they did, they might as well have gone ahead and died in the disaster.

I find myself grateful than none of you has every truly experienced a major disaster. God help you if you do.

Posted by: Linda H. at May 24, 2007 11:55 AM
Comment #221213

I live in Missouri which is in tornado alley. While I have been lucky enough to not have had a direct hit, I have helped many friends, strangers and family who have. But I have experienced a “total loss” due to the floods of the 90s. I am well aware of what a major disaster is.

Jack and myself have both said that individuals and community are the most effective way to deal with these disasters. Asking for more personal responsibility and community involvement does not mean NO govt help at all.

You speak of community, but you are not speaking about its elected leaders. Especially in New Orleans.
The corruption of that city and its leaders led to the city being dependent on the federal govt for action. They knew the problems they would face if a Katrina happened, but they did little to prepare. Instead, they depended on the federal govt to do it for them and when Katrina became a reality, the first thing they did was start deflecting the blame to the Republican administration.
This had nothing to do with politics, it was nothing more than a local govt squandering its money and ignoring what it knew needed to be done. It proved what Jack and myself have said to be true: State govt, local govt and the individuals of each community are more effective in dealing with a natural disaster.
And when any of them rely solely on the federal govt, the govt will fail them where individuals and communities would have succeeded.

Posted by: kctim at May 24, 2007 12:50 PM
Comment #221228

kctim, your argument is an abject denial of reality.

Reality: we are all dependent on our government, and always have been. From the very beginning we have depended on our government for leadership, defense against hostile forces, and expansion and growth of our nation. It serves no useful purpose to argue that the Earth does not revolve around the Sun. The reality is, it does. The reality is we do depend on our government.

Now we can choose to hold that government accountable for its actions in the best interests of us and our dependency upon it, or not. The choice is ours as voters. But, we are all extremely dependent upon our government for our safety, our livlihood, and the future’s of our children. That is reality. Accept it and make it work for us, or deny it and give the politicians latitude to make it work for them to our detriment.

Posted by: David R. Remer at May 24, 2007 3:58 PM
Comment #221236

Less govt does not mean no govt AND promoting personal responsibility does not mean no govt involvement ever.

As the founders knew, We the People should be dependent on govt to run govt and not our lives.

Reality: Depending on yourself first, your community second, your local and state govts third and the Federal govt as a last resort, will make you better prepared and create less of a burden on other states and the Federal govt.

Depending entirely on the federal govt creates dependency, enhances the effects of such things and prolongs the suffering.

Accept that and the people are no longer beholden to the politicians. Deny it and you not only give politicians the “latitude to make it work for them to our detriment,” you also give them an easy way to do so.

Posted by: kctim at May 24, 2007 4:42 PM
Comment #221383

Well, I’d say since the Republicans are the ones forcing America to ignore global warming no matter the cost, it’s certainly hypocritical to then be the ones arguing for shutting down federal relief agencies.

Hypocritical, but not surprising in the least. Of course they complain anytime someone wants to raise taxes,but then want to wage large-scale military adventures overseas (guess what, empires don’t come free, or cheap). Or similarly removing as many regulations to protect consumers from corporate exploitation as possible, but then also putting limits on the ability to sue said companies with “tort reform”).

Posted by: thom at May 26, 2007 10:10 PM
Comment #222378

You can’t expect a bunch of lawyers to actually solve problems. They create problems. Party-less Politics is the only answer. Once we remove the labels, people will only have the person to vote for. There are many people that VOTE PARTY. This needs to end. Why? Because it is easy to vote party and do nothing. It is better to educate oneself before casting that vote but it is easy to just vote party.

Anyway, Lousianna governemnt couldn’t handle a pack of pre-school children let alone a major disaster. They needed the federal government and yet they didnt get it. They Got Dubbyah stating, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job”!!!!

Posted by: danbalfour at June 5, 2007 9:55 PM
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