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Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Why FEMA Dithered: Power Grab?
This Mick Arran article over at Dispatches From the Trenches is an absolute must read. I don't know if it's 100% true or not, but it's the shortest path to an explanation I've seen for why FEMA sat on its hands and, in some cases, actively blocked, efforts to save the citizens of New Orleans.
According to the Washington Post:
Behind the scenes, a power struggle emerged, as federal officials tried to wrest authority from Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D). Shortly before midnight Friday, the Bush administration sent her a proposed legal memorandum asking her to request a federal takeover of the evacuation of New Orleans, a source within the state's emergency operations center said Saturday.
Why might taking over be important enough to them that they'd let people die to do it? Arran explains:
1. Bush’s concern wasn’t centered on helping the starving and homeless refugees in New Orleans but on protecting private property in the suburbs from potential ‘looters’. The refugees were poor and black and the conservative view of them is that they’re all dangerous ‘rabble’—lazy, shiftless thieves; a mob.
For my own part, I'd also add that it would give the feds the ability to limit press access to the city and classify information they didn't want out in the open, possibly on the grounds that it would reveal too much of our DHS infrastructure.
It makes sense of the Bush administration's repeated
Louisiana did not reach out to a multi-state mutual aid compact for assistance until Wednesday, three state and federal officials said. As of Saturday, Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency, the senior Bush official said.
Finally, it provides a rationale for why the feds were pushing the 'armed looter' story so hard: it wasn't to blame the locals for what had happened to themselves; it was meant to be used to justify the invocation of the Insurrection Act and as a stick to beat Blanco into giving up control over the city because she couldn't secure it.
Here's how the Insurrection Act works:
Quelling Civil Disturbances: The Insurrection Act (10 U.S.C. § 331 et seq.)State and local governments have primary responsibility for quelling rebellions (32 C.F.R. § 215.4(a).
It doesn't take much of a stretch to see the feds' actions and statements as specifically tailored to invoke the Act. It's pretty damned obvious that if relief workers and the NG had been allowed into the city in a timely manner, order could have easily been restored without a complete federal takeover of the city.
As in Iraq, when the locals didn't follow the script and greet us with candy and flowers and coronate Ahmad Chalabi, there was no Plan B for New Orleans. DHS and FEMA didn't have any contingency worked out for the possibility that full martial law would not be imposed that would tell them to open the aid spigots. And there wasn't a way to quickly disseminate the new orders that wouldn't reveal that administration had dragged its feet. This further delayed relief, compounding the tragedy immensely.
I'd imagine there were a lot of people in the DHS/FEMA carrying out these bizarre orders who were not under the Bush political machine umbrella, and who are scratching their heads awfully hard about it. Perhaps some of them will come forward and tell the nation in the coming days and weeks exactly what went on that prevented them from saving the lives of their fellow citizens.