The FEMA Disaster

FEMA's handling of the New Orleans situation has been so incompetent that everybody ought to know by now. As I write this, there are 1000 firefighters in a hotel downtown from all over the country sitting idle. First, FEMA requested "two-person fire teams to do community relations" in the affected areas, i.e., to use highly trained emergency workers to hand out flyers in a disaster area. Many firefighters responded but are now being prepped in Atlanta.

The firefighters ... were told to bring backpacks, sleeping bags, first-aid kits and Meals Ready to Eat. They were told to prepare for "austere conditions." Many of them came with awkward fire gear and expected to wade in floodwaters, sift through rubble and save lives.


"They've got people here who are search-and-rescue certified, paramedics, haz-mat certified," said a Texas firefighter. "We're sitting in here having a sexual-harassment class while there are still [victims] in Louisiana who haven't been contacted yet."

In response to this kind of complaint, FEMA spokeswoman Mary Hudak said "I would go back and ask the firefighter to revisit his commitment to FEMA, to firefighting and to the citizens of this country."

This is outrageous. In questioning why he's in class and not helping victims in destroyed parts of New Orleans, this firefighter's commitment to firefighting and to his fellow citizens is questioned. Only FEMA could equate loyalty to these with loyalty to FEMA.

The incompetence of disaster response socialism is no less dramatic than the incompetence of broader socialism. Thousands of volunteers in various agencies are being held back by the Department of Homeland Security. There is only one permissible vision of what rescue efforts should be, and it is the government's. There is only one taskmaster, and this taskmaster is completely ignorant of each volunteer's skills.

I don't have a better conclusion than this excerpt from my source article:

While FEMA's community-relations job may be an important one - displaced hurricane victims need basic services and a variety of resources - it may be a job best suited for someone else, say firefighters assembled at the Sheraton.

"It's a misallocation of resources. Completely," said the Texas firefighter.

"It's just an under-utilization of very talented people," said South Salt Lake Fire Chief Steve Foote, who sent a team of firefighters to Atlanta. "I was hoping once they saw the level of people . . . they would shift gears a little bit."

Foote said his crews would be better used doing the jobs they are trained to do.

Hat tip to Sploid.

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Waste of Resources You have

Waste of Resources
You have over 1,000 highly trained firemen together in one room. What do you do? If you're FEMA you make...

I guess a better completion

I guess a better completion of that metaphor would be to say that the American government is like the American people: It's grown fat on chips and soda when it would be much better served by smaller amounts of nutritious food.

This is so typical. Starve

This is so typical. Starve the beast, blame it for being starved, so starve it some more!

The government isn't being starved. It's just misallocating the vast resources it's been given.

Mandos, I fail to see how

Mandos, I fail to see how the beast has been starved. Homeland Security has had massive growth in budget, including FEMA. The fact that they failed to do any sort of planning that dealt with the real world is the problem. The guy in charge of FEMA knows diddly about disaster planning. His spokesperson is a total idiot (that Hudak woman). They completely exclude local government and private charity, even though the Red Cross has more disaster relief experience than any other organization in the world. Every major city in this country has extremely competent and capable search and rescue teams in their fire departments, but the mighty FEMA is going to have them hand out brochures.

Like I told another big government socialist, "you're losing it dude".

Mandos, what is your

Mandos, what is your response to the claim that volunteers aren't being allowed to help? I don't see what that has to do with starving the beast.

Katrina: PR Fiasco to Real

Katrina: PR Fiasco to Real Fiasco in Nothing Flat
I've said, from the beginning, that the biggest mistake Bush has made in this disaster is not getting in front of the American people fast enough and explaining what was being done to aid New Orleans. And I still maintain...

Mandos, is it also your

Mandos, is it also your contention that FEMA is "starved"?

"The incompetence of

"The incompetence of disaster response socialism is no less dramatic than the incompetence of broader socialism. Thousands of volunteers in various agencies are being held back by the Department of Homeland Security. There is only one permissible vision of what rescue efforts should be, and it is the government’s. There is only one taskmaster, and this taskmaster is completely ignorant of each volunteer’s skills."

This is so typical. Starve the beast, blame it for being starved, so starve it some more! Frankly, there have been, in fact, disaster response systems in many parts of the world that have been less incompetent. And precisely zero libertarian disaster response scenarios, except in places that were too poor to have a functioning government.

Mandos is actually touching

Mandos is actually touching on a subject I have seen addressed by Buchanan, the difference being that Buchanan understands the apparent contradiction. There is a tendency by politicians to promise both lower taxes and more services. Therefore, no matter whether any individual politician believes more in one than the other, the total effect is perpetual deficit. Libertarians are not on that spectrum; they don't believe in the second part of the prescription. But if libertarians comprised as much as 49% of the government, the result would still be deficits because the other 51% would agree on more services. Don't believe neocons are infavor of more govt? Just look at federal spending in the GOP era; it's all up since '96, and the longer they stay in, the fewer cuts and the more spending programs they propose. Federal education? Defense? Homeland security? Drug benefits?

At the same time, we (should) know that **ALL** government agencies claim to be underfunded, all the time. If someone sells meat approved by the govt, they go out of business and the government agency requests more power and more money. If someone sells drugs approved by the government, they get sued and the govt agency gets more power and more money. If an agency fails to detect terrorists (an actual govt function), they get more power, money, and another layer of bureaucracy. It doesn't matter how much money and power they have, it will never be enough as long as there is some risk. This is especially true for a federal agency tasked to mitigate risk.

So, the government doesn't

So, the government doesn't have enough money, but that's not really the problem, the problem is that we don't really believe that government can work, so we don't give it enough money to make it work, and that's wasted anyway because the people who run the government don't want it to work. Whew. Yes, there might be such a thing as functioning government. I may even believe in it. I may also believe that those diet pills advertised on TV at 2 a.m. will make me lose weight in weeks with absolutely no diet or exercise. Unfortunately, neither the strength of my belief nor the money I spend on them has any relation to whether or not they work.

See, in the estate tax

See, in the estate tax debate, in the SS reform debate, etc, I simply don't see the populist economic positions here. I see people who definitely have it out for government regulation (except in certain issues of religion, and even this is a sop that will never be fulfilled). I see people who definitely have it out for social democracy, INCLUDING Bill Clinton and his ilk.

It's a common affliction of the libertarian capitalist grassroots to believe that if you're not immediately shrinking the actual size of government, you are some kind of collectivist welfare statist---ie, to believe that libertarians in practice are somehow special and aloof in this dimension. In reality bloat and dismantlement seem to go together. The experience in Canada is that the socialist parties (when they achieve provincial power) are often quite efficient, fiscally, and the "dismantlement" parties cut services...and sink the provinces (and often the federal government) into massive cost overruns.

Let me put it this way: you

Let me put it this way: you first have to believe in a functioning government. So you're right: it's not a specific question of money. It's a belief in the possibility that government can function. The people who are running the present government are people who clearly don't believe in a functioning government, for whatever reason.

So from there, there's the question of "what do you do next?" Neutralizing its agencies by rendering it useless is the way they've chosen.

The only thing I blame you guys for doing is perpetuating the enabling myth of impossibility of functioning government. And to me, it is not just a matter of FEMA: emergency preparedness is a lot more than getting troops and aid on the ground.

Mandos, For starters, I

Mandos,
For starters, I don't believe in any such thing as the "Holy Market". No human institution will solve all problems. But in all seriousness, how would more money have solved the problems with the Katrina response? How much money would be required? Is there a specific number, such as twice as much budget as FEMA currently has? Three times as much? The problem I see with your argument is that it has no logical end. No matter how much money was allocated to disaster preparedness, if the response to disaster fails, it can always be cited as proof that "we didn't spend enough." It becomes impossible to identify other factors that led to failure, since everything can be blamed on lack of enough spending. How much should we spend before we begin to question if lack of money is not the real problem?

Mandos, your comments are

Mandos, your comments are beautiful, internally logical and well written. They only have one drawback, though. They don't align with the real world. ;-)

Neo-cons are not libertarians in disguise. They are democratic socialists with a hawkish foreign policy mindset and a populist economics platform. They've taken what looks to them like the best pieces of liberalism, conservatism and socialism and created their platform. They like big government, they don't want to destroy it. If you were actually describing the reality of DC I would agree with you, but you aren't.

Let me put it this way. The

Let me put it this way. The government is presently run by people who think much as you do about some things: they believe that government services are overrated and undesirable and flawed. But you are honest: you would simply cut and privatize and lower taxes.

However, these people know better. Instead they siphon off the money and render the government incapable of functioning. Privatization becomes pork (look at Iraq). Those who are appointed to manage the government are chosen to be the best people to make it nonfunctional. Patronage is no longer patronage: it is creative destruction, so to speak. And they know that they'll need a private army and a lot of wealth. You'd realize you'd need one too in your "libertarian" world where the starving looters are at your gate, but you are too honest to think this way.

It's not a conspiracy: it's just common sense. Drown the government in a bathtub. It's not a matter of the size of the budget: you NEED that money to kill the government. Need to scorch the earth. Need that money to protect yourself afterwards. If the government spends your money and still seems incompetent, of course you're going to want to cut services: which inevitably end up in the pockets of expensive private contractors.

I'm living in US now after having moved from Canada. I can see why libertarianism of your sort might be more popular here than there. By moving here I'm NOT actually saving that much in taxes! But I'm getting a lot less in many, many dimensions. Not enough that my lower taxes compensate for it. Maybe it's because Canada has a smaller population and thus a government closer to the people. Who knows. But what I do know is that many countries don't have has terrible an experience with government as the USA. And so I'm forced to conclude that it isn't government: it's the USA.

I'm not saying government is perfect. I don't believe in a Holy Government the way some of you believe in a Holy Market---a powerful signaling systems that approximates optimal solutions. I'd go so far as to say that government in its present form is a necessary evil. My favorite utopia is probably something resembling anarchosyndicalism. But, until then, social welfare it must be.