Hurricane Irene, Tempest from the Tea Party?

Hurricane Irene, Tempest from the Tea Party?

Tuesday  in the Washington Post, Dana Milbank praised federal agencies FEMA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for their performances during the recent storm, implying that the difference between Hurricanes Katrina and Irene was the robust intervention of the federal government under Barack Obama, and that those dastardly Tea Partiers are conspiring to leave the country vulnerable to natural disasters. Given Milbank’s devotion to the demigod whose election was going to cause the oceans to recede and the Earth to heal itself,  it’s understandable that he would react hysterically to a week featuring a DC earthquake, an east coast hurricane and severe flooding, and use scare tactics to discredit said demigod’s political opponents. But Milbank’s weak assertions, in substance and effect, amount to no more than an Obama speech in a windstorm.

Apparently because NOAA’s “improved models predicted landfall in North Carolina,” the state of Florida was saved! Yes, folks, the rooster has saved us from eternal darkness by crowing in the light of dawn. If only NOAA had that sophisticated modeling six years ago, they could have modeled Katrina coming ashore on the Yucatan, and New Orleans would have been spared!

Okay, I’m being snarky. Knowing precisely where the storm will hit does allow for the proper allocation of resources and prevents wasteful evacuations, saving valuable time, money and lives. So, kudos to NOAA. But Milbank, in pimping for more federal spending, is misleading his half-dozen loyal readers about what went wrong with Katrina, what went right with Irene, the dismal performance of FEMA under Obama and the future of NOAA should the dreaded Tea Partiers have their way with the federal budget.

Firstly, the disaster of Katrina was caused by the perfect storm (ha!) of bad weather, putrid local governance and an inert populace so marinated in dependency that they did not take the minimal responsibility for their own survival. The Democratically controlled city and state governments refused to issue an evacuation order. When evacuation was finally ordered, genius mayor Ray Nagin didn’t think to employ the city’s fleet of school buses in the effort. They remained idle as people waited. And waited. And waited. Had evacuation begun on time and resources been intelligently utilized, the initial wave of FEMA supplies would have been more than adequate for those left behind.

Moreover, if the city of New Orleans had properly maintained the levee system, the worst of the damage would never have occurred. In 2009, “U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval … approved a $20 million settlement involving federal class-action lawsuits that claimed sloppy work by the Orleans, Lake Borgne Basin and East Jefferson levee districts contributed to levee breaches during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.” Imagine, structural failure due to shoddy government work. Know what would cure that? Throwing more money at ‘em.

As for humanitarian aid, David Boaz writes:

“Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco conferred emergency powers upon herself. So she knew disaster was coming, not that that seemed to matter. Her Department of Homeland Security refused permission for the Red Cross and the Salvation Army to go into the city and deliver water, food, medicine, and other relief supplies to those suffering at the Superdome and convention center. Similarly, she took several days to sign a simple proclamation allowing doctors licensed out of state to help the sick and injured. Several doctors sat around for days waiting to go to work.”

That’s not to say FEMA was prompt or efficient, but FEMA is not a first responder organization. FEMA is a mop-up organization. Could it have performed better? Certainly, but it is not a trivial point that local government and first responder incompetence, and the passivity of individuals who should have taken responsibility for their own survival, strained the system.

Yet, Milbank is all a-twitter over the fact that “In North Carolina, FEMA provided in-the-dark local authorities with generator power. And everywhere, FEMA, given new authority by Congress after Katrina, didn’t have to wait for states to request help.”

That’s big government working for you. Of course, if the Tea Party has its way, we’ll all be sitting in the dark up to our ankles in water. We’ll have “a weak federal government, without the funds to forecast storms or to launch a robust emergency response in time to do any good.”

Of course, Milbank is so eager to unfurl the “Mission Accomplished” banner, that he fails to explain that FEMA’s job with respect to Irene isn’t over. It’s just beginning. Oh, and FEMA is broke. Oh, and FEMA, under Obama has not even completed its job of managing the tornado damage in Joplin, Missouri, and is now diverting funds to the east coast for Irene.

If Irene “went right,” it did so because local and state governments were determined not to have a Katrina on their watch. They were aggressive to the point of over-bearing. In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie threw his weight around, telling beach bums they had “maximized their tans” and should “get out.” In New York, petty tyrant Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who, from banning transfats in fast food to clergy at Ground Zero, never misses an opportunity to exercise a totalitarian impulse, shut down mass transit twelve hours before the storm was due to hit. In a prudent and compassionate move, he evacuated nursing home and hospital patients in areas at risk of flooding well in advance of the storm. Even the Mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey ordered mandatory evacuations of first floor units in low-lying areas. Most of this struck me as excessive, but nobody wanted to be this summer’s Ray Nagin. On the federal level, we should note that Pres. Obama cut short his vacation, by one day, which would have been too rainy for golf anyway, to take the helm in the White House. Not that he could add to the proceedings, but the only thing worse than hoisting a Guinness in Ireland while Missouri’s being flattened by twisters, would be getting marooned on Martha’s Vineyard where he’d not only be soggy, but once again irrelevant.

So, what was a big storm passed up the east coast with minimal loss of life. The property damage is yet to be tallied, but will likely be in the billions. Now the torch passes to FEMA, which as I said is broke. Blame it on the Tea Party, but they didn’t squander $800 billion on turtle bridges. So we’ll see if Obama’s FEMA can do a heck of a job.

But isn’t that Milbank’s point? To have the robust, big government response we need to keep us safe, don’t we have to flush more money into our bottomless toilet of national debt? Of course, Milbank conflates two programs with opposite purposes. NOAA, which models storms approaching the coast, is an early warning system, and as such is a potential money saver. I’d say that would be attractive to thrift-minded Tea Partiers. And if not, it could probably be funded through a consortium of the most vulnerable states or privately by news organizations On the other hand, FEMA is an insurance pool, which, like any other fund, is finite. Gee, it would be nice if the federal government could be a general insurer, reimbursing every citizen for every loss, but that is neither realistic nor ultimately desirable.

We are a nation of risk-takers. That’s what’s made us great. And the whole notion of risk is that you’re willing to suffer the consequences. Those consequences stiffen a person’s spine. Being shielded from consequences keeps one in a perpetual state of pre-adolescence, dangling from mother’s apron strings, never reaching maturity. It robs a person of liberty and dignity and makes him subservient to whatever great leader is dispensing the entitlements. The government that lulls its citizens to sleep by “taking care” of all life’s tribulations is preparing to dictate every aspect of its citizens lives. And that’s what the Tea Party will not stand for. If Milbank thinks Tea Partiers prefer tempests to tyranny, well, that’s one thing he got right.




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