07 September 2005

What about federalism?

My old seminary-mate, Lee Johnson, finds fault with a post by another old seminary-mate of mine, Matt Powell. A recent post at Matt's blog contains a brief defense of Bush's response to Hurricane Katrina--which Lee characterizes as "slow".

Now, while Lee does make some fine points about the contraversy, I wonder if Lee missed something in Matt's blog. Lee says that it points out some things that Bush did right. But then he compares the alacrity with which Bush became involved in Florida (which I have actually criticized) with his slowness in getting involved in New Orleans. I wonder if Lee has not thought that perhaps the difference is not in Bush, but in the respective state governments: How much sooner did Governor Jeb Bush ask for federal aid than Governor Blanco? Also: when we talk about when Bush got involved in La., are we talking about when he got publicly and visibly involved? Or do we include any phone conversations he had with Gov. Blanco and/or Mayor Nagin while he was on his so-called vacation? (I have heard, though not yet confirmed, that Bush asked either Blanco or Nagin to order a mandatory evacuation, or request federal assistance, days before it was actually ordered, or requested.) It is interesting to note that the Mission Statement for the New Orleans Office of Emergency Preparedness contains this very interesting passage:
"We coordinate all city departments and allied state and federal agencies which respond to city-wide disasters and emergencies through the development and constant updating of an integrated multi-hazard plan. All requests for federal disaster assistance and federal funding subsequent to disaster declarations are also made through this office" (emphases mine).
That same document (i.e., "Emergency Guide for Citizens") also contains this provision (with respect to all those poor people who could not evacuate):
During the Recommended Phase of Evacuation:
1. The City of New Orleans Emergency Operating Center (EOC) is staffed for 24-hour operation.
2. Local transportation will be mobilized to assist persons who lack transportation.
3. Bus routes and locations of staging areas for those needing transportation to shelters in or out of the Parish, will be announced via radio and television.
4. Relatives and neighbors should help family and friends who need transportation and other assistance.

It would appear that items 2 and 3 were not done. Did you see the aerial photographs of all those school buses underwater?

For my money, if people are going to say that they are responsible to do something and then fail to do it, the issue of culpability has been resolved. The City of New Orleans had a plan; the plan was not followed. Mayor Nagin is a disgrace; so is Governor Blanco. (And yes, as a matter of fact, I do think I'd have done a better job. Governor Blanco still had more than two-thirds of her Guard available for deployment. As of 23 May 2005, Louisiana's Army and Air Guard numbered approximately 11,500 (Source: GlobalSecurity.org, of which 3,000 (i.e., 26 percent) are in Iraq, leaving 8,500 (i.e., 74 percent) which could have been deployed. Why weren't they? How many more than that 8,500 would Blanco have needed? Now that Guard units from three other states have been deployed there, how many are there now?)

I don't really care about defending Bush. That is because I do not think he needs defending. I am a federalist. Much of the vitriol over all this stems from a deplorable ignorance of what federalism is all about--and how it works. And it concerns me because I know that there are those who will attempt to parley this into yet another increase in the power of the increasingly-not-so-federal government, giving to it police powers--which is does not have, depite--apparently--much belief to the contrary. (This belief is evidenced by the number of people who will assert simply that the government "abandoned" the people of New Orleans. By this they apparently mean the federal government. The governments of the City of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana get no mention; they are irrelevant; they do not exist. Only someone who believes that the federal government has extensive police powers could do this.)

Hugh Hewitt has a blog (you'll have to scoll down a bit) on, among other things, what it is, or would be, for the federal government to have police powers. I suppose there will be those--there always are--who will assert that abstract principles such as federalism ought not take precedence over human life. But you just let the federal government acquire the power to define and then assert a "state of emergency" and who knows the circumstances under which we will see federal troops deployed to enforce law. As illustrated beautifully by George Lucas, in "Revenge of the Sith", (but even more beautifully in the histories of actual tyrannies) tyrannies can comfortably begin when a government is granted broad police powers to deal with a "state of emergency". And "human life" won't mean spit after that.

Following Saint Benedict's exhortation (47), I keep death constantly before my eyes; I have accepted it. But I'm not dead yet. And as long as I am alive I prefer to live free, so I'll take my chances against Nature: she is much less tyrannical than any government, and so is her God.


Lee said...

After learning some new things from your blog and the news, I freely retract my criticism. While I still think President Bush should have gone back to the White House as soon as he heard the levees broke, the fault for the aftermath lies mainly with the Mayor and the State of Louisiana. It will show up in my next post.

Thanks for setting me straight!


Matt Powell said...

Thanks for the link. And you're right about Bush appealing for an evacuation- here's a link.

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James Frank Solís
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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