Friday, September 09, 2005

Statement in the Aftermath of Katrina via OMB. My reactions within (long)

The essence of needing and expecting action is fine. But, how actions are accomplished and what is asked for (in hindsight) is strange in this OMB statement.
OMB Watch - An OMB Watch Statement in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina
Hurricane Katrina reminds us why it is necessary to have a strong, accountable federal government. In a time of crisis we need a unified, coordinated and effective response. To accomplish this, the federal government must exert leadership and be prepared to act. Hurricane Katrina has demonstrated -- as no sloganeering about the role of government could -- the dangers of assuming that smaller government is always better, or that federal responsibilities should be shifted to others. As Katrina has shown, when the federal government refuses to shoulder its responsibilities and chooses instead to pass the buck, lives are put at risk and chaos ensues....

I think Katrinia reminds us why it is necessary to have a diversified and effective response. The unified part was the problem, not the solution.
Leadership is earned -- like respect. It isn't something to EXERT. When the Federal Government MUST EXERT LEADERSHIP then we've got serious problems brewing, much worse than even Katrina.

True, many of our elected leaders who we expected to act didn't. They were ill prepared to lead, to act, to work, to fix and to help. They were frozen in time. The outcomes were glaring and caught on television news.
I am one who generally clamors for "smaller government." I don't ever say smaller is ALWAYS better. Always and never are avoided, as are "first" and "only."

We agree:
No doubt, the Fed need to shoulder responsibility.
No doubt, lives should not be put at risk.
No doubt, chaos ensues after a disaster. But, more chaos would occur if a unified effort shifted more responsibilities to itself, at the expense of other efforts, and then broke down.

It is like data. Back-ups are always a good idea.

We need good backups. We need redundant systems.

Just think of the World Wide Web. It thrives because all the data and efforts are not in one place with one god-like place of responsibility.

Just think of nature. The diversity is what makes splendid results. The king of the jungle is but a name. Ants, birds and reptiles all function without needing to get permission from the lions -- yet alone wait for the lion to live life for them.

Do doubt we need coordinated and effective. Unified, however, not so much.

We'll be stronger when there is diversity.

We'll be more accountable when there are other systems out there doing the job too.

The Feds are being held accountable today (or in the weeks to come) because the news crews (CNN, Fox, etc.) were at the New Orleans Convention Center and the reporters didn't find clean water, organization, doctors, nor food. Other voices and other avenues need to be free flowing -- not controlled from one central command.

I want accountability, but a great deal of that happens with marketplace forces that are proven in moment to moment efforts.

The one size fits all approach takes a lot of time at the tailor's shop before it can be applied. Meanwhile, deaths mount higher. We have to think it through and plan in advance. But there are times to act. A smart network has smart nodes. I want strong independence throughout.

Why has it been acceptable to provide tax breaks primarily for the richest in our society when basic human needs have gone unmet for so many?

Because they had the votes, that's why.

You want tax breaks, you line up some good reasoning, some good arm twisting, and you deliver the votes. Often the votes can be purchased. We have too many in the political realm who are able to be bought. That's special interest and money at its worst.

By the way, I hate corporate welfare. That is one of the worst types of tax cut.

I agree again that we need to have our government tackle the jobs of what government should be doing. Dams, locks on the rivers, road re-paving, bridge repair, rodent control, etc. They need to stick to the knitting. They need to watch the public treasury too. Large scale projects that make sense for the collective good need to be done. But, too many large scale projects are PORK and sexy. Those efforts take away from the non-sexy, routine, boring projects.

If you take care of the basics and repair what you have as top priorities -- you won't get ahead in politics and government. There have been millions poured into our state (Pennsylvania) for GAMBLING interests. We don't have gambling, but that is where the money is. The money is for the new, not the rehabs. The money is for the change, the churn, the speculators -- not the inner city.

It is easy to focus on one developer and a greenfield vs. a diverse neighborhood and many owners with many stakeholders. Easy does not deliver the best solutions however.

In our city, it is easy for the mayor or the county executive to call to the north side and have a meeting with four people all in the office: Rooney (Owner of the Steelers), McK (owner of the Pirates), S. (owner of leases to parking), URA (urban redevelopment authority). Easy. No home owners are there to deal with. Perhaps if the meeting get a bit wider in scope, they'd call HEINZ (woops, Del Monte) and talk about the catchup factory (woops, loft apartments). No need to call Pgh Wool -- eminent domain took them out of the picture years ago.

Meanwhile, if the mayor wants to call to the south side and have a meeting -- that meeting is going to erupt into a thorny brew-ha-ha with special interest groups, block watches, small business, non-profits, kids groups, out the wazoo. Once parking is raised, then nothing gets done for another week of venting. Its a mess.

Democracy is messy. Government is messy.

The South Side is thriving.

The top-down plans of the north side suck. The latest move is to spend $400-million on a subway line extension that goes under the river to get more people to the ball games. Nuts. Nobody wants that -- except for the four people who meet at regular intervals in the mayor's office.

I agree, we have too many misplace priorities.

By the way, our Democratic Governor who might one day run for President, Rendell, wanted to cut the gas taxes right away. That was his quick solution. And now that stance is being put onto the back burner with him.

BTW, this rub with the estate tax to help nonprofits (good for Red Cross and others) does not square with the idea that the government needs to shoulder the responsibility. The thinking became unclear to me with that example.

The cuts to food stamps, Medicaid and student loans are made so bigger bailouts can be made the next cycle. The university community of LA was just before Congress yesterday to ask for $500-million. So, a cut in student loans last season turned into free tuition and retention pay for professors next season. My point, is that there is a lot of smoke here. The knee jerk reactions are going to rule the day. The powerful gain power by controlling it and giving it out as they desire -- while noise and FUD (fear uncertainty and doubt) justifies the take-it-while you can mentality.
One shocking element about the events unfolding as a result of Hurricane Katrina is that few people, if any, have accurate, up-to-date, life-saving information. With a toxic stew roiling through the streets of New Orleans, the public's right to know about dangerous chemicals in their communities and the present dangers of large scale commercial coastal development becomes ever more important. Thousands of facilities in the Gulf Coast area -- ranging from gas stations to oil refiners to large petrochemical plants -- were buffeted by Hurricane Katrina and many may be leaking into the flood waters, but there is little information available about these facilities. Every community has dangers and knowledge about them can help us prevent disasters and react more quickly and properly when disasters strike. The federal government should take affirmative steps to insure that emergency responders and the public know about dangers in New Orleans and in all of our communities and require that companies make responsible efforts to minimize these dangers.


The best way to get the info out to the people is to avoid a unified approach. Peer review, multiple sites, multiple flows of information are needed.

Meanwhile FEMA and Microsoft are teaming up to put a unified database of survivors together -- locking out others.

Underlying all the Gulf Coast devastation is a shocking injustice that must be addressed: a disproportionate number of poor and people of color were affected, reflecting broader and persistent societal inequities. The issue is not new, it has just been ignored. Some would argue we have been losing ground on this front for years. Here, too, there is a positive role the federal government can play, yet little leadership or political will is in place for that to occur. Ronald Reagan once quipped, "My friends, some years ago the federal government declared war on poverty -- and poverty won." As Hurricane Katrina has made so clear, this is no laughing matter; it is time the fight be taken up once again.

Agree: The governments fight on the war on poverty was a loss. Poverty won. So, why then do you want to increase food stamps, increase governmental handouts, increase student aid -- via governmental sources. You're conflict within your statement are hard to understand.

Poverty beat the feds -- so some advanced the fix to come via the faith based programs.

Determining what went wrong in New Orleans and other areas of the Gulf surely will be complex; a veritable labyrinth of local, state and federal actions -- or inaction -- is in play.

It isn't hard to understand, but it can be made into a complex problem.

A huge storm hit. Before the punch of the storm was delivered, people were not nimble enough to flee. Too many were not free and capable of moving quickly and on short notice.

Before the punch of the storm was delivered, too many people were in unprotected spaces. Buildings and security were not strong enough to weather the storm.

One system break-down leads to other systems breaking. Electricity, phone, power in hospitals, etc., etc. Not enough freedom, choice, back-ups, flexibility, individual decision making throughout.

After the storm hit, the wave of relief needed to be matched with a counter punch. The leveraged power of the counter punch was hindered on many instances. It was slow and weak at first.

The rush of relief faced many red-tape hurdles. For example, doctors were sitting for days with mini hospitals -- but could not treat the needy because of a state license issue. The hurdles were killers.

To run and be coordinated, our body has one group of muscles that flex and contract while other muscles lengthen, loosen and relax. Step after step this happens. Move - Relax - Move - Relax. Its the coordination thing! There seemed to be a lot of counter moves that stopped actions of willing helpers. We needed to be able to RELAX rules (and laws) to permit doctors to come in and treat our sick without the fear and uncertainty of loosing one's license a month later.

So, there isn't much flexibility built into our system. We are not good at relaxing as a society because we have too many hyper rule makers who don't think it through and see the bigger picture.

Individuals can make good decisions. All the decision making can't be uploaded to one mega brain.

Better decision can be made if things are out in the open for all to see.

As the toxic stew of flood waters recedes and assistance accelerates in aiding the people affected by Hurricane Katrina, Congress is beginning to look at what went so terribly wrong in responding to the crisis. That process must be independent of politics, as was the 9/11 Commission, and it must be open and accountable.

Agree with open and agree with accountable -- but we don't agree about the politics part. Dream on. This is Congress. Plus, politics is a part of life.

Push for open ways -- and don't push for the avoidance of politics. Expect it. Deal with it.

If we had Libertarians and Greens run the INDEPENDENT Investigation -- then we might have something to talk about. But Ds and Rs are going to be themselves, as they were before the storm. I'd like to see more parties with people in Congress. That would help to defuse the red-state vs blue-state games they both play.

Politics is part of the fabric of America and it needs to be dealt with -- not ignored or wished away. To ignore politics or wish it away is childish.
But we call on Congress to go beyond investigation and recommendations for fixes to the Gulf Coast disaster. Now is the time to move beyond ideology and realign our national priorities. True leadership requires action: enact responsible policies and budgets to support the safety and productivity of all Americans, not just in the aftermath of this storm, but over the long haul, no matter their race or status.
I'd counter with this closing statement. True leadership requires votes -- plain and simple. If you want to realign our national priorities, something that I agree we need to do, we need to realign our votes. Then its done. There is nothing so powerful.

We need to make sure all those people can vote. Plus, we need to make sure that all voters, everywhere, are casting smart votes.

Getting good people into office for the right reasons is going to fix a lot of the problems that plague our country. Kicking other people out of office for the right reasons is going to work wonders too. One is positive, the other is negative. We need to be strong on offense and not give away any gains on defense. Put the right ones in -- and toss the bums out.

The right ones (i.e.,creditable individuals who are candidates) are not going to be thrilled to build gambling casinos on the coast lines. The right ones are not going to be thrilled to make a Super Dome for $500-million and let neighborhoods be endangered due to cracked and crumbled infrastructure -- ripe for flooding.

I think this is going to boil down to the power of the voters and voter education. We must make smarter use of our votes in every office from local to national.


Anonymous said...

Gary Bass gbass wrote:

To: mark

Thanks for the response. I mentioned to other OMB Watch staff to review your blog even though we have disagreements.

We received lots of comments and may compile some of them for publication in our e-newsletter, the OMB Watcher. Is it okay to include your comments in the pool of candidates for possible inclusion in our e-newsletter?

(We'd need to pick certain items from the blog if your comments are selected.) If so, please provide how you want to be identified, along with your city and

Again, thanks.

-----Original Message-----
From: Barb Western
Subject: FW: I don't like the statement

Barbara Western
Director of Operations
OMB Watch/Focus Project
1742 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20009
202-234-8584 (fax)

Mark Rauterkus said...

Of course you can re-publish my comments about your statement on Katrinia.

I'm Mark Rauterkus, political activist, Pittsburgh, PA, USA.
Try to give my blog URL and/or email = is okay as is just That points to the blog at

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