Mayor of New Orleans Had Responsibility To Evacuate

The city of New Orleans had a set of emergency procedures in place before Katrina hit that pertain to such events as catastrophic Hurricanes. The document is titled: “City of New Orleans Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan.” This document outlines the plan that the city is to follow in case of an emergency evacuation. It says the following:

“Conduct of an actual evacuation will be the responsibility of the Mayor of New Orleans in coordination with the Director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness, and the OEP Shelter Coordinator . . . Transportation will be provided to those persons requiring public transportation from the area . . . The evacuation must be completed before the arrival of gale force winds.”

The plan also puts the New Orleans Office of Emergency Preparedness in charge of providing shelters for those citizens who need to evacuate.

“Emergency shelter operations are the responsibility of the Office of Emergency Preparedness Shelter Coordinator. Shelters are provided by the Orleans Parish School Board, while manager training and support activities and supplies are provided by the Office of Emergency Preparedness . . . Shelter demand is currently under review by the Shelter Coordinator. Approximately 100,000 Citizens of New Orleans do not have means of personal transportation.”

A supplement to this plan titled Louisiana Emergency Operations Plan (supplement 1A) states the following:

“The primary means of hurricane evacuation will be personal vehicles. School and municipal buses, government-owned vehicles and vehicles provided by volunteer agencies may be used to provide transportation for individuals who lack transportation and require assistance in evacuating.”

The State of Louisiana Emergency Operations Plan also addresses the issue of authority in the event of a disaster situation:

“The governor of Louisiana has the ultimate responsibility for direction and control over state activities related to emergencies and disasters” (source).

What is clear from these documents is that the Governor of Louisiana and the Mayor of New Orleans had the primary responsibility to evacuate and shelter the citizens of New Orleans.

For some reason, these responsibilities are not being accurately reported in the news coverage of the disaster. I don’t think that the reporting should focus on who’s to blame at this point. That can wait until we have a more accurate account of the response from city, state, and federal officials. But what this does demonstrate is that reporters should cease and desist from framing this disaster as a failure of federal authorities. Such an assumption is wrong on its face.


John Roberts to Be Nominated As Chief Justice

CNN is reporting that President Bush will nominate John Roberts to succeed Rehnquist as chief justice of the Supreme Court.

By appointing someone from the outside, the President ensures that there will be only two confirmation battles, not three (If he would have nominated a sitting justice to be chief justice, the senate would have to confirm the promotion as well as the filling of the two remaining vacancies).

When she announced her retirement, Sandra Day O’Connor’s made her retirement contingent upon the President’s appointment of her replacement. In her resignation letter, she wrote: “This is to inform you of my decision to retire from my position as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, effective upon the nomination and confirmation of my successor.”

Thus she will remain on the court until President Bush names her replacement. President Bush must move quickly to nominate here replacement. Otherwise, the confirmation process will become more difficult as we move into the mid-term election season.

I hope the President moves quickly.


Mayor of New Orleans Blames the Louisiana Governor

I just watched Soledad O’Brien interview New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin on CNN. She pressed him on whether he bore some responsibility for the tragedy at the Superdome and at the convention center.

Mayor Nagin responded that when Bush came to Louisiana, Bush offered to centralize the chain-of-command so that the feds could take over rescue and relief from Governor Kathleen Blanco. According to Nagin, Bush was ready to move immediately, but Blanco said she needed twenty-four hours to think about it.

Mayor Nagin was extremely frustrated with Governor Blanco to say the least. According to Nagin, while she was stalling, people were dying. This is quite a different picture than has been painted in the media thus far where everyone has been blaming the federal government for the slowness of the relief efforts. Here’s a transcript of the interview:

MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS: And what the state was doing, I don’t freaking know. But I’ll tell you, I am pissed. It wasn’t adequate. And then the president and the governor sat down. We were in Air Force One. I said, Mr. President, Madam Governor, you two have to get in sync. If you don’t get in sync, more people are going to die.

SOLEDAD O’BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What day did you go? When did you say that? When did you say…

NAGIN: Whenever Air Force One was here.


NAGIN: And that this was after I called him on the telephone two days earlier. And I said, Mr. President and Madam Governor, you two need to get together on the same page, because the lack of coordination, people are dying in my city.

O’BRIEN: That’s two days ago you said?

NAGIN: They both shook. I don’t know the exact day. They both shook their head and said, yes. I said great. I said everybody in this room is getting ready to leave. There was senators and his cabinet people. You name it. There were generals. I said everybody right now, we’re leaving. These two people need to sit in a room together and make a doggone decision right now.

O’BRIEN: And was that done?

NAGIN: The president looked at me. I think he was a little surprised. He said, no, you guys stay here, we’re going to another section of the plane and we’re going to make a decision. He called me in that office after that. He said, Mr. Mayor, I offered two options to the governor. I said — and I don’t remember exactly what they were, two options. I was ready to move today. The governor said she needed 24 hours to make a decision.

O’BRIEN: You’re telling me the president told you the governor said she needed 24 hours to make a decision?


O’BRIEN: Regarding what, bringing troops in?

NAGIN: Whatever they had discussed. As far as what the chain — I was advocating a clear chain of command so that we could get resources flowing in the right places.

O’BRIEN: And the governor said, no, according to the…

NAGIN: She said that she needed 24 hours to make a decision. It would have been great if we could have left Air Force One, walked outside and told the world that we had this all worked out. It didn’t happen and more people died. [source]

I am happy to see that Soledad O’brien acknowledged after the interview that there was plenty of blame to go around. She is the first reporter I’ve seen on CNN who has given any serious credence to the idea that anyone other than the Bush administration is to blame. But there’s really nothing else she could say after the startling revelation from Mayor Nagin.

Soledad and the other CNN correspondents looked quite surprised as Mayor Nagin’s account really didn’t seem to confirm their working supposition—that Bush alone is to blame.


Disappointed with Russert, et al.

It’s not just the partisans who are rushing to judgment about who to blame for the catastrophic aftermath of Katrina. The clear thrust of mainstream media reporting has been to lay the blame for the crisis in New Orleans at the feet of the Bush administration.

The default assumption in the media appears to be that if there was a failure of rescue operations, then the failure was a federal one. No reporter that I have seen has come up with a line of questioning that would insinuate a failure on the part of the Louisiana governor or the New Orleans mayor (I’ve mainly been watching CNN, NBC, and MSNBC’s coverage). The questions seem to be pushing toward an indictment of President Bush.

This situation is rather remarkable given that we know so little about the big picture at this point. We do know that an evacuation of the city of New Orleans before a storm was the job of state and local officials. How is it that the mainstream media see the failure to evacuate as a failure at the federal level?

We may find out at some point that something went awry with the federal response, but why do reporters just assume that to be the case when it seems like the default position would be to see this as a shortcoming of the state and local governments? It appears that the media intends to treat the Bush administration as guilty until proven innocent.

Today’s episode of NBC’s “Meet the Press” is emblematic of what’s been happening in most of the coverage that I’ve seen up to this point. Tim Russert grilled the Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, while a Louisiana state officials got off fairly easily.

Tim Russert:

“Mr. Secretary, are you or anyone who reports to you contemplating resignation? . . .

“Well, many Americans believe now is the time for accountability. The Republican governor of Massachusetts said, ‘We are an embarrassment to the world.’ The Republican senator from Louisiana, David Vitter, said that you deserve a grade of F, flunk. How would you grade yourself? . . .

“People were stunned by a comment the president of the United States made on Wednesday, Mr. Secretary. He said, ‘I don’t think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees.’ How could the president be so wrong, be so misinformed? . . .

“Your Web site says that your department assumes primary responsibility for a national disaster. If you knew a hurricane 3 storm was coming, why weren’t buses, trains, planes, cruise ships, trucks provided on Friday, Saturday, Sunday to evacuate people before the storm? . . .” (source)

The secretary tries to explain to Tim Russert how disaster relief works under the law.

Secretary Chertoff:

“Tim, the way that emergency operations act under the law is the responsibility and the power, the authority, to order an evacuation rests with state and local officials. The federal government comes in and supports those officials” (source).

But Tim does not even acknowledge the secretary’s answer or that responsibility for any failures could be distributed outside the federal government.

Tim goes on to allow Mike Tidwell (a global warming activist and campaigner for John Kerry in the 2004 presidential race, which is not disclosed by Russert) to grandstand about how George Bush is responsible not only for the aftermath of Katrina, but also for similar environmental hazards in all U.S. coastal cities.

“But the really final big story here is that the Bush administration is failing on another level to hear warning signs and take credible evidence that there’s dire problems. The Bush administration itself–its own studies say that we will in this century turn every coastal city in America into a New Orleans. Why? Because we got three feet of subsidence, sinking,in south Louisiana in the 20th century because of the levees. Right now, because of global climate change, the Bush administration’s own studies say we will get between one and three feet of sea level rise worldwide because of our use of fossil fuels.

“The big, big, big take-away message here is: New Orleans is the future of Miami, New York, San Diego, every coastal city in the world, because whether the land sinks three feet and you get a bowl in a hurricane like this, or sea level rises worldwide, same problem. We have got to address this energy problem that David mentioned. We have an irrational energy problem” (source).

Tim offers no challenge whatsoever to Tidwell, even though Tidwell admits that opportunities to address dangers in New Orleans go back to 1995 when Bill Clinton was president. That Tidwell lays the blame solely at the feet of the Bush administration and not to the previous Democrat administration shows his partisan bent.

That political opportunists have politicized this calamity is unconscionable. That the mainstream media facilitates this politicization is even worse because they have such an impact on shaping public opinion.

I am hoping that a clear picture will emerge in the coming days. Until then, I remain disappointed with Tim Russert and others like him who are jumping on the blame-Bush bandwagon. I think the wiser course would be to reserve judgment until we understand what really has happened. There will be plenty of time to analyze the failures that may have occurred at all levels of government—local, state, and federal.


Federal Authorities Move to Relieve Governor Blanco of Command

President Bush and Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco

Apparently, the Bush Administration believes the situation in New Orleans has been mismanaged by state and local officials. Tonight, the Washington Post reports that federal officials have attempted to take command over the National Guard troops that are currently under the authority of Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco.

“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.

“The administration sought unified control over all local police and state National Guard units reporting to the governor. Louisiana officials rejected the request after talks throughout the night, concerned that such a move would be comparable to a federal declaration of martial law . . .

“A senior administration official said that Bush has clear legal authority to federalize National Guard units to quell civil disturbances under the Insurrection Act and will continue to try to unify the chains of command that are split among the president, the Louisiana governor and the New Orleans mayor.

“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” (source).


William Rehnquist, the chief justice of the United States, is dead at 80

Chief Justice William Rehnquist succumbed to thyroid cancer tonight. His death is a great loss to our country, and my heart goes out to his family.

I will miss chief justice Rehnquist. He was the quintessential originalist and an exemplary justice whose legacy will not soon be forgotten.

Washington Post – “Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist Dies”


Kanye West’s Race-Baiting Tirade

Hip-hop star Kanye West went on a tirade during NBC’s disaster relief fundraiser tonight. West and Michael Myers were paired together during a segment so that they could appeal to a nationwide TV audience to donate money to the Red Cross. After Michael Myers opened with a few remarks, Kanye West began a meandering monologue that was clearly not written on his cue card and was very difficult to understand. However, a few things came through loud and clear.

First, West made the outlandish claim that the government had given the troops in New Orleans permission to shoot black people. Second, he accused the media of racist coverage, alleging that reporters are saying that black families are looting while white families are just looking for food. Third, West punctuated his screed with an low-blow against the President: “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” (the Washington Post has the entire exchange here).

I fear that West has been drinking deeply from the propaganda of the race-baiters who have been trying to exploit this tragedy for their own ends. For instance, consider Al Sharpton’s accusation on Keith Olbermann’s program just last night: “And the real question is not only those that didn‘t get out. The question is why has it taken the government so long to get in. I feel that, if it was in another area, with another economic strata and racial makeup, that President Bush would have run out of Crawford a lot quicker and FEMA would have found its way in a lot sooner” (source).

Consider also how Jesse Jackson criticized the federal response to the disaster: “How can blacks be locked out of the leadership, and trapped in the suffering? It is that lack of sensitivity and compassion that represents a kind of incompetence. . . There’s a historical indifference to the pain of poor people and black people . . . [the new media has] criminalized the people of New Orleans” by focusing on violence in the city (source).

So you see, Kanye West didn’t say anything that these race-baiters haven’t been saying all week. But West’s remarks do reveal just how reckless the rhetoric of the Jacksons and the Sharptons can be. What should have been a non-partisan appeal to the better angels of American nature turned into a counter-productive blame game.

Nevermind the fifty-percent of Americans who would take great offense at West’s parroted accusations. Nevermind the fact that such remarks might disincline some from contributing to the Red Cross disaster-relief fund. Just blame Bush and exploit the tragedy for partisan advantage. That does not sound very compassionate to me.

NBC tried to recover the good will of its viewers with the following statement that was released after the concert:

“Kanye West departed from the scripted comments that were prepared for him, and his opinions in no way represent the views of the networks. It would be most unfortunate if the efforts of the artists who participated tonight and the generosity of millions of Americans who are helping those in need are overshadowed by one person’s opinion” (source).

I am not saying that the south doesn’t have serious racial issues to confront. Believe me, we do. And I am certain I will have more to write on that topic later. But tonight, I am just troubled by the irresponsible, inflammatory statements made by West.


New Orleans: Then and Now

I was struck this morning when NBC’s Today Show offered glowing and nostalgic remembrances of how great New Orleans was before the hurricane. The parties, the good times, the food, and the music. According to the Today Show’s reporting, New Orleans was a virtual heaven on earth—a true American original.

I have to say, however, that as a native Louisianan, I don’t think that description of pre-hurricane New Orleans really rings true. Yes, it is true that the city had its charms, but it also had its challenges, the kinds of challenges that are routinely overlooked by reveling tourists.

I could relate story after story about how difficult the city really was before Katrina. I could tell you about how my friend Dr. Charlie Draper’s wife got caught in the crossfire of a shoot-out while pumping gas into her car across the street from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. I could tell you about my former associate pastor who barely escaped being accosted by a group of homosexual men. Or I could tell you about my wife’s cousin who was shot to death by hoodlums who wanted to steal his walkman.

But these anecdotes do not comprise the sole reason for my impression of the city. It is a matter of public record that the city had a crime rate that was ten-times the national average. All of this is just an indicator of underlying problems that the outsider usually doesn’t notice.

Nicole Gelinas summed it up today in a penetrating essay titled “Will New Orleans Recover? Weak and struggling before Katrina, the good-time city now teeters on the brink.” She writes,

The truth is that even on a normal day, New Orleans is a sad city. Sure, tourists think New Orleans is fun: you can drink and hop from strip club to strip club all night on Bourbon Street, and gamble all your money away at Harrah’s. But the city’s decline over the past three decades has left it impoverished and lacking the resources to build its economy from within. New Orleans can’t take care of itself even when it is not 80 percent underwater; what is it going to do now, as waters continue to cripple it, and thousands of looters systematically destroy what Katrina left unscathed? . . .

The city’s government has long suffered from incompetence and corruption. Just weeks before Katrina, federal officials indicted associates of the former mayor, Marc Morial, for alleged kickbacks and contract fraud. Morial did nothing to attract diversified private investment to his impoverished city during the greatest economic boom of the modern era. . .

New Orleans teems with crime, and the NOPD can’t keep order on a good day. Former commissioner Richard Pennington brought New Orleans’ crime rate down from its peak during the mid-1990s. But since Pennington’s departure, crime rates have soared, to ten times the national average. The NOPD might have hundreds of decent officers, but it has a well-deserved institutional image as corrupt, brutal, and incompetent.

How will New Orleans’ economy recover from Katrina? Apart from some pass-through oil infrastructure, the city’s economy is utterly dependent on tourism. After the city’s mainstay oil industry decamped to Texas nearly a generation ago, New Orleans didn’t do the difficult work of cutting crime, educating illiterate citizens, and attracting new industries to the city. New Orleans became merely a convention and tourism economy, selling itself to visitors to survive, and over time it has only increased its economic dependence on outsiders. The fateful error of that strategy will become clearer in the next few months. . .

New Orleans has experienced a steady brain drain and fiscal drain for decades, as affluent corporations and individuals have fled, leaving behind a large population of people dependent on the government. Socially, New Orleans is one of America’s last helpless cities—just at the moment when it must do all it can to help itself survive.


More on Bethlehem’s Position on Baptism

After my last blog, people asked why the elders at Bethlehem Baptist (John Piper’s church) are proposing to change its requirements for membership. The new policy being proposed by the elders is that under certain conditions members need not be baptized by immersion after coming to faith. Of course, the change would have to be approved by the congregation before the policy would go into effect.

One of the reasons that the elders are moving in this new direction is that “the doctrinal bar of the eldership at Bethlehem” has been raised significantly in a statement of faith titled “Bethlehem Baptist Church Elder Affirmation of Faith.” Here is the section on baptism:

12.3 We agree that historic Christian differences concerning the time and mode of baptism are not part of the defining beliefs of Treasuring Christ Together. Until the day when wider agreement can be reached, we desire that each local church or fellowship of churches search the scriptures and be fully convinced in their own mind as to what the Bible teaches concerning baptism. We believe that each church should practice baptism. It is not negligible. We believe it should be practiced with an obedience of heart, which submits to the authority of God in scripture according to the light that each church has. We do however deny the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, whether concerning infants or adults. We believe the doctrine of baptismal regeneration is not only contrary to Scripture but is seriously undermining to the gospel of justification by faith alone.

Apparently, the following statement is to be added to the above statement of faith:

We believe that baptism is an ordinance of the Lord by which those who have repented and come to faith express their union with Christ in His death and resurrection, by being immersed in water in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (source).


John Piper on Accepting the Unbaptized as Members

John Piper, Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN

Pastor John Piper has just made a stunning announcement concerning who will be accepted as members at his Baptist church.

“The Council of Elders believes that membership requirements at Bethlehem should move toward being roughly the same as the requirements for membership in the universal body of Christ . . . The most obvious change this involves is allowing the possibility that a person may become a member who has not been baptized by immersion as a believer but who regards the baptismal ritual he received in infancy not as regenerating, but nevertheless (as with most Presbyterians) in such a way that it would violate his conscience to be baptized as a believer. The elders are proposing that under certain conditions such persons be admitted to full membership” (“What the Elders Are Proposing”).


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