Over 40 years ago as a cadet in the Civil Air Patrol’s Peoria (Illinois) Composite Squadron, I and a fair number of other 13-year olds spent a lot of time filling up sandbags and shoring up the banks of the Mississippi River during flood season near Moline.
The next year, I was in charge of a group of 14-year olds who were deployed a number of times as a ground search and rescue unit—even though we had to be driven to the locations we were searching by our adult senior leaders because we weren’t old enough to drive ourselves.
By the time I was 15, I had flown many hours as an observer in a CAP single engine aircraft as we ran grid searches for missing airplanes and missing people.
The Civil Air Patrol is a civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force and among the first things that they taught us back then was about something called the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. The reason they taught us those things was that back then most of the CAP’s deployments dealt with state and local emergencies and our leaders took the position that as a agent of the federal armed forces, we could do nothing until we were asked to by the state.
Strictly speaking, the Act actually forbids the use of the military in any sort of a domestic law enforcement capacity absent extreme conditions, but in 1965, we had never thought of al-Qaeda and the Russians were our enemies. So, we went by the strictest interpretation of the law which our adult leaders determined kept us on the sidelines until we were asked in as part of an emergency.
With that background and plenty of intervening experience, I can tell you that the members of the House Committee which excoriated former FEMA director Michael Brown should be ashamed of themselves, as should House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi who called for Brown’s replacement on the basis of pure partisan politics.
For starters, the fault for New Orleans lies squarely in one location. New Orleans.
The Mayor, Ray Nagin, is without a doubt the least competent individual who ever had to play such a role on the national stage. As disasters go, Nagin is one himself. And the second most incompetent individual is the Governor of Louisiana, Kathleen Blanco.
Essentially, the Democrats in the Hate George Bush movement who don’t want the FBI to have the authority under the Patriot Act to check library records now seem perfectly willing to let the Federal Government violate the bulwark of the separation of powers. And while most of them won’t come right out and say it, their argument is that government officials in Louisiana are so corrupt, incompetent or both that the President should have known that and called what was happening in New Orleans an insurrection and simply Federalized the whole situation.
Here are the facts.
It would appear that the only thing Brown was guilty of was perhaps inflating his resume a bit. And if we were to fire everybody in Washington who did that, we’d be missing half of Congress, one or two Supreme Court Justices and tens of thousands of staffers.
Left totally unsaid by any of these idiot savant congresspersons was the fact that under Brown’s tenure, FEMA had successfully worked over 150 incidents including two of the five largest hurricanes ever to hit the United States.
The problem here is that most people in Congress don’t understand the concept of a first responder and they assume that the Federal Government is always supposed to be there.
Well, it is.
But not first.
And it is not the responsibility of the Federal Government to evacuate large cities.
When you get right down to it, Brown is being pilloried for not anticipating how incompetent and corrupt one single state was.
You didn’t hear complaints from Florida about FEMA during last year’s hurricanes.
You didn’t see any evacuation problems from Houston last weekend.
And Governor Haley Barbour seems to have Mississippi under control.
Truth be told, I don’t know whether or not Brown was a great, good or mediocre administrator.
But he’s getting blamed for things which simply aren’t his responsibility.
And that may be the way they do things in Louisiana and Washington DC, but the rest of us have a higher standard.