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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

NOLA and the US Constitution

My old friend Steve Griffin -- reward yourself 10 bonus points if you guessed he was a debater at University of Kansas -- is guest blogging at Balkinization. Steve apparently has some surplus free time this term because he usually teaches law at Tulane University in New Orleans.

Given that he is a scholar of constitutional law, it is not surprising that Steve's first post is entitled "Did the Constitution Fail New Orleans? (Part 1)." This is the question he's exploring:
Could the Constitution have something to do with Katrina? The important theme in the Newhouse story is the persistence of the eighteenth-century federal order. In this system, there are separate governments that do not share power. If coordinated action is required, everyone has a veto before the bargaining starts.
This is the short version of Steve's response to that question, with a teaser about his forthcoming followup post:
What Hurricane Katrina shows is that even after decades of experience with natural disasters, federal and state governments are still uncoordinated and unprepared. The reasons they are unprepared go to the heart of the constitutional order. We can do better in the future only by directly confronting the difficult task of adapting an eighteenth-century constitutional order to contemporary circumstances.

The federal structure is not the only causal link between the Constitution and the government’s inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina. A separate problem lies in our system of representation, which I will discuss in a later post.
I commented, after welcoming him to the blogosphere:
Did you see the latest piece by Richard Clarke in The Atlantic Monthly? The former NSC member argues that the failure in NOLA obviously wasn't an unsurmountable coordination problem. After all, the response to Hurricane Frances in 2004 was much better:
"Imagine if, in advance of Hurricane Katrina, thousands of trucks had been waiting with water and ice and medicine and other supplies. Imagine if 4,000 National Guardsmen and an equal number of emergency aid workers from around the country had been moved into place, and five million meals had been ready to serve. Imagine if scores of mobile satellite-communications stations had been prepared to move in instantly, ensuring that rescuers could talk to one another. Imagine if all this had been managed by a federal-and-state task force that not only directed the government response but also helped coordinate the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and other outside groups.

Actually, this requires no imagination: it is exactly what the Bush administration did a year ago when Florida braced for Hurricane Frances."
Of course, 2004 was an election maybe they botched it because there wasn't a strong personal incentive to act?
I learned of Steve's blogging from a post by Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns and Money. I got the Clarke link from tristero, blogging at digby's Hullabaloo.

Note: For those who haven't heard, Steve indicated in his last snail mail correspondence that his family's home suffered relatively minor damage after the hurricanes and was not flooded.

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