FEMA Replaces the Red Cross: Is Martial Law Back in Play?

After FEMA’s shameful performance in the wake of Katrina, one would have thought that nobody in their right mind would assign them the key disaster-relief role, but that’s exactly what just happened.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will replace the American Red Cross as the agency in charge of coordinating the provision of shelter, food and first aid to victims in disasters under an agreement disclosed by a Senate panel yesterday.

The change in the government’s emergency plans, formalized in letters between FEMA and Red Cross leaders Feb. 21, follows criticism of the way they cooperated after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and a new law that bolsters FEMA’s role in providing emergency housing, human services, case management and financial help.

That graf is a doozy. FEMA and the Red Cross were both criticized for not co-operating? Maybe my memory is deficient, but I don’t remember the Red Cross being criticized at all while FEMA screwed up everything it touched. And it continues to. So, what? Now they’re being rewarded for being prime fuckups?

The FEMA takeover will be administrative and will not affect the Red Cross’s traditional direct relief operations, which include opening shelters, providing food and raising money, which totaled more than $2 billion after Katrina, spokeswoman Laura Howe said.

Oh, great. The authors of the biggest administrative clusterfuck since Elphinstone got thrown out of Kabul has just been given the responsibility for administering disaster relief.

The impetus for this seems to be coming from a bad combination of suspects: Lurita Doan’s GAO and – wait for it – “Effin’ Joe” Lieberman.

The Government Accountability Office reported in June that FEMA and the Red Cross had made little progress in easing conflicts coordinating “mass care” for millions of 2005 storm victims. FEMA workers chafed at Red Cross policies that rotated staffers and volunteers every two to three weeks, for example, while Red Cross officials criticized FEMA’s inability to track and respond to its requests for help.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Senate homeland security panel, which released the report, said, “We need to know if FEMA is prepared to take a larger role for saving lives and easing human suffering” and whether detailed operational plans exist.

Interesting. “Effin’ Joe” is going to give FEMA the responsibility in order to find out if they can handle the responsibility? Is it just me or is that, like, IDIOTIC NONSENSE? He’s giving them the lead role when he doesn’t even know if “detailed operational plans exist”? And he’s going to dump the agency that did everything right in the face of FEMA’s opposition? Joe’s a Bushie, alright. He thinks like one: find the fuckups and promote them.

But it gets worse. On what basis has he decided to do this? Dig:

The Red Cross had been the only private organization assigned a lead role under the government’s National Response Plan, now being redrafted, and it had become clear the group could not carry out newly envisioned duties, said David Garrett, FEMA’s acting director of recovery.

“The lead for mass care must be able to commit and direct federal resources . . . actions which the Red Cross, as a nongovernmental organization, does not have the legal authority to do,” Garrett wrote Joseph C. Becker, American Red Cross senior vice president for preparedness and response. Putting FEMA in charge “will ensure a unified command structure.”

So because FEMA says the Red Cross can’t handle disasters, Joe’s letting FEMA, who proved pretty conclusively that they can’t, take over major relief efforts. This is beyond irony. This is insane. “Ensure a unified command structure”? FEMA? Are you kidding? With all the career people gone and Bushie loyalists with no experience and no training in key positions? FEMA couldn’t find grass on a suburban lawn.

There’s a disturbing undercurrent here. Back in September, ’05, I wrote a series of posts on the old Revolution blog detailing Bush’s attempt to disable posse comitatus and take over control of the National Guard, establishing a precedent for the Federal govt to declare martial law. Unnoticed by almost everyone, a law was passed by the Pub Congress a month later that gave him that power.

A little-noticed change in federal law packs an important change in who is in charge the next time a state is devastated by a disaster such as Hurricane Katrina.

To the dismay of the nation’s governors, the White House now will be empowered to go over a governor’s head and call up National Guard troops to aid a state in time of natural disasters or other public emergencies. Up to now, governors were the sole commanders in chief of citizen soldiers in local Guard units during emergencies within the state.

A conflict over who should control Guard units arose in the days after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. President Bush sought to federalize control of Guardsmen in Louisiana in the chaos after the hurricane, but Gov. Kathleen Blanco (D) refused to relinquish command.

Over objections from all 50 governors, Congress in October changed the 200-year-old Insurrection Act to empower the hand of the president in future stateside emergencies. In a letter to Congress, the governors called the change “a dramatic expansion of federal authority during natural disasters that could cause confusion in the command-and-control of the National Guard and interfere with states’ ability to respond to natural disasters within their borders.”

Bluntly, it could do a lot worse than that, bad as that is. Implicit in the law is the president’s right to declare martial law – one of Blanco’s prime reasons for refusing Bush’s request was that he had hinted he intended to declare martial law in New Orleans because of all the looting and killing, hysterical reports that originated from the RWNM and later turned out to be almost completely false. The implication from the White House was that Federal control of the NG carried the power to declare martial law with it.

Putting FEMA in administrative charge eases the way to such a declaration like nobody’s business. It would go from needing Congressional approval to invoke the Insurrection Act to the stroke of a FEMA bureaucrat’s pen. Even though the governors fought to kill “a broader proposal to give the president power to federalize Guard troops even without invoking the Insurrection Act”, putting FEMA in charge could allow it to bypass the Act on presidential authority.

This isn’t really the stretch it might seem to be at first. If FEMA is going to have the power “to commit and direct federal resources”, those resources include the NG. And since the president can now call out the NG without going through the affected state’s governor, FEMA could do so using the excuse Bush wanted to use: to quell riots that didn’t exist. So FEMA replaces the president and just like that, they’ve done an end-run around the Insurrection Act.

If you think I’m being paranoid, you haven’t been paying attention. This is precisely the sort of quasi-legal maneuver the Bush Gang specializes in. It’s how they justify Gitmo, it’s how they justified an illegal invasion, and it’s how they turned Justice into an arm of the Bush Admin’s political dept and the RNC. They took paper-thin rationales that skirted the law and used them to make a mockery of those laws.

And don’t forget, Bush already tried something just like this after Katrina. It’s just another way of grabbing the same power he’s wanted to grab for 6 years, and any excuse will do.

If the Congress is smart, they’ll repeal the amendment that gives Federal control of the NG to the president as soon as they can, but I’m not sure anybody is sufficiently cynical to see this coming. It’s a backdoor move under the radar, and there are too many people in Congress who still want to believe Bush and his cabal have lines they won’t cross despite how often they’ve proved they don’t.


One Response

  1. […] Red wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptThe Federal Emergency Management Agency will replace the American Red Cross as the agency in charge of coordinating the provision of shelter, food and first aid to victims in disasters under an agreement disclosed by a Senate panel … […]

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