September 26, 2005


Bush offers Pentagon as 'lead agency' in disasters (Bill Sammon, September 26, 2005, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

President Bush yesterday said he wants Congress to consider putting the Pentagon, not state and local agencies, in charge of responding to large natural disasters in the future. [...]

"It is now clear that a challenge on this scale requires greater federal authority and a broader role for the armed forces -- the institution of our government most capable of massive logistical operations on a moment's notice," he said.

That would require a change of law, since the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 forbids the military from performing civilian law enforcement duties. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is investigating possible reforms to the act, which Pentagon officials consider archaic. [...]

Mr. Bush's push for greater consolidation of federal power in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita mirrors his successful implementation of the Patriot Act in the wake of September 11. The act, which gives law enforcement officials greater authority to pursue terrorists, has been called overly intrusive by critics.

Similarly, critics are already warning against repeal of Posse Comitatus.

"Washington seems poised to embrace further centralization and militarization at home," cautioned Gene Healy, senior editor at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. "That has the makings of a policy disaster that would dwarf Hurricane Katrina."

Many Contracts for Storm Work Raise Questions (ERIC LIPTON and RON NIXON, 9/26/05, NY Times)
More than 80 percent of the $1.5 billion in contracts signed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency alone were awarded without bidding or with limited competition, government records show, provoking concerns among auditors and government officials about the potential for favoritism or abuse.

Already, questions have been raised about the political connections of two major contractors - the Shaw Group and Kellogg, Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton - that have been represented by the lobbyist Joe M. Allbaugh, President Bush's former campaign manager and a former leader of FEMA.

...let the hysteria begin.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 26, 2005 8:09 AM

This, if handled/reported properly, should be a win-win for Bush. If the laws are changed Bush can argue he was hamstrung by existing laws in responding to Katrina. If the laws are not changed, after people put forth their arguments as to why the laws are needed, Bush can argue that he was following a law everybody says is very important.

Posted by: AWW at September 26, 2005 8:18 AM

The Posse Comitatus Act was a racist law. It was passed to prevent Federal troops from enforcing election laws in the Reconstruction South. So naturally libertarians defend it.

Posted by: Bob at September 26, 2005 9:18 AM

Bob - remember Bush is the Sith Lord. He manufactured the hurricanes to enable him to get the laws changed so that he can send the military into any city any tim anywhere. Look for the stormtroopers.

Posted by: AWW at September 26, 2005 10:50 AM

The error Bob makes in evaluating the Posse Comitatus Act is an excellent illustration of how why why Marxist analysis fails and fails again. When one evalutes laws on goring oxen by asking only whose ox is gored, the result is legal, ethical and economic chaos.

We studied Posse Comitatus professionally in the 70's, as part of JAG training. Yes, it was part of the Southern restoration, but that has nothing to do with the present situation. In its original contest, PCA is a dead letter: Federal troops went into Little Rock and Old Miss when the president of the United States felt like it.

The involvement of the military in domestic law enforcement is bad for the military. The military exists to apply brutal, overwhelming force. Civilian law enforcement detracts from that role, morally more than materially.

The involvement of the military in law enforcement is bad for the law. Here the policy argument approaches the intent of the PCA. It is important that the power of the state in law enforcement be tempered by, not just the jury, but also by the political responsiveness of local authorities.

Finally, repeal of the PCA is unnecessary. Federal troops going in to a hurricane situation may defend themselves and others, they may shoot such people and break such things as may be necessary to accomplish their immediate mission, and then get out and get back to the business of destroying foreign enemies. PCA has not prevented the military from doing anything that needed to have been done in the recent hurricanes. It is not time to bring on the black helicopters.

Keeping the military out of domestic law enforcement

Posted by: Lou Gots at September 26, 2005 12:27 PM

Central planning and natural disasters - made for each other, but not the way a normal person would want.

Posted by: Luciferous at September 26, 2005 2:25 PM

Luc, are we the normals or are they the other guys?

Posted by: erp at September 26, 2005 2:46 PM

Lou's error is typical of the close minded bureaucratic mind at work. A bureaucracy (here the military) does not want to eliminate an obsolete regulation so it invents plausible sounding but meaningless excuses for not doing so. Enforcing laws is less moral than killing people? Law enforcers should be responsible to local political will?---quick, better tell the FBI, DEA, US marshal Service etc. that they are morally at risk.

If the PCA's original reason is defunct, so should the law.

Posted by: Bob at September 26, 2005 2:56 PM


Central planning (even in wars) produces disasters. Disasters, like war, are too confused/complex for central planning to address. The arrangement we have in place is the least worse: federal (strategic) support; state (operational) direction; local (tactical) implementation. As Katrina revealed, tactical failure compounded by operational ineptitude can't be rescued by strategic compensation. All three levels have to function in their distinct capacity.

Posted by: Luciferous at September 26, 2005 3:24 PM

Luc. I totally agree and understood your reference, I was just teasing you. Sorry if I didn't make myself clearer.

Posted by: erp at September 26, 2005 4:10 PM

Krauthammer was brilliant on Fox this evening with Brit Hume. He said the special emergency powers for the president should be for two weeks max and congress would have to proactively extend the time if it were necessary.

Posted by: erp at September 26, 2005 9:51 PM