Post-Katrina: Pointing Fingers And Proposing Policy

Originally published at NationalJournal.com
By K. Daniel Glover

Two weeks after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, the policy tornadoes that she spawned continue to churn. In the background, bloggers are working hard to see that those twisters hit the right targets and that the demolished houses of government are rebuilt the way they envision.

Some of the conversation has been punctuated by petty, partisan jabs over issues like whose Web site responded more quickly and appropriately to the disaster or how much Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., paid for a home renovation. Duncan Black of Atrios could not even make a plug for charitable donations without also taking a potshot at “the government” (read: President Bush).

But sober, albeit pointed attempts at punditry and persuasion have been just as common. Whether the issue is national or local, macro or micro, bloggers have opinions, and they are pushing them into the public sphere.

Instapundit Glenn Reynolds is among them. He published a nine-point treatise on the lessons to be learned from Katrina, and his readers added to the list. The ideas include not building cities below sea level, ensuring the reliability of critical infrastructures like communications system, and putting somebody in charge.

Former FCC chief Reed Hundt, meanwhile, sketched 10 principles for reconstruction in a post at TPMCafe. They include giving hurricane victims some say in how they spend disaster relief, providing the details of reconstruction contracts online, and not managing the work from Washington.

Other bloggers have been more focused on how Katrina will, or should, impact specific subjects, be it the demands on displaced schoolchildren, the voting rights of Louisianans, the access victims have to health care, or the potential for environmental hazard from pumping the polluted waters out of New Orleans.

Here is a sampling of issues being bandied about the blogosphere in Katrina’s wake:

Federal spending. Two emergency spending laws totaling more than $60 billion (H.R. 3646 and H.R. 3673) have been enacted since Katrina hit, and more are possible. GOP Bloggers warned of a potentially greater tragedy to come if the trend continues: “The reflexive urge to throw money in every direction will be far more destructive to the economy than the hurricane.”

The hurricane also has cast a spotlight on pork-barrel spending. Power Line urged readers to demand that their lawmakers pledge not to use Katrina as an excuse for more pork. Mark Tapscott at the Heritage Foundation went further, calling on Congress to “take back the pork” earmarked in the new transportation law.

Bankruptcy. Harvard University law professor Elizabeth Warren found her blogging voice earlier this year at a Talking Points Memo section dedicated to bankruptcy law. She now heads the Warren Reports group blog at TPMCafe, and she has seized on Hurricane Katrina as an opportunity to resurrect her criticisms of the bankruptcy law enacted earlier this year. At a minimum, she and other contributors to the blog have said Congress should clear newly introduced legislation to delay the implementation of the law for the benefit of hurricane victims.

At The Huffington Post, Russell Shaw also backed such a move, but as part of a broader nine-step “debtor relief act.” Among other things, his plan calls for a ban on all home foreclosures, insurance cancellations and utility service interruptions for hurricane victims. Shaw also proposed a “do not call” registry that creditors and collection agencies would have to check.

Reconstruction wages. OpinionJournal.com columnist John Fund used The Huffington Post to advocate the suspension of a law requiring union wages on federally funded projects related to Katrina reconstruction. President Bush suspended that law soon after.

Emergency communications. American Enterprise Institute scholar Norm Ornstein, one of Washington’s most familiar talking heads, decried the continued failure to provide more space on the airwaves so emergency personnel can communicate across jurisdictions. “Congress, the White House and the Department of Homeland Security have let it slip,” he wrote at The Huffington Post. “Actions, and inactions, have consequences. And they should have consequences for those responsible. ”

The hurricane also has moved some bloggers to introspection. They are not just asking how government can better prepare for and respond to the next national emergency but also how they can improve their own role in such tragedies.

Jeff Jarvis at BuzzMachine is spearheading the effort, which he dubbed Recovery 2.0. “Let’s be honest: The Web, too, was not fully prepared for the disaster of Katrina,” he wrote. “If we’d truly learned the lessons of the tsunami and even 9/11, there was more we could have done to be ready to help.”

The idea already has generated a wiki where bloggers and other Internet gurus can share their ideas online, and Recovery 2.0 will be the focus of a roundtable at the Web 2.0 conference next month. The goal, Jarvis said, “is to just to bring together smart people trying to do good things so we can do them better, not to create any giant organization and bureaucracy. (We already have FEMA, and we know how well that’s working.)”

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