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September 11, 2005 - The Status of the Blame Game













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One more obscure web site entry adds little to the ongoing discussion of what seems to be the second of the two twin big stories of the decade. This an attempt to get a feel for what is happening in the nation's ongoing debate about who we are and what we're doing, and why. It was never so much in dispute, or at least never so openly disputed. This seems to be what's happening.

The two twin big stories of the decade? The first was 9/11 of course - America attacked by a stateless group of fanatics associated with a militant strain of Islamic fundamentalism, demanding America leave the Middle East and Palestine to be freed from Israeli oppression and all the rest, to which we responded by going to war in Afghanistan and then Iraq, two nations we still occupy. Bombings followed in Morocco, Bali, Madrid and London. The new governments we formed to replace those we eliminated are struggling at getting organized. The occupation continues - nearly two thousand combat deaths, ten to fifteen thousand wounded, hundred of billions spent, all with no end in site. Also, the federal government reorganized itself to some extent due to 9/11 - all intelligence operations nominally under one command now, and a new Department of Homeland Security formed, charged with securing us from any further terrorist attacks and, should one somehow occur, organizing the civil response to such a disaster.

As a bookend to the first event, four years later, on the Monday after the last weekend of August, a hurricane pretty much destroys the city of New Orleans and much of the Gulf coast - a major city abandoned and three states in deep trouble. The new Department of Homeland Security and its agency FEMA - formerly a separate cabinet-level department but now a minor part of the whole - is criticized for its slow and ineffective response to this natural disaster. In particular, the president is widely criticized for a four-day delay in making much comment or doing anything at all to take charge of the situation that spins on still - with a death toll that may exceed ten thousand, with tens of thousands of those who were evacuated homeless, jobless, penniless and in need of at least shelter and food, with the economy in trouble and gulf states' oil industry a mess (a quarter of domestic production), and of course, being criticized for the war in Iraq as that required, and requires, vast resources and was a preemptive war of choice, fought for reasons that have proved to be unfortunately mistaken, from one point of view, or manipulative lies, from another point of view.

The war divided the county, and continues to do so, and now this. In the case of the war, the question was the appropriate response to the threat, and just what was the threat, and whether preemptive war - getting the bad guys before they did bad things - was wise. Some felt that is not how we do things - it was like taking care of criminals before they commit crimes, or before they were even criminals. But many bought into the concept, saying that even if we went after the wrong people for the wrong reasons, well, something good could come if it - folks would know we take no crap and we might get a democracy in Iraq. The former would mean we'd get worldwide respect and the latter would mean we'd get a pro-Western secular capitalistic free-market democracy right in the middle of the Middle East that would change the world. It's not working out on either of those counts - and no one is feeling much safer - but we tried.

But if the war split the country on these "conceptual issues" - how we as the richest and most powerful nation on earth should deal with a hostile world - the Great Hurricane of 2005 is splitting the country on even deeper issues. Those would be what we expect of government, what we expect of our leaders, and what we expect of our citizens. Should government provide for the common welfare, or does such support destroy people's initiative and create a nation of whining victims who expect others to take care of them? Is then, government, as a concept, harmful to people? The corollary on leadership - is anyone to blame for the post-storm chaos and death? What are the leaders supposed to have done? And then, what do we expect of our citizens? Are they responsible for their fate if they stupidly chose to be poor, not doing enough for themselves and relying on others - and then, of all things, stupidly chose to remain in a dangerous place? Other poor people have risen to fame and fortune - black folks who rap or play basketball, even "poor white trash" (that's why we have a thriving country music industry with its millionaires) - so what's wrong with these people? Are we supposed to take care of the poor, or should we really take care of them with "tough love" - forcing them to take "personal responsibility" for their lives in the "real world" where you sink or swim and no one gets a free ride on the backs of those who have made it? Those questions are bubbling up now.


LEADERSHIP

The top-level question is leadership - is anyone to blame for the post-storm chaos and death? What are the leaders supposed to have done? This is the criticism of Bush and those he has appointed under him.

See Political Hurricane from John Dickerson - Tuesday, September 6 –

 

George Bush is finally on the case. Criticized for his administration's slow response to Hurricane Katrina, he and his aides are anxious to show that they've taken the wheel and that their knuckles are white from steering. The president has now visited the soggy Delta landscape twice. The vice president is headed there Thursday. The first lady will visit schoolchildren again. Bush's schedule today was clotted with Katrinalia - he met with his Cabinet, volunteer organizations, displaced students, and congressional leaders. Tonight, Cabinet officials will brief Hill leaders. More quietly, White House surrogates are talking about failures at the state and local levels. Several Bush allies have e-mailed me pictures of the unused buses soaking in New Orleans.

Bush has even pledged to lead an investigation into what went wrong. This is no small matter. Such backward-looking is out of character for a president who believes that leadership means moving forward. Under less fraught circumstances, he's known to mock Monday morning quarterbacks: the media, the professors, the French who moan opinions about what he or his administration should do. "Oh no, here come the hand-wringers," he sometimes jokes to aides he thinks listen too much to the "echo chamber."

Bush allies and administration aides still dispute the notion that they are at fault. They claim that state officials had told the federal authorities that they were on the case after the storm hit. Any sluggishness was the result of unfortunate events, not bad management. "I don't care what anyone says," insists a White House ally. "People thought those levees were going to hold." Much of the criticism they write off to the usual suspects: biased media, political opponents, and turf-conscious politicians who didn't do their jobs. An investigation may bolster the Bush team's case that Homeland Security can only act if the local response is minimally competent and take away some of the appearance that it took CNN to get FEMA to do its job.

 

And that started up the weekend after the storm. As reported in hundreds of places, simultaneously with saying this is not time to assess blame, the White House is saying, "not our fault, it's the locals." See this, one of many:

Many Evacuated, but Thousands Still Waiting
White House Shifts Blame to State and Local Officials
Manuel Roig-Franzia and Spencer Hsu, Washington Post, Sunday, September 4, 2005; Page A01

Sample: "Louisiana did not reach out to a multi-state mutual aid compact for assistance until Wednesday, three state and federal officials said. As of Saturday, Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency, the senior Bush official said."

This, allegedly, had prevented a more rapid federal response.

As many have pointed out (as here), an actual state of emergency was declared August 26th, 2005. That is available on the State of Louisiana website here. The Washington Post issued a correction, apologizing for false information, but will not name their sources. Newsweek - burned by the same administration sources - runs with the same story but posts no correction.

Spreading lies?

 

Maybe.  Maybe not.  One view, Chris Floyd here

 

Look, it's really very simple. On Saturday, August 27, 2005 - two days before Hurricane Katrina made landfall - President George W. Bush assumed responsibility for the coordination of "all disaster relief efforts" in the State of Louisiana. This is the specific, undisputed language of Bush's declaration of a State of Emergency, issued that day by the White House, and still available for viewing on the White House website. The responsibility for coordinating all disaster relief efforts in New Orleans clearly rested with the White House. Despite all the post-disaster spin by the Bush Faction and its sycophants, despite all the earnest media analyses, the lines of authority are clear and indisputable. Here is the voice of George W. Bush himself, in the proclamation issued in his name, over his signature on Saturday, August 27, 2005:

"The President today declared an emergency exists in the State of Louisiana and ordered Federal aid to supplement state and local response efforts in the parishes located in the path of Hurricane Katrina beginning on August 26, 2005, and continuing. The President's action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures"

Bush goes on to say: "Specifically, FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency."

 

That should be clear enough. It's on the White House information site in a news release here. This sounds like an acceptance of responsibility.

So what to do?

 

Call for an investigation - Bush says, in time, he will himself head an investigation on what he, through his subordinates, did wrong.  It worked when the Pentagon investigated prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, didn't it?

But that's for later. Now is not the time.

John Dickerson again:

 

The president and his head of the Department of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, are right to argue that quick reprisals won't help with the business of digging out and rebuilding. For the moment, people need food and a future more than finger-pointing. But images of rescuers piloting bloated bodies out of soaked houses will fill the news in the coming weeks. Draining the city will take months. The roar of the displaced demanding answers will not die down.

So, what can Bush do to reverse the focus on his own failure? His own sunny optimism, which even he seemed to find unsatisfying, is unlikely to help at this point. "Out of this despair is going to come a vibrant coast," he told residents of Poplarville, Miss., Monday. "I understand if you're saying to yourself, well, it's hard for me to realize what George W. is saying because I've seen the rubble and I know what has happened to my neighbors. But I'd like to come back down here in about two years and walk your streets and see how vital this part of the world is going to be. I can't wait to join you in the joy of welcoming neighbors back into neighborhoods, and small businesses up and running, and cutting those ribbons that somebody is creating new jobs. That's what I think is going to happen."

Bush's ability to empathize, so effective with military families, has seemed off tone on the Gulf Coast. His fantasies about sitting on the fresh timber of Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott's rebuilt porch were no match for footage of stunned faces poking through escape holes torn in rooftops.

 

Dickerson has some suggestions to fix the political problem here ? like an unscripted public forum to answer questions about the government's response to the disaster, or maybe a town hall thing. Bush should get angry. You can click on the link and read all that. And he should fire someone:

 

Bush finds it hard to pin the blame on someone who has stood next to him for any length of time. "He has a very strong feeling for anyone who has been in the foxhole with him," says a former aide. "Especially when they're under fire." He refused Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's two offers of resignation after abuses were discovered at Abu Ghraib. He bestowed the nation's highest civilian honor on the CIA director who told him that the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was a "slam dunk." He continues to stand by Karl Rove though his top aide helped steer reporters to the identity of an undercover CIA agent.

Characteristically, he says he doesn't want to play the "blame game." Here, he should. His own executive style demands it. The president is almost evangelical about his theory of management: Pick good people, give them power, and then hold them accountable. He never designed an administration around mistake-admitting; he did build it on accountability. Delegation without accountability leads to rot.

Will Michael Brown be held accountable? Administration officials defend him. The president offered a typically folksy pat on the back after his first visit to Biloxi. "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job," he said.

Not all the president's allies think so. "Someone has to get fired," says a top aide to a Republican senator, describing the work ahead for GOP leaders in Congress. Right now, he continued, "There are two jobs: writing checks and figuring out who gets fired."

 

That from his own party?  Well, Brown wasn't exactly fired.  He was kicked upstairs, so to speak.

But firing someone won't fix what's in this - a timeline with links to the original links source documents.

 

Highlights:

 

Friday, August 26
GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO DECLARES STATE OF EMERGENCY IN LOUISIANA
GULF COAST STATES REQUEST TROOP ASSISTANCE FROM PENTAGON

Saturday, August 27
5AM - KATRINA UPGRADED TO CATEGORY 3 HURRICANE
GOV. BLANCO ASKS BUSH TO DECLARE FEDERAL STATE OF EMERGENCY IN LOUISIANA: "I have determined that this incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the State and affected local governments, and that supplementary Federal assistance is necessary to save lives, protect property, public health, and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a disaster."
FEDERAL EMERGENCY DECLARED, DHS AND FEMA GIVEN FULL AUTHORITY TO RESPOND TO KATRINA: "Specifically, FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency."

Sunday, August 28
2AM - KATRINA UPGRADED TO CATEGORY 4 HURRICANE [CNN]
7AM - KATRINA UPGRADED TO CATEGORY 5 HURRICANE [CNN]
MORNING - LOUISIANA NEWSPAPER SIGNALS LEVEES MAY GIVE: "Forecasters Fear Levees Won't Hold Katrina": "Forecasters feared Sunday afternoon that storm driven waters will lap over the New Orleans levees when monster Hurricane Katrina pushes past the Crescent City tomorrow."
9:30 AM ? MAYOR NAGIN ISSUES FIRST EVER MANDATORY EVACUATION OF NEW ORLEANS: "We're facing the storm most of us have feared," said Nagin. "This is going to be an unprecedented event."
4PM - NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE ISSUES SPECIAL HURRICANE WARNING: In the event of a category 4 or 5 hit, "Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks, perhaps longer. ... At least one-half of well-constructed homes will have roof and wall failure. All gabled roofs will fail, leaving those homes severely damaged or destroyed. ... Power outages will last for weeks. ... Water shortages will make human suffering incredible by modern standards."
AFTERNOON - BUSH, BROWN, CHERTOFF WARNED OF LEVEE FAILURE BY NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER DIRECTOR: Dr. Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center: "'We were briefing them way before landfall. ... It's not like this was a surprise. We had in the advisories that the levee could be topped.'"
LATE PM - REPORTS OF WATER TOPPLING OVER LEVEE: "Waves crashed atop the exercise path on the Lake Pontchartrain levee in Kenner early Monday as Katrina churned closer
APPROXIMATELY 30,000 EVACUEES GATHER AT SUPERDOME WITH ROUGHLY 36 HOURS WORTH OF FOOD [Times-Picayune]

Monday, August 29
7AM - KATRINA MAKES LANDFALL AS A CATEGORY 4 HURRICANE
8AM - MAYOR NAGIN REPORTS THAT WATER IS FLOWING OVER LEVEE
MORNING - BUSH CALLS SECRETARY CHERTOFF TO DISCUSS IMMIGRATION: "I spoke to Mike Chertoff today ? he's the head of the Department of Homeland Security. I knew people would want me to discuss this issue [immigration], so we got us an airplane on ? a telephone on Air Force One, so I called him. I said, are you working with the governor? He said, you bet we are."
MORNING - BUSH SHARES BIRTHDAY CAKE PHOTO-OP WITH SEN. JOHN MCCAIN
11AM - BUSH VISITS ARIZONA RESORT TO PROMOTE MEDICARE DRUG BENEFIT
LATE MORNING - LEVEE BREACHED
11:30AM - MICHAEL BROWN FINALLY REQUESTS THAT DHS DISPATCH 1,000 EMPLOYEES TO REGION, GIVES THEM TWO DAYS TO ARRIVE: "Brown's memo to Chertoff described Katrina as 'this near catastrophic event' but otherwise lacked any urgent language. The memo politely ended, 'Thank you for your consideration in helping us to meet our responsibilities.'"
2PM - BUSH TRAVELS TO CALIFORNIA SENIOR CENTER TO DISCUSS MEDICARE DRUG BENEFIT
9PM - RUMSFELD ATTENDS SAN DIEGO PADRES BASEBALL GAME

Tuesday, August 30
9AM - BUSH SPEAKS ON IRAQ AT NAVAL BASE CORONADO
MIDDAY - CHERTOFF FINALLY BECOMES AWARE THAT LEVEE HAS FAILED: "It was on Tuesday that the levee - may have been overnight Monday to Tuesday - that the levee started to break. And it was midday Tuesday that I became aware of the fact that there was no possibility of plugging the gap and that essentially the lake was going to start to drain into the city."
PENTAGON CLAIMS THERE ARE ENOUGH NATIONAL GUARD TROOPS IN REGION
MASS LOOTING REPORTED, SECURITY SHORTAGE CITED
U.S.S. BATAAN SITS OFF SHORE, VIRTUALLY UNUSED: "The USS Bataan, a 844-foot ship designed to dispatch Marines in amphibious assaults, has helicopters, doctors, hospital beds, food and water. It also can make its own water, up to 100,000 gallons a day. And it just happened to be in the Gulf of Mexico when Katrina came roaring ashore. The Bataan rode out the storm and then followed it toward shore, awaiting relief orders. Helicopter pilots flying from its deck were some of the first to begin plucking stranded New Orleans residents. But now the Bataan's hospital facilities, including six operating rooms and beds for 600 patients, are empty."
3PM - PRESIDENT BUSH PLAYS GUITAR WITH COUNTRY SINGER MARK WILLIS [AP]
BUSH RETURNS TO CRAWFORD FOR FINAL NIGHT OF VACATION [AP]

Wednesday, August 31
TENS OF THOUSANDS TRAPPED IN SUPERDOME; CONDITIONS DETERIORATE
PRESIDENT BUSH FINALLY ORGANIZES TASK FORCE TO COORDINATE FEDERAL RESPONSE: Bush says on Tuesday he will "fly to Washington to begin work? with a task force that will coordinate the work of 14 federal agencies involved in the relief effort."
JEFFERSON PARISH EMERGENCY DIRECTOR SAYS FOOD AND WATER SUPPLY GONE
80,000 BELIEVED STRANDED IN NEW ORLEANS
3,000 STRANDED AT CONVENTION CENTER WITHOUT FOOD OR WATER
5PM - BUSH GIVES FIRST MAJOR ADDRESS ON KATRINA: "Nothing about the president's demeanor? ... which seemed casual to the point of carelessness ... suggested that he understood the depth of the current crisis." [New York Times]
8PM - CONDOLEEZZA RICE TAKES IN A BROADWAY SHOW
9PM - FEMA DIRECTOR BROWN CLAIMS SURPRISE OVER SIZE OF STORM: "I must say, this storm is much much bigger than anyone expected."

Thursday, September 1
8AM - BUSH CLAIMS NO ONE EXPECTED LEVEES TO BREAK: "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees."
CONDOLEEZZA RICE VISITS U.S. TENNIS OPEN
STILL NO COMMAND AND CONTROL ESTABLISHED: Terry Ebbert, New Orleans Homeland Security Director: "This is a national emergency. This is a national disgrace. FEMA has been here three days, yet there is no command and control. We can send massive amounts of aid to tsunami victims, but we can't bail out the city of New Orleans." [Fox News]
2PM - MAYOR NAGIN ISSUES "DESPERATE SOS" TO FEDERAL GOVERNMENT: "This is a desperate SOS. Right now we are out of resources at the convention centre and don't anticipate enough buses. We need buses. Currently the convention centre is unsanitary and unsafe and we're running out of supplies."
2PM - MICHAEL BROWN CLAIMS NOT TO HAVE HEARD OF REPORTS OF VIOLENCE: "I've had no reports of unrest, if the connotation of the word unrest means that people are beginning to riot, or you know, they're banging on walls and screaming and hollering or burning tires or whatever. I've had no reports of that." [CNN]
NEW ORLEANS "DESCEND[S] INTO ANARCHY": "Storm victims were raped and beaten, fights and fires broke out, corpses lay out in the open, and rescue helicopters and law enforcement officers were shot at as flooded-out New Orleans descended into anarchy Thursday. 'This is a desperate SOS,' the mayor said." [AP]
CONDOLEEZZA RICE GOES SHOE SHOPPING: "Just moments ago at the Ferragamo on 5th Avenue, Condoleeza Rice was seen spending several thousands of dollars on some nice, new shoes (we've confirmed this, so her new heels will surely get coverage from the WaPo's Robin Givhan). A fellow shopper, unable to fathom the absurdity of Rice's timing, went up to the Secretary and reportedly shouted, 'How dare you shop for shoes while thousands are dying and homeless!'" [Gawker]
MICHAEL BROWN FINALLY LEARNS OF EVACUEES IN CONVENTION CENTER: "We learned about that (Thursday), so I have directed that we have all available resources to get that convention center to make sure that they have the food and water and medical care that they need." [CNN]

Friday, September 2
ROVE-LED CAMPAIGN TO BLAME LOCAL OFFICIALS BEGINS: "Under the command of President Bush's two senior political advisers, the White House rolled out a plan?to contain the political damage from the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina." President Bush's comments from the Rose Garden Friday morning formed "the start of this campaign." [New York Times, 9/5/05]
9:35AM - BUSH PRAISES MICHAEL BROWN: "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." [White House, 9/2/05]
10 AM - PRESIDENT BUSH STAGES PHOTO-OP "BRIEFING": Coast Guard helicopters and crew diverted to act as backdrop for President Bush's photo-op.
BUSH VISIT GROUNDS FOOD AID: "Three tons of food ready for delivery by air to refugees in St. Bernard Parish and on Algiers Point sat on the Crescent City Connection bridge Friday afternoon as air traffic was halted because of President Bush's visit to New Orleans, officials said." [Times-Picayune]
LEVEE REPAIR WORK ORCHESTRATED FOR PRESIDENT'S VISIT: Sen. Mary Landrieu, 9/3: "Touring this critical site yesterday with the President, I saw what I believed to be a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe. Flying over this critical spot again this morning, less than 24 hours later, it became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity; and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment." [Sen. Mary Landrieu]
BUSH USES 50 FIREFIGHTERS AS PROPS IN DISASTER AREA PHOTO-OP: A group of 1,000 firefighters convened in Atlanta to volunteer with the Katrina relief efforts. Of those, "a team of 50 Monday morning quickly was ushered onto a flight headed for Louisiana. The crew's first assignment: to stand beside President Bush as he tours devastated areas." [Salt Lake Tribune; Reuters]
3PM - BUSH "SATISFIED WITH THE RESPONSE": "I am satisfied with the response. I am not satisfied with all the results." [AP]

Saturday, September 3
SENIOR BUSH ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL LIES TO WASHINGTON POST, CLAIMS GOV. BLANCO NEVER DECLARED STATE OF EMERGENCY: The Post reported in their Sunday edition "As of Saturday, Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency, the senior Bush official said." They were forced to issue a correction hours later. [Washington Post, 9/4/05]
9AM - BUSH BLAMES STATE AND LOCAL OFFICIALS: "[T]he magnitude of responding to a crisis over a disaster area that is larger than the size of Great Britain has created tremendous problems that have strained state and local capabilities. The result is that many of our citizens simply are not getting the help they need." [White House, 9/3/05]

 

That may be a tad biased.  Perhaps the most complete timeline is here.  

 

As Matthew Cooper of all people, the Plamegate guy (the one who didn't go to jail while Judith Miller did), explains in last week's issue of Time Magazine:

 

It isn't easy picking George Bush's worst moment last week. Was it his first go at addressing the crisis Wednesday, when he came across as cool to the point of uncaring? Was it when he said that he didn't "think anybody expected" the New Orleans levees to give way, though that very possibility had been forecast for years? Was it when he arrived in Mobile, Ala., a full four days after the storm made landfall, and praised his hapless Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director, Michael D. Brown, whose disaster credentials seemed to consist of once being the commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association? "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job," said the President. Or was it that odd moment when he promised to rebuild Mississippi Senator Trent Lott's house - a gesture that must have sounded astonishingly tone-deaf to the homeless black citizens still trapped in the postapocalyptic water world of New Orleans. "Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house - he's lost his entire house," cracked Bush, "there's going to be a fantastic house. And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch."

Bush seemed so regularly out of it last week, it made you wonder if he was stuck in the same White House bubble of isolation that confined his dad. Too often, W. looked annoyed. Or he smiled when he should have been serious. Or he swaggered when simple action would have been the right move.

And he was so slow. Everyone knew on Sunday morning that Katrina was a killer. Yet when the levees broke after the storm, the White House slouched toward action. And this from a leader who made his bones with 9/11. In a crisis he can act paradoxically, appearing - almost simultaneously - strong and weak, decisive and vacillating, Churchill and Chamberlain. This week he was more Chamberlain.

... Bush all but spurned offers of help from allies because of the way it would look. "I'm sure he saw it as a sign of American weakness to be taking aid from other countries," says the former Administration official. A Bush aide countered that his boss "wasn't rejecting offers; he wasn't focused on it."

 

Something is up.

 

From the Associated Press Wednesday, September 7, via the New York Times there's this:

 

At a news conference, Pelosi, D-Calif., said Bush's choice for head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency had "absolutely no credentials."

She related that she had urged Bush at the White House on Tuesday to fire Michael Brown.

"He said 'Why would I do that?'" Pelosi said.

"'I said because of all that went wrong, of all that didn't go right last week.' And he said 'What didn't go right?'"

"Oblivious, in denial, dangerous," she added.

 

That's been running on the national news.  You can watch it here with Windows Media Player or here in Quicktime.

Did someone say denial?  From the first Friday visit to the scene, via Associated Press, see this:

 

Later in Biloxi, Miss., Bush tried to comfort two stunned women wandering their neighborhood clutching Hefty bags, looking in vain for something to salvage from the rubble of their home. [Bush] kept insisting they could find help at a Salvation Army center down the street, even after another bystander had informed him it had been destroyed.

 

Lambert over at Corrente suggests that's the whole problem - "1. He's wrong. 2. Other people tell him he's wrong, and give the evidence. 3. He insists he's right."

 

Sort of sums it all up.

Over at the generally conservative Bull Moose you can find Arrested Development

 

We have a man-child as President of the United States. That may seem an unfair characterization, but consider the President's performance last Friday when he ventured to the storm ravaged Gulf Coast. In a revealing moment, he referred to the FEMA Director as "Brownie" and joked about his past good times in New Orleans.

It was inappropriate behavior that one would expect from an adolescent and not the adult leader of the free world. It largely went unnoticed.

But perhaps the clearest demonstration of the President's arrested development is his inability to accept responsibility or accountability. Another revelatory moment was when the President pronounced that the response to Katrina was "not acceptable." Of course, he was the one in charge. It was as if a child passively proclaimed that "the milk was spilt".

Maybe the Moose is unfair. But, within Republican circles it has been known that the President (who was previously known as "Junior") is a bit, well, immature. He was created as a political force by Rove and is minded by Cheney. The country will survive his leadership, but it is striking that so many have protected him with the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Should anyone be surprised that he refused to cut short his mountain bike vacation? Should we really expect that he should be more articulate and more curious? Are we unfair to want him to take charge and responsibility?

America yearns for adult leadership. Unfortunately, we will have to wait until January, 2009.

 

And here we have the battered wife syndrome argument: "Your man is no good. He treats you like crap, lies to you, abuses you, bullies you, exploits you, takes your money. As a friend I want to tell you that you deserve better. You deserve a person that treats you with respect, cares about your welfare, and your children's welfare, but that's not George and it never will be."

That is followed by this advice:

 

It all comes down to you, America. I know no one likes other people passing comment on their relationships but this is an extreme situation. You are in very real danger, he is hurting you everyday and he is hurting us, your friends as well. But only you can make it stop. We are all rooting for you, although we don't get to talk to you very often anymore, because he cuts us off from you. We are on your side, we will all be over the moon the day you finally kick him out. You know he really should be thrown in jail for the things he has done to you. Him and all of his gangster friends.

Please, please, do it America, you know I am right. If not for yourself then do it for your brothers and sisters and children. Do it before he kills any more of your family or anyone else's. We are all really worried for your welfare.

 

And Jack Cafferty on CNN saying this

 

Why are we talking about the "blame game" - there are thousands of people dead because government officials failed to do what they're supposed to be doing. That's criminal behavior. I mean, that's no game. There are people dead in the city of New Orleans and up and down the gulf coast because people charged with seeing to their welfare failed to do that. I don't understand this reluctance to say, Mr. Brown, you failed in your assignment. You're out of here. Go away. Go back to Colorado and go back to working for the Arabian Horse Association that we got you from.

 

Yipes. This is a political hurricane.

And the CNN fellow says we have criminal behavior?

Ellen S. Podgor says this

 

Is it criminal to make statements over the wires that are dishonest? If you happen to be a government official does it reach the level of being a scheme to defraud of "honest services"? Is the government a corporation and therefore subject to the collective knowledge of other officials within their midst; the US government holds corporations to this standard? Is it specific intent, recklessness, or negligence, and does it make difference?

I have a lot of questions. The bottom line is that after listening to the CNN video clip on AOL here, reading TalkLeft here, reading the Times-Picayune open letter to President Bush here, and John Lewis' letter in Newsweek and being horrified by the incompetency and disregard of too many these past few days, one has to wonder if this reaches a level of criminality. And if not, should it?

 

Podger's bio from Georgia State University here - former deputy prosecutor and defense attorney who teaches international criminal law, white collar crime, criminal law and procedure, and professional responsibility, co-author of books on white collar crime and international criminal law, has written articles on computer crime, international criminal law, lawyer's ethics, criminal discovery, prosecutorial discretion, corporate criminality, and other white collar crime topics - MBA University of Chicago and an law degree from Temple, visiting scholar at Yale Law School and visiting professor at University of Georgia School of Law and George Washington University Law School and more - member of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), the International Society for the Reform of Criminal Law (ISRCL) and a member of the American Law Institute (ALI), and an honorary member of the American Board of Criminal Lawyers.

Don't mess with her. And consider criminal defense attorney Jeralyn Merritt here:

 

Prof. Podgor's comments about the criminal responsibility for politicians' and bureaucrats' lies about Katrina are thought provoking. I previously used the phrase "disregard for human life" because I was thinking in terms of a negligent homicide prosecution (L.S.A.-R.S. ? 14:32 "Negligent homicide is the killing of a human being by criminal negligence."), or at least putting the looting of NOLA's levee projects for the rich within "high Crimes and Misdemeanors" under Art. II, ? 4 of the U.S. Constitution. [See this.]  More about that later.

How about the basic tort law?

Regretfully, the political judgment defense could keep the federal government from having to pay a dime under the Federal Tort Claims Act. How about the personal and moral responsibility of our "leaders" in their ill-advised or just plain stupid games of playing politics with money that was intended to save lives and property?

Having taken the money away to have prevented, or at least mitigated, the flooding of New Orleans, Congress should step up and admit the federal government's responsibility and pay for it all. But, Congress is dominated by Republicans and the President is a Republican. Republicans have no words in their vocabulary for "I'm sorry" or "I was wrong."

But, they are simply going to have to bite the bullet, recognize the folly of letting George Bush loot the federal Treasury, and pay for New Orleans. Bush's father got Congress to bail out the Savings and Loan industry because the fat cats looted banks. That protected banks, but it became a political precedent where Congress paid for the folly of S&L deregulation done at Reagan's behest for his fat cat friends.

Now, what about American citizens?

 

Our friend Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis

 

Okay, this gives us –


1. Negligent homicide
2. High Crimes (don't bother with misdemeanors) (and screw Tort too)

How about the personal and moral responsibility of our "leaders" in their ill-advised or just plain stupid games of playing politics with money that was intended to save lives and property?

How about criminal negligence? Non-assistance to people in mortal danger? Like drunk driving, stupidity is no defense.

And congress should step up and admit the federal government's responsibility and pay for it all? Hey! The government pays for everything with your money. That means even if 'they' are guilty, taxpayers pay. Find 'them' personally responsible and liable for damages.

Congress is dominated by Republicans and the President is a Republican? Republicans have no words in their vocabulary for "I'm sorry" or "I was wrong?" Words are cheap, and they are probably insincere anyway.

But, they are simply going to have to bite the bullet, recognize the folly of letting George Bush loot the federal Treasury, and pay for New Orleans.

Merritt: "Bush's father got Congress to bail out the Savings and Loan industry because the fat cats looted banks. That protected banks, but it became a political precedent where Congress paid for the folly of S&L deregulation done at Reagan's behest for his fat cat friends."

Yeah, remember who 'paid' for Silverado. Taxpayers did, not Bush.

Now, what about American citizens? Born suckers, sorry chumps, every one.

 

Maybe so.  But former First Lady Barbara Bush said Monday that living in the Astrodome in Houston was working out well for many of the 15,000 hurricane victims there because they were underprivileged anyway. Her exact words - audio here - "And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this - this [she chuckles slightly] is working very well for them."

Silver lining? Positive attitude?  (Wednesday the White House said she only spoke for herself and not for the president - a little damage control.)

And those folks need to be taught a lesson.  Click here to watch a clip of Senator Rick Santorum on WTAE-TV Channel 4 (ABC) Pittsburgh, on September 4, saying we ought to heavily fine those people who didn't leave New Orleans like the rich white folks did: "I mean, you have people who don't heed those warnings and then put people at risk as a result of not heeding those warnings. There may be a need to look at tougher penalties on those who decide to ride it out and understand that there are consequences to not leaving."  Compassionate conservatism - tough love.

There were consequences to not leaving, of course. FEMA made things a tad difficult.  Note this list (partial):

 

Over the past week I've read of the following:

- 1000 folks from the Lafayette area with 500 boats head to New Orleans to aid the rescue get turned back by FEMA.
- Wal-Mart trucks with food and water get turned back by FEMA. ...
- The USS Bataan off the coast of Louisiana ready to help, but underused by FEMA. See also here -
- Shipments of diesel fuel being turned back by FEMA
- Firemen from Houston turned away by FEMA
- More firefighters turned away.
- Angel Flight South Central seaplanes getting a run around from FEMA
- DMAT Teams available but still on call.
- Red Cross kept out of New Orleans. Note: this is actually attributed to the state Homeland Security department. More information on who is responsible for this decision would be helpful. See also here -
- Northcom ready to act, but not given needed orders.
...
- Morticians turned away.
- Maryland fire fighters blocked by FEMA.
- Generators turned away by FEMA in Slidel.
...
- Wisconsin busses turned back by red tape at several levels
- Michigan buses
- Aid from Chicago [refused]
...
- California cautioned by FEMA to go slow in accepting survivors or it might lose funds.

 

There's more.  But no Arabian horse drowned.

Yipes!  Even that dinosaur Trent Lott blasts FEMA incompetence.  And this from Ben Morris, mayor of Slidell, Louisiana, 3:32 PM Monday, September 5 - "We are still hampered by some of the most stupid, idiotic regulations by FEMA. They have turned away generators, we've heard that they've gone around seizing equipment from our contractors. If they do so, they'd better be armed because I'll be damned if I'm going to let them deprive our citizens. I'm pissed off, and tired of this horseshit." And Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish (just south of New Orleans) and a former Democratic candidate for governor - "Nobody's coming to get us. The secretary has promised. Everybody's promised. They've had press conferences. I'm sick of the press conferences. For God's sake, shut up and send us somebody." And this - ''It's not just Katrina that caused all these deaths in New Orleans here. Bureaucracy has committed murder here in the greater New Orleans area, and bureaucracy has to stand trial before Congress now.'' Won't happen, but you can read these and more quotes here. It just goes on and on.

From Andrew Sullivan, the conservative Brit who became a US citizen, this

 

Americans have already donated a record $404 million to help the victims of Katrina. That's the America I have come to know and love. As an immigrant, the one thing that has always struck me very forcefully about Americans is their willingness to volunteer and their readiness to lend a hand to others in need. Most Americans don't realize how striking this is. I grew up in England and my view of America was often related to their helping people in need and their remarkable hospitality. I know the proportion of foreign aid is not that high compared to other countries, but when you really needed help, America came through with the bulk of the money: from AIDS in Africa to the tsunami victims, and especially with domestic disasters. The ethic may come from the legacy of building a country out of a raw continent (where helping strangers was contingent on their one day helping you), but helping others out when in need is part of the American way. I also associated American government with a kind of benign competence - maybe out of a collective memory of GIs' rescuing Western Europe from Nazism and, eventually, Eastern Europe from Communism. I think part of the collective shame is that this didn't happen this time in America itself - at least quickly enough. It violated a core American value. This is the second basic American value this administration has violated. The other is humane treatment of enemy prisoners in wartime. Perhaps the reason people feel more than simple frustration with Bush - the reason it amounts to anger - is not "Bush-hatred" (although that irrationality exists), but this president's squandering of so much of what is best about America and his pandering to so much that is worst. I don't fully understand it. I don't think it's malevolence. I think it's a mixture of arrogance and incompetence. But the damage it is doing to some of the core meaning of America - that this is a country that rescues people who are in dire straits, and never, ever abuses prisoners in its military custody - is deeply distressing. And it will take time to restore that kind of reputation and, yes, honor.

 

Honor is for wimps, Andy!

Better this from Kevin Drum:

 

For what it's worth, I'd like to make absolutely clear why I hold George Bush accountable for the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. First, though, here's what I don't blame him for.

I don't blame him for being on vacation when Katrina made landfall. I don't blame him for a certain amount of chaos in the initial response - that's inevitable no matter how good your plan is. I don't blame him for rolling FEMA into the Department of Homeland Security. I don't blame him for focusing more on terrorism than on natural disasters. That was a natural reaction to 9/11.

Nor do I think that Bush doesn't care about natural disasters. It's not as if he sat down one day and decided that hurricanes were no longer worth worrying about.

Obviously Bush deserves criticism for his listless lack of leadership and life-as-usual politicking in the first three days after Katrina hit. Beyond that, though, what happened was the result of a long series of decisions, all flowing out of Bush's natural conservative governing instincts, that added up to make Katrina more damaging than it had to be and at the same time eroded our ability to react to its aftermath. These decisions were deliberate and disastrous, and that's why I think Bush deserves a large part of the blame for what happened.

 

And lists the decisions. Go read them. They conclude with this:

 

A crony with no relevant experience was installed as head of FEMA. Mitigation budgets for New Orleans were slashed even though it was known to be one of the top three risks in the country. FEMA was deliberately downsized as part of the Bush administration's conservative agenda to reduce the role of government. After DHS was created, FEMA's preparation and planning functions were taken away.

Actions have consequences. No one could predict that a hurricane the size of Katrina would hit this year, but the slow federal response when it did happen was no accident. It was the result of four years of deliberate Republican policy and budget choices that favor ideology and partisan loyalty at the expense of operational competence. It's the Bush administration in a nutshell.

 

Concise and to the point.

Where is it heading? What of these naturally conservative governing instincts?  Note this from Wednesday, September 7, in the New York Post - in Liz Smith's gossip column –

 

Fox News emperor Bill O'Reilly tells us in Katrina's wake that if we - Americans - depend on the United States government for any reason, we are certain to be disappointed. Always. The government of the United States cannot help you. Bill's advice to America (to the poor of New Orleans, especially) is educate yourself and get a well-paying job. Only then can you avoid standing on a "metaphorical rooftop" when the next disaster rolls around. Bill did not give the poor any advice on how one finds a proper education or a job. Remember, the government can't help.

Oh, Newt Gingrich told Bill - in the nicest possible way, because they are friends - that his government theory was, well . . . "un-American."

 

One wonders. O'Reilly may have it right.

A blunt way of putting here, from Gary Boatwright –

 

Incompetence, corruption, cronyism, classism, racism and refusal to accept responsibility are all just symptoms of moral failure. Bush is a moral failure as a President, as a man and as a human being.

Contemporary American conservatism is a political ideology built on a foundation of racism and contempt. The callous disregard of the Republican Party for the general welfare of America, and their malice towards poor black Americans, epitomizes everything that is wrong with conservatism and the Republican Party. The same moral failure that led to Abu Ghraib led to the negligent homicide of tens of thousands of Americans following Hurricane Katrina.

New Orleans is the canary in the coalmine. The next community or the next family conservatism kills could be yours.

 

Yeah, whatever. 

 

 

Race and Class

 

Matters of race and class are discussed elsewhere in these pages, in Bob Patterson's WLJ column, but for reference, Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly has listed the week's CLUELESS QUOTES

 

His list -

 

Mark Williams, explaining why things would have gone better if New Orleans had more white people: "They didn't have the necessary brains and common sense to get out of the way of a Cat 5 Hurricane.... The only role race plays in this is that the American black population has been the prototype for an entire race of people being, being turned into a group of dependents of the government — trapped there, I'm using that word very loosely are screaming we want help, we want help."

 

Tom DeLay, chatting with a couple of young evacuees who are now living in a tent in Houston: "Now tell me the truth boys, is this kind of fun?"

 

Steve Sailer, displaying his trademark scientific approach to issues of race and poverty: "In contrast to New Orleans, there was only minimal looting after the horrendous 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan - because, when you get down to it, Japanese aren't blacks."

 

Rep. Richard Baker (R-Baton Rouge), musing with his lobbyist pals about a silver lining of Katrina: "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did."

 

Rick Santorum (R-Law & Order-SVU), displaying his trademark sensitivity to the plight of the poor caught in Katrina's path: "There may be a need to look at tougher penalties on those who decide to ride it out and understand that there are consequences to not leaving."

 

Hugh Hewitt, explaining that, as usual, the odious MSM is responsible for everything, including all the dead people in New Orleans: "[Reporters] did not do their homework, because they did not understand the levees were the threat, they ended up killing hundreds of Americans. I'm not going to say thousands, because I don't know the number. But I know hundreds are dead, that they did not communicate the severity of this storm."

 

Barbara Bush, wittily showing off the Bush family's famous compassion toward the poor after a visit to the Astrodome: "So many of the people here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them."

 

Robert Tracinski, in a widely emailed missive, picking up where Mark Williams and Steve Sailer left off: "But what about criminals and welfare parasites? Do they worry about saving their houses and property? They don't, because they don't own anything. Do they worry about what is going to happen to their businesses or how they are going to make a living? They never worried about those things before. Do they worry about crime and looting? But living off of stolen wealth is a way of life for them."

 

 

SPIN

Of course, the spin goes on.  "We really care."

 

All the Fox News and right-side commentators are saying that in the run-up to the storm, President Bush was really upset with how the New Orleans officials' preparations were so slow - so upset that he personally called Ray Nagin, the city's mayor, to urge an evacuation of the city.  He begged him.  Bob Williams in the Wall Street Journal and Brit Hume on Fox News said so.  Limbaugh said so.  Read all about it here.  Four days later he said on national television that no one ever thought the levees would not hold.  Huh?

 

Aaron Kenny explains here - he called the governor, not the mayor, and the decision had already been made.  He was seconding it.

 

But it's a good story - and MSNBC will stick with it - told it was false, and confronted with the documentation - "We just have a different perspective."  Cool.

There is no way to wrap this up.  No summary.  It goes on.































 
 
 
 

Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
 
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