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Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Blogging Ernesto
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 8:02 am

On the first anniversary of Katrina, TFM is in the path of Ernesto and doing what any blogger would do:  he’s blogging about it (click and scroll).

Filed under: Hurricanes | Comments (3) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
Sunday, June 18, 2006
Spending is Easy, Planning is Hard
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 8:08 am

Via the NYT: In New Orleans, Money Is Ready but a Plan Isn’t

Billions of federal dollars are about to start flowing into this city after President Bush on Thursday signed the emergency relief bill the region has long awaited. But, with the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaching, local officials have yet to come up with a redevelopment plan showing what kind of city will emerge from the storm’s ruins.

As frustrating as that may well be, it is hardly a shock. Getting Congress to appropriate billions of dollars in the aftermath of a massive natural disaster is not all that difficult a feat. Proper planning as to how to use that money wisely, however, is another process entirely.

Clearly the hard choices and visionary thinking needed for New Orleans is lacking:

No neighborhoods have been ruled out for rebuilding, no matter how damaged or dangerous. No decisions have been made on what kind of housing, if any, will replace the mold-ridden empty hulks that stretch endlessly in many areas. No one really knows exactly how the $10.4 billion in federal housing aid will be spent, and guidance for residents in vulnerable areas has been minimal.

Reading the whole piece gives one a sense of a lack of planning and vision, along with a lack of leadership from Mayor Nagin, emanating from the city of New Orleans.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 2:34 pm

Via the AP: Alberto’s rain may do more good than harm.

Hmm, ya think? While any storm can cause damage, it wasn’t as if Alberto was some Cat-5 hurricane.

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By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 7:43 am

From the AP comes tales of your tax dollars at work: FEMA funds spent on divorce, sex change

Houston divorce lawyer Mark Lipkin says he can’t recall anyone paying for his services with a FEMA debit card, but congressional investigators say one of his clients did just that.

The $1,000 payment was just one example cited in an audit that concluded that up to $1.4 billion — perhaps as much as 16 percent of the billions of dollars in assistance expended after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita — was spent for bogus reasons.


The GAO said it was 95 percent confident that improper and potentially fraudulent payments were much higher — between $600 million and $1.4 billion.


To be honest, this revelation isn’t that surprising, yet it remains rather frustrating, to be sure.

More tales of the spend-o-rama:

Among the items purchased with the cards:

_An all-inclusive, one-week Caribbean vacation in the Punta Cana resort in the Dominican Republic.

_Five season tickets to New Orleans Saints professional football games.

_Adult erotica products in Houston and “Girls Gone Wild” videos in Santa Monica, Calif.

_Dom Perignon champagne and other alcoholic beverages in San Antonio.

Filed under: US Politics, Hurricanes | Comments (3) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here

The Florida Masochist linked with FEMA and fraud
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Bill Clinton: Republican Policies Contribute to Hurricanes
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 6:18 am

Via the AP: Clinton Links GOP Policies to More Storms

As Tropical Storm Alberto threatened to strengthen into the ninth hurricane in 22 months to affect Florida, former President Clinton predicted Monday that Republican environmental policies will lead to more severe storms.

“It is now generally recognized that while Al Gore and I were ridiculed, we were right about global warming,” Clinton said at a fundraiser for the Florida Democratic Party. “It’s a serious problem. It’s going to lead to more hurricanes.”

So, if Gore had been elected in 2000 we have had less hurricanes in the last five and a half years? I think that stretches credulity a tad, don’t you think?

Further, even if we except the premise here, which is that global warming leads to more hurricanes, what in the name of Sam Hill are we supposed to do about it? Certainly there is nothing in the short-run that can be done, and it remains an open question as to the actual severity of the warming, and the degree to which it can be controlled by human action.

And don’t point to Kyoto: remember, it gave exemptions to China and India, which as has been noted, are both consuming large amounts of fossil fuels these days.

Given that we had one record year for named storms last year hardly proves a monstrous new trend. Indeed, the record that was broken was from the 1930s, so it isn’t as if we are in some unprecedented phase-especially since we now count storms we see on radar that no one would have known about decades ago.

This whole business from the former president strikes me as political pandering and scaremongering more than a serious discussion.

More than anything else, these kinds of argument drive me nuts, as it is argumentation from essentially one data point: i.e., the number of storms from last year plus the fact that we had one storm of generational proportions (Katrina). Of course, it isn’t as if such storms are a new phenomena (for example: Camille, Andrew, etc.).

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Sunday, June 11, 2006
And So it Begins…
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 3:32 pm

The hurricane season starts in earnest.

Here comes Alberto: ‘Alberto’ becomes first named storm of 2006 season

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Hurricane Season Starts When?
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 11:46 am

Via the AP (not, as one might suspect, The Onion): Hurricane Drill in Louisiana Canceled

A mock evacuation that was supposed to be part of a two-day statewide hurricane preparedness drill was canceled after a misunderstanding about who had jurisdiction over a Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer park.

The two-day statewide drill that began Tuesday was aimed at avoiding the chaos that followed last year’s deadly Hurricane Katrina


But the Baker evacuation was canceled because of an apparent communication breakdown, said JoAnne Moreau, director of the East Baton Rouge Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

“We were unable to get any information from the state or federal government on what policies or procedures were for evacuating those sites - whose jurisdiction it was,” Moreau said. “We’re very disappointed we didn’t get to work with the people who live on the trailer site.”

Well, that’s comforting.

h/t: reader c.v. via e-mail.

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Monday, May 22, 2006
Not as Bad as Last Year, But…
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 11:01 am

Via the BBC: ‘Above normal’ hurricanes in 2006.

Not new news, but not what the Gulf Coast wanted confirmed.

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Congressional Corruption on Film
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 10:06 am

Via WaPo: FBI Says Jefferson Was Filmed Taking Cash. Here are the charming details:

Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.), the target of a 14-month public corruption probe, was videotaped accepting $100,000 in $100 bills from a Northern Virginia investor who was wearing an FBI wire, according to a search warrant affidavit released yesterday.

A few days later, on Aug. 3, 2005, FBI agents raided Jefferson’s home in Northeast Washington and found $90,000 of the cash in the freezer, in $10,000 increments wrapped in aluminum foil and stuffed inside frozen-food containers, the document said.


This will do nothing the help the prevailing negative view of the Congress. It also damaged the Democrat’s ability to paint the corruption problems in Washington as being limited to the Republicans.

Indeed, stories like this one (and the Cunningham scandal) are far easier to understand than the arcana that is the Abramoff situation.

Read nothing partisan into my commentary-I find it to be quite sad when an elected official, especially a member of Congress, is found to be corrupt.

Further, every one of these stories reinforces the notion in the minds of the public that all politicians are corrupt-and that is unfortunate.

And, as Ed Morrissey notes, this is the guy who used the National Guard to retrieve stuff from his home during the Katrina rescue effort. Ed quotes the following ABC News story on that situation.

If they connect that side-trip to the bribes, which shouldn’t be hard to do, God help the man before a jury.

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Balanced News Blog » Blog Archive » FBI Catches Jefferson on Film Taking Cash linked with [...] .), the target of a 14-month public corruption probe, was videotaped accepting $100,000 in $100 bills from a Northern Virginia investor who was wearing an FBI wire, according to a search warrant affid [...]
Right Voices » » This Is What The Culture Of Corrution Looks Like linked with [...] to/Evan Vucci) (Evan Vucci - AP) Via WaPo Related TPMmuckraker, MyDD, Liberty and Justice, PoliBlog, The Plank, White Collar Crime Prof Blog, The Florida Masochist, Captain’s Quarters and The Ca [...]
Wednesday, March 1, 2006
Bush, Katrina and Videotape
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 9:37 pm

Via the AP: Tape: Bush, Chertoff Warned Before Katrina

In dramatic and sometimes agonizing terms, federal disaster officials warned President Bush and his homeland security chief before Hurricane Katrina struck that the storm could breach levees, put lives at risk in New Orleans’ Superdome and overwhelm rescuers, according to confidential video footage.


The footage — along with seven days of transcripts of briefings obtained by The Associated Press — show in excruciating detail that while federal officials anticipated the tragedy that unfolded in New Orleans and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast, they were fatally slow to realize they had not mustered enough resources to deal with the unprecedented disaster.

Given that after the event the President stated on national television: “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees” this is rather damning.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006
I Would Hope…
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 1:43 pm

Via the AP: Chertoff Says He’d Do Things Differently

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Friday, February 10, 2006
Katrina: Who Knew What When?
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 6:40 am

Via the NYT: White House Knew of Levee’s Failure on Night of Storm

“FYI from FEMA,” said an e-mail message from the agency’s public affairs staff describing the helicopter flight, sent Monday night at 9:27 to the chief of staff of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and recently unearthed by investigators. Conditions, the message said, “are far more serious than media reports are currently reflecting. Finding extensive flooding and more stranded people than they had thought — also a number of fires.”

Michael D. Brown, who was the director of FEMA until he resigned under pressure on Sept. 12, said in a telephone interview Thursday that he personally notified the White House of this news that night, though he declined to identify the official he spoke to.

White House officials have confirmed to Congressional investigators that the report of the levee break arrived there at midnight, and Trent Duffy, the White House spokesman, acknowledged as much in an interview this week, though he said it was surrounded with conflicting reports.

But the alert did not seem to register. Even the next morning, President Bush, on vacation in Texas, was feeling relieved that New Orleans had “dodged the bullet,” he later recalled. Mr. Chertoff, similarly confident, flew Tuesday to Atlanta for a briefing on avian flu. With power out from the high winds and movement limited, even news reporters in New Orleans remained unaware of the full extent of the levee breaches until Tuesday.

Given the responses by high officials that week: the President, Chertoff and Brown, this is stunning information.

Either there was a complete lack of communication within the administration or the higher ups simply did not understand what was being told to them.

There is a list of some of the findings from the congressional investigation, and they are rather remarkable in the specific list of failures of government from the local to the federal level. The list is too long to excerpt here.

One does get the feeling that Michael Brown is trying to deflect blame from himself from some of the quotes in piece from an interview with the NYT yesterday:

“There is no question in my mind that at the highest levels of the White House they understood how grave the situation was,” Mr. Brown said in the interview.

The problem, he said, was the handicapping of FEMA when it was turned into a division of the Homeland Security Department in 2003.

“The real story is with this new structure,” he said. “Why weren’t more things done, or what prevented or delayed Mike Brown from being able to do what he would have done and did do in any other disaster?”

However, this doesn’t really comport with e-mails of Brown chatting about his clothing and how he looked on TV. If he knew what was going and what to do about it, but was being prevented from so doing by his superiors, one would think that there would be more evidence of the fact than Brown simply saying so now after he left FEMA under with less than a stellar public image.

According to the piece, Brown received information from New Orleans about the levees and told the person on site that he was going to call the White House:

As his helicopter approached the site, Mr. Bahamonde testified in October, there was no mistaking what had happened: large sections of the levee had fallen over, leaving the section of the city on the collapsed side entirely submerged, but the neighborhood on the other side relatively dry. He snapped a picture of the scene with a small camera.

“The situation is only going to get worse,” he said he warned Mr. Brown, then the FEMA director, whom he called about 8 p.m. Monday Eastern time to report on his helicopter tour.

“Thank you,” he said Mr. Brown replied. “I am now going to call the White House.”

Citing restrictions placed on him by his lawyers, Mr. Brown declined to tell House investigators during testimony if he had actually made that call. White House aides have urged administration officials not to discuss any conversations with the president or his top advisors and declined to release e-mail messages sent among Mr. Bush’s senior advisors.

Call me cynical, but whenever individuals will not answer simple, direct questions of that nature, and state that they cannot do so on advise of their lawyer, I get suspicious.

Regardless of Brown’s precise role, it is radically clear that the administration reacted very poorly to this event. I still recall Chertoff on tv, late in the week, clearly not knowing what was going on in New Orleans. That was extremely odd at the time, and it is unforgivable, to be honest, if it is in fact the case that his office knew of the levee breaks as early as this story states that it did.

Specifically, the is specific evidence that shows that the information did get to DHS:

But investigators have found the e-mail message referring to Mr. Bahamonde’s helicopter survey that was sent to John F. Wood, chief of staff to Secretary Chertoff at 9:27 p.m. They have also found a summary of Mr. Bahamonde’s observations that was issued at 10:30 p.m. and an 11:05 p.m. e-mail message to Michael Jackson, the deputy secretary of homeland security. Each message describes in detail the extensive flooding that was taking place in New Orleans after the levee collapse.

As Senator Collins (R-Maine) states in the piece:

“Secretary Chertoff was too disengaged from the process,”

This appears to clearly be the case.

The entire response was a disaster in and of itself, it would seem.

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Monday, January 30, 2006
The Political Effects of Katrina
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 11:24 am

In this case, some specific effects on Louisiana party politics: Louisiana’s Democrats Try to Refocus Party:

Even before Hurricane Katrina, the Louisiana Democratic Party was struggling in a conservative state skewing more Republican in its voting tendencies.


“I think the most polite term that you can use is disarray,” said Elliott Stonecipher, a Louisiana pollster and political analyst. “The party apparatus seems to have taken a knockdown, if not a knockout punch.”

Clearly there was already a significant shift going on within Louisiana party politics, and that shift was towards the Republican Party in statewide elections. Of course, party-linkages are especially weak in Louisiana, given its electoral system which is even more candidate-centric than the rest of the country.

Katrina has taken an already evolving situation and put it into additional turmoil. Yes, the federal response to the disaster redounds negatively to the Republicans, but given that Nagin and Blanco have not been stellar in their responses either does not help the Democrats-and those are politicians directly on the ground.

Of course, apart from any issues of blame-related politics, there is the cold hard fact that New Orleans was a Democratic stronghold, and its population is scattered to other states and many of those persons will not be coming back (certainly not by the 2006 elections).

Beyond the Katrina business, there are clear problems within the Louisiana Democratic Party, as evidenced by this quote:

Democratic Party spokesman Andrew Koneschusky said he thinks GOP gains in Louisiana are overstated and that Democrats can regain their footing by talking about the issues that unite them.

“I firmly don’t believe (Republicans) have the better product. I think in recent years they’ve had better marketing,” Koneschusky said.

First off, one would expect the Democratic Spokesman to think that the Democrats have the better product, so no surprise there.

However, and second, a focus on “marketing” isn’t going to help the Democrats in Louisiana. Indeed, from this I would formally posit Taylor’s Rule of Party Self-Denial which states that a party that asserts they are losing voters because of “marketing,” “PR,” or “we didn’t get our message out” will continue to lose voters until they realize that the reason they are losing voters is more complicated than the other party has “better marketing.”

Yes, the emphasis given to a set of issues matters, as does the way it is conveyed to the public. However, the candidates one offers matters, as do the basics of their message. Certainly one has to face up to the fact that Louisiana is making the same transition that the rest of the region has been making: away from Democratic dominance to two-party competition. And again: the candidate-centric nature of the Louisiana “primaries” does not foster strong parties. Certainly it is not a system which helps to produce the best candidates for the two parties.

Some other posts on the confluence between Katrina and electoral politics in LA can be found here:

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Elections Set for New Orleans
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 7:48 am

After an initial indefinite delay, a date has been set for elections in NO (via the AP): Governor Sets April 22 New Orleans Vote

Under pressure from a federal judge, Gov. Kathleen Blanco set an April 22 date for New Orleans’ elections, which were postponed after Hurricane Katrina scattered the city’s residents and destroyed hundreds of voting precincts.

Elections for mayor, City Council, sheriff and tax assessors will be held on that date.

The Legislature and the U.S. Justice Department still need to sign off on Louisiana’s emergency election plan, which includes beefed-up absentee balloting and the creation of “mega-polling” sites to replace those damaged by the hurricane.

This has to be done. Even given the scope of the disaster, we can’t just have elections shelved until everything is back to normal-especially since it is unclear what now constitutes “normal” for the Big Easy.

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More on Investigating the Federal Response to Katrina
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 6:15 am

Via the NYT: White House Declines to Provide Storm Papers

The Bush administration, citing the confidentiality of executive branch communications, said Tuesday that it did not plan to turn over certain documents about Hurricane Katrina or make senior White House officials available for sworn testimony before two Congressional committees investigating the storm response.


The White House’s stance on storm-related documents, along with slow or incomplete responses by other agencies, threatens to undermine efforts to identify what went wrong, Democrats on the committees said Tuesday.


According to Mr. Lieberman, Michael D. Brown, the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, cited such a restriction on Monday, as agency lawyers had advised him not to say whether he had spoken to President Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney or to comment on the substance of any conversations with any other high-level White House officials.

While there is no doubt that there is a significant incentive for Democrats involved in the investigation of the response to Katrina to score points on the topic of Republican incompetence in an election year, it is also clear that much of the administration’s response has more of a CYA flavor than a principled stance on protecting executive prerogatives.

As I have stated numerous times in the past, the bureaucratic side of the response to the post-Katrina disaster in New Orleans is a perfect opportunity to see how the post-911 executive branch, DHS in specific, responds to a cataclysmic disaster. They clearly did an exceptionally poor job mobilizing the resources needed to deal with the human needs in the region.

What if al Qaeda had blown up those levees, instead of having them breached by a storm? Since there would have been no warning, and not even partial evacuation of the city, the effect on the local population would have been even worse. And it would have been the federal government’s job to respond to such a scenario.

Further, it is doubly frustrating to know that they have war-gamed a scenario like Katrina (the Hurricane Pam simulation) and yet it seems that none of what should have been learned by that process helped in the event of the actual emergency.

Since this was a set of policy responses that did, by definition, include high level White House officials, I am afraid having key witnesses advised not to say to whom they spoke, or to deny congressional access to documents that would tell us what went wrong is far less of a principled stance on the confidentiality of the executive branch and far more about wishing to keep from public eyes information that would prove embarrassing to those involved in the response to Katrina.

Will the Democrats make political hay out such information? Yes, they will. Such are the fortunes on politics in a transparent, democratic society-when mistakes are made by government, regardless of party, the public has a right to know what mistakes were made, and by whom. From there it is up to the public to determine how bad those mistakes were, and whether or not, via the ballot box, someone needs to be taken to task.

And really, from a pure political POV, whatever embarrassing information exists, the sooner the White House divulges it, the better of the GOP will be in regards to the electorate. Better to be embarrassed in February of an election year than October.

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