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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.

Filed under: Hurricanes | Comments (8) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
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.

Filed under: US Politics, Hurricanes | Comments (1) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
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:

Filed under: US Politics, Hurricanes | Comments (1) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
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.

Filed under: US Politics, Hurricanes, 2006 Elections | Comments (0) |Send TrackBack
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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Tuesday, January 24, 2006
The Bush Administration and Katrina
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 9:29 am

Via WaPo White House Got Early Warning on Katrina

The documents shed new light on the extent on the administration’s foreknowledge about Katrina’s potential for unleashing epic destruction on New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities and towns. President Bush, in a televised interview three days after Katrina hit, suggested that the scale of the flooding in New Orleans was unexpected. “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees. They did anticipate a serious storm,” Bush said in a Sept. 1 interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

The documents in question were prepared by two elements of the Department of Homeland Security: National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center (NISAC) and FEMA.

The NISAC document, among other things:

warned that a storm of Katrina’s size would “likely lead to severe flooding and/or levee breaching” and specifically noted the potential for levee failures along Lake Pontchartrain. It predicted economic losses in the tens of billions of dollars, including damage to public utilities and industry that would take years to fully repair. Initial response and rescue operations would be hampered by disruption of telecommunications networks and the loss of power to fire, police and emergency workers, it said.

The FEMA doc:

compared Katrina’s likely impact to that of “Hurricane Pam,” a fictional Category 3 storm used in a series of FEMA disaster-preparedness exercises simulating the effects of a major hurricane striking New Orleans. But Katrina, the report warned, could be worse.

The FEMA report was issued two days before landfall, and the NISAC document was sent to the White House at 1:47 am the day Katrina hit land.

As such, it really is difficult for the administration to behave as if what happened was an utter surprise. This really was a massive failure of disaster management. While it would have been impossible to have prevented the actual damage, the federal response was woeful, especially if one takes this information into account.

It certainly does not bespeak well of the capacity of DHS, and the federal government in general, to respond to a massive terrorist attack, even if some intelligence existed as to what the event would be-let alone if the attack was a total surprise. Given that the whole notion of the formation of DHS was to better the government’s ability to respond to terrorism, the response to Katrina underscores that we are not better off after that rearranging of the deck chairs.

Via the NYT version of the story, we get some political parsing: White House Was Told Hurricane Posed Danger - New York Times

A White House spokesman, asked about the seeming contradiction between Mr. Bush’s statement on Sept. 1 and the warning as the storm approached, said the president meant to say that once the storm passed and it initially looked as if New Orleans had gotten through the hurricane without catastrophic damage, no one anticipated at that point that the levees would be breached.

As well as the suggestion the lack of preparedness was widespread, and not just federal:

The Senate investigators have also found evidence that at least some federal and state officials were aware last summer that the hurricane evacuation planning in the New Orleans area was incomplete.

The whole thing was an utter debacle.

And yes: the scope of the disaster is primarily the culprit. This is obvious. My point is that the the governmental response, at all levels, to that disaster was pathetic as compared to what it reasonably could have been. Clearly the local evacuation plans were radically inadequate, but above all else the sluggish and inept response by FEMA was unforgivable.

Filed under: US Politics, War on Terror, Hurricanes | Comments (1) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Nagin Explains “Chocolate” Comment (Sorta)
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 3:10 pm

Via CNN: Nagin calls for rebuilding ‘chocolate’ New Orleans

“How do you make chocolate? You take dark chocolate, you mix it with white milk, and it becomes a delicious drink. That is the chocolate I am talking about,” he said.

“New Orleans was a chocolate city before Katrina. It is going to be a chocolate city after. How is that divisive? It is white and black working together, coming together and making something special.”

So, New Orleans: really he wants a chocolate milk city. This has to be one of the weirdest political food metaphors ever.

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Mardi Gras Shuffle
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 12:22 pm

Via Bloomberg: Alabama, Texas May Gain as Katrina Dims New Orleans Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras celebrations in Galveston, Texas, and Mobile, Alabama, may attract thousands more visitors than usual next month as damage from Hurricane Katrina keeps some revelers away from Louisiana.

New Orleans, home of the largest U.S. Mardi Gras, will party on a smaller scale this year after Katrina flooded the city in August and scattered most of its residents. Galveston claims to have the second-largest event in the country, and Mobile has the oldest.

[…]

As many as 500,000 people may visit Galveston during this year’s festivities, according to the bureau. Last year, 300,000 people visited. The city is 287 miles (462 kilometers) west of New Orleans.

Planners in Mobile, 170 miles east of New Orleans, expect as many as 150,000 visitors, said Tony Dughaish, president of the Mobile Area Hotel and Motel Association. The estimate is triple last year’s total.

No surprise, I suppose.

Filed under: Hurricanes | Comments (2) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
And the “Pat Robertson Award” Goes to…
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 8:46 am

…Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans.

Via the AP: New Orleans Mayor Says God Mad at U.S.

Mayor Ray Nagin suggested Monday that Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and other storms were a sign that “God is mad at America” and at black communities, too, for tearing themselves apart with violence and political infighting.

“Surely he doesn’t approve of us being in Iraq under false pretenses. But surely he is upset at black America also. We’re not taking care of ourselves.”

“Surely God is mad at America. He sent us hurricane after hurricane after hurricane, and it’s destroyed and put stress on this country,” Nagin, who is black, said as he and other city leaders marked Martin Luther King Day.

Or, maybe the weather conditions were such this year that there simply were more hurricanes and maybe cities on the Gulf Coast took the brunt of said storms because, well, they’re on the coast and hurricanes occur over the water.

Just a theory.

And, oh my:

Nagin also promised that New Orleans will be a “chocolate” city again. Many of the city’s black neighborhoods were heavily damaged by Katrina.

Filed under: US Politics, Hurricanes | Comments (2) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here

A Knight's Blog linked with Nagin & Buchannan: Two Of A Kind
Nagin: God Mad at America, Wants Chocolate New Orleans » Outside The Beltway linked with [...] quite impressive. Ian Schwartz has the speech on video, available for download. Update:� Hillary Clinton gets in on the stupid race tricks. Permalink | Comments (7) | Send TrackBack | [...]
Monday, December 12, 2005
Mississippi Libraries
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 3:32 pm

Harry Boswell of The Kudzu Files highlights an effort to rebuild libraries in Mississippi in the wake of Katrina.

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Blanco Postpones New Orleans Elections
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 2:59 pm

Via the AP: La. Governor Postpones New Orleans Vote

Gov. Kathleen Blanco has postponed the New Orleans mayoral election indefinitely, setting up a legal battle with voters who filed a lawsuit seeking to ensure the election is held as scheduled.

[…]

The order was released Monday but Blanco signed it Friday. It did not set a new date for the elections, saying only that they should be held “as soon as practicable.”

The postponement affects primaries for mayor, sheriff and city council seats, as well as runoffs in those races that had been set for March 4. Qualifying for candidates to get on the ballot had been set to begin Wednesday.

Given the situation, a postponement may make some sense-no US city has ever suffered a cataclysm to equal what happened to New Orleans. However, doing so indefinitely is highly problematic. At some point it has to be recognized that the city isn’t going to be what it was, and that a large number of people are never coming back.

As such, as long as it is physically possible to hold elections, then elections should be held. Otherwise, we will have a governor suspending democratic governance, with no end in sight, and that strikes me as a lousy precedent to set.

Filed under: US Politics, Hurricanes, 2006 Elections | Comments (7) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
Saturday, December 3, 2005
In Case You Missed it…
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 10:08 am

…we made it to Epsilon.

Via the AP: Hurricane Epsilon No Threat to Land

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Friday, December 2, 2005
Speaking of New Orleans…
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 9:16 am

17th Street Canal levee was doomed

The floodwall on the 17th Street Canal levee was destined to fail long before it reached its maximum design load of 14 feet of water because the Army Corps of Engineers underestimated the weak soil layers 10 to 25 feet below the levee, the state’s forensic levee investigation team concluded in a report to be released this week.

That miscalculation was so obvious and fundamental, investigators said, they “could not fathom” how the design team of engineers from the corps, local firm Eustis Engineering and the national firm Modjeski and Masters could have missed what is being termed the costliest engineering mistake in American history.

As such, the idea that had their simply been more funding in recent years that the levees woud not have failed is simply wrong. Also, it does provide some data to back up some of the pronouncements by the Bush administration about their surprise over the break of the walls.

At any rate, the scope of the mistakes is staggering:

“This is the largest civil engineering disaster in the history of the United States. Nothing has come close to the $300 billion in damages and half-million people out of their homes and the lives lost,” he said. “Nothing this big has ever happened before in civil engineering.”

It also raises the question, it seems to me, as to whether New Orleans should be rebuilt precisely as it was. The risks (and costs) don’t seem worth it.

Filed under: US Politics, Hurricanes | Comments (0) |Send TrackBack
Saturday, November 19, 2005
When Will the Madness End?
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 12:12 pm

Via the AP: Tropical Storm Gamma Could Threaten Fla.

Note to the Tropics: it’s November; Thanksgiving is next week-you can stop now.

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