A Level Gaze

"What effect must it have on a nation if it learns no foreign languages? Probably much the same as that which a total withdrawal from society has upon an individual."
--G.C. Lichtenberg


New Email Address! levelgaze@gmail.com



The Lefty Directory

The Agonist
Alas, a Blog
Ambivalent Imbroglio
American Street
Anger Management
Angry Bear
Armed Liberal
Bad Attitudes
Barney Gumble
Beyond Corporate
Body and Soul
Brad DeLong
Busy Busy Busy
Calculated Risk
Chase me ladies
Chris Nelson
Contested Terrrain
Cooped Up
Conceptual Guerilla
Crooked Timber
Daily Howler
Daily Kos
D-Squared Digest
Ezra Klein
Fanatical Apathy
First Draft
Fistful of Euros
get donkey!
The Hamster
Here's What's Left
Horowitz Watch
Housing Bubble
Intl News
James Wolcott
Jesus' General
Juan Cole
Lean Left
Letter from Gotham
Liberal Oasis
Making Light
Marginal Revolution
Mark Kleiman
Matthew Yglesias
Media Whores Online
Michael Finley
Michael Froomkin
Nathan Newman
Off the Kuff
Oliver Willis
The Poor Man
R.B. Ham
Raed in the Middle
ReachM High Cowboy
Rittenhouse Review
The Road to Surfdom
Roger Ailes
Rude Pundit
Ruminate This
Seeing the Forest
Seize the Fish
Self Made Pundit
Sisyphus Shrugged
South Knox Bubba
Steve Gilliard
Talking Points Memo
Talk Left
The Talking Dog
Ted Barlow
Thinking It Through
Through the Looking Glass
TNR Online
Tres Producers
Two Tears in a Bucket
Unknown News
War Liberal
Winning Argument
WTF Is It Now

General Interest

BBC News
The Economist
Robot Wisdom

Bob. A damn fine comic.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Public Service Announcement

Please remember Athenae for next year's Koufax Awards for this post. Thank you.

Hacktacular Harris

Julia makes a very nice catch relating to the John Harris-Dan Froomkin contretemps here. It seems that the "conservative blogger" Harris used as a springboard to start this whole thing was the webmaster of the '04 Bush-Cheney campaign website.

It's interesting to note that Harris' attack is woefully short on specifics, that is, he doesn't so much have a problem with specific things Froomkin said in his column, as with the column itself. It's possible, given that White House Briefing functions largely as an aggregator of reporting and commentary about the administration, there could have been a problem with the links and citations rather than with the original content. But Harris doesn't cite anything concrete at all, not even articles or subjects that Froomkin didn't mention. All he does is wave the term "liberal" around threateningly, as though one column's having such a bias were an unpardonable offense in the paper that publishes George Will and Bob Novak.

Even as I watch the politics editor of the Washington Post openly carrying water for the Bush administration, I comfort myself with the knowledge that Dan Froomkin has nothing to worry about. If the Post were to try to make his life miserable, he could turn around and be a top-5 blogger within a week, just by doing what he's done all along. He'd probably make more money to boot.

Thursday, November 24, 2005
You Heard it Here First

or, Holy Crap, I Was Right!

Josh Marshall reports that disgraced FEMA head Michael Brown has plans to go into the emergency management consultancy racket.

Actually, from the quote it seems that Brown's actual angle may be providing not generic emergency response consulting services but rather consulting services to incompetents who've been saddled with emergency preparedness responsibility and fear becoming national laughing stocks when they turn mid-size disasters in to full-on catastrophes through gross mismanagement.

Back on 9/13, while musing on "Brown's Future," I warned of this very possibility.

He could have a come-to-Jesus moment in which he sees the error of his ways and becomes a motivational speaker for those afraid of making catastrophic errors. Assuming neither he nor his audience has any self-respect, that is.

That's pretty dead-on, except I don't think Jesus had anything to do with it.

Just the latest installment of that eerie prescience that keeps you coming back to A Level Gaze again and again.

Thursday, November 17, 2005
This is powerful stuff.

Murtha tells it exactly like it is. Oh, and he's mad.

It's been a while since we've heard anyone of any stature speak truth to power*, and this is a damned refreshing change.

*Excepting Robert Byrd, to whom no one listens.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005
Bush's "Enemies List Database: How Illegal Is it?

From Capitol Hill Blue, this lovely little item:

Spurred by paranoia and aided by the USA Patriot Act, the Bush Administration has compiled dossiers on more than 10,000 Americans it considers political enemies and uses those files to wage war on those who disagree with its policies.


"How is that you think Karl (Rove) and Scooter (Libby) were able to disseminate so much information on Joe Wilson and his wife,� says one White House aide. �They didn�t have that information by accident. They had it because they have files on those who might hurt them.�


Those on the list include former Ambassador Joseph Wilson and his wife, former covert CIA operative Valarie Plame, along with filmmaker and administration critic Michael Moore, Senators like California�s Barbara Boxer, media figures like liberal writer Joe Conason and left-wing bloggers like Markos Moulitsas Z�niga (the Daily Kos).


The FBI issues some 30,000 national security letters a year to employers, credit bureaus, banks, travel agencies and other sources of information on American citizens. The Patriot Act also forbids anyone receiving such a letter to reveal they have passed on information to the federal government.

�Those letters helped us build files quickly on those we needed to know more about,� says a former White House aide.


The database of political enemies of the Bush administration is not maintained on White House computers and is located on a privately-owned computer offsite, but can be accessed remotely by a select list of senior aides, including Rove. The offsite location allowed the database to escape detection by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald during his investigation of the Valerie Plame leak. The database is funded by private donations from Bush political backers and does not appear on the White House budget or Federal Election Commission campaign reports.

Bushco had the good sense not to keep its enemies database on government-owned hardware. The article notes, however, that it "can be accessed remotely by a select list of senior aides, including Rove."

Obviously, maintaining such a list, unrelated to any official and legitimate executive-branch business, on government owned computers would be a misuse of resources. How would such use differ from the labor put in by these government employees while using the database remotely, possibly via government-owned computers? As you may remember from the Al Gore "no controlling legal authority" brouhaha, using government resources for political purposes is a no-no. Additionally, using federal law enforcement for purposes unrelated to, er, enforcing the law, is also a no-no.

The article mentions Joe Wilson and his wife in connection to the database, which brings to mind more, possibly much more important (and certainly more timely) questions:

1. Was classified information, such as Valerie Plame's employment history, sent to this private server?

2. Was the information contained there accessible to people without sufficient security clearances?

3. If so, are those who transferred the information from within the government to this server, and those who knowingly compiled and/or formatted this information for just such a purpose, presumed to be guilty of leaking the information? Or could they be accused only of negligence with classified information?

4. Does this "private server strategy" constitute obstruction of justice, insofar as it allowed government officials to conceal their activities (and, possibly, communications) relating to Wilson and Plame, possibly up to and including the use of federal law enforcement to obtain information about persons not under suspicion of illegal activities?

Just a little food for thought.

Sunday, October 30, 2005
Brooks: This Is All Libby's Fault

Thank God it wasn't cancer

"Senator Frank Lautenberg assented that Rove was guilty of treason. Howard Dean talked about a "huge cover-up." Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York said: "The C.I.A. leak issue is only the tip of the iceberg. This is looking increasingly like a White House conspiracy aimed at misleading our country into war.

"There is mounting evidence," Nadler continued, "that there may have been a well-orchestrated effort by the president, the vice president and other top White House officials to lie to Congress in order to get its support for the Iraq war."

One may wish it, but that doesn't make it so. We do know that the White House lied about who was involved in calling reporters. But as for traitorous behavior, huge cover-ups and well-orchestrated conspiracies - that's swamp gas.

As it turned out, Fitzgerald's careful and forceful presentation of the evidence was but a brief respite from the tide of hysterical accusations. Fitzgerald may have pointed out that this case is not about supporting or opposing the war; it's about possible perjury and obstruction of justice. But the Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid immediately ran out with some amorphous argument intended to show that this indictment indeed is all about the war. Ted Kennedy, likening Fitzgerald's findings to Watergate, insisted, "This is far more than an indictment of an individual," before casting his net far and wide. And Howard Dean, who doesn't fly off the handle but lives off it, grandly asserted that Fitzgerald's findings indicate that "a group of senior White House officials" ignored the rule of law.

The question is, why are these people so compulsively overheated? One of the president's top advisers is indicted on serious charges. Why are they incapable of leaving it at that? Why do they have to slather on wild, unsupported charges that do little more than make them look unhinged?"

Jesus, David, you're obtuse. Why can't we leave it at that? Why don't we start by doing the obvious: asking why Libby lied? It didn't happen in a vaccuum, you know. Working backwards, Libby was a conduit for the information that Valerie Plame was a CIA agent who got Joe Wilson sent to Africa. Why was that relevant? It wasn't, really, but the leak was designed to undercut Wilson's credibility. Why? Because he vehemently disputed the administration's claim that Saddam had the potential to get uranium from Niger as a part of a nuclear weapons program.

Why did that matter? Because Bush and Cheney were trying to convince the country that Saddam was a threat to us. Why were they doing that? Because they were trying to justify their proposed invasion of Iraq. All of this is beyond dispute. It happened. You were here the whole time, David. Libby didn't just decide on his own to out Plame for the hell of it.

If Saddam had had a dozen nuclear bombs made with uranium from Niger, what Libby did would still have been a crime. But here's the thing, David. There was no possible way he could have actually obtained the uranium, and it was obvious. The African uranium story was bullshit, and poorly-constructed bullshit at that. As soon as the documents behind the scenario saw the light of day, they were exposed as clumsy forgeries, yet the administration continued to push the story. Colin Powell lied to the UN, and Fearless Leader Bush lied to the nation in his State of the Union address. If they didn't know the uranium allegations were false, not to say impossible, plenty of other people in the administration did, not to mention the CIA.

It's possible the war would have happened even without the Iraqi nuclear weapons program flimflam, but as it actually happened, it was a crucial element of the administration's scenario. Wilson tore a hole in that scenario, and, according to the grand jury, Libby committed five felonies to undercut (and/or possibly punish) him.

Honestly, David, do you really believe Scooter did this all on his own initiative? Have you been paying attention? Invading Iraq was the main focus of the Bush administration for a long time. During Fitzgerald's investigation, it came out that Dick Cheney himself revealed Plame's status to Libby. Karl Rove helped spread the story to reporters. Whether or not these actions constituted criminal activity, they were indisputably part of a coordinated effort to discredit Joe Wilson and sell the Iraq war.

Naturally, then, you conclude that critics of the Bush administration have lost their grip on reality:

"The answer is found in an essay written about 40 years ago by Richard Hofstadter called "The Paranoid Style in American Politics." Hofstadter argues that sometimes people who are dispossessed, who feel their country has been taken away from them and their kind, develop an angry, suspicious and conspiratorial frame of mind. It is never enough to believe their opponents have committed honest mistakes or have legitimate purposes; they insist on believing in malicious conspiracies.

"The paranoid spokesman," Hofstadter writes, "sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms - he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization." Because his opponents are so evil, the conspiracy monger is never content with anything but their total destruction. Failure to achieve this unattainable goal "constantly heightens the paranoid's sense of frustration." Thus, "even partial success leaves him with the same feeling of powerlessness with which he began, and this in turn only strengthens his awareness of the vast and terrifying quality of the enemy he opposes."

So some Democrats were not content with Libby's indictment, but had to stretch, distort and exaggerate. The tragic thing is that at the exact moment when the Republican Party is staggering under the weight of its own mistakes, the Democratic Party's loudest voices are in the grip of passions that render them untrustworthy."

We're just making shit up because we feel disenfranchised? This isn't some air-filled conspiracy that hints at dire, ill-defined future events that may or may not come to pass. This is about a war that is actually happening now. Thousands of Americans have been killed or maimed. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have died, and their blood is on our hands. If Wilson's story had gone unchallenged, this unnecessary war might have been averted and those people would still be alive.

It looks an awful lot like the Bush Administration led the country to war on the basis of information that many of its staff knew to be false. The CIA leak case is only one piece of a much larger whole, but it may be the loose thread that leads to the exposure of the rest. It's deadly serious, David, and we're going to keep at it.

Friday, September 16, 2005
Brown Makes His Stand, Blames White House

The consensus about the Michael Brown interview story in today's NYT seems to be that he largely approved of the federal government's response to the disaster and largely laid the blame at the feet of the local governments. I have no idea where this idea comes from.

Brown was the head of the Federal Emergency Management Administrationan, an agency whose very existence is predicated on the idea that state and local governments can't handle everything. He wasn't the Director of the Federal Bitch the States Out for Not Doing Their Damn Jobs Administration.

Brown is not even at the surface of reproach, much less above it. Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco each failed in deeply troubling ways. However, what comes through most strongly from the interview is the all too realistic depiction of a federal response that, well, wasn't.

FEMA has only 2,600 employees; its mission is planning and coordination. It has no stockpiles of emergency supplies, no troops, no fleets of buses, helicopters, or ships. It exists to augment the effectiveness of local, state, and especially federal resources by planning ahead and helping them to work together efficiently.

I don�t think Brown was prepared to handle a major disaster on his own, because he wasn�t supposed to. The problem came from the fact that he didn�t know he was on his own. His bosses were working on the situation in their own way, and he wasn�t in the loop.

Long before he resigned in disgrace, he had already been hung out to dry.

One more time, from the September 4th Washington Post:

Behind the scenes, a power struggle emerged, as federal officials tried to wrest authority from Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D). Shortly before midnight Friday [August 26], the Bush administration sent her a proposed legal memorandum asking her to request a federal takeover of the evacuation of New Orleans, a source within the state's emergency operations center said Saturday.

Such a takeover, especially in advance of any actual disaster (Katrina didn't hit until the morning of the 29th), would have been completely unprecedented. Keep this in mind, it's important. Now, on to today's yesterday's interview:

WASHINGTON, Sept. 14 - Hours after Hurricane Katrina passed New Orleans on Aug. 29, as the scale of the catastrophe became clear, Michael D. Brown recalls, he placed frantic calls to his boss, Michael Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security, and to the office of the White House chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr.

Mr. Brown, then director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said he told the officials in Washington that the Louisiana governor, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, and her staff were proving incapable of organizing a coherent state effort and that his field officers in the city were reporting an "out of control" situation.

"I am having a horrible time," Mr. Brown said he told Mr. Chertoff and a White House official - either Mr. Card or his deputy, Joe Hagin - in a status report that evening. "I can't get a unified command established."

Note that the "scale of the catastrophe" was only becoming clear to Brown on Monday the 29th. This was two-and-a-half days after the White House had leaned on Gov. Blanco to give up control of her state. Now, either the Bush Administration knew Katrina had catastrophic potential for Louisiana, or saw the storm as an opportunity for a power grab for its own reasons. Either way, Katrina was being taken very seriously at the highest levels of government.

Somehow, Brown didn't know this. From all appearances, he was watching the hurricane's progress and hoping for the best.

By the time of that call, he added, "I was beginning to realize things were going to hell in a handbasket" in Louisiana. A day later, Mr. Brown said, he asked the White House to take over the response effort.

Regardless of the original intentions, the Bushies must have by then made preparations--moved troops and supplies into position, at least--for the takeover. That is, unless they had planned to take the reins in Louisiana long distance from Washington. But Brown didn't know.

But Mr. Brown's account, in which he described making "a blur of calls" all week to Mr. Chertoff, Mr. Card and Mr. Hagin, suggested that Mr. Bush, or at least his top aides, were informed early and repeatedly by the top federal official at the scene that state and local authorities were overwhelmed and that the overall response was going badly.

A senior administration official said Wednesday night that White House officials recalled the conversations with Mr. Brown but did not believe they had the urgency or desperation he described in the interview.

Brown may or may not have cared about New Orleans or its people, but he certainly thought what happened to them was his responsibility. He knew what would happen to him as FEMA director if a federal emergency was mismanaged on his watch. He had to be desperate. And the White House was letting him, and New Orleans, twist in the wind.

Mr. Brown was removed by Mr. Chertoff last week from directing the relief effort. A 50-year-old lawyer and Republican activist who joined FEMA as general counsel in 2001, Mr. Brown said he had been hobbled by limitations on the power of the agency to command resources.

With only 2,600 employees nationwide, he said, FEMA must rely on state workers, the National Guard, private contractors and other federal agencies to supply manpower and equipment.

He said his biggest mistake was in waiting until the end of the day on Aug. 30 to ask the White House explicitly to take over the response from FEMA and state officials.

As FEMA director, Brown didn't have much authority unless and until it was given to him by Chertoff or the president, and that didn't happen until late on Tuesday, a day and a half after Katrina hit the city. Again, the Bushies had been prepared to take over New Orleans, lock, stock, and barrel more than three days earlier, but they hadn't given Brown anything to work with. Meanwhile, people were dying.

To add insult to tragedy, Bush's September 27 state of emergency declaration had already provided the legal go-ahead for full mobilization of all relevant federal resources. Brown (and possibly Chertoff) didn't know.

In Washington, Mr. Chertoff's spokesman, Russ Knocke, said there had been no delay in the federal response. "We pushed absolutely everything we could," Mr. Knocke said, "every employee, every asset, every effort, to save and sustain lives."

Uh, no.

By Saturday afternoon, many residents were leaving. But as the hurricane approached early on Sunday, Mr. Brown said he grew so frustrated with the failure of local authorities to make the evacuation mandatory that he asked Mr. Bush for help.

"Would you please call the mayor and tell him to ask people to evacuate?" Mr. Brown said he asked Mr. Bush in a phone call.

"Mike, you want me to call the mayor?" the president responded in surprise, Mr. Brown said.

Bush's people had been trying to strong-arm the governor into giving up authority over her state, and he was surprised he was being asked to call the mayor? Not that he should lean on him or anything.

On Monday night, Mr. Brown said, he reported his growing worries to Mr. Chertoff and the White House. He said he did not ask for federal active-duty troops to be deployed because he assumed his superiors in Washington were doing all they could. Instead, he said, he repeated a dozen times, "I cannot get a unified command established."

It looks like when the hurricanes hit Florida in 2004, Brown didn't have to call up the troops, line up the supplies, or get the money flowing, because that had already been done for him. That's why he "assumed his superiors in Washington were doing all they could." He'd been through this drill before, and that's how it worked. But not this time.

At the same time, the Superdome was degenerating into "gunfire and anarchy," and on Tuesday the FEMA staff and medical team in New Orleans called to say they were leaving for their own safety.

That night [August 30], Mr. Brown said, he called Mr. Chertoff and the White House again in desperation. "Guys, this is bigger than what we can handle," he told them, he said. "This is bigger than what FEMA can do. I am asking for help."

"Maybe I should have screamed 12 hours earlier," Mr. Brown said in the interview. "But that is hindsight. We were still trying to make things work."

How he expected to handle this kind of situation without the kind of serious federal help it was the purpose of his agency to provide is beyond me.

By Wednesday morning, Mr. Brown said, he learned that [US Army Lt. Gen. Russel] Honor� was on his way. While the general did not have responsibility for the entire relief effort and the Guard, his commanding manner helped mobilize the state's efforts.

"Honor� shows up and he and I have a phone conversation," Mr. Brown said. "He gets the message, and, boom, it starts happening."

Just like that, the army shows up and it starts happening. The green light is given, the resources are put into action, and the situation starts to get under control. Boom.

The Bushies let Brown face the fury of Katrina all on his own. That's what I got out of the interview, and I believe it's what he was trying to get across. He put it rather subtly early on in the interview: "I truly believed the White House was not at fault here." I added emphasis there; I wonder if he did.

With a lot of help from the TPM Hurricane Katrina Timeline. Credit where it's due.

Thursday, September 15, 2005
Can Bush's Ass Cash That Check?

From the speech:
Within the Gulf region are some of the most beautiful and historic places in America. As all of us saw on television, there is also some deep, persistent poverty in this region as well.

That poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action.
You know, Dubya, that applies just the same to poor blacks all over the country. It's that moral absolutism you are so fond of. America did wrong by just about all African-Americans. Do you mean to make things right for all of them? Are you going to undertake a historical national initiative to wipe out our shameful national legacy of racism? Are you going to come out in favor of true educational equality, quality medical care, meaningful affirmative action, and vigorous anti-discrimination enforcement?

That's a big check you wrote tonight, Mr. President. I look forward to seeing what happens at the bank when you hand it to the teller.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Chertoff's Turn in the Grinder

Josh has a big, big post up which looks at at a very important Knight-Ridder article entitled "Chertoff delayed federal response, memo shows."

Although the article doesn't absolve Michael Brown from all culpability for FEMA's failures, it does distribute some of the blame higher up the agency food chain by pointing out that Brown had been waiting on his boss to give him full authority to act until 36 hours after the storm hit.

Even before the storm struck the Gulf Coast, Chertoff could have ordered federal agencies into action without any request from state or local officials. Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown had only limited authority to do so until about 36 hours after the storm hit, when Chertoff designated him as the "principal federal official" in charge of the storm.


Chertoff's Aug. 30 memo for the first time declared Katrina an "Incident of National Significance," a key designation that triggers swift federal coordination. The following afternoon, Bush met with his Cabinet, then appeared before TV cameras in the White House Rose Garden to announce the government's planned action.
Knight-Ridder's reporters did some fine reporting on this story, but got a significant piece of it wrong. Although Chertoff as DHS secretary had the power to fully mobilize federal disaster response resources, that power also resided with the president. From Page 7 of the National Response Plan (PDF, 2mb):

For Incidents of National Significance that are Presidentially declared disasters or emergencies, Federal support to States is delivered in accordance with relevant provisions of the Stafford Act (see Appendix 3, Authorities and References). (Note that while all Presidentially declared disasters and emergencies under the Stafford Act are considered Incidents of National Significance, not all Incidents of National Significance necessarily result in disaster or emergency declarations under the Stafford Act.) (emphasis added)
Bush declared a State of Emergency in Louisiana on August 26 and in Mississippi a day later, meaning that from that point forward, all FEMA resources could have been put into action.

But not by Brown. According to the Knight-Ridder piece, Chertoff's redundant declaration of an Incident of National Significance on August 30 also "designated [Brown] as the 'principal federal official' in charge of the storm." Until that point, he himself had had that role. However, as indicated by the fact that he felt the need to declare Katrina a Incident of National Significance, he wasn't aware of the powers and responsibilities he had. He'd had the power to act for four days and did nothing.

He didn't even know that he was supposed to take the initiative. From the K-R article:

That same memo suggests that Chertoff may have been confused about his lead role in disaster response and that of his department.

"As you know, the President has established the `White House Task Force on Hurricane Katrina Response.' He will meet with us tomorrow to launch this effort. The Department of Homeland Security, along with other Departments, will be part of the task force and will assist the Administration with its response to Hurricane Katrina," Chertoff said in the memo to the secretaries of defense, health and human services and other key federal agencies.


Chertoff's hesitation and Bush's creation of a task force both appear to contradict the National Response Plan and previous presidential directives that specify what the secretary of homeland security is assigned to do without further presidential orders. The goal of the National Response Plan is to provide a streamlined framework for swiftly delivering federal assistance when a disaster - caused by terrorists or Mother Nature - is too big for local officials to handle.
It appears Bush's handlers were looking to have him take credit for the federal response by having it credited to the "White House Task Force" rather than DHS or FEMA. This would make sense in light of Bush's reported determination not to repeat his father's failure to take Hurricane Andrew seriously enough in 1992. By taking ownership of the relief efforts he could turn the disaster to his benefit. It might have worked had he moved a lot more quickly.

Whether Chertoff's failure to put the federal disaster response machinery in operation was due to deference to Bush, his own ignorance, or a combination of both, it is nonetheless a failure of monumental proportions.

On a side note, the K-R article also features DHS spokesman Russ Knocke attempting to defend the federal relief efforts.

Russ Knocke, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, didn't dispute that the National Response Plan put Chertoff in charge in federal response to a catastrophe. But he disputed that the bureaucracy got in the way of launching the federal response.

"There was a tremendous sense of urgency," Knocke said. "We were mobilizing the greatest response to a disaster in the nation's history."

Knocke noted that members of the Coast Guard were already in New Orleans performing rescues and FEMA personnel and supplies had been deployed to the region.
Although this reflects very well on the CG, it's meaningless in terms of DHS/FEMA, because the very nature of the CG means it doesn't have to wait for authorizations before acting. There's no time for bureaucracy when a ship is in distress; the CG just goes out and tries to rescue people. Hiding behind these brave and tireless people is yet another craven and dishonest dodge on the part of administration officials.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005
Brown�s Future

What�s next for newly-ex FEMA head Michael Brown? His future can�t be looking too rosy at the moment, and it doesn�t look like he has many options.

He was nominally in charge of the biggest governmental failure since the Bay of Pigs. He was unqualified to hold his position, and he lied on his resume.

I�d bet his agency�s success in handling the 2004 hurricanes in Florida was the result of quick action on the part of political handlers rather than anything Brown himself did. Even if he had been exemplary, the Katrina failures have rendered the rest of his tenure at FEMA meaningless.

Professionally, there really isn�t anything else to the man. Even a hiring manager at McDonald's might have trouble figuring out what to do with a 'horse lawyer.'

If he�s bravely taking the fall for Katrina on behalf of the rest of the executive branch, it won't exactly be easy to reward him for it. He will never be given another government job, and I don�t know that the VRWC's think tanks or foundations have any holes deep enough to bury him in. Any job he gets above the level of janitor is going to look like some kind of quid pro quo for keeping his mouth shut.

If Brown is ever going to get out of this hole, he�s going to need to find some way to even partially rehabilitate his reputation. But how?

Blaming the severity of the storm has already blown up in his face. In all too many cases, FEMA had the ability to help but did nothing or actively blocked others from helping. Blaming the Democrats for his problems won�t wash. If it had been possible to lay this thing at the door of local officials, Brown wouldn�t have been out of a job in the first place.

He could have a come-to-Jesus moment in which he sees the error of his ways and becomes a motivational speaker for those afraid of making catastrophic errors. Assuming neither he nor his audience has any self-respect, that is.

The simplest way out might be to offload some of the blame onto other administration officials. He could say the wrangling over jurisdiction that took place higher up the chain of command caused his superiors to hold off on acting. He could say that too much attention to the political angle of the situation delayed necessary authorizations. He could say that poor communication outside of FEMA hampered coordination of resources. He could say that he had expected a comparable level of support from the administration to that which he received in 2004 in Florida, but did not anticipate how much effect the fate of a critical swing state (governed by the president�s brother) had during an election year.

He could even write a book about it.

Other possibilities:

He could move to a remote cabin in the mountains and spend the rest of his days muttering incoherently to himself.

Some of Bush�s pals could give him a big bunch of money to shut his mouth, get lost, and stay lost.

He could turn up dead.

Sunday, September 11, 2005
Examples to the Contrary

I called bullshit on the "the administration's senior domestic security officials" who claimed that their disaster plans "failed to recognize that local police, fire and medical personnel might be incapacitated."

From 2002's Most Senior Administration Domestic Security Official, (and Bush 2000 presidential campaign director) Joe Allbaugh:

Even so, the prospect of a major hurricane hitting New Orleans was a FEMA priority. Numerous drills and studies had been undertaken to prepare a response. In 2002, Joe M. Allbaugh, then the FEMA director, said: "Catastrophic disasters are best defined in that they totally outstrip local and state resources, which is why the federal government needs to play a role. There are a half-dozen or so contingencies around the nation that cause me great concern, and one of them is right there in your backyard."


Katrina Changed Everything

If there is any one indicator of the impact Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath has had upon America's national discourse, it is the front page of the print edition of today's New York Times.

Above the fold, there are three stories and a large picture. Two of them have nothing to do with the terrorist attacks that took place here four years ago today. The third references them once, in relation to the federal government's failure to handle Hurricane Katrina's aftermath. There are no mentions in the three articles below the fold. Out of the page's 10 teasers, only three of them mention the topic, and one of them is primarily concerned with the hurricane.

The events of 9/11/01 shocked the nation and the world. Two of the most important civil buildings in the world were destroyed. A huge explosion tore through the heart of the world's most powerful military. The attacks spawned two wars, and a radical reorganization of America's foreign and domestic policies. Elections turned on which candidates voters believed would protect the nation better from such attacks in the future.

A mere four years later, the event's anniversary merits only footnotes on the front page of the nation's newspaper of record. Katrina changed everything.

Saturday, September 10, 2005
Shorter John Tierney:

In the wake of the devastating human tragedy caused by Hurricane Katrina, I can't understand why the Democrats would propose an independent investigation that can't be guaranteed to cover their asses politically. If they would just let the Republicans control everything, no unpleasant truths would be exposed, and everyone could go home happy.

Friday, September 09, 2005
Power Grab Update

From the look of the NYT this morning, it looks as though Mick Arran might have been on to something. As is often the case, the juicy bits are buried between the lines, so a little dissection is in order.

WASHINGTON, Sept. 8 - As New Orleans descended into chaos last week and Louisiana's governor asked for 40,000 soldiers, President Bush's senior advisers debated whether the president should speed the arrival of active-duty troops by seizing control of the hurricane relief mission from the governor.

This is a red herring, a non-starter. Why would Bush's seizing control over the hurricane area "speed the arrival" of troops? Blanco had already asked him to send military help. I think that formulation may have been a telling slip of the tongue.

The debate began after officials realized that Hurricane Katrina had exposed a critical flaw in the national disaster response plans created after the Sept. 11 attacks. According to the administration's senior domestic security officials, the plan failed to recognize that local police, fire and medical personnel might be incapacitated.

As the Times makes abundantly clear, it seems that taking over from local authorities was the one thing the administration unambiguously was prepared for. Why would they have spent so much time and effort on it if they had assumed local authorities would have been adequate to the task? How much do you want to bet this is a complete fabrication and that examples to the contrary will be found spread out over dozens of disaster-recovery documents over the next week or two?

As criticism of the response to Hurricane Katrina has mounted, one of the most pointed questions has been why more troops were not available more quickly to restore order and offer aid. Interviews with officials in Washington and Louisiana show that as the situation grew worse, they were wrangling with questions of federal/state authority, weighing the realities of military logistics and perhaps talking past each other in the crisis.

Blanco had been begging them to send help, as much as they could. To help her people. As it wasn't necessary for Bush to completely take over the situation in order for aid to be delivered, why would she be "wrangling" with the feds over power issues? Answer: because they were insisting on a takeover. Blanco wasn't the one bringing it up.

To seize control of the mission, Mr. Bush would have had to invoke the Insurrection Act, which allows the president in times of unrest to command active-duty forces into the states to perform law enforcement duties. But decision makers in Washington felt certain that Ms. Blanco would have resisted surrendering control, as Bush administration officials believe would have been required to deploy active-duty combat forces before law and order had been re-established. (emphasis added)

Again, as I'll get into in a bit more detail below, Bush's seizing control wasn't necessary for him to use the active-duty military to deliver aid. Also, the whole "felt certain that Ms. Blanco would have resisted surrendering control" is fishier than bouillabaisse. I'm guessing they had already been directly pressuring her to do so, and did not want to admit to so egregious a power grab. Finally, we see again the centrality of the Insurrection Act, which, in the absence of an actual, uh, insurrection, was the only means whereby the feds could have sidestepped local control. The central issue in New Orleans wasn't that law and order had broken down--of course it had; there was a catastrophic flood--it was the humanitarian nightmare of hundreds of thousands of people trapped without water, food, or medical facilities.

The fact that talk of martial law and the Insurrection Act caused available help to be withheld from the dispossessed and stranded is iteslf criminal, but also indicative of an overriding motive that had nothing to do with the welfare of these people.

While combat troops can conduct relief missions without the legal authority of the Insurrection Act, Pentagon and military officials say that no active-duty forces could have been sent into the chaos of New Orleans on Wednesday or Thursday without confronting law-and-order challenges.

This is bullshit, pure and simple. Do they mean to say that the biggest, baddest-assed force in the world can't be sent outside of martial law jurisdictions for relief purposes unless everyone there promises to be perfectly behaved? Aren't disaster areas, the site of most relief operations, themselves challenged in terms of law and order? Don't fights routinely break out in relief lines? That's assault, which is a law-and-order challenge. Give me a break.

But just as important to the administration were worries about the message that would have been sent by a president ousting a Southern governor of another party from command of her National Guard, according to administration, Pentagon and Justice Department officials.

Bullshit again. They didn't care about how it would have looked. In an emergency the size and scale of Katrina, the public would have approved of anything they thought would help. They didn't do it because it would have been blatantly illegal, and would have scared the crap out of every state politician in the country. Once it became clear there wasn't evidence of an armed revolution in the streets of New Orleans, they needed Blanco's permission for a takeover.

Officials in Louisiana agree that the governor would not have given up control over National Guard troops in her state as would have been required to send large numbers of active-duty soldiers into the area. But they also say they were desperate and would have welcomed assistance by active-duty soldiers. (emphasis added)

Is this BS, too? Where does it say Bush has to take control over the National Guard troops in order to send active-duty soldiers? Exactly how many troops would constitute a "large number"? How many could he have sent without seizing control?

By Wednesday, she had asked for 40,000 soldiers.

In the discussions in Washington, also at issue was whether active-duty troops could respond faster and in larger numbers than the Guard.

By last Wednesday, Pentagon officials said even the 82nd Airborne, which has a brigade on standby to move out within 18 hours, could not arrive any faster than 7,000 National Guard troops, which are specially trained and equipped for civilian law enforcement duties.

In the end, the flow of thousands of National Guard soldiers, especially military police, was accelerated from other states.

Why were they discussing who could get where faster on Wednesday? The enormity of the human tragedy that engulfed New Orleans was on every newspaper and television screen in the country. They should have sent everything they could find, or at least up to the 40,000 requested by Blanco. This shouldn't have required reflection, or legal niceties. People were in trouble, and it was the administration's duty to help. And of course the active-duty forces could have gotten there faster. They're "active" and "on duty." So they can get places fast.

In any case, they would have arrived a hell of a lot faster if they had been ordered to go.

But one senior Army officer expressed puzzlement that active-duty troops were not summoned sooner, saying 82nd Airborne troops were ready to move out from Fort Bragg, N.C., on Sunday, the day before the hurricane hit.

The call never came, administration officials said, in part because military officials believed Guard troops would get to the stricken region faster and because administration civilians worried that there could be political fallout if federal troops were forced to shoot looters.

So, "administration civilians" are admitting they didn't send available help to New Orleans because they were worried about "political fallout." Just like that. People suffered and died so the Bush administration could avoid "political fallout," and the Bush administration appears not to be shy about admitting it.

And why, exactly, would they have had to shoot looters? Aren't there priorities in life-and-death situations? Perhaps they could have worried first about feeding and rescuing people to save their lives, and then taken care of the breaking and entering. I don't know where it's written that looters have to be shot, and I don't know of many small bands of looters that would stand up against organized military force, but that's evidently how the thinking went in the Bush administration.

I don't know what's more inhuman: that they feel that people's lives are expendable in the name of politics, or that they were focused on the potential for looting over their responsibility to protect their own citizens. Perhaps the latter can be attributed to the time spent laying the groundwork for a takeover.

Aides to Ms. Blanco said she was prepared to accept the deployment of active-duty military officials in her state. But she and other state officials balked at giving up control of the Guard as Justice Department officials said would have been required by the Insurrection Act if those combat troops were to be sent in before order was restored.

More reverse-causality crap. Short of a full-on rebellion, whether the Act was invoked was Blanco's decision; it couldn't be used to force her to do anything. It could, however, have been involved as the price of a quid pro quo that got desperately needed aid to the huddled masses of New Orleans.

In a separate discussion last weekend, the governor also rejected a more modest proposal for a hybrid command structure in which both the Guard and active-duty troops would be under the command of an active-duty, three-star general - but only after he had been sworn into the Louisiana National Guard.

After any justification of invoking the Insurrection Act had passed, they were still trying to take over. As in so many other instances, when one rationale fails, the Bushies try another. A federal takeover was in no way necessary or legally mandated; they wanted it.

The Pentagon is reviewing events from the time Hurricane Katrina reached full strength and bore down on New Orleans and five days later when Mr. Bush ordered 7,200 active-duty soldiers and marines to the scene.

So it turns out they could send active-duty troops down to help? Even without taking over completely? Or does 7,200 fall short of the "large number" that would require the Act to be invoked? Or have they finally been dragged, kicking and screaming, to do the right thing by the fear of more political fallout?

The issue of federalizing the response was one of several legal issues considered in a flurry of meetings at the Justice Department, the White House and other agencies, administration officials said.

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales urged Justice Department lawyers to interpret the federal law creatively to help local authorities, those officials said. For example, federal prosecutors prepared to expand their enforcement of some criminal statutes like anti-carjacking laws that can be prosecuted by either state or federal authorities.

On the issue of whether the military could be deployed without the invitation of state officials, the Office of Legal Counsel, the unit within the Justice Department that provides legal advice to federal agencies, concluded that the federal government had authority to move in even over the objection of local officials.

Why were they discussing whether a military deployment could take place without a state invitation? They had already been invited. It was a non-issue, unless, perhaps as part of a deliberate strategy to confuse the issue, you're conflating "military rescue mission" with "complete federal takeover of a disaster area."