Tuesday, September 27, 2005

"Brown Blames 'Dysfunctional' Louisiana"

LARA JAKES JORDAN of the Associated Press wrote this piece on Michael Brown's recent testimony before a congressional committee:

Brown asserted that "'My biggest mistake was not recognizing by Saturday that Louisiana was dysfunctional,' two days before the storm hit."

The article continues (and I'm going to skip some things in the article, mostly becuase I think they are there because the author specifically seeks to discredit Brown. So, wherever you see [...] you can feel free to go read the article itself):

Brown, who for many became a symbol of government failures in the natural disaster that claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people, rejected accusations that he was too inexperienced for the job.

"I've overseen over 150 presidentially declared disasters. I know what I'm doing, and I think I do a pretty darn good job of it," Brown said....

Brown in his opening statement said he had made several "specific mistakes" in dealing with the storm, and listed two.

One, he said, was not having more media briefings.

As to the other, he said: "I very strongly personally regret that I was unable to persuade Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin to sit down, get over their differences, and work together. I just couldn't pull that off."
"The people of FEMA are being tired of being beat up, and they don't deserve it," Brown said.

Referring to Brown's description of his "mistakes," [Representative] Jefferson [D-LA] said: "I think that's a very weak explanation of what happened, and very incomplete explanation of what happened. I don't think that's going to cut it, really."

Committee Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., cautioned against too narrowly assigning blame.

"At the end of the day, I suspect that we'll find that government at all levels failed the people of Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama and the Gulf Coast," said Davis.

Davis pushed Brown on what he and the agency he led should have done to evacuate New Orleans, restore order in the city and improve communication among law enforcement agencies.
[I'm going to throw some emphasis here]
Brown said: "Those are not FEMA roles. FEMA doesn't evacuate communities. FEMA does not do law enforcement. FEMA does not do communications."
Brown said the lack of a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans before the storm was "the tipping point for all the other things that went wrong." Brown said he had personally pushed Louisiana Gov. Blanco to order such an evacuation.

He did not have the authority to order the city evacuated on his own, Brown said.

I once again assert that Bush was courageous to take the blame for mistakes in this disaster. On one level, he basically shut people up and kept them from speculating about who was at fault. When push comes to shove--as it is starting to do--I think this commission is going to find huge failures at the state and local level. The state and local governments failed their people, and they are going to blame the federal government and then ask for FORTY BILLION DOLLARS to fix their mistake.

At this point, I'm going to quote Ms. Jordan from the AP article:
"Both Blanco and Nagin are Democrats."
(That is Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco of Lousiana and Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans)

As for Mr. Brown, he lost is job in a witch hunt. FEMA did mess up here, but he is not the only one to blame.

That is all.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

President Bush's Speech in New Orleans

This will be a simple post. I want to encourage everyone who comes to this site to take a few moments and read President Bush's speech, delivered Thursday, September 15 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The full text is available at the White House Webpage, and you can access it by clicking HERE

Don't read Media reports about this speech. Go read the speech. Once again President Bush has risen to the task and challenge of leadership.

As President Bush once told me personally in a group setting: at times like this, a President either has it or he doesn't.

He's got it.

That is all.

PS: Might I say on the side that White House Photographer Eric Draper's photographs of the President are amazing, as always. Pay attention to his photos... they are always really good (the ones he can't publish are really cool too).

Blanco Blanked

A New York Times article posted information from an interview with former FEMA chief Michael D. Brown, who resigned recently. Although the Times took a decidedly different spin (desperately trying to blame Bush for everything... even when there was no evidence there to do so), I found the following very interesting:

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."

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....

Mr. Brown declined to blame President Bush or the White House for his removal or for the flawed response.

"I truly believed the White House was not at fault here," he said.

He focused much of his criticism on Governor Blanco, contrasting what he described as her confused response with far more agile mobilizations in Mississippi and Alabama, as well as in Florida during last year's hurricanes.

As I have said before, it is clear that Blanco's office failed to help FEMA organize a relief effort. At the same time, Mississippi and Alabama were taking care of business. You will notice we don't hear much about Mississippi and Alabama on the news anymore. Why? Because they have been successful at getting people out, and the Media doesn't like success.

Continuing... oh... this is the part where the times tries to blame Bush through Brown's "suggestion" of fault:

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.

"There's a general recollection of him saying, 'They're going to need more help,' " said the official, who insisted on anonymity because of the delicacy of internal White House discussions.

Mr. Brown's version of events raises questions about whether the White House and Mr. Chertoff acted aggressively enough in the response. New Orleans convulsed in looting and violence after the hurricane, and troops did not arrive in force to restore order until five days later.

What? They are really trying to stretch. I'm going to go try and find a transcript of the interview... but even so, they are really extrapolating a lot of politically-motivated messages from this interview. Is this news? or a White House Witch Hunt?

Let's jump ahead here a little bit (I encourage you to read the full article, the Link will be below)...

Governor Blanco said Wednesday that she took responsibility for failures and missteps in the immediate response to the hurricane and pledged a united effort to rebuild areas ravaged by the storm, adding, "at the state level, we must take a careful look at what went wrong and make sure it never happens again." A spokesman for Ms. Blanco denied Mr. Brown's description of disarray in Louisiana's emergency response operation. "That is just totally inaccurate," said Bob Mann, the governor's communications director. "Everything that Mr. Brown needed in terms of resources or information from the state, he had those available to him."...

As Mr. Brown recounted it, the weekend before New Orleans's levees burst, FEMA sent an emergency response team of 10 or 20 people to Louisiana to review evacuation plans with local officials.

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. Moments later, apparently on his own, the mayor, C. Ray Nagin, held a news conference to announce a mandatory evacuation, but it was too late, Mr. Brown said. Plans said it would take at least 72 hours to get everyone out.

When he arrived in Baton Rouge on Sunday evening, Mr. Brown said, he was concerned about the lack of coordinated response from Governor Blanco and Maj. Gen. Bennett C. Landreneau, the adjutant general of the Louisiana National Guard.

"What do you need? Help me help you," Mr. Brown said he asked them. "The response was like, 'Let us find out,' and then I never received specific requests for specific things that needed doing."

The most responsive person he could find, Mr. Brown said, was Governor Blanco's husband, Raymond. "He would try to go find stuff out for me," Mr. Brown said.

Governor Blanco's communications director, Mr. Mann, said that she was frustrated that Mr. Brown and others at FEMA wanted itemized requests before acting. "It was like walking into an emergency room bleeding profusely and being expected to instruct the doctors how to treat you," he said.

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."

The next morning, Mr. Brown said, he and Governor Blanco decided to take a helicopter into New Orleans to see the mayor and assess the situation. But before the helicopter took off, his field coordinating officer, or F.C.O., called from the city on a satellite phone. "It is getting out of control down here; the levee has broken," the staff member told him, he said.

The crowd in the Superdome, the city's shelter of last resort, was already larger than expected. But Mr. Brown said he was relieved to see that the mayor had a detailed list of priorities, starting with help to evacuate the Superdome.

Mr. Brown passed the list on to the state emergency operations center in Baton Rouge, but when he returned that evening he was surprised to find that nothing had been done.

"I am just screaming at my F.C.O., 'Where are the helicopters?' " he recalled. " 'Where is the National Guard? Where is all the stuff that the mayor wanted?' "

FEMA, he said, had no helicopters and only a few communications trucks. The agency typically depends on state resources, a system he said worked well in the other Gulf Coast states and in Florida last year.

Meanwhile, "unbeknownst to me," Mr. Brown said, at some point on Monday or Tuesday the hotels started directing their remaining guests to the convention center - something neither FEMA nor local officials had planned.

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, 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."

By Wednesday morning, Mr. Brown said, he learned that General Honoré 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.

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

Mr. Brown said that in one much-publicized gaffe - his repeated statement on live television on Thursday night, Sept. 1, that he had just learned that day of thousands of people at New Orleans's convention center without food or water - "I just absolutely misspoke." In fact, he said, he learned about the evacuees there from the first media reports more than 24 hours earlier, but the reports conflicted with information from local authorities and he had no staff on the site until Thursday.

There were also conflicts with the Congressional delegations that wanted resources for their offices and districts, FEMA officials said. Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi said he "resisted aggressively" a decision by Mr. Brown to dispatch a Navy medical ship to Louisiana instead of his home state.

Mr. Brown acknowledged that he had been criticized for not ordering a complete evacuation or calling in federal troops sooner. But he said the storm made it hard to communicate and assess the situation.

"Until you have been there," he said, "you don't realize it is the middle of a hurricane."

(http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/15/national/nationalspecial/15brown.html, Free Registration Required)

Ok, I think they included that last statement to make the man look stupid, but that's not the important issue.

From these chain of events, does it sound like Bush is to blame? Brown was to the point where he called the President of the United States asking him to tell a Mayor to evacuate his city. Shouldn't that be the Governor's job? Shouldn't Blanco's office be there telling her mayor to evacuate the city?

Brown's biggest mistake was waiting too long to call in the cavalry. But, he was overwhelmed. I agree that Brown was the wrong man for this job, but he is being crucified by media sadducees.

Overall, I continue with my assertion that Blanco needs to take some heat for this one. Everyone is blaming the failure on Bush and Brown... clearly Blanco's failure and incompetence eclipses the failures of either.

After all, she is responsibile for the state of Louisiana. And, aren't Democrats supposed to save the helpless through government intervention? Maybe she's not taking any media heat because she's a Democrat.

At least Bush cares.

That is all.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Blunders? or Good Leadership?

In relation to my post yesterday about Governor Blanco taking the blame, President Bush counteracted my theory by accepting responsibility himself. I am impressed. This is one more sign that he is a humble man and a balanced leader. Leaders take responsibility for organizational failures. (On that note, I again assert that Governor Blanco [a word that means "empty" or "white"] is a mediocre leader).

But, the news have been saying that President Bush admitted to "Blunders." Here are his exact words:

"Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government. And to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility. I want to know what went right and what went wrong. I want to know how to better cooperate with state and local government, to be able to answer that very question that you asked: Are we capable of dealing with a severe attack or another severe storm....
"One thing for certain; having been down there three times and have seen how hard people are working, I'm not going to defend the process going in, but I am going to defend the people who are on the front line of saving lives."


Bush openly admitted that we could have done better, and took responsibility for failures on his watch. That is courageous. He is also the first one asking what went wrong so we can fix it. That is leadership.

I'm personally annoyed that the media calls this "Admitting to Blunders" rather than simple good leadership. Maybe they don't know what good leadership looks like.

Even worse, the Media completely overlooked the other half of that meeting. At the same meeting, President Jalal Al-Talabani of Iraq said the following:

"Today, American and international presence in Iraq is vital. The American and international presence in Iraq is vital for democracy in Iraq and in the Middle East, and also for prevent foreign interference in the internal affairs of Iraq.

"We will set no timetable for withdrawal, Mr. President. A timetable will help the terrorists, will encourage them that they could defeat a superpower of the world and the Iraqi people. We hope that by the end of 2006, our security forces are up to the level of taking responsibility from many American troops with complete agreement with Americans. We don't want to do anything without the agreement with the Americans because we don't want to give any signal to the terrorists that our will to defeat them is weakened, or they can defeat us.

"We are proud that one day will come -- as soon as possible, of course, we hope -- that American troops can proudly return home, and we tell them, thank you, dear friends, and you are faithful to friendship. Of course, we are sorry for the sacrifices of American people in Iraq, but I think a great people like America has a mission in the history -- they have sacrificed hundreds of thousands of their sons in the war -- first world war, second world war, and in liberating people in Afghanistan, Kurdistan. And the great leader, Mr. George W. Bush is continuing the same mission of the American people. We are grateful. We are grateful for American generosity, and we honor -- we honor -- sacrifices of America in Iraq -- and everywhere, not only in Iraq."

(see link above)

The President of a free and independent Iraq stood in front of the medial and declared that "American and international presence in Iraq is vital." He also promised and hoped his country would be stable enough to leave soon.

President Talabani concluded with the following statement:

"To those in America, in other countries, still ask of war of liberation in Iraq, if it was right -- the right decision. I say, please, please, come to Iraq, to visit the mass graves, to see what happened to the Iraqi people, and to see what now is going on in Iraq. To those who talk of stability, I say, Saddam imposed the stability of the mass graves. To the terrorists, I say, you will never win; freedom will win in Iraq."

Did the media report on this statement? Were we excited to hear the President of Iraq stand up and thank us for our sacrifices? No... all we want to talk about is our President and his blunders.


That is all.

Monday, September 12, 2005

New Orleans' Bain: A Hurricane named Katrina and a Governor named Kathleen

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the entire world mourns the loss of life and lifestyle for the people of New Orleans. It has been a tragic week in American history. It has led to a massive migration, unlike any in history. Almost every state of the Union has absorbed those seeking refuge from the storm. And, it looks like not many people are heading back.

Now, in the political aftermath of this disaster, many people are blaming President Bush for not reacting fast enough to the disaster. Granted, he seemingly did not grasp the magnitude of the disaster in the first few days. Strangely, nobody within the normal chain of government seemed to get it. But, from everything I've read, when George W. Bush did learn about conditions in Louisiana, he was not a happy camper. One report said he "screamed." I would too, if I realized that people hadn't updated me on the situation.

But, if we are going to blame people for not reacting to this disaster, we can't point all fingers to the Federal Government. The real failures in the wake of Hurricane Katrina were Mayor C. Ray Nagin of New Orleans and Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco of Louisiana. It is the local government leaders who failed here. And, in the aftermath, they're trying to blame Bush for all their problems.

Immediately after the Hurricane, when the levees were starting to break, the Governor should have called for all available resources in the state. She is the one who knew this storm was coming. She and the entire world knew what would happen to New Orleans if hit by a Category 4+ storm. Did the Governor react? NO. For the first few days, she ran around like a headless turkey, entirely unable to function. Reports say that she refused some relief shipments to the Superdome because she didn't want it to attract more people. She did not do enough to make that shelter at least semi-secure and safe. It is not the President's fault that her supply system failed miserably, it was her responsibility and, therefore, her fault.

Personally, I'm willing to accept that there were logistical difficulties getting supplies to the survivors. The place was flooded! Roads were impassible. Even so, somehow the media news trucks made it to the scene to film the horrors. But, did they stop by Costco on the way down to bring a few cases of bottled water? Nope.

I'm tired of people pointing fingers and blaming in the aftermath of a huge tragedy. I'm sickened by people who think President Bush withheld supplies because the people were black. Give me a break! It's time for people to buck up and take responsibility. That starts from the state and local level, then extends to the national government. Even so, it was a tragedy, we failed. Now, what are we going to do about it?

I am happy to see that humanity is triumphing over this disaster, even though it seemed to arrive a little late. Our fine military men and women had to come in to stop the senseless looting and establish peace in our own borders. Regular people across this great land have opened their doors, their storehouses, and their wallets to help those displaced by this storm. And, in the end, things will get back to normal.

And, as we learn from this storm, I can't help but ask: Why would we have a major population center in hurricane alley that is 7 feet below sea level? What's wrong with this picture? And, even more, why haven't we built a new oil refinery in the last 30 years? (You might notice that Bush's proposed energy bill sought to significantly increase our refining capacity... nobody gives him credit when he turns out to be right).

Overall, the southern Gulf Coast suffered greatly at the hands of two despicable women:

A Hurricane named Katrina and a Governor named Kathleen