Thursday, September 29, 2005

Rouge intelligence operations?

Laura Rozen points out a story in today's Washington Post detailing concerns that the Department of Defense may not be following the rules.
Republican members of Congress say there are signs that the Defense Department may be carrying out new intelligence activities through programs intended to escape oversight from Congress and the new director of national intelligence.

The warnings are an unusually public signal of some Republican lawmakers' concern about overreaching by the Pentagon, where top officials have been jockeying with the new intelligence chief, John D. Negroponte, for primacy in intelligence operations
The creation of a National Intelligence Director did not go over well with many in the intelligence community. It doesn't appear these activities were well concealed and so were likely a symptom of bureaucratic infighting and not evidence of activities that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld would like to keep from the Congress. Rumsfeld's publicly announced ideas are problematic enough; we probably don't want to know about the ones he feels he must keep to himself. That said, the activities need to come to a halt until proper oversight is restored.
As part of the intelligence overhaul that Congress ordered last year, Mr. Negroponte, as director of national intelligence, is supposed to oversee 15 intelligence agencies whose activities fall under a budget category known as the National Intelligence Program. Mr. Negroponte has less authority over programs that fall under another category, the Military Intelligence Program, which are intended to provide tactical and strategic support to military commanders.

But the concern expressed by [Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee] and others is focused on a third category of programs involving intelligence activity but not labeled as such, and included within the budgets of the individual military services.

In the interview, Mr. Hoekstra said the committee had been told that the Pentagon was creating parallel structures "so they don't have to deal with the D.N.I.," the abbreviation for the new intelligence chief.
The two massive changes President Bush has made, the Department of Homeland Security and the creation of a Director of Intelligence have both expanded the government and contributed to confusion and resentment. While some form of streamlined coordination organization or board could have helped the federal government do its work better in both areas, the DHS and the NID have merely added additional levels of bureaucracy. In addition, at least in the case of DHS, it created new patronage positions that should have been filled by experienced professionals.

- Murphy

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Delay Indicted on Conspiracy Charges

House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-TX) has been indicted today by a texas grand jury on criminal conspiracy charges related to illegal campaign funds. The charges stem from an investigation into a political group DeLay founded, Texans for a Republican Majority. The group is believed to have channelled corporate donations to local races; illegal under Texas law.

Besides the enormously important point that DeLay's carefully-balanced Republican graft and pay-for-play operations may spin out of control thanks to this investigation and an investigation into DeLay's close associate, lobbyist Jack Abramoff, this conspiracy investigation may involve the Republican National Committee.
In late September 2002, Colyandro, the executive director of Texans for a Republican Majority, sent a blank check to Ellis, who is DeLay's primary fundraiser in Washington.

According to the money-laundering indictment returned against those two last year, Ellis was accused of having the Republican National Committee launder $190,000 of corporate donations into noncorporate money that was sent to to seven Texas House candidates, including Austinites Jack Stick and Todd Baxter.
There is an enormously complicated web of dependence that links together the current slate of Republican power-brokers and DeLay sits at the center of it all.

With a continuing investigation into Abramoff as well as the ongoing Rove-Plame investigation the DeLay indictment has the potential to finally crack open the door into the unethical and potentially illegal manner in which DeLay and Rove use enormous sums of money controlled by Abramoff and his associates to ensure the GOP marches in lock-step to their orders.

It's a disciplined machine that awes many in politics, but at its core it is based on illegal, corrupt and unethical actions.

- Murphy

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Death of Pat Tillman

Robert Collier details the compelling and tragic story of Pat Tillman's death and his family's strugle to uncover the truth. Tillman abandoned his life as a professional athlete to become a soldier. A dramatic change in life that ultimately resulted in Tillman's death by friendly fire in Afghanistan.

The story describes an individual who surpasses the one-dimensional image of the football player and the soldier, as well as a family that is struggling to uncover why the Army attempted to cover-up the nature of Tillman's death.

The Army initially announced that Tillman's death came at the hands of the enemy as he heroically fought to save his fellow soldiers. The Army eventually came clean with the truth that Tillman was killed in combat but by friendly-fire.

Tillman was a hero to his family and a brave friend to those he served with. His death, accidental though it was, occurred while he was doing what he believed in. The Army did not need to try and cover-up the circumstances of his death or attempt to assuage what could have been negative PR. In fact their efforts, once the truth came out, had the opposite effect.

Tillman's service was by all accounts honorable and remarkable he should be remembered for that and the particular circumstances of his death should not be the focus.

- Murphy

Monday, September 26, 2005

Whose values are they following?

The National Review Online reposted an article written in January 1989 on the then potential collapse of the Soviet Union. The article was written by Radek Sidorski who was just elected to the Polish Senate. The article itself details the extensive rot that riddled the Soviet empire and would lead to its collapse. Sidorski didn't pick '89 as the year of the fall, but he knew knew it was soon, and that it would fall with a sigh, not with a bang.

He posed a question to his conservative audience, how should the west manage the decline of the Soviet empire? A question there were no clean answers for but a situation the United States handled reasonably well during the first Bush administration and the Clinton administration. It has been a far from perfect dismantling, but it proceeded far more peacefully than many expected.

In considering the question, however, Sidorski raised a point that conservatives who support the current administration would have been wise to spend more time on, and should perhaps be debated anew today:
We must not fall into the conservative trap of believing that if only the Soviet Union would transform itself into traditional "Russia" everything would be well-Russia being a long-established entity capable of abiding by the international rules. By the milder standards of its time czarist Russia was also a tyranny and a prison of nations. We would be forsaking our values if we betrayed the subject nations of Eastern Europe simply because the idiom of domination changed. The attempts to suppress Eastern Europeans' national aspirations have already caused two world wars. Their future is on the agenda again now.
Then, the focus was on conservative concepts of freedom and governance. While there may be disagreements over tactics and philosophies, conservatives and everyone else agreed that ending the tyranny of the USSR was a noble goal and would obviously be undercut if they simply supplanted an imperial dictatorship with a home-grown one. [The role of the U.S. in fighting socialist and marxist movements in South and Central America were linked to this struggle by bellicose conservatives, but the origins of the U.S. proxy fights there go back as far as the origins of the U.S. itself.]

This is a perspective that could use some dusting-off in the conservative circles of today. The potential for despotic rule is great in Iraq and growing every week.

Much of the post-invasion rationalization of the war consisted of some version of, "We got rid of Saddam, didn't we?" If the final outcome is not some form of modern civil society that reasoning will seem like small compensation.

- Murphy

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Who's got the loot?

The venerable Getty Museum has allegedly been collecting looted art pieces for years. The evidence is pretty damning despite their claims they, "didn't know it was looted.":
•  A 1985 memo shows that Getty officials learned from dealer Giacomo Medici that three objects the museum was acquiring had been taken from ruins near Naples decades after Italian law made it illegal. The Getty completed the $10.2-million acquisition anyway.

•  An acting curator accused the Getty in a 1986 resignation letter of turning a blind eye to problems in the antiquities department. With eerie prescience, he said the museum's "curatorial avarice" would someday lead to an external investigation and demands from a foreign government for the return of looted artifacts.
This is one of the dirty secrets of the art community. Art theft and trade in looted objects is nothing new, much of it is driven by private collectors who secret their stashes and presumably gaze upon them behind closed doors while fiendishly twirling a mustache. Art museums have for decades held themselves as above such trade, but the reality is, as the Italian law first states, "all ancient objects uncovered from Italian soil after 1902 were state property and could not be sold or exported without government permission," much of the older collections in some of the great museums fall into this questionable category. There is an ongoing legal fight between Egypt and Germany over the famous bust of Nephertitti.

Much of the artifacts that were looted from Iraq following the invasion are already on the market though there is an ongoing effort to return as much as possible. In that case, much of the documentation on the objects was destroyed during the looting.

It is hard to know what to do about the objects that were collected during the years when documenting an objects' origin was only thought of in terms of determining an objects authenticity and thus its worth. The Indiana Jones, "That belongs in a museum," mentality was a quaint idea then. Private collections were the destination for most of the world's priceless objects, in fact most of the public museums' collections are made up of privately held objects either donated or on loan to the museum.

The public good argument can be used to justify questionable actions, such as the Getty's. Yet it is also a public good to ensure that a nations treasures and their ownership of such objects are respected.

- Murphy

Friday, September 23, 2005

Hand up not a hand out; any hand at all?

A piece in today's L.A. Times (via Josh Marshall) describes the shifting plans to assist those displaced by hurricane Katrina. The article sub-head says that President Bush prefers not to boost existing programs, but in looking at what appears to be the White House's idea of a solution, there seems to be some disconnect. Even former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is publicly questioning the White House's efforts
WASHINGTON — Two days after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced plans to issue emergency vouchers aimed at helping poor storm victims find new housing quickly by covering as much as $10,000 of their rent.

But the department suddenly backed away from the idea after White House aides met with senior HUD officials. Although emergency vouchers had been successfully used after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the administration focused instead on a plan for government-built trailer parks, an approach that even many Republicans say would concentrate poverty in the very fashion the government has long sought to avoid.

Instead of depending on long-running programs for such services as housing and healthcare, the president has generally tried to create new, one-shot efforts that the administration apparently hopes will more easily disappear after the crisis passes. That has meant relying on the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has run virtually all of the recovery effort.

"FEMA can help fill some immediate needs after a disaster, like giving grants to help people repair their roofs or pay for temporary housing," said John P. Sucich, a former senior FEMA official who oversaw the recovery from the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. "But it is not the agency to turn to to ensure the kinds of continuing help that families need to begin putting their lives back together.

At least in the case of housing, critics say that the president's unwillingness to rely on existing programs could raise costs. Instead of offering $10,000 vouchers, FEMA is paying an average of $16,000 for each trailer in the new parks it is contemplating. Even many Republicans wonder why the government would want to build trailer parks when many evacuees are now living in communities with plenty of vacant, privately owned apartments.

"The idea that — in a community where we could place people in the private housing market to reintegrate them into society — we would put them in [trailer] ghettos with no jobs, no community, no future, strikes me as extraordinarily bad public policy, and violates every conservative principle that I'm aware of," said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican.
Gingrich is not known for his fondness for government programs, but he has tended to be a pragmatist and has been increasingly vocal about the way in which the current administration runs its operations.

Philosophies aside, good governance and rational, helpfull public policy is in everyone's best interest.

- Murphy

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Great Bus Question

Will we finally find an answer to the question implied by the famous photo of a lot full of buses sitting in water up to their seats? Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly picks up on a piece by Michelle Millhollon in the Baton Rouge Advocate that gets Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco's side.

It does raise the question, will anyone care?

- Murphy

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Royale's new Website

The hippest spot on Kingshighway now has a hip new website, check out The Royale.

- Murphy

Government? We don't need no stinkin' government

Columnist Tom Friedman does not often pen a column that I agree with. It is not so much that I think he is wrong so much as I question his reasoning, even when he does advocate positions or ideas I agree with.

Today's column, however, is an exception.

Friedman sees Hurricane Katrina as stripping away the veneer of the Bush administration's and modern Republican claims of good governance and responsible leadership. It is representative of the abandoning of the basic principles of governance. The often critical question posed by administration critics. "Where are the adults?" comes to mind as more and more evidence of complete administrative collapse comes to light.

One of the most recent examples is that despite the heaped criticism upon the hapless former head of FEMA, Michael Brown, it turns out that the ultimate call had to be made by the Department of Homeland Security Chief, Secretary Michael Chertoff.
WASHINGTON - The federal official with the power to mobilize a massive federal response to Hurricane Katrina was Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, not the former FEMA chief who was relieved of his duties and resigned earlier this week, federal documents reviewed by Knight Ridder show.

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.
DHS is a Bush administration creation, one that occurred over the resistance of the administration. Their first appointment as Secretary of DHS, Bernie Kerik, was perhaps a sign of the administration's opinion of the importance of qualified leadership in an agency they seemingly had little interest in. Kerik withdrew his name after numerous questions arose over his past including a New Jersey warrant, possible criminal ties, and the employment of an illegal immigrant as a nanny. There was also the general perception that what Kerik has done best in his time in government service was to promote Kerik.

Friedman ends his column quoting a Singapore columnist:
Janadas Devan, a Straits Times columnist, tried to explain to his Asian readers how the U.S. is changing. "Today's conservatives," he wrote, "differ in one crucial aspect from yesterday's conservatives: the latter believed in small government, but believed, too, that a country ought to pay for all the government that it needed.

"The former believe in no government, and therefore conclude that there is no need for a country to pay for even the government that it does have. ... [But] it is not only government that doesn't show up when government is starved of resources and leached of all its meaning. Community doesn't show up either, sacrifice doesn't show up, pulling together doesn't show up, 'we're all in this together' doesn't show up."

- Murphy

Monday, September 12, 2005

White House plays the Blame Game Best

Via Josh Marshall, Time Magazine takes a close look at the reality of the Bush White House.
The White House has sent delegates to meetings in Washington of outside Republican groups who have plans to blame the Democrats and state and local officials. In the meantime, it has no plans to push for a full-scale inquiry like the 9/11 commission, which Bush bitterly opposed until the pressure from Congress and surviving families made resistance futile.
From Mike Allen's Time article.

- Murphy

Friday, September 09, 2005

Does FEMA check references?

The background details on the Bush administration's choice for the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael Brown. His resume is so padded you could wrap an egg in it, toss it off a building and still give it back to the hen.
The White House press release from 2001 stated that Brown worked for the city of Edmond, Okla., from 1975 to 1978 "overseeing the emergency services division." In fact, according to Claudia Deakins, head of public relations for the city of Edmond, Brown was an "assistant to the city manager" from 1977 to 1980, not a manager himself, and had no authority over other employees. "The assistant is more like an intern," she told TIME. "Department heads did not report to him." Brown did do a good job at his humble position, however, according to his boss. "Yes. Mike Brown worked for me. He was my administrative assistant. He was a student at Central State University," recalls former city manager Bill Dashner. "Mike used to handle a lot of details. Every now and again I'd ask him to write me a speech. He was very loyal. He was always on time. He always had on a suit and a starched white shirt."
It's always good to have a starched white shirt, you may be ineffective, but you'll look sharp.

- Murphy

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

FEMA: No Photos of the Dead Allowed

Lest the focus of the tragedy actually rest upon the tragedy. FEMA has requested that no photos of the dead be taken.

Good taste should dictate the use of photos of the dead but such photos are as important a record of Katrina's devastation as the video of the submerged city itself. The city has been wrecked and its citizens killed.

The mismanagement that preceded the disaster is part of the story as well, which is why FEMA, the ultimate empty suit, doesn't want the American people to see the photos of those killed in New Orleans.

It may cause them to ask the question, "Why wasn't more done?"

Given increasing evidence that the leadership was unqualified and their actions too slow, it is a question that puts FEMA and the administration between a rock and a hard place.

- Murphy

The Deadly Bigotry of Low Expectations

A meditation on the impact of the rumor-mongering and its impact on policy and the people caught up in the chaotic exodus from New Orleans, by Matt Welch in Reason magazine.

The reports of the looting dominated much of the coverage of the Katrina aftermath. Yet the focus on officials and pundits calling for the imposition of "law and order" in a city that required boats and waders to navigate simply distracted from the real emergency, the thousands of individuals who were struggling to save their lives, not their possessions.

It allows those who are concerned with their image to appear to call for action without posing any hint of a plan or strategy.

Looting and violence are a part of any large-scale breakdown in order, but their impact varies.

In many cases, the things of greatest valuable, the people trapped in the chaos, remain unprotected and uncared for.

- Murphy

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Golden paracutes and lead weights

This is not a new story, but with pension benefit legislation likely to get some time on the floor of congress, it is interesting to examine the rather cynical reality of the pension system. The Kansas City Star has a good series of stories peering into the rather bleak world of the pension system.
“The corporations take care of the top guys,” [former GST Steel company employee David] Young said. “We lost everything.…”

After bankruptcies that swept through the steel industry and more recently at United Airlines and US Airways, Congress is taking a closer look at pension issues and disparities in the treatment of executives and workers. Lawmakers also are concerned that more companies like GST, United and US Airways will dump millions of dollars in underfunded pension plans on the federal agency that takes over such plans and pays retirees.

The problem is that the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. already is $23 billion in the red and could go broke in 2021, long before the Social Security system faces insolvency. Experts predict that if the pension agency goes broke, it may need the biggest taxpayer bailout since the savings and loan disaster of the 1980s and ’90s.

As part of pension reform, Republicans and Democrats are looking at bills that would restrict companies that try to give executives pension increases while their retirement plans for workers are significantly underfunded.
Given the continuous claims that businesses must be allowed to shake off the shackles of government regulation in order to fully utilize the free-market system, it is interesting how many of them now look to shake off their responsibility to fulfill their bargain onto the government. At the same time they reward those who lead the companies as they take their step into the void.

- Murphy

Monday, September 05, 2005

FEMA's recent history

From the Los Angeles Times, (thanks to Laura Rozen):
Since the 1970s, Washington has emerged as the insurer of last resort against floods, fires, earthquakes and — after 2001 — terrorist attacks.

But the government's stumbling response to the storm that devastated the nation's Gulf Coast reveals that the federal agency singularly most responsible for making good on Washington's expanded promise has been hobbled by cutbacks and a bureaucratic downgrading.

FEMA was created in 1979 in response to criticism about Washington's fragmented reaction to a series of disasters, including Hurricane Camille, which devastated the Mississippi coast 10 years earlier. The agency was rocked by scandal in the 1980s and turned in such a poor performance after Hurricane Andrew struck South Florida in 1992 that President George H.W. Bush is thought to have lost votes as a result.

But according to a variety of former officials and outside experts, the agency experienced a renaissance under President Clinton's director, James Lee Witt, speedily responding to the 1993 Mississippi flood, the 1994 Northridge earthquake and other disasters.

Witt's biggest change was to get FEMA to focus on reducing risks ahead of disasters and funding local prevention programs.

But with the change of administration in 2001, many of Witt's prevention programs were reduced or cut entirely. After Sept. 11, former FEMA officials and outside authorities said, Washington's attention turned to terrorism to the exclusion of almost anything else.
Witt was just hired by Gov. Blanco to lead Louisiana's reconstruction effort.

FEMA's current head, Michael Brown was a patronage hire and it shows.

Perhaps in the future qualifications will be weighed more heavily than connections in selecting heads of important and complex agencies.

- Murphy

Rove shifts responsibility to local officials

Any and all claims by administration officials (including their supporters and surrogates) that politics should be suspended while the nation attempts to cope with the enormity of the situation along the Gulf Coast should be dismissed outright.

From Josh Marshall:
As noted, the Washington Post got burned today by a "senior Bush official" who told them that Gov. Blanco of Louisiana had never declared a state of emergency in the site -- a claim the Post printed as fact. Yet the claim was demonstrably false and by late afternoon the Post had been compelled to print a correction.

This week's Newsweek contains the same false claim -- and though their recital of the anecdote is unsourced, common sense suggests that someone or some operation fed them both the same line, which neither organization checked out before running.
Now the New York Times has acknowledged that the President's chief political strategist is the source behind the effort to shift blame to the local authorities. From Laura Rozen:
In a reflection of what has long been a hallmark of Mr. Rove's tough political style, the administration is also working to shift the blame away from the White House and toward officials of New Orleans and Louisiana who, as it happens, are Democrats.
[Republican officials] said that Mr. Bush and his political aides rapidly changed course in what they acknowledged was a belated realization of the situation's political ramifications. As is common when this White House confronts a serious problem, management was quickly taken over by Mr. Rove and a group of associates including Mr. Bartlett. Neither man responded to requests for comment.
Ultimately, determining the cause of the late response to a predictably catastrophic disaster will be investigated. In the short run, however, the administration has worked overtime, even lying to reporters, in order to ensure that responsibility is not laid at their doorstep.

- Murphy

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Where does the buck stop?

Josh Marshall cuts cleanly through fog of excuse-making that has embodied the administration's response to criticism for failing to adequately prepare and respond to the Katrina disaster; in New Orleans as well as the rest of the Gulf coast.
The first is the importance of keeping an eye on the big picture and that is the fact that this whole conversation we're having now is not about substance, but procedural niceties, excuses which is it is beyond shameful for an American president to invoke in such a circumstance. We don't live in the 19th century. All you really needed was a subscription to basic cable to know almost all of the relevant details (at least relevant to know what sort of assistance was needed) about what was happening late last week. The president and his advisors want to duck responsibility by claiming, in so many words, that the Louisiana authorities didn't fill out the right forms. So what they're trying to pull is something like a DMV nightmare on steroids.

- Murphy

Keeping the priorities straight...

Representative Roy Blunt of Missouri, the Republican whip, said it would be a mistake to abandon efforts to reduce the estate tax, arguing that was precisely what the economy needed to grow. But he said he thought the White House might reconsider what it wanted this fall.

"I think the administration needs to be thinking about what their agenda is for the fall," he said. "And I'm sure there will be some re-evaluation."
- New York Times, September 4th, 2005.

Given the extent and type of damage inflicted upon the Gulf Coast it is unclear how ensuring the cutting of the estate tax is likely to help the devastated communities.

- Murphy

Senator Landrieu Hits the Roof

Landrieu has apparently exhausted her patience at the pace of federal efforts and their continued inefficiencies. What seems to have finally bested her patience was the President's non-stop campaign.
"I understand that the U.S. Forest Service had water-tanker aircraft available to help douse the fires raging on our riverfront, but FEMA has yet to accept the aid. When Amtrak offered trains to evacuate significant numbers of victims -- far more efficiently than buses -- FEMA again dragged its feet. Offers of medicine, communications equipment and other desperately needed items continue to flow in, only to be ignored by the agency.

"But perhaps the greatest disappointment stands at the breached 17th Street levee. Touring this critical site yesterday with the President, I saw what I believed to be a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe. Flying over this critical spot again this morning, less than 24 hours later, it became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity; and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment. The good and decent people of southeast Louisiana and the Gulf Coast -- black and white, rich and poor, young and old -- deserve far better from their national government.

- Murphy

Our Potemkin President

Photo ops are a manufactured reality to boot positive PR. It's standard in politics, but shouldn't there be some time when you are not campaigning?
There was a striking dicrepancy between the CNN International report on the Bush visit to the New Orleans disaster zone, yesterday, and reports of the same event by German TV.

ZDF News reported that the president's visit was a completely staged event. Their crew witnessed how the open air food distribution point Bush visited in front of the cameras was torn down immediately after the president and the herd of 'news people' had left and that others which were allegedly being set up were abandoned at the same time.

The people in the area were once again left to fend for themselves, said ZDF.
Via Laura Rozen.

- Murphy

Reality check

I heard Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff's remarks on the radio today and they left me fuming since I had read plenty of reports in the past few days that indicated that what he just said was: at best, splitting hairs; most likely, incompetent; and at worst, lying.

I was hoping someone would call him on his statements and it looks like CNN has done just that.
Chertoff: "And I will tell you that, really, that perfect storm of combination of catastrophes exceeded the foresight of the planners, and maybe anybody's foresight"

CNN: "Reuters reported that in 2004, more than 40 state, local and volunteer organizations practiced a scenario in which a massive hurricane struck and levees were breached, allowing water to flood New Orleans. Under the simulation, called "Hurricane Pam," the officials "had to deal with an imaginary storm that destroyed more than half a million buildings in New Orleans and forced the evacuation of a million residents," the Reuters report said.

In 2002 the New Orleans Times-Picayune ran a five-part series exploring the vulnerability of the city. The newspaper, and other news media as well, specifically addressed the possibility of massive floods drowning residents, destroying homes and releasing toxic chemicals throughout the city. (Read: "Times-Picayune" Special Report: Washing away)

Scientists long have discussed this possibility as a sort of doomsday scenario."

Chertoff: "It wasn't until comparatively late, shortly before -- a day, maybe a day and a half, before landfall -- that it became clear that this was going to be a Category 4 or 5 hurricane headed for the New Orleans area."

CNN: "As far back as Friday, August 26, the National Hurricane Center was predicting the storm could be a Category 4 hurricane at landfall, with New Orleans directly in its path. Still, storms do change paths, so the possibility existed that it might not hit the city.

But the National Weather Service prediction proved almost perfect."
There has been considerable criticism of the President's administration and its handling of this situation. Some have tried to say that this is not the time, that we must come together and rally to help the victims. The second half of that is fine, individuals and organizations have been hard at work since Tuesday trying to lend a hand.

The first part is the problem.

The DHS and, as a subsidiary of DHS, FEMA have had years to prepare for a city-busting disaster. The New Orleans scenario, in fact, should have been the easiest of the potential causes of a disaster of this size. Journalists, scientists and professional planners have been predicting this for years and yet it took days to see real action.

There are reports going around that improper paperwork was the problem, that there were regulations that needed to be cleared. I am not an expert in government administration, but I would suspect that if someone had actually read the reports stating that the worst-case scenario was potentially going to happen, that the wheels would have been in motion.

I would like to think that the President was at least watching the Weather Channel like most people last weekend and thought to himself, I better make sure my people are prepared for this. It would appear that is not what happened.

I think a phone call from the President would have been plenty to get any and all paperwork cleared in record time.

- Murphy

Friday, September 02, 2005

"Likeliest, most catastrophic disaster"

Five days after the storm, the hospitals are finally evacuated.
Hospital officials have been calling for their patients to be evacuated since early Tuesday. Helicopters finally began showing up Thursday morning to ferry people to safety, but the exodus was quickly halted because of security concerns, Smithburg said.
While the incidents that caused the evacuation to be suspended yesterday clearly were a cause for concern, there is an underlying question here as to why were the hospitals in such bad shape in the first place?

Homeland Security Czar Michael Chertoff and FEMA Chief Michael Brown have both tried to dodge governmental responsibility saying, essentially, "the people were warned to leave the city, it's not our fault." While that may sound good on the surface, it belies the fact that many who remained were the poor, the ill and the elderly. The segments of the population that need assistance the most in times of crisis.

It also begs the question as to why, then, were the hospitals not evacuated?

A hospital is one place that would be expected to be prepared to handle an emergency situation. It could be reasonably be expected that if the city was truly prepared, the hospitals would be shining examples of emergency preparedness. Instead, numerous hospitals have had to get by with no electricity and no running water while awaiting an evacuation that came several days later.

If the hospitals weren't prepared, was anyone?

The city and the state should have been better prepared, but a scenario such as this is beyond their scope and could only be addressed by the resources available to the federal government, namely FEMA, and agency that said in 2001 that a major hurricane hitting New Orleans as one of the top three "likeliest, most catastrophic disaster" facing the country in the coming years. There was sufficient warning to prepare for this exact situation.

The DHS has had four years to being preparations for the evacuation of a city. This should have been an opportunity to show that if there was a major disaster in a city, natural or man-made, the U.S. was prepared.

This should serve as a warning that the government is not prepared, nor is it prepared to accept responsibility when it fails to act properly.

- Murphy