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Tuesday, September 06, 2005
The blame warriors
Update: Internal documents show that FEMA director Michael Brown delayed emergency requests for aid and personnel to the Gulf region, and urged emergency responders in neighboring states to do the same... Oh, and his main concern in the midst of this catastrophic -- and urgent -- event: good P.R.

Original post: The right's new gambit to save George W. Bush's keester: joining the White House strategy of attempting to shift the blame to state and local authorities. Mark in Mexico -- who I generally like -- appears to have drunk the Kool-Aid (unfortunately, the boys at Wizbang are halfway to Jonestown by now...) He eagerly points to a Wall Street Journal piece by a person named Bob Williams, a right wing think-tanker and former Washington State legislator who was in office during the Mount St. Helens disaster (which qualifies him as an authority on disaster preparedness, how exactly? His outfit, the Evergreen Foundation's claim to fame is suing the national teacher's union, the NEA), and who now says that in fact, it is the Louisiana governor and New Orleans mayor, not the federal government, who are to blame for the Katrina disaster. Says Williams:

The primary responsibility for dealing with emergencies does not belong to the federal government. It belongs to local and state officials who are charged by law with the management of the crucial first response to disasters. First response should be carried out by local and state emergency personnel under the supervision of the state governor and his/her emergency operations center.
That is true, and in the case of Louisiana, the mayor and governor carried out that primary responsibility by declaring a state of emergency and invoking the attendant powers (which the governor on FRIDAY, August 26 -- Mississippi's governor Haley Barbour waited until Saturday -- and which should have triggered an automatic FEMA response, and by calling for first a voluntary and then a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans (which was done two days before the storm by Mayor Nagin) and by following the state's designated evacuation plan: moving those unable to leave the city to the designated evacuation site: the Superdome.

Williams says that "Detailed written plans were already in place to evacuate more than a million people. The plans projected that 300,000 people would need transportation in the event of a hurricane like Katrina. If the plans had been implemented, thousands of lives would likely have been saved."

Again, Nagin and Blanco followed that plan, which for years has included evacuation of the indigent to the Superdome. As many analysts have pointed out, had those 30,000 odd people not been evacuated to the Superdome, the death toll in Louisiana would have been much, much higher.

More from Williams:

Mayor Nagin was responsible for giving the order for mandatory evacuation and supervising the actual evacuation: His office of Emergency Preparedness (not the federal government) must coordinate with the state on elements of evacuation and assist in directing the transportation of evacuees to staging areas. Mayor Nagin had to be encouraged by the governor to contact the National Hurricane Center before he finally, belatedly, issued the order for mandatory evacuation. And sadly, it apparently took a personal call from the president to urge the governor to order the mandatory evacuation.
Now Williams has strayed into the world of fantasy. NOAA was indeed in touch with the Blanco administration, which issued its emergency declaration on Friday -- well before the hurricane struck land and a full day before President Bush declared a state of emergency in Louisiana. The president's order should have instantly triggered a federal -- not a state and certainly not a local response:

"The President's action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts and provide appropriate assistance in several Louisiana parishes"
Nagin's mandatory evacuation order came on Sunday, August 28 (he had issued a voluntary evacuation order the day before), prior to the levees being overrun but a full day after FEMA had been called to action. (Those who claim no such order was given are either unfamliar with the timeline of events or worse, lying to protect the administration). As per the state's pre-existing disaster preparedness plans, those who were unable to leave the city were evacuated to the designated shelter: the Superdome. According to FEMA's own literature on its web-site, FEMA was then supposed to begin pre-positioning relief supplies at the Superdome, and dispatching medical response teams to the area. Instead, FEMA director Michael Brown waited, claiming that his teams couldn't get into the city, despite the fact that entertainers and news crews had no problem getting into town.

Williams is simply making it up as he goes along, including his fantasy call from the president. When did such a call occur? Nagin issued his order before the storm, Bush and the White House only began to react to the storm two days after the levees broke. In fact, far from sounding alarms to the sleepy mayor of New Orleans, president Bush spent the weekend and two additional days giving a speech about Iraq (Monday August 29) in which he barely mentioned the storm, and strumming a guitar in Colorado (Tuesday, August 30 -- a day and a half after the levees broke). Meanwhile, the Bush administration's sense of urgency aparently didn't stop them from refusing an emergency aid offer from the city of Chicago on Sunday, telling that city's furious mayor that the offer of a convoy of trucks wasn't needed, and that a single truck would do. Nor did it cause key administration figures, including the president and Condoleezza Rice, from halting their vacations (the president didn't end his vacation until Wednesday, August 31st -- at least one day after it was clear to his homeland security director that a national -- not a local -- catastrophe was under way, and Condi Rice was still shoe shopping and watching Spamalot on September 1st.) Chertoff claims he didn't even know there had been damage in New Orleans until Tuesday, so what would have prompted Mr. Bush to place the phantom Williams call? How does Williams explain all of this, and where in the raft of stories that have followed this tragedy is the evidence of Bush's call?

The federal government does not have the authority to intervene in a state emergency without the request of a governor. President Bush declared an emergency prior to Katrina hitting New Orleans, so the only action needed for federal assistance was for Gov. Blanco to request the specific type of assistance she needed. She failed to send a timely request for specific aid.
Wrong again. Both Blanco and Haley Barbour began issuing plaintive calls to help from other states on Tuesday, August 30, the same day DHS director Chertoff claims he was still awaking from a media fog. Nagin issued a desperate SOS to the federal government two days later on on Thursday, September 1st -- three days after the levee break and five days after his governor had declared a state of emergency, triggering what should have been an immediate FEMA response. Federal troops finally made it into the city of New Orleans on Friday -- by then, the evacuees inside the Superdome and convention center had been without supplies -- that's food and water to you and me -- for nearly five full days.

Just to assist Mr. Williams and his Freeper followers, here is a timeline of the Katrina disaster. In fact, here's an even better one. Perhaps those ont he right who are so determined to defend the Bush administration at all costs, even at the cost of the truth and common sense, will find them helpful.

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posted by JReid @ 8:49 PM  
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