Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Brownie's Turn

It's been my contention, and still is, that the federal response to Hurricane Katrina was neither "botched" nor "slow," and that former FEMA Director Michael Brown was disgracefully scapegoated by a Bush Administration that chose to be panicked by a media feeding frenzy rather than show its customary loyalty, resist the press' lies, and stand by its man.

Well, that little act of treachery has only taken a couple of weeks to boomerang on the Bushies:

Former FEMA director Michael Brown blamed others for most government failures in responding to Hurricane Katrina on Tuesday, especially Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. He aggressively defended his own role.

Brown also said that in the days before the storm, he expressed his concerns that "this is going to be a bad one" in phone conversations and e-mails with President Bush, White House chief of staff Andy Card and deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin.

And he blamed the Department of Homeland Security, the parent agency for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, for not acquiring better equipment ahead of the storm.
Brown was appearing before the House Select Katrina Committee, which all but two Democrats have boycotted because GOP leaders refuse to let it be turned into another 9/11-style "bipartisan" shitfest. But the Donks really weren't needed from the looks of things, given the tone and demagoguery of the Republican rhethoric:

"I'm happy you left," said Representative Christopher Shays, R-CT "That kind of look in the lights like a deer tells me you weren't capable of doing that job."...

[I]n a testy exchange, Shays compared Brown's performance unfavorably with that of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

"So I guess you want me to be the superhero, to step in there and take everyone out of New Orleans," Brown said.

"What I wanted you to do is do your job and coordinate," Shays retorted.

What can we say? Shays is a pissy RINO. But even Committee Chairman Tom Davis of Virginia wasn't above grandstanding ignorance:

He 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.

Brown said: "Those are not FEMA roles. FEMA doesn't evacuate communities. FEMA does not do law enforcement. FEMA does not do communications."
Indeed. Those are STATE AND LOCAL responsibilities. And the state and local officials responsible - Lousiana Governor Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray "School Bus" Nagin - completely bleeped it up, as Brown had the balls to point out:

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

"I very strongly personally regret that I was unable to persuade Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin to sit down, get over their differences, and work together. I just couldn't pull that off."...

Brown said the lack of an effective evacuation of New Orleans before the storm was "the tipping point for all the other things that went wrong." He said he had personally pushed Blanco to order such an evacuation.

Brown shouldn't feel too bad about that; after all, President Bush himself personally pushed Blanco to order such an evacuation, and she blew him off as well.

One of the Dems that did show up - none other than Louisiana congressman William Jefferson, who imperiously used his state's National Guard troops like they were a frakking moving company - got off the most outrageous quote of the whole interchange:

"I find it absolutely stunning that this hearing would start out with you, Mr. Brown, laying the blame for FEMA's failings at the feet of the governor of Louisiana and the Mayor of New Orleans."
You find the truth stunning, Congressman Jefferson? Given your party affiliation, I find your stunningness utterly unstunning. Maybe if the President had had the sense God gave to, well, Michael Brown, you wouldn't have the cover to engage in such reprehensible - and patently dishonest - fingerpointing.

And when I say dishonest, I mean dishonest (via Powerline):

Following days of internationally reported murders, rapes and gang violence inside the stadium, the doctor from FEMA...came prepared for a grisly scene: He brought a refrigerated 18-wheeler and three doctors to process bodies.

"I've got a report of 200 bodies in the Dome," [Louisiana National Guard Colonel Thomas] Beron recalled the doctor saying.

The real total?

Six, Beron said.

Of those, four died of natural causes, one overdosed and another jumped to his death in an apparent suicide, said Beron, who personally oversaw the handoff of bodies from a Dome freezer....

At the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, just four bodies have been recovered, despite reports of heaps of dead piled inside the building. Only one of the dead appeared to have been murdered, said health and law-enforcement officials.

That the nation's frontline emergency-management officials believed the body count would resemble that of a bloody battle in a war is but one of scores of examples of myths about the Dome and the Convention Center treated as fact by evacuees, the news media and even some of the city's top officials, including the mayor and police superintendent.

The vast majority of reported atrocities committed by evacuees — mass murders, rapes and beatings — have turned out to be false, or at least unsupported by any evidence, according to key military, law-enforcement, medical and civilian officials in positions to know.

"I think 99% of it is [expletive]," said Sergeant 1st Class Jason Lachney, who played a key role in security and humanitarian work inside the Dome.

Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan said authorities have only confirmed four murders in the entire city in the aftermath of Katrina — making it a typical week in a city that anticipated more than 200 homicides this year.

"I had the impression that at least 40 or 50 murders had occurred at the two sites," he said. "It's unfortunate we saw these kinds of stories saying crime had taken place on a massive scale when that wasn't the case. And they [national media outlets] have done nothing to follow up on any of these cases; they just accepted what people [on the street] told them. ... It's not consistent with the highest standards of journalism." [emphases added]

And the punchline? The Extreme Media's hysterical, anti-Bush fabrications seriously damaged the relief effort:

Compass conceded that rumor had overtaken, and often crippled, authorities' response to reported lawlessness, sending badly needed resources to situations that turned out not to exist.

Brother Hinderaker asks a number of pertinent questions, of which this one is paramount:

Did the widespread breakdown in accurate reporting stem only from a failure to follow proper journalistic standards, or did it also reflect a deliberate effort to damage the Bush Administration [and its disaster relief efforts] by passing on unconfirmed rumors as fact?

He says Congress should promptly (and, for my two cents, murderously) investigate the press to get to the bottom of its willful attempts to sabotage the federal Katrina response for the singular sake of manufacturing another angle of partisan Bushophobic attack. And I would be all for it, if I thought that majority Republicans were remotely capable of effectively pressing such an investigation. But that incapacity has always been the case going all the way back to the mid-90s Whitewater and Waco "probes." And that was long before so many GOPers went native, and the President of the United States went limp.

Just ask Michael Brown.

UPDATE: Rocketman also gives Brownie, as opposed to his pathetic inquisitors or the weak-kneed Bushies, rave reviews:

Of those who participated in the hearing, Brown was by far the most impressive. Democratic Congressman William Jefferson of Louisiana was his party's designated hit-man, but it was painfully evident that his opening speech was a filibuster. He didn't dare stop talking for fear that Brown would have an opportunity to answer his questions. But it wasn't just the Democrats; "Republican" Congressman Christopher Shays, too, was an ill-informed disgrace....

I thought it was a mistake when President Bush cashiered Brown, and his performance tonight validates that judgment. FEMA's position is eminently defensible. But the Bush Administration, historically, has failed to defend its own agencies aggressively, and instead has passively yielded to the news cycle.

Oftentimes major turning points in history aren't recognized for what they are until long after the fact. I fervently hope I'm wrong about this, but as I look back over the past few weeks, it's looking like the President's bona fide post-Katrina troubles began right about the time that he caved to left-wingnut pressure and heaved his FEMA boss overboard. Before that he was soaring above the press's slimeacane unscathed; after it there was blood in the water, and he defensively spit out that "Second Louisiana Purchase" speech like a brick without indicating a way to offset the additional mammoth spending figures, and his base support started evaporating. If that negative mojo holds, he'll offer up a squish to replace Justice O'Connor, and the whole Bush ship of state will go spiralling out of control.

Buddhists would call it "bad karma"; I call it a self-inflicted wound - and a time for a fresh dollop of that uncanny leadership for which GWB made himself famous.