The Man of Our Times

Interestingly, the caption on this New York Times photo has changed. On the web, it now says:

 Images 2005 08 30 National Evac.184.1.650

"A man, holding a toy gun rides a bike inside the local Wall Mart store in the lower Garden District in New Orleans while the store is looted." But the photo as it ran in the printed version of the Times (on Wednesday) said nothing about a "toy gun." Nor, do I think, is it actually a toy gun, since of course it lacks the orange cap on the end.

Basically I've got nothing clever to say, I'm really just shellshocked about the whole thing.

Charities:

The American Red Cross - www.RedCross.org

AmeriCares - www.americares.org

America's Second Harvest - www.secondharvest.org

ASPCA - www.aspca.org

Catholic Charities USA - www.catholiccharitiesusa.org

Direct Relief International - www.directrelief.org

Feed The Children - www.feedthechildren.org

Habitat for Humanity - www.habitat.org

Humane Society of the United States - www.hsus.org

Noah's Wish - www.noahswish.org

North Shore Animal League America - www.nsalamerica.org

The Salvation Army - www.salvationarmyusa.org

United Jewish Communities - www.ujc.org

United Methodist Committee on Relief - www.methodistrelief.org

United Way - national.unitedway.org

The director of FEMA has really done quite a bad job, which CNN is surprisingly critical about. The DailyKos notes that his real qualification was being a Bush campaign apparatchik's college roommate...

Prior to joining FEMA he practiced law in Colorado and Oklahoma, where he served as a bar examiner on ethics and professional responsibility for the Oklahoma Supreme Court and as a hearing examiner for the Colorado Supreme Court. He had been appointed as a special prosecutor in police disciplinary matters. While attending law school he was appointed by the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee of the Oklahoma Legislature as the Finance Committee Staff Director, where he oversaw state fiscal issues. His background in state and local government also includes serving as an assistant city manager with emergency services oversight and as a city councilman.

So the White House spinstorm hoping to duck responsibility for the disaster has gotten well underway, as Josh Marshall explains:

I too saw the Chertoff press conference Jon Cohn notes over at TPMCafe, or at least the part of it in which Chertoff trotted out what I guess is going to be the 'double-up justification' for the slow federal response to Katrina.

As Jon wrote: "Chertoff says this was a unique, unpredictable one-two punch -- of a hurricane *and* a flood from a breached levee -- that nobody anticipated."

I actually thought I heard him parse it into three events. But I was writing as I listened; and press reports bear out Jon's recollection.

But in any case, same difference: this is truly a parse for the ages.

The one snippet of the transcript I was able to find online has Chertoff saying: "We were prepared for one catastrophe. The second catastrophe, frankly, added a level of challenge that no one has seen before.”

Clearly, clearly, the hurricane and the flood were part of the same natural disaster. This isn't like a tornado being followed up by an earthquake. The flooding is part of the hurricane. It's almost surreal to even have to argue this point it's so obvious. But there it is.

Clearly, the White House is pulling out every stop to argue for the impossibility of predicting what happened. But remember, everyone seems to agree that a Cat 4 or 5 hurricane would have created a storm surge that overtopped the levees. I want to go back and check all the details on this. But my understanding is that Katrina -- which was coming into Louisiana as a Cat 5 -- ratchetted down in final hours and actually hit NOLA as a Cat 3. This is part of what created that brief period in which it seemed that the city emerged more or less intact. The immediate storm surge didn't overtop the levees. But then levees failed and/or some were overtopped.

Whatever the details on that point, whether levees failed or were overtopped, the feds and everyone else had every reason to believe over the weekend that the city was going to be flooded. This scenario was not only predictable, but actively predicted as a likely scenario.

The Times had a fairly critical article about FEMA's Michael Brown, and heck, this whole bit about Brown would be damn funny if it wasn't so sad:

Yesterday the Houston Chronicle reported that Halliburton has been hired by the Navy to repair its damaged facilities in Mississippi and perform initial damage assessments of facilities in New Orleans.

The work was assigned, reported the Chronicle, "under a 'construction capabilities' contract awarded in 2004 after a competitive bidding process." But it raises a question it is not at all too early to ask. The egg is pretty much cooked on the relief operation. But in the coming days and weeks we will move into a recovery phase in which, no doubt, tens of billions of dollars will be spent cleaning up and rebuilding not just New Orleans but big sections of the Gulf Coast.

Does anyone believe that the Bush administration can handle that money and that task without widespread waste, fraud and cronyism?

That's not just a question for partisan Democrats. I would think that there are a lot of Republicans up for reelection next year who are probably giving that question some serious thought. They may not want to attack the president. They may even want their own seat on the gravy train. But they know the record as well as anyone. And they may not want to be carrying the president's water a year from now when the news stories are filling the papers.

The news out today about FEMA Director Michael Brown tells the ugly tale. So let's just review what we now know -- with key new details first from a diarist at DailyKos and now confirmed in more depth in this morning's Boston Herald.

Michael Brown is a lawyer and GOP party activist. Before he came to FEMA in 2001, he had a full-time job overseeing horse-shows as the commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association. He started with them in 1991. But he was eventually fired because of what the Herald describes as "after a spate of lawsuits over alleged supervision failures." (The Kos diary has some more details.)

But the stars were shining on Brown because President Bush had just been elected. And he appointed his chief political fixer Joe Allbaugh to replace James Lee Witt as head of FEMA.

That was a good break for the recently-canned Brown, because, as we learn from the Herald, he and Allbaugh were college roommates. He hired Brown as his General Counsel at FEMA in February. And then, by the end of the year, he promoted him to Deputy Director.

Then, little more than a year later, Allbaugh left FEMA to set up New Bridge Strategies, a consultancy to cash in on the Iraqi contracts bonanza. On Allbaugh's departure from FEMA, Brown became Director, in charge of federal domestic emergency management in the United States.

So, just to recap, Brown had no experience whatsoever in emergency management. He was fired from his last job for incompetence. He was hired because he was the new director's college roommate. And after the director -- who himself got the job because he was a political fixer for the president -- left, he became top dog. And President Bush said yesterday that he thinks Brown is "doing a helluva job".

Tens of billions of federal dollars are going to be spent on reconstruction, though the first allotment is only $10.5 billion. Does anybody think Bush administration has the competence or honesty to manage that money? Does anybody think it won't be handled with the efficiency, expertise and integrity of the Iraqi reconstruction?

As for me, well I am out in Damned Hudson, trying to get my life to move along again. I feel like a bit of a refugee myself. I can't really promise any particular frequency of posts, because it is a lot more important for me to get Real Life in order....

Oh yeah, by the way, wouldn't it have been nice if they'd dropped another $50 million on levees and tossed out, say, the pointless Alaska Bridge to Nowhere ($2,000,000,000)??!?!?!

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