Friday, September 09, 2005

Mission Accomplished . . . Or Is It?

A short time ago, Michael Brown was relieved of command of federal onsite relief efforts in the Gulf Coast and sent packing back to Washington. He's being replaced by the highly competent and eminently qualified Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad Allen.

Technically he wasn't "fired." But he was given the forceful shove out the door we'd been demanding. Money quote:

"Michael Brown has done everything he possibly could to coordinate the federal response to this unprecedented challenge," Chertoff told reporters in Baton Rouge, La. Chertoff sidestepped a question on whether the move was the first step toward Brown's leaving FEMA.

But a source close to Brown, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the FEMA director had been considering leaving after the hurricane season ended in November and that Friday's action virtually assures his departure.

Yes, Michael Brown has done "everything he possibly could" -- and we're still catching up with the corpses.

A huge thank you to everyone who called President Bush and who linked to this blog. Check back later today for the final wrap-up. And please see me over at my main blog, where political and cultural commentary will keep on rollin' along.

UPDATE, 9/9/05, 3:26 P.M.: Maybe I spoke too soon, at least before reading the rest of the AP story, which contains this worrying tidbit:

"I'm anxious to get back to D.C. to correct all the inaccuracies and lies that are being said," Brown said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

Asked if the move was a demotion, Brown said: "No. No. I'm still the director of FEMA."

Brown goes on to insist that he will "get a good Mexican meal and a stiff margarita and a full night's sleep. And then I'm going to go right back to FEMA."

I hope he's just trying to save face. I hope he's not gonna show up as a spinner on the weekend news shows -- if he does, that's a sign the president really does not get it. Why do we have a federal government if it cannot rescue us, with all due speed and force, from the aftermath of an apocalyptic event?

And I hope al Qaeda's not watching and cooking up their next strike.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

"They Let Them Die on Their Roofs and They Let Them Die in the Water"

CNN has finally got camera crews into St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes, and the news and images are devastating.

Last night, Gary Tuchman reported that the lower two-thirds of Plaquemines is underwater. As of last night's report, the only rescue and relief workers the people there had seen were members of the New Mexico National Guard.

Now there's this account, from more of Katrina's forgotten in St. Bernard and Plaquemines:

Homes were chopped open, a Baptist church's steeple ripped off. Water gurgles and spurts in places from leaking natural gas.

"I can't even imagine trying to rebuild this," said Kevin Cobble, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife officer from Las Cruces, New Mexico, who has been looking for survivors.

As relief efforts sputtered in the days after the storm, Verlyn Davis Jr., an out-of-work electrician, took charge. He transformed his parents' bar and seafood restaurant, Lehrmann's, into a shelter where he dispatches people to clear roads, hook up generators and help in the disaster relief process.

About 20 people have been staying there these days. On a boarded-up window out front is a blue spray-painted sign: "ABOUT TIME BUSH!"

"The governor and the president let thousands of people die and they let them die on their roofs and they let them die in the water," said Davis, 45. "We got left. They didn't care."

Note how he manages to blame the state and the feds in the same breath -- though the sign focuses all the blame on the president.

I'm waiting for the press release denouncing this partisan finger-pointing for what it is.

Or maybe President Bush will want to fly down to Plaquemines and have another bullhorn moment:

"New Orleans took a beating," said Jason Stage, a 47-year-old maintenance worker staying at Lehrmann's. "But St. Bernard Parish and Plaquemines was ground zero."

Does He Not Get It? Or Is He Putting It Off?

We are reaching a point where I wonder if the president is actually going to fire Brown, let alone imminently (i.e. now).

According to the AP, instead of firing Brown, they've given him an experienced and hugely competent new deputy:

Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad Allen, just appointed as deputy to FEMA Director Michael Brown, said Thursday it was unsafe to be in New Orleans.

"We're starting an operation today going block by block through the city, requesting people to leave their homes," he said on CBS' "The Early Show." "We need everyone out so we can continue with the work of restoring this city."

Even less encouraging is this account of what the president said yesterday and the White House's iffy defense:

One of this week's most high profile fights has been between the White House and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who charged that Bush was dismissive of her request to fire FEMA Director Michael Brown during his session with House leaders Tuesday.

"Why would I do that?" Bush said, according to Pelosi, who responded, "Because of all that went wrong, with all that didn't go right last week."

"What didn't go right?" Bush said, according to Pelosi.

"Oblivious. In denial. Dangerous," she said.

CNN's Dana Bash reports that a senior administration official, who was in the meeting, denied Pelosi's account. The official said the president challenged her by asking rhetorically, "Oh you know? You've conducted an investigation?"

So it's not that the president is completely clueless -- to the point of not watching the news -- as Pelosi suggested. No, he's just gonna wait months and months for an investigation to assign blame before doing anything about it. How is this reassuring to anyone other than al Qaeda?

Heck, it even sounds like President Bush is ready to play more politics as usual. That's been the tactic of his party's political operatives, including RNC chair Ken Mehlman, who blasted Pelosi and Harry Reid for "pointing fingers in a shameless effort to tear us apart." Because, see, if you question the president or the federal response and you aren't a Republican, then you can only be engaging in a partisan political attack.

But Republicans can play that game, too:

A group called GOPUSA hit back, arguing in an email that Louisiana officials, who just happen to be Democrats, "could lose the Katrina blame game."

GOPUSA scores a hat trick: in this single reference, they manage to reduce everything to 1) the blame game, 2) partisan attacks, and 3) blaming the locals.

Karl Rove must be proud.

Keep the Pressure On

So it could end up being a matter of months, not days, waiting for our president to show that he gets what didn't go right. No telling what FEMA, and Michael Brown in particular, will manage to bungle -- how many lives they will continue to disrupt or ruin under his "leadership" -- in the mean time.

As of today, I'm ceasing to issue daily calls to action. I've added a section to the right, called Keep the Pressure On. I'm hoping new visitors to the site will call President Bush and their senators (and you should, if you haven't already).

I am encouraging everyone, new and old visitors alike, to contact one friend or family member each day and ask them to call President Bush and tell him to fire Brown now. This is the best way to keep the pressure on and keep flooding the White House with new calls for accountability.

We may not be able to end politics as usual -- at least not before the next election. But we can make clear there are gonna be serious consequences for our elected officials if they try to avoid taking responsibility for their decisions -- and their failures.

This Is Not a Game

Yesterday the main talking point, from President Bush to his subordinates, was simple: this isn't the time to play the "blame game," let's focus on recovery and point fingers later.

The Chicago Tribune blasts this apart in a great editorial this morning.

The Trib finds the choice facing the Bush administration
is simple: Play or lose.

And make no mistake. Despite the high-level demurrals out of Washington (President Bush and House Speaker Dennis Hastert are among those who have clucked reproachfully about "the blame game" in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina), Republican spinners are playing with gusto, arguing in every conceivable forum that much of the misery and death on the Gulf Coast in the last 10 days is the fault of inept state and local officials.

And then the Trib hits the most important point: this is not a game.

This, of course, is an effort to counter critics of the pokey, discombobulated, ragingly obtuse federal response when Katrina turned into one of the nation's worst natural disasters.

Using the therapy-speak term "blame game" as if this were a psychodrama and not a scandal trivializes a dispute that's not only unavoidable, but also necessary and even helpful.

Did the expressions of outrage and frustration directed at Washington by New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin, local emergency management director Terry Ebbert and many commentators speed relief efforts and save lives?

We may never know. But it's hard to believe that the massive infusion of relief supplies and personnel that hit New Orleans Friday wasn't at least partly an effort at damage control by those badly stung by bitter accusations that they weren't doing enough.

President Bush, you can show the American people you get this is not a game. This is a matter of life and death. For the last ten days, the incompetent federal response has let death win out more times than it had to. The person most responsible for this mortal bungling is FEMA director Michael Brown.

Show us you get it and fire Brown now.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

FEMA to Firefighters: Pass Out Flyers

Under the leadership of Michael Brown, FEMA has assigned a contingent of firefighers from around the country to PR duty:

As New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin pleaded on national television for firefighters - his own are exhausted after working around the clock for a week - a battalion of highly trained men and women sat idle Sunday in a muggy Sheraton Hotel conference room in Atlanta.
Many of the firefighters, assembled from Utah and throughout the United States by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, thought they were going to be deployed as emergency workers.
Instead, they have learned they are going to be community-relations officers for FEMA, shuffled throughout the Gulf Coast region to disseminate fliers and a phone number: 1-800-621-FEMA.
On Monday, some firefighters stuck in the staging area at the Sheraton peeled off their FEMA-issued shirts and stuffed them in backpacks, saying they refuse to represent the federal agency.

I guess conveying a "positive image of disaster operations" remains more important than rescuing those still in danger and relieving the physically and psychologically worn out fire crews in New Orleans.

Yet another reason to fire Brown now. Mr. President, what are you waiting for?

FEMA: No Photos of the Dead

First FEMA failed to get the manpower on the ground before the hurricane hit. Then they failed to coordinate relief efforts quickly enough to save people who survived Katrina, only to succumb days later to drowning, dehydration, exposure, or manageable illnesses like diabetes.

Today, FEMA has issued a warning to the media: Don't you bring us no bad news!

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, heavily criticized for its slow response to the devastation caused by the hurricane, rejected requests from journalists to accompany rescue boats as they went out to search for storm victims.

An agency spokeswoman said space was needed on the rescue boats and that "the recovery of the victims is being treated with dignity and the utmost respect."

"We have requested that no photographs of the deceased be made by the media," the spokeswoman said in an e-mailed response to a Reuters inquiry.

Why didn't FEMA consider the "dignity" and "respect" of the victims before Katrina? Why didn't they have adequate plans for responding to the destruction of New Orleans and surrounding parishes and counties? Why weren't their agents trained in advance of the Big One that had been predicted for years and years?

Now there's one photo we've got to see: Michael Brown with his head in shame. Fire him now!

Today's Call to Action: Call Four People

Today's call to action is simple. I'm asking that you call four people:

  • President Bush (yes, again)

  • Your U.S. senators

  • One close friend or family member

Tell President Bush and your senators:

Fire Brown Now! FEMA director Michael Brown waited until after Katrina hit to request workers to coordinate relief efforts. Then the agents had to be trained before they could go to help. Once they finally got on the ground, they failed to send help to whole parishes and counties. Brown continues to put press conferences and red tape before saving lives, and so he's got to go -- now!

For your senators, add this:

There will be time later to reshuffle the bureaucracy and have all the investigations you want. Right now there are still people who need help. Please tell President Bush to fire Brown now.

As for your close friend or relative, send them to this post and ask them to make the four calls as well. The thousands of people who visited this site in the last 24 hours could make one heck of a lot of calls. So keep those lines busy!

Find your senators' numbers here. As for the White House:

  • Comments: 202-456-1111

  • Switchboard: 202-456-1414

  • FAX: 202-456-2461

  • TTY/TDD: 202-456-6213

REVIEW: Brown Waited While New Orleans Drowned, Spin First, Save Lives Seven Days Later, Why Fire Brown? Why Now?

NOT JUST NEW ORLEANS: Murder by Bureaucracy in St. Bernard?, Bogalusa "Has Returned 'To the Stone Age'", FEMA Screws Slidell, "Our Citizens Feel a Breach of Trust"

If Brown is still working at FEMA tomorrow, check back for a new call to action.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Spin First, Save Lives Seven Days Later

Brown's failures in planning for and executing the FEMA response to Katrina are reason enough to fire him now.

But there's something else his Aug. 29 memo to Secretary Chertoff reveals. And this is why Brown should be swiftly and unceremoniously kicked out the door, so fast and so hard that he lands flat on his butt on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Money quote:
Brown's memo told employees that among their duties, they would be expected to "convey a positive image of disaster operations to government officials, community organizations and the general public."

"FEMA response and recovery operations are a top priority of the department and as we know, one of yours," Brown wrote Chertoff. He proposed sending 1,000 Homeland Security Department employees within 48 hours and 2,000 within seven days.

Knocke said the 48-hour period suggested for the Homeland employees was to ensure they had adequate training. "They were training to help the life-savers," Knocke said.

Employees required a supervisor's approval and at least 24 hours of disaster training in Maryland, Florida or Georgia. "You must be physically able to work in a disaster area without refrigeration for medications and have the ability to work in the outdoors all day," Brown wrote.

The role of FEMA is not to "convey a positive image of disaster operations." The role of FEMA is to coordinate relief efforts, to make sure that anyone still stranded is rescued before they die, and that those rescued get food and shelter.

FEMA doesn't do this to make themselves look good. They do this because the people are tax-paying citizens, and they deserve not to drown in their attics or die of exposure on the Chalmette Slip waiting for a boat that never comes.

That's where a lot of spin of this memo will stop. But let's look at the meat for a minute -- because it's another reason -- perhaps an even more obscene one -- that Brown has got to go now.

Five hours after Katrina hit land, Brown requested 1,000 agents on the ground in 48 hours and 2,000 within seven days. The delay was necessary so they could be trained.

Now it's bad enough that the people who were supposed to respond to the storm not only weren't on the ground before the storm, but they weren't even trained before the storm, and had to be delayed for a week for training.

But it's even worse, because the training is precisely so they can work "in a disaster area without refrigeration for medications and have the ability to work in the outdoors all day."

What about all the people in all the parishes and counties who died waiting to be rescued in those seven days? Waiting while no one at the federal level seemed aware their parishes and counties existed? They died because they couldn't live without refrigeration or medications or food or water.

And a lot of them died because the FEMA director couldn't get his agents trained and in place before Katrina struck -- this with all the articles and plans and the tabletop exercise from 2004. Anyone remotely aware of those things -- like another formidable blogger or, say, myself -- might have realized early on Saturday that Katrina was lined up to be the Big One.

That would have been 48 hours before landfall.

But FEMA director Michael Brown couldn't put two and two together and get four. He didn't even realize there was math involved. He failed to order the agents until after Katrina hit, and then they weren't trained, and then once they were, they failed to figure out all which areas were affected.

The only thing they followed through on were the attempts to spin.

They failed there, too.

Mr. President, please. Michael Brown has done far too much damage. Toss his delaying, denying, butt-kissing ass out in the street.

Brown Waited While New Orleans Drowned

This late-breaking AP story offers a smoking gun that should make it impossible for President Bush not to fire Brown now.

According to "internal documents":

  • Brown waited until five hours after Katrina made landfall to request that 1,000 Homeland Security agents be sent to the region.

  • Brown's request gave those agents two days to arrive on the ground.

  • Then there's this money quote:

Before then, FEMA had positioned smaller rescue and communications teams across the Gulf Coast. But officials acknowledged Tuesday the first department-wide appeal for help came only as the storm raged.

Brown's memo to Chertoff described Katrina as "this near catastrophic event" but otherwise lacked any urgent language.

Now, to be fair, the most catastrophic damage came when the levees broke, which happened after Brown's request.

But even before then, there was full-on catastrophic damage on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. When Brown filed his memo, people were already drowning in New Orleans -- and more would over the coming days as the federal efforts recovered from their slow start.

But remember, it's not just New Orleans. The damage from the storm itself was catastrophic -- in terms of lives, property, and infrastructure -- in Jefferson Parish, in Plaquemines Parish, in St. Tammany Parish, in Washington Parish, and in St. Bernard Parish.

That's before we even mention Mississippi, where Katrina cut a brutal swath across the state from the Gulf Coast far inland, across tiny rural towns, all the way to Meridian.

There's one more vital point Brown flubbed. What were these 1,000 agents supposed to do?

Brown's memo on Aug. 29 aimed to assemble the necessary federal work force to support the rescues, establish communications and coordinate with victims and community groups, Knocke said.

Instead of rescuing people or recovering bodies, these employees would focus on helping victims find the help they needed, he said.

Before you help the victims, you got to make sure they're brought to safety. As has been well documented -- on all the stories linked in this post -- FEMA, under the leadership of Michael Brown, dropped the ball and time and time again.

FEMA failed to relieve overstressed and overworked first responders.

FEMA failed to get the brave rescue troops on the ground sooner. (They could have been plucking people from their rooftops on Tuesday.)

FEMA failed to identify all the locations devastated by Katrina -- failing to direct support, supplies, or rescue efforts to entires parishes and counties throughout the delta -- in some places until as late as this weekend, six and seven days after landfall.

FEMA interfered with and stymied local efforts to obtain manpower and supplies from non-federally controlled sources.

This interference and styming has happened once FEMA got on the ground in Louisiana. They point to the continued failure of FEMA's leadership.

The failures listed all track back to the long time it took the feds to establish a presence on the ground in Louisiana and Mississippi. As FEMA director, Michael Brown had the responsibility to make sure the relief flights and food and water trucks ran on time. He failed.

For that, Mr. President, you should fire Brown now.

Get the Word Out: Fire Brown Now!

Since we have a lot of new visitors, today's call to action builds on yesterday's.

Please call President Bush today and tell him:

Fire Brown Now! People are still being rescued in Louisiana. Over a million people are homeless. We need a FEMA director who can manage the resources, who will focus on help and rebuilding instead of press conferences and red tape. Michael Brown has shown he's not up to the job. You have the power to replace him, Mr. President. Fire Brown Now!

If you didn't call him yesterday, what are you waiting for?

One extra step: We need more people to work the phones and put the pressure on. So I'm asking that you recruit one person close to you -- friend or family member -- and get them to call as well.

Call the White House TODAY:
  • Comments: 202-456-1111

  • Switchboard: 202-456-1414

  • FAX: 202-456-2461

  • TTY/TDD: 202-456-6213

REVIEW: Why Fire Brown? Why Now?, FEMA Screws Slidell, Murder by Bureaucracy in St. Bernard?, "Our Citizens Feel a Breach of Trust", Bogalusa "Has Returned 'To the Stone Age'"

If Brown is still on the job Wednesday morning, check back then for a new call to action.--9:16 A.M.
moved to top

Bogalusa "Has Returned 'to the Stone Age'"

BusinessWeek details the plight of "Katrina's 'forgotten,'" the hundreds of thousands "in the counties and parishes of southern Mississippi and Louisiana," where "the damage and desperation are also heart-wrenching."

In these outlying areas, such as Washington Parish's Bogalusa and Angie:

Help here is still arriving in a trickle. A lone Army National Guardsman in full flack jacket stands watch with an M-16 at the Bogalusa Medical Center in Bogalusa, La., 70 miles north of New Orleans.
. . .
On the ground, it's clear why some hamlets not far from the rattling helicopters and mass evacuation of the Big Easy aren't yet on the rescue map. Angie, La., is nothing more than a crossroads, a poor town 80 miles north of New Orleans. Street signs nearby read: "Prison area. Do not pick up hitchhikers."

A lone barbecue restaurant is surrounded by fallen trees. The Angie Farm & Garden Supply store offers crickets and minnows for sale to local fisherman, but it's shuttered.

The people here are hurting. On Saturday, Sept. 3, the Washington Parish sheriff's department handed out its first batch of water and ice in a week. Cars, tractors, and four-wheelers flocked to the cow trailer parked at the Angie Fire Station.

Cindy Varnado, who's living in a double-wide trailer with 14 people from four families, has been scrambling for supplies all week. She drove to Baton Rouge for gas, to Covington, north of New Orleans, for bread, and now snatches a case of water and four ice bags in Angie. "It's ridiculous," she says. And it's not going to get any better soon. Varnado's husband, a land surveyor, got word on Friday, Sept. 2, from his boss that there won't be any work for weeks, if not months.

What's the feeling among the locals, alone and without supplies for the last week? Like "catching hell," says Darrin Dixon, who works at the local paper mill. He doesn't expect power for six to eight weeks -- and probably no work, either. Angie's water and ice supply was brief. It ran out in an hour.

There are a number of places in rural Mississippi covered as well, some nearly a hundred miles inland from the coast. Go read the whole thing.

Then ask yourself: Why hasn't FEMA cleared the way to get help to all these people? It's been eight days since Katrina cleared the area.

The Chorus from Coast to Coast

Mine is just one of the many voices calling on President Bush to display some of his trademark leadership and decision making and fire Brown now.

If you're a blogger calling on our president to fire Brown now, please e-mail me the URL and text of your post, and I'll add your voice to the chorus here.

If you're a citizen -- especially if you're one from Louisiana or Mississippi -- by all means identify yourself and send your thoughts along as well.

If you're an elected official at the city, county, or parish level in Louisiana or Mississippi -- I'm especially interested in talking to you. E-mail me your info and I will be more than happy to call you on my dime (if the phones are working where you're at). I have no problem with using unnamed sources so long as I can confirm who you are.

"Our Citizens Feel a Breach of Trust"

WWL-TV's Katrina blog has the latest from Jefferson Parish Emergency Preparedness Center director Walter Maestri (scan down for 8:40-8:44 A.M.):

Our citizens feel a breach of trust. It's almost like infidelity in a relationship. A lot of our people feel cheated.

There will be time to assess blame. When this is over and emotions are under more control, we'll assess what happened. We're all angry, including me, because promises made were not promises kept. We were told we would be on our own for 48 hours and then the calvary would arrive, but it didn't.

What is Maestri talking about? You might have no idea, unless you happened to catch this story from the Times-Picayune on Saturday, where Maestri said on Friday night that FEMA

reneged on a promise to begin relieving county emergency preparedness staffers 48 hours after Hurricane Katrina hit the New Orleans metropolitan area.

Maestri’s staff has been working almost around the clock since Katrina approached the Louisiana coastline on Sunday. Today, the staff is expected to finally switch to a 12 hours on/12 hours off schedule, he said, adding that they’re both tired and demoralized by the lack of assistance from federal officials.

“We had been told we would be on our own for 48 hours,” Maestri said. “Prepare to survive and in 48 hours the cavalry would arrive.

“Well, where are they?” he said.

Maestri said the agreement was signed by officials with the Southeastern Louisiana Emergency Preparedness Officials Association, the state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency as part of this year’s Hurricane Pam tabletop exercise. That exercise began the process of writing a series of manuals explaining how to respond to a catastrophic disaster. Financed by FEMA, it included a variety of federal, state and local officials.

A FEMA spokesman late Friday said they couldn’t confirm or deny that the agency signed the agreement Maestri referred to.

"Couldn't confirm or deny" -- sounds like double talk to me.

But wait, it gets better:

FEMA Director Michael Brown also raised Maestri’s ire when he said in a television interview Friday that he waited so long to respond because he didn’t want to interfere with local aid attempts, and that local officials hadn’t asked FEMA to come in.

“My response is very simple,” Maestri said in an interview on a cell phone after repeated attempts to reach his office. “We didn’t have any communications. We still don’t have outside communications.”

He said FEMA officials have now informed him the first members of a liaison team might arrive at the Emergency Operations Center this morning [Saturday] or Sunday.

Think about that for a minute. In Jefferson Parish, the first responders were working round the clock since before Katrina made landfall. They believed FEMA was coming in to relieve them within 48 hours -- relief that would have not only let them rest, and put fresh people in place to continue rescue operations, but also freed them to check on their families and property.

But FEMA didn't come to relieve Jeff Parish for 48 hours -- or 72 hours -- or 96 hours -- no sooner than 120 hours after the storm passed was there even a sign of the "first members of a liaison team" riding to their rescue.

Some people are taking a blame the local officials approach. They certainly bear a good deal of responsibility for planning. However, in this case, it sounds like Jeff Parish thought it had done that job. And, moreover, keep in mind the apocalyptic destruction of Katrina: whole cities and parishes (counties) have been destroyed.

For these first responders and emergency workers, there was no backup, no one to relieve them, for days and days. In some cases, as the one Aaron Broussard mentioned on Meet the Press, this meant they had to do their job for days while family members they could have otherwise rescued died elsewhere.

FEMA was supposed to help within 48 hours -- they had signed a contract -- and they were nowhere to be seen.

Tremendously Strong and Incredibly Brave

I've been very critical of FEMA and Michael Brown in particular. I've also not spared the local and state officials from criticism (though I am not calling for their immediate firing for reasons explained here.

In all this criticism, I want to be clear about one thing: I'm focusing on the civilian leadership that appears in a number of places to have made awful decisions about resources and also failed to prepare.

I am not now nor will I criticize our tremendously strong and incredibly brave first responders, including but not limited to:

  • the National Guard

  • the U.S. Armed Forces (including Coast Guard rescue crews)

  • doctors and nurses

  • EMTs and ambulance drivers

  • civilian helicopter and airline pilots

  • bus drivers

  • firefighters

  • police

And I include in police the vast majority of NOPD officers who did not walk off the job. These men and women in blue were facing the total devastation of their city -- the catastrophic loss of homes, businesses, neighbors, friends and family -- along with the complete breakdown of the infrastructure -- the power, transportation, and communications resources -- that made it possible for them to keep the peace.

God knows the NOPD has had its problems in the past, but don't you dare let the few bad apples who looted let you think the whole barrel was rotten.

Please pray for all these first responders in the coming days and months, even when the rescue operations end and the rebuilding is underway. I fear the psychological and emotional toll on many of them will be enormous. They will also need our help and support.

If I've forgotten someone from this list, please let me know and I'll amend it right away!

Give Till It Hurts

Our first charity links are now up top. If you haven't donated yet, this is a perfect chance to do so!

If you've already given to the Red Cross, consider sending something to the Baton Rouge Area Foundation as well.

Here's an account of the need from someone on the ground:

New Orleans is flooded - up to fifteen feet in some places, they say - and everything south of New Orleans is under about ten feet of water. Two parishes (counties to you) and a major city are more or less totaled and there is other, very severe, damage. People's lives have been ruined forever in vast numbers and on a tremendous scale. It's much worse than if Louisiana had been nuked. It totally dwarfs 9-11.

Today I worked with Search and Rescue. Tomorrow I am scheduled be doing airphoto/recon/imagery work. I am working long, hard hours, and helping to save survivor's lives, and that's good, because it helps to keep my mind off of the depressing severity of our tremendous losses.

And they are indeed tremendous. The magnitude of this disaster is almost inconceivable to the human mind. This disaster is so big that it is, as one of my friends put it, apocalyptic. You would not believe what I have seen and heard, because some of the sights and some of the radio traffic and cellphone/satphone calls have literally been beyond normal belief; they could only ever happen during an apocalyptic event.

Please tell your friends that the displaced citizens of New Orleans, many of whom lost their homes after literally escaping the hurricane with just what they could fit in the car besides their kids and pets, desperately need help. We have a half million of them (!) here in Baton Rouge (and I even have several of them in my house), and many of them are suffering terribly. They need clothes, food, shelter, and medicine. Many of them are poor urban blacks who have never lived anywhere but New Orleans. Please urge all your friends in the strongest possible manner to please contribute tax deductible donations to the Hurricane Katrina Displaced Residents Fund online at or via check to the Baton Rouge Area Foundation (marked Hurricane Katrina Displaced Residents Fund) and sent to BRAF at 402 N. Fourth St., Baton Rouge, La., 70802. Please tell them that if they could see the damage and these poor, suffering refugees and the wretched state that most of them are in that they would be as moved to tears as I have been.

Please tell them that this is the worst natural disaster in American history, and that its victims urgently need whatever help they can spare.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Murder by Bureaucracy in St. Bernard?

According to the Times-Picayune, survivors were still being rescued in St. Bernard Parish at the rate of 20 an hour yesterday.

(If you've never heard of St. Bernard Parish, please check out where it is on my helpful map.)

Here's how the process works in St. Bernard:
People found wading through the floodwaters, which by Saturday had become nearly black in color and smelled like a mixture of sewage and rotten fish, are first taken to the BellSouth parking lot to shower under a blue tarp. After that school buses take them to "Camp Katrina'' as the Chalmette slip has been dubbed by rescue workers. From there they are taken by ferry about five miles upriver to Algiers Point, where the U.S. Coast Guard shuttles them onto shelter-bound buses.

Unfortunately, the process did not start out so smoothly. At one point last week, there were more than 3,000 people stranded at the Chalmette slip, waiting for help. You never saw them on CNN, so I guess FEMA didn't know about them, either.

According to U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, who represents that parish, about 1,500 people were stranded on the slip last Thursday afternoon, where 100 had already died from exposure and other illnesses waiting for help. According to the T-P accounts, St. Bernard Parish Sheriff Jack Stephens and other local officials turned the parish prison into "a makeshift medical center until the wounded and sick could be flown to safety."

The main problem?

"We never had any communication from anybody," said Parish President Henry P. Rodriguez. "Anything that has been done in St. Bernard has been done by local people. We never had any goddamned help."

Their power was out, their phones were down, and they couldn't get through to anyone for days.

Their congressman tried. Congressman Melancon tried to get the word out about what was happening in St. Bernard. (He and Mary Landrieu are the only people I heard mention the parish in national news accounts before Aaron Broussard did on Meet the Press yesterday.)

On Thursday, the T-P included these harrowing details from Rep. Melancon:

Many of those at the slip were evacuated from a shelter set up at Chalmette High School that suffered massive flooding as the waters rose during Hurricane Katrina.

Melancon said people are being plucked out of their water-surrounded houses, but the effort to get them out of Chalmette and provide them with sufficient sustenance is the problem.

On Friday, when President Bush was down in the delta, Melancon tried to get in to talk to him, to let him know that all the good people in St. Bernard could not get the attention of FEMA officials -- the ones with the authority to bring in the helicopters and the boats and the food and the water. He didn't get the chance. Here's what happened instead:

And to make matters worse, Melancon said in a telephone interview, he was unable to deliver that message to President Bush during his visit to New Orleans on Friday because the president's security detail couldn't clear him in to meet with Bush on Air Force One.

After waiting 90 minutes while a U.S. marshal using a satellite phone repeatedly tried, and failed, to contact Bush's plane -- located just 300 yards away at New Orleans' Armstrong airport -- a disgusted Melancon left.

"After an hour and a half of that, and two hours to get down there, I am now back on my way, without seeing the president, not accomplishing anything in my mind today. I've wasted time while people are dying in South Louisiana," he said. "It's not personal to the president. It's just that this whole thing has been handled terribly."

Now someone no doubt is gonna make hay about how Rep. Melancon is a Democrat. I dare you to tell me that anything he did in this is a partisan political attack. How could he even think about politics with all those citizens from Chalmette and Arabi and Violet and Poydras weighing on his mind?

I am hoping some enterprising and resourceful journalist will go down and talk to all these local officials from St. Bernard, to put a timeline together. Because it sure as hell looks like the feds had no idea that St. Bernard was even on the map until at least four days after the storm.

I pulled the map on this site off of Wikipedia -- it's not brain surgery to figure out you might want to check on the areas near New Orleans -- particularly if you can't put a call through to any single official there.

Yesterday, on Meet the Press, Jeff Parish President Aaron Broussard gave his take on the mortally slow federal response to Katrina:

MR. RUSSERT: Jefferson Parish President Broussard, let me start with you. You just heard the director of Homeland Security's explanation of what has happened this last week. What is your reaction?

MR. AARON BROUSSARD: We have been abandoned by our own country. Hurricane Katrina will go down in history as one of the worst storms ever to hit an American coast, but the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina will go down as one of the worst abandonments of Americans on American soil ever in U.S. history. I am personally asking our bipartisan congressional delegation here in Louisiana to immediately begin congressional hearings to find out just what happened here. Why did it happen? Who needs to be fired? And believe me, they need to be fired right away, because we still have weeks to go in this tragedy. We have months to go. We have years to go. And whoever is at the top of this totem pole, that totem pole needs to be chain-sawed off and we've got to start with some new leadership.

It's not just Katrina that caused all these deaths in New Orleans here. Bureaucracy has committed murder here in the greater New Orleans area, and bureaucracy has to stand trial before Congress now.

"Bureaucracy has committed murder" -- those are damn strong words.

But, if the facts as I've strung them together hold up, that may well be exactly what happened to hundreds of people in St. Bernard.-8:45 P.M.

UPDATE, 9/5/05, 9:20 P.M.: I don't mean to overlook Broussard's allegations regarding Jefferson Parish. Andrew Sullivan, among others, are keeping the eye to the west of New Orleans as well. I think it's interesting how the networks replayed the clip of Broussard breaking down in tears -- rather than his substantive charges about FEMA's failures.

Call President Bush Today!

Today may be Labor Day, but it's no holiday for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Many are in shelters across dozens of states. Some are still being rescued from their ruined homes. And the rest, who it's too late to save, have yet to be counted.

Most of us have the day off. So take a minute to call President Bush and tell him:

Fire Brown Now! Show us you understand what's happened and what needs to be done. Give us a FEMA director who can manage the resources, who doesn't double talk, who puts the lives of the citizens before bureaucracy.

Call the White House TODAY:

  • Comments: 202-456-1111

  • Switchboard: 202-456-1414

  • FAX: 202-456-2461

  • TTY/TDD: 202-456-6213

If Brown is still on the job Tuesday morning, check back then for a new call to action. Let's keep the pressure on so our elected officials do their job and take care of all the people they are supposed to represent. Politics as usual won't cut it anymore. -- 1:10 A.M.

REVIEW: Why Fire Brown? Why Now?

UPDATE, 9/5/05, 10:09 A.M.: The comment on this post is wrong. The White House comment line is waiting for your call! You may get a message telling you all lines are busy -- as I did. I had to call a couple times to get through. And then I was on hold for a few minutes before I got to speak to a live person.

Really, it was a matter of minutes, which is nothing when you think about the people in New Orleans and south Louisiana who are still waiting to be rescued from their wrecked homes. Please call now!

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Fire Brown First

If you haven't read the editorial in today's Times-Picayune, please check it out. In an open letter to President Bush, they have a simple suggestion of their own:

Every official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be fired, Director Michael Brown especially.

The chief complaint is the feds' failure to know about the people at the Convention Center until they were on TV for a full day, and Brown's subsequent lie the next morning that "We’ve provided food to the people at the Convention Center so that they’ve gotten at least one, if not two meals, every single day."

The T-P is right -- this is a key reason to fire Brown. Now. This very minute.

However, I respectfully disagree that "every official" at FEMA should be fired. Media accounts tonight are full of comments from unnamed FEMA officials who say they see Brown as a figurehead and a political hack rather than a capable manager.

President Bush needs to fire Brown and replace him with a proven leader, with the background and skills to marshal the enormous resources needed in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Once we get that new FEMA head in place, if he's got subordinates laying on the red tape, then it's gonna be time for Secretary Chertoff to break out the ax and make the heads roll.

It's Not Just New Orleans

I included the breakdown of parishes below for an important reminder: the areas seriously damaged by Katrina extend far beyond a few cities in Mississippi and the city of New Orleans.

There is extensive damage in the eastern part of St. Tammany Parish (particularly in Slidell) and in the lower half of Plaquemines Parish.

Today residents in Jefferson Parish were allowed to return home, to collect belongings, but they are asked not to come back again for one month.

Tonight I saw what I believe is the first TV news footage shot on the ground in St. Bernard Parish (on ABC's World News Tonight). Apparently most of the parish was under 15 to 20 feet of water -- given its spot between Lake Borgne and the Gulf, there was a lot of water for Katrina to blow in.

FEMA Screws Slidell

Slidell Mayor Ben Morris, not 30 minutes ago (courtesy of WWL's formidable Katrina blog):

"We are still hampered by some of the most stupid, idiotic regulations by FEMA. They have turned away generators, we've heard that they've gone around seizing equipment from our contractors. If they do so, they'd better be armed because I'll be damned if I'm going to let them deprive our citizens. I'm pissed off, and tired of this horse$#@@."

You all need to dial up the calls to President Bush. Local officials are still working hard for their constituents, past the point of exhaustion, even while their own homes are destroyed. In too many cases, their own friends and family are among the dead and missing.

And there's Michael Brown, trucking around the delta, tying up parish after parish in red tape.

Mr. President: Fire Brown now! And send down his replacement with a giant pair of scissors.

Mapping the Parishes

In Louisiana, instead of calling them counties, they call them parishes. Some of them have religious sounding names, but don't think of them as churches. Think of them as counties.

On this map, Plaquemines Parish is in red. Jefferson Parish is to its west, St. Bernard Parish to its northeast, and Orleans Parish between the two.

Lafourche Parish is the large one to the southwest of Jeff Parish.

Lake Pontchartrain is north of Jeff and Orleans parishes.

St. Tammany Parish is opposite Orleans Parish, on the north shore of the lake. Washington Parish is to the north of St. Tammany; Tangipahoa Parish is to the west of those.

Cities by parish:
Orleans Parish: New Orleans
Jefferson Parish: Metairie, Kenner (home of the airport)
Lafourche Parish: Thibodaux, Port Fourchon
St. Tammany Parish: Covington, Slidell
St. Bernard Parish: Chalmette, Arabi, Violet
Plaquemines Parish: Belle Chasse, Pointe a la Hache, Pilottown
Washington Parish: Franklinton, Bogalusa
Tangipahoa Parish: Hammond, Kentwood, Ponchatoula

And about the river:
In south Louisiana, the sides of the Mississippi River are often referred to as East Bank and West Bank. In New Orleans, we'd refer to the cities across the river as the West Bank, even though they were due south of much of the city.

Jeff Parish includes cities on both banks (the airport is on the East Bank). The river delta splits into multiple branches just downriver from Pilottown (in Plaquemines), a major entry/exit point for ships bearing every kind of cargo.

What About Blanco and Nagin?

Another commenter raises an important question:

The real people who need to be fired are Louisiana's governor Blanco and N.O.'s mayor

What about Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin? Why am I not calling for them to be fired as well?

It's simple. The governor and the mayor are the chief executives of their respective governments, just as President Bush is the chief executive of the federal government.

I'm not calling for President Bush to be fired (impeached) or to resign, even though I'd be in my rights (under the First Amendment) as an American citizen to do so.

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a registered voter in the city of New Orleans or the state of Louisiana (I maintained my Ohio residency all through college), so I feel it is not my place to tell the good people of that city and state to remove their elected officials from office now.

There are serious questions about preparedness for this well-predicted event at the local, state, and federal level. As I (here, here, and here) and others have written before, this was actually the best of the worst-case scenarios, in that the wind and rain from the storm itself did not cause most of the flooding -- and the deaths -- as would have been the case in a direct hit. Instead it was the levee breaches after the storm passed.

I was there when Georges was projected to be The Big One in 1998. I couldn't get out of the city, had to be bivouacked on campus -- my friends who had cars were convinced the Coast Guard would come in helicopters to save us. I had less trust and packed a secret suitcase of food. Thankfully it missed -- projections (only released later) were that the wind and rain from the storm -- if a direct hit -- would have killed 44,000 in New Orleans alone.

The fact that this was the best of the worst-case scenarios does not absolve anyone in government at any level. Georges was the perfect test case for how people in the city behave when The Big One is projected -- most New Orleanians left, but far too many stayed. Had Georges hit the city head on -- as Katrina was projected to do -- most of the survivors rescued from their rooftops would have been drowned in their attics.

In both cases -- Georges and Katrina -- the call for mandatory evacuation came too late. The first time, the city was spared. This time it wasn't. Local and state officials have a lot to answer for on that end. I don't mean to minimize it.

But when a major American city is completely wiped out -- including its transportation and communications infrastructure -- someone in a higher level of government has to step in and help. To protect and defend the life and liberty of the survivors -- and to back up the thousands of first responders in the city who must continue to work despite the loss of their own homes, friends, and family.

One of the flaws of the national coverage of this disaster is the focus on New Orleans at the expense of other devastated areas of south Louisiana. I'll be posting about that later, so do check back -- comparing the local/parish responses will be very informative.

Nagin vs. Blanco

Also, I keep seeing (and hearing) Blanco and Nagin lumped together because they are Democrats. If you think all Democrats wash in the same tub, you might be interested in this article, detailing how "New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin crossed party lines Monday and endorsed Republican Bobby Jindal for governor" right before the election in November 2003.

It's generally thought that Jindal lost to Blanco narrowly because rural whites in North Louisiana didn't want to vote for an American of Indian descent. In the words of pollster Verne Kennedy: "North Louisiana doesn't know Nagin. They think of him as just another black New Orleans mayor."

Why did Nagin endorse Jindal over fellow Democrat Blanco?

"Bobby Jindal understands that all of Louisiana benefits from and needs a strong New Orleans," Nagin said. With Jindal as governor, "New Orleans and the rest of the state will be partners, not adversaries - which is critical because we can only move this state forward together."

These are just some of the fault lines in Louisiana politics that all y'all who've never spent much time in the state are only beginning to uncover.

P.S. If you checked in earlier, you might wonder why I broke the preceding post into two and rewrote the first half of it. That's the way I blog; I like to throw up a first draft, look at it on the template, and then make my changes. Occasionally major changes need to be made -- I was way too soft on Governor Blanco so that has been rectified.

Who Am I Anyway?

Anonymous thinks he knows:

You are one of two things: clueless, or a lefty operative. My guess: did you get your George Soros check for this effort, or is it in the mail?

As for the first thing: I like to think I'm one of the sharper knives in the drawer. But don't take my word for it. Check the articles I wrote here, here, here, here, and here. (This one is also a sentimental favorite.) That should be more than enough to prove I can rub two words together to make a sentence.

As for the second thing: I will not accept one red cent for my efforts here. (And Lord knows, as a graduate student, I could use the money.) If George Soros or anyone else did send me a check in the mail, I'd endorse it and sign it right over to the Red Cross or one of the many reputable charities that will be on the front lines of rebuilding south Louisiana and Mississippi.

Still think I'm a "lefty operative"? Just this Saturday (on my home blog), I aimed a silver bullet at Michael Moore and the other moral vampires on the far left fringe. I don't like to curse on my blog, but I routinely use blue words to describe the likes of Atrios and Daily Kos -- hardly stuff to endear me to the crowd.

And just to be triply sure, see if you can guess which Democrats I gave the following nicknames (answers in the comments; you can search my home blog to check):

  • Charmbucket

  • Dr. No

  • Blowhard with a Vengeance

One more thing: I created this blog on my own time, with my own very meager resources (I'm not so deft with jpegs as you are about to find out). I have used my own name and my real e-mail address. If you're going to post comments, I ask that you extend the same courtesy.

Links of Mercy

A huge thank you to everyone who's called President Bush already -- and also to everyone who's linked to this blog.

If you do so, please drop me an e-mail and I'll add you to our Links of Mercy section at the right. (I can also check this, so I may go ahead and add you.)

I'm also going to see about setting up links to charities helping the hundreds of thousands of Katrina survivors. If you have any suggestions, send those, too. Be aware that I will check these out before posting them; if they seem fishy to me, they ain't goin' up.

Why Fire Brown? Why Now?

The best way for the president to show us he gets it -- show he understands that the federal response to Katrina was and is unacceptably slow -- is to fire FEMA director Michael Brown now. Today. This very minute.

Why fire Brown now? Why not one of the other remedies proposed? Why not pull FEMA out of Homeland Security, or created a new cabinet level position?

It's simple: anything else would take too much time. Restructuring federal bureaucracy at that level would take an act of Congress, and a lot of negotiating between the executive and legislative branches of government.

Shuffling chairs on the deck of the ship of state is the last thing we need to waste time on right now. We need someone to take charge of the disaster relief and recovery now, someone who is far more competent and experienced a manager than Michael Brown.

Why fire Michael Brown and not Michael Chertoff? Again, simple: Chertoff was brought in as homeland security chief to beef up our defenses against terrorism. He belongs in the Beltway. As soon as Brown is fired, send Chertoff back to D.C. where he can help the new FEMA head cut through red tape.

What we need is a FEMA director we can trust. Someone who's a competent and effective manager of all our resources -- the "armies of compassion" as well as the actual armies. Someone who can be there on the ground, responding to a vast and fast-changing situation. Someone who can speak plainly, bluntly, and -- most importantly -- honestly.

Michael Brown is not that man, and so he needs to go. Now.

Those Who Anticipated

I want to make a list of all the articles, reports, etc. available on the Web written by those who anticipated the scope of the disaster.

Bonus points for anyone specifically anticipating the breach of the levees.

Please e-mail me the URLs for the articles and I'll get them up ASAP.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Why This Blog

This blog has one purpose and focus: getting FEMA head Michael Brown's incompetent and inept butt fired.

I reserve the right to post about the ongoing relief and recovery efforts. And of course about the great and ruined city of New Orleans -- as well as the many other parishes (counties) in south Louisiana whose names you hardly hear on the national news.

Because, awful as it's been in New Orleans, the Crescent City is just one sliver in the wretched overall story. The networks spent a lot of time aiming their cameras on the small handful of violent looters. Only today -- on Day 6 -- did they get down to Plaquemines Parish, where the mighty Mississippi makes its vital connection to the Gulf. (At least Bill Hemmer managed to pronounce it right.)

And I've yet to hear someone other than a Louisiana elected official even mention St. Bernard Parish on the airwaves. When Jefferson Parish president Aaron Broussard broke down and cried on Meet the Press this morning, the man's mother he was talking about drowned not in Jeff Parish but on the other side of New Orleans in St. Bernard, where nearly every building was covered in water up past the eaves.

This is my point. FEMA director Michael Brown admitted live on CNN that the feds didn't even know there were people at the Convention Center, let alone that they were stranded amid dead bodies, rapists and murderers, without a drop of food or water -- or a way out. It's disgusting that help couldn't get to these people without the media holding the government accountable.

But there were no cameras in St. Bernard. None of us were watching when 1,500 people who had swum from their houses -- or from endangered parish shelters -- gathered on the Chalmette Slip, cut off from any communication with the outside world, stranded for days waiting to be saved.

This was on Thursday -- the same day as the dust up over the Convention Center. But CNN wasn't in St. Bernard, and neither was FEMA. And a hundred people died on that slip. They survived three days after the storm. All they needed was a boat and some food and water. But help never came.

When President Bush came down to the delta on Friday, Day 4, he immediately held a press conference that I watched live on TV. At the press conference, he listened as FEMA director Michael Brown explained the path of the storm and how very bad it was over a very wide area. The whole time I was thinking, do they think we're idiots? The president surely did not wait till he got on the ground in Mississippi for his first briefing on Katrina.

No, they were just playing for the cameras, whispering sweet nothings into each other's ears.

When the president said Brown was doing "a heck of a job," I almost puked.

Now let's be clear: I'm no Bush-basher, let alone part of the Hate America First crowd. I have an extensive record of writings, as well as a number of newspaper columns, if you'd like to check.

The sad fact is, the president doesn't get it. It's like that moment when his father was running for re-election and he didn't know the price of a gallon of milk. Only the stakes are so much higher -- higher than maybe they've ever been for our country, and especially for the millions of people from Grand Isle to Gulfport.

For the good of all these people -- many who are still making their way to shelters across the country and, in some cases, still being pulled from the wreckage -- we have to make sure the president gets it.

The best way for the president to show he gets it is to fire Brown now.

Credit Where It's Due

Brendan Loy sat down and said what I've been thinking the last few days. Andrew Sullivan, among others, picked up the thread, and I decided to run with it.

Oh, and Michelle Malkin agrees. That she and I are agreeing is a sign of how much has changed -- and how tinny and flat politics as usual is gonna play to ears longing for jazz.

Day 6

. . . since Katrina's landfall in South Louisiana, and way past time for the people's voices to be heard!