The Big Easy and the Big Lie

Consider these lines from a ‘what if’ piece in the National Geographic of October, 2004:

“As the whirling maelstrom approached the coast, more than a million people evacuated to higher ground. Some 200,000 remained, however—the car-less, the homeless, the aged and infirm, and those die-hard New Orleanians who look for any excuse to throw a party.

“The storm hit Breton Sound with the fury of a nuclear warhead, pushing a deadly storm surge into Lake Pontchartrain. The water crept to the top of the massive berm that holds back the lake and then spilled over. Nearly 80 percent of New Orleans lies below sea level—more than eight feet below in places—so the water poured in. A liquid brown wall washed over the brick ranch homes of Gentilly, over the clapboard houses of the Ninth Ward, over the white-columned porches of the Garden District, until it raced through the bars and strip joints on Bourbon Street like the pale rider of the Apocalypse. As it reached 25 feet (eight meters) over parts of the city, people climbed onto roofs to escape it.

“Thousands drowned in the murky brew that was soon contaminated by sewage and industrial waste. Thousands more who survived the flood later perished from dehydration and disease as they waited to be rescued. It took two months to pump the city dry, and by then the Big Easy was buried under a blanket of putrid sediment, a million people were homeless, and 50,000 were dead. It was the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States.”

That was written a year ago. You see, we did know. We’ve known it was coming for years.

The Big Easy is being buried now under a blanket of lies.

Consider this from a Sept. 4, 2005 Chicago Tribune piece:

“While federal and state emergency planners scramble to get more military relief to Gulf Coast communities stricken by Hurricane Katrina, a massive naval goodwill station has been cruising offshore, underused and waiting for a larger role in the effort.

“The USS Bataan, a 844-foot ship designed to dispatch Marines in amphibious assaults, has helicopters, doctors, hospital beds, food and water. It also can make its own water, up to 100,000 gallons a day. And it just happened to be in the Gulf of Mexico when Katrina came roaring ashore.

“The Bataan rode out the storm and then followed it toward shore, awaiting relief orders. Helicopter pilots flying from its deck were some of the first to begin plucking stranded New Orleans residents.

“But now the Bataan’s hospital facilities, including six operating rooms and beds for 600 patients, are empty. A good share of its 1,200 sailors could also go ashore to help with the relief effort, but they haven’t been asked. The Bataan has been in the stricken region the longest of any military unit, but federal authorities have yet to fully utilize the ship.”

Or this from an Associated Press piece this morning:

“The top U.S. disaster official waited hours after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast before he proposed to his boss sending at least 1,000 Homeland Security workers into the region to support rescuers, internal documents show.”

We did the best we could? That’s a lie. We did not do the best we could. The federal response to this disaster was a tragedy of incompetence.

This administration failed us—and thousands of Americans died as a result of that failure.

Sure, there will be hearings and inquiries. There will be commissions of one sort or another. We had those after 9/11, remember? What was that conclusion?

“Across the government there were failures of imagination, policies, capabilities, and management. The most important failure was one of imagination.”

Thousands of Americans died as a result of those failures, too. Was there any accountability? Were there any firings? Any charges filed?


Instead we got Homeland Security, a new federal agency with 180,000 employees and a $40 billion budget, an agency that waited five days to respond to Katrina–five days during which Americans died for lack of a bottle of water.

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  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Here’s the rub. I have every confidence that when this is all sorted out, the local and state officials will get more than their fair share of blame. It’s clear that they misjudged and played it easy, and their incompetance cost yet untold lives. They will hopefuly lose their jobs, face endless inquiry into their past dealings, and so forth.

    I also believe it incredibly clear that our federal government demonstrated that, if anything, it seems LESS well managed and capable of responding to national disasters since 9/11. After all the money we spent, after trusting and voting for the guys who claimed to be the ones we could trust to ensure our security.

    But I have little hope at all that much will change on that level. Fact is, the only people who can really make a difference here are those on the right. And for a couple of days there, the right suddenly seemed to realize that it sort of matters even to them if our federal government is incompetant: there are real “brass tacks” moments in which wavering, incompetance, inattention, and wrong priorities just aren’t acceptable. But then they got the memos. They saw that this could hurt the President politically: that their enemies on the left were attacking. And the reflexes kicked in. Searching through the news to find the most comical liberals and holding them up to prove that all liberals are nuts is becoming the priority again. The mode of pure apologetics started to take over. They had a choice. Demand accountability from a President who will never have to run for office again anyway, who has nothing to lose but the security of his country: demand he own up to some of his poor choices in personel and judgement as a leader in a crisis. Maybe improve our country’s preparedness and safety. Get some better people in there. Heck: why not actually do something about the insane amount of pork that’s been passed on, all to either the detriment of either taxpayers or REAL security concerns: stuff conservatives should care about (but now blithely say: “oh, well that stuff, the betrayal of the very core to my entire ideology as a conservative, I have a small disagreement with the President on that. But he’s so dreamy! Mentioning it at the fundraiser would be rude!”). Or back to the same old same old of warring endlessly with liberal critics, our country be damned. We’ll see.

  2. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Excuse me, Barnie, who, exactly, said that “we did the best that we could?” Not president Bush. He said the government response was “unacceptable.” Not me. Not anyone I’ve read. Please explain who this mythical person is, and what he or she said, and then I might understand the “lie” that supposedly took place.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    The fellow who wrote the National Geographic Article was interviewed on TV where he said “This isn’t something you want to be right about.”

  4. This is the best post I have seen on this blog and many others.

    There are very good reasons to be OUTRAGED!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Bush and his cronies deserve nothing but scorn. They should be impeached for criminal negligence..

  5. Bush did say — “Brownie, you’re doing a great job.” Jim, look up the definition of “great” in the dictionary.

    Even Michelle Malkin is calling for Brownie’s head.

    During his visit to Mobile, Ala., on Friday, President Bush singled out Michael D. Brown, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, for praise:
    “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”
    Really? “Brownie’s” job is to direct the federal response to natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. Let’s review his public statements during the past week:
    – He admitted that he didn’t act more aggressively because as late as last Sunday he expected Katrina to be a “standard hurricane” even though the National Weather Service in New Orleans was already predicting “human suffering incredible by modern standards.”
    – He proved himself utterly clueless about the disaster unfolding in New Orleans. He claimed that the federal relief effort was “going relatively well” and that the security situation in New Orleans was “pretty darn good.”
    – He blamed the flood victims in New Orleans for failing to evacuate on time, even though local authorities failed to make municipal vehicles available to residents who could not drive or did not own their own cars.
    “It took four days to begin a large-scale evacuation of people stranded in the Superdome stadium and to bring in significant amounts of food and water to an American city easily accessible by motorway,” the Observer notes. “Relief agencies took half that time to reach Indonesia after the Boxing Day tsunami. “
    Although the delay was not entirely the fault of the Bush Administration, Brown’s complacency clearly didn’t help. And his bumbling statements after the hurricane struck have not inspired confidence.
    This is not the time to give a weak performer the benefit of the doubt. The FEMA director’s role in the ongoing recovery effort is too important to be entrusted to a clueless political hack with such poor judgment.
    Rather than praise Michael Brown, Bush should fire him.

    And Jim what about Karl Rove’s sidekick Grover Norquist blaming the debacle on Democratic local and state leaders?

    And W himself said “I don’t think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees.”

    Well, that is just an outright lie, as we’ve seen from muliple stories, such as the one about former Republican congressman and assistant secretary of the Army named Michael Parker who was fired by the Bush White House after accusing it of shortchanging the Corps of Engineers. Wasn’t Bush really saying “we did the best we could?”

    And still Bush implicitly has faith in Brown. It takes guts to fire someone in the middle of a job, like Truman did with MacArthur.

  6. Barnie Day Avatar

    Jim, if you don’t understand the rhetorical nature of this question or the massive damage control that this administration is now desperately spinning–read BIG LIE–then the only response I have is: How ’bout them Red Sox!

  7. Jim Bacon Avatar

    PM offers a powerful bill of indictment against Michael Brown. If Michelle Malkin offers a fair and accurate summary of Brown’s performance, I would agree: Bush needs to get over his personal loyalty to the guy and relieve him from duty. Bush also deserves to take heat for sticking with Brown as long as he has. Thank you for specifics, PM, you’re not fulminating, you’ve surfaced information that I was unfamiliar with, and you’ve added to the quality of the dialogue.

    Barnie, I’m sorry, but you don’t have a lot of credibility on this issue. When you call for Bush’s head, and only Bush’s head, and ignore the pathetic performance by Louisiana and New Orleans government, you don’t come across as someone seeking the common good — you come across as a partisan blame monger. You see, while some people look to the federal government for solutions to every problem, the United States is still a federal system. States, localities and the feds all share responsibilities in responding to disasters. Every level of government was overwhelmed by this hurricane. But the only thing that outrages you (and people like Scott) is the screw-ups that can be laid at the feet of George Bush. Demonizing Bush as the fount of all incompetence, negligence, suffering and evil in the world may satisfy the ultras in the Democratic Party, but the general public will see see you as unhinged.

    Read Ed Risse’s post. Some of the issues can be tied to individual incompetence and negligence, but many problems have been brewing a lot longer than any single mayor, governor or president. And none of those problems will disappear if you impeach George Bush tomorrow. (As an aside, the thrust of Ed’s post is not to excuse Bush’s performance.)

    Focusing your ire on a single individual or even an entire administration does nothing to illuminate or address the systemic aspects of the disaster. Indeed, by your determination to personalize the tragedy, you distract attention away from the systemic issues.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    It’s worth pointing out that a lot of the truly outrageous stuff coming out of this disaster is not some ambiguous “who is to blame” puzzle that will take months of working out chains of responsibility. It’s specific outrageous facts about the state and local and federal government that the tragedy laid bare.

    For instance, the gross political nepotism at work in the ONE agency I would hope to be free from it (the one entrusted with ensuring our national security). The tone deafness of sending rescue workers, eager to get to work and save lives, off to be props in a political photo-op, and then berating their “commitment to FEMA” when they refuse to participate. The sheer ignorance of top officials about the facts of the crisis, and the willingness to lie straight faced to the american people about things in direct opposition to what we now know they had been fully briefed on. None of these things, and countless others, are some vague shifting morass of responsbility. They are shockingly, horribly wrong on their face.

    And to call for a wait in a rush to judgement, in the face of a huge taxpayer-funded rush to judgement led by the administration’s media team: that’s just silly. Politicians only listen when there is huge and fast public outcry against what they do or don’t do.

  9. > “So many of the people here, you know, were
    > underprivileged anyway, so
    > this is working very well for them.”
    > -Barbara Bush in an interview with National Public
    > Radio’s Marketplace
    > after a tour of the Houston Astrodome last week
    > “It doesn’t need to be seen, it’s a make-shift
    > morgue in there. We’re
    > not letting anyone in there anymore. If you want to
    > take pictures of
    > dead bodies, go to Iraq.”
    > -A National Guardsmen to a Reuters photographer
    > trying to enter the
    > Houston Astrodome
    > “I really don’t know what to say about President
    > Bush. He showed no lack
    > of haste when he wanted to go to Iraq, but for his
    > own people right here
    > in Louisiana, we get only lip service.”
    > -Richard Dunbar, 60, a Vietnam veteran, in an
    > interview with Reuters on
    > September 2, 2005
    > “The Administration yesterday said that no one
    > anticipated the breach of
    > the levees. Did the Administration not see or care
    > about the 2001 FEMA
    > warning about the risk of a devastating hurricane
    > hitting the people of
    > New Orleans? Did it not know or care that civil and
    > army engineers were
    > warning for years about the consequences of failure
    > to strengthen the
    > flood control system? Was it aware or did it care
    > that the very same
    > Administration which decries the plight of the
    > people today, cut from
    > the budget tens of millions needed for Gulf-area
    > flood control
    > projects?”
    > -Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) during a
    > special session to
    > provide relief money for the victims of Hurricane
    > Katrina
    > “I mean, you have people who don’t heed those
    > warnings and then put
    > people at risk as a result of not heeding those
    > warnings. There may be a
    > need to look at tougher penalties on those who
    > decide to ride it out and
    > understand that there are consequences to not
    > leaving.”
    > -Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) in a weekend interview
    > with Pittsburgh’s
    > WTAE-TV
    > Santorum’s responds to criticism a few days later:
    > “Obviously, most of the people here in this case, an
    > overwhelming
    > majority of people, just literally couldn’t have
    > gotten out on their
    > own. Many didn’t have cars. … And that really was
    > a failure on the
    > part of local officials in not making transportation
    > available to get
    > people out.”
    > “I have not heard a report of thousands of people in
    > the convention
    > center who don’t have food and water.”?-Homeland
    > Security chief Michael
    > Chertoff in an interview with NPR’s All Things
    > Considered on September
    > 1, 2005
    > “Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott’s house—he’s
    > lost his entire
    > house—there’s going to be a fantastic house. And
    > I’m looking forward
    > to sitting on the porch.”
    > -George W. Bush on September 2, 2005
    > “I understand there are 10,000 people dead. It’s
    > terrible. It’s tragic.
    > But in a democracy of 300 million people, over years
    > and years and
    > years, these things happen.”
    > -GOP strategist Jack Burkman defending Bush on
    > MSNBC’s Connected Coast
    > to Coast on September 6, 2005
    > “This is plain, ugly, real racism. While some
    > politicians and
    > organizations might skirt around the issue of race,
    > we in New Orleans
    > are not afraid to call it what it is. The moral
    > values of our
    > government is to ‘shoot to kill’ hungry, thirsty
    > black hurricane
    > survivors for trying to live through the aftermath.
    > This is not just
    > immoral-this has turned a natural disaster into a
    > man-made disaster,
    > fueled by racism.”
    > -Curtis Muhammad, Organizing Director of Community
    > Labor United, a New
    > Orleans coalition of labor and community activists –
    > September 6, 2005
    > “Every official at the Federal Emergency Management
    > Agency should be
    > fired, Director Michael Brown especially.”
    > -The Times-Picayune, the leading New Orleans
    > newspaper, in an open
    > letter to Mr. Bush published on Sunday.
    > “If he (Michael Brown) doesn’t solve a couple of
    > problems that we’ve got
    > right now he ain’t going to be able to hold the job,
    > because what I’m
    > going to do to him ain’t going to be pretty.”
    > -Senator Trent Lott (R-MI)
    > “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”
    > -President Bush on September 2, 2005
    > FEMA Chief Sent Help Only After Storm Hit – AP
    > The top U.S. disaster official waited hours after
    > Hurricane Katrina
    > struck the Gulf Coast before he proposed to his boss
    > sending at least
    > 1,000 Homeland Security workers into the region to
    > support rescuers,
    > internal documents show. Part of the mission,
    > according to the documents
    > obtained by The Associated Press, was to “convey a
    > positive image” about
    > the government’s response for victims. Meanwhile,
    > the airline industry
    > said the government’s request for help evacuating
    > storm victims didn’t
    > come until late Thursday afternoon. The president of
    > the Air Transport
    > Association, James May, said the Homeland Security
    > Department called
    > then to ask whether the group could participate in
    > an airlift for
    > refugees.
    > Top FEMA leaders short on experience – Chicago
    > Tribune
    > Top officials of the Federal Emergency Management
    > Agency have strong
    > political connections to President Bush, but they
    > also share at least
    > one other trait: They had little or no experience in
    > disaster management
    > before landing in top FEMA posts.
    > FEMA Wants No Photos of Dead – LA Times
    > The U.S. agency leading Hurricane Katrina rescue
    > efforts said Tuesday
    > that it does not want the news media to photograph
    > the dead as they are
    > recovered. “We have requested that no photographs of
    > the deceased be
    > made by the media,” the spokeswoman said in an
    > e-mail.
    > Navy Pilots Who Rescued Victims Are Reprimanded –
    > New York Times
    > Two Navy helicopter pilots and their crews returned
    > from New Orleans on
    > Aug. 30 expecting to be greeted as lifesavers after
    > ferrying more than
    > 100 hurricane victims to safety. Instead, their
    > superiors chided the
    > pilots, Lt. David Shand and Lt. Matt Udkow, at a
    > meeting the next
    > morning for rescuing civilians when their assignment
    > that day had been
    > to deliver food and water to military installations
    > along the Gulf
    > Coast.
    > Bush launches inquiry and puts himself in charge of
    > it – The Independent
    > President George Bush’s political agenda – indeed
    > his very standing as
    > his country’s leader – was on the line as Congress
    > returned yesterday
    > with anger and embarrassment at the botched response
    > to Hurricane
    > Katrina stretching across normal party divides on
    > Capitol Hill.
    > Mortuary Director Tells Local Paper 40,000 Could Be
    > Lost in Hurricane –
    > Editor & Publisher
    > In a profoundly troubling article in the Shelbyville
    > (Tenn.)
    > Times-Gazette by Clint Confehr, a co-owner of a
    > local mortuary revealed
    > that he had been asked to join in recovering bodies
    > lost in the Gulf
    > Coast hurricane and had been told “to expect up to
    > 40,000 bodies” in
    > total. Dan Hicks is co-owner of Shelbyville-based
    > Gowen-Smith Chapel and
    > has been deployed to Gulfport, Miss., to help with
    > recovery. His
    > partner, Dan Buckner, told the paper, “DMort is
    > telling us to expect up
    > to 40,000 bodies,” quoting officials with the
    > Disaster Mortuary
    > Operational Response Team (DMORT), a volunteer arm
    > of Homeland Security.
    > The Post-Katrina Era – AlterNet
    > Katrina’s tragic consequences were not just due to
    > incompetence, natural
    > disaster, or Bush policies (though he is
    > accountable). This is a failure
    > of moral and political philosophy.
    > White House Press Briefing: Angry Reporters Hit
    > McClellan Hard on
    > Hurricane, Ask if Heads Will Roll – Editor &
    > Publisher
    > White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan had not
    > had a full-length
    > press briefing in Washington, D.C. for weeks, and
    > after today, may have
    > wished he had postponed this one. With almost
    > unprecedented vigor, the
    > press corps attacked and probe the federal response
    > to the hurricane
    > disaster, the president’s personal responsibility
    > and failure to fire
    > anyone who failed in his or her mission.
    > International Aid: Cash, Food, Baby Formula – CNN
    > Offers of aid and assistance from countries around
    > the world in the
    > aftermath of Hurricane Katrina continued to pour in
    > Tuesday to the U.S.
    > State Department. So far, 94 countries and
    > international organizations
    > have offered aid, according to a State Department
    > spokesman. Here is its
    > partial list of nations from which the United States
    > has received
    > support.
    > Frustrated: Fire crews to hand out fliers for FEMA –
    > The Salt Lake
    > Tribune
    > Not long after some 1,000 firefighters sat down for
    > eight hours of
    > training, the whispering began: “What are we doing
    > here?” 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.
    > Firefighters say they want to
    > brave the heat, the debris-littered roads, the
    > poisonous cottonmouth
    > snakes and fire ants and travel into pockets of
    > Louisiana where many
    > people have yet to receive emergency aid. But as
    > specific orders began
    > arriving to the firefighters in Atlanta, a team of
    > 50 Monday morning
    > quickly was ushered onto a flight headed for
    > Louisiana. The crew’s first
    > assignment: to stand beside President Bush as he
    > tours devastated areas.
    > 3 Duke students tell of ‘disgraceful’ scene – Herald
    > Sun
    > A trio of Duke University sophomores say they drove
    > to New Orleans late
    > last week, posed as journalists to slip inside the
    > hurricane-soaked city
    > twice, and evacuated seven people who weren’t
    > receiving help from
    > authorities. The group, led by South Carolina native
    > Sonny Byrd, say
    > they also managed to drive all the way to the New
    > Orleans Convention
    > Center, where they encountered scenes early Saturday
    > evening that they
    > say were disgraceful. “We found it absolutely
    > incredible that the
    > authorities had no way to get there for four or five
    > days, that they
    > didn’t go in and help these people, and we made it
    > in a two-wheel-drive
    > Hyundai,” said Hans Buder, who made the trip with
    > his roommate Byrd and
    > another student, David Hankla.
    > Katina and the Coming World Oil Crunch – The Nation
    > More than any other domestic disaster, Hurricane
    > Katrina has significant
    > implications for America’s foreign and military
    > policies. There is, of
    > course, the obvious connection to the war in Iraq:
    > National Guard troops
    > that were desperately needed to conduct rescue
    > operations in New Orleans
    > and southern Mississippi were instead fighting a
    > pointless war in the
    > Middle East, and a President whose attention should
    > have been focused on
    > hurricane relief was instead trying to put a
    > positive spin on the Iraqi
    > Constitution debacle. The international coverage of
    > the human tragedy of
    > New Orleans has also torpedoed the Administration’s
    > just-announced
    > campaign to enhance America’s image abroad. But far
    > more important than
    > any of these is the impact of Katrina on the global
    > oil supply and the
    > resulting increase in US dependence on foreign
    > petroleum.

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    What does it mean to virginia? (1) Appoint capabale, experienced people, not patronage buddies, to imporant leadership roles, ’cause when the wind starts blowing, we need real people who know what they’re doing.
    (2) Don’t assume everyone is just like you and can just in the ‘ole SUV, fill it with $100 worth of gas and charge a room in C’ville to the VISa. Do we have an inventory of target neighborhoods we’d have to evacuate BEFORE the storm?
    (3) Use the word MANDATORY a lot. Many LA communities never instituted mandatory evacuations, which became justification for private medical facilities (such as nursing homes) to say put. Make clear it’s mandatory and then BACK IT UP with the National Guard helping people out.
    (4)Schedule the National Guard days ahead of time. We are able to watch developing storms and predict their path to an amazing degree of accuracy now. I knew it was going to hit, so I know the LA emergency officials did too. If the storm veers away, we can always cancel the order.

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