Archive for September, 2005

Additional Details on the ‘Go Fuck Yourself, Mr. Cheney’ Story

Saturday, September 10th, 2005

I didn’t link to it before (so many stories, so little time), but you’ve probably already heard about how, during Dick Cheney’s tour of the Katrina damage the other day, someone shouted out, “Go fuck yourself, Mr. Cheney,” prompting a reporter to ask Cheney the delicious question, “Do you hear that a lot?”


Anyway, here’s the video from Norm of Onegoodmove: Go fuck yourself Mr. Cheney.

And here’s the reason I’m actually posting it now: Ben Marble, the guy who did the shouting, is holding an eBay auction to sell video of the event: DVD of me saying “GO **** YOURSELF” to DICK CHENEY.

More information is available from Marble’s website: Hurricane Katrina sucked! Also here, at Physician who told Cheney to go F*ck Himself Lost his Home in Katrina, Detained, Cuffed by Cheney’s M-16-carrying Goons.

Update: Links fixed, per comments by Sven. Thanks. I’m not sure what happened with the link; that was probably my error. In the case of eBay, they apparently have (twice, now) deleted the auction because of people complaining about it, or something. But the link above currently works.

Later update: And now the eBay link has been fixed yet again. That makes at least 3 times, by my count, that they’ve killed the auction, apparently without telling the guy why. Makes me wonder what their specific objection is.

‘Refuge of Last Resort’ versus ‘Concentration Camp’

Saturday, September 10th, 2005

One aspect of the Katrina aftermath that was kind of murky to me in the early days, but has cleared up considerably lately, is the odd paradox of the news footage we were seeing of thousands of people packed in and slowly dying from lack of medication, water, and food at the Convention Center. The reporters seemingly were coming and going at will. Why didn’t the people stuck at the Convention Center just walk out?

Well, as it turns out, because they couldn’t. The nearby bridge out of the city was sealed off by local law enforcement officials who, reportedly frightened at the prospect of desperate looters invading their suburban enclaves, used gunfire to turn back advancing groups of would-be self-rescuers.

This makes sense in light of that wild video of Geraldo Rivera and Shepherd Smith from the Convention Center, when they were yelling at Sean Hannity about how officials should just let these people leave (see Crooks and Liars video).

It’s one thing to have a culture so geared toward people affluent enough to own SUVs that you disregard those without vehicles in the initial evacuation. It’s disturbingly worse to carry that cultural bias forward to the point of forcing thousands of refugees to die slowly over a period of several days because you’re not allowing people to walk across a freeway bridge into your community.

Much has been made of the “Third World” quality of the images that emerged from New Orleans. But in some ways this is worse than that. In the Third World, at least, refugees would have been streaming out of the city on foot from the first day. In the USA, though, we sealed them up in a hell on earth and waited for them to die.

That’s really pretty horrible.

Anyway, here’s some discussion of the issue, including links to the firsthand accounts of people involved, from Rogers Cadenhead of Workbench (Police trapped thousands in New Orleans) and Kevin Drum (Savagery and Savagery… a followup).

(For those keeping score, note that these were local law enforcement authorities manning the bridge. I haven’t mentioned Bush, or the lackluster federal response to the disaster, at all in this piece.) (Oops. Until now, dammit. Well, as long as I’ve gone ahead and mentioned them, it’s important to recognize, I think, that this is precisely the sort of inadequate response by overwhelmed local authorities in the wake of a large-scale disaster that argues for a robust, rapid response by federal authorities. Which, obviously, we didn’t get in this case.)

BAGnewsNotes on Laura’s Approach-Avoidance Behavior with Katrina Victims

Saturday, September 10th, 2005

Here’s a good example of the kind of BAGnewsNotes piece I was talking about the other day. On first glance, I look at the photos and think, hm, I’m not sure there’s any there there. But then I read the analysis, and look at the images again, and I have to say, huh, yeah, I think you’ve got a point.

Damn you clinical psychologists with your insightful analysis of seemingly innocuous phenomena!

Anyway: Laura: Just say N.O.

Brownie, You’re Doing a Heck of a — Say, What’d You Say Your Job Was, Again?

Saturday, September 10th, 2005

Sometimes the disconnect between reality and spin is so huge, so ridiculous, that even the Bush team has to bow to the inevitable. So it is that Michael Brown, of whom Bush famously said during his September 2 visit to the disaster area, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job,” and who is still the (nominal) head of FEMA, has been recalled to Washington so Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen of the Coast Guard can take over as Katrina-recovery point-man.

From the New York Times’ David Stout: Announcement follows barrage of criticism; new chief is named. I especially liked this part:

Mr. Brown’s standing was further clouded when Time magazine reported on its Web site Thursday that he had embellished some of his credentials. When he was asked today whether he had done so, and whether he would resign from FEMA, Mr. Brown was silent.

Instead, Mr. Chertoff spoke up. “You heard the ground rules,” he said. “I’m going to answer the questions.” Earlier, Mr. Chertoff had advised reporters to choose their questions carefully, because his time was limited.

Yeah, I think we’ve heard pretty much the last (officially sanctioned) commentary from Michael Brown that we’re going to hear for a long time.

The reference to the embellished credentials concerns the piece in Time magazine (How reliable is Brown’s resume?) that pointed out (among other fibs) that Brown had turned what was basically an intern position as assistant to the city manager of Edmond, Oklahoma, into “serving as an assistant city manager with emergency services oversight.”

There’s some additional back-story about Brown’s not-quite-firing in Elisabeth Bumiller’s analysis piece from the New York Times: Casualty of firestorm: Outrage, Bush and FEMA chief.

Update: Also, don’t miss this cool video montage (courtesy Norm of Onegoodmove) of David Gregory playing the “blame game” with Scott McClellan in the days leading up to the firing: That’s a dodge.

Krugman on the Iraq/Katrina Connection

Saturday, September 10th, 2005

Here’s an excellent op-ed piece from Paul Krugman: Point those fingers.

It might make sense to hold off on the criticism if this were the first big disaster on Mr. Bush’s watch, or if the chain of mistakes in handling Hurricane Katrina were out of character. But even with the most generous possible assessment, this is the administration’s second big policy disaster, after Iraq. And the chain of mistakes was perfectly in character – there are striking parallels between the errors the administration made in Iraq and the errors it made last week.

In Iraq, the administration displayed a combination of paralysis and denial after the fall of Baghdad, as uncontrolled looting destroyed much of Iraq’s infrastructure.

The same deer-in-the-headlights immobility prevailed as Katrina approached and struck the Gulf Coast. The storm gave plenty of warning. By the afternoon of Monday, Aug. 29, the flooding of New Orleans was well under way – city officials publicly confirmed a breach in the 17th Street Canal at 2 p.m. Yet on Tuesday federal officials were still playing down the problem, and large-scale federal aid didn’t arrive until last Friday.

In Iraq the Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran the country during the crucial first year after Saddam’s fall – the period when an effective government might have forestalled the nascent insurgency – was staffed on the basis of ideological correctness and personal connections rather than qualifications. At one point Ari Fleischer’s brother was in charge of private-sector development.

The administration followed the same principles in staffing FEMA. The agency had become a highly professional organization during the Clinton years, but under Mr. Bush it reverted to its former status as a “turkey farm,” a source of patronage jobs.

There’s more, and it’s all spot-on.

Powell: UN Speech a ‘Lasting Blot’

Saturday, September 10th, 2005

It’s some measure of how truly awful a president George Bush is that I’m giving serious thought these days to announcing pre-emptive support for virtually anyone, even a Republican, as a replacement for him, as long as the replacement manifests a degree of intelligence and competence. Rudy Giuliani? Probably. John McCain? Eww, that’s a hard one. Ask me later.

Colin Powell?

The answer used to be, “Sure. In a heartbeat.” Then came his long, slow transformation at the hands of the Bush public relations machine. When he joined the Bush White House, Powell had built up a store of credibility and respect during long years of honest public service. Then the Bush team spent the next four years using him like a sponge, squeezing out a little of his credibility in support of one lie over here, another over there, until, when there was nothing left to squeeze, they cast him aside.

Anyway, I found the following interesting: Powell calls his U.N. speech a lasting blot on his record.

WASHINGTON, Sept. 8 – The former secretary of state, Colin L. Powell, says in a television interview to be broadcast Friday that his 2003 speech to the United Nations, in which he gave a detailed description of Iraqi weapons programs that turned out not to exist, was “painful” for him personally and would be a permanent “blot” on his record.

“I’m the one who presented it on behalf of the United States to the world,” Mr. Powell told Barbara Walters of ABC News, adding that the presentation “will always be a part of my record.”

Asked by Ms. Walters how painful this was for him, Mr. Powell replied: “It was painful. It’s painful now.”

Yeah, well, it still pains some of us, too.

Dan Barry on New Orleans

Saturday, September 10th, 2005

Here’s an excellent write-up of what it’s like to be in New Orleans these days. From New York Times reporter Dan Barry: Macabre reminder: The corpse on Union Street.

What’s Round on the Ends and High in the Middle?

Saturday, September 10th, 2005

From Harper’s magazine, an interesting, if depressing, account of what happened in the pivotal state of Ohio during the 2004 presidential election: None dare call it stolen.

More Detail on Tom Rodrigue’s Mother

Saturday, September 10th, 2005

Valued reader trg34211 supplied a link to the following transcript from CNN’s Newsnight program. It features an interview with Tom Rodrigue, whose mother’s death by drowning after days of frantic phonecalls was tearfully described by Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard on Meet the Press last week: Newsnight with Aaron Brown.

It seems increasingly likely that Rodrigue’s mother died in the initial flooding on Monday, August 29, and that Broussard’s story about frantic phonecalls on the subsequent Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday was a lie.

I think it’s interesting that CNN didn’t point that out in this segment of their program. My guess would be that an editorial judgment was reached that nitpicking over the specifics of Broussard’s story would seem heartless and cruel in light of the tragedy Rodrigue endured. And I guess they’d have a point. Heartless, cruel nitpicking since 1996.

Anyway, here’s the transcript:

COOPER: …And, you know, every day, new numbers frame the story here in New Orleans. One of the grimmest numbers from yesterday was this: More than 30 bodies found inside a nursing home in St. Bernard Parish. Why weren’t these people evacuated before the storm struck? That is a question that is both glaring and tonight remains unanswered.

Here’s CNN’s Susan Candiotti.


SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tom Rodrigue is living a nightmare. He knew his 92-year-old mother, Eva, was in deep trouble. And he was helpless to get her out of harm’s way.

TOM RODRIGUE, VICTIM’S SON: We’ve had numerous storms before, and they know that, if they evacuate, she needs to go with them.

CANDIOTTI: His mother, Eva Rodrigue lived, and apparently died, with more than 30 others in St. Rita’s Nursing Home, which was flooded after Katrina swept into New Orleans. Some were evacuated, but many were not moved to safety in time and drowned.

RODRIGUE: She didn’t have Alzheimer’s. She knew who people was. She remembered things. And she could still get around on a walker. So she wasn’t an invalid, you know? So she could move around.

CANDIOTTI: Tom Rodrigue, himself a former emergency management director for Louisiana’s National Guard, was out of town when Katrina turned toward New Orleans. He started calling the nursing home Saturday, urging that it be evacuated.

RODRIGUE: You know, they indicated they were not going to leave.

CANDIOTTI: Sunday night, as Katrina struck, Rodrigue was 30 miles away directing emergency personnel for Jefferson Parish. He called the nursing home in St. Bernard Parish again, pleading with officials to get the residents out. He was told they were going to try.

RODRIGUE: I called the St. Bernard officials again and, you know, told them that, you know, they’ve got to get, you know, these people out. And they said they notified them, and that they weren’t — they refused to leave. And I said, “Well, you need to send the sheriff’s office down there and make them leave.” And he said, “I’m doing everything I can.”

CANDIOTTI: On Wednesday, 10 days after Katrina struck, authorities began removing bodies from St. Rita’s Nursing Home. Eva Rodrigue’s remains have not yet been found.

CNN has been so far unable to reach the nursing home owners to find out whether they had an evacuation plan and if the workers did all they could to clear the place out. CNN reviewed St. Rita’s records on the state’s web site. It indicates the home’s license expired last July, but we couldn’t reach state authorities to confirm that. For Tom Rodrigue, the pain is overwhelming.

RODRIGUE: She may not have been able to withstand the ordeal, even if they would have rescued her. But she deserved the chance, you know, to be rescued, instead of having to drown like a rat.

CANDIOTTI: Susan Candiotti, CNN, New Orleans.


Blame Game

Thursday, September 8th, 2005

Reader (and too-rare co-author) Craig continues to be one of the participants here to whom I’m most grateful. He embodies the vanishingly rare combination of a worldview that runs counter to my own, and a willingness to pay attention to my shrill spoutings in order to let me know when he thinks I’ve got something wrong.

Recently he commented:

John, you have mentioned within the text of your postings that you understand that “others” are also to blame, but yet nearly all your postings seem to focus on Bush and his Administration’s real and assumed failures in this tragedy.

The man has a point. I have been focusing on Bush’s errors in connection with this. And other people are guilty of mistakes and misstatements, too.

I caught the video on the Daily Show (yay! the Daily Show is back) where Bush offered his latest talking points. (Norm of Onegoodmove has Daily Show video: George did it; SFGate has a news write-up of the Bush photo op: Bush says he’ll find out what went wrong.) From the latter:

“One of the things people want us to do here is play the blame game,” [Bush] said. “We got to solve problems. There will be ample time to figure out what went right and what went wrong.”

Of course, if anyone is playing a game here, in the sense of consciously pushing a perception-management agenda, it’s the Bush team. They are the Michael Jordans, the Lance Armstrongs, of that game. That very statement of Bush’s is part of a “blame game,” part of the Karl Rove/Dan Bartlett-crafted storyline designed to deflect responsibility for the debacle onto others.

The mainstream media, making good use of its recently rediscovered backbone, has been pushing back pretty hard. Here’s some of the more noteworthy stuff I’ve been reading on the subject lately, from both the MSM and others:

Things “went wrong” at all levels in this disaster, and the things that went wrong at the federal level were in many ways the most glaring and inexcusable. As I’ve said before, Bush is not responsible for the fact that there are hurricanes, or for the path that this one took. The indirect contribution to hurricane intensity that some have argued is (or will be) the result of Bush’s policies regarding global warming, is certainly not proven, or even, as far as I can tell, persuasively suggested at this point.

But he is responsible, more than any other single individual, for the federal government’s execution of its mission. That’s why he’s called the “chief executive.” And in this case, the execution of the federal government’s mission sucked.

Bush’s single biggest failure here, I think, was the cronyism that led to there being such a competence vacuum at the top of the federal disaster-relief operation. For the last five years Bush has been consistently staffing the upper reaches of the executive branch, including the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA, with incompetents whose main qualification is that they are good Republicans and/or friends of friends. Calls to immediately fire FEMA chief Mike Brown are very much in order. (See, for example, this story by Ted Bridis: FEMA chief sent help only after storm hit.) And, uncharacteristically for an under-fire Bush minion, there are signs that he might actually be let go (see War and Piece: In an administration in which PR is policy…). But if Brown is fired, it’s important that he be replaced by someone who actually knows what he’s doing, rather than by one of his own current underlings. (See ThinkProgress: Top FEMA deputies make Brown look qualified.)

But to return to the subject I started off talking about, it’s not all about Bush. And as hard as it is for me to do, I’m now going to (temporarily) stop talking about how much he is to blame for all this, and give some attention to other people who have been incompetent and/or dishonest.

Charles Bird at Obsidian Wings makes a compelling case that New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin badly bungled the timing and execution of the original evacuation order: At all levels. As Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff said in his Meet the Press appearance last week, the best, and in some ways the only effective way to save the citizens of New Orleans was to get them out of town before the levees broke. And city officials knew they would have a couple of hundred thousand citizens who wouldn’t or couldn’t leave on their own.

It’s not as simple as Bush-supporting webloggers would have us believe; the mere fact that there are satellite photos showing hundreds of city buses drowned in neat rows in their parking lots doesn’t mean it would have been easy, or even feasible, to use those buses to get New Orleans’ poor out of the city ahead of Katrina. But the city government could have, and should have, made the effort. They should have had a better evacuation plan ready to go. Even if they ended up being overwhelmed by the magnitude of the disaster, they should have gone down swinging. It would have made a difference.

Finally, let me offer a couple of corrections of anti-Bush talking points I’ve previously given space to here, and which have turned out not to be what they appeared to be.

First up, the good people at Respectful of Otters and Idealistic Pragmatist have done an impressive job of debunking the story, attributed to German news reports, that Bush’s visit to the disaster area on the Friday after the storm featured stage-prop disaster-relief facilities that were torn down after he left. Nope; that was a random TV viewer’s invention, or perhaps misinterpretation, based on the German broadcast, which featured a local official talking about how the advance team that arrived to clean up the location of a Bush photo op was the first federal assistance they’d received. Details: Lost in translation.

And finally, on the question I raised a few days ago about Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard’s tearful story about his emergency manager’s mother drowning in a St. Bernard nursing home, I think the evidence shows pretty clearly that Broussard was embellishing the story. Readers helpfully pointed me to the following news accounts:

From the MSNBC item:

The man he was talking about is Thomas Rodrigue, who told “Dateline” that his 92-year-old mother was one of 32 elderly people found dead at the St. Rita’s nursing home.

But the 32 people who died at St. Rita’s nursing home didn’t die on Friday; they died earlier in the week, when the floodwaters first inundated the low-lying facility. Rather than being attributable to the federal authorities’ slow response (which was pretty much the point of Broussard’s version of the story), the death of those senior citizens was more the fault of local authorities (who failed to evacuate them) than of federal officials (who wouldn’t have been there in time to rescue them under the best of circumstances).

So, assuming the MSNBC story is accurate, Broussard’s story was at least significantly embellished. The tear-jerking account of the repeated calls to momma were fictional (or at least were displaced from their actual time of occurrence, which would have to have been before or during the storm, not during the several days afterward when FEMA was MIA). And if that part was fiction, it would mean that Broussard, for all the apparent sincerity in his emotional on-air breakdown, was willing to lie in order to make his story work better as political theater, which in turn makes it harder for me to credit the rest of the slow-FEMA-response anecdotes he described.

It would mean that Broussard was playing the blame game, too, using invented details to make a real story of tragedy work better at putting federal authorities on the spot for their slow response. And in the context of a local politician from a devastated area trying to do whatever he could to get those federal resources moving, I have a hard time faulting him for that.

Aaron Broussard didn’t invent the blame game. And he certainly isn’t the only one playing it these days. But if my interpretation of this story is correct, he’s a much better player than I originally gave him credit for.

National Preparedness Month

Thursday, September 8th, 2005

Say one thing about the Department of Homeland Security: They’ve brought the art of making slickly cheesy government web sites to a high art. Still, I think the bungled Katrina aftermath probably has done infinitely more to foster public awareness of the need to be pepared than this: National Preparedness Month.

Bush: We Need to Stay in Iraq for the Oil

Thursday, September 8th, 2005

I forgot to link to this item back when it was current, but I wanted to mention it in passing. From the Boston Globe on August 31, 2005: Bush gives new reason for Iraq war.

President Bush answered growing antiwar protests yesterday with a fresh reason for US troops to continue fighting in Iraq: protection of the country’s vast oil fields, which he said would otherwise fall under the control of terrorist extremists.

It’s actually fairly impressive that even now, some three years since he first got serious about selling the US public on an invasion of Iraq, Bush is still able to generate a headline like that.

As earlier reasons have been shot down by inconvenient realities, he’s left with little choice but to offer reasons that come closer to being actually true. So Bush ends up lining up with some of his harshest critics (like Viggo Mortensen) in acknowledging that yeah, this war really sort of is about oil.

Bush’s actual quote from the speech:

If Zarqawi and bin Laden gain control of Iraq, they would create a new training ground for future terrorist attacks. They’d seize oil fields to fund their ambitions. They could recruit more terrorists by claiming a historic victory over the United States and our coalition.

Of course, Bush is playing a dangerous game in resorting to vaguely honest rationales. If the point of our being in Iraq was to keep its oil out of the hands of dangerous extremists like Zarqawi and bin Laden, we could have just left Saddam in charge; he was doing a perfectly good job of maintaining a secular bulwark against radical Islam. That, after all, is why Ronald Reagan supported Saddam in the first place, assisting him during Iraq’s war with Iran.

Bush supporters like to harp on the talking point that “Zarqawi was in Iraq before we invaded.” Well, yes. He was operating in the Northern No-Fly Zone, where we had created a lawless region outside the government’s control. Now that we’ve turned the entire country into a lawless region outside the government’s control, Zarqawi’s freedom to operate has, if anything, been enhanced.

None of this is meant to excuse Saddam. He was a brutal dictator. But just because he was a very bad man does not mean that replacing him with (in effect) no workable government at all is necessarily a positive development in terms of US interests. The recognition of this fundamental problem is, after all, what led Bush’s predecessors to leave Saddam in power. For Bush to cite the argument now as a reason why we must sustain the daily toll in blood and dollars that his inept policy is currently consuming isn’t so much an argument that supports his decision-making, as condemns it.

One final noteworthy thing about this quote of Bush’s: He actually mentioned bin Laden by name. When was the last time you heard that?

Jack White Admits Lying about Meg

Thursday, September 8th, 2005

Not really news, since Jack and Meg White’s (of the White Stripes’) marriage certificate was posted on the Internet years ago, and they had never publicly responded to the allegation that they weren’t actually brother and sister, as their publicity bios claimed. But now it’s official: In a recent interview Jack admits that the pair (now divorced) started off as a husband-and-wife team: Jack White admits relationship lie.

White told Rolling Stone magazine that the pair came up with the lie to deflect interest away from their personal lives and to make people concentrate on the music.

He said: “It’s funny that people think me and Meg sit up late at night, in front of a gas lamp, and come up with these intricate lies to trick people.

“If we had presented ourselves in another fashion… how would we have been perceived, right off the bat? When you see a band that is two pieces, husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend, you think, ‘Oh, I see…”

“When they’re brother and sister, you go, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’ You care more about the music, not the relationship.”

Um, okay.

Departing Earth

Thursday, September 8th, 2005

NASA’s MESSENGER mission is a space probe launched in August, 2004. Its planned itinerary includes no fewer than six planetary flybys (one of Earth, two of Venus, and three of Mercury) before it enters orbit around Mercury in March, 2011.

In the past I’ve sometimes griped about Earth flybys of space probes powered by plutonium RTGs; not so much to argue that the risks of a high-altitude vaporization and subsequent release of plutonium aren’t worth it, but to call for a more-honest discussion of the risks than has sometimes been offerred by mission supporters.

But MESSENGER doesn’t represent a problem in that area; its destination in the inner solar system means that it will have plenty of Sun power from its solar panels, and so it apparently is plutonium-free.

And the Earth flyby already happened, anyway, on August 2, 2005. I talked in PhotosFromTheSpaceShuttleColumbia about the importance of having human eyes in space to deliver perspective-changing images, but even if a robot can’t be as good at catching opportunistic snapshots as a human being, it can still deliver some amazing views.

Like the one on display here: Earth departure movie. The official site’s description:

The Mercury-bound MESSENGER spacecraft captured several stunning images of Earth during a gravity assist swingby of its home planet on Aug. 2, 2005. Several hundred images, taken with the wide-angle camera in MESSENGER’s Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS), were sequenced into a movie documenting the view from MESSENGER as it departed Earth.

Comprising 358 frames taken over 24 hours, the movie follows Earth through one complete rotation. The spacecraft was 40,761 miles (65,598 kilometers) above South America when the camera started rolling on Aug. 2. It was 270,847 miles (435,885 kilometers) away from Earth – farther than the Moon’s orbit – when it snapped the last image on Aug. 3.

Was Broussard Telling the Truth?

Monday, September 5th, 2005

I’m almost embarrassed to admit it, but I find myself wondering if Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard’s story about the dying mother was truthful. That is, I know that many thousands of people (probably many tens of thousands, though official estimates have not climbed that high as of this point) have died in the disaster, and if his story isn’t specifically true, it’s certainly well-demonstrated that the relief operation has seen widespread bungling and delays, and that many, many people’s mothers must have died as a result.

But as I watch Broussard’s performance on Meet the Press, I find myself wondering if what I’m seeing is a performance, in the sense of being good old-fashioned snake-oil politics. I mean, was his tearful story scrupulously accurate? Or was it maybe based on a true story, but embellished for effect? Or was it an out-and-out fiction? I confess that when I first viewed it I was moved to tears; his sudden anguish, the raised pitch of his voice, the repeated promises to the stricken mother (“Yeah, Momma, somebody’s coming to get you. Somebody’s coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody’s coming to get you on Wednesday…”) It’s very powerful stuff. Even with my current doubts, I still get misty-eyed watching it.

But I can’t help wondering. Watching the whole interview, if one assumes that Broussard was telling a carefully crafted story designed to elicit emotion and control the course of the interview, it was a masterful job. He basically took over Russert’s program and made the segment into a powerful symbol of FEMA ineptitude. The pacing of what he talked about seemed well-designed to build to that heart-wrenching climax. And the story itself is somewhat lacking in detail; no specific name of the “guy who runs this building I’m in, Emergency Management, he’s responsible for everything.” There is a mention of the “St. Bernard nursing home” (is that a town? or a specific institution?), but again, it seems like it might be tough to actually verify what he said as truthful, based on the information given.

In the larger sense, it doesn’t really matter. I’m not trying to say that the story, if fictional, in any way lessens the very real human suffering that has taken place. And again, I have absolutely no evidence that the story is fake. But I confess to being curious about the extent to which my emotions in watching that segment were being consciously manipulated for political effect, and if they were, the extent to which the underlying story was accurate or invented. And if it turned out that Broussard actually was lying when he told that story, it would tend to undercut the credibility of the remarks he made earlier in the interview about the problems he witnessed with the FEMA response.

Anyway, if anyone has any information on Broussard’s background and track-record in terms of honesty, or on the specifics of this particular story, I’d be interested in seeing it. Thanks.

Hiltzik on Bush’s Katrina Response

Monday, September 5th, 2005

Here’s a good opinion piece from LA Times columnist Michael Hiltzik that sums up the main problems with the Bush administration’s response to Katrina: Bush’s hurricane response a disaster.

Hiltzik’s conclusion:

President Bush will surely feel the consequences of his dereliction. Every policy of his administration will be viewed through the prism of the debacle of New Orleans. The pursuit of a personal vendetta against Saddam Hussein, supported by manipulated intelligence, has sucked billions out of the treasury and removed more than 30% of Louisiana and Mississippi National Guard members from their homes, so they must watch the disaster unfold from half a world away instead of assisting their own communities. Tax cuts for the wealthy have been financed by budget cuts for disaster preparedness and other crucial programs. Four years of anti-terrorism planning have failed to produce a competent system for mitigating a metropolitan cataclysm — one that, on the ground, is indistinguishable from the effects of the terrorist attack we’ve supposedly been girding for since 9/11.

Then there’s Bush’s sustained assault on social insurance programs such as Social Security, safety nets that are to be replaced by the slogan “You’re on your own.”

New Orleans is not a local calamity; it belongs to us all, not least because it signals what to expect from this administration. If a major earthquake strikes Los Angeles or San Francisco, will President Bush wait to respond until he can conclude his vacation, as he did last week? Will his appointees express surprise at an eventuality that “no one could have predicted”?

Probably. George W. Bush is known for never admitting his mistakes. Consequently, he never learns from his mistakes. The chances are dismal that he will learn from this one. We’re on our own.

NYT on the Bush Pushback

Monday, September 5th, 2005

The New York Times has an interesting article on the behind-the-scenes pushback from the Bush camp. Not surprisingly, it appears that Karl Rove and Dan Bartlett are pulling the hidden levers: White House enacts a plan to ease political damage.

Drum on the LA Times on FEMA

Monday, September 5th, 2005

I was going to link to a good article in the LA Times today, but Kevin Drum already did, including preserving relevant chunks from reclamation by the Times’ content-rotation policies, so I can link to him instead. The article covers the recent history of FEMA, including juicy quotes from Clinton-era FEMA people decrying Bush-era changes: “Awe inspiring”

Blanco’s Inaction: Spin Crops Up in Newsweek, Too

Sunday, September 4th, 2005

Earlier I linked to some items about how the Washington Post had run a story today that reported (incorrectly) that as of yesterday Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco had failed to declare a state of emergency, thus slowing the federal response to the disaster. The Post sourced that assertion to a “senior Bush official” (and has since issued a correction).

Joshua Marshall wonders now if it’s just coincidence that a September 1 story in Newsweek appears to be peddling the same spin: Did Newsweek get spun too?

It’s kind of a minor issue, all things considered. But if it does turn out that the same person(s) who peddled the false story to the Post also got it into Newsweek, it would certainly be consistent with what we’ve learned in recent months (via the Plame affair) about how the Bush team operates when it’s in a tight spot, public-relations wise.

More on the Bush Pushback: It Was the Locals’ Fault

Sunday, September 4th, 2005

More comment on the ongoing Bush effort to shift the blame, as described in the Washington Post article I linked to earlier. Kevin Drum: Factually challenged. And Joshua Marshall: It’s almost awe-inspiring….