Brownie, you give a heck of an interview! Former EMA head Michael Brown chats with the NY Times, and blames the debacle in New Orleans on everyone but the weatherman.
WASHINGTON, Sept. 14 - Hours after Hurricane Katrina passed New Orleans on Aug. 29, as the scale of the catastrophe became clear, Michael D. Brown recalls, he placed frantic calls to his boss, Michael Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security, and to the office of the White House chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr.
Mr. Brown, then director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said he told the officials in Washington that the Louisiana governor, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, and her staff were proving incapable of organizing a coherent state effort and that his field officers in the city were reporting an "out of control" situation.
"I am having a horrible time," Mr. Brown said he told Mr. Chertoff and a White House official - either Mr. Card or his deputy, Joe Hagin - in a status report that evening. "I can't get a unified command established."
By the time of that call, he added, "I was beginning to realize things were going to hell in a handbasket" in Louisiana. A day later, Mr. Brown said, he asked the White House to take over the response effort.
Well, fine, the locals were inept. But doesn't that mean that the White House needed to fill the leadership void? The Times asks the same question.
Let's move on to some of the finger-pointing highlights:
When he arrived in Baton Rouge on Sunday evening [before the storm made landfall], Mr. Brown said, he was concerned about the lack of coordinated response from Governor Blanco and Maj. Gen. Bennett C. Landreneau, the adjutant general of the Louisiana National Guard.
"What do you need? Help me help you," Mr. Brown said he asked them. "The response was like, 'Let us find out,' and then I never received specific requests for specific things that needed doing."
The most responsive person he could find, Mr. Brown said, was Governor Blanco's husband, Raymond. "He would try to go find stuff out for me," Mr. Brown said.
Governor Blanco's communications director, Mr. Mann, said that she was frustrated that Mr. Brown and others at FEMA wanted itemized requests before acting. "It was like walking into an emergency room bleeding profusely and being expected to instruct the doctors how to treat you," he said.
"Like walking into an emergency room"? Sure it was - except that it was a patient that was bleeding, and Blanco had been elected chief of surgery when she faced the voters and sought the governorship.
Dd it occur to anyone on Blanco's staff that hurricane response was a responsibility of the governor? Or was it their belief that FEMA would position their own officials around the state with their own secure communications in order to accommodate a collapse in the governor's office?
Here is finger-pointing gone off-message:
On Monday night, Mr. Brown said, he reported his growing worries to Mr. Chertoff and the White House. He said he did not ask for federal active-duty troops to be deployed because he assumed his superiors in Washington were doing all they could. Instead, he said, he repeated a dozen times, "I cannot get a unified command established."
He assumed? Based on what? And isn't it his job to relay a troop requirement to the White House, or did Brown secretly vote for Bush as Psychic Commander in Chief?
Let us not underestimate the power of personality:
By Wednesday morning, Mr. Brown said, he learned that General Honoré was on his way. While the general did not have responsibility for the entire relief effort and the Guard, his commanding manner helped mobilize the state's efforts.
"Honoré shows up and he and I have a phone conversation," Mr. Brown said. "He gets the message, and, boom, it starts happening."
Kevin Drum has more on Brown.
And in a bit of "Follow the Leader", Gov. Blanco gets behind President Bush:
In Baton Rouge Wednesday, Gov. Kathleen Blanco echoed Bush's words from a day earlier, taking responsibility for missteps in the immediate response to Katrina.
"We all know that there were failures at every level of government: state, federal and local," Blanco told lawmakers in a special meeting of the Louisiana Legislature. "The buck stops here, and as your governor, I take full responsibility."
Now everybody wants to be the hero who takes responsibility! I can't take it.
As Kevin Drum noted in a different post, this grabbing of responsibility is rare in Washington. He challenged his readers to provide him examples of past Presidents owning up to their mistakes, and the response was underwhelming. (No, Clinton apologizing for slavery does not count).
One commenter nominated Kennedy and the Bay of Pigs. As part of my ongoing attempt to learn about American his try (and media myth-making), let me use that comment as an excuse to re-open this post from last fall.
My point then was to bash John Kerry. However, for curiosities sake I also tried to find Kennedy's admission of error about the Bay of Pigs. Cue the "Mission Impossible" theme - even with the help of Sydney Blumenthal, I couldn't do it.