Thursday, December 16, 2010

Decision Points: Katrina flashback 

I'm now most of the way through George W. Bush's presidential memoir, Decision Points (still #1 on Amazon). The book has great strengths and weaknesses, some of which I will probably write up in a short review in the next few days. It is certainly a reflective book, full of admissions of error and regret alongside the defense of certain unpopular decisions and quite unlike the usual politician's fare. Bush's account generally rings true (even if incomplete in certain obvious respects), both in Bush's measure of himself and his generous assessment of others. When he hammers somebody, you can really feel his frustration.

The chapter on Katrina not surprisingly contains no small measure of regret, but it is uncharacteristically savage in its depiction of Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco and Mayor Ray Nagin:

"Who's in charge of security in New Orleans?" I asked.

My question silenced the raucous discussion in the Air Force One conference room on Friday, September 2, 2005. "The governor is in charge," Mayor Ray Nagin said, pointing across the dark wood table at Governor Kathleen Blanco.

Every head pivoted in her direction. The Louisiana governor froze. She looked agitated and exhausted. "I think it's the mayor," she said non-committally.


The tone started out tense and got worse. The governor and mayor bickered. Everyone blasted the Federal Emergency Management Agency for failing to meet their needs. Congressman Bobby Jindal pointed out that FEMA had asked people to email their requests, despite the lack of electricity in the city. I shook my head. "We'll fix it," I said, looking at FEMA director Mike Brown. Senator Mary Landrieu interrupted with unproductive emotional outbursts. "Would you please be quiet?" I had to say to her at one point.

I asked to speak to Governor Blanco privately. We walked out of the conference room, through a narrow passageway, and into the small cabin at the front tip of Air Force One. I told her it was clear the state and local response forces had been overwhelmed. "Governor," I pressed, "you need to authorize the federal government to take charge of the response."

She told me she needed twenty-four hours to think it over.

"We don't have twenty-four hours," I snapped. "We've waited too long already."

The governor refused to give an answer.

Next I asked to meet privately with Mayor Nagin. He had spent four days since Katrina holed up in a downtown hotel. He hadn't bathed or eaten a hot meal until he used my shower and ate breakfast on Air Force One. In a radio interview the previous evening, he had vented his frustration with the federal government. "Get off your asses and do something," he said, "and let's fix the biggest goddamn crisis in the history of this country." Then he broke down in tears. When I met him on that plane, Ray whispered an apology for his outburst and explained that he was exhausted.

I asked the mayor what he thought about federalizing the responses. He supported it. "Nobody's in charge," he said. "We need a clear chain of command." But only the governor could request that the federal government assume control of the emergency.

"The Louisiana governor froze." There are few worse condemnations of an executive. One gets the sense that if, say, Rudy Giuliani or Rich Daley had been running New Orleans and just about anybody else had been running Louisiana the human costs of Katrina would have been vastly less. Voters would do well to remember that in electing politicians to executive positions they are choosing the people who will make the first crucial decisions in a local, regional, or national crisis.

In any case, Bush's discussion of the entire cavalcade of screw-ups during Katrina, which is unsparing in self-criticism, is one of the more illuminating chapters in the book.


By Blogger Progressively Defensive, at Thu Dec 16, 11:13:00 AM:

I'm so frustrated with W despite the fact I thought he was substantively a great president for this reason ... he let the press get away with too much without direct response.

Three issues particularly.

Katrina; somehow he had to remind the press again and again, the first responder was the mayor, the second the governor, and the last FEMA. It was not the Hurricane itself that caused the crisis - Florida and Texas have them all the time and up river there is worse flooding in Illinois and Missouri. The Katrina disaster was a municipal government catastrophe; "Boss Nagin's" machine had to do something besides tax and hand out cash.

Iraq; the invasion was justified and simply explained, WMD or not (there were biological and chemical weapons and Saddam was trying to get yellowcake in any case).

The financial crisis; it's primary cause was the government made it too easy for people unworthy of credit to buy a house. The banks created and bought investments too risky for their price. When the housing bubble burst because of the former, the latter made it a temporary liquidity crisis that TARP prevented from being a disaster by lending to the banks and permitting the toxic assets to wreak their havoc without destroying otherwise viable and necessary private institutions that keep our economy humming.

Bush's silence; and McCain's incompetence are why Obama won.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Dec 16, 11:21:00 AM:

This reminded me of 9/11 right after the buildings fell, and Giuliani was emerging from the command bunker near ground zero. CNN following him on live TV, dust every where. As he was walking, he was giving directions to the police chief, the emergency personal, giving and receiving information. I may not agree with him on a lot of things, but that was leadership. I hate to think what the outcome would be with todays leadership.  

By Anonymous QuakerCat, at Thu Dec 16, 01:59:00 PM:

I completely agree with Progressively Defensive's comments about the piss poor job G.W.'s communications team did on assigning appropriate accountability. I use the word accountability rather than blame, because in each of the three big drama's of Bush's Presidency, he wrongfully let the buck stop with him and thus letting others off the hook.

I regulary cite the "lost 24 hours" that Kathleen Blanco dithered away when defending Bush. Nevermind the 72 hour pre-hurricane call that Bush's team gave the Governor and the Mayor to make sure necessary steps were being pursued to ensure maximum safety for those most in need. The problem is for most people I debate this issue about is that they think I am making up both stories because Bush's communications team did a horrendous job in assigning accountability.

The day Ari Fleisher (sp?) left Bush's team was a very bad day for President Bush. Talk about the smartest most buttoned-up guy in any room and a man who did not suffer fools well, Ari was fabulous. His work with 9/11 the Afghan war and the build up to Iraq was crisp and he made Americans fell confident that this administration had its act together. His successor, Scott MacLellan was an absolute bafoon who left most reporters scratching their heads. While Ari would absolutely school the reporters on both message and the defense of G.W.'s position, MacLellan often had no retort other than to continue to re-state the same message over and over again, leaving most American's less than confident. As a matter of fact, Robert Gibbs reminds me a lot of MacLellan.  

By Blogger JPMcT, at Thu Dec 16, 10:56:00 PM:

New Orleans was submerged by a failure of the levee system...not the hurricane (which actually directly hit elsewhere).

The levee system, of course, has a long, complicated, corrupt history that "does not reflect well" on the Democrat politicians of the state of Louisiana.

I can only imagine that G W Bush had a bit too much class to blame the situation of the people who actually deserved to be blamed.

The overwheling part of the coastal regons have repaired and moved on from Katrina.

Why hasn't New orleans...the major city NOT directly hit by the hurricane??????  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Dec 17, 10:42:00 AM:

I have believed from the moment I began watching the TV coverage of Katrina and New Orleans that Mayor Nagin was the major bad guy in the crisis.
There was, in fact, a TV commentator to voiced the same concern that was in my mind and then, I never heard the thought again.
I always believed that Nagin was spending ALL his time trying to cover the fact that he had a large number of phantom cops on the payroll. Phantoms are public employees who appear on the books but don't really exist. Their pay checks go to the politicians that had the power to put them on the books.
And. I have to believe, that Bush and his team knew exactly what was going on and, now, have to explain Bush's actions without describing about Louisiana what has long, long been known.  

By Anonymous tyree, at Fri Dec 17, 07:46:00 PM:

Interest in this post has probably reached the zero point, but I finally have time to add something. Here in Southern California were have thousands of homes and businesses surrounded by dry grass for a significant part of the year. Years ago there was a spectacular wildfire that destroyed millions of dollars worth of houses. The commander of El Toro Marine base has hundreds of experienced and well trained fire fighters on the tarmac with their helicopters warmed up and ready to go. The liberal mayor of the city never called to request their aid as he had to do. Generally, the military in the US cannot deploy without some kind of civilian authorization. Liberal ignorance of the military and the way it works has been responsible for more than one tragedy. I wish our elected officials on both sides of the aisle spent more time focusing on what they are supposed to focus on, instead of Happy Meals and stuff.  

By Blogger Bruce Wayne, at Sat Dec 18, 06:29:00 AM:

Louisiana has a history of being founded by the Spanish and the French.
Both pronounce the then governors name as Blahn-co. Yet she called herself Blank-o.

Very wrong, yet appropriate  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Dec 19, 11:41:00 PM:

The democrats cracked and folded. Not much news here.  

By Anonymous JamesB, at Mon Dec 20, 12:21:00 AM:

I was born in Baton Rouge, my parents and brother's family live there still. When Katrina hit, they lost power for 4 days. I couldn't call them for a month, they had to call me (not enough inbound circuits). There were food/water/gas shortages for a month, and for the 6-12 months after there were housing shortages.

Talk to a local and ask them who they think is to blame for this catastrophe, and very few of them will name George Bush. Katrina exposed a corrupt and incompetent city government in New Orleans, and an incompetent and partisan state government in Louisiana. Did the feds do everything right once they got there? Of course not. But the picture of the New Orleans school buses submerged in water, and the can't-make-a-decision governor who didn't even waste the people's time running for re-election, say it all.  

By Blogger Cybrludite, at Mon Dec 20, 12:54:00 AM:


We're working on it. It would have been quicker had the storm hit directly, and carried away the debris. Instead, we had flooding, and then it took weeks to get rid of the water. You ever see what happens when a building marinates in floodwaters in a New Orleans summer? Regardless of if you're repairing or tearing down, you *HAVE* to do mold remediation first. Very little of the housing down here was destroyed outright, but 85% of it was made unlivable. Considering that it took Miami ten years to recover from Andrew, I'd say we're doing pretty damn good with our recovery.  

By Blogger JP, at Mon Dec 20, 01:19:00 AM:

as a bit of back ground, as a former resident of and near N.O. I will add these:
A: Nagin is the best mayor N.O. has had in a very, very, long time.
That said, yes he was horrid during Kat, but N.O. saddles itself with some rotten mayors, and he had made some good changes, and busted some big corruption when he first took office.

Blanco, when running for Gov, was not backed by Nagin. There is bad blood there, and she let that into the situation to add to the issues of incompetence on the local, and state level. She had to get back at him even at the cost of the rest of the state.  

By Blogger Jeff, at Mon Dec 20, 01:56:00 AM:

One of W's biggest faults was reflexive deference to members of the establishment, and in Katrina this led to a significant failure on his part. Once you've had the conversation in AF1, and it's clear Gov. Blanco won't authorize the federal response she needs to, why not go public and say, "I've told the governor that the resources of the federal government stand ready to assist in this crisis as soon as she gives the word"? Only because you assume that "we" (elected officials) are all on the same team; not all were, and W's late-term popularity ratings reflect the fact.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Dec 20, 01:56:00 AM:

There were over 5000 Texas Reserve and National Guard Troops staged in Texas before Katrina came ashore.

These included massive convoys in and around Conroe and College Station and over a dozen C-130s sitting fully loaded with troops.

Just to set the record straight on the Federal Response.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Dec 20, 02:24:00 AM:


Ugh...what a bad way to handle that situation. Even when the Feds step in, the city and state governments are still in charge. Calling out their failings mid crisis would do nothing buy sour an already bad problem.

Perhaps Bush could have put more pressure on the Governor. But you can't be certain how she would have reacted to that. When the President pulls you aside, and privately asks you if you need help, the answer should be, "Yes."  

By Anonymous johnnygeneric, at Mon Dec 20, 02:58:00 AM:

This excerpt is not new. I've read about this exchange a few years ago. It is hard to believe that the Governor was that bad, that helpless, that out of control...and no advisors to advise? No husband to tell her "Listen, Honey, I love you but you need to call in the National Guard"?

It wasn't like a nuclear bomb hit them and all of a sudden she had to decide what to do. It was a slowly churning gigantic hurricane staring her down with its one eye. She had plenty of time to figure this out.

The level of...what? stupidity? moronic-ness? What is the correct word to describe her? I think we have a new word: to go BLANCO.

Blanco: An extreme impairment. To not be able to arrive at a decision and to be not be able to seek aid in reaching said decision.

Someone might be able to do a better job at a definition at this than I can. It still doesn't get across the amazing situation.

generically speaking,

By Blogger Unknown, at Mon Dec 20, 06:40:00 AM:

A link to the Instapundit archives that contains an email I sent rebutting Harry Shearer: http://www.pajamasmedia.com/instapundit-archive/archives/025538.php

I am quite happy to have further documentation I was correct all along. Thank you, W.  

By Blogger Spurlee, at Mon Dec 20, 07:14:00 AM:

I read this in W's book and it confirmed what most of us who understand the laws which govern using Federal troops within the CONUS. Clearly FEMA was slow on the go, but the Gov. was responsible for making the call and authorizing Federal troops.

For a great compare/contrast, you should also read Bobby Jindal's book Leadership and Crisis. It opens with Pres O visiting LA after the BP spill. The difference in focus between him and W are stunning.  

By Blogger Leland, at Mon Dec 20, 08:19:00 AM:

Governor Blanco managed one act of executive power during the Katrina aftermath. She banned Halliburton from getting any contracts (by name; they did get sub-contract work) to help in the recovery efforts. One of the largest engineering firms in the US was told; "no thanks".  

By Blogger Chuck Pelto, at Mon Dec 20, 08:50:00 AM:

TO: Tigerhawk, et al.
RE: Heh

"The Louisiana governor froze." -- Bush, as cited by Tigerhawk

I and any other member of the Mobilization Team of the 1st Maneuver Training Command could tell you that. We specialized in training State Area Commands (STARCs) in preparing for this sort of natural disaster. But Louisiana wasn't part of our 'turf'.

The Truth will out. Not that 'liberals' or 'progressives' would care to hear it.


[Liberals aren't. Progressives won't.]  

By Blogger .....CLIFFORD, at Mon Dec 20, 09:20:00 AM:

When W's book came out last month, Mama Blanco was all over the local and state media trying to refute Bush's account, butt down here we remember her famous on-air gaffe on CNN, so her protestations met with little success. Blanco said she is writing her account about Katrina, to be out next year. Were it to be accurately titled, is should be called 'INdecison Points'.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Dec 20, 09:23:00 AM:

Of course, the narrative that Bush/FEMA were inept and totally to blame was aggressively pushed by the MSM. I talked to a Coast Guard helicopter pilot who spent countless hours in the air helping the victims. He was interviewed by CNN, and his comments were so edited and twisted completely out of context that what was aired bore no resemblance to what he had actually said. He told me, "If you learned about Katrina from CNN, then you have absolutely no idea what happened." He said that he had been a big CNN fan before Katrina; now he won't watch it at all. Yet this is how most of America learns what is happening in the world. No wonder we have such a misinformed citizenry. Wouldn't it be nice if the press actually did what it pretends that is is doing?  

By Blogger Chuck Pelto, at Mon Dec 20, 10:13:00 AM:

TO: All
RE: Lame Stream Media Reporting

I talked to a Coast Guard helicopter pilot who spent countless hours in the air helping the victims. He was interviewed by CNN, and his comments were so edited and twisted completely out of context that what was aired bore no resemblance to what he had actually said. -- Anonymous

I gave up on the LSM decades ago. While attending the Army's Logistic Executive Development Course (LEDC), we heard the commander of one of the DLA's depots give a similar report on how the LSM butchered his interview to make him look like a fool.

Several years later, a popular scifi space-opera—Babylon 5—did a special on exactly that sort of malfeasance in one episode . It was an accurate representation of how the LSM works when 'reporting'.


P.S. The episode refers to the news portion of Inter-Stellar Network (ISN) as Inter-stellar News Network (INN), the jab at CNN is obvious....  

By Blogger Chuck Pelto, at Mon Dec 20, 10:19:00 AM:


....you go into an interview with a member of the Lame Stream Media (LSM)....

....ALWAYS have a tape recorder operating. I've found this to be a VERY effective way of keeping them more honest than they usually are.

If you live in a state that requires everyone to know that such a recording device is in operation, be sure to show it in operation to the 'reporter' doing the interview. You'll notice something of a look of horror in their eyes when you first show it to them. It's as if you showed a vampire a cross.  

By Blogger Unknown, at Mon Dec 20, 10:36:00 AM:

As a resident of Louisiana I can confirm that Blanco did indeed freeze - in fact what is little known outside the state is that she chose not to run after her term was up, and was briefly checked into a mental institution. She may also have been under psychiatric care after she 'broke' during the time that Hurricane Katrina came to shore. This is not 100% confirmed yet though.  

By Blogger Chuck Pelto, at Mon Dec 20, 10:54:00 AM:

TO: All
RE: THIS....

Blanco said she is writing her account about Katrina, to be out next year. Were it to be accurately titled, is should be called 'INdecison Points'. -- .....CLIFFORD

Is a CLASSIC example of where so-called Democrats put their priorities. It's on their image as opposed to their supposed responsibility to the people.

In the early 80s, I was an infantry company commander in the 4ID(M). We—as the entire post at Fort Carson—'watched' as the CINC FORSCOM relieved a 'water-walking' brigade commander because he had 'image' as his #1 priority. And his troops 'training' as his last priority.

This lead me to understand a truth. That....

If you have your priorities in their proper order, all other things fall into their proper place automatically.

Obviously, 'image' is not supposed to be your #1. And that's Blanco's problem. Too much 'ego'.

Does that remind anyone of who sits in the Oval Office today?


P.S. I wonder when he'll 'check into a mental institution'. And God help US if we have something on the order of Katrina on the national scale. Because Obama certainly won't.....  

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