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Im not quite sure

I'm not quite sure what to make of this. But it seems worth keeping an eye on.

As we discussed a couple days ago, FEMA hired Kenyon Worldwide Disaster Management to handle the recovery and disposition of the bodies of the victims of Katrina. But they were apparently getting ready to pack up and leave the state because FEMA -- having hired them a few days ago -- had failed to finalize their contract.

"From what I understand, Kenyon had some questions about the contract," FEMA spokesman David Passey.

And now Blanco has stepped in and signed a contract with Kenyon on behalf of the state of Louisiana so that the retrieval of the dead will be delayed no longer.

Every politician who's crossed paths with Katrina is on a tightrope. They'll either be wounded beyond repair or just possibly they'll have their careers made. So I don't discount the possibility that Blanco is grandstanding here or mischaracterizing the situation.

But what happened exactly? Did FEMA bring them in and then dawdle?

I posted a note

I posted a note earlier asking just who's in charge down in New Orleans. Yesterday we heard that CNN had won its brief court battle for reporting access in New Orleans. Today we see this report that reporters are again getting orders not to take photos or write stories.

But one of my right-leaning friends points out that a closer reading of the piece may be in order and, perhaps a more serious issue at stake.

The article contains this passage (emphasis added) ...

The 82nd Airborne soldier told reporters the Army had a policy that requires media to be 300 meters -- more than three football fields in length -- away from the scene of body recoveries in New Orleans. If reporters wrote stories or took pictures of body recoveries, they would be reported and face consequences, he said, including a loss of access for up-close coverage of certain military operations.


This is a description rather than a direct quote. And the specifics of just what was said matter. But if the account is accurate, the contention seems to be that an US Army policy -- presumably intended for warzones -- trumps the decision of a US federal court on American soil. And I don't think you've got to be much of a wild-eyed civil libertarian to find that a tad problematic.

There are good reasons why we place such copious restrictions on the use of combat troops on American soil -- not because there's something wrong with the Army but because the training for war-fighting and policing civilians and/or disaster relief are quite different and the two don't easily mix.

Let's get to the bottom of this.

Seems CNNs court win

Seems CNN's court win didn't <$NoAd$> settle this one ...

Outside one house on Kentucky Street, a member of the Army 82nd Airborne Division summoned a reporter and photographer standing nearby and told them that if they took pictures or wrote a story about the body recovery process, he would take away their press credentials and kick them out of the state.

"No photos. No stories," said the man, wearing camouflage fatigues and a red beret.

On Saturday, after being challenged in court by CNN, the Bush administration agreed not to prevent the news media from following the effort to recover the bodies of Hurricane Katrina victims.

But on Monday, in the Bywater district, that assurance wasn't being followed. The 82nd Airborne soldier told reporters the Army had a policy that requires media to be 300 meters -- more than three football fields in length -- away from the scene of body recoveries in New Orleans. If reporters wrote stories or took pictures of body recoveries, they would be reported and face consequences, he said, including a loss of access for up-close coverage of certain military operations.


Who's in charge?

Let me follow up

Let me follow up on a point I made in this post below.

Who is going to ask the president why he is taking responsibility? Every president, by definition, is responsible for what the federal government does on his watch, regardless of whether his actions specifically resulted in the consequences under discussion.

Is that what he means?

In this case, there is a growing body of evidence that he is actually responsible. As in, key failures came as direct results of decisions he made and how he managed his job. His decisions to staff critical jobs with patronage hires, his decision to politicize FEMA, his decisions about how to run DHS.

Which does he mean? How is he taking responsibility?

The shoe drop behind

The shoe drop behind the responsibility moment?

Back on September 7th, Rep. John Conyers wrote to the Congressional Research Service (one of the few parts of the government that can legitimately be called non-partisan) and asked them to review the record to see whether Gov. Blanco of Louisiana took the necessary steps in a timely fashion to secure federal assistance in the face of hurricane Katrina.

The report came back yesterday. Yes, she did. Read it yourself.

I have no brief for Gov. Blanco and none of the president's critics should either. I'm not saying dump on her. But let the chips fall where they may. My friends in Louisiana tell me that on the ground Nagin is coming off better than she is, to the extent that public opinion can be gauged under such circumstances. But the White House has been hitting her for weeks now claiming that in various ways she dropped the ball. And that seems quite simply to be false.

John Kerry has a

John Kerry has a good line today on the president's responsibility moment: "The President has done the obvious, only after it was clear he couldn’t get away with the inexcusable."

Gitlin also has some good analysis of what the president said.

No absolution without true repentance.

No blurring the fact that the president isn't just ultimately responsible but really responsible. Making FEMA and DHS into a repository for patronage hires had consequences.

From the First Ladys

From the First Lady's speech this morning at the Heritage Foundation: "Here at home, the No Child Left Behind Act has put a new emphasis on high standards and on eliminating the achievement gap between white students and minority students. We also want to make sure that children develop a strong character and learn important life lessons. To do that, children need caring adults in their lives. The comedian Eddie Cantor used to say in all seriousness that every time he saw the 10 Most Wanted list, he thought, maybe if we'd made them feel more wanted earlier, they wouldn't be wanted now."

Give the president his

Give the president his due. His statement -- the full transcript of which we've published below -- is couched in an attempt to minimize the role of federal mismanagement in the Katrina disaster. And in the second paragraph of the response his speechwriters appear to be setting up a new line of attack -- that those who criticize the federal response are in fact criticizing the first responders on the scene. But many of us have been pointing out for more than four years President Bush's refusal to take responsibility for anything that has happened on his watch as president. So kudos for the first.

But responsibility means accountability, not just words but deeds. And that means no cover-up.

The president says he wants to know what went wrong. The public has a right to know, since their immediate safety from natural disasters and terrorist attacks is at stake. And that means an independent commission to investigate what went wrong and why.

Ethics, logic and an elementary grasp of human nature say that the person responsible for the failures can't be the person investigating them. Same goes for a commission controlled by that person's political supporters. Can anyone argue with that?

Which Democrat, building on what the president said today, will get in front of a microphone and say it?

No cover-ups, no cronyism.

Word for word what

Word for word, what the president said ...

President Bush: Thank you.

A couple of questions. Two a side. Nedra.

Question: Mr. President, given what happened with Katrina, shouldn't Americans be concerned if their government isn't prepared to respond to another disaster or even a terrorist attack?

President Bush: Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government. And to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility. I want to know what went right and what went wrong. I want to know how to better cooperate with state and local government, to be able to answer that very question that you asked: Are we capable of dealing with a severe attack or another severe storm. And that's a very important question. And it's in our national interest that we find out exactly what went on and -- so that we can better respond.

One thing for certain; having been down there three times and have seen how hard people are working, I'm not going to defend the process going in, but I am going to defend the people who are on the front line of saving lives. Those Coast Guard kids pulling people out of the -- out of the floods are -- did heroic work. The first responders on the ground, whether they be state folks or local folks, did everything they could. There's a lot of people that are -- have done a lot of hard work to save lives.

And so I want to know what went right and what went wrong to address those. But I also want people in America to understand how hard people are working to save lives down there in not only New Orleans, but surrounding parishes and along the Gulf Coast.


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