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Today we have what

Today we have what I think many of you will find a real treat. You probably know Anthony Shadid's byline from the Washington Post, particularly from 2003 and 2004 from Iraq.

As I wrote back in April 2003, his work always seemed to stand out for its depth, scope and nuance of reporting. (Certainly, some of the power of his coverage stemmed from the fact that he's Lebanese-American and speaks fluent Arabic.) A year later he won a Pulitzer for it, the only one awarded, to my knowledge, for reporting out of Iraq.

He has a new book out about Iraq called Night Draws Near and he's joining us this week at TPMCafe Book Club.

He's just done his first post of the week, describing how and why he came to write the book. He'll be back later today answering your questions about the book and Iraq in the comments section. So get your questions in now.

The Post responds to

The Post responds to criticism about allowing the top Bush official to peddle the Blanco/State of Emergency canard in its pages ...

The Washington Post, like many news organizations, says it is trying to crack down on the use of anonymous sources. But the paper allowed a "senior administration official" to spin the story of the slow response to Katrina -- with a claim that turned out to be false.

On Sept. 4, the paper cited the "senior Bush official" as saying that as of the day before, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco "still had not declared a state of emergency." As The Post noted in a correction, Blanco, a Democrat, had declared a state of emergency on Aug. 26.

Liberal bloggers have unloaded on The Post. Wrote Arianna Huffington: "Why were the Post reporters so willing to blindly accept the words of an administration official who obviously had a partisan agenda -- and to grant the official anonymity?"

Post National Editor Michael Abramowitz calls the incident "a bad mistake" that happened right on deadline. "We all feel bad about that," he says. "We should not have printed the information as background information, and it should have been checked. We fell down on the desk."

Spencer Hsu, the article's co-author, says he "tried to make clear that the source came from the administration, and that he was blaming the locals, which I believe our story made clear and broke ground in explaining by uncovering the National Guard dispute."

Should the paper identify the source who provided bad information? "We don't blow sources, period, especially if we don't have reason to believe the source in this case actually lied deliberately," Hsu says.


More on this later<$NoAd$>.

Not sure what to

Not sure what to make of this small tidbit. But while I was confirming some new entries in our Katrina timeline tonight, I noticed something I hadn't heard before. According to Scott McClellan's August 31st gaggle, in the early days of Katrina, the White House Katrina task force was being run by Claude Allen.

Allen's title at the White House is Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy. But he's basically the social policy czar, big into abstinence only education, stem-cell restrictions, stuff like that.

This may simply have been a matter of convening meetings -- I have no idea. But still it seemed an odd choice.

First graf out of

First graf out of <$NoAd$> a new piece in Newsweek (emphasis added) ...

Analysts at the Defense Intelligence Agency have begun war-gaming scenarios for what might happen in Iraq if U.S. force levels were cut back or eliminated, say counterterrorism and defense sources. The officials, who asked not to be named because of the sensitive subject matter, declined to discuss specifics of the DIA analyses, which they indicate are in the preliminary stages. Some officials say that people in the intelligence community are leery about engaging in speculative exercises for fear of being accused by conservatives of undermining George W. Bush's administration policy. However, others say that this analysis could support staying the course in Iraq if a U.S. pullout would result in greater insurgent violence or a religious civil war.


Don't do intel work; it may undermine President Bush's policies. On the other hand, it might reinforce his policies. And that's okay.

John from Canoga Park

John from Canoga Park checks in ...

Your total lack of credibility is obvious, in your writings about the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. The local Levee Boards(run by Democrats, as is the City of New Orleans, for decades) stole or misspent milllions of taxpayer dollars when their sole responsibility was a prevention of the failure of the levees. The cable TV guy-turned Mayor refused to let 40 school buses (now under water) be used to evacuate people, another Dem. The Governor, a Dem as well, refused to let in American Red Cross disaster aid already waiting in trucks because she didn't want to create a "magnet" for evacuees to the Superdome and Convention Center. It goes on and on. The local government is "First Responders" in an emergency. The State is Second. The Feds are Third, only allowed in at the request of the Governor. These are important distinctions apparantly lost on a Beltway Type such as yourself. In your ramblings, you simultaneously condemn apparent inaction by FEMA and other Federal agencies, but don't want the Feds to "invade" a State without being asked to bring in whatever authority and disaster relief they may have. It is apparent that Michael Brown shouldn't be allowed within 100 miles of any FEMA authority. Probably the best person to head FEMA would be someone accustomed to responding to such situations-a high ranking member of our Armed Forces. But you, being of the Left, would probably oppose that. In the end, the total collapse of local and State government was horrific. Democrat. J Nelson, Canoga Park, California


Not much of a constituency for a Michael Brown comeback, I guess<$NoAd$>.

Our president ...The second

Our president ...

The second tactic could be summed up as, Don't look back. The White House has sent delegates to meetings in Washington of outside Republican groups who have plans to blame the Democrats and state and local officials. In the meantime, it has no plans to push for a full-scale inquiry like the 9/11 commission, which Bush bitterly opposed until the pressure from Congress and surviving families made resistance futile.


Conservatism ...

By late last week, Administration aides were describing a three-part comeback plan. The first: Spend freely, and worry about the tab and the consequences later. "Nothing can salve the wounds like money," said an official who helped develop the strategy.


That and more from Mike Allen's piece from Time.

I just finished reading

I just finished reading the Times lengthy front page narrative account of the Katrina response debacle. And if I had to sum up the story it would be one of overwhelmed and often frantic local officials asking for every sort of assistance available from federal authorities, but sometimes not being completely sure precisely what they needed or the exact way to ask for it. On the other side you have the feds taking a consciously passive, reactive stance, and often displaying an oddly legalistic and bean-counterish attitude when asked for specific kinds of support.

There was a bit more on the topic of Friday's Times article about the back-and-forth over whether to invoke the Insurrection Act and send combat troops into the city to restore order. But the more I hear about it, the more it seems like a diversion from the main issues.

The White House appeared to get distracted on to this all-or-nothing question of whether to send regular Army combat troops (not soldiers trained as military police or for civilian policing missions) into an American city to restore order in a legal framework of combatting a domestic insurrection. This actually would have been a pretty big deal, on a lot of different levels, and quite probably overkill -- even in such a desperate situation. But this really wasn't the most pressing issue. The real issues at that moment were getting buses into the city to ship out evacuees, getting National Guard troops more quickly into location, airlifting in relief aid, making use of the USS Bataan sitting right offshore, etc.

As I've said earlier, I'm still not sure I have a precise hold on the factual and legal issues in play on this federalization issue. Nor do I have any real confidence that the administration sources behind these articles are providing a straight story. But, again, the point seems largely a diversion from a bunch of more basic interventions that could have taken place but didn't.

Indeed, what's most shocking is not any particular mistake that was made but how often federal officials were left to brainstorm or hash out on-the-fly just what the federal government's responsibilities were, how to coordinate federal, state and local relief efforts, or even simply who was in charge.

Reading those passages of the article, there's one conclusion I think any fair-minded person would have to come to. And that is that in the four years to the day since 9/11, the administration appears to have done little if any effective planning for how to mobilize a national response to a catastrophic event on American soil.

And given all the history that has passed before us over these last four years, that verdict is devastating.

Another question Im hoping

Another question I'm hoping someone can provide more information on.

To assist with the recovery and disposition of the victims of Katrina, FEMA has hired Kenyon Worldwide Disaster Management, a Houston-based company which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Service Corporation International (SCI), another Houston-based corporation, which bills itself as the "dominant leader in the North American death care industry."

SCI is not only closely associated with the president (which is not surprising since the company is based in Houston), they were also at the center of what is probably the best-known scandal during Bush's six years as governor of Texas: the so-called 'funeralgate' case.

What's more, Joe Allbaugh -- President Bush's Chief of Staff in Texas and later his first FEMA Director -- was the central figure in that scandal, or at least the guy whose job it was to take care of the mess SCI had gotten into.

The last we heard, you'll remember, now-lobbyist Allbaugh was in Lousiana "helping coordinate the private-sector response to the storm."

One Tennessee mortician, Dan Buckner, who was on stand-by as a volunteer as part of the Department of Homeland Security's DMORT program told a local paper that morticians from around the country were available to do this work as volunteers. (DMORT works in conjunction with the National Funeral Directors Association).

"There's no telling how many dollars they'll spend on that contract," he told the paper.

Once SCI got the contract, the NFDA sent out a notification to their members which read in part ...

The company that FEMA has chosen to outsource the recovery work in Louisiana is Kenyon, a worldwide disaster management company, wholly owned subsidiary of Service Corporation International. Kenyon asked us to share the names and phone numbers of NFDA members and funeral directors who are interested in a paid three-week employment situation. If you have already volunteered with NFDA, we'd like to let you know about this paid option to help.


When questioned about the matter, a Nenyon spokesman said his company had had a contract with FEMA since 1997. And this list of catastrophes they've done work on does include several US passenger jet crashes from the late 1990s, i.e., before the beginning of the second Bush administration.

Still, companies based in Houston and/or companies with close ties to Joe Allbaugh do seem to be snapping up a whole lotta contracts. So perhaps someone out there can look into this a bit further.

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