Opinions, Context & Ideas from the TPM Editors TPM Editor's Blog

Earlier we asked who

Earlier we asked who would track down the story about FEMA Chief Michael Brown's apparent firing from his last <$NoAd$> pre-FEMA employment.

The Boston Herald is on the case. The lede from this morning's piece by Brett Arends ...

The federal official in charge of the bungled New Orleans rescue was fired from his last private-sector job overseeing horse shows.

And before joining the Federal Emergency Management Agency as a deputy director in 2001, GOP activist Mike Brown had no significant experience that would have qualified him for the position.

The Oklahoman got the job through an old college friend who at the time was heading up FEMA.

The agency, run by Brown since 2003, is now at the center of a growing fury over the handling of the New Orleans disaster.

A bit further down, there's this ...

Brown was forced out of the position after a spate of lawsuits over alleged supervision failures.

``He was asked to resign,'' Bill Pennington, president of the IAHA at the time, confirmed last night.

Soon after, Brown was invited to join the administration by his old Oklahoma college roommate Joseph Allbaugh, the previous head of FEMA until he quit in 2003 to work for the president's re-election campaign.

Takes your breath away, doesn't it?

Late Update: Here's Brown's work bio at the DHS website: "Prior to joining FEMA he practiced law in Colorado and Oklahoma, where he served as a bar examiner on ethics and professional responsibility for the Oklahoma Supreme Court and as a hearing examiner for the Colorado Supreme Court. He had been appointed as a special prosecutor in police disciplinary matters. While attending law school he was appointed by the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee of the Oklahoma Legislature as the Finance Committee Staff Director, where he oversaw state fiscal issues. His background in state and local government also includes serving as an assistant city manager with emergency services oversight and as a city councilman."

Heres a question that

Here's a question that needs a reporter to report it out.

Over at DailyKos there's a diary entry which suggests that FEMA Chief Michael Brown was fired from his last pre-FEMA job as a commissioner with the now-defunct International Arabian Horse Association. A White House press release announcing Brown's appointment as Deputy Director of FEMA in December 2001 states simply that: "From 1991 to 2001, Brown was the Commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association, an international subsidiary of the national governing organization of the U.S. Olympic Committee."

Links provided in the original post, as well as comments from Kos readers who were members of the IAHA, strongly suggest there's something to this story. But we need more facts, more details, interviews with people in a position to know the key facts.

If the story checks out, it should be much more widely known. But it will never get picked up until someone does the basic reporting. Who will do it?

Atrios has a string

Atrios has a string of posts up today pointing to a common global explanation of what happened last week, a failure not of resources and capacity but coordination and executive leadership.

An article in the Post suggests the US military was ready to begin emergency food drops into New Orleans much earlier in the week. But they were waiting on a request from FEMA.

Lousiana Gov. Blanco accepted an offer of state National Guard troops from New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson on Sunday, just before the storm hit. But the paperwork from Washington, allowing the troops to deploy, didn't come until Thursday.

Andrew Sullivan has posted

Andrew Sullivan has posted a lengthy reader email which gives some good insight and play-by-play of the already-escalating circling of the wagons around President Bush. The reader makes an obvious yet easy to overlook and very key point: the Army Corps of Engineers is, after all, part of the United States Army. It's commanders and senior officers work for the commander-in-chief. And they're not likely, at least publicly, to contradict the 'nobody-coulda-predicted' line coming down from the White House.

Perhaps, it's not too soon to start laying down some good natured bets on the scope of future investigations and angles of attack from the White House. Presidential commission to examine Mayor Nagin and Gov. Blanco? Investigation into what the Army Corps of Engineers failed to tell the president? New Orleans doomed because of French roots of original design?

Trent Lott is fed

Trent Lott is fed up ... with the complaining media.

According to David Pleasant, the former Senate Majority Leader unloaded on CNN's Anderson Cooper, telling him that the government's response has been just fine and that complaints to the contrary are only coming from the media.

Of course, Sen. Lott got a personal, on-air guarantee from the president that his house would be rebuilt. So maybe he has a different perspective.

Heres a question several

Here's a question several readers have now asked me.

Where's Dick Cheney? I think it's a genuinely good question. And not just a leading one. (This article says that he's confirmed for a visit to Canada on the 9th of the month to visit this oil facility. He's hosting a fundraiser in for Sen. Jim Talent on the 19th.)

Most people who've written in are I think getting at why he hasn't made some public statement or visit to the affected regions.

But even beyond that, the more basic question: where is he?

It's like he's disappeared.

Disaster sociology according to

Disaster sociology according to Bill O'Reilly. Or, Two views on who didn't get out.

From today's Times: "Brian Wolshon, an engineering professor at Louisiana State University who served as a consultant on the state's evacuation plan, said little attention was paid to moving out New Orleans's 'low-mobility" population - the elderly, the infirm and the poor without cars or other means of fleeing the city, about 100,000 people.'"

O'Reilly, on his show last night: "A lot of the people -- a lot of the people who stayed wanted to do this destruction. They figured it out. And that's -- I'm not surprised."

Here are some things

Here are some things to consider as we go through the day. But first, an excerpt from an exchange FEMA chief Michael Brown had yesterday with Wolf Blitzer ...

BLITZER: Knowing what you know now, Michael Brown -- and obviously all of us are a lot smarter with hindsight -- what would FEMA -- what should FEMA have done differently in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina to save people's lives in New Orleans? Because as you know, we're getting reports from the governor, from the mayor, that perhaps the death toll will go into the thousands.

BROWN: Well, I think the death toll may go into the thousands. And unfortunately, that's going to be attributable a lot to people who did not heed the evacuation warnings. And I don't make judgments about why people choose not to evacuate.

But, you know, there was a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans. And to find people still there is just heart wrenching to me because the mayor did everything he could to get them out of there. And so we've got to figure out some way to convince people that when evacuation warnings go out, it's for their own good. Now, I don't want to second guess why they did that. My job now is to get relief to them.

One might note as an aside that the administration is putting a lot of weight on the claim that it simply wasn't foreseeable how bad things were going to be, even though people knew there was going to be a major storm. And yet a similar lack of foresight apparently leaves many of the victims with primary responsibility for their own deaths.

I'll let the logicians pick that one apart. But let's note that, as we mentioned yesterday, a not-insubstantial number of people who did not evacuate did not do so because they didn't have the cash on hand to do so. Several papers mention this this morning. Others were sick or invalids. And, yes, there were some who probably just figured they'd get lucky and paid a big price.

But anybody with any serious experience even watching disaster relief, let alone managing it, knows that public authorities are supposed to plan in advance to manage and alleviate the suffering, death and property destruction of anticipatable events. And all these events were anticipated. Not everybody can make it out in a 36 hour evacuation. Not everyone can; not everyone will. Brown might be bucking for a promotion to manager of human nature and/or wealth inequality; but for now, he's just in charge of disaster relief. So it's distressing to see his quick effort to blame the victims of this disaster for what were in many cases flawed actions on his watch.

But more specifically, and going back to what I said at the beginning, I'm pretty sure there was publicly available information on hand (from the Mayor, I think) before the storm even hit that a substantial minority of the population had not left the city. Whatever their moral culpability may be in Borwn's eyes, he knew those people were there. And yet, as I think we'll see over the course of the day, there's a concerted effort to say these facts were not known or were perhaps unknowable.

Watch for the rewriting of the history and more efforts to blame the disaster on its victims.

Annals of egregious Bumillerism

Annals of egregious Bumillerism ...

Over the last few days a lot of folks have noted the fact that President Bush went about his normal political schedule as usual until well after New Orleans had sunk, literally and figuratively, into disaster. Many have linked to the picture of the president giving a strum to a guitar emblazoned with a presidential seal on Tuesday, with country music star in the background.

In her piece today Bumiller sets the record straight ...

Bloggers also circulated a picture of Mr. Bush playing a guitar at an event in California on Tuesday to imply that he was fiddling while New Orleans drowned. In fact, the picture was taken when the country singer Mark Wills presented Mr. Bush with a guitar backstage at North Island Naval Air Station in Coronado, Calif., after Mr. Bush gave a speech marking the 60th anniversary of the Japanese surrender in World War II.

Later that day, as floodwaters poured into New Orleans, Mr. Bush returned to his ranch in Texas, then left from his ranch for Washington on Wednesday morning.

This is good stuff. You mean to tell <$Ad$> me that the president wasn't actually photographed in the midst of an impromptu jam session on the San Diego trip like we were all led to believe?

Suddenly everything seems different.

This really is an example of how some instances of special pleading are too grasping and silly for the White House to use themselves. So they pass it off to a compliant White House reporter.

Let's stipulate that the president did not give a guitar performance or rock out on Tuesday. The point of those who've showcased the picture is that it demonstrates (in quite a damaging way, the White House seems to think) that the president was business as usual well after everyone else in the country knew we had an historic disaster on our hands.

Sometimes images give a misleading impression of the underlying reality. This doesn't seem to be one of those cases.