Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Yesterday the Houston Chronicle reported that Halliburton has been hired by the Navy to repair its damaged facilities in Mississippi and perform initial damage assessments of facilities in New Orleans.

The work was assigned, reported the Chronicle, "under a 'construction capabilities' contract awarded in 2004 after a competitive bidding process." But it raises a question it is not at all too early to ask. The egg is pretty much cooked on the relief operation. But in the coming days and weeks we will move into a recovery phase in which, no doubt, tens of billions of dollars will be spent cleaning up and rebuilding not just New Orleans but big sections of the Gulf Coast.

Does anyone believe that the Bush administration can handle that money and that task without widespread waste, fraud and cronyism?

That's not just a question for partisan Democrats. I would think that there are a lot of Republicans up for reelection next year who are probably giving that question some serious thought. They may not want to attack the president. They may even want their own seat on the gravy train. But they know the record as well as anyone. And they may not want to be carrying the president's water a year from now when the news stories are filling the papers.

The news out today about FEMA Director Michael Brown tells the ugly tale. So let's just review what we now know -- with key new details first from a diarist at DailyKos and now confirmed in more depth in this morning's Boston Herald.

Michael Brown is a lawyer and GOP party activist. Before he came to FEMA in 2001, he had a full-time job overseeing horse-shows as the commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association. He started with them in 1991. But he was eventually fired because of what the Herald describes as "after a spate of lawsuits over alleged supervision failures." (The Kos diary has some more details.)

But the stars were shining on Brown because President Bush had just been elected. And he appointed his chief political fixer Joe Allbaugh to replace James Lee Witt as head of FEMA.

That was a good break for the recently-canned Brown, because, as we learn from the Herald, he and Allbaugh were college roommates. He hired Brown as his General Counsel at FEMA in February. And then, by the end of the year, he promoted him to Deputy Director.

Then, little more than a year later, Allbaugh left FEMA to set up New Bridge Strategies, a consultancy to cash in on the Iraqi contracts bonanza. On Allbaugh's departure from FEMA, Brown became Director, in charge of federal domestic emergency management in the United States.

So, just to recap, Brown had no experience whatsoever in emergency management. He was fired from his last job for incompetence. He was hired because he was the new director's college roommate. And after the director -- who himself got the job because he was a political fixer for the president -- left, he became top dog. And President Bush said yesterday that he thinks Brown is "doing a helluva job".

Tens of billions of federal dollars are going to be spent on reconstruction, though the first allotment is only $10.5 billion. Does anybody think Bush administration has the competence or honesty to manage that money? Does anybody think it won't be handled with the efficiency, expertise and integrity of the Iraqi reconstruction?

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."

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 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 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 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.

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 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 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.