Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

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 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.

CNN: "Rather than fight a lawsuit by CNN, the federal government abandoned its effort Saturday to prevent the media from reporting on the recovery of the dead in New Orleans."

Fat times in Crony-ville!

From Reuters: "Companies with ties to the Bush White House and the former head of FEMA are clinching some of the administration's first disaster relief and reconstruction contracts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina."

Don't talk about the boss ...

A state agency lawyer quoted in a nationally-circulated news story as questioning Karl Rove's eligibility to vote in Kerr County is out of a job and feeling twice burned.

Elizabeth Reyes said she was fired Tuesday as an attorney in the elections division of the Texas secretary of state's office because she appeared in a Washington Post story Saturday about the presidential adviser.

The article, which was reprinted in papers across the country, quoted Reyes as saying Rove's ownership of Kerr County property may not qualify him to vote there.

San Antonio Express-News.

Seattle Times ...

John Pennington, the official in charge of federal disaster response in the Northwest, was a four-term Republican state representative who ran a mom-and-pop coffee company in Cowlitz County when then-Congresswoman Jennifer Dunn helped him get his federal post.

Before he was appointed regional director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Pennington got a degree from a correspondence school that government investigators later described as a "diploma mill."

Pennington, 38, says he worked for his degree and he is qualified for the FEMA job.

Read the rest.

CNN files lawsuit against government agencies seeking to bar press coverage of victim retrieval process.