Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

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.

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.

What's that proverb? Every crisis is an opportunity? AP this morning: "President Bush has used a constitutional provision to bypass the Senate and fill a top Justice Department slot with an official whose nomination stalled over tactics at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, naval facility."

Another article, this one from Scientific American, from October 2001. The synopsis: "A major hurricane could swamp New Orleans under 20 feet of water, killing thousands. Human activities along the Mississippi River have dramatically increased the risk, and now only massive reengineering of southeastern Louisiana can save the city."

One of those images you won't soon forget, from the front page of the LA Times website late Thursday evening. In case you click through after they take down the image, see the image itself here.

Sploid.com noted something odd earlier today on the FEMA page which lists reputable disaster relief organizations for Katrina-related giving.

After the American Red Cross, which is listed first and, I guess, by common consent the primary domestic disaster relief organization, comes Operation Blessing.

And if you don't know, Operation<$Ad$> Blessing is the relief organization run by professional wingnut Pat Robertson.

After that on the list came America's Second Harvest.

And then below that, everyone else, in alphabetical order.

The apparent rationale for the two-tiered set up is that the first three are places to "Donate Cash" and the rest are to "Donate Cash and/or Volunteer". I'm not sure whether arranging them in that way makes a great deal of sense. But judge that for yourself.

Yet, apparently, someone pointed out that giving Operation Blessing higher billing than the reality-based alphabetical system might not look so good. So as of today Operation Blessing has been bumped down to #3.

Now, call me suspicious. But the whole two-tiered set up itself struck me as quite likely a strained way of giving Robertson the big disaster relief shout-out. But I have no way of knowing or proving that. Again, you judge for yourself.

Now, how legit is Operation Blessing? CharityNavigator.com, which rates charities, gives them four stars (their highest rating) across the board. They report giving fully 99.4% of their income to program expenses and trivial amounts to administration and fundraising.

On the other hand, Robertson has repeatedly been criticized for commingling his overseas charitable operations -- specifically, Operation Blessing -- with his personal for-profit ventures into precious metals and diamond extraction, particularly with some of your better-known human rights pariahs and genocidal dictators. Zaire's Mobutu with blood diamonds, Liberia's Charles Taylor with gold mines. He's well diversified.

So, on balance, you might say the picture is mixed.

In any case, looking over the list, one other thing occured to me. Beneath the big three, there are eighteen other organizations listed -- with a number of extremely respected organizations including the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, B'nai B'rith and others. And the selection seems fairly ecumenical. But as nearly as I can tell, not one non-religious organization is listed. The one exception is another government agency, the Corporation for National & Community Service.

Now, I know as well as anyone the huge role that sectarian-affiliated charitable organizations play in disaster relief and other sorts of charitable work. I don't know the precise breakdown. But it wouldn't surprise me to learn that most or even the overwhelming amount of this kind of work is done by these groups. But surely there are some secular relief and aid organizations, right? Even a few that might have made the list?

Just by way of example, earlier today we were contacted by a group called MercyCorps. They asked if we would be willing to contribute ad space for Katrina-related disaster relief fundraising. And since I had wanted to do something like this, once we'd done some basic due diligence on their reputation in the field (which out to be very good), we were happy to oblige.

(Just to be clear, I don't think I knew anything about this group before today. They just got to us first, etc.)

Why isn't MercyCorps on the list? Surely, there are many other qualified groups that aren't tied to a religious denomination. Can this exclusion really be accidental?

(ed.note: The details noted above prompt me to mention a few more details about our ad policy. Our rates are the same for everyone. We do not give discounts to non-profits; nor do we give discounts or free ad space to advertisers, organizations or candidates we support or agree with. There is a firm division between the business and editorial sides of our operation. We also do not reject ads on the basis of political content (see details here). We made exceptions to the rule during last year's Asian Tsunami crisis, when we ran free ads for a few different groups, and now with Katrina because we believed both were extraordinary events where the need for giving was acute.)