Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Some possibly encouraging news.

Over the last couple days I'd noticed that news accounts were reporting finding relatively (and obviously that's 'relatively' heavily underlined) few bodies in New Orleans. There was the sobering discovery of 30 bodies at the nursing home reported yesterday. But with estimates ranging from 10,000 to 25,000 dead you'd expect higher numbers even at this early stage.

And this morning there's this off the AP wire: "Authorities said Friday that their first systematic sweep of the city found far fewer bodies than expected, suggesting that Hurricane Katrina's death toll may not be the catastrophic 10,000 feared."

Obviously, the numbers are certain to be horrific even if they're far less than 10,000 dead. And there's a whole swath of less-reported-on outlying areas which will yield up their own dead. But our collective eyes tend to glaze over once we start talking about numbers of dead in the thousands. So let's note at least this possible sign that the loss of life may not be quite as extensive as we've feared.

We've all heard about studies FEMA commissioned last year to test out and put together a comprehensive disaster response plan for New Orleans. Here are some key excerpts (just posted at the TPM Document Collection) from the contracts FEMA put out for those studies, which make clear that officials at FEMA had a very clear understanding of what would happen if a Katrina-like storm hit and that at least tens of thousands of people would not be able to evacuate in time.

Late Update: Also, see this new piece out from the AP's Ron Fournier. The Hurricane Pam simulation predicted 61,290 dead and the necessity for federal officials to intervened regardless of go-ahead from the locals.

Become part of our timeline project!

We've just updated our TPM Hurricane Katrina Timeline, working mainly from a thick stack of emails we received from readers, then confirmed and posted. You can see where we are at that link above.

Now, we need your assistance with our second round of updating. And let me try to be clear about just what we're looking for.

We're putting a heavy emphasis on chronology. We're trying to compile a record of just when particular events happened -- as in specific times on given days. So for instance you'll see under August 26, our final item is Gov. Blanco's declaration of a state of emergency; under August 27, we have Gov. Barbour declaration of a state of emergency in his state. But just when did those declarations happen on each day. As nearly as the time can be ascertained we want to know. So if you have details, confirmed by links to press or government websites, let us know and we'll update.

Other examples: when were the holes ripped in the Superdome on August 29th? When on Thursday September 1st did Mayor Nagin issue his "desperate SOS"?

Go down on our list and see events we don't have times for and see if you can find them. If we can't find the exact time, then the time it was first reported is a good second best.

And of course, more facts. We've got a decent list together now. But on the critical days from Sunday through Wednesday lots of government orders went out, lots of people were put in motion, press conferences were held. Look over our list, find other key points we haven't included and let us know about them -- as always, we're looking for specific facts, with links to back up the fact asserted.

AP: "President Bush's job approval was at 39 percent, the first time it has dipped below 40 percent since AP-Ipsos began measuring public approval of Bush in December 2003."

Allbaugh client Shaw Group bags two $100 million Katrina rebuilding and recovery contracts.

Another TPM Reader, JW, responds to <$NoAd$> the Times article ...

I read the Times article before getting to TPM this morning and as I read the section you quote and the rest of the piece what became obvious to me is that the staff work for the executives was abysmal on all sides. First of all the Feds, and I mean FEMA especially, should have had a check list of the things that must be in place: proclamations made, signatures, documents, forms etc. Second, the governor should have had staff people telling her what was needed and making certain that everything was prepared and in a folder if not weeks and months in advance certainly in the days before the storm hit. And if the state people did not have everything in place the FEMA people should have had senior experienced staff people knowledgeable in the machinery who could speak to their counterparts and to the Governor and the President or at least to Andrew Card and make sure it all happened. For that matter why isn't there a kit or a plastic weather tight box that all of this stuff can be placed in and sent by Fedex to the governor with explicit instructions at the onset of this kind of thing. Or even better a kind of two week out of the box course that all governors and presidents (and staff ) take at the beginning of an administration that covers what to do in case of emergency.

I mean this stuff should never have to be made up on the spot as if no one had ever seen an emergency before. In fact, as I think of it wasn't this the rationale put forth for the Homeland Security Department in the first place? I was never enamored of the plan even though it was a Democratic idea and now I am less enthusiastic but I don't think there is any putting that genie back in the bottle.

Joe Allbaugh on why he made Michael Brown Deputy Director of FEMA. From today's Oklahoman ...

Allbaugh said Brown was his first hire after being tabbed to head the emergency agency.

"I hired him solely on his ability as a strong ethics attorney," he said.

Later that year, Brown played a major role in the agency's response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Allbaugh said Brown headed up operations in the Washington office while he was in New York.

The deputy director's slot was vacant during that time.

"I decided he was the right person to become the deputy of the agency," Allbaugh said. "He was the logical person."

A strong ethics attorney who'd just gotten canned from his last job because of ethical <$NoAd$> improprieties.

I'd really like to hear more about today's article in the Times about troop delays in NOLA from people who have knowledge of the relevant law and/or history. I discussed the piece here.

It's worth noting the article covers the specific issue of why there were delays sending in more troops. It doesn't deal with the FEMA lapses. But the more I hear from readers who have some knowledge of the relevant law, the more I get the impression that the White House was making aid contingent on the governor declaring that a portion of her state was facing a domestic insurrection and turning it over to the authority of the president.

But like I said, I'd like to know more. The Times article left me with too little context or explanation from outside sources as to whether the claims of the administration sources were reasonably based in the law.

As long as we're on the subject, here's a note I just got from TPM Reader EJ on the Times article ...

Hi, I'm regular reader. I'm writing regarding your 9/9/2005 1:05 AM post Re the story in the Times. A couple of things struck me reading this story. One is that it seems to present a narrative of kathleen Blanco resisting federal authority (and therefore timely aid) but if you close read the text it actually says that Federal officials were certain that she WOULD resist federal control (and that taking this control might have political consequences). The only quote from Blanco (and almost the only information sourced to Blanco)attests that she thought she had requested all possible aid. The article's lede suggests negotiations between state and federal authorities, but unless i'm mistaken, it reads more like the feds were negotiating with themselves.

I'm not at all certain that I'm reading this correctly, and I am concerned. If Blanco did put up unnecessary impediments to aid then she certainly shares more of the blame than I had thought. But, if this is true it seems like it would have become the centerpiece of the adminstration's blame deflecting strategy and as such would have gotten more play than the completely false (and easily disproven) "no state of emergency declared" tactic.

The Times clearly got some good access for that piece. But they need to follow up because their narrative was confusing and raised more questions than it answered.

They're a bit late to the party. But the Post adds some valuable details on the perilously high hack quotient at today's FEMA. One fun snippet: "[E}xperts inside and out of government said a 'brain drain' of experienced disaster hands throughout the agency, hastened in part by the appointment of leaders without backgrounds in emergency management, has weakened the agency's ability to respond to natural disasters."

Here's one you'll want to read. Juliette Kayyem unearths and examines the grueling 42 minute confirmation hearing then-chairman Joe Lieberman put our guy Michael Brown through when he was appointed Deputy Director of FEMA in 2002.


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