Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

This worries me. Note the added emphasis. The clip comes from a piece in tomorrow's Post about yet another huge funding bill the president will roll out tomorrow for Katrina aid, which the Post says will cost more next year than the entire cost of the Iraq war thus far ...

Bush and Republican congressional leaders, by contrast, are calculating that the U.S. economy can safely absorb a sharp spike in spending and budget deficits, and that the only way to regain public confidence after the stumbling early response to the disaster is to spend whatever it takes to rebuild the region and help Katrina's victims get back on their feet.

Regain public confidence in who? Is the nation undergoing a crisis of confidence in itself?

Put that passage together with this one in Mike Allen's piece in the Time and I think you see where we're going ...

By late last week, Administration aides were describing a three-part comeback plan. The first: Spend freely, and worry about the tab and the consequences later. "Nothing can salve the wounds like money," said an official who helped develop the strategy.

What's driving this budgetary push is not <$Ad$> a natural disaster but a political crisis, the president's political crisis. The White House is trying to undo self-inflicted political damage on the national dime.

You don't have to be a conservative or a budget-hawk to be deeply worried about what's happening here. It's not even a matter of the dollar value in itself, though this country has already been pushed to the budgetary edge and just doesn't have an infinite number of hundreds of billions of dollars it can spend.

Intentions are everything. Intentions dictate actions and actions have consequences. The two can never be teased apart.

Many people -- and to my chagrin and regret I include myself partly in this number -- were seduced into a sorta kinda support for a hypothetical Iraq war. Not the war George Bush would fight, certainly. But one that would be fought on liberal principles and with internationalist means, one about human rights and democratization, one about strengthening a concert of nations that would police malefactor states. Something on the order of NATO's war in Bosnia, perhaps.

Pick your pipe dream. It almost doesn't matter.

If there's nothing else this decade has taught us it is that there was never and never could have been any Iraq War separated from the goals and intentions of those with their foot on the accelerator. Anything else is just a sad delusion. That's why the whole mess is as it is now: fruit of the poison tree.

Same here.

Maybe you want to spend $200 billion on rebuilding the Delta region too. Fine. Something like that will probably be necessary. But don't fool yourself into thinking that what's coming is just a matter of a different chef making the same meal. This will be Iraq all over again, with the same fetid mix of graft, zeal and hubris. Cronyism like you wouldn't believe. Money blown on ideological fantasies and half-baked test-cases.

You could come up with a hundred reasons why that's true. But at root intentions drive all. You'll never separate this operation or its results from the fact that the people in charge see it as a political operation. The use of this money for political purposes, for what amounts to a political campaign, tells you everything you need to know about what's coming.

A favor.

A bit more than a year ago we ran a TPM Reader Survey. And tomorrow we're going to do another. It's a very quick survey -- only a dozen questions. And it won't take you more than a minute or two, tops, to fill out.

We'll post the link tomorrow morning. And I'd personally appreciate it a great deal if you could take just a few moments to fill it out.

A few details about how and why.

First, we are not collecting any personal information about individuals. We don't ask your name. And there are no 'cookies' involved to track who you are. All we are trying to do is collect aggregated demographic information about our audience -- the age range of our audience, gender breakdown, income levels, etc.

Second, why are we doing a survey? Simple. Advertisers want to know information about our audience. And TPM and TPMCafe aren't possible without ads. Simple as that. Compiling this information helps us keep both sites running.

Priorities on display, from the Post ...

Bush already has dispatched his top strategist, Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, and other aides to assemble ideas from agencies, conservative think tanks, GOP lawmakers and state officials to guide the rebuilding of New Orleans and relocation of flood victims. The idea, aides said, is twofold: provide a quick federal response that comports with Bush's governing philosophy, and prevent Katrina from swamping his second-term ambitions on Social Security, taxes and Middle East democracy-building.

Head of effort, Karl Rove. Sources of ideas, Agencies, conservative think tanks, GOP lawmakers. The aim, quick response that squares with conservatism. Aim, part II, not getting distracted from real priorities.

Anything missing that you can think of?

A spokesman for the General in charge of Army operations in Louisiana says that the Army is not imposing any restrictions on the press operating on their own in the region.

This is in response to the article which appeared yesterday which quoted soldiers with the 82nd Airborne forbidding reporters to photograph or write about body removal.

"We don't profess to have any more authority than we have," says Lt. Col. John Cornelio. "You also have to appreciate we have 70,000 soldiers. There can be a 'Joe' or two who doesn't get it."

Last night we noted the new Knight-Ridder article which shows DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff waiting some 36 hours to make the determination that Katrina was an 'Incident of National Significance'. Before that, Chertoff, not Michael Brown was in charge. And before Chertoff did that, Brown -- who's taken the big drubbing -- actually had little power to act.

This 'incident' finding is part of the new National Response Plan, which is supposed to govern federal responses to domestic disasters. Yet the plan appears to have been largely disregarded with Katrina.

But a TPM Reader pointed something out to me that suggests that Knight-Ridder might have gotten one detail wrong (or at least missed one) -- one which if anything makes the administration seem even more disorganized.

If you click here you can see a copy of the Chertoff memo which invoked the 'incident' finding.

But the reader points out that on page 7 of the Plan, it says quite clearly that "while all Presidentially declared disasters and emergencies under the Stafford Act are considered Incidents of National Significance, not all Incidents of National Significance necessarily result in disaster or emergency declarations under the Stafford Act.."

And if you go back to August 27th, this is just what President Bush did. He declared a state of emergency in the state of Louisiana under Title V of the Stafford Act.

Ergo, Katrina became an Incident of National Significance on August 27th -- two days before the storm. But Chertoff apparently didn't realize this and waited till a day after to make the determination on his own, one that according to the flow chart had already been made.

Lawyers and DHSers will know more about whether I've construed these sections correctly. (I certainly haven't read all 400+ pages of the document.) But they at least seem pretty clear.

Still in the guesswork stage on the Cheney-Colonial pipeline issue noted below. But a couple readers note that -- inter alia -- that the Colonial Pipeline moves a lot of jet fuel, including military grade jet fuel. This may be a key reason for the urgency of getting that pipeline up and running. Still, though, that doesn't explain the highly irregular manner in which the orders apparently went out.

The endlessly underrated Knight-Ridder has an important article out which places a great deal of the blame for the laggard response to Katrina on Michael Chertoff.

The crux of the article is a point we and many other outlets have been reporting for some time -- that DHS Secretary Chertoff didn't declare Katrina an 'Incident of National Significance' until late on Tuesday August 30th, almost two days after the hurricane hit.

That's the administrative trip wire that sets off the standing government plans for a coordinated national response to natural or man-made disasters.

As Jonathan Landay, et al. explain, the now-reviled and discarded Michael Brown only had limited authority to act prior to Chertoff's determination on the night of the 30th.

Chertoff was the one in charge of the response before that.

Yet documents obtained by KR suggest that Chertoff "may have been confused about his lead role in disaster response and that of his department" under the National Response Plan promulgated by the administration earlier this year.

There's a lot of stuff in this piece. And the leaks behind the story suggest much afoot.

Before getting to the meat of this post, let me stipulate that there are some cases where restoring critical infrastructure after a natural disaster is more important than restoring power to civilian neighborhoods, hospitals or even possibly saving lives.

That said, this seems awfully odd.

Today in the Post Dan Froomkin linked to an article in the Hattiesburg (Mississippi) American.

The article begins ...

Shortly after Hurricane Katrina roared through South Mississippi knocking out electricity and communication systems, the White House ordered power restored to a pipeline that sends fuel to the Northeast.

That order - to restart two power substations in Collins that serve Colonial Pipeline Co. - delayed efforts by at least 24 hours to restore power to two rural hospitals and a number of water systems in the Pine Belt.

At the time, gasoline was in short supply across the country because of Katrina. Prices increased dramatically and lines formed at pumps across the South.

"I considered it a presidential directive to get those pipelines operating," said Jim Compton, general manager of the South Mississippi Electric Power Association - which distributes power that rural electric cooperatives sell to consumers and businesses.

Later Compton is quoted as saying: "We were led to believe a national emergency was created when the pipelines were shut down."

Then it gets a bit more interesting as we hear how Compton got the word ...

Dan Jordan, manager of Southern Pines Electric Power Association, said Vice President Dick Cheney's office called and left voice mails twice shortly after the storm struck, saying the Collins substations needed power restored immediately.

Jordan dated the first call the night of Aug. 30 and the second call the morning of Aug. 31. Southern Pines supplies electricity to the substation that powers the Colonial pipeline.

Mississippi Public Service Commissioner Mike Callahan said the U.S. Department of Energy called him on Aug. 31. Callahan said department officials said opening the fuel line was a national priority.

The article goes on to say that the linemen were working on restoring power to stations that supplied electricity to two rural hospitals. And the work required to get the pipeline up and running again threatened to knock out power to the only remaining hospital in the area on full power, Wesley Medical Center in Hattiesburg.

But just what was going on here? Cheney's office wouldn't talk. They referred the reporter to DHS. And they wouldn't talk either.

Is this how the national disaster response system works? Calls go out from the Vice President's office to local electric power utility operators giving national security directives on which power lines to get running first? Aren't things a bit more systematized than that?

This is also pretty early in the crisis, August 30th, the day after the storm hit. The Veep's office seemed really proactive about getting that pipeline flowing again. I trust it won't seem too persnickety to note a certain contrast between the urgency of this response and that to the rest of the crisis in the region?

The article says that "substations were crucial to Atlanta-based Colonial Pipeline, which moves gasoline and diesel fuel from Texas, through Louisiana and Mississippi and up to the Northeast." Here's the map of the Colonial pipeline on the company's website. (It basically goes from Texas to New Jersey.) And the Colonial website says the company runs the "world's largest-volume refined petroleum products pipeline system." So with that and just a quick bit of research I've done this evening, the pipeline does seem like a fairly big deal.

But why haven't we heard more about this? At a minimum this seems like an important part of the story of what happened two weeks ago. But to the best of my knowledge it's gone wholly unremarked in the major national dailies.

Iffy and mysterious. According to ABCNews, while on a visit to flooded parts of New Orleans on September 2nd, Rep. Bill Jefferson (D-LA) had National Guard troops take him to his home on Marengo Street.

This was the Friday after Katrina struck, while troops were still actively involved in rescue operations. And, according to the article, the Guard truck Jefferson was transported in became stuck in the mud outside his house, leading the soldiers accompanying him to radio a call for help, which was answered by a Coast Guard helicopter in the midst of on-going rescue operations. The helicopter already had four evacuees on board and stayed for some 45 minutes before proceeding along to other rescues.

After entering the house, "Jefferson emerged with a laptop computer, three suitcases, and a box about the size of a small refrigerator, which the enlisted men loaded up into the truck."

Last month, you may remember, Jefferson's homes in the District and New Orleans were raided as part of a federal criminal investigation, the precise nature of which has yet to become clear.