Wednesday, March 01, 2006

That's Gotta Hurt

As Bush's approval and favorability ratings sink to Jimmy Carter-ville (the GOP counterpart perhaps?), one heckuva an IED just went off beneath the Presidential convoy. Ladies and gentlemen, Exhibit A [emphasis mine throughout]:

In dramatic and sometimes agonizing terms, federal disaster officials warned President Bush and his homeland security chief before Hurricane Katrina struck that the storm could breach levees, put lives at risk in New Orleans' Superdome and overwhelm rescuers, according to confidential video footage.

Bush didn't ask a single question during the final briefing before Katrina struck on Aug. 29, but he assured soon-to-be-battered state officials: "We are fully prepared."

The footage — along with seven days of transcripts of briefings obtained by The Associated Press — show in excruciating detail that while federal officials anticipated the tragedy that unfolded in New Orleans and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast, they were fatally slow to realize they had not mustered enough resources to deal with the unprecedented disaster.
Wait. There's more.

Linked by secure video, Bush expressed a confidence on Aug. 28 that starkly contrasted with the dire warnings his disaster chief and numerous federal, state and local officials provided during the four days before the storm.

A top hurricane expert voiced "grave concerns" about the levees and then- Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown told the president and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff that he feared there weren't enough disaster teams to help evacuees at the Superdome.

"I'm concerned about ... their ability to respond to a catastrophe within a catastrophe," Brown told his bosses the afternoon before Katrina made landfall.
Crooks and Liars has the video. As alluded to above, here's the clincher. Remember this statement by Bush four days after the storm hit:

"I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees. They did anticipate a serious storm. But these levees got breached. And as a result, much of New Orleans is flooded. And now we are having to deal with it and will."
The current video evidence directly contradicts that statement, rendering it, shall we say duplicitous:

But the transcripts and video show there was plenty of talk about that possibility - and Bush was worried too.

White House deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Brown discussed fears of a levee breach the day the storm hit.

"I talked to the president twice today, once in Crawford and then again on Air Force One," Brown said. "He's obviously watching the television a lot, and he had some questions about the Dome, he's asking questions about reports of breaches."
And then there was this before the storm hit:

--The National Hurricane Center's Mayfield told the final briefing before Katrina struck that storm models predicted minimal flooding inside New Orleans during the hurricane but he expressed concerns that counterclockwise winds and storm surges afterward could cause the levees at Lake Pontchartrain to be overrun.

"I don't think any model can tell you with any confidence right now whether the levees will be topped or not but that is obviously a very, very grave concern," Mayfield told the briefing.

Other officials expressed concerns about the large number of New Orleans residents who had not evacuated.
Some other highlights:

Some of the footage and transcripts from briefings Aug. 25-31 conflicts with the defenses that federal, state and local officials have made in trying to deflect blame and minimize the political fallout from the failed Katrina response:

--Homeland Security officials have said the "fog of war" blinded them early on to the magnitude of the disaster. But the video and transcripts show federal and local officials discussed threats clearly, reviewed long-made plans and understood Katrina would wreak devastation of historic proportions. "I'm sure it will be the top 10 or 15 when all is said and done," National Hurricane Center's Max Mayfield warned the day Katrina lashed the Gulf Coast.

"I don't buy the 'fog of war' defense," Brown told the AP in an interview Wednesday. "It was a fog of bureaucracy." [...]

--Video footage of the Aug. 28 briefing, the final one before Katrina struck, showed an intense Brown voicing concerns from the government's disaster operation center and imploring colleagues to do whatever was necessary to help victims.

"We're going to need everything that we can possibly muster, not only in this state and in the region, but the nation, to respond to this event," Brown warned. He called the storm "a bad one, a big one" and implored federal agencies to cut through red tape to help people, bending rules if necessary. [...]

Bush appeared from a narrow, windowless room at his vacation ranch in Texas, with his elbows on a table. Hagin was sitting alongside him. Neither asked questions in the Aug. 28 briefing.

"I want to assure the folks at the state level that we are fully prepared to not only help you during the storm, but we will move in whatever resources and assets we have at our disposal after the storm," the president said.

A relaxed Chertoff, sporting a polo shirt, weighed in from Washington at Homeland Security's operations center. He would later fly to Atlanta, outside of Katrina's reach, for a bird flu event.

--One snippet captures a missed opportunity on Aug. 28 for the government to have dispatched active-duty military troops to the region to augment the National Guard.

Chertoff: "Are there any DOD assets that might be available? Have we reached out to them?"

Brown: "We have DOD assets over here at EOC (emergency operations center). They are fully engaged. And we are having those discussions with them now."

Chertoff: "Good job."

In fact, active duty troops weren't dispatched until days after the storm. And many states' National Guards had yet to be deployed to the region despite offers of assistance, and it took days before the Pentagon deployed active-duty personnel to help overwhelmed Guardsmen.
I don't know about you folks, but I'd say this is fairly big news. Some of this information was already known and/or speculated about, but pictures are worth a thousand words - and video ten times that. I don't use this phrase lightly, but I think Bush has just been caught in a pretty big lie regarding anticipation/warnings about levee breaches - and one that can be repeatedly shown in a loop on all the cables for a couple of cycles. There might be some legalistic wiggle room with regard to parsing the word "anticipate" but that won't be all that convincing - and they were late to react and responded poorly when they did, regardless.

Besides the levee breach-fib, there is video evidence of generally negligent behavior, a reckless lack of interest in a pressing emergency situation - both beforehand and as it is unfolding - and an utter display of incompetence across the board. These numbers could take an even bigger dip - although they are already pretty close to the rock-bottom, hardcore supporters who might not ever budge. At the very least, it won't help him to climb out of that cellar. And am I wrong to suggest that Louisiana might be in play for the Democrats in 2008? Still a reach perhaps, but dare to dream.

[UPDATE: One more thing, after watching the video again, I can't help but notice that "Brownie" ended up looking and sounding relatively competent, interested and on top of the situation in comparison to Bush. And Mike Brown was so incompetent, he had to resign amid much scorn and condemnation. Just a thought.

UPDATE II: Over at Powerline and other conservative sites, they are focusing on whether Bush was warned of the levees being "breached" or just "topped" - with the additional chronological correction that the footage/transcripts only prove that he was warned about/aware of "breaches" on the day Katrina hit. At which point he....snapped into action? Of course, it should be noted, these recorded briefings would not have been the only source for "breach" warnings before the storm hit. You can't prove the negative thusly. Besides, lots of people were talking "breach" long before Katrina. For example.

Either way, the point is that, regardless of what the recorded evidence is of when Bush first heard the word "breach" (days before the storm vs. on the day of landfall), he was most definitely warned that a severe storm was headed in that direction, and that the results could be catastrophic on a large scale. A levee breach was not the only vehicle for disaster. This storm was the "big one" according to Brown. And with that "big one" en route, there were concerns about the level of preparation expressed to him directly. His response? He decides to stay on vacation in Crawford, TX with a skeleton crew of advisors. He asks no questions during the briefing. He enacts no additioanl contingency plans, nor grills those involved to make sure they had it covered. Instead, he outsources all responsibility and command yet states confidently from his vacation abode:

"I want to assure the folks at the state level that we are fully prepared to not only help you during the storm, but we will move in whatever resources and assets we have at our disposal after the storm," Bush said, gesturing with both hands for emphasis on the digital recording.
Again, he remained on vacation days after the nightmare of Katrina began unfolding - after it was clear (or should have been clear) what was happening. After he heard directly about reports of levee breaches. But hey, the transcripts may only prove he heard the word "breach" the day Katrina hit. So no big deal. ReddHedd has a point:

We were told that Dan Bartlett had to put together a DVD of news snippets for the President several days after Katrina show him what was going on -- is THAT when the President realized things weren't going well? Days after the hurricane -- and only because a staffer made him watch a video to catch him up with the news...while he was still on vacation...for days after the catastrophic hurricane?
The CEO President.]

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