Going to New Orleans

Dear Readers,

I won’t be blogging for the next few days because I’m going to New Orleans. I’m leading a group of students from the Criswell College to a staging area in Baton Rouge where we will link up with Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief. We will man a Salvation Army Mobile Canteen and will be responsible for distributing 300,000 meals per day in New Orleans.

The last several days, I’ve been blogging a lot about the political side of the Hurrican Katrina tragedy because I think the news coverage has been reflexively condemning of federal authorities. I am happy to say that I think that that tide is turning. In any case, I am hoping to have something very different to write about when I get back. I hope to tell some of the story of our trip after we return because I don’t think that I will have access to the internet while I am there (and I don’t think I’d have time to write anyway).

I would greatly appreciate your prayers.

Sincerely,
Denny

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State of Louisiana Prevented Red Cross from Providing Relief to New Orleans Superdome

This is an unbelievable story being reported by Major Garrett of FOX News. The following is from Hugh Hewitt’s website:

“The Fox News Channel’s Major Garrett was just on my show extending the story he had just reported on Brit Hume’s show: The Red Cross is confirming to Garrett that it had prepositioned water, food, blankets and hygiene products for delivery to the Superdome and the Convention Center in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, but were blocked from delivering those supplies by orders of the Louisiana state government, which did not want to attract people to the Superdome and/or Convention Center. Garrett has no paper trail yet, but will follow up on his verbal confirmation from sources at the highest levels of the Red Cross.”

You can read a transcript of Hugh Hewitt’s interview with Major Garrett here. According to Garrett, the Red Cross is unequivocally confirming his story.

If this story is accurate, it changes the entire political calculus. It would show that the tragic aftermath of Katrina was not due to a failure of federal authorities, but to a failure of authorities in the State of Louisiana.

(HT: Justin Taylor)

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Mayor of New Orleans Had Responsibility To Evacuate

The city of New Orleans had a set of emergency procedures in place before Katrina hit that pertain to such events as catastrophic Hurricanes. The document is titled: “City of New Orleans Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan.” This document outlines the plan that the city is to follow in case of an emergency evacuation. It says the following:

“Conduct of an actual evacuation will be the responsibility of the Mayor of New Orleans in coordination with the Director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness, and the OEP Shelter Coordinator . . . Transportation will be provided to those persons requiring public transportation from the area . . . The evacuation must be completed before the arrival of gale force winds.”

The plan also puts the New Orleans Office of Emergency Preparedness in charge of providing shelters for those citizens who need to evacuate.

“Emergency shelter operations are the responsibility of the Office of Emergency Preparedness Shelter Coordinator. Shelters are provided by the Orleans Parish School Board, while manager training and support activities and supplies are provided by the Office of Emergency Preparedness . . . Shelter demand is currently under review by the Shelter Coordinator. Approximately 100,000 Citizens of New Orleans do not have means of personal transportation.”

A supplement to this plan titled Louisiana Emergency Operations Plan (supplement 1A) states the following:

“The primary means of hurricane evacuation will be personal vehicles. School and municipal buses, government-owned vehicles and vehicles provided by volunteer agencies may be used to provide transportation for individuals who lack transportation and require assistance in evacuating.”

The State of Louisiana Emergency Operations Plan also addresses the issue of authority in the event of a disaster situation:

“The governor of Louisiana has the ultimate responsibility for direction and control over state activities related to emergencies and disasters” (source).

What is clear from these documents is that the Governor of Louisiana and the Mayor of New Orleans had the primary responsibility to evacuate and shelter the citizens of New Orleans.

For some reason, these responsibilities are not being accurately reported in the news coverage of the disaster. I don’t think that the reporting should focus on who’s to blame at this point. That can wait until we have a more accurate account of the response from city, state, and federal officials. But what this does demonstrate is that reporters should cease and desist from framing this disaster as a failure of federal authorities. Such an assumption is wrong on its face.

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John Roberts to Be Nominated As Chief Justice

CNN is reporting that President Bush will nominate John Roberts to succeed Rehnquist as chief justice of the Supreme Court.

By appointing someone from the outside, the President ensures that there will be only two confirmation battles, not three (If he would have nominated a sitting justice to be chief justice, the senate would have to confirm the promotion as well as the filling of the two remaining vacancies).

When she announced her retirement, Sandra Day O’Connor’s made her retirement contingent upon the President’s appointment of her replacement. In her resignation letter, she wrote: “This is to inform you of my decision to retire from my position as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, effective upon the nomination and confirmation of my successor.”

Thus she will remain on the court until President Bush names her replacement. President Bush must move quickly to nominate here replacement. Otherwise, the confirmation process will become more difficult as we move into the mid-term election season.

I hope the President moves quickly.

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Mayor of New Orleans Blames the Louisiana Governor

I just watched Soledad O’Brien interview New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin on CNN. She pressed him on whether he bore some responsibility for the tragedy at the Superdome and at the convention center.

Mayor Nagin responded that when Bush came to Louisiana, Bush offered to centralize the chain-of-command so that the feds could take over rescue and relief from Governor Kathleen Blanco. According to Nagin, Bush was ready to move immediately, but Blanco said she needed twenty-four hours to think about it.

Mayor Nagin was extremely frustrated with Governor Blanco to say the least. According to Nagin, while she was stalling, people were dying. This is quite a different picture than has been painted in the media thus far where everyone has been blaming the federal government for the slowness of the relief efforts. Here’s a transcript of the interview:

MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS: And what the state was doing, I don’t freaking know. But I’ll tell you, I am pissed. It wasn’t adequate. And then the president and the governor sat down. We were in Air Force One. I said, Mr. President, Madam Governor, you two have to get in sync. If you don’t get in sync, more people are going to die.

SOLEDAD O’BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What day did you go? When did you say that? When did you say…

NAGIN: Whenever Air Force One was here.

O’BRIEN: OK.

NAGIN: And that this was after I called him on the telephone two days earlier. And I said, Mr. President and Madam Governor, you two need to get together on the same page, because the lack of coordination, people are dying in my city.

O’BRIEN: That’s two days ago you said?

NAGIN: They both shook. I don’t know the exact day. They both shook their head and said, yes. I said great. I said everybody in this room is getting ready to leave. There was senators and his cabinet people. You name it. There were generals. I said everybody right now, we’re leaving. These two people need to sit in a room together and make a doggone decision right now.

O’BRIEN: And was that done?

NAGIN: The president looked at me. I think he was a little surprised. He said, no, you guys stay here, we’re going to another section of the plane and we’re going to make a decision. He called me in that office after that. He said, Mr. Mayor, I offered two options to the governor. I said — and I don’t remember exactly what they were, two options. I was ready to move today. The governor said she needed 24 hours to make a decision.

O’BRIEN: You’re telling me the president told you the governor said she needed 24 hours to make a decision?

NAGIN: Yes.

O’BRIEN: Regarding what, bringing troops in?

NAGIN: Whatever they had discussed. As far as what the chain — I was advocating a clear chain of command so that we could get resources flowing in the right places.

O’BRIEN: And the governor said, no, according to the…

NAGIN: She said that she needed 24 hours to make a decision. It would have been great if we could have left Air Force One, walked outside and told the world that we had this all worked out. It didn’t happen and more people died. [source]

I am happy to see that Soledad O’brien acknowledged after the interview that there was plenty of blame to go around. She is the first reporter I’ve seen on CNN who has given any serious credence to the idea that anyone other than the Bush administration is to blame. But there’s really nothing else she could say after the startling revelation from Mayor Nagin.

Soledad and the other CNN correspondents looked quite surprised as Mayor Nagin’s account really didn’t seem to confirm their working supposition—that Bush alone is to blame.

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Disappointed with Russert, et al.

It’s not just the partisans who are rushing to judgment about who to blame for the catastrophic aftermath of Katrina. The clear thrust of mainstream media reporting has been to lay the blame for the crisis in New Orleans at the feet of the Bush administration.

The default assumption in the media appears to be that if there was a failure of rescue operations, then the failure was a federal one. No reporter that I have seen has come up with a line of questioning that would insinuate a failure on the part of the Louisiana governor or the New Orleans mayor (I’ve mainly been watching CNN, NBC, and MSNBC’s coverage). The questions seem to be pushing toward an indictment of President Bush.

This situation is rather remarkable given that we know so little about the big picture at this point. We do know that an evacuation of the city of New Orleans before a storm was the job of state and local officials. How is it that the mainstream media see the failure to evacuate as a failure at the federal level?

We may find out at some point that something went awry with the federal response, but why do reporters just assume that to be the case when it seems like the default position would be to see this as a shortcoming of the state and local governments? It appears that the media intends to treat the Bush administration as guilty until proven innocent.

Today’s episode of NBC’s “Meet the Press” is emblematic of what’s been happening in most of the coverage that I’ve seen up to this point. Tim Russert grilled the Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, while a Louisiana state officials got off fairly easily.

Tim Russert:

“Mr. Secretary, are you or anyone who reports to you contemplating resignation? . . .

“Well, many Americans believe now is the time for accountability. The Republican governor of Massachusetts said, ‘We are an embarrassment to the world.’ The Republican senator from Louisiana, David Vitter, said that you deserve a grade of F, flunk. How would you grade yourself? . . .

“People were stunned by a comment the president of the United States made on Wednesday, Mr. Secretary. He said, ‘I don’t think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees.’ How could the president be so wrong, be so misinformed? . . .

“Your Web site says that your department assumes primary responsibility for a national disaster. If you knew a hurricane 3 storm was coming, why weren’t buses, trains, planes, cruise ships, trucks provided on Friday, Saturday, Sunday to evacuate people before the storm? . . .” (source)

The secretary tries to explain to Tim Russert how disaster relief works under the law.

Secretary Chertoff:

“Tim, the way that emergency operations act under the law is the responsibility and the power, the authority, to order an evacuation rests with state and local officials. The federal government comes in and supports those officials” (source).

But Tim does not even acknowledge the secretary’s answer or that responsibility for any failures could be distributed outside the federal government.

Tim goes on to allow Mike Tidwell (a global warming activist and campaigner for John Kerry in the 2004 presidential race, which is not disclosed by Russert) to grandstand about how George Bush is responsible not only for the aftermath of Katrina, but also for similar environmental hazards in all U.S. coastal cities.

“But the really final big story here is that the Bush administration is failing on another level to hear warning signs and take credible evidence that there’s dire problems. The Bush administration itself–its own studies say that we will in this century turn every coastal city in America into a New Orleans. Why? Because we got three feet of subsidence, sinking,in south Louisiana in the 20th century because of the levees. Right now, because of global climate change, the Bush administration’s own studies say we will get between one and three feet of sea level rise worldwide because of our use of fossil fuels.

“The big, big, big take-away message here is: New Orleans is the future of Miami, New York, San Diego, every coastal city in the world, because whether the land sinks three feet and you get a bowl in a hurricane like this, or sea level rises worldwide, same problem. We have got to address this energy problem that David mentioned. We have an irrational energy problem” (source).

Tim offers no challenge whatsoever to Tidwell, even though Tidwell admits that opportunities to address dangers in New Orleans go back to 1995 when Bill Clinton was president. That Tidwell lays the blame solely at the feet of the Bush administration and not to the previous Democrat administration shows his partisan bent.

That political opportunists have politicized this calamity is unconscionable. That the mainstream media facilitates this politicization is even worse because they have such an impact on shaping public opinion.

I am hoping that a clear picture will emerge in the coming days. Until then, I remain disappointed with Tim Russert and others like him who are jumping on the blame-Bush bandwagon. I think the wiser course would be to reserve judgment until we understand what really has happened. There will be plenty of time to analyze the failures that may have occurred at all levels of government—local, state, and federal.

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Federal Authorities Move to Relieve Governor Blanco of Command

President Bush and Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco

Apparently, the Bush Administration believes the situation in New Orleans has been mismanaged by state and local officials. Tonight, the Washington Post reports that federal officials have attempted to take command over the National Guard troops that are currently under the authority of Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco.

“Behind the scenes, a power struggle emerged, as federal officials tried to wrest authority from Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D). Shortly before midnight Friday, the Bush administration sent her a proposed legal memorandum asking her to request a federal takeover of the evacuation of New Orleans, a source within the state’s emergency operations center said Saturday.

“The administration sought unified control over all local police and state National Guard units reporting to the governor. Louisiana officials rejected the request after talks throughout the night, concerned that such a move would be comparable to a federal declaration of martial law . . .

“A senior administration official said that Bush has clear legal authority to federalize National Guard units to quell civil disturbances under the Insurrection Act and will continue to try to unify the chains of command that are split among the president, the Louisiana governor and the New Orleans mayor.

“Louisiana did not reach out to a multi-state mutual aid compact for assistance until Wednesday, three state and federal officials said. As of Saturday, Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency, the senior Bush official said” (source).

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William Rehnquist, the chief justice of the United States, is dead at 80

Chief Justice William Rehnquist succumbed to thyroid cancer tonight. His death is a great loss to our country, and my heart goes out to his family.

I will miss chief justice Rehnquist. He was the quintessential originalist and an exemplary justice whose legacy will not soon be forgotten.

Washington Post – “Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist Dies”

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Kanye West’s Race-Baiting Tirade

Hip-hop star Kanye West went on a tirade during NBC’s disaster relief fundraiser tonight. West and Michael Myers were paired together during a segment so that they could appeal to a nationwide TV audience to donate money to the Red Cross. After Michael Myers opened with a few remarks, Kanye West began a meandering monologue that was clearly not written on his cue card and was very difficult to understand. However, a few things came through loud and clear.

First, West made the outlandish claim that the government had given the troops in New Orleans permission to shoot black people. Second, he accused the media of racist coverage, alleging that reporters are saying that black families are looting while white families are just looking for food. Third, West punctuated his screed with an low-blow against the President: “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” (the Washington Post has the entire exchange here).

I fear that West has been drinking deeply from the propaganda of the race-baiters who have been trying to exploit this tragedy for their own ends. For instance, consider Al Sharpton’s accusation on Keith Olbermann’s program just last night: “And the real question is not only those that didn‘t get out. The question is why has it taken the government so long to get in. I feel that, if it was in another area, with another economic strata and racial makeup, that President Bush would have run out of Crawford a lot quicker and FEMA would have found its way in a lot sooner” (source).

Consider also how Jesse Jackson criticized the federal response to the disaster: “How can blacks be locked out of the leadership, and trapped in the suffering? It is that lack of sensitivity and compassion that represents a kind of incompetence. . . There’s a historical indifference to the pain of poor people and black people . . . [the new media has] criminalized the people of New Orleans” by focusing on violence in the city (source).

So you see, Kanye West didn’t say anything that these race-baiters haven’t been saying all week. But West’s remarks do reveal just how reckless the rhetoric of the Jacksons and the Sharptons can be. What should have been a non-partisan appeal to the better angels of American nature turned into a counter-productive blame game.

Nevermind the fifty-percent of Americans who would take great offense at West’s parroted accusations. Nevermind the fact that such remarks might disincline some from contributing to the Red Cross disaster-relief fund. Just blame Bush and exploit the tragedy for partisan advantage. That does not sound very compassionate to me.

NBC tried to recover the good will of its viewers with the following statement that was released after the concert:

“Kanye West departed from the scripted comments that were prepared for him, and his opinions in no way represent the views of the networks. It would be most unfortunate if the efforts of the artists who participated tonight and the generosity of millions of Americans who are helping those in need are overshadowed by one person’s opinion” (source).

I am not saying that the south doesn’t have serious racial issues to confront. Believe me, we do. And I am certain I will have more to write on that topic later. But tonight, I am just troubled by the irresponsible, inflammatory statements made by West.

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