Thursday, October 20, 2005

How Michael Brown fiddled while Rome burned

That is, how Michael Brown ate dinner while New Orleans flooded and people died.

Uh, yeah, nice job, Brownie:

In the midst of the chaos that followed Hurricane Katrina, a Federal Emergency Management Agency official in New Orleans sent a dire e-mail to Director Michael Brown saying victims had no food and were dying. No response came from Brown.

Instead, less than three hours later, an aide to Brown sent an e-mail saying her boss wanted to go on a television program that night — after needing at least an hour to eat dinner at a Baton Rouge, La., restaurant.

Seriously. No joke. Check this out:

On Aug. 31, [FEMA official Marty] Bahamonde e-mailed Brown to tell him that thousands of evacuees were gathering in the streets with no food or water and that "estimates are many will die within hours."

"Sir, I know that you know the situation is past critical," Bahamonde wrote. "The sooner we can get the medical patients out, the sooner we can get them out."

A short time later, Brown's press secretary, Sharon Worthy, wrote colleagues to complain that the FEMA director needed more time to eat dinner at a Baton Rouge restaurant that evening. "He needs much more that (sic) 20 or 30 minutes," Worthy wrote.

"Restaurants are getting busy," she said. "We now have traffic to encounter to go to and from a location of his choise (sic), followed by wait service from the restaurant staff, eating, etc. Thank you."

In an Aug. 29 phone call to Brown informing him that the first levee had failed, Bahamonde said he asked for guidance but did not get a response.

"He just said, 'Thank you,' and that he was going to call the White House," Bahamonde said.

I (and many others in the blogosphere) have long thought that Brown deserved much of the blame for the federal government's disastrously slow response to Katrina, but I also thought that he was being unfairly scapegoated by those above him who should have taken responsibility for what went wrong -- namely, President Bush and, to a lesser degree, Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff.

In the end, as I wrote back on September 9, "there's really no one more deserving of blame than Bush himself". But one of my readers was quite right to add this: "But isn't the problem really that [Bush] allowed FEMA to be staffed by incompetents?" Yes, quite so -- and this evidence of complete disregard for what was going on in New Orleans further destroys Brown's credibility (such as he has any left) and Bush's leadership (uh, ditto).

Brown did a lousy job in response to Katrina, to say the least, but who put him in charge of FEMA?

There's the problem.


Elsewhere, according to the L.A. Times, "[FEMA's] lack of planning, not the failures of state and local officials, was to blame for much of what went wrong with the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told member of Congress today." Read the whole piece. Chertoff rips Brown to pieces -- although I wonder if Chertoff isn't himself abdicating responsibility by heaping all the blame on his disgraced former subordinate.


For more, see The Left Coaster, The Huffington Post, Think Progress, AMERICAblog, and Preemptive Karma.

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