Assume the Position

Thursday, September 15, 2005
 
25 Percent of John Solomon's 'Truth' Is All Wet

Associated Press writer John Solomon perpetuates a misconception instead of correcting it in his September 14th article, "Truth Is Casualty of Katrina's Aftermath."

LEVEE FAILURES

President Bush said shortly after the disaster that "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees."

In fact, many in New Orleans and the federal government anticipated exactly that scenario. And Strock's own comments make clear the Army Corps knew a hurricane over category 3 strength could pierce the levees.

The concerns were so serious that FEMA and the Homeland Security Department ran an exercise last year called "Hurricane Pam" that provided a dire prediction about a category 3 hurricane hitting New Orleans.

Flood waters would surge over levees, creating "a catastrophic mass casualty/mass evacuation" - 61,290 dead and 384,257 injured or sick in a catastrophic flood that would leave swaths of southeast Louisiana uninhabitable for more than a year, the Hurricane Pam exercise predicted.

Bush finally clarified his remarks Monday, saying his comment was meant to suggest that there had been a false sense of relief that the levees had held when the storm passed, only to break a few hours later.

But that too, doesn't pass muster. The Bush administration's own emergency preparedness site warns resident that big floods often don't occur right away but "generally develop over a period of days."

There is a huge difference between breaching/piercing and overtopping/surging over.

Here's a simplistic analogy. What would you expect to happen if you overfilled your bathtub?
a. The excess water will flow over the side and flood the bathroom.
b. The side of the bathtub will be pierced and the bathtub will empty through the breach, flooding the bathroom.

Everybody repeats over and over that the "levees were constructed to withstand a Category 3 hurricane," but doesn't explain what that means. The levees were built to a height to contain the estimated storm surge from a Category 3 hurricane. A higher storm surge would of course overflow and cause flooding, but the levees were not supposed to collapse under that flow. When the storm surge subsided below levee height, the levees should still be standing and holding back the rest of the water — just like your bathtub after you turn off the tap. Instead, the levees breached in several places so that even after Lake Pontchartrain had gone down to levee height, lakewater still flowed through those gaps.

Scott Shane and Eric Lipton nailed that in their New York Times article, "Government Saw Flood Risk but Not Levee Failure," back on September 2nd.

Local, state and federal officials, for example, have cooperated on disaster planning. In 2000, they studied the impact of a fictional "Hurricane Zebra"; last year they drilled with "Hurricane Pam."

Neither exercise expected the levees to fail.

Army Corps personnel, in charge of maintaining the levees in New Orleans, started to secure the locks, floodgates and other equipment, said Greg Breerwood, deputy district engineer for project management at the Army Corps of Engineers.

"We knew if it was going to be a Category 5, some levees and some flood walls would be overtopped," he said. "We never did think they would actually be breached."

Flooding of low areas was expected, thus the call for evacuation; what was not expected was continued flooding through holes in the levees after the storm surge subsided. (There is, of course, a difference between what is expected and everything in the realm of possibility. It was always possible for a levee to be breached.)

Bush, DHS, FEMA and other people in the administration don't get off the hook for being inarticulate and failing to to say the above in a clear soundbite: We expected some water to go over the levees, but we didn't expect any levees to collapse. That would have saved them some trouble from folks who didn't know the difference between breaching and overtopping, and didn't bother to find out.

(Solomon's "big floods often don't occur right away but 'generally develop over a period of days,'" is a warning normally associated with floods from spring runoff or heavy rains, not storm surges. So it's his comment that doesn't really pass muster. However, Solomon seems to do OK with the other three issues he tackles: levee repairs, fingerpointing and the Iraq effect.)



Friday, September 09, 2005
 
Associated Press Katrina Reporting Turns Despicable

I wasn't going to blog about Katrina — I haven't blogged about anything lately — but this Associated Press story by Ted Bridis is so completely twisted that calling it despicable is mild, and people like John Scalzi fell for it.

Here's Scalzi:

September 07, 2005

Gaaaaaah

Good friggin' lord:

FEMA Chief Sent Help Only After Storm Hit

WASHINGTON (AP) - The top U.S. disaster official waited hours after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast before he proposed to his boss sending at least 1,000 Homeland Security workers into the region to support rescuers, internal documents show.

Part of the mission, according to the documents obtained by The Associated Press, was to "convey a positive image" about the government's response for victims.

He waits until the storm hits, and then he actually has the gall to suggest that part of the mission should be to try to make the government look good.

Michael Brown shouldn't just be fired. He should be shot. Even better: He should be turned over to the survivors.

The next three paragraphs of Bridis' story:

Acknowledging that such a move would take two days, Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, sought the approval from Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff roughly five hours after Katrina made landfall on Aug. 29.

Before then, FEMA had positioned smaller rescue and communications teams across the Gulf Coast. But officials acknowledged the first department-wide appeal for help came only as the storm raged.

Brown's memo to Chertoff described Katrina as "this near catastrophic event" but otherwise lacked any urgent language. The memo politely ended, "Thank you for your consideration in helping us to meet our responsibilities."

Sounds pretty damning if true, but it's not an accurate representation of what Brown was requesting. (I'm not going to defend Brown's and FEMA's mistakes, nor Brown's seeming lack of qualifications to head FEMA. However, if the level of distortion perpetrated by Bridis reflects the norm of press reporting on this disaster, it tends to call the other accusations against FEMA into question.) Brown was requesting volunteers from other DHS agencies to assist in the post-rescue recovery work such as getting information about available disaster aid to the victims.

On August 31st, Daniel Pulliam wrote about the request at GovExec.com:

FEMA seeks 2,000 Homeland Security volunteers for disaster assistance

Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has asked for 2,000 Homeland Security Department employees to volunteer for two weeks working in the areas struck by Hurricane Katrina.

In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, Brown wrote that 1,000 people are needed from the department within the next 48 hours and an additional 1,000 within the next week, the Associated Press reported.

Those that volunteer are being told that the work hours will be long and outdoors.

Notice that Pulliam got the story from an Associated Press report. That's right, on August 31st, the AP reported the story straight:

FEMA needs 2,000 volunteers in two weeks

Updated: 08/31/2005 12:08:11 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Federal Emergency Management Agency is seeking 2,000 Homeland Security Department workers to spend two weeks carrying out duties in the area devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

FEMA director Michael Brown told Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff in a letter that he needs 1,000 people within 48 hours and 2,000 within a week.

Training will be provided in Emmitsburg, Md., Atlanta or Orlando and special skills, such as being bilingual or having a commercial driver's license are important.

The volunteers are being told they must be able to work long hours, outdoors, all day and to bring:
- Sunscreen, sun hat and sunglasses.
- Walking shoes.
- Mosquito repellant.
- Medication, both over the counter and prescription.
- Valid driver's license.
- Government ID.
- Cash (ATMs may not be working).
- Government cell phone, computer, blackberry.
- Appropriate clothing (walking shorts acceptable).
- Rain gear

Brown's request was not for rescue workers, or people to deliver emergency supplies, or set up and staff shelters. This was a request for DHS agencies to allow employees unassociated with the disaster response to volunteer to work in what are essentially FEMA doorknocker brigades, aka "community-relations." These are the folks that try to ensure that everyone in the affected areas is informed of how to begin the process of applying for whatever federal aid they may qualify for. It is not a particularly urgent tasking, since these volunteers mostly end up going door-to-door in safe areas passing out information.

Of course, the only part of the mission related in Bridis' lead was that they were to "'convey a positive image' about the government's response for victims."

Brown's letter to Chertoff is available in PDF from the AP. The letter is dated August 29, 2005, and Bridis wrote that the request was made "roughly five hours after Katrina made landfall," so it was sometime the day before the levee breaches in New Orleans [became known outside of New Orleans. (See Sep 15 update.)] Here is the letter, slightly reformatted when converted to html:

August 29,2005

MEMORANDUM TO: Michael Chertoff
Secretary of Homeland Security

FROM: Michael D. Brown
Under Secretary

SUBJECT: DHS Response to Katrina

We are requesting your assistance to make available DHS employees willing to deploy as soon as possible for a two-week minimum field assignment to serve in a variety of positions. We anticipate needing at least 1000 additional DHS employees within 48 hours and 2000 within 7 days. Attached is a list of requirements that employees will have to meet before deploying.

It is beneficial to use DHS employees as it allows us to be more efficient responding to the needs of this disaster and it reinforces the Department's All-Hazard's Capabilities. Also, DHS employees already have background investigations, travel cards and badges, all items that normally delay filling our surge workforce. FEMA Response and Recovery operations are a top priority of the Department and as we know, one of yours.

We will also want to identify staff with specialized skills such as bilingual capabilities, Commercial Driver's License (CDL), and logistics capabilities.

Thank you for your consideration in helping us meet our responsibilities in this near catastrophic event.

[…]

Attachment

Requirements:

You must have your supervisor's approval.
Contact your Human Resource Office to follow-up with FEMA Human Resource Office
You must be physically able to work in a disaster area without refrigeration for medications and have the ability to work in the outdoors all day.
Must be willing to work long hours under arduous conditions.

Role of Assigned Personnel:

Establish and maintain positive working relationships with disaster affected communities and the citizens of those communities.
Collect and disseminate information and make referrals for appropriate assistance.
Identification of potential issues within the community and reporting to appropriate personnel.
Convey a positive image of disaster operations to government officials, community organizations and the general public.
Perform outreach with community leaders on available Federal disaster assistance.

Training will be provided:

A roster of available personnel will be developed and made available as components identify personnel for deployment.
Selected personnel from the roster will be given training in Emmitsburg, Maryland, Atlanta, Georgia and Orlando, Florida, before you are deployed to the field.
You will be expected to use government credit cards (in good standing) for transportation, lodging, meals and other incidentals.
Contact your agency financial officer for information on obtaining government credit card (if you do not hold one).

Point of Contact to accept and process your assignment:

Human Resource Operations Branch, 202-646-4040
You will be walked through the system for further processing and deployment.

Deployment Information:

Selected personnel will either go to Atlanta, Georgia for Community Relations Training or Orlando, Florida for all other Training and assignments. After which they will be deployed to a disaster Joint Field Office (FCO) when conditions are safe. Some organizational clothing and equipment will be supplied.

Type of personal supplies you should bring:

Sunscreen
Sun hat
Sun Glasses
Walking shoes
Mosquito repellant
Medication (both over the counter and prescriptions)
Valid driver's license
Government ill
Cash (ATMs may not be working)
Government equipment (cell phones, computers, blackberries, etc)
Appropriate clothing (walking shorts acceptable)
Rain gear

I find nothing wrong with the substance of Brown's request to Chertoff, nor with its timing. Not even inclusion of the responsibility to "convey a positive image of disaster operations…" Perhaps Bridis and Scalzi would have been happier if Brown had suggested DHS agencies send their slovenliest slugs and disreputable deadwood, anybody they would fire if civil service rules allowed it, because their role should be to be as disagreeable and nasty as possible so they won't be upstaged by the MoveOn crowd.

That said, there are at least two mistakes DHS and FEMA made related to this aspect of the recovery effort.

The first was Russ Knocke of DHS even speaking to Bridis when he apparently didn't know what he was talking about or allowed Bridis to rattle him into making an unfounded rationalization:

Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said Brown had positioned front-line rescue teams and Coast Guard helicopters before the storm. Brown's memo on Aug. 29 aimed to assemble the necessary federal work force to support the rescues, establish communications, and coordinate with victims and community groups, Knocke said.

Instead of rescuing people or recovering bodies, these employees would focus on helping victims find the help they needed, he said.

"There will be plenty of time to assess what worked and what didn't work," Knocke said. "Clearly there will be time for blame to be assigned and to learn from some of the successful efforts."

Brown's memo told employees that among their duties, they would be expected to "convey a positive image of disaster operations to government officials, community organizations and the general public."

"FEMA response and recovery operations are a top priority of the department and as we know, one of yours," Brown wrote Chertoff. He proposed sending 1,000 Homeland Security Department employees within 48 hours and 2,000 within seven days.

Knocke said the 48-hour period indicated for the Homeland employees was to ensure they had adequate training. "They were training to help the lifesavers," Knocke said.

That last remark about "training to help the lifesavers" is probably wrong, but its the perfect mistake for Bridis to hook the story to actual rescue efforts.

Why do I think Knocke was wrong? Because the second mistake was sending the same kind of volunteer request to firefighters across the nation:

Not long after some 1,000 firefighters sat down for eight hours of training, the whispering began: "What are we doing here?"

As New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin pleaded on national television for firefighters - his own are exhausted after working around the clock for a week - a battalion of highly trained men and women sat idle Sunday in a muggy Sheraton Hotel conference room in Atlanta.

Many of the firefighters, assembled from Utah and throughout the United States by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, thought they were going to be deployed as emergency workers.

Instead, they have learned they are going to be community-relations officers for FEMA, shuffled throughout the Gulf Coast region to disseminate fliers and a phone number: 1-800-621-FEMA.

Using trained rescue personnel for the community-relations effort seems to be a misapplication of resources even if it was done to mitigate the twin liability issues of potential harm to volunteers and potential harm caused by volunteers. It's no wonder some of the firefighters were disgusted if they didn't understand what they were volunteering for. Be that as it may, I am more than reasonably certain this is the same function for which Brown was requesting DHS volunteers to be trained in Atlanta. (There is nothing to indicate the training in other locations deals with rescue efforts, either, and I hazard the guess that it may deal with federal aid to local governments while the Atlanta training concentrates on federal aid to individuals.)

In any event, Ted Bridis' Associated Press article is a prime example of how reporters can carry on a grand misrepresentation without ever stating an absolute falsehood.


UPDATE: Brown relieved of Katrina command, still head of FEMA (for how long?) The breaking news from the Associated Press, with some contribution by "Ted Bridis in Washington," but nothing egregious jumps out in the story. (Via Michael Gersh, who uses the Yahoo link to the story, and isn't sorry to see Brown go. Nor am I, though I'd prefer folks stick to valid justifications, as Gersh seems to, rather than rely on misrepresentations like that by Bridis.)


UPDATE - September 12, 2005: How long? About three days:

Federal Emergency Management Agency director Mike Brown resigned Monday, three days after losing his on-site command of the Hurricane Katrina relief effort. The White House picked a top FEMA official with three decades of firefighting experience as his replacement.


UPDATE - September 15, 2005: Apparently the levee breaches began with the storm surge on the 29th but communications problems prevented that information from being disseminated within the government and to the public until the next day. That has caused many people, myself included, to say the breaches occurred the day after Katrina hit. According to Glasser and Grunwald in the Washington Post, "Communications were so impossible the Army Corps of Engineers was unable to inform the rest of the government for crucial hours that levees in New Orleans had been breached."



Thursday, June 30, 2005
 
Rove and Mehlman Must Love Howard Dean

Howard Dean on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart last week. (Any errors in the transcription are mine, times are approximate mm:ss.)

01:54
Jon Stewart: Is that a tough role for you to be in, which is sort of more of a salesman role than—and a cheerleader role—than, than maybe a policy guy?

Howard Dean: You know why it's not tough? Sometimes it is 'cause I like policy a lot. It's not tough 'cause these people have taken our country away from us. Their…they talk about morals, but they don't do anything to help the poor. The last time I saw that, helping the poor was somethin' that was mentioned 300…3000 times in the Bible; I've yet to find a reference to gay marriage in the Bible. These people are obsessed with things that are not about basic core American values, and I'm sick of it and so is a lot of other people and I'm happy to stand up for 'em.

APPLAUSE

Sure, Howard. Since the founding of this country, gay marriage has been a basic core American value and one of the primary moral institutions that made America great. Then, all of a sudden, along came George Bush and the "evil" Republicans to outlaw gay marriage and take our country away from us.

The poor#Marriage#
poor196 wife373
weak43 wives126
needy35 husband108
poverty14 married29
destitute8marry21
wanting7husbands18
impoverished3marriage16
beggar3marrying2
beggarly1wedlock1
Total310694
Sarcasm aside, just a quick word count of the King James version shows Dean was probably closer with 300 than 3000 mentions of helping the poor in the Bible. (Exaggerating by an order of magnitude seems fairly routine among politicians and activists of all stripes.) While Dean is correct that the Bible has no references to gay marriage, it does have more than twice as many words related to marriage than to poverty. The absence of any reference to gay marriage amongst all the material relating to the marriage of wives and husbands, coupled with the general Biblical proscriptions of sexual congress outside the bounds of said marriages, should be taken as a hint.*

Additionally, it's not like the Republicans came up with the idea of gay marriage as a strawman to attack (see the perennial House passage of a flag desecration amendment). Gay activists and Democrats handed that issue to the Republicans on a silver platter with side dishes of judicial activism and gross usurpation of state powers by local authorities.

But Dean has more to say about Democrats and moral values:

03:17
Jon Stewart: Is there something specific that you guys have developed, that you could just stand up tomorrow and say, "This is what the shadow Democratic government would do."

Howard Dean: Well, other than the specific issues, balancing the budget and all that stuff, yeah. What we're gonna do is restore real moral values to the American people.

[…]

04:05
Howard Dean: If I…you know…if I had to capsule the philosophy of the Democratic Party, it would be, it really is, "Love thy neighbor as thyself and you don't get to choose your neighbors." This is one community in this country and I'm tired of having it divided. We're all in this together. That's basically what this is all about.

That was Dr. Howard "I hate the Republicans and everything they stand for, but I admire their discipline and their organization" Dean, DNC Chairman, eliding the Democratic Party philosophy, which, with him as exemplar, would better be stated as, "Love thy neighbor unless they're a Republican." In explaining that the Democrats, if elected, will "restore real moral values to the American people," Dean insinuates the American people currently have unreal, faux, bogus, ersatz, phoney, fake moral values as evidenced by electing a Republican President, as well as a Republican majority to the House, Senate and state governorships.

The Republican Party could not have asked for a better Democratic National Committee Chairman.


* Via Megan McArdle, who used Dean's performance on The Daily Show as one example in an excellent post on the Democrats' misunderstanding the US political marketplace and misusing marketing metaphors in their attempt to rebuild the party. In her take on Dean, she accurately paraphrased, getting the gist of what he said:

I watched Howard Dean on The Daily Show last night, and rarely have I seen a major political figure so thoroughly, even painstakingly, inept at appealing to voters. His remarks elicited cheers from the true-blue supporters in the audience, but only at the expense of alienating every single other person in the country. If he wasn't making ham-fisted attempts to prove Democratic moralistic superiority* by selective and theologically shallow quotation from the bible--an activity that even bible-thumping Republican congressmen undertake with more caution (and erudition) than Mr Dean did--he was claiming that his was the party of real moral values. Cringe. When was the last time you heard an RNC chair say something like that? Answer: you don't, because the "Family values" guys know that you do not garner votes by saying "Everyone who voted for the other guy is immoral" . . . especially when the other guy got a majority. You get votes by talking about what your values are, which (other than gay marriage) Howard Dean had a hard time doing.

[…]

*Example: "There are hundreds of references in the bible to poverty, but I haven't seen one to gay marriage." Er . . . yes . . . well, I suppose that after the Hebrews had put homosexuals to death, they thought gay marriage wasn't going to be much of an issue.



Monday, June 27, 2005
 
The Facade Comes Down in Iran

Tom Veal considers why the mullahs decided they could drop the sham of having a reformist president:

The only interesting point is that the mullarchy decided that it no longer needs a "moderate" front man. The ineffectual faux-reformer Mohammed Khatami will be succeeded by the Islamofascist mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is, incidentally, wanted for murder in Germany and Austria. There will be no more pretense that the government is split between hard-liners and figures open to accommodation with the rest of the world.

This decision presumably stems from the mullarchs' evaluation of the willingness of the West to resist Iran's development of nuclear weapons and provision of aid and comfort to terrorists. The reform facade was a necessary evil so long as the regime feared for its safety. It now evidently feels secure and confident, convinced that its enemies are too demoralized to do anything more than talk.

[…]

…[W]e tend to forget that the rest of the world, especially that part of it that wishes us ill, keeps watch on what goes on here and takes the mood of American public opinion into account in reckoning what actions are dangerous or safe. That is the only rational basis for maneuver in the shadow of a hyperpower. Therefore, when President Bush dips in the polls and leading politicians compare Guantanamo Bay to Nazi death camps, it is natural for Tehran to suppose that it has wide latitude, that subventions to suicide bombers in Iraq have finally borne fruit, and that the Great Satan will soon submit to becoming the Great Dhimmi.

Could be. Alternatively, since the sham had essentially been exposed long ago, perhaps they decided no one would really buy the continued pretense.



Friday, June 17, 2005
 
Read the "Downing Street Memo" Instead of Just the Press Reports

The current "Bush lied" and "impeachment" wailing by the Democrats and the rest of the left is based on the synopsis reporting the wire services and other press have given the so-called Downing Street memo. Apparently, very few people bothered to actually read the memo, and instead prefer to fixate on a single line from the first page that's been reported over and over: "But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." On the second page, however, comes this passage:

The two key issues were whether the military plan worked and whether we had the political strategy to give the military plan the space to work.

On the first, CDS said that we did not know yet if the US battleplan was workable. The military were continuing to ask lots of questions.

For instance, what were the consequences, if Saddam used WMD on day one, or if Baghdad did not collapse and urban warfighting began? You said that Saddam could also use his WMD on Kuwait. Or on Israel, added the Defence Secretary.

The above shows that the players believed Hussein had WMD even if "his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran," which were being dealt with through "different strategies" other than a policy of regime change.


UPDATE - June 18, 2005: Conyers and other Democrats have gone completely around the bend on the Downing Street memo:

In the Capitol basement yesterday, long-suffering House Democrats took a trip to the land of make-believe.

They pretended a small conference room was the Judiciary Committee hearing room, draping white linens over folding tables to make them look like witness tables and bringing in cardboard name tags and extra flags to make the whole thing look official.

Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) banged a large wooden gavel and got the other lawmakers to call him "Mr. Chairman." He liked that so much that he started calling himself "the chairman" and spouted other chairmanly phrases, such as "unanimous consent" and "without objection so ordered." The dress-up game looked realistic enough on C-SPAN, so two dozen more Democrats came downstairs to play along.

The session was a mock impeachment inquiry over the Iraq war. As luck would have it, all four of the witnesses agreed that President Bush lied to the nation and was guilty of high crimes -- and that a British memo on "fixed" intelligence that surfaced last month was the smoking gun equivalent to the Watergate tapes. Conyers was having so much fun that he ignored aides' entreaties to end the session.

"At the next hearing," he told his colleagues, "we could use a little subpoena power." That brought the house down.

As Conyers and his hearty band of playmates know, subpoena power and other perks of a real committee are but a fantasy unless Democrats can regain the majority in the House. But that's only one of the obstacles they're up against as they try to convince America that the "Downing Street Memo" is important.



Tuesday, June 14, 2005
 
Still the One

Gallup (subscribers only)
June 01, 2005
Military Again Tops "Confidence in Institutions" List
Ratings of the president, Congress, and the Supreme Court are all down

by Lydia Saad

Gallup's 2005 update of Americans' confidence in institutions finds the military, once again, head and shoulders above the competition. The police and organized religion rank second and third, respectively, on this year's list, while HMOs have secured their spot at the bottom of the list. Americans have lower confidence today than they did a year ago in the presidency, Congress, and the Supreme Court. Television news receives its lowest ratings in trends dating to 1993....

The poll results via PollingReport.com:

Gallup Poll. May 23-26, 2005. N=1,004 adults nationwide. MoE ± 3.

"I am going to read you a list of institutions in American society. Please tell me how much confidence you, yourself, have in each one: a great deal, quite a lot, some, or very little. . . ."



Tuesday, June 07, 2005
 
When Embryonic Stem Cells Go Rogue

The Latigid Draziw Institute research team of Ekaf Erutcip and Sugob Egami reported one significant drawback with their experimental use of embryonic stem cells in the treatment of Parkinson's disease.



Original content copyright © 2002-2005 Lynxx Pherrett. All rights reserved.