March 1, 2006

Into the Breach, Dear Friends!

Hatched by Dafydd

UPDATE: Patterico offers a pair of corrections appended below.

So, like, the newest buzz about the Big Blow is this story, screaming across AP like a Stuka divebombing a dayschool:

Tape: Bush, Chertoff Warned Before Katrina

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.

(Hat tip John at Power Line.)

In the first place, let's call a shovel a shovel: if the video footage offered by AP in support of this accusation is the best AP has... then I have to flatly state that writers Margaret Ebrahim and John Solomon are liars. Because in fact, the video footage shows no such warning, either inside or outside the meeting, that Katrina might "breach levees."

The video shows one person -- Max Mayfield, head of the National Hurricane Center, speaking via video link [this is a correction; see below] -- warning that people could be in danger if the levees were "overtopped." Overtopping is not breaching, as common sense and English as our primary language should tell us. I echo John Hinderaker's call for AP to release any documents they have that show Bush being warned that there was a serious chance the levees could actually breach, which means to split apart, causing a much worse flood than mere overtopping (obviously).

But I have an even more basic question that John didn't ask (he was probably still in a high dudgeon about Ebrahim and Solomon lying in their teeth). Suppose, just suppose for sake of this discussion, that Bush actually were warned. Suppose Brownie said to him, "Mr. P., the Louisiana State Homeland Security Department called me up today and told me that there's a 50-50 chance that them thar levees might actually bust wide open, like the last time I went all-in on a gutshot straight draw."

What the heck was Bush supposed to do about it? Pray for the hurricane to hit Texas, instead?

  • He has no authority to order an evacuation of New Orleans; only Mayor Ray "the Grand Nagus" Nagin and Gov. Kathleen Babineaux "Blankout" Blanco have that power.
  • He has no authority to order the National Guard into Louisiana until Gov. Blanco requests them.
  • Under Posse Comitatus, he cannot order the Army in to engage in civil law enforcement.
  • He cannot force the state to accept any help at all from FEMA; he can only have them in readiness for the moment the state formally requests help.
  • The president cannot order the governor or the mayor to do anything, actually; under federalism, the power of the national government during disasters is strictly limited.

It seems the same people who turn into hysterical toddlers at the thought that Bush might have slightly overstepped his authority in recording calls and e-mails sent between al-Qaeda enclaves abroad and their sleeper agents inside the country are now becoming apoplectic because Bush didn't gallup far beyond his authority, sending federal troops into Louisiana to evacuate New Orleans at riflepoint, in flagrant violation of the authority of a minority mayor and a female governor. Quelle horror!

What on earth was Bush supposed to do with the information, which he would almost certainly have gotten from the state... warn the state that just told him the levees might break that the levees might break?

This is a hit piece in search of a body. First, they lie and falsely claim that a video shows Bush being warned in an emergency meeting that the levees might break -- when all the video really shows is the National Hurricane Center warning that water might flow over the top of the levees [corrected sentence; see below]. And second, they have no clue themselves what Bush might have done if someone had told him there was a chance they might break... run over to New Orleans and stick his finger in the nearest dike?

Oh, I miss the good old days, when a scandal had to involve something, you know, scandalous. The only scandals here are that (a) the Associated Press would hire illiterates to write copy, and (b) that TV networks would imagine that Americans not only can't read, they can't listen, either.

UPDATE March 2nd, 2006: A couple of corrections, which I have inserted into the text above, both relating to the weatherman. He is not a "TV weatherman," as I originally described him. He is Max Mayfield, the head of the National Hurricane Center; and he wasn't simply broadcasting on TV... he was part of the conference, participating by video link.

However, the meat is still correct: he warned of the danger of overtopping, not a levee breach; and it is still the case that there was nothing Bush could have done about the potential of a breach -- or overtopping, for that matter -- a day or two before Hurricane Katrina made landfall. So there still is no point to AP's attack anyway; it is a deliberate lie, that he was warned about a breach, and a second, subtextual lie -- that he could have averted the disaster if he had only tried, the lazy bum!

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, March 1, 2006, at the time of 11:56 PM

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The following hissed in response by: Patterico

That's not a TV weatherman, Dafydd. It's the head of the national hurricane center.

The above hissed in response by: Patterico [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 2, 2006 8:51 AM

The following hissed in response by: Pat Curley

"...levees could actually breach, which means to split apart, causing a much worse flood than mere overtopping (obviously).

Actually the overtopping was generally seen as the worst case scenario because it would mean a sudden and rapid flood of water going over the top of the levees and rushing into the bowl. Had the levees actually been seriously overtopped there might have been a much larger loss of life than in the case of the breaching because there would have been a sudden wall of water surging in, whereas with the breach there was a warning; the steadily rising water encouraged people to get out of the houses and onto the roofs. In this particular case, the breach turned out to be worse than the comparatively minor overtopping that occurred. But a serious overtopping would have been far worse.

The above hissed in response by: Pat Curley [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 2, 2006 10:26 AM

The following hissed in response by: MTF

Yeah, he's the head of the national hurricane center and he's pictured as being on TV because it's a video conference/briefing for the benefit of the President (who attended from the White House).

That aside, the basic premise is that the PResident should have done something different thatn what he actually did do in preparation for the actual event. If the military was needed pre-storm, just as one example, then the governor has a military capability and should have used it. But, she is only the secondary screwer-upper in this whole mess. Numero Uno Screwer Upper, the capo di capo, was Ray Nagin. The easy criticsms are numerous, but my favorite is that he should never have turned down the Amtrak offer of free train rides out of the city for ALL left behind, nor should he have parked the school busses in low lying parking lots when any reasonable guess was that he was going to need for post-storm evacuations.

This whole exercise is a desperate effort to preserve Demo control of the statehouse and the mayors office in Lousiana, a state that has been trending republican for a decade but not yet made the final leap. Katrina will accomplish that last leap, no matter what the official Democrat Propaganda wing says, errr...sorry, I meant to say "the Associated Press".

The voters will decide who is mostly at fault, and I'll predict right now the AP won't have a whole lot positive to say about that story when it comes either!

The above hissed in response by: MTF [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 2, 2006 12:19 PM

The following hissed in response by: RBMN

If the subject of the video conference actually was an expected breach of the levees, they would have been listening most to the Army Corps of Engineers talking about the situation in New Orleans--not Max Mayfield. Max Mayfield could only discuss expected water levels. He's not an expert on the weakness of the underlying structure of levees. If the levees were defective, the difference between an 8ft. surge and a 12ft. surge would not have been the hot topic.

The above hissed in response by: RBMN [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 2, 2006 4:14 PM

The following hissed in response by: fredjudd

The Pres and FEMA knew well the difference between overtopping and breaching. Indeed, the Hurricane Pam exercise - just six months earlier - an overtopping would bring worse devastation than we saw with a breach. The right wing crackers who think "what a difference a word makes" ignore that. I wonder if Bush thought - "oh, overtopping" whew - I can go to my fund raiser, to AZ to talk about immigration, and I can send Chertoff to Atlanta to talk bird flu. Thank goodness we aren't breaching, just overtopping.

The above hissed in response by: fredjudd [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 5, 2006 1:12 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


Now that you admit Bush was not lying -- and that it was the AP reporters instead who were the liars -- perhaps you can get to the second question: granted that Bush was warned that some levees might overtop... what exactly should he have done about it, beyond what he did?

Do you have an answer, Fred?


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 5, 2006 1:54 PM

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