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Blanco's special session agenda

Kathleen Blanco is taking some heat for allegedly using various politicians as a backdrop for the start of her special session. Be that as it may:

...Blanco has included two housing issues on the agenda, as well as consolidation of governmental and court agencies in Orleans Parish; consolidating levee boards in South Louisiana; and setting in law the state agency she created to oversee Louisiana's hurricane recovery.
State officials said the events Monday will include a lobbyist-sponsored lunch before the buses leave from the Capitol and a reception at the Convention Center after Blanco's speech. Dozens of legislators have toured the area, some as individuals, others as members of committees, but an exact count of the lawmakers who have viewed the destruction was not available, legislative and administration officials said.
"I know many legislators have toured Louisiana's devastated coast to see firsthand the massive recovery efforts that are under way," Blanco said in a letter to lawmakers released Wednesday. "If we are called to encourage economic progress, educational vitality and quality health care, then our leadership must be united and personally involved in the struggle to lead this state toward healing and prosperity..."

ACE downplays lowered Katrina category

Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Susan Jackson responded to the news that Katrina was apparently weaker than originally reported as follows:

"In the Gulf, Katrina was a Category 5 storm, and the surge was still Category 5 when it hit the ground... It's the surge -- the pressure of water against those levee walls -- that's the most important factor, not the winds."

As previously discussed, there are questions over whether ACE's design of the levees and floodwalls was faulty or not.
And, the downgrading also affects LA's government:

"That storm was the biggest storm ever to enter the Gulf of Mexico," [Edmond J. Preau Jr., Louisiana's assistant secretary for public works] said in testimony before the Senate's Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. "I think it would be a real disservice to everyone if Katrina goes down in the history books as a '4' because the wind speed dropped at the last minute."

And:

To some local experts, the report was further evidence that human error was primarily to blame for New Orleans's drowning.
"This is a further indictment of the levee system," Ivor Van Heerden, an LSU professor and leader of a team of Louisiana investigators probing the cause of the levee breaches. "It indicates that most of the flooding of downtown New Orleans was a consequence of man's folly."
Other engineering experts agree: Considering Katrina's weakened state at the time it reached New Orleans, the failure of the city's 17th Street and London Avenue canal floodwalls can be explained only as a failure of design or construction, said Robert Bea, a civil engineering professor at the University of California at Berkeley.
"The water level in the canals wasn't that high when the floodwalls breached," said Bea, a member of an investigating team funded by the National Science Foundation. "We had a premature failure of the defense system."

Aides worried over Blanco's image

A set of emails released by Congress show Blanco's aides offering wardrobe and image advice:

...In a Sept. 4 e-mail exchange, top Blanco aides bristled at Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's remark that the federal government "is in control of New Orleans."
"Our answer is the National Guard is in charge of security under her direction," Blanco chief of staff Andy Kopplin wrote. "The mayor is in charge of the city. The governor is in charge of the state and the guard and security. The federal government is now meeting important missions that it has."
The next day, two Blanco press staffers appealed to other senior aides to stop travel that would have had the governor leaving the state on a day when President Bush was scheduled to be there.
"Reinforces the notion that she's not in charge and LA (Louisiana) needs to be federalized," wrote Blanco press secretary Denise Bottcher in a Sept. 5 e-mail.
Agreed Blanco communications director Bob Mann: "White House will be thrilled that she left the state. They will eat us for lunch. She cannot snub potus [Bush]."
...Their ideas, according to the e-mails, included having Blanco "put a few bags of ice in the hands of the citizens who need it" and stop "doing too many 'first lady' things."
... "You send that many black folks out of state, we will have a perception problem," Blanco assistant chief of staff Johnny Anderson wrote in a Sept. 2 e-mail.
"Word is already that we are only sending blacks out of this state," Anderson wrote. We are make (sic) a strategic error. FEMA will not have to answer to the people, we will."

Another part of the emails was discussed in Kathleen Blanco is MOVING MOUNTAINS

Brian Williams interviews George Bush

NBC's Brian Williams conducted a long interview with president Bush, and the section about Katrina has Bush:
- repeating his blame-taking for the weak federal response ("to the extent that the federal government was ineffective, I'm responsible")
- given the opportunity to blame Blanco, Nagin, or others, he said "we're beyond that"
- he was watching the TV reports from the Superdome...
- he "certainly hopes" that we won't lose New Orleans on his watch...
- Bush not only knows what the Ninth Ward is, he's familiar with the conspiracy theory about the government blowing up the levees...
- Bush has read about- or had someone tell him about - the blowing up of the levees that occured in the 20s...
And, there's this perhaps-not-entirely-accurate bit:

one of the things we've learned about the levees, Brian, is that they call the levees a certain category, but they weren't up to standards. And so we're now in the process of working with local folks to get the standards of the levees up to where they should have been prior to the storm and even better. And hopefully we'll have the capacity to announce that relatively quickly.

The levees and floodwalls might not have been designed correctly however.
Also:

I remember saying that, when I thanked those chopper drivers from the Coast Guard who performed brilliantly, they didn't lower those booms to pick up people saying, "What color skin do you have?" They said, "A fellow American's in jeopardy. And I'm going to do my best to rescue that person."

However, some far-lefties have speculated that shots fired at choppers were because they were being ignored because of triage.
Speaking about Brownie:

You know, Michael [Brown], resigned. And I, you know, I had worked with him during the four hurricanes that hit Florida. He got pretty good marks. And in this case, for whatever reason, the system overwhelmed the whole process. And Michael said, "I'm responsible." And he left.

Karl Rove wanted Blanco to federalize the New Orleans evacuation

Shortly after noon on Wednesday, Aug 31, Karl Rove used Senator David Vitter to convey a message to governor Kathleen Blanco: she should announce that she's voluntarily turned control of the evacuation of New Orleans over to the feds, and she should:

explore legal options to impose martial law "or as close as we can get," Vitter quoted Rove as saying, according to handwritten notes by Terry Ryder, Blanco's executive counsel.

For the next three days, the White House tried to get Blanco to do what they wanted, except:

Blanco rejected the administration's terms, 10 minutes before Bush was to announce them in a Rose Garden news conference, the governor's aides said.

As others speculated at the time, Blanco had no clue on how to deal with the legalities of this:

Blanco's top aides relied on ad hoc tutorials from the National Guard about who would be in charge and how to call in federal help. But in the inevitable confusion of fast-moving events, partisan differences and federal/state divisions prevented top leaders from cooperating.
A Blanco aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the people around Bush were trying to maneuver the governor into an unnecessary change intended to make Bush look decisive.
"It was an overwhelming natural disaster. The federal government has an agency that exists for purposes of coming to the rescue of localities in a natural disaster, and that organization did not live up to what it was designed for or promised to," the aide said. Referring to Bush aides, he said, "It was time to recover from the fiasco, and take a win wherever you could, legitimate or not."
Vitter, in an interview, disagreed but acknowledged the clash.
"In my opinion, they [Blanco aides] were hypersensitive. . . . They seemed to feel there was some power play, which I don't think there was," he said. "The fact that it was [Rove] -- might that have fueled the governor's hypersensitivity? It may have, I don't know."

More in "Documents Highlight Bush-Blanco Standoff".

Levee breach, flooding timeline: who knew what when?

Monday 8/29, early morning: hurricane strikes
Monday 8/29, later that morning: Fox might have broadcast news of the break(s)
Monday 8/29, early afternoon: breaches reported to NO authorities [1]
Monday 8/29, 6pm : confirmed in a summary distributed by the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness [1]
Monday 8/29, "later in the day" : Blanco finds out [1]
Tuesday 8/30, midnight to 1am: CNN broadcasts a live report on the breach(s) [2]
Tuesday 8/30, late morning: DHS head Michael Chertoff finds out about the issue [1]
[2]: two blog reports: here and here
[1]: "News of levee breach hit D.C. late":

Federal and state emergency officials knew by early evening on the day that Hurricane Katrina made landfall that New Orleans' levees had ruptured and that much of the city was inundated with water, documents turned over to congressional investigators by Gov. Kathleen Blanco's administration show.
But that critical information did not make it up the chain of command to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security until more than 15 hours later, a delay that some Louisiana officials believe compromised the effort to rescue people stranded by floodwaters.
The breach of the 17th Street Canal levee, which was reported to New Orleans authorities early on the afternoon of Aug. 29, was confirmed by the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness in a 6 p.m. summary distributed to state and federal emergency officials in Baton Rouge.
"No power, 911 system down, EOC (emergency operations center) on emergency power and cell phones," the summary said. "Entire city flooded, except French Quarter/West Bank/Business district."
Farther down, in bold type, the summary report notes three breaches in the New Orleans area, including the 17th Street Canal...
FEMA Director Michael Brown, who was in Baton Rouge that day, would have had access to the summary, as did other state and federal officials.
Mark Smith, a spokesman for the state Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said it would have been clear to anyone who had read the summary what was happening in New Orleans. "Her (Blanco's) staff and our staff and the FEMA staff on site . . . all know the implications of any levee in Louisiana going down," Smith said.
But Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff did not find out about the flooding until late Tuesday morning. Russ Knocke, a spokesman for Chertoff, said he doesn't know why the information wasn't conveyed sooner.
"I can't speak for Michael Brown. I can't tell you what happened with that information when . . . it was presented to Mike," Knocke said. "I can just tell you that from our part in Washington, D.C. . . . it was an extraordinarily frustrating period because we simply lacked visibility. That was a result of inadequate information from the field."
Knocke declined to speculate on whether the federal response would have been quicker had Chertoff understood the gravity of the situation sooner. "That's like asking someone to go back and play armchair quarterback," he said...

Sen. Mary Landrieu's in-your-face approach

The LAT offers "Image Problem Is Costing Louisiana" about how not too many DC politicians want to go out of their way for LA because of LA's reputation and because of Sen. Mary Landrieu's "in-your-face approach":

After battling in Congress for months to get more federal money for their hurricane-ravaged state, some Louisiana officials have come to believe they are up against something more than concerns about the budget deficit or conflicting visions of reconstruction.
Maybe, they speculate, their colleagues just don't trust them.
Maybe they are right...

When asked about past and current corruption in their state, LA officials play a mean game of tu quoque, bringing up Tom Delay, Bill Frist, and Jack Abramoff. But:

But some lawmakers say the Louisiana delegation has only itself to blame for the mounting tension over the federal government's obligations for rebuilding Louisiana.
They single out Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.), who has made angry speeches on the Senate floor and kept the chamber in session overnight in October, holding up other legislation, as she pressed her colleagues for more aid. Some Republicans say her tone, which they describe as "shrill," has alienated her colleagues and undercut her efforts.
Privately, lawmakers unfavorably compare Landrieu's in-your-face approach to that of the senators from the other heavily Katrina-damaged state, Mississippi. Republicans Thad Cochran and Trent Lott have gotten high marks for working quietly behind the scenes to steer resources to their constituents.
Some Louisiana officials, however, contend the key difference between their state and Mississippi is political. Mississippi is a heavily Republican state, and its GOP governor, Haley Barbour, has close ties to the White House. Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco is a Democrat, and the wrecked city of New Orleans is a Democratic stronghold...

For her part:

Sen. Landrieu said she did not believe that her actions, or those of anyone else in the state's congressional delegation, were to blame for what she saw as the federal government's failure to respond to Louisiana's needs.
"I'm not sure it was ever the intention of this administration to really help," she said. "I would say that really it's a pattern of this administration to promise a lot and deliver very little - to pretend like you care, but when it comes down to really putting your money where your mouth is, it doesn't happen."
Months after the hurricane, many survivors still are living in hotels and other temporary shelters, and many remain financially devastated.
"I'm ready to start a revolution," said former Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.). "This is an absolute outrage. Here we are in Month 4 of a terrible, terrible tragedy, and other than hotel rooms and meals-ready-to-eat and some reconstruction, we haven't gotten squat."

And, Louisiana Recovery Authority Vice Chairman Walter Isaacson says LA isn't asking for $250 billion any more. It's now a more miserly $50 billion.

Louisiana releases 100,000 pages of Katrina documents

On Friday Dec 2, LA began the release of 100,000 pages of internal documents on Katrina. These were released to Congress, but so far they are not publicly available on the web. To gain access you must file a public records request with the state, as described here. I've emailed such a request, but since this is not the controllable MSM they might just press delete. Blanco has an overview of the document dump here.
Coverage from:
NYT: "In Newly Released Documents, a View of the Storm After Katrina"
NOLA: "Blanco, Bush bickered over Guard, state says"
WaPo: "Blanco Releases Katrina Records"
AP (also here)
HuffPost comments.

LA legislators spent $150,000 for travel expenses, per-diem

Being a Louisiana legislator is hard work, and if you're going to an out-of-state gambling conference in Las Vegas (just for instance), you need to look your best and arrive fresh and ready to do bidness. That explains why all that money was spent on travel expenses and per diem charges. Laundry list here, including this:

[House Speaker Joe Salter, D-Florien], House Speaker Pro-tem Yvonne Dorsey, D-Baton Rouge, and House Ways and Means Committee chairman Bryant Hammett, D-Ferriday put in for pay when they went on a helicopter flight over the hurricane-devastated area.

Now, seriously, would anyone have to pay you to take a helicopter ride? In fact, don't most people pay to take those?

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Blanco sued over budget cuts; now stands accused of race baiting

But, isn't accusing her of race-baiting in itself race-baiting? I seem to have misplaced my PC guide:

Gov. Kathleen Blanco engaged in the "the lowest form of racial baiting" when she suggested last week that a lawsuit filed against her by the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus was a ploy to protect controversial programs in the state budget, the chairman of the caucus charged in a letter to the governor Friday.
"As legislators, and as citizens of this state, we deserve better," Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, wrote to Blanco. "We deserve more thoughtful commentary from our top officials. We deserve straight answers to straight questions, and above all we deserve due respect to do our jobs."
Richmond's letter escalates a feud that began before the current special legislative session. Several black lawmakers have accused Blanco of ignoring their suggestions for subjects to be debated in the session, and of cutting too deeply into programs for the poor in trying to close a $959 million budget gap.
Their anger culminated in a lawsuit, filed Wednesday by state Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, on behalf of the caucus. It charges that Blanco exceeded her constitutional authority with a Nov. 5 executive order that sliced $431 million in state spending.
A hearing on the suit has been set for Nov. 18 in the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge.
When asked about the lawsuit Thursday, Blanco attributed it to anger over her decision to freeze about $6 million in spending by the Governor's Office of Urban Affairs and Development.
"If I would boil it down to a rational reason, I think that's probably the cause of the problem," Blanco said. Often described by critics as a "slush fund," the program doles out cash for projects and nonprofit groups in the districts of black lawmakers...

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