Hurricane Katrina - who was to blame?

From the department of there-is-something -deeply-wrong-with-America:
Instead of supplying relief to the city, Rove had devised a scheme whereby he could blame the failure of government to take action on someone besides Bush. "They looked around," Landrieu says, "and they found a Democratic governor and an African American Democratic mayor who had never held office before in his life before he was mayor of New Orleans -- someone they knew they could manipulate. Ray Nagin had never held public office and here he was the mayor of New Orleans and it was going underwater."

In short, Rove was going to blame Blanco for the failure of the response in Louisiana, and to do that he was going to use Nagin. He had already set the plan in motion on Tuesday with Nagin, who, even though he was a Democrat, was so close to the Republican Party that some members of the African American community in New Orleans called him "Ray Reagan." In 2000, Nagin had actually contributed $2,000 to Bush's campaign when he ran for president.


Rove sold the story, as he had in the past, through the media. On Wednesday, while Blanco was trying to get help from the White House, her staff began receiving calls from reporters questioning her handling of the disaster, almost all of them citing as their sources unnamed senior White House officials.

"One story," Blanco aide Mann recalls, "would say the governor was so incompetent she had not even gotten around to declaring a state of emergency when she had actually done so three days before the storm. It was obvious to us who was behind this attack based on inaccurate information that was being shoveled to Washington reporters who were identifying their sources as senior Bush administration officials." Blanco adds, "People at Newsweek told me the White House called them to say I had delayed signing the disaster declaration. The assumption was that their source was the political director -- Karl Rove." Not only was the attack on Blanco in print, it was also on television. "All of a sudden," Blanco says, "a whole lot of talking heads showed up on television repeating the misinformation over and over, making it the truth."


New Orleans Ladder said...

Hey, thank you for reposting this angle of the dangle. Few Americans realized at the time how the spin was working, so this cannot be said and re-said enough. We have to counter such spin of the truth twice as hard as they spun their lies.

Which brings up something I have always wondered about y'all down there...do your toy wooden tops spin the same direction as your hurricanes?

Dr. Zshivago? I'll bet it is better than when I was required to read it way back in school. How is it going? I was just thinking of starting it next. I have been trying to memorize Fahrenheit 451...jus'kidding...well maybe not...I mean, this is America...right?

I would have hung your post onto today's Ladder but already have a couple of others on Heir Karly.
Thank you again,
Editilla~New Orleans News Ladder

New Orleans Ladder said...

Oh and I placed you in my Second Line too. I like your blog.

One Salient Oversight said...

I've suspended my reading of books at the moment until I can get back into them - Zhivago is sitting next to my bed waiting for me to pick it up again.

Our wooden tops spin whichever way you want them to! Unlike our cyclones, which rotate clockwise.

Thanks for the link!

Unknown said...

It was one of the saddest (and angriest) points of my life when I realized my own government was playing politics during the tragedy of Katrina and the federal flood. I discovered my president valued party over country. My government valued its own rear end over truth. That Americans suffered for its selfishness meant NOTHING.

BLBeamer said...

That FEMA and the Bush administration bungled the aftermath of Katrina is evidently a widely accepted truth. I don't question that truth. They blew it, big time. And like nearly every lame and feckless politician before them worked harder on CYA than to actually fix the problems.

However, I am considerably disappointed that I can't yet read the detailed report of the many, many perfectly executed actions performed by the Blanco and Nagin administrations during the same period of time.

As someone who has visited and loves NOLA, I find it truly remarkable that anyone could be seriously surprised that a port city built on land almost entirely below sea and river level in a hurricane zone would flood during a major hurricane.

It's almost humorous, if it weren't so tragic, that people who tolerated decades of corrupt and venal governments would be shocked - shocked! - that government was corrupt and venal and of no help when a crisis came.

And what to make of people who claim to be surprised that levees failed that had been neglected for decades when money meant for levee maintenance was diverted by those same corrupt governments? There are even people who believe that the levees only failed due to diabolical sabotage by the heretofore inept Bushies.

There is plenty of blame to go around, and Bush and his cronies deserve their fair share and probably more, but those who ignore the the other egregious failures of local and state governments in Louisiana, are doing nothing more than engaging in a little CYA of their own.

One Salient Oversight said...


The quote I pasted was from a new book out about Karl Rove. According to this quote, the allegations of incompetence by Nagin and Blanco were deliberately created by Karl Rove in order to divert criticism of the Bush administration.

In your comment you basically say "Yeah Bush's people were bad, but so were Nagin and Blanco". Are you sure you weren't just a victim of Rove's manipulation of the media on this issue?

Ron said...

I was stunned when it was happening. I could not believe the DELAY in doing something. Bush is good at patting folks on the back and and saying "Ah you are from Texas" etc

But getting stuck into officials and finding out truths seem beyond him.

How could those people have beem left in the sportsdrome without a massive supply drop

I don't know the wherewithal of why a City is there with all those levees etc but it is

One Salient Oversight said...

Brown testified that he pressed the White House to urge "dysfunctional" Louisiana and New Orleans leaders to order mandatory evacuations earlier before the storm hit. But Chertoff said, "I did not have a problem dealing with state and local officials."

He added, "Let me put it this way: Michael Brown didn't call me. I didn't speak to him prior to Sunday [Aug. 28] and have him tell me that he was having a problem with the governors."

Chertoff said he was unable to reach Brown the day after the storm hit until nearly 8 p.m.

- Washington Post

(Brown = Michael Brown, head of FEMA. Chertoff = Michael Chertoff, chief of homeland security and Brown's boss)

BLBeamer said...

Neil - Is Karl Rove so fiendishly clever that he planned for New Orleans to be built below sea level 200 years before he was born? Did he divert the levee maintenance funds while still a schoolboy in Nevada or even earlier? New Orleans has had corrupt and incompetent government for decades. Is Karl Rove responsible for that? Don't tell me Karl Rove invented hurricanes, too?

Come on. You know I hold no brief for President Bush and his administration, but doesn't it strike you as a little too convenient that nearly every single bad thing that has happened in the US for the last 8 plus years is purely the fault of Rove's evil genius?

Many folks on the left love to use the expression, "chickens coming home to roost." Yet, here's an instance where that expression can actually be used accurately but they would rather deflect the blame to some fabricated uber-Machiavelli.

Are you sure you weren't just a victim of someone else's manipulation of the facts on this issue?

Unknown said...


Nobody touches federal levees except the Corps of Engineers. In fact the Parish of St. Bernard tried to fix one of their levees themselves and were told they would be arrested if they tried. Katrina and its aftermath was an American tragedy but this administration saw it, as its sees everything, only as a political debate. We are calling for an investigation of the government's role in Katrina, including where all the money was spent.
Many in Congress, including John McCain have voted against this. What are they trying to hide? I have seen first hand Katrina from two states. I am a native New Orleanian, having lived 30 years in the city. I now live right outside the city. My 80 year old mother lives right off the beach on the coast of Mississippi. I have been an eyewitness from the beginning and have seen politics controlling what aid was allocated. I am also a republican, but I cannot excuse the cruelty of this administration. I am an American before I am a Republican, something the Bush administration forgot. Erase from my mind the WWII veteran living in his car and gutted home in a tent 7 months after the storm eating out of cans and pissing in a painter's pot. He cried like a baby when his FEMA trailer was delivered. Erase from my mind driving through my mom's town this last Christmas. Bing Crosby was singing White Christmas on the radio as I was driving through slabs, deserted broken homes, and trailers. Erase from my mind seeing the neighborhood I grew up in looking worse than Dresden after the war YEARS after the flood, with fricken boats still on the streets. Erase from my mind the heartache of my fellow Americans asking me why we deserved help, and in fact telling us we were WHINING for asking for help from our own countrymen. One of the certainties of my life was that Americans would help one another without a thought. I was proven wrong. We will make the politicians pay for their evil actions, but no matter what changes are made, how can I ever believe in my country again? They will say the right things and I will want to believe them, but I will forever KNOW when the worse DID happen my country not only abandoned its own, but demonized the survivors as an excuse of their own incompetency.

One Salient Oversight said...


Karl Rove is not responsible for New Orleans being built below sea level, and nor was he (or Bush) responsible for creating Hurricane Katrina.

The issue, however, was the aftermath of the hurricane. Hurricanes hit Florida and the Gulf Coast all the time. Why was it that this time there was a failure to mobilise resources in the face of human tragedy? Why was it that people remained suffering and unrescued in New Orleans after the Hurricane?

Rove and Bush did not deliberately cause this failure - they had not instructed FEMA or "Brownie" to deliberately withhold resources from New Orleans.

FEMA, however, under the guidance of "Brownie", the former head of the international arabian horse association (his previous high posting), was incompetent. It was FEMA's incompetence that was the issue... and thus the Federal government under Bush.

When Karl Rove realised what was going on, he sought to deflect the damage to George Bush by planting stories in the media that suggested quite strongly that the problem actually lay with Nagin and Blanco. According to the excerpt from the Karl Rove book (which is the basis of my original posting), the continual repetition of "talking points" about Nagin and Blanco became true in the minds of many Americans.

Fortunately, most Americans did not fall for Rove's intended mission - to deflect blame from the Bush administration. People rightly understood that FEMA and Bush were to blame and Bush's approval ratings declined markedly after Katrina. Nevertheless, the idea that Nagin and Blanco (as local and state governments) were also to blame is a natural result of Rove's manipulation.

This is not to say that Nagin and Blanco made mistakes - it is whether they were as incompetent and as blameworthy as FEMA and Bush for the outcome of Hurricane Katrina. Nagin was re-elected mayor of New Orleans in 2006 - so the people of New Orleans, those who suffered most, who knew that Nagin was not to blame.

Unknown said...

I just found this video from after the break. I did not see this at the time because I was without electricity and communications for about 3 weeks.

BLBeamer said...

doctorj2u - I am glad your mother is presumably all right. I have never been to Mississippi, but from what I gather from different news sources, the differences between how the Gulfport, MS area and New Orleans have recovered is like night and day.

Can you verify that? To what do you attribute this difference?

When you refer to "finding out where the money went", are you referring to the post-Katrina aid money or the decades of levee maintenance money? Or both?

I'm not a Republican, and I'm all for investigating and prosecuting criminality. However, my acquired cynicism tells me that if it turns out that the investigation determines Rove and Bush did not do what was alleged two things will occur: 1) the issue will largely disappear from the media, 2) nothing will happen to those were responsible.

Unknown said...

One last link.

Unknown said...

Let me see if I can answer your questions. First, the levee and flood walls. These are federal levees. They are designed and controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers. They are funded by Congress They have been built over the last 40 years, so republican and democratic administrations were involved in their construction. This is why Congress is not jumping forward to investigate where the money went. There is blood on both parties hands. It was discovered after Katrina the design of the levees was insufficient. The construction should have been a t-bar, not an i-bar design and the steel support beams needed to go down 34 feet, not 14 feet. The protection they had promised us was NEVER there. The great rebuilding the government is doing now will only give us the protection we were originally promised from before Katrina. (Protection for at cat 3 hurricane). The New Orleans Levee Board is (was) in charge of the parks, marinas, and maintenance of the levees. Maintenance of the levees means they cut the grass. All constuction and manual work is done under the supervision of the Corps (COE). The Corps has admitted it was their design that caused the breaches and the flooding of the city. The stuff about the New Orleans Levee Board is just red herring material. Even a well maintained operation cannot prevent a design failure. There is truth to the fact that environmentalist blocked construction of flood gates at the mouth of the inlet canals which, had they been present, MIGHT have saved the city. We will never know. Again, if the design is at fault maybe that would not have helped either. The investigation is to see what the Corps did with the money it was given. We do not trust the Corps. They have lied to us over and over and over again. Outside studies contradict what they are telling us. We want the government to look into the operation so NOBODY in this country has to endure what we have. These levee designs are throughout the country. Sacramento is in equivalent danger as New Orleans. Use the link of levees.org. It is a citizen action group started by the people of New Orleans to keep the COE in line.
Ms vs LA
This is one of the saddest lessons for me. Over and over again Ms was given more support than LA. As I said, the cruelest lesson of Katrina for me was that party meant more than Americans in need. It took Congress 4 months to "allocate" aid to the states. They allocated an equal amount to MS and LA, even though LA had 5 x the damage per capita. LA refused the money until Congress gave them an equivalent amount based on damage. That finally happened in June 2006. So MS had a jumpstart. They also had an advantage in the type of destruction they had. The storm surge came in and took everything down to slabs. It is horrible but it made estimates of construction easier and they could get rebuilding sooner. In New Orleans, the destruction was the same (total loss) but the buildings remained in tact. First they had to be gutted to see if they had structural damage. It takes a 12 man crew 3 days to gut a house. It took about 2 years to gut the 200,000 homes in the New Orleans area. Once gutted, THEN it was decided whether to tear down (Thus getting to the point MS started) or keep the structure and drywall it again. I could go into a lot more detail (the geography of the land in each state, the socio-ecomonic differences in the population-in the hardest hit area of MS you could not live there unless you had beaucoup money-, the governor of MS being the ex head of the RNC). The strange part of it though, in the end, all the advantages ended up not making a difference because reconstruction in both places faced the same obstacles. Federal bureaucracy and evil insurance companies. All the insurance companies did everything they could to get out of paying claims, including lying and cheating little old ladies. Don't ever believe you are covered in a major disaster because you are not. The insurance companies paniced, denied all claims, raised premiums through the roof and made record profits every year, including the year of Katrina. People had to go to court to get their claims settles. And if you had no money to go to court, you were just out of luck. You had to wait for the angels of all of this, the volunteers, for help. Communities could not get government aid because of something called the Stafford Act. It states that local communities have to put up a portion of the aid they are to receive up front before the "allocated" aid can be given. Well, the destruction of Katrina was total. Community after community was basically wiped off the map, including the metropolis of New Orleans. There was no tax base to put up the 20% so nobody could access the money. It was 2 years before President Bush signed a waver for the Stafford Act. That is why the first federal aid for rebuilding did not make it to the city until Nov 2007. That is why the town my mother lives in is still slabs. Rebuilding has truly begun now. But the scars of the last 3 years are with us forever. The hardships, the suicides, the mass mental illnesses, the post traumatic stress esp in the children, the out of control drug wars, the mass importation of South Americans labor, the obstacles put in the way of people to return to their homes, and the continual promises of safe levees and help that never arrives. That has been our lives for 3 years. We are a strong tough people in the Gulf South and we are making it. I have seen unbelievable bravery from the most unexpected areas. Why do we hang on so tenaciously? It is something called HOME and COMMUNITY and, believe me, you don't know the true meaning of that until you almost lose it. Maybe one day America will want to hear that story.

BLBeamer said...

doctorj2u - Thanks for your insights. How much of the type of mind-set described here is possibly inhibiting the recovery? From my vantage point of 2000 miles, there is a perception that this is more common in the Gulf region than others.

This doesn't excuse FEMA's atrocious performance at all, but it does suggest the challenges may be more deep-seated and much less simplistic than the writers at Slate would suggest.

Unknown said...

OK Beamer. This is my view on the subject, as someone that lived Katrina. America cannot handle race. It can't even discuss it. The news came to the city and showed the poor blacks (OMG!) that went to the Superdome for shelter. They decided this was the perfect time to make America face up to its race problem and all hell broke lose. Now what happened in New Orleans became about race and not an American city destroyed. An American tragedy became a white hot issue - race in America. Nobody showed the white middle class people on their roofs in St. Bernard Parish. It was destroyed just as much as the Lower Ninth Ward. In fact it was right across the railroad tracks from the Lower 9. But it didn't fit the script. Nobody showed the black middle class homes destroyed in New Orleans East. Does not fit the script. Are there poor people in NOLA? Sure. Are there lazy people in NOLA? Sure. Are there people that live off of government largesse? Sure. I bet you have those types where you live also. But this became the face of Katrina, though it is but a fraction of the city. Do I admire them. Of course not. What is there to admire? But I also know that amongst that number were many people that were actually working poor, having multiple poor paying jobs. They were the product of an ABSOLUTELY HORRENDOUS public school system and they made the economy of New Orleans run. They could afford to survive because they inherited family homes. Now their lives were destroyed. My heart goes out to them because I know what they lost. Going anywhere else in the US is a completely foreign experience for a New Orleanian. Our culture is that different. The article you linked to was actually about Mississipp, which is nice for a change. Did you notice the number of people it talked about? 275 out of what say 200,000 affected by the storm in MS. But they are the face America sees. Maybe it is easier to rationalize the abandonment of Americans if it is people that don't deserve help to begin with

BLBeamer said...

doctorj2u - -I think you may have misinterpreted my intent on providing that link. I noticed that was in Biloxi, that was why I was careful to say "the Gulf region" rather than NOLA.

I do remember seeing all kinds of people on the roofs of their homes throughout NO after Katrina. I'm not familiar enough with the parishes to know which ones I saw, but I know they were not all poor black folks. My heart goes out to all of them, too.

My intent was to simply point out one more complicating factor in the post-Katrina recovery. The Slate article that started this thread was utterly useless in helping to understand the problems down there.

Also, I will have to disagree with you on America's reticence regarding discussing race. In my opinion, we never stop talking about it. The press doesn't, rather.

In my experience, most people black, brown, white, red and yellow don't feel it is important enough to monopolize every waking moment.

I am curious: I don't know if you have ever lived anywhere else but how do you know your culture is so different that most New Orleanians could not adapt?

Unknown said...

Americans are fine with talking of race as an abstract "thing" but when it comes to actually confronting racism - well that is a whole other kettle of fish. Most of America lives in a lilly white suburban world. New Orleans has NEVER been that. It has a complex racial makeup, including the largest population of free blacks pre-civil war. This has made a third "race" - the creoles. New Orleans has always been an island of its own in the midst of the deep south. We are southern but different. I hope one day you can visit to understand. It is a very special place. It is a very old city by American standards. It was 146 years old when the Declaration of Independence was signed. There is a timelessness to it and its culture. It does not worship the almighty dollar or the clock like most of America. It has a Catholic sensibility, not protestant or puritanical. It values family and the enjoyment of life. It recognizes that life is fleeting and one must appreciate the time one has. It has a sense of community that is lost in most of America. We all feel, regardless of race, that the city is an entity and is a very part of our soul. It MUST survive. All is not great though. It has a class system lost in most of America and it has no sense of the "haves" helping the "not haves". The races live together , interact together, appreciate each other on an everyday individual level, but they do not mix socially. But they live their lives together everyday. Most of the other America, esp. in the middle of the country, have a homogenous vanilla interchangable feel. Differences scare them. Difference in New Orleans is accepted as normal. That is why artistic souls love New Orleans. We love and appreciate them and in truth they were the ones that refused to let the city die.
My recollections of immediate post Katrina come from blog posts I have read. I was without communications about 3 weeks after the storm. Americans remember black people. As a New Orleanian I KNOW there are people of many colors. I know that Americans suffered. I know that their story has never been heard.
You ask how I know New Orleans culture is so different. Well I have traveled. In my twenties my first travels took me to Jackson Hole Wyoming. I was SHOCKED that you could not take your drink from one table to another and we had a horrible time finding a corkscrew. It seems the Mormons frown on drinking. LOL! It seems we talk too loud and laugh too much. We talk to strangers on the street that we come in contact with. We look into your eyes and saw hello on the street, and we MEAN it! Americans are nice but MUCH more reserved. I have traveled the world since then and I know we are very Europeon but different. Carribean but differnt. It wasn't until Katrina that I learned how very different we were. I was not surprised at anything that happened in Katrina except the lack of help and the politics played on a national level. I NEVER thought my country would abandon their own, but (and NOTHING can ever change this for me, no matter what changes are made in the government) that is what happened to us.
Here is a journal of New Orleans by a New orker that discovered the city post katrina.

BLBeamer said...

I have visited NO. I spent a week walking the French Quarter, the Warehouse District and the neighborhoods surrounding Tulane and Xavier Universities. I love the city and its friendly people. I know of no other American city that has such a unique food and music (together) culture. But I know New Orleanians who live in my part of the country (Pacific NW) who have done and are doing just fine outside of NO. That was the comment I was wondering about (the one where you implied New Orleanians would not be able to adapt to any other place).

I don't know how you can say NO doesn't worship the almighty dollar, though. Various strolls down Bourbon Street at different times of day gave me the impression there was a sizable segment of NO society that cares very much about the dollar.

NO wasn't entirely "in but not of" the South, was it? I remember reading a biography of Louis Armstrong, who for years refused to perform in NO, his native city, because Jim Crow wouldn't let him perform with an integrated band.

I agree with you the liquor laws in many parts of the country are just plain stupid. Salt Lake City used to be particularly ridiculous, although they have lightened up slightly in the last few years. I think it is hilarious that the county where Jack Daniels is made is dry.

Your comment about loud talking and laughing reminded me of the Randy Newman song, "Rednecks". He's another native New Orleanian that has seemed to adapt to living elsewhere. He's one of my favorites.

Unknown said...

Yes New Orleanians CAN adapt BUT there is a lose. There is a hole in your soul, even for the people that have a love=hate relationship to the city. How do describe the color blue to a blind person. I don't have the words to describe it to you. Ask your friends how they felt when the city was destroyed.
In the worship of money, I mean the American way of flashing wealth. That is looked down upon. It is gauche. I know millionaires that drive clunkers. Of course, that is also a class thing. People need to make money to live, but it is very definitely below family, church and enjoyment of life in priority.
Of course racism exists in New Orleans. We are Americans. It is just a different brand here.
Randy Newman isn't a native. He is from Los Angeles. His mother's family is from the city and he would visit in the summers. Being a musician, the city seeped into his soul. Again it is a soul thing.