Bush, Katrina & The Video

President Bush during Katrina briefingConservatives are working over-time of late trying to spin reality to something more suited to their tastes. The recent release by the Associated Press of transcripts from a videotape of meetings with FEMA officials, the President and others just before Hurricane Katrina made landfall, is being peddled as a vindication of President Bush by Conservatives and of his damnation by his political opponents and other critics.

At issue is whether President Bush lied about the content of those meetings when he told Good Morning America on September 1, 2005; “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees.”

Well, clearly, from not just the video but from many other sources, the possible breach of the levees in New Orleans was mentioned as a possibility on several occasions. Conservatives say that since no one said “Oh, my God! Mr. President! The levees are breaching at this very moment” that it’s a matter of semantics. But however they might want to spin it, it’s very clear in the video that the possibility of the levees breaking was brought up, and that this directly contradicts what President Bush said on September 1, 2005 on Good Morning America.

The one thing that Conservatives are beating into the ground is the fact that Kathleen Blanco, the Governor of Louisiana (and an outspoken critic of the federal response to the disaster) did not actually tell President Bush that the levees were breaking, and in fact told him just the opposite. However, if you read what she said, it’s impossible to spin.

Governor Blanco told President Bush; “We keep getting reports in some places that maybe water is coming over the levees. We heard a report, unconfirmed I think, we’ve heard that we have not breached the levee. We have not breached the levee. I think we have not breached the levee at this point in time.”

That’s the part that the Conservatives point out. What they don’t mention is what followed.

That could change,” she went on to warn. “In some places we have floodwater coming in … we have water 8 to 10ft (2.5 to 3m) deep, and we have people swimming in there … That’s got a considerable amount of water itself. That’s about all I know right now on the specifics that you haven’t heard.”

Governor Blanco’s update formed part of a day of contradictory briefings, culminating in a final, firm report that the levees of New Orleans had been breached in three places which arrived in the White House shortly after midnight on August 30. A Congressional report issued last month said the White House did not seek to confirm the news until the next morning.

How could this be read in a way which would say to anyone that no one anticipated this? Blanco clearly raised the possibility of levee breaches. The transcripts and video show there was plenty of talk about that possibility even before the storm – and Bush was worried too.

Not enough? Try this.

White House deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Brown discussed fears of a levee breach the day the storm hit.

“I talked to the president twice today, once in Crawford and then again on Air Force One,” Brown said. “He’s obviously watching the television a lot, and he had some questions about the Dome, he’s asking questions about reports of breaches.”

If no one anticipated the possiblity of levee breaches, why was President Bush asking questions about that very possibility? If nothing else, wouldn’t that mean that he had anticipated it?

The National Hurricane Center’s Max Mayfield told the final briefing before Katrina struck that storm models predicted minimal flooding inside New Orleans during the hurricane, but he expressed concerns that counterclockwise winds and storm surges afterward could cause the levees at Lake Pontchartrain to be overrun.

“I don’t think any model can tell you with any confidence right now whether the levees will be topped or not but that is obviously a very, very grave concern,” Mayfield told the briefing.

Wouldn’t this little tidbit qualify as someone anticipating that the levees could be breached?

As with everything else, from education to religion to patriotism, the Conservatives have politicized this issue and are simply kicking in with the spin. It’s not about what’s real, what happened, what was said, or what was done. It’s all about downplaying and re-directing the truth so that it doesn’t leave any stinky residue upon Republicans or the President.

I think this sums up what the outrage and discomfort is all about. Following her tour of New Orleans following the breach of the levees with President Bush, U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, D-La., issued the following statement concerning her call for President Bush to appoint a cabinet-level official to oversee Hurricane Katrina relief and recovery efforts within 24 hours.

Sen. Landrieu said:

“Yesterday, I was hoping President Bush would come away from his tour of the regional devastation triggered by Hurricane Katrina with a new understanding for the magnitude of the suffering and for the abject failures of the current Federal Emergency Management Agency. 24 hours later, the President has yet to answer my call for a cabinet-level official to lead our efforts. Meanwhile, FEMA, now a shell of what it once was, continues to be overwhelmed by the task at hand.

“I understand that the U.S. Forest Service had water-tanker aircraft available to help douse the fires raging on our riverfront, but FEMA has yet to accept the aid. When Amtrak offered trains to evacuate significant numbers of victims – far more efficiently than buses – FEMA again dragged its feet. Offers of medicine, communications equipment and other desperately needed items continue to flow in, only to be ignored by the agency.

“But perhaps the greatest disappointment stands at the breached 17th Street levee. Touring this critical site yesterday with the President, I saw what I believed to be a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe. Flying over this critical spot again this morning, less than 24 hours later, it became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity; and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment. The good and decent people of southeast Louisiana and the Gulf Coast – black and white, rich and poor, young and old – deserve far better from their national government.”

Not much has changed. For President Bush, the GOP and Conservatives, it’s still more important that you believe what you’re supposed to believe. Facts be damned.

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