Bush and Katrina

President Bush,

I saw you on the CBS television evening news the other day using a new phrase–“situational information”. You were referring to the conditions just before and during the Katrina hurricane-Levee disaster in New Orleans. The “situational information” was not what it should have been, you declared. This was your way of saying that you did not receive prompt information about the risk the giant hurricane posed for the breaching of the city’s levees.

Now it appears that you were given advance warning. This was the thrust of the CBS television news report by Bob Orr. Anchor Russ Mitchell introduced the segment with these words: “In the days following hurricane Katrina, President Bush insisted that no one in his administration anticipated the failure of the levees protecting New Orleans. But newly released videotape shows that as the huge storm approached the Gulf Coast, the president and his top advisors WERE warned it posed just such a threat to the low-lying city.” (emphasis in the original).

These advisors included National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield and FEMA Director Michael Brown, who told top administration officials, including Homeland Secretary Michael Chertoff, of the ‘”looming danger,” “a day before landfall”.

These tapes caused the Wall Street Journal’s article on March 2 to have this headline: “Tape of Pre-Katrina Briefing Shows Bush Was Warned of Dangers.” Sounds like you received quite explicit “situational intelligence” which you still decline to acknowledge getting. Maybe the White House has a problem with “situational credibility”.

Since that day when Hurricane Katrina struck the city of New Orleans and surrounding coastal areas, tens of thousands of displaced people–the survivors–have felt abandoned by the federal government. Scores of newspaper, television and radio eyewitness reports record this abandonment in places like Ward 9 in New Orleans and Pearlington, Mississippi. The level of failure under your presidential watch is massive, ringed with private corporate contracting graft, corruption and waste.

Prime Ministers in parliamentary nations would have fallen by now.
Recall your dramatic, nationally-televised choreographed assurance, standing near the French Quarter, that the federal government would take the lead in rebuilding New Orleans for its desperate residents and the return of those who fled. Get that videotape out and watch it, over six months of little action later. Maybe it will teach you something about the price that a destroyed area of America and its people are paying because you are expensively preoccupied being the Mayor of Baghdad.

Your regime’s debacle after Katrina continues to leave tens of thousands of people without their homes. They are either in some motels temporarily, with some friends or relatives or simply just homeless.

Yet next to the little-used municipal airport in Hope, Arkansas–Bill Clinton’s home town–ten thousand or more FEMA mobile homes/trailers are sitting immobile week after week. The trailers were delivered to that staging area by the manufacturer, awaiting shipment to the needy, displaced families down south around New Orleans and the Gulf Coast communities. These families wait day after day, week after week.
You always tell reporters that the federal government’s response could have been better. What about your response from late August to now? You are supposed to lead the federal government, so start leading directly by example.

Why not call up your friend Bill Clinton, with whom you and your father often have been seen together at social, ceremonial and charitable occasions? The telephone conversation can go like this:

GWB-“Hey Bill, how about you and me hopping on Air Force One pronto and heading down to your old stomping grounds around Hope. Let’s show we can break up that bureaucratic log jam and leave Hope with 10,000 fewer trailers. I’m the President, you were the President. You were the Governor of Arkansas. Hometown boy comes home to do good. What a great photo opportunity for bipartisanship?”

WJC-“Not a bad idea, George. But the bureaucracy starts in Washington, D.C. so there will have to be some bureaucracy-busting advance work done to make the visit a success. Then there is the matter of getting floodplain rules waived and all the other state and local rules which Washington has not confronted for months.”

GWB-“Hmmm, Bill, you’ve been doing your homework.”

WJC-“Not really, George, just reading the newspapers.”

GWB-“Ok, ok, I get the snide remark. But I’ve been running a war for freedom.”

WJC-“Didn’t mean it that way, George. Sure, let’s go down and get those trailers on the road. Where do you want to meet upin Hope?”

GWB-“Very funny, Bill, like you are summoning me. We meet at theWhite House, get on the Presidential helicopter and head for Andrews Air Force base. You know the protocols”.

WJC-“What do you think our chances of success will be?”

GWB-“Well, heh, heh, Bill, what’s that phrase-‘Hope Springs Eternal.'”




Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!