Katrina Tape Half-Story

Most news agencies have reported on the AP’s tape of a meeting involving President Bush, Michael Brown, and a number of other FEMA officials and local and state politicians during Hurricane Katrina. In the tape, most of the reports claim, Bush specifically heard warnings about levees being breached. However, that’s not what the tape shows, at least the portion aired by the AP and NBC on their broadcast last night (available at MS-NBC at the above link). What is does show is an expert saying to the group, “At this point, we don’t know whether the levees will be overtopped or not.”
As Dafydd ab Hugh at Big Lizards points out, breaching and overtopping are two very different events. Neither are particularly desirable, of course, but overtopping would result in the release of excess water from Lake Pontchatrain, while the breaches released an exponentially larger volume, resulting in far more devastation. No one in this clip mentions the word “breach” at all, and the breathless reporting at the AP winds up being highly misleading. It’s used to indict the president, who later said that no one imagined that the levees would be breached — and if this clip is as good as the media has, then apparently the president is right.
Here’s what the AP reported:

Bush declared four days after the storm, “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees” that gushed deadly floodwaters into New Orleans. But the transcripts and video show there was plenty of talk about that possibility — and Bush was worried too.

In fact, however, Bush only started asking about breaches after the media reports of them starting airing, as Brown noted, and what the AP does not say is what he got for a response. For that part of the story, one has to turn to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, which tells its readers the rest of the story:

Transcripts of calls from the days before the storm and the days afterward have surfaced as part of House and Senate investigations into the slow government response to Katrina. But the transcript for the Aug. 29 conference call, initiated about six hours after the storm hit, had been missing. An official with the Department of Homeland Security confirmed that the call had been recorded by one of the participants and only recently came to light.
During the call, which began at noon, then-FEMA Director Michael Brown says that he had already spoken to President Bush twice that day.
“He remains very, very interested in this situation,” 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. He’s asking about hospitals. He’s very engaged, and he’s asking a lot of really good questions I would expect him to ask.”
Later in the call, White House aide Joe Hagin asks specifically about the condition of the levees. Gov. Kathleen Blanco tells him that no failures were confirmed — yet.
“We keep getting reports in some places that maybe water is coming over the levees,” Blanco said. “I think we have not breached the levee. We have not breached the levee at this point in time. That could change, but in some places we have floodwaters coming in New Orleans East and the line at St. Bernard Parish where we have waters that are 8- to 10-feet deep, and we have people swimming in there, that’s got a considerable amount of water.”

In fact, the record shows that the White House had been fully engaged in the disaster and had repeatedly asked for updates. Brown himself notes (and NBC did report this) that Bush had personally called him twice that day, and it was still only noon. The White House also followed the media reports closely, demanding to know whether the reported breaches had actually occurred. (The fact that the media could not be trusted to get the story straight was later proven when the hysterical reporting about cannibalism, murders, and toxic flood waters all turned out to be false.) What answer did the White House get? The local and state authorities told them that nothing had happened, and that the flooding so far had come from the storm itself and not the lake.
As usual, the news media misreports the Katrina information to sensationalize it, and the skewed story is the one that makes the morning paper. File this one in the same drawer as the mass murders at the Superdome and the Cannibals of St. Bernard Parish, and marvel at the fact that even six months later, the media doesn’t take the time to get its fact straight about Katrina.
UPDATE: Power Line has more deconstruction of the AP report, including factual errors on when the National Guard arrived and more.

Asleep On The Job

Apparently, the duties of oral arguments at the Supreme Court no longer engages Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The controversy over Texas redistricting apparently didn’t generate enough interest to keep her attention (h/t J. Crater):

The Supreme Court had put the Texas cases on the fast track, scheduling an unusually long two-hour afternoon session.
The subject matter was extremely technical, and near the end of the argument Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dozed in her chair. Justices David Souter and Samuel Alito, who flank the 72-year-old, looked at her but did not give her a nudge.
The court has struggled in the past to define how much politics is acceptable when states draw new boundaries to reflect population shifts.

I know the idea of a two-hour meeting might seem long to AP reporters and some jurists, but in the real world, we have business meetings that go on all day. Most of us manage to stay awake, and we’re not tasked with creating legal precedents that will define the structure of our democracy. (Usually, we’re tasked with cutting costs while maximizing profit … and we still manage to stay awake.)
Keeping awake for two hours of discussion should be a minimal expectation not only of the American public, but for both parties bringing the case to the Court. How can either party feel satisfied that the court has a clear understanding of their position when one of its members slept through their explanations?
Had this happened with Justice Scalia or Justice Thomas, it would have been front page news at the New York Times tomorrow. The AP manages to bury it around paragraph 16. The AP wouldn’t have softened the blow with the silly disclaimer about the subject being “extremely technical” with one of the conservatives, either; these are lawyers and judges, and “technical” comes with the job. If Justice Ginsburg can’t make it through two hours of argument, she should consider joining Justice O’Connor in retirement.
UPDATE: The Washington Post doesn’t bother to report it at all. Neither did the New York Times.
UPDATE II: Actually, as CQ reader Hoystory notes, the Post does report this, although in a Dana Milbank column and not in its news report on the court. He estimates that Ginsburg’s nap lasted fifteen minutes.

Talk About Triangulation

The Democrats have seized the center stage for opposing the Dubai ports deal, claiming that the questionable decision to approve the transfer of port operations to state-owned Dubai Ports World shows that the Bush administration puts profits ahead of national security. Hillary Clinton in particular has assailed the decision and promised to push legislation to block the deal. Perhaps sje should consult with the man who helped the UAE firm defend the deal … former President and current husband, Bill Clinton:

Bill Clinton, former US president, advised top officials from Dubai two weeks ago on how to address growing US concerns over the acquisition of five US container terminals by DP World. …
It came even as his wife, Senator Hillary Clinton, was leading efforts to derail the deal.
Mr Clinton, who this week called the United Arab Emirates a “good ally to America”, advised Dubai’s leaders to propose a 45-day delay to allow for an intensive investigation of the acquisition, according to his spokesman. …
Mr Clinton’s contact with Dubai on the issue underscores the relationship he has developed with the United Arab Emirates since leaving office. In 2002, he was paid $300,000 (€252,000) to address a summit in Dubai.

While Bill provided tactical advice to Dubai’s leadership to help complete the deal, Hillary has actively campaigned to do the exact opposite. Here is the statement on Hillary’s Senate web site outlining her stance on the DP World deal:

We thank you for joining the call of lawmakers who are gravely concerned about the Dubai Ports World deal. As you know, unless Congress acts, operations at six major U.S. ports, and other U.S. port facilities, will be turned over to Dubai Ports World, a company owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates, on March 2. This sale will create an unacceptable risk to the security of our ports. We therefore request that emergency legislation we are introducing to ban foreign governments from controlling operations at our ports be slated for immediate consideration when the Senate convenes on February 27. …
This issue transcends philosophical posturing and partisan bickering – it is about our nation’s security.

What are we to conclude from Bill Clinton’s intervention with the emirates? If we are to believe that Hillary is sincere, then we should conclude that Bill Clinton has no clue how to secure the nation; after all, he’s provided material support to the emirs in attempting to gain control of the ports. While Hillary and her party excoriated George Bush for accepting the unanimous CFIUS approval of the deal — the result of a process that Congress approved years ago and has never challenged before — the previous Democratic president helped engineer the UAE response intended to gain final approval of the transfer.
Democrats wonder why the American electorate doesn’t trust them with national security. Talking out of both sides of their mouths and stoking fears just to score a few political points are chief among the reasons for the well-earned distrust. (Hat tip: CQ reader Keemo)

Sooner Suicide Later Turns Out To Be Botched Attack

Mark Tapscott has stayed on the story of Joel Hinrichs, the Oklahoma University student who blew himself up outside the football stadium, long after the FBI dismissed it as a suicide brought on by depression. His vigilance has paid off, as it now appears that the FBI jumped to an erroneous conclusion and that Hinrichs meant to kill a lot more people than just himself:

The FBI reported in November that 0.4 pound of TATP was found inside Hinrichs’ apartment. TATP is the most unstable explosive known and is “the explosive of choice” in the Middle East, Mauldin said. “It is so volatile, even a small amount on the tip of a finger will explode if it comes within 8 inches of a match,” Mauldin said.
Investigators also found a quantity of acetone and hydrogen, components necessary for manufacturing TATP, inside the student’s apartment. …
Officers also removed “a lot” of military rounds, many of them live, and pieces of metal from the student’s apartment, Mauldin said.
Metal fragments often are added to explosives to make them more deadly, he said.
The explosives Hinrichs had outside the stadium were pure, with no fragmentation added, Mauldin said.
However, he said, the student kept careful notes of experimentation with explosives in the weeks leading up to the Oct. 1 blast.

Color me silly if you will, but if all Hinrichs wanted was to commit suicide spectacularly, why was he experimenting with fragmentation? He had created far more TATP than needed to kill himself. Fragmentation and shrapnel would make no difference in his own death; that kind of addition speaks volumes about an intent to kill and maim a large number of people. Also, the FBI found more TATP left behind in his apartment, some of it fashioned into a pill-bottle bomb. If he wanted to kill himself, why would he have fashioned more than one device?
I respect the FBI, but this story doesn’t add up.
Mark notes that the FBI continues to dismiss any other explanation than suicide. Keep checking in with Mark and with Michelle Malkin, both of whom remained skeptical about the official explanations and maintained visibility on this story.

False Notes On Civil War Fears

The New York Times issues a warning about an impending civil war in Iraq that sounds a couple of false notes. Its editorial this morning attempts a historical review of the Iraqis that misses a couple of germane points while it scolds the administration indirectly for causing the problem by toppling Saddam Hussein:

Iraq has moved perilously close to civil war. Everyone who knows anything about the tortured history of that country, cobbled together from disparate parts by British colonial officials less than a century ago, has always dreaded such an outcome.
Fear of civil war stayed the hand of the first President George Bush, when he turned back American troops and left Saddam Hussein in power. It generated much of the opposition to the current President Bush’s invasion in 2003. Yet many critics of the invasion, including this page, believed that the dangers from civil war were so dire that American troops, once in, were obliged to remain as long as there was a conceivable route to a just peace.
The only alternative to civil war is, and has always been, a national unity government of Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds. Unless these mutually suspicious groups can work together, the United States will be faced with the impossible task of trying to create a stable democracy that Iraqis have refused to create for themselves.

The reason that the Bush 41 administration left Saddam in power was because the UN refused to endorse a march on Baghdad in 1991, when the road was open and the Republican Guard had largely been routed. Perhaps Bush 41 had little enthusiasm for rebuilding Iraq to the extent required by a full-scale invasion, but the UN would not allow it in any case. Bush 41 either had to turn his back on the coalition he created for the liberation of Kuwait or bow to its demands. He chose the latter. As history showed in the twelve years of chronic violations of the cease-fire and the UN resolutions demanding accountability for his weapons programs, as well as the mass murders of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens who opposed him in 1991 after the war, that was a bad and costly decision.
What I find so fascinating about the liberal hysteria over the civil war is that they argued specifically to start one instead of invading Iraq in 2003. Let’s take a look at the history that the Times forgets. In 1998, Congress and Bill Clinton created a foreign policy explicitly stating that the US goal in Iraq was regime change — that American policy would be created to remove Saddam Hussein from power. At the time that this policy was formulated and made explicit, lawmakers from both parties made a lot of speeches about how dangerous Saddam was to our interests in particular and the world in general. No one labored under the notion that Saddam had been rendered harmless by UN sanctions, already in full application for over five years at that point.
When George Bush (43) decided to press for military action to remove Saddam from power, he cited this official policy as one of the justifications when he went to Congress in October 2002 for authorization. All of a sudden, people started talking about how sanctions had kept Saddam “in his box” despite plenty of evidence that various countries had routinely violated those sanctions. They also claimed that the entire purpose of the policy was for the US to foment a domestic uprising against the Saddam regime, not for America to take any overt action to end his genocidal rule.
In other words, they wanted Bush to start a civil war in Iraq. And not just a gang war that involved a few sectarian militias taking potshots against each other as we see now, but a full-fledged civil war that involved an unarmed and oppressed people taking on the region’s fourth-largest army and a dictator who had used chemical warfare against his own people in the past.
What exactly did they think would be the result of that uprising? Did they imagine that it had any chance of getting off the ground at all, given the betrayal they experienced in 1991 when the West failed to come to their aid when the Shi’a in the south rebelled against Saddam? And even if it did, did the Left not understand that the entire nation would have not come together as a people but would have dissolved into sectarian and ethnic tribalism, having no unifying structures or voluntary processes — like those provided by open elections and a national assembly?
I agree that civil war in Iraq remains a dangerous potential outcome. Had we left it to the Left in 2002, however, that is exactly what we would have today by their own design. I find their belated concern over the consequences of civil war somewhat disingenuous now.

Supreme Court Not Sympathetic To Campaign Finance Limits

Yesterday, Vermont had to defend campaign-finance limits that have been challenged all the way to the Supreme Court, where the state found a rather cold reception. Chief Justice John Roberts had Vermont’s attorney general, William Sorrell on the defensive and sounding somewhat evasive as Roberts wondered why Vermont’s electorate just doesn’t throw corrupt people out of office:

The chief justice challenged the attorney general’s assertion that money was a corrupting influence on Vermont’s political system, the state’s main rationale for its law. “How many prosecutions for political corruption have you brought?” he asked the state official.
“Not any,” Mr. Sorrell replied.
“Do you think corruption in Vermont is a serious problem?”
“It is,” the attorney general replied, noting that polls showed that most state residents thought corporations and wealthy individuals exerted an undue influence in the state.
The chief justice persisted. “Would you describe your state as clean or corrupt?” he asked.
“We have got a problem in Vermont,” Mr. Sorrell repeated.
The chief justice pressed further. If voters think “someone has been bought,” he said, “I assume they act accordingly” at the next election and throw the incumbent out.
He also challenged a line from the attorney general’s 50-page brief, an assertion that donations from special-interest groups “often determine what positions candidates and officials take on issues.” Could the attorney general provide an example of such an issue, Chief Justice Roberts asked. Mr. Sorrell could not, eventually conceding that “influence” would have been a better word than “determine.”

In this report by the New York Times, the court seems rather antagonistic to both the spending limits imposed by Vermont on its candidates for office and of the contribution limits as well. In fact, this entire conversation shows the silliness of the contribution limit effort. The Attorney General had to stand in front of the Supreme Court and describe his state as corrupt, and yet his office has not prosecuted one person for political corruption. That is nothing less than either a blatant admission of incompetence or the natural result of a witch hunt gone awry.
This folly of imposing artificial limits and designations on campaign contributions does nothing to address corruption, and only makes lawyers rich as they become indispensable in navigating these Byzantine regulations for political candidates. Rather than create an open political process, the rules tend to drive efforts underground, and in Vermont’s case protect incumbents and keep challengers from the opportunity to change government.
The only real solution to electoral corruption is immediate reporting and an end to limits on contributions. That would force everyone into the sunlight and allow voters to support whomever they see fit. It also allows the voters to know who gave what to whom and to make up their own minds about undue influence. The way Vermont limits contributions and spending, all it does is institutionalize any potential existing corruption by putting more hurdles in front of the challengers that could remedy it.
Perhaps Vermont voters might want to start cleaning up their state government by replacing the Attorney General who sees corruption all around him and yet, by his own admission, has done nothing to stop it.

And I Thought Little League Was Bad

As anyone who has spent time with youth sports programs knows, some parents push their children into competitive sports as a means of living vicariously through them. These parents will berate their children, insult other parents and league officials, and become very demanding and very tiresome. They don’t usually turn deadly, as one French father did in ensuring that his children won their tennis matches:

For former military officer Christophe Fauviau, tennis was more than just a game, especially when his two children were on court. Even if they were competing in a minor tournament it was not enough for them to take part – they had to win.
Today Colonel Fauviau will appear before a judge accused of going to extraordinary lengths to make sure they did – by poisoning their rivals with sedatives. It was a tactic that went horribly wrong when one young player into whose water bottle Col Fauviau allegedly slipped a sleep-inducing antidepressant died after losing control of his car as he drove home from a match. …
Police began investigating after a young player spotted Col Fauviau allegedly tampering with his drink bottle shortly before he was due to face Maxime in the semifinal of a tournament in a local village. The player decided not to drink the water and, after losing the match, handed it to detectives for analysis.
The following day Maxime’s opponent in the final fell ill after the match and was kept in hospital for several days. Tests on his water bottle revealed traces of Temesta, an antidepressant that causes extreme drowsiness.
Before detectives had completed their inquiries, Alexandre Lagardère, 25, a primary school teacher, pulled out of a match with Maxime on July 3 2003 after the first set complaining that he felt too exhausted to continue. Maxime went on to win the first prize in what was supposedly an unimportant friendly tournament. While he was driving home, Mr Lagardère’s car left the road and he was killed. A postmortem examination revealed traces of Temesta.

Col. Fauviau may not have intended to kill his son’s rival, but spiking someone’s drink shows a reckless disregard for their safety that in the US could result in a second-degree murder charge. It’s not the same level of intent as the Texas cheerleader mom who attempted to hire a hit man to kill the mother of her daughter’s rival, but it’s the same illness driving both.
Most people enter their children into these programs for exercise, socialization, and a bit of healthy competition. Extracurricular sports programs teach teamwork, instill discipline, and when the pressure to win comes from the athlete instead of overzealous parents and coaches, for a bit of fun. Unfortunately, some people put their own needs for glory ahead of the mental and physical health of their children — and in a few extreme cases, ahead of the lives of their opponents.

Bush Visits Afghanistan

George Bush made a surprise stop on his tour of South Asia today as he flew into Kabul to meet with Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, as well as the American troops stationed in the newly-liberated country:

US President George W. Bush arrived in Afghanistan for his first visit since US-led forces toppled the Taliban regime in 2001.
Bush made the surprise stopover, landing at the US military base at Bagram north of Kabul, as he headed to India to begin a maiden trip to South Asia.
He flew by heavily armed helicopter to the capital where he was given a red-carpet welcome by an honour guard before talks with President Hamid Karzai at the presidential palace.

Bush apparently wanted to be present at the opening of the new US embassy in Kabul, taking place today, in addition to paying his first state visit to the nation. The stopover on the way to India had been kept under wraps; the press on Air Force One only found out about it when an announcement was made in the air. Dick Cheney had been in Kabul for the inauguration of its parliament in December.
Once at the presidential palace, Bush reiterated his confidence that Osama bin Laden would be captured:

Asked about the search for bin Laden, the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States, and of the president’s call for getting him “dead or alive,” Bush said the search for bin Laden and his associates continues.
“It’s not a matter of if they’re captured and brought to justice, it’s when they’re brought to justice,” Bush said.

He noted that the Pakistanis have committed to the mission, and according to news reports, they have initiated a new round of attacks in the Waziristan region against al-Qaeda positions. Pakistani officials claim that 36 AQ operatives were killed in a raid on a training camp, including a commander in the Chechen Islamist insurgency:

Pakistani security forces struck a militant training camp Wednesday in a tribal region near the Afghan border, killing three dozen fighters, including a Chechen commander linked to al-Qaida, an army official said.
The Chechen — identified only by his code name, Imam — died when a helicopter fired on his vehicle during the raid in the North Waziristan region, the army official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. …
The militants were attacked after conducting a raid inside Afghanistan and re-entering the Pakistani tribal region, where their camp was located.

My guess is that the last raid by American Predator drones taught Pervez Musharraf a lesson about these raiding parties and Pakistani inertia in general. He seems to have learned the limits of American patience regarding Taliban remnants and AQ operations hiding on the Pakistani side of the border, and has taken action accordingly. Hopefully he will continue to press the attack. After all, these Islamists may enjoy popularity with a good portion of Pakistanis, but it isn’t the portion that would support him regardless of his relationship with the US.