Throw Chertoff out, too

Plenty of blame to go around, that’s for sure. There’s no question helluva-job Brown was the wrong man at the wrong time and that he screwed up mightily. But new evidence proves the real screw-up started with our Homeland Security czar Michael Chertoff.

The federal official with the power to mobilize a massive federal response to Hurricane Katrina was Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, not the former FEMA chief who was relieved of his duties and resigned earlier this week, federal documents reviewed by Knight Ridder show.

Even before the storm struck the Gulf Coast, Chertoff could have ordered federal agencies into action without any request from state or local officials. Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown had only limited authority to do so until about 36 hours after the storm hit, when Chertoff designated him as the “principal federal official” in charge of the storm.

As thousands of hurricane victims went without food, water and shelter in the days after Katrina’s early morning Aug. 29 landfall, critics assailed Brown for being responsible for delays that might have cost hundreds of lives.

But Chertoff – not Brown – was in charge of managing the national response to a catastrophic disaster, according to the National Response Plan, the federal government’s blueprint for how agencies will handle major natural disasters or terrorist incidents. An order issued by President Bush in 2003 also assigned that responsibility to the homeland security director.

But according to a memo obtained by Knight Ridder, Chertoff didn’t shift that power to Brown until late afternoon or evening on Aug. 30, about 36 hours after Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi. That same memo suggests that Chertoff may have been confused about his lead role in disaster response and that of his department.

Just a cesspool of incompetence. And now they get to dole out billions in juicy contracts to their friends. The rich get richer, and no one’s ever responsible. Even slimeball Brown never got fired; instead, he said he was quitting to be the fall guy for the president (his own words), though he had done nothing wrong.

In a brilliant analysis, TomDisptch notes how New Orleans has morphed neatly into Iraq — same incompetence, same destruction, same helmsman, same victims (the “little people”) and the same recipients of the goodies, the contractors with close ties to Bush.

Reports have been trickling in that the private security firms — call them mercenary corporations like Blackwater USA — which have flooded Iraq with an estimated twenty to twenty-five thousand hired guns (some paid up to $1,000 a day), have been taking the same route back to New Orleans and the Mississippi coast as KBR, Bechtel, and the Shaw Group.

They first arrived in the employ of private corporations and local millionaires who wanted their property protected. A week or so into September, however, Jeremy Scahill and Daniela Crespo of Democracy Now! found the hired-guns of Blackwater cruising the streets of New Orleans, carrying assault weapons, claiming to have been deputized, insisting that they were working for the Homeland Security Department and that they were sleeping in camps the Department had organized. (“‘When they told me New Orleans, I said, “What country is that in?,”‘ said one of the Blackwater men.”) Then, on September 13, the Washington Post reported that “Blackwater USA, known for its work supporting military operations in Iraq, said it would provide 164 armed guards to help provide security at FEMA sites in Louisiana.”

Today, New Orleans’ streets are under military occupation; its property is guarded by hired guns; and the corporations of the whirlwind are pouring into town. All that’s missing is the insurgency.

Boss Tweed is back, and this time they’re going to leave America bankrupt and broken for generations. Please, please read the whole article to see just how the contracting swindle works, and to see just how blatant the criminality is. Read about the “iron triangle” of Bush cohorts who exist only to enrich one another as the “little people’s” lives are ruined. More good reason to feel deeply ashamed of being an American in the Age of Bush.

Update: Don’t ask questions!

Senate Republicans on Wednesday scuttled an attempt by Sen. Hillary Clinton to establish an independent, bipartisan panel patterned after the 9/11 Commission to investigate what went wrong with federal, state and local governments’ response to Hurricane Katrina.

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