Sunday, November 20, 2005

An Open Letter To Stephanie Grace

Dear Ms. Grace,

I am writing to take exception to something you wrote in your op-ed piece in today's Times Picayune . I should state from the beginning that I had no problem with the overall tone of the column. Even had it been totally negative, that would be fine. I wouldn't expect the op-ed and editorial page writers to be apologists for the mayor and governor; I wouldn't be surprised to see this story prompt a scathing editorial for instance.

All that said, I must question exactly what you meant when you said:
She failed to ask for the right type of help the right way.
Were you be perhaps intending that to be tongue-in-cheek and I just didn't catch the humor? Was it intended as a subtle criticism of the Bush Administration? With a little thought, She failed to ask for the right type of help the right way, actually says something pretty damning about Washington. But your column failed to convey any sense that that was your intention.

Even with a second reading, it seems that you're uncritically repeating the discredited administration talking point that state and local officials were somehow responsible for the woeful federal response to the Katrina disaster. With so much to legitimately criticize, I can't imagine why you would lend your prestige to such a laughable notion. An independent congressional study showed that Louisiana took the necessary steps to get federal aid. Specifically it found that:

All necessary conditions for federal relief were met on August 28. Pursuant to Section 502 of the Stafford Act, "[t]he declaration of an emergency by the President makes Federal emergency assistance available," and the President made such a declaration on August 28. The public record indicates that several additional days passed before such assistance was actually made available to the State;

The Governor must make a timely request for such assistance, which meets the requirements of federal law. The report states that "[e]xcept to the extent that an emergency involves primarily Federal interests, both declarations of major disaster and declarations of emergency must be triggered by a request to the President from the Governor of the affected state";

The Governor did indeed make such a request, which was both timely and in compliance with federal law. The report finds that "Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco requested by letter dated August 27, 2005...that the President declare an emergency for the State of Louisiana due to Hurricane Katrina for the time period from August 26, 2005 and continuing pursuant to [applicable Federal statute]" and "Governor Blanco's August 27,2005 request for an emergency declaration also included her determination...that 'the incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the State and affected local governments and that supplementary Federal assistance is necessary to save lives, protect property, public health, and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of disaster."

It's certainly true that the national press repeated the line that Blanco was somehow tardy or deficient in her request for aid, but you certainly recall that both The Washington Post and Newsweek acknowledged this error over two months ago.

I suppose that it's possible that I'm being too harsh. Perhaps, due to hurricane damage, you and several colleagues are sharing the same desk and you don't have the resources to conduct the simple fact check I did on a home computer. But, with a little thought, you should have realized that the notion that Blanco failed to ask for help properly doesn't pass a simple smell test. We know that Blanco made the proper request for federal assisstance the Friday before Katrina. Are we supposed to believe that some mistake in the paper work prevented the federal government from honoring the request? Are we further supposed to believe that the administration would have been helpless to communicate that the request was not filed properly? With Blanco on TV asking for any help the federal government could give, are we supposed to believe that something prevented anyone in the administration from calling her (or going on TV) and saying that they needed form A? Frankly, Ms. Grace, you're helping to propagate a myth that doesn't pass a simple thought test.

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