Michael Brown is done, at least on the Gulf Coast. President Bush recalled the much-maligned FEMA director back to Washington. Secretary Chertoff portrayed the decision as a shift of phase in the relief effort, from emergency response to longer-term crisis management, according to the New York Times, and Brown will stay at his post. But the Washington Post says Bush was likely bowing to internal critics, perhaps Chertoff himself, and Democrats still think Brown should be fired outright. Despite a banner headline, the Los Angeles Times just summarizes the recall then highlights news from New Orleans: fewer deaths than predicted so far, and an attempt to block the press from witnessing mass corpse recoveries. *
Brown’s replacement is Vice Admiral Thad W. Allen of the Coast Guard, a well-respected veteran of Sept. 11; the NYT profiles him inside. Evidence of résumé padding didn’t help Brown, either: An investigative report by Time found that Brown wasn’t “assistant mayor” back in Edmond, Okla., but in fact “assistant to the mayor.” Brown told the AP that the return to Washington wasn’t his decision, but that he was glad to be heading home for “a good Mexican meal and a stiff margarita.”
Disaster news takes a slight turn for the better. The LAT cites New Orleans’ director of homeland security saying that deaths won’t reach the 10,000 mark previously predicted by Mayor Ray Nagin. Also, despite threats of forced evacuation, no one has been arrested yet, although the papers don’t say whether that’s because folks are leaving or because police are going easy on stay-behinds. Houston doctors have contained a viral outbreak at the Astrodome. Around the region power is slowly being restored, but 50,000 National Guard troops will remain through the year. The WP and LAT front looks at Web sites helping families reunite.
There’s also bad news. Press access to the city is being restricted as the dead are collected and identified. “You wouldn’t want to have pictures of people who are deceased shown on any media,” says a National Guard general. But CNN got a restraining order claiming the restriction violated free speech, scoops the LAT. The papers also report that FEMA canceled a program to hand out $2,000 debit cards to storm victims when too many people showed up at the Astrodome for the cards; the money will be sent by check or direct deposit. The NYT says private profiteers including, yes, Halliburton, are rushing to cash in on big rebuilding contracts. Sen. Rick Santorum thinks the National Weather Service should be privatized, too, reports the WP. The NYT says thousands of kids are separated from their parents.
The LAT fronts a must-read on Katrina’s political fallout. With Bush now backing New Deal-era programs like welfare with billion-dollar infusions, the GOP feels lost. The massive federal relief effort is alienating small-government conservatives and emboldening Democrats, potentially derailing estate tax and Social Security reform.
Below the fold, the WP and LAT report that an appeals court upheld the detention of alleged dirty-bomber Jose Padilla. He’s the second U.S. citizen to be detained in the war on terror, but unlike Yasser Hamdi, Padilla was nabbed in United States; Hamdi was arrested in Afghanistan. The Supreme Court said Hamdi could be detained but had a right to challenge. Padilla’s case is likely to reach the top court. Also, a district court found that the federal government can’t request Patriot Act searches in secret, report the LAT and WP inside.
The WP fronts a look at American security contractors in Iraq, citing investigations into allegations of “indiscriminate shootings.” An American general says some insurgents have stepped up their attacks to avenge contractor violence. Private security guards are immune from lawsuits under an interim Iraqi law.
As predicted, Hosni Mubarak was re-elected as Egyptian president in the country’s first contested elections. Inside, the NYT focuses on the positive, noting that secular reformer Ayman Nour surprisingly beat out well-known Islamic parties for second place. The LAT highlights low turnout and cites experts saying reform is unlikely.
Too soon? Not really, reports the LAT. Katrina-related humor aimed at the Bush administration’s lousy relief efforts has been bouncing around the Web. For example: doctored photos of the president bass fishing in flood waters and FEMA-sponsored Bourbon Street parades.
Here’s another one: “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.” Oh wait, Republican Rep. Richard H. Baker of Baton Rouge really said that. Definitely not funny.
Correction, Sept. 12, 2005: This article originally and incorrectly stated that “the press may be barred” from New Orleans. FEMA and some military leaders attempted to block the press from witnessing mass corpse recoveries. Return to the corrected sentence.