The charge is devastating: That, on August 29, 2005, the White House withheld from the state police the information that New Orleans was about to flood. From almost any other source, I would not have believed it. But this was not just any source. The whistleblower is Dr. Ivor van Heerden, deputy director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center, the chief technician advising the state on saving lives during Katrina.
But unknown to the state, in those crucial hours on Monday, the federal government's helicopters had filmed the cracks that would become walls of death by Tuesday.
Van Heerden revealed: "FEMA knew at 11 o'clock on Monday that the levees had breeched. At 2 p.m., they flew over the 17th Street Canal and took video of the breech."
Question: "So the White House wouldn't tell you the levees had breeched?"
Dr. Van Heerden: "They didn't tell anybody."
Question: "And you're at the Emergency Center.'
Dr. Van Heerden: "I mean nobody knew. The Corps of Engineers knew. FEMA knew. None of us knew."
I could not get the White House gang to respond to the charges.
That leaves the big, big question: WHY? Why on earth would the White House not tell the state to get the remaining folks out of there?
The answer: cost. Political and financial cost. A hurricane is an act of God -- but a catastrophic failure of the levees is an act of Bush. Under law dating back to 1935, a breech of the federal levee system makes the damage -- and the deaths -- a federal responsibility. That means, as van Heeden points out, "these people must be compensated."
There's a coupla paragraphs on how the gummint 'compensated' rich folks after a similar federal failure.
And what was the effect of the White House's self-serving delay?
I spoke with van Heerden in his university office. The computer model of the hurricane flashed quietly as I waited for him to answer. Then he said, "Fifteen hundred people drowned. That's the bottom line."
I hate this bunch more every day.