Red Cross says needs 40,000 Katrina volunteers
BATON ROUGE, Louisiana (Reuters) - The American Red Cross said on Saturday it needs 40,000 additional volunteers in the next few weeks to replace worn-out relief workers helping Hurricane Katrina victims.
"This is a disaster of such scope and such significance that it is not going to go away in a few weeks or a few months," said Ken Degnan, public affairs specialist for the Red Cross. "We need more people."
The relief agency is sheltering 160,000 survivors, has provided 6 million meals and is operating 675 shelters in 23 U.S. states, an unprecedented effort that is taxing the 114-year-old organization, Degnan said.
The 36,000 Red Cross volunteers currently working the disaster will start rotating back to their homes beginning next week, so replacements are needed, he said.
The agency is asking recruits to contact their local Red Cross, which will provide training in such fields as shelter management, public health and working through government bureaucracies set up to assist disaster victims.
"It may seem like pretty simple to come into a shelter and help out," Degnan said. "But when you are dealing with large numbers of people in a congregate living facility you need to be trained."
Saturday, September 10, 2005
Red Cross says needs 40,000 Katrina volunteers
Gore Helped Airlift New Orleans Victims
By DUNCAN MANSFIELD
Associated Press Writer
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Al Gore helped airlift some 270 Katrina evacuees on two private charters from New Orleans, acting at the urging of a doctor who saved the life of the former vice president's son.
Gore criticized the Bush administration's slow response to Katrina in a speech Friday in San Francisco, but refused to be interviewed about the mercy missions he financed and flew on Sept. 3 and 4.
However, Dr. Anderson Spickard, who is Gore's personal physician and accompanied him on the flights, said: "Gore told me he wanted to do this because like all of us he wanted to seize the opportunity to do what one guy can do, given the assets that he has."
An account of the flights was posted this week on a Democratic Party Web page. It was written by Greg Simon, president of the Washington-based activist group FasterCures. Simon, who helped put together the mission, also declined an interview.
On Sept. 1, three days after Katrina slamed into the Gulf Coast, Simon learned that Dr. David Kline, a neurosurgeon who operated on Gore's son, Albert, after a life-threatening auto accident in 1989, was trying to get in touch with Gore. Kline was stranded with patients at Charity Hospital in New Orleans.
"The situation was dire and becoming worse by the minute - food and water running out, no power, 4 feet of water surrounding the hospital and ... corpses outside," Simon wrote.
Gore responded immediately, telephoning Kline and agreeing to underwrite the $50,000 each for the two flights, although Larry Flax, founder of California Pizza Kitchens, later pledged to pay for one of them.
"None of the airlines involved required a contract or any written guarantee of payment before sending their planes and volunteer crews," Simon wrote of the American Airlines flights. "One official said if Gore promised to pay, that was good enough for them."
He also recruited two doctors, Spickard and Gore's cousin, retired Col. Dar LaFon, a specialist in internal medicine who once ran the military hospital in Baghdad.
Most critically, Gore worked to cut through government red tape, personally calling Gov. Phil Bredesen to get Tennessee's support and U.S. Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta to secure landing rights in New Orleans.
About 140 people, many of them sick, landed in Knoxville on Sept. 3. The second flight, with 130 evacuees, landed the next day in Chattanooga.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:23 AM
Katrina Incompetence Starts at the Top
Michael Brown, nominated by President Bush in 2003 to be the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), has been roundly criticized for his inept handling of Hurricane Katrina. As the latest issue of Time magazine reports, it turns out there’s a reason for his incompetence: Brown has no professional experience in emergency management and has repeatedly lied about his professional background. As millions of people try to recover from the bungled hurricane efforts, Americans have a right to know how the Bush administration stocked FEMA with such blatantly unqualified and dishonest leaders.
* Prior to heading FEMA, Michael Brown’s only emergency management experience was as a supposed “assistant city manager” – a title that we now know he concocted out of thin air. Brown's official government biography says he served as "as an assistant city manager with emergency services oversight." But Time Magazine contacted Claudia Deakins, head of public relations for the city of Edmond and got the real story. Deakins revealed that Brown "was an 'assistant to the city manager' from 1977 to 1980—not a manager himself—and had no authority over other employees. ‘The assistant is more like an intern,' she told Time. 'Department heads did not report to him.'" Brown completely fabricated his only supposed emergency response experience.
* The Bush administration filled FEMA with clearly unqualified political appointees. The Washington Post also reports that "Five of eight top Federal Emergency Management Agency officials came to their posts with virtually no experience in handling disasters." The top three officials—Brown, Chief of Staff Patrick J. Rhode and Deputy Chief of Staff Brooks D. Altshuler—"arrived with ties to President Bush's 2000 campaign or to the White House advance operation." The appointments of such clearly unqualified leaders hastened the exit of experienced career officials who could have provided necessary knowledge and planning to execute large scale response efforts.
* The failures with Katrina are part of a much larger pattern of mismanagement and poor judgment by the Bush administration. The devastation of Katrina and the disastrous response should not surprise anyone given the administration’s illustrious track record of mismanagement and poor leadership. From homeland security failures prior to 9/11 and the debacle in Iraq to record budget deficits and soaring energy prices, our nation’s conservative leaders have proven time and again that they are incapable of properly running the country. The Bush administration could start correcting its mismanagement by firing Brown and putting some professional experience back in FEMA.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:22 AM
Right-Wing Congress Stacks Investigative Body and Loots Katrina Aid
Our nation’s right-wing congressional leaders yesterday attempted to one-up President Bush in the shame-and-embarrassment category. With only Republican members in attendance, House Speaker Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Frist announced the creation of a GOP-dominated “investigative” committee—created behind closed doors by members of the majority party alone—to uncover what went wrong with Hurricane Katrina. Congress then announced that debate on a $52 billion Katrina aid package would be limited to a mere 40 minutes—just enough time to ensure that no one learns about all the special interest, corporate pork stuffed into the disaster relief bill. Outrage is in full order today.
* The clearly partisan “Hurricane Katrina Joint Review Committee” should be denounced as a farce. Adding to President Bush’s fanciful claim that he will get to the bottom of his own failures, Congress yesterday devised a congressional counterpart to whitewash matters and shift blame from their end of Pennsylvania Avenue. According the Washington Post, the investigative committee set up by Hastert and Frist “will include only members of Congress, with Republicans outnumbering Democrats by a yet-to-be-determined ratio. The commission, which will have subpoena powers, will investigate the actions of local, state and federal governments before and after the storm that devastated New Orleans and other portions of the Gulf Coast.”
* The $52 billion Katrina aid package is set to be passed with almost no debate and no scrutiny of what greedy lobbyists and untoward congressmen stuffed into the bill. The House of Representatives, at the urging of conservative leadership, voted to limit floor debate of the Katrina aid package to a scant 40 minutes and prevent any amendments from being offered. According to Representative Louis Slaughter (D-NY), prior to precluding the possibility of amendments, "no one had yet to even see a copy of the legislation." This means no one will know who gets what before hand, how it will be distributed, who will benefit, and who is taking advantage of taxpayers. There will be no discussion of how to actually fix the problems that created the mess in the first place and no accountability for failures.
* When Americans are down and out, count on conservative leaders to show who they truly care about—themselves and their corporate backers. With tens of thousands of people displaced, and utter devastation across much of the Gulf Coast, our nation’s right-wing leaders have really stepped up to the plate. They failed to respond to the disaster; then tried to shift the blame and whitewash their own failures; and now want to close off scrutiny of their actions and take advantage of relief funding to enrich special interests. A fitting way to close the door on this ugly period in American history.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:20 AM
Republicans Still Plan to Cut Spending
By ANDREW TAYLOR
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republicans are going ahead with long-standing plans to trim Medicaid, food stamps and other benefits, even though party moderates are balking at cutting programs that aid the poor while hundreds of thousands are homeless from Hurricane Katrina.
The amount of savings - no more than $35 billion spread over five years - is modest at best, but it is the first time in eight years that Congress has shown any seriousness about reining in the automatic growth of such benefit programs.
Republican leaders have decided to delay the budget-cutting effort for at least a few weeks following widespread complaints that the government reacted too slowly in coming to the aid of Katrina's victims. When the effort resumes next month, there's less likelihood it will succeed because of Katrina's affect on the political landscape.
The proposed cuts pale when compared to the unprecedented price tag of the Katrina relief and recovery. In the past week alone Congress has appropriated $62 billion to deal with the worst natural disaster in the nation's history. The government is spending more than a $1 billion a day on the relief effort.
For the GOP's fiscal conservatives, however, it's as important as ever for lawmakers to take whatever opportunity they can to cut spending. Recent acts by Congress, including a huge highway bill larded with hometown projects, have reinforced Congress' reputation with the GOP base for playing loose with taxpayers' money.
"The reform of government needs to continue," said House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa.
Cuts are planned for the Medicaid program for the poor and disabled, student loan subsidies for banks, farm subsidies and food stamps, among others. Katrina has helped solidify opposition to them among moderates in both parties.
"At a time when millions are displaced and seeking federal and state assistance, we believe it is inappropriate to move forward on ... a legislative package that would cut funding for Medicaid, food stamps ... housing and education," Sens. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., wrote in a letter this week to the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
Smith and Snowe's votes are needed if $10 billion in Medicaid cuts are to advance over unified Democratic opposition, and their hesitance puts those cuts in doubt.
Democratic leaders say it is folly to cut the very programs that help hurricane and flood victims.
"It makes no sense to consider such a bill at a time when the massive needs of those affected by Hurricane Katrina are still being assessed," Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada and Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California wrote in a letter to GOP leaders.
GOP spending hawks counter that entitlement programs are spiraling out of control and that the pending effort would, according to Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H., "reduce the rate of growth of Medicaid over the next five years from 41 percent to 40 percent - 1 percent."
Democrats contend Congress would be better off doing nothing, since a companion plan to extend expiring tax cuts would pad the deficit by $70 billion. The tax cuts include extending cuts on capital gains and dividends taxes, which generally help wealthier taxpayers.
Senate Republicans, however, have shelved indefinitely plans for a vote to repeal the estate tax, which would benefit the heirs of multimillionaires.
Cutting spending is supposed to be what Republicans like to do best. When the GOP class of 1994 stormed Washington a decade ago, its top priority was to balance the budget by reining in federal spending on government benefit plans like Medicaid and the Medicare program for the elderly. Congress last took on the growth in entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid in 1997.
The return of big budget deficits from Bush's tax cuts, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the cost of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan prompted this year's effort to try again.
The proposed $35 billion in cuts is barely a dent, just 3/10ths of 1 percent of a budget predicted to total $14 trillion over the next five years. There's little stomach for stronger action, but conservatives say the precedent is urgently needed for when the Baby Boom generation retires and drastically inflated Medicare and Social Security costs force more cuts.
"It's an important experience for lawmakers to get used to," said Heritage Foundation budget analyst Brian Reidl.
Not all of the deficit reduction package would come from spending cuts. The Senate Energy Committee, for example, is poised to approve a hotly contested plan to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. The move would generate $2.4 billion in leasing revenues.
Separately, the Commerce panel is poised to raise $4.8 billion or more by authorizing the auction to wireless companies of analog airwaves that TV stations will relinquish when they switch to digital technology.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:18 AM
Congress to Investigate 9/11 Loan Abuses
By FRANK BASS and DIRK LAMMERS
Associated Press Writers
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Congress will investigate the "flagrant abuse" of a federal loan program designed to help businesses recover from the Sept. 11 attacks and make sure such problems don't occur with Hurricane Katrina relief, a key Senate Republican announced Friday.
Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, chairwoman of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, announced the investigation in response to an Associated Press story Thursday that showed the federal program was so loosely managed that it gave low-interest loans to companies that didn't need terrorism relief or even know they were getting it.
"The apparent widespread abuse of loans provided through the Supplemental Terrorist Activity Relief Act is nothing short of an outrage," Snowe said.
The committee chairwoman said she would demand answers from both the banks that gave the loans and the Small Business Administration, which supervised the program.
"Congress must seek and find answers when confronted with a situation that represents a possible betrayal of the public trust especially at a time when the people of the Gulf Region need every resource available to recover," Snowe said. "...I intend to exert my oversight power to determine how such flagrant abuse could happen and to ensure that Small Business Administration loans truly go to those who need them."
Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the committee's top Democrat, joined in the call for an investigation.
"This was a deliberate attempt to cover up White House budget gimmicks that left the SBA's largest loan program underfunded and on the brink of shutting down," Kerry said. "The administration asked SBA employees to bend the rules and steer regular loans through the program aimed at helping businesses impacted by 9/11."
The AP reported Thursday that businesses as diverse as Dunkin' Donuts shops and motorcycle dealers far from New York and Washington got loans drawn without their knowledge by their banks from the Sept. 11 program.
Gracia reports the Small Business Administration steered banks toward lending programs intended to aid companies hurt by the September eleventh attacks.
AP quoted several business owners as saying they hadn't been hurt by the attacks and were embarrassed to learn their loans came from the program. And banking officials and SBA documents show the SBA encouraged lenders to give out the low-interest, government guaranteed loans using the loosest interpretation of the rules.
Meanwhile, a poll taken shortly before the story was published showed that nearly three quarters of Americans believe the government did a good job helping the economy recover from Sept. 11.
An AP-Ipsos poll found there was general satisfaction with the economic relief efforts from Congress and the Bush administration among people in all gender, race, educational and age categories.
When last week's poll participants were interviewed and told about AP's findings about the loan program, some said the program seemed misguided to give away valuable aid so broadly.
"It's not necessarily what I would have done," said Nancy Hannaford, a Santa Clara, Calif., tutor and Web designer. "Nobody bailed everyone here out during the dot-com bust."
Overall, 27 percent of those surveyed said the government had done a very good job, and 45 percent said a somewhat good job, on the recovery. Twenty-seven percent said they believed had done a somewhat poor or very poor job on the economic recovery.
Young Americans, unmarried people and Democrats were less approving of the response, while older Americans, married people and Republicans were more likely to approve.
The poll of 998 adults was conducted Aug. 30-Sept. 1 by Ipsos, an international polling firm, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The economic toll from the Sept. 11 suicide hijackings has been estimated to be as high as $639 billion and to have cost 2 million jobs, according to a New York Senate panel study. The federal government responded with billions of dollars in loans and grants from numerous programs and agencies.
It also launched the largest federal reorganization in a half century, merging 22 agencies to create the Department of Homeland Security, which will spend approximately $47 billion this year.
David Seratto, an Orange County animal control officer, said one of the government's better responses to the attacks was taking over security at all U.S. airports, returning confidence to flying.
"You're safer when you're flying now," he said. "It's inconvenient, but it's a necessary inconvenient."
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:16 AM
Judge Rules Vs. U.S. in Patriot Act Case
By JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN
Associated Press Writer
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) -- A federal judge lifted a gag order Friday that shielded the identity of librarians who received an FBI demand for records about library patrons under the Patriot Act.
U.S. District Court Judge Janet Hall ruled in favor of the American Civil Liberties Union, which argued that the gag order prevented their client from participating in a debate over whether Congress should reauthorize the Patriot Act.
"It's fabulous," said ACLU Associate Legal Director Ann Beeson. "Clearly the judge recognized it was profoundly undemocratic to gag a librarian from participating in the Patriot Act debate."
The ruling would allow the ACLU and its client to identify who received the request for records, but Hall stayed her decision until Sept. 20 to give the government a chance to appeal. Prosecutors said they were reviewing the decision.
Prosecutors argue that the gag order blocked the release of the client's identity, not the client's ability to speak about the Patriot Act. They said revealing the client's identity could tip off suspects and jeopardize a federal investigation into terrorism or spying.
Hall rejected the argument that the gag order didn't silence the client.
"The government may intend the non-disclosure provision to serve some purpose other than the suppression of speech," Hall wrote. "Nevertheless, it has the practical effect of silencing individuals with a constitutionally protected interest in speech and whose voices are particularly important in an ongoing national debate about the intrusion of governmental authority into individual lives."
The Patriot Act, passed shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, allowed expanded surveillance of terror suspects, increased use of material witness warrants to hold suspects incommunicado and secret proceedings in immigration cases.
More than a dozen provisions of the act are set to expire at the end of this year. Liberals and libertarian-oriented conservatives have pressed for changes, citing privacy and civil liberties concerns.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:13 AM
Friday, September 09, 2005
Friday, August 26
GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO DECLARES STATE OF EMERGENCY IN LOUISIANA [Office of the Governor]
GULF COAST STATES REQUEST TROOP ASSISTANCE FROM PENTAGON: At a 9/1 press conference, Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, commander, Joint Task Force Katrina, said that the Gulf States began the process of requesting additional forces on Friday, 8/26. [DOD]
Saturday, August 27
GOV. HALEY BARBOUR DECLARES STATE OF EMERGENCY IN MISSISSIPPI [Office of the Governor]
5AM CDT — KATRINA UPGRADED TO CATEGORY 3 HURRICANE [CNN]
GOV. BLANCO ASKS BUSH TO DECLARE FEDERAL STATE OF EMERGENCY IN LOUISIANA: “I have determined that this 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 a disaster.” [Office of the Governor]
FEDERAL EMERGENCY DECLARED, DHS AND FEMA GIVEN FULL AUTHORITY TO RESPOND TO KATRINA: “Specifically, FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency.” [White House]
Sunday, August 28
2AM CDT – KATRINA UPGRADED TO CATEGORY 4 HURRICANE [CNN]
7AM CDT – KATRINA UPGRADED TO CATEGORY 5 HURRICANE [CNN]
MORNING — LOUISIANA NEWSPAPER SIGNALS LEVEES MAY GIVE: “Forecasters Fear Levees Won’t Hold Katrina”: “Forecasters feared Sunday afternoon that storm driven waters will lap over the New Orleans levees when monster Hurricane Katrina pushes past the Crescent City tomorrow.” [Lafayette Daily Advertiser]
9:30 AM CDT — MAYOR NAGIN ISSUES FIRST EVER MANDATORY EVACUATION OF NEW ORLEANS: “We’re facing the storm most of us have feared,” said Nagin. “This is going to be an unprecedented event.” [Times-Picayune]
4PM CDT – NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE ISSUES SPECIAL HURRICANE WARNING: In the event of a category 4 or 5 hit, “Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks, perhaps longer. … At least one-half of well-constructed homes will have roof and wall failure. All gabled roofs will fail, leaving those homes severely damaged or destroyed. … Power outages will last for weeks. … Water shortages will make human suffering incredible by modern standards.” [National Weather Service]
AFTERNOON — BUSH, BROWN, CHERTOFF WARNED OF LEVEE FAILURE BY NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER DIRECTOR: Dr. Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center: “‘We were briefing them way before landfall. … It’s not like this was a surprise. We had in the advisories that the levee could be topped.’” [Times-Picayune; St. Petersburg Times]
LATE PM – REPORTS OF WATER TOPPLING OVER LEVEE: “Waves crashed atop the exercise path on the Lake Pontchartrain levee in Kenner early Monday as Katrina churned closer.” [Times-Picayune]
APPROXIMATELY 30,000 EVACUEES GATHER AT SUPERDOME WITH ROUGHLY 36 HOURS WORTH OF FOOD [Times-Picayune]
Monday, August 29
7AM CDT – KATRINA MAKES LANDFALL AS A CATEGORY 4 HURRICANE [CNN]
8AM CDT – MAYOR NAGIN REPORTS THAT WATER IS FLOWING OVER LEVEE: “I’ve gotten reports this morning that there is already water coming over some of the levee systems. In the lower ninth ward, we’ve had one of our pumping stations to stop operating, so we will have significant flooding, it is just a matter of how much.” [NBC’s “Today Show”]
MORNING — BUSH CALLS SECRETARY CHERTOFF TO DISCUSS IMMIGRATION: “I spoke to Mike Chertoff today — he’s the head of the Department of Homeland Security. I knew people would want me to discuss this issue [immigration], so we got us an airplane on — a telephone on Air Force One, so I called him. I said, are you working with the governor? He said, you bet we are.” [White House]
MORNING – BUSH SHARES BIRTHDAY CAKE PHOTO-OP WITH SEN. JOHN MCCAIN [White House]
10:30AM CDT — MICHAEL BROWN FINALLY REQUESTS THAT DHS DISPATCH 1,000 EMPLOYEES TO REGION, GIVES THEM TWO DAYS TO ARRIVE: “Brown’s memo to Chertoff described Katrina as ‘this near catastrophic event’ but otherwise lacked any urgent language. The memo politely ended, ‘Thank you for your consideration in helping us to meet our responsibilities.’” [AP]
LATE MORNING – LEVEE BREACHED: “A large section of the vital 17th Street Canal levee, where it connects to the brand new ‘hurricane proof’ Old Hammond Highway bridge, gave way late Monday morning in Bucktown after Katrina’s fiercest winds were well north.” [Times-Picayune]
11AM CDT — BUSH VISITS ARIZONA RESORT TO PROMOTE MEDICARE DRUG BENEFIT: “This new bill I signed says, if you’re a senior and you like the way things are today, you’re in good shape, don’t change. But, by the way, there’s a lot of different options for you. And we’re here to talk about what that means to our seniors.” [White House]
4PM CDT — BUSH TRAVELS TO CALIFORNIA SENIOR CENTER TO DISCUSS MEDICARE DRUG BENEFIT: “We’ve got some folks up here who are concerned about their Social Security or Medicare. Joan Geist is with us. … I could tell — she was looking at me when I first walked in the room to meet her, she was wondering whether or not old George W. is going to take away her Social Security check.” [White House]
8PM CDT — RUMSFELD ATTENDS SAN DIEGO PADRES BASEBALL GAME: Rumsfeld “joined Padres President John Moores in the owner’s box…at Petco Park.” [Editor & Publisher]
Tuesday, August 30
11AM CDT – BUSH SPEAKS ON IRAQ AT NAVAL BASE CORONADO [White House]
MIDDAY – CHERTOFF FINALLY BECOMES AWARE THAT LEVEE HAS FAILED: “It was on Tuesday that the levee–may have been overnight Monday to Tuesday–that the levee started to break. And it was midday Tuesday that I became aware of the fact that there was no possibility of plugging the gap and that essentially the lake was going to start to drain into the city.” [Meet the Press, 9/4/05]
PENTAGON CLAIMS THERE ARE ENOUGH NATIONAL GUARD TROOPS IN REGION: “Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said the states have adequate National Guard units to handle the hurricane needs.” [WWL-TV]
MASS LOOTING REPORTED, SECURITY SHORTAGE CITED: “The looting is out of control. The French Quarter has been attacked,” Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson said. “We’re using exhausted, scarce police to control looting when they should be used for search and rescue while we still have people on rooftops.” [AP]
U.S.S. BATAAN SITS OFF SHORE, VIRTUALLY UNUSED: “The USS Bataan, a 844-foot ship designed to dispatch Marines in amphibious assaults, has helicopters, doctors, hospital beds, food and water. It also can make its own water, up to 100,000 gallons a day. And it just happened to be in the Gulf of Mexico when Katrina came roaring ashore. The Bataan rode out the storm and then followed it toward shore, awaiting relief orders. Helicopter pilots flying from its deck were some of the first to begin plucking stranded New Orleans residents. But now the Bataan’s hospital facilities, including six operating rooms and beds for 600 patients, are empty.” [Chicago Tribune]
2PM CDT – PRESIDENT BUSH PLAYS GUITAR WITH COUNTRY SINGER MARK WILLIS [AP]
BUSH RETURNS TO CRAWFORD FOR FINAL NIGHT OF VACATION [AP]
Wednesday, August 31
TENS OF THOUSANDS TRAPPED IN SUPERDOME; CONDITIONS DETERIORATE: “A 2-year-old girl slept in a pool of urine. Crack vials littered a restroom. Blood stained the walls next to vending machines smashed by teenagers. ‘We pee on the floor. We are like animals,’ said Taffany Smith, 25, as she cradled her 3-week-old son, Terry. … By Wednesday, it had degenerated into horror. … At least two people, including a child, have been raped. At least three people have died, including one man who jumped 50 feet to his death, saying he had nothing left to live for. There is no sanitation. The stench is overwhelming.”" [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/05]
PRESIDENT BUSH FINALLY ORGANIZES TASK FORCE TO COORDINATE FEDERAL RESPONSE: Bush says on Tuesday he will “fly to Washington to begin work…with a task force that will coordinate the work of 14 federal agencies involved in the relief effort.” [New York Times, 8/31/05]
JEFFERSON PARISH EMERGENCY DIRECTOR SAYS FOOD AND WATER SUPPLY GONE: “Director Walter Maestri: FEMA and national agencies not delivering the help nearly as fast as it is needed.” [WWL-TV]
80,000 BELIEVED STRANDED IN NEW ORLEANS: Former Mayor Sidney Barthelemy “estimated 80,000 were trapped in the flooded city and urged President Bush to send more troops.” [Reuters]
3,000 STRANDED AT CONVENTION CENTER WITHOUT FOOD OR WATER: “With 3,000 or more evacuees stranded at the convention center — and with no apparent contingency plan or authority to deal with them — collecting a body was no one’s priority. … Some had been at the convention center since Tuesday morning but had received no food, water or instructions.” [Times-Picayune]
PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCY DECLARED FOR ENTIRE GULF COAST: “After a natural disaster, short and long-term medical problems can occur. Diseases like cholera, typhoid, hepatitis and mosquito-borne illnesses tend to break out under these conditions.” [WCBS-TV]
4PM CDT — BUSH GIVES FIRST MAJOR ADDRESS ON KATRINA: “Nothing about the president’s demeanor… — which seemed casual to the point of carelessness — suggested that he understood the depth of the current crisis.” [New York Times]
7PM CDT – CONDOLEEZZA RICE TAKES IN A BROADWAY SHOW: “On Wednesday night, Secretary Rice was booed by some audience members at ‘Spamalot!, the Monty Python musical at the Shubert, when the lights went up after the performance.” [New York Post, 9/2/05]
8PM CDT — FEMA DIRECTOR BROWN CLAIMS SURPRISE OVER SIZE OF STORM: “I must say, this storm is much much bigger than anyone expected.” [CNN]
Thursday, September 1
7AM CDT — BUSH CLAIMS NO ONE EXPECTED LEVEES TO BREAK: “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees.” [Washington Post]
CONDOLEEZZA RICE VISITS U.S. OPEN: “Rice, [in New York] on three days’ vacation to shop and see the U.S. Open, hitting some balls with retired champ Monica Seles at the Indoor Tennis Club at Grand Central.” [New York Post]
STILL NO COMMAND AND CONTROL ESTABLISHED: Terry Ebbert, New Orleans Homeland Security Director: “This is a national emergency. This is a national disgrace. FEMA has been here three days, yet there is no command and control. We can send massive amounts of aid to tsunami victims, but we can’t bail out the city of New Orleans.” [Fox News]
2PM CDT — MAYOR NAGIN ISSUES “DESPERATE SOS” TO FEDERAL GOVERNMENT: “This is a desperate SOS. Right now we are out of resources at the convention centre and don’t anticipate enough buses. We need buses. Currently the convention centre is unsanitary and unsafe and we’re running out of supplies.” [Guardian, 9/2/05]
2PM CDT — MICHAEL BROWN CLAIMS NOT TO HAVE HEARD OF REPORTS OF VIOLENCE: “I’ve had no reports of unrest, if the connotation of the word unrest means that people are beginning to riot, or you know, they’re banging on walls and screaming and hollering or burning tires or whatever. I’ve had no reports of that.” [CNN]
NEW ORLEANS “DESCEND[S] INTO ANARCHY”: “Storm victims were raped and beaten, fights and fires broke out, corpses lay out in the open, and rescue helicopters and law enforcement officers were shot at as flooded-out New Orleans descended into anarchy Thursday. ‘This is a desperate SOS,’ the mayor said.” [AP]
CONDOLEEZZA RICE GOES SHOE SHOPPING: “Just moments ago at the Ferragamo on 5th Avenue, Condoleeza Rice was seen spending several thousands of dollars on some nice, new shoes (we’ve confirmed this, so her new heels will surely get coverage from the WaPo’s Robin Givhan). A fellow shopper, unable to fathom the absurdity of Rice’s timing, went up to the Secretary and reportedly shouted, ‘How dare you shop for shoes while thousands are dying and homeless!’” [Gawker]
MICHAEL BROWN FINALLY LEARNS OF EVACUEES IN CONVENTION CENTER: “We learned about that (Thursday), so I have directed that we have all available resources to get that convention center to make sure that they have the food and water and medical care that they need.” [CNN]
Friday, September 2
ROVE-LED CAMPAIGN TO BLAME LOCAL OFFICIALS BEGINS: “Under the command of President Bush’s two senior political advisers, the White House rolled out a plan…to contain the political damage from the administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina.” President Bush’s comments from the Rose Garden Friday morning formed “the start of this campaign.” [New York Times, 9/5/05]
9:35AM CDT — BUSH PRAISES MICHAEL BROWN: “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.” [White House, 9/2/05]
10 AM CDT — PRESIDENT BUSH STAGES PHOTO-OP “BRIEFING”: Coast Guard helicopters and crew diverted to act as backdrop for President Bush’s photo-op.
BUSH VISIT GROUNDS FOOD AID: “Three tons of food ready for delivery by air to refugees in St. Bernard Parish and on Algiers Point sat on the Crescent City Connection bridge Friday afternoon as air traffic was halted because of President Bush’s visit to New Orleans, officials said.” [Times-Picayune]
LEVEE REPAIR WORK ORCHESTRATED FOR PRESIDENT’S VISIT: Sen. Mary Landrieu, 9/3: “Touring this critical site yesterday with the President, I saw what I believed to be a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe. Flying over this critical spot again this morning, less than 24 hours later, it became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity; and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment.” [Sen. Mary Landrieu]
BUSH USES 50 FIREFIGHTERS AS PROPS IN DISASTER AREA PHOTO-OP: A group of 1,000 firefighters convened in Atlanta to volunteer with the Katrina relief efforts. Of those, “a team of 50 Monday morning quickly was ushered onto a flight headed for Louisiana. The crew’s first assignment: to stand beside President Bush as he tours devastated areas.” [Salt Lake Tribune; Reuters]
12PM CDT — BUSH “SATISFIED WITH THE RESPONSE”: “I am satisfied with the response. I am not satisfied with all the results.” [AP]
Saturday, September 3
SENIOR BUSH ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL LIES TO WASHINGTON POST, CLAIMS GOV. BLANCO NEVER DECLARED STATE OF EMERGENCY: The Post reported in their Sunday edition “As of Saturday, Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency, the senior Bush official said.” They were forced to issue a correction hours later. [Washington Post, 9/4/05]
9AM CDT — BUSH BLAMES STATE AND LOCAL OFFICIALS: “[T]he magnitude of responding to a crisis over a disaster area that is larger than the size of Great Britain has created tremendous problems that have strained state and local capabilities. The result is that many of our citizens simply are not getting the help they need.” [White House, 9/3/05]
Posted by politicalstuff at 5:44 PM
US: Iraq War Costs Now Exceed Vietnam's
WASHINGTON, Aug 31 (IPS) - The U.S. Treasury is paying out more each month to sustain the war in Iraq than it did during the Vietnam War, according to a new report that calls the ongoing conflict "the most expensive military effort in the last 60 years".
The 84-page report, "The Iraq Quagmire: The Mounting Costs of the Iraq War and the Case for Bringing the Troops Home", says that the total bill for the war in Iraq has come to some 204 billion dollars, or an average of 727 dollars per U.S. citizen, not counting an additional 45 billion dollars which is currently pending before Congress.
The report, which comes as Congress braces itself for the multi-billion costs of cleaning up after the unprecedented devastation inflicted this week on New Orleans and the broader Gulf Coast by Hurricane Katrina, also does not include at least another 25-billion-dollar request that the Pentagon is believed to be preparing to sustain operations in Iraq and Afghanistan into next year.
Released by two think tanks, the Institute for Policy Studies and Foreign Policy in Focus, that have strongly opposed the Iraq war, the new study is their third since mid-2004 to attempt a comprehensive accounting of the human, social, and international -- as well as financial -- costs of the war on the U.S. and Iraq.
The new report also includes a plan by IPS Fellow Phyllis Bennis for an "immediate and complete withdrawal of troops, military contractors and U.S. corporations backing the U.S. occupation".
The plan calls for U.S. troops to cease all offensive actions, withdraw from population centres, and redeploy to Iraq's borders to help Iraqi forces secure them, and for Washington to reduce the size of its embassy in Baghdad, and announce that it has no intention of maintaining either permanent bases in Iraq or control of its oil.
Similar steps have recently also been advocated by conservative critics of the war, such as the former director of the National Security Agency, ret. Gen. William Odom.
Bennis also called for Washington to negotiate with Iraqi insurgents over the mechanisms of withdrawal and endorse talks between them and U.S.-backed Iraqi leaders.
The Pentagon, according to the report, is currently spending 5.6 billion dollars per month on operations in Iraq, an amount that exceeds the average cost of 5.1 billion dollars per month (in real 2004 dollars) for U.S. operations in Vietnam between 1964 and 1972.
"While fewer troops are in Iraq, the weapons they use are more expensive and they are paid more than their counterparts who served in Vietnam," according to the report, which noted that at current rates, Washington could spend more than 700 billion dollars over 10 years -- 100 billion dollars more than the total cost of the Vietnam War.
If the 204 billion dollars appropriated for the war so far had been used instead for social programmes, according to the report, it could have paid for the health care of the more than 46 million citizens without medical insurance, the hiring of 3.5 million elementary school teachers, or the construction of affordable housing units for nearly two million people.
The same amount of money would also be enough to effectively cut world hunger in half and still cover the costs of life-preserving anti-AIDS medication, childhood immunisation, and the clean-water and sanitation needs of the world's developing nations for almost three years.
Those costs do not include long-term costs on the U.S. economy, including interest payments on that portion of the record federal budget deficit that is related to the war or the economic impacts on the families and small businesses of thousands of reservists and National Guard who have been called up to serve in Iraq.
Nor do they include the health-care and other benefits and disability payments to Iraq war veterans which, according to a recent estimate published in the New York Times by Linda Bilmes, a public-finance expert at Harvard University, will likely cost 315 billion dollars over 45 years.
Bilmes also estimated the potential impact of the war on the price of oil at five dollars a barrel, which, if sustained until 2010, will cost the U.S. economy some 119 billion dollars.
But the economic costs to the U.S. are not the only measure of the war's costs.
Nearly 1,900 U.S. military personnel have been killed in Iraq since the Mar. 19, 2003 invasion and more than 14,000 have been more wounded.
Iraqis have borne a much higher toll, however. The new study quotes records of the number of Iraqi civilians killed as a direct result of the war and ensuing occupation at between 23,489 and 26,706, and the number of wounded at between 100,000 and 120,000.
Those figures do not take into account the death toll arising from indirect causes of the war and occupation, such as crime and infrastructure breakdowns. According to one study published last October by the British medical journal, the Lancet, Iraq had suffered nearly 100,000 "excess deaths" between March 2003 and September 2004.
A joint Iraqi-U.N. report released last May found that 223,000 Iraqis are suffering from a chronic health problem directly caused by the war.
In addition, the new study cites reports that up to 6,000 Iraqi military and police units have been killed since the war started, with the vast majority of those casualties incurred over the past year.
Despite these tolls, as well the reported killings or arrests of 40,000 to 50,000 alleged insurgents, the number of resistant fighters in Iraq, according to the Pentagon's own estimates, has risen from 5,000 to 20,000 over a two-year period.
Meanwhile, electricity generation in Iraq, which finally surpassed pre-war levels in July 2004, has not increased, while unemployment is estimated at between 20 to 60 percent, according to the report.
U.S. national security has also been degraded, according to the report, which cited recent State Department figures indicating that the number of "significant" international terrorist attacks has more than doubled since 2003, while terrorist attacks in Iraq has increased nine-fold.
Army recruitment this month remained at 11 percent behind its annual targets, while the Reserve and Army National Guard shortfalls are running twice as high. In addition, roughly 48,000 members of the National Guard and Reserve, a disproportionate number of whom are police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel in their home communities, are currently serving in Iraq.
The absence of these "first responders" back home has become a major preoccupation for local and state governments, including those in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama hardest hit by Katrina. (END/2005)
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:00 AM
US: Pro-War Groups' New Tune - 'Paint It Red'
OAKLAND, California, Sep 1 (IPS) - Late in the evening of Aug. 24, the Drudge Report, one of the Internet's most frequented websites, featured the headline "Anti-War Protesters Target Wounded at Army Hospital", trumpeting a story from the Cybercast News Service claiming that anti-war protesters were taunting wounded soldiers returning from Iraq.
The following day, Cybercast News Service -- a subsidiary of the Media Research Centre, a conservative media watchdog group -- published a report charging that Code Pink Women for Peace was organising protests outside Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, where soldiers seriously wounded in Iraq are sent for the first stages of their recovery.
CNSNews.com reported that supporters of the Iraq war called the protests "shameless" and were conducting counter-demonstrations at the hospital.
"The anti-war protesters should not be demonstrating at a hospital. A hospital is not a suitable location for an anti-war demonstration," Bill Floyd of the Washington chapter of FreeRepublic.com told CNS.
"I believe they are tormenting our wounded soldiers and they should just leave them alone," Floyd added.
Code Pink, the news service charged, "has a controversial leader, [Medea Benjamin who] has expressed support for the Communist Viet Cong in Vietnam and the Nicaraguan Sandinistas".
The vigils at Walter Reed Hospital began in late March, Ann Wilcox, an organiser with the Washington office of Code Pink told IPS. They "bring together peace activists, soldiers, military families and neighbors, and they are a peaceful vigil that is not provocative", Wilcox said.
The vigils are focused on "reminding the public that physically and psychologically wounded soldiers are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan every night".
"These are not protests, but they are vigils calling for more support for the veterans. We always do them with military families and we get extremely positive responses from the families of the wounded soldiers. In my first DC vigil, the wife of a wounded soldier took me inside to meet her husband," Medea Benjamin, a co-founder of Code Pink, told IPS.
Counter-protesters appear to be "trying to create a confrontation and make us look as if we are not supporting the soldiers", Benjamin stated. "It is a smear tactic and it is totally untrue. We are there to say that these soldiers deserve the best possible treatment when they come home."
On Aug. 22, CNSNews.com featured a story headlined "Backlash Against Cindy Sheehan Gains Momentum", which reported that Move America Forward, the right-wing group that led a recent "Truth Tour to Iraq", was about to launch its "You Don't Speak for Me, Cindy" tour to counter the vigil that Sheehan -- the mother of Casey Sheehan, a soldier killed last year in Iraq -- maintained at Pres. George W. Bush's Crawford, Texas ranch throughout the month of August.
Whatever one thinks about comparing the chaotic occupation of Iraq with the situation during the war in Vietnam, one element is consistent: as the occupation of Iraq continues to slide into chaos, pro-war advocates are getting more vigorous and vituperative with their criticisms of the anti-war movement.
When the going gets tough for supporters of Pres. Bush's war on Iraq, they go on the attack. Typical targets have been liberal academics on U.S. college campuses, Hollywood celebrities that have dared speak out against the war, liberal talk show hosts, and of course, the anti-war movement.
Filmmaker Michael Moore, whose award-winning documentary, "Fahrenheit 9/11", set box office records last year, was the right's whipping boy for most of 2004. Cindy Sheehan became its target of choice this summer.
In the months leading-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, millions of people in cities around the world demonstrated against the impending war. Despite that outpouring of sentiment, during the pre-invasion debate, Bush administration supporters went after the anti-war movement with gusto.
Moreover, after the invasion began, those who spoke out against the war were quickly labeled anti-patriotic, anti-U.S. or sympathisers of the brutal dictator Saddam Hussein.
On Tuesday, the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, the premier think tank of the conservative movement, sponsored an event entitled, "The Politics of Peace: What's Behind the Anti-War Movement?" featuring John J. Tierney, whose book, "The Politics of Peace", was published this year by the Capital Research Centre.
In the introduction to his book, Tierney maintains that "The irony of the modern 'peace' movement is that it has very little to do with peace -- either as a moral concept or as a political ideal …. The leaders of anti-war groups are modern-day Leninists …. street revolutionaries [attempting] to use reactions to the war on Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein as a way to foment radical political change at home."
"This appears like a real attempt to smear the peace movement," said Benjamin. "It is interesting that it is coming at a time when the peace movement is beginning to represent the feelings of the majority of the American people."
"In reality, this is the first time since the war began that the right is on the defensive. To claim that the anti-war movement is anti-American is a move fueled by desperation, and I don't think it is going to resonates with the American people who now feel that this war isn't worth fighting."
Benjamin also said that the attack on the anti-movement is coming at a time when more Republicans are seriously questioning the war.
It is significant that Tierney's book was published by the Capital Research Centre (CRC), a Washington-based outfit, which for the past 20 years has steadfastly dedicated itself to defunding and disempowering the progressive non-profit sector and "exposing" the foundations that fund them.
Through its four flagship publications -- Organisation Trends, a monthly analysing the activities of advocacy organisations; Labour Watch, a monthly tracking "the increasing activism of labour unions that are trying to achieve through political coalition-building the goals they have failed to achieve at the bargaining table"; Foundation Watch, a monthly "examin[ing] the grantmaking of private foundations"; and Compassion & Culture, a monthly "highlighting the work of small, locally based charities that help the needy" -- CRC staff does the grunt work of the right-wing movement.
In an introduction to an excerpt of "The Politics of Peace" published in the March issue of Organisation Trends, Robert Huberty, the executive vice president and director of desearch at CRC, maintained that, "Many leaders of the principal anti-war organisations today are members of Communist splinter groups."
"They have ties to North Korea, Cuba and Maoist China. Some have political roots in radical anti-Vietnam war groups like Students for a Democratic Society … Others trace their origins to the heyday of the U.S. Communist Party."
Huberty argues that these facts "have been obscured by false media depictions of a grassroots and idealistic anti-war movement".
"On the face of it," Benjamin said, "it is ridiculous to characterise United for Peace and Justice as anti-American. This is an organisation that is comprised of more than 1,000 local organisations, and whose membership includes a fair share of religious leaders, military families, and veterans."
"The way they tried to smear Cindy Sheehan was despicable and didn't work very well; they way they are trying to position politicians calling for an exit strategy also reflects that. We in the peace movement feel like we are turning a corner and that we have greater possibilities of reaching and convincing the American people," she said.
*Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange column "Conservative Watch", documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the U.S. Right. (END/2005)
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:57 AM
IRAQ: U.S. Influence 'Too Much'
LONDON, Sep 5 (IPS) - U.S. influence in the process of drafting a constitution for Iraq is excessive and "highly inappropriate", a United Nations official says.
"It is a matter of public record that in the final weeks of the process the newly arrived U.S. ambassador (Zalmay Khalizad) took an extremely hands-on role," Justin Alexander, legal affairs officer for the office of constitutional support with the United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI) told IPS. "Even going so far as to circulate at least one U.S. draft."
Alexander, who oversaw the recent proceedings in Baghdad added: "This involvement was highly inappropriate for a country with 140,000 soldiers in country."
Zaid al-Ali, a legal expert who also oversaw the drafting process in Baghdad, made a similar case at a meeting at the International Association of Contemporary Iraqi Studies in London.
"There are three ways in which the occupation intervened in the context of Iraq's constitution-writing process," he said. "Firstly, the occupation authorities selected and affected the makeup of the commission that was charged with drafting Iraq's transitional law, and its permanent constitution. Second, the occupation determined the limits and parameters within which the constitution was to be drafted. Third, the occupation authorities intervened directly in order to safeguard its interests in the context of the constitutional negotiations."
Al-Ali said it was significant that one article in the draft constitution on foreign military bases was dropped from the final version. "One article contained in a previous draft provided that setting up foreign military bases in Iraq was to be forbidden, and that the only way in which this could be deviated from would have been by a two-thirds majority vote in Parliament."
Al-Ali said "this article was dropped from the final draft of the constitution."
An alliance including the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars and the large movement of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said it rejected the draft and a "political process which had been led by occupiers and their collaborators."
The group said in a media statement: "We consider this draft as a next step of this process which does not represent the peoples' will." The alliance also expressed "major suspicions about the honesty of the next referendum, which will take place under occupation and with neither international nor Arabic and Islamic supervision."
Dr. Marinos Diamantides, senior lecturer in law at the University of London, said the entire drafting process could be illegal under international law.
"One could argue the entire process is against the law," Diamantides told IPS. "According to the 1907 Convention (the convention for the pacific settlement of disputes), the occupying power has a duty to maintain the legal system of the country it occupies. This is the first time ever that an occupying power has dismantled the internal law system of the country it occupies."
He also pointed out that ironically the Sunnis now have power to derail the upcoming referendum vote by a two-thirds vote in three provinces. That power was originally intended to give Kurds power to veto the constitution.
When Iraq's Kurdish and Shia dominated parliament recently approved the draft, Sunnis immediately began campaigning for a 'no' vote in the upcoming October referendum. If the draft were to pass the referendum, it would be followed two months later by election for a government.
At least four provinces are predominantly Sunni, and Sunni clerics have urged their followers to reject the draft if it does not meet Sunni demands.
Adding further complexity to the already muddled situation, former UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq during the sanctions Denis Halliday believes that even the United Nations has no place in occupied Iraq..
"The UN doesn't have a position in Iraq today," Halliday told IPS. "Once the invasion took place, the UN became collaborators with the enemy (the United States)."
Halliday, who had resigned from his UN post in protest against "genocidal sanctions" added: "This lesson should have been learned in August, 2003 when our office in Baghdad was blown up, as we were collaborators. The UN has simply become a tool of the U.S., and Iraqis can no longer distinguish between the U.S. and the UN."
Justin Alexander said Iraq might need a new constitution. "If Iraq creates a progressive and effective constitution and laws to implement the constitution, then this could benefit Iraqis." But "in the absence of mutual reconciliation and an end to the occupation this is all futile." (END/2005)
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:55 AM
Thursday, September 08, 2005
Thousands lose jobs after Katrina
Hurricane Katrina led to 10,000 new claims by Americans for jobless benefit last week, US government figures show.
But despite the surge in claims from New Orleans, Mississippi, Alabama and neighbouring states, the overall US new claims total fell by 1,000 to 319,000.
The less volatile four-week moving average showed jobless claims had risen by 2,000 to 318,500.
Officials have warned that Hurricane Katrina is likely to result in a large rise in unemployment benefit claims.
Government officials said that the increase in claims from areas devastated by Katrina was merely an estimate as many labour offices had been closed as a result of the storm, making it impossible for people to file their paperwork.
Experts added that many other people affected by the storm could delay making claims while they deal with more immediate needs.
Cities and metropolitan areas in the region worst hit by the hurricane accounted for more than a million jobs in July, according to reports.
On Wednesday, the Congressional Budget Department estimated that Katrina could result in around 400,000 job losses in coming months.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Posted by politicalstuff at 4:55 PM
Cold beer and hope in New Orleans
By Alastair Leithead
BBC News, New Orleans
Throughout the horrors of the past couple of weeks in New Orleans, a number of bars in the French Quarter were determined to stay open and give their regulars a slice of normality.
Slumped at the bar, bourbon and Coke in a plastic pint glass, he could have been any drinker.
But my new friend was one of the famous four who hung on to the shutters and fought the storm as Hurricane Katrina tried to close Johnny White's bar for the first time in 17 years.
Why are they still here? Because they have got a job to do.
You cannot really make it out by candlelight, but the torch beam reveals the quest that keeps them all going: a small, cardboard sign behind the bar which simply reads "We never close". So far so good.
They had a hurricane party on the night of the storm and have been working in shifts, around the clock, since then.
Johnny White's has always been an institution on the corner of Bourbon Street and Orleans Street in the French Quarter and, despite it all, they somehow manage to keep cold beer on ice.
Run by alcoholics for alcoholics was how it was described to me, and that is not far off the mark.
"What is the toilet etiquette?" I asked the barmaid, wondering if I should just go out into the street.
"Here is the restroom key," she said, handing me a torch, "and watch the body on the stairs."
The body's name was Squirrel. He was banished to the landing for getting lippy when the cops dropped by, and he was just sleeping it off.
But he was a much more pleasant sight than the bodies we had seen earlier in the day, while we were driving the streets of New Orleans East on a motor boat.
There was the man sprawled across the roof of a submerged car. Captain Bill, the river patrol officer, thought he had got to safety but then died of a heart attack in the storm.
Then another, floating next to a house around the tips of some metal railings that were just peeping out above the water.
Thankfully, I did not see the two homeless guys who had chained themselves to a lamp post in the storm and had been killed by flying debris.
The streets were hellish. Hollywood would have paid millions to create this if it had been making a disaster movie.
The Super dome stadium was stripped of its roof. Trees had been picked up and thrown into the road. Metal signs had been ripped from buildings and tossed along alleyways. Power lines lay prostrate in the flood water. And the smell... the smell of sewage, of gas, of rotting things.
The poor, black neighbourhoods took the worst of it, as we have heard so much about.
How many people will they find who died in their attics as the water level rose in just 30 minutes?
People who could not find their way to their roofs when the lights went out and Lake Pontchatrain flooded in.
People given the choice of drowning in their living rooms or braving the full force of a hurricane on top of their houses.
And there are those who still refuse to leave, confident they can live a new life on the water, determined to protect their possessions, deluded by the scale of the disaster, persuading themselves the water levels will soon drop and everything will be normal again.
It is normality that people are after. And being open 24 hours a day is normal in Johnny White's bar.
The floodwaters left the French Quarter alone. The original city, the high point, the home of New Orleans bohemia, art, and jazz; its life and soul, its sin.
Two cops burst into the bar, the torch points at the hard liquor. "You got any grandfather bourbon," one asks.
"Grandfather and Coke, and go easy on the Coke."
They are from New Orleans. It is their city. It is now their ghost town.
Some of their colleagues have taken their own lives rather than shoot the looters stealing to survive, or take on the gangs roaming the streets of chaos.
Others have handed their badges in, appalled at how their own people were left living rough without food and water for days, how they were abandoned by their government, living in their own waste, some dying of dehydration in the heat.
They are as fed up of the gun-toting officers sent from out-of-town to restore order who you would have thought would have more to do than tear gas the regulars at Johnny Whites - the only bar still open in the narrow, dark, oppressive streets - because they are spilling out of the bar and drinking on the pavement.
So how long will the doors, with their smashed out windows stay open? How long will they cling on to the promise scrawled on cardboard behind the bar?
Everyone has been told to leave, the city will never be normal again. But for now in this small corner of New Orleans where there is cold beer there is hope.
From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Thursday, 8 September, 2005 at 1100 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Posted by politicalstuff at 4:54 PM
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
It's Your Failure, Too, Mr. Bush
By Eugene Robinson
BATON ROUGE -- After a tragically incompetent beginning, the effort to give urgent care to the multitudes from New Orleans whose homes and livelihoods have been obliterated is finally in high gear. The problem now is that nobody knows where it's headed.
At the top, things are still hopeless. Federal, local and state officials who perform for the cameras here at the Louisiana State Police complex, headquarters for the relief effort, still spend an unconscionable amount of time debating who's in charge. Is the president the ultimate authority, or is it Blanco, Nagin, Chertoff, Brown or the generals? The answer seems to vary from hour to hour, depending on who's holding court in the hot, stuffy briefing room or outside on the portico, where visiting luminaries get mobbed by microphones.
Fortunately, the finger-pointing follies don't matter much on the ground and in the water. Military, police and civilian relief units did what had to be done and emptied the New Orleans basin of Hurricane Katrina's bereft survivors. They are being fed, sheltered and clothed. They can't be described as alive and well, but they're alive.
Hundreds of thousands of evacuees are scattered around Louisiana and neighboring states in a sudden diaspora, and no one seems to have any idea what to do with them next. The evacuees bristle at the word "refugees," which makes them sound as if they don't belong in this country. But whatever you call them, they won't be able to go back home -- and won't have a home to go back to -- for months or even years.
Baton Rouge, perhaps the best example, has swollen like the Mississippi River in an epic flood. The people here have been generous and good-natured to a fault. Down by the river, at the convention center, the Red Cross is housing about 5,000 evacuees; another big shelter is being opened across town, and smaller shelters are being organized every day, many by local churches. It's impossible to count the families who have opened their homes to relatives, friends or needy strangers.
Every city and town in Louisiana that wasn't blasted by the hurricane is full of evacuees. Then there are the tens of thousands in Texas and the multitudes scattered across neighboring states. Their host communities have the best of intentions, but many won't be able to stand the added drain on resources indefinitely. Where will these people go? Why wasn't there a plan?
That's when I start my finger-pointing, because a few days in and around this ground zero have convinced me that there are two things the federal government failed to do, and that for these failures there's ultimately no one to blame but the president.
First, an administration that since Sept. 11, 2001, has told us a major terrorist strike is inevitable should have had in place a well-elaborated plan for evacuating a major American city. Even if there wasn't a specific plan for New Orleans -- although it was clear that a breach of the city's levees was one of the likeliest natural catastrophes -- there should have been a generic plan. George W. Bush told us time and again that our cities were threatened. Shouldn't he have ordered up a plan to get people out?
Second, someone should have thought about what to do with hundreds of thousands of evacuees, both in the days after a disaster and in the long term. As people flooded out of New Orleans, it was officials at the state and local level who rose to the challenge, making it up as they went along. Bring a bunch of people to the Astrodome. We have a vacant hotel that we can use. Send a hundred or so down to our church and we'll do the best we can.
Tent cities aren't a happy option, but neither is haphazard improvisation. Is the problem the Bush administration's ideological fervor for small government? Does the White House really believe that primary responsibility should fall on volunteers, church groups and individuals? Or is it just stunning incompetence and lack of foresight?
At the big shelter here in Baton Rouge on Sunday, some student volunteers from Louisiana State University took a group of children outside to get some air. The kids were using sheets of cardboard as sleds and surfboards, zooming down the grassy levee next to the Mississippi River and then scampering back uphill for another ride. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and the scene warmed your heart. But those college students are going to have to go back to their classes, and then how will those kids from New Orleans spend their days?
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:36 AM
CIA videos reveal the missed chances to kill Bin Laden
Yosri Fouda and Nick Fielding
Wrangles stopped arming of plane
::nobreak::PREVIOUSLY unseen footage of Osama Bin Laden taken by a CIA spy drone reveals how close the Americans came to killing the Al-Qaeda leader two years before the September 11 attacks.
The pictures were filmed by a Predator unmanned aircraft and show Bin Laden, in white robes, with a small group of followers at a training camp near Khost in eastern Afghanistan at the end of 1999. The drone was one of the first to be used in Afghanistan by the CIA, but because of bureaucratic wrangles it was unarmed.
The pictures, thought to be the first spy plane footage of Bin Laden to be published, have been obtained from American sources by Al-Jazeera, the Arabic language television station. “We had no doubt over his identity. Bin Laden can clearly be seen standing out from the rest of the group next to the buildings,” said Michael Scheuer, a former CIA officer who headed Alec Station, the agency’s unit which tracked Bin Laden during the 1990s.
He added: “Nobody at the top of the CIA wanted to take the decision to arm the Predator. It meant that even if we could find him (Bin Laden) we were not allowed to kill him.”
The pictures are part of a mass of evidence now emerging of the missed opportunities to kill or capture Bin Laden and his associates before they launched the terror attacks on America in 2001.
They include at least three further occasions in Afghanistan between 1998 and 2000 when the CIA had Bin Laden in its sights but was prevented from acting. There were divisions between the agency and the White House over who would have the authority to fire and the legality of killing the Al-Qaeda leader.
On one occasion a satellite photographed the Al-Qaeda leader on a hunting trip, but the White House ordered the CIA not to launch a missile attack after finding out that princes from a friendly Arab country were in his party.
On another occasion a raid by local tribesmen on Bin Laden’s base in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan, was called off after American officials could not agree on whether it should go ahead.
The third episode, also in Kandahar, involved a human spotter tracking him for five days, but the decision was taken not to attack because of fears over civilian casualties.
The missed opportunities are documented in Blinking Red, an Al-Jazeera series beginning this week to mark the fourth anniversary of September 11.
It describes how Bill Clinton’s administration turned down an offer from the Sudanese government to help to capture Bin Laden when he was living in Khartoum in the early to mid-1990s. It also shows how the Americans “lost” two of the September 11 hijackers despite having them under surveillance. The two men later entered America.
“The Bush administration has still not come clean with the American people about 9/11. Our investigation, which has taken a year to complete, has raised many outstanding questions that urgently need to be answered, not least over the missed opportunities to take out senior leaders of the organisation,” said Al-Jazeera.
The nearest the CIA came to killing Bin Laden was on the hunting trip in February 1999, just a few months before the Predator incident. The site was a camp in the desert south of Kandahar where Bin Laden had gone with wealthy visitors from the United Arab Emirates.
Afghan agents reported the trip to a CIA station. Tracking teams were immediately dispatched and by February 9 they had located the isolated camp, close to a large airstrip.
Richard Clarke, Clinton’s senior counter-terrorism adviser, has written in his memoirs: “When word came through that we had a contemporaneous sighting from our informants, the counter-terrorism security group met immediately by secure video conference.”
An attack on the camp using cruise missiles was the only option the Americans could employ at such short notice. The previous year a similar strike using dozens of missiles had been launched on the Khalden training camp in the east of the country, but there were few casualties and the work of the camp was hardly disrupted. This time, with a smaller, more clearly defined target, the intelligence experts believed they would have more luck.
The attack was planned for February 11, but according to Scheuer the White House stalled. Officials wanted more information about Bin Laden’s movements.
In addition it was now clear that the hunting party consisted of minor princes from the United Arab Emirates, an American ally in the Gulf.
As the White House dithered, the hunting party moved on. “All that was left was a pile of burning garbage in the desert,” said Scheuer this weekend. He claimed that the group had left after Clarke called a senior figure in the Emirates royal family. “It’s hardly surprising that they pulled out so quickly and that we lost our chance to kill Bin Laden,” said Scheuer.
The Al-Jazeera series also reveals how the January 2000 meeting in Kuala Lumpur, at which the September 11 attacks were planned, came to light after the CIA tracked the telephones of Khalid al-Midhar, later to become one of the hijackers.
Most of the senior planners of the attacks, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh, were at the meeting, which was also photographed by intelligence agents. Shortly afterwards Al-Midhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, another of the future hijackers who was also at the Malaysian meeting, flew to San Diego using their real names and passports. They were so casual that Al-Hazmi’s name appears in the San Diego residential phone directory for the period when they were in the area.
The ease with which the two men were able to operate in America came partly because the CIA did not show its evidence to the FBI — responsible for internal security — until June 2001, 18 months after the planning meeting and well after the two had entered the country.
The failures revealed in the Al-Jazeera documentary were echoed last week by further revelations about the so-called Able Danger military intelligence unit.
Two members of this unit have come forward in recent weeks to say that Mohammed Atta, leader of the September 11 hijackers, was known as a terrorist suspect at least a year before the attacks.
Lieutenant-Colonel Anthony Shaffer and Captain Scott Philpott, former members of the unit, said that Atta and three of the other hijackers had been identified. They say that they testified to the September 11 commission but their testimony was not taken seriously.
The Al-Jazeera series, together with Scheuer’s disclosures, add to growing pressure on the American authorities over their performance in the run-up to September 11. In an unpublished report to Congress last week John Helgerson, the US government’s inspector-general, delivered a scathing attack on George Tenet, CIA director at the time of September 11, and a score of other agency personnel for their failure to develop a strategy against Al-Qaeda.
The report recommends a public reprimand against Tenet, James Pavitt, former deputy director of operations, and Cofer Black, former head of the counter-terrorism centre.
Yosri Fouda, a journalist with Al-Jazeera, is the presenter of Blinking Red. His interviews with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh, the 9/11 planners, were first published by The Sunday Times in 2002
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:33 AM
Tuesday, September 06, 2005
Barbara Bush: Things Working Out 'Very Well' for Poor Evacuees from New Orleans
By E&P Staff
Accompanying her husband, former President George H.W.Bush, on a tour of hurricane relief centers in Houston, Barbara Bush said today, referring to the poor who had lost everything back home and evacuated, "This is working very well for them."
The former First Lady's remarks were aired this evening on National Public Radio's "Marketplace" program.
She was part of a group in Houston today at the Astrodome that included her husband and former President Bill Clinton, who were chosen by her son, the current president, to head fundraising efforts for the recovery. Sen. Hilary Clinton and Sen. Barack
Obama were also present.
In a segment at the top of the show on the surge of evacuees to the Texas city, Barbara Bush said: "Almost everyone I’ve talked to says we're going to move to
Then she added: "What I’m hearing which is sort of scary is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality.
"And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--this (she chuckles slightly) is working very well for them."
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:17 AM
Memo to the Media: Stop Enabling the White House Blame Game
When it comes to managing political crises (as opposed to national ones), the Bush White House has earned a reputation as masters of damage control. And rightly so -- let’s see you get reelected after Abu Ghraib, the “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” memo, no WMD, no bin Laden (dead or alive), and “Mission (Most Definitely Not) Accomplished”.
Well, according to the New York Times, Rove, Bartlett and the damage control boys are at it again, rolling out a plan to hang the post-Katrina debacle around the necks of Louisiana state and local officials… and, in the process,
erase the image of a crassly incompetent administration too busy vacationing to worry about the dying in New Orleans.
Hence, today’s Presidential Visit, Take Two. Can’t you just see Rove yelling “Cut!”, hopping out of his director’s chair, pulling Bush aside, and whispering in his ear: “Okay, Mr. President, this isn’t “Armageddon” meets “The Wedding Crashers”. So this time 86 the stories about how you used to party in New Orleans, and, for heaven's sake, do not focus on the suffering of Trent Lott. And no more hugging only freshly-showered black people who look like Halle Berry -- this time you gotta get a little closer to the living-in-their-own-feces crowd. Alright…. action!”
Look, as much as I despise the way they go about it, I get it: trying to save face by deflecting blame and sliming your enemies may be ugly but it’s straight out of the Rove playbook and has proven highly effective.
What I don’t understand is why the media continue to be star players on the Bush damage control team.
Take the way that both the Washington Post and Newsweek obediently, and ineptly, passed on -- and thus gave credence to -- the Bush party line that Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s hesitancy to declare a state of emergency had prevented the feds from responding to the crisis more rapidly.
The Post, citing an anonymous “senior Bush official”, reported on Sunday that, as of Saturday, Sept. 3, Blanco “still had not declared a state of emergency”… when, in fact, the declaration had been made on Friday, August 26 -- over 2 days BEFORE Katrina made landfall in Louisiana. This claim was so demonstrably false that the paper was forced to issue a correction just hours after the original story appeared.
So here are a couple of questions: 1) Had everyone in the WaPo fact checking department gone out of town for the Labor Day weekend? I mean, c’mon, the announcement of a state of emergency isn’t exactly the kind of thing government officials tend to keep a secret. 2) Why were the Post reporters so willing to blindly accept the words of an administration official who obviously had a partisan agenda -- and to grant this official anonymity?
Weren’t they familiar with the Post’s policy on using anonymous sources, which states: “Sources often insist that we agree not to name them in the newspaper before they agree to talk with us. We must be reluctant to grant their wish. When we use an unnamed source, we are asking our readers to take an extra step to trust the credibility of the information we are providing. We must be certain in our own minds that the benefit to readers is worth the cost in credibility. …Nevertheless, granting anonymity to a source should not be done casually or automatically.” Here it was clearly done both casually and automatically.
The Post’s policy continues: “We prefer at least two sources for factual information in Post stories that depends on confidential informants, and those sources should be independent of each other.” Oops. They could have saved themselves a lot of grief if the second source they never got for this story had been a staffer for Gov. Blanco… or, if the price of a phone call was too much, the state of Louisiana website where the truth about the state of emergency declaration was a click away [pdf].
Especially since the Post instructs its reporters: “When sources have axes to grind, we should let our readers know what their interest is” and “We do not promise sources that we will refrain from additional reporting or efforts to verify the information they may give us”. You mean like checking to see if the line of bull they are feeding you is, y’know, a line of bull?
If anything, Newsweek’s effort to assist the Bush damage control effort was even more egregious.
While claiming that “Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Barbineaux Blanco seemed uncertain and sluggish, hesitant to declare martial law or a state of emergency, which would have opened the door to more Pentagon help” the magazine didn’t even bother to cite a “senior Bush official”, choosing instead to report Blanco’s alleged failings as fact. Wonder where they got that “fact”? You think it might have been from the same “senior Bush official” that snookered the Post? Josh Marshall wonders…
The unquestioning regurgitation of administration spin through the use of anonymous sources is the fault line of modern American journalism. You’d think that after all we’ve seen -- from the horrific reporting on WMD to Judy Miller and Plamegate (to say nothing of all the endless navel-gazing media panel discussions analyzing the issue) -- these guys would finally get a clue and stop making the Journalism 101 mistake of granting anonymity to administration sources using them to smear their opponents.
The Washington Post corrected its article. Now it should take the next step and reveal who the source of that provably false chunk of slime was. And Newsweek should do the same.
It’s time for the media to get back to doing their job and stop being the principal weapon in Team Bush’s damage control arsenal.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:28 AM
Thomas de Zengotita
Why Little George Can’t Feel Your Pain
One thing Little George learned from genuinely strong men he knows (like Big George, his father; these are actual family nick-names, by the way) is how to act decisively in moments of high emotion. Only, with Little George, it's just an act. He can only do his decisive shtick when he’s not really feeling anything.
That’s why he flees into isolation in the immediate aftermath of crisis. He needs time to anesthetize himself.
With the New Orleans situation, Little George has an added motive for denial. The structural injustices of the system he serves have become literally visible. If he let himself feel this pain, he would have to face the fact that it’s always been there. Really tough SOB’s like Haley Barbour have always known that, felt that. They can take it on. They just don’t care. It’s that simple for them. They are monsters of greed.
But Little George can’t face hard core stuff. He needs simple facades of good and evil to relate to. The members of his retinue have learned that their principal task is to surround him with such facades. That’s how they have controlled the policies of our nation.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:26 AM
The Real Gas Gougers
How convenient for the oil industry that Hurricane Katrina hit just before the traditional Labor Day-weekend hike in gas prices. Now, instead of having to fake up some absolutely absurd excuse for jacking up gas prices, the industry can try and dupe Americans into thinking that they are suddenly paying $3.25 a gallon because of a storm.
The oil industry's response to Katrina has provided a reminder of why it is so exceptionally profitable.
Even before a start had been made on assessing the damage caused by the tropical storm, energy corporations were cashing in. And every indication is that they plan to continue doing so--perhaps taking prices over the $4-a-gallon mark, according to James DiGeorgia, editor and publisher of the Gold & Energy Advisor and author of The Global War for Oil.
No one debates the fact that the hurricane has done significant damage to oil rigs, refineries and delivery systems along the Gulf Coast, a region that accounts for roughly 10 percent of US refining capacity. But roughly 90 percent of US refining capacity remains fully functional and, it should not be forgotten, the US has not stopped importing oil.
Additionally, the Bush Administration jumped to the aid of the oil companies long before the relief effort was in full swing.
The Environmental Protection Agency suspended summertime antipollution measures, lifting the requirement that refiners lower fuel volatility and cut sulphur levels. At the same time, the Administration moved to release oil from the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which was created more than three decades ago with the precise purpose of boosting fuel supplies in order to keep a lid on rising wholesale gasoline prices in a circumstance such as the one that has now developed.
Despite all the aid they are getting, however, the oil companies are not giving anything back. There is no evidence of a willingness on the part of these highly profitable corporations to sacrifice in a time of national emergency.
Make no mistake: These corporations should be able to absorb a hit. Over the past year and a half, the four largest oil companies--ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, Royal Dutch/Shell Group and BP Group PLC--have pocketed close to $100 billion in profits. During the first quarter of 2005 alone, those firms pulled in a cool $23 billion.
But instead of sharing the pain, they appear to be moving to squeeze every cent they can out of the crisis.
With oil-industry friends in charge of the White House and the Congress, don't expect much of a response from the federal level.
But this is one case where states have an ability to intervene.
Three years ago, in a move to protect against gouging, Hawaiian officials enacted legislation that allows state officials to set price caps on gasoline.
Now, as gas prices are skyrocketing in the aftermath of Katrina, a California legislator wants to give a state agency broad authority to regulate the cost of fuel.
State Senator Joe Dunn, a Democrat, has introduced a constitutional amendment that would allow the state Public Utilities Commission to require mandatory fuel reserves, set profit margins for oil and gas companies and order the construction of new pipelines. The measure would also bar agreements between energy corporations to reduce competition.
Dunn's amendment would allow the California Public Utilities Commission to cap prices, although the senator told reporters that step would only be taken as a last resort.
Dunn brings a refreshing bluntness to the discourse. Speaking to the Associated Press, he accused the oil industry of creating a dysfunctional market in California, in which competition is essentially eliminated. That, he explained, is why states need to step up their use of regulatory powers.
"Two years ago, when gasoline cost $2 a gallon, the industry said to give it time and prices would settle down. Now, we're seeing $3 a gallon," Dunn said. "People in California are no longer believing the excuses of the industry. If they can't fix their market behavior, we'll fix it for them."
It is certainly true that consumers should take steps to reduce their use of petroleum products--not just because of a storm in the Gulf of Mexico but because of the human, economic and environmental tolls this country's reliance on imported petroleum products has imposed. But petroleum companies should sacrifice as well. And if they are not willing to do so, states should remind them of their patriotic duty.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:24 AM
Rove Returns: CIA Leaker Now Leading Campaign to Blame Local Officials for Katrina Aftermath
Scott McClellan, 9/1/05:
As I have indicated, this is not a time for politics. This is a time for the nation to come together for those in the Gulf Coast region and that’s where our focus is. This is not a time for finger-pointing or politics. And I think the last thing that the people who have been displaced or the people who have been affected need is people seeking partisan gain in Washington.
This morning’s New York Times:
Under the command of President Bush’s two senior political advisers, the White House rolled out a plan this weekend to contain the political damage from the administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina.
It orchestrated visits by cabinet members to the region, leading up to an extraordinary return visit by Mr. Bush planned for Monday, … and sought to move the blame for the slow response to Louisiana state officials, according to Republicans familiar with the White House plan.
The effort is being directed by Mr. Bush’s chief political adviser, Karl Rove, and his communications director, Dan Bartlett. … In many ways, the unfolding public relations campaign reflects the style Mr. Rove has brought to the political campaigns he has run for Mr. Bush.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:20 AM
NY Times reprinted without contradiction Bush's false claim that nobody "anticipated the breach of the levees"
NY Times reprinted without contradiction Bush's false claim that nobody "anticipated the breach of the levees"
In a September 2 article headlined "Government Saw Flood Risk but Not Levee Failure," The New York Times printed without challenge President Bush's false claim, originally made on ABC's Good Morning America, that "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees" surrounding New Orleans as a result of Hurricane Katrina. In fact, dozens of news organizations had reported on the possibility of a breach well in advance of the hurricane, and even the Times' lead editorial in the same day's newspaper flatly stated that "[d]isaster planners were well aware that New Orleans could be flooded by the combined effects of a hurricane and broken levees."
From the September 2 Times report:
The response will be dissected for years. But on Thursday, disaster experts and frustrated officials said a crucial shortcoming may have been the failure to predict that the levees keeping Lake Pontchartrain out of the city would be breached, not just overflow.
In an interview Thursday on "Good Morning America," President Bush said, "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees." He added, "Now we're having to deal with it, and will."
Though the Times kept it a secret from its readers, Bush simply wasn't telling the truth. Many people "anticipated the breach of the levees," as Media Matters for America has detailed. A September 2 Washington Post editorial similarly noted:
It is simply not true, as Mr. Bush said yesterday, that nobody "anticipated the breach of the levees." In fact, experts inside and outside of government have issued repeated warnings for years about the city's unique topography and vulnerability, and those warnings were loudly and prominently echoed by the media both nationally and in Louisiana.
Not only is it not true, as Bush claimed, that nobody "anticipated the breach of the levees," it seems that nearly everybody anticipated the breach. The problem wasn't lack of anticipation, it was lack of preparation.
A June 8, 2004, New Orleans Times-Picayune article noted: "For the first time in 37 years, federal budget cuts have all but stopped major work on the New Orleans area's east bank hurricane levees." The article quoted the manager of the Army Corps of Engineers' Lake Pontchartrain levee project saying that "people should know that this is a work in progress, and there's more important work yet to do before there is a complete system in place." A Corps senior project manager added, "When levees are below grade, as ours are in many spots right now, they're more vulnerable to waves pouring over them and degrading them." And Jefferson Parish emergency management chief Walter Maestri told the paper: "It appears that the money [for hurricane-protection efforts] has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay. ... Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us."
Los Angeles Times columnist Tim Rutten noted on September 2:
Three years ago, New Orleans' leading local newspaper, the Times-Picayune, National Public Radio's signature nightly news program, "All Things Considered," and the New York Times each methodically and compellingly reported that the very existence of south Louisiana's leading city was at risk and hundreds of thousands of lives imperiled by exactly the sequence of events that occurred this week. All three news organizations also made clear that the danger was growing because of a series of public policy decisions and failure to allocate government funds to alleviate the danger.
Since 2002, when all these reports ran, the Times-Picayune has published no fewer than nine stories reporting that the combination of tax cuts, the war in Iraq and the demands of homeland security had led President Bush's administration to repeatedly reject urgent requests from the Army Corps of Engineers and Louisiana's congressional delegation that it allocate the money to save New Orleans.
Former Sen. John Breaux (D-LA) told the Associated Press that it was well-known that the levees could not withstand a major hurricane: "Those levees are OK under normal times but once every hundred years, that's not enough. ... We've all said for years that a category 4 or 5 hurricane hit just right on New Orleans, there was nothing there sufficient to prevent New Orleans from being 20 feet under water."
And Mike Parker, a former Republican congressman from Mississippi who headed the Army Corps of Engineers in the Bush administration until losing his job after criticizing the White House budget office, told the AP: "I'm not saying it wouldn't still be flooded, but I do feel that if it had been totally funded, there would be less flooding than you have."
On September 1, the Chicago Tribune reported details of some of those budget shortfalls:
For instance, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requested $27 million for this fiscal year to pay for hurricane-protection projects around Lake Pontchartrain. The Bush administration countered with $3.9 million, and Congress eventually provided $5.7 million, according to figures provided by the office of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.).
Because of the shortfalls, which were caused in part by the rising costs of the war in Iraq, the corps delayed seven contracts that included enlarging the levees, according to corps documents.
A quick search of the Nexis news database reveals no shortage of news reports about possible levee breaches that could occur in the event of a major hurricane. Here's a small sampling:
* ABC's Nightline, 9/15/04: "If it sounds overly dramatic, it is not. This city is surrounded by water on three sides. Lake Pontchartrain to the north and the Mississippi below. A major hurricane hitting right here would breach the levees. Water would cascade in, submerging the city. And because of the levees, it would have no way of escaping."
* Associated Press, 5/16/04: "Officials have warned that if a major hurricane hits New Orleans, thousands of people could be killed and the city could be flooded for weeks as flood waters breach the levees ringing the city, which has the topography of a saucer that dips several feet below sea level in many places."
* The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 9/19/03: "... the Hurricane Center has developed an 'extremely detailed' map of New Orleans because the city, which sits about 6-feet below sea level and is surrounded by levees, is a 'worst-case scenario' for a major storm to hit. Knowing how far and how fast the water in the inlets will rise, evacuations and cleanups can be better planned, [LSU Hurricane Center director Ivor] van Heerden said. In the case of south Louisiana, a breach of the levees would trap the flood water on the wrong side of the bank once the bayous and rivers receded, van Heerden said."
* Richmond Times-Dispatch, 8/6/02: "New Orleans, with more than 460,000 residents, lies entirely below sea level and depends on a system of levees to hold back the Gulf of Mexico. Some researchers say a Category 3 hurricane could breach the levees and kill thousands of people."
At least two other news organizations pointed out the contradiction between Bush's words and reality:
* Cox News Service, 9/1/05: "On ABC-TV Thursday, President Bush acknowledged the 'frustration' of New Orleans residents, but said, "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees.' In fact, such a failure has been forecast for years."
* San Francisco Chronicle, 9/2/05: "'I fully understand people wanting things to have happened yesterday. I mean, I understand the anxiety of people on the ground. I can -- I just can't imagine what it's like to be waving a sign saying "come and get me now,'' ' Bush said. 'But I want people to know there's a lot of help coming. ... I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees,' he said. That point was fiercely contradicted on blogs and talk radio Thursday."
When Bush claims nobody "anticipated the breach of the levees," he isn't telling the truth; he's trying to avoid responsibility for underfunding Army Corps of Engineers' hurricane-protection projects. And the New York Times is helping Bush avoid responsibility by repeating his false comments without contradiction. Indeed, the false claim that nobody anticipated a levee beach occurs throughout the Times article (headlined "Government Saw Flood Risk but Not Levee Failure"), with nary a hint that it isn't true.
And yet, if Times readers turned to the editorial page of the same September 2 paper that contains that article, they would see a lead editorial that declared: "Disaster planners were well aware that New Orleans could be flooded by the combined effects of a hurricane and broken levees, yet somehow the government was unable to immediately rise to the occasion."
Times readers with long memories might also remember an August 11, 2002, Times article in which Times reporter Adam Cohen warned:
New Orleans ... may be America's most architecturally distinctive and culturally rich city. But it is also a disaster waiting to happen. New Orleans is the only major American city below sea level, and it is wedged between Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi. If a bad hurricane hit, experts say, the city could fill up like a cereal bowl, killing tens of thousands and laying waste to the city's architectural heritage. If the Big One hit, New Orleans could disappear.
There is considerable agreement about what the Big One would look like. A Category 4 or 5 hurricane would move up from the Gulf to Lake Pontchartrain, forcing lake water over levees and into the city. If the New Orleans "bowl" filled, the Red Cross says, there could be 100,000 deaths. An additional 400,000 could be stranded on roofs, surrounded by a witches' brew of contaminated water. Property loss estimates run as high as $150 billion, though much of the imperiled architecture -- like the St. Louis Cathedral -- is priceless.
So far, Washington has done little, and New Orleans's response has been less than satisfying. The city is focused on evacuating its 500,000 residents. But the roads leading out would flood quickly, stranding those who lingered. Then there is the thorny issue of the 100,000 residents without cars. "When I do presentations," said Terry Tullier, head of the New Orleans Office of Emergency Preparedness, "I start by saying that 'when the Big One comes, many of you will die -- let's get that out of the way.' "
Mr. Tullier has seen computer models of Canal Street under 20 feet of water and heard that the floodwaters could stay for weeks, that the National Guard might bring in thousands of body bags -- and that New Orleans might never recover. "In this business, we bring no good news," he said. "It's full of worst-case scenarios."
It's clear that there has long been wide recognition that a large hurricane could cause exactly the kind of devastation currently being seen in New Orleans, and that the levee system would not be sufficient to stop it. The Army Corps of Engineers knew it; the Times-Picayune knew it; countless news stories over the years have dealt with the possibility; Congress knew it; the former Republican congressman who lost his job as head of the Corps of Engineers for complaining about budget cuts knew it -- and The New York Times knew it.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:14 AM