Saturday, September 17, 2005

FEMA takes many workers off hurricane duty

FEMA takes many workers off hurricane duty

Daily News Exclusive


WASHINGTON - FEMA bureaucrats yesterday infuriated exhausted Hurricane Katrina responders and lawmakers with yet another blunder.

Federal Emergency Management Agency leaders ordered officials in the agency's Preparedness Division to stop all Katrina relief efforts and begin a long-planned move from agency headquarters to new offices in Virginia by Monday.

"They're no longer focused on the gigantic Katrina job and are putting their files into boxes instead," said one outraged FEMA insider. "This is simply incredible considering that the entire staff has been an integral part of the response effort."

Taking staff off hurricane duty is "disruptive when we need every single soul here to work on Katrina," the source said.

FEMA spokeswoman Nicol Andrews confirmed that workers from the agency's radiological emergency preparedness and chemical stockpile emergency preparedness programs were moving to Arlington, Va., in a reorganization, where they will be absorbed by a new division within the Homeland Security Department.

She said fewer than 100 of FEMA's 2,600 full-time employees are leaving the Washington headquarters to make room for an expanding Katrina response and recovery operation.

"Right now is the wrong time to disrupt any part of FEMA's operation," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan), who chairs the Democrats' homeland security task force. "I'd like to know who's going to take responsibility for this move."

Originally published on September 17, 2005


Youngest Son of Florida Gov. Bush Arrested for Public Intoxication and Resisting Arrest
Youngest Son of Florida Gov. Bush Arrested for Public Intoxication and Resisting Arrest

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- The youngest son of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was arrested early Friday and charged with public intoxication and resisting arrest, law enforcement officials said.

John Ellis Bush, 21, was arrested by agents of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission at 2:30 a.m. on a corner of Austin's Sixth Street bar district, said commission spokesman Roger Wade.

The nephew of President Bush was released on $2,500 bond for the resisting arrest charge, and on a personal recognizance bond for the public intoxication charge, officials said.

Wade said he had no further details about the charges.

Gov. Bush and his wife Columba appeared Friday evening at a museum reception in Miami.

"My son's doing fine. It's a private matter. We will support him. We're sad for him. But I'm not going to discuss it on the public square with 30 cameras," the governor told reporters.

It's not the first time Florida's first family has experienced legal problems with one of their children.

Noelle Bush, the governor's daughter, was arrested in January 2002 and accused of trying to pass a fraudulent prescription at a pharmacy to obtain the anti-anxiety drug Xanax. She completed a drug rehabilitation program in August 2003 and a judge dismissed the drug charges against her.


Bill Clinton wheels and deals at his summit


Bill Clinton wheels and deals at his summit

By Larry Fine

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former President Bill Clinton wheeled and dealed on Friday at his Clinton Global Initiative summit, yielding promises from global leaders to do things to make the world a better place and bringing the value of aid commitments over two days to nearly $500 million.

Friday's pledges announced by organizers included more clean water for Africa, an Arab entrepreneurship initiative and the assignment of a youth corps to help in relief, recovery and rebuilding efforts in the U.S. Gulf states devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

Created by Clinton, the three-day conference was in full swing on Friday. Thursday's opening day of the summit -- where attending leaders were pressed for pledges to do something good for the world -- brought promises of more than $200 million for African economic development and to fight HIV/AIDS.

Over the first two days of the summit, Clinton has yielded 150 concrete pledges.

Friday's events were kicked off with a session between Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres and Palestinian Foreign Minister Nasser al-Kidwa, where the pair discussed the future of relations in the Middle East.

"We had a very good session on the Middle East and I've had several more people tell me they want to invest there," said Clinton, in his element in the political art of making a deal.

Clinton said he also secured a much-appreciated pledge on Friday from charity organization World Vision to spend $20 million over five years to bring clean water to half a million people in Ghana, Mali, Niger and Ethiopia.

"There are at least 1 billion people in the world, most of them children, who never get a clear glass of water," said Clinton. "That was something that really touched me."

A four-ring circus of activity swirled through four floors of a midtown Manhattan hotel as each focus area -- poverty, religious conflict, global warming and stamping out corruption -- held concurrent workshops with political leaders and other world figures weighing in.

With 800 participants attending, Clinton held a flurry of behind-the-scenes meetings.

In the basement, the hotel's "Business Floor," Clinton dipped in and out of private rooms for bilateral talks aimed at investment in poverty-stricken areas and in social action.

After a friendly embrace from Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, Clinton introduced him to a Canadian businessman who was apparently keen to invest in the former Soviet state.

In another room, Clinton huddled with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe who was deep in talks about possible oil exploration deals and how best to curb drug trafficking.

(Additional reporting by Samira Nanda and Chip East)


Senate Republicans push for EPA rule waivers


Senate Republicans push for EPA rule waivers

By Chris Baltimore

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senate Republicans are pursuing legislation that would grant the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sweeping authority to waive temporarily clean air and water laws in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Environmentalists and Democrats say the push by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe could give the EPA carte blanche to dismantle important environmental protections governing power plant emissions and other industry.

The EPA could use the proposed 120-day waiver authority to speed storm debris disposal and issue permits to discharge contaminated flood waters, the agency said Friday.

Such waivers would be allowed if it "is necessary to respond, in a timely and effective manner, to a situation or damage related to Hurricane Katrina," according to a portion of the text provided by Inhofe's committee.

Democrats and environmentalists said the bill could be the first volley in a Republican push to dismantle clean air and water protections, and that waivers could be extended indefinitely.

An Inhofe spokesman insists that EPA would still have to weigh "any consequence to public health or the environment" before acting.

"This really is an open invitation to every special interest to appeal to the EPA for a break, using the hurricane as an excuse," said Frank O'Donnell at Clean Air Watch.

"We must not use this tragedy as an excuse to let oil companies and other polluters evade the protections that safeguard the public's health," said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat.

"Those who seek to criticize this legislation under the guise of environmental concerns have it backwards as the use of the authority is specifically to protect public health," Inhofe said in a statement.

The Bush administration could extend the waiver for 18 more months if needed, Inhofe's statement said.

The administration is "reviewing what waivers may be necessary to enable a speedy, safe and complete response to a natural disaster of this magnitude," said Michelle St. Martin at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

"It's a blank check," John Walke, an attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said of Inhofe's bill.

If industry can link Hurricane Katrina damage with rising energy costs, the bill would give them a just cause to seek a raft of exemptions, Walke said.

Such an argument would not be a stretch -- the U.S. government said this week that natural gas bills this winter could be up to 70 percent higher than a year ago, partly due to hurricane disruptions.

The American Chemistry Council said that Congress should pass legislation that allows industry to skirt temporarily state and federal acid rain and smog rules by switching from clean-burning natural gas to coal, which is cheaper but dirtier.


Hurricane cleanup costs worry conservatives

Hurricane cleanup costs worry conservatives

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Conservative Republicans on Capitol Hill are worried about the growing costs of rebuilding the storm-ravaged U.S. Gulf Coast, and want to pay for it by cutting domestic spending on programs like a new prescription drug benefit for the elderly.

"It's not an exaggeration to say that we're on the verge of a meltdown," said John Hart, a spokesman for Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican who has threatened to hold up emergency spending bills to pay for the reconstruction unless offsetting budget cuts are found.

Fiscal conservatives in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate are concerned the costs of rebuilding roads, utilities, businesses and homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina will swell an already large U.S. budget deficit.

Some estimates have put the rebuilding costs at more than $200 billion.

President George W. Bush said on Friday the budget could absorb the costs and promised to find cuts to offset some of the spending. But he said he would still push for an extension of his tax cuts, which Democrats have opposed.

"You bet it's going to cost money, but I'm confident we can handle it and I'm confident we can handle our other priorities," Bush told reporters when asked about Republican complaints over the spending.

"It's going to mean that we're going to have to make sure we cut unnecessary spending. It's going to mean we've got to maintain economic growth, and therefore we should not raise taxes," Bush said.

Bush's economic advisers said on Friday the costs would be covered by borrowing and would raise the deficit.

"It'll end up requiring many years to pay for this," Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, said on a tour of the region, adding "future generations" would end up footing the bill.

"It will mean the deficit goes up probably 150 (billion dollars), maybe even more," Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg, a New Hampshire Republican, said in a recent television interview.

That would put the fiscal 2006 budget deficit at $464 billion, and does not count additional funds the White House likely will seek early next year to finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which already have run up a $300 billion tab.

Congress and the Bush administration already have sent $62.3 billion in emergency funds to Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and other states in the days after the hurricane, and expect a request from the administration for a further $50 billion or so in emergency aid in coming weeks.

Cutting spending is always difficult for Congress, which this year has been struggling to agree on a mere $35 billion in reductions spread over five years. The task of cutting spending for the poor became even harder, politically, after the federal government was widely blamed for a slow response to Katrina, whose most visible victims have been poor blacks.

Two conservative House Republicans, still stung by their leaders' refusal to allow the House to debate spending cuts before passing a $51.8 billion emergency hurricane relief bill on September 8, said Congress should consider delaying a Medicare prescription drug benefit for the elderly set to begin next year.

Reps. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Jeb Hensarling of Texas said in a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert on Thursday that other targets for spending cuts should include some highway projects authorized by a new law this summer, as well as traditional conservative targets such as Amtrak and the National Endowment for the Arts.

"As we move forward we will of course be looking for opportunities to find savings on top of what we have already proposed," said Scott Milburn, spokesman for the White House Office of Management and Budget.

(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan)


Bloomberg opposes Roberts' nomination


Bloomberg opposes Roberts' nomination

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Friday opposed John Roberts' nomination to be U.S. Supreme Court chief justice, making him the first noted Republican to break with the Bush administration over who should lead America's top court.

Bloomberg, a former Democrat seeking re-election in a heavily Democratic city, said Roberts had failed to show a commitment to upholding the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision establishing a right to abortion.

"I am unconvinced that Judge Roberts accepts the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling as settled law," Bloomberg said.

Roberts' answers to questions in Senate confirmation hearings "did not indicate a commitment to protect a woman's right to choose," he said. "For that reason I oppose the nomination of Judge Roberts as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court."

While Bloomberg's statement is unusual from a Republican, the mayor has no standing over whether Roberts will be confirmed by the U.S. Senate as chief justice.

Bloomberg, who became a billionaire by building the media company named after him, is ahead in polls in the New York mayoral race ahead of November's election here.

Like many Republicans in New York, Bloomberg has long been a liberal on social issues and has been unafraid to publicly break with President George W. Bush.


Democrats warn of potential Katrina contract abuse


Democrats warn of potential Katrina contract abuse

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina could be ripe for fraud if government whistle-blowers are not better protected than those who lost their jobs after disclosing abuses in Iraq's reconstruction, a leading Senate Democrat said on Friday.

Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota said all necessary resources should be deployed to rebuild New Orleans and the U.S. Gulf Coast, but the billions of dollars in expected government spending must be must be carefully monitored.

"We simply must ensure accountability for these massive expenditures -- so that these dollars don't just wind up lining the pockets of unscrupulous contractors, as we've seen all too often in Iraq," Dorgan said at an unofficial hearing held by the Democratic Policy Committee, a congressional group.

"One of the keys to ensuring accountability is to have civil servants who witness fraud, waste and abuse to blow the whistle," Dorgan said.

Dorgan called the hearing to review the cases of two contracting officers who say they were forced out of jobs at the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers after exposing problems with Iraq contracts.

Democrats, unable to call official hearings in the Republican-controlled Congress, have often used the policy-committee forum to call attention to their priorities.

Bunnatine Greenhouse said she was forced out of her job as a top U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contracting official on August 27 after raising questions about Halliburton Co.'s contracts in Iraq and testifying to an earlier policy committee hearing on the matter.

"I was removed because I steadfastly resisted and attempted to alter what can be described as casual and clubby contracting practices by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers commanders, and because I presented testimony before this body on June 27, 2005," she said.

Greenhouse told the committee in June that Halliburton's deals in Iraq were the worst example of contract abuse she had seen, adding that "every aspect" of the deal had been under the control of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's office.

Halliburton has strongly rejected Greenhouse's comments.

Halliburton Co.'s subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root has already been given a $29.8 million contract to rebuild Navy bases along the Katrina battered Gulf Coast. Vice President Dick Cheney is a former head of Halliburton.

Estimates of the federal government cost in reconstructing the shattered region have been as high as $200 billion.

Christy Watts, a former contracting officer for the Corps of Engineers, said she was forced to sign off on some contracts despite her objections and was told by supervisors not to go over their heads.

"The plight I encountered as a whistle-blower in the Army Corp of Engineers was nothing short of traumatic," said Watts, who described herself as a Republican. "For the first time in my life, I was forced to seek medical assistance to deal with the stress."

Watts said a settlement agreement with the Army Corps included a provision that she was not to contact the special counsel about her concerns about contract abuse.

A Dorgan aide said officials from the Army Corps had been invited to testify but declined.


Katrina: What Happened When
Katrina: What Happened When

It will take months to get the full story, but meanwhile here are some of the key facts about what happened and when officials acted.

Summary through Thursday September 15, 2005

Multiple investigations are likely into the response by federal, state, and local officials to the disastrous flooding of New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina. New facts are still emerging, and we expect it will be months or years before a full picture can be properly assessed.

In response to numerous requests, we present here a brief timeline of events, as best as we can document them from public records and the best news reporting from the scene. We do not blame or excuse anyone, and leave it to others to judge what, if anything, could or should have been done differently. All times are converted to Central Daylight Time.


July 23, 2004 - 13 Months Before Katrina

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) conducts "Hurricane Pam" exercise to assess results of a theoretical Category 3 hurricane. It assumes that a storm with 120-mph winds would force Lake Pontchartrain's waters over the tops of the New Orleans' 17.5-foot levees and through a gap in the levee system would flood major portions of the city and would damage up to 87 percent of the city's homes. The Times-Picayune reports that officials expect up to half the city's residents won't evacuate and that many will be trapped in attics, on rooftops, and in makeshift shelters for days.

—"In Case of Emergency," New Orleans Times-Picayune, as posted on the website of the Louisiana Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness, 20 Jul 2004.

Friday, Aug 26 2005 - 3 Days Prior to Katrina's Louisiana Landfall

Hurricane Katrina strikes Florida between Hallandale Beach and North Miami Beach as a Category 1 hurricane with 80 mph winds. Eleven people die from hurricane-related causes.

—"A chronology of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath," Associated Press, 3 Sep 2005.

The storm heads into the Gulf of Mexico and by 10:30 am CDT is reported to be "rapidly strengthening."

—"Hurricane Katrina Special Advisory Number 13 ," National Hurricane Center, 26 Aug 2005.

Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco declares a State of Emergency in Louisiana.

—"Governor Blanco Declares State of Emergency," Louisiana Governor's Office, 26 Aug 2005.

Saturday, Aug 27 2005 - 2 Days Prior

Blanco asks President Bush to declare a State of Emergency for the state of Louisiana due to Hurricane Katrina. Bush does so, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA "to coordinate all disaster relief efforts…" and freeing up federal money for the state.

—"Governor Blanco asks President to Declare an Emergency for the State of Louisiana due to Hurricane Katrina," Louisiana Governor's Office , 27 Aug 2005.

—" Statement on federal Emergency Assistance for Louisiana," Office of the White House Press Secretary, 27 Aug 2005.

Katrina is a Category 3 storm, predicted to become Category 4. At 4pm CDT, it is still 380 miles from the mouth of the Mississippi.

—"Hurricane Katrina Special Advisory Number 18," National Hurricane Center , 26 Aug 2005.

Director of the National Hurricane Center, Max Mayfield, calls the governors of Louisiana and Mississippi and the mayor of New Orleans to warn of potential devastation. The next day he participates in a video conference call to the President, who is at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

—Tamara Lush, " For forecasting chief, no joy in being right ," St. Petersburg Times , 30 Aug 2005.

Sunday, Aug. 28 2005 - 1 Day Prior

1 a.m. - Katrina is upgraded to a Category 4 storm with wind speeds reaching 145 mph.

—"Hurricane Katrina Special Advisory Number 20," National Hurricane Center, 28 Aug 2005.

7 a.m. - Katrina is upgraded to a "potentially catastrophic" Category 5 storm. NOAA predicts "coastal storm surge flooding of 15 to 20 feet above normal tide levels."

—"Hurricane Katrina Special Advisory Number 22," National Hurricane Center , 28 Aug 2005.

—"New Orleans braces for monster hurricane,", 29 Aug 2005.

9:30 a.m. - With wind speeds reaching 175 mph, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin orders a mandatory evacuation of the city after speaking with Bush. The evacuation call comes only 20 hours before Katrina would make landfall – less than half the time that researchers had determined was necessary to evacuate the city.

—Gordon Russell, " Nagin orders first-ever mandatory evacuation of New Orleans ," New Orleans Times-Picayune , 31 Aug 2005.

—Lise Olsen, " City had evacuation plan but strayed from strategy ," Houston Chronicle , 8 Sep 2005.

10 a.m. - NOAA raises their estimate of storm surge flooding to 18 to 22 feet above normal tide levels. The levee protecting New Orleans from Lake Pontchartrain is only 17.5 feet tall; the Mississippi River levee reaches 23 feet.

—"Hurricane Katrina Special Advisory Number 23 ," National Hurricane Center , 28 Aug 2005.

The Associated Press reports that New Orleans could become "a vast cesspool tainted with toxic chemicals, human waste and even coffins released…from the city's legendary cemeteries."

"The storm threatened an environmental disaster of biblical proportions , one that could leave more than 1 million people homeless," the AP says.

—Matt Crenson, "Katrina may create environmental catastrophe on epic scale," Associated Press , 28 Aug 2005.

11:31 a.m. - The President – at his ranch in Crawford – speaks briefly to reporters. His statement contains 203 words about Katrina and 819 congratulating Iraqis on their new constitution. "We will do everything in our power to help the people in the communities affected by this storm," he says of the approaching hurricane.

—" President Discusses Hurricane Katrina , Congratulates Iraqis on Draft Constitution," Prairie Chapel Ranch, Crawford, Texas, 28 Aug 2005.

8:30 p.m. - An empty Amtrak train leaves New Orleans, with room for several hundred potential evacuees. "We offered the city the opportunity to take evacuees out of harm's way…The city declined," said Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black. The train left New Orleans no passengers on board.

—Susan Glasser, " The Steady Buildup to a City's Chaos ," The Washington Post , 11 Sep 2005.

Two weeks later, Nagin denies on NBC's Meet the Press that Amtrak offered their services. "Amtrak never contacted me to make that offer," the mayor tells host Tim Russert. "I have never gotten that call, Tim, and I would love to have had that call. But it never happened."

—" Interview with Mayor Nagin ," Meet the Press, NBC, 11 Sep 2005.

Monday August 29, 2005 - Day of Katrina

6 a.m. - Katrina makes landfall on Louisiana coast as a strong Category 4 storm, with sustained winds of nearly 145 mph and predicted coastal storm surge of up to 28 feet. The National Hurricane Center warns that "some levees in the greater New Orleans area could be overtopped." It says a weather buoy located about 50 miles east of the mouth of the Mississippi river had reported waves heights of at least 47 feet.

—"Hurricane Katrina Intermediate Advisory Number 26A …Corrected," National Hurricane Center , 29 Aug 2005.

8.a.m. - The storm surge sends water sloshing up the Industrial Canal, and local officials immediately report flooding on both sides. Winds break a barge loose and it strikes the levee.

—John McQuaid, " Katrina trapped city in double disasters," New Orleans Times-Picayune, 7 Sep 2005.

9 a.m. - The eastern part of the city and Bernard Parish are already flooded several feet deep, even before the eye of the storm has passed. Thousands of survivors are trapped. But worse flooding is to come: within hours, city canal floodwalls will also collapse and a second, slower wave of flooding will take place.

—John McQuaid, " Katrina trapped city in double disasters ," New Orleans Times-Picayune , 7 Sep 2005.

11 a.m. - New Orleans is spared a direct hit, as the center of the storm passes over the Louisiana-Mississippi state line 35 miles away from the city. Maximum sustained winds are now reduced, but still a strong Category 3 storm with 125 mph winds.

—"Hurricane Katrina Advisory Number 27," National Hurricane Center , 29 Aug 2005.

11:06 a.m . - Bush promotes his Medicare prescription drug benefit at a 44-minute event in El Mirage, Arizona. He devotes 156 words to the hurricane, among them: "I want the folks there on the Gulf Coast to know that the federal government is prepared to help you when the storm passes. I want to thank the governors of the affected regions for mobilizing assets prior to the arrival of the storm to help citizens avoid this devastating storm."

—" President Participates in Conversation on Medicare ," White House , 29 Aug 2005.

Late Morning (exact time uncertain) - The vital 17th Street Canal levee gives way, sending the water from Lake Pontchartrain into the city in a second, slower wave of flooding. A full day will pass before state or federal officials fully realize what is happening.

—John McQuaid, " Katrina trapped city in double disasters ," New Orleans Times-Picayune , 7 Sep 2005.

Eventually, engineers will find five separate places where concrete floodwalls gave way. They will still be debating and studying the causes of the failures two weeks after the storm.

—John McQuaid, " Mystery surrounds floodwall breaches; Could a structural flaw be to blame ?" New Orleans Times-Picayune , 13 Sep 2005.

About 11 a.m. (exact time uncertain) - Roughly five hours after Katrina strikes the coast, FEMA director Michael Brown sends a memo – later obtained and made public by The Associated Press – requesting an additional 1,000 rescue workers from the Department of Homeland Security "within 48 hours" and 2,000 more within seven days. It is addressed to his boss, Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security. Brown refers to Katrina as "this near catastrophic event" (our emphasis.) He proposes sending the workers first for training in Georgia or Florida, then to the disaster area "when conditions are safe." Among the duties of the workers, Brown proposes, is to "convey a positive image of disaster operations to government officials, community organizations and the general public." (Emphasis added.)

—Michael D. Brown, " Memorandum to Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security ," 29 Aug 2005.

Later Brown will say FEMA itself has only 2,600 employees nationwide, and normally relies on state workers, the National Guard, private contractors and other federal agencies during disaster relief operations.

—David D. Kirkpatrick and Scott Shane, " Ex-FEMA Chief Tells of Frustration and Chaos ," New York Times, 15 Sep 2005: A1.

4:40 p.m. - Bush appears in Rancho Cucamonga, California for another Medicare event. He again devotes a few words to Katrina: "It's a storm now that is moving through, and now it's the time for governments to help people get their feet on the ground. . . . For those of you who are concerned about whether or not we're prepared to help, don't be. We are. We're in place. We've got equipment in place, supplies in place. And once the -- once we're able to assess the damage, we'll be able to move in and help those good folks in the affected areas."

—" President Discusses Medicare, New Prescription Drug Benefits ,"James L. Brulte Senior Center Rancho Cucamonga, California, 29 Aug 2005.

Time uncertain - Blanco calls Bush, saying, "Mr. President, we need your help. We need everything you've got." Bush later assures her that "help is on the way."

—James Carney et al, "4 Places Where the System Broke Down," Time , 11 September 2005.

—Evan Thomas, "How Bush Blew It," Newsweek , 19 September 2005.

Tuesday August 30, 2005 - 1 Day After Katrina

Dawn - Water has continued to rise overnight and is coursing through the city's central business district, still rising. Eventually, at least least 80 percent of New Orleans is under water. Reports of looting surface.

—John McQuaid, " Katrina trapped city in double disasters ," New Orleans Times-Picayune , 7 Sep 2005.

11:04 a.m. - In San Diego, California, Bush delivers a 31-minute speech marking the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. Of Katrina, he says, "we're beginning to move in the help that people need."

—" President Commemorates 60th Anniversary of V-J Day" Naval Air Station North Island San Diego, California 30 Aug 2005.

Immediately after the speech, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan tells reporters that Bush will return to Crawford, then cut short his Texas stay and go to Washington. McClellan says, "This is one of the most devastating storms in our nation's history. I think that's becoming clear to everyone. The devastation is enormous."

—" Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan ," Naval Air Station North Island San Diego, California, 30 Aug 2005.

3 p.m. - With water still pouring into the city, officials report that the Army Corps of Engineers has surveyed the damage to levees and will soon attempt repair.

At a Baton Rouge briefing, Sen. Mary Landrieu reports that "most of the roads and highways are impassable, and water is still coming into the city of New Orleans. The water is up to the rooftops in St. Bernard and Plaquemine. We think there may be only one major way into the city right now and it has to be used for emergency personnel to get food and water and rescue equipment to people who are in desperate need."

But even now, federal and state officials alike seem unaware of the full extent of the unfolding disaster.

US Sen. David Vitter said of the still-rising water:

Sen. Vitter: In the metropolitan area in general, in the huge
majority of areas, it's not rising at all. It's the same or it may be
lowering slightly. In some parts of New Orleans, because of the 17th Street
breach, it may be rising and that seemed to be the case in parts of

I don't want to alarm everybody that, you know, New Orleans is
filling up like a bowl. That's just not happening.

None of the officials present at the press conference correct the
mistaken remark. And Blanco seems puzzled when a reporter asks the governor about the water pollution that will later emerge as a major public health risk:

Q: Does the water that's downtown -- does this represent what everyone feared before the hurricane would come, that you would have this toxic soup that has overrun the city?

Blanco: It didn't -- I wouldn't think it would be toxic soup right now. I think it's just water from the lake, water from the canals. It's, you know, water.

Q: Well, something could be underneath that water.

Blanco: Pardon?

—"The Situation Room; Hurricane Katrina Aftermath ; Rescue Efforts and Assessing the Damage," Transcript, CNN, 30 Aug 2005.

Wednesday August 31, 2005 - 2 Days After

Morning - Bush, still in Crawford, participates in a half-hour video conference on Katrina with Vice President Cheney (who is in Wyoming) and top aides. Later, he boards Air Force One and flies over New Orleans on his way back to Washington. His press secretary tells reporters: "The President, when we were passing over that part of New Orleans, said, 'It's devastating, it's got to be doubly devastating on the ground.'"

—" Press Gaggle with Scott McClellan " Aboard Air Force One, En Route Andrews Air Force Base, MD, 31 Aug 2005.

Looting intensifies in New Orleans. Nagin orders most of the police to abandon search and rescue missions for survivors and focus on packs of looters who are becoming increasingly violent. The AP reported, "Police officers were asking residents to give up any guns they had before they boarded buses and trucks because police desperately needed the firepower."

—" Mayor: Katrina may have killed thousands ," Associated Press , 31 Aug 2005

Late Afternoon - Bush, back at the White House, holds a cabinet meeting on Katrina and speaks for nine minutes in the Rose Garden to outline federal relief efforts. He says FEMA has moved 25 search and rescue teams into the area. As for those stranded at the Superdome, "Buses are on the way to take those people from New Orleans to Houston," the President says.

—" President Outlines Hurricane Katrina Relief Efforts ," The Rose Garden, 31 Aug 2005.

Thursday September 1, 2005 - 3 Days After

7 a.m. - Bush says "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." His remark comes in a live interview on ABC's Good Morning America :

Bush: I want people to know there's a lot of help coming. I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees. They did anticipate a serious storm. These levees got breached and as a result, much of New Orleans is flooded and now we're having to deal with it and will.

—“Good Morning America,” Transcript, ABC News, 1 September 2005.

Time Uncertain - Red Cross President Marsha Evans asks permission to enter the city with relief supplies, but Louisiana state officials deny permission.

—"Red Cross: State rebuffed relief efforts: Aid organization never got into New Orleans, officials say" , 9 Sep 2005.

Thirty-thousand National Guard Troops from across the country are ordered to report to the Gulf Coast, but many do not arrive for several days.

—" More Navy Ships, National Guard troops head to the Gulf Coast ," Associated Press, 1 Sep 2005.

The first buses arrive at the Superdome to take evacuees to the Astrodome in Houston, 355 miles away. But the evacuation goes slowly and will take several days.

—Evan Thomas, "The Lost City," Newsweek , 12 September 2005.

Associated Press photographer Phil Coale makes an aerial shot of scores of school buses sitting unused in a flooded New Orleans lot. Many will later question why city officials did not use these busses to evacuate residents who lacked transportation prior to the hurricane, or at least move them to higher ground for use later.

—AP Photo/Phil Coale " Aerial view of flooded school busses," Yahoo News, 1 Sep 2005.

Evening - In a special report that is typical of the picture that television is conveying to the world, CNN Correspondent Adaora Udoji reports: "Three days after Hurricane Katrina, and the situation is getting more desperate by the minute. Thousands are still stranded in misery. . . . They are marching in search of food, water and relief. They're surrounded by a crumbling city and dead bodies. Infants have no formula, the children no food, nothing for adults, no medical help. They're burning with frustration, and sure they have been forgotten."

And CNN's Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, reports live from Charity hospital in New Orleans: "It doesn't appear to be safe now, but it seems that a sniper standing atop one of the buildings just above us here and firing down at patients and doctors as they were trying to be evacuated, unbelievable. It just boggles my mind, actually."

—"Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees, Special Edition: Hurricane Katrina ," CNN Transcripts , 1 Sept 2005.

Brown says FEMA officials were unaware for days that – besides the hurricane victims stranded in the Superdome – thousands more had taken refuge in the New Orleans Convention Center nearby. Speaking from Baton Rouge in a live interview with CNN's Paula Zahn, he says:

Brown : And so, this -- this catastrophic disaster continues to grow. I will tell you this, though. Every person in that Convention Center, we just learned about that today . And so, I have directed that we have all available resources to get to that Convention Center to make certain that they have the food and water, the medical care that they need...
Q: Sir, you aren't telling me...
Brown : ... and that we take care of those bodies that are there. . . .
Q: Sir, you aren't just telling me you just learned that the folks at the Convention Center didn't have food and water until today, are you? You had no idea they were completely cut off?
Brown: Paula, the federal government did not even know about the Convention Center people until today.

—Paula Zahn Now, "Desperation in New Orleans; Interview With FEMA Director Mike Brown," Transcript , 1 Sep 2005.

Later, Brown will say he was wrong and that FEMA actually knew about the victims at the Convention Center 24 hours earlier but was unable to reach them until Thursday.

—David D. Kirkpatrick and Scott Shane, "Ex-FEMA Chief Tells of Frustration and Chaos," New York Times 15 Sep 2005: A1

Evening - Nagin delivers a rambling diatribe in an interview with local radio station WWL-AM, blaming Bush and Blanco for doing too little:

Nagin : I need reinforcements, I need troops, man. I need 500 buses, man. . .
I've got 15,000 to 20,000 people over at the convention center. It's bursting at the seams. The poor people in Plaquemines Parish. ... We don't have anything, and we're sharing with our brothers in Plaquemines Parish.
It's awful down here, man.
. . . Don't tell me 40,000 people are coming here. They're not here. It's too doggone late. Now get off your asses and do something , and let's fix the biggest goddamn crisis in the history of this country.

—"Mayor to feds: 'Get off your asses,'" Transcript of radio interview with New Orleans' Nagin,, 2 Sep 2005.

Friday September 2, 2005 - 4 Days After

The Red Cross renews its request to enter the city with relief supplies. "We had adequate supplies, the people and the vehicles," Red Cross official Vic Howell would later recall. Louisiana officials say they needed 24 hours to provide an escort and prepare for the Red Cross's arrival. However, 24 hours later, a large-scale evacuation is underway and the Red Cross relief effort never reaches New Orleans.

—"Red Cross: State rebuffed relief efforts: Aid organization never got into New Orleans, officials say" , 9 Sep 2005.

8:02 a.m. - Bush leaves the White House to tour the hurricane area. He says, "A lot of people are working hard to help those who have been affected, and I want to thank the people for their efforts. The results are not acceptable ."

—"President Heads to Hurricane Katrina Affected Areas," The South Lawn , 2 Sep 2005.

10:35 am - Bush, arriving in Alabama to tour the disaster area, says of the FEMA director at a live news conference: "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job. The FEMA director is working 24 -- (applause) -- they're working 24 hours a day. Again, my attitude is, if it's not going exactly right, we're going to make it go exactly right. If there's problems, we're going to address the problems."

—"President Arrives in Alabama, Briefed on Hurricane Katrina," Mobile Regional Airport Mobile , Alabama 2 Sep 2005.

Noon - A convoy of military trucks drives through floodwaters to the convention center, the first supplies of water and food to reach victims who have waited for days. Thousands of armed National Guardsmen carrying weapons stream into the city to help restore order. Commanding is Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, a cigar-chomping Louisiana native who soon wins praise for his decisive style of action.

—Allen G. Breed, "National Guardsmen Arrive in New Orleans," The Associated Press, 2 Sep 2005.

5:01p.m. - Bush speaks at New Orleans airport, saying, "I know the people of this part of the world are suffering, and I want them to know that there's a flow of progress. We're making progress."

—President Remarks on Hurricane Recovery Efforts , Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport 2 Sep 2005.

Saturday, September 3, 2005 - 5 Days After

10:06 am - Bush announces he is ordering additional active duty forces to the Gulf coast. "The enormity of the task requires more resources," he says in his Saturday radio address. "In America we do not abandon our fellow citizens in their hour of need." He says 4,000 active-duty troops are already in the area and 7,000 more will arrive in the next 72 hours. Those will add to some 21,000 National Guard troops already in the region.

— President Addresses Nation , Discusses Hurricane Katrina Relief Efforts, The Rose Garden , 3 Sep 2005.

Sunday, September 4, 2005 - 6 Days After

The President issues a proclamation ordering the US Flag to be flown at half-staff at all federal building until Sept. 20 "as a mark of respect for the victims of Hurricane Katrina."

—" Proclamation by the President: Honoring the Memory of the Victims of Hurricane Katrina," 4 Sep 2005.

Monday September 5, 2005 - One Week After

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers repair the levee breach on the 17th Street Canal and begin to pump water from the city.

—"Pumps begin to drain New Orleans." , 6 Sep 2005.

Tuesday September 6, 2005 - 8 Days After

FEMA asks reporters to refrain from taking pictures of the dead. Reuters quotes a FEMA spokeswoman as sending an email saying, "The recovery of victims is being treated with dignity and the utmost respect and we have requested that no photographs of the deceased be made by the media."

—Deborah Zabarenko, " Media groups say FEMA censors search for bodies ," Reuters , 7 Sep 2005

Nagin orders police and law enforcement officials to remove everyone from the city who is not involved in recovery efforts. Despite this order, many residents remain in New Orleans, refusing to leave.

—Cain Burdeau, " New Orleans Mayor orders Forced Evacuation ," Associated Press , 7 Sep 2005.

Wednesday September 7, 2005 - 9 Days After

FEMA brings in Kenyon International Services from Houston to assist in recovering bodies, many of which have been left in the open since the storm hit. A week later, state and federal officials will still be bickering over who is to pay the $119,000 daily expense of the outside mortuary specialists, and many bodies will still lie uncollected in the open and in drained buildings two weeks after the storm.

—Michelle Krupa, " Louisiana hires firm to help recover bodies ; Blanco says FEMA moved too slowly," New Orleans Times-Picayune , 14 Sep 2005.

A bipartisan joint Congressional Committee is announced to investigate the response to Hurricane Katrina at "all levels of government," as federal, state, and local officials continue to blame each other for the slow response in dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

—"GOP leaders agree to joint Katrina hearings," , 8 Sep 2005.

Friday September 9, 2005 - 11 Days After

Chertoff removes Brown from his role in managing the Katrina relief effort, and puts Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad W. Allen in charge.

—Peter Baker, " FEMA Director Replaced as Head of Relief Effort ," Washington Post , 10 Sep 2005: A01.

Monday September 12, 2005 - Two Weeks After

Brown resigns as head of FEMA saying, "it is important that I leave now to avoid further distraction from the ongoing mission of FEMA."

—"Statement by Michael D. Brown, Under Secretary of Department of Homeland Security Emergency Preparedness & Response and Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency," News Release , FEMA, 12 Sep 2005.

September 13, 2005

11:30 a.m. – Bush takes responsibility for the federal government’s failures while speaking at a press conference with Iraqi President Talabani.

Bush: Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government. And to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility. I want to know what went right and what went wrong.

—“President Welcomes President Talabani of Iraq to the White House,” The East Room, news release , 13 Sep 2005.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Brown, in an interview published in the New York Times , says the governor and her staff had failed to organize a coherent state effort in the days after the hurricane, and that his field officers in the city were reporting an "out of control" situation to his superiors. He says he asked state officials, "What do you need? Help me help you. . . . The response was like, 'Let us find out,' and then I never received specific requests for specific things that needed doing." A spokesman for the governor said, "That is just totally inaccurate."

—David D. Kirkpatrick and Scott Shane, " Ex-FEMA Chief Tells of Frustration and Chaos ," New York Times 15 Sep 2005: A1

8:02 p.m. - Bush says, in a prime-time, televised speech from New Orleans, that "the system, at every level of government, was not well-coordinated, and was overwhelmed in the first few days." He says the military should have a greater role in reacting to future large disasters. "Congress is preparing an investigation, and I will work with members of both parties to make sure this effort is thorough." He promises massive aid, tax breaks, and loan guarantees to aid rebuilding, saying that "there is no way to imagine America without New Orleans, and this great city will rise again."

—President Discusses Hurricane Relief in Address to the Nation, Jackson Square, New Orleans, Louisiana 15 Sep 2005.


"In Case of Emergency," New Orleans Times-Picayune , as posted on the website of the Louisiana Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness, 20 Jul 2004.

"A chronology of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath," Associated Press, 3 Sep 2005.

"Hurricane Katrina Special Advisory Number 13," National Hurricane Center, 26 Aug 2005.

"Governor Blanco Declares State of Emergency," Louisiana Governor's Office, 26 Aug 2005.

"Governor Blanco asks President to Declare an Emergency for the State of Louisiana due to Hurricane Katrina," Louisiana Governor's Office, 27 Aug 2005.

" Statement on federal Emergency Assistance for Louisiana," Office of the White House Press Secretary, 27 Aug 2005.

"Hurricane Katrina Special Advisory Number 18," National Hurricane Center , 26 Aug 2005.

Tamara Lush, " For forecasting chief, no joy in being right ," St. Petersburg Times , 30 Aug 2005.

"Hurricane Katrina Special Advisory Number 20," National Hurricane Center, 28 Aug 2005.

"Hurricane Katrina Special Advisory Number 22," National Hurricane Center , 28 Aug 2005.

"New Orleans braces for monster hurricane.", 29 Aug 2005.

Gordon Russell, " Nagin orders first-ever mandatory evacuation of New Orleans ," New Orleans Times-Picayune , 31 Aug 2005.

Lise Olsen, " City had evacuation plan but strayed from strategy ," Houston Chronicle , 8 Sep 2005.

"Hurricane Katrina Special Advisory Number 23," National Hurricane Center , 28 Aug 2005.

Matt Crenson, "Katrina may create environmental catastrophe on epic scale," Associated Press, 28 Aug 2005.

"President Discusses Hurricane Katrina, Congratulates Iraqis on Draft Constitution," Prairie Chapel Ranch, Crawford, Texas, 28 Aug 2005

Susan Glasser, " The Steady Buildup to a City's Chaos ," The Washington Post , 11 Sep 2005.

" Interview with Mayor Nagin ," Meet the Press, NBC, 11 Sep 2005.

"Hurricane Katrina Intermediate Advisory Number 26A…Corrected," National Hurricane Center , 29 Aug 2005.

John McQuaid, " Katrina trapped city in double disasters," New Orleans Times-Picayne, 7 Sep 2005.

"Hurricane Katrina Advisory Number 27," National Hurricane Center , 29 Aug 2005.

"President Participates in Conversation on Medicare," White House , 29 Aug 2005.

Michael D. Brown, " Memorandum to Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security ," 29 Aug 2005.

" President Discusses Medicare, New Prescription Drug Benefits ,"James L. Brulte Senior Center Rancho Cucamonga, California, 29 Aug 2005.

James Carney et al, "4 Places Where the System Broke Down," Time , 11 September 2005.

Evan Thomas, "How Bush Blew It," Newsweek , 19 September 2005.

John McQuaid, " Katrina trapped city in double disasters ," New Orleans Times-Picayne , 7 Sep 2005.

" President Commemorates 60th Anniversary of V-J Day" Naval Air Station North Island San Diego, California 30 Aug 2005.

" Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan ," Naval Air Station North Island San Diego, California, 30 Aug 2005.

"The Situation Room; Hurricane Katrina Aftermath; Rescue Efforts and Assessing the Damage," Transcript, CNN, aired at 4pm EDT, 30 Aug 2005.

" Press Gaggle with Scott McClellan " Aboard Air Force One, En Route Andrews Air Force Base, MD, 31 Aug 2005.

" Mayor: Katrina may have killed thousands ," Associated Press, 31 Aug 2005

" President Outlines Hurricane Katrina Relief Efforts ," The Rose Garden, 31 Aug 2005.

“Good Morning America,” Transcript, ABC News, 1 September 2005.

"Red Cross: State rebuffed relief efforts: Aid organization never got into New Orleans, officials say" , 9 Sep 2005.

" More Navy Ships, National Guard troops head to the Gulf Coast ," Associated Press , 1 Sep 2005.

Evan Thomas, "The Lost City," Newsweek, 12 September 2005.

AP Photo/Phil Coale " Aerial view of flooded school busses," Yahoo News 1 Sep 2005

"Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees, Special Edition: Hurricane Katrina," CNN Transcripts , 1 Sept 2005.

Paula Zahn Now, "Desperation in New Orleans; Interview With FEMA Director Mike Brown," Transcript , 1 Sep 2005.

"Mayor to feds: 'Get off your asses,'" Transcript of radio interview with New Orleans' Nagin,, 2 Sep 2005.

"Red Cross: State rebuffed relief efforts: Aid organization never got into New Orleans, officials say" , 9 Sep 2005.

"President Heads to Hurricane Katrina Affected Areas," The South Lawn , 2 Sep 2005.

"President Arrives in Alabama, Briefed on Hurricane Katrina," Mobile Regional Airport Mobile , Alabama 2 Sep 2005.

Allen G. Breed, "National Guardsmen Arrive in New Orleans," The Associated Press 2 Sep 2005.

President Addresses Nation, Discusses Hurricane Katrina Relief Efforts, The Rose Garden , 3 Sep 2005.

" Proclamation by the President: Honoring the Memory of the Victims of Hurricane Katrina," 4 Sep 2005.

"Pumps begin to drain New Orleans." , 6 Sep 2005.

Paul Salopek and Lisa Anderson, " Surveying the Damage," Chicago Tribune, 5 Sep 2005.

Deborah Zabarenko, " Media groups say FEMA censors search for bodies," Reuters, 7 Sep 2005

Cain Burdeau, " New Orleans Mayor orders Forced Evacuation," Associated Press, 7 Sep 2005.

Michelle Krupa, " Louisiana hires firm to help recover bodies; Blanco says FEMA moved too slowly," Times-Picayune 14 Sep 2005.

"GOP leaders agree to joint Katrina hearings,", 8 Sep 2005.

" Bush signs $51.8 billion bill for hurricane relief ," Associated Press, 8 Sep 2005.

Peter Baker, " FEMA Director Replaced as Head of Relief Effort," Washington Post, 10 Sep 2005

"Statement by Michael D. Brown, Under Secretary of Department of Homeland Security Emergency Preparedness & Response and Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency," News Release , FEMA, 12 Sep 2005.


Friday, September 16, 2005

Bush's Address: Operation Deadbeat Dad
Bob Cesca: Bush's Address: Operation Deadbeat Dad

While listening to the president tonight, I couldn't help but to think that this effort for the Gulf Coast -- a Deadbeat Dad version of The New Deal -- is something which would've reshaped the Bush era and might've prevented some of what we saw during Katrina...

...had it been executed in 2001 in all poverty-stricken regions.

Imagine how much of Bush's record deficit could've been used for this so-called Army of Compassion (leave it to Bush to make "compassion" sound warlike) had he not squandered it in Iraq and in tax cuts for his base. You know his base: "the haves, and the have mores" he called them; remember this quote when listening to the president discuss "compassion for the nation's poor".

Here's some advice for other impoverished regions of the nation: if you want the attention of the Republicans, throw yourself a disaster. Otherwise, you'll be ignored, shunned, and disenfranchised in lieu of special interests, big oil, wealthy cronies, and overriding political goals which have more to do with global domination and domestic fasco-corporate rule.

Make no mistake; this is NOT the president suddenly feeling compassion for the poor. This is no more than an evil deadbeat Dad who skips out on his wife and kids, then shows up years later in the driveway with a handsome pony wrapped in a big red, white, and blue bow.

But in this case, the pony will be provided courtesy of Uncle Bechtel and Uncle KBR and Uncle Halliburton.

By the way, did you notice... No mention of exemptions from the Bankruptcy Bill. No mention of suspending the tax cuts. No mention of an independent commission. No mention of a new environmental policy to help prevent larger disasters as the result of global warming. Who will truly benefit from the Army of Compassion? The Army of Big Business and the Army of No Bid Contracts, to name a few.


CIA leak investigator warns against document release

CIA leak investigator warns against document release

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Justice Department and the special counsel investigating the leak of a CIA operative's identity pressed Congress to block legislation that would compel the administration to turn over documents related to the case, the department said in a letter released on Thursday.

The Justice Department, in a letter dated September 14, said special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald had advised that producing documents and holding hearings would interfere with his investigation. The letter was sent to the House Intelligence Committee's Republican chairman, Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan.

Congressional Democrats have so far failed in their attempts to pass legislation that would force President George W. Bush and the departments of state, justice and defense to provide Congress with documents relating to CIA operative Valerie Plame.

Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday rejected the legislation on a party-line vote. Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee and International Relations Committee rejected similar resolutions on Wednesday.

Republican say Congress should await the outcome of Fitzgerald's investigation.

Democrats countered that Republicans were trying to protect Bush and his top political adviser, Karl Rove.

"We have an oversight responsibility regardless of what criminal investigations may or may not be under way," said Rep. Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat.

Lawyers close to the Plame investigation say there are signs that the 20-month-long inquiry could be wrapped up within weeks. The outcome could have major political implications for Bush, whose current approval ratings are the lowest of his presidency.

Plame's husband, former diplomat Joseph Wilson, said the leak was meant to discredit him for criticizing Bush's Iraq policy in 2003 after a CIA-funded trip to investigate whether Niger helped supply nuclear materials to Baghdad.

A reporter for Time magazine has said that the first person to tell him about Plame was Rove. Rove's attorney says Rove did nothing wrong and has been repeatedly assured he is not a target of Fitzgerald's investigation.

Democrats have urged Bush to fire Rove or revoke his access to classified information. It is against the law in some cases to knowingly reveal the identity of an undercover CIA officer.


How Conservative Is Judge Roberts?

The New York Times

How Conservative Is Judge Roberts?

It's not surprising that the Senate hearings for Judge John Roberts Jr. are turning out to be about how conservative he would be as the next chief justice of the United States. But there is a twist. It is the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee who want to make sure that he would be conservative in the true sense: respectful of tradition, and not seeking to impose radical new rules. The key question is whether he would stand by established legal precedents on issues like abortion, civil rights, the environment and the power of Congress, or would seek to push the law in a drastically different direction.

Judge Roberts's record, on the bench and off, puts him well to the right end of the ideological spectrum. As a Reagan administration lawyer, he argued for a very narrow interpretation of the Voting Rights Act. As an appeals court judge, he wrote an opinion in an Endangered Species Act case that suggests he may have a very cramped view of Congress's power. The documents about his past legal work that have become public contain some troubling passages, notably his assertion that abortion rights are based on a "so-called 'right to privacy.' "

Responding to questions, he has talked at length about his commitment to civil rights, privacy and Congressional authority. He told Russell Feingold, the Wisconsin Democrat, that "the gains under the Voting Rights Act have been very beneficial in promoting the right to vote, which is preservative of all other rights." He emphasized that the Reagan administration had favored extending the act, whatever its differences with voting rights groups over the details. He told Joseph Biden Jr., the Delaware Democrat, that he believes the Constitution prohibits discrimination against women, and he endorsed the test the court now uses in such cases.

He told Senator Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican, that Roe v. Wade is "settled as a precedent of the court" and "entitled to respect" under the legal principle that a court's past rulings should be given deference. He also said he recognizes the existence of a constitutional right to privacy and agrees with the principle of the 1965 case striking down the laws against selling birth control devices, that "marital privacy extends to contraception and availability of that."

These are good things to hear, but there's reason for concern. He did not say he agrees with Roe, for instance, only that it is entitled to deference. That is a truism: all of the court's decisions are entitled to such deference, but some are reversed anyway. Judge Roberts waved away questions about troubling statements in his older legal memos, saying he was just a staff lawyer in his 20's when he wrote them. But he and the White House have refused to release more recent memos, from his time in the solicitor general's office, which might give a better picture of his views as a mature lawyer.

Senate Democrats have two goals. Before Mr. Roberts, now 50, becomes chief justice for life, they want to try to determine that he does not hold far-right views on important issues. It is a determination that many senators seem not to have made yet. Senator Biden, for one, complained about the "Kabuki dance" of the hearings and worried out loud, saying, "We are rolling the dice with you, judge."

No less important, Senate Democrats are putting down markers for the next judicial battle. President Bush will soon nominate a replacement for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who has been an important swing vote on the court. Democrats have been calling for Justice O'Connor to be replaced with another centrist Republican. By subjecting Judge Roberts to tough questioning, they are sending a message that if President Bush chooses a far-right nominee, he can expect a major fight.


Thursday, September 15, 2005

3 Crises Define Bush Presidency
3 Crises Define Bush Presidency

AP Political Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- It's August in Crawford, Texas, and President Bush is on vacation. His poll ratings are slumping. He hears warnings of a looming crisis that will soon change the course of his presidency.

Is this August 2001? Or August 2005?

The answer is both. Historians will ultimately judge Bush's presidency based on his leadership through two tragedies - the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and Hurricane Katrina, plus a conflict of his own design: The war in Iraq.

Katrina's lethal aftermath revealed that the Bush administration didn't learn valuable lessons from the 2001 attacks about responding to disasters. As for the president himself, since the Sept. 11 terror strikes, Bush seems to have lost his touch for connecting with an anxious public.

"This is someone who has staked his presidency on strong leadership through crises, and now he has faced three major challenges," said Charles Franklin, a University of Wisconsin political science professor. "Sept. 11 fundamentally altered what this administration is going to be remembered for, which is the response to terrorism, the Iraq war and now obviously Katrina and the aftermath."

The Iraq war is linked to both Sept. 11 and Katrina, a bridge of sorts between the two crises. It began as part of the Sept. 11-inspired war on terrorism - and is now a competitor with the Gulf Coast for money, manpower and public support.

Back in August 2001, Bush was seven months into his presidency and trying to figure out why his job approval rating had declined by up to 10 percentage points since his inauguration. Voters still didn't know much about Bush, and were getting restless.

On Aug. 6, he was given a secret document warning that al-Qaida hoped to attack the United States with hijacked airplanes. Delivered to his Texas ranch, the memo referred to evidence of terrorists possibly casing buildings in New York.

Critics now accuse Bush of not making terrorism a priority before Sept. 11. Supporters say he could not have prevented the attacks.

Either way, Bush's initial response to the strikes was shaky, capped by a grim-faced address to the nation that night.

He quickly gained his footing and won favor with Americans when he stood atop a charred fire truck in New York and vowed vengeance.

That bullhorn-waving event occurred four years ago Wednesday.

Bush could use a defining moment like that now. Katrina caught him flatflooted in Texas, though forecasters saw it coming for days. He seemed slow at the levers of power and took more than two weeks to acknowledge his own responsibility for the government's sluggish response.

Then came this stunning concession from Bush: Four years after Sept. 11, Katrina makes him wonder whether the country is ready for the next terrorist strike.

"Are we capable of dealing with a severe attack? That's a very important question and it's in the national interest that we find out what went on so we can better respond," he said.

Several Sept. 11 commission members said it looks like little has changed in federal disaster planning since the attacks on New York and the Pentagon. A Senate Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, said the Katrina response was plagued by confusion, communications failures and widespread lack of coordination - all of which should have been addressed by expensive post-Sept. 11 reforms.

This could be Bush's legacy. According to various independent polls:

-Two-thirds of the public think he could have done more to help Katrina's victims. More than half say he deserves blame for the slow response.

-Fewer than half say Bush has strong leadership qualities, down from 63 percent in October 2004.

-More than half say they don't trust Bush's judgment in a crisis.

And then there's Iraq.

Amid recent progress in the Gulf Coast and Bush's planning for a prime-time address on Katrina, the public's attention was shifted back to Baghdad on Wednesday. More than a dozen explosions ripped through Iraq's capital, causing hundreds of casualties.

The Iraq war did not instantly transform the country as did Sept. 11. It can't match Katrina's ability to deliver a bone-jarring emotional punch. But the war is a gathering political force, its fate linked to the two disasters.

As the death toll rises in New Orleans and Baghdad, more Americans may question Iraq's role in the war on terror.

Six in 10 are telling pollsters the U.S. should cut back spending on Iraq to help pay for relief and recovery from Katrina. Almost that many favor a partial withdrawal of troops from Iraq to help with storm damage.

Bush's challenge is to convince Americans that the war on terror, the war in Iraq and the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast can be tackled together. "I can do more than one thing at one time," he said defensively Tuesday.

His case is tougher now that growing numbers of people are wondering whether he can lead the nation in crisis. The last time that was an issue was August 2001.


EDITOR'S NOTE - Ron Fournier has covered politics for The Associated Press since 1993.


Senate rejects independent panel

Senate rejects independent panel

By Joanne Kenen

The Republican-controlled Senate rejected a proposal by Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York and other Democrats to set up an independent panel modeled on the 9/11 Commission to investigate the bungled evacuation and emergency response to Katrina.


Senators seek post-Katrina "Marshall Plan"

Senators seek post-Katrina "Marshall Plan"

By Joanne Kenen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senate Republican leaders on Wednesday urged President George W. Bush to establish a "Marshall Plan" for the recovery after Hurricane Katrina, similar to the massive post-World War II effort to rebuild western Europe.

In a letter to Bush, Majority Leader Bill Frist and the rest of the Senate Republican leadership called for a "Marshall Plan" to establish a "coordinated and comprehensive plan to help the Gulf Coast region."

They did not spell out precisely what such a plan would entail, but lawmakers are beginning to consider ways of assembling a public-private partnership to redevelop the shattered region in the coming years.

Senators from both parties will visit the Gulf Coast on Friday for a first-hand inspection of the devastation.

The Republican-controlled Senate also rejected a proposal by Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York and other Democrats to set up an independent panel modeled on the 9/11 Commission to investigate the bungled evacuation and emergency response to Katrina.

Separately, bipartisan group of senators proposed an emergency package of health care benefits for storm victims. The bill would ease eligibility requirements for the Medicaid health care program for the poor and help those with private insurance maintain their coverage.

The Senate may take up the bill, which also provides an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits for storm victims, on Thursday.


Republicans have proposed a joint House-Senate special panel but Democrats are demanding an independent investigation.

Despite the bickering over how to investigate the disaster, Frist and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada announced they would lead a 14-member delegation to Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama on Friday. Both Louisiana's senators, one Democrat and one Republican, would take part.

In addition to the "Marshall plan" letter, lawmakers from both parties have put forth various proposals for oversight of the tens of billions of dollars of federal funds pouring into the emergency efforts.

Senate Democrats have proposed creation of a redevelopment agency modeled on the Tennessee Valley Authority, an independent government corporation created during the 1930s to manage a huge flood control and electrical generation program.

Republican Sens. Pete Domenici of New Mexico and Jeff Sessions of Alabama urged Bush to name a central coordinator to oversee storm recovery by federal agencies, an effort that they said would take years and cost huge amounts of money.

"My concern is that without a primary coordinator, we face the likely prospect of dozens of well-meaning federal agencies chaotically tripping over each other as the recovery process moves forward," Domenici said.

Illinois Democratic Sen. Barack Obama and Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn -- representing opposite ends of the political spectrum -- called on Congress to establish a "chief financial officer" to oversee the $62 billion in relief funds the Federal Emergency Management Agency is doling out.

"This is to assure the American people that there's not going to be any shenanigans," Coburn said.

Meanwhile, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held its first open hearing on the government's response to the devastating storm with testimony from former New Orleans mayor Marc Morial, who now heads the National Urban League.

Morial suggested the government set up a compensation fund for Katrina victims, similar to the one established after the September 11, 2001 attacks. He also said Gulf coast residents must have a role in all aspects of rebuilding.

The House of Representatives Government Reform Committee plans to hold its first hearing into the Katrina response on Thursday, and the full House hopes to pass a bill giving short-term tax breaks to storm victims and help the recovery effort.


Roberts Offers Fuller Accounting of Views
Roberts Offers Fuller Accounting of Views
By Richard B. Schmitt and Maura Reynolds
Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Chief Justice nominee John G. Roberts Jr. offered a fuller accounting of his views on voting rights and affirmative action Wednesday in carefully guarded testimony that provided the barest hints that he does not hew to the most conservative position on the two sensitive issues.

Under relentless and occasionally sharp interrogation before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Roberts also emphasized a modest approach to judicial action and a deference to Congress.

Panel members pressed him for his views on a series of controversial cases and social issues, searching for clues about how he would affect the Supreme Court's ideological balance.

Although his new comments leaned toward a more moderate position than some of his writings as a Justice Department lawyer in the Reagan administration, they were so sparse and cautiously phrased that they sparked protests from Democrats about his refusal to be more forthcoming.

For instance, Roberts declined to discuss his views on whether the Constitution allows terminally ill people to end their lives -- even though the Supreme Court ruled that it did more than a decade ago. And he declined to say whether he agreed with a Supreme Court ruling that limited the rights of death-row inmates to appeal their convictions based on newly discovered evidence that might prove them innocent.

In the absence of answers, many panel members resorted to a kind of lobbying effort, seeking to impress upon Roberts their views of the law -- opinions he might consider if, as expected, he wins Senate confirmation to lead the court.

"I hope, sitting in the marble palace, you'll remember that I have great pride in the success of the False Claims Act," Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, told Roberts. He made his remarks after trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to learn more about what Roberts thinks about a federal "whistle-blower" law Grassley sponsored that allows private individuals to sue in cases of government fraud.

A day after Democrats grilled Roberts over whether he would overturn Supreme Court rulings guaranteeing abortion rights -- to no avail -- anti-abortion Republicans seized an opportunity to make their case, admittedly with little, if any, expectation of a response.

"I would just ask you, Judge Roberts, to consider -- and probably you can't answer here today -- whether individuals with disabilities have the same constitutional rights that you and I share while they're in the womb," Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., inquired.

"I appreciate your thoughts on the subject very much," Roberts responded. But he declined to answer, saying: "Those precise questions could come before the courts."

Despite Roberts' reticence on several fronts, a more complete portrait of the 50-year-old federal appeals court judge and former Reagan administration operative emerged. At times, his newly expressed views seemed at odds with those contained in the thousands of pages of memos and musings he wrote as a lawyer in government two decades ago.

Pressed by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., Roberts said he saw nothing "constitutionally suspect" in a provision of the Voting Rights Act that he had raised questions about in the early 1980s. The provision makes it possible for minorities to win voting-rights cases without proving intentional discrimination by election officials.

His position on the rights law -- a portion of which is due to expire in 2007 -- is a central concern to Democrats wary that as chief justice, he would promote rigidly conservative views on civil rights.

He also expressed support for portions of a 2003 opinion by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor upholding the rights of state universities to consider race in making admission decisions. Roberts said it was proper for the court to take note of the positive impact of racial and ethnic diversity in the military when it upheld an admissions policy at the University of Michigan Law School.

"You do need to look at the real world impact in this area," Roberts said.

Roberts also gave what Republican members of the panel interpreted as signals that he would be more deferential to the power of Congress to enact laws without being second-guessed by an activist judiciary.

He also said it would be "appropriate" for state and local lawmakers to pass legislation to lessen the effect of a Supreme Court ruling in June that took an expansive view of the right of the government to seize private property.

As Roberts concluded his second day of taking questions from senators, he appeared on track to win confirmation from the GOP-controlled committee. The panel is expected to conclude its questioning of Roberts on Thursday.

Several of the Republican committee members expressed effusive support for the nominee.

"If people can't vote for you, then I doubt that they can vote for any Republican nominee," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

The Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., told reporters that Roberts had "answered more questions than most."

He added, "Nominees answer about as many questions as they think they have to to be confirmed."

But it remained uncertain how Democrats -- either on the committee or in the full Senate -- would vote on Roberts.

Several Democrats on the panel made it clear they were not persuaded that Roberts could set aside his political views and rule impartially on the court. But at the same time, they acknowledged privately that it was hard to quarrel with his credentials.

Republicans on the committee have pointed out that they set aside partisan differences to vote overwhelmingly in favor of President Clinton's nomination to the court of Ruth Bader Ginsburg -- a former legal counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union -- in 1993. They argue that the opposition should return the courtesy, and confirm the choice President Bush has made.

But Democrats say the country is more deeply divided now than it was then, and that the stakes are higher.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said that in the last 10 years, nearly 200 cases have been decided by a single vote, "which suggests that on major questions the court is also very divided."

Feinstein noted that she supported Roberts' confirmation to the federal appeals court in Washington in 2003. "But there's more (at stake) in this vote," she said.

Other Democrats indicated they also would have problems supporting Roberts.

"We are rolling the dice with you, judge," Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said after Roberts declined to say whether he believed terminally ill people have a right to discontinue life-preserving treatment.

Roberts responded that he should not have to answer such questions, and that it would be dangerous if the process of selecting judges turned on promises that nominees made to elected officials.

"Judges don't stand for election. I'm not standing for election," he said.

But Biden said the judge was missing the point. "No one's asking for a promise," he responded.


Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Roberts: "I Should Not Respond... I Can't Answer That... I Do Not Feel It Appropriate For Me To Comment"...
As Questioning Begins, Euphemisms Abound

By Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writer

Early in yesterday's hearing into his nomination to be chief justice, John G. Roberts Jr. took the Senate Judiciary Committee in an unexpected direction, praising Justice Robert H. Jackson, who served as Franklin D. Roosevelt's attorney general before joining the high court.

"As he went on the court," Roberts told the senators, "he took an entirely different view of a lot of issues, in one famous case even disagreeing with one of his own prior opinions. He wrote a long opinion about how he can't believe he once held those views."

The committee's ranking Democrat, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), was puzzled. "Are you sending us a message?" the senator asked. Laughter bubbled from the gallery.

Roberts added that Jackson "recognized, when he became a member of the Supreme Court, that his job had changed And he took a different perspective. And that's, again, one reason many admire him, including myself." A couple of the conservatives on the committee looked up anxiously.

The exchange was emblematic of Roberts's performance on the first day fielding questions. Roberts, star litigator, adviser to presidents and top-flight jurist, showed that he could be something else: the very model of an enigmatic nominee. The Roberts who answered questions for eight hours yesterday was very much the Roberts who emerged in his writings released over the summer. He maddened the committee's Democrats, delighted its Republicans and charmed most of both.

He was sharp-tongued. When Leahy made a skeptical query about one of Roberts's Reagan administration memos, the nominee retorted: "Senator, you're vastly over-reading the memorandum."

He was quick on his feet. When Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) fired off a series of questions without allowing Roberts to answer, the nominee finally replied: "Well, I was about to lay it out. You said you didn't want to hear about it." The room filled with laughter. Biden did not smile.

And he showed flashes of wit. Asked about an old memo he wrote supporting judicial term limits, he admitted: "You know, that would be one of those memos that I no longer agree with, senator. I didn't fully appreciate what was involved in the confirmation process when I wrote that."

Asked about the views of Justice David H. Souter, Roberts replied: "Well, I don't want to directly comment on what Justice Souter said. He is either going to be a colleague or continue to be one of my bosses."

In constitutional matters, the nominee proved deft at saying much and giving away little. The only time Roberts seemed flustered was when Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) dropped the legalese. "I think it stinks that somebody can burn the flag, and that's called speech. What do you think about that?"

"Well," Roberts began, then paused, searching for words.

What Roberts did best -- or, at least, most -- was deflect questions on charged issues.

Roe v. Wade ? "I think I should stay away from discussions of particular issues that are likely to come before the court again."

War powers? "I don't want to answer a particular hypothetical."

Voting rights? "Those cases come up all the time, and I do need to avoid expressing an opinion."

Sitting at a folding table dressed up with red felt, Roberts, his bald spot exposed under the studio lights, offered a stream of such evasions: "I don't think I should express a determinative view. . . . I should not respond. . . . I can't answer that. . . . I do not feel it appropriate for me to comment."

The most inflammatory subject -- abortion -- was essentially off-limits. Both sides claim they have no "litmus test" and therefore cannot ask Roberts his views on abortion. "It's the 600-pound elephant in the room," Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) told reporters during a break. Instead, they got at the subject elliptically, asking Roberts about his view of stare decisis , the Latin term for letting precedent -- in this case, Roe v. Wade -- stand. The word abortion was uttered only six times in the first four hours of the hearing; stare decisis was cited 34 times.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, started things off with a query about "the issue of stare decisis and the issue of precedents."

Roberts knew where this was going. "While I'm happy to talk about stare decisis and the importance of precedent, I don't think I should get into the application of those principles in a particular area," he said.

Specter, shifting from the Latin, wondered whether " Roe might be a super-duper precedent."

Roberts finally showed some leg on stare decisis . Roe "is settled as a precedent of the court," he said, "entitled to respect under principles of stare decisis ."

That was about the most the senators could get out of Roberts.

Roberts told Biden that the 14th Amendment protected a right to privacy -- an apparent nod to abortion rights -- but immediately qualified that by saying: "I think every justice on the court believes that, to some extent or another."

He seemed to take pleasure in the ambiguity. Recalling his clerkship for Judge J. Henry Friendly, he mentioned, approvingly: "He liked the fact that the editorialists of the day couldn't decide whether he was a liberal or a conservative."

Even Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), conqueror of Robert H. Bork, drew little blood. Roberts brushed off Kennedy's complaints about his 1980s memos questioning voting rights laws. "This was 23 years ago," the judge replied. "It was the position of the Reagan administration."

When Kennedy accused him of opposing a civil rights act, Roberts gave no ground. "No, Senator," he said. "You have not accurately represented my position."

The confrontation over, Roberts stood up and exhaled deeply. Kennedy gritted his teeth.


Grand Jury Indicts Two DeLay Associates

Grand Jury Indicts Two DeLay Associates

Associated Press Writer

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Two associates of U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay were indicted Tuesday on additional felony charges of violating Texas election law and criminal conspiracy to violate election law for their role in the 2002 legislative races.

The indictment was the latest from a grand jury investigating the use of corporate money in the campaigns that gave Republicans control of the Texas House.

In Texas, state law prohibits using corporate contributions to advocate the election or defeat of state candidates.

The two men indicted Tuesday, Jim Ellis, who heads Americans for a Republican Majority, and John Colyandro, former executive director of Texans for a Republican Majority, already faced charges of money laundering in the case. Colyandro also faces 13 counts of unlawful acceptance of a corporate political contribution.

The money laundering charges stem from $190,000 in corporate funds that were sent to the Republican National Party, which then spent the same amount on seven candidates for the Texas Legislature.

Joe Turner, representing Colyandro, said attorneys for the Republican National Committee examined and cleared all the questioned transactions.

"We don't believe a crime was ever committed," Turner said.

Once DeLay helped Republicans win control of the state Legislature in 2002, the majority leader engineered a Republican redistricting plan that gave the state's U.S. House delegation a 21-11 majority in the current Congress.

DeLay was admonished by the House ethics committee on three matters last year, including what the panel said was improperly getting the Federal Aviation Administration to intervene in a state political dispute. The dispute involving tracking down Democratic legislators who fled the state to avoid voting on the redistricting plan.

DeLay has not been charged in the criminal case in Texas, though he has close ties to individuals and groups that have been.

Americans for a Republican Majority is DeLay's national fundraising committee, and he helped create Texans for a Republican Majority.

Last week, the Travis County grand jury also issued five felony indictments against Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee, which was formed by DeLay, and the Texas Association of Business. The indictments alleged the illegal use of corporate money for political influence.

Money laundering is a first-degree felony punishable by 5 to 99 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

The two alleged violations of the Election Code are third-degree felonies punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. The criminal conspiracy count, if convicted, could draw six months to 2 years in state jail time and a fine up to $10,000.


GOP Official in Mass. Faces Charges

GOP Official in Mass. Faces Charges

Associated Press Writer

BOSTON (AP) -- A lawyer who is vice chairman of the state Republican Party was charged Tuesday with money-laundering for allegedly offering to "cleanse" drug proceeds for a client.

Lawrence Novak was arrested at his home in Brockton after investigators said he allegedly offered to launder drug profits for a man who is awaiting trial on federal trafficking charges and who has agreed to be a cooperating witness against Novak.

Novak, 54, was taken into custody after he deposited money in a Brockton bank, federal authorities said.

GOP Gov. Mitt Romney called for Novak to step down while the investigation continues.

Republican Party Executive Director Tim O'Brien said the charges are unrelated to Novak's GOP role. Novak served at the party's treasurer in the late 1990s.

Novak made an initial appearance in federal court late Tuesday and was released on $25,000 bond. Neither he nor his attorney would comment on the charges.

Novak allegedly offered to have the drug defendant, Scott Holyoke, sign false affidavits in an attempt to invalidate some of his prior state convictions in order to reduce the sentence he would face in his federal case.

Holyoke told Novak that he had over $100,000 in cash in a safe deposit box, repeatedly telling Novak that the money was drug proceeds, according to an affidavit filed by Lauren Youngquist, a special agent with the criminal investigation unit of the Internal Revenue Service.

The affidavit said Novak told Holyoke that he would take approximately $60,000 of the money as a legal fee and offered to "clean" or "cleanse" the remainder of the cash.

Novak is due back in court Oct. 3. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.


Associated Press Writer Steve LeBlanc contributed to this report.


U.S. lawmaker won't reopen bankruptcy for Katrina


U.S. lawmaker won't reopen bankruptcy for Katrina

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The chairman of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee said on Tuesday he had no intention of reopening a sweeping bankruptcy law passed by Congress earlier this year, despite proposals to exempt Hurricane Katrina victims from some of its provisions.

The new, more stringent bankruptcy law will not harm people left "down and out" by the storm, Wisconsin Republican Rep. James Sensenbrenner said.

He said he would not hold a hearing in his committee on a bill by the panel's ranking Democrat, Michigan Rep. John Conyers, and 31 other Democrats who want to exempt Hurricane Katrina victims from parts of the new bankruptcy law. A chairman's decision not to hold a hearing usually prevents a House bill form advancing.

Congress last spring passed the new bankruptcy law, which makes it harder for heavily indebted Americans to wipe out their obligations. It goes into effect on October 17.

Backers said it was needed to crack down on abuse of the bankruptcy system.

But after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, Conyers said hurricane victims should be exempted from a means test in the new law that determines whether filers can be put on debt repayment plans.

Sensenbrenner said Conyer's argument was "specious" because someone completely wiped out financially, whether by Katrina or anything else, would not be put on a repayment plan under the new law.

"If someone in Katrina is down and out, and has no possibility of being able to repay 40 percent or more of their debts, then the new bankruptcy law doesn't apply," Sensenbrenner told Reuters.

Such a person would still be able to file to have their debts canceled under what is known as Chapter 7 bankruptcy, Sensenbrenner said.

In the Senate, Wisconsin Democrat Russell Feingold has introduced legislation that would let Katrina victims file under the old bankruptcy law for another year.

Even before the hurricane, record numbers of people were rushing to file for bankruptcy before the more stringent new law goes into effect. The American Bankruptcy Institute said recently that quarterly filings for the period from April to the end of June were the highest in U.S. history at 467,333 -- up 11 percent from the same quarter a year earlier.


One-fourth of Guantanamo prisoners on hunger strike


One-fourth of Guantanamo prisoners on hunger strike

MIAMI (Reuters) - Nearly one-fourth of the prisoners at the U.S. military's Guantanamo base in Cuba are on a hunger strike to protest their indefinite detention, and 18 are being force-fed in a hospital, a military spokesman said on Tuesday.

The hunger strike began on August 8 and 128 prisoners have since joined, said Sgt. Justin Behrens, a spokesman for the task force running the Guantanamo prison.

"They want to be tried or set free," Behrens said by telephone from Guantanamo.

The Guantanamo prison holds about 505 foreign terrorism suspects, many of them captured during the U.S. war in Afghanistan that followed the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Some have been held at Guantanamo since the prison camp opened in January 2002, but only four have been charged with crimes and none have been tried.

Behrens said the number refusing food and water fluctuated, with prisoners joining and dropping out of the hunger strike.

"Most of the people that started it are off now," he said.

Eighteen were in the hospital at the Camp Delta prison, where 13 were being fed via nasal tubes and five were being fed intravenously to keep them alive, he said.

Attorneys for the Guantanamo Bay prisoners argued in a federal appeals court in Washington last week that the detainees should have a chance to prove in court that they had been mistakenly labeled as "enemy combatants" and have been unlawfully detained.

"They are on a hunger strike because they want a hearing in court with a lawyer of their own. They are willing to starve themselves to death," said attorney Gita Gutierrez with the Center for Constitutional Rights, who represented some British prisoners since released from Guantanamo.

The Bush administration has held that the prisoners are not entitled to any constitutional due process rights because they are being held outside the United States and that the United States has the right to hold them in perpetuity.

The appeals court was not expected to rule until next year, and its decision was likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Pentagon said 246 prisoners had been sent home from Guantanamo since the prison operation began, with some freed and some transferred for detention in their home countries.

Most recently, an Afghan prisoner was sent home on Monday. The U.S. military would not identify him but Afghan state television said the man was Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan.

He became the Taliban's spokesman after the September 11 attacks and held regular news conferences at his Islamabad embassy at which he tried to convince the world the Taliban's guest, Osama bin Laden, was not responsible.


Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Katrina: A Breaking of the American Promise
Sen. Evan Bayh: Katrina: A Breaking of the American Promise

Sunday was the fourth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11th -- attacks that opened our eyes to the dangerous world that we live in, made real the existence of evil, and shook our national complacency forever.

Two weeks ago, we witnessed a tragedy of equal proportions -- not a terrorist attack but an act of nature, made more tragic by the violation of the bedrock American value of community and the fundamental promise implicit between our government and our people.

Our government failed at one of the most basic functions it has -- providing for the physical safety of our citizens -- and in so doing raised basic questions about who we are as a people, what makes us special, and whether our leaders understand.

Among the horrors, we also witnessed the best of America. There were countless episodes of tremendous heroism and heartwarming generosity. Americans from across the country rose up to play the role the government should have played by giving money, food, water, clothes, even opening their homes to complete strangers. That's the best of America.

There will be a time for the hearings and fact-findings and commissions. Those investigations must be independent so that we can get to the bottom of what happened and why. And those responsible must be held accountable for their mistakes, not promoted or awarded medals.

However, the failures speak to something deeper -- the breaking of a promise between our basic institutions of government and the American people who have created those institutions.

The fact is scores, maybe hundreds of lives were lost not simply because people didn't leave, or because the levees were not strengthened, but because after the storm our institutions of government failed them. And that's just not right.

Many of us never thought we would live to see the day when tens of thousands of our fellow citizens would be left for nearly a week to fend for themselves without food, without water, and stranded on rooftops.

This is a moment where we have to step back and revisit the idea of what America is really all about.

People came here because of that idea -- they came here because of the promise that everyone has an opportunity to aspire to something greater and if you work hard and play by the rules, our government will stand up for you if you happen to fall down on your luck.

What happened last week in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast broke faith with that idea in a profound way.

The truth about America today is that our institutions -- and particularly this Administration -- have broken their fundamental promise to the people they were elected to serve.

It's unfortunate, but perhaps not surprising from leaders ideologically hostile to the institutions that they lead. The answer to the challenges we confront today can't be big government, but it also cannot be no government. And above all, it cannot be incompetent government.

What we are seeing in New Orleans is the result of a series of misjudgments and misdirected priorities that have all produced an increasingly tragic result -- a people unprotected by their own government -- a government that no longer embodies our most basic and most precious values. From soldiers without armor to protect them in battle to children with no health care to protect them against disease to corporate employees with no pensions to guide them in their elder years. This administration has sown the seeds of indifference and division for too long and now we are all reaping the whirlwind.

Americans have always prized individuality -- it is part of our national DNA, but America is a community that draws strength from the sum of our people and has always known that the total of that sum is worth far more than its individual parts.

We can only do so much alone to maximize our freedom, to make the most of our liberties. Sometimes we must act together. It is what separates us from the Law of the Jungle. It's what makes us special and different from other countries too.

As a civil rights leader once said, we may have arrived on these shores in different ships but we're all in the same boat now.

Last week we were not all in the same boat. There were too many left adrift. Too many of our boats were left behind.

This is not the America we have known for more than two hundred years and not the America we should aspire to be.

Our government broke a promise. It did not keep faith with our values. It's time for us to renew that commitment -- to make a new promise -- to the people who went through the horror of last week and to each and every American.

We must providing funding to school districts that accept displaced children.

We must provide medical assistance for all displaced victims without forcing them to wade through endless red tape.

We must rebuild and strengthen the levee system in New Orleans as quickly as humanly possible -- which should have been done years ago -- so that its people will never again face the calamity of last week.

The times demand leaders that understand that the true test of leadership is not how we accentuate the differences among us, but instead how we reconcile them, how we forge principled consensus, and how we find common ground.

We need leaders who appeal to us to think about something other than narrow self-interest, but instead focus upon the greater good.

So in the wake of the fourth anniversary of 9/11, let us say a prayer for the victims in New York and for those along the Gulf Coast and most of all, let us say a prayer for our country.