Saturday, September 24, 2005

Frist, DeLay Fend Off Probes Into Ethics

Frist, DeLay Fend Off Probes Into Ethics

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Heading into a midterm election year, Republicans find themselves with not one, but two congressional leaders - Bill Frist in the Senate and Tom DeLay in the House - fending off questions of ethical improprieties.

The news that federal prosecutors and the Securities and Exchange Commission are looking into Frist's sale of stock in HCA Inc., the hospital operating company founded by his family, comes as a criminal investigation continues of Jack Abramoff, a high-powered Republican lobbyist, and his ties to DeLay of Texas.

Less than a week ago, a former White House official was arrested in the Abramoff investigation.

For Republicans, the timing couldn't be worse.

"The last thing you needed was a Martha Stewart problem," Marshall Wittman, a one-time conservative activist who now works for the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, said of Frist. "He doesn't even have a good clothing line or a popular television show."

Stewart, the homemaking doyenne, served five months in federal prison for lying to authorities about a stock deal and nearly six months more in home confinement.

The midterm elections occur in just over 13 months and Republicans face the historic reality that the party controlling the White House typically loses seats in non-presidential years.

Shadowing the GOP outlook is President Bush's diminishing approval ratings as the war in Iraq, rising oil prices and the need for billions in federal spending after devastating hurricanes threaten to overwhelm a second-term agenda.

"It may not cost the Republicans any seats directly, but it's something they don't need right now," said John J. Pitney, a professor at Claremont McKenna College in California who once worked as a research analyst for House Republicans. "They've got plenty of problems as it is."

Still, in the Republican-controlled Congress, Democrats have more Senate seats to defend - 17 to the GOP's 15 - and redistricting has made fewer House seats competitive.

Charlie Black, a Republican consultant with close ties to the White House, expects Frist to be cleared by next year and any whiff of scandal to be gone.

"I suspect the DeLay matter and this matter will be resolved long before November '06," Black said.

Frist cultivated a political outsider image when he ran for the Senate in 1994. "I don't want a career in Washington. I want change," said the Tennessee heart surgeon, who didn't register to vote until 1988 and didn't vote until he was 36.

The year 1994 marked the Republican revolution, when the GOP seized control of Congress after decades of Democratic rule in the House and years in the Senate. The GOP portrayed their rivals as beholden to special interests and corrupt after years of entrenchment.

More than a decade later, Republicans are trying to avoid the perception that they resemble the Democrats they replaced.

"The overall problem the Republican Party has is it is increasingly looking like Tammany Hall," Wittman said. "An odor of sleaziness is enveloping the Republicans and seeping into the administration."

Democrats seized on the latest development, with party chairman Howard Dean criticizing Frist and arguing that Republicans "have made their culture of corruption the norm."

The challenge for Frist is to clear his name in a federal investigation while trying to maintain his hold on the post of Senate majority leader.

Frist came to power in 2002 when Republicans forced out Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., after he made racially tinged remarks in support of former Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., a one-time segregationist.

If Republicans see Frist and the probes as a drag, he could suffer the same fate as Lott. Frist also is a lame-duck leader who has indicated he won't seek another term.

Chris Lehane, a Democratic consultant who has managed scandals, said Frist's political strategy would be to get information out, but that approach is hardly what a lawyer would advise his client.

An insider trading investigation also raises the possibility of civil action by shareholders and a discovery process that "disgorges all kinds of documents," Lehane said.

"Even information benign in another type of environment - what about this phone message from your brother" - has added significance, Lehane said.

Frist has been mentioned as a potential presidential candidate in 2008 - a prospect that looks less likely with the federal probe and his break with conservatives on embryonic stem-cell research.

"That romance was over before it started," Wittman said.


Pentagon, Senate committee bicker over 9/11 probe


Pentagon, Senate committee bicker over 9/11 probe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon and the Senate Judiciary Committee squabbled publicly on Friday about whether lawmakers could question five key witnesses in public about their claims the U.S. military identified four September 11 hijackers long before the 20001 attacks.

The Defense Department came under fire from Republican and Democratic lawmakers this week when it prohibited the same witnesses, including members of a secret military intelligence team code-named Able Danger, from appearing before the judiciary panel at a public hearing on Wednesday.

The panel's chairman, Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, said at Wednesday's hearing the Pentagon could be guilty of obstructing congressional proceedings. Other lawmakers accused the Defense Department of orchestrating a cover-up.

On Friday, the Senate committee announced the Pentagon had reversed its position and would allow the five witnesses to testify at a new public hearing scheduled for October 5.

The Pentagon denied anything had changed, despite behind-the-scenes negotiations to reach a solution agreeable to both sides.

"Our position has not changed," Defense spokesman Bryan Whitman told Reuters. "This is a classified program and there are still aspects of it that are not appropriate for an open hearing. And that's what we have told the committee."

Not so, responded William Reynolds, the judiciary committee's director of communications.

"The Pentagon has agreed to make five witnesses available. Although there was no talk at the time when they made that offer, the assumption was that it would be in an open committee hearing," Reynolds said in an interview.

"If the Pentagon has issues with that, they need to let us know," he added.

Able Danger, now defunct, was a small highly classified data-mining operation that used powerful computers to sift through reams of public data in search of intelligence clues on a variety of topics.

The five witnesses in question were all involved with Able Danger and contend the team identified September 11 ringleader Mohamed Atta and three other hijackers as members of an al Qaeda cell in early 2000 -- more than a year before the attacks.

A Pentagon review of the operation has turned up no documents to support the assertion.

But one prospective witness, Army Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, has said publicly that Able Danger members tried to pass the information about Atta along to the FBI three times in September 2000 but were forced by Pentagon lawyers to cancel the meetings.

Much of the information related to Able Danger was destroyed in 2000, according to a former Army officer who testified before Specter's panel on Wednesday.

Lawmakers from both parties have suggested the Pentagon is trying to prevent the witnesses from testifying for fear that they could confirm that data which might have prevented the attacks on New York and Washington was known to the federal government long before September 11, 2001.


FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford resigns


FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford resigns

By Lisa Richwine

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Lester Crawford abruptly resigned on Friday after a bruising fight over whether the agency would approve over-the-counter sales of a morning-after pill and a string of drug-safety controversies.

Crawford's resignation takes effect immediately, health officials said. They offered no reason for his sudden departure less than three months after he was confirmed for the job.

President George W. Bush asked National Cancer Institute Director Andrew Von Eschenbach to serve as acting FDA commissioner, the White House said.

Crawford won a contentious confirmation battle in the Senate after Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt assured Senate Democrats the FDA would act on over-the-counter sales of the morning after pill Plan B by September 1.

But he came under fresh attack in late August when the FDA indefinitely postponed a ruling on whether Barr Pharmaceuticals Inc. could sell the Plan B contraceptive without a prescription. The agency's top women's health official resigned in protest.

The FDA also faced a string of drug safety controversies during Crawford's tenure. Some critics charged the agency with being too slow to react to signs of serious side effects from Merck & Co. Inc.'s recalled painkiller Vioxx and other medicines.

"In recent years, the FDA has demonstrated a too-cozy relationship with the pharmaceutical industry and an attitude of shielding rather than disclosing information. The opportunity to name a new commissioner is a chance to take the agency in a necessary new direction," said Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, the Senate Finance Committee chairman.

Others said the agency was letting politics trump science in decisions about Plan B and other issues. Conservatives lobbied heavily to keep Plan B from being sold without a prescription.

Crawford's nomination had also been delayed for months by charges of an affair with a female subordinate. An investigation by the Department of Health and Human Services inspector general found no basis for the charges of an affair, which were sent anonymously to the Senate.


The FDA is a vast agency that regulates medicines, most foods, medical devices and many other consumer products.

Crawford is a food safety expert and a veterinarian with a doctorate in pharmacology. He served as FDA deputy commissioner and acting commissioner for more than three years before becoming permanent FDA chief.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, said Crawford's resignation was "a move toward reforming FDA."

"Lester Crawford's leadership at FDA since 2002 has been both tepid and passive. There were so many problems under his watch," Mikulski said.

Viren Mehta, a drug industry analyst and principal of Mehta Partners, said he was concerned Crawford's resignation could slow down the speed of drug reviews, as has happened during leadership transitions at the agency in earlier years.

"Even though Crawford was in charge too briefly to establish a track record, his resignation is unfortunate because there could be a protracted debate on his permanent replacement," Mehta said.

Earlier this week, Crawford joked about his future during a speech to the Consumer Federation of America after promising new rules regarding cattle feed and mad-cow disease would be released soon.

"If it's not out very soon, they're going to have to have someone else giving these speeches in the next few months because I'm telling you, it's coming," he said.

(Additional reporting by Ransdell Pierson in New York)


Democrats criticize accounting of Katrina money


Democrats criticize accounting of Katrina money

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration has failed to provide enough details on how billions of dollars in emergency funds for Gulf Coast states hit by Hurricane Katrina were being spent, a senior Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives said on Friday.

"We asked for specific information on how they (FEMA) are awarding contracts and who contracts are going to," said Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

"Instead of telling us who is doing what and how, we got a few spreadsheets."

The information provided by the administration lists broad allocations of funds for a range of government programs, such as $2.3 billion for "housing assistance," $3.1 billion for "missions" under a category called "operations," and $3.5 billion for "missions" under a category called "administration of field operations."

Congress has approved $62.3 billion in emergency aid to Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and other Gulf Coast states following the late August destruction by Hurricane Katrina. The White House is expected to ask for more money soon.

The post-hurricane funds are dwarfing the $43.9 billion the government shelled out following the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Under the law providing the disaster funds, the Bush administration must provide Congress with weekly updates on the pace of spending.

The latest report, sent to Congress on Thursday, indicated that nearly $16 billion had been allocated by FEMA, the agency in charge of most of the rescue and clean-up effort.

The Army Corps of Engineers, which received $400 million in additional funds from Congress, reported that it expects "nearly all of the funds to be allocated by next week."

Spokesmen at the Department of Homeland Security were not available for comment.

The Bush administration came under intense criticism in the days after Hurricane Katrina for what was perceived as a slow emergency response.

Since then, congressional lawmakers have argued over the best way to investigate the federal government's disaster response and the most effective way to make sure emergency funds were not wasted.

Besides asking for details on the awarding of contracts, Obey and Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, the Senate Appropriations Committee senior Democrat, have asked for details on credit card purchases by government officials.


US agency says tax breaks too costly, need review


US agency says tax breaks too costly, need review
By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Tax breaks such as deductions for home mortgage interest and state and local taxes cost the federal government $728 billion last year and need to be reexamined, the Government Accountability Office said in a new report on Friday.

Comptroller General David Walker, who heads the agency, said the government must look at ways to rein in the growth of so-called tax expenditures if it is to avoid huge fiscal deficit problems in future years.

"We're on an imprudent, unsustainable fiscal path," Walker told a news conference. "The status quo is not an option and we're not going to grow our way out of this problem and the sooner we get started the better."

GAO launched the study to help contribute to federal tax reform debate in Washington that was expected to heat up this autumn. A Bush administration tax panel was scheduled to deliver its recommendations by September 30, but a spokeswoman said that will likely be delayed by at least a month due to Hurricane Katrina.

The GAO study said annual federal revenue losses tripled in real terms from $243 billion in 1974 to $728 billion in 2004. Tax expenditures peaked in 2002 at $783 billion before the full effects of the last recession cycled through the Internal Revenue Service.

For most of the last decade, revenue losses from tax expenditures were greater than the federal government's discretionary spending, the GAO said.

The biggest growth in recent years is the exclusion from income tax of employer-paid health insurance benefits, contributing $102.3 billion or 14 percent of the 2004 lost revenues. Deductability of home mortgage interest -- including second homes -- was the second biggest portion at $61.5 billion or 8.4 percent of the total.

Net exclusion of 401(k) contributions and employer-paid defined pension benefits and earnings together were $94.7 billion while deductability of non-business state and local taxes came to $45.3 billion or 6.1 percent of the total.

Exclusion of interest on state and local tax-exempt bonds cost $26.2 billion in 2004, the ninth largest category at 3.6 percent of the total.

Walker said the retirement of the baby boom generation required huge spending growth and massive structural federal deficits. If nothing is done about the problem, balancing the budget by 2040 would require actions as large as cutting total federal spending by 60 percent or raising federal taxes 2.5 times today's level.

"The time has come to reexamine the base of all major federal spending and tax programs, policies functions and activities. We were already deeply in the hole before Katrina hit and now Rita is off the coast," he said.

The agency, however, is not recommending which areas should be targeted for cuts. Walker said that's for politicians to decide, and it will likely take 20 years to accomplish.

"We're in the fact business, not the policy business, but you need facts to make good policy and quite frankly that doesn't happen enough in this town," Walker said.

A spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget dismissed the report, saying it prescribes de-facto tax increases.

"We do not intend to implement the report. The administration rejects any attempts to address the long term fiscal imbalances with tax increases," said OMB spokesman Alex Conant, spokesman for OMB.


New evolution spat in U.S. schools goes to court


New evolution spat in U.S. schools goes to court

By Jon Hurdle

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - A new battle over teaching about man's origins in U.S. schools goes to court for the first time next week, pitting Christian conservatives against educators and scientists in a trial viewed as the biggest test of the issue since the late 1980s.

Eleven parents of students at a Pennsylvania high school are suing over the school district's decision to include "intelligent design" -- an alternative to evolution that involves a God-like creator -- in the curriculum of ninth-grade biology classes.

The parents and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) say the policy of the Dover Area School District in south-central Pennsylvania violates the constitutional separation of church and state, which forbids teaching religion in public schools.

They also argue that intelligent design is unscientific and has no place in a science curriculum.

Intelligent design holds that nature is so complex it must have been the work of an God-like creator rather than the result of natural selection, as argued by Charles Darwin in his 1859 Theory of Evolution.

The school board says there are "gaps" in evolution, which it emphasizes is a theory rather than established fact, and that students have a right to consider other views on the origins of life. In their camp is President George W. Bush, who has said schools should teach evolution and intelligent design.

The Dover schools board says it does not teach intelligent design but simply makes students aware of its existence as an alternative to evolution. It denies intelligent design is "religion in disguise" and says it is a scientific theory.

The board is being represented by The Thomas More Law Center, a Michigan-based nonprofit which says it uses litigation to promote "the religious freedom of Christians and time-honored family values."

The center did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The trial begins on Monday in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and is expected to last about five weeks.


Dr. John West of the Discovery Institute, which sponsors research on intelligent design, said the case displayed the ACLU's "Orwellian" effort to stifle scientific discourse and objected to the issue being decided in court.

"It's a disturbing prospect that the outcome of this lawsuit could be that the court will try to tell scientists what is legitimate scientific inquiry and what is not," West said. "That is a flagrant assault on free speech."

Opponents including the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Association of Biology Teachers say intelligent design is an attempt by the Christian right to teach creationism -- the belief that God created the world -- into public schools under the guise of a theory that does not explicitly mention God. The Supreme Court banned the teaching of creationism in public schools in a 1987 ruling.

"Intelligent design is ultimately a science stopper," said Dr. Eugenie Scott of the National Council for Science Education, a pro-evolution group backing the Dover parents.

"It's a political and religious movement that's trying to insinuate itself into the public schools," she said.

But the American public appears to back the school district.

At least 31 states are taking steps to teach alternatives to evolution. A CBS poll last November found 65 percent of Americans favor teaching creationism as well as evolution while 37 percent want creationism taught instead of evolution.

Fifty-five percent of Americans believe God created humans in their present form, the poll found.

Earlier this month a top Roman Catholic cardinal critical of evolution branded scientific opponents of intelligent design intolerant and said there need not be a conflict between Darwin's and Christian views of life's origins.

Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, a top Church doctrinal expert and close associate of Pope Benedict, said Darwin's theory did not clash with a belief in God so long as scientists did not assert that pure chance accounted for everything from "the Big Bang to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony."


Friday, September 23, 2005

HCA subpoenaed over Sen. Frist's shares

Yahoo! News
HCA subpoenaed over Sen. Frist's shares

By Jeremy Pelofsky

A federal investigation into Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's sale of HCA Inc. (NYSE:HCA - news) stock widened on Friday when the largest U.S. hospital chain said federal prosecutors had subpoenaed the company for related documents.

Frist, a Tennessee Republican and a potential 2008 presidential candidate, has come under fire for sale of his stock in the company shortly before HCA warned that earnings would miss expectations.

The sale has also drawn the attention of the Securities and Exchange Commission, which has sought information from Frist. His spokesman has denied Frist had any inside information when he initiated the sale.

The lawmaker on June 13 requested the sale of all of his remaining stock in HCA, which was held in blind trusts, his spokeswoman Amy Call said. By July 8 the shares held for himself, his wife, and children were sold by trustees, the spokeswoman added.

Frist had no control over the timing of the sale, the spokeswoman said.

On July 13, HCA warned that second-quarter operating earnings were likely to fall short of analysts estimates, sending its shares tumbling 8.85 percent.

HCA, which Frist's father and brother helped found, said in brief statement that it had received a subpoena from the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York for the production of documents.

"The company believes the subpoena relates to the sale of HCA stock by Senator William H. Frist," HCA said, adding that it would fully cooperate with the matter.

A spokesman for the SEC, which routinely investigates potentially suspicious stock trades before major company news, declined comment.

"Senator Frist had no information about the company or its performance that was not available to the public when he directed the trustees to sell the HCA stock," Frist spokesman Bob Stevenson said in a statement issued on Thursday.

"His only objective in selling the stock was to eliminate the appearance of a conflict of interest," Stevenson said. "The majority leader will provide the SEC any information that it needs with respect to this matter."

HCA and other hospital operators have been hurt by high levels of unpaid patient bills and lackluster admissions.

Shares of HCA were up 84 cents, or 1.8 percent, to $46.74 in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

(Additional reporting by Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago)


Katrina lesson not learned: Many poor stuck in Houston


No way out: Many poor stuck in Houston
By Deborah Hastings, AP National Writer

HOUSTON — Wilma Skinner would like to scream at the officials of this city. If only someone would pick up their phone.

"I done called for a shelter, I done called for help. There ain't none. No one answers," she said, standing in blistering heat outside a check-cashing store that had just run out of its main commodity. "Everyone just says, 'Get out, get out.' I've got no way of getting out. And now I've got no money."

With Hurricane Rita breathing down Houston's neck, those with cars were stuck in gridlock trying to get out. Those like Skinner — poor, and with a broken-down car — were simply stuck, and fuming at being abandoned, they say.

"All the banks are closed and I just got off work," said Thomas Visor, holding his sweaty paycheck as he, too, tried to get inside the store, where more than 100 people, all of them black or Hispanic, fretted in line. "This is crazy. How are you supposed to evacuate a hurricane if you don't have money? Answer me that?"

Some of those who did have money, and did try to get out, didn't get very far.

Judie Anderson of La Porte, Texas, covered just 45 miles in 12 hours. She had been on the road since 10 p.m. Wednesday, headed toward Oklahoma, which by Thursday was still very far away.

"This is the worst planning I've ever seen," she said. "They say, 'We've learned a lot from Hurricane Katrina.' Well, you couldn't prove it by me."

On Bellaire Boulevard in southwest Houston, a weeping woman and her young daughter stood on the sidewalk, surrounded by plastic bags full of clothes and blankets. "I'd like to go, but nobody come get me," the woman said in broken English. When asked her name, she looked frightened. "No se, no se," she said: Spanish for "I don't know."

Her daughter, who appeared to be about 9, whispered in English, "We're from Mexico."

For the poor and the disenfranchised, the mighty evacuation orders that preceded Rita were something they could only ignore.

Eddie McKinney, 64, who had no home, no teeth and a torn shirt, stood outside the EZ Pawn shop, drinking a beer under a sign that said, "No Loitering."

"We got no other choice but to stay here. We're homeless and we're broke," he said. "I thought about going to Dallas, but now it's too late. I got no way to get there."

Where will he stay?

"A nice white man gave me a motel room for three days. Just walked up and said, 'Here.' So my buddy and me will stick it out," he said, pointing to another homeless man. "We got a half-gallon of whiskey and a room."

In Deer Park, a working-class suburb of refineries south of Houston, Stacy and Troy Curtis, waited for help outside the police station. Less than three weeks ago, the couple left New Orleans after it was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.

With no vehicle, and little money, they tried to get their lives together while staying at a hotel in Deer Park. Stacy Curtis, a nursing assistant in New Orleans, had a job interview scheduled for Thursday.

But most businesses had shut down because the neighborhood will likely flood if the hurricane hits Galveston Bay. The streets were empty Thursday afternoon.

"We're stuck here," Stacy Curtis said. "Got no other place to go."

An emergency official eventually sent a van to take the couple to a shelter at a recreation center.

Monica Holmes, who has debilitating lupus, sat in her car at a Houston gas station that had no gas. "We can't go nowhere," she said, tapping a fingernail against the dashboard fuel gauge. "Look here," she said. "I'm right on E."

Her husband, a security guard, had a paycheck, but no way to cash it.

"We were going to try to go to Nacogdoches" in east Texas, not far from the Louisiana border, she said. "But even if we could get on the road, we're not going to get out. These people that left yesterday, they're still on the beltway. They haven't even got out of Houston."

So she and her husband will hunker down in their Missouri City home, just to the south. "We'll be fine," she said. "You can't be scared of what God can do. I'm covered."

As always, there were those who chose to stay, no matter how dire the warnings.

John Benson, a 47-year-old surfer and lifelong Galveston resident, said he thinks his town "is going to take on a lot of water. But as far as the winds, I think here on the island, it will be a little bit less than they anticipated."

Mandatory evacuation orders were issued Wednesday for the area.

Benson said he planned to use his surfboard as transportation after the hurricane. "The main thing is you have a contingency plan," he said, and thumped his board. "You got buoyancy."

Skinner, accompanied by her 6-year-old grandson, Dageneral Bellard, would settle for a bus.

"They got them for the outlying areas, for the Gulf and Galveston, but they ain't made no preparations for us in the city, for the poor people here. There ain't no (evacuation) buses here. I got nowhere to go."

EDITOR'S NOTE — Associated Press writers Pam Easton in Galveston and Tim Whitmire in Deer Park contributed to this report.

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Iraq coming apart, Saudi official warns


Iraq coming apart, Saudi official warns
By Barbara Slavin, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — Iraq is moving toward disintegration, and war there could spread to its neighbors, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said Thursday.

In part because of a new constitution that would give more power to various regions in Iraq, "there seems to be no dynamic that is pulling the country together," Saud said. Iraqis are to vote on the constitution next month. Sunni Arab leaders are urging a "no" vote, while majority Shiites urge approval.

"All the dynamics there are pushing people away from each other," said Saud, whose nation is predominantly Sunni.

The main problem, Saud told a small group of reporters here, is the split between Sunnis and Shiites in central and southern Iraq. Continued autonomy for non-Arab Kurds in northern Iraq is less of a concern, he said.

"If things go the way they are ... there will be a struggle among the three for natural resources," Saud said, and Iraq's neighbors will be drawn into a wider war.

He said Iran, a predominantly Shiite but non-Arab nation, would intervene on the side of Iraqi Shiites. Turkey, which has a big Kurdish minority, has repeatedly threatened to enter northern Iraq if Kurds there declare independence. If Iraq's Sunni Arab minority appears to lose out, "I don't see how the Arab countries will be left out of the conflict in one way or another."

The State Department had no comment on Saud's remarks.

Saud, who met later with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, faulted the Bush administration for adding to sectarian tensions by treating all members of Saddam Hussein's mainly Sunni Baath Party as "criminals" after ousting Saddam. He urged the United States to work harder to persuade Shiites to reach out to Sunni Arabs to assure them of their safety and equality and of Iraq's territorial integrity.

Although Saudi Arabia provided limited help to the United States in the initial phases of the war, Saud had recommended a coup to oust Saddam — not the dismantling of the Iraqi government. "It's no secret that Saudi Arabia does not believe military action in Iraq will achieve the objective it is aimed at," he said in a March 2002 interview with USA TODAY.

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Sickening plunder of Gaza's green gems

New York Daily News -
Sickening plunder of Gaza's green gems

GAZA - A week after they descended like locusts on the greenhouses that Jewish settlers nurtured in Gaza, looters continue to pillage what should be a prize asset for a fledgling Palestinian state.

And the Palestinian Authority, which took over Gaza after the Israelis evacuated the territory, appears powerless to stop them.

When a Daily News correspondent visited abandoned Jewish settlements in Gaza, he found brazen vandals dismantling farms that once produced some of the world's finest tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers.

The now-gutted greenhouses were gifts to the Palestinian people from U.S. philanthropists, who raised $14 million to buy them from departing settlers.

"It was our work for a long time and it was supposed to help even more people now," said heartbroken Zaki Karim, 51, a Palestinian who worked at greenhouses in what was the Gadid settlement. "But it's a mess."

Palestinian Interior Ministry spokesman Tawfiq Abu Qusa insisted the damage was limited to 30% of the 4,000 or so greenhouses - and blamed most of the vandalism on spiteful Jewish settlers. "The Palestinians damaged so little you can't even count it," he said.

One of the philanthropists, Daily News Chairman and Publisher Mortimer B. Zuckerman, called that assertion "ridiculous."

"We thought it was a chance to show the Palestinians that there were more benefits from cooperation than confrontation," Zuckerman said. "I'm just sad that they are cutting off their noses to spite their faces. ... It's almost inexplicable."

The World Bank reported 90% of the greenhouses were intact when the Israelis left. Facts on the ground reveal that much of that bounty is now gone.

"All over Gush Katif the greenhouses have been damaged and a lot was stolen from them," Karim said, referring to former Jewish settlements in southwest Gaza. In Gadid, much of the expensive equipment used to tend the crops was stolen. So were the water pumps, irrigation lines and all the fuse boxes.

At the former Katif settlement, a Palestinian soldier, Pvt. Mohamed Cidawi, said looters made off with most of the metal support beams and even stole the plastic and canvas coverings that protected the vegetables from the hot sun.

"Go away," Cidawi shouted when he spied a boy with a sledge hammer preparing to smash a fuse box. "If I see you here another time, I'll kick your ass!"

In the nearby Neveh Dekalim settlement, there were no soldiers to stop 29-year-old Samir Al-Najar and his eight-man crew from demolishing a half-acre greenhouse. Al-Najar insisted the land was his family's before Israel occupied it in 1967 and that he was reclaiming it.

"I want to reorganize the land so we're clearing it out for now," Al-Najar said as two workers carried off a stack of tall metal support beams. Asked whether he intended to sell the materials, Al-Najar shook his head. "We'll probably rebuild with them, but I want the greenhouses to be our own, not Jewish ones," he said.


New TA command center goes on fritz

New York Daily News -
New TA command center goes on fritz

Subway dispatchers at a 10-day-old, $200 million command center lost radio contact with all trains Tuesday - a troubling sign in the Transit Authority's effort to modernize the subways, critics charged yesterday.

A computer-based communications system operating out of the TA's new Rail Control Center in Manhattan at 10:20 a.m. became overwhelmed by the transmissions among dispatchers, train crews, cops and firefighters when a man jumped in front of a train in Queens, TA spokesman Charles Seaton said.

The old command center in Brooklyn spotted the problem, took over, and dispatchers there reestablished radio contact with all train operators in less than one minute, Seaton said.

It will be weeks before the new communications system, which went on line Sept. 10, is back in use, he said.

Seaton stressed safety was not compromised Tuesday because track signals and other critical equipment were not affected.

But critics - who oppose such high-tech TA plans as running trains by computers and taking conductors off trains - seized on the failure.

"When they can't handle something relatively simple like this, it makes people nervous to hear they want to have computers run trains," City Councilman John Liu (D-Queens) said.

Ed Watt, secretary-treasurer of Transport Workers Union Local 100, said, "Left to their own devices, they are capable of creating new disasters."

Seaton said the Rail Control Center - in the works for at least eight years - is behind schedule and will cost about $223 million when completed.

It eventually will be the technology hub for computer-controlled trains that, after delays, are slated to start on the L line later this year.

"When something is new, it's not going to operate 100% right out of the box," he said. "There are going to be problems and you have to learn from those problems. That's what we are doing."


Thursday, September 22, 2005

Bush hears warnings about next court nominee


Bush hears warnings about next court nominee

By Steve Holland and Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate leaders warned President George W. Bush on Wednesday his next Supreme Court nominee will likely face a far more contentious confirmation battle than conservative John Roberts, who is poised to become U.S. chief justice.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, emerged from a White House meeting to say he had advised Bush to hold off on making his second nomination for the court in order to see how Roberts performed as chief justice.

Specter said Bush should ask retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor to stay on through the court's coming October-June term. He said he spoke to her and she agreed to stay if asked.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan made clear Bush would not accept the proposal. He said O'Connor had expressed her desire to retire and Bush would pick her replacement soon.

Roberts, nominated by Bush to replace Chief Justice William Rehnquist who died on September 3, appeared headed toward easy Senate confirmation on September 29 after the Judiciary Committee's ranking Democratic, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, announced he would vote in favor.

The committee is expected to recommend Roberts to the full Senate in a vote on Thursday.

Leahy's decision came a day after Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said he would oppose Roberts.

"Judge Roberts is a man of integrity. I can only take him at his word that he does not have an ideological agenda," Leahy said.

Bush is considering a diverse group of candidates to replace O'Connor and was expected to announce his choice in the days after Roberts is confirmed.


A tougher fight is expected over Bush's next nominee because O'Connor is a moderate conservative who has been the swing vote on the often bitterly divided court and her replacement could alter the balance of power.

"I have raised a certain cautionary signal, that I believe the next nomination is going to be a great deal more contentious than the Roberts nomination," Specter said.

Bubbling below the surface is a lot of frustration at the Roberts confirmation hearing, said Specter, after the conservative appeals court judge refused to say how he would rule on important legal cases like abortion rights.

As part of the consultation process, Bush met Specter, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican; Reid and Leahy.

Specter and Reid both warned Bush that he could expect opposition if he nominated any of the 10 federal appeals court candidates blocked by Democrats during his first term, congressional aides said.

They include Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown, who won Senate confirmation this year as part of a high-stakes, bipartisan truce. Both have been mentioned as possible Supreme Court nominees.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusett Democrats, said with the country divided and Bush perhaps thinking about his legacy, he hoped Bush would pick someone who unites Americans.

"Many of us are hoping that he will take advantage of it," Kennedy said. "Whether he will or not, I don't know."

Frist said he urged Bush to announce his nominee in the next 10 days in hopes of having the person confirmed by the Thanksgiving holiday in late November.

Reid said the senators recommended to Bush about a dozen names of possible candidates to replace O'Connor, including women and minorities.

Bush offered no names of his own, the senators said.

The president said this month, however, that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, a close friend, was among those he was considering as part of a wide open search.


Senators question security on mass transit


Senators question security on mass transit

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. senators challenged on Wednesday a Bush administration official's claim that security on American mass transit systems was "outstanding" as they called for more focus on subway and bus security to thwart a London-style attack.

"I must say, I don't know how you could make that judgment, when the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) has not made a risk assessment" of the mass transit systems, Sen. Susan Collins told the official, Kip Hawley.

"In light of the attacks on mass transit systems in other countries, shouldn't we be beefing up?" said Collins, a Maine Republican and chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. "Clearly more could be done."

Hawley is the assistant secretary of homeland security for the Transportation Security Administration, a job he has held since the end of July. Both the Department of Homeland Security and TSA were created following the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Hawley said he judged security on U.S. mass transit systems to be "outstanding" because they were able to quickly go on alert after the suicide bomb attacks on the London Underground on July 7, which took 52 lives.

But Sen. Joseph Lieberman said at least $15 billion had been spent on aviation security in the United States since the September 11 attacks, which were carried out with airliners, while only $300 million had been spent on mass transit security.

"That can't go on. We're inviting trouble if it does go on," Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat, said. He said 14 million Americans used mass transit systems every day, compared to 2 million who were air passengers.

In July, one week after the London attacks, the Senate defeated an effort to significantly increase funding for mass transit security amid a battle over security priorities, with large metropolitan areas claiming they were being shortchanged compared to rural districts.


The chief of Washington, D.C.'s transit police, Polly Hanson, complained to senators Wednesday that only a tiny fraction, three-tenths of one percent, of Homeland Security's budget was devoted to grants to protect transit infrastructure and the department erected bureaucratic hurdles to spending the money.

The transit system in the nation's capital still had not gotten the green light from Homeland Security to spend its grant funds for fiscal year 2005, which began last October 1, Hanson said. Hawley, asked by senators to explain, said he would tell Hanson "privately" the reason for the delay.

Hawley assured the committee that the Department of Homeland Security took mass transit security "very seriously" and had taken steps to improve it since the London attacks. For example, the department made 30 teams of explosive-detecting dog teams available to 10 large cities, he said.

Asked if there should be investment in closed-circuit television cameras, which London used to identify the suicide bombers and arrest perpetrators of a subsequent, failed attack, Hawley pointed out the cameras had not prevented the attacks.

"It is a cautionary tale that even with that level (of security), those attacks occurred. No system is invulnerable no matter what the investment is," he said. "You can't take the risk away."

London Underground meanwhile plans to double its number of CCTV cameras from 6,000 to 12,000 over the next five years, chief operating officer Mike Brown told the committee.


Senators From Both Parties Accuse Pentagon of Obstructing Inquiry on Sept. 11 Plot

The New York Times

Senators Accuse Pentagon of Obstructing Inquiry on Sept. 11 Plot

WASHINGTON, Sept. 21 - Senators from both parties accused the Defense Department on Wednesday of obstructing an investigation into whether a highly classified intelligence program known as Able Danger did indeed identify Mohamed Atta and other future hijackers as potential threats well before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The complaints came after the Pentagon blocked several witnesses from testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee at a public hearing on Wednesday. The only testimony provided by the Defense Department came from a senior official who would say only that he did not know whether the claims were true.

But members of the panel, led by Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, said they regarded as credible assertions by current and former officers in the program. The officers have said they were prevented by the Pentagon from sharing information about Mr. Atta and others with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

A Pentagon spokesman had said the decision to limit testimony was based on concerns about disclosing classified information, but Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, said he believed the reason was a concern "that they'll just have egg on their face."

Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware, accused the Pentagon of "a cover-up" and said, "I don't get why people aren't coming forward and saying, 'Here's the deal, here's what happened.' "

The Pentagon has acknowledged that at least five members of Able Danger have said they recall a chart produced in 2000 that identified Mr. Atta, who became the lead hijacker in the Sept. 11 plot, as a potential terrorist, but they have said that others with knowledge of the project do not remember that.

"Did we have information that identified Mohamed Atta?" said William Dugan, an assistant to Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld for intelligence oversight, restating a question put to him. "I've heard the testimony presented, but I don't know."

Among those who testified about Able Danger was Representative Curt Weldon, Republican of Pennsylvania, who has mounted an aggressive campaign to call public attention to the program, which used computers to sift through volumes of unclassified data in an effort to identify people with links to Al Qaeda.

Another witness, Mark S. Zaid, a Washington lawyer, testified on behalf of two clients whom the Pentagon barred from speaking at the hearing. The clients, Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, an Army Reserve officer, and J. D. Smith, a former contractor on the project, were in the audience.

Erik Kleinsmith, a former Army major who was involved in early stages of Able Danger, told the committee that, by April 2000, the program had collected "an immense amount of data for analysis that allowed us to map Al Qaeda as a worldwide threat with a surprisingly significant presence within the United States." Mr. Kleinsmith said that his affiliation with the project ended about that time and that he had no recollection of information that identified Mr. Atta.

But Mr. Kleinsmith told the committee that he had been "forced to destroy all the data, charts and other analytical product" in compliance with Army regulations that prohibit keeping data related to American citizens and others, including permanent residents who have legal protections, unless the data falls under one of several restrictive categories.


Charles Kennedy says Tony Blair costing lives

Charles Kennedy says Tony Blair costing lives

Mr Kennedy hardened his tone over the Iraq conflict

Tony Blair's pride and his "blind support" for George Bush are costing lives in Iraq, says Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy.

Mr Kennedy told the Lib Dem conference in Blackpool the presence of UK troops in Iraq was now part of the problem.

And he claimed the "war on terror" had increased the threat of terrorism.

He also insisted he would lead the Lib Dems into the next election and attacked people who thought they had "better ideas" about leadership.

They were "full of themselves", he said, promising to go on leading the party in a "genuine, sensible and mature way".

Mr Kennedy also moved to reassure activists worried the party could become more right-wing, saying he would not turn the Lib Dems into "yet another conservative party in British politics".

Liberation 'myth'

The speech saw the Lib Dem leader harden his rhetoric on Iraq as he derided Mr Blair's attempts to "move on" from debate on the Iraq war.

He said: "You cannot move on, when the prime minister remains in denial.

"You can't move on when people are dying every day. And you cannot move on when our British troops are still in the firing line.

"After this week's events in Basra we cannot sustain the myth that Iraqis see coalition troops as liberators. What they see is an occupation.

"The prime minister's pride should not get in the way of finding a solution for the people of Iraq.

"His blind support for George Bush is continuing to cost lives - Iraqi citizens and coalition soldiers.

"It's time he laid out before Parliament a proper, structured exit strategy for the phased withdrawal of British forces from Iraq."

'Time to withdraw'

Mr Kennedy said British troops had "served with distinction, courage and great skill" but made a personal appeal to Mr Blair to bring them home.

"Please listen, as you didn't before, to millions of people in our country, who are asking louder and louder as every day goes by - 'when can our troops go home?'

And he said George Bush and Mr Blair's "so-called war on terror has been so badly implemented that it has actually boosted the terror threat not diminished it".


A late addition to Mr Kennedy's highly personal speech saw him defend his leadership.

He spoke of his own liberal values and his party's position as the "clear alternative to a discredited Labour government".

"Others may have become so full of themselves that they also think they are full of better ideas about the leadership.

"But based on experience that direction will, for me, remain the definition of good, genuine, mature political leadership."

Anti-terrorism laws

Turning to the government's proposed anti-terror laws, he accused Mr Blair of playing politics with the leaders of the opposition parties by appearing to include them in discussions, then attempting to "spin" the outcome.

The government has now revealed its proposals and the Lib Dems would not accept what was on offer, he said.

"There can be no consensus on detaining people for three months without charge. That's a prison sentence by any other name".

He also promised to oppose a new offence of "glorifying terrorism" on the grounds it would not stand up in court.

In a week when the party leadership has been defeated on proposals to cap spending on Europe and part-privatise the Royal Mail, Mr Kennedy received loud applause when he pledged not to transform the Lib Dems into "another Conservative party".

He also spoke up in favour of proportional representation, saying Mr Blair's "final defence" on Iraq was that the war would "help establish democracy".

That argument, Mr Kennedy, said "would have been a damn sight more persuasive if he had started here in Britain first."

Story from BBC NEWS:


Wednesday, September 21, 2005

"Chief Porker" Don Young Refuses To Share Bacon With Katrina Victims

"Chief Porker" Don Young Refuses To Share Bacon With Katrina Victims

Rep. Don Young (R-AK) is a self-proclaimed "little oinker" and aspires to be the "chief porker." Your tax dollars make his dream possible. Thanks to you, Alaskans receive $6.60 back for every $1 they pay in at-the-pump gas taxes.

Young is chairman of Congress’s Transportation and Infrastructure Commitee and has ensured that the six-year $295 billion transportation bill is "stuffed like a turkey" with $721 million in projects for Alaska. Projects include:

$223 million for a bridge larger than the Brooklyn Bridge and almost as long as the Golden Gate, to connect a town with 8,900 people to a town with 50 people.

$200 million for another "bridge to nowhere," which will connect Anchorage to a town with one tenant and a handful of homes.

Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has raised the idea of "charitable pork" — lawmakers giving up pet projects to help Hurricane Katrina victims — and Montana is considering giving up the $4 million it received in a federal bill for a downtown parking garage.

Young’s response to his state giving up some money?

"They can kiss my ear!…That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard….I raised enough money to give back to them voluntarily and that’s it!"

So much for unity and sacrifice.


Experts say Louisiana levees should have held


Experts say Louisiana levees should have held

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Hurricane experts said Hurricane Katrina's storm surges were smaller than authorities have suggested and that poor design, faulty construction or a combination of the two were to blame for the failure of New Orleans' flood-protection system, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

Scientists and engineers at Louisiana State University's Hurricane Center -- with the help of computer models and visual evidence -- concluded the levee system should have been sufficient to keep most of the city dry.

They also said Katrina's storm surges did not come close to going over the floodwalls, contradicting statements from the Army Corps of Engineers, which has said the surges sent water from Lake Pontchartrain over the top of the concrete walls.

"This should not have been a big deal for these floodwalls," said oceanographer G. Paul Kemp, a hurricane expert who runs LSU's Natural Systems Modeling Laboratory. "It should have been a modest challenge. There's no way this should have exceeded the capacity."

Ivor van Heerden, the Hurricane Center's deputy director, said the real scandal of Katrina is the "catastrophic structural failure" of barriers that should have handled the hurricane with relative ease.

"We are absolutely convinced that those floodwalls were never overtopped," the newspaper quoted van Heerden saying.

The Post said the center's researchers said it is too early to say whether the breaches were caused by poor design, faulty construction or some combination. But van Heerden said the floodwalls at issue -- massive concrete slabs mounted on steel sheet pilings -- looked similar to the sound barriers found on major highways, the Post said.

Corps spokesman Paul Johnston told the Post the agency believes storm surges sent water flowing over the floodwalls and undermined the earthen levees they sat upon, creating the breaches. Johnston said the Corps would investigate to ensure that scenario is correct.

The Corps has said that Katrina, a Category 4 storm, was too massive for a levee system not intended to protect the city from a storm greater than a Category 3 hurricane.


Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal dies at 96


Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal dies at 96

By Boris Groendahl

VIENNA (Reuters) - Simon Wiesenthal, who waged an untiring campaign to track down Nazi war criminals and keep alive the memory of six million Jews killed in the Holocaust, died on Tuesday aged 96.

Wiesenthal, a Jew and former concentration camp inmate, was best known for helping with the discovery in Argentina of Adolf Eichmann, the man Adolf Hitler entrusted with carrying out the Nazi genocide program against the Jews.

The man who helped trace some 1,100 Nazis from his small, file-crammed Vienna office, died early on Tuesday in his apartment, the Jewish Community of Vienna said. Guests from many countries are expected to attend a memorial on Wednesday.

Wiesenthal will be buried in Israel.

"Simon Wiesenthal acted to bring justice to those who had escaped justice," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said. "In doing so, he was the voice of 6 million."

Altogether the Nazis are estimated to have murdered at least 11 million civilians, including 6 million Jews, during World War Two. The Israeli institute named after Wiesenthal is trying to track down some 1,200 Nazis it suspects to be still alive and at large in 16 countries including Austria, Spain and Croatia.

"Wiesenthal's personal mission has ended, and there are others who are carrying on with the work," said Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Israel, on radio.

Wiesenthal, born in 1908 in what is now Ukraine, traveled the world into his old age, lecturing on the Holocaust, and until last year came into his office, the Jewish Documentation Center in Vienna, collecting data on former Nazis.

He maintained that his motivation was not anger but justice. "I am someone who seeks justice, not revenge," Wiesenthal said. "My work is a warning to the murderers of tomorrow, that they will never rest."

Apart from Eichmann, he helped find the SS officer who in Amsterdam arrested Anne Frank, the teenage author of the Anne Frank Diaries, and the head of the Treblinka extermination camp. His quest for Nazi doctor Josef Mengele ended when Mengele was found dead in Brazil in 1985.


The Germans detained Wiesenthal in Lvov in Galicia in 1941 and he passed through 12 concentration camps before U.S. soldiers freed him in the Mauthausen camp near Linz in Austria.

He weighed 50 kg (110 lb). Eighty-nine members of his family perished in the Holocaust but his blonde wife escaped from a camp pretending she was Polish, not Jewish. Wiesenthal said his own survival was a privilege which committed him to action.

"What especially touched me was the fact that despite his personal experience, he never became bitter, and carried on in an admirable and just manner," former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl said in a statement.

U.S. President George W. Bush called Wiesenthal "a tireless and passionate advocate who devoted his life to tracking down Nazi killers and promoting freedom.

"Simon Wiesenthal fought for justice, and history will always remember him," he said in a statement.

Wiesenthal said he began memorizing perpetrators' names during his detention. A job at the War Crimes Office of the U.S. army, where he helped prepare evidence against war criminals in 1945 was the beginning of a mission that spanned six decades.

Wiesenthal founded the Jewish Documentation Center in 1947, which opened its office in Vienna in 1961. However, Austria, which was annexed by Nazi Germany in 1938 and likes to portray itself as a country that was Germany's victim, was ambivalent for a long time about its famous citizen.

Although Wiesenthal rejected the notion of the collective guilt of a people, he pointed out that a disproportionate number of Nazi war criminals were Austrians. He also attacked the country in the 1980s for tolerating an SS officer as a minister.

"Eichmann and 70 percent of his troupe as well as two-thirds of the commandants of the concentration camps were Austrians," Wiesenthal said. "And after all, Hitler was no Eskimo either."

Hitler was born in Braunau, Austria, in 1889.

A figure hated by neo-Nazis, Wiesenthal received threatening letters and phone calls throughout his life. After a bomb was placed outside his home in 1982, a policeman always stood guard there and before his office.

However, when Austrian presidential candidate Kurt Waldheim, a former German army officer, came under fire from the Jewish World Congress in 1986, Wiesenthal condemned the New York-based Congress for rousing anti-Semitism with its campaign.

While judging Waldheim a liar for attempting to gloss over his service in the Balkans during World War Two, Wiesenthal refused to accuse him of war crimes.

(Additional reporting by Alexandra Zawadil and Franziska Schenker in Vienna, Mark Heinrich and Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Phil Blenkinsop in Berlin and Jackie Frank in Washington)


Sugar for Sugar, Salt For Salt Go Down In The Flood Gonna Be Your Own Fault

Wiscasset Newspaper (Maine)

Sugar for Sugar, Salt For Salt

Go Down In The Flood Gonna Be Your Own Fault

by Christopher Cooper

This won't take long. And it won't be much fun. But duty and decency demand that we do it.

Sometimes you buy a cantaloupe because it looks good and you have enjoyed some fine ripe cantaloupes in your time, even though a buck and a half for a little melon that went three for a dollar within living memory seems pretty pricey. And you leave it on the kitchen counter for a few days, because it's a little green, but it softens and gets a better color so you slice it open, but it's mushy and rotten and smells like feet and tastes like vomit and you remember other, similar, corporate grocery chain cantaloupe experiences and vow as you heave the mess into the compost not to get fooled again.

Maybe you've bought a car. Reasonable mileage, no rust, convincing salesman who chatted you up about your hobbies, agreed with your prejudices, and made you feel you were a pretty clever guy for choosing this vehicle from his selection. But you couldn't keep it aligned, it ate tires, the brakes, exhaust system and radiator didn't survive the life of the payment book, and when you tried to sell it three years later every seventeen-year-old who looked at it was astute enough to reference the oil blown past the rear main seals as his reason for declining your "Best Offer Over $500 Dollars" prayer.

Some of you lady readers married men whose virtues are now no more apparent to you than they were pre-nuptually to your mothers, friends or even relatives of the groom himself. True, he was a successful inseminator but, sadly, the children look disturbingly like him. Of you, people say, "She could have done so much better." What were you thinking? What can you do?

Or let's say a whole country was riding a foaming crest of good times, new cars, low interest rates, affordable gas, electronic gadgets and a We're Number One world view that was maybe weak on history, geography and empathy, but sure did by God show the big stick to the heathen foreigners. Such a people might toss a coin in a contest between a dorky, dull Democrat and an insipid dry drunk Texas fratboy Republican whose every and many failures had been rendered moot by family money and connections. They might not be paying much attention.

Then, let's say, some really nasty guys from a country larded up with ugly, corrupt fat cats blew a great big hole in a part of that country. Suppose the new president "rose to the occasion" by starting a war with another country in the same part of the world as the one where the bad guys came from, but which, for political and personal reasons and reasons having very much indeed to do with very valuable mineral resources and very profitable corporations and some other complicated considerations having to do with weapons sales, it was not convenient to invade because those particular rich foreigners were personal friends and business partners of that new chief executive.

And further (stay with me; I know it's a weird trip), imagine that just as it was made startlingly clear that pretty much everything this president had advanced as a reason for that war was a fabrication, a misdirection, a deliberate under- or over-statement (well, hell, yes, I guess just a pile of tremendous lies, really, if we need to use such an ugly word), imagine that he got re-elected despite his manifest incompetence and venality and smugness because the same Democrats who had advanced the very dull, unappealing candidate four years previously selected this time a cipher who ran against his own finest, most decent history and tried to seem more and more like the dull incumbent until, finally, some voters stuck with the dummy they knew, and some voted against the sad-sack they'd come to not respect, and the rigged Republican voting machines in two critical states made up the shortfall.

Now what if the best-studied, most carefully-observed, best-tracked, most predictable-coursed hurricane ever seen, and one of the biggest, wiped out a major coastal city that, had the president in question not been so intent upon "drowning government in a bathtub" and reducing the unwelcome sting of taxation upon the richest people and corporations he knew (outside of his friends in Saudi Arabia, I mean), might have received enough money to fortify its dikes and seawalls in the true spirit of "Homeland Security", and maybe every old lady trying to board an airplane could have been spared the burden of taking off her shoes. (OK, I know it doesn't cost much to humiliate old ladies, and I know the money saved wouldn't have been diverted to New Orleans, but great craziness must be recognized and ridiculed and, when it is public policy, repudiated, and that's what they pay me to do here.)

You've seen the pictures. Twenty per cent of the residents of New Orleans lacked the resources, the vehicles, the health, the money to evacuate ahead of the storm. Too old, too sick, too poor to save themselves, and mostly, given America's great secret still, all these years after we thought we'd equalized these things, even after the token Scalia wannabe on the Supreme Court and the sad yes-man who abandoned the Secretary of State job after the lies he told finally began to curdle on his lips, mostly black. Poor blacks. Indeed.

You've seen the Superdome, the convention center footage. You've heard the first-person accounts of scores of hurting, hungry homeless (poor, black) persons trying to cross a bridge to dry ground but ordered back by white officials with guns. You've seen the misery, the neglect, the abuse. So has the rest of the world. We're Number One! Say it loud.

Is it time yet? Can we all just admit we made a stupid mistake? We weren't paying attention? We heard what we wanted to hear? We succumbed to slick advertising? The fruit was rotten; the car was a lemon; that bum was just piss-poor husband and father material and your momma was right. Stay the course? What course? Our country, its citizens, its principles have been reduced, abused, worked-over, bled-out, violated and humiliated. Not by terrorists or foreign enemies or tsunamis or tornadoes or an angry god. We have rotted from within.

Blame the Republicans? Nah, they're just "protecting their base." Like helping like. It is the party of wealth and privilege. Blame the Democrats? Sure, if you can distinguish 'em from the Republicans. It sure ain't the party of FDR any more. Or even Jack Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson or Jimmy Carter. I'll see your Tom DeLay and your Bill Frist and raise you a Joe Biden and a Joe Lieberman. Blame the press for avoiding or killing any story that wasn't a press release from the Pentagon, the White House or the American Association of Yellow Ribbon Manufacturers. Blame our stars. Blame ourselves; we weren't paying attention; we didn't do the work democracy demands.

Do I exaggerate our desperate straits? The man at the top in his own words and by his own actions. Add the smirk and swagger yourself; you've seen it often enough.

First response? Fly over on Air Force One; go play golf. Condi Rice shopped shoe boutiques. Dick Cheney bought a three million dollar vacation home.

While you and I watched the Superdome and convention center fiascoes? Lunch with Al Greenspan. "Hurricane Katrina will represent a temporary setback for the U.S. Economy and the energy sector."

As WalMart water trucks, Red Cross workers, TV reporters and Canadian Mounted Police forces tended the stricken city while FEMA and the National Guard waited for orders that didn't come? "Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job."

Days after we'd all heard testimony from the engineers and planners who'd repeatedly sounded the alarm about Category Five storms and Cat. Three levees: "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees."

With hundred of thousands homeless, uncounted dead, the poorest among us hit the hardest: "Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house -- the guy lost his entire house -- there's going to be fantastic house. I look forward to sitting on the porch." [Yes, rubbles, plural. I know it sounds stupid, but I got it right off the White House website. He's proud of it, for Christ's sake!]

There's more. You've seen it, heard it, been repulsed by it. But did you get this from his mom, the husband of one bad president, the mother of the worst one yet, a woman who you'll remember said she couldn't find the time to trouble her "beautiful mind" about Iraqi civilians we'd bombed to death by the tens of thousands? Of those who'd lost all they owned, including, in many cases, loved ones, to the flood and were now enjoying the hospitality of Texas shelters: "And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--this [chuckle] is working very well for them."

Oh, those lucky, lucky homeless, sick people! What happy niggras we have here on our grand plantation. It makes a person feel dirty and disgusted and sick to his stomach. Don't you suppose a couple billion other people all over the world heard that chortle, you bloated, ignorant, overprivileged mother of a moron?

Hey, folks, things have gotten so bad that even the press is beginning to pay attention. Presidential Press Secretary Scott McClellan said at least fourteen times during two press briefings last week that now is not the time to "play the blame game." I say it's an excellent time, while the dead are still floating on the polluted tides and we are not yet distracted by the World's Series or the run-up to Christmas or another newly-discovered "Axis Of Terror" triumvirate.

Now, for pure, wholesome, refreshing local idiocy we have the Maine Republicans' brilliant plan to make us forget the screwing we're getting from Exxon by canceling the state gasoline tax for a few months and (this is really too perfect for me to have made up) forgiving the sales tax on home heating oil (struggling, low wage, two-job homeowners get ready for this!) for business use.

OK. I'm done. Gotta go wax the yacht and wind my Rolex. Jesus, I wish I could be homeless and eat some donated food in Texas while my wife rots in a drainage canal and my dogs starve to death on the balcony of our ruined home

Chris Cooper writes an editorial page column, Fixtures And Forces And Friends for the Wiscasset [Maine] Newspaper. He lives in Alna, Maine; contact him at

originally Published on Thursday, September 15, 2005 by the Wiscasset Newspaper (Maine)


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Condemning Iraqi Terrorism
Condemning Iraqi Terrorism

Arab governments, astonishingly, have yet to condemn terrorism in Iraq. Whilst they are quick to denounce bombings elsewhere and offer condolences to victims of natural disasters, Arab regimes have yet to express outrage at the recent deaths of nearly 200 Iraqi civilians, victims of terrorists attacks, in less than two days. The Arab world has so far, remained silent, despite earlier protestations against the absence of the title “Arab” in a definition of Iraq in the draft constitution.

The official Arab position is rife with contradictions; government refuse to send ambassadors to Baghdad due to security concerns yet refrain from denouncing terrorism. Strangely, the scores of innocent Iraqis killed were murdered on the hands of the very same terrorists who have created havoc elsewhere in the Arab world. These men have denounced all Arab governments, from Morocco to Baghdad, as infidels and consider all these people as legitimate targets.

Arab countries can be divided into three main groups. The first is made up of countries, which categorically refuse to condemn terrorist attacks as they consider the insurgency to be legitimate resistance but shy way from publicly announcing such views. Governments in the second group recognize the terrorists for what they are but believe they can be of benefit as they weaken the U.S, fearing that the current administration might move on from Iraq and target neighboring countries. These regimes are putting their own stability in jeopardy and threatening the regional and international equilibrium if extremists are to assume power in Iran and terrorists build bases in Iraq.

The majority belong to the third group.

They realize carnage is being committed, everyday, in Iraq, but do not want to risk standing up against their homegrown terrorists who advocate the opposite. They prefer to condemn isolated incidents, in Sharm al Sheikh, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar than to offer condolences to twenty million Iraqis.

This frightful silence is creating the wrong impression. Iraqis have told me had the victims been Sunnis, the entire Arab world would have rushed to denounce and condemn. But as those killed are, for the most part, Shi''a, governments have yet to speak. I could only explain the lack of reaction was due to fear and ineffectiveness. These Sunni countries are themselves threatened by terrorism, which does not distinguish between sects.

Iraqis believe the current Arab stand will prove to be counterproductive and predict terrorism will, in turn, infiltrate other societies and create havoc. Unfortunately, they appear to be right. The terrorist bases currently being established in Iraq are bigger and better equipped that those in Afghanistan, where many Arab young men received military training and returned to practice their craft in the countries of origin.


I Was Naive to Believe All This Talk About Iraq Liberation
The Middle East's Leading English Language Daily

I Was Naive to Believe All This Talk About Iraq Liberation

When I led my men of the 1st Battalion the Royal Irish Regiment across the border into Iraq we believed we were going to do some good. Good will and optimism abounded; it was to be a liberation, I had told my men, not a conquest.

In Iraq I sought to surround myself with advisers — Iraqis — who could help me understand what needed to be done. One of the first things they taught me was that the Baath party had been a fact of life for 35 years. Like the Nazi party, they said, it needed to be decapitated, harnessed and dismantled, each function replaced with the new regime. Many of these advisers were Baathists, yet were eager to cooperate, fired with the enthusiasm of the liberation. How must it look to them now?

What I had not realized was that there was no real plan at the higher levels to replace anything, indeed a simplistic and unimaginative overreliance in some senior quarters on the power of destruction and crude military might. We were to beat the Iraqis. That simple. Everything would come together after that.

The Iraqi Army was defeated — it walked away from most fights — but was then dismissed without pay to join the ranks of the looters smashing the little infrastructure left, and to rail against their treatment. The Baath party was left undisturbed. The careful records it kept were destroyed with precision munitions by the coalition; the evidence erased, they were left with a free rein to agitate and organize the insurrection. A vacuum was created in which the coalition floundered, the Iraqis suffered and terrorists thrived.

One cannot help but wonder what it was all about. If it was part of the war on terror then history might notice that the invasion has arguably acted as the best recruiting sergeant for Al-Qaeda ever: A sort of large-scale equivalent of the Bloody Sunday shootings in Derry in 1972, which in its day filled the ranks of the IRA. If it was an attempt to influence the price of oil, then the motorists who queued last week would hardly be convinced. If freedom and a chance to live a dignified, stable life free from terror was the motive, then I can think of more than 170 families in Iraq last week who would have settled for what they had under Saddam. UK military casualties reached 95 last week. I nightly pray the total never reaches 100.

The consequences of this adventure may run even deeper. Hurricane Katrina has caused a reappraisal of the motives and aims of this war in the US. The storm came perhaps in the nick of time as hawks in Washington were glancing toward Iran and its newly found self-confidence in global affairs. Meanwhile, China and India are growing and sucking up every drop of oil, every scrap of concrete or steel even as the old-world powers of the UK and US pour blood and treasure into overseas campaigns which seem to have no ending and no goal.

It is time for our leaders to explain what is going on. It was as a battalion commander trying to explain to his men why they would embark on a war that I came to public notice. The irony is that I made certain assumptions that my good will and altruistic motivations went to the top. Clearly I was naive. This time it is the role of the leaders of nations to explain where we are going and why. I, for one, demand to know.

— Col. Tim Collins gave a celebrated speech to his troops about their mission to liberate, not conquer, in Iraq. He has since left the army.


Saudi Insurgents Radicalized by Iraqi War
Report: Saudi Insurgents Radicalized by Iraqi War

By Mohammed Alkhereiji & Mounif Al-Safouqi

London Asharq Al-Awsat- According to a report by the Washington based Center for Strategic and International Studies Saudi Nationals involved in the insurgency in Iraq, make up the smallest number of foreign fighters active there.
The study, which Asharq Al-Awsat obtained a copy of points out that the vast majority of foreign fighters are not former terrorists but were actually radicalized by the Iraq war itself. The same study found the majority of the Saudi fighters were inspired to go to Iraq by images that they saw on Arab satellite news channels.
According to CSIS, as of august 2005, 352 Saudis are believed to have entered Iraq. Out of that figure, 150 are thought to be active, whereas 72 are recognized from Al-Qaeda lists of active militants in Iraq, with a further74 presumed to be in detention, with the remaining 56 presumed dead.
The study estimated the largest foreign contingent was made up of 600 Algerian fighters, Followed by 550 Syrians, 500 Yemenis, 450 Sudanese, 400 Egyptians, 350 Saudis, and 150 fighters from other countries who have had crossed into Iraq to fight.

The study also points out that the majority of "Saudi Militants in Iraq were motivated revulsion at the idea of an Arab land being occupied by a non-Arab country". This coupled with the images on satellite television and the internet became the catalyst for the Saudi insurgents, with many citing the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, and images of Guantanamo Bay as chief motivators.
Another factor highlighted are the fatwas issued by religious scholars in Saudi Arabia, particularly a November, 2004 fatwa issued by twenty-six Saudi Imams. The report details the Saudi government''s efforts in combating militant Clergy including, crackdowns on non-sanctioned Imams, new laws prohibiting the issuing of Fatwas from clerics who are not associated with the state sponsored Senior Council of Ulema, which the report reveals has put a stop to such fatwas being issued.
Regarding the speculation on the number of Saudi nationals participating in the insurgency in Iraq Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman, Major General Mansour al-Turki told Asharq Al-Awsat "there is no accurate information available concerning the number of Saudis fighting in Iraq since that did not enter the country by official means, but some media elements have over exaggerated the figure"


154 Patients Died, Many in Intense Heat, as Rescues Lagged

The New York Times

154 Patients Died, Many in Intense Heat, as Rescues Lagged

This article is by David Rohde, Donald G. McNeil Jr., Reed Abelson and Shaila Dewan.

If some of those who died in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina have been described as stubborn holdouts who ignored an order to evacuate, then these citizens of New Orleans defy that portrait: The 16 whose bodies were wrapped in white sheets in the chapel of Memorial Hospital. The 34 whose corpses were abandoned and floating in St. Rita's Nursing Home. The 15 whose bodies were stored in an operating room turned makeshift morgue at Methodist Hospital.

The count does not stop there. Of the dead collected so far in the New Orleans area, more than a quarter of them, or at least 154, are those of patients, mostly elderly, who died in hospitals or nursing homes, according to interviews with officials from 8 area hospitals and 26 nursing homes. By the scores, people without choice of whether to leave or stay perished in New Orleans, trapped in health care facilities and in many cases abandoned by their would-be government rescuers.

Heroic efforts by doctors and nurses across the city prevented the toll from being vastly higher. Yet the breadth of the collapse of one of society's most basic covenants - to care for the helpless - suggests that the elderly and critically ill plummeted to the bottom of priority lists as calamity engulfed New Orleans.

At least 91 patients died in hospitals and 63 in nursing homes not fully evacuated until five days after the storm, according to the interviews, although those numbers are believed to be incomplete. In the end, withering heat, not floodwaters, proved the deadliest killer, with temperatures soaring to 110 degrees in stifling buildings without enough generator power for air-conditioning.

"The statement that you can judge a society by the way it treats elders and the vulnerable is a good way to look at our society," said Alice Hedt, executive director of the National Citizens' Coalition for Nursing Home Reform. "I hope this is going to be a wake-up call."

Somehow, no one ever imagined that flooding might force the evacuation of all health care facilities in a city that sits below sea level and is virtually surrounded by water.

There were piecemeal plans. Hospitals were required to have enough emergency provisions to operate for two to three days during a disaster. State officials said it was their responsibility to evacuate patients if necessary. Nursing homes were required to have their own evacuation plans, complete with contracts with transportation companies.

But once the city filled with water, and the plans by hospitals and nursing homes became quickly overmatched, neither state nor federal agencies came to the rescue, and in some cases appear to have thwarted efforts to evacuate patients.

Nearly all communication systems collapsed, leaving hospital administrators to guess if help was on the way. One administrator said overwhelmed state officials waited nearly a day before getting word to him that his hospital was essentially on its own. In the end, public hospitals turned to a wealthy, for-profit hospital chain for help.

Yet when private companies dispatched helicopters, trucks and buses to evacuate hospitals and nursing homes, officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, commandeered some of them for other uses, hospital and nursing home officials said. The rescue of those who had remained in their homes, or were sheltered in an increasingly chaotic Superdome, became the priority.

Natalie Rule, a spokeswoman for FEMA, denied that the agency confiscated any equipment.

Deep water, power failures and looting forced the evacuation of at least 12 hospitals, 2,200 patients and more than 11,000 staff members and city residents. In all, more than 3,800 residents would be evacuated from 53 nursing homes. In two public hospitals that primarily treat the poor, emergency generators and wiring were located on the ground floor, vulnerable to flooding, because state legislators had repeatedly refused to pay for upgrades. Both washed out in the storm.

For days, individual evacuations by boat and helicopter dragged on, with patients spending up to 12 hours waiting in crowded stairwells and rooftops before being told they would have to wait another day. As military helicopters equipped with seats, not stretchers, ferried healthy adults to safety, patients awaiting evacuation died, hospital staff members said.

State officials acknowledged that hospitals were correct in assuming rescuers would come to their aid.

"You have to have enough supplies so that once the storm passes, you can last until we can get to you," said Dr. Jimmy Guidry, Louisiana's state health officer. But he added that officials never anticipated the magnitude of the storm, and were overwhelmed rescuing people in the floodwaters.

"We were competing for resources," he said, stressing that the state did the best it could under the circumstances.

Communication between state officials was so confused that it still remains unclear whether the area's nursing homes were even required to follow Mayor C. Ray Nagin's mandatory evacuation order issued a day before the hurricane struck.

Dr. Guidry said it was up to each nursing home to decide what was best for its residents. Even so, the Louisiana attorney general, Charles C. Foti Jr., cited the order in charging the owners of St. Rita's Nursing Home with criminally negligent homicide in the deaths of their residents.

Whatever the requirements, problems immediately arose. Because too many nursing homes had contracted with the same bus companies, or waited too long to leave, there were not enough vehicles. Two homes that were able to get buses fled to a school that ended up being in the storm's path. After the school's power was knocked out, two patients died.

There are clear signs that earlier, better-organized evacuations helped save hundreds of people.

Ten for-profit nursing homes evacuated early, hiring buses, ambulances, and in one case a helicopter, to safely move more than 1,000 patients. One private, for-profit hospital leased planes to safely evacuate all 200 of its patients.

The state pulled off some evacuations successfully as well. A state mental hospital was emptied before the storm. After the hurricane passed, a fleet of buses and hundreds of heavily armed guards safely evacuated New Orleans' prisons and jails. All of the city's 7,600 prisoners made it out safely.

Weathering Previous Storms

Most of the city's hospitals decided to take a calculated gamble.

They had sturdy walls and backup generators. They had weathered storms before, notably Hurricane Betsy in 1965, when winds of 125 miles per hour killed at least 75 people. New Orleans often flooded, but pumps always took the water out.

The hospitals had plans: They assumed that they could hold out for two or three days, that they had backup electricity, that help would arrive.

They did not assume that they would be marooned in a vast lagoon of water so deep that alligators could cross intersections but military trucks could not, that telephones would break down completely, that state and federal officials would dither days away bickering over legalities, that there would be a chaotic competition for helicopters, that the city would get so dangerous that looters would paddle up to a hospital's doors in a hot tub.

By Monday, Aug. 29, most hospital officials were relieved: the storm had passed, and except for some broken windows they were largely intact.

By Tuesday, Aug. 30, with the levees broken and the city underwater, 13 hospitals were facing a daunting task of evacuating patients, staff, family members and people who had taken shelter inside.

As far as can be determined now, more than 90 patients died in hospitals: at least 35 found dead from the storm in Memorial Hospital, 16 in Methodist Hospital, about 19 in Lindy Boggs Medical Center, 13 in Touro Infirmary, 8 in the related Charity and University Hospitals. An unknown number died in transit or at triage centers like those at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport or the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge.

There is no suggestion that any patients drowned or were abandoned in their beds.

Bodies were found in odd places, but most were shrouded somehow, and lined up carefully in impromptu morgues by the living before they escaped.

Tony Carnes, a journalist with Christianity Today, was with a flotilla of rescue boats on Sept. 5 when they pulled up to regroup on a Memorial Hospital ramp.

The hospital's doors were wide open, he said in a telephone interview, and, curious, he went in. There were no signs of looting, but in the second-floor chapel, guarded by only a handwritten "Keep Out" sign, he found 16 bodies. They lay on gurneys, covered, but with hands and legs and the crowns of heads poking out.

On higher floors, he found several more. "One was draped over a chair like a coat," he said. "They were all wrapped in blankets, or sheets, or that exam table paper."

Autopsies have not been conducted, but many hospitals said patients were elderly, in organ failure or had just had serious surgery. When the power went down, they had to endure days of 110-degree temperatures with high humidity, and the most desperate had to be manually ventilated - air squeezed into their lungs by hand for hours at a time. Some were on heart pumps running on batteries.

The hospitals were not required to follow the evacuation order issued by Mayor Nagin on Sunday, Aug. 28. "Hospitals don't evacuate," said John A. Matessino, president of the Louisiana Hospital Association, a trade association. "Hospitals stay in place."

In each case, administrators took their best guess as to whether it would be safer to keep patients in a strong building, or to risk their dying in a helicopter, or in an ambulance caught in a traffic jam.

Making that calculation harder, the weather reports kept shifting.

"How many times have we heard that storms are going to hit New Orleans, but they veered to the east?" asked Virginia McCall, director of the intensive-care unit at Methodist Hospital. "We got lackadaisical."

Her hospital, she said, would definitely have evacuated in the face of a Category 5 hurricane. But it was reported to be dropping from a Category 5 to a Category 4 as it neared land. Some predictions said it would miss the city and blow into Mississippi.

After discharging as many patients as possible, the largest hospitals decided that letting their sickest patients stay was safer.

At the Ochsner Clinic, a private hospital housing about 400 patients before the storm, that gamble worked. Built near the edge of a levee in Jefferson Parish, it perches "on the lip of the bowl of New Orleans," said Warner Thomas, president of the foundation that runs it. When the levees broke, water came up to its front steps, but no farther.

The generators, behind high retaining walls, kept running. Winds knocked out a cooling tower, so the air-conditioning was weak, but not off. City water stopped, but Ochsner has its own well.

Incoming calls stopped, but a direct circuit to a sister hospital in Baton Rouge allowed outgoing calls and e-mail.

The Jefferson Parish emergency center sent over National Guard troops when some of the people streaming past the hospital tried to break in, Mr. Thomas said.

Eventually, it decided to remove about 25 patients, including babies in incubators and adults on ventilators. Although ambulances could have driven up, Mr. Thomas said he was doubtful about the roads, so he called in private helicopters, which took patients to Houston and Birmingham, Ala.

"We did not lose one patient," he said.

Other hospitals were not as lucky. Methodist was on the low-lying east side, and smaller hospitals in the area brought their patients there before the storm because it was taller.

Ms. McCall, in an interview from her sister's home in Wichita, Kan., said Methodist tried to evacuate 20 critically ill patients on Aug. 28, just before the storm, but no ambulances were available. "There was no getting out," said Ms. McCall, who runs Methodist's intensive-care unit.

After the levees broke, five feet of water filled Methodist's reception area within 15 minutes. Fires started when the main generator shorted out. But people kept arriving. "We had one woman who was a post-op kidney transplant swim in," she said.

The 827 people inside - 137 of them patients - stayed relatively calm until Wednesday, when food and water ran short and the heat reached 110 degrees. "You get a feeling of, Does anybody know we're here?" Ms. McCall said.

She was told by top officials at Universal Health Services, the company that runs the hospital, that they had rented two trucks with food, water and diesel fuel and sent them on, "but they were confiscated by federal authorities," she said. The company also hired two helicopters, but officials refused to let them fly, she said. Company officials declined to comment.

A police officer who is the husband of a Methodist nurse made his way home to get his boat and Jet Ski, Ms. McCall said. On his way back, she said, federal authorities commandeered the Jet Ski for attic rescues but let him keep the boat, with which he brought food, water and dry clothes.

By the time helicopters and FEMA evacuation trucks arrived Thursday, Sept. 1, people were so frustrated that one man who was not even a patient slipped into a hospital gown, trying to get out, she said.

When it was over, 16 patients had been put in the operating room designated as a morgue.

No Information, No Help

At the far end of the financial spectrum, serving the city's poorest patients, were Charity and University Hospitals.

As public hospitals, they had no money for private helicopters and had to rely on government officials. Like other hospitals they were frustrated at getting no information about when help might be coming.

Dr. Dwayne A. Thomas, chief executive officer for both hospitals, said the Legislature had repeatedly declined to vote $8 million to retrofit them for hurricanes - both have electrical equipment in their basements.

So each June 1, as hurricane season starts, he said, he rents portable generators, stockpiles 36 hours worth of oxygen and enough food and medicine for two weeks. Knowing that his toilets might stop working, he stores 1,000 five-gallon buckets lined with red infectious waste bags and hundreds of gallons of bleach.

After the levees broke, the water eventually rose to eight feet deep around Charity and University Hospitals.

The basement of Charity flooded, ruining much of the food before it could be moved upstairs. The main generators shut down, and the building became stifling hot.

The toilets did stop working, and Dr. Thomas had the buckets handed out, and told people to use the bags, pour in bleach, tie them off and throw them out the window.

"Some people were upset that we were polluting," he said. "But I said: Look, we're a hospital. We can't afford to let infection spread. Besides - look at the water. The sewers have backed up, it's full of oil. At least our bags are tied off."

Dr. Thomas, who was born at Charity Hospital, said the next four days "were as close as I've gotten to the third world. I felt like I was in a war zone."

About 60 flood survivors wandered in, and he gave them a lounge to sleep in and paper scrubs to wear. But after a day, "they started to complain - they got rowdy about the heat, and finally they got threatening, saying they wanted to eat, and wanted to eat before our staff did. They threatened our nurses with physical harm."

Shooting outside became regular and, at one point, he said "four guys went past us in a hot tub, paddling with two-by-fours. They had guns and two floating boxes with their loot."

Dr. Thomas had metal doors taken from inside the hospital and bolted to the glass outside doors.

A decision crucial to the fate of hundreds was made about 3 a.m. Tuesday, when M. L. Lagarde, president of the Delta division of HCA Healthcare, asleep in Tulane University Hospital, was woken up and told the water was rising.

HCA, the country's largest for-profit hospital chain, had leased 20 helicopters the week earlier. But now the helipad at the Superdome, two blocks away, which was normally used by all nearby hospitals, was cut off by the flooded streets.

They cleared cars and light stanchions from the top deck of Tulane's eight-story garage and set up a makeshift helipad.

It became the landing area for a mix of small private ambulance helicopters and big military Chinooks and Blackhawks. Waiting one floor below, out of the wash of the blades, were hundreds of patients and staff members, the walking ones in a line snaking up the stairs, the stretcher patients on a ramp.

Exactly what happened there is now at the center of a dispute between officials of Tulane University Hospital and the nearby public hospitals.

Because Charity and University were getting little help from the government, HCA told Dr. Thomas he could bring his patients over and they would be flown out too.

Dr. Thomas said he first put his neonatal babies in boats with their mothers and some doctors, "but they were turned around at gunpoint by Tulane police officers," he said. "They came back with the babies, with their mothers and fathers crying. Tulane was evacuating its staff first."

He also charged that, when he got 20 to 30 critically ill patients to the garage Thursday night, they lay on the roof for two hours while Tulane staff members were evacuated, and two of them died.

"That is reprehensible," he said, quietly furious. "To load able-bodied staff before you let patients off a roof is reprehensible."

Mr. Lagarde, who was on the roof, denied equally angrily that it happened that way. He said that helicopters came in unpredictably - some troop carriers with 40 seats, some medevacs with racks for two stretchers. He said they tried to load the sickest patients first.

"Turning away sick little babies?" Mr. Lagarde said. "Give me a break. Dwayne is just mistaken. There was no such order."

Charity's critical patients went out Thursday, Sept. 1, after most of the Tulane staff. The babies were taken out the next day, as order was being restored to the city.

In all, Dr. Thomas said, he lost only three patients from Charity and five from University. Another dozen had been in the morgue. HCA said it evacuated as many as 50 critically ill patients from Charity during the disaster.

'There Was No Central Command'

Tenet Healthcare, another for-profit hospital chain, grew increasingly frustrated at its inability to evacuate its two downtown hospitals, Memorial and Lindy Boggs. The Dallas headquarters of Tenet made frantic calls for help to a long list of officials, from the Coast Guard to the New Orleans police.

"There was no central command," said Bob Smith, a senior vice president for operations for the region. "They were clearly overwhelmed."

Early Wednesday, Aug. 31, the Office of Emergency Preparedness strongly suggested that Tenet act on its own. "That to us was the red flag," said Mr. Smith, who said he would have started 12 to 20 hours earlier if he had known.

After both hospitals were evacuated by week's end, the largest number of bodies - 45 - was found at Memorial. Ten had died before the hurricane, another 24 were on a floor for the most seriously ill, run by a company called by LifeCare Holdings.

The heat was unbearable, recalled Denise Danna, Memorial's chief nurse, who said her staff fanned patients by hand for hours.

Thinking help was imminent, they carried patients in wheelchairs to an exit and then waited - one day for 12 hours before giving up. "Those little patients never complained," she said.

As the hurricane gathered strength over the Gulf of Mexico on Aug. 25, Bob Bates made the decision to get his patients out.

The manager of three nursing homes in the New Orleans area, Mr. Bates had signed contracts with two local bus companies to evacuate his 360 patients. He had also made deposits with each transport company to ensure that the buses would be available in a prestorm rush.

But when he called the bus company he was told "they had no drivers," Mr. Bates said.

He was not alone. Across New Orleans that weekend, state-mandated nursing home evacuation plans "fell spectacularly apart," said Linda Sadden, a government-financed nursing home advocate. On paper, the state required nursing homes to have signed agreements with bus companies to evacuate patients, and have identified inland nursing homes to accept them. But no one had noticed that many homes had contracted with the same companies. "They were never ever going to be able to meet the need," Ms. Sadden said.

In the end, only 40 percent of the 53 nursing homes that evacuated did so before the storm, according to the State Department of Health.

Mr. Bates, meanwhile, was desperate to get his people out of the city. His staff called the Louisiana State Nursing Home Association, which promised eight buses Sunday morning, a full day before the hurricane was expected to make landfall.

That morning, three buses arrived. Five others had been diverted to another home. With less than 24 hours to go before the storm made landfall, Mr. Bates and his administrators decided to evacuate the nursing home that faced the most potential danger from winds and flooding, and hunker down in the other two.

After the storm cleared Monday afternoon, Mr. Bates said he thought his homes had survived the storm. But when flooding knocked out power in the city late that afternoon, another problem arose. Emergency generators lacked enough power to run air-conditioning, and temperatures within the homes quickly rose.

Nurses began forcing patients to drink as much water as possible and used what generator power was left for fans and ice-making machines.

Mr. Bates finally reached a private bus company in Dallas. After making a 10-hour drive, the buses took the remaining patients from the other two homes on Thursday and Friday. But for some patients, Mr. Bates said, it was too late.

"We had some deaths in the facilities, which is not an abnormal occurrence," he said, declining to give a number.

Threats Beyond the Weather

Across town in the French Quarter, Andrew Sandler, the administrator of the Maison Hospitaliere nursing home, was dealing with similar problems. Initially, he said he decided it would be too dangerous to evacuate his 50 to 60 patients on short notice. Mr. Sandler, a Michigan native, was terrified of hurricanes, but reasoned that his nursing home sat on high ground and that elderly residents had died during past evacuations.

"People die on bus rides sitting in traffic for 15 hours," he said.

But by Tuesday, after he lost air-conditioning and all running water, he said he realized patients needed to leave and began calling for help.

Then another threat arose. On Wednesday, his staff woke him in a panic. "They said, 'Dr. Sandler get the pistol, there is someone in the courtyard,' " he said.

His staff nailed plywood over windows and doors. They placed a shotgun at the nursing home's front desk to deter ne'er-do-wells.

By Thursday, no buses had arrived and patients began to die in the heat. Bus managers told Mr. Sandler over the phone that FEMA officials had told drivers it was too dangerous to enter and that buses were needed at the Superdome.

On Friday, a convoy of buses escorted by police cars finally arrived. All told, four of his patients perished in the aftermath of the storm, including one who died during the evacuation to Houston.

"I feel like two or three of them, it might have been related to them not having air-conditioning," said the administrator, who praised the heroism of his staff and defended his original decision to stay put. "It could have been a lot worse."

In St. Bernard Parish, just outside New Orleans, Salvatore and Mable Mangano, the operators of St. Rita's, made the fatal decision to wait out the storm. Local officials called the couple and offered to send two buses. The Manganos declined.

Last Tuesday, the state attorney general, Mr. Foti, indicted the couple on 34 counts of negligent homicide in the drowning deaths. So far, no other nursing home operators have been charged.

In East New Orleans, the eight nuns who run the Lafon Nursing Home made the same decision not to evacuate. What exactly happened at the home, though, remains a mystery. The home's operators declined to be interviewed. Instead, they issued a statement this week saying its staff moved patients to the second floor and cared for them at all times. Fourteen Lafon residents died.

On the brick outside the home's front entrance this week were spray-painted X's left by recovery workers. On the right side, dated 9-9, were the words "14 dead." On the doors leading to the cafeteria are taped signs that read "Morgue." The gurneys were lined up inside. Brown stains on white tablecloths revealed how high the water reached in the room - about three and a half feet.

In one ground-floor sitting room, a Bible sat open to Psalms 34, which reads in part: "I will bless the Lord at all times; praise shall be always in my mouth."

Michael Luo, Jennifer Steinhauer and Paul von Zielbauer contributed reporting for this article.