Royally Kranked

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Katrina-Political Failure & Corruption Of The Louisiana Delegation

First off, thanks to all who have taken part in this effort, and thanks to Melissa for keeping track of everyone who joined in

For a thorough timeline, check out the post at Think Progress


And another great batch of links-Not all the links still work, but most of those I checked out did come up when called

When focusing on the failures of Governmental responses to Hurricane Katrina, one thing becomes quickly apparent

The scope of the failures matches the bleakness of the carnage, and without the failures, fewer people die, fewer lives are ruined & scattered, less property destroyed

It’s daunting, futile actually, to even attempt the most cursory of overview analysis with these separate threads of misery & sorrow, pain the one common element the living suffer, the survivors endure

Clearly, the failure lies with the Governments at all levels, from the local to the Federal, corruption and neglect of the most malign, lethal sort.

The political failure wasn’t Bush’s alone, it must indeed be shared with others, such as Representative William Jefferson, whose district includes New Orleans, and whose story sounds extremely suspicious in light of the corruption scandals ensnaring him at the moment, a bribery imbroglio that’s seen both his home and his Congressional office searched as a result

Lt. Col. Pete Schneider of the Louisiana National Guard tells ABC News that during the tour, Jefferson asked that the truck take him to his home on Marengo Street, in the affluent uptown neighborhood in his congressional district. According to Schneider, this was not part of Jefferson's initial request.

Jefferson defended the expedition, saying he set out to see how residents were coping at the Superdome and in his neighborhood. He also insisted that he did not ask the National Guard to transport him.

"I did not seek the use of military assets to help me get around my city," Jefferson told ABC News. "There was shooting going on. There was sniping going on. They thought I should be escorted by some military guards, both to the convention center, the Superdome and uptown."

“Nightline” filmed and broadcast the sorry episode, and it was truly infuriating to watch Jefferson take advantage of his political status to take care of himself first, at the clear expense of his constituents

Jefferson symbolizes Katrina’s shredded political mythologies as surely as President Bush Jr does, and besides Bush & former FEMA Director Michael Brown is most associated with Katrina’s toll of death, exodus and destruction

Michael Brown, former FEMA Director, came under sustained fire for his stewardship of a formerly First Rate Federal Agency, his main entry to the job being the former college roommate of major Bush Jr Crony Joe Allbaugh,

Of all the decisions Brown made, the most infuriating were also the most likely to have resulted in lost lives

FEMA failed to accept Katrina help, documents say


Federal emergency officials failed to accept offers of possibly life-saving aid from the Department of Interior immediately after Hurricane Katrina, according to documents obtained by CNN.

The Interior Department offered the Federal Emergency Management Agency the use of personnel who were experienced in water rescues and also offered boats, helicopters, heavy equipment and rooms, the documents say.

***************

The Interior Department offered FEMA 500 rooms, 119 pieces of heavy equipment, 300 dump trucks and other vehicles, 300 boats, 11 aircraft and 400 law enforcement officers, according to a questionnaire answered by a department official.

Interior law enforcement officers included special agents and refuge officers from the department's Fish and Wildlife Service.

"Although we attempted to provide these assets, we were unable to efficiently integrate and deploy these resources," an Interior Department official wrote the Senate committee investigating the government's response to Katrina.

***************

The Senate committee released e-mails that document FEMA's decision to ground its search-and-rescue teams three days after Katrina because of security concerns.

Before then, the Interior Department had offered FEMA hundreds of law enforcement officers trained in search-and-rescue, emergency medical services and evacuation, according to the documents.

"The Department of the Interior was not called upon to assist until late September," the Interior official writes.

One of the main criticisms of the Administration’s non-immediate response was that there was no sense of urgency about the storm bearing down on New Orleans & the Gulf Coast, an assessment borne out by the very last paragraph in the story

A FEMA document provided to the Senate committee indicates that many of the Interior Department's resources.

That paragraph shows how inept Brown truly was-there should have already been an integrated disaster-relief plan showcasing “transportation, communications & engineering” from every Agency & Dept in the Administration

Brown’s clear incompetence resulted in lost lives and uncoordinated rescue & relief efforts that benefitted not the victims, but the private contractors providing the trucks & drivers

Meanwhile, truck drivers carrying tens of thousands of tons of ice and driving water have been sent on a cross-country tour, from city to city, only then to be told to wait for up to a week in a parking lot in Memphis, with their engines, as well as their tabs as drivers running.

"It is a sad experience," said Frank Link,, who was sent from to Missouri, then to Mississippi, then to Alabama and then to Tennessee - all with the same load of 41,580 pounds of ice that he had loaded in Chicago. "I went down there to help. All I did was get the runaround from FEMA."

Chronology of errors: how a disaster spread

Brown, the FEMA director who would bear the brunt of the criticism for his agency's performance in Katrina, arrived in the state capital of Baton Rouge at 11 a.m. He did not ask the authority to dispatch FEMA personnel to the region until five hours after the storm had passed.

In a memo to Chertoff that Monday afternoon, Brown requested that 1,000 employees be dispatched to the region. The resulting order, however, said they had two full days to report to Louisiana Homeland Security headquarters.

That did not change even after the 17th Street levee in New Orleans gave way Monday afternoon as well, flooding 20 percent of New Orleans. FEMA stuck to the book, delaying the arrival of outside help. Brown issued a statement urging federal, state, and local first-responders to remain where they were, until they could be better organized.

''The response to Hurricane Katrina must be well coordinated between federal, state, and local officials, to most effectively protect life and property," Brown said.

The US Fire Administration, which is part of FEMA, also asked that fire and emergency services personnel stay put. ''It is critical," said the US fire administrator, R. David Paulison, ''that fire and emergency departments across the country remain in their jurisdictions until such time as the affected states request assistance."

Among the reasons: State officials had to request the units first, under ''mutual aid agreements." This was among a series of bureaucratic hurdles and government red tape that would bedevil the rescue efforts for days.

It was not until a day later -- after another levee broke overnight that Monday -- that Brown activated the National Response Plan allowing him to fully mobilize the government's resources.

*******************

Bureaucratic glitches slowed progress from the beginning. On Sunday, the day before the storm, the Louisiana National Guard asked FEMA for 700 buses to evacuate people. It received only 100.

The real world failures that resulted in such massive destruction and heartbreak also lay with Louisiana Gov Kathleen Blanco, as she had her moments of inaction as well, instances where her failings more than very likely cost lives

From the same article

Arriving at her office on Sunday morning, two days after she declared a state of emergency and a day before the hurricane's landfall, Louisiana's governor, Kathleen Blanco, had her staff write a letter to President Bush.

''Based on predictions we have received from the National Weather Service and other sources, I have determined that [Hurricane Katrina] will be of such severity and magnitude that effective response will be beyond the capabilities of the state and the affected local governments and that supplementary federal assistance will be necessary," she told the president in a three-page memo on the letterhead of the State of Louisiana Military Department.

But the request did not include what the residents of the Gulf Coast would need most in the coming days: food, water, transportation to higher ground, and thousands of National Guard troops to ferry life-saving supplies and medical personnel and to restore order.

There were other problems relating to the La. National Guard as well, namely, a lack of 40%, absent from the state due to serving in Iraq

There were obstacles to amassing that sort of force. Almost 40 percent of Louisiana's National Guard is on active duty in Iraq; this left the governor with only 4,000 members to muster over the weekend, and a total of 5,700 by Monday.

Aware of this problem, other governors, including New Mexico's Bill Richardson, offered to help. On Sunday afternoon, Richardson called Blanco offering his own state militia, and Blanco readily accepted.

That did not solve the problem.

Because of legal guidelines, Richardson could not send a single soldier until approval came from Washington, specifically the National Guard Bureau. Washington, meanwhile, could not give such approval without a formal request from Blanco.

That request was made Tuesday, after New Orleans was almost completely under water. It would be two more days, until late Thursday, before that authority would come from Washington. And by then, almost four days had passed since Katrina hit the coast. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, were dead.

And it was the ever more Hellish conditions that struck the survivors of the storm that were most vividly seared into memories, the desperation most noticed at the Superdome and the Convention Center with thirst, hunger, filth, heat, squalor and, most vicious of all, a growing sense of despair

Blanco’s actions, inactions and blunders contributed to the misery and death that quickly settled onto New Orleans after Katrina hit

Not calling for food, water, efficient large-scale evacuees’ transportation, and medical supplies is so mind-boggling as to be unfathomable on Blanco’s part.

Ray Nagin also has plenty of bad decisions and unnecessary suffering to account for as well

For starters, there were Nagin’s orders which included forcibly disarming Katrina victims who rode the storm out in their homes and apts, and forcibly evicting property owners as well

The suit says that during and after the Aug. 29 storm, "Mayor Nagin ordered the New Orleans police and other law enforcement entities under his authority to evict persons from their homes and to confiscate the lawfully possessed firearms."

In a setting where looting was occurring, and rumors about roving, armed gangs were repeated without first verifying the information, the idea that private citizens could be forcibly disarmed was both terrifying and absurd

And yet it happened, even though at the same time poor people were being forcibly disarmed, private mercenaries/contractors were allowed to prowl about New Orleans with fully automatic weapons and they didn’t have to worry about being physically disarmed either

Such a blatant double standard is impossible to square with Nagin's often impassioned pleas on behalf of his wounded city

And there’s an even nastier card Nagin threw at those who made their way to the Superdome for an orderly evacuation, the same sense of preference for the welfare of one group of storm victims over a far larger set of storm victims, and in this case, it’s amazing those at the Superdome didn’t riot when it happened

Evacuation at Superdome halted; 5,000 remain inside


Buses taking Hurricane Katrina victims far from the squalor of the Superdome stopped rolling early Saturday. As many as 5,000 people remained in the stadium and could be there until Sunday, according to the Texas Air National Guard.

Officials had hoped to evacuate the last of the crowd before dawn Saturday. Guard members said they were told only that the buses had stopped coming and to shut down the area where the vehicles were being loaded.

"We were rolling," Capt. Jean Clark said. "If the buses had kept coming, we would have this whole place cleaned out already or pretty close to it."

Those left behind early Saturday were orderly, sitting down after hearing news that evacuations were temporarily stalled.

Guard members reported that the massive evacuation operation for the most part had gone smoothly Friday, coming after days of uncertainty, violence and despair.

Capt. John Pollard of the Texas Air Force National Guard said 20,000 people were in the dome when evacuation efforts began. That number swelled as people poured into the Superdome because they believed it was the best place to get a ride out of town.

He estimated Saturday morning that between 2,000 and 5,000 people were left at the Superdome. But it remained a mystery why the buses stopped coming to pick up refugees and shuttle them away.

***********************

At one point Friday, the evacuation was interrupted briefly when school buses pulled up so some 700 guests and employees from the Hyatt Hotel could move to the head of the evacuation line — much to the amazement of those who had been crammed in the Superdome since last Sunday.

"How does this work? They (are) clean, they are dry, they get out ahead of us?" exclaimed Howard Blue, 22, who tried to get in their line. The National Guard blocked him as other guardsmen helped the well-dressed guests with their luggage.

The 700 had been trapped in the hotel, near the Superdome, but conditions were considerably cleaner, even without running water, than the unsanitary crush inside the dome. The Hyatt was severely damaged by the storm. Every pane of glass on the riverside wall was blown out.

Mayor Ray Nagin has used the hotel as a base since it sits across the street from city hall, and there were reports the hotel was cleared with priority to make room for police, firefighters and other officials.

Nagin also issued a call for New Orleans residents to evacuate the city, but made no provisions for those unable to heed the order, and that’s why the poor headed to the Superdome and the Convention Center, because they were of the belief that they’d be evacuated to shelters outside the storms fury and horrifically contaminated floodwaters

There should have been supplies of clean water and MRE’s pre-positioned at the Superdome & Convention Center when it became apparent how big the storm was and how many would be unable to evacuate the city without transportation, cash or physical assistance.

In addition, there should have been an interoperable communications system for the city’s first responders, cops, firefighters & EMT’s, and as Mayor, that responsibility primarily lies with Nagin to uphold

As Mayor, Nagin should absolutely be most knowledgeable politician about the city, and that includes all rescue & relief efforts in the event of either a natural disaster, or man-made catastrophe, including pre-positioning of critical supplies of food, water & medicine, interoperable communications for everyone involved in R & R efforts, and mass evacuations in an orderly manner

And we now arrive at the last of the La politicians who blew their initial response to Katrina’s aftermath, and in this case, actually used the disaster as a way to further their own economic interests-excerpts from a lengthy article

Lobbyists Advise Katrina Relief

Lobbyists representing transportation, energy and other special interests dominated panels that advised Louisiana's U.S. senators crafting legislation to rebuild the storm-damaged Gulf Coast, records and interviews show.

The Louisiana Katrina Reconstruction Act — introduced last month by Louisiana Sens. Mary L. Landrieu, a Democrat, and David Vitter, a Republican — included billions of dollars' worth of business for clients of those lobbyists and a total price tag estimated as high as $250 billion.

One advisory panel member who discovered that most of his fellow panelists were lobbyists called the resulting legislation "a huge injustice" to the state.

"I was basically shocked," said Ivor van Heerden, director of a hurricane public health research center at Louisiana State University. "What do lobbyists know about a plan for the reconstruction and restoration of Louisiana?"

Van Heerden was the first participant of any of the senators' working groups to provide such a detailed and scathing account of the process and its outcome. He said he was shut out after he voiced his concerns.

How touching, a bipartisan pocket-lining at the expense of those who had survived the high winds and toxic flood-waters

To let lobbyists have any influence in writing desperately needed laws that directly affect people in the most sudden, dire of circumstances is nothing short of obscene profiteering, no different ethically from scamming someone terminally ill with a supposed “cure”

Among the lobby-supported interests with a stake in the relief and recovery bill:

• Energy utilities. Entergy Corp. and Cleco Corp. lobbyists consulted with the senators' staffs. Five days before the bill was introduced, Cleco retained the lobbying services of Lynnel B. Ruckert, Vitter's former deputy campaign manager and the wife of his chief of staff.

In an unusual assist to private utilities, the recovery bill includes $2.5 billion to help Louisiana companies such as Entergy of New Orleans and Cleco of Pineville restore and rebuild their electricity systems and recover losses from sustained power outages.

• Supporters of a controversial industrial canal project serving the Port of New Orleans. Among those serving on advisory panels were two officials of Jones Walker, a New Orleans-based firm that lobbies in Washington for the canal project. One of those officials was Paul F. Cambon, an ex-aide to former House Speaker Bob Livingston (R-La.), whose Livingston Group also is a lobbyist for the canal.

The recovery bill asks Congress to give "priority consideration" to the Army Corps of Engineers project, which would build a lock along the canal at a cost of $748 million.

• Highway advocates. Among those on a transportation working group were lobbyists for highway projects seeking funds, including a lobbyist from a firm headed by former Sen. J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.).

In the bill, four Louisiana highways considered evacuation and energy supply routes would receive construction, maintenance and repair work worth $7 billion. At least two of those projects were represented by lobbyists on the working group.

The bill already has been widely criticized as excessive and opportunistic. Its price tag exceeds the high end of estimated costs of the storm and does not include the $60 billion in emergency aid already approved.

Landrieu and Vitter defend the bill as a necessary response to the region's devastation. The bill's supporters say that Louisiana is crucial to America's energy industry and that the state's ports handle 20% of all U.S. imports and exports each day.

"Key economic sectors took a big hit from the storm," said Landrieu spokesman Adam Sharp. "Standing up the region's economy will help stand up the American economy."

Sharp also said the recovery bill's final cost would be closer to $200 billion, not the estimated high of $250 billion.

Aides said the lobbyists were among those who made recommendations but did not draft the legislation. Lawmakers also consulted with local and state officials, and community and business leaders in the Gulf Coast region, the aides said.

"The lobbyists and the entities they represent tend to be among the most experienced experts available who have direct real-world knowledge of the situation," Sharp said. "They are advocating for a position and for a client, but usually from a vantage point of expertise that can be very beneficial to us."

Vitter's office did not return numerous calls seeking comment.

Johnston, the former senator whose clients include hard-hit New Orleans and Jefferson Parish, said the participation of lobbyists in the working groups was appropriate.

"There is no conflict of interest," said Johnston, a former Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee chairman. "We represent areas that were impacted, and the needs of those areas need to be brought to the fore."

And one group in particular benefitted VERY nicely from this legislation

The $2.5 billion for private utilities would benefit Entergy, Cleco and Southern Co. of Atlanta. Curt Hebert Jr., Entergy's executive vice president, told a Senate committee last week that more than 1.8 million of the company's customers had lost service because of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and he urged "an immediate federal response."

Cleco reported catastrophic damage to its lower-voltage power lines north of New Orleans and has estimated the storm will cost the company $100 million to $125 million. Customers who have to rebuild their homes could suffer "a double whammy" of higher rates as well, said Kathleen Nolen, Cleco's senior vice president and chief financial officer.

But the Senate bill's provision has prompted concern because it requires waiving the Federal Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act that prohibits such aid to for-profit companies.

There’s a rhetorical sleight-of-hand with the possibility that those who rebuild will be hit with “double whammy” of higher rates

The implication is that by overturning legislation prohibiting aid aimed at for-profit companies, the rates will stay low enough for the hoped for widespread rebuilding

As stated at the start, the problem when writing about the numerous Katrina related failures is choosing which few to focus on, equivalent to picking a few specific drops out of an ocean

That’s why I’ve gone with multiple posts on the Katrina fiasco, too much info for just one or two posts

So, the next links will end every post, the true cost of the failed, bumbled and baffling rescue & relief efforts

The Human Toll, In It’s Most Basic Forms:

HERE & HERE


Next Post:

Katrina-The Administration’s Malign Neglect

1 Comments:

  • My name is Julia and I am working on spreading the word about a grassroots citizen-driven call-to-action to rebuild homes in the Gulf called Making Change for Katrina.

    Making Change for Katrina was created out of the understanding that the government was not reponding to the dire need for affordable housing in the Gulf. MCK is letting citizens know that we don't have to leave it up to our government to decide the fate of the Gulf. We can rebuild the Gulf by spreading awareness and making simple donations of our spare change.

    Making Change for Katrina is asking for spare change because according to Coinstar there is over 10.5 billion dollars in uncirculated spare change throughout the U.S. If you don't know what Coinstar is, they are the Green Coin Collection Machines that exchange your spare change for paper bills found grocery stores across the country.

    Making Change for Katrina has partnered Coinstar with Habitat for Humanity so when you pour your pile or handful of change into the machine you can select "donate" and choose "Making Change for Katrina" as your charity.

    The change you donate within the next 48 hours will be electronically funneled to Habitat for Humanity's rebuilding efforts in the Gulf.

    Donating is simple and you know your money is going to a credible institution.

    The cool thing about Habitat for Humanity is the families who qualify for Habitat homes are not only required to help build their own home, but are also required to provide Habitat with "sweat equity" by helping build other homes. Today, nearly 400 new homes are complete or under construction, making Habitat the region's largest builder in the wake of the hurricanes.
    Habitat expects to build 1,000 homes by mid-2007. By donating spare change to Making Change for Katrina we can take rebuilding the Gulf into our own hands.

    MAKE CHANGE AND MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

    By Blogger Making Change for Katrina, at 9:19 AM  

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