Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Louisiana Officials Could Lose the Katrina Blame Game

By Jeff Johnson Senior Staff Writer

( - The Bush administration is being widely criticized for the emergency response to Hurricane Katrina and the allegedly inadequate protection for "the big one" that residents had long feared would hit New Orleans. But research into more than ten years of reporting on hurricane and flood damage mitigation efforts in and around New Orleans indicates that local and state officials did not use federal money that was available for levee improvements or coastal reinforcement and often did not secure local matching funds that would have generated even more federal funding.

In December of 1995, the Orleans Levee Board, the local government entity that oversees the levees and floodgates designed to protect New Orleans and the surrounding areas from rising waters, bragged in a supplement to the Times-Picayune newspaper about federal money received to protect the region from hurricanes.

"In the past four years, the Orleans Levee Board has built up its arsenal. The additional defenses are so critical that Levee Commissioners marched into Congress and brought back almost $60 million to help pay for protection," the pamphlet declared. "The most ambitious flood-fighting plan in generations was drafted. An unprecedented $140 million building campaign launched 41 projects."

The levee board promised Times-Picayune readers that the "few manageable gaps" in the walls protecting the city from Mother Nature's waters "will be sealed within four years (1999) completing our circle of protection."

But less than a year later, that same levee board was denied the authority to refinance its debts. Legislative Auditor Dan Kyle "repeatedly faulted the Levee Board for the way it awards contracts, spends money and ignores public bid laws," according to the Times-Picayune. The newspaper quoted Kyle as saying that the board was near bankruptcy and should not be allowed to refinance any bonds, or issue new ones, until it submitted an acceptable plan to achieve solvency.

Blocked from financing the local portion of the flood fighting efforts, the levee board was unable to spend the federal matching funds that had been designated for the project.

By 1998, Louisiana's state government had a $2 billion construction budget, but less than one tenth of one percent of that -- $1.98 million -- was dedicated to levee improvements in the New Orleans area. State appropriators were able to find $22 million that year to renovate a new home for the Louisiana Supreme Court and $35 million for one phase of an expansion to the New Orleans convention center.

The following year, the state legislature did appropriate $49.5 million for levee improvements, but the proposed spending had to be allocated by the State Bond Commission before the projects could receive financing. The commission placed the levee improvements in the "Priority 5" category, among the projects least likely to receive full or immediate funding.

The Orleans Levee Board was also forced to defer $3.7 million in capital improvement projects in its 2001 budget after residents of the area rejected a proposed tax increase to fund its expanding operations. Long term deferments to nearly 60 projects, based on the revenue shortfall, totaled $47 million worth of work, including projects to shore up the floodwalls.

No new state money had been allocated to the area's hurricane protection projects as of October of 2002, leaving the available 65 percent federal matching funds for such construction untouched.

"The problem is money is real tight in Baton Rouge right now," state Sen. Francis Heitmeier (D-Algiers) told the Times-Picayune. "We have to do with what we can get."

Louisiana Commissioner of Administration Mark Drennen told local officials that, if they reduced their requests for state funding in other, less critical areas, they would have a better chance of getting the requested funds for levee improvements. The newspaper reported that in 2000 and 2001, "the Bond Commission has approved or pledged millions of dollars for projects in Jefferson Parish, including construction of the Tournament Players Club golf course near Westwego, the relocation of Hickory Avenue in Jefferson (Parish) and historic district development in Westwego."

There is no record of such discretionary funding requests being reduced or withdrawn, but in October of 2003, nearby St. Charles Parish did receive a federal grant for $475,000 to build bike paths on top of its levees.

Earlier this year, the levee board did complete a $2.5 million restoration project. After months of delays, officials rolled away fencing to reveal the restored 1962 Mardi Gras fountain in a four-acre park featuring a new 600-foot plaza between famous Lakeshore Drive and the sea wall.

Financing for the renovation came from a property tax passed by New Orleans voters in 1983. The tax, which generates more than $6 million each year for the levee board, is dedicated to capital projects. Levee board officials defended more than $600,000 in cost overruns for the Mardi Gras fountain project, according to the Times-Picayune, "citing their responsibility to maintain the vast green space they have jurisdiction over along the lakefront."

Democrats Assail Administration on Katrina

By JENNIFER LOVEN and DAVID ESPO Associated Press Writers
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON Sep 7, 2005 — Congress' top two Democrats furiously criticized the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina on Wednesday, with Sen. Harry Reid demanding to know whether President Bush's Texas vacation impeded relief efforts and Rep. Nancy Pelosi assailing the chief executive as "oblivious, in denial" about the difficulties.

With much of New Orleans still under water and likely to stay that way for weeks Bush readied a request for about $52 billion for relief and recovery along the Gulf Coast, and the White House indicated millions more would be needed later. Congressional officials said they expected to approve the next installment as early as Thursday, to keep the money flowing without interruption.

There was no formal announcement of the details contained in the request, although the Associated Press learned that the government plans to distribute debit cards worth $2,000 each to adult victims of the hurricane.

"They are going to start issuing debit cards, $2,000 per adult, today at the Astrodome," said Kathy Walt, a spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

The cards could be used to buy food, transportation, gas and other essentials that displaced people need, according to a state official who was on the call and requested anonymity because the program has not been publicly announced.

GOP congressional leaders met privately to plan their next step, possibly including an unusual joint House-Senate committee to investigate what went wrong in the government's response and what can be fixed. Establishment of a joint panel would presumably eliminate overlapping investigations that might otherwise spring up as individual committees looked into the natural disaster and its aftermath.

In a letter to the Senate's Homeland Security Committee chairwoman, Reid, the Senate Democratic leader, pressed for a wide-ranging investigation and answers to several questions, including: "How much time did the president spend dealing with this emerging crisis while he was on vacation? Did the fact that he was outside of Washington, D.C., have any effect on the federal government's response?"

Ray Nagin Is NOT America's Mayor

By Michael J. Gaynor

NAGIN: I need reinforcements, I need troops, man. I need 500 buses, man. We ain't talking about -- you know, one of the briefings we had, they were talking about getting public school bus drivers to come down here and bus people out here.
I'm like, "You got to be kidding me. This is a national disaster. Get every doggone Greyhound bus line in the country and get their asses moving to New Orleans."
That's -- they're thinking small, man. And this is a major, major, major deal. And I can't emphasize it enough, man. This is crazy.
I've got 15,000 to 20,000 people over at the convention center. It's bursting at the seams. The poor people in Plaquemines Parish. ... We don't have anything, and we're sharing with our brothers in Plaquemines Parish.
It's awful down here, man.

The story on this idiot....

Rudy Giuliani became America's Mayor as a result of the calm and positive way he responded to the September 11 terrorist attack.
Ray Nagin, the Mayor of New Orleans, will not be known as America's Mayor.
He will be remembered as the man who waited too long to order and implement a mandatory evaluation. And then blamed others, including the federal government, even though President Bush had urged him to order mandatory evacuation and he had dawdled.
Mayor Nagin is a black mayor of an overwhelmingly black city.
And a political opportunist.
He switched from Republican to Democrat in 2002 and then successfully ran for Mayor of New Orleans on an anti-corruption platform.
The following year, he endorsed the Republicans' unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate, Bobby Jindal, over the current Democrat governor, Kathleen Blanco.
And in 2004 he supported John Kerry over George Bush, to whom he previously had donated.
Those blaming racism and the federal government and absolving local and state government for the Hurricane Katrina disaster should take a minute to read the following pro-Nagin article on Mayor Nagin from Volume 42 of Contemporary Black Biography, published in 2004, before Hurricane Katrina:
"Politics in New Orleans have long been as murky as the bayou waters that circle the Southern city. Backroom deals, bribery, and corruption have caused many political commentators to change the city's nickname from the Big Easy to the Big Sleazy. Whether the accusations were true or not, the rumors were enough to stifle the city and by 2002 New Orleans was sinking under massive debt and rampant crime. Businesses were reluctant to build in the city and young people were making mass exoduses in search of better places to work and raise families. Into this grim picture entered Ray Nagin, a New Orleans cable executive and visionary. With no political experience and little campaign money, Nagin came out of nowhere to win the 2002 mayoral election on a platform of anti-corruption and economic development. Leaving behind a well-paid executive position to take on the challenges of revitalizing the city that care truly had forgotten, Nagin said during his inaugural speech, 'The winds of change are blowing, and they are fanning the flames of a renaissance in our great city,' according to Jet. New Orleanians hoped he was right.

"The New Orleans Nagin inherited was indeed in bad shape. Analysts predicted a possible $50 million shortfall in the budget. Businesses were closing up or moving out of the city. Murder and violent crime were at vicious highs with at least one homicide occurring every night. Above all of it was the hulking ghost of corruption--New Orleans's reputation for bribery and nepotism. 'Corruption had gone on in the open for so long that there was really a feeling of hopelessness,' the president of New Orleans crime commission told the Los Angeles Times. 'There was a sense that it was so embedded in the culture of the community, there was no way to change it.' Nagin made fighting corruption one of his priorities. 'Before we can grow the economy, we need to make sure that everybody understands what the rules of engagement are,' Nagin told the Tulanian. 'You need to have a level playing field where people can compete. Then you can create an environment for business growth and job creation.'

"Nagin began his term in office by peopling his staff with business leaders, not political insiders. 'I surrounded myself with people who think outside the normal box of government, with a few governmental people sprinkled in to kind of make sure we have the experience levels we need. That's basically how we've approached it--as new thinkers, as change agents, as a group trying to make the city better,' he told the Tulanian. With his administration set, Nagin quickly turned to corruption. On a steamy July morning in 2002 police fanned out across the city and arrested dozens of people straight from their beds. Arrestees included low-level city bureaucrats, brake-tag inspectors, and illegally licensed cab drivers. The sweep also resulted in the arrests of the city's utilities director and head of the taxicab bureau. Though some dismissed the sting operation as an attack on petty officials--one Louisiana political commentator told the Los Angeles Times, 'There was a sense that, God, all we're doing is catching little fish'--most New Orleanians welcomed the raid and showered Nagin with gratitude.

"Nagin also made other, less dramatic moves soon after taking office. He put tax information and permits and other application processes on-line. He also led the repeal of a 2% entertainment tax that was hurting local and visiting performers. His first operating budget worth $557.2 million won praise from the city council and included a much-needed pay increase for rookie cops. Nagin also brought his business acumen to the city's operations and renegotiated several banking, audit, and collection contracts that were slated to save the city millions of dollars per year.

"Despite his many successes, Nagin still faced an uphill battle by the first anniversary of his election. The very environment he created, threatened to hurt his popularity. Gambit Weekly noted, 'voters are more optimistic than ever about the future of New Orleans, but that optimism has produced expectations that may outstrip anyone's ability to deliver.' In the same article Nagin acknowledged, 'The burden is huge. I will not discount that at all. There are lots of expectations in this city.... We have unleashed this tremendous optimism in this city that people have been thirsting for a long time. I don't know what to do about that other than to stay consistent and to stay focused on the key issues.' Only time will tell if Nagin is able to do that.

Time has told us that Nagin failed.
Let's review the facts.

On Friday, August 26, 2005, the National Hurricane Center first predicted that Hurricane Katrina would become a Category 4 storm, and therefore beyond the design limits of the levees protecting mostly below sea level New Orleans.

And Governor Blanco declared a state of emergency.

The next day, Saturday, August 27, 2005, President Bush declared an emergency in Louisiana and ordered federal aid to "supplement state and local responses in the parishes located in the path of Hurricane Katrina beginning on August 26, 2005, and continuing."

Hurricane Katrina was on course to strike New Orleans and President Bush was anticipating a natural disaster.

But Mayor Nagin did not issue even a voluntary evacuation until late on August 27, 2005. Hereportedly was reluctant to order a mandatory evacuation because he was concerned about possible lawsuits against the City of New Orleans for closing hotels and other businesses.

On Sunday, August 28, 2005, Hurricane Katrina actually became a category 4 hurricane. And Nagin finally heeded President Bush's appeal and ordered mandatory evacuation and opened the Superdome to those who did not leave.

National Guard forces under Governor Blanco were posted at the Superdome, but even combined State and City efforts were woefully inadequate, as evidenced by rapes and murders at the Superdome.

Governor Blanco wrote to President Bush, requesting he declare "an expedited major disaster for the State of Louisiana" and provide federal assistance.

Hurricane Katrina's actual landfall point on August 29, 2005 was 15 miles east of the anticipated one, sparing New Orleans a direct hit and minimizing wind damage there while maximizing it elsewhere.

And the initial report was that New Orleans had dodged a bullet.

But the next day levees broke and most of the City was flooded and thousands who had not evacuated were stranded.

On September 1, 2005, Nagin was flailing wildly, blaming everyone else:
"You know what really upsets me? We told the governor, Homeland Security, FEMA...the importance of the 17th Street Canal (breach) issue....And they allowed that pumping station to go under water. And what happened when that pumping station went down, the water started flowing again in the city, and it started getting to levels that probably killed more people...I flew over that thing yesterday, and it's in the same shape that it was after the storm hit. There is nothing happening. And they're feeding the public a line of bull and they're spinning, and people are dying down here."

We know who's spinning and scapegoating, Mayor Nagin.

You and your team failed utterly to evacuate, despite ample opportunity.

Mayor Nagin, there WAS a young man in New Orleans with the gumption to act. A student apparently without a license, he nevertheless commandeered a school bus and drove about eighty people from New Orleans to Houston, a very hospitable place.

Why didn't YOU order the rest of the school buses and the municipal buses to be used to evacuate?

Instead, you had people collecting releases from those who didn't want to leave. To protect against lawsuits.

Instead, Mayor Nagin bungled. And tried to make up for it with vulgar tantrums like this one:

"I don't want to see anybody do anymore goddamn press conferences. Put a moratorium on press conferences. Don't do another press conference until the resources are in this city. And then come down to this city and stand with us when there are military trucks and troops that we can't even count.
"Don't tell me 40,000 people are coming here. They're not here. It's too doggone late. Now get off your asses and do something, and let's fix the biggest goddam crisis in the history of this country."

It WILL be fixed, in spite of you, by the American people, under the leadership of President Bush and the Congress.
YOU, who made it much, much worse, failed to prepare and should be quiet if all you can do is rant and curse.


Bought by FEMA
Yaszma Solomon, 3, watches television in her Opa-Locka apartment on a set her mom, Kim Harris, said she purchased with her FEMA check to replace a set damaged by the storm.

Eddie Thornton, manager of the Old Hickory Bar and Package Store in Liberty City, said his store has cashed as much as $500,000 in Federal Emergency Management Agency checks. “I think it’s helping people, but a lot are just getting money because they can get it,” he said.

If you don’t give a damm what is done with YOUR money then don’t read the rest. But let me add something.
I know those of you who read this say why do you keep attacking these poor innocent folks?
Innocent and helpless my ass.
Let me tell you folks something, and to the anonymous poster above.
I have a daughter who will turn 18 next week. High school dropout, with an 18 month old daughter. Her mother (we have been divorced for 5 years now) fed up with her laziness said you have to either go back to school or get the fuck out.
She hooked up with a dude who is equally as lazy, also a high school dropout, yes the babies daddy.
Now that she has to make tough choices, she thought daddy Snoop would be sucked in by his gorgeous granddaughter and throw some dollars and assistance, hell a new car her way to help her get by.
I said not no, but HELL NO!
You want to be a fucken adult, then make adult decisions. I said to her either take your ass back to school or the faces you see on TV in the wake of the disaster in New Orleans will be you in a few years.
I have another son 19, who decided that gettin’ high was more fun than education. Therefore, his life is and will continue to be fucked up.
But I’m 1 for 3 because my oldest 26, took school seriously. She graduated from college and from nursing school. She will soon be making more than I am.
That is how it is suppose to work.
I finished high school, went to college, but decided to go into the military, which is where I got the skills to do what I do. Call me lucky, I had some people who helped along the way BUT, we must create and find those opportunities for ourselves.
So sorry folks if Snoop does not seem more sympathetic, or caring.
The gubment is not the answer. Never has been, never will be.

FEMA worker Mary Ann Carlisle left "sample letters'' with the Medical Examiner in Polk County, hoping to persuade him to link a death to the hurricanes. The letters suggest wording from doctors to allow FEMA to approve funeral claims.

Hurricane Frances hit South Florida Labor Day weekend, 100 miles north of Miami-Dade County, but Sun-Sentinel reporters found that the federal government approved $28 million in storm claims there for new furniture and clothes and thousands of new televisions microwaves, refrigerators and other appliances. The Federal Emergency Management Agency paid for new cars, dental bills and a funeral even though the Medical Examiner recorded no deaths from Frances. In an ongoing series of reports, the newspaper also found FEMA inspectors were given only cursory training and attributed damage to tornadoes - there were none recorded in the county - and in six instances listed “ice/snow’’ as the cause. The reports have prompted calls for investigations by federal and state officials and the beginnings of an inquiry by the Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security.

FEMA gave $21 million in Miami-Dade, where storms were 'like a severe thunderstorm'

The four hurricanes that pummeled the rest of Florida hardly brushed Miami-Dade County. Only Hurricane Frances was a factor there -- packing the punch of a bad thunderstorm.

Probe sought into questionable aid to Miami-Dade 'hurricane victims'

Three Florida members of Congress on Monday called for investigations into how the federal government awards disaster aid and why at least 9,800 Miami-Dade applicants have received more than $21 million in Hurricane Frances assistance even though the storm inflicted little damage in the county.

FEMA director says agency looking into Miami-Dade claims

As Hurricane Frances moved ashore over the Treasure Coast last month, the federal government declared Miami-Dade County a disaster area eligible for individual aid even though the storm's outer bands barely had touched the county.

Miami-Dade FEMA claims high in poor areas

HOMESTEAD -- The manager of a check-cashing store in this southern Miami-Dade city says he has cashed as many as 30 disaster relief checks a day for residents since Hurricane Frances hit Florida on Labor Day weekend.