Thursday, August 30, 2007

On Bush's Terrible Katrina Anniversary Speech

As a result of summer term finals and transcontinental travel, I’ve neglected this blog recently. I feel I should post something today, however, because as has been widely covered in the press, this week marks the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. With this post, I'll highlight some of the best of the anniversary coverage, then criticize the President's speech from the Lower Ninth Ward.

There has been front-page coverage of the slow recovery process in plenty of MSM outlets this week. Perhaps I should complain that it takes something like a political scandal or a major anniversary to bring this vital humanitarian issue coverage, but the fact is, any coverage is welcome, and there has been an overall uptick in coverage this past month anyway. The NPR story on FEMA trailers I wrote about earlier this month turns out to have been part of a large series, and Time magazine ran a major cover article on Katrina recovery and levee strength. The article began with the crucial point, “The most important thing to remember about the drowning of New Orleans is that it wasn't a natural disaster. It was a man-made disaster, created by lousy engineering, misplaced priorities and pork-barrel politics.”

I won’t go into too much detail on the second anniversary, as it has been covered extensively elsewhere. Ana Marie wrote a great article on what it feels like to live in post-Katrina New Orleans, and the depression that accompanies that lifestyle. Thanks, Katrina has a nice round-up of anniversary stories, including a passionate, well-written AP article by a New Orleans native and highlights many of the ongoing problems. Campus Progress has a good piece, too. I also noticed this New York Times graphic (below), which literally illustrates the progress that has been made, and the progress that hasn’t. The Times Picayune has a similar graphic.



The only thing I would like to add to this symphony is a critique of the President’s anniversary speech. I heard highlights from the speech last night on NPR, and while you’d think I’d be used to the man’s blind incompetence by now, I still couldn’t believe my ears. He said,

A lot of people down here probably wondered whether or not those of us in the federal government not from Louisiana would pay attention to Louisiana or Mississippi. In other words, it's one thing to come and give a speech in Jackson Square; it's another thing to keep paying attention to whether or not progress is being made. And I hope people understand we do, we're still paying attention. We understand.


Yes, believe it or not, the President did indeed cite “paying attention” as his greatest achievement in Katrina recovery. “Sure, we’ve spent twice as much money on foreign entanglements, and true, my recovery czar has no real authority to get things done, but never mind all that, because we’re paying attention!” Sheesh! Instead of pointing to the fact that you pay attention to the accomplishments of others, how’s about you point to your own accomplishments? Oh, that’s right, it’s because you haven’t made any!

Bush gave his speech outside Martin Luther King, Jr. elementary school in the Lower Ninth Ward, and said, “This is the first public school to open in the Lower Ninth Ward. It is a tribute to volunteers, concerned parents and citizens who care about education.” You’re damn right it’s a tribute to volunteers! Local citizens and volunteers, led by the Common Ground Collective, broke into the school to start gutting and cleaning it up themselves long before the government ever got involved. I drove by that school about four times a day during my three months in New Orleans, and it’s an absolute joke for Bush to use it as his personal backdrop.

The President did get one thing right when he said,

It's sometimes hard for people to see progress when you live in a community all the time. Laura and I get to come -- we don't live here, we come on occasion. And it's easy to think about what it was like when we first came here after the hurricane, and what it's like today. And this town is coming back. This town is better today than it was yesterday, and it's going to be better tomorrow than it was today.


I can attest to this myself. I’ve made three trips to the region (not sure yet when or if I’ll make a fourth), and each successive time I’ve seen progress that wasn’t there the previous time. Friends who live there will ask me, “Can you see any progress?” and I’m almost always able to point to things they had not noticed or thought about. It’s like watching your children grow—it’s tough to notice the two inches that took six months to happen, but the aunts at the family reunion sure notice!

But being personally perceptive does not excuse the President’s wanton neglect and patronization of Gulf Coast residents. Your Right Hand Thief complains of his constantly referring to New Orleans as "this part of the world," like it really is a foreign country and not a part of the United States. What bothers me is his frequent use of the phrase, "I appreciate." He tells us he appreciates a number of Louisiana school superintendents, he appreciates the Governor, he appreciates Alberto Gonzalez, and on and on and on. It sounds so damn arrogant—we don’t *care* what you appreciate, Mr. President, these people aren’t doing their work for YOU! They’re doing it for the residents of New Orleans; what do *those* folks appreciate? I’ll bet they sure as hell don’t appreciate you!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Second MyDD Post

I put up my second MyDD frontpage post about Joe Biden yesterday. Just thought I'd share, and repost it here. Regular Katrina blogging to resumse shortly. It's finals season here at Dartmouth, but I head back to ID on Tuesday and should have a couple weeks of relative free time.

Momentum is on Joe's Side

My apologies for having to wait until the end of the day to write this second Biden post. Summer term finals are upon us here at Dartmouth College, so you can imagine I've been otherwise occupied. (Yes, my apartment is about five blocks from where Edwards spoke this morning; no, I was unable to make the speech.)


Last week, my post focused on why I'm backing Senator Biden. This week, I'd like to turn my attention to the momentum Biden has been getting lately. A great many New Hampshire activists and voters have told me they would support Biden if only they thought he could win--so many, in fact, that I am convinced if all of them already supported him, he'd be in the top tier today. This is my message to those voters: Not only can Biden win, the August momentum is on his side!


The big news is that the Biden campaign has finally begun airing ads in Iowa. This first one is called "Cathedral", and the second "Security." Take 90 seconds and give `em a look:







I'm really excited to see these ads up, and hope to see them here in New Hampshire soon. When Richardson went up his resume ads, he shot from obscurity to double digit polling numbers. Dodd's ads, on the other hand, did him no good: he still lingers behind Kucinich in most polls. I heard someone--I think it was Chuck Todd or John Mercurio on HotlineTV, but it could easily have been some other pundit or blogger--suggested that Richardson's ads went somewhere because his campaign had a message and a central focus backing them, whereas Dodd's ads had nothing behind them. If you sit through an entire speech and Q&A with Dodd, as I have done twice, you get a sense of what he stands for, but that doesn't come through in his overall campaign or in the debates. Ads will get voters to give you a second look, but you have to have something there for them to see when you do. (Please don't take this as an attack on Dodd; I like the guy, this is just how I view the Dodd campaign.)


If this is indeed the case, I think the Biden ads will make an impact in Iowa, as there is certainly a message and a focus to the campaign. Biden has a solid answer for any question you throw his way, but he is particularly strong on Iraq, so the campaign focuses on the fact that he is the only candidate with a detailed political solution for the conflict. Anyone who pays any attention to the campaign hears this message loud and clear, in part because Biden has received stellar reviews for all five of his debate performances. I personally think he won all five. Of the most recent debate, Chuck Todd said, "Biden seemed to have helped himself the most." CNN's John King, another avid campaign watcher, declared him the winner of the first debate. With this sort of message and substance, there's no way the new ads won't give Biden a boost.


The Iraq plan is also gaining momentum of its own. None other than Barack Obama has endorsed it, and CNN just ran this (admittedly goofy) report:



We can already see some of this predicted ad-boost coming via fundraising. Biden's low first and second quarter numbers may be the prime reason most folks haven't given him their second look yet, but I think you'll see things improve in the third quarter. To help keep the ad on the air, joebiden.com is pushing for $200,000, and had reached $100,225 as of 3:30 this afternoon. That kind of cash may represent little more than toilet paper to some campaigns, but it is the largest online push Biden has yet had, and so does represent momentum. It's also important to remember that the Senator was tied up in Foreign Relations hearings on Russia and Iraq during the last quarter (he is, after all, the Chairman), but now has the benefit of the August recess. As such, at the very least, I don't think you'll see the traditional drop-off in funds from the second to the third quarter, which is quite an accomplishment in and of itself. What's more, Dennis Toner will be helping beef up the campaign's financial unit, which can only represent more good news. True, the campaign will never have an Obama-style $30 million quarter, but it doesn't need to. As I have previously said, "You can only buy so much airtime, and you can only put up so many banners. It will likely take the Biden campaign about $25 million to be competitive." Anything more than that is only for impressing reporters.


I want to end on a note about endorsements, another key indicator of momentum. I have been told by campaign sources (as in, I don't have a link for this) that Biden has more endorsements from the Iowa state legislature than any other candidate. Just this Tuesday, the campaign announced three more important New Hampshire endorsements, including the state's newest State Representative, Jim Webber, elected just last month in a special election. Green joins seven other key State Representatives in endorsing Biden, including the Chairman of the Committee to Elect House Democrats, the Assistant Majority Leader, and a Manchester Fire Commissioner. Biden's also got the enthusiastic backing of a former Mayor of Portsmouth and a former NH Police Association president.


I admit, ads, cash, and endorsements don't equal votes, but they do get you attention, and when you have a message like Biden's, attention will get you votes. I won't follow in Lieberman's footsteps (yuck) and call it "Joe-mentum," but there's no denying that Biden's got it. If his MSM-designated second tier status is the only thing holding you back from supporting him, hold back no more, and remember--in December 2003, a month before Iowa and New Hampshire, John Kerry was polling at a stratospheric... 3%.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Idaho Forest Fires

This just in from Scott Maben at Huckleberries Online. It's certainly worth watching the video's entire three minutes:

Here's what an advancing forest fire looks like, if you ever were curious. A member of Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology posted the video clip on YouTube. It shows dozens of people in a fire camp on the Boise National Forest watching a roaring wall of flames bear down on them. (The Cascade Complex fire, having scorched 158,000 acres, remains only 11 percent contained.)



Timothy Ingalsbee, executive director of FUSEE, criticizes fire commanders for allowing these people to remain so close to the flames and smoke: "This burnover incident was completely minimized by the Forest Service and massively under-reported in the news media. Most of the personnel in fire camp are not firefighters -- they are cooks, accountants, and other support personnel, as well as the Incident Command Team (i.e. "fire bosses"). These folks should not have been anywhere near the advancing flames, but this is a sign that the Idaho fires are completely out of control.

"It is important to note that the burnover was the result of a conscious decision by the Incident Command Team to ride out the advancing headfire and 'stay-in-place.' It was not an accident. Even though no one was immediately injured by the fire, nearly everyone is sick with lung infections from sitting in a depressing burned over fire camp with a thousand-foot layer of smoke hovering over them during every morning's air inversion."

This video is amazing - the smoke and wind right around 2:40 reminds me of 9/11 coverage. Why the heck weren't these people evacuated? The encroaching fire poses an obvious danger, but more importantly, that much smoke can't be healthy. The YouTube description says, "While no one was injured during the fire, the camp has remained in the same place for over a week since the fire, and many of the personnel in the camp have since become sick from smoke inhalation."

Related thought: I've thought about spending a season or two as a forest fire fighter before, but I'm not in very good shape. I leave you with this amazing - and sad - photo from a Montana forest fire, taken by John McColgan of the Alaska Forest Service.

Monday, August 20, 2007

From ENS: In New Orleans, long-term recovery continues two years after Katrina

This Episcopal News Service article is reprinted in full from here.

In New Orleans, long-term recovery continues two years after Katrina
By Ann Ball, August 20, 2007

[Episcopal News Service] South Louisianians are keeping their prayer candles burning
for a quiet hurricane season as the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina draws near on August 29. The usual summer quietude which is broken by passing streetcars, Saturday night jazz joints, or Sunday church bells is now displaced by the daily noise of hammers, chain saws and power equipment across the metropolitan area as homes and businesses rebuild.

Housing continues to be the city's biggest need. Tourists to the city who come by air, or by car from the west, arrive in New Orleans and see a city that looks fairly recovered from the storm. Indeed, a recent announcement on a local popular radio food show, noted there are more restaurants open in New Orleans now than before Katrina. This seems to be an astonishing fact since the city has lost population. But readers should know that many homes in the area still do not have operational kitchens. Eating out is more a necessity, than a luxury.

Those who come to New Orleans by car approaching from the east have no delusions about the condition of housing in the city. They drive past miles of beautiful homes and shopping malls that lie in ruins. Stores are boarded up. Dead trees and bent lamp posts show the tell-tale signs of the massive destruction -- much of it still untouched two years later.

Hundreds of homeowners are rebuilding but hundreds have abandoned hope and are not returning. The neighborhoods acquire what is referred to as the "jack-o-lantern" effect -- a house here, an abandoned lot there, a house, an abandoned lot.

The jack-o-lantern effect has given "rise" to another problem this summer -- weeds. With so many vacant properties, weeds have become an urban and suburban nightmare for homeowners and for the city leaders.

Homeowners can care for their own property but if they have no neighbors, the weeds next door quickly become shoulder-high, inviting swamp "critters" of every kind. The city, with its reduced budget and reduced manpower, has a difficult job keeping up with the daunting mowing task. It is the ongoing presence of volunteers, who come to this city from all over the world, who are making the difference in New Orleans. Were it not for volunteers and the assistance of church and charitable organizations, the city could not hope to "tame" the wild jungles.

Office of Disaster Response
The Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana's Office of Disaster Response (ODR) continues its remarkable service to this city under the leadership of Archdeacon Dennis McManis and Dr. Courtney Cowart.

"Today, ODR has 29 staff employees and has had 39 college interns helping our efforts this summer," McManis said of the program. "We continue to serve over 12,000 people each month and house 100 volunteers each week."

ODR distributes its basic goods and services throughout the community through its deacons, case managers, staff and volunteers. In his July report, McManis noted that 252,395 families have been served by ODR. The two feeding ministries have provided 53,475 meals. Seven houses have been rebuilt and 875 have been gutted.

The case management program has helped 493 families to date and many more are on the waiting list. Thirty-five clients recently received brand new sofas and loveseats through case management services.

"I thank God for anything he is able to provide through this program," one client was heard to say as he loaded his new couches onto his pick-up truck.

Another client gratefully threw out his aged, mildewed sofa when the new ones arrived. His seven-year-old daughter leaped on the plump new cushions exclaiming, "This sofa smells good."

Respite Unit still rolling
The Mobile Respite Unit, which was the diocese's first operational ministry van to hit the streets in October 2005 following Katrina, continues to roll each week. It has now provided goods and pastoral care to 77,457 people.

Its newer sister van, the Mobile Medical Unit has served 5,948 people. The Suicide Intervention and Counseling Center on the Northshore of the diocese has helped 1,541 people.

Tens of thousands of people have accessed the services provided at the diocese's two Homecoming Centers: St. Luke's in Mid-City and St. Paul's in Lakeview. These centers provide area-specific services for their neighborhoods. St. Luke's Center caters to the many young people in its neighborhood. It houses a case management program as well.
St. Paul's provides case management, volunteer housing, a washeteria, lawn supply distribution, and other services to its older community.

"What would we do without the volunteers?" asks Connie Uddo, coordinator of St. Paul's Homecoming Center. "We would not be as far along in our recovery without them." The center houses some 25 volunteers each week.

McManis added, "As more and more residents return to the city, the needs continue to grow."

How you can help
The primary concern in New Orleans is rebuilding. Those who wish to lend a hand but are unable to come as a volunteer, can be of great assistance by sending gift cards to the diocese's Office of Disaster Response program. Gift cards from Wal-Mart, Home Depot or Lowe's are most needed.

Send cards in any amount, large or small, to: Archdeacon Dennis McManis, Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana, 1623 Seventh Street, New Orleans, LA 70115.

-- Ann Ball is case manager for Episcopal Relief and Development in the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana's Office of Disaster Response.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

MyDD

MyDD, one of the more popular liberal blogs, has begun featuring individual candidate bloggers on its homepage. Each Democratic presidential candidate has a supporter or two who writes about them on a designated day. I have the distinct honor of being asked to write for Senator Joe Biden (D-DE); my first post appeared today. Here is a brief excerpt:

I have long admired Senator Joe Biden, and am thrilled that he is running for President. His only previous run, in 1988, was derailed by exaggerated claims of plagiarism. But perhaps it is well that Biden's '88 campaign was derailed-he himself admits that he was then too young and inexperienced to be President. Twenty years is a long time, however, and Biden has since grown from a Senate firebrand to an esteemed statesman. No one can argue that he lacks the maturity and policy expertise to be President today.

Though I have specific reasons for not supporting any of our party's current "frontrunners", I want to keep this post positive, and will focus on why I support Joe Biden. I will address some of the more common blogosphere criticisms of Biden in the comment section below. Jerome also asked us campaign bloggers to "asses how their candidate has done to date (ie., what's been the moments of the campaign strategy... that standout)." The positives about Joe Biden the man will make for a fairly lengthy post on their own, but I will say two things about the actual campaign: First, I strongly believe Biden has won, or come in a strong second, at all five of the debates. This is slowly giving the campaign more and more press attention, which well help with fundraising efforts and name recognition. Fundraising should also start to improve now that Biden is not tied up by Senate hearings on Iraq and Russia. Second, do remember that in December 2003, a month before the Iowa caucuses, John Kerry was polling at 3% and his campaign finances consisted of a second mortgage on his house. 2004, 1992, 1988, and 1976 all show that it's foolish to count out the second tier. For more on how Biden can win, read this article I wrote for the Dartmouth Independent. And with that, here are the five primary reasons why I'm with Joe:

1. Iraq
2. The Violence Against Women Act
3. Experience
4. Doesn't Duck Questions
5. REAL Family Values


Read the rest here. I am particularly proud of the section on Biden's values. Also, if you have about 7 minutes, watch his answers from the most recent Democratic primary debate, sponsored by the AFL-CIO:

Corrupt Louisiana Politics

It's well known that Louisiana politics are about the most corrupt in the nation. You could also make a case for Illinois, but I think Louisiana takes the case. The exploits of Gov. Huey Long, Gov. Edwin Edwards, and NOPD members have been widely covered. Drawing more recent attention, of course, are U.S. Rep. William Jefferson and U.S. Sen. David Vitter.

Unfortunately, Jefferson and Vitter aren't New Orleans' only recent political scandals. I've been somewhat MIA from blogging lately, but for those who don't keep up on the wider Katrina blogosphere, I'd like to add three names to our little scandal hall of fame:

1. City Councilman Oliver Thomas shocked the city this week with the announcement that he has "reached an agreement with federal prosecutors to plead guilty to charges of demanding illegal payments from a City Hall vendor." Thomas, a Democrat who was widely expected to run for Mayor in 2010, has resigned from the Council and will likely head to jail. The New York Times has it all here. Unfortunately, he's not the corrupt pol Louisianians have been after. That would be...

2. District Attorney Eddie Jordan. According to the Christian Science Monitor, "In 2003 and 2004, the conviction rate for murder and attempted murder was at best 12 percent... By comparison, the national conviction rate for murder and attempted murder is 80 percent." And that's before Katrina. Things have only gotten worse since the storm. In 2005, there were 161 New Orleans murders, but only 3 convictions. MSNBC has this litany of citizen complaints. This one in particular stands out to me: "Jordan raised the public’s ire further when he dropped charges against another murder suspect, one accused of slaughtering five teenagers last year in the city’s worst mass killing since 1995. Once again, his office explained, that a key eyewitness was uncooperative and couldn’t be located. But the next day, police produced the witness at a press conference and said that Jordan had dismissed the case without notifying them." As an Asst. U.S. Attorney years ago, Jordan helped bring down the corrupt Gov. Edwards, but oh, how the mighty have fallen. City councilmember Shelley Midura has called for his resignation, along with about 90% of the city. Mayor Nagin and Attorney General Foti are doing nothing, so this story drags on.

3. Finally, the Louisiana Republican State Central Committee recently elected a new member, Keith Rush. The problem here? Rush is a racist, an unabashed David Duke supporter.

I could go on, but you get the picture. The good citizens of New Orleans don't deserve this, and it hampers Katrina recovery in a bad way... but when the corrupt elites have such a long-standing stranglehold on the system, what can you do?

You can speak out. You can elect a Patrick Fitzgerald type. If Chicago and Springfield could be cleaned up, so can New Orleans and Baton Rouge. You can *always* yell louder.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

NPR on life in a FEMA trailer park

NPR, along with the New York Times, seems to have the best job of giving Katrina recovery consistent coverage. Often, the stories come from Steven Inskeep or John Burnett, but yesterday, Alix Spiegel had a piece called, "Stuck and Suicidal in a Post-Katrina Trailer Park." It explores the desperation of living in a Mississippi FEMA Trailer park - the higher-than-normal suicide rates, the drug abuse, the animal cruelty, the depression. This, of course, comes on the heels of the FEMA trailer formaldehyde scandal. (I wrote last week about the revelation that FEMA trailers often contain toxic levels of formaldehyde. Acadiana's The Independent also had a good story on that scandal yesterday. H/T Voices of New Orleans' Colleen.)

It's easy to look down on a drug user, but do remember, not everyone turns to such outs - there are the innocents who are stuck living with the more violent residents. Even if you want to dismiss those who commit crimes, I would still ask you to remember those caught in the crosshairs, and take compassion on them. Here are some excerpts from Spiegel's story, and a link to the rest. The link, by the way, also contains a picture gallery (where the picture above comes from).

The first morning of my visit to Scenic Trails, I was walking the path between some trailers when I bumped into a man named Tim Szepek. He was young, tall, and solidly good-looking. I asked if I could speak to him for a moment and he agreed. We found a spot of shade beneath a tree, and I started with what I considered a casual warm-up.

"What's it like to live around here?" I asked.

"Well," he replied, "I'll be honest."

"Ain't a day goes by when I don't think about killing myself."

And so began my time in Scenic Trails, a FEMA trailer park deep in the Mississippi woods where 100 families have lived in near isolation for close to two years.

Though Szepek was the first resident to tell me he wanted to commit suicide, he certainly wasn't the last. The day I spoke with him, three other residents confided the same. ...

Stephanie Sigur and Tim Szepek aren't alone. According to a recent study of 92 different Katrina FEMA parks published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, suicide attempts in Louisiana and Mississippi's parks are 79 times higher than the national average. Major depression is seven times the national rate. ...

At Scenic Trails, almost everyone at the camp has been burglarized at least once. Meth and cocaine addiction is rampant, and residents seem to be turning against one another. Recently, the park has seen a rash of animal mutilations. One resident told me that her cat had come home bleeding — a long, thin razor cut along its leg. Another resident said his dog's throat had been cut, and several people reported that someone in the camp had been feeding anti-freeze to dogs.


More here. You can tell me NPR has a liberal bias if you want, but facts are facts, and truth is truth, and these are the facts, and this is the truth.

Too Funny Not To Share

My friend Rob just e-mailed this out from the New York Times... funnnneeeeee!!!!

To Punish Thai Police, a Hello Kitty Armband
By SETH MYDANS
Published: August 7, 2007

BANGKOK, Aug. 7 — It is the pink armband of shame for wayward police officers, as cute as can be with a Hello Kitty face and a pair of linked hearts.

No matter how many ribbons for valor a Thai officer may wear, if he parks in the wrong place, or shows up late for work, or is seen dropping a bit of litter on the sidewalk, he can be ordered to wear the insignia.

“Simple warnings no longer work,” said Pongpat Chayaphan, acting chief of the Crime Suppression Division in Bangkok, who instituted the new humiliation this week.

“This new twist is expected to make them feel guilt and shame and prevent them from repeating the offense, no matter how minor,” he said. “Kitty is a cute icon for young girls. It’s not something macho police officers want covering their biceps.”

More here.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Levee Protection Bill Dead for Now

The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which I wrote about last week and includes billions for levee protection across Louisiana, has stalled in Congress. My post was about Bush's asinine veto threat, but in the end, the Senate was unable to vote on the bill before the August recess anyway, despite overwhelming House approval and a House-Senate joint committee agreement on the bill. Hopefully the measure will come up again when Congress reconvenes in the fall.

BTW, the conservative newspaper Human Events has a good article about the facts behind Bush's veto threat of the WRDA here.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Updated: More Road Home Disasters

I've written before about Louisiana's Road Home program. Here's a brief update with some recent news, but first, a quick summary for new readers: it is the official state-created, federally-funded program for helping homeowners get back on their feet after Katrina. Allegedly, all homeowners who lost at least half their home's value in the storm are eligible for up to $150,000 in aid. The program, however, has been an unmitigated disaster. The company handling the grants, ICF International, drags its feet in calculating and distributing the grants; during the program's first three months of operation, 90,000 people applied, but only 97 were paid. Today, there have been 174,262 applicants, 111,820 of who have been told how much they will recieve and 39,126 of who have actually recieved it. Worse yet, benefits are often miscalculated, the program has run out of money, and the feds are not likely, according to recovery czar Donald Powell, to give it more.

Sounds pretty lousy, huh? Well, never say things can't get worse, because they always can. The Road Home announced a deadline for homeowners to apply, even though it was originally supposed to be open-ended. H/T Voices of New Orleans.

"The state-run Road Home program was originally an open-ended deal, but legislators put a deadline of July 31 on it. Homeowners have been scrambling to meet that deadline even though they aren't sure what sort of money the program will have to distribute: (From the AP) 'Residents have until today to request up to $150,000 from the state-administered Road Home program. It is funded with $6.4 billion, but if everyone eligible applied, it would face an estimated $5 billion shortfall.'"

The AP article VONO quotes goes on to say, "Even with the $1 billion boost, the authority estimates the program will run out of money by mid-December without additional cash. It estimates 49,000 eligible homeowners won't receive grants if Congress doesn't provide extra funding."

To be fair, the program has been in operation almost a year, and started a year after the storm initially hit. That's more than enough time for any Louisiana resident to find out about the grants and apply. It may not be enough time, however, for everyone to make up their minds about what their future holds, particularly given the slower-than-anticipated pace of recovery, and applying for a Road Home grant requires that the applicant committ to staying in New Orleans. There are a number of recovery snafus worse than setting a Road Home application deadline (like not fully funding the program and leaving citizens out in the cold), but it still rubs me the wrong way, particularly since it means going back on the original promise of an open-ended deal.

UPDATE: The Biloxi Sun Herald reports,
"The mailed forms aren't all in yet, but nearly 9,000 homeowners filed last-day applications for the state's Road Home hurricane repair and buyout program by phone, online and in person, bringing the total to more than 180,000, a spokeswoman said. Even without the mailed form, which had to be postmarked Tuesday, the last-day total is far greater than any other single day, Gentry Brann said....

Midnight Tuesday also was the application deadline for the second round of the Road Home small rental property program. Owners of one- to four-unit buildings, including town homes and condominiums, could apply for up to $100,000. Some 82,000 rental units in Louisiana suffered major or severe damage during Katrina and Rita. The small rental program only has enough money to fix an estimated 18,000 units."

Friday, August 03, 2007

Protect the Gulf Coast: Veto the Veto

Despite having vetoed only three other bills during his entire Presidency, George W. Bush is currently threatening to veto 9 of 12 Congressional spending bills. Apparently the man hates children's health insurance, military leave for our troops, and saving not just the Everglades, but all of the Gulf Coast.

Congress this week passed the $21 billion Water Resources Development Act. The bill would help restore the Florida Everglades and defend the Great Lakes against the encroaching Asian carp. Now, I think most of Bush's veto threats are asinine, but why mention just this particular one on a Katrina recovery blog? Because, according to the Times Picayune, the WRDA also "would authorize a 72-mile system of levees and floodwalls to shield Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes from hurricane storm surge and up to $1.9 billion for Louisiana coastal restoration projects. It would fortify New Orleans area levees to withstand a 100-year storm and authorize $100 million for hurricane protection in Jean Lafitte and lower Jefferson Parish."

The President says he will veto the bill because it costs $6 billion more than he wanted it to, and hey, nothing matters more than enforcing the double standard of cracking down on opposition party spending after letting your own party set record deficits. Maybe Shrub WANTS another hurricane to further devestate Louisiana. Maybe he ENJOYED watching thousands of people wait, hungry, sick and thirsty, on rooftops whild thousands of more developed skin disease in the toxic water. All I know is that I don't, and didn't.

Thank God the House passed the bill 381-40, a wide enough margin to overturn Shrub's veto threat. I'm not sure what the Senate vote was; the roll call section of senate.gov doesn't reflect today's action yet. But things do look good. All nine members of LA's Congressional delegation, including six Republicans, promised to vote to override the veto. A leading Senate conservative, James Inhofe (R-OK), also lambasted the veto threat, calling it "stupid," "deceitful," and "absolutely crazy." Inhofe heled right the bill as Ranking Member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. He may be lousy at his job during climate change hearings, but I guess he does a good job on disaster protection.

Levees.org is asking its members to send a letter to President Bush demanding he sign, rather than veto, WRDA. Such action may fall on deaf ears, but it's what we can do, and we are always called to do at least that.

Following the storm, Bush said, "And all who question the future of the Crescent City need to know there is no way to imagine America without New Orleans, and this great city will rise again." I guess he forgot to add, "just so we can let it fall once more."

(Picture Credit: Everglades, Inhofe)

Thursday, August 02, 2007

FEMA's Hit and Run

As a result of my self-imposed break from blogging, I have missed several important recovery stories. If you’re a regular NOLA news or blog reader you’re well aware of them, but for the sake of my personal readers and Google, I’ll go ahead and post belated summaries of those stories this week anyway. Today, FEMA incompetence continues at unheard of levels. In the coming days, incompetent D.A. Eddie Jordan, the Road Home program, the mercy killers, National Geographic, and more David Vitter, as well as highlights from Jim Brown’s radio show and my anger at a non-Katrina issue. My apologies for falling so far behind.

So, first up on the countdown: FEMA is killing the very people it’s supposed to help.

Ok, so that’s a hyperbolic exaggeration, but the real fact is almost as sobering: FEMA may have used toxic levels of formaldehyde, a human carcinogen, in many of its trailers. MSNBC reports that the Sierra Club tested 44 trailers and found illegal levels of the chemical in 40 of them. The health effects are obvious:

"Becky Gillette, co-chair of the Mississippi chapter of the environmental group, said that representatives also have heard from numerous trailer inhabitants who say they began experiencing health problems ranging from headaches and runny noses to chronic respiratory problems and nosebleeds as soon as they moved in…

Dr. Scott Needle, a pediatrician in Bay St. Louis, said he noticed some unusual and persistent health problems among his patients living in the trailers well before the possible link to formaldehyde exposure surfaced. 'I was seeing kids coming in with respiratory complaints – colds and sinus infections – and they were getting them over and over again,' he said. '…Almost invariably, these families were staying in the FEMA trailers.'"


FEMA covered up evidence of these tests, hiding its crime. If I hurt someone and ran away from the story, I'd be arrested for hit and run. Their defense is that they have only received 20 official complaints from trailer residents, to which I reply, OF COURSE you’ve only received 20 complaints! NOLA residents have told me that even your most basic paperwork is so complex and takes so long that none of it’s worth filing if you don’t have to! And besides, how the heck is someone supposed to know that the headaches they’ve been getting lately are caused by the formaldehyde you secretly illegally used and not something at work or in the rotting house next door? And indeed - though 20 people complained directly to FEMA, over 80,000 are having these health problems.

FEMA's original proposed solution isn’t much better – open your windows and increase ventilation. EXCUSE ME? It’s a hot sticky Louisiana summer, and you suggest we solve your incompetence by OPENING WINDOWS??? That’s like Homeland Security saying buy duct tape to stop the terrorists!

You can't hide behind such a lousy cop out for too long, and FEMA has halted the distribution of its disaster trailers while scientists investigate. Fortunately, this story has received more national play than Katrina recovery stories usually do, and Rep. Henry Waxman, whom I love and adore, is investigating. Unfortunately, it comes on top of other disastrous FEMA news revealed in the last month - FEMA is taking far too long to pay its contractors, and wasted $13 million on ice. Like I tell people, FEMA is screwing up as badly now as they were immediately after the storm.

(Pictures: The first picture is a block full of FEMA trailers in Chalmette, LA. I took the photo in March 2007. The second is Rep. Waxman, courtesy of the Washington Post.)