September 16, 2007

Cashing In On Shock 9/11, "War On Terror"  Black Ops  Disasters

I'm a big fan of Naomi Klein (see this, this, this, this, this, this, this), who's got a new book, Shock Doctine, coming out this week. Pre-ordered mine a month ago. While we wait, here's an intro made for her by filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón, who made the wonderful Children of Men:

She's really onto something. Check it out.

And you know that once they figured out all the uses that shock could be put to, they started looking for ways to create the needed shocks — 9/11 being the mother of them all.

[Thanks, Miles]

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August 30, 2006

Photo Op Time Disasters  Politics

Their cynicism is boundless. NYT:

On the eve of the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's strike here, President Bush returned to the devastated region on Monday...

Winding his way through tattered towns in Mississippi on his way here, Mr. Bush spent the day demonstrating empathy and optimism...

In sweltering midday heat, his shirt soaked with sweat, Mr. Bush told a group of Biloxi, Miss., residents that he knew the rebuilding was so slow that to some it felt as if nothing was happening.

Still, Mr. Bush said, "For a fellow who was here and now a year later comes back, things are changing."

"I feel the quiet sense of determination that's going to shape the future of Mississippi," he said.

In an event with echoes of his prime-time speech in Jackson Square here last September, Mr. Bush spoke in a working-class neighborhood in Biloxi against a backdrop of neatly reconstructed homes. But just a few feet away, outside the scene captured by the camera, stood gutted houses with wires dangling from ceilings. A tattered piece of crime-scene tape hung from a tree in the field where Mr. Bush spoke. A toilet sat on its side in the grass. [...]

Nearby, along the ocean, ravaged antebellum homes and churches dotted the waterfront. The beach from Gulfport, Miss., to Biloxi, was deserted. Debris hung from trees and motels stood shuttered. Blue tarpaulins still patched the roofs of most dwellings. Written in green spray paint on a fence around a home in Biloxi was "You loot, I shoot." [...]

"There will be a momentum, momentum will be gathered," the president said. "Houses will begat [sic] jobs, jobs will begat [sic] houses." [Emphasis added]

Lights, cameras, but no action. Nothing in a year. They have no interest in governing; they're too busy staging events that give the appearance of governing. The sheer audacity of it really is stunning: they haven't bothered to try to get anything right in all the time they've been in office. Anything, that is, beyond their permanent campaign for more power.

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August 28, 2006

Criminal Outrage Disasters

This is outrageous. Absolutely outrageous. Criminally outrageous. Greg Palast, reporting from New Orleans:

It wasn't [Katrina] that drowned, suffocated, de-hydrated and starved 1,500 people that week. The killing was done by a deadly duo: a failed emergency evacuation plan combined with faulty levees. Behind these twin failures lies a tale of cronyism, profiteering and willful incompetence that takes us right to the steps of the White House.

Here's the story you haven't been told. And the man who revealed it to me, Dr. Ivor van Heerden, is putting his job on the line to tell it.

Van Heerden...is no minor player. He's the Deputy Director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center. He's the top banana in the field — no one knew more about how to save New Orleans from a hurricane's devastation. And no one was a bigger target of an official and corporate campaign to bury the information.

Here's what happened. Right after Katrina swamped the city, I called Washington to get a copy of the evacuation plan.

Funny thing about the murderously failed plan for the evacuation of New Orleans: no one can find it. That's right. It's missing. Maybe it got wet and sank in the flood. Whatever: No one can find it.

That's real bad. Here's the key thing about a successful emergency evacuation plan: you have to have copies of it. Lots of copies — in fire houses and in hospitals and in the hands of every first responder. Secret evacuation plans don't work. [...]

Specifically, I'm talking about the plan that was written, or supposed to have been written two years ago by a company called, "Innovative Emergency Management."

Weird thing about IEM, their founder Madhu Beriwal, had no known experience in hurricane evacuations. She did, however, have a lot of experience in donating to Republicans.

IEM and FEMA did begin a draft of a plan. The plan was that, when a hurricane hit, everyone in the Crescent City would simply get the hell out in their cars. Apparently, the IEM/FEMA crew didn't know that 127,000 people in the city didn't have cars. But Dr. van Heerden knew that. It was his calculation. LSU knew where these no-car people were — they mapped it — and how to get them out.

Dr. van Heerden offered this life-saving info to FEMA. They wouldn't touch it. Then, a state official told him to shut up, back off or there would be consequences for van Heerden's position. This official now works for IEM.

So I asked him what happened as a result of making no plans for those without wheels, a lot of them elderly and most of them poor.

"Fifteen-hundred of them drowned. That's the bottom line." The professor, who'd been talking to me in technicalities, changed to a somber tone. "They're still finding corpses."

Van Heerden is supposed to keep his mouth shut. He won't. The deaths weigh on him. "I wasn't going to listen to those sort of threats, to let them shut me down."

After Katrina, the Hurricane Center analyzed the flooding and found that, had the levees had just that extra 18 inches, they would have been "overtopped" for only an hour and a half, not four hours. In that case, the levees would have held, and the city would have been saved.

He had taken the warning about the levees all the way to George Bush's doorstep. "I myself briefed senior officials including somebody from the White House." The response: the university's trustees threatened his job.

While in Baton Rouge, I dropped in on the headquarters of IEM, the evacuation contractors. The assistant to the CEO insisted they had "a lot of experience with evacuation" — but couldn't name a single city they'd planned for when they got the Big Easy contract. And still, they couldn't produce the plan.

An IEM press release in June 2004 boasted legendary expert James Lee Witt as a member of their team. That was impressive. It was also a lie. In fact, Witt had nothing to do with it. When I asked IEM point blank if Witt's name was used as a fraudulent hook to get the contract, their spokeswoman said, weirdly, "We'll get back to you on that."

Back at LSU, van Heerden astonished me with the most serious charge of all. While showing me huge maps of the flooding, he told me the White House had withheld the information that, in fact, the levees were about to burst and by Tuesday at dawn the city, and more than a thousand people, would drown.

Van Heerden said, "FEMA knew on Monday at 11 o'clock that the levees had breached...They took video. By midnight on Monday the White House knew. But none of us knew...I was at the State Emergency Operations Center." Because the hurricane had missed the city that Monday night, evacuation effectively stopped, assuming the city had survived.

It's been a full year now, and 73,000 New Orleanians remain in FEMA trailers and another 200,000, more than half the city's former residents, remain in temporary refuges. [...]

Should they come home? Rebuild? Is it safe? Team Bush assures them there's nothing to worry about: FEMA won't respond to van Heerden's revelations. However, the Bush Administration has hired a consulting firm to fix the failed evacuation plan. The contractor? A Baton Rouge company named "Innovative Emergency Management." IEM. [Emphasis added]

Palast has produced a two-part video special that you can watch online at Democracy Now. It's gut-wrenching.

One thing shown in the video that's not covered above: there are public-housing communities in New Orleans that were completely untouched by the flood that have been boarded up, all the residents (poor and black) expelled and barred from returning. Why? It's prime real estate not far from the downtown business district and the French Quarter. It's real estate that developers have long wanted to get their hands on. As Palast says, Katrina was the "perfect storm" from the perspective of developers and their political cronies.

A year ago, I wrote:

Yes, it sounds too evil to be true, but we appear to be looking at a deliberate program of ethnic cleansing. Wait and watch. A lot of people with ties to the administration are going to make a ton of money on the contracts to clear and rebuild a Disney-fied version of what was one of the world's great cities.

Watch Palast's short film, and you'll see it's all coming true. It is a criminal outrage on a truly colossal scale, yet there is no accountability. No one even really expects accountability anymore. What has happened to this country?

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August 27, 2006

Ernesto Track Moved Eastward Disasters

Ernesto has been upgraded to hurricane status, but the projected storm track has now been moved eastward.

The Gulf coast may have dodged a bullet.

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August 26, 2006

Ernesto Threatens Gulf Disasters

Computer models used by hurricane forecasters indicate that tropical storm Ernesto could become a powerful hurricane threatening the Gulf Coast, possibly even New Orleans. Oil and gas production in the Gulf is also threatened. StormTrack (via OilDrum):

For a couple days now we have been talking up Ernesto and warning that there was a significant chance that this could be the new big story. After looking at the situation today, I am convinced that things could be very bad indeed. I always try not incite undue worry, but Ernesto could get ugly. Those of you in the Gulf Coast need to re-examine your hurricane plans, especially is you live in the north Gulf from Houston to Tallahassee. A very deep layer of warm water in the northern Gulf could allow for Ernesto to become a very powerful hurricane if it reaches the area.

...The official forecast calls for Ernesto to enter the Gulf of Mexico early next week, where it could become a very powerful hurricane....

Ernesto's limited strength thus far has been due to moderate wind shear displacing the convection from the center of circulation. This wind shear should lessen today and allow for strengthening to continue. The current convective pattern is very healthy and Ernesto seems to mean business...[T]he Western Caribbean holds much deeper warm water that can allow for rapid intensification.

The [computer] models are in a clear consensus agreeing on a track over the western tip of Cuba by Tuesday. By early to mid next week, Ernesto could be roaming the Gulf of Mexico as a hurricane...Houston, New Orleans, Biloxi, Mobile, Pensacola, and Panama City [are] all now in the potential danger zone. Due to disrupting of the hurricane while it passes over and near land in Jamaica and Cuba, it will be hard to make any forecasts on a landfall point along the Gulf Coast until Ernesto clears Cuba and settles into the Gulf. [Emphasis added]

NOAA:

Say it ain't so.

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June 20, 2006

Iraq: Millions Of Barrels Dumped Disasters  Environment  Global Guerrillas  Iraq

So, how's that Iraqi reconstruction coming along? Check this out. NYT:

An environmental disaster is brewing in the heartland of Iraq's northern Sunni-led insurgency, where Iraqi officials say that in a desperate move to dispose of millions of barrels of an oil refinery byproduct called "black oil," the government pumped it into open mountain valleys and leaky reservoirs next to the Tigris River and set it on fire.

The resulting huge black bogs are threatening the river and the precious groundwater in the region, which is dotted with villages and crisscrossed by itinerant sheep herders, but also contains Iraq's great northern refinery complex at Baiji.

The fires are no longer burning, but the suffocating plumes of smoke they created carried as far as 40 miles downwind to Tikrit, the provincial capital that formed Saddam Hussein's base of power.

An Iraqi environmental engineer who has visited the dumping area described it as a kind of black swampland of oil-saturated terrain and large standing pools of oil stretching across several mountain valleys. The clouds of smoke, said the engineer, Ayad Younis, "were so heavy that they obstructed breathing and visibility in the area and represent a serious environmental danger." [...]

...He added that at least some of the black oil was already seeping into the river.

Exactly how far those pollutants will travel is unknown, but the Tigris passes through dozens of population centers from Baghdad to Basra. In the past, oil slicks created when insurgents struck oil pipelines in the Baiji area have traveled the entire length of the river.

As much as 40 percent of the petroleum processed at Iraq's damaged and outdated refineries pours forth as black oil, the heavy, viscous substance that used to be extensively exported to more efficient foreign operations for further refining. But the insurgency has stalled government-controlled exports by taking control of roadways and repeatedly hitting pipelines in the area, Iraqi and American officials have said.

So the backed-up black oil — known to the rest of the world as the lower grades of fuel oil — was sent along a short pipeline from Baiji and dumped in a mountainous area called Makhul.

A series of complaints handed up the Iraqi government chain were conveyed to oil industry officials, and as of last weekend the fires had at least temporarily stopped, but black oil was still being poured into the open valleys, according to Mr. Younis, who works in the province's Department of Environment and Health Safety. [...]

But with few options for disposing of Baiji's current production of black oil and so much at stake for the Iraqi economy, it is unclear whether the government will even be able to hold the line on the burning at Makhul. A United States official in Baghdad, speaking anonymously according to official procedure, said earlier this month that Baiji was still turning out about 90,000 barrels a day of refined products, which would yield about 36,000 barrels a day of black oil.

Iraq's refineries will grind to a halt if the black oil does not go somewhere. "Unless we find a way of dealing with the fuel oil, our factories will not work," said Shamkhi H. Faraj, director of economics and marketing at the Iraqi Oil Ministry.

The dumping and burning has embarrassed ministry officials and exposed major gaps in the American-designed reconstruction program, even as President Bush appeals to the international community for much more rebuilding money in the wake of his visit to Baghdad. [Emphasis added]

This is how a modern insurgency can bring a country to its knees: isolated, relatively low-risk actions by small teams that hit the country's economic infrastructure at key points where the effects cascade and are magnified manyfold. Blow up an oil pipeline here, sabotage a refinery there, and in the end, you've got the government dumping millions of barrels of heavy oil into valleys and reservoirs. The downward spiral feeds on itself.

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May 02, 2006

"A Borderline Criminal National Disgrace" Disasters

Katrina's old news. Except it's not, because much of New Orleans still lies in ruins with nothing being done to restore it. This, in a major American city. Bush did his photo ops, the media filed their stories, and now they've all moved on. Nobody wants to hear about New Orleans anymore, so it takes a sports writer, Peter King, to remind us of what we're all ignoring:

I sense that we in this country have Katrina fatigue. The New York Times reported as much recently, saying that people in some of the areas that welcomed Katrina evacuees last September are sick of hearing about the hurricane, the flooding and the aftermath.

Well, my wife and I were in a car last Wednesday that toured the hardest-hit area of New Orleans, the Lower Ninth Ward. We worked a day at a nearby Habitat for Humanity site on Thursday, and we toured the Biloxi/Gulfport/Long Beach/Pass Christian gulf shore area last Friday. And let me just say this: I can absolutely guarantee you that if you'd been in the car with us, no matter how much you'd been hit over the head with the effects of this disaster, you would not have Katrina fatigue.

What I saw was a national disgrace. An inexcusable, irresponsible, borderline criminal national disgrace. I am ashamed of this country for the inaction I saw everywhere.

I mentioned my outrage to the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, on Thursday. He shook his head and said, "Tell me about it." Disgust dripped from his voice.

What are we doing in this country?

"It's been eight months since Katrina," said Jack Bowers, my New Jersey friend and Habitat for Humanity guide through the Lower Ninth Ward, as he took us through deserted streets where nothing, absolutely nothing, was being done about the wasteland that this place is.

"Eight months!" he said. "And look at it. When people talk to me about New Orleans, they say, 'Well, things are getting back to normal down there, aren't they?' I tell them things are a long, long way from normal, and it's going to be a long time before it's ever normal. And I tell them they've never seen anything like this." [...]

How can we let an area like the Lower Ninth Ward sit there, on the eve of another hurricane season, with nothing being done to either bulldoze the place and start over, or rebuild? How can Congress sit on billions of looming aid and not release it for this area?

I can't help but think that if this were Los Angeles or New York, that 500 percent more money — and concern — would have flooded into this place. [...]

Am I ticked off? Damn right I'm ticked off. If you're breathing, you should be morally outraged. Katrina fatigue? Hah! More Katrina news! Give me more! Give it to me every day on the front page! Every day until Washington realizes there's a disaster here every bit as urgent as anything happening in this world today — fighting terrorism, combating the nuclear threat in Iran. I'm not in any way a political animal, but all you have to be is an occasionally thinking American to be sickened by the conditions I saw.

The Lower Ninth Ward is a 1.5-by-2-mile area a couple of miles from the center of New Orleans. It is a poor area. I should say it was a poor area. Before the storm, 20,000 people lived there. Fats Domino lived there. So, formerly, did Marshall Faulk. And now you drive through it and see nothing being done to fix it or tear it down, or to do anything.

In Mississippi, we drove through one formerly thriving beach town that has two structures left. We drove past concrete pads with litter and shards of wood around them. Former houses. The houses, quite literally, have been eviscerated. Hundreds of them. This is what nuclear winter must look like, I thought. [Emphasis added]

This is the kind of thing that we used to associate with the old Soviet Union and other failed states. No amount of "We're number one!" boosterism can disguise the fact that the US increasingly displays the characteristics of a failed state itself. The big difference is that the US is still able to borrow a couple of billion dollars a day to keep up appearances. That won't last forever. Meanwhile, we're increasingly detached from reality. How else to explain the fact that we can leave a major American city in ruins and not see what a monumental failure that represents?

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April 26, 2006

Class Cleansing Disasters  Politics

In the immediate aftermath of Katrina, I wrote that New Orleans was going to be subject to a deliberate policy of ethnic cleansing. Black neighborhoods were going to be razed and replaced by a Disney-fied New Orleans for yuppies. Some readers thought that was over the top: surely, once the smoke cleared, poor Blacks would be allowed to return to the city.

Guess again. From the New Orleans Times-Picayune, yesterday:

U.S. Housing Secretary Alphonso Jackson shed little light Monday on the future of public housing in hurricane-battered New Orleans, but said that "only the best residents" of the former St. Thomas housing complex should be allowed into the new mixed-income development that replaced it.

In a wide-ranging interview with reporters, Jackson was asked about the relatively small number of apartments in the 60-acre River Gardens development in Uptown that have been set aside for former residents of St. Thomas. Jackson estimated it was 18 percent to 20 percent, although housing advocates said it is less.

"Some of the people shouldn't return," Jackson said. "The (public housing) developments were gang-ridden by some of the most notorious gangs in this country. People hid and took care of those persons because they took care of them. Only the best residents should return. Those who paid rent on time, those who held a job and those who worked."

The blunt-spoken Jackson, who is black, acknowledged his comments might be seen as racially offensive because virtually all of the former St. Thomas residents were African-American. He told a white reporter, "If you said this, they would say you were racist."

He went on to say, "I don't care what color they are, if they are devastating a community, they shouldn't be allowed to return." [...]

[Housing Authority of New Orleans] spokesman Adonis Expose also confirmed Monday that the agency is considering a long-rumored policy change that would require all public housing residents in New Orleans to have a job or be in a job-training program.

Eight months after Hurricane Katrina, the future of the 10 public housing complexes in New Orleans remains an open question. Times have never been tougher for low-income people, as a shortage of rental housing after Hurricane Katrina has seen rents rise to historic levels.

While HUD has reopened some complexes, such as Iberville, most remain closed and surrounded by fencing. Eager to return, former residents have marched in protest to force the government to open more, but HUD has refused. [Emphasis added]

These are American citizens who want to return to their homes, but the Federal government thinks it gets to decide who's good enough to come home. Where are the rest supposed to live? In government camps and trailer parks, forever? Maybe ethnic cleansing isn't exactly the right term. It's more like class cleansing, though in New Orleans, as in much of America, that turns out to be pretty much the same thing.

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April 11, 2006

Heckuva Job Disasters  Politics

They're still finding bodies in New Orleans. The USA just ain't what it used to be. NYT:

The bodies of storm victims are still being discovered in New Orleans — in March alone there were nine, along with one skull. Skeletonized or half-eaten by animals, with leathery, hardened skin or missing limbs, the bodies are lodged in piles of rubble, dangling from rafters or lying face down, arms outstretched on parlor floors. [...]

A landlord in the Lakeview section put a "for sale" sign outside a house, unaware that his tenant's body was in the attic. Two weeks ago, searchers in the Lower Ninth Ward found a girl, believed to be about 6, wearing a blue backpack. Nearby, they found part of a man who the authorities believe might have been trying to save her.

On Friday, contractors found a body in the attic of a home in the Gentilly neighborhood that had been searched twice before, officials said.

This, in a major city in what is supposedly the most prosperous and powerful nation on Earth. If the victims were rich, white Republicans, does anyone doubt that somebody would have bothered to locate their bodies before now?

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March 30, 2006

New Orleans: The Disaster Continues Disasters  Politics

Republican ideologues believe government cannot solve problems, and that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. People who believe in government and who want government to succeed: those are the people who can govern well. Consider New Orleans. Bill Quigley:

In New Orleans, seven months after Katrina, senior citizens are living in their cars...Korean War veteran Paul Morris, 74, and his wife Yvonne, 66,...have been sleeping in their two-door sedan since January. They have been waiting that long for FEMA contractors to unlock the 240 square foot trailer in their yard and connect the power so they can sleep inside it in front of their devastated home.

This tale of lunacy does not begin to stop there.

Their 240 square foot trailer may well cost more than their house. While FEMA flat out refuses to say how much the government is paying for trailers, reliable estimates by the New York Times and others place the cost at over $60,000 each.

How could these tiny FEMA trailers cost so much?

Follow the money.

Circle B Enterprises of Georgia was awarded $287 million in contracts by FEMA for temporary housing. At the time, that was the seventh highest award of Katrina money in the country. According to the Washington Post, Circle B was not even being licensed to build homes in its own state of Georgia and filed for bankruptcy in 2003. The company does not even have a website.

Here is how it works. The original contractor takes their cut and subcontracts out the work of constructing the trailer to other companies. Once it is built, they subcontract out the transporting the trailers to yet other companies which pay drivers, gas, insurance and mileage. They then subcontract out the hookups of the trailers to other companies and keep taking cuts for their services. Usually none of the people who make the money are local workers.

With $60,000 many people could adequately repair their homes.

Why not just give the $60,000 directly to the elderly couple and let them fix up their home? Ask Congress. FEMA is not allowed to give grants of that much. Money for fixing up homes comes from somewhere else and people are still waiting for that to arrive.

While many corporations are making big money off of Katrina, Mr. and Mrs. Morris wait in their car.

Craziness continues in the area of the right to vote.

You would think that the nation that put on elections with satellite voting boxes for Iraqis and Afghanis and Haitians and many others would do the same for Katrina evacuees. Wrong. There is no satellite voting for the 230,000 citizens of New Orleans who are out of state. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Advancement Project, ACORN and the Peoples Hurricane Relief Fund have all fought for satellite voting but Louisiana and the courts and the U.S. Justice Department have said no.

The rule of thumb around here is that the poorer you are, the further you have been displaced. African Americans are also much more likely to be poor and renters — the people who cannot yet come back to a city where rents have doubled. They are the ones bearing the burdens of no satellite voting.

The people already back are much more affluent than the pre-Katrina New Orleans. The city is also much whiter. Many of those already back in New Orleans are not so sure that all of New Orleans should be rebuilt. The consequence of that is not everyone will be allowed to return. Planners and politicians openly suggest turning poor neighborhoods into green spaces. No one yet has said they want to turn their own neighborhood into green space — only other people's neighborhoods — usually poor people's neighborhoods. Those who disagree are by and large not here.

New Orleans has not been majority white for decades, but it is quite possible that a majority of those who are able to vote in the upcoming election will be white. Thus the decisions about the future of New Orleans are poised to be made by those who have been able to get back and will exclude many of those still evacuated. Guess what type of plans they will have for New Orleans? [Emphasis added]

The majority party in Washington thinks their responsibility ends when they decide which political crony to reward with a contract. They have no interest in governing, no interest in managing. Their interest is in plundering the treasury and accumulating power. Banana Republicans.

What is happening in New Orleans is a disgraceful national failure. Every time we countenance such failure, we grow weaker as a nation. Morally weaker. And if there ever was a time when we needed all our strength to face the challenges ahead, this is that time.

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March 28, 2006

The Fire Next Time Disasters  Environment

When Hurricane Katrina wiped out New Orleans, we got a preview of what awaits the world's coastal cities as global warming leads to bigger storms and higher sea levels.

In the interior, however, the global warming threat isn't floods, it's fire. Fire fed by drought, like the current drought in the Texas Panhandle that has led to the largest wildfires in Texas history. Texas officials say that if such wildfires were to reach Austin, they would be powerless: much of Austin would be lost. Austin American-Statesman (link via Viridian):

Authorities urged residents in six Panhandle towns to evacuate Wednesday and warned that the state's largest wildfire outbreak in history could cross into Oklahoma. [...]

Although this fire was raging in sparsely populated ranching country, Texas Forest Service Director James B. Hull warned Wednesday that such a fire striking Austin and Travis County would yield a more nightmarish fate.

"Austin is going to be the worst catastrophe Texas has ever seen," Hull said as he toured firefighting operations in the Panhandle. "The conditions we're having in the Panhandle right now, when it gets to Austin, it will be a tragedy."

Mix drought conditions and high winds in an urban-area forest like the cedar-covered hills of western Travis County and the area would be a tinder box of gigantic proportions, Hull said.

Austin Fire Department Battalion Chief Palmer Buck agreed: "It would not be what house we are going to save...it would be what neighborhood are we going to save."

The Fire Department does not have the resources to fight a major wildfire in the hills along Lake Austin or the rugged terrain of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve area, Buck said. [...]

The 1,800 volunteer fire departments with 40,000 firefighters are the backbone of protection in rural communities. But almost half those departments have budgets of $10,000 or less. Hull said volunteer departments often have old equipment and are not equipped to battle blazes that last days or weeks. [...]

When Sunday's 55-mph winds first fueled the Panhandle fires, the state at first could offer only minimal backup to local fire departments. The Texas Forest Service had a management team in Amarillo and, luckily, had been able to get five large air tankers from the U.S. Forest Service to fly from Albuquerque, N.M., and Ardmore, Okla., to drop fire retardant.

Typically, those planes would be fighting fires in other parts of the country, and Texas would have to rely on eight National Guard helicopters to fly large buckets of water to the fires. The war in Iraq, however, has reduced that option.

"There have been times when none of the helicopters were available," Hull said. [...]

Although state firefighting officials were able to predict the threat of the Panhandle fires because of the projected wind speeds, drought conditions and low humidity, they had no firefighting equipment on the ground to back up local operations. [...]

Part of the problem is the sheer size of the state.

"We're fighting fires all the way from Laredo to East Texas, through the Hill Country, to here in the Panhandle," Hull said. "We're stretched very thin." [...]

A study done by the Austin Fire Department in 2003 showed that about 50,000 homes in Travis County are in either extreme- or high-risk fire zones. [...]

"Texas still has a rural mentality," Hull said. "But with 22.5 million people, we are an urban state, and we have to plan for that urban catastrophe." [Emphasis added]

Sooner or later, it's really going to dawn on us what we've set in motion. Outside, a wind is rising.

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March 01, 2006

Caught On Tape Disasters  Politics

AP reports that it has obtained video tape and transcripts of pre-Katrina briefings that show that Bush and Chertoff were warned explicitly that the levees might fail and that New Orleans residents gathering at the Superdome and elsewhere were very much at risk. AP:

In dramatic and sometimes agonizing terms, federal disaster officials warned President Bush and his homeland security chief before Hurricane Katrina struck that the storm could breach levees, put lives at risk in New Orleans' Superdome and overwhelm rescuers, according to confidential video footage.

Bush didn't ask a single question during the final briefing before Katrina struck on Aug. 29, but he assured soon-to-be-battered state officials: "We are fully prepared."

The footage — along with seven days of transcripts of briefings obtained by The Associated Press — show in excruciating detail that while federal officials anticipated the tragedy that unfolded in New Orleans and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast, they were fatally slow to realize they had not mustered enough resources to deal with the unprecedented disaster.

Linked by secure video, Bush expressed a confidence on Aug. 28 that starkly contrasted with the dire warnings his disaster chief and numerous federal, state and local officials provided during the four days before the storm.

A top hurricane expert voiced "grave concerns" about the levees and then-Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown told the president and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff that he feared there weren't enough disaster teams to help evacuees at the Superdome.

"I'm concerned about ... their ability to respond to a catastrophe within a catastrophe," Brown told his bosses the afternoon before Katrina made landfall.

The White House and Homeland Security Department urged the public Wednesday not to read too much into the video footage.

"I hope people don't draw conclusions from the president getting a single briefing," presidential spokesman Trent Duffy said, citing a variety of orders and disaster declarations Bush signed before the storm made landfall. "He received multiple briefings from multiple officials, and he was completely engaged at all times." [...]

"I have kind a sinking feeling in my gut right now," [New Orleans Mayor Ray] Nagin said. "I was listening to what people were saying — they didn't know, so therefore it was an issue of a learning curve. You know, from this tape it looks like everybody was fully aware."

Some of the footage and transcripts from briefings Aug. 25-31 conflicts with the defenses that federal, state and local officials have made in trying to deflect blame and minimize the political fallout from the failed Katrina response:

  • Homeland Security officials have said the "fog of war" blinded them early on to the magnitude of the disaster. But the video and transcripts show federal and local officials discussed threats clearly, reviewed long-made plans and understood Katrina would wreak devastation of historic proportions. [...]

  • Bush declared four days after the storm, "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees"...He later clarified [sic], saying officials believed, wrongly, after the storm passed that the levees had survived. But the transcripts and video show there was plenty of talk about that possibility even before the storm — and Bush was worried too. [...]

    Bush appeared from a narrow, windowless room at his vacation ranch in Texas, with his elbows on a table. Hagin was sitting alongside him. Neither asked questions in the Aug. 28 briefing.

    "I want to assure the folks at the state level that we are fully prepared to not only help you during the storm, but we will move in whatever resources and assets we have at our disposal after the storm," the president said.

    A relaxed Chertoff, sporting a polo shirt, weighed in from Washington at Homeland Security's operations center. He would later fly to Atlanta, outside of Katrina's reach, for a bird flu event. [...]

    The National Hurricane Center's Mayfield told the final briefing before Katrina struck that storm models predicted minimal flooding inside New Orleans during the hurricane but he expressed concerns that counterclockwise winds and storm surges afterward could cause the levees at Lake Pontchartrain to be overrun.

    "I don't think any model can tell you with any confidence right now whether the levees will be topped or not but that is obviously a very, very grave concern," Mayfield told the briefing. Other officials expressed concerns about the large number of New Orleans residents who had not evacuated. [Emphasis added]

  • FEMA's Mike Brown comes off comparatively well in the AP account, if you read the whole thing. Brown may have been in over his head, but he clearly was a whole lot more engaged than Chertoff and Bush. We all may have fallen for White House spin when we accepted Brownie as the designated scapegoat.

    Update: [8:49 PM] Crooks and Liars has video.

    Posted by Jonathan at 08:43 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    February 10, 2006

    White House Was Informed Of Levee Breach On Day It Happened Disasters

    Congressional investigators have found that the White House was informed of the levee breach and large-scale flooding in New Orleans on the day Katrina hit, contradicting White House claims that they were taken by surprise the following day. NYT:

    In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Bush administration officials said they had been caught by surprise when they were told on Tuesday, Aug. 30, that a levee had broken, allowing floodwaters to engulf New Orleans.

    But Congressional investigators have now learned that an eyewitness account of the flooding from a federal emergency official reached the Homeland Security Department's headquarters starting at 9:27 p.m. the day before, and the White House itself at midnight.

    The Federal Emergency Management Agency official, Marty Bahamonde, first heard of a major levee breach Monday morning. By late Monday afternoon, Mr. Bahamonde had hitched a ride on a Coast Guard helicopter over the breach at the 17th Street Canal to confirm the extensive flooding. He then telephoned his report to FEMA headquarters in Washington, which notified the Homeland Security Department.

    "FYI from FEMA," said an e-mail message from the agency's public affairs staff describing the helicopter flight, sent Monday night at 9:27 to the chief of staff of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and recently unearthed by investigators. Conditions, the message said, "are far more serious than media reports are currently reflecting. Finding extensive flooding and more stranded people than they had thought — also a number of fires."

    Michael D. Brown, who was the director of FEMA until he resigned under pressure on Sept. 12, said in a telephone interview Thursday that he personally notified the White House of this news that night, though he declined to identify the official he spoke to.

    White House officials have confirmed to Congressional investigators that the report of the levee break arrived there at midnight, and Trent Duffy, the White House spokesman, acknowledged as much in an interview this week, though he said it was surrounded with conflicting reports.

    But the alert did not seem to register. Even the next morning, President Bush, on vacation in Texas, was feeling relieved that New Orleans had "dodged the bullet," he later recalled. Mr. Chertoff, similarly confident, flew Tuesday to Atlanta for a briefing on avian flu. With power out from the high winds and movement limited, even news reporters in New Orleans remained unaware of the full extent of the levee breaches until Tuesday. [...]

    On Friday, Mr. Brown, the former FEMA director, is scheduled to testify before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. He is expected to confirm that he notified the White House on that Monday, the day the hurricane hit, that the levee had given way, the city was flooding and his crews were overwhelmed.

    "There is no question in my mind that at the highest levels of the White House they understood how grave the situation was," Mr. Brown said in the interview. [Emphasis added]

    Is there anything they haven't lied about? Anything at all?

    Posted by Jonathan at 01:07 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    November 24, 2005

    Do As I Say... Disasters

    You can't, as they say, make this stuff up. AP:

    Former FEMA Director Michael Brown, heavily criticized for his agency's slow response to Hurricane Katrina, is starting a disaster preparedness consulting firm to help clients avoid the sort of errors that cost him his job. [...]

    Brown said officials need to "take inventory" of what's going on in a disaster to be able to answer questions to avoid appearing unaware of how serious a situation is.

    In the aftermath of the hurricane, critics complained about Brown's lack of formal emergency management experience and e-mails that later surfaced showed him as out of touch with the extent of the devastation.

    Kenneth Boulding said, "Nothing fails like success because we don't learn from it. We learn only from failure." In that case, Brown has had one of the world's great opportunities to learn.

    Posted by Jonathan at 07:58 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    November 10, 2005

    Katrina Diaspora Map Disasters

    ePodunk (via WorldChanging) has a fascinating map depicting the diaspora of the 3.2 million people whose homes were flooded or destroyed by Hurrican Katrina. From the accompanying text:

    Hurricane Katrina blew down or flooded the homes of about 3.2 million people along the central Gulf Coast, including 1.3 million in metropolitan New Orleans and 250,000 in Gulfport and Biloxi. A mandatory evacuation order was issued for New Orleans, and authorities scrambled to provide emergency shelter for about 500,000 Americans. Perhaps an equal or greater number were staying with relatives or friends. Katrina caused the biggest mass migration in U.S. history, surpassing the 1927 flood of the Mississippi River. In terms of numbers permanently displaced, the only event that might have been bigger than Katrina is the Civil War. [Emphasis added]

    With Katrina gone from the news, we forget the enormous number of our fellow Americans whose lives have been uprooted. (Map)

    Posted by Jonathan at 01:38 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    October 23, 2005

    Taiwan To Ignore Flu Drug Patent Disasters  Rights, Law  Science/Technology

    With a possible Avian flu epidemic in the offing, Taiwan says it's going to ignore the patent on an anti-flu drug and start producing the drug on its own. BBC:

    Taiwan has responded to bird flu fears by starting work on its own version of the anti-viral drug, Tamiflu, without waiting for the manufacturer's consent.

    Taiwan officials said they had applied for the right to copy the drug — but the priority was to protect the public.

    Tamiflu, made by Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche, cannot cure bird-flu but is widely seen as the best anti-viral drug to fight it, correspondents say. [...]

    Several countries have asked Roche for the right to make generic copies of Tamiflu. [...]

    "We have tried our best to negotiate with Roche," Su Ih-jen told Reuters news agency.

    "It means we have shown our goodwill to Roche and we appreciate their patent. But to protect our people is the utmost important thing," he said. [...]

    Officials say they can make their version of the drug more quickly — and at a lower cost — than Roche does. [My emphasis]

    Even if you love the idea of patents on medicines, wouldn't it make sense for patent law to include an exception to cover cases where the patent holder is unable or unwilling to produce a patented item quickly enough (and cheaply enough), when that item is essential to the public health? Especially when R&D on new drugs is so heavily underwritten by US taxpayers (through tax deductions and publicly funded research) and the pharmaceutical industry remains one of the world's most profitable industries? When the lives of millions of people are on the line?

    [Thanks Kent]

    Posted by Jonathan at 03:18 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    October 18, 2005

    Richard Clarke On Bush Administration Disaster Response Disasters  Politics

    Former counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke sure has a gift for trenchant criticism. Here he is in the November issue of The Atlantic:

    Imagine if, in advance of Hurricane Katrina, thousands of trucks had been waiting with water and ice and medicine and other supplies. Imagine if 4,000 National Guardsmen and an equal number of emergency aid workers from around the country had been moved into place, and five million meals had been ready to serve. Imagine if scores of mobile satellite-communications stations had been prepared to move in instantly, ensuring that rescuers could talk to one another. Imagine if all this had been managed by a federal-and-state task force that not only directed the government response but also helped coordinate the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and other outside groups.

    Actually, this requires no imagination: it is exactly what the Bush administration did a year ago when Florida braced for Hurricane Frances. Of course the circumstances then were very special: it was two months before the presidential election, and Florida's twenty-seven electoral votes were hanging in the balance. It is hardly surprising that Washington ensured the success of "the largest response to a natural disaster we've ever had in this country." The president himself passed out water bottles to Floridians driven from their homes. [My emphasis]

    Clarke goes on to explain how the administration has politicized FEMA and neglected to undertake even the most obvious homeland security preparations. All true, but his own example shows that FEMA is capable of moving when the White House wants it to — i.e., when people at the White House thinks there's something in it for them politically — so FEMA's failure in responding to Katrina isn't simply a matter of an agency that's been crippled. The White House either couldn't be bothered to pay attention as Katrina approached, or they made a conscious decision that it was in their interest to let New Orleans get creamed and then control the reconstruction. And now Karl Rove's in charge of doling out the tens or hundreds of billions of dollars of reconstruction money. Funny how that works.

    (For more on the administration's response to Hurricane Frances in Florida, see this. For more on the Katrina reconstruction slush fund, see this, this, this, and this.)

    Posted by Jonathan at 01:22 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    September 21, 2005

    Rita May Be Rude Awakening Disasters  Peak Oil

    Oil industry insiders are calling Hurricane Rita, now one of the most powerful hurricanes on record, a possible "worst case scenario" for Gulf coast oil production and refining. Current projections of Rita's path would rip right through an area packed with oil intrastructure.

    Here's what an oil industry insider told The Oil Drum:

    The worst tracks are those which put landfall between Freeport and Sabine Pass Texas. There are 3 tracks that cross just offshore of the TX/LA border. Those 3 tracks all let the storm hit more rigs and platforms than the tracks that have landfall farther south. The big concentrations of platforms are in the West Cameron, High Island, Galveston, and Matagorda Island offshore areas...Landfall just east of Houston's center will be right up refinery alley. Another bad spot is right up through Port Arthur and Beaumont — another big refining center...Most of our big plants are in the stretch of coastline between Freeport and Sabine Pass.

    Click the links for Freeport, Galveston, and Port Arthur. Zoom out to see where these cities are in relation to the Texas coast. Then go here to view a map that shows the projected storm tracks according to various mathematical models. At the time of this writing, most of the tracks are pretty much a direct hit on the areas called out as critical by the oil industry insider. Not good.

    Bloomberg:

    "Rita is developing into our worst-case scenario," said John Kilduff, vice president of risk management at Fimat USA in New York. "This is headed right into our other major refining center just after all the damage done to facilities in Louisiana. From an energy perspective it doesn't get any worse than this." [...]

    "This has the potential to be a real powerful storm, and after the damage caused by Katrina nobody's taking any chances," said Justin Fohsz, a broker at Starsupply Petroleum Inc. in Englewood, New Jersey. "There are a lot of refineries in Texas. Even if it misses the offshore platforms there will be disruptions due to the evacuations." [My emphasis]

    Reuters:

    Valero Energy Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Bill Greehey said Hurricane Rita's impact on U.S. crude oil production and refining could be a "national disaster."

    Valero became the largest U.S. refiner earlier this year when it completed the purchase of Premcor Inc. Valero operates refineries in Port Arthur, Houston, Texas City and Corpus Christi, Texas — all potentially in the path of Hurricane Rita.

    "It's going to be coming across the (U.S.) Gulf (of Mexico)," Greehey said. "There's a lot of oil platforms, oil rigs, (natural) gas platforms, gas rigs. It could have a significant impact on supply and prices, and then, depending on what it does to the refineries, there are still four refineries that are shut down. So this really is a national disaster." [My emphasis]

    If Rita hits the critical portion of the Texas coast as a Category 5 hurricane, we're all going to get a rude awakening. Think of it as a preview of our future: Peak Oil and global warming-induced freak weather, all in one horrifying package. See also this hair-raising article from the Houston Chronicle from last February. If Rita's a direct hit, the US economy is going to be in big trouble. For real.

    Landfall is still several days away. Let's hope Rita veers off and we dodge the bullet. For now.

    Posted by Jonathan at 09:08 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    September 18, 2005

    It Failed Miserably Before, So Let's Try It Again Disasters

    A year ago, Naomi Klein wrote in Harper's about the Washington neocons' failed experiment with radically unfettered capitalism in Iraq:

    The Bush Administration did have a plan for what it would do after the war; put simply, it was to lay out as much honey as possible, then sit back and wait for the flies.

    The honey theory of Iraqi reconstruction stems from the most cherished belief of the war's ideological architects: that greed is good. Not good just for them and their friends but good for humanity, and certainly good for Iraqis. Greed creates profit, which creates growth, which creates jobs and products and services and everything else anyone could possibly need or want. The role of good government, then, is to create the optimal conditions for corporations to pursue their bottomless greed, so that they in turn can meet the needs of the society. The problem is that governments, even neoconservative governments, rarely get the chance to prove their sacred theory right: despite their enormous ideological advances, even George Bush's Republicans are, in their own minds, perennially sabotaged by meddling Democrats, intractable unions, and alarmist environmentalists.

    Iraq was going to change all that. In one place on Earth, the theory would finally be put into practice in its most perfect and uncompromised form. [...]

    The theory is that if painful economic "adjustments" are brought in rapidly and in the aftermath of a seismic social disruption like a war, a coup, or a government collapse, the population will be so stunned, and so preoccupied with the daily pressures of survival, that it...will go into suspended animation, unable to resist. As Pinochet's finance minister, Admiral Lorenzo Gotuzzo, declared, "The dog's tail must be cut off in one chop." [...]

    The tone of Bremer's tenure was set with his first major act on the job: he fired 500,000 state workers, most of them soldiers, but also doctors, nurses, teachers, publishers, and printers. Next, he flung open the country's borders to absolutely unrestricted imports: no tariffs, no duties, no inspections, no taxes. Iraq, Bremer declared two weeks after he arrived, was "open for business."

    One month later, Bremer unveiled the centerpiece of his reforms. Before the invasion, Iraq's non-oil-related economy had been dominated by 200 state-owned companies, which produced everything from cement to paper to washing machines. [Bremer] announced that these firms would be privatized immediately...It would be the largest state liquidation sale since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    But Bremer's economic engineering had only just begun. In September, to entice foreign investors to come to Iraq, he enacted a radical set of laws unprecedented in their generosity to multinational corporations... [My emphasis]

    The failure of these policies was as dramatic and all-encompassing as the policies themselves. At least $8.8 billion was stolen outright, tens of billions more were lost to corruption and incompetence. Everything that was broken in the immediate aftermath of the US invasion remains broken.

    You'd think such colossal failure might lead the ideologues to reexamine their assumptions, but of course you'd be wrong. Klein:

    Iraq was to the neocons what Afghanistan was to the Taliban: the one place on Earth where they could force everyone to live by the most literal, unyielding interpretation of their sacred texts. One would think that the bloody results of this experiment would inspire a crisis of faith: in the country where they had absolute free reign, where there was no local government to blame, where economic reforms were introduced at their most shocking and most perfect, they created, instead of a model free market, a failed state no right-thinking investor would touch. And yet the Green Zone neocons and their masters in Washington are no more likely to reexamine their core beliefs than the Taliban mullahs were inclined to search their souls when their Islamic state slid into a debauched Hades of opium and sex slavery. When facts threaten true believers, they simply close their eyes and pray harder. [My emphasis]

    Which brings us to the real subject of this post — not the reconstruction in Iraq, but the reconstruction in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. The ideologues are at it again. WSJ (via Digby):

    Congressional Republicans, backed by the White House, say they are using relief measures for the hurricane-ravaged Gulf coast to achieve a broad range of conservative economic and social policies, both in the storm zone and beyond.

    ...In the past week, the Bush administration has suspended some union-friendly rules that require federal contractors pay prevailing wages, moved to ease tariffs on Canadian lumber, and allowed more foreign sugar imports to calm rising sugar prices. Just yesterday, it waived some affirmative-action rules for employers with federal contracts in the Gulf region.

    Now, Republicans are working on legislation that would limit victims' right to sue, offer vouchers for displaced school children, lift some environment restrictions on new refineries and create tax-advantaged enterprise zones to maximize private-sector participation in recovery and reconstruction. Yesterday, the House overwhelmingly passed a bill that would offer sweeping protection against lawsuits to any person or organization that helps Katrina victims without compensation.

    "The desire to bring conservative, free-market ideas to the Gulf Coast is white hot," says Rep. Mike Pence, the Indiana Republican who leads the Republican Study Group, an influential caucus of conservative House members. "We want to turn the Gulf Coast into a magnet for free enterprise. The last thing we want is a federal city where New Orleans once was."

    Many of the ideas under consideration have been pushed by the 40-member study group, which is circulating a list of "free-market solutions," including proposals to eliminate regulatory barriers to awarding federal funds to religious groups housing hurricane victims, waiving the estate tax for deaths in the storm-affected states; and making the entire region a "flat-tax free-enterprise zone." [...]

    Republicans, meanwhile, say they will also press for a new round of energy concessions, including incentives to rebuild and expand offshore drilling and clear the way for new refineries that were dropped from a 500-page energy bill that passed last month.

    House Energy and Commerce Chairman Joe Barton of Texas and Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe are working on bills that would encourage refineries to build new plants and expand existing ones by rolling back environmental rules and making it easier for refineries to navigate regulatory channels in Washington. [...]

    The National Petrochemical & Refineries Association would like lawmakers to reduce the depreciation period from 10 years to five years in order to stimulate investment. Some refineries are talking about reviving an effort to get liability protection for producing the fuel additive methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE. Both were dropped from the earlier energy bill at the insistence of Democrats. [My emphasis]

    They call themselves conservatives, but these people are as reckless and radical a bunch of bomb-throwers as has ever governed in this country. Conservatism ought to imply a desire to moderate the pace of change, to err on the side of careful consideration before deciding on a course of action. It ought to suggest a generally sober and deliberative approach to governance, but these "conservative" ideologues are all about shooting wildly from the hip, betting it all on one throw of the dice. They are a disaster from which we may never recover. Best case: we'll be cleaning up their mess for decades to come.

    Posted by Jonathan at 03:17 PM | Comments (3) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    September 16, 2005

    Looking More Like A Third World Country Every Day Disasters

    From Immanuel Wallerstein (bio), via James Wolcott:

    The entire world has been following with stupefaction the incredible performance of the U.S. federal government's response to the physical and human disaster of the hurricane Katrina...The general reaction has been to ask how could the government of the richest and most powerful country in the world have reacted to this disaster as poorly as, or even much less well than, governments of poor Third World countries? The simple answer is a combination of incompetence and decline. And the results of this disaster will be a further diminution of respect for the president within the United States and a deepened skepticism in other countries about the United States's capacity to put action behind vacuous rhetoric. [...]

    When El Salvador has to offer troops to help restore order in New Orleans because U.S. troops were so scarce and so slow in arriving, Iran cannot be quaking in its boots about a possible U.S. invasion. When Sweden has its relief planes sitting on the tarmac in Sweden for a week because it cannot get an answer from the U.S. government as to whether to send them, they are not going to be reassured about the ability of the U.S. to handle more serious geopolitical matters. And when conservative U.S. television commentators talk of the U.S. looking like a Third World country, Third World countries may begin to think that maybe there is a grain of truth in the description. [My emphasis]

    For decades, everybody thought the Soviet Union was a mighty superpower. Then the Iron Curtain parted, and it turned out the USSR was little more than a Third World country with a First World military — or at least the appearance of a First World military.

    Desperate to keep up appearances — in the military and in other things — the Soviets spent their way into bankruptcy, until what looked from the outside like an almighty colossus turned out to be nothing but a hollowed-out rusting hulk. And one day it just simply collapsed. Nobody thought it was possible, and then it happened.

    At the current rate, guess who may be joining them. We keep up appearances by going further and further into debt, but the rest of the world isn't going to keep lending at this pace forever. Nothing about the US government these days seems likely to inspire confidence among its creditors: who wants to lend money to idiots? One day — perhaps sooner rather than later — creditors may pull the plug. Then the house of cards will collapse in a pile.

    Everybody will again be surprised, but the signs are all around us.

    Posted by Jonathan at 11:56 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    September 15, 2005

    The Mother Of All Slush Funds V Disasters

    In case you think it's over the top to suggest that Katrina reconstruction funds are being treated as the personal piggy bank of the Bush political operation, consider this little bombshell from today's NYT:

    Republicans said Karl Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff and Mr. Bush's chief political adviser, was in charge of the reconstruction effort, which reaches across many agencies of government... [My emphasis]

    Karl Rove, who knows exactly nothing about disaster recovery and reconstruction.

    This is how it works when gangsters rule.

    Posted by Jonathan at 03:17 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    The Bridge To Gretna Disasters

    Last Saturday, I quoted New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who said that after New Orleans was flooded there was only one way out of the city — via the Crescent City Connection bridge to Jefferson Parish — but that Gretna police blocked the bridge and turned people back at gunpoint.

    Here is another account, from the Independent:

    A Louisiana police chief has admitted that he ordered his officers to block a bridge over the Mississippi river and force escaping evacuees back into the chaos and danger of New Orleans. Witnesses said the officers fired their guns above the heads of the terrified people to drive them back and "protect" their own suburbs.

    Two paramedics who were attending a conference in the city and then stayed to help those affected by the hurricane, said the officers told them they did not want their community "becoming another New Orleans".

    The desperate evacuees were forced to trudge back into the city they had just left. "It was a real eye-opener," Larry Bradshaw, 49, a paramedic from San Francisco, told The Independent on Sunday. "I believe it was racism. It was callousness, it was cruelty."

    Mr Bradshaw said the police blocked off the road on the Thursday and Friday after Hurricane Katrina struck on Monday 29 August. [...]

    ...Mr Bradshaw spoke with a senior New Orleans police officer who instructed them to cross the Crescent City Connection bridge to Jefferson Parish, where he promised they would find buses waiting to evacuate them.

    They were in the middle of a group of up to 800 people — overwhelmingly black — walking across the bridge when they heard shots and saw people running. "We had been hearing shooting for days. What was different about this was that it was close by," he said.

    Making their way towards the crest of the bridge they saw a chain of armed police officers blocking the route. When they asked about the buses they were told their was no such arrangement and that the route was being blocked to avoid their parish becoming "another New Orleans". They identified the police as officers from the city of Gretna.

    The following day Mr Bradshaw said they tried again to cross and directly witnessed police shooting over the heads of a middle-aged white couple who were also turned back. Eventually, late on Friday evening, the couple succeeded in crossing the bridge with the intervention of a contact in the local fire department.

    Arthur Lawson, chief of the Gretna police department, said he had not yet questioned his officers as to whether they fired their guns.

    He confirmed that his officers, along with those from Jefferson Parish and the Crescent City Connection police force, sealed the bridge and refused to let people pass. This was despite the fact that local media were informing people that the bridge was one of the few safe evacuation routes from the city. [...]

    Mr Bradshaw and his wife were evacuated to Texas and have since returned to California. They condemned the authorities, adding: "This official treatment was in sharp contrast to the warm, heartfelt reception given to us by ordinary Texans.

    "Throughout, the official relief effort was callous, inept and racist... Lives were lost that did not need to be lost." [My emphasis]

    Outrageous.

    Posted by Jonathan at 01:01 PM | Comments (2) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    The Mother Of All Slush Funds IV Disasters

    WaPo reports that Bush is about to unveil a new funding bill for Katrina reconstruction that will cost more next year alone than the entire cost of the Iraq war to date. Note this:

    Bush and Republican congressional leaders, by contrast, are calculating that the U.S. economy can safely absorb a sharp spike in spending and budget deficits, and that the only way to regain public confidence after the stumbling early response to the disaster is to spend whatever it takes to rebuild the region and help Katrina's victims get back on their feet. [Emphasis added]

    Josh Marshall comments:

    Regain public confidence in who? [...]

    What's driving this budgetary push is not a natural disaster but a political crisis, the president's political crisis. The White House is trying to undo self-inflicted political damage on the national dime.

    You don't have to be a conservative or a budget-hawk to be deeply worried about what's happening here. It's not even a matter of the dollar value in itself, though this country has already been pushed to the budgetary edge and just doesn't have an infinite number of hundreds of billions of dollars it can spend.

    Intentions are everything. Intentions dictate actions and actions have consequences. The two can never be teased apart. [...]

    If there's nothing else this decade has taught us it is that there was never and never could have been any Iraq War separated from the goals and intentions of those with their foot on the accelerator. Anything else is just a sad delusion. That's why the whole mess is as it is now: fruit of the poison tree.

    Same here.

    Maybe you want to spend $200 billion on rebuilding the Delta region too. Fine. Something like that will probably be necessary. But don't fool yourself into thinking that what's coming is just a matter of a different chef making the same meal. This will be Iraq all over again, with the same fetid mix of graft, zeal and hubris. Cronyism like you wouldn't believe. Money blown on ideological fantasies and half-baked test-cases.

    You could come up with a hundred reasons why that's true. But at root intentions drive all. You'll never separate this operation or its results from the fact that the people in charge see it as a political operation. The use of this money for political purposes, for what amounts to a political campaign, tells you everything you need to know about what's coming. [My emphasis]

    I've noted before that we can expect the money to be controlled by the Bush political operation. And when you are in a position to dole out several hundred billion dollars to friends and allies, that buys a lot of power. Who knows, maybe that even buys Jeb the White House in 2008.

    This is how it works when gangsters rule.

    Posted by Jonathan at 10:42 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    September 13, 2005

    Racism As Fear Disasters

    Recent polls show an enormous divide between how blacks and whites view the Katrina disaster. Some 2/3 of blacks think race was a factor in the government's poor response; some 3/4 of whites think it wasn't.

    How could so many whites think race (or race and class together) wasn't a factor? Could it have been any more obvious? I suppose a lot of people don't want to admit to themselves, let alone to a pollster, that they and people like them are racists; that's part of the explanation. But Digby may have hit on a subtler answer:

    [T]hroughout, I've heard many good people insist that race is not a factor. They seem to think that racism is only defined as an irrational hatred of black people. It's not. It also manifests itself as an irrational fear of black people. [My emphasis]

    People with an irrational, racist fear of blacks probably don't grasp even now that their fear was irrational and exaggerated out of all proportion. They see the world through a powerfully distorting lens. And so they think it was objectively justified that the entire black population of an American city (women, kids, families) was held prisoner in life-threatening conditions because of the reputed actions of a tiny minority. They think it was justified, so it wasn't racism.

    Think again.

    Posted by Jonathan at 09:08 PM | Comments (6) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    September 12, 2005

    EPA Senior Analyst: New Orleans Toxicity "Worse Than Love Canal" Disasters

    Last week on NPR's On Point program, Senior EPA Policy Analyst Hugh Kaufman said that the post-Katrina pollution in New Orleans is "worse than Love Canal". And Kaufman is someone who knows whereof he speaks. He's been with the EPA since its founding and is probably the agency's most senior expert on toxic waste and environmental disaster response.

    Still, the toxicity of the waters flooding New Orleans has received little discussion of real substance in US media. Britain's Sunday Independent reported on it yesterday, however. Excerpts:

    Toxic chemicals in the New Orleans flood waters will make the city unsafe for full human habitation for a decade, a US government official has told The Independent on Sunday. And, he added, the Bush administration is covering up the danger.

    In an exclusive interview, Hugh Kaufman, an expert on toxic waste and responses to environmental disasters at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said the way the polluted water was being pumped out was increasing the danger to health.

    The pollution was far worse than had been admitted, he said, because his agency was failing to take enough samples and was refusing to make public the results of those it had analysed. "Inept political hacks" running the clean-up will imperil the health of low-income migrant workers by getting them to do the work. [...]

    Other US sources spelt out the extent of the danger from one of America's most polluted industrial areas, known locally as "Cancer Alley". The 66 chemical plants, refineries and petroleum storage depots churn out 600m lb of toxic waste each year. Other dangerous substances are in site storage tanks or at the port of New Orleans. No one knows how much pollution has escaped through damaged plants and leaking pipes into the "toxic gumbo" now drowning the city. Mr Kaufman says no one is trying to find out.

    Few people are better qualified to judge the extent of the problem. Mr Kaufman, who has been with the EPA since it was founded 35 years ago, helped to set up its hazardous waste programme. After serving as chief investigator to the EPA's ombudsman, he is now senior policy analyst in its Office of Solid Wastes and Emergency Response. He said the clean-up needed to be "the most massive public works exercise ever done", adding: "It will take 10 years to get everything up and running and safe."

    Mr Kaufman claimed the Bush administration was playing down the need for a clean-up: the EPA has not been included in the core White House group tackling the crisis. "Its budget has been cut and inept political hacks have been put in key positions," Mr Kaufman said. "All the money for emergency response has gone to buy guns and cowboys — which don't do anything when a hurricane hits. We were less prepared for this than we would have been on 10 September 2001."

    He said the water being pumped out of the city was not being tested for pollution and would damage Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi river, and endanger people using it downstream. [My emphasis]

    This administration cares nothing about results. They care only about appearances. And the toxic pollution in New Orleans is something that people can't see on their TV screeens. So the Bush administration's response will be to try to pretend it isn't there. Let somebody else deal with it, someday.

    FEMA has already shown us what kind of a disaster results when a President puts political hacks in positions of reponsibility requiring real technical, scientific, or specialized management expertise (the kind of expertise a guy like Hugh Kaufman has). EPA is another such Bush administration disaster. In the case of the EPA, though, the disaster will occur in slow motion and last for many, many years, poisoning and killing God knows how many more people in the process.

    Posted by Jonathan at 08:54 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Disaster Capitalism II Disasters

    As we noted last week, Joseph Allbaugh, Bush's first FEMA director, is now a lobbyist for two construction companies positioned to cash in big-time on Hurricane Katrina: Dick Cheney's Halliburton and Shaw Group of Baton Rouge. Well, guess who's first out of the gate in the reconstruction feeding frenzy. Reuters:

    Companies with ties to the Bush White House and the former head of FEMA are clinching some of the administration's first disaster relief and reconstruction contracts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

    At least two major corporate clients of lobbyist Joe Allbaugh, President Bush's former campaign manager and a former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, have already been tapped to start recovery work along the battered Gulf Coast.

    One is Shaw Group Inc. and the other is Halliburton Co. subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root. Vice President Dick Cheney is a former head of Halliburton.

    Bechtel National Inc., a unit of San Francisco-based Bechtel Corp., has also been selected by FEMA to provide short-term housing for people displaced by the hurricane. Bush named Bechtel's CEO to his Export Council and put the former CEO of Bechtel Energy in charge of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. [...]

    [M]any of the same companies seeking contracts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina have already received billions of dollars for work in Iraq.

    Halliburton alone has earned more than $9 billion. Pentagon audits released by Democrats in June showed $1.03 billion in "questioned" costs and $422 million in "unsupported" costs for Halliburton's work in Iraq.

    But the web of Bush administration connections is attracting renewed attention from watchdog groups in the post-Katrina reconstruction rush. Congress has already appropriated more than $60 billion in emergency funding as a down payment on recovery efforts projected to cost well over $100 billion. [...]

    Allbaugh formally registered as a lobbyist for Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root in February.

    In lobbying disclosure forms filed with the Senate, Allbaugh said his goal was to "educate the congressional and executive branch on defense, disaster relief and homeland security issues affecting Kellogg Brown and Root." [...]

    Allbaugh is also a friend of Michael Brown, director of FEMA who was removed as head of Katrina disaster relief and sent back to Washington amid allegations he had padded his resume. [...]

    On Friday, Kellogg Brown & Root received $29.8 million in Pentagon contracts to begin rebuilding Navy bases in Louisiana and Mississippi. [...]

    Shaw said Thursday it has received a $100 million emergency FEMA contract for housing management and construction. Shaw also clinched a $100 million order on Friday from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. [My emphasis]

    Surprise, surprise. And this is only the beginning.

    Posted by Jonathan at 08:16 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Disaster Capitalism Disasters

    [Originally posted 9/11 at 5:34 PM. Re-posted to bring it back to the top.]

    Hurricane Katrina has brought to American shores a phenomenon outlined by Naomi Klein in an essential article from last May, The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. As we watch White House cronies move in for the "reconstruction" of New Orleans, we'd all do well to keep Klein's article in mind. Excerpts:

    Last summer, in the lull of the August media doze, the Bush Administration's doctrine of preventive war took a major leap forward. On August 5, 2004, the White House created the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization [OCRS]...Its mandate is to draw up elaborate "post-conflict" plans for up to twenty-five countries that are not, as of yet, in conflict. [...]

    Fittingly, a government devoted to perpetual pre-emptive deconstruction now has a standing office of perpetual pre-emptive reconstruction.

    Gone are the days of waiting for wars to break out and then drawing up ad hoc plans to pick up the pieces. In close cooperation with the National Intelligence Council, [OCRS] keeps "high risk" countries on a "watch list" and assembles rapid-response teams ready to engage in prewar planning and to "mobilize and deploy quickly" after a conflict has gone down. The teams are made up of private companies, nongovernmental organizations and members of think tanks. [...]

    The plans [the] teams have been drawing up in his little-known office in the State Department are about changing "the very social fabric of a nation,"...Sometimes rebuilding...means "tearing apart the old."

    [W]here there is destruction there is reconstruction, a chance to grab hold of "the terrible barrenness," as a UN official recently described the [tsunami] devastation in Aceh, and fill it with the most perfect, beautiful plans.

    "We used to have vulgar colonialism," says Shalmali Guttal, a Bangalore-based researcher with Focus on the Global South. "Now we have sophisticated colonialism, and they call it 'reconstruction.'"

    It certainly seems that ever-larger portions of the globe are under active reconstruction: being rebuilt by a parallel government made up of a familiar cast of for-profit consulting firms, engineering companies, mega-NGOs, government and UN aid agencies and international financial institutions. [...]

    Three months after the tsunami hit Aceh, the New York Times ran a distressing story reporting that "almost nothing seems to have been done to begin repairs and rebuilding." The dispatch could easily have come from Iraq, where, as the Los Angeles Times just reported, all of Bechtel's allegedly rebuilt water plants have started to break down, one more in an endless litany of reconstruction screw-ups...Or from Sri Lanka, where 600,000 people who lost their homes in the tsunami are still languishing in temporary camps. [...]

    But if the reconstruction industry is stunningly inept at rebuilding, that may be because rebuilding is not its primary purpose. According to Guttal, "It's not reconstruction at all — it's about reshaping everything." If anything, the stories of corruption and incompetence serve to mask this deeper scandal: the rise of a predatory form of disaster capitalism that uses the desperation and fear created by catastrophe to engage in radical social and economic engineering. And on this front, the reconstruction industry works so quickly and efficiently that the privatizations and land grabs are usually locked in before the local population knows what hit them. ...Sri Lanka is now facing "a second tsunami of corporate globalization and militarization," potentially even more devastating than the first. "We see this as a plan of action amidst the tsunami crisis to hand over the sea and the coast to foreign corporations and tourism, with military assistance from the US Marines."

    As Deputy Defense Secretary, Paul Wolfowitz designed and oversaw a strikingly similar project in Iraq: The fires were still burning in Baghdad when US occupation officials rewrote the investment laws and announced that the country's state-owned companies would be privatized. Some have pointed to this track record to argue that Wolfowitz is unfit to lead the World Bank; in fact, nothing could have prepared him better for his new job. [...]

    "Post-conflict" countries now receive 20-25 percent of the World Bank's total lending, up from 16 percent in 1998 — itself an 800 percent increase since 1980...Rapid response to wars and natural disasters has traditionally been the domain of United Nations agencies, which worked with NGOs to provide emergency aid, build temporary housing and the like. But now reconstruction work has been revealed as a tremendously lucrative industry, too important to be left to the do-gooders at the UN. [...]

    [S]hattered countries are attractive to the World Bank for another reason: They take orders well. After a cataclysmic event, governments will usually do whatever it takes to get aid dollars — even if it means racking up huge debts and agreeing to sweeping policy reforms [sic]. And with the local population struggling to find shelter and food, political organizing against privatization can seem like an unimaginable luxury. [...]

    The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have been imposing shock therapy on countries in various states of shock for at least three decades, most notably after Latin America's military coups and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Yet many observers say that today's disaster capitalism really hit its stride with Hurricane Mitch. For a week in October 1998, Mitch parked itself over Central America, swallowing villages whole and killing more than 9,000. Already impoverished countries were desperate for reconstruction aid — and it came, but with strings attached. In the two months after Mitch struck...the Honduran congress...passed laws allowing the privatization of airports, seaports and highways and fast-tracked plans to privatize the state telephone company, the national electric company and parts of the water sector. It overturned land-reform laws and made it easier for foreigners to buy and sell property. It was much the same in neighboring countries. [...]

    Now the bank is using the December 26 tsunami to push through its cookie-cutter policies. The most devastated countries have seen almost no debt relief, and most of the World Bank's emergency aid has come in the form of loans, not grants. Rather than emphasizing the need to help the small fishing communities — more than 80 percent of the wave's victims — the bank is pushing for expansion of the tourism sector and industrial fish farms. As for the damaged public infrastructure, like roads and schools, bank documents recognize that rebuilding them "may strain public finances" and suggest that governments consider privatization. [...]

    As in other reconstruction sites, from Haiti to Iraq, tsunami relief has little to do with recovering what was lost. Although hotels and industry have already started reconstructing on the coast, in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia and India, governments have passed laws preventing families from rebuilding their oceanfront homes. Hundreds of thousands of people are being forcibly relocated inland, to military style barracks in Aceh and prefab concrete boxes in Thailand. The coast is not being rebuilt as it was — dotted with fishing villages and beaches strewn with handmade nets. Instead, governments, corporations and foreign donors are teaming up to rebuild it as they would like it to be: the beaches as playgrounds for tourists, the oceans as watery mines for corporate fishing fleets, both serviced by privatized airports and highways built on borrowed money.

    In January Condoleezza Rice sparked a small controversy by describing the tsunami as "a wonderful opportunity" that "has paid great dividends for us." Many were horrified at the idea of treating a massive human tragedy as a chance to seek advantage. But, if anything, Rice was understating the case. A group calling itself Thailand Tsunami Survivors and Supporters says that for "businessmen-politicians, the tsunami was the answer to their prayers, since it literally wiped these coastal areas clean of the communities which had previously stood in the way of their plans for resorts, hotels, casinos and shrimp farms. To them, all these coastal areas are now open land!" [My emphasis]

    And now we have our own tsunami, and the predators have moved in for the kill. The confluence of interests includes neo-conservative ideologues and Bush Republicans on the public side, global construction and energy giants on the private side. Come to think of it, all of those interests come together in the person of one man: Dick Cheney. Funny how that works.

    What Klein's article makes clear is that these guys have done all this before: they know a disaster opportunity when they see one, and they stand ready to capitalize on any such opportunity that presents itself; the capability to do so is, by now, entirely "off-the-shelf". Having perfected the process abroad, they now get to bring it home. And they know that the prerequisite that makes it all possible is a situation so dire that local authorities will accede to pretty much any terms they dictate. If necessary, they can help create that situation in the first place, by withholding help until their terms are agreed to.

    The other thing Klein makes clear is that there's something else at work here besides the feeding frenzy for profits. There's an ideologically-based impulse to remake the affected areas anew as some kind of neoconservative capitalist uptopia — or maybe that's just how they rationalize their lust for profits. In any case, don't expect the New Orleans that results to be the New Orleans we have known and loved.

    Posted by Jonathan at 11:37 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Newsweek: Bush Approval At 38%; Only 28% "Satisfied With Way Things Are Going" Disasters

    A new Newsweek poll is horrible for Bush. Newsweek:

    In Katrina's wake, the president's popularity and job-approval ratings have dropped across the board. Only 38 percent of Americans approve of the way Bush is doing his job overall, a record-low for this president in the NEWSWEEK poll. (Fifty-five percent of Americans disapprove of his overall job performance.) And only 28 percent of Americans say they are "satisfied with the way things are going" in the country, down from 36 percent in August and 46 percent in December, after the president’s re-election. This is another record low and two points below the satisfaction level recorded immediately after the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal came to light. Fully two-thirds of Americans are not satisfied with the direction of the country. [...]

    [M]ost Americans, 52 percent, say they do not trust the president "to make the right decisions during a domestic crisis" (45 percent do). The numbers are exactly the same when the subject is trust of the president to make the right decisions during an international crisis. [...]

    The Katrina effect is evident in how Americans rate the president personally. In every category, the view of the president is at all-time lows for the NEWSWEEK poll. Only 49 percent of Americans now believe the president has strong leadership qualities. The same percentage of registered voters feel that way, 49 percent—down from 63 percent the week before Bush's reelection. Only 42 percent of Americans believe the president cares about people like them; 44 percent of registered voters feel that way—down from 50 percent the week before the election. And only 49 percent of Americans and the same percentage of registered voters believe Bush is intelligent and well-informed — down from 59 percent before the election.

    You can't fool all of the people all of the time.

    If America had a parliamentary system, Bush would be out of office tomorrow.

    Posted by Jonathan at 10:40 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    September 11, 2005

    Poor, Poor Michael Brown Disasters

    FEMA director Mike Brown thinks he's the victim. Idiot.

    Posted by Jonathan at 06:02 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    September 10, 2005

    "You Have To Turn Back" Disasters

    When I read this, I can't tell you how ashamed I am for my country.

    New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin on ABC one week after Katrina hit (via Digby):

    JOHN DONOVAN, ABC NEWS: The last thing I want to ask you about is the race question.

    So, I'm out at the highway — it was last Thursday — huge number of people stuck in the middle of nowhere. Jesse Jackson comes in, looks at the scene, and says it looks like the scene of a, from a slave ship. And I said, "Reverand Jackson,, the imagery suggests you're saying this is about race." And he didn't answer directly, he said, "Take a look at it, what do you think it's about?"

    What's your response to that?

    RAY NAGIN, MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS: (Sighs) You know, I haven't really thought much about the race issue. I will tell you this. I think it's, it could be, but it's a class issue for sure. Because I don't think this type of response would have happened if this was Orange County, California. This response definitely wouldn't have happened if it was Manhattan, New York. And I don't know if it's color or class.

    DONOVAN: In some way, you think that New Orleans got second-class treatment.

    NAGIN: I can't explain the response. And here's what else I can't explain: We are basically, almost surrounded by water. To the east, the bridge is out, you can't escape. Going west, you can't escape because the bridge is under water. We found one evacuation route, to walk across the Crescent City Connection, on the overpass, down Highway 90 to 310 to I10, to go get relief.

    People got restless and there was overcrowding at the convention center. They asked us, "Is there any other option?" We said, "Well, if you want to walk, across the Crescent City Connection, there's buses coming, you may be able to find some relief." They started marching. At the parish line, the county line of Gretna, they were met with attack dogs and police officers with machine guns saying "You have to turn back..."

    DONOVAN: Go back.

    NAGIN: "...because a looter got in a shopping center and set it afire and we want to protect the property in this area."

    DONOVAN: And what does that say to you?

    NAGIN: That says that's a bunch of bull. That says that people value their property, and were protecting property, over human life.

    And look, I was not suggesting, or suggesting to the people that they walk down into those neighborhoods. All I wanted them to do and I suggested: walk on the Interstate. And we called FEMA and we said "Drop them water and supplies as they march." They weren't gonna go into those doggone neighborhoods. They weren't going to impact those neighborhoods. Those people were looking to escape, and they cut off the last available exit route out of New Orleans.

    DONOVAN: And was that race? Was that class?

    NAGIN: I don't know. You're going to have to go ask them. But those questions need to be answered. And I'm pissed about it. And I don't know how many people died as a result of that. [My emphasis]

    These were Americans looking for help from other Americans. These were families, kids, mothers — American citizens who'd lost everything. All they wanted was to walk out of town, but they were blocked by people — Americans — who looked into their poor, black faces and saw only the Boogeyman. And as Ray Nagin says, we'll never know how many people died as a result.

    Posted by Jonathan at 10:14 PM | Comments (5) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    NPR's Katrina Timeline Disasters

    NPR has put together a Katrina timeline that everybody should take the time to read. Atrios has posted it in two parts, here and here. Excerpts:

    [NPR's MELISSA] BLOCK: Three days before Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, public officials knew that the potential for a disaster was great. For years, emergency agencies had been planning how to respond before and after precisely this kind of emergency. [...]

    [NPR's DANIEL] ZWERDLING: Now it's Friday, one day later. It's 1 PM, and Walter Maestri gets a troubling call. Maestri runs the Emergency Management Center in Jefferson Parish. The parish surrounds New Orleans on three sides. It has a bigger population than the city. And when Maestri answers the phone, he's talking to the man who runs the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida.

    Mr. WALTER MAESTRI (Emergency Management Center, Jefferson Parish): Max Mayfield. And Max said to me, `Walter, I just want to alert you that a couple of the models are heading this thing right to New Orleans, and I think this thing is going to seriously intensify. You need to be ready.' At that time, the track was going up the west coast of Florida, so I said to Max, `Are you kidding me?' And he said, `No, Walt, this is real.

    ZWERDLING: Maestri says he immediately rounds up his staff, and they gather in their war room surrounded by maps. Their building looks like a concrete fortress. [...]

    ZWERDLING: Meanwhile, a scientist named Joe Suhayda is staring at his home computer 75 miles away in Baton Rouge. Suhayda ran a research center until a few years ago at Louisiana State University. Back in the 1990s, he and his staff developed the first computer models that showed how a Category 4 or 5 hurricane could destroy New Orleans. But on this particular Friday, Suhayda is tracking Katrina on the Web. He says he's watching his models come to life, and he feels sick.

    Mr. JOE SUHAYDA (Scientist): Because all the conditions necessary to bring the flooding into the city were, at that point in time, being met. I mean, it was just as though it was following a script.

    ZWERDLING: Walter Maestri says government officials have studied that script for years. They've held conferences where they've discussed how all New Orleans could be flooded, and up to 40,000 people could die. They've written hundreds of pages of manuals that spell out which local and state and federal agencies will do what when the monster storm hits. They keep running hurricane exercises to practice. [...]

    ZWERDLING: Max Mayfield is also warning officials in the nation's capital. He briefs FEMA headquarters in a teleconference, so he can see decision-makers on the screen. [NPR doesn't say it, but Mayfield also briefed President Bush himself at his ranch in Crawford, by videoconference.] [...]

    SULLIVAN: On Saturday, the Louisiana Guard calls up 4,000 troops, every Guardsman in the state. But almost half of its force is out of the state and out of the country. Three thousand Louisiana Guard troops are in Iraq, along with most of Louisiana's heavy equipment, including its watercraft, high-water vehicles and generators. Lieutenant Colonel Schneider says the troops fan out to staging areas across the state. According to the emergency plan, they're to wait there until the storm passes. Their job is to distribute supplies and maintain order. The plan anticipates there might be some looting and violence. [...]

    SULLIVAN: That same Saturday, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco says the storm will be so big that state and local governments won't be able to handle it. She asks President Bush to declare a state of emergency. Later that day, he does.

    The next day, on Sunday, at 9:30 AM, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin issues the first ever mandatory evacuation in the city's history. [...]

    ZWERDLING: The state's deputy director of emergency planning, Jeff Smith, says almost one million people do leave. [...]

    SULLIVAN: As people pour out of southern Louisiana, others say they are ready to come in. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson calls the governor of Louisiana to offer his National Guard troops. That's according to Richardson's spokesman, Paul Shipley.

    Mr. PAUL SHIPLEY (Spokesman for New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson): We had offered our assistance and told Governor Blanco and her people that we'd be ready to help, and we had already put our National Guard on standby.

    SULLIVAN: And on this Sunday, Lieutenant Colonel Pete Schneider at the Louisiana National Guard knows they need the extra help.

    Lt. Col. SCHNEIDER: `We need everything you got, you know. We need the full support of the federal government for this hurricane.' And we still didn't have the final concept of what we were dealing with.

    SULLIVAN: All weekend long, key officials coordinate their disaster plans in almost constant conference calls. There are staff members for more than 40 state and federal agencies camped in one room at the state's emergency planning center in Baton Rouge. FEMA's there. They're supposed to make sure that the food gets to hurricane survivors. The US Army Corps of Engineers is in the room. They're in charge of water and structural damage. The National Guard is at the center. They're supposed to provide the troops and trucks and boats to forge through the flood. And they're all on the line with local managers like Walter Maestri to confirm that they'll move in as soon as the hurricane passes by.

    Mr. MAESTRI: All day Saturday and all day Sunday and all day Monday, until the winds got so high that the phone lines blew down, we were in constant contact. Every two to three hours, we were talking. [...]

    SULLIVAN: Both the state and city emergency plans outline how to overcome communication problems. But according to the plans, officials appear to have assumed that at least one mode of communication would work. If the landlines fail, use cell phones. If the cell phones fail, an emergency land hot line would be set up. Neither took into account what actually happened.

    On Monday, soon after Katrina hit, landlines are inoperable. Cell phone towers topple over. Some are underwater. And power isn't available to recharge handheld or ham radios. The few generators that could have recharged them are in Iraq or at command centers as far away as Baton Rouge. Officers in the field use their battery-powered radios to communicate short distances among themselves, but several hours later, the batteries are dead. State Police Lieutenant Lawrence McLeary.

    Lt. McLEARY: People had to, you know, stay in groups and huddle in groups and operate and function as groups, because they didn't have communication with anyone else. And I don't know that people can even understand how dark the city got. I mean, no lights at all. It was just pitch black. There was nothing, no sound at all.

    LAURA SULLIVAN: As the sun comes up Tuesday morning, rescuers are overwhelmed by thousands of people calling out to them for help, trapped inside their attics, running out of air. That morning, at a press conference, William Lokey, chief coordinator for FEMA from Washington, doesn't seem to realize that two failed levees are flooding the city.

    Mr. WILLIAM LOKEY (Chief Coordinator, FEMA): I don't want to alarm everybody that, you know, New Orleans is filling up like a bowl. That's just not happening.

    SULLIVAN: But that's exactly what is happening. For the next 12 hours, across the below-sea-level city, the water keeps rising. [...]

    DANIEL ZWERDLING: That same morning, Walter Maestri follows the disaster plan to rush help to Jefferson Parish. He gets on his shortwave radio, and he calls the emergency command center in Baton Rouge. He talks with FEMA and the National Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers. [...]

    Mr. MAESTRI: ...They said they would place the orders and that they should be here within 12 to 36 hours. That's Tuesday morning.

    ZWERDLING: And Mayor Nagin says he's confident that help is about to pour into New Orleans. He says an official at FEMA has just briefed him.

    Mayor RAY NAGIN (New Orleans): We have the highest levels of government in the United States, including the president of the United States, focused on this issue and ready to send resources. They have told us to put together your wish lists. [...]

    ZWERDLING: Now it's Wednesday afternoon. Local officials like Walter Maestri say they haven't seen the food or water or medical supplies that state and federal officials promised.

    Mr. MAESTRI: You know, we're hearing all kinds of excuses. We're hearing all kinds of rationales that `We don't step in until the locals ask.' Well, you know, the asking was going on.

    SULLIVAN: While Maestri is waiting for supplies, FEMA contractors like Dan Wessel are trying to send them. Wessel owns Cool Express of Wisconsin, one of the main companies under contract by FEMA to bring ice and water to the area. First, he says, his fleet waits two days for FEMA to give the go-ahead. Then, he says, FEMA sends the deliveries to the wrong place.

    Mr. DAN WESSEL (Owner, Cool Express): Our first trucks got staged in Montgomery, Alabama. The second trucks, second wave, got staged in Dallas, Texas.

    SULLIVAN: When they are finally redirected to Louisiana and other areas that actually need supplies, there is no one around to greet the trucks or distribute the ice and water.

    Mr. WESSEL: We are told to go to a certain location. We get there. There's nobody there. We don't know what to do. So it was my driver fending for himself. But pretty well what they did is they opened up the doors and let people take the water and ice.

    ZWERDLING: By Thursday, there seems to be a total disconnect between what's going on on the ground and what officials in Washington say is happening on the ground. That morning, Mayor Nagin goes on local radio.

    Mayor NAGIN: I need reinforcements. I need troops, man. Get every doggone Greyhound bus line in the country, and get that (censored) moving to New Orleans.

    ZWERDLING: Meanwhile, top officials in the Bush administration are painting a different picture. In fact, the secretary of Homeland Security sounds like he doesn't know what's been going on at the convention center in New Orleans for the past two days. Here's Michael Chertoff on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

    Secretary MICHAEL CHERTOFF (Department of Homeland Security): I have not heard a report of thousands of people in the convention center who don't have food and water.

    SULLIVAN: It's Friday, four days since Katrina hit. Everybody in the region is clamoring for the government to send in troops. On this day, President Bush makes his first visit to New Orleans. He calls Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco to a meeting aboard Air Force One on the tarmac at Louis Armstrong Airport. According to city, state and federal officials, the president tells the governor he will send the troops, but only if they and the National Guard answer to the White House. Governor Blanco says she needs 24 hours to think about it. [My emphasis]

    The most telling moment in this whole narrative is Bush's ultimatum on Friday, four days into the disaster, that he will send Federal troops only if they and the National Guard answer directly to the White House — i.e., the White House is to take direct and absolute military control of the city. This, in a democracy. Because of Federal inaction — indeed, Federal interference with state, local, and private relief efforts — the situation had deteriorated to the point where Bush's ultimatum amounted to a gun to their heads.

    The Godfather flew into town and made them an offer they couldn't refuse.

    Posted by Jonathan at 09:52 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Clinton On FEMA Disasters

    From Atrios:

    I went to Florida a few days after President Bush did to observe the damage from Hurricane Andrew. I had dealt with a lot of natural disasters as governor, including floods, droughts, and tornadoes, but I had never seen anything like this. I was surprised to hear complaints from both local officials and residents about how the Federal Emergency Management Agency was handling the aftermath of the hurricane. Traditionally, the job of FEMA director was given to a political supporter of the President who wanted some plum position but who had no experience with emergencies. I made a mental note to avoid that mistake if I won. Voters don't chose a President based on how he'll handle disasters, but if they're faced with one themselves, it quickly becomes the most important issue in their lives. — Bill Clinton, My Life, p. 428

    And Clinton followed through. Chicago Tribune:

    Clinton-era FEMA Director James Lee Witt headed the Arkansas office of emergency services before he was tapped by Clinton in 1993 to run the federal disaster relief agency.

    Witt's top aides in 2000, Lynn Canton and Michael Armstrong, ran regional FEMA offices for at least three years before assuming senior positions in Washington.

    Bush's top three FEMA officials, in contrast, are political hacks with no emergency management experience whatever.

    Whatever else may have been true about Bill Clinton, he was someone who actually cared about being an effective president. And he was someone with the talent, attention span, and work ethic required for the job. How far we have fallen.

    Bottom line: Clinton's FEMA never would have stood by while New Orleans drowned. Clinton never would have allowed it.

    Posted by Jonathan at 09:10 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Mike Brown's Pitiful Resume Is Largely Fiction Disasters

    Jack Welch once observed that A people hire A people, while B people hire C people. What kind of person does a C-minus person like Dubya hire? Mike Brown. Time:

    Before joining FEMA, [Mike Brown's] only previous stint in emergency management, according to his bio posted on FEMA's website, was "serving as an assistant city manager with emergency services oversight." The White House press release from 2001 stated that Brown worked for the city of Edmond, Okla., from 1975 to 1978 "overseeing the emergency services division." In fact, according to Claudia Deakins, head of public relations for the city of Edmond, Brown was an "assistant to the city manager" from 1977 to 1980, not a manager himself, and had no authority over other employees. "The assistant is more like an intern," she told TIME. "Department heads did not report to him."..."Yes. Mike Brown worked for me. He was my administrative assistant. He was a student at Central State University," recalls former city manager Bill Dashner. [...]

    Under the "honors and awards" section of his profile at FindLaw.com...he lists "Outstanding Political Science Professor, Central State University". However, Brown "wasn't a professor here, he was only a student here," says Charles Johnson, News Bureau Director in the University Relations office at the University of Central Oklahoma (formerly named Central State University)...Carl Reherman, a former political science professor at the University through the '70s and '80s, says that Brown "was not on the faculty." As for the honor of "Outstanding Political Science Professor," Johnson says, "I spoke with the department chair yesterday and he's not aware of it." [...]

    Under the heading of "Professional Associations and Memberships" on FindLaw, Brown states that from 1983 to the present he has been director of the Oklahoma Christian Home, a nursing home in Edmond. But an administrator with the Home told TIME that Brown is "not a person that anyone here is familiar with." She says there was a board of directors until a couple of years ago, but she couldn't find anyone who recalled him being on it. According to FEMA's Andrews, Brown said "he's never claimed to be the director of the home. He was on the board of directors, or governors of the nursing home." However, a veteran employee at the center since 1981 says Brown "was never director here, was never on the board of directors, was never executive director. He was never here in any capacity. I never heard his name mentioned here."

    Brown's FindLaw profile lists a wide range of areas of legal practice, from estate planning to family law to sports. However, one former colleague does not remember Brown's work as sterling. Stephen Jones, a prominent Oklahoma lawyer who was lead defense attorney on the Timothy McVeigh case, was Brown's boss for two-and-a-half years in the early '80s. "He did mainly transactional work, not litigation," says Jones. "There was a feeling that he was not serious and somewhat shallow." Jones says when his law firm split, Brown was one of two staffers who was let go. [My emphasis]

    How many hundreds or thousands of people just died unnecessarily because Bush hired this clown? It goes without saying that the responsibility is Bush's.

    Bush's problem is that he himself is so third-rate, so mediocre, and so insecure about his mediocrity, that he surrounds himself only with people who won't threaten his fragile ego. The man won't even venture out in public if the audience isn't hand-picked.

    And so we wind up with a complete zero like Mike Brown heading a critical Homeland Security agency. And now Bush has just handed Mike Brown and FEMA another $50 billion. Does Mike Brown sound like a guy who'd know what to do with $50 billion?

    Posted by Jonathan at 01:53 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    September 09, 2005

    Where'd The $95 Billion Go? Disasters

    Digby:

    Leaders also prove their mettle by how they learn from mistakes. Apparently, all the hoohaa we've been listening to on a loop over the past five years about 9/11 changing everything was crap. The NY Times...reports this:
    ... officials realized that Hurricane Katrina had exposed a critical flaw in the national disaster response plans created after the Sept. 11 attacks. According to the administration's senior domestic security officials, the plan failed to recognize that local police, fire and medical personnel might be incapacitated. [My emphasis]

    The same people who never imagined that planes could fly into buildings apparently never imagined that a terrorist attack or natural disaster could incapacitate local first responders. Dear God, has there ever been a more incompetent administration?

    I know it's not polite to bring this up, but the DHS has received $95.5 billion dollars over the last three years. I think we need to ask what they've been spending it on because I can't see any results.

    It appears to me that the lesson that the Bush administration took from 9/11 was that we needed to prevent terrorists from ever hijacking airplanes and flying them into the world trade center again. I think we can feel confident that that will not happen again. After all, there is no world trade center to fly into.

    Other than that, we are more vulnerable than we've ever been before to every other disaster scenario both manmade and natural — they simply can't imagine them. This is the faith based, best case scenario, Peter Pan government. They literally believe that wishin' and a-hopin' is a plan. [My emphasis]

    One truly grotesque outcome of all this will be that having shown that $95 billion bought us exactly nothing, DHS and FEMA will now plead that they need more money and more power and — because everybody has been glued to the tube for the past couple of weeks watching the horror unfold, and because everybody wants somebody to deliver real help to the Katrina victims — they're going to get it.

    Posted by Jonathan at 01:50 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Ethnic Cleansing III Disasters

    From the WSJ's Washington Wire (via The Stakeholder):

    [Republican] Rep. [Richard] Baker of Baton Rouge is overheard telling lobbyists: "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did."

    God had help.

    Posted by Jonathan at 11:06 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    September 08, 2005

    Ethnic Cleansing II Disasters

    Lest you think talk of the ethnic cleansing of New Orleans is over-the-top, here's today's Wall Street Journal (via RawStory):

    The green expanse of Audubon Park, in the city's Uptown area, has doubled in recent days as a heliport for the city's rich — and a terminus for the small armies of private security guards who have been dispatched to keep the homes there safe and habitable. [Resident Ashton] O'Dwyer has cellphone service and ice cubes to cool off his highballs in the evening. By yesterday, the city water service even sprang to life, making the daily trips to his neighbor's pool unnecessary. A pair of oil-company engineers, dispatched by his son-in-law, delivered four cases of water, a box of delicacies including herring with mustard sauce and 15 gallons of generator gasoline. [...]

    The power elite of New Orleans — whether they are still in the city or have moved temporarily to enclaves such as Destin, Fla., and Vail, Colo. — insist the remade city won't simply restore the old order. New Orleans before the flood was burdened by a teeming underclass, substandard schools and a high crime rate. The city has few corporate headquarters.

    The new city must be something very different, Mr. Reiss says, with better services and fewer poor people. "Those who want to see this city rebuilt want to see it done in a completely different way: demographically, geographically and politically," he says. "I'm not just speaking for myself here. The way we've been living is not going to happen again, or we're out." [...]

    Some black leaders and their allies in New Orleans fear that it boils down to preventing large numbers of blacks from returning to the city and eliminating the African-American voting majority. Rep. William Jefferson, a sharecropper's son who was educated at Harvard and is currently serving his eighth term in Congress, says, "This is an example of poor people forced to make choices because they don't have the money to do otherwise," Mr. Jefferson says. [My emphasis]

    Think of it as gerrymandering — with a gigantic sledge hammer. If you can't redistrict the Blacks out of power, just level their neighborhoods and scatter them to the four winds. And make tens or hundreds of billions of dollars for your political cronies while you're at it.

    These Bush Republicans are predatory gangsters. Government, to them, is just an enormous pile of cash to be plundered with both hands.

    $50 billion is only the beginning. The feeding frenzy is on.

    Posted by Jonathan at 09:25 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Pew Poll: Bush Approval 40%, Races Differ On Katrina Disasters  Politics

    A new Pew poll has Bush's approval rate at 40%. Excerpt:

    The American public is highly critical of President Bush's handling of Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. Two-in-three Americans (67%) believe he could have done more to speed up relief efforts, while just 28% think he did all he could to get them going quickly. At the same time, Bush's overall job approval rating has slipped to 40% and his disapproval rating has climbed to 52%, among the highest for his presidency. Uncharacteristically, the president's ratings have slipped the most among his core constituents — Republicans and conservatives. [...]

    There's an enormous racial divide in how people perceived the government's response to Katrina. Excerpt:

    [B]lacks and whites draw very different lessons from the tragedy. Seven-in-ten blacks (71%) say the disaster shows that racial inequality remains a major problem in the country; a majority of whites (56%) say this was not a particularly important lesson of the disaster. More striking, there is widespread agreement among blacks that the government's response to the crisis would have been faster if most of the storm's victims had been white; fully two-thirds of African Americans express that view. Whites, by an even wider margin (77%-17%), feel this would not have made a difference in the government's response. [...]

    More than eight-in-ten blacks (85%) say Bush could have done more to get relief efforts going quickly, compared with 63% of whites. Blacks are also considerably more critical of the federal government's performance in general — 77% say the federal government's response was only fair or poor, compared with 55% of whites. While both of these attitudes are also strongly related to partisanship, these racial differences remain even when party affiliation is taken into account. [My emphasis]

    As so often happens in America, race is put forward as the key factor; class is invisible.

    I would have loved to see numbers on the question of whether the government's response would have been different if the victims had been rich rather than poor. Millionaire Republican campaign contributors, say.

    It's hard for me to believe that anyone, in their heart of hearts, could doubt for a moment that the response would have been very different indeed.

    Posted by Jonathan at 08:54 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    DHS' National Response Plan Mandates Proactive Federal Assistance Disasters

    One of the right-wing talking points in the aftermath of Katrina has been the claim that the Federal government was powerless to act because Federal assistance was not requested by Louisiana Governor Blanco. This is a lie on two counts: Blanco did, in fact, request assistance; and when an emergency is catastrophic such a request is not required anyway.

    Go take a look at this letter from Gov. Blanco to President Bush on August 27, the day before the hurricane landed. As you will see, she very painstakingly and explicitly requests emergency assistance according to the terms of, and very carefully using the language of, the applicable Federal statutes. Her letter was released to the press as well on the 27th (again, that's before the hurricane even reached land), under the title:

    Governor Blanco asks President to Declare an Emergency for the State of Louisiana due to Hurricane Katrina.

    Pretty clear, wouldn't you say? In her letter to Bush, Blanco states:

    I have determined that this incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the State and affected local governments, and that supplementary Federal assistance is necessary to save lives, protect property, public health, and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a disaster. [My emphasis]

    It's worth comparing Blanco's language to language found in DHS's own National Response Plan (NRP). On page 9 we read:

    Pursuant to HSPD-5, the Secretary of Homeland Security is responsible for coordinating Federal operations within the United States to prepare for, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies. HSPD-5 further designates the Secretary of Homeland Security as the "principal Federal official" for domestic incident management.

    In this role, the Secretary is also responsible for coordinating Federal resources utilized in response to or recovery from terrorist attacks, major disasters, or other emergencies if and when any of the following four conditions applies:

    [...]
    (2) the resources of State and local authorities are overwhelmed and Federal assistance has been requested;
    [...] [My emphasis]

    The NRP also makes it clear (pp. 43-44) that when an emergency is catastrophic, DHS can and should act proactively without waiting for state or local governments:

    The NRP [National Response Plan] establishes policies, procedures, and mechanisms for proactive Federal response to catastrophic events. A catastrophic event is any natural or manmade incident, including terrorism, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the population, infrastructure, environment, economy, national morale, and/or government functions. A catastrophic event could result in sustained national impacts over a prolonged period of time; almost immediately exceeds resources normally available to State, local, tribal, and private-sector authorities in the impacted area; and significantly interrupts governmental operations and emergency services to such an extent that national security could be threatened.

    Guiding principles for proactive Federal response include the following:

  • The primary mission is to save lives; protect critical infrastructure, property, and the environment; contain the event; and preserve national security. Standard procedures regarding requests for assistance may be expedited or, under extreme circumstances, suspended in the immediate aftermath of an event of catastrophic magnitude.
  • Identified Federal response resources will deploy and begin necessary operations as required to commence life-safety activities.
  • Notification and full coordination with States will occur, but the coordination process must not delay or impede the rapid deployment and use of critical resources. States are urged to notify and coordinate with local governments regarding a proactive Federal response. [My emphasis]
  • Common sense says the Feds must have seen what we all saw: the emergency was catastrophic and their help was urgently needed. People were dying. Common sense says as well that any claim that they were anxious to help but felt like their hands were tied by some bureacratic formality is utter BS. What, they couldn't get Blanco on the phone? (Perhaps, as Jon Stewart noted, if New Orleans had been in a persistent vegetative state...)

    But what the NRP shows is that the whole question of whether state and local authorities dotted the proper I's and crossed the proper T's is irrelevant anyway. DHS' own National Response Plan says not only were they empowered to act, they were duty-bound to act.

    Just like common sense says.

    Posted by Jonathan at 08:10 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    The Daily Show Does Katrina Disasters  Humor & Fun

    As always, The Daily Show nails it. Go here and watch:

    Meet the F**kers

    Bush's Timeline

    Inarguable Failure

    And go here and watch:

    Beleaguered Bush

    Nothing cuts through the crap like great satire.

    Posted by Jonathan at 01:45 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    The Mother Of All Slush Funds III Disasters

    House Republicans are ramming through the $50 billion FEMA slush fund. Only 40 minutes of debate permitted. No amendments allowed. Members have yet to even see a copy of the bill.

    Democracy, Republican-style.

    From Rep. Louise Slaughter:

    Tonight, after five weeks vacation, in the wake of what is quickly becoming the worst natural disaster in American history, the Republican Leadership in the House of Representatives made the decision to limit floor consideration of the Federal response to Hurricane Katrina to just forty minutes.

    Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY), Ranking Member of the House Rules Committee, led Democratic opposition to a Rules Committee vote this evening that makes the $52 Billion Supplemental Appropriation bill, a Suspension Rule that will prevent any amendments from being offered and allow for a grand total of 40 minutes of consideration. The bill, which enjoys broad bipartisan support, is expected to pass on the House floor tomorrow.

    Republicans on a party line voted to deny Rep. Slaughter's amendment that would have allowed for a modest 2 hours of discussion and opened up the measure to be amended.

    Democrats on the Rules Committee and in attendance at the hearing passionately implored the Republicans to allow amendments, which would enable consideration of critical and urgent measures, such as which areas and to which agencies relief dollars were most needed and how to restructure FEMA so that it would be more effective. Members also noted that no one had yet to even see a copy of the legislation.

    [Rep. Slaughter:] "...The Federal Government failed the American people in its initial response to this horrible disaster and by their actions; the Republican Leadership is once again showing that their priorities are out of sync with the needs of so many hard working families."

    "It is this very lack of accountability in government which ensured that our disaster response would be a bigger disaster than the hurricane itself. Yet here they go again, completely unfazed in their determination to eliminate debate, consideration and accountability from the Congress and the Federal government. No one has even seen a copy of the bill."

    "...the best this leadership can give [the people's] voice is forty minutes. What are they afraid of hearing?" she concluded. [My emphasis]

    $50 billion to be placed in the hands of the Bush political operation. No oversight. No debate. No amendments.

    This is how it works when gangsters rule.

    Posted by Jonathan at 12:27 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    September 07, 2005

    The Mother Of All Slush Funds II Disasters

    Regarding the White House's plan to ask for $51.8 billion additonal for Katrina recovery: $1.4 billion for the Pentagon, $400 million for the Army Corps of Engineers, and $50 billion for FEMA.

    The Pentagon's and the Corps of Engineers' numbers look like somebody actually sat down and tried to work up a reality-based estimate of what would be needed.

    When it comes to the FEMA number, however, a number that doubtless originated in the White House, they didn't even attempt to make it look like a number based in any kind of concrete specifics. It's just a big, round number.

    It's hard not to read it as a deliberate insult. It says: we can pull a number out of our butt without justification of any kind, and there's nothing you can do about it — because we control Congress. And we're going to rub your noses in it.

    Could they be any more arrogant?

    Posted by Jonathan at 06:48 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    The Daily Show On Bush And Katrina Disasters  Humor & Fun  Politics

    The Daily Show does it again. Courtesy of Crooks and Liars:

    Watch - Windows Media

    Watch - QuickTime

    Posted by Jonathan at 06:19 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    If A Tree Falls In The Forest... Disasters

    Soon-to-be-$50-billion-richer FEMA is clamping a tight lid on media coverage out of New Orleans. No photos of the dead will be permitted. And now there is a report that media may be getting turned back at checkpoints leading into the city. Reuters:

    The U.S. government agency [FEMA] leading the rescue efforts after Hurricane Katrina said on Tuesday it does not want the news media to take photographs of the dead as they are recovered from the flooded New Orleans area.

    The Federal Emergency Management Agency, heavily criticized for its slow response to the devastation caused by the hurricane, rejected requests from journalists to accompany rescue boats as they went out to search for storm victims.

    An agency spokeswoman said space was needed on the rescue boats and that "the recovery of the victims is being treated with dignity and the utmost respect."

    "We have requested that no photographs of the deceased be made by the media," the spokeswoman said in an e-mailed response to a Reuters inquiry.

    The Bush administration also has prevented the news media from photographing flag-draped caskets of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq, which has sparked criticism that the government is trying to block images that put the war in a bad light. [My emphasis]

    I liked it better when we were still a republic. You know — with freedom of the press and stuff.

    Posted by Jonathan at 06:02 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    The Mother Of All Slush Funds Disasters

    $50 billion is one helluva lot of money.

    The Bush administration plans to ask Congress to allocate another $51.8 billion for Hurricane recovery. That's in addition to the $10.5 billion already allocated. Of the $51.8 billion, $1.4 will go to the Pentagon and $400 million will go to the Army Corps of Engineers. The remainder, a nice round $50 billion (with a b), will go to FEMA.

    Who runs FEMA? (link):

    #1: Michael Brown, director. No emergency management experience. College roommate of Joe Allbaugh, previous FEMA director and Bush's campaign director in 2000.

    #2: Patrick Rhode, chief of staff. No emergency management experience. Former advance man for Bush's presidential campaign.

    #3: Scott Morris, deputy chief of staff. No emergency management experience. Former press flak for the Bush campaign. Previously employed by "Maverick Media , the firm that produced TV spots for Bush's campaigns."

    Bush's previous FEMA director, Joe Allbaugh is now a lobbyist for Halliburton. WaPo (via TPM) reports that Allbaugh is currently in Lousiana, "where he is helping coordinate the private-sector response to the storm." He has also signed on with the Shaw Group in Baton Rouge, whose website (via TPM) proclaims:

    Hurricane Recovery Projects - Apply Here!

    Subcontractors/Suppliers & SBA Apply Here!

    Personnel Applicants Apply Here!

    The Shaw Group will assist FEMA and other governmental agencies in recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

    As we saw yesterday, FEMA acted, in 2004 in Florida, as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the White House political operation. It remains so. AP reports that some hours after Katrina struck, Michael Brown finally got around to asking DHS for 1000 people to send into the region. According to internal documents obtained by AP:

    Brown said that among duties of these employees was to "convey a positive image" about the government's response for victims.

    I.e., their function was to make the White House look good.

    So, to recap. If this goes through, Karl Rove and the Bush family will control $50 billion that they can dole out as they see fit. $50 billion. The audacity of it.

    The money will nominally be controlled by FEMA, which just happens to have been pre-loaded with veterans of the Bush political operation. The amount of money to be allocated is as huge as it is because that same FEMA just happens to have dragged its feet in responding — and to have actively interfered with local efforts to respond — to the hurricane.

    Halliburton and other Bush family cronies are positioned to make tens of billions of dollars — maybe hundreds of billions by the time they're done. That buys a lot of power. Maybe that even buys Jeb the White House in 2008.

    Bush's America is a banana republic on steroids. This is how it works when gangsters rule.

    (Oh, and by the way. Who ran FEMA under Clinton? Chicago Tribune:

    Clinton-era FEMA Director James Lee Witt headed the Arkansas office of emergency services before he was tapped by Clinton in 1993 to run the federal disaster relief agency.

    Witt's top aides in 2000, Lynn Canton and Michael Armstrong, ran regional FEMA offices for at least three years before assuming senior positions in Washington.

    I.e., qualified people with actual experience in emergency management. What a concept.)

    Posted by Jonathan at 05:07 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    President Pangloss Disasters

    Just heard this on the radio. Unbelievable. NYT:

    At a news conference, [Nancy] Pelosi, D-Calif., said Bush's choice for head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency had "absolutely no credentials."

    She related that she had urged Bush at the White House on Tuesday to fire Michael Brown.

    "He said 'Why would I do that?'" Pelosi said.

    "I said 'because of all that went wrong, of all that didn't go right last week.' And he said 'What didn't go right?'"

    "Oblivious, in denial, dangerous," she added. [My emphasis]

    Hurricane Katrina is handing them the mother of all slush funds, to dispense as they see fit. What do they care what anybody thinks?

    Posted by Jonathan at 04:07 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    September 06, 2005

    Waking Up Disasters

    Reporters who've been seared by the experience of New Orleans have had their eyes opened. Jack Cafferty on CNN (via Atrios):

    Why are we talking about the "blame game"? There are thousands of people dead because government officials failed to do what they're supposed to be doing. That's criminal behavior. I mean, that's no game. There are people dead in the city of New Orleans and up and down the gulf coast because people charged with seeing to their welfare failed to do that. I don't understand this relecutance to say, Mr. Brown, you failed in your assignment. You're out of here. Go away. Go back to Colorado and go back to working for the Arabian Horse Assocaition that we got you from. [My emphasis]

    See also this from Cafferty.

    And here is Brian Williams on Sunday (via Atrios):

    In a strange way, the most outrageous news pictures of this day may be those of progress: The palettes of food and water that have just been dropped at selected landing zones in the downtown area of New Orleans. It's an outrage because all of those elements existed before people died for lack of them: There was water, there was food, and there were choppers to drop both. Why no one was able to combine them in an air drop is a cruel and criminal mystery of this dark chapter in our recent history. The words "failure of imagination" come to mind. The concept of an air drop of supplies was one we apparently introduced to the director of FEMA during a live interview on Nightly News on Thursday evening. He responded by saying that he'd been unaware of the thousands gathered at the Convention Center. Later that evening an incredulous Ted Koppel on ABC was left with no choice but to ask if the FEMA director was watching the same television coverage as the rest of the nation. [My emphasis]

    In The Matrix, Morpheus offered Neo a choice: take the blue pill and continue on in blissful ignorance of the ocean of illusion that engulfs you; take the red pill and step out onto dry land. When Neo chooses the red pill, Morpheus congratulates him, saying:

    Welcome to the desert of the real.

    Some of these folks may, at long last, be arriving at the desert of the real. If so, welcome.

    Posted by Jonathan at 08:42 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    From Bush Insider To FEMA Director To Halliburton Lobbyist Disasters

    Mike Brown is not Bush's first FEMA director. Before Brown, there was Joe Allbaugh, Brown's college roommate and Bush's chief of staff as Governor and his campaign director in 2000. Where's Allbaugh now? Halliburton Watch:

    In March, the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is tasked with responding to hurricane disasters, became a lobbyist for [Halliburton subsidiary] KBR. Joe Allbaugh was director of FEMA during the first two years of the Bush administration. [...]

    Allbaugh managed Bush's campaign for Texas governor in 1994, served as Gov. Bush's chief of staff and was the national campaign manager for the Bush campaign in 2000. Along with Karen Hughes and Karl Rove, Allbaugh was one of Bush's closest advisers.

    "This is a perfect example of someone cashing in on a cozy political relationship," said Scott Amey, general counsel at the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington watchdog group. "Allbaugh's former placement as a senior government official and his new lobbying position with KBR strengthens the company's already tight ties to the administration..." [My emphasis]

    Watch now as Halliburton cashes in on the FEMA-facilitated destruction of New Orleans. That's how it works when gangsters rule.

    Posted by Jonathan at 08:24 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    When Gangsters Rule Disasters

    FEMA can move quickly when it wants to. When does it want to? When there's a disaster in a swing state during an election year. Eric Boehlert in Salon:

    FEMA's often invisible and incompetent reaction to the devastation in New Orleans stands in sharp contrast to the way the relief agency and the entire Bush administration sprang into action last summer as a series of deadly hurricanes — Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne — battered the crucial swing state of Florida just weeks before Election Day.

    There's no question that the scale of the New Orleans disaster far surpasses what Florida faced. But even so, a look back at the administration's relief efforts in 2004 indicates that a quick response to a potentially politically damaging situation commanded a higher priority from the top levels of government back then than did the flooding of New Orleans in 2005. [...]

    [In 2004] no expense was spared bringing relief to storm victims who just happened to live in the most important swing state in the country. [...]

    Bush surveyed hurricane-wracked communities on Aug. 15, Aug. 27, Sept. 8, Sept. 19 and Sept. 29.

    Some FEMA insiders were so happy with how they handled Florida's flurry of election-year hurricanes that they made a serious pitch within the administration to get FEMA director Mike Brown, now a target of sustained criticism, promoted to homeland security chief. [...]

    In the summer of 2004, FEMA handed out hurricane relief checks with wild abandon, doling out nearly $30 million to residents of Miami-Dade County to replace TVs, computers and microwaves, even though that county suffered little or no hurricane damage.

    Writing last November for GovExec.com, which touts itself as "the independent business magazine of government," Charles Mahtesian noted, "Now that President Bush has won Florida in his 2004 reelection bid, he may want to draft a letter of appreciation to Michael Brown, chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Seldom has any federal agency had the opportunity to so directly and uniquely alter the course of a presidential election, and seldom has any agency delivered for a president as FEMA did in Florida this fall." [...]

    In a press release issued just one week before the election, FEMA crowed, "Florida Disaster Aid Tops $2 Billion." The public proclamation was part of a torrent of FEMA press releases trumpeting its Florida relief efforts. [...]

    Partisan politics were certainly in the air during the busy hurricane season. Specifically, one FEMA consultant, in an e-mail dated Sept. 3, 2004, recommended that "top-level people from FEMA and the White House need to develop a communication strategy and an agreed-upon set of themes and communications objectives." He stressed, "Communication consultants from the President's re-election campaign should be brought in." [...]

    In October, a Mason-Dixon Florida Poll found that 13 percent of undecided voters said Bush's performances during the hurricanes would make them "more likely" to vote for him. [...]

    "Gov. Jeb Bush sought federal help Friday while Charley was still in the Gulf of Mexico. President Bush approved the aid about an hour after the hurricane made landfall. By Monday afternoon, the cavalry seemed to be in place."

    On Sunday's "Meet the Press," an emotional Aaron Broussard, president of Louisiana's badly flooded Jefferson Parish, complained that federal officials had told him, "'The cavalry's coming, the cavalry's coming, the cavalry's coming.' I have just begun to hear the hoofs of the cavalry."

    By comparison, in 2004 the FEMA cavalry was roaming all over Florida, including parts almost completely untouched by the hurricanes, such as Miami-Dade County. Within weeks of Hurricane Frances hitting the Florida coast, 19,500 residents of Miami-Dade applied for disaster relief. FEMA quickly approved 9,000 of the claims and set aside $28.9 million in tax-free grants to help them rebuild.

    But rebuild from what? Frances never hit Miami-Dade. Locally, top sustained winds the day the storm struck only reached 47 mph and did minimal damage to just a handful of buildings. Just 5 percent of county residents even lost power, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, which uncovered FEMA's unusual largess. The newspaper reported that within two days of Frances' arrival FEMA officials knew Miami-Dade had been unscathed, and yet the checks soon flowed into the county. "They were just doling out this money like it was Christmas," a spokeswoman for Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., told the Sun-Sentinel. [...]

    The Miami-Dade financial windfall came courtesy of President Bush who, following the request of his brother, declared the county a disaster area as the hurricane began to strike the coast. But Miami-Dade officials never even asked for disaster designation, for a very simple reason: Frances came ashore 120 miles to the north.

    The federal government's extreme generosity wasn't restricted to Miami-Dade. In 2004 an aide to Gov. Bush reported back to him that FEMA was handing out housing assistance "to everyone who needs it without asking for much information of any kind." As the Sun-Sentinel reported, "Even state officials were surprised at how quickly money flowed to Florida. [My emphasis]

    These people have the morals of gangsters. They only act when there's something in it for them. Notions of the public good simply are not part of their moral vocabulary.

    Boehlert's article shows FEMA has the capacity to act when it chooses to. But in New Orleans, FEMA not only failed to act, it reportedly actively interfered with local aid efforts (see, e.g., this).

    Why would they do that? Perhaps we should ask ourselves why the Mob might do that: they saw an opportunity to ruin a city of Democrats and make hundreds of billions of dollars on its reconstruction.

    That's what happens when gangsters rule.

    Posted by Jonathan at 08:17 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Madison Volunteers To Help 40 Katrina Families Disasters

    For those of you who live here in Madison, WI (link):

    A group of citizens and clergy from Madison Zion Baptist Church will be sending 5 empty Van Galder buses to the Katrina hurricane stricken area on Tuesday to pick up 40 families and bring them back to Madison, as early as Friday next week. Apartments have already been found for the families, but monetary and other donations are needed to cover the first 2 months of rent and provide basic houseware needs for the families. [...]

    Monetary donations are needed to cover the first 2 months of rent for these families (until federal assistant payments become available), to purchase sanitary supplies, diapers, bedding and other living supplies.

    Monetary donations - made out to the "Katrina Disaster Fund" - may be taken or sent in to the Dane County Credit Union at 2160 Rimrock Road (near the Alliant Center).

    Clothing and houseware donations should be dropped off behind the new addition at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, 2019 Fisher Street, Madison.

    Give what you can.

    Meanwhile, the Madison School District is preparing to welcome students displaced by Katrina. I received this from a Madison teacher:

    Madison school officials on Friday said the district will make every effort to assist families and students displaced by Hurricane Katrina by simplifying the enrollment process and getting students immediately into classes. [...]

    Families may or may not want to identify themselves as homeless, and we will afford them that dignity.

    Principals are requested to schedule a faculty meeting to communicate the importance of making this process as welcoming as possible for the families. [...]

    All students shall immediately be enrolled in schools even though they lack records normally required for enrollment. All students will immediately attend school and fully participate in school activities.

    If only FEMA and DHS displayed an equivalent generosity of spirit and simple, decent humanity.

    [Thanks, Carie]

    Posted by Jonathan at 10:55 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Liar Disasters

    Newsweek:

    John Breaux, the former Democratic Louisiana senator and close Bush ally, rejected the president's claim that nobody anticipated the failure of the city's levees, saying he talked to Bush about it last year. [My emphasis]

    Bush lied. People died.

    Posted by Jonathan at 12:47 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Monstrous Disasters

    Just when you think things cannot possibly get any more grotesque, we get this. E&P, via Billmon:

    Accompanying her husband, former President George H.W.Bush, on a tour of hurricane relief centers in Houston, Barbara Bush said today, referring to the poor who had lost everything back home and evacuated, "This is working very well for them." [...]

    [O]n the surge of evacuees to the Texas city, Barbara Bush said: "Almost everyone I've talked to says we're going to move to Houston."

    Then she added: "What I'm hearing which is sort of scary is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality.

    "And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this — this (she chuckles slightly) is working very well for them." [My emphasis]

    What a horrible, horrible woman. What a horrible, horrible family.

    Posted by Jonathan at 12:12 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    September 05, 2005

    Ethnic Cleansing Disasters

    Mike Davis, astute chronicler of American cities, wrote the following nearly a year ago, on the occasion of last year's Hurricane Ivan [via James Wolcott]:

    The evacuation of New Orleans in the face of Hurricane Ivan looked sinisterly like Strom Thurmond's version of the Rapture. Affluent white people fled the Big Easy in their SUVs, while the old and car-less — mainly Black — were left behind in their below-sea-level shotgun shacks and aging tenements to face the watery wrath.

    New Orleans had spent decades preparing for inevitable submersion by the storm surge of a class-five hurricane. Civil defense officials conceded they had ten thousand body bags on hand to deal with the worst-case scenario. But no one seemed to have bothered to devise a plan to evacuate the city's poorest or most infirm residents. The day before the hurricane hit the Gulf Coast, New Orlean's daily, the Times-Picayune, ran an alarming story about the "large group…mostly concentrated in poorer neighborhoods" who wanted to evacuate but couldn't.

    Only at the last moment, with winds churning Lake Pontchartrain, did Mayor Ray Nagin reluctantly open the Louisiana Superdome and a few schools to desperate residents. He was reportedly worried that lower-class refugees might damage or graffiti the Superdome.

    In the event, Ivan the Terrible spared New Orleans, but official callousness toward poor Black folk endures.

    Over the last generation, City Hall and its entourage of powerful developers have relentlessly attempted to push the poorest segment of the population — blamed for the city's high crime rates — across the Mississippi river. Historic Black public-housing projects have been razed to make room for upper-income townhouses and a Wal-Mart. In other housing projects, residents are routinely evicted for offenses as trivial as their children's curfew violations. The ultimate goal seems to be a tourist theme-park New Orleans — one big Garden District — with chronic poverty hidden away in bayous, trailer parks and prisons outside the city limits. [My emphasis]

    So now we know why FEMA has prevented aid from reaching the people still stuck in New Orleans. The goal is to empty the city, declare large portions of it — the poor Black neighborhoods — destroyed beyond repair, and level them. Today, already, we are hearing that the city is "completely destroyed" (CNN):

    Saying the city was "completely destroyed," the deputy police chief of New Orleans on Monday urged remaining residents to get out because there is no power, no drinkable water and no supply of food.

    Deputy Chief Warren Riley told reporters that a week after Hurricane Katrina struck, thousands of people insisted on remaining in "a hazard."

    "We advise people that this city has been destroyed. It has been completely destroyed," Riley said.

    "We are working with them to try to convince them that there is no reason — no jobs, no food — no reason for them to stay," he said. [My emphasis]

    Yes, it sounds too evil to be true, but we appear to be looking at a deliberate program of ethnic cleansing. Wait and watch. A lot of people with ties to the administration are going to make a ton of money on the contracts to clear and rebuild a Disney-fied version of what was one of the world's great cities.

    Posted by Jonathan at 02:12 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    When Grownups Are Not In Charge Disasters

    From Billmon:

    For the decade prior to joining the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Director Michael Brown was commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association, a Colorado-based group that organizes breeders and horse shows. — Chicago Tribune, September 4, 2005

    "We do disciplinary actions, certification of judges. We hold classes to train people to become judges and stewards. And we keep records. This was his full-time job for 11 years." — Spokeswoman for the International Arabian Horse Association, Boston Herald Interview, September 3, 2005

    Brown was forced out of the position after a spate of lawsuits over alleged supervision failures. — Boston Herald, September 3, 2005

    His job was to ensure that horse-show judges followed the rules and to investigate allegations against those suspected of cheating. — Knight Ridder News Service, September 3, 2005

    Former association board member Karl V. Hart of Florida alleges that in 2000 Brown improperly accepted a check for nearly $50,000 from a prominent breeder and put it toward his own legal defense for his work as commissioner. Board members thought this was improper because Brown already had protection, from the association's legal team, Hart said. Because of the money dispute, Brown was asked to resign, Hart said. — Denver Post, September 4, 2005

    "He's done a hell of a job, because I'm not aware of any Arabian horses being killed in this storm." — Kate Hall, former Miami-Dade emergency management official, Knight Ridder interview, September 3, 2005

    As I wrote Friday:

    The corruption of this White House is staggering. One of the ways that that corruption is felt is in their penchant for unapologetically appointing unqualified, incompetent political hacks to positions requiring some measure of technical, scientific, or specialized managerial expertise.

    And so we've got Mike Brown as FEMA director. Mike Brown, who was forced to resign his previous job after being "an unmitigated, total f**king disaster" (DailyKos). [...]

    The blame...doesn't rest with Mike Brown. It rests with the man who carelessly put him in a job where the lives of tens or hundreds of thousands of people would depend on Brown's ability to execute the duties of what is, after all, a highly technical and specialized assignment.

    An awful lot of people are going to die unnecessarily. The blame for that rests with George Bush.

    But here's what Bush had to say about his FEMA director during Operation Photo-Op on Friday:

    Again, I want to thank you all for — and, Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job. The FEMA Director is working 24 — (applause) — they're working 24 hours a day.

    Worst. President. Ever.

    [Thanks, Mark]

    Posted by Jonathan at 01:34 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    When Grownups Are In Charge Disasters

    Truthout has an extraordinary article comparing lowly Cuba's disaster relief to what we are witnessing in the what is supposed to be the richest, most powerful nation on earth:

    Last September, a Category 5 hurricane battered the small island of Cuba with 160-mile-per-hour winds. More than 1.5 million Cubans were evacuated to higher ground ahead of the storm. Although the hurricane destroyed 20,000 houses, no one died.

    What is Cuban President Fidel Castro's secret? According to Dr. Nelson Valdes, a sociology professor at the University of New Mexico, and specialist in Latin America, "the whole civil defense is embedded in the community to begin with. People know ahead of time where they are to go."

    "Cuba's leaders go on TV and take charge," said Valdes. Contrast this with George W. Bush's reaction to Hurricane Katrina. The day after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, Bush was playing golf. He waited three days to make a TV appearance and five days before visiting the disaster site. In a scathing editorial on Thursday, the New York Times said, "nothing about the president's demeanor yesterday - which seemed casual to the point of carelessness - suggested that he understood the depth of the current crisis."

    "Merely sticking people in a stadium is unthinkable" in Cuba, Valdes said. "Shelters all have medical personnel, from the neighborhood. They have family doctors in Cuba, who evacuate together with the neighborhood, and already know, for example, who needs insulin."

    They also evacuate animals and veterinarians, TV sets and refrigerators, "so that people aren't reluctant to leave because people might steal their stuff," Valdes observed. [My emphasis]

    So that's how it's done — when grownups are in charge.

    Posted by Jonathan at 12:28 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    September 04, 2005

    Broussard Video — Watch It! Disasters

    Watch this. Watch it until the end. What has happened this past week is more than criminal.

    Transcript here.

    Posted by Jonathan at 11:28 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Jefferson Parish President: FEMA Blocked Access To Water, Fuel, Communications Disasters

    This deserves to be a huge story.

    Aaron Broussard, Jefferson Parish President, on Meet the Press this morning:

    MR. AARON BROUSSARD: We have been abandoned by our own country. Hurricane Katrina will go down in history as one of the worst storms ever to hit an American coast, but the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina will go down as one of the worst abandonments of Americans on American soil ever in U.S. history. I am personally asking our bipartisan congressional delegation here in Louisiana to immediately begin congressional hearings to find out just what happened here. Why did it happen? Who needs to be fired? And believe me, they need to be fired right away, because we still have weeks to go in this tragedy. We have months to go. We have years to go. [...]

    It's not just Katrina that caused all these deaths in New Orleans here. Bureaucracy has committed murder here in the greater New Orleans area, and bureaucracy has to stand trial before Congress now. It's so obvious...FEMA needs to be empowered to do the things it was created to do. It needs to come somewhere, like New Orleans, with all of its force immediately, without red tape, without bureaucracy, act immediately with common sense and leadership, and save lives. Forget about the property. We can rebuild the property. It's got to be able to come in and save lives.

    We need strong leadership at the top of America right now in order to accomplish this and to — reconstructing FEMA. [...]

    MR. RUSSERT: Shouldn't the mayor of New Orleans and the governor of New Orleans bear some responsibility? Couldn't they have been much more forceful, much more effective and much more organized in evacuating the area?

    MR. BROUSSARD: Sir, they were told like me, every single day, "The cavalry's coming," on a federal level, "The cavalry's coming, the cavalry's coming, the cavalry's coming." I have just begun to hear the hoofs of the cavalry. The cavalry's still not here yet, but I've begun to hear the hoofs, and we're almost a week out.

    Let me give you just three quick examples. We had Wal-Mart deliver three trucks of water, trailer trucks of water. FEMA turned them back. They said we didn't need them. This was a week ago. FEMA — we had 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel on a Coast Guard vessel docked in my parish. The Coast Guard said, "Come get the fuel right away." When we got there with our trucks, they got a word. "FEMA says don't give you the fuel." Yesterday — yesterday — FEMA comes in and cuts all of our emergency communication lines. They cut them without notice. Our sheriff, Harry Lee, goes back in, he reconnects the line. He posts armed guards on our line and says, "No one is getting near these lines." Sheriff Harry Lee said that if America — American government would have responded like Wal-Mart has responded, we wouldn't be in this crisis. [...]

    I want to give you one last story and I'll shut up and let you tell me whatever you want to tell me. The guy who runs this building I'm in, emergency management, he's responsible for everything. His mother was trapped in St. Bernard nursing home and every day she called him and said, "Are you coming, son? Is somebody coming?" And he said, "Yeah, Mama, somebody's coming to get you. Somebody's coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Thursday. Somebody's coming to get you on Friday." And she drowned Friday night. She drowned Friday night. [...]

    Nobody's coming to get us. Nobody's coming to get us. [DHS] secretary [Chertoff] has promised. Everybody's promised. They've had press conferences. I'm sick of the press conferences. For God sakes, shut up and send us somebody. [My emphasis]

    FEMA blocks water trucks from going in. FEMA denies access to diesel fuel. FEMA cuts emergency communication lines.

    It's getting really hard not to believe they are acting consciously, deliberately. WTF???

    Posted by Jonathan at 02:47 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Times-Picayune: Don't Say N.O. Couldn't Be Reached Disasters

    Reporters had no problem getting to the New Orleans Superdome, Convention Center, and other sites, but for days emergency officials claimed the city was unreachable. How can that be?

    The New Orleans Times-Picayune today published an open letter to President Bush that meets this question head on:

    Dear Mr. President:

    We heard you loud and clear Friday when you visited our devastated city and the Gulf Coast and said, "What is not working, we’re going to make it right."

    Please forgive us if we wait to see proof of your promise before believing you. But we have good reason for our skepticism.

    Bienville built New Orleans where he built it for one main reason: It's accessible. The city between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain was easy to reach in 1718.

    How much easier it is to access in 2005 now that there are interstates and bridges, airports and helipads, cruise ships, barges, buses and diesel-powered trucks.

    Despite the city's multiple points of entry, our nation's bureaucrats spent days after last week's hurricane wringing their hands, lamenting the fact that they could neither rescue the city's stranded victims nor bring them food, water and medical supplies.

    Meanwhile there were journalists, including some who work for The Times-Picayune, going in and out of the city via the Crescent City Connection. On Thursday morning, that crew saw a caravan of 13 Wal-Mart tractor trailers headed into town to bring food, water and supplies to a dying city.

    Television reporters were doing live reports from downtown New Orleans streets. Harry Connick Jr. brought in some aid Thursday, and his efforts were the focus of a "Today" show story Friday morning.

    Yet, the people trained to protect our nation, the people whose job it is to quickly bring in aid were absent. Those who should have been deploying troops were singing a sad song about how our city was impossible to reach.

    We're angry, Mr. President, and we'll be angry long after our beloved city and surrounding parishes have been pumped dry. Our people deserved rescuing. Many who could have been were not. That's to the government's shame. [...]

    It was clear to us by late morning Monday that many people inside the Superdome would not be returning home. It should have been clear to our government, Mr. President. So why weren't they evacuated out of the city immediately?...[W]hat did state and national officials think would happen to tens of thousands of people trapped inside with no air conditioning, overflowing toilets and dwindling amounts of food, water and other essentials?

    State Rep. Karen Carter was right Friday when she said the city didn't have but two urgent needs: "Buses! And gas!" Every official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be fired, Director Michael Brown especially.

    In a nationally televised interview Thursday night, he said his agency hadn't known until that day that thousands of storm victims were stranded at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. He gave another nationally televised interview the next morning and said, "We've provided food to the people at the Convention Center so that they've gotten at least one, if not two meals, every single day."

    Lies don't get more bald-faced than that, Mr. President.

    Yet, when you met with Mr. Brown Friday morning, you told him, "You're doing a heck of a job."

    That's unbelievable.

    There were thousands of people at the Convention Center because the riverfront is high ground. The fact that so many people had reached there on foot is proof that rescue vehicles could have gotten there, too. [...]

    No expense should have been spared. No excuses should have been voiced. Especially not one as preposterous as the claim that New Orleans couldn't be reached. [My emphasis]

    There are fundamental questions here that have yet to be answered. It simply won't wash that there was nothing authorities could have done. How long does it take to start bringing in food and water by helicopter? A few hours, at most? Why shouldn't we conclude that a conscious decision was made not to bring aid to the people taking refuge in the Superdome, the Convention Center, and along various highways? What other explanation is there?

    Posted by Jonathan at 02:06 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Republican Response: Cut Taxes For The Rich — Again Disasters  Politics

    Senate Republicans plan to push ahead with plans to permanently repeal the estate tax. The tax currently affects only people with estates exceeding $1.5 million. Even Alan Greenspan opposes its repeal, on the grounds that it will only increase the Federal deficit.

    The truly grotesque thing about repealing the tax at this time is that repeal will take many billions of dollars from the coffers of charitable organizations. Think Progress:

    Senate Finance Committee members were informed this morning that Sen. Bill Frist will move forward with a vote to permanently repeal the estate tax next week, likely on Tuesday, ThinkProgress has learned.

    One stands in awe of Sen. Frist's timing. Permanently repealing the estate tax would be a major blow to the nation's charities. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has "found that the estate tax encourages wealthy individuals to donate considerably more to charity, since estate tax liability is reduced through donations made both during life and at death." If there were no estate tax in 2000, for example, "charitable donations would have been between $13 billion to $25 billion lower than they actually were." [My emphasis]

    These people are monsters.

    Posted by Jonathan at 01:35 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Army Times: Combat Operation To Fight "Insurgency" In New Orleans Disasters

    Army Times:

    NEW ORLEANS — Combat operations are underway on the streets "to take this city back" in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

    "This place is going to look like Little Somalia," Brig. Gen. Gary Jones, commander of the Louisiana National Guard's Joint Task Force told Army Times Friday as hundreds of armed troops under his charge prepared to launch a massive citywide security mission from a staging area outside the Louisiana Superdome. "We're going to go out and take this city back. This will be a combat operation to get this city under control."

    While some fight the insurgency in the city, others carry on with rescue and evacuation operations. Helicopters are still pulling hundreds of stranded people from rooftops of flooded homes. [My emphasis]

    Little Somalia. Insurgency. This is how an American National Guard unit prepares to enter an American city? With this kind of mindset, force is almost guaranteed to be excessive and indiscriminately applied. Would there be this kind of talk if they were preparing to operate in upper-middle class white neighborhoods?

    Posted by Jonathan at 01:14 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    September 03, 2005

    Most Incompetent Government Ever Disasters  Politics

    Paleocon Paul Craig Roberts:

    The destruction of New Orleans is the responsibility of the most incompetent government in American history and perhaps in all history.

    Roberts says, "Impeach Bush Now". Good idea.

    Posted by Jonathan at 07:42 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Bush Faked Levee Repair For Photo-Op Disasters

    This is unspeakable.

    Posted by Jonathan at 05:58 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Bush N.O. Visit Halts Helicopter Rescue Ops Disasters

    While Bush made his useless photo-op visit to New Orleans, helicopter rescue and supply airlift missions were forced to be suspended. Times-Picayune (via Light of Reason):

    Three tons of food ready for delivery by air to refugees in St. Bernard Parish and on Algiers Point sat on the Crescent City Connection bridge Friday afternoon as air traffic was halted because of President Bush's visit to New Orleans, officials said.

    The provisions, secured by U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville, and state Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom, baked in the afternoon sun as Bush surveyed damage across southeast Louisiana five days after Katrina made landfall as a Category 4 storm, said Melancon's chief of staff, Casey O'Shea.

    "We had arrangements to airlift food by helicopter to these folks, and now the food is sitting in trucks because they won’t let helicopters fly," O'Shea said Friday afternoon.

    They don't care about the real consquences of their actions. Only about the appearance of their actions. It's all about the photo-op.

    Posted by Jonathan at 05:53 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Washington Delays National Guard Help From Other States Disasters

    This is the kind of story that makes me wonder if they're not doing all this on purpose. AP:

    Several states ready and willing to send National Guard troops to the rescue in New Orleans didn't get the go-ahead until days after the storm struck — a delay nearly certain to be investigated by Congress.

    New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson offered Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco help from his state's National Guard last Sunday, the day before Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana. Blanco accepted, but paperwork needed to get the troops en route didn't come from Washington until late Thursday.

    California troops just began arriving in Louisiana on Friday, three days after flood waters devastated New Orleans and chaos broke out. [My emphasis]

    It took until "late Thursday" to do the paperwork? What, they didn't think it might be, you know, urgent???

    Posted by Jonathan at 05:37 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    WTF?? Disasters

    This AP story just adds to the general impression of insanity. Days go by with no organized evacuation of the people in the Superdome. When buses start rolling Friday, neatly timed to coincide with Bush's Operation Photo-Op, the process runs smoothly. So — why couldn't it have happened days earlier?

    Then, inexplicably the buses are halted with thousands remaining in the dome. But not before officials make a priority of evacuating the 700 relatively pampered hotel guests and employees of the Hyatt, with National Guard personnel holding the Superdome refugees at bay and helping "the well-dressed [Hyatt] guests with their luggage." AP:

    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." [...]

    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. [My emphasis]

    Medical personnel reportedly were evacuated from the dome, so people remaining there are on their own.

    Why aren't those people out of there? WTF???

    Posted by Jonathan at 05:32 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Red Cross Barred From Entering New Orleans Disasters

    From the website of the American Red Cross (via Atrios):

    Hurricane Katrina: Why is the Red Cross not in New Orleans?

  • Acess to New Orleans is controlled by the National Guard and local authorities and while we are in constant contact with them, we simply cannot enter New Orleans against their orders.

  • The state Homeland Security Department had requested — and continues to request — that the American Red Cross not come back into New Orleans following the hurricane. Our presence would keep people from evacuating and encourage others to come into the city.
  • The Red Cross' "presence would keep people from evacuating". In other words, their plan is to make conditions so unbearable and life-threatening that people will be forced to leave. But how can they not realize that many of the people trapped in that hell on earth don't have the means to leave? Are they that clueless? That heartless? That stupid?

    Posted by Jonathan at 04:51 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    September 02, 2005

    A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy Disasters  Essays  Politics

    [Originally posted September 1st, but re-posted now to bring it back to the top of the page.]

    The Federal response to the disaster along the Gulf coast, and in New Orleans (Lake George) in particular, is so thoroughly and completely incompetent that I am almost — I say almost — tempted to believe they're doing it on purpose, to burn into people's consciousness an image of government as incapable of solving social problems, of making things better, not worse. These Republican ideologues make no secret of their desire to denude government of all of its social welfare functions. The last thing they want is for people to see government coming to their rescue in ways no one else can or will.

    I say almost. I don't think it's quite that simple. But I do think there's an important connection between the Republican view of government and the total incompetence they're demonstrating in the present crisis. They don't believe in the public good, and they don't believe that government has a legitimate, useful role in safeguarding and supporting the public good. They don't trust government, and they are actively trying to undermine it, especially its social welfare functions.

    It is small wonder, then, that they are so bad at it. If you don't believe in government, you're not going to be any good at governing. If you don't believe government can help people, you're not going to be any good at planning and organizing to use government to help people.

    I.e., they believe government is incapable of helping people, and that belief becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    What we need in government are people who actually believe in government and in governing well. People who want to see government succeed. People who are willing to do the work required to make government succeed. People who are the exact opposite of what we've got.

    Posted by Jonathan at 04:22 PM | Comments (5) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Times-Picayune: "HELP US, PLEASE" Disasters

    The New Orleans Times-Picayune returned to print today with the banner headline: "HELP US, PLEASE" [pdf].

    The whole paper can be viewed here. Click the links under PDF Images (scroll down).

    Posted by Jonathan at 04:15 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Media Gets Wakeup Call? Disasters  Media

    It's just possible that reporters who've been covering the ongoing disaster in New Orleans have, by this experience, been shaken out of their complacent slumbering acceptance of whatever bullshit is streaming out of Washington on any given day. For when was the last time you heard a news anchor say something like this? Via Atrios:

    Cafferty: Wolf, the war in Iraq is part of the problem in New Orleans. The Boston Globe reporting today that National Guard units across the country have about half their usual equipment. Everything from helicopters, trucks, humvees, weapons available to them. All the rest of the stuff has been sent off to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are 78000 National Guard troops who are now deployed in those overseas war zones. Even the hardest hit states have 40% of their National Guard troops in Iraq right now. What happens if there's a terrorist attack tomorrow or a massive eearthquake in southern California? How would the nation respond? It's a frightening thought. The question is this — if we're to stay the course in Iraq should we bring the national guard troops home and institute a draft?

    Wolf: ...

    Cafferty: Do you suppose, Wolf, that the arrival of the relief convoys and the political photo ops on the Gulf Coast happening at the same time were a coincidence today?

    Wolf: ...

    Cafferty: It's embarrassing. [My emphasis]

    Or when was the last time you saw an article like this one on a major news site? CNN compares the official characterization of events coming from Chertoff and Brown to the reports they were getting from people on the ground. Go read it.

    For many of the reporters who covered Vietnam on the ground, the experience innoculated them against ever meekly accepting the government line. Maybe Katrina will have the same effect today for some of the reporters covering it. One can hope.

    Posted by Jonathan at 03:41 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Racism, Or Worse Disasters

    Yesterday, we had news of military and FEMA personnel being told to stand down because of a couple of isolated incidents of people taking potshots at a helicopter and a rescue boat. This despite the fact that the helicopter pilots, for example, were eager to go and do their jobs. The stand-down orders came from above. We had news as well of Army helicopters sitting idle because the National Guard commander had refused their help.

    Now we have this, from WaPo (via Digby):

    For three days, [Army] Corps [of Engineers] officials had lamented the difficulty of gaining access to the canal, but yesterday a local contractor, Boh Bros. Construction Co., apparently drove to the mouth of the canal and started placing a set of steel sheet pilings to isolate the canal from the lake. This job was finished yesterday afternoon.

    Reporters have no problem driving to the Convention Center, having only to drive up on the sidewalk here and there. News helicopters fly over the city without incident. A private contractor has no problem driving to the site to begin preliminary work on closing the levee.

    But military, FEMA, and Army Corps of Engineers personnel are ordered to stand down. Ordered from above. Maybe you see a benign explanation for this. I don't. I don't know how anyone can doubt that if the media had been filled with pictures of middle-class white people stranded at the Convention Center and Superdome instead of poor black people the response would have been very, very different.

    Posted by Jonathan at 03:18 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Oil-Gas Update Disasters  Peak Oil

    The Interior Department's Minerals Management Service (MMS) reports today that 88.5% of Gulf of Mexico (GOM) oil production and 72.5% of GOM natural gas production remain shut down.

    Cumulatively, Katrina has already cost 1.6% of the annual GOM production of oil and 1.3% of the annual GOM production of natural gas.

    The Energy Department's Energy Information Administration (EIA) commented yesterday on reported gasoline shortages arising from lost refining and distribution capacity:

    There have been many reports in the media of gas stations in various parts of the country that are out of gas. While EIA does not monitor supplies at individual stations or localities, there are some reasons why this may be occurring at selective stations. With about 2 million barrels per day of refining capacity shut in or reduced due to Hurricane Katrina, approximately 1 million barrels per day...of gasoline is not being produced. This represents about 10 percent of the nation's consumption, and is a major drop in the normal flow of gasoline through the system. In addition, major pipelines originating in the Gulf of Mexico area...have been severely impacted or are closed. As a result, the distribution of gasoline, particularly in the Gulf Coast, Midwest, and East Coast regions of the country, has been significantly affected. Localities that were being served from gasoline terminals which already had low inventory levels, perhaps because they were expecting a delivery in the near future, could run out of supply before the next delivery arrives. [My emphasis]

    10% of the nation's gasoline supply lost. That is a very big deal. We are all about to get a foretaste of what's going, in the very near future, to become a permanent, ever-worsening fact of life: oil and gas production increasingly unable to satisfy demand as world oil-gas production peaks and begins its inexorable, irreversible, permanent decline. Welcome to the future.

    Posted by Jonathan at 02:42 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    On Appointees Lacking Even Minimal Competence Disasters

    The corruption of this White House is staggering. One of the ways that that corruption is felt is in their penchant for unapologetically appointing unqualified, incompetent political hacks to positions requiring some measure of technical, scientific, or specialized managerial expertise.

    And so we've got Mike Brown as FEMA director. Mike Brown, who was forced to resign his previous job after being "an unmitigated, total f**king disaster." DailyKos:

    [T]he man responsible for directing federal relief operations in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina sharpened his emergency management skills as the "Judges and Stewards Commissioner" for the International Arabian Horses Association... a position from which he was forced to resign in the face of mounting litigation and financial disarray.

    The blame for this doesn't rest with Mike Brown. It rests with the man who carelessly put him in a job where the lives of tens or hundreds of thousands of people would depend on Brown's ability to execute the duties of what is, after all, a highly technical and specialized assignment.

    An awful lot of people are going to die unnecessarily. The blame for that rests with George Bush.

    Posted by Jonathan at 02:15 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Ray Nagin Interview Disasters

    While Bush is busy with Operation Photo-Op, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin tells it like it is. Listen here.

    Posted by Jonathan at 01:35 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    September 01, 2005

    Army Told Their Help Not Needed Disasters

    I'm with Digby on this one. All day it's been bugging me that military and FEMA personnel in New Orleans reportedly were told to stand down because of a few shots fired. With tens or hundreds of thousands of lives at stake, since when does the military turn tail because a couple of people took potshots at them?

    This account from a DailyKos diarist with military connections only deepens the outrage:

    [The] reason why helicopters from Fort Rucker have not been used for rescue and to drop food and water to Katrina survivors is because the Commander of the National Guard has said that he wants no help from the Army until it has been shown that the National Guard can't handle it anymore. He seems to be the only one who doesn't know that THEY HAVE BEEN SHOWN THAT THEY CAN'T HANDLE IT! How has this kind of insanity fruited on the vine?

    I can't even begin to understand this Commander. When we lived in Colorado Springs and the blizzard of 1996 occurred, the Army out of Fort Carson landed helicopters in the parking lots of Walmart and loaded up baby formula, medicine, food, and diapers and dropped them into very specific locations for very specific people. The only people who perished in that blizzard were two people in a car outside of town who pulled over on the side of the road. A house was very close by but they couldn't see it in the blizzard.

    There was a huge blizzard in 1977 also. I was just a kid then. It was a horrible blizzard though, killed all the cattle for miles. They suffocated in the snow. Fort Carson troops drove tanks around some of the streets and rescued people trapped in their cars. I have seen Army troops called in right in line with National Guard for two natural disasters that can't even begin to compare to this. I just don't understand!

    I have also spoken today on post here with Army pilots really pissed off that when the helicopter was shot at yesterday at the Superdome, they suspended operations. What I have been told is IT IS A MILITARY HELICOPTER AND YOU ARE PREFORMING A KIND OF MILITARY MISSION AND YOU ARE TAKING FIRE SO WHAT'S THE FUCKING PROBLEM? I heard this from pilots who have served in Iraq. They are really upset right now that it is okay to take fire to liberate Iraqis but it isn't okay to take fire attempting to rescue and save people in your own country!

    I went on Fort Rucker to take photos of the helicopters just sitting there and was told that it has nothing to do with what they want to do. They have been told to stand down by the National Guard Commander.

    I just don't get it. It's madness.

    What is wrong with these people???

    Posted by Jonathan at 07:55 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Lake George Disasters

    It now looks like the connection between the levee projects' budget cuts and the disaster in New Orleans is quite specific and direct, and a lot of people responsible for levee safety are pissed.

    Wonkette has an email from an anonymous source at the EPA who says that down in New Orleans they've got a new name for the flooded city: Lake George. The email:

    We're naming it Lake George, 'cause it's his frickin fault. Have you seen all that data about the levee projects' funding being cut over the past three years by the Prez, and the funding transferred to Iraq? The levee, as designed, might not have held back the surge from a direct Class 5 hit, but it certainly would not have crumbled on Monday night from saturation and scour erosion following a glancing blow from a Class 3. The failure was in a spot that had just been rebuilt, not yet compacted, not planted, and not armed (hardened with rock/concrete). The project should have been done two years ago, but the federal gov't diverted 80% of the funding to Iraq. Other areas had settled by a few feet from their design specs, and the money to repair them was diverted to Iraq.

    The NO paper raised hell about this time and again, to no avail. And who will take the blame for it? The Army Corps, because they're good soldiers and will never contradict the C in C. But Corps has had massive budget cuts across all departments (including wetland regulatory) since Bush took office, and now we've reaped what was sown. It really pisses me off to see the Corps get used by the Administration to shield Bush — they do great work when they're funded. This was senseless, useless death caused not by nature but by budget decisions. [My emphasis]

    There are two disasters here, both of which can be laid at the feet of the Bush administration. The first is the failure to finish the levee project, which led directly to the levee breach as described above. The second is the unbelievable, inexcusable way in which the relief effort has been bungled.

    Mississippi River flood management, and its attendant problems, didn't start with the Bush administration. But the levee that broke was unfinished specifically and directly because of Bush administration budget cuts.

    As for the relief effort, these people have supposedly spent the last four years preparing to deal with a significant bioterrorism or nuclear attack on an American city, which should have involved planning for the care, feeding, and housing of a large population of refugees. What exactly have these clowns been doing all this time? What do we have to show for the tens of billions of dollars spent on "homeland security"?

    Posted by Jonathan at 06:24 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    What Is Their Problem??? Disasters

    Reporters and camera crews from CNN and elsewhere manage to get to the Convention Center, Superdome, and elsewhere. So why can't the authorities?

    How long does it take to organize a helicopter airlift/drop of water and food?

    There are people who have done this kind of thing before. Why can't anyone figure out who to put in charge?

    Is everyone in the administration totally incompetent?

    Posted by Jonathan at 04:32 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    200-300,000 Remain To Be Evacuated From New Orleans Disasters

    WWL-TV, New Orleans, quotes Louisiana Governor Blanco this afternoon as saying that "between 200 and 300,000 people still need to be evacuated from the city."

    That's 2 to 3 hundred thousand people who urgently need water, food, medicine.

    There are no words.

    Posted by Jonathan at 03:40 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    "I Don't Treat My Dog Like That" Disasters

    AP:

    Fury rose among many of those evacuated. Outside the Convention Center, the sidewalks were packed with people without food, water or medical care, and with no sign of law enforcement. Thousands of storm refugees had been assembling outside for days, waiting for buses that did not come.

    At least seven bodies were scattered outside, and hungry, desperate people who were tired of waiting broke through the steel doors to a food service entrance and began pushing out pallets of water and juice and whatever else they could find.

    An old man in a chaise lounge lay dead in a grassy median as hungry babies wailed around him. Around the corner, an elderly woman lay dead in her wheelchair, covered up by a blanket, and another body lay beside her wrapped in a sheet.

    "I don't treat my dog like that," 47-year-old Daniel Edwards said as he pointed at the woman in the wheelchair. "I buried my dog." He added: "You can do everything for other countries but you can't do nothing for your own people. You can go overseas with the military but you can't get them down here." [My emphasis]

    I am so angry right now, so disgusted. If there were thousands of white millionaire Republicans — a convention of oil company executives, say — stranded at the New Orleans Convention Center without food, water, or medical attention, does anyone doubt Bush would move heaven and earth to get them out of there?

    Posted by Jonathan at 12:22 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Chertoff Is Scum Disasters

    Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff should resign in disgrace. WaPo:

    "The critical thing was to get people out of there before the disaster," [Chertoff] said on NBC's "Today" program. "Some people chose not to obey that order. That was a mistake on their part." [My emphasis]

    It's all their own fault. But, as was reported before Katrina hit:

    Making matters worse, at least 100,000 people in the city lack the transportation to get out of town. Nagin said the Superdome might be used as a shelter of last resort for people who have no cars, with city bus pick-up points around New Orleans.

    "I know they're saying 'Get out of town,' but I don't have any way to get out," said Hattie Johns, 74. "If you don't have no money, you can't go." [My emphasis]

    Atrios says it best:

    Lots of these people were poor. No cars. No credit cards. Nowhere to go. WHAT THE F**K WERE THEY SUPPOSED TO DO?

    Go to CNN's site, click the link "Nobody's in control" and watch Chris Spellman's report. You'll see thousands of ordinary folks, families, kids, stuck with no help on the way. All the reporting about looting is a distraction. Decent, law-abiding American citizens are in desperate trouble, and their government has failed them.

    Chertoff is scum.

    Posted by Jonathan at 12:04 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Paul Craig Roberts On New Orleans And Iraq Disasters  Iraq  Politics

    Paul Craig Roberts is no liberal. His pedigree includes the Reagan administration, the Hoover Institution, the Cato Institute, the Wall Street Journal, the National Review. Here's what he has to say about the disaster unfolding in New Orleans:

    Chalk up the city of New Orleans as a cost of Bush's Iraq war.

    There were not enough helicopters to repair the breeched levees and rescue people trapped by rising water. Nor are there enough Louisiana National Guards available to help with rescue efforts and to patrol against looting.

    The situation is the same in Mississippi.

    The National Guard and helicopters are off on a fool's mission in Iraq.

    The National Guard is in Iraq because fanatical neoconservatives in the Bush administration were determined to invade the Middle East and because the incompetent Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld refused to listen to the generals, who told him there were not enough regular troops available to do the job.

    After the invasion, the arrogant Rumsfeld found out that the generals were right. The National Guard was called up to fill in the gaping gaps.

    Now the Guardsmen, trapped in the Iraqi quagmire, are watching on TV the families they left behind trapped by rising waters and wondering if the floating bodies are family members. None know where their dislocated families are, but, shades of Fallujah, they do see their destroyed homes.

    The mayor of New Orleans was counting on helicopters to put in place massive sandbags to repair the levee. However, someone called the few helicopters away to rescue people from rooftops. The rising water overwhelmed the massive pumping stations, and New Orleans disappeared under deep water.

    What a terrible casualty of the Iraqi war – one of our oldest and most beautiful cities, a famous city, a historic city.

    Distracted by its phony war on terrorism, the US government had made no preparations in the event Hurricane Katrina brought catastrophe to New Orleans. No contingency plan existed. Only now after the disaster are FEMA and the Corp of Engineers trying to assemble the material and equipment to save New Orleans from the fate of Atlantis.

    Even worse, articles in the New Orleans Times-Picayune and public statements by emergency management chiefs in New Orleans make it clear that the Bush administration slashed the funding for the Corp of Engineers’ projects to strengthen and raise the New Orleans levees and diverted the money to the Iraq war.

    Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, told the New Orleans Times-Picayune (June 8, 2004): "It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us." [...]

    What we have is a Republican war for oil company profits while New Orleans sinks beneath the waters. [My emphasis]

    Chickens come home to roost. You don't have to be a liberal to see it.

    Posted by Jonathan at 11:17 AM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Lying Bastard Disasters  Politics

    President Bush, interviewed on ABC's "Good Morning America" this morning:

    I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees.

    From Echidne here's an excerpt of an article published in New Orleans' Times Picayune more than a year ago:

    For the first time in 37 years, federal budget cuts have all but stopped major work on the New Orleans area's east bank hurricane levees, a complex network of concrete walls, metal gates and giant earthen berms that won't be finished for at least another decade.

    "I guess people look around and think there's a complete system in place, that we're just out here trying to put icing on the cake," said Mervin Morehiser, who manages the "Lake Pontchartrain and vicinity" levee project for the Army Corps of Engineers. "And we aren't saying that the sky is falling, but people should know that this is a work in progress, and there's more important work yet to do before there is a complete system in place." [...]

    "I can't tell you exactly what that could mean this hurricane season if we get a major storm," Naomi said. "It would depend on the path and speed of the storm, the angle that it hits us.

    "But I can tell you that we would be better off if the levees were raised,...and I think it's important and only fair that those people who live behind the levee know the status of these projects." [...]

    The Bush administration's proposed fiscal 2005 budget includes only $3.9 million for the east bank hurricane project. Congress likely will increase that amount, although last year it bumped up the administration's $3 million proposal only to $5.5 million.

    "I needed $11 million this year, and I got $5.5 million," Naomi said. "I need $22.5 million next year to do everything that needs doing, and the first $4.5 million of that will go to pay four contractors who couldn't get paid this year." [My emphasis]

    Still, did anyone really anticipate what's now taking place in New Orleans? Here's an article from May, 2005:

    In the event of a slow-moving Category 4 or Category 5 hurricane (with winds up to or exceeding 155 miles per hour), it's possible that only those crow's nests would remain above the water level. Such a storm, plowing over the lake, could generate a 20-foot surge that would easily overwhelm the levees of New Orleans, which only protect against a hybrid Category 2 or Category 3 storm (with winds up to about 110 miles per hour and a storm surge up to 12 feet). Soon the geographical "bowl" of the Crescent City would fill up with the waters of the lake, leaving those unable to evacuate with little option but to cluster on rooftops — terrain they would have to share with hungry rats, fire ants, nutria, snakes, and perhaps alligators. The water itself would become a festering stew of sewage, gasoline, refinery chemicals, and debris. [My emphasis]

    Which is exactly what has happened.

    Bush is a lying bastard.

    Posted by Jonathan at 10:58 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Empathy From The Right Disasters  Media  Politics

    Here's conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg, editor-in-chief of National Review Online:

    ATTN: SUPERDOME RESIDENTS [Jonah Goldberg]

    I think it's time to face facts. That place is going to be a Mad Max/thunderdome Waterworld/Lord of the Flies horror show within the next few hours. My advice is to prepare yourself now. Hoard weapons, grow gills and learn to communicate with serpents. While you're working on that, find the biggest guy you can and when he's not expecting it beat him senseless. Gather young fighters around you and tell the womenfolk you will feed and protect any female who agrees to participate without question in your plans to repopulate the earth with a race of gilled-supermen. It's never too soon to be prepared.

    Goldberg wrote that before the horror unfolding in New Orleans was fully evident, but still...

    And then he added this:

    NOT THAT I WANT TO OFFEND ANYBODY [Jonah Goldberg]

    But it would be pretty cool if Fox played to caricature and repeatedly referred to the hurricane as Katrina vanden Heuvel [editor of The Nation].

    "The destruction from Katrina vanden Heuvel is expected to be massive."

    "...the poor and disabled are particularly likely to suffer from the effects of Katrina vanden Heuvel ...."

    "Coming up: how to explain Katrina vanden Heuvel to your children."

    Etc.

    Right-wing humor. Juvenile twit.

    Posted by Jonathan at 12:52 AM | Comments (2) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    August 31, 2005

    Dismantling FEMA Disasters  Politics

    According to an op-ed in yesterday's WaPo by the director of Seattle's Office of Emergency Management, the Bush administration has decimated the federal capability to respond to diasters like Hurricane Katrina. Excerpt:

    In the days to come, as the nation and the people along the Gulf Coast work to cope with the disastrous aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we will be reminded anew, how important it is to have a federal agency capable of dealing with natural catastrophes of this sort. This is an immense human tragedy, one that will work hardship on millions of people. It is beyond the capabilities of state and local government to deal with. It requires a national response.

    Which makes it all the more difficult to understand why, at this moment, the country's premier agency for dealing with such events — FEMA — is being, in effect, systematically downgraded and all but dismantled by the Department of Homeland Security.

    Apparently homeland security now consists almost entirely of protection against terrorist acts. How else to explain why the Federal Emergency Management Agency will no longer be responsible for disaster preparedness? Given our country's long record of natural disasters, how much sense does this make? [...]

    Indeed, the advent of the Bush administration in January 2001 signaled the beginning of the end for FEMA. The newly appointed leadership of the agency showed little interest in its work or in the missions pursued by the departed [director]. Then came the Sept. 11 attacks and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. Soon FEMA was being absorbed into [DHS].

    This year it was announced that FEMA is to "officially" lose the disaster preparedness function that it has had since its creation. The move is a death blow to an agency that was already on life support. In fact, FEMA employees have been directed not to become involved in disaster preparedness functions, since a new directorate (yet to be established) will have that mission. [...]

    Those of us in the business of dealing with emergencies find ourselves with no national leadership and no mentors. [My emphasis]

    It's uncanny. They're wrong about everything. Absolutely everything.

    Posted by Jonathan at 10:39 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Looting And Not-Looting Disasters  Media

    A tale of two captions, here.

    Posted by Jonathan at 08:56 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    August 30, 2005

    MarketWatch's Assessment Disasters  Economy  Energy  Peak Oil

    From what little is known, MarketWatch offers a sobering assessment of the potential economic/energy fallout from Hurricane Katrina. Excerpts:

    "There is a real sense of foreboding about the economy now that Katrina has struck with full force," said Bernard Baumohl, executive director of Economic Outlook Group. "The Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf region represent the soft underbelly of the U.S. energy industry."

    Katrina took aim at a vulnerable chokepoint for U.S. energy markets. The region not only produces a large percentage of domestic oil and gas, it is also a transportation hub for both imported and domestic production.

    And much of the petroleum that Americans use is refined at facilities along the ravaged Gulf coast. [...]

    Even in the best-case scenario, production of crude petroleum, natural gas and refined gasoline are likely to be severely stunted for at least several weeks as Gulf production and refineries go back on line.

    Last year, Hurricane Ivan, which tracked further east than Katrina, knocked out about 10% of U.S. energy production for about four months. [...]

    If disruptions in Gulf energy supplies are limited, retail gasoline prices could top $3 a gallon for a couple of months, said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist for Global Insight. High energy prices would likely cut consumption and knock 0.3 to 0.5 percentage points off U.S. gross domestic product.

    "We are not at the worst-case scenario," Behravesh told MarketWatch. "But we are moving in that direction" as companies assess the damage to their facilities.

    In a worst-case scenario, the storm could shut down deliveries of as much as 25% of U.S. energy needs for several months.

    In that case, gasoline prices would average $3.50 a gallon for the next four to six months, Behravesh said, cutting U.S. growth to zero in the fourth quarter. [...]

    The key unknown is how much damage petroleum refineries suffered. The U.S. could conceivably import more crude petroleum to replace Gulf production, but it's almost impossible to replace lost refinery capacity.

    Americans could be swimming in crude, but wouldn't have a drop of gasoline to run their cars. [...]

    The vital Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, the only U.S. port that can handle supertankers, apparently escaped major damage, the manager of the port told Dow Jones NewsWires.

    The major onshore port at Port Fourchon, also escaped major damage, according to Dow Jones NewsWires. The port is the base for oil service operations for oil rigs in the Gulf.

    However, the channel leading to the port may have suffered severe silting from the storm surge. Dredging the channel could take weeks or longer. There could be a "very large impact to the energy supply," if the port can't reopen, port manager Ted Falgout told CNBC. [My emphasis]

    It should be stressed that an awful lot remains unknown at this point.

    Posted by Jonathan at 04:49 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Nearly All Gulf Of Mexico Oil/Gas Production Remains Offline Disasters  Energy  Peak Oil

    In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, most of the oil (95%) and gas (88%) production in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) remains "shut-in" (the industry term for "available oil or gas which is not being produced from an existing well") according to figures released this afternoon by the Interior Department. The GOM normally accounts for about a quarter of domestic oil production. MMS:

    Today's shut-in oil production is 1,427,969 BOPD. This shut-in oil production is equivalent to 95.20% of the daily oil production in the GOM, which is currently approximately 1.5 million BOPD [barrels of oil per day].

    Today's shut-in gas production is 8.798 BCFPD. This shut-in gas production is equivalent to 87.99% of the daily gas production in the GOM, which is currently approximately 10 BCFPD [billion cubic feet per day]. [My emphasis]

    Shut-in production has actually increased from yesterday's figures.

    Preliminary reports indicate that the damage to refineries in the area is not catastrophic, with some sustaining only "minimal" damage. The extent of the damage to terminals, pipelines, and other infrastructure is still unknown. AP:

    By late Monday, several refiners said damage at their plants appeared to be minimal and oil prices retreated from the day's highs above $70 a barrel. But if a bleaker picture emerges in the days ahead — it may take more time to assess damage, depending on how rough the seas are — prices could run up once again, analysts said.

    Based on conversations with oil and gas companies operating in the Gulf, Goldstein said it appeared that Katrina will not interrupt the region's operations as significantly as last year's Hurricane Ivan. [...]

    The powerful storm hit an area crucial to the U.S. energy infrastructure — offshore oil and gas production, import terminals, pipeline networks and numerous refining operations in the southern states of Louisiana and Mississippi. [...]

    The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port [LOOP], the largest oil import terminal in the United States, evacuated all workers and stopped unloading ships on Saturday. Any significant damage to the port would have a devastating impact, analysts said. [...]

    "The damage to the electric power grid is the most important source of damage to consider in evaluation of the impact of Hurricane Katrina," said energy analyst Dan Lippe of Petral Worldwide in Houston. [My emphasis]

    Some reports today indicate that the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, or LOOP, may be able to get back in operation when power is restored. MarketWatch:

    At least five big Gulf Coast refineries...remained shut [Tuesday], as was the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, or LOOP — the nation's only deepwater oil terminal.

    The LOOP typically receives tankers delivering about 1 million barrels of oil a day, or 10% of the nation's imported crude.

    Media reports, quoting a port official, said the LOOP had not sustained significant damage and could likely resume operations as soon as power is restored on the the facility, which sits about 20 miles off the Louisiana coast. [My emphasis]

    Getting New Orleans back up and running looks to be an entirely different matter. The levee between New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain suffered a major break and water from the lake is flooding the city, which is below the level of the lake. Water will continue to flood into the city until the levels are equalized or the levee is repaired (which means getting heavy equipment to the site). Once the levee is repaired, the only way to get the water out of the city will be to pump it out.

    It's hard to imagine all that taking less than a number of weeks to accomplish. The devastation to buildings and homes that have been underwater for that long is going to be enormous. How soon are the workers who run the oil and gas infrastructure going to be able to return home? How soon are the offices from which that infrastructure is managed going to reopen? Meanwhile, the water continues to rise.

    Posted by Jonathan at 03:41 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

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