Saturday, September 03, 2005

Notes from Inside New Orleans

Notes from Inside New Orleans
By Jordan Flaherty
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Friday 02 September 2005

I just left New Orleans a couple of hours ago. I traveled from the apartment I was staying in - by boat - to a helicopter to a refugee camp. If anyone wants to examine the attitude of federal and state officials toward the victims of hurricane Katrina, I advise you to visit one of the refugee camps.

In the refugee camp I just left, on the I-10 freeway near Causeway, thousands of people (at least 90% black and poor) stood and squatted in mud and trash behind metal barricades, under an unforgiving sun, with heavily armed soldiers standing guard over them. When a bus would come through, it would stop at a random spot, state police would open a gap in one of the barricades, and people would rush for the bus, with no information given about where the bus was going. Once inside, we were told, evacuees would be told where the bus was taking them - Baton Rouge, Houston, Arkansas, Dallas, or other locations. I was told that if you boarded a bus bound for Arkansas, for example, even people with family and a place to stay in Baton Rouge would not be allowed to get out of the bus as it passed through Baton Rouge. You had no choice but to go to the shelter in Arkansas. If you had people willing to come to New Orleans to pick you up, they could not come within 17 miles of the camp.

I traveled throughout the camp and spoke to Red Cross workers, Salvation Army workers, National Guard, and state police, and although they were friendly, no one could give me any details on when buses would arrive, how many, where they would go to, or any other information. I spoke to the several teams of journalists nearby, and asked if any of them had been able to get any information from any federal or state officials on any of these questions, and all of them, from Australian TV to local Fox affiliates complained of an unorganized, non-communicative mess. One cameraman told me "as someone who's been here in this camp for two days, the only information I can give you is this: get out by nightfall. You don't want to be here at night."

There was also no visible attempt by any of those running the camp to set up any sort of transparent and consistent system, for instance a line to get on buses, a way to register contact information or find family members, special needs services for children and infirm, phone services, treatment for possible disease exposure, nor even a single trash can.

To understand this tragedy, its important to look at New Orleans itself.

For those who have not lived in New Orleans, you have missed a incredible, glorious, vital city. A place with a culture and energy unlike anywhere else in the world. A 70% African-American city where resistance to white supremacy has supported a generous, subversive and unique culture of vivid beauty. From jazz, blues, and hiphop to secondlines, Mardi Gras Indians, parades, beads, Jazz Funerals, and red beans and rice on Monday nights, New Orleans is a place of art and music and dance and sexuality and liberation unlike anywhere else in the world.

It is a city of kindness and hospitality, where walking down the block can take two hours because you stop and talk to someone on every porch, and where a community pulls together when someone is in need. It is a city of extended families and social networks filling the gaps left by city, state and federal governments that have abdicated their responsibility for the public welfare. It is a city where someone you walk past on the street not only asks how you are, they wait for an answer.

It is also a city of exploitation and segregation and fear. The city of New Orleans has a population of just over 500,000 and was expecting 300 murders this year, most of them centered on just a few overwhelmingly black neighborhoods. Police have been quoted as saying that they don't need to search out the perpetrators, because usually a few days after a shooting, the attacker is shot in revenge.

There is an atmosphere of intense hostility and distrust between much of Black New Orleans and the NO Police Department. In recent months, officers have been accused of everything from drug running to corruption to theft. In separate incidents, two New Orleans police officers were recently charged with rape (while in uniform), and there have been several high profile police killings of unarmed youth, including the murder of Jenard Thomas, which has inspired ongoing weekly protests for several months.

The city has a 40% illiteracy rate, and over 50% of black ninth-graders will not graduate in four years. Louisiana spends on average $4,724 per child's education and ranks 48th in the country for lowest teacher salaries. The equivalent of more than two classrooms of young people drop out of Louisiana schools every day, and about 50,000 students are absent from school on any given day. Far too many young black men from New Orleans end up enslaved in Angola Prison, a former slave plantation where inmates still do manual farm labor, and over 90% of inmates eventually die in the prison. It is a city where industry has left, and most remaining jobs are are low-paying, transient, insecure jobs in the service economy.

Race has always been the undercurrent of Louisiana politics. This disaster is one that was constructed out of racism, neglect and incompetence. Hurricane Katrina was the inevitable spark igniting the gasoline of cruelty and corruption. From the neighborhoods left most at risk, to the treatment of the refugees, to the the media portrayal of the victims, this disaster is shaped by race.

Louisiana politics is famously corrupt, but with the tragedies of this week our political leaders have defined a new level of incompetence. As hurricane Katrina approached, our Governor urged us to "Pray the hurricane down" to a level two. Trapped in a building two days after the hurricane, we tuned in our battery-operated radio to local radio and TV stations, hoping for vital news, and were told that our governor had called for a day of prayer. As rumors and panic began to rule, there was no source of solid, dependable information. Tuesday night, politicians and reporters said the water level would rise another 12 feet - instead it stabilized. Rumors spread like wildfire, and the politicians and media only made it worse.

While the rich escaped New Orleans, those with nowhere to go and no way to get there were left behind. Adding salt to the wound, the local and national media have spent the last week demonizing those left behind. As someone who loves New Orleans and the people in it, this is the part of this tragedy that hurts me the most, and it hurts me deeply.

No sane person should classify someone who takes food from indefinitely closed stores in a desperate, starving city as a "looter," but that's just what the media did over and over again. Sheriffs and politicians talked of having troops protect stores instead of perform rescue operations.

Images of New Orleans' hurricane-ravaged population were transformed into black, out-of-control criminals. As if taking a stereo from a store that will clearly be insured against loss is a greater crime than the governmental neglect and incompetence that did billions of dollars of damage and destroyed a city. This media focus is a tactic; just as the eighties focus on "welfare queens" and "super-predators" obscured the simultaneous and much larger crimes of the Savings and Loan scams and mass layoffs, the hyper-exploited people of New Orleans are being used as a scapegoat to cover up much larger crimes.

City, state and national politicians are the real criminals here. Since at least the mid-1800s, the danger of flooding to New Orleans been widely known. The flood of 1927, which, like this week's events, was more about politics and racism than any kind of natural disaster, illustrated exactly the danger New Orleans faced. Yet government officials have consistently refused to spend the money to protect this poor, overwhelmingly black city. While FEMA and others warned of the urgent impending danger to New Orleans and put forward proposals for funding to reinforce and protect the city, the Bush administration, in every year since 2001, has cut or refused to fund New Orleans flood control, and ignored scientists' warnings of increased hurricanes as a result of global warming. And, as the dangers rose with the floodwaters, the lack of coordinated response dramatized vividly the callous disregard of our elected leaders.

The aftermath from the 1927 flood helped shape the elections of both a US President and a Governor and ushered in the southern populist politics of Huey Long.

In the coming months, billions of dollars will likely flood into New Orleans. Either this money can be spent to usher in a "New Deal" for the city, with public investment, creation of stable union jobs, new schools, cultural programs and housing restoration, or the city can be "rebuilt and revitalized" to a shell of its former self, with newer hotels, more casinos, and with chain stores and theme parks replacing the former neighborhoods, cultural centers and corner jazz clubs.

Long before Katrina, New Orleans was hit by a hurricane of poverty, racism, disinvestment, de-industrialization, and corruption. The damage from this pre-Katrina hurricane alone will itself take billions to repair.

Now that the money is flowing in, and the world's eyes are focused on Katrina, it's vital that progressive-minded people take this opportunity to fight for a rebuilding with justice. New Orleans is a special place, and we need to fight for its rebirth.

Jordan Flaherty is an Editor of Left Turn Magazine:

NY TIMES....what gives? Katrina Rocks Us.

September 3, 2005
Katrina's Assault on Washington
Do not be misled by Congress's approval of $10.5 billion in relief for the Hurricane Katrina victims. That's prompted by the graphic shock of the news coverage from New Orleans and the region, where the devastation catapults daily, in heartbreaking contrast with the slo-mo bumblings of government.

There are dozens of questions Americans will demand to have answered once this emergency has passed. If the Homeland Security Department was so ill prepared for a natural disaster that everyone knew was coming, how is it equipped to handle other kinds of crises? Has the war in Iraq drained the nation of resources that it needs for things like flood prevention? Is the National Guard ready to handle a disaster that might be even worse, like a biological or nuclear attack?

One thing is certain: if President Bush and his Republican Congressional leaders want to deal responsibly with a historic disaster of this scale, they must finally try the path of honestly shared national sacrifice. If they respond by passing a few emergency measures and then falling back on their plans to enact more tax cuts, America will have to confront the fact that it is stuck with leaders who neither know, nor care, how to lead.

The pre-Katrina plan for this Congressional season was to enact more upper-bracket tax cuts for the least needy, while cutting into the safety-net programs for sick and impoverished Americans. These are the very entitlement programs most needed by the sudden underclass of hundreds of thousands of hurricane refugees cast adrift like Dustbowl Okies. Will Congress dare to go forward with these retrogressive plans in the face of the suffering from Katrina? Its woeful track record suggests that, shockingly, the answer may be yes.

G.O.P. leaders are set to mandate billions in Medicaid and antipoverty cuts this month, while the Senate is poised to try again to repeal the estate tax, a monumental folly that will deprive the deficit-ridden government of an estimated $750 billion in vital revenue in the first decade. The theory is that over the long run, the missing money will "starve the beast" and force Washington to make huge cuts in federal programs. The public has never bought this, but as long as the economy held up, it was willing to ignore the long-term implications.

That can't be the case now, when those implications are sitting in filthy refugee centers, when the streets of New Orleans are under water and when the nation must take care of hundreds of thousands of homeless people. Yet President Bush has still managed to repeat his no-taxes mantra.

Senator Mary Landrieu, the Louisiana Democrat, is now fighting for every available dollar to restore her state. Republicans had been wooing Ms. Landrieu as a possible supporter of the estate tax repeal. Now, we presume, she has higher priorities.

Washington's inspiration must now be the individual rescuers in New Orleans, who have labored so bravely and selflessly, as well as the charitable deeds of local and state governments. Houston's offer of shelter at the Astrodome has put self-regarding national politicians to shame.

Congress and the president had better get the message: an extraordinary time is upon the nation. The annihilation in New Orleans is an irrefutable sign that the national tax-cut party is over. So is the idea that American voters cannot be required to accept sacrifice or inconvenience, no matter how great the crisis. This country is better than that.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Maureen Dowd.....The United States of Shame

September 3, 2005
United States of Shame
Stuff happens.

And when you combine limited government with incompetent government, lethal stuff happens.

America is once more plunged into a snake pit of anarchy, death, looting, raping, marauding thugs, suffering innocents, a shattered infrastructure, a gutted police force, insufficient troop levels and criminally negligent government planning. But this time it's happening in America.

W. drove his budget-cutting Chevy to the levee, and it wasn't dry. Bye, bye, American lives. "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees," he told Diane Sawyer.

Shirt-sleeves rolled up, W. finally landed in Hell yesterday and chuckled about his wild boozing days in "the great city" of N'Awlins. He was clearly moved. "You know, I'm going to fly out of here in a minute," he said on the runway at the New Orleans International Airport, "but I want you to know that I'm not going to forget what I've seen." Out of the cameras' range, and avoided by W., was a convoy of thousands of sick and dying people, some sprawled on the floor or dumped on baggage carousels at a makeshift M*A*S*H unit inside the terminal.

Why does this self-styled "can do" president always lapse into such lame "who could have known?" excuses.

Who on earth could have known that Osama bin Laden wanted to attack us by flying planes into buildings? Any official who bothered to read the trellis of pre-9/11 intelligence briefs.

Who on earth could have known that an American invasion of Iraq would spawn a brutal insurgency, terrorist recruiting boom and possible civil war? Any official who bothered to read the C.I.A.'s prewar reports.

Who on earth could have known that New Orleans's sinking levees were at risk from a strong hurricane? Anybody who bothered to read the endless warnings over the years about the Big Easy's uneasy fishbowl.

In June 2004, Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, fretted to The Times-Picayune in New Orleans: "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."

Not only was the money depleted by the Bush folly in Iraq; 30 percent of the National Guard and about half its equipment are in Iraq.

Ron Fournier of The Associated Press reported that the Army Corps of Engineers asked for $105 million for hurricane and flood programs in New Orleans last year. The White House carved it to about $40 million. But President Bush and Congress agreed to a $286.4 billion pork-filled highway bill with 6,000 pet projects, including a $231 million bridge for a small, uninhabited Alaskan island.

Just last year, Federal Emergency Management Agency officials practiced how they would respond to a fake hurricane that caused floods and stranded New Orleans residents. Imagine the feeble FEMA's response to Katrina if they had not prepared.

Michael Brown, the blithering idiot in charge of FEMA - a job he trained for by running something called the International Arabian Horse Association - admitted he didn't know until Thursday that there were 15,000 desperate, dehydrated, hungry, angry, dying victims of Katrina in the New Orleans Convention Center.

Was he sacked instantly? No, our tone-deaf president hailed him in Mobile, Ala., yesterday: "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."

It would be one thing if President Bush and his inner circle - Dick Cheney was vacationing in Wyoming; Condi Rice was shoe shopping at Ferragamo's on Fifth Avenue and attended "Spamalot" before bloggers chased her back to Washington; and Andy Card was off in Maine - lacked empathy but could get the job done. But it is a chilling lack of empathy combined with a stunning lack of efficiency that could make this administration implode.

When the president and vice president rashly shook off our allies and our respect for international law to pursue a war built on lies, when they sanctioned torture, they shook the faith of the world in American ideals.

When they were deaf for so long to the horrific misery and cries for help of the victims in New Orleans - most of them poor and black, like those stuck at the back of the evacuation line yesterday while 700 guests and employees of the Hyatt Hotel were bused out first - they shook the faith of all Americans in American ideals. And made us ashamed.

Who are we if we can't take care of our own?


Money For Nothing and Yer Kicks Fer Free! Halliburton AGAIN!

Halliburton gets contract to repair damage from Hurricane Katrina

WASHINGTON, Sept. 1 ( -- The US Navy asked Halliburton to repair naval facilities damaged by Hurricane Katrina, the Houston Chronicle reported today. The work was assigned to Halliburton's KBR subsidiary under the Navy's $500 million CONCAP contract awarded to KBR in 2001 and renewed in 2004. The repairs will take place in Louisiana and Mississippi.

KBR has not been asked to repair the levees destroyed in New Orleans which became the primary cause of most of the damage.

Since 1989, governments worldwide have awarded $3 billion in contracts to KBR's Government and Infrastructure Division to clean up damage caused by natural and man-made disasters.

Earlier this year, the Navy awarded $350 million in contracts to KBR and three other companies to repair naval facilities in northwest Florida damaged by Hurricane Ivan, which struck in September 2004. The ongoing work includes repairs to aircraft support facilities, medium industrial buildings, marine construction, mechanical and electrical improvements, civil construction, and family housing renovation.

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

Today, FEMA is widely criticized for its slow response to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Albaugh 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, Albaugh 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, and I hope that contractor accountability is not lost as a result."

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