Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The People Have Spoken The Ground Has Shifted

Anti-War, originally uploaded by Wazdat!.

And The Administration Has Blinked

On Saturday the forces of justice grew bolder, and the forces of darkness cringed.

A hundred thousand people showed up in Washington D.C. to speak truth to power, and though the media thought it best to cover a has-been hurricane that was not Katrina, killed nobody and revealed nothing of consequence that we didn't already know about Bush cancer, l'm positive that the denizens of the Beltway were amply aware that the temperature of anti-war fever in this country has just shot up.

The Mall was filled standing room only! People spoke there, movingly, about the unfairness of the war, it's dishonesty, and the need to end it as soon as possible. Mothers heard of how the Bush administration lied to their children and put them in harm's way under false pretences.

The horizon was filled with people who joyously shouted as they felt their power.

They chanted. They sang. And they showed that they and this country have turned a corner. Now we go on the offensive!

But the protest wasn't just in D.C., or in San Francisco. It was at my doorstep in Syracuse too.

I came at around noon. We met in front of county Republican Headquarters on West Onondaga. The signs were spirited and beautiful! Passersby cheered us on. We sang. We chanted. We had protesters on either side of the street. There were about 100 of us there, and one right-wing yahoo with a slgn that read: "The Syracuse Peace Council Kills Jews!" Weird! He started confronting us, but we would't take the bate.

Well his antics merely served to spur us on to carry on singing!

And anyhow, he served to show the exact pro-war to anti-war protester ratio that exists throughout the country!

At San Francisco there were thousands of anti-war protesters were gathered at the corner of Mission and 16th and at Dolores Park and marched through the streets.

"In Los Angeles," said Inside Bay Area, " police closed a downtown street to accommodate the protest, which they said drew an estimated 15,000 people." " In San Diego, more than 2,000 protesters marched through downtown to a city park where they displayed mock coffins commemorating the deaths of Iraqi civilians and white crosses to represent fallen American soldiers. On the streets of San Francisco, several thousand demonstrators embraced an array of political groups, including Seligman's, which is trying to get military recruiters out of public school campuses and to bring troops home."

In Syracuse, we were buoyed by a call from Peace Council delegate to Washington who told us of the hundreds of thousands who were there. And of course, that one heckler was there to entertain us as well, with his perambulations and "gems of wisdom." We defend his freedom of speech anyway.

On Marshall St., the crowd was only a little smaller, but no less in high spirits. I had informed the people of the phone call from D.C. I felt a sense of euphoria as I stood there in front of a TV5 camera in my self designed homemade "My Country Doesn't Lie To Me Mr. Bush!" T-shirt.

When I came home, my mother told me to turn on C-SPAN.

I saw something that made me proud of being part of it.

My mother said "Are you seeing this?"

"Mom" I said, "today I was DOING that!"

The next day I saw the Republican attempt.

Melanie Morgan was there, hardly anyone else. Oh, a few people wandered from here to there, and then they had the nerve to say that our guys did not represent the true sentiments of America! Funny how so few people, about four hundred, are experts on how America thinks, when just the day before, the whole of America showed up to tell people like Melanie Morgan what we think of her.

Finally they arrested Cindy Sheehan yesterday. She was peacefully demonstrating with a tactic called civil disobedience. i'm told that the police were entirely civil with her and she is being treated well.

I think of this as a tribute to her persuasiveness, the mood of the country and the fact that few people will allow anything that happens to Cindy Sheehan to be ignored.

Inside Bay Area
New Standard News
Melanie Morgan

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Blame Game or Accountability?

Bush Mess, originally uploaded by Wazdat!.

So Now The Hot Lead Is Flying About Katrina!

So now, the hot lead is flying now about Hurricane Katrina! They say that they don't want to play the "blame game", yet they are more than willing to play the "wasn't me" game, and the "scapegoat game''.

Let's see, whose responsibility was it to first make sure that flooding due to a hurricane is kept to a minimum? Whose projects were authorized by Congress in 1997 and then pulled? The Army Corps of Engineers that's who! And whose subsection’s of the Homeland Security Department’s responsibility was it to oversee the Federal response to the disaster if not FEMA’s?

The Republicans would like it to be all about who was it at the state and local level who couldn't think on their feet, but even if that were true, nothing can erase the responsibility that the Federal Government had and shirked in the area of ensuring the safety of the people of the Gulf Coast.

The fact is there were warnings. The Army Corps of Engineers had reports. FEMA had reports before that. They even had an exercise; Hurricane Pam, which very accurately predicted what, would happen if a Category 5 hurricane hit the Gulf Coast near the Mississippi Delta.

Where did it go wrong?

The neocons want to shift the blame to the locals, telling us that the Mayor didn't use the school buses, or that Governor Blanco didn't position the National Guard on time, but that in no way goes to the root of the problem.

That problem was and still is - the narrow minded thinking of the Bush White House namely their suspiciously self-serving notions that less government (and therefore more private sector) is better, and of subsuming institutions vital to the national security, to their most selfish pet project.... Iraq.

These notions would work hand-in-hand to spell the demise of New Orleans's levees.

So, which came first, the chicken or the egg?

We needn't dwell on Iraq in this article; since it's been amply proved that, we went in there only to gain access to their oil and, no less importantly, to create a corporate capitalist paradise. But it does tie in to what happened during Hurricane Katrina, her subsequent aftermath.

Very simply, the money and resources needed to hurricane-proof New Orleans were diverted to Iraq. And it was done despite the fact that a thousand Cassandra's warned us about impending disaster.

And it wasn't like a Category3, 4 or 5 hurricane wasn't possible or even unlikely. There was Camille, another Category 5. But it was a Category 4 that taught us all many of the lessons that Bush & Co. saw fit to disregard. Before Camille, there was Betsy:

"On September 9 (1965*)" said a June 2003 Civil Engineering Magazine article called "The Creeping Storm," " Betsy hit the southern tip of the state. Almost every building in the small coastal town of Grand Isle was quickly destroyed. With 150 mph (240 km/h) winds, Betsy barreled up the Barataria Basin toward New Orleans. Lake Pontchartrain, which is just north of the city and is connected to the Gulf of Mexico, swelled with raging waters. Easterly winds pounded the high waters, in some areas easily topping the levees meant to protect the city. In streets in the eastern part of town, water reached the eaves of houses.

Betsy finally calmed near Little Rock, Arkansas. She had dropped only 4 in. (100 mm) of rain on New Orleans and had claimed 81 lives and caused more than $1 billion in damage. Unlike any storm before it, Betsy made clear that the city was all too vulnerable to hurricanes. Cradled in a wide southern meander of the Mississippi River just north of the Gulf of Mexico, New Orleans is surrounded by Lake Pontchartrain to the north, Lake Borgne all to the east, and lakes Cataouatche and Salvador to the south. This ring of freshwater is also surrounded by hundreds of square miles of wetlands and the Gulf of Mexico. To make matters worse, most of the city is below sea level.

Soon after the damage from Betsy was assessed, Congress made a historic decision to appropriate federal funds to build a system of levees to protect the city from a similar storm in the future. Its cultural significance aside, New Orleans was fast becoming the most important port in the nation feeding commodities up the Mississippi to all of the Midwest and serving as an important base for the burgeoning oil and gas industry. Congress was not about to let it wash away."

Up until the Bush administration, the Federal Government in the form of the Army Corps of Engineers and later FEMA, was interested in protecting the Gulf Coast from just such hurricanes. Studies were made. Estimates were given. Computer models were created. All of them pointed to the same problem, that the bowl of New Orleans and it's surrounding parishes were below sea level, that the system of levees while keeping the mighty Mississippi from flooding also prevented the necessary sediment from reinforcing the wetlands from erosion by the Gulf. The wetlands surrounding New Orleans if solid enough would have weakened any hurricane to varying degrees depending on how solid they were. But the studies told us that due to the erosion, they weren't as solid as when they confronted Betsy. The studies also predicted that the same erosion that was stealing the wetlands was lowering the land behind them. Therefore the levees were sinking. And if even a Category 3 hurricane were to hit:

"Within this bowl reside approximately 600,000 people. The West Bank, south of New Orleans and across the Mississippi River, has a population of about 500,000 who also live within levee protected bowls. Recent research reveals that a slow moving Category 3 hurricane, or stronger, could cause levee overtopping and complete flooding of New Orleans, with the West Bank even more susceptible. Floodwaters would have residence times of weeks. The resultant mix of sewage, corpses and chemicals in these standing flood waters would set the stage for massive disease outbreaks and prolonged chemical exposure. Estimates are that 300,000 persons would be trapped and 700,000 would be homeless; thousands could perish."

That was from "Coastal Land Loss: Hurricanes And New Orleans" a report by Ivor L. Van Heerden Phd.

We've only to wait for the body count to see just how prescient the report was.

And so the understatement; we were warned and up until the Bush administration people were doing something about it.

The pre-eminent example of this is the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood control Project:

"As a result of the extensive flooding in May 1995, Congress authorized the Southeast Louisiana (SELA) Project with enactment of Section 108 of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 1996 and Section 533 of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 1996, as amended, to provide for flood control and improvements to rainfall drainage systems in Jefferson, Orleans, and St. Tammany Parishes, "


The project includes channel and pump station improvements in the three parishes. The channel and pumping station improvements in Orleans and Jefferson Parishes support the parishes master drainage plans and generally provide flood protection on a level associated with a ten-year rainfall event, while also reducing damages for larger events. St. Tammany Parish plans would provide flood protection for various rainfall events.

In Orleans Parish, approved plans involve improving five major drainage lines, adding pumping capacity to two pump stations, and adding a new pump station. Proposed plans include improving 13 canals, adding pump capacity to two existing pump stations, and adding two new pump stations. "

Under the Clinton administration and the beginning of the Bush administration, things proceeded apace. But when the "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq started to mushroom in cost and manpower, resources that were sorely needed in this country were diverted to Iraq.”

And then came Dubya, 9/11, and FEMA’s shift of priorities from disaster prevention and response to terrorism:

''Progress to Date

In Orleans Parish, nine contracts have been awarded, seven are complete, two are underway, and one remains to be awarded. Most of the remaining contracts had been scheduled for award in fiscal year 2003; however, funding limitations have prevented moving forward with those contracts. Overall, the currently scheduled work in Orleans and Jefferson Parishes is about 70 percent complete and should be finished in 2008, if funding can keep pace. "

The same occurred with the Lake Pontchartrain, LA. and Vicinity Hurricane Protection Project:

"Updated May 23, 2005


The project is designed to protect residents between Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River levee from surges in Lake Pontchartrain driven by storms up to the Standard Project Hurricane. The SPH is equivalent to a fast-moving Category 3 hurricane."

Yet, the result of neocon interference became quite clear in the same report:

''FY 2006 BUDGET/EFFORT. The President's budget for fiscal year 2005 is $3.0 million. This will be insufficient to fund new construction contracts. We could spend $20 million if the funds were provided. These funds are necessary to maintain the project schedule and to meet our contractual and local sponsor commitments.

IMPACTS OF BUDGET SHORTFALL. In Orleans Parish, two major pump stations are threatened by hurricane storm surges. Major contracts need to be awarded to provide fronting protection for them. Also, several levees have settled and need to be raised to provide the design protection. The current funding shortfalls in fiscal year 2005 and fiscal year 2006 will prevent the Corps from addressing these pressing needs."

According to the Deon Roberts of Dolan Media Newswires, the Corps of Engineers was none to happy about it. In fact, they were in panic mode, and practically implored the Congress to restore the funding.

In an article written last year about the state of the New Orleans District of the Corps matters were described as being in a precarious state:

"In fiscal year 2006, the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is bracing for a record $71.2 million reduction in federal funding.

It would be the largest single-year funding loss ever for the New Orleans district, Corps officials said.

I've been here over 30 years and I've never seen this level of reduction, said Al Naomi, project manager for the New Orleans district. I think part of the problem is it's not so much the reduction, it's the drastic reduction in one fiscal year. It's the immediacy of the reduction that I think is the hardest thing to adapt to.

There is an economic ripple effect, too. The cuts mean major hurricane and flood protection projects will not be awarded to local engineering firms. Also, a study to determine ways to protect the region from a Category 5 hurricane has been shelved for now.

Money is so tight the New Orleans district, which employs 1,300 people, instituted a hiring freeze last month on all positions. The freeze is the first of its kind in about 10 years, said Marcia Demma, chief of the Corps' Programs Management Branch.

Stephen Jeselink, interim commander of the New Orleans Corps district, told employees in an internal e-mail dated May 25 that the district is experiencing financial challenges. Execution of our available funds must be dealt with through prudent districtwide management decisions. In addition to a hiring freeze, Jeselink canceled the annual Corps picnic held every June. "

Meanwhile, FEMA itself fell victim to the ideological meat grinder. According to the Independent Weekly, it started out in the right hands as an organization that at least had its heart in the right place:

"The need for more systematic mitigation efforts was driven home by 1996's Hurricane Fran, which killed 37 people and caused tens of billions of dollars in damages. In 1997, Witt established Project Impact, which would become the agency's most high-profile mitigation program.

Under the project, FEMA fostered partnerships between federal, state, and local emergency workers, along with local businesses, to prepare individual communities for natural disasters. Impact partnerships sprang up in all 50 states. In Seattle, Wash., for example, the grants were used to retrofit schools, bridges, and houses at risk from earthquakes. In Pascagoula, Miss., the project funded the creation of a database of structures in the local flood plain--crucial information for preparing mitigation plans. In several eastern North Carolina communities, it helped fund and coordinate buyouts of houses in flood-prone areas.

By the time, the Bush administration entered office in January 2001, some 250 communities had signed up for Project Impact. FEMA seemed sturdy, having found its role and proved itself capable of fulfilling it. But in the field of emergency management, some things can change as quickly as the weather. "

When Dubya came into office, he began following the neocon philosophy of privatization. l believe a CATO Institute report
best sums up the Dubya philosophy regarding FEMA and the government’s other social responsibilities:

"Any time there is a natural disaster FEMA is trotted out as an example of how well government programs work. In reality, by using taxpayer dollars to provide disaster relief and subsidized insurance, FEMA itself encourages Americans to build in disaster-prone areas and makes the rest of us pick up the tab for those risky decisions. In a well-functioning private marketplace, individuals who chose to build houses in flood plains or hurricane zones would bear the cost of the increased risk through higher insurance premiums. FEMA's activities undermine that process. Americans should not be forced to pay the cost of rebuilding oceanfront summer homes. This $4 billion a year agency should be abolished."

Bush believed in that way of thinking, and well before 9/11, he started making changes, forgetting the old saying, “If it ain't broke, don't fix it.” again the Independent Weekly, states:

''At FEMA, President Bush appointed a close aide, Joe Allbaugh, to be the agency's new director. Allbaugh had served as then-Gov. Bush's chief of staff in Texas and as manager of his 2000 presidential campaign. Along with Karl Rove and Karen Hughes, Allbaugh was known as one part of Bush's "iron triangle" of professional handlers.

Some FEMA veterans complained that Allbaugh had little experience in managing disasters, and the new administration's early initiatives did little to settle their concerns. The White House quickly launched a government-wide effort to privatize public services, including key elements of disaster management. Bush's first budget director, Mitch Daniels, spelled out the philosophy in remarks at an April 2001 conference: "The general idea--that the business of government is not to provide services, but to make sure that they are provided--seems self-evident to me," he said. "

And so, Bush thought it best to put life-and-death matters under the mercies political cronies and private ownership.

"In a May 15, 2001, appearance before a Senate appropriations subcommittee, Allbaugh signaled that the new, stripped-down approach would be applied at FEMA as well. "Many are concerned that federal disaster assistance may have evolved into both an oversized entitlement program and a disincentive to effective state and local risk management," he said. "Expectations of when the federal government should be involved and the degree of involvement may have ballooned beyond what is an appropriate level."
As a result, says a disaster program administrator who insists on anonymity, "We have to compete for our jobs--we have to prove that we can do it cheaper than a contractor." And when it comes to handling disasters, the FEMA employee stresses, cheaper is not necessarily better, and the new outsourcing requirements sometimes slow the agency's operations. "

Quality suffers when the government takes a "let somebody else do it" attitude. The "I can do it cheaper'' attitude was no help either.

The Weekly postulates this truth quite well:

"William Waugh, a disaster expert at Georgia State University who has written training programs for FEMA, warns that the rise of a "consultant culture" has not served emergency programs well. 'It's part of a widespread problem of government contracting out capabilities,' he says. 'Pretty soon governments can't do things because they've given up those capabilities to the private sector. And private corporations don't necessarily maintain those capabilities.'
The push for privatization wasn't the only change that raised red flags at FEMA. As a 2004 article in the Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management would later note, 'Allbaugh brought about several internal, though questionably effective, reorganizations of FEMA. The Bush-Allbaugh FEMA diminished the Clinton administration's organizational emphasis on disaster mitigation.'
In February 2001, for example, the Bush administration proposed eliminating Project Impact, a move approved by Congress later in the year. (On the very day the White House proposal was submitted, a magnitude 6.8 earthquake rocked Washington State, which was home to several communities where Project Impact had sponsored quake mitigation efforts.) Ending the project and trimming other FEMA programs, the White House argued, would save roughly $200 million. In its place, FEMA instituted a new program of mitigation grants that are awarded on a competitive basis. ' "

After 9/11, FEMA was made to lose its identity as after it lost it's cabinet level status and it was folded into DHS. The emphasis was to be on response to terrorism, not disaster.

'' Michael Brown, a college friend of Albaugh's who had served as FEMA's general counsel, was recruited to head the agency, which would now be part of the DHS's Emergency and Response Directorate. When the reorganization took effect on March 1, 2003, Brown assured skeptics that under the new arrangement, the country would be served by "FEMA on steroids"--a faster, more effective disaster agency.
But the merger into DHS has compounded the agency's problems, says FEMA employee and union president Pleasant Mann. "Before, we reported straight to the White House, and now we've got this elaborate bureaucracy on top of us, and a lot of this bureaucracy doesn't think what we're doing is that important, because terrorism isn't our number one," he said. "The biggest frustration here is that we at FEMA have responded to disasters like Oklahoma City and 9/11, and here are people who haven't responded to a kitchen fire telling us how to deal with terrorism. You know, there were a lot of people who fell down on the job on 9/11, but it wasn't us.' ''

The structure of FEMA was stripped down, and changed to suit the new "let contractors handle the rough stuff" attitude. Privatization was the rule. Many feel that this type of management left FEMA less a coordinator, and more a helpless bystander like a little old lady depending on the mechanic to change her flat tire. If she was more robust and savvy, she could change her own tire and not be taken advantage of.

What FEMA employees lost was the can-do attitude of the Witt years. As the many departments and functions FEMA was known for were outsourced, the organization suffered a brain drain as risk managers and disaster experts left in order to do what they had trained to do, but this time as contractors, or employees of contractors. This left FEMA with precious few people of experience at any level of management. No wonder they couldn't even find their asses! I suspect that the Bush FEMA no longer has any concept of, or point of reference over what a disaster, man-made or natural, really is.

What to do? Well if Thurston's wine cellar needed replenishing, he finds a good wine merchant to re-supply him.

But you see, Thurston can be relied upon because he knows his wine.

FEMA is more like that little old lady with a flat tire. Even if she could change it, she wouldn't know how. The top men at FEMA are no longer the seasoned professionals of the Witt years. Disaster management experience was sucked out and outsourced.

And so FEMA found itself in the position of having to contract with former employees, and having to trust that a private contractor won't cheat them, skimp on procedures, or on safety. And the Independent Weekly says:

"The irony, disaster researcher Claire Rubin says, is that FEMA will now have to hire former employees like Zensinger as contractors. "Now, frankly, the senior brains and the people with 20, 30 years of operational experience, there's more of them in the private sector than there are at FEMA. It's a significant shift. If the government's going to get smaller and the catastrophes keep getting bigger, the net effect will be to outsource what you need. It might be cheaper, it might be more expensive, but it's not a great way to run this part of government." Following the current spate of hurricanes, she predicts, "you will see FEMA contracts flying left and right so they can get these people back who know how to do this stuff."

And how did Albaugh and later Brown view what the new job description of FEMA was to be? An article from TIME magazine relates that aside from being mere contractors and pencil pushers under the added DHS tier of mere contractors and pencil pushers, they were to be cheerleaders and hall monitors:

"Labor Day, about 600 fire fighters from across the nation sat in an Atlanta hotel listening to a FEMA lecture on equal opportunity, sexual harassment and customer service. "Your job is going to be community relations," a FEMA official told them, according to Joe Calhoun, an assistant fire chief from Portage, Ind., who was there. "You'll be passing out FEMA pamphlets and our phone number." The room, filled with many fire fighters who, at FEMA's request had arrived equipped with rescue gear, erupted in anger. "This is ridiculous," one yelled back. "Our fire departments and mayors sent us down here to save people, and you've got us doing this?" The FEMA official climbed atop a chair, Calhoun says, and tried to restore order. "You are now employees of FEMA, and you will follow orders and do what you're told," he said, sounding more like the leader of an invading army than a rescue squad. The scene in Atlanta was one of the many ways FEMA failed to live up to Katrina's challenge. "

Brown was the epitome of the helpless granny attitude. He had no clue as to what had to be done.

" First, despite being warned by multiple hurricane experts that Katrina would be a catastrophic hurricane, Brown waited until about five hours after the storm's landfall before he proposed sending 1,000 federal workers to deal with the aftermath. While people were dying in New Orleans, the U.S.S. Bataan steamed offshore, its six operating rooms, beds for 600 patients and most of its 1,200 sailors idle. Foreign nations--responding to urgent calls from Washington--readied rescue supplies, then were told to stand by for days until FEMA could figure out what to do with them. Florida airboaters complained that they had an armada ready for rescue work but FEMA wouldn't let them into New Orleans. Brown
defended his agency's measured steps, saying aid ‘has to be coordinated in such a way that it's used most effectively.’ "

He is said to have padded his resume so his FEMA bio has such statements as this:

“His background in state and local government also includes serving as an assistant to the city manager with emergency services oversight responsibilities and as a city councilman.”

To which even Scripps-Howard in an article about Brown’s defenders had to admit:

“While studying to become a lawyer, he worked in the administration of the small but fast-growing city of Edmond. Years later, Brown's official White House biography would list the position as "assistant city manager with emergency services oversight." Karns said his actual title was more modest: assistant to the city manager.”

But the inflation is said to have continued from there. His resume mentions that he ways a bar examiner:

“Prior to joining FEMA, Mr. Brown practiced law in Colorado and Oklahoma, where he served as a bar examiner on ethics and professional responsibility for the Oklahoma Supreme Court and as a hearing examiner for the Colorado Supreme Court.”

But according to Paul Campos of the New Republic that too is over inflated:

“According to his FEMA biography, "[H]e served as a bar examiner on ethics and professional responsibility for the Oklahoma Supreme Court and as a hearing examiner for the Colorado Supreme Court." Translation: In Oklahoma, he graded answers to bar exam questions, and, in Colorado, he volunteered to serve on the local attorney disciplinary board.”

How could a man like Brown be hired to work for an important position as at first general counsel to, and then head of FEMA?

I wouldn’t be surprised at the idea that Joe Allbaugh would bring in a college chum who happened to be of the same party. Networking and clubishness is the key to Republican power.

My feeling about Michael Chertoff is that like a lot of Republicans he’s in it for himself. Now that is conjecture. Don’t take my word. But the appointment of Brown, and Allbaugh before him can only indicate severe cronyism on the part of Dubya’s boys. Cronies only care for each other and themselves.

"FEMA was a disaster waiting to happen, the minute a disaster struck." Says New York Time's Maureen Dowd.
Then FEMA met Katrina, and disaster happened.

Independent Weekly - "Disaster in the making"
CATO Institute report
TIME.com 4 "Places the System Broke Down"
Michael D. Brown's FEMA bio
Maureen Dowd - "United States of Shame
Hurricane Pam Exercise Concludes
ADCIRC Example: Hypothetical Hurricane Pam

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