Thursday, February 23, 2006

The T-P Does Good

As articles are written about federal funding coming to the Gulf Coast for rebuilding, at some point they all give a summation of how much money has been approved and/or promised by Congress.

A little while ago, I gave media outlets a line that could be cut-and-pasted if they didn’t feel like doing any research and just wanted to roll with the White House’s talking point:

Congress has already committed over $110 billion dollars to rebuild the Gulf Coast.
Well, I am proud to say that the Times-Picayune doesn’t cut and paste:
Congress has approved more than $68 billion in spending packages submitted by President Bush for hurricane relief and recovery. Last week, Bush asked Congress for an additional $19.8 billion for that effort.
The $85 billion number is dead to them.

Yey.

Preparing for Something

Carolinas MED-1, a mobile hospital, is coming to New Orleans to help out our healthcare system during Mardi Gras.

A crew of about 15 doctors, nurses, paramedics and police officers left Charlotte Wednesday in two 18-wheel tractor trailers that make up MED-1. They expect to arrive in New Orleans today and stay for two weeks.
Why it exists:
Should a hospital be the site of an attack or disaster, Carolinas MED-1 will serve as a satellite facility until essential services are restored.
It went to Mississippi for Katrina. Now it’s coming to New Orleans.

For Mardi Gras.

Does that mean they are planning for Mardi Gras to be disaster? At least they are planning.

I Have This Feeling

Mardi Gras is coming. I’ve been walking around whistling Big Chief. I go to work and there is king cake for all to enjoy. People are happy, even while they are sad.

I feel it. It is different. Whether you’re into Mardi Gras or not, I know you feel it as you walk around town. The difference. It’s in the air.

It’s an unusually high point amongst a mess of low points. If you are here to enjoy it, you are lucky. Many who normally would be here aren’t. And I think about them. But I still enjoy it.

Mardi Gras is coming, and I like it. I’m not talking about the city sponsored Mardi Gras – the parades and all. I still don’t think the city should be spending money it doesn’t have. Besides, whether parades roll or not, Mardi Gras still comes once a year for us. That’s the feeling I am talking about.

But Mardi Gras Day will be a turning point. Carnival will be over. The feeling will go away. Tough things will be said. Tough decisions will be made. We’ve been putting the tough stuff off until after Mardi Gras. I feel like we are about to lose something, a piece of us. We’ve already lost it, but a lot of us haven’t acknowledged it yet.

We were waiting for Mardi Gras. Well, Mardi Gras is coming. Then it will go.

I have this feeling. Things are going to change.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

FEMA: Blame Jimmy Carter

Executive order 11988, May 24, 1977:

If an agency has determined to, or proposes to, conduct, support, or allow an action to be located in a floodplain, the agency shall consider alternatives to avoid adverse effects and incompatible development in the floodplains. If the head of the agency finds that the only practicable alternative consistent with the law and with the policy set forth in this Order requires sitting in a floodplain, the agency shall, prior to taking action, (i) design or modify its action in order to minimize potential harm to or within the floodplain, consistent with regulations issued in accord with Section 2(d) of this Order, and (ii) prepare and circulate a notice containing an explanation of why the action is proposed to be located in the floodplain.
Is this why FEMA has “minimized” their actions in New Orleans? We are one big floodplain. And the way I read this executive order, the federal government wants to make it hard to do anything in a floodplain. This includes, apparently, providing adequate housing to hurricane victims:
FEMA says they cannot bring mobile homes into New Orleans because of an executive order signed by President Jimmy Carter that does not allow mobile homes to be placed in flood plains.
But FEMA will let you put a travel trailer in a floodplain. And what’s the difference? (Besides about 560 sq ft.):
Housing coordinator Bill Croft said the state has asked to waive the floodplain restriction, which appears to be based on the notion that a travel trailer could be moved quickly, but a mobile home would be a sitting duck in a storm.
Riiiiiight. If another hurricane hits, FEMA will wait for over a million people to evacuate and then thousands of workers will descend on the area and move tens of thousands of travel trailers out of the floodplains. And they will do all this “quickly.”

Hell, no. The travel trailers would get flooded just like the mobile homes would if they were in a floodplain when a hurricane hit. An easily overturned regulation is imprisoning over 10,000 trailers up there in Arkansas which could be used to house residents of the Gulf Coast, including first responders here in New Orleans who are going to need a place when the cruise ships leave March 1st.

I think we need another executive order, one along the lines of “Throughout the area hit by the hurricane, we will do what it takes, we will stay as long as it takes, to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives.” Bush already said it once. Now he just needs to sign a piece of paper saying it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

This Scares Me

Feel threatened? Have a lot of money? Call these guys:

Blackwater choppered in twenty-six special ops–trained mercenaries on September 2, the next day. The operatives would secure all three Starwood properties in New Orleans—the Sheraton and two W hotels. They had originally planned to land on the roof of the Sheraton, but Katrina's hundred-mile-per-hour winds had left it littered with debris. So the Blackwater team landed by the river and proceeded to the hotel on foot, carrying their standard kit: communications equipment, body armor, semi-automatic sidearms, and automatic weapons.

It would have been an ordinary, even modest, deployment in Iraq. But this mission was extraordinary in that it was staged at the request of a major American hotelier in a major American tourist destination—a rare, bold, and sadly necessary move. "We felt that the Blackwater people were the only ones who would be effective," says King.
If these guys kill someone, anyone, even a looter, do they get prosecuted? My guess is no. That scares me.

And while residents were not allowed back into their city to protect their property, these guys could land a helicopter full of mercenaries by the river and transport an arsenal through the streets of downtown to three hotels. That scares me, too.

The $12 Million

As state legislators debated the Boasso bills last special session, part of the argument for consolidating levee boards in Southeast Louisiana was to get $12 million dollars to study hurricane protection:

The governor said she could see her way to a compromise that would create separate boards on the east and west banks, but a federal defense budget appropriation bill contains language that would withhold $12 million for a levee study if the state does not create a "single" board in southeast Louisiana.

"I don't know how to accept a compromise with that federal legislation in place," Blanco said. "It's a very difficult decision."
Here’s what that federal legislation (Page 3) says:
Provided further, That none of the $12,000,000 provided herein for the Louisiana Hurricane Protection Study shall be available for expenditure until the State of Louisiana establishes a single state or quasi-state entity to act as local sponsor for construction, operation and maintenance of all of the hurricane, storm damage reduction and flood control projects in the greater New Orleans and southeast Louisiana area.
I see nothing about a “single” board. In fact, it seems like the powers given to the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority in the amended Boasso bill that passed fulfils the “single state or quasi-state entity” requirement, even without the consolidation of levee boards:
Under Blanco's plan, flood-control experts with the state's Coastal Restoration and Protection Authority will negotiate directly for federal funding with Congress and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The CPRA would be the “local sponsor,” controlling funds and overseeing projects. Whether you have one single levee board, or two west bank and east bank levee boards, or seven different parish boards, it seems like as long as they report to the CPRA the state would get the $12 million dollars.

Don’t get me wrong. I like the new consolidation. Regional cooperation is required to protect the region. New levees must be built uniformly along parish lines. And I like the fact that the two different basins, Barataria on the west bank and Pontchartrain on the east bank, are separate but both report to the CPRA.

I just think it’s interesting that the $12 million wasn’t really linked to a “single” levee board.

And about that $12 million coming with strings attached. $10 million was also appropriated to Mississippi (Page 5) under the same designation as “Hurricane Protection.” No strings attached.

That ain’t right.

Monday, February 20, 2006

It's Not Always Opinion Vs. Fact

Sometimes they go together. Sometimes they don't.

An opinion from Townhall.com:

Now that government has demonstrated failure in dealing with the disaster, Louisiana politicians want government to play a major role in the recovery. In response to local pressure (Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco has threatened to try and block a federal sale of oil and gas leases off the Gulf Coast), Congress is appropriating another $30 billion over and above the $100 billion that it has already appropriated for rebuilding New Orleans.
$130 billion for “rebuilding New Orleans?” I haven’t seen that in the news.

I would have passed over this if I hadn’t read the author’s bio:
As a social policy consultant, Star Parker gives regular testimony before the U.S. Congress, and is a national expert on major television and radio shows across the country.

Currently, Star is a regular commentator on CNN, MSNBC, and FOX News. She debated Jesse Jackson on BET; fought for school choice on Larry King Live; and defended welfare reform on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
I hope she’s not going on CNN, MSNBC, and FOX making these types of errors, or on radio shows across the country. Those shows probably wouldn't catch the mistake.

But it is a mistake. However, this author’s goal isn’t to get the numbers right. She wants to prove that racism had nothing to do with the federal government’s botched response to Katrina. The facts are secondary to this purpose, and evidently dispensable.

Markus of Wet Bank Guide finds more examples of the media's disinterest in the facts and ponders the blogger's role:
I have been around politics and the media too long to have any naive notions that we can completely overturn the edifice of talk radio and cable television that has replaced news with political posturing unconcerned with inconvenient truth.

If a disaster the scale of Katrina can't topple this behemoth, I don't know what can. Those of us in the blogosphere or in the few remaining outposts of journalism where the idea "afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted" still has currency can try, but it is an almost quixotic task.
Quixotic, it is. But fancy words are no match for the bloggers of La Mancha:
“Look yonder, friend bloggers, where you may discover somewhat more than thirty monstrous giants, with whom I intend to fight, and take away all their lives: with whose spoils we will begin to enrich ourselves.”
Sometimes it is more fun to be Don Quixote than Sancho Panza.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Mortgage Banker Study

Interesting numbers:

Repairing flood damage to 95,000 single-family homes in New Orleans is expected to cost $8 billion to $10 billion, but flood insurance will cover only half these costs.

***

The pre-Katrina market values of all 95,000 flood-damaged single-family structures in the city totaled $17 billion to $18 billion.
The study says around a third of those damaged homes might not be worth the repair:
As many as 35,000 single family structures on New Orleans' East Bank, which contains the Lower Ninth Ward, may not be economically repairable, given the potential for post-Katrina value declines, the study said.

In some ZIP codes such properties constitute as much as 68 percent of homes.
And then there are my favorite numbers of all:
At a Senate Banking Committee hearing to consider possible companion legislation, Donald Powell, the Bush administration's Gulf Coast rebuilding coordinator, said the federal government's recovery spending commitment would top $108 billion, including $18 billion to be included in a 2006 supplemental spending package and $8 billion in tax relief passed last year.
And the $108 billion number comes without including the new $3 billion that the NFIP was authorized to borrow the day after Powell testified at the hearing. I guess the new number will either be $110 billion or $111 billion depending on which numbers the White House decides to round up.

So, to save the media some time, here’s the White House’s talking point to be used in any article discussing federal funds headed to the Gulf Coast:
Congress has already committed over $110 billion dollars to rebuild the Gulf Coast.
Feel free to cut and paste.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Rebuilding New Orleans...

One (blank) at a time.

My favorite: One beer at a time.

Runner up: One Queer home at a time.

Hey, Mardi Gras!

Lil’ po’ boy and I went to the parades today at the usual spot on the corner of Napoleon and St. Charles. Small crowd. Small parade.

When I heard there were five krewes rolling one after the other, I figured we would be out there all day. Instead, it was like one parade. I’m not sure how many floats there were, but they went by pretty fast, sometimes two at a time due to the lack of high school bands. The bands that marched entertained the crowd. But there were not a lot of them.

Lil’ po’ boy had fun, but he wouldn’t let me pick him up. That severely lowered my chances for catching beads. We filled up our plastic shopping bag, though.

Does anyone else miss when catching a long bead was something special?

Friday, February 17, 2006

“Wus ’Sappnin Wi’ Dat”

Humid City has links to Juvenile’s video shot in the Lower Ninth Ward.

Quoth Juve: “Your Mayor ain’t a friend. He’s the enemy.”

Signs being held amongst the rubble:

Still Here

2005 or 1905

You Already Forgot
I like the image of the kids donning masks of Bush, Cheney (who leads the procession carrying a stick), and Nagin. They drop a box of “aid,” including empty water bottles and cans, off the N. Claiborne bridge by the breach in the Industrial Canal onto the already evacuated and destroyed Lower Ninth Ward. Too little, too late. Nice allegory.

$3 Billion More For Hurricane Relief

I mean, for more flood claim payments:

In a voice vote, the House approved a measure to increase from $18.5 billion to $21.2 billion the amount the National Flood Insurance Program can borrow from the Treasury. The Senate passed the bill last week.
$3 billion more to add to Bush’s fuzzy math. The previously fuzzy $85 billion turned into $87 billion on the White House website, which is more accurately inaccurate if you round up. So add the new borrowing limit for the NFIP and the magic number is $90 billion. Plus the $20 billion that Bush wants in a supplemental spending request and you have $110 billion, or at least that will be the talking point for the White House.

The Associated Press reports the White House’s numbers, but at least gives a breakdown:
The latest request would push total federal spending for rebuilding to more than $100 billion, according to administration tallies. That reflects about $68 billion in emergency appropriations, $18.5 billion in available flood insurance funds and the latest $19.8 billion request.
I don’t understand why they cite the old borrowing limit (18.5) and not the new one ($21.2). And they include the rounded-up number (68).

Once again, here’s my breakdown:

* September 2, 2005 – Bush signs $10.5 billion disaster relief bill

* September 8, 2005 – Bush signs $51.8 billion disaster relief bill

* December 31, 2005 – Bush signs defense bill which includes $29 billion in hurricane aid, of which $5 billion is new funds and $24 billion diverted from the already authorized $62 billion.

* February 15, 2006 – Congress raises NFIP borrowing limit to pay flood insurance claims to $21.2 billion.

* February 16, 2006 – Bush asks for $19.8 billion supplemental for hurricane relief.

All the Gulf Coast is getting up to this point is still $67.3 billion, and a lot of that was spent right after Katrina hit to fund emergency operations. Stephanie Grace in the Times-Picayune takes a look at some of those fun numbers.

I understand that the money to pay flood insurance claims comes from the US Treasury. But, that is not tied to hurricane relief. Flooded homeowners on the Gulf Coast would be getting that money if a hurricane hit or not. If you have flood insurance, you are covered for when your house gets flooded for whatever reason. That’s why you pay the premiums.

When Bush’s supplemental bill passes the House and Senate, I will add the $19.2 billion to my count. But I won’t include the $21.2 billion in flood insurance borrowing.

And remember, the NFIP is supposed to pay back the money it borrows to the Treasury. Of course, there is no way possible that the NFIP can do that, but that’s beside the point. Do you think the federal government can really choose to not pay flood claims? Then they would really have to throw some aid our way.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

FEMA – Lets You Sink Then Jacks You Up

Monday, Homeland Security Department Inspector General Richard Skinner testifies in front of a Senate committee:

We determined that FEMA purchased nearly 25,000 manufactured homes at a cost of $857 million, and around 1,300 modular homes at a cost of $40 million. As seen in this aerial photo, almost 11,000 of those manufactured homes are sitting on runways in the open fields in Hope, Arkansas.

Since they were not properly stored -- as you can see from this second picture -- the homes are sinking in the mud and their frames are bending from sitting on trailers with no support.
Tuesday, we learn how FEMA is handling it:
Arkansas Congressman Mike Ross says FEMA is taking extreme measures to fix the problem. "If you can believe this they are delivering something like 44,000 jacks by that cow pasture near the airport to jack up each corner of all 10,777 manufactured homes."

***

Ross estimates it could cost $6 to $7 million for the trailer jacks alone.
And Wednesday, FEMA responds to the criticism:
"FEMA mobile homes staged in Arkansas are habitable, available and properly maintained. They have not been damaged, and certainly none are being destroyed. Mobile homes are an important part of a comprehensive housing strategy, and are commonly used for temporary housing outside of floodplains," Andrews said in a written statement.

"We had hoped for a better reception in the state of Louisiana, in particular, for mobile home parks to be located in those parishes outside floodplains, but we continue to await the needed authorities to move them in. We expect to use these mobile homes in other open or future disasters," she added.
Translation of FEMA’s written statement:
Yeah, we screwed up. We bought temporary housing that can’t be used in floodplains for people who live in floodplains. Now they are sinking and we need to spend millions to jack them up so they can continue to not be used.

But, you know what? You people in that part of the world should be grateful for whatever you get. We’ve already given you a lot of money. So we’ll just leave those mobile homes right where they are until someone worthy of our resources requests them in writing.
I like how the statement singles out Louisiana “in particular” as a place where FEMA had hoped for a better reception. What did they want, a parade?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Front Page

Today’s T-P, lower left below the fold:

Dollars faulted as measure of help
From the online edition:
Critics also say the administration shouldn't be counting in its overall total the $18.5 billion in additional borrowing authority that Congress has granted the National Flood Insurance Program. After all, they say, home and business owners pay premiums for their coverage.
Who are these critics our paper writes of? They’ve got a point.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

I See No Difference

This statement by Frances Townsend, the person leading the White House’s review of the emergency response after Katrina, intrigues me:

Townsend offered no explanation of why the president appeared to have bad information about levee breaches that ultimately swamped 80 percent of New Orleans and forced hundreds of thousands from their destroyed homes. But, she said, the timing of when the White House was informed about the levee breaches would have made little difference.

“Levees like those in New Orleans cannot be repaired in a matter of hours or even days, so knowing exactly when they deteriorated from 75 percent efficiency to 35 percent to 0 percent would not have dramatically changed our response posture at the time,” Townsend said. “Our priority was finding and moving to safety those people who, for whatever reason, did not or could not evacuate, and were caught by the rising flood waters.”
It intrigues me because I see no difference in levees breached by a hurricane or levees breached by a terrorist attack. And neither does Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff:
Because one of the things that was evident to me -- and I know it’s evident to you -- whether it’s a natural disaster or a disaster caused by a terrorist, our response is often going to be the same. The concept of operations is going to be the same, our capabilities are going to have to be the same, our training is going to have to be the same, and therefore, we ought to look at these as a single set of problems.
FEMA is in charge of the federal response to both natural and human-caused disasters, which includes terrorist attacks. Chertoff knows his agency botched the response to Katrina:
As the President has said, the results of our response to Katrina were unacceptable.
Something I actually remember from math class is if A = B, and B = C, then A = C. Therefore, if FEMA can not respond effectively to a catastrophic natural disaster, and FEMA’s response to a natural disaster is the same as their response to a terrorist attack, then FEMA can not respond effectively to a catastrophic terrorist attack.

We haven’t had a terrorist attack in a while. I hope they aren't planning something big.

Remember Marty Bahamonde?

He got the World Class stamp of approval for being one of the few FEMA officials in New Orleans during and immediately after Katrina. He got eyewitness reports back to the Washington informing them of the levee breaches the day the storm hit and also made news for his emails alerting an out-to-lunch Brownie of the “shit” going on in the Superdome.

It turns out he was going above and beyond. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said at a conference yesterday that it’s not in Bahamonde’s job description to do all that:

The fact of the matter is, as heroic and as excellent his performance was, we shouldn’t have had to force somebody who is essentially a public affairs representative to get in a helicopter and give a situational awareness. So we’ve got to make sure we all have the tools to avoid having to put people in that situation in the future.
A “public affairs representative” is supposed to be the mouth of the agency, not the eyes and ears. Public Affairs Officers interact with the media. No where in the Public Affairs Field Guide (pdf) does it say the PAO should be the first FEMA official witnessing a catastrophic levee breach occurring and telling the agency to get their asses in gear.

It’s not his job. Bahamonde is supposed to tell the media what his bosses were doing. Instead, he was telling his bosses what to do.

Marty, this Restoration Ale is for you.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Can I Get a Little Cooperation Here?

On the same night that I hear Greg Breerwood of the Army Corps of Engineers (thanks to Humid Haney) say Louisiana does not have a comprehensive hurricane protection system, I turn on the 10 o’clock news to find that a bill which would have created a comprehensive levee board was pulled from the Senate floor.

Look, I don’t care if you have one super-board or one hundred mini-boards. To feel safe, I need to see regional cooperation among however many levee boards there are. A comprehensive (all inclusive) hurricane protection system relies on levees, storm gates, and flood control projects in all the districts working in tandem.

Protecting Southern Louisiana is bigger than East Bank versus West Bank or North Shore versus South Shore. The Hurricane Pam exercise (unlike Katrina, Pam was the “worse case scenario”) predicted the fictional category three hurricane would push storm surge all the way up into Livingston Parish. And that’s a Cat 3.

Regional cooperation is essential. The governments of parishes like Livingston, St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, and the West Bank of Jefferson think *they* can best protect the residents who live inside their borders. Hurricanes respect no borders. And the rest of us need their cooperation to protect all of us.

The Army Corps of Engineers is charged with protecting Southern Louisiana from the next major hurricane. For them to accomplish their mission, it could mean restoring coastal wetlands in Plaquemines, filling the MR-GO in St. Bernard, gating the Rigolets Dutch-style between Orleans and St. Tammany, finishing the almost completed West Bank Vicinity Project from Lake Salvador up to the Harvey Canal, and improving all the levee systems in all of Southern Louisiana. Their work crosses parish lines.

So, c’mon, guys and gals. It’s almost Valentine’s Day. Kiss and make up. Pass the Boasso levee board consolidation bill when it comes up again. Think of it as a blind date. You might not know what you’re getting yourself into. But if you get what you want at the end of the date, it’s all worth it.

I’m talking about protection. Um, hurricane protection. Oh... whatever.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Why Is Today Special?

Happy Darwin Day.

Join the posse.

Both Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln were born on February 12, 1809. This was a good day for cool beards.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Once Again: the Gulf Coast is Part of the U.S.A.

Two opinions in USA Today. The paper’s and Rep. Richard Baker’s.

Full disclosure: I am not a supporter of the Baker Plan. I would rather see 60% of a home’s pre-Katrina value go to rebuilding that home, not buying it out.

I am also not a supporter of being scolded by a callous editorial board. USA Today, like our President, has forgotten that our part of the world is their part of the world. And in listing its gripes with the Baker Plan, USA Today shows that it has also forgotten how to treat fellow Americans.

Gripe #1: “Unknown price tag.”

I have news for America. Rebuilding the Gulf Coast will take a lot of money over a long period of time. Deal. If my brother needed an expensive surgery to save his life, I would go bankrupt to get him that surgery. That’s what brothers do. Your brothers and sisters on the Gulf Coast need an expensive surgery to continue living.

Gripe #2: “No guarantee.”

I can’t help you with that one. Nothing is guaranteed in life. The Army Corps guaranteed that the levees would hold in a slow moving Category 3 hurricane. It only took Cat 1 - 2 winds and surge for the levees to come tumbling down. Now we are “guaranteed” the same protection by the start of the next hurricane season. Can’t wait.

Gripe #3: “Questionable recipients.”

According to USA Today, a 40% loss for lenders is a “reward.” They believe that lenders should be punished because a catastrophic hurricane hit the Gulf Coast where the lenders dared sell insurance policies to reckless fools.

Gripe #4: “Dangerous precedent.”

Yes, helping your brother and sister Americans in need would be a dangerous precedent. If you help the Gulf Coast residents, you might have to start helping other Americans in need, like the poor, the homeless, the sick – the people so many worked so hard to sweep under the rug. We can’t have that. We can’t have citizens of the United States of America being lead “to expect similar aid in the next catastrophe.” Americans must be taught a lesson.

The editorial then acknowledges everything I just bitched about and still says:

Even so, aid programs that lack accountability to taxpayers or a clear plan for rebuilding would make matters worse.
I *am* a taxpayer. I am trying to hold my government accountable. But people outside the Gulf Coast keep saying things like this USA Today editorial. They are treating us like we are not Americans.

Rep. Baker in his editorial makes an excellent pitch for why the Gulf Coast should receive at least $12 billion towards housing issues:
In nearly six months, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has spent more than $8 billion on Gulf Coast "housing," for such things as trailers, motels and cruise ships. While helpful, these "temporary" arrangements aren't solutions. For 50% more over 10 years, the LRC would allow people to make long-term housing plans, while laying a path to rebuild a vast portion of a vital state.
I would just prefer that the money went to building up houses and residents staying, not buying out houses and residents leaving. My objection to the Baker Bill is that it does not do enough to retain population and would shut the door on a lot of residents who may want to return and rebuild, but their only way out financially would be the government buy-out.

Baker does provide this gem, though:
Offering philosophical objections but no workable alternative does nothing to address the reality. If there's a fairer, more effective and fiscally responsible plan, I'd like to hear it.
Anyone?

Friday, February 10, 2006

Disengaged

The NY Times reports “White House Knew of Levee's Failure on Night of Storm.”

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 T-P reports “new documents reveal that 28 federal, state and local agencies — including the White House — reported levee failures on Aug. 29, according to a timeline of e-mails, situation updates and weather reports.”

We already know that the day before the storm made landfall, the DHS sent an email to the White House with a warning:
“The potential for severe storm surge to overwhelm Lake Pontchartrain levees is the greatest concern for New Orleans,” it said. “Any storm rated Category 4 on the Saffir-Simpson (hurricane) scale will likely lead to severe flooding and/or levee breaching. This could leave the New Orleans metro area submerged for weeks or months.”
So the White House was informed that a levee breach could happen. They were told by an eyewitness that a levee breach *had* happened, and the report was backed up by over 20 other agencies.

Yet, the President is on record saying:
“I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees. They did appreciate a serious storm but these levees got breached...”
And trying to explain that remark days later:
Q Did they misinform you when you said that no one anticipated the breach of the levees?

THE PRESIDENT: No, what I was referring to is this. When that storm came by, a lot of people said we dodged a bullet. When that storm came through at first, people said, whew. There was a sense of relaxation, and that's what I was referring to. And I, myself, thought we had dodged a bullet. You know why? Because I was listening to people, probably over the airways, say, the bullet has been dodged. And that was what I was referring to.

Of course, there were plans in case the levee had been breached. There was a sense of relaxation in the moment, a critical moment. And thank you for giving me a chance to clarify that.
First of all, someone *did* anticipate the breach of the levees and notified the White House. And with an eyewitness report of a levee breach and 28 agencies saying the same thing, a lot of people were telling the White House anything but “we dodged a bullet.” How can this President’s comments right after the storm be so removed from what really happened?

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Virginia), chairman of the special House committee investigating the hurricane response, analyzes the situation:
"The president is still at his ranch, the vice president is still fly-fishing in Wyoming, the president's chief of staff is in Maine," Mr. Davis said. "In retrospect, don't you think it would have been better to pull together? They should have had better leadership. It is disengagement."
Disengagement is a heckuva way to lead.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

See Anything Wrong Here?

How the federal government divides drilling revenues:

For offshore leases, the Minerals Revenue Management distributes the collected money to U.S. Treasury accounts. In recent years, annual deposits have been nearly $900 million to the Land and Water Conservation Fund and $150 million to Historic Preservation Fund. The remainder is sent to the U. S. Treasury's General Fund. Additionally, a portion of royalties from certain offshore federal leases, adjacent to seaward boundaries of coastal states, are shared with those states.

Distribution of revenues associated with onshore federal lands is split 50-40-10, with 50 percent of the money going directly to the state within which the specific lease was located. Forty percent is sent to the Reclamation Fund of the U.S. Treasury. This special account finances the Bureau of Reclamation's water projects in 17 western states. The remaining 10 percent goes to the Treasury's General Fund.

One exception, Alaska, gets a 90-percent share of the revenues. The remainder goes to the U.S. Treasury.
Okay. Half of onshore revenues goes to the state where the oil came from. Then another 40% goes to the states in water projects. So, taken all together, onshore drilling states get 90% of the revenues generated by drilling on their land in some way. Alaska gets 90% outright.

And we get a “portion of royalties from certain offshore federal leases.” The rest goes to the U.S. Treasury.

That ain't right.

Defend the Coast

She’s sticking to her guns:

Gov. Kathleen Blanco said Wednesday that she is willing to fight a legal battle with the federal government to block future oil leases off Louisiana's coast until the state gets a bigger share of the billions in royalties from the oil and gas extracted there.

***

A 50 percent share of the royalties from the oil and gas produced beyond Louisiana's three-mile boundary -- in waters controlled by the federal government -- would equal more than $2 billion a year.
Get to know your opponent: U.S. Department of the Interior's Minerals Management Service and its Mineral Revenue Management offices.
The MMS's Minerals Revenue Management is responsible for management of all revenues associated with both federal offshore and onshore mineral leases. The effort is one of the federal government’s greatest sources of non-tax revenues.
Why would the federal government care if Blanco blocks new leases? I mean, according to their website, in 2002 alone the Outer Continental Shelf “supplied more than 25 percent of the country’s natural gas production and more than 30 percent of total domestic oil production” and the MMS estimates there’s a lot more undiscovered oil and gas. They can just go lease land somewhere else off the coast, right?

Wrong:
Current presidential withdrawals or congressional moratoria have placed more than 85 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf around the lower 48 states off limits to energy development.
Other states don’t want offshore drilling because the environmental threat is too great. That’s why state governors get to sign off on any new leases of federal land.

If Blanco refuses to allow new leases, the Dept. of Interior can override her decision. The next step is the legal fight. And if this battle goes to the courts, it will catch the media’s attention. Then it becomes a free-for-all after that. And, because oil and gas are involved, this administration’s energy policies will be thrown in the spotlight and any discussion involving oil brings in the discussion of higher gas prices and the war in Iraq.

My point: Blanco’s threat to block future offshore drilling leases can cause problems for Washington, D.C. – for both the President and Congress. Whether we are asking for our 50% share or adequate funding to rebuild our state, strengthen our levees, and restore our coast, we might get what we want.

Then we ask for retroactive royalties.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Governor Braveheart

I heard a call to arms last night. I heard a call to defend Southern Louisiana. And it came from our governor.

Governor Blanco did her best Braveheart impression as she opened the Special Session with a speech in New Orleans to those state legislators who chose to attend. Her message tapped into the feelings of many residents of Southern Louisiana who are struggling to rebuild after Katrina and Rita battered the entire coast: We must fight.

And her rhetoric reflected that confrontational theme. In her short address, she used a form of “fight” seven times, promised to hold “their feet to the fire in Washington,” and made threats:

If no effort is made to guarantee our fair share of royalties, I have warned the federal government that we will be forced to block the August sale of off-shore oil and gas leases.
I like a good fight.

But, to fight, you must have an adversary:
You may have noticed last week that President Bush, in his State of the Union speech setting the nation's priorities for the year, said so little about a tragedy so great. I noticed. I was there. And that signal worries me.
Adversary #1 – the White House.

Adversary #2 – the Capitol:
The harsh reality is that for many people in Washington, Katrina is yesterday's problem and Rita never happened. We are asking Congress to understand that Rita did to Southwest Louisiana what Katrina did to Mississippi.
Adversary #3 – Katrina fatigue:
Public opinion polls are telling lawmakers that the nation has moved on and what happened to the Gulf Coast is yesterday's news. I know you will agree with me that the long-term stability of our region is far more important than the instability of public opinion polls.
Adversary #4 – Corrupt Louisiana politicians:
We had all better put Louisiana politics aside and worry about Washington politics or our people and our state will lose. Anyone who wants to sacrifice the good of our people to politics and cronyism needs to rethink their actions. Louisiana can no longer tolerate the perception that you must pay to play if you expect to do business in this state.
Adversary #5 – Other states:
Our state suffered well over 75% of the housing damage from Katrina and Rita, as compared to neighboring states. We had ten times more businesses destroyed. We had five times more jobs lost. And we weathered more than 75% of the total property and infrastructure damage caused by the storm. However, we received only 54% of the block grant funding.
Note, however, that her call to arms is one to defend the coast, not to strike at our enemies, for the first shot has already been fired:
First, let us secure our communities by strengthening our levees. The levees are federal levees.

It is inexcusable that our people - hardworking and patriotic American taxpayers - were asked to entrust their lives and property to a worn and broken system.
As was the second shot:
Congressman Richard Baker created a solid proposal that would make up the difference. It enjoys the bipartisan support of our entire Congressional delegation. As you know, the White House tried to blow this solution out of the saddle. This is second-class treatment. Our people who lost everything are not second-class citizens. They deserve an equitable solution. We will continue to fight for a fair hearing.
She asked us to close ranks – consolidate the levee boards and New Orleans’s government – to make ourselves leaner and stronger.

She opened the special session in New Orleans. Some didn’t like that. I think it was perfect. While this special session is dedicated to fighting for those Louisianians trying to rebuild, in New Orleans the legislators had to confront the ghosts of all those residents who are no longer here to fight – those residents who died when the levees broke and the rescue was mishandled and those who have not yet returned because, although the government had an plan to evacuate them, it has no plan to repatriate them.

Overall, last night’s speech was Blanco’s best performance in the spotlight. She’s still an average public speaker (Okay, okay, she’s no Braveheart. Not enough face paint.). And, the address was nothing more than an average speech. But there was a lot for Louisiana to rally around.

I do disagree with one thing Blanco said, though. She said, “It’s time to play hardball.”

No. Hardball is a game. This is war.

Monday, February 06, 2006

There’s One More Thing You Can Do

I’ve seen a lot of stories like this. Volunteers from around the country come to help rebuild hurricane devastated areas, do good while they are here, and are profoundly affected by what they see.

I don’t think that we can thank them enough. And only a fool would ask them to give more than what they have already given or do more than what they have already done to help out.

Well, as da po’ wife can attest to: I am a fool.

I have one more thing to ask. When you return home, call or write your U.S. Senators and Representatives and make sure they know what the White House is offering is a lot of money, but it isn’t enough. Tell them you saw what needed to be done and it is going to take federal assistance to do it. Tell them to support legislation like the Baker bill even if the Executive branch wants to kill it. Remind them that *they* make the laws of this country and *they* can make it mandatory to “do what it takes” to rebuild the Gulf Coast.

We don’t need this President’s help to recover. We *do* need our Nation’s help.

Okay, that’s all I will ask from you. Really. Until I think of something else.

The First Incision

The T-P is starting to do surgery on the $85 billion number:

Federal officials have repeatedly pointed to the $85 billion that has been directed to the Gulf Coast, although a close look shows that money includes billions of dollars for temporary housing for flood victims, flood insurance payments and other direct assistance to local residents that is required by law.
I hope the next step is to crack the chest open to see where each penny is going. For example, are they including SBA loans? And the White House says $25 billion has been spent. Does that include the $13.5 billion in flood claims payments the government has already given out? Or the $3 billion in SBA loans(PDF file)? It must include the $6 billion FEMA has spent on financial and housing assistance. What else?

I got questions. Who got answers?

Saturday, February 04, 2006

According to Saturday Night Live…

We’ll get Cat 5 levees in the year 2145. [No link yet.] In a skit, future President George Q. Bush in his future State of the Galaxy Address thanked the Army Corps of Engineers for finally completing the project over 100 years from now.

However, as he thanked them, a Cat 12 hurricane was making landfall.

Remarked our future President with a shrug, “What are you gonna do?”

It’s nice to see someone in the national media taking a shot at the levee situation. But, the skit was more scarily true than humorous. For example, the future President is still looking for Osama bin Laden.

Honestly, the only thing SNL is good at anymore is political satire. They should do more of it and stay away from trying to actually make people laugh because people I talk to aren’t laughing. But, yeah, I still watch.

She’s Back

La Nina, that is.

Government forecasters Thursday announced ''the official return of La Nina,'' making it sound more like a rock music tour than a weather phenomenon that can enhance the development and strength of hurricanes.

***

''If there's a La Nina around during hurricane season, the odds for more frequent and stronger hurricanes go up,'' said Ed O'Lenic, an expert at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center.
But, she might not stick around:
Experts cautioned that they cannot yet draw meaningful conclusions from the return of La Nina, which was described as moderate. They said the phenomenon was slowly strengthening, but could dissipate by summer - when it matters most to residents of a hurricane zone that has been repeatedly hammered in recent years.
Did someone ask, “What else could happen?” Well, stop. Listen to Seymour D. Fair.

Friday, February 03, 2006

When does 85 + 18 = 85?

When you try to pass off $18.5 billion in flood insurance claims payments as rebuilding money.

Donald Powell, the coordinator for rebuilding the Gulf Coast, confirmed that the administration would request $18 billion for that effort.

The money would push the total federal commitment for rebuilding the hurricane ravaged coast to more than $100 billion, according to administration tallies. That reflects about $68 billion in emergency appropriations, $18.5 billion in available flood insurance funds and the latest $18 billion figure.
Well, my tallies are at odds with the administration's tallies:

* September 2, 2005 – Bush signs $10.5 billion disaster relief bill

* September 8, 2005 – Bush signs $51.8 billion disaster relief bill

* December 31, 2005 – Bush signs defense bill which includes $29 billion in hurricane aid, of which $5 billion is new funds and $24 billion diverted from the already authorized $62 billion.

* February 2, 2006 – Bush’s new budget asks for $18 billion more for hurricane aid.

Let us add some rounded figures:

10 + 52 + 5 = 67

That’s $67 billion already headed to the Gulf Coast. Add Bush’s desired $18 billion for 2006 and you can say there is $85 billion planned to go to rebuilding the Gulf Coast.

My tallies: $85 billion. The administration’s tallies: over $100 billion (approximately $103 billion).

What’s the difference? The $18.5 billion Congress has authorized FEMA to borrow so they can pay off insurance claims. The administration includes it. I don’t.

Why do I not include it? Because insurance claims payments are not rebuilding “aid” or “relief” or “assistance.” If you are covered for the loss, it is what you are due. It’s not optional. The federal government must pay the flood insurance claims.

The National Flood Insurance Program didn’t have enough borrowing power to pay the amount of claims after this hurricane season, so Congress did the only thing it could do and raised the NFIP’s borrowing limit. The Senators and Representatives did not do this out of the kindness of their hearts. They had to do it.

Why did they have to do it? FEMA’s Flood Smart website says it all:
You can count on your claim being paid in the event of a flood loss because NFIP flood insurance is backed by the Federal government.
You can count on it. But make sure you count correctly. You can’t say that the government is sending over $100 billion dollars to rebuild the Gulf Coast. What you can say is the government is sending $85 billion and paying $18.5 billion in flood insurance claims.

I wouldn’t be making a big deal out of this if the administration wasn’t holding it over our heads.

Bush (before his latest $18 billion request):
We'll continue to work with the folks down there. But I want to remind the people in that part of the world, $85 billion is a lot…
Rebuilding czar Donald Powell yesterday:
Powell said he does not anticipate additional money for the region in the 2007 budget Bush planned to announce Monday.

***

“That’s a lot of money,” he said, referring to the $100 billion.
That’s it for us. They want to wash their hands of the Gulf Coast.

I don’t want to sound ungrateful. And, yes, that *is* a lot of money. But, as Polimom points out in a Brookings Institute study, we are going to need a lot more.

The White House wants us to go away. We won’t. We survived Katrina and Rita and we will survive this President. If anything, we will do it for those who didn’t survive.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Hey, La. Republicans: Jump Ship

Your Right Hand Thief finds an example of some Louisiana Republicans striking fear in the heart of the White House. Or not.

It's time for the Louisiana Republicans to jump ship. Not from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party. From the President to Louisiana.

Serve your state, not this President. You are accountable to us Louisianians. I didn't vote for you, but you represent me and my friends and my family. Do it.

Jumping ship candidates:

Sen. David Vitter
Rep. Bobby Jindal, District 1
Rep. Jim McCrery, District 4
Rep. Rodney Alexander, District 5
Rep. Richard Baker, District 6
Rep. Charles Boustany, Jr., District 7
Current state Republican office holders and former
The Republican leaders in the state

For the most part, they all have one leg overboard. Now it's time to do a Triple Lindy (AVI file) off the plank.

Make bold statements that show you put Louisianians first.

NOTE: I am neither a Republican nor a Democrat. I tend to vote Green or Independent. None of the people I vote for are ever elected. Does that make me a loser?

Flood Insurance Program Running Out of Money

Again:

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) says it needs to borrow an additional $5.6 billion to cover claims and expenses for 2006. Projections indicate that its payments will reach its existing $18.5 billion borrowing limit by early- to mid- February 2006.
I missed the hearing on this last Wednesday. It looks like the program will have to pay out over $23 billion dollars in claims, which is more than it has paid out in its 37-year history all together.

In November 2005, FEMA was authorized by Congress to borrow up to $18.5 billion, up from $3.5 billion, which was upped in September 2005 from $1.5 billion. Now FEMA is asking for $5.6 billion more.

First impression: Before September 2005 FEMA could only pay out $1.5 billion? How is that being prepared for an emergency? Yes, FEMA can ask for a higher borrowing limit, but:
David Walker, head of the Government Accountability Office, said he did not think the program would ever be able to repay the money it was borrowing to pay the Katrina claims.
So, they can borrow the money, but they have no way to repay it. Now that’s a plan.

This is how the National Flood Insurance Program makes money and pays out claims:
The program takes in about $2.2 billion a year in premiums and fees, [program director David] Maurstad said. In recent years it usually paid out about $1 billion in claims annually, but much of the rest of the money is eaten up by administrative expenses, he said.
What does that mean for you and me? Higher rates:
Donald Marron, acting director of the Congressional Budget Office, told the committee that policyholders with discounts pay an average of $710 instead of the average $1,800 they would pay based on actual risk.
More expensive flood insurance is better than no flood insurance, and the program needs to be funded somehow. If future floods all over the nation keeping sucking money out of the treasury not allocated for it, politicians like Banking Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) might get their wish to eliminate it:
"The program now stands bankrupt," Shelby, an Alabama Republican, said.

***

"I would ask why we ever created it, but we did," Shelby said of the program after the hearing.
I would answer that we created the program because Americans live in flood plains. And I think all of us, having seen what happened during Katrina, understand that we will have to pay more to live where we live. If we pay more, though, we better get what we pay for.

There is no plan yet to raise rates. However, any “reform” of the flood insurance program has to include higher rates. Here are some recommendations from the hearing:

* Phase out subsidies for homes built to existing flood standards or built before flood maps were made. This would by definition raise rates for those home owners, adding $1.3 billion a year to the program.

* Require homeowners in the 500-year flood plain to buy flood insurance. Currently, homeowners in the 100-year flood plain, or houses likely to flood once every 100 years or with a 1% chance in any one year, are required to buy flood insurance. This won’t necessarily raise rates, but will result in more people having to pay the (most likely) higher rates that didn’t have to pay anything or very little before.

* Extend requirement to properties protected by levees and dams. That doesn’t really apply to New Orleans because we weren’t protected by our levees. Okay, that’s sarcasm. Of course that applies to us, so more people will be paying the (most likely) higher rates.

* Enforce requirements on mortgage lenders and homeowners to get flood insurance. The program director in the hearings estimated only 40 to 60 percent of homeowners in the 100-year flood plain have flood insurance policies.

Get out your checkbooks.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Choke

You have the ball. Time is running out. You can win the game. All eyes are on you.

You take a shot. It doesn’t go in. Your team loses.

You choked.

It doesn’t matter if you are the best player on the team or the worst. You had an opportunity to make the shot and win the game. But you missed. You choked.

The President had the ball last night. Time had been running out for a while. All eyes in the Gulf Coast were on him.

He choked. Not only did he choke, but he didn’t even take a shot.

In the State of the Union Address, the President chose to not address that part of the Union in crisis. He chose to not address the state of the Gulf Coast.

He said, “Tonight the state of our Union is strong -- and together we will make it stronger.” And there was applause.

He said the state of our Union was strong, when a major city in the Union has entire neighborhoods unfit for living, where the residents are still only allowed to “look and leave” five months after Katrina hit and the levees failed. Power is not restored to the entire city. Gas is not restored to the entire city. Healthcare in the city is crippled. Half of the residents haven’t returned or can’t return. Almost 3000 trailers are acting as homes for residents who have returned and 17,000 more have been requested. Some streets are still blocked by houses knocked off their foundations.

And that’s just New Orleans, not including St. Bernard, St. Tammany, and Plaquemines Parish, and the rest of the Gulf Coast hit by Katrina and Rita.

Yesterday, more than during any of his other SotU addresses, an entire region was watching to see what the President would say about its future. This is what he said:

A hopeful society comes to the aid of fellow citizens in times of suffering and emergency -- and stays at it until they're back on their feet. So far the federal government has committed $85 billion to the people of the Gulf Coast and New Orleans. We're removing debris and repairing highways and rebuilding stronger levees. We're providing business loans and housing assistance. Yet as we meet these immediate needs, we must also address deeper challenges that existed before the storm arrived.

In New Orleans and in other places, many of our fellow citizens have felt excluded from the promise of our country. The answer is not only temporary relief, but schools that teach every child, and job skills that bring upward mobility, and more opportunities to own a home and start a business. As we recover from a disaster, let us also work for the day when all Americans are protected by justice, equal in hope, and rich in opportunity. (Applause.)
The first sentence is obvious. A “hopeful society” – any decent society – *should* do those things. And the second sentence – well, I have my problems with the $85 billion number. If it is legit, it is still not enough for the region. The next two sentences describe things the federal government is doing, but many in this part of the world would say it is not doing well or fast enough.

The rest is dedicated to scolding us for our pre-Katrina inadequacies, for excluding our residents from the “promise of our country.” The President’s answer to our current hurricane-related troubles is not “temporary relief.” Rather, he would like to solve all of our social ills instead of the immediate problems caused by a natural disaster and poorly built levees.

But nothing about our future. He didn’t say “never again.” He didn’t even repeat his pledge to do what it takes. He is our leader, but he lead us no where. He didn’t even point to the way out.

By telling the Gulf Coast residents what a “hopeful society” does, he is telling us what the federal government won’t do. This administration feels it has done enough and it is time for the “hopeful society” to take over.

In his 53-minute speech, Iraq was mentioned 15 times. New Orleans, twice. The Gulf Coast, once.

I’m glad everyone else is living in such a strong Union. We in this part of the world are jealous.