Sunday, December 31, 2006

Not on the List

AP’s top news stories in 2006:

1. IRAQ
2. U.S. ELECTION
3. NUCLEAR STANDOFFS
4. ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION
5. SCANDALS IN CONGRESS
6. SADDAM CONVICTED
7. MIDEAST FIGHTING
7. (tie) RUMSFELD RESIGNS
9. AIRLINER PLOT
10. DISASTER IN DARFUR
Honorable mention:
Just missing out on the Top 10 was mounting concern over climate change and global warming, highlighted by the release of Al Gore's movie, "An Inconvenient Truth," and alarming new warnings from many scientists.
Yep, the hurricane recovery is not on the list. I guess the AP saw nothing to report there. Does that mean there was no recovery?

Also not on the list, but that’s because no one really reported the significance of it when it was released on June 1, the Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force (IPET) report saying, “The hurricane protection system in New Orleans and southeast Louisiana was a system in name only,” which lead to the now retiring head of the USACE saying:
"This is the first time the Corps has had to stand up and say we had a catastrophic failure of one of our projects," says chief engineer Lt. Gen. Carl Strock.
That should have made some list.

AP list as seen on Daily Kos.

UPDATE: The Advocate's list of the top ten Baton Rouge stories:
1. New Orleans rebuilding goes slowly
2. Storms fuel economic growth in BR
3. Property insurance costs increase
4. Doctor, two nurses arrested in N.O. hospital deaths
5. BR man accused of killing five
6. LSU men's and women's basketball teams advance to Final Four
7. Nagin wins re-election
8. Voters OK independent Central school system
9. Jefferson wins, denies wrongdoing
10. Bertman faces questions about program

Behind Schedule

Who, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers? No way!

Way:

The Corps is about six months behind schedule in issuing an all-important "risk analysis," a massive body of work that is intended to tell the public how likely New Orleans is to flood again from a big hurricane.

The analysis is supposed to explain in precise detail how well specific sections of the city are protected against hurricanes, using evidence that hurricanes have intensified in recent years. The analysis would produce detailed maps.
I am sure no one’s waiting for that:
The Corps' analysis will play a major role in determining the city's future — including whether more than 200,000 former residents could rebuild abandoned neighborhoods and whether insurers can provide coverage at an affordable rate.
That’s okay. It just affects us little old New Orleanians:
The stakes are high, not only for the integrity of the levees around New Orleans but for similar levees that protect millions of Americans who live along vulnerable coastlines and rivers across the nation. Many were built on the same mucky foundations and with the same flawed engineering assumptions as the notorious failed 17th Street levee in New Orleans.

The suspect levees stretch from Florida's Lake Okeechobee to the rivers of California's Central Valley and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which has 2,300 miles of levees that protect cities and farmland.

The Corps' investigation is essential to understanding California's situation, said Les Harter, the levee chief at the California Department of Water Resources.

"The floodwalls in New Orleans were 15 years old, and they failed," Harter said. "Our levees are 100 years old. We estimate we have one-half the level of protection that New Orleans had."
Well, at least something has happened in those six months:
Three top-ranking Army Corps of Engineers officials who led the agency's reconstruction work after Hurricane Katrina are stepping down, prompting critics to again question whether the Corps is able to protect the city from future disasters.

The latest retirements include two top civilians and the New Orleans district engineer. They come on the heels of the retirement of the agency's chief, Lt. Gen. Carl A. Strock, who said in August he was leaving his post for "family and personal reasons."

***

Last month, Col. Richard Wagenaar, the New Orleans district's engineer chief who was assigned his post one month before Katrina hit on Aug. 29, 2005, asked the Army to let him retire next summer.

He cited the "mental challenges and physical challenges" of handling the district since Katrina.

***

Dan Hitchings, a 55-year-old civilian who oversaw the agency's reconstruction mission after Katrina, Task Force Hope, said he is retiring at the end of January.

Hitchings said the change in leadership will not diminish the agency's ability to get the job done.

***

The third top engineer to retire is Greg Breerwood, the New Orleans district's 59-year-old deputy district engineer for project management. With 37 years of experience, he is the senior civilian in the district.

Breerwood said the Corps is about to start the next phase of long-term flood and hurricane protection for Louisiana. His last day on the job is Jan. 3.
Hey, where is everybody going?

Just Revenge

Written on the side of the Criminal Courts building on Tulane and Broad is the following quote:

This is a Government of Law not of Men
The statement is overtly sexist, but it is meant to describe the democratic government we have set up here in the U.S.A. (Some would say, then, that the overt sexism is accurate.) This is also supposed to be the democracy we are spreading to the Middle East.

But this morning, I read this NY Times account of Saddam Hussein’s execution with this chilling lead sentence:
BAGHDAD, Dec. 30 — Saddam Hussein never bowed his head, until his neck snapped.
It is clear that in the government sanctioned death of Saddam Hussein, men killed the ex-dictator, not law:
His executioners wore black ski masks, but Mr. Hussein could still see their deep brown skin and hear their dialects, distinct to the Shiite southern part of the country, where he had so brutally repressed two separate uprisings.
Hussein represented Sunni Iraq. The current government is dominated by Shiite Iraq. The sectarian violence in Iraq – the civil war – is, put simply, the Sunni militias versus the Shiite militias.

Hussein’s execution at the hands of a Shiite government, and more intimately by the hands of Shiite men, can be seen as a Shiite victory over the Sunnis in Iraq – hardly a way to bring the two sides together.

And the two sides were at war even at the scene of the execution:
The room was quiet as everyone began to pray, including Mr. Hussein. “Peace be upon Mohammed and his holy family.”

Two guards added, “Supporting his son Moktada, Moktada, Moktada.”

Mr. Hussein seemed a bit stunned, swinging his head in their direction.

They were talking about Moktada al-Sadr, the firebrand cleric whose militia is now committing some of the worst violence in the sectarian fighting; he is the son of a revered Shiite cleric, Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, whom many believe Mr. Hussein ordered murdered.

“Moktada?” he spat out, mixing sarcasm and disbelief.
As Hussein is the symbol of Sunni Iraq, Moktada al-Sadr is the symbol of Shiite Iraq. The guards were obviously supporters of Moktada al-Sadr, therefore Shiite.

The inappropriate wordplay continued:
Mr. Rubaie [Iraq’s national security adviser], standing shoulder to shoulder with Mr. Hussein, asked him about the killing of the elder Mr. Sadr.

They were standing so close to each other that others could not hear the exchange.

One of the guards, though, became angry. “You have destroyed us,” the masked man yelled. “You have killed us. You have made us live in destitution.”

Mr. Hussein was scornful: “I have saved you from destitution and misery and destroyed your enemies, the Persians and Americans.”

The guard cursed him. “God damn you.”

Mr. Hussein replied, “God damn you.”
In a government of law, not of men, the guard present at an execution does not curse the condemned.

Michigan professor Juan Cole has more at Salon.com:
One thing is certain: The trial and execution of Saddam were about revenge, not justice. Instead of promoting national reconciliation, this act of revenge helped Saddam portray himself one last time as a symbol of Sunni Arab resistance, and became one more incitement to sectarian warfare.

***

Even the crimes for which he was tried were a source of ethnic friction. Saddam Hussein had had many Sunni Arabs killed, and a trial on such a charge could have been politically savvy. Instead, he was accused of the execution of scores of Shiites in Dujail in 1982.

***

When Saddam visited Dujail, Dawa agents attempted to assassinate him. In turn, he wrought a terrible revenge on the town's young men. Current Prime Minister al-Maliki is the leader of the Dawa Party and served for years in exile in its Damascus bureau. For a Dawa-led government to try Saddam, especially for this crackdown on a Dawa stronghold, makes it look to Sunni Arabs more like a sectarian reprisal than a dispassionate trial for crimes against humanity.

***

The tribunal also had a unique sense of timing when choosing the day for Saddam's hanging. It was a slap in the face to Sunni Arabs. This weekend marks Eid al-Adha, the Holy Day of Sacrifice, on which Muslims commemorate the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son for God. Shiites celebrate it Sunday. Sunnis celebrate it Saturday –- and Iraqi law forbids executing the condemned on a major holiday. Hanging Saddam on Saturday was perceived by Sunni Arabs as the act of a Shiite government that had accepted the Shiite ritual calendar.
I will never agree with a state sanctioned execution. But this one is certainly consistent with the United States’ current foreign policy. You’re either with us, or against us. And if you are our enemy, and we can find you, we’ll kill you.

This is the foreign policy of the weak. Only the weak must kill all their enemies to claim victory. The strong do not fear the mere existence of their enemies. The strong are confident in their decisions and are not worried about any challenge their enemies may mount.

I believe the United States is strong. I believe Americans can be strong. We do not have to rule the world to be the leaders of the world. The strong are merciful precisely because they are strong. The weak can never show mercy because of fear.

We should have shown mercy with Hussein. The United States should have lobbied for Hussein to not be executed, but to spend his life in prison. In a country torn in half by sectarian violence, a show of mercy would have been the right message to send, not another merciless killing.

Yes, I know. Hussein showed no mercy to the thousands of people he ordered killed. This is true. But Hussein was weak. He could show no mercy. The life he saved might have come back to kill him one day and he feared this.

If we are strong, we should not fear a living, breathing Saddam Hussein. But it is too late to be merciful. Hussein is dead. Was it justice? Or, just revenge?

Saturday, December 30, 2006

The D.A. and the NOPD Working Hand in Hand

Make that fist to fist.

The D.A. announces indictments in the Danziger Bridge shootings on Wednesday. Seven NOPD officers are indicted on first-degree, attempted first-degree, and/or attempted second-degree murder. The D.A. adds this to his announcement:

"We cannot allow our police officers to shoot and kill our citizens without justification like rabid dogs," District Attorney Eddie Jordan said.
Superintendent Warren Riley hears this and the next day responds:
Riley called Jordan's comments "highly unprofessional, highly prejudicial and highly undignified."

"We want justice first and foremost ... but for the district attorney to try and prejudice the community against these officers before all the evidence is heard is really, I think, a sad day for the city."
So, the D.A. is saying “our police officers” are acting like “rabid dogs” and Riley is calling the D.A. “highly unprofessional” and that the D.A.’s actions are a “sad day for the city.”

Just another week in the NOLA criminal justice system.

This is how it is supposed to work. The NOPD arrests the bad guy. The D.A. tries to put the bad guy in jail. The courts make sure the bad guy really is the bad guy and not the wrong guy.

Can that system work when two of the three parts can’t seem to get along?

Meanwhile, in Gotham City:
Two New Orleans men were killed in separate shootings Thursday, including a prominent New Orleans musician slain while driving through Mid-City with his wife and two children, a police spokesman said.

Dinerral Shavers, 25, died from a gunshot to the back of his head at about 5:30 p.m. while behind the wheel of his black Chevrolet Malibu in the 2200 block of Dumaine Street, police said.
And on Friday:
A 17-year-old boy who was feuding with the 15-year-old stepson of a New Orleans musician was arrested Friday in the shooting death of the musician inside the family car on Thursday, police said.

David Bonds, 17, is accused of fatally shooting Dinerral Shavers, 25, a snare drummer for the Hot 8 Brass Band and a band teacher at L.E. Rabouin High School.
Now, the “rabid dogs” of the NOPD turn David Bonds’ case over to the “highly unprofessional” D.A. with hopes of a conviction.

My question: Will our criminal justice system work in this case? If it fails, who will it fail for? Dinerral Shavers? David Bonds? Both?

If it fails for one of us – any one of us – it fails for all of us.

Where's Batman when you need him?

Repopulate Downtown

American Zombie recounts a “depressing rumor” which outlines a scenario in which major downtown hotels leave New Orleans:

Imagine a Canal Street with two to three towering empty buildings...no lights, no people...nada...just dead, monolithic, hulls. Combined with our inability to get adequate flights into the city, it could be a 1-2 knockout punch to our convention industry: no way to get here and nowhere to stay when they do get here. We've already lost one major convention (Microsoft) due to the lack of flights...I think that single issue could set off a chain reaction into oblivion.
As I am not a fan of the tourism industry, this doesn’t really depress me. If these “dead, monolithic, hulls” were bought by HANO/HUD and redeveloped as mixed income (meaning a fair amount of low income) apartments for rent or purchase, our housing problem would be solved. Canal Street would blossom as a retail center because all the new residents would need services, like places to buy groceries, wash clothes, buy things for the house, buy parts for the car, etc. Tourism service jobs would be replaced by retail jobs and people would be able to live close to where they worked. Restaurants would stay in business because residents like to eat out, too, though they won’t be able to charge tourist prices.

Repopulate downtown. It would solve the lack of housing and it would promote development in a section of the city that’s high and dry.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Major Wisdom

From Minor Wisdom:

Each of us may be wiser today than we were yesterday, but that may only mean that we're slightly less of an idiot today than we were yesterday. In any event, there's a good chance we'll be wiser tomorrow than we are today. So next time we have the urge to fire off a correction to someone else's opinion, let's consider waiting until tomorrow, and thinking about it in the meantime.
Take that into account when responding to Maxim's latest list of the Worst Sports Arenas. Look who's #10:
10. Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans
Even before Katrina, the place came across as drab and soulless as a long-abandoned warehouse. Great symbol of New Orleans' resilience, lousy place to see a game.
I'll give you drab. But soulless?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

La. Representative U.S. 2nd Congressional District Election

Overall stats:

62,106 people voted.
26,985 (43.4%) for Karen Carter.
35,121 (56.6%) for William Jefferson.
Jefferson Parish stats:
16,901 people voted.
4,967 (29.4%) for Karen Carter.
11,934 (70.6%) for William Jefferson.
Orleans Parish stats:
45,205 people voted.
22,018 (48.7%) for Karen Carter.
23,187 (51.3%) for William Jefferson.
Looking at those numbers, we can make various conclusions. But, we CANNOT make ANY conclusions about the motive of individual voters. However, a lot of people are making a few conclusions about the motives of Jefferson Parish voters.

Mr. Clio, from World Class N.O.:
I would like America to know that Congressman William Jefferson, while under investigation for corruption, took 70 percent of the vote in Jefferson Parish (the Westbank portion of his district). That suburban vote (which looks demographically a lot like Houston or Atlanta)--not the city of New Orleans--is what put Congressman Jefferson back in D.C. for another term. THANKS WESTBANK! THANKS HARRY LEE!
Wet Bank Guide:
If you voted for Dollar Bill or stayed home and let him be re-elected; if you voted Republican in the past and acquiesce in (if not endorse) the sort of politics that left him unindicted on the odd chance he might be re-elected to provide some future political advantage or a West Banker who helped send a future felon back in our name on the odd chance you might do better next time, don't be putting on your Bush jersey tomorrow. You don't deserve to wear it. If you want to be part of team New Orleans, then you damned well better start acting like it.
Moldy City:
I heard some Jefferson Parish official say something about electing somebody from Jefferson next time; apparently, they want both of the Jefferson/Orleans seats. With people on the east bank of Jefferson thinking in terms of Jefferson/Orleans, and people on the west bank of both parishes thinking East Bank/West Bank, it could happen. Anyone but Shepherd.
People Get Ready:
Meanwhile, it’s disheartening for us in Orleans Parish, who have been working so hard to cleanse Louisiana of its stain of corruption, that white Jefferson Parish voters cynically voted for the crook thinking that he’d be indicted, and they’d then be given an opportunity to elect someone who more closely resembles voters in white-flight Jefferson Parish.

***

How incredibly ironic it is that, for all of the criticism we get in New Orleans for corruption, it’s actually Republican voters in Jefferson Parish who are voting against Louisiana’s best interests. Is cynicism a “conservative” value? What do those people tell their children about how they voted?

Jefferson Parish is making a lot of money on New Orleans’ problems — all the big box hardware retailers in Jefferson are booking record sales, and record tax receipts (and … ahem … Sheriff Harry Lee, who had his little tantrum over Karen Carter’s candidacy, is the official Jefferson Parish tax collector). It’s really a shame, then, that Jefferson Parish wouldn’t be working harder to help New Orleans, and cooperate in political decisions that benefit the region and the state, not political parties and personal vendettas.

***

I only hope the rest of the country won’t punish New Orleans for the political errors of politicians elected by the bastard political coalition of white Republican racists, and distrustful blacks who vote loyalty more than their consciences.
Your Right Hand Thief:
Unfortunately, Jefferson Parish was also involved. And they thought it was important to elect the crook, because otherwise dehydrated disaster victims might storm across the bridge to loot food and water and wine coolers from Greatna's precious bedroom communities.

***

So da "Best Bank" elects a legislator who supposedly understands "their side of the river" to a Congress where he will be an ineffectual outsider. In doing so, they reinforce the national impression that New Orleans is too stupid to self-govern, and utterly hopeless.
Cliff’s Crib:
The most important thing is that the numbers from this election prove why this area will always be a joke. Look at the numbers from Jefferson Parish. I know the people in Jefferson Parish don't like the fact that they look racist to the rest of the country after the Spike Lee movie. They may not be racist as much as they are stupid.

***

Basically, the people of Jefferson sold the city out for a personal vendetta. Jefferson and Nagin together is like political suicide for the most part. They don't care what Jefferson does in DC because most of their houses are dry and their families are not split. Their side of the levee didn't fall. This is why the people that live in the New Orleans city limits cannot be tricked into buying into that regional approach bullshit. The regional approach is going to end up just like the levee system, public schools and every other thing. In the end the people living in the city will get the short end of the stick.
First, let’s talk numbers. Only 16,901 people voted in Jefferson Parish out of 62,106 overall. That’s 27.2% of the all voters in the election. 11,934 Jeffersonians voted for Jefferson. While that is 70.6% of the Jefferson Parish vote, it is only 19.2% of the overall vote. In a runoff, you can’t get elected with 19.2% of the vote. Therefore, to say Jefferson Parish elected William Jefferson is wrong. He got the bulk of his votes from New Orleans.

Yes, the percentages were close in New Orleans. But William Jefferson won there. If he had won in Jefferson Parish by the same margin, he still would have won the election.

Second, Louisiana’s 2nd U.S. Congressional District is not only made up of New Orleans. Jefferson Parish voters will, and it is their right to, vote in their interests. Karen Carter did not appeal to Jefferson Parish voters *at all*, much less as the lesser of two evils, which JP President Aaron Broussard pointed out:
Broussard said the congressman won overwhelmingly in suburban precincts because "Karen Carter was a stranger to Jefferson Parish." Even Shepherd, whose state Senate district covers parts of downtown New Orleans in addition to most of Jefferson Parish's West Bank, enjoyed some crossover appeal.
We can not and never will know the motives of Jefferson Parish voters. But, I think it is logically wrong to conclude that it means the people of Jefferson Parish don’t want to be on “team New Orleans.” Karen Carter may have been the best candidate for New Orleans. But, I think it is obvious that she wasn't the best for JP.

Third, Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District is gerrymandered to include districts in both parishes which would tend to vote for an African-American candidate. While racism could explain why a “bastard political coalition of white Republican racists” would stay home and not vote at all, I don’t think it explains why those who did vote voted heavily for Jefferson.

Fourth, I don’t believe that Jefferson Parish voters went to the polls believing they could install one of their own in the seat in a second-chance election after the (in my opinion, not-so) inevitable indictment of William Jefferson. Given that there are so many more New Orleans voters than Jefferson Parish voters in the district, I can’t see how a Jeffersonian could win without broad crossover popularity, in which case everyone would like that candidate and not have a problem that he or she is from JP.

Fifth, not everyone thought that Karen Carter was the better candidate for New Orleans. This is why we have elections. A person is not stupid because they don’t vote for the candidate you support. They may be stupid because they believe stupid things that lead them to vote for their candidate. But you can not use the evidence of who they voted for to label them stupid.

Adrastos, as always, has a good read on why Carter lost:
The biggest mistakes the Carter camp made were fueled by overconfidence. It was a *terrible* mistake to refuse to appear on TV with Dollar Bill unless he was in the studio with Princess BOLD. Dollar Bill was willing to appear via satellite from Washington but Carter's handlers denounced that as an attemp to control how he was presented. Yo, Ms, Carter, you were the challenger, you were not well known; ANY appearance with the incumbent put you on an equal footing. The reason for this monumental cockup seems to be the Carter people's belief that victory was inevitable. That led them to act as if she were the incumbent instead of an unknown and untested challenger.
Could it be that Carter discounted the JP vote because she thought she would get a higher percentage of the more populous New Orleans vote? It’s not a bad strategy because almost three times more people voted in New Orleans than JP. If that was her strategy, then she did not get enough *New Orleans* votes. That turns things around a little.

After saying all that, I don’t think Jefferson Parish is doing enough to help New Orleans recover. JP is in a unique position to be a positive force in the recovery of NOLA. New Orleans is geographically isolated from St. Tammany. St. Bernard and Plaquemines are in the midst of their recoveries which, by scale, are worse than New Orleans. But Jefferson Parish is right there, watching and, for some reason, waiting. A JP-NOLA combo would be a juggernaut.

I respect all the bloggers I referenced above. They are on my blogroll because I admire them and have learned from them. Please do not take this disagreement with you as a personal attack. I am not calling anyone out.

I just think blaming Jefferson Parish for William Jefferson’s election and then piling on everything else you don’t like about the parish is a distraction from the goal of recovery… and not a good distraction like the Saints.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Legend of Michael Brown

Every time he speaks, the legend grows:

Brown faulted those New Orleans residents who failed to have their own hurricane plan, believing it was the government’s duty to keep them safe.

“The government cannot save you,” he said. “We’ve got to get away from this culture of dependency and go to a culture of preparedness in this country … Every one of us has things we can do in our lives and our businesses to be better prepared.”
And grows…
He criticized Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin for pointing the finger of blame at each other instead of working together to solve the problem.

“I felt like strangling them both,” he said. “I probably should have … In Katrina, I was never able to establish a unified command structure because Louisiana was so dysfunctional and so overwhelmed.”
In fact, the legend has grown to such proportions that Michael Brown himself must refer to the Michael Brown of Katrina in the third person:
After Katrina struck, Brown said, the White House was more interested in political damage control than in actual damage control in New Orleans.

“One of the biggest mistakes Mike Brown made during Katrina was not crumpling up the White House talking points and saying ‘Folks, here’s the truth,’” he said.
This Mike Brown he speaks of. He is a legend in this part of the world.

It Ain’t What You Say, It’s What You Do

But I like what Ed Blakely is saying:

"The city needs a modern infrastructure, and you have to build something better," Blakely added. "New Orleans needs a modern economy, a new economic base, because you can't live on tourism alone."

***

"First we have to bring back the infrastructure -- across the entire city," he said. "We need sewer lines, streets, street lights, traffic lights. ... Power is still out in some quarters. All of that has to be put back before you can begin to put up houses."

***

Blakely said his office will develop a master plan for the city, which currently is home to about 200,000 residents but that he envisions may one day include up to a half-million people. His work will focus on rebuilding the city's core, and he said a bill before Congress would provide funding to modernize the levee system in the Gulf Coast region to avert another such disaster.

"We are very far behind the Japanese and the Dutch in putting in the types of flood-control systems that we need down here," he added.
I have always liked the idea of rebuilding from the center out so that the city doesn’t spread its diminished resources too thin. However, that would only work if two things happen: (1) the city must guarantee that every neighborhood will be rebuilt, and, (2) the city must provide affordable, temporary housing in the “core” to all displaced residents who want to return.

Without a guarantee that every neighborhood will be rebuilt, the patchwork rebuilding would have to occur so that neighborhoods could prove their viability. And, affordable, temporary housing in the “core” would allow residents from the more heavily flooded areas to live in a functioning part of the city while the infrastructure in their neighborhoods, and ultimately, their homes are rebuilt. When they move back to their homes, they would leave behind an invigorated “core” ready for new people to move in. A thriving “core” combined with newly rebuilt neighborhoods with sound infrastructure would allow New Orleans to transcend its World Class status.

Oh, yeah, and the levee thing is important, too.

So That’s Why My Internet was Slow Today

Mayor Nagin to USA Today:

"There is (federal) money out in cyberspace, there is money in the mail … but very little of that money has made it to our local governments and our citizens."
Dammit. All that federal money in cyberspace is clogging up the tubes. Get it out.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Don’t Pick on FEMA

FEMA Director R. David Paulison says it’s not easy being FEMA. You think you know. But you have no idea:

I believe many Americans have little awareness of:

- FEMA’s size, which is about the size of many high schools—or 2500 full time employees;
- FEMA’s mission, which is to help America mitigate against, prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters;
- FEMA’s reliance upon partners—be it the States, the Department of Defense, or others in the federal, state or private sector—to accomplish nearly all that we do, and
- Citizens’ personal roles and responsibilities, along with state and local jurisdictions, in the emergency management process.

Now, part of this is our fault. We in FEMA simply haven’t done as good a job as we should explaining our roles and responsibilities, managing expectations and communicating the urgent need for personal preparedness. Although FEMA can—and will do a better job of framing our respective roles and responsibilities within an emergency management context, I want to make it crystal clear that every American has a part to play in achieving national preparedness.
You see, FEMA is the little guy. They just didn’t do a good job letting you know about how little they were. They’re like a high school… a high school that can be allocated millions of dollars by Congress and can “rely on” the Department of Defense to accomplish its mission. Didn’t your high school have those kinds of resources? (Okay, okay, maybe my alma mater did.)

Paulison gave the above speech to the National Press Club last week. He was talking about the “New FEMA.” It seems he wanted to make us aware that FEMA’s mission isn’t to actually do anything. They just “help America” do things. That way, because FEMA doesn’t actually do anything, they aren’t responsible when things aren’t done right. So who, according to Paulison, is responsible?

You are:

Any American who fails to prepare for potential disasters not only places the lives of their loved ones in jeopardy, he or she also may put the lives of first responders at risk and contribute to a more difficult response. The extent to which any one of us is victimized by disaster is determined, at least in part, by how well—or how poorly—we personally prepare ourselves and our loved ones for disaster.
Only you can prevent a failed response to a natural disaster. So be prepared.

Be prepared, because you never know when $1 billion will go to the wrong people:
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has recouped less than 1 percent of an estimated $1 billion in fraudulent or unjustified payments that it distributed after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, a new report by congressional investigators says.

At the same time, the agency continued to wrongly send out millions of dollars of new aid this year, including $17 million in rental assistance to families living rent-free in FEMA trailers, the Government Accountability Office report says.
Be prepared, because the *right* people might stop getting help and not know why:
FEMA has to restore housing assistance and pay back rent to thousands of Hurricane Katrina evacuees who had been deemed ineligible for long-term housing assistance, a federal judge ruled yesterday [Nov 29].

The judge, Richard J. Leon of Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, wrote that the agency also had to improve an appeals process that evacuees had long said was confusing, contradictory and amounted to an arbitrary denial of help.

***

The judge said that the lack of clarity deprived evacuees of their rights of due process, pointing out that the agency had conceded that thousands of families had been incorrectly ruled ineligible.
Be prepared, because FEMA may fight for their right to not give housing assistance to eligible families:
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said Tuesday that it will appeal a judge's order that the agency resume housing assistance and make retroactive payments to thousands of hurricane evacuees.

The appeal notice came just hours after lawyers for evacuees asked a federal judge in Washington to order FEMA to provide a plan for compliance with the Nov. 29 order. FEMA's notice did not specify grounds for the appeal.
Be prepared, because the director of FEMA, addressing the court ruling, might say something like this:
"No good deed goes unpunished," Paulison said, adding that FEMA helped more people than it ever has despite overwhelmed systems, huge work volumes and pressure to fight victim fraud. "We felt like we did a good job."

He added: "We have to resist the call for additional investigations unless they're based on new evidence and allegations. Rather than conduct additional studies, inquiries, analysis that look backward and tell us what we really already know, we should continue to focus on correcting the problems."
Be prepared, because FEMA’s “good deed” may keep you from coming home:
By summer, four out of five recertification requests were denied, said Heather Godwin, a lawyer with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid. Advocates and court records show that FEMA refused, against agency rules, to give aid to more than one member of a family, even if they were separated across the country; that the agency concluded erroneously that many homes were not severely damaged by the storms; and that FEMA relied on computer systems that were unable to keep track of applicants' documents and were plagued by overloaded workers' data-entry errors.

Other bureaucratic measures, designed to combat abuse, required applicants to provide written documentation of pre-storm housing payments, which was unavailable to some evacuees, or to meet inspectors even if they were living miles away.

***

Liberal analysts also cite other indicators that aid cutoffs are leading to de facto relocation decisions as poor families, unable to get back to New Orleans, begin to seek local aid where they are. In Austin, the wait list for public housing has grown from 8,200 to 10,000 families, Godwin said.
Be prepared, because your state might not be able to question how FEMA spent recovery money:
Who should pay for the federal government’s mistakes in handing out disaster aid to the wrong people? Not Louisiana, say state officials, who have gone to court to try to prevent the Federal Emergency Management Agency from collecting about $60 million from the state

The federal government has asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit, contending that Louisiana cannot refuse to pay charges it disagrees with — even when the charges are the result of fraudulent claims — and that the state has no right to audit FEMA’s spending. A hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for Monday in Federal District Court in Baton Rouge.
Be prepared, and heed the word of FEMA:
So, what does personal preparation mean? This means having a plan, understanding that plan, and exercising that plan; and, It also means having adequate homeowners and flood insurance to recover after disasters strike. America must continue to develop a culture of preparedness.
Yes, have a personal plan, understand that plan, and exercise that plan when the US Army Corps of Engineers comes to your town and builds a levee system “in name only.”

Yes, we do need to “develop a culture of preparedness” now that we know our government is not prepared.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Better Late Than Never?

Let the recovery begin!

More than 15 months after Hurricane Katrina, Mayor Ray Nagin is ready to open a city office to direct New Orleans' recovery, with a leading regional planner and disaster recovery expert in charge.

***

Nagin said in a recent interview a recovery director previously didn't make sense because "I couldn't really communicate to the person their authority, how the money was flowing, how (the recovery) would be set up. All that clarity is in place (now)."

The city has made strides, Nagin said. "I just need somebody to take me to the next level."
Ed Blakely is Nagin’s choice for recovery director. From what I’ve read about Blakely on the internet, he is as good a choice as any other person not from the New Orleans area.

He penned this online opinion a couple of weeks after Katrina hit:
There is little doubt that the “essential” New Orleans will be rebuilt and probably resettled. More than one third of the residents will not return for a host of reasons, including the traumas of the incident. But most will return. The best way to cater for this is to rebuild the city section by section, so large numbers can come back and resurrect their neighbourhoods again.

In this process each neighbourhood should be rebuilt with locals taking part, including working with one another, to help rebuild their homes and parks. My experience is that this process binds neighbours back to the neighbourhood. Therefore we should avoid contractors doing all the work.

Physical inputs and planning designs from the community - and even from the children - are therapeutic and make the community a community again. The communities we rebuilt in Los Angeles and Oakland are stronger today than they were before the events.
Reading that opinion piece, he seems to understand what “community” is – although, he might have to unlearn a few myths:
Obviously, the central business core will need to be rebuilt too. It should be rebuilt around some form of New Bourbon Street, just like San Francisco created New Montgomery Street after the 1908 fires that destroyed the entire city.
The “old” Bourbon Street is still there, and I don’t see a lot of business taking place there. Lots of businesses, but not a lot of business. You know what I mean.

I’m not sure, though, that Blakely will be able to do anything:
Blakely said he knows from past experiences that "leadership makes all the difference." In New Orleans, he said, the recovery has been bogged down by the number of bureaucracies and people involved and by the lack of a modern, citywide master plan.
What does that say about Nagin? If we accept that “leadership makes all the difference” and that “the recovery has been bogged down,” then shouldn’t we assume that Nagin up to this point has been a poor leader? Conversely, if the recovery’s slow pace is due to “the bureaucracies and people involved” and not Nagin, then shouldn’t we assume that Nagin is powerless to the forces around him and, in fact, the leader of nothing when it comes to the recovery?

By the future recovery director’s own admission, he is either dealing with an ineffective leader or an impotent one. Let the recovery begin!

“Is it a good thing? Is it a bad thing?”

Seriously. I wish there was an alternative to 870 AM in the morning.

I could just turn the radio off. But, I want to here the local news updates at the top and bottom of the hour.

The discussion topic for the second hour of Spud’s show today was Keith Ellison’s choice to use a Koran to be sworn in to Congress. He went to a commercial break saying “Is it a good thing? Is it a bad thing?”

Hmm… the 1st Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;
Is it a good thing? Is it a bad thing?

Hmm… being Muslim. Is it a good thing? Is it a bad thing?

What a stupid question. How about we analyze the un-American, anti-Constitutional reaction to Ellison’s attempt to freely practice his religion? That’s what I want my AM talk show to discuss. The erosion of the rights granted by the Constitution affects both liberal and conservative Americans.

I suppose the next topic will be: What version of the Bible should Congressmembers use to be sworn in?

A caller reminded Spud of the 1st Amendment, quoted above, and the more relevant section of the Constitution, Article VI:
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.
Hmm… the Constitution. Is it a good thing? Is it a bad thing?

Friday, December 01, 2006

T’was the Night before the Budget Vote

That’s plenty of time to review $33 million in sanitation contracts for the first time, right?

On the eve of the New Orleans City Council's vote today on the 2007 budget -- which will include $33 million for three new trash-collection deals -- top officials for Mayor Ray Nagin delivered long-awaited final versions of two of the contracts and announced the winner of a third trash pickup deal in the French Quarter.

***

Moreover, sanitation Director Veronica White made clear that the council's options -- despite its power of the purse over Nagin's proposed budget -- were severely limited, given that the deals are slated to begin Jan. 2.

"What would you do at this late date if we should not approve this?" Midura asked.

"What would be the alternative? There would be no garbage pickup," White said. "That would be the alternative."
It’s C. Ray or the highway.

Why are the details of the contracts being released the day before the Council must vote on them?
It is not clear, however, why the city did not disclose the contracts sooner, despite numerous inquiries in person and in writing. The public records law generally requires public entities to provide public documents "immediately," or within, at most, three days. Mayoral spokeswoman Ceeon Quieet said Thursday that she did not receive such inquiries after Nov. 13.
Oh, I see. There were “numerous inquiries” before November 13, but none after November 13. That’s why no one got to see the contracts before yesterday, not even Councilwoman Midura, a member of the budget committee that “monitors contracts for collection and disposal.”

From the T-P article:
With the contracts in her hand, Midura pressed Wilde on why the city attorney's office, which provides legal counsel to the mayor as well as the council, refused to clue her in over the past six weeks to the bulk of the agreements' content. Instead, she said, they responded to her repeated requests for draft versions of the contracts -- in whole or in part -- with dubious explanations, including the assertion that the public records law specifically exempts lawyers' work product.
What does that say for Nagin’s pledge of “transparent spending policies”? Moldy City clues us in.

Also from the T-P article, the true litterbugs are the rats:
"Hiring a bunch of people to go around and pick up manually, you're defeating your purpose," she [sanitation Director Veronica White] said, noting that uniform carts with lids that are part of the new deals will stop rodents from tearing through plastic bags, which she called a major factor in loose litter.
Some of us are worried about a different type of rats.