Friday, September 30
- Sept 30: HUD Secretary Alphonso Johnson predicts, in what many take as barely concealed administration gloating, that New Orleans will never again be a black-majority city. During a visit to victims in Houston, Jackson says that New Orleans would not reach its pre-Katrina population of "500,000 people for a long time," and "it's not going to be as black as it was for a long time, if ever again." Representative Danny Davis, a black Democrat, quickly responds, "Anybody who can make that kind of projection with some degree of certainty or accuracy must have a crystal ball that I can't see or maybe they are more prophetic than any of us can imagine." Jackson is a black Republican. Jackson says New Orleans might reach a population of 375,000 people sometime late next year with a black population of about 40 percent at the highest, down from 67 percent before Hurricane Katrina sent a storm surge that overwhelmed New Orleans levees and flooded 80 percent of the city. The population of New Orleans before Katrina was a little less than 500,000, surrounded by large, predominantly white suburbs. The largely black Ninth Ward and the predominantly white middle-class Lakeview section near Lake Pontchartrain were overwhelmed by floodwaters.
- Jackson, a former developer and longtime government housing official, said the history of urban reconstruction projects shows that most blacks will not return and others who want to might not have the means or opportunity. His agency will play a critical role in the city's redevelopment through various grant programs, including those for damaged or destroyed properties. Many, including Democratic representative Maxine Waters and the Reverend Jesse Jackson, blast plans to relocate evacuees across the country as "racist" and designed to move black people, who overwhelmingly vote Democratic, out of Louisiana. The state elected its first Republican senator, David Vitter, in nearly a century in 2004. Both suggest that the evacuated residents be housed at the closed England Air Force Base at Alexandria, Louisiana, to keep them closer to home. Democrat Bobby Rush says the HUD secretary's remarks and the prospects of real-estate speculators and developers in New Orleans are "foreboding." Rush says, "Gentrification is a demon that is looming on the landscape, and we have to be aware of it and vigilant. ...Right now, I don't know if the resistance to it is strong enough."
- He says a history of forced removal of blacks from their homes and property cannot be ignored as the reconstruction moves forward. Two weeks after Katrina, the Congressional Black Caucus has issued an eight-point action plan that calls for residents to get the first right of return to the area, that New Orleans residents get first choice of construction jobs and rebuilding contracts and that voting rights be protected. Many evacuees from the Ninth Ward will likely never be able to return, says HUD's Jackson. He has told Mayor Ray Nagin that it would be a mistake to rebuild that part of town, the lowest-lying section and prone to flooding. Davis said that despite history, he does not think New Orleans will see black migration similar to black migration from Mississippi after the 1927 flood that inundated hundreds of thousands of acres in Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. Many black farmers and field hands fled to Chicago, Detroit and other cities for a better life in the Midwest. "New Orleans is not a plantation, not a farm, and I think there will be many efforts to make sure there will be affordable housing and construction job training for residents to rebuild and have the option to return home," he says.
- Sept 30: Representatives Charles Melancon and Tom Davis send a request to DHS Secretary Chertoff asking for "documents or communications, including internal communications, received, prepared, or sent by officials in...the Office of the Under Secretary of Emergency Preparedness and Response," Michael Brown. The letter requests that these documents be provided by October 14, 2005. Chertoff refuses to fully comply. Although DHS has provided many e-mails from Brown, it does not appear that all of Brown's e-mails have been provided. In his congressional testimony, Brown referenced e-mails that he sent to the White House, stating, "I exchanged e-mails and phone calls with Joe Hagin, Andy Card and the President." However, no e-mail messages between Brown and Hagin, who is White House deputy chief of staff, or Andrew Card, who is White House chief of staff, have been provided by the Department. There have also been no e-mails produced between Brown and President Bush or other senior White House officials. Moreover, it does not appear that any e-mails between Brown and Chertoff have been produced. These are significant gaps in the Department's compliance with the congressional document request. Chertoff has also failed to provide e-mails and other communications involving himself or other officials in the his office. These documents are requested in the same letter that requested Brown's e-mails.
- At an October 19, 2005, hearing with Chertoff, Melancon expressed his concern that the select committee had not received any documents or communications from Chertoff or his office. Melancon asked Chertoff directly for a commitment to providing the documents requested by October 27, 2005, and he agreed. DHS will produce additional documents on October 27, 2005, and still more documents on October 28, 2005. However, these documents do not appear to include e-mails or other communications involving Chertoff or his immediate office. In addition to the letter sent to Chertoff on September 30, Melancon and Davis send similar document request letters to Andrew Card, the White House chief of staff; Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense; Lieutenant General Carl Strock, the Commander of the Army Corps of Engineers; and Michael Leavitt, the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Similar document requests are also sent to the governors of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. These letters request an initial response within two weeks, a deadline of October 14, 2005. Davis later extends the deadline to October 27, 2005. Although the extended deadline has now passed, responsive documents have not been received from any of these officials.
- Sept 30: Alabama state senator Hank Erwin, a Republican, says that Katrina is an example of "God's wrath" visited on the sinful of New Orleans: "Well, I think, if you look at what's going on, this whole region has always known that, with the church, that New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are known for sin. And if you go to a church and you read your Bible, you are always told avoid sin and that there's judgment for sin. And I just think that, in my analysis -- and I can't speak for everybody, but I believe that, if you look at the factors, that you had a city that was known for sin -- the signature of New Orleans is the French Quarter, Bourbon Street. It is known for sin." MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, himself a strongly conservative Republican, says of Erwin's statement, "...I just find it hard to square up my vision of God and what Jesus Christ said in the New Testament with what the senator is saying tonight."
Sunday, October 2
- Oct 2: With two weeks to go before Bush's deadline to move all evacuees out of emergency shelters, over 100,000 still reside in such shelters, and another 400,000 are in hotel rooms costing up to $100 a night. The deadline is not just symbolic; the Red Cross intends to halt all hotel stipends in two weeks. The housing Bush repeatedly promised for evacuees has not materialized. Cruise ships and trailer parks are proving largely unworkable. Federal officials are struggling to launch an alternative interim housing program that would give families whose homes are destroyed or uninhabitable a lump sum of $2,358 in rental assistance, or $786 a month for three months, with the possibility of a 15-month extension. So far, 330,000 families have signed up for the housing assistance. But if evacuees have to use those stipends to pay for hotel rooms when FEMA stops covering such lodging, the funds will not last long. Last week, the number of evacuees in hotels increased from 220,000 to more than 400,000 people, in 140,000 rooms. Many have no idea what they will do when the program ends in two weeks. The Red Cross has said it will keep its shelters open for as long as necessary, but many are in churches and public buildings that are needed for their primary functions. Hundreds of shelters have closed over the past two weeks, and many of their occupants, the Red Cross said, appear to be moving into hotels, in hopes of benefiting from the hotel program in its final days.
- In search of temporary housing immediately after the hurricane, FEMA officials went on a $1.5 billion spending spree, buying out entire dealerships of recreational vehicles and signing contracts for more than $500 million with one manufacturer of mobile homes. But the plan to create "cities" of 500 to 600 RVs across the South has run into major logistical and political problems. In FEMA lots in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, several thousand trailers stand empty, waiting for the agency to navigate land leases, zoning laws, local opposition and policy questions. "We have 12,000 mobile homes with no place to put them," says FEMA spokesperson Rosemarie Hunter. Policymakers say that warehousing tens of thousands of people in trailer park communities until New Orleans and other cities are rebuilt could lead to the creation of dysfunctional "FEMAvilles," as residents of past encampments have called them. Democrats go further, warning that they may become known as "Bushvilles," just as Depression-era shantytowns were called "Hoovervilles." Refugee Council USA, which includes nine US resettlement agencies that have integrated 2.5 million global refugees into the United States since 1975, says storm victims would be better off getting on with their lives -- finding housing, jobs and counseling services in new communities rather than waiting indefinitely for homes to be rebuilt. FEMA officials agree.
- Evacuees, says FEMA spokesman Eugene Kinerney, "need to consider long-term housing in areas where there is available rental stock and prospects for employment to take care of other needs, such as food." But some civic and political leaders worry that the alternative -- resettling storm victims -- will lead many to stay permanently in their host communities, fundamentally changing the nature and politics of Louisiana and possibly beyond. FEMA initially estimated that the homes of 300,000 families were destroyed by Katrina and that 200,000 of them will need government help with housing but said only time would reveal the true scope of need. The lack of an effective strategy to manage the largest displaced population of Americans in at least 60 years has touched off a furious policy debate. In a joint statement last week, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi criticized how long it took the Bush administration to implement its voucher program. "It wasn't until nearly one month after the disaster struck that the Bush Administration finally announced it would begin to provide rent payments to families displaced by the storm," as Democrats urged, they said. Under the FEMA housing assistance plan, families that remain eligible can get as much as 18 months of cash assistance for a maximum of $14,148, but the money would count against a cap of $26,200 per family that Congress has set for FEMA to give in cash, rental assistance and home repairs. Even before FEMA announced the program, Democratic senator Paul Sarbanes pushed a plan through the Senate last month to provide $3.5 billion in housing vouchers to 350,000 Katrina-displaced families. On September 30, Sarbanes called on Bush to transfer control of housing assistance from FEMA to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. "The scope of this disaster calls for changes in how we think about disaster assistance," Sarbanes wrote the White House. "Hundreds of thousands of people may need housing assistance for 18 months or even longer. We cannot rely on FEMA, an emergency response agency, to provide on-going housing assistance to this large number of families," he said, citing HUD's "experience, staff and infrastructure."
- Oct 2: The New York Times writes a damning editorial spelling out just why it was FEMA's job, despite the "spectacularly disconnected 'not-my-job' display by the former FEMA director, Michael Brown," at recent Congressional hearings, to directly lead and coordinate federal, state, and local efforts at disaster relief. The Times writes, "The federal role is to make things happen. That means being in the same room with state and local officials, anticipating and responding to their needs. It means making sure state and local officials get help, quickly. It means focusing on what is actually happening." The editorial breaks down FEMA's responsibilities into four areas: preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation. It then examines each area. A summation:
- Preparedness: The draft report from the massive simulation exercise from 2004, on the fictional "Hurricane Pam," hit Brown's desk in December 2004. The simulation said that if a Category 4 or 5 hurricane were to hit the Gulf Coast near New Orleans, floodwaters would surge over levees, creating high casualties and forcing a mass evacuation. It said hundreds of thousands of homes would be destroyed, a half-million people left homeless, and "all 40 medical facilities in the impacted area isolated and useless." Local officials, the report said, would quickly be overwhelmed. Yet in the days before Katrina made landfall just east of New Orleans, with the National Weather Service saying it was a Category 4 storm, then a Category 5, then back to a Category 4, Brown decided against a wide-scale deployment of FEMA workers. He put small rescue and communications teams along the Gulf Coast. But it was not until August 29, after the storm hit, that Brown asked the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, to send at least 1,000 federal workers to help with the rescue -- far too little, far too late.
- Response: At 8:14 am on August 29, just after Katrina made landfall, the New Orleans office of the National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning that predicted three to eight feet of water from a levee breach along the Industrial Canal at Tennessee Street. That was the flood that quickly submerged much of the Lower Ninth Ward and nearby areas, trapping thousands of people. Shortly after, the 17th Street Canal levee also was breached. Apparently no one at FEMA or DHS knew, or bothered to find out, that such massive flooding was happening until the next day. Chertoff even tried to suggest, without any basis in fact, that the news media had misled him: "I remember on Tuesday morning picking up newspapers, and I saw headlines, 'New Orleans Dodged the Bullet,'" he said. The Times observes: "When the people in charge of responding to natural disasters ignore weather service bulletins, later claiming to have relied on local newspapers to tell them whether a city is flooded, bad things are going to happen. Once again, FEMA was supposed to be coordinating, but officials apparently did not even bother figuring out what they were supposed to be coordinating the response to."
- Recovery: Brown, Chertoff, and other Bush officials were quickest to lay blame on state and local officials in this area, passing the buck instead of helping the tens of thousands of mostly poor, mostly black refugees in the New Orleans Superdome and Morial Convention Center. Brown told Congress, "And while my heart goes out to people on fixed incomes, it is primarily a state and local responsibility. And in my opinion, it's the responsibility of faith-based organizations, of churches and charities and others to help those people," in what the Times terms "one wildly cynical bit of sworn testimony before the House." There is blame to go around, particularly on the shoulders of New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin and former police chief Edwin Compass. But, as the Times observes, "at the moment of crisis, the buck stops at FEMA. The quality of help that victims of a disaster receive cannot be determined by their location, or their incomes. If Mr. Brown was so dedicated to coordination, he should have been coordinating the effort to get those refugees to safety, not waiting for the church ladies and the Rotarians -- who were also flooded out of their homes."
- Mitigation: The Times writes, "It's too soon to judge FEMA on how well it helps Gulf Coast residents rebuild their lives. Its job is to pull together all the myriad elements of President Bush's program. Whether it does that satisfactorily remains to be seen. One thing is certain: Mr. Brown's not-my-job strategy is not the answer."
- Oct 2: New York Daily News columnist Jack Mathews writes a mea culpa column praising the efforts of left-wing actor Sean Penn to rescue New Orleans refugees. 19 years ago, Mathews wrote an attack on Penn that he now calls "hideously ill-conceived" that he says "embarrasses me to this day." Now, Mathews gives Penn credit for his one-man boat rescue mission along with Penn's outspoken anti-war open letter to the President. "It was an act of patriotism that some called treason," writes Mathews, "and for that and Katrina and all the rest, I say to Penn, you have my respect, man."
Monday, October 3
- Oct 3: Official inquiries
reveal that the responses to Katrina from federal, state and local officials were crippled by the endemic corruption, divisions within the military and troop shortages caused by the Iraq war. The confidential report details how funds for flood control were diverted to other projects, desperately needed National Guards were stuck in Iraq and how military personnel had to "sneak off post" to help with relief efforts because their commander had refused permission. The report was commissioned by the Office of Secretary of Defense as an "independent and critical review" of what went so wrong. It finds, "The US military has long planned for war on two fronts. This is as close as we have come to [that] reality since the Second World War; the results have been disastrous." The document was compiled by Stephen Henthorne, a former professor of the US Army's War College and an adviser to the Pentagon who was a deputy-director in the Louisiana relief efforts. It charts how "corruption and mismanagement within the New Orleans city government" had "diverted money earmarked for improving flood protection to other, more vote-getting, projects. Past mayors and governors gambled that the long-expected Big Killer hurricane would never happen. That bet was lost with Hurricane Katrina." The report concludes that although the US military did a good job in carrying out emergency missions, there were some serious shortcomings. The report states that Brigadier General Michael Barbero, commander of the Joint Readiness Training Centre at Fort Polk, Louisiana, refused permission for special forces units who volunteered to join relief efforts, to do so. General Barbero also refused to release other troops. "The same general did take in some families from Hurricane Katrina, but only military families living off the base," the report says. "He has done a similar thing for military families displaced by Hurricane Rita. However, he declined to share water with the citizens of Leesville, who are out of water, and his civil affairs staff have to sneak off post in civilian clothes to help coordinate relief efforts."
- The report says deployment in the Iraq war led to serious problems. "Another major factor in the delayed response to the hurricane aftermath was that the bulk of the Louisiana and Mississippi National Guard was deployed in Iraq. Even though all the states have 'compacts' with each other, pledging to come to the aid of other states, it takes time, money and effort to activate and deploy National Guard troops from other states to fill in." Henthorne's report states: "The President has indicated several times that he wants the US military to take a more active role in disaster management and humanitarian assistance. There are several reasons why that will not happen easily. (1) Existing laws will not allow the police powers the military will need to be effective. (2) The military is not trained for such a mission and (3) the 'warfighter insurgency' within the US military does not want such a mission and will strongly resist it. Not one civil affairs unit was deployed for either hurricane." The report concludes: "The one thing this disaster has demonstrated [is] the lack of coordinated, in-depth planning and training on all levels of Government, for any/all types of emergency contingencies. 9/11 was an exception because the geographical area was small and contained, but these two hurricanes have clearly demonstrated a national response weakness.... Failure to plan, and train properly has plagued US efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq and now that failure has come home to roost in the United States."
- Oct 3: The search for bodies in New Orleans is called off, despite the fact that thousands of homes, most in the Lower Ninth Ward, have not yet been entered. On October 12, parts of the devasted Ninth Ward will be opened to what will be called a "look and leave" search. The area will not be opened to residents until December. Already, dozens of residents of other areas have come back to their homes after months of waiting to find the dead and decomposing bodies of relatives and friends abandoned and unrescued. One man tells CNN, "so, I'm thinking that, OK, I was going to come and salvage a few pictures or something. And I walk in here. I found my grandma on the floor dead." Orleans Parish coroner Frank Minyard predicts that many more bodies will be found. St. Bernard Parish sherriff Jack Stephens tells CNN, "I was always under the impression that there would be a hard-target search at some point following that to determine whether or not there were any casualties left in those dwellings. As of right now -- in fact, the day before yesterday, in my own jurisdiction, a family came home to discover a family member who had been reported missing. ...It was a horrible -- it was a gruesome sight. Very -- and again, people don't deserve any more grief and pain than they're going through right now. I mean, this whole process has been so excruciatingly screwed up and slow that, I mean, you're starting to feel a real sense of anger and hostility on the part of people locally and, my God, it's well-deserved." To add insult to injury, many of the hundreds of bodies that still lie unclaimed and unidentified are being left in morgues because FEMA is refusing to pay for DNA identification. (Under severe pressure, FEMA will eventually agree to pay for DNA testing through November 26. Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco says that, even though the state's resources are virtually gone, the state will pay for the subsequent testing because it's the moral thing to do.)
Tuesday, October 4
- Oct 4: Reports show that over 90% of the firms landing cleanup and rebuilding contracts in the Gulf Coast are firms based in other places; local firms are not benefiting from the contracts. Over $2 billion worth of contracts have already been awarded; the total allocated from the federal government is currently $60 billion, and expected to rise. Among the contracts analyzed, 3.8 percent of the money went to companies that listed an Alabama address, 2.8 percent to firms in Louisiana and just 1.8 percent went for Mississippi contractors. Taken together, that amounts to less than $200 million. Local and state lawmakers are livid: "The large federal agencies know the large, national corporations -- people who have access. The smaller, local companies do not have that access," says Republican representative Charles Pickering of Mississippi. "so the large corporate players are getting the contracts. And the small, local ones that need to put people back to work are at a disadvantage." In the first few weeks after the storm, most contracts were awarded based on limited competition, or none at all. To fill those contracts, government acquisition officials usually turned to companies they knew well, providing them with large, catch-all deals on the theory they are easier to manage than numerous small contracts, according to Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight. And George Washington University contracting law professor Steven Schooner says lawmakers have taken actions since Katrina hit that have disadvantaged small firms. For instance, Congress approved an increase in the maximum officials could charge to government credit cards in an emergency from $15,000 to $250,000. The change, Schooner says, allowed government officials to quietly make significant, no-bid deals with Fortune-500-size corporations for work normally set aside for small firms. Yesterday the administration backtracked and brought the limit back down to its traditional level.
- Meanwhile, many local firms that want to work with the government say they continue to meet with frustration. Kendall Prewett said he has been trying for weeks to get government subcontracting work for his Mississippi-based debris removal firm, B & P Enterprises, but that neither the government nor the prime contractor, Florida-based AshBritt Inc., is returning his calls. "I don't understand why all these people not from here are working, and the Mississippi contractors aren't," he says. Democratic representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi has asked for a federal investigation into a no-bid, mobile classrooms contract awarded to an out-of-state company that is subcontracting much of the work. He said the job could have been done directly by an in-state firm for roughly half the price. Thompson says many small firms risk going out of business if they don't get work in the reconstruction. "All of these things being done in the name of speeding things up are going to end up having an adverse effect on the recovery," he says. The Baton Rouge-based Shaw Group Inc., which has about 18,000 employees and $3 billion in revenue, has emerged as the largest local prime contractor involved in Hurricane Katrina relief. In addition to helping build temporary housing for displaced residents, the company has a contract to help repair levees and to pump water out of New Orleans. Shaw Group is heavily contracted for overseas work in Iraq as well. The overall small percentage of contracts with local firms "suggests a lack of advance planning to tap local small business partners in an effective disaster response strategy," says Republican senator Olympia Snowe, who chairs the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.
- Oct 4: A volunteer firefighter from Missouri releases excerpts from his diary of his experience with FEMA. The story is not pretty. On Sept 5, the firefighter, who refuses to allow his name to be reported, wrote of "Keystone-Kops-like confusion about how the firefighters were to be transported to the convention center for training. There's not a clear rationale about who's getting sent out when, and there's a lot of hurry up and wait and other disorganization. It helps having been in the military." Three days later, he and his colleagues are shipped to Mobile, Alabama. "We got separated from our original group of eight, despite original orders from Atlanta against this, by our choice of accommodations. FEMA had encouraged the teams to stay in condos at Orange Beach, Fla., and while six members of our team took them up on it, we felt too guilty to stay there. We elected to sleep on cots in the Shriner's Hall in Montgomery. Just before we left for the field, we were pulled aside and informed by a FEMA team supervisor that 'FEMA likes numbers.' So I guess the point of our mission is to gather lots of numbers. Numbers of what? I am too disgusted to ask. We were later told that our job as volunteers would be to collect head counts at shelters and hand out fliers. We asked the team leader why the head-count information couldn't be relayed by phone from the shelters, and the response was that 'the most important thing is that they see your FEMA shirts.'"
- The next day, Sept 9, after driving 250 miles, they found "exactly one person in one shelter. We checked in with the emergency management agency director at the county courthouse to provide the data we collected, as instructed,where they learned that this information had all been provided for him on a printout. After another day of futility, we were fed up with incompetence of biblical proportions. We hinted to the FEMA coordinator that if this sort of wasted effort was the rule, then we saw no point in staying on. We were threatened that if we left, FEMA would make us pay for our flight over, the Marriott lodging in Atlanta and other expenses." Sept 10 saw "the same lack of results" after driving 300 miles. "At least we weren't with one of the teams sent to Fort Smith, Ark., where they found not even one displaced citizen. FEMA, having no idea what else to do with the teams, assigned them public information duties. Their job is to give interviews to the media about all the positive things that FEMA has accomplished -- which are probably extremely brief ones under the circumstances." On Sept 12, he wrote, "Our Barbie Doll coordinator seems more concerned about touching up her makeup and making sure she has a nice place to stay than rectifying the situation. We are continuing to stay at the Shriner's Hall, along with six other FEMA firefighters. The others have sought out cushier accommodations because FEMA will reimburse them as much as $110 a night."
- The next day is wasted passing out fliers. They return to the Atlanta command center to learn about "all of the layers of FEMA command we would be encountering in the field. Once in the field, this alleged hierarchy proved non-existent. In fact, no one has been able to explain what the chain of command is. It turns out our leaders are all retirees with no disaster training who have been given a paycheck and mobile homes or other lodging and turned loose to basically do what they will. On the first day when we arrived in Mobile, these FEMA employees ordered the North Carolina Forestry Service to go out to Wal-Mart and buy them special pillows because their government-issue mobile homes didn't have any. They were told that these pillows were strictly reserved for FEMA employees and were under no circumstances to be given to the volunteers. However, shortly after that one of the women issuing pillows said, 'Hey, you want one?' and I said, 'Sure.' So I am now, against government orders, sleeping on a forbidden FEMA pillow. I'm not sure what the penalty for this offense might be."
- Oct 4: One month after arriving in New Orleans, liberal gadfly Michael Moore reports that he and his staff have been able to distribute the following materials, all donated by readers and other concerned citizens: over 500 tons of of food, water, clothing, medical supplies, baby products, feminine hygiene products, cleaning supplies, power tools, and a boat and trailer for reaching those still flooded by water have been distributed directly to those in need; necessities from over 10,000 aid packages sent via UPS and FedEx; over $2 million dollars in donations, food, water, and supplies; tractor trailers, dozens of 20 foot trucks, six school buses, and other vehicles arrived loaded with supplies, with most staying on to help distribute donations; over 200 chainsaws, 100 generators and 2,000 gallons of bleach. Doctors, physician's assistants, nurse practitioners, psychologists, registered nurses, LPNs, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, and social workers have volunteered from across the country to help create several mobile medical units providing prescription medication, first aid supplies, diabetic testing equipment, insulin and tetanus shots for those digging through the rubble of their homes. People from 37 states drove to New Orleans to work alongside Moore's staff in their camp.
- Moore writes, "The harsh truth that I must report to you is that the federal government and Red Cross relief efforts are still a disorganized, embarrassing mess with little or no help reaching most people -- this more than a month after Katrina. It is the freelance guerilla efforts like ours that are getting through. We aren't waiting for approval and we aren't stopping. We will make sure Bush and Co. pay for their failure later, but right now hundreds of thousands are homeless, hungry and in need of medical attention. And the rest of us have a responsibility to help them. We have joined forces with S.O.S. Katrina, an organization that began as a temporary coalition of pre-existing community organizations that is doing amazing work with volunteers. They have become, with your help, a bright light offering immediate relief to the families who have lost everything. ...Thanks again, everyone, for lending a hand. We won't give up and we know you won't either."
Thursday, October 6
Friday, October 7
- Oct 7: Immigrant and migrant workers, often being housed in horrendous conditions and paid a pittance, are performing the bulk of the menial labor in New Orleans, operating unprotected in toxic conditions and doing the jobs locals could be doing for a decent wage and in acceptable working conditions. "They clear rotten seafood from stinking restaurant freezers, wash excrement from the floors of the Superdome, rip out wads of soaked insulation. The work is hot, nasty and critical to the recovery of New Orleans," reports the AP. "And yet, many of the workers are not actually from New Orleans. Many of those engaged in the huge cleanup and reconstruction effort here -- nobody has an exact count -- are immigrants, both legal and illegal, from Mexico and Central America. Meanwhile, as many as 80,000 New Orleanians sit idle in shelters around the country. They are out of work, homeless and destitute." Local officials wonder why: "I've got nothing against our Hispanic brothers, but we have a whole lot of skilled laborers in shelters that could be doing this work," says Oliver Thomas, president of the City Council. "We could put a whole lot of money in the pockets of New Orleanians by doing this reconstruction work." Roman Feher, an organizer with the Laborers Union, adds, "It's really a shame. We're trying to get people back on their feet. The last thing we need is contractors bringing people in from out of state."
- Mayor Ray Nagin added his voice to the chorus this week, telling local business people: "How do I ensure that New Orleans is not overrun by Mexican workers?" The AP reports, "An investigator with the Laborers Union, Rafael Duran, said that outside the New Orleans Arena, he had encountered Mexican teenagers perhaps 15 or 16 years old who had been removing excrement-fouled carpets. While some cleanup workers in New Orleans are staying in hotels, Duran said the teenagers on the carpet-removal job told him they were sleeping in a field under a tent, and had gotten bitten by mosquitoes. Duran said the laborers had been brought in by Rainbow International Restoration and Cleaning of Waco, Texas. A Rainbow franchise owner leading cleanup efforts in New Orleans, Vincent Beedle, said the workers had been brought in by a subcontractor that was supposed to obey all laws. Outside a French Quarter restaurant, four Hispanic workers were taking a break from clearing 1,000 pounds of rotten shrimp from the freezer. The men, dripping with sweat, were wearing only jeans and T-shirts. 'You can just drive down the street and see people not dressed properly,' Feher said. He said the workers cleaning the restaurants should have worn protective suits, rubber boots, rubber gloves and respirators."
- Oct 7: Hundreds of Los Angeles FEMA employees are complaining that they were hired by an outsourcing agency, Teletech, to handle calls coming from the Gulf Coast in an emergency call center, worked for a month, were fired because they had not passed background checks, and now are not going to be paid for their work. Many of the workers were hired on the spot for $14 an hour to give hurricane survivors someone to get the ball rolling for federal help. Some former employees say they believe the call-in center is a huge waste of taxpayer money. As long as a hurricane survivor is logged in, they will get their money, the workers claim. And some workers were never given duties: "I was supervising people who were here for weeks at a time, at $17 an hour, eight-hour days, paid to read the paper or read a book because they couldn't log into the computer," says former temporary worker Jeanne McLaughlin. There were instances of employees not able to do their work, but Teletech insisted that the situation was corrected within one eight-hour shift, according to the company. Some people have not been paid in a timely manner, Teletech claims, but that was because some employees did not fill out their time sheets correctly. Teletech says they are working to correct the problems, and everyone should be paid within 48 hours. Additional employees will be hired temporarily.
Sunday, October 9
- The St. Petersberg Times reports that, while thousands of evacuees remain homeless, thousands of apartments sit unoccupied throughout the region. The obvious solution -- putting the two together with rent vouchers and cash provisions -- has bypassed FEMA, who insists on buying manufactured homes for the evacuees and/or temporarily putting them up on expensive cruise ships. To date, FEMA's housing is sheltering fewer than 8,000 evacuees. It wasn't until the end of September, almost a month after Katrina hit, that FEMA created a program to provide three months' rent with the possibility to renew. And even then, housing experts and apartment complex owners say, it did little to market available apartments, work with local complexes or use a popular existing voucher program. "It's a grossly mismanaged effort," says Ronald Utt, a housing expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation, usually in step with the Bush administration. "At some point, it goes beyond incompetence. It almost seems to be willful." "I don't have a clue what FEMA is doing," says Ben Morris, mayor of Slidell, Louisiana, which lost 10,000 to 12,000 homes. "We're kind of the forgotten element in this." From the start, housing experts encouraged FEMA and the White House to issue emergency housing vouchers, the same way they did after the Northridge earthquake in California in 1994. FEMA was even offered blocks of apartments to rent for evacuees, but the government declined. Before Katrina, the rental vacancy rate in the South was higher than usual -- 12 percent -- and about 1.1 million apartments costing less than $700 a month were estimated to be vacant in the region.
- Even after Katrina, apartments were available. In Baton Rouge, where the population had more than doubled with storm evacuees, dozens of apartment listings appeared in the local Advocate. And 150 are still listed for Baton Rouge in an online database. In Texas, the housing problem is obvious. The Dallas/Fort Worth area had 50,000 available apartments; Houston had 90,000. Many of those apartments remain empty, apartment association officials say, while 11,000 people live in shelters and 164,000 in hotels in the state. Apartment officials say they are outraged that for weeks none of this information was mentioned on FEMA's Web site or in other places, such as the Recovery Times, a newsletter given to Louisiana victims that lists resources. A news release announcing an online rental database was issued October 3. "It's frustrating when you know there's a great solution there," says Jim Arbury, senior vice president of a joint program between the National Multi Housing Council and the National Apartment Association. "It would not take much to solve this housing thing right away. They are sitting there with apartments empty."
- Acting FEMA director David Paulison assured a congressional oversight committee Thursday that progress is being made. "I think we're going to see things starting to move very quickly now as we get this ball rolling and get it moving along the way," Paulison said. "And it's going to be slow, but we're going to do it methodically. We're going to make sure people are treated with respect and treated with dignity and put them in places that it's decent for them to live." FEMA is spending about $23 billion on housing and individual assistance, more than a third of the $60 billion Congress gave the agency for Katrina disaster relief. About $3.6 billion has been set aside for manufactured homes, only 5,000 of which are occupied after FEMA failed to find land for them, and $236 million for unpopular cruise ships, which are less than half full and mostly house emergency workers. "They so completely screwed up to start with so they immediately rushed to do something," says Edgar Olsen, an economics professor who studies housing at the University of Virginia. "In retrospect, it certainly was a mistake." After weeks of criticism, Bush unveiled a new rental aid program in a speech in New Orleans in mid-September. But days later, FEMA housing officials could not explain the program and said they needed time to develop it. Susan Popkin, a housing researcher at the Urban Institute, says she is surprised the government did not expand its successful Section 8 voucher program used in the Northridge earthquake. Created in the 1970s, it provides vouchers to 2 million people. "It's the best solution we have. It makes a lot more sense," she says. "Had they gone with the voucher program, and built on what they know, they could have gotten people into housing faster." After Katrina hit, the Senate approved a $3.5-billion proposal to provide one-year, $10,000 vouchers to more than 350,000 families. But House Republicans blocked the proposal.
Monday, October 10
- Oct 10: Democracy Now! breaks the story of around 4,500 American Indian tribe members suffering along with the rest of the Katrina victims, but receiving absolutely no help from any governmental authorities. Says Houma tribal chief Brenda Dardar-Robichaux, "The aid we have gotten has been from people who are upset with the administration, from people who feel that they did not act quickly enough and properly, and people who want to come out and make a difference. ...We have been in the federal recognition process now for 21 years, and we still have not received what is called the final determination from the federal government. And that has hindered our relief efforts, as well, because we're not qualifying for certain money, certain funding, certain relief aid that would be out there if we were a federally recognized tribe. And so we are having to do this on our own." Charles Verdin, Chair of the Pointe-au-Chien Indian tribe, adds, "FEMA has visited a couple of families, and a couple of families have received some help. But most of our members have received nothing and have not even seen FEMA."
Tuesday, October 11
- Oct 11: Loyola University law professor Bill Quigley documents some of the many ways that the poor of New Orleans are being victimized again, this time by governmental agencies. Quigley writes, "When those in power close the public schools, close public housing, fire people from their jobs, refuse to provide access to affordable public healthcare, and close off all avenues for justice, it is not necessary to erect a sign outside of New Orleans saying 'Poor People Not Allowed To Return.' People cannot come back in these circumstances and that is exactly what is happening. There are 28,000 people still living in shelters in Louisiana. There are 38,000 public housing apartments in New Orleans, many in good physical condition. None have been reopened. The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimated that 112,000 low-income homes in New Orleans were damaged by the hurricane. Yet, local, state and federal authorities are not committed to re-opening public housing. Louisiana Congressman Richard Baker (R-LA) said, after the hurricane, 'We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did.'
- "New Orleans public schools enrolled about 60,000 children before the hurricane. The school board president now estimates that no schools on the city's east bank, where the overwhelming majority of people live, will reopen this academic school year. Every one of the 13 public schools on the mostly-dry west bank of New Orleans was changed into charter schools in an afternoon meeting a few days ago. A member of the Louisiana state board of education estimated that at most 10,000 students will attend public schools in New Orleans this academic year. The City of New Orleans laid off 3,000 workers. The public school system laid off thousands of its workers. The Archdiocese of New Orleans laid off 800 workers from its central staff and countless hundreds of others from its parish schools. The Housing Authority has laid off its workers. The St. Bernard Sheriff's Office laid off half of its workers. Renters in New Orleans are returning to find their furniture on the street and strangers living in their apartments at higher rents -- despite an order by the Governor that no one can be evicted before October 25. Rent in the dry areas have doubled and tripled.
- "Environmental chemist Wilma Subra cautions that earth and air in the New Orleans area appear to be heavily polluted with heavy metal and organic contaminants from more than 40 oil spills and extensive mold. The people, Subra stated, are subject to 'double insult -- the chemical insult from the sludge and biological insult from the mold.' Homes built on the Agriculture Street landfill -- a federal toxic site -- stewed for weeks in floodwaters. Yet, the future of Charity Hospital of New Orleans, the primary place for free comprehensive medical care in the state of Louisiana, is under furious debate and discussion and may never re-open again. Right now, free public healthcare is being provided by volunteers at grassroots free clinics like Common Ground -- a wonderful and much needed effort but not a substitute for public healthcare.
- "The jails and prisons are full and staying full. Despite orders to release prisoners, state and local corrections officials are not releasing them unless someone can transport them out of town. Lawyers have to file lawsuits to force authorities to release people from prison who have already served all of their sentences! Judges are setting $100,000 bonds for people who steal beer out of a vacant house, while landlords break the law with impunity. People arrested before and after the hurricane have not even been formally charged by the prosecutor. Because the evidence room is under water, part of the police force is discredited, and witnesses are scattered around the country, everyone knows few will ever see a trial, yet timid judges are reluctant to follow the constitution and laws and release them on reasonable bond.
- "People are making serious money in this hurricane but not the working and poor people who built and maintained New Orleans. President Bush lifted the requirement that jobs re-building the Gulf Coast pay a living wage. The Small Business Administration has received 1.6 million disaster loan applications and has approved 9 in Louisiana. A US Senator reported that maintenance workers at the Superdome are being replaced by out of town workers who will work for less money and no benefits. He also reported that seventy-five Louisiana electricians at the Naval Air Station are being replaced by workers from Kellogg Brown and Root -- a subsidiary of Halliburton.
- "Take it to the courts, you say? The Louisiana Supreme Court has been closed since the hurricane and is not due to reopen until at least October 25, 2005. While Texas and Mississippi have enacted special rules to allow out of state lawyers to come and help people out, the Louisiana Supreme court has not. Nearly every person victimized by the hurricane has a price-gouging story. Yet, the Louisiana Attorney General has filed exactly one suit for price-gouging -- against a campground. Likewise, the US attorney has prosecuted 3 people for wrongfully seeking $2000 FEMA checks.
- "No schools. No low-income apartments. No jobs. No healthcare. No justice.
- "A final example? You can fly on a plane into New Orleans, but you cannot take a bus. Greyhound does not service New Orleans at this time.
- "You saw the people who were left behind last time. The same people are being left behind all over again. You raised hell about the people left behind last time. Please do it again."
- Citing privacy concerns, FEMA is restricting the release of information about evacuees, hindering the efforts of families to find out whether their loved ones are alive and if so, where they are being housed. FEMA has rejected a request by Texas officials for access to its database of the more than 100,000 evacuees who have registered for state aid, according to the governor's office. FEMA has also declined requests from five states to cross-check a database of convicted sex offenders and parolees against a list of evacuees requesting federal assistance. FEMA officials have started prohibiting workers at a large shelter in San Antonio from sharing information about evacuees even with family members unless the evacuees had signed release forms. In many cases, relief workers said, such forms were lost or never presented in the chaos of the exodus. FEMA authorities made similar restrictions last week when they took over management of shelters in Beaumont, Texas. "If we find someone, we've been instructed to tell family members, 'He or she is alive and well in San Antonio,' and that's it," says Rene Gauna, a San Antonio city employee working at a FEMA-managed shelter at the old Kelly Air Force Base. "We're no longer allowed to release new addresses or telephone numbers or tell people where their loved ones have moved."
- Shannon Perez, Texas communications director for Service Employees International Union, one of the nation's largest labor organizations, is trying without much success to find 314 members from New Orleans who are believed to be in Texas. Perez says she wants to find them because the union has raised $1 million for SEIU members victimized by the hurricane. "We have money for these folks, but we can't access the information," she says. "Either the databases are incomplete or we're not allowed to find out where our members are." In some regions, law enforcement officials met planeloads of Katrina evacuees and ran criminal background checks on all of them, prompting criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union. This occurred in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Kentucky and other states to which evacuees from the hurricane zone were airlifted. "If a busload of seniors went to Texas to see a Cowboys game, would they do a background check on them? Why are these people any different?" asks Christopher Calabrese, a lawyer at ACLU headquarters in New York.
Wednesday, October 12
- Oct 12: Washington Post reporter Jennifer Moses writes of the woes still facing Katrina and Rita victims in southeastern Louisiana. "For one thing, there wasn't just one hurricane, there were two, and while the national media focused on Houston's horrific traffic jams, Hurricane Rita managed to wipe out most of southwest Louisiana, displace additional tens of thousands and cause huge disruptions in the state's already crippled economy. [FEMA], always on its toes, managed to confuse Iberia Parish, where hundreds of homes were wiped off the face of the earth, with Iberville Parish, which had minimal damage, and gave disaster relief to the latter while withholding it from the former. In some neighborhoods, garbage hasn't been picked up in weeks. Local energy rates, already among the highest in the nation, are about to go a lot higher. Jobs are as rare as snow in August, and thanks to Washington's prevailing ethic of handing out the goodies only to chartered members of the Goodies Club, barely a trickle of cleanup jobs are going to Louisiana businesses or Louisiana workers, and those few that are magically trickling down into the local economy are grossly underpaid. This because the president suspended the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires that federal contractors pay workers prevailing wages on federally funded projects. The Louisiana State University system, which includes not only the state university but also three public hospitals, is about to lay off 5,000 more workers. Trailer parks intended to house the displaced are being set up in overstrained and underserviced areas that all happen to be -- surprise! -- majority black, while Baton Rouge's solid, if old and often abandoned housing stock, is left to rot. Meanwhile, the governor flails around, her heart in the right place and her hand in a wallet stuffed with IOUs. Happy fall, y'all."
- Government assistance is almost non-existent: "Nor is there any kind of FEMA presence [in Baton Rouge, currently hosting thousands of evacuees and suffering from its own damage from Rita], FEMA having set up elsewhere. You'll hear mothers complain that a shelter is no place to school -- let alone raise -- a child. And you'll hear one horror story after another about how FEMA has denied evacuees any financial assistance, accused applicants of fraud, lost their case numbers or given a family's assistance to estranged ex-husbands who have long since moved to faraway states. The financial assistance the evacuees are waiting on is $2,000.... In the meantime, food, shelter and clothing are being provided not by the kindly hand of Uncle Sam but by the courtesy of the Red Cross. ...[T]he federal government, having apparently lost its ability to govern, has gladly allowed private organizations, and especially the churches, to shoulder most of the burden of care, granting Jesus primary responsibility for clothing the naked and feeding the hungry. But even Jesus is beginning to feel the strain. You can see it in the eyes of the faithful, as they line up for handouts at Bethany World Prayer Center or Istrouma Baptist Church. You can see it in the exhausted faces of children enrolled in the 'second shift' of already dysfunctional, crowded schools. You can even see it on the roads, where ordinarily placid drivers, faced with hours-long commutes, morph into desperate maniacs. No one knows what's to become of us. And, sure, folks are still patriotic, flying their American flags and displaying pro-American bumper stickers on their cars. But the whole state is in mourning for the place we once were, silently praying that we won't be washed away."
Thursday, October 13
- Oct 13: The Louisiana state attorney general is ordering an investigation into allegations that doctors and medical personnel at New Orleans's Memorial Medical Center considered putting some patients to death in the days after Katrina struck. At least 35 bodies have been autopsied for evidence of fatal doses of morphine and other drugs. The bodies of 45 people were removed from the hospital. Of those, 11 people had been in the hospital morgue before the storm, and 34 people -- most of them weak patients in a long-term care center within the hospital -- died after Katrina blew through. Published reports on the inquiry have relied heavily on allegations from Dr. Bryant King that doctors had discussed giving patients lethal overdoses of narcotics and that an administrator had suggested praying about it. Two Memorial staff doctors who were at the hospital until the last patient left said no such discussions ever took place. The administrator who allegedly urged praying denied doing so, says Steve Campanini, a spokesman for Tenet Healthcare Corp., Memorial's owner. Under these trying circumstances, "physicians and staff...performed heroically to save the lives of their patients," Campanini says in a statement. And if anyone had thought of mercy killing, "I'm of the opinion...that it would have been brought up through proper channels in the medical staff," replies Dr. Glenn Casey, the hospital's head of anesthesiology. "That never happened." Dr. Richard Deichmann, an internal-medicine specialist who was at the hospital until the last patient left, is "really surprised" by King's charges, says his wife. The inquiry was sparked by the investigation of deaths of 34 residents at St. Rita's Nursing Home. The owners of that St. Bernard home have been booked with 34 counts of negligent homicide. According to King's sister Rachelle, hospital management "decided to selectively withhold food and water from patients. ...Doctors are being forced to decide who gets to live and who will starve to death." Campanini denies that allegation, saying, "Our focus was on saving lives and getting people out."
- Oct 13: Another firefighter comes forward with his story of FEMA incompetence and his own firing as a result. Jay Adams, a veteran firefighter from Charlotte, NC, was among the 1,000 firefighters hired by FEMAto go to the Gulf Coast and help victims of Hurricane Katrina. Adams's experience shows again what should have been an attempt to bring much-needed help to the stricken Gulf Coast was actually a thinly veiled PR attempt to use firefighters to build up FEMA's flagging reputation. Columnist Tony Messenger writes, "as Adams talked about FEMA's ridiculous attempt to use firefighters as public relations dummies...I listened to a man with pride talk about feeling used." Adams and his fellow Charlotte firefighters were fired, not for incompetence or a lack of willingness to work, but because they refused to wear blue shirts flying FEMA's flag. "I am 33 years old," Adams says. "I have been a career firefighter 14 years. I was a volunteer firefighter 15 years in addition to that. Without a doubt, this FEMA experience is the biggest disappointment in my life." Adams volunteered for duty even before the FEMA call-up hit his department. "I was dying to do something," he says. Adams knew the job FEMA wanted the firefighters for was some sort of community relations. Still, he figured, firefighters in the field could do some good. He and several members of his department loaded up on the kind of gear they might need. They flew to Atlanta, and then, for a couple of days, they sat around waiting for somebody to tell them what to do. They had been called up for a week before they did anything. The situation was ludicrous. The official in charge of deployment quit one night. The firefighters' information wasn't logged into the computer. Finally, they begged somebody to send them into the field. Eight members of the Charlotte team were sent to Mississippi. Their destination changed three times on the drive down. Finally, they ended up at Camp Barron Point, a center set up by the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service in Forrest County. Adams says the FEMA official in charge of their deployment told them he couldn't figure out how best to send them out. "Let's see, seven teams, seven counties," Adams says acerbically. "How in the world do we figure this one out? Get MIT on the phone." Before finally being deployed, Adams says, he and his colleagues were advised by the emergency management director of Forrest County to get rid of the FEMA shirts. "I think his direct quote was, 'I don't have the security personnel available for eight people walking around in this county in FEMA shirts,'" Adams recalls. "He was serious. We took him at his word."
- The people of the county were dying for FEMA support, Adams says, and there was much animosity toward the federal department. Making it worse was the fact that the firefighters sent out on behalf of FEMA had no information to offer about disaster relief. They were given fliers with phone numbers to call in a county in which working phones were scarce. "We were there purely for show," he says. After a second day of not accomplishing much -- they checked in at a shelter as requested and passed out a few fliers -- the firefighters from Charlotte decided to speak up. They had been separated from two of their fellow firefighters, who ended up going out on their own, and with other emergency workers helped set up a makeshift disaster relief center in Pearlington, Mississippi. They sent their team leader to talk to the FEMA folks at the camp. She came back with the news they had been fired. "We were relieved of duty for refusing to wear our blue FEMA shirts," Adams says. Frustrated, they packed up and left. They turned in their FEMA gear and went to Pearlington to check on their colleagues. And then they made the long trek back to Charlotte, chagrined they didn't feel like they had helped one bit. "I consider us to be 'do-ers," Adams says, "and we didn't even get a chance. The whole prevailing FEMA attitude was, 'Don't worry about it, you're getting paid.' That's just not right." He adds, "Firefighters in this nation have an unspoken bond with the people that need us. If you call, we will come as fast as we can to help make your problem better. FEMA needs to adopt this doctrine."
Wednesday, October 19
- Oct 19: DHS head Michael Chertoff now says the bulk of the blame for the catastrophic response to Katrina can be laid to the failure of FEMA to plan for its response, and not because of the failures of state and local officials. Chertoff's assessment, given in testimony before a Senate investigative panel, contrasts sharply with testimony offered earlier by former FEMA Director Michael Brown, who blamed the "dysfunction" of Louisiana state and local officials for the problems that hobbled the relief effort. "From my own experience, I don't endorse those views," Chertoff tells members of Congress. He adds that he found the governors and mayors of the region to be responsive as the crisis unfolded. He denies Brown's contention that FEMA was "emaciated" after it was folded into the massive Department of Homeland Security in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Brown had testified that once it was subsumed into the department, FEMA suffered budget cuts and a "brain drain" of experienced officials. Chertoff insists that between 2001 and 2005, "FEMA's core funding increased from $349 million [annually] to $447 million," and its number of employees swelled from 2,057 to 2,445. "I would take issue with the idea that FEMA had been cut," he says.
- The sheer scope of the damage inflicted by Katrina overwhelmed FEMA and exposed underlying flaws in the structure and management of the agency, Chertoff says. The agency's problems stemmed from a failure to restructure and modernize itself, not from a lack of funding, he adds. He also denies, in the face of tremendous evidence, that there was a lack of urgency at the highest levels of the federal government as the hurricane approached the Louisiana coast. As urgent problems, he cites inadequate logistics and communications systems and the need to "replenish its ranks at the senior level with experienced staff." Democrats and Republicans alike assail Chertoff for working from home the weekend before the hurricane made landfall, for failing to travel to the region earlier, and for failing to question Brown more intently in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane about what he was doing to rescue people and deliver supplies of food and water to those stranded. The lawmakers also sharply question him about FEMA's system for awarding contracts, criticizing it for too often paying retail prices for goods and services and too seldom awarding contracts to local businesses struggling to survive.
- The harshest criticism comes from Democrat Cynthia McKinney, who asks Chertoff why he shouldn't be charged with negligent homicide for failing to rescue flood victims who died in nursing homes and hospitals when help failed to arrive for days after the levees broke and New Orleans flooded. Chertoff replies that the scenes of suffering he watched on television were "heart-wrenching," and adds that he grew increasingly frustrated as the days passed after the levees broke and rescue operations seemed slow, disorganized and cumbersome. "There are many things that did not work well with the response," he says. Chertoff says he had trusted Brown, whom he repeatedly referred to as his "battlefield commander," to handle operations on the ground and to build a unified command with state and local officials and with the Pentagon. Chertoff repeatedly reminds the committee that "I'm not a hurricane expert," and says he had left the details to FEMA's experienced staff. Lawmakers from both parties express disbelief at some of Chertoff's testimony and castigate him for failing to take direct control earlier as it became apparent that thousands of people were left stranded for days in New Orleans after the levees broke. "We know very little about the role that you played," says Democrat Charlie Melancon. Chertoff says he had stayed in Washington, marshaling resources and ensuring that Brown had everything he said he needed. By the end of the first week, Chertoff said, he had decided to have Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad Allen replace Brown. A week later, Chertoff relieved Brown of responsibility for the affected region and sent him back to Washington. Brown later resigned.
- October 19: FEMA official Marty Bahamonde, the first official to arrive in New Orleans, testifies before the Senate that he tried repeatedly to warn his bosses, including Chertoff and Brown, of the disastrous conditions facing the Gulf after Katrina's August 29 landfall, but his warnings were roundly ignored. "I told [Brown] that the Superdome conditions were deplorable, and that we desperately needed food and water," Bahamonde tells the Senate Homeland Security panel. "I believed at the time and still do today, that I was confirming the worse-case scenario that everyone had always talked about regarding New Orleans." His testimony contradicts Brown, who has said he didn't learn of the conditions until days later and that local officials were most responsible for the sluggish response. Instead, Brown made plans to eat in a Baton Rouge restaurant and go on a television program later that night to tout his agency's achievements with Katrina. "There was a systematic failure at all levels of government to understand the magnitude of the situation," Bahamonde testifies. "The leadership from top down in our agency is unprepared and out of touch." According to Bahamonde's testimony, combined with the dozens of e-mails sent to and from Brown on August 29 and 30, Brown and his aides were far more concerned with his restaurant visits and his appearances on television than actual responses to the calamity.
Thursday, October 20
- Oct 20: You would think that by now, the federal government's disaster relief programs would finally be running with efficiency and drive. Not hardly. According to medical professionals working in the area, conditions are still horrendous and disorganized. FEMA continues to top the list; author Andrew Gumbel calls it "next to useless." Relief workers are not being provided to areas that desperately need their help. The agency is not paying for emergency work it has authorized. Huge numbers of doctors and nurses are being told not to bother joining in; those that defy FEMA's orders and plunge in are finding that thousands upon thousands of evacuees need immediate medical care and aren't getting it. Only a few days ago, NO on-site medical care was provided for the 5,000 evacuees at the Cajundome, except for volunteers working on their own. As for the Red Cross, that quasi-governmental organization and FEMA...aren't talking to one another. Sanitation in the shelters is horrific. Some medical professionals believe outbreaks of tuberculosis or other, even worse diseases are merely a matter of time. In Baton Rouge's River Center, over 2000 evacuees are being virtually ignored. Mothers with infants are being given no more than three diapers for their children, and are told, against all sensible medical advice, to simply wipe them off and reuse them once they become soiled. "That's a great way to spread disease and get the whole place infected," says volunteer Dr. Graham Waring. "We almost got thrown out of there for helping out and distributing supplies. They told us, 'You guys are building too much dependence in these people.'" Waring observes, "If you don't do something for yourself, it's not going to happen."
- Oct 20: Victims of Hurricane Katrina receiving aid from private faith-based charities, which are receiving funding from FEMA to provide assistance, are finding that the aid comes with a price: high-pressure proselytizing that many of the victims find unwelcome. "Bibles and tracts go out with everything we put out," says the Reverend Flip Benham of Operation Save America, the virulently anti-abortion organization formerly known as Operation Rescue. "FEMA's decision was likely driven by politics," says Rob Boston, the assistant director of communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "It seems like a crass effort by the Bush Administration to take advantage of a tragic situation by placating his conservative constituency." The executive director of Americans United, the Reverend Barry Lynn, adds, "After FEMA's ineptitude in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, it's distressing to see the Bush administration making even more blunders. We've never complained about using a religious organization as a distribution point for food or clothing or anything else. [But] direct cash reimbursements would be unprecedented. Before you turn over millions of taxpayer dollars to churches, there must be strict accountability and safeguards to protect the civil and religious liberty rights of those who need help." Lynn adds, "some religious organizations are openly using the hurricane relief efforts to win new converts. If these groups can't separate their evangelism from their relief work, they should not be eligible for public funding. People displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita should not be subjected to unwanted, high-pressure religious coercion as the price of getting help from their own government."
- Oct 20: US representative Richard Baker, a Louisiana Republican, submits a bill to the House of Representatives; the bill, if passed, would provide for a federal buyout of damaged and destroyed homes in the ravaged Gulf Coast, and provide for the restoration, rezoning, and selling of tracts of abandoned land to developers. Of the wide swaths of devastated neighborhoods, Baker says, "It's one thing to say 'let the market decide,' but that only works when an actual market exists, when market forces provide people with a reasonable expectation of what others will do in order to make their own decisions, but I would say that in this case there is basically no market, and as such people have little or no options. That's why I've argued that the situation calls for an unprecedented solution, through a corporation that basically remakes the market, reintroduces market forces, gets property back into commerce in a necessarily more comprehensive approach, and then gradually recedes from the marketplace over time. But the first concern remains and holds precedence: we have over 200,000 destroyed homes and those [90-day] payment grace periods are ending, and anyway, they can't last forever. People need answers, and we need to start getting them some quickly." Baker's plan has little support among fellow Republicans, and is opposed by the White House.
Friday, October 21
- Oct 21: As the death toll in New Orleans passes 1000, more bodies are expected to be found as rescue workers delve into the hardest-hit areas. Many houses have still not been entered by family members or rescue workers. Previously, homes that seemed abandoned or were locked were not allowed to be entered, but that restriction has now been lifted. The bulk of the dead seem to be elderly people and children.
- Oct 21: The corporations given federal contracts to rebuild Gulf Coast communities and provide disaster relief are hiring illegal immigrants at wages far below federal minimums, and refusing to hire local workers. A subcontractor hired by Halliburton has been found to have employed almost 100 illegal immigrants instead of 75 Louisiana electricians originally slated to perform the contracted duties. The immigrants are being housed in tents. One illegal worker, a Zapotec Indian from Oaxaca, Mexico hired by a Halliburton subcontractor, reports that he was lured to the Gulf by promises of $8/hour work plus room and board. Instead, he and many of his fellow workers were "fired" after three weeks of hard labor on an area naval base with no pay and no food. "They gave us two meals a day and sometimes only one," he recalls. The subcontractor, United Disaster Relief, says they fired the workers because the company hadn't been paid in two months; UDR claims that its contractor, KBR, the infamous Halliburton subsidiary, hasn't paid that company either. Reporter Roberto Lovato writes, "A shadowy labyrinth of contractors, subcontractors and job brokers, overseen by no single agency, have created a no man's land where nobody seems to be accountable for the hiring -- and abuse -- of these workers."
- The illegal workers were brought in by the truckload by Halliburton and other companies after the Bush administration suspended the Davis-Bacon Act, requiring area companies to pay their workers comparable wages, and waived the requirement for contractors rebuilding the Gulf Coast to provide valid I-9 employment eligibility forms completed by their workers. These moves allowed Halliburton/KBR and its subcontractors to hire undocumented workers, make grandiose promises, and pay them whatever wages they felt like paying -- or in many cases, paying nothing at all. Several workers' rights groups are filing lawsuits on behalf of the abused immigrant workers. "Latino workers are being invited to New Orleans and the South without the proper conditions to protect them," says Victoria Cintra, who represents one such organization. Cintra, a Cuban exile and born-again Christian, has since seen a small tent city of homeless immigrants spring up in the yard of her church, Pass Road Baptist, in Gulfport. "This is evil on top of evil on top of evil," she says. "The Bush administration and Halliburton have opened up a Pandora's box that's not going to close now." Halliburton/KBR is the general contractor with overarching responsibility for the federal cleanup contracts covering Katrina-damaged naval bases. Even so, there is an utter lack of transparency with the process -- and that invites malfeasance, says James Hale, a vice president of the Laborers' International Union of North America. "To my knowledge, not one member of Congress has been able to get their hands on a copy of a contract that was handed out to Halliburton or others," Hale says. "There is no central registry of Katrina contracts available. No data on the jobs or scope of the work."
- Hale says that his union's legislative staff has pressed members of Congress for more information; apparently the legislators were told that they could not get copies of the contracts because of "national security" concerns. "If the contracts handed out to these primary contractors are opaque, then the contracts being let to the subcontractors are just plain invisible," Hale says. "There is simply no ability to ascertain or monitor the contractor-subcontractor relationships. This is an open invitation for exploitation, fraud and abuse." Democratic senator Carl Levin opposes the illegal hirings, citing their "serious social ramifications." He says it devastates "local workers who have been hit twice, because they lost their homes." Fellow Democratic senator Mary Landrieu says, "It is a downright shame that any contractor would use this tragedy as an opportunity to line his pockets by breaking the law and hiring a low-skilled, low-wage and illegal work force." Meanwhile, Halliburton/KBR is covering itself by issuing blanket denials and referring all questions to the US military.
Sunday, October 23
- Oct 23: Nearly two months after Katrina, many Biloxi, Mississippi residents are still waiting for the trailers promised them by FEMA. Right now, they live in the rubble of their destroyed homes or with friends, or at shelters. The AP's Adam Goldman writes, "They live among starving cats, rotting heaps of garbage and constant, buzzing flies. The bathroom is anywhere and everywhere. The filth is inescapable." Naturally, these are the poorest residents of Biloxi, the ones with no other recourse except government assistance. "We just wait and pray," says Kenneth Albus, who has spent weeks in the wreckage of his rented house, taking care of his friend Margaret Nevels, a 65-year-old woman with swollen ankles and a heart condition. FEMA claims, of course, that it is doing the best that it can.
Thursday, October 27
- Oct 27: Exxon reports that its profits soared by 75% to a record-breaking $9.92 billion in the third quarter of 2005, profits largely coming from the tremendous spike in gasoline and natural gas prices after the Katrina strike. Other oil companies report similar record profits. Oil company executives deny that their companies were involved in price-gouging.
Friday, October 28
- Oct 28: In part due to the agitation of organizations such as Extend the Deadline, FEMA announced that it is extending the aid application deadline to January 11th, 2006 for all Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. This general announcement follows earlier announcements of more limited extensions of the deadline.
- Nov 22: The $32 billion allocated for the repair and upgrade of New Orleans's flood control system, including the levees, isn't nearly enough to strengthen the system to provide protection from a Category 5 hurricane, which is what most residents and local politicians desire. Even if the money was allocated, experts say it would take a decade or more before such a system would be complete; such a system would rival the flood-protection systems protecting cities like London and Amsterdam. And experts disagree over the necessity of such a flood-protection system. Herbert Saffir, a co-creator of the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale, says he would not recommend designing a Category 5 protection system because such a storm would be unlikely to hit any particular spot more than once in 500 years: only three Category 5 storms in recorded history have made landfall in the United States. But others disagree: Maarten van der Vlist, an engineer with Rijkswaterstaat, the Dutch equivalent of the Corps of Engineers, says that after a disastrous flood in 1953, the Netherlands chose to protect against flooding that occurs once every 10,000 years. Jurjen Battjes, a professor of civil engineering at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and an expert on levee systems, said that approach has worked well in his country. "You don't want to let your enemy invade deeply into your territory," says Battjes. "Close your fence at the outside." Most experts on both sides of the debate say that rebuilding the wetlands that stand between New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico is critical to provide any real protection from a powerful storm. (New York Times/The Ledger)
- Nov 27: Two months after Bush promises to take "bold action" to confront the problems of race and poverty underlying the tragedy of Katrina, almost nothing has been done to make good on that promise. Bush's call to "rise above the legacy of inequality" with programs to substantially increase home ownership and train workers for better jobs has gone virtually unheeded by Congress. "You don't need a lot of new programs," says Republican senator John Sununu. Congressional Republicans are trying to gut social program spending to match the $70 billion allocated (but largely unspent) to address the problems along the Gulf Coast. Most observers on both sides of the aisle believe that Bush never intended to spend anything more on social programs, that his "bold action" is nothing more than toothless public-relations rhetoric.
- Dec 5: A special House committee investigating the federal response to Katrina reveals the contents of correspondance between FEMA officials that proves the officials knew as early as September 1 that their response to the storm would be woefully inadequate, even when the needs were easily anticipatable. William Carwile, the former head of FEMA operations in Mississippi, wrote in one e-mail, "system appears broken." Many officials, including regional response official Robert Fenton, predicted "serious riots" because of critical shortages of food and water. In his response, Carwile wrote, "Turns out this report is true. ....There seems to be no way we will get commodities in amounts beyond those indicated below. And it turns out these shortfalls were known much earlier in the day and we were not informed. ...Will need big time law enforcement reinforcements tomorrow. All our good will here in MS will be very seriously impacted by noon tomorrow. Have been holding it together as it is." The commission is a mostly ad hoc affair organized and operated by Republicans and boycotted by Democrats angry at being shut out of participation.
- Dec 6: Victims of Katrina testify before a House panel looking into the government's response to the disaster; many state their beliefs that racism played an ugly part in determining who would be helped and to what extent. The victims "died from abject neglect," states community activist Leah Hodges. "We left body bags behind... The people of New Orleans were stranded in a flood and were allowed to die." Hodges is responding to an insulting defense of the government by Republican Jeff Sessions, who tries to compare the government's response to the Holocaust: "Not a single person was marched into a gas chamber and killed." "No one is going to tell me it wasn't a race issue," says former New Orleans resident Patricia Thompson, who now lives in Texas. "Yes, it was an issue of race. Because of one thing: when the city had pretty much been evacuated, the people that were left there mostly was black." Thompson and other evacuees tell of horrific conditions after the storm that went unaddressed for days, including one woman who tells the panel that, while she huddled in a temporary shelter, she was "one sunrise away" from being devoured by maggots and flies. Another tells of her granddaughter being targeted by military personnel, some of whom focused laser sights on the child's forehead; many others tell of being the victims of racial slurs by police and military officials. Republican Christopher Shays challenges the veracity of some of the victims, saying, "I don't want to be offensive when you've gone though such incredible challenges, [but] I just don't frankly believe it." "You believe what you want," Thompson retorts.
- Dec 9: The official death toll of around 1,300 dead from Katrina is likely far short of the real number. Reliable estimates from the The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the National Center For Missing Adults show that as many as 6,600 people are still unaccounted for, including 1,300 children. Journalist Tina Susman calls the system that attempts to track the victims "utter confusion." Not all of the 6,600 unaccounted-for victims are dead, by any means; many of them are lost in the system, probably in different states, unable to contact family members or be contacted.
- Dec 11: A Bush advisor admits that the administration has worked to keep Katrina out of the news: according to the advisor, the storm and the calamity that followed "has fallen so far off the rader, you can't find it." Washington Post reporter Mike Allen says on Meet the Press, "I'm going to tell you something to amaze you; it amazed me yesterday. The last time the president was in the hurricane region was October 11, two months ago. The president stood in New Orleans and said it was going to be one of the largest reconstruction efforts in the history of the world. You go to the White House home page, there's Barney camp, there's Social Security, there's Renewing Iraq. Where's renewing New Orleans?"
- Dec 11: The New York Times writes an angry, yet elegaic, editorial entitled "Death of a City." It reads in part, "We are about to lose New Orleans. Whether it is a conscious plan to let the city rot until no one is willing to move back or honest paralysis over difficult questions, the moment is upon us when a major American city will die, leaving nothing but a few shells for tourists to visit like a museum. We said this wouldn't happen. President Bush said it wouldn't happen. He stood in Jackson Square and said, "There is no way to imagine America without New Orleans." But it has been over three months since Hurricane Katrina struck and the city is in complete shambles." The editorial makes a starkly obvious point: that until the levee system is rebuilt and citizens feel relatively safe from next season's storms, they will not move back to rebuild their homes and reopen their businesses. "At this moment the reconstruction is a rudderless ship," the editorial says. "There is no effective leadership that we can identify. How many people could even name the president's liaison for the reconstruction effort, Donald Powell? Lawmakers need to understand that for New Orleans the words "pending in Congress" are a death warrant requiring no signature." The editorial points out that the huge outlay of federal money required to shore up New Orleans's flood-protection system is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the $95 billion in tax cuts for the wealthy just passed by the House of Representatives. The editorial says, "'We'll not just rebuild, we'll build higher and better,' President Bush said that night in September. Our feeling, strongly, is that he was right and should keep to his word. We in New York remember well what it was like for the country to rally around our city in a desperate hour. New York survived and has flourished. New Orleans can too. ...The city must rise to the occasion. But it will not have that opportunity without the levees, and only the office of the president is strong enough to goad Congress to take swift action. Only his voice is loud enough to call people home and convince them that commitments will be met. ...But whether we admit it or not, this is our choice to make. We decide whether New Orleans lives or dies."
- Dec 13: A group of New Orleans evacuees takes out a full-page newspaper ad in a desperate attempt to get Congress's attention towards their plight. The ad reads, in part: "In the past three months, we have become experts at waiting. Waiting for flood waters to recede. Waiting for word from family and friends. Waiting to see what our homes and our city has become. ...Now we are waiting on you. It is fully within your power to spearhead the rebuilding of our flood protection and reclaim one of the nation's most important cities from ruin. You can secure the Port of New Orleans and the surrounding infrastructure, insuring new commerce and economic opportunity. You can safeguard our lives from storms. You can support legislation that would assist the thousands of underinsured families who have nothing left but hope. All of this is in your power." Payson Schwin of ThinkProgress observes, "It's truly a sad day when victims of a natural disaster have to purchase ad space to have their voices heard."
- Dec 13: Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sues the State Department to force the release of documents related to Katrina. On September 7, 2005, CREW sent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Department of State, asking for records and communications regarding the federal government's preparedness and response to hurricane Katrina. CREW asked the Department of State for details regarding the myriad offers to assist in relief efforts made by foreign governments during hurricane Katrina, including offers made by Venezuela, the Netherlands, Pakistan and Bangladesh, among others. CREW further sought records relating to the US government's response to those offers, many of which were refused or ignored. The State Department has refused to release the documents (the FOIA requests to FEMA and DHS are still pending). CREW's executive director, Melanie Sloan, says, "The American public is entitled to know which countries generously offered their assistance in the aftermath of Katrina and how the US government responded to those offers. The State Department's refusal to provide this information suggests that our government is still attempting to hide its ineffectual response to Katrina. The only way to ensure greater preparedness for any future disaster is for there to be a full airing of the failures of the past. It is scandalous that our government is still trying to cover up its breathtakingly inadequate response to the greatest natural disaster in our nation's history."
- Jan 2: An internal audit by the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security, Richard Skinner, shows that weaknesses in FEMA's response system during Hurricane Katrina are syptomatic of major, system-wide management problems that run throughout DHS. The report singles out FEMA, an arm of DHS, as a major concern by investigators who point to the agency's "overburdened resources and infrastructure" in handling the twin emergencies of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Investigators find that several key FEMA programs -- distributing aid to disaster victims, emergency response information systems, modernizing flood maps and managing contracts and grants -- remain inadequate. The report reads, in part: "Based on our work related to prior emergency response efforts, we have raised concerns regarding weaknesses" within those programs. Moreover, "when one considers that FEMA's programs are largely administered through grants and contracts, the circumstances created by hurricanes Katrina and Rita provide an unprecedented opportunity for fraud, waste and abuse. ...While DHS is taking several steps to manage and control spending under Katrina, the sheer size of the response and recovery efforts will create an unprecedented need for oversight."
- Jan 23: Congressman Tom Davis, the Republican chairing the House committee investigating the federal response to Katrina, is not interested in exploring the federal government's roles in the failure of the New Orleans levee system, is an opponent of the "Baker Plan" which would provide federal buyouts of flooded-out houses, and refuses to support providing protection from Category 5 storms for the region. Davis explains his antagonism towards the Baker plan by saying that the program would reward citizens who refused to buy the proper insurance, but he ignores the fact that many of the hardest-hit citizens live in areas FEMA previously designated as "no-flood zones," where residents are told by FEMA that flood insurance is not necessary. And, many who did purchase flood insurance will not receive enough in reimbursements to pay for their devastated homes and lost belongings. Davis is not alone; President Bush has implied that he will not support the Baker plan when it is reintroduced in Congress.
- Jan 23: Major fraud has been discovered in the allocation and use of government funds to respond to the Katrina disaster, according to senior FBI agent John Raucci. "We are seeing public officials facilitating some of the fraud," says Raucci, who refuses to give details. "It's not widespread, I will say that, but we have seen it and we have begun addressing it." Raucci promises that indictments of individuals are forthcoming.
- Jan 27: The House committee investigating the response to the Katrina disaster blame the federal government's lackadaisical and incompetent response largely on what it calls "the fog of war," a phrase it uses to describe the confused and contradictory situation in the hours and days following landfall. Officials responsible for responding to the initial crisis received contradictory information from various sources: for example, at 10 pm on August 29, the White House received reports from New Orleans that levees were giving way, but also received Army Corps of Engineers reports that the levees were still being evaluated. Even after the White House got confirmation early on August 30, word apparently did not filter down to the president on vacation at Crawford, Texas, who later said he had a "sense of relaxation" during the first days of the strike and initially believed that New Orleans "dodged a bullet." White House press spokesman Trent Duffy says, "There was a lack of situational awareness at all levels. That is one of the biggest lessons everyone in emergency preparedness has learned because of the storm." Duffy defended the White House's response to Katrina, saying, "The White House should not be making combat decisions in Iraq. The same is true for a domestic emergency response." David Marin, the Republican staff director for the commission, says, "There is a difference between having enough information to find institutional fault, which we have, and having information to assign individual blame, which in large part we don't."
- Jan 28: Two FEMA officials working with the Hurricane Katrina response have been arrested for accepting bribes from a contractor who was, in turn, allowed to submit inflated reports of the numbers of meals served at emergency shelters. The two employees were given $10,000 each by the contractor as down payments for what is described as a $2500 weekly bribe scheme. Previously, a number of contract employees at a Red Cross office in Bakersfield were arrested, accused of creating fictitious victims and then cashing benefits the group provided.
- Jan 30: Hundreds of available trucks, boats, planes, and federal officers were unused in search and rescue efforts immediately after Hurricane Katrina hit, because FEMA did not give them missions. Additionally, FEMA called off its search of New Orleans on Sept 1 because of largely misleading media reports about outbreaks of lawless, murderous rampages by stranded citizens. The information comes from internal FEMA documents now released by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The documents also report breakdowns in carrying out the National Response Plan, issued a year ago to coordinate response to disasters. According to Interior Department assistant secretary Lynn Scarlett, her agency offered to supply FEMA with 300 dump trucks and other vehicles, 300 boats, 11 aircraft, and 400 law enforcement officers to help rescue efforts. "Although the department possesses significant resources that could have improved initial and ongoing response, many of these resources were not effectively incorporated into the federal response to Hurricane Katrina," she later wrote.
- She adds that FEMA had asked US Fish and Wildlife Services to help with search and rescue efforts in New Orleans, in St. Bernard Parish, and in St. Tammany Parish but that the rescuers had "never received task assignments." The agency went ahead anyway, with Fish and Wildlife staff members helping to rescue 4,500 people in the first week after the strike. Other Interior Department resources that were offered, but unused, included flat-bottom boats for shallow-water rescues. "Clearly these assets and skills were precisely relevant in the post-Katrina environment," she writes. Republican Susan Collins responds to the information: "Here we have another federal department offering skilled personnel and the exact kinds of assets that were so desperately needed...and there was no response that we can discern from FEMA." Democratic senator Joseph Lieberman calls the documents "an outrage on top of an outrage." And both senators say they are dismayed by an internal e-mail dated September 1 which called off task force efforts in Louisiana. The e-mail, sent from FEMa headquarters, reads, "All assets have ceased operation until National Guard can assist [task forces] with security."
- Jan 30: Senator Hillary Clinton says that the halting, reluctant pace of reconstruction in the aftermath of Katrina is the result of deliberate decisions made by the Bush administration, decisions which in part are designed to discourage Democratic voters from returning to the region. "I think that basically we are now watching a deliberate policy of neglect take root," she tells an audience at a fund-raiser for legal services charities. "It is deeply troubling for any American to believe that your government would abandon such a huge part of our country and such an important part of our history."
- Feb 10: The Bush administration lied when it claimed that administration officials were surprised to learn on the morning of August 30 that levees in New Orleans had failed. Proof has now emerged that as early as 9:27 pm on August 29, the administration had been properly informed about the breach of the city's key levees. FEMA official Marty Bahamonde, in New Orleans when the hurricane struck, used a Coast Guard helicopter patrol to confirm that the levees had collapsed, and late in the afternoon called the Washington headquarters of FEMA with his report. FEMA staffers informed the Department of Homeland Security. "FYI from FEMA," says an e-mail sent at 9:27 pm August 29 to Michael Chertoff: conditions "are far more serious than media reports are currently reflecting. Finding extensive flooding and more stranded people than they had thought -- also a number of fires." Former FEMA director Michael Brown confirms that he informed the White House about the levee breaches that same evening, but refuses to say who he spoke with. Even though the White House has confirmed that by midnight, the most senior White House officials knew of the levees' breach, that next morning, White House officials acted and spoke as if they believed the levees were holding. Bush decided to continue with his vacation and fund-raising trips, saying that he was glad New Orleans "dodged a bullet;" Chertoff left for a conference on avian flu. Instead of acting as if the situation was contained, congressional investigators conclude, the federal government should have been issuing severe crisis warnings. "There is no question in my mind that at the highest levels of the White House they understood how grave the situation was," says Brown, who blames the restructuring of FEMA as a subsidiary of DHS for its bureaucratic inertia and incompetent response to the hurricane.
- Other information elicited by investigators:
- Federal officials knew long before the storm showed up on the radar that 100,000 people in New Orleans had no way to escape a major hurricane on their own and that the city had finished only 10 percent of a plan for how to evacuate its largely poor, African-American population.
- Chertoff failed to name a principal federal official to oversee the response before the hurricane arrived, an omission a top Pentagon official acknowledged to investigators complicated the coordination of the response. His department also did not plan enough to prevent a conflict over which agency should be in charge of law enforcement support. And Chertoff was either poorly informed about the levee break or did not recognize the significance of the initial report about it.
- The Louisiana transportation secretary, Johnny Bradberry, who had legal responsibility for the evacuation of thousands of people in nursing homes and hospitals, admitted to investigators, "We put no plans in place to do any of this."
- Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans at first directed his staff to prepare a mandatory evacuation of his city on Saturday, two days before the storm hit, but he testified that he had not done so that day while he and other city officials struggled to decide if they should exempt hospitals and hotels from the order. The mandatory evacuation occurred on Sunday, and the delay exacerbated the difficulty in moving people away from the storm.
- The New Orleans Police Department unit assigned to the rescue effort, despite many years' worth of flood warnings and requests for money, had just three small boats and no food, water or fuel to supply its emergency workers.
- Investigators could find no evidence that food and water supplies were formally ordered for the Convention Center, where more than 10,000 evacuees had assembled, until days after the city had decided to open it as a backup emergency shelter. FEMA had planned to have 360,000 ready-to-eat meals delivered to the city and 15 trucks of water in advance of the storm. But only 40,000 meals and five trucks of water had arrived.
- Republican congressman Thomas Davis says of the federal response, "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. In retrospect, don't you think it would have been better to pull together? They should have had better leadership. It is disengagement."
- Brown, who is scheduled to testify before the House committee tomorrow, says that he has been advised by lawyers not to be too specific about who he may have spoken with at the White House about the conditions in New Orleans; the White House has repeatedly refused to comply with requests for documents and information about its own responses. They have, however, found Bahamonde's numerous e-mails to FEMA and DHS, which paint a damning picture. DHS spokesman Russ Knocke says that "after-action reports" from an internal DHS review will address all the problems experienced by the federal government.
- Feb 10: 10,770 wide-body trailers sit, unoccupied, at a "designated storage area" in Hope, Arkansas. The idea is for displaced Katrina and Rita victims to live in these trailers, but FEMA is doing nothing to get the trailers to the people who need them. Indeed, FEMA plans on spending $6 million to create a 290-acre gravel bed for the fully-furnished trailers to sit on; obviously the trailers will sit, unused, for a while longer. "All of us think it's not right for them to be sitting out there and not where families need them," says Janice Skipworth, who runs a motel that housed Katrina evacuees after the storm. "I stand behind my government no matter what, but this is kind of wrong." Bakery owner Randall Ross agrees: "[I]t's dang sure those people are in need now." Why are they still there? Arkansas Democrat Mike Ross of the US House wants an answer to that question, too. "It cost $431 million and they're all sitting there, 75% of them literally parked in a cow pasture," Ross says. "They are brand-new, all totally furnished, and yet people have been living in tents for five months in a row. It just makes you sick to your stomach." FEMA officials blame bureaucratic entanglements and the resistance of Louisiana officials to have the trailers brought in.
- Feb 11: Former FEMA director Michael Brown, now targeted as a scapegoat by his former boss Michael Chertoff and the White House, rocks the administration by insisting to the Senate that he did, indeed, inform the White House of the impending disaster and calling DHS claims of ignorance about early flooding "baloney." Testifying before the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Brown says that on the evening of August 29, when the flooding of New Orleans had begun hours before, he told Joe Hagin, one of Bush's close friends and aides who was with Bush at the ranch in Crawford, Texas, that "we were realizing our worst nightmare." Bush responded on August 30 by going golfing and fund-raising, while Brown's boss, Michael Chertoff, attended a conference on avian flu. Brown was left in charge of FEMA's initial response, and quickly proved incompetent and unfit for the job. But he says, with reason, that it is unfair to target him as the entire reason for the federal government's incredibly poor response. Brown says that the now-notorious compliment from Bush in the days after the hurricane -- "Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job" -- was like painting a target on him. "Unfortunately, he called me 'Brownie' at the wrong time. Thanks a lot, sir," Brown says.
- Predictably, the White House responds in full damage-control mode. Press secretary Scott McClellan, visibly agitated even before Brown takes the stand, insists again that senior officials were confused by conflicting reports coming in over the first day of the strike. Some officials who watch Brown's testimony shout at the TVs during Brown's testimony, and some later insist they paid Brown no mind.
- Brown testifies that, while he kept his DHS bosses in the loop, he preferred to go straight to the White House with information. But two DHS officials have already testified that Brown withheld information from them. Brown's testimony that at times he felt it useless to try to speak with Chertoff draws a querulously angry response from Republican senator Robert Bennett: "It demonstrates a dysfunctional department to a degree far greater than anything we have seen."
- The next day, Brown speaks to the press about his testimony. If he could speak to Bush, he says, he would tell him, "I never like to say I told you so, but I told you so." He continues, "Mr. President, on at least a couple of occasions...I raised the flag and told you that FEMA was being marginalized, and was not going to be able to respond and, in fact, was on a path to failure." He notes the effort by the administration to lay the entire blame for the federal failure at his feet and says, "You can get mad at me if you want to, but I think we ought to get mad at Congress. We ought to get mad at the President. We ought to get mad at Secretary Chertoff." Brown says Bush should have known by August 28, the day before landfall, that the storm would be a cataclysm. "The alarm bells were being sounded on Sunday," he says. "Because not only was I having conferences with the President on the telephone, but he was also on the video conference with all of the state emergency managers." Homeland Security advisor Frances Townsend has previously said that Brown broke the chain of command by trying to deal directly with the White House instead of going through Chertoff, leading to a communication and coordination breakdown.
- Feb 12: The House committee investigating Katrina, an 11-person committee largely filled by Republicans, is prepared to issue a 600-page report that blasts the federal government for its inaction and incompetence in the hours and days following the hurricane strike. The report lays primary fault with the passive reaction and misjudgments of top Bush aides, particularly Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, the Homeland Security Operations Center, and the White House Homeland Security Council. Regarding Bush, the report found that "earlier presidential involvement could have speeded the response" because he alone could have cut through all bureaucratic resistance. Though the report makes few recommendations and is generally restrained in its criticism, it is making a tremendous impact because of its Republican source -- after five years of almost complete rubber-stamping and spin from the Republican-led Congress over anything the administration has done, even this level of criticism has surprised many veteran political observers.
- Some criticisms are specific. Chertoff, according to the report, activated the government's emergency response mechanisms either "late, ineffectively or not at all," and says that Chertoff's inattention cost the federal government at least three days, a critical span of time that saw many lives needlessly lost. The White House failed to engage the vacationing, indifferent Bush, nor did it "substantiate, analyze and act on the information at its disposal," failing to confirm the collapse of New Orleans's levee system on Aug. 29, the day of Katrina's landfall, which led to catastrophic flooding. The report notes that FEMA, under the "command" of the spectacularly incompetent Michael Brown, set up rival chains of command with the US military responders. The Coast Guard, whose emergency response was far more effective, was sending flights over the city the entire first day, but the information gathered from those overflights did not reach Washington until after midnight. At the same time, weaknesses identified by 9/11 investigators -- poor communications among first responders, a shortage of qualified emergency personnel and lack of training and funding -- doomed a response confronted by overwhelming demands for help. "If 9/11 was a failure of imagination then Katrina was a failure of initiative," the preface to the report reads. "It was a failure of leadership. In this instance, blinding lack of situational awareness and disjointed decision making needlessly compounded and prolonged Katrina's horror."
- Responses from DHS and the White House are predictable. DHS spokesperson Russ Knocke says that the department did everything it could do to prepare for the hurricane strike, and blames Brown's "willful insubordination" for FEMA's and DHS's failure to respond. White House spokesperson Trent Duffy says the president isn't interested in the commission's report: the White House is working on its own study. "The president is less interested in yesterday, and more interested with today and tomorrow," Duffy says, "so that we can be better prepared for next time." Duffy also states that Bush "was involved from beginning to end,"implementing emergency powers before the storm and taking responsibility afterward, though the evidence proves otherwise. "Katrina was a national failure," says the report, "an abdication of the most solemn obligation to provide for the common welfare."
- Congressional Democrats, who had, except for two Louisiana representatives, boycotted the proceedings due to the Republican leadership's determination to minimize their role, begin calling for Chertoff's immediate firing, a request that Bush will not honor. They also call for an independent investigation into the federal government's response, saying that the Republican-led investigation, while comprehensive, was rushed, failed to compel the White House to turn over documents, and held no administration officials accountable. The report is also critical of some of the decisions made by Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin, particularly in planning for evacuations of stricken areas. And, interestingly enough, it blames the media for promulgating what it calls "hyped media coverage of violence and lawlessness, legitimized by New Orleans authorities" such as Nagin and others for increasing security burdens, scaring away rescuers and heightening tension in the city.
- Feb 24: The White House's own report on the federal government's response to Katrina is released; it can be read here. As critical as the report is in some aspects of the government's responses,
it completely fails to examine the role of Bush, Cheney, and the White House in the debacle. No surprises here.
- Mar 2: A videotape of an August 29 conference call between Bush, Chertoff, Brown, and other senior administration officials suddenly appears and is reported by the Associated Press. See the entire story of the conference, the administration's apparent attempts to deny the videotape's existence, and the ramifications of the conference, under its Aug 29 entry above.
- Mar 2: DHS director Michael Chertoff announces the resignation of Matthew Broderick, DHS's director of operations. Chertoff claims that Broderick is resigning to spend more time with his family, but regardless of the spin, Broderick's is the second resignation of a DHS senior official closely connected with Katrina, after FEMA director Michael Brown.
- Mar 15:
Former FEMA director Michael Brown ignored the federal disaster plan and circumvented his boss, Michael Chertoff, in his response to the Katrina disaster, says an addendum to the House report issued in preliminary form last month. The report, obliquely titled "A Failure of Initiative," is issued in full today. The report was produced by a commission made up entirely of Republicans; Democrats, angered at the Republicans' attempts to marginalize their participation, have refused to take part in the commission, and have steadily demanded an independent commission to investigate the federal government's response. Many feel that Brown, despite his obvious incompetence, is being unfairly scapegoated by the White House, congressional Republicans, and conservative media pundits and talk show hosts. The House reports that Brown "virtually boasted" that he avoided communicating with Chertoff "and called directly on the White House for assistance instead." Brown opposed or never advised the new secretary to take steps under the response plan, such as declaring an "incident of national significance," activating a Catastrophic Incident Annex to speed federal aid, convening an expert Interagency Incident Management Group or naming a principal federal officer in charge, the report says.
- The Senate commission currently investigating the federal government's response to Katrina has denied a request from Democratic senator Joseph Lieberman to subpoena Bush aides as part of its own "probe." "Virtually everyone in the White House who had anything of operational significance to do with" Katrina has been "put off limits," Lieberman writes. "This has left us unable to obtain any real sense of what the White House did or didn't do." Lieberman says a Congressional Research Service review has found 75 cases in which top presidential aides -- including chiefs of staff, White House counsels and National Security advisers -- testified to legislative investigators since 1926. Commission chair Susan Collins says Lieberman's request "neither warranted nor appropriate," because it could deprive presidents of candid advice and violate executive privilege.
- Mar 15: A congressional study by Democrats shows that the Bush administration has consistently rejected hurricane-related disaster loans to hurricane victims at a greater rate than any administration in history. Low-interest small-business and home loans have an approval rate of just around 15% under Bush. Furthermore, the study shows that with each new hurricane, the rate of approval has systematically dropped. Senators John Kerry and Mary Landrieu have blasted the Small Business Administration for refusing to provide needed federal loans, and for letting itself almost go broke rather than apply for more disaster relief funds.
- Mar 16: Congressional auditors show that the government has wasted millions of dollars in its award of post-Katrina Hurricane contracts for disaster relief, including at least $3 million for 4,000 beds that were never used. The Government Accountability Office's review of 13 major contracts -- many of them awarded with limited or no competition after the Aug. 29 hurricane -- shows that waste and mismanagement were widespread due to poor planning and miscommunication. That led to money being paid for services, such as housing or ice, that were never used. "The government's response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita depended heavily on contractors to deliver ice, water and food supplies; patch rooftops; and provide housing to displaced residents," says the report by the GAO. "FEMA did not adequately anticipate needs." Of more than 700 contracts valued at $500,000 or greater, more than half were awarded without full competition or with vague or open-ended terms, including politically connected companies such as Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root, Bechtel, and AshBritt.
- Democrats, in particular, in recent weeks have called for limits on no-bid agreements, which they say have been awarded to politically influential companies at the expense of a slow Gulf Coast rebuilding effort. "Previous reports of waste in the aftermath of Katrina have been bad, but this one is worse," says representative Henry Waxman, the top Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee. "The Bush administration has learned nothing from its disastrous contract management in Iraq," he adds. "The administration seems incapable of spending money in a way that actually meets the needs of Gulf Coast residents." Republican senator Susan Collins, the chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, says, "After a disaster strikes is too late to start the contracting process for critical goods and services. Known emergency commodities and services must be pre-positioned." Democratic senator Joe Lieberman adds, "Taxpayer dollars will be spent for years to come on Katrina response and recovery, and investigations of corruption and mismanagement are still in their early stages. Government auditors and prosecutors must redouble their efforts." The 13 Katrina contracts reviewed involve the following 12 companies: C. Henderson Consulting; Americold Logistics; Clearbrook LLC; CS&M Associates; Gulf Stream Coach Inc.; Morgan Building & Spas Inc.; Bechtel National; Fluor Enterprises Inc.; CH2M Hill Constructors Inc.; E.T.I. Inc.; Ceres Environmental Services Inc.; and Thompson Engineering Inc. Most of the firms, including Gulf Stream Coach and Bechtel, have close ties to the Bush administration or have contributed significantly to the GOP.
- Mar 16: Over the objections of black political leaders, the US Justice Department gives its approval for a restructured voting plan for Louisiana. The objections center around the DOJ's failure to provide for voting for residents stranded in other states. The state plans to set up satellite polling places around the state for New Orleans residents driven from their homes, but chose not to create such stations outside Louisiana. "Two-thirds of the eligible population has been disenfranchised," says the Reverend Jesse Jackson. "This is more onerous than the poll tax laws of 1965." Jackson says he will sue to block the upcoming New Orleans mayoral and other elections, already postponed from February 4.
- Mar 16: A group of California nurses who volunteered their services in the aftermath of Katrina say that the hurricane exposed the shockingly bad state of America's health care system. The nurses swapped remembrances of patients that they encountered, suffering from a myriad of health problems that had gone undiagnosed and untreated because the sufferers had no access to health care. Over and over, the nurses say the most serious health problems they confronted in the hurricane and flood zone weren't really created by the hurricane or the flood at all, but by the pre-existing inequities in a fractured health care system. "The problems were not the kind of acute problems I was expecting when I went down there," says one nurse, Shirley Usher. "They were actually people with chronic problems, 95 percent of them people who never had a regular physician. They had chronic problems that were exacerbated by the hurricane." Diane Foxen, a nurse from San Jose, says, "It took the disaster for these [hurricane survivors] to be able to get health care. When people realized we had these clinics in New Orleans, and they had the capacity, they would hitchhike 50 miles to get there. And for a lot of these people it was the first time in their lives they were receiving any health care." The nurses, members of the California Nurses Association, are gathered in support of legislation to move California to a "single payer" health care system similar to that enjoyed by Canadians.
- Mar 17: The Senate is prepared to give the Bush administration its full request of $92 billion, earmarked for the war in Iraq and for Katrina reconstruction, and not to worry about the enormous cost to taxpayers. The House has already overwhelmingly approved the spending bill. "This bill will give our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan tools they need to prevail in the war on terror," says Bush. "The legislation also provides for additional resources for the people of the Gulf Coast as they continue the work of rebuilding their lives and communities." Though many Democrats, and some Republicans, worry about the exorbitant cost of the budgetary supplement, most vote for it because of concerns about the Gulf Coast and to avoid election-year accusations of penny-pinching. "How do you vote against it?" asks Democratic House member Solomon Ortiz. 52 House Democrats, mostly opponents of the Iraq occupation, and 17 House Republicans, mostly fiscal conservatives, voted against the bill; the House Republicans tried unsuccessfully to pay for some of the outlay by mandating harsh cuts in social spending. Just over $19 billion of the outlay is earmarked for Katrina, with the bulk of the funding going into Iraq. $13.5 million will go to Homeland Security for auditing and investigating disaster assistance.
- Mar 25: A group of civil engineers from the American Society of Civil Engineers warns that the Army Corps of Engineers' plans to rebuild New Orleans' levees will not protect the city from another severe hurricane. It says the concrete "I-wall" design used in most of the city's levees won't stand up to even a moderate hurricane. The group also challenges the Corps' repeated assertions that the levees breached during Katrina because the storm had unleashed "unforeseeable" physical forces that weakened the flood walls. In a letter to Lieutenant General Carl Strock, the Corps' commander, the civil engineers cite three previous Corps studies that predicted precisely the chain of events that caused the city's 17th Street Canal flood wall to fail. The breach left much of central and downtown New Orleans underwater. "It appears that this information never triggered an assessment...neither at the time of the design of the 17th Street Canal flood wall, nor following its construction," the letter says. Corps spokeswoman Susan Jackson blames years of budgetary constraints for the failure of the Corps to build a satisfactory levee system. Two other civil engineer groups have endorsed the ASCE's findings. One group says, "When asked, we have constantly urged anyone returning to New Orleans to exercise caution, because the system now in place could fail in a Category 2 storm. It has already failed during a fast-moving Category 3 storm that missed New Orleans by 30 miles."
- April 6: The Government Accountability Office reports that over $126 million of dollars in foreign aid sent in response to Hurricane Katrina was lost, mishandled, or stolen. The GAO study finds fault with at least eight government agencies, but blames the losses in part on a lack of procedures in place to handle foreign aid. "It does no good to be offered money, or water, or food, or potentially lifesaving medical supplies if we don't get those donations into the hands of the people who need them," says Republican Tom Davis of the House Government Reform Committee.
- April 10: Senator Trent Lott says, through a lawyer, that he believes the State Farm insurance agency has destroyed or altered reports that would prove it had fraudulently denied thousands of flood-related claims after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged the Gulf Coast. Lott, a Republican, was motivated to investigate the insurance agency after it denied his own claim for the destruction of his Pascagoula, Mississippi beachfront home. The company's standard policies cover wind damage, but not damage from rising floodwaters; Lott believes that the claims were denied because State Farm decided that all of the homes in question were damaged by floodwaters and not by hurricane winds. Lott's lawyer, Zach Scruggs, says that corporate "whistleblowers" who are cooperating with Lott's attorneys have provided evidence that State Farm employees are destroying or moving "initial favorable" reports that would validate the insurance claims. "We believe that this is a systematic practice," says Scruggs. Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood is also looking into the allegations.
- April 17: In what might be the most nauseating display of inappropriate administration slobbery that has happened throughout the entire Katrina disaster, at the annual Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn, dozens of children from the areas stricken by Katrina serenade First Lady Laura Bush with a song written for them by White House PR specialists. The song praises the efforts of the president and of FEMA in the disaster recovery, and features kids singing lyrics like "Our country's stood beside us / People have sent us aid / Katrina could not stop us, our hopes will never fade / Congress, Bush and FEMA / People across our land / Together have come to rebuild us and we join them hand-in-hand!" The children pose in light blue "Katrina Kids" T-shirts for the cameras. One may be reminded of the forced praises from ordinary Chinese citizens under Mao Tse-Tung.
- April 29: Virtually none of the disaster preparedness recommendations made by government investigators after Katrina have yet been implemented, leaving the still-reeling Gulf Coast vulnerable to hurricanes in the upcoming storm season. "Nature doesn't care about reports," says Kathleen Tierney, director of the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado. "Nor does it care about the fact there are people still suffering, and we're not ready. The big question in everybody's mind is whether entities that proved themselves incompetent to handle Hurricane Katrina can become competent by the summer of 2006. So far, we've seen no evidence of that." Except for the high-profile firing of FEMA director Michael Brown, virtually nothing has been done at the agency to ensure a better response to the next major disaster. President Bush seems to put his faith in divine intervention: "Let's, first of all, pray there's no hurricanes," he says. "That would be, like, step one." FEMA director David Paulison and others say that it will be difficult to implement many of the recommendations due to funding shortfalls and time constraints.
- May 9: FEMA's incompetence and cavalier attitude after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast is matched by its abject failure to assist storm victims still displaced and in need of help. Over one million people were displaced by the storm; while some have found homes and jobs in other areas, hundreds of thousands are still living in tiny FEMA trailers, waiting for assistance promised but never given. Many of the trailer communities lack basic needs such as food, water, and sewage; many of the displaced lack the most fundamental of health care. One in three children living in FEMA shelters suffer from chronic illnesses such as asthma; one in two -- half -- of the displaced children had access to medical care before the hurricane, but no longer have it. One in four displaced children still do not go to school; many of the ones who do find their classrooms incredibly crowded and lacking in basic materials. Irwin Redlener, the director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia and the president of the Children's Health Fund, writes, "We are watching the worst children's health crisis in modern American history unfold in the Gulf area. After the trauma of Hurricane Katrina, this secondary disaster -- again under the auspices of the United States Department of Homeland Security -- may have far more serious consequences. Thousands of children are now seemingly abandoned by a federal government still unable to function effectively when it counts the most."
- June 6: Conservative talk radio host Neal Boortz uses the case of Theon Johnson, a Katrina evacuee who has used New York's squatters-rights law to remain in the JFK airport Holiday Inn hotel rather than go home to slander Katrina evacuees in general. Boortz says, "I mean, so many of them have turned out to be complete bums, just debris. Debris that Hurricane Katrina washed across the country. That describes Theon Johnson." He adds, "...Johnson [is a] New York City-Katrina deadbeat -- like so many thousands more."
- June 9: According to former FEMA director Michael Brown, who resigned in disgrace on September 12 and has since become the symbol of the federal government's mismanagement and incompetence during the Katrina crisis, President Bush sent an e-mail five days after his resignation expressing Bush's pleasure that Brown and FEMA, and not Bush or DHS secretary Michael Chertoff, bore the brunt of the blame for the debacle. Brown was forwarded the e-mail from a White House source which he will not reveal. The message reads, in part: "I did hear of one reference to you, at the Cabinet meeting yesterday. I wasn't there, but I heard someone commented that the press was sure beating up on Mike Brown, to which the president replied, 'I'd rather they beat up on him than me or Chertoff.' ...Congratulations on doing a great job of diverting hostile fire away from the leader." The sender's e-mail comes from the domain "eop.gov," which indicates the sender is in the Executive Office of the President.
- Brown acknowledges that part of a political appointee's job is to "take the sword" for the president, but says he has grown weary of Chertoff making him a scapegoat for FEMA's failures in the wake of Katrina. "I'm not willing to take that sword for Michael Chertoff," Brown says. "I'm frankly getting tired of Chertoff out there, every time he testifies, talking about how Brown didn't do this or that. As long as Chertoff continues to criticize me, I think we need to recognize that I was doing everything I needed to do down there." (Brown's claim of "doing everything I needed to do down there" is anything but accurate, but it is accurate for him to spread the blame to Chertoff and others.) Brown also calls, again, for the resignation of Chertoff, whom he says suffers from "political tone deafness," and says FEMA is nowhere near ready for the current hurricane season, which began on June 1. "I want the White House in general, in particular Michael Chertoff, to stop dragging me through the mud every time the issue of FEMA comes up," Brown says. "There's a lot of things that need to be done to fix FEMA and continuing to throw that at me is not going to solve anything." Brown's attorney, Andy Lester, says the White House is handling the situation in "a cowardly way." Lester adds, "What the White House was actually doing was taking some stories that got started in the media and pushing them and pushing them until everything got diverted to Mike. Mike Brown was being made the scapegoat."
"We can now safely assert that W. has stacked much of the federal government with people like himself. And what you get when you put people in charge of government who don't believe in government and who are not interested in running it well is...what happened after Hurricane Katrina." -- Molly Ivins