Sunday, September 2, 2007

Remembering Katrina: Part II

Remembering Katrina: Part I, Part III

Nobody, including me, starts out thinking any President would block emergency aid to any desperate citizen for any reason. So until you’ve done your own homework, don’t call me paranoid if I’m now persuaded otherwise.

Both parties reek of partisan patronage, but flagrant partisan patronage when the people’s welfare is on the line is a new thing, a Bush/Cheney/Rove hallmark. Remember Cheney’s crony energy policy council? Oh, and, um, Brownie?

Several reports show that W’s Health and Human Services (HHS) and Homeland Security (DHS) departments are shoveling tax dollars to ideological pals and red states, absent justification. Others document W’s habit of burying inconvenient facts and refusing correction even when global warming, a mother’s health, the air we breathe, the seafood we eat, and our kids’ toys are at stake. Oh, and forget about pet food.

Each category, never mind all of them together, shows that this administration uses its power and our money to reward its friends and pursue its ideology no matter what happens to the people. This suffices as evidence for me. Given what I saw unfold the week following landfall, I did my own snooping.

You’ll remember that early in September 2005, leaks had already sprung about partisan games between Bush and Rove and Blanco and Nagin, about emergency declarations, timing, scope, and authorities.

Because I hadn’t seen any actual line-by-line comparisons of Blanco’s first two emergency statements and the resulting White House proclamation, I went looking.

(1) Despite Rove-orchestrated White House allegations about unconscionable delays, on August 26 at 5 pm, Blanco issued her first emergency declaration, covering the entire state of Louisiana until September 25, 2005. It triggered Louisiana’s entire emergency response and recovery program, put the state government on standby in case it would need to mobilize the National Guard, and launched state preparations for emergency support.

(2) On August 27, Blanco issued her “State of Emergency Letter to the President.” As I understand it, this is the document required to trigger a federal response. Please note: It stated, in part: “The affected areas are all the southeastern parishes including the New Orleans Metropolitan area and the mid-state Interstate I-49 corridor and northern parishes along the I-20 corridor that are accepting the thousands of citizens evacuating from the areas expecting to be flooded as a result of Hurricane Katrina.”

(3) On August 27, Bush, vacationing in Crawford, TX, responded to Blanco’s request for a presidential “Statement on Federal Emergency Assistance” with a presidential proclamation that, please note, did not cover Orleans and the southeastern parishes, among others. It also clearly indicated that no further actions from Louisiana were required for FEMA to act promptly and comprehensively.

Is it not mystifying? Among the parishes that the presidential proclamation did not cover were Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Tammany, Terrebonne, St. Bernard, Lafouche, St. James, St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, Tangipahoa, Assumption, Iberville, and St. Mary. These parishes are nearest to or on either the Gulf or Lake Ponchartrain.

So naturally, I compared these parishes against a map showing parish voting results for the 2004 presidential election. Overall, it shows that most of the state voted Republican, but only weakly—the greatest exception, of course, being New Orleans. Half a million persons lived there, of whom 67.3% were African American and 5.5% were other minorities. Some 27.9% lived below the 1999 poverty level. However:

Only one of the parishes that Bush excluded, St. Tammany, voted “strongly Republican,” while of all the parishes he included, only two were Democrat. Of the parishes he included, eleven voted “strongly” or “very strongly” Republican, and the remainder were moderately or weakly Republican. (Six others either voted 50/50 or were not ranked by CNN at all: Bienville, Madison, Tensas, St. Landry, Pointe Coupee, and Webster).

OK I’m neither a lawyer nor a politician. If I were, maybe I’d see an explanation sweet as puppy’s breath. As it is, I don’t.

I do see that, by itself, this doesn’t necessarily nail the White House for initially authorizing federal disaster support based solely on party affiliation. Also, we all know that later federal directives from HHS and others seemed to cover all the affected areas, whether because of global media coverage or a Divine tap on Bush’s cinder-like heart, I can’t say.

But I can’t think why the President didn’t of course include the most vulnerable part of the state, at the very least, if not the entire state. Was he so parsimonious with Florida? Or this year with Texas, Ohio, or Kansas? I doubt it. So I have to ask: If not partisan retribution, exactly what was going on in Crawford on August 27, 2005? Karl Rove?

For what it’s worth, I sent these findings to my US congressman, a Democrat, asking him to investigate. He never got back to me.

Even now, we don’t truly know what went on in the run-up to landfall and after; what the Administration knew and when; what it shared with state officials, and when, and under what conditions. Although we know that Bush whacked LA levee construction budgets prior to the 2005 hurricane season, too little has been said, clearly, publicly, about the Army Corps of Engineers’ responsibility for the failed levees, and about federal, state, and local budget priorities during the years over which they were constructed. Even less has been said about how the Fed’s response in MS, FL, and AL has differed from its response to LA. And although Truthout and Mother Jones are closing in on it, as yet we have no clue to whom our tax dollars have been allocated or how they’ve been utilized in all the strike zones.

I guess that’s understandable. After all, we’ve had Hurricanes Britney and Paris to cover, and Larry Craig got caught in the men’s room. High level . Big time.

As I said, nobody wants to believe this stuff, including me. Or to believe that FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers knew at 11 a.m. Monday, August 29, that the leeves were breaching, and even video’d the breach at the 17th Street Canal, but didn’t tell state emergency authorities. Or that the President would lie to us about FEMA’s expectations and preparations.

But many facts contradict the Liar-in-Chief’s “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees” statement. Thirteen months before Katrina, FEMA itself conducted its Hurricane Pam emergency planning scenario, which projected pretty much exactly what happened in the “bowl.” Everybody anticipated a breach of the levees, including Mr. Bill, who made public education video about it 2004.

Today, I fear this stuff continues to happen, along with price gouging and the GOP’s new version of “revenue sharing” – all to the soothing sounds of Rush Limbaugh and the Freepers jeering, “Get a job, N-word.”

But there ain’t many jobs left in the miles of mud and rubble called Greater New Orleans, Waveland, and Gulfport. Besides, the contracts are being awarded to KBR and other out-of-state Republican-owned firms that, we’ve been told, prefer to hire and cheat illegal immigrants. What’s worse, with the prodding of Grover Norquist and others, the Bush administration has taken every opportunity to try to cheat the locals out of fair wages and regulatory safeguards.

Call it “compassionate conservatism.” “Privatization.” I call it the GOP.

If they can do this to the Gulf South, they can do this anywhere.

Hadn’t we better call for impeachment?