FEMA failed to follow disaster plan
WASHINGTON, DC – More than a year before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, local, state and federal officials held a simulated hurricane drill that Ronald Castleman, then regional director for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) called "a very good exercise." More than 1 million residents were "evacuated" in a table-top scenario as 120 mph winds and 20 inches of rain caused widespread flooding that supposedly trapped 300,000 people in the city.
When the real hurricane hit, however, officials failed to execute the plan they had tested, the Bush appointee told the Chicago Tribune last week. And, as the first National Guard truck caravans of water and food finally began to arrive four days later, he and other disaster experts couldn’t explain why the federal government’s lead agency for major emergencies failed to meet the urgent human needs.
Many suspect that FEMA’s apparent problems – delays even Pres. Bush called "not acceptable" – stemmed partly from recent changes at the agency. FEMA’s chief was demoted from a near-cabinet-level position, and political appointees with little if any emergency management experience were placed in senior positions.
The small agency also became part of the huge Homeland Security Department – which is more oriented to combating terrorism than natural disasters – and was stripped of some functions, including the ability to make preparedness grants to states, former officials told the Tribune
In addition, the agency lacked an experienced disaster-response expert at the top, as there was when James Lee Witt ran it during the 1990s. Before current FEMA chief Michael Brown joined the agency, he was with the International Arabian Horse Association. He was dismissed from that job after a series of lawsuits over "supervision failures."
When Brown appeared on TV three days after the New Orleans levees broke, he said his agency didn’t know until that day that thousands of storm victims were stranded without food and water at the local convention center. Yet when Bush met with Brown the next morning, the president reportedly told him, "You’re doing a heck of a job." On Sept. 4, the New Orleans Times-Picayune called for Brown to be fired, citing "bald-faced" lies about food provided to refugees.
Five days after the Hurricane, CNN discovered that nine stockpiles of fire-and-rescue equipment strategically placed around the country to be used in the event of a catastrophe still hadn’t been pressed into service. Homeland Security spokesman Marc Short claimed the area’s governors had not requested the equipment.
Gulf Coast disaster warnings ignored
WASHINGTON, DC — As evidence of government failures to respond rapidly enough after Hurricane Katrina began to mount last week, Pres. Bush argued, "I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." However, National Geographic ran an article in October 2004 that described precisely such an event: a large hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico during broiling summer weather that could push a deadly storm surge into Lake Pontchartrain.
"Nearly 80 percent of New Orleans lies below sea level – more than eight feet below in places – so the water poured in," author Joel K. Bourne, Jr. theorized at the time.
"Thousands drowned in the murky brew that was soon contaminated by sewage and industrial waste. Thousands more who survived the flood later perished from dehydration and disease as they waited to be rescued. It took two months to pump the city dry, and by then the Big Easy was buried under a blanket of putrid sediment, a million people were homeless, and 50,000 were dead. It was the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States."
It hadn’t happened yet, but Bourne noted that such a doomsday scenario was not far-fetched, and that FEMA listed "a hurricane strike on New Orleans as one of the most dire threats to the nation, up there with a large earthquake in California or a terrorist attack on New York City."
"It’s not if it will happen," University of New Orleans geologist Shea Penland told him. "It’s when." For some time, climatologists have warned that powerful storms might occur more frequently this century, while rising sea levels from global warming put low-lying coastal regions at greater risk.
Less than a month before Hurricane Katrina, a study published in the journal Nature noted that the accumulated power of Atlantic hurricanes has more than doubled in the past 30 years. According to scientist Kerry Emanuel, his study showed that "future warming may lead to an upward trend in tropical cyclone destructive potential and, taking into account an increasing coastal population, a substantial increase in hurricane-related losses in the 21st century."
U.S. response to Gulf aid offers mixed
WASHINGTON, DC — At least 25 countries have offered humanitarian assistance to the United States to deal with the Gulf coast disaster – helicopters from Canada, cash from Japan, tents and military aircraft from France, even oil from political foe Venezuela. Yet, the Bush administration has sent mixed signals about whether and when it will accept the offers.
On ABC’s Good Morning America, Bush’s initial response was that the nation hadn’t requested foreign help and didn’t need it. "This country is going to rise up and take care of it," he said. "You know, we love help, but we’re going to take care of our own business, as well."
Hours later, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice modified that position, indicating that no offer would be rejected. However, the Boston Globe also heard from an anonymous State Department official, who explained that the country already had much of the equipment offered by other nations and that coordinating aid is complex and laborious.
A European diplomat told the newspaper that the State Department had informed embassies that the U.S. government didn’t need help in the first phase of rescuing survivors and restoring order, but would sift through aid offers for the cleanup and reconstruction.
While waiting for a call, the Canadian military set aside Hercules Aircraft C130 and packed a ship with a helicopter, water purifying equipment, and electric generators that could sail at a moment’s notice. Poor neighbors such as Honduras, Jamaica, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, and Mexico also offered assistance.
As the disaster entered its second week, Britain flew 500,000 military ration packs to the afflicted zone, Germany sent food and prepared a hospital ship, the
French Red Cross dispatched logistics experts and thousands of "family kits," and France and Italy put their military transport planes to work carrying blankets, cots, tents and inflatable dinghies. But there were signs that the flood of relief supplies was overwhelming U.S. authorities, the Globe said.
Calling Bush the "king of vacations," Venezuelan Pres. Hugo Chavez nevertheless offered drinking water, food and oil. Meanwhile, Cuban Pres. Fidel Castro volunteered 1,500 doctors with international experience, plus medicine and diagnostic teams. Several days after that offer, Castro said that Cuba had received no response.
Gulf Coast disaster: How to help
NEW ORLEANS – In the aftermath of the disaster in the Gulf region, many people wonder how to offer contributions or assistance that will reach the needy. The following list, developed by the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, includes progressive groups in or near the devastated areas that are assisting low-income people with emergency relief and long-term recovery:
Enterprise Corporation of the Delta. Based in Jackson, MS, with credit union branches in New Orleans and Gulfport, ECD has set up a Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund, coordinating efforts with the Red Cross, state and municipal governments, and others. ECD, c/o Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund, 222 North President St., Suite 220, Jackson, MS 39201; (601) 944-1100; www.ecd.org.
Louisiana ACORN. A nationally affiliated community organizing group with local members throughout the state. ACORN Hurricane Recovery & Rebuilding Fund, 739 8th St. SE, Washington, DC 20003; www.acorn.org.
Southern Mutual Help Association, Inc. Based in New Iberia, LA, this group has a solid record of working with rural people and communities. Contact Lorna Bourg, firstname.lastname@example.org; (337) 367-3277.
Gulf Coast Community Foundation. Accepting contributions via
Greater New Orleans Foundation. Online contributions for hurricane relief accepted at www.gnof.org. Click on "Hurricane Katrina Recovery Fund."
Baton Rouge Area Foundation. Hurricane Katrina Displaced Residents Fund benefits those evacuated to Baton Rouge from New Orleans, and Hurricane Katrina New Orleans Recovery Fund focuses on rebuilding infrastructure to provide basic human services. Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund, 402 N. 4th St., Baton Rouge, LA 70802; www.braf.org, click on "Hurricane Katrina Relief."
Centers for Independent Living. For Biloxi, MS, designate check to that center and mail to LIFE of Central Mississippi, 754 North President St., Suite 1, Jackson, MS 39202. For Louisiana, checks go to Resources for Independent Living, New Orleans center, Resources for IL, 11931 Industriplex Blvd. Suite 200, Baton Rouge, LA 70809. Or send check or credit card payment to the Red Cross, designated for Hurricane Relief, or for people with disabilities in the Biloxi/Hattiesburg or New Orleans areas.
Volunteer efforts for psychologists. Cathy Castille and Joseph Comaty of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, Office of Mental Health, are coordinating efforts. Volunteers may be requested to bring food, water, etc. E-mail www.networkforgood.org.Katrina_PSYCH_response@dhh.la.gov, and provide name, credentials, license number/state, special expertise, location and time availability, required notice, limitations, if you are a medical psychologist willing to prescribe, and contact information.
Impeachment talk grows, but Gallop won’t poll
WASHINGTON, DC – Pat Buchanan, former communications director to Pres. Ronald Reagan and two-time presidential candidate, has come to the conclusion that some courageous Republican legislator should move a bill for impeachment against Pres. Bush. Buchanan has many complaints, but the main reason mentioned in his syndicated column last week was that immigration reform, including a proposed "guest worker" program, would encourage a massive influx of illegal immigrants.
Although Democrats don’t agree with that argument, some have been pushing the Gallup poll organization to ask how many people in the United States support impeachment. Bob Fertik, who leads Democrats for Unity, argues in an Internet column that it’s a hot topic, pointing to 723,000 Internet links.
But Gallup Poll editor-in-chief Frank Newport has so far refused to pose what he sees as a hypothetical question. "We will certainly ask Americans about their views on impeaching George W. Bush if, and when, there is some discussion of that possibility by congressional leaders, and/or if commentators begin discussing it in the news media. That has not happened to date," he wrote to Fertik.
In response, Fertik noted in an article that has appeared on Common Dreams and other websites that many discussions of impeachment have appeared in the media, including statements or references by Buchanan, MSNBC newsman Keith Olberman, conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh. U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-NY, Fox News commentator Alan Combes, consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader, and Nixon era White House Counsel John Dean. He also pointed to a poll on impeachment of former President Clinton that appeared in January 1998, shortly after allegations about his affair with an intern surfaced.
In June, a Zogby poll found 42 percent support for impeachment if Bush lied about Iraq.
National Park policy revision sparks opposition
JACKSON, WY – When Paul Hoffman worked for the Chamber of Commerce in Cody, WY, he had problems with National Park Service policies that put resource protection ahead of visitor access, recreation, and other human activities. Now a deputy assistant secretary in the Interior Department with power over the Park Service, Hoffman has been rewriting those policies to emphasize visitor enjoyment, particularly by motorized means such as snowmobiles and low-flying aircraft tours.
According to reports in the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers, Hoffman’s revision has generated an uproar among Park Service employees, particularly retirees, who are calling it a "full-scale attack on America’s national parks" and "a national tragedy."
"It’s absolutely stark-raving crazy," said Rick Smith, quote in the Jackson Hole News and Guide. Smith belongs to the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, which has distributed Hoffman’s policy revision. "The inmates are in charge of the asylum," Smith said.
In an Aug. 29, editorial, The New York Times claimed that the new management policy was prepared by Hoffman without consultation with the Park Service.
J.T. Reynolds, superintendent of Death Valley National Park, charges in the LA Times, "They are changing the whole nature of who we are and what we have been. I hope the public understands that this is a threat to their heritage. It threatens the past, the present and the future. It’s painful to see this." The potential changes also would allow cell phone towers and liberalize rules that prohibit mining, according to Bill Wade, former superintendent at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.
Political agendas are being grafted onto agency policy documents with little regard for protecting park resources and values for future generations, added Smith, who worked for the Park Service for 31 years and served as a regional director and superintendent of parks. Park Service and Interior officials defend the rewrite by describing it as little more than a "starting point" for discussion.
Heritage Foundation speaker sees red
WASHINGTON, DC – Author John J. Tierney Jr. offered some red meat for his audience at a recent forum organized by the conservative Heritage Foundation. The title of the event was provocative enough: "The Politics of Peace: What’s Behind the Anti-War Movement?" But Tierney’s conclusion was still a shocker.
"I have to say it is communist," he told the audience. According to the Washington Post, which covered the event, Cindy Sheehan, whose son died in Iraq and who camped out at President Bush’s ranch this month to protest the war, received special attention from Tierney. "I’ve never heard of a woman protesting a war in front of a leader’s home in my life," he said. "I’ve never heard of anything quite so outrageous."
Tierney, who supposedly researched the anti-war movement for a book, offered some remarkable observations. Groups such as ANSWER, Not in Our Name, Code Pink, United for Peace and Justice, and Move On were described as "revolutionary socialistic" and "cohorts" of North Korea, Saddam Hussein and Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Together, they constitute "a comprehensive, exhaustive, socialistic anti-capitalistic political structure," he said.
Heritage’s Dana Dillon introduced Tierney, who is associated with the Institute of World Politics, by saying that "the discussion today does not oppose the antiwar movement per se or question the patriotism or loyalty or common sense of Americans on either side of the debate." However, the blurb promoting the event on Heritage’s website said of the movement: "At root, they are anti-American rather than anti-war."