Wednesday, August 31, 2005

a'pickin' and a'grinnin'




When Bush wasn't eating cake while the flood waters in New Orleans rose yesterday, he was clowning with a presidential guitar. Yes, the plight of his citizens truly tears at his soul - right?

Meanwhile, a crisis worsens in the city thanks to his policies.

Among emergency specialists, 'mitigation' -- the measures taken in advance to minimize the damage caused by natural disasters -- is a crucial part of the strategy to save lives and cut recovery costs. But since 2001, key federal disaster mitigation programs, developed over many years, have been slashed and tossed aside. FEMA's Project Impact, a model mitigation program created by the Clinton administration, has been canceled outright. Federal funding of post-disaster mitigation efforts designed to protect people and property from the next disaster has been cut in half. Communities across the country must now compete for pre-disaster mitigation dollars.

As a result, some state and local emergency managers say, it's become more difficult to get the equipment and funds they need to most effectively deal with disasters. In Louisiana, requests for flood mitigation funds were rejected by FEMA this summer. (See sidebar.) In North Carolina, a state also regularly threatened by hurricanes and floods, FEMA recently refused the state's request to buy backup generators for emergency support facilities. And the budget cuts have halved the funding for a mitigation program that saved an estimated $8.8 million in recovery costs in three eastern North Carolina communities alone after 1999's Hurricane Floyd.

Consequently, the residents of these and other disaster-prone states will find the government less able to help them when help is needed most, and both states and the federal government will be forced to shoulder more recovery costs after disasters strike.

In addition, the White House has pushed for privatization of essential government services, including disaster management, and merged FEMA into the Department of Homeland Security -- where, critics say, natural disaster programs are often sidelined by counter-terrorism programs. Along the way, morale at FEMA has plummeted, and many of the agency's most experienced personnel have left for work in other government agencies or private corporations..."

......And indeed, some in-need areas have been inexplicably left out of the program. "In a sense, Louisiana is the floodplain of the nation," a 2002 FEMA report noted. "Louisiana waterways drain two thirds of the continental United States. Precipitation in New York, the Dakotas, even Idaho and the Province of Alberta, finds its way to Louisiana's coastline." As a result, flooding is a constant threat, and the state has an estimated 18,000 buildings that have repeatedly been damaged by flood waters – the highest number of any state. And yet, this summer FEMA denied Louisiana communities' pre-disaster mitigation funding requests.

In Jefferson Parish, part of the New Orleans metropolitan area, flood zone manager Tom Rodrigue is baffled by the development. "You would think we would get maximum consideration" for the funds, he says. "This is what the grant program called for. We were more than qualified for it."

And more:

"Before FEMA was condensed into Homeland Security it responded much more quickly," says Walter Maestri, director of Jefferson Parish's Office of Emergency Management. Maestri has worked with FEMA for eight years. "Truthfully, you had access to the individuals who were the decision-makers. The FEMA administrator had Cabinet status. Now, you have another layer of bureaucracy. FEMA is headed by an assistant secretary who now has to compete with other assistant secretaries of Homeland Security for available funds. And elevating houses is not as sexy as providing gas masks."

Maestri is still awaiting word from FEMA officials as to why Louisiana, despite being called the "floodplain of the nation" in a 2002 FEMA report, received no disaster mitigation grant money from FEMA in 2003 ("Homeland Insecurity," Sept. 28). Maestri says the rejection left emergency officials around the state "flabbergasted"

Why did the Bush administration cut funding to Lousiana's flood mitigation program so severely? Walter Maestri, the emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, told the New Orleans Times-Picayune the following on June 8, 2004:

It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us.

Everything for Iraq, and nothing for the citizens at home who are paying taxes and expecting at least a basic level of federal services. Heavy military equipment that could be saving lives today in the Gulf coast - in Iraq (see below). Money earmarked to strengthen the levee system in New Orleans - cancelled, and sent to Iraq. The only thing shared by both Iraq and the Gulf states are dead Americans, thanks to the murderous and incompetent policies of the buffoon with the guitar.


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