Friday, September 02, 2005

Louisiana Burning

It's Friday morning. Friday morning. And as I type this, people are dying in Louisiana, not from a hurricane that made landfall on Monday but from the criminal negligence of our federal government.

The stories are horrific. Patients at Charity Hospital in New Orleans are dying from lack of electricity and proper facilities and the corpses of the dead are being stacked like cordwood in stairwells. Doctors have been begging since Monday for patients to be evacuated from local hospitals - and they're still there, still dying.

Tens of thousands of citizens are abandoned at the Convention Center. Children, the elderly, families left without food or water since Monday. More corpses, more suffering, more despair.

Bodies are floating in canals and through the streets of New Orleans, a shocking health hazard that can't even begin to be addressed because more and more corpses are joining the floaters every hour. People are still on rooftops, with bodies of dead family members who were unable to survive for five days without food or water surrounding them. Police are tying the floating bodies to stop signs for pick up, whenever FEMA gets around to it.

Cops are looting stores and draining gasoline from abandoned vehicles because no food, no gas, no help has been provided to those expected to keep order. At least 30% of the New Orleans police department have abandoned their posts. Do you blame them?

And in the middle of the chaos, the man responsible is going to chopper over the area in an attempt to save his administration, because the American people have finally woken up to the gross incompetence of this puppet of the rich. Of course, his trip over New Orleans will require the airspace to be cleared, so the food, medical supplies, and above all water desperately needed by the thousands of people at the Convention Center will not be airdropped - but then, FEMA has had all week to do that and failed, so what's another day to these monsters? Bush is, at the moment I type this, at a worthless photo-op in Mobile where he's pretending to listen while Haley Barbour explains to him what a really, really baaaaad storm this was. Good god! If he doesn't know that much, we're in a hell of a lot of trouble, kids.

If the people at the Convention Center had been members of Bush's base - the "have mores" - is there any question that the federal government would have turned out a massive rescue response? Would they have allowed their wealthy white elderly supporters in wheelchairs to go without food and water for five days, pissing where they sit, in the blazing sun and killing temperatures?

Of course not.

What's so shocking in this nightmare is just how disposable poor African-Americans are in the scheme of "compassionate conservatism", how little their lives mean in the Bush food chain, how easily their dignity is destroyed, how their bodies are allowed to float through the streets of a dying city, abandoned and ignored in death as they were in life.

Never - and he's put us through a lot in the last four and a half years - have I hated George Bush with the intensity that I've felt this week. He's poured billions of our tax dollars into rebuilding Iraq and cuts funding to rebuild the levees in New Orleans. He sends floods of troops into Iraq to kill but can't send anyone into New Orleans to save lives. He plays guitar and eats cake while his fellow citizens are dying of his neglect, his lack of Christian caring, and his incompetence. He cuts taxes for the wealthy and asks us to pony up from our wallets for this disaster. And above it all, he does nothing but vacation and fundraise while the poorest, the most vulnerable, the most desperate in our society are simply abandoned to their fate to die.

At least our media isn't trying to hide the shocking incompetence of the buffoons in the government running this show. Even the right-wing lackies on cable news are reacting with outrage over the neglect of this government in dealing with this crisis. The scales have finally fallen from their eyes, and for once they're reacting with a spark of outrage and humanity.

I'm numb with fury over the scenes from New Orleans and the Gulf coast this week. This worthless, dangerous President of Death is allowing people to die of dehydration where they stand on the streets of an American city. How do you accept that? How do you even begin to grasp it?

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Bush cut New Orleans flood control project 44% to pay for Iraq

An infuriating article this morning in Salon.com
(you can get a free one-day pass to read the entire article - follow the link on the site).

Our tax dollars have been pouring into Iraq, leaving crucial work at home undone. Nothing illustrates this better than the butcher's bill Bush has presented to the people of New Orleans, who were left unprotected and vulnerable so he could pay for his pet war in Iraq.

"No one can say they didn't see it coming"
In 2001, FEMA warned that a hurricane striking New Orleans was one of the three most likely disasters in the U.S. But the Bush administration cut New Orleans flood control funding by 44 percent to pay for the Iraq war.

Aug. 31, 2005 | Biblical in its uncontrolled rage and scope, Hurricane Katrina has left millions of Americans to scavenge for food and shelter and hundreds to thousands reportedly dead. With its main levee broken, the evacuated city of New Orleans has become part of the Gulf of Mexico. But the damage wrought by the hurricane may not entirely be the result of an act of nature.

A year ago the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed to study how New Orleans could be protected from a catastrophic hurricane, but the Bush administration ordered that the research not be undertaken. After a flood killed six people in 1995, Congress created the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, in which the Corps of Engineers strengthened and renovated levees and pumping stations. In early 2001, the Federal Emergency Management Agency issued a report stating that a hurricane striking New Orleans was one of the three most likely disasters in the U.S., including a terrorist attack on New York City. But by 2003 the federal funding for the flood control project essentially dried up as it was drained into the Iraq war. In 2004, the Bush administration cut funding requested by the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for holding back the waters of Lake Pontchartrain by more than 80 percent. Additional cuts at the beginning of this year (for a total reduction in funding of 44.2 percent since 2001) forced the New Orleans district of the Corps to impose a hiring freeze. The Senate had debated adding funds for fixing New Orleans' levees, but it was too late.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune, which before the hurricane published a series on the federal funding problem, and whose presses are now underwater, reported online: "No one can say they didn't see it coming ... Now in the wake of one of the worst storms ever, serious questions are being asked about the lack of preparation."

The Bush administration's policy of turning over wetlands to developers almost certainly also contributed to the heightened level of the storm surge. In 1990, a federal task force began restoring lost wetlands surrounding New Orleans. Every two miles of wetland between the Crescent City and the Gulf reduces a surge by half a foot. Bush had promised "no net loss" of wetlands, a policy launched by his father's administration and bolstered by President Clinton. But he reversed his approach in 2003, unleashing the developers. The Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency then announced they could no longer protect wetlands unless they were somehow related to interstate commerce.

The entire article is a must-read. With public opinion already against Bush's war, this might be the straw that breaks the camel's back.

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.


Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Let Them Eat Cake


Hurricane? What hurricane? Bush spent last evening at a fat-cat political fundraiser during his breezy five-week vacation while residents of the Gulf coast and New Orleans clung to rooftops, waiting for rescue.

He might have good reason to hide from this disaster. On August 1st - almost a month ago - the following appeared on the site of a New Orleans television station:

LA National Guard Wants Equipment to Come Back From Iraq

Yunji de Nies

August 1, 2005, 9:07 PM CDT

JACKSON BARRACKS -- When members of the Louisiana National Guard left for Iraq in October, they took a lot equipment with them. Dozens of high water vehicles, humvees, refuelers and generators are now abroad, and in the event of a major natural disaster that, could be a problem.

"The National Guard needs that equipment back home to support the homeland security mission," said Lt. Colonel Pete Schneider with the LA National Guard.

Why in the world would the Army need dozens of high water vehicles in Iraq? Wouldn't those have come in rather handy, as well as the generators, in New Orleans this week? In fact, wouldn't having the Louisiana National Guard in Louisiana be sort of helpful - given that a large portion of their mission is to deal with natural disasters in their home states - rather than in a hopeless quagmire in Iraq? Meanwhile, the flooding in New Orleans is reaching a crisis stage, while Guardsmen from Louisiana watch helplessly from their barracks in Iraq.

How bad is the situation in New Orleans, while Bush kicks back on vacation and Louisiana Guardsmen and their heavy equipment are in Iraq? Here are a few excerpts from the mayor's latest statement:

"We have 80 percent of our city underwater. In some parts of the city, the water is as deep as twenty feet.

"We have people still trapped on their roofs.

"We have an incredible amount of water in the city. Both airports are underwater."

"The twin spans in New Orleans East are destroyed. They're gone.

"We have three huge boats that have run aground. We have an oil tanker that is also run aground. And leaking oil.

"We have a serious levee break at 17th Canal. It's causing waters to continue to rise in certain sections of the city.

"I must tell people who are driving around that if you drive on the highrise, we're not sure about the structural soundness of the high-rise, because it appears that a barge has hit one of the main structures of the high-rise.

"All of Slidell is under water.

"We have gas leaks that have sprout out, and even when they are under water, you will see a flame shooting out of the water. It's not a pretty picture."

Having a local Guard unit mobilized near the event can be a handy thing. Last night, Jeanne Meserve from CNN was reporting live from New Orleans and broke down in tears from the horrors all around her. She reported that people were screaming from rooftops and rubble, begging for rescue, dogs howling because they were trapped in electrical wires, still alive - and no rescue available until morning. Perhaps having the Louisiana Guard staged in Baton Rouge yesterday morning might have alleviated some of last night's agony.


CNN is reporting this morning that Mississippi is scrambling to borrow Guardsmen from other states, as so many of their own Guard are deployed in Iraq. I'm sure those awaiting rescue will be glad to wait for other state's Guard units to be cobbled up and transported.

No wonder that Bush's only advice to Americans in the face of this natural disaster is to "pray". He's left the people of the Gulf coast no other option.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Chimpeach!

Bush has been repeating his robotic lies about Iraq for months, and it's shocking how easily exposed his lies are - and how little they receive critical attention from the mass media.

The New York Times today exposes the murderous Bush lie that when the Iraqi Army builds up, we'll "stand down". Turns out that we're deliberately not building up the Iraqi Army, and are instead telling the Iraqis to rely on the permanent American bases in Iraq.

So much for "standing down".

EVEN though President Bush keeps saying American forces won't leave Iraq until its forces can fight on their own, the United States isn't rushing to give the Iraqi military heavy weapons.

There is an official explanation for that - that such things take time.

But there is also another reason to go slow, one that illustrates how tightly American military success is intertwined with the political prospects of Iraq itself. This reason is little discussed in public by military officers, but it was evident last week on the explosion-scarred streets of Baghdad, in the skirmishes between rival Shiite forces in Najaf, and in the confusion of Iraq's struggle to complete a new constitution.

Simply put, Iraq remains too fragile for any planner to know what shape the country will be in six months or a year from now - whether it will reach compromises and hold together or split apart in a civil war.

And that presents a conundrum for American military planners. With those questions up in the air, they have to fear that any heavy arms distributed now could end up aimed at American forces or feeding a growing civil conflict. And the longer Iraq's army has to wait for sophisticated weapons, the longer American forces are likely to be needed in Iraq as a bulwark against chaos.

Nice. But this major fuck-up gets worse:

In private, some officers acknowledge other concerns, too. "We're worried about civil war or a coup," said a senior American officer in Baghdad charged with outfitting Iraq's new army. He would not agree to be identified because the concerns he was discussing are so sensitive.

Indeed, Iraqi commanders are growing restive, saying their troops are dying at three times the rate of American soldiers because they lack basic equipment.

"Soldiers with Kalashnikovs and pickup trucks is not an army," said Gen. Abdulqader Mohammed Jassim, commander of the Iraqi ground forces, during a recent interview at his office in Baghdad. "To make the Iraqi Army stand on its own without American or coalition forces, we need command and control equipment, transport vehicles and training." He wants helicopters and artillery, more powerful guns and bigger tanks - weapons the Americans say he doesn't need now.

At the same time, the Americans are building at least four semi-permanent military bases that could hold 18,000 troops each. These are usually described as way stations on the eventual route home for the Americans, places where they will stay while ever-more-capable Iraqi troops engage the insurgents on their own. But that will clearly take time. Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top military commander in Iraq, when asked this month about how the bases would be used, dismissed the question: "You're talking years away." And if Iraq's politics remain unstable, the bases could offer a continuing rationale for not providing heavier weaponry, since the Americans would still be close by for the Iraqis to rely on.

Bush repeated just last week, during his rant where he screeched like a madman at his hand-picked audience, that the U.S. would "stand down" as soon as the Iraqi Army could defend the country. But what Army?

"Just as there isn't one Iraqi people, there isn't one Iraqi army," said Peter Galbraith, a former United States ambassador to Croatia who is now in Iraq and has worked closely with the Kurds. "We won't be arming a national army, but armies that are loyal to three different groups."

Just how long will the American people put up with this major fucked-up mess before demanding that our elected officials in Congress get a fucking grip and start demanding policy changes from the incompetent Bush administration - and an end to the bald-faced lies?