Stealing the ’08 Election: Rove and Reconstruction After Katrina

Evidence has come to light over the past month that the so-called “incompetence” of the Federal response to Katrina is anything but. It has been a calculated effort led by Karl Rove to turn Louisiana from a Democratic state into a Republican state by destroying New Orleans, but it may backfire.

Two weeks ago the WaPo reported that roughly a quarter of a million people are suing the Federal government for damages, claiming that the Army Corps of Engineers screwed up the building of the levees, dams, in fact the whole New Orleans water delivery system.

Ever since the floodwaters receded, the idea that the U.S. government was to blame for the Katrina catastrophe has possessed and angered its victims.

A legion of lawn signs, posted in front of many wrecked homes, wagged a finger at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency responsible for the flood works: “Hold the Corps accountable!”

Turns out it was more than mere talk. After a massive deadline filing rush recently that is still being sorted through, the United States is facing legal claims from more than 250,000 people here demanding compensation because, they allege, the Corps negligently designed the waterworks that permeate the city.

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[O]fficials said the damage claimed against the Corps exceeds $278 billion, an amount that dwarfs even the estimated $125 billion that the federal government has put up for Gulf Coast hurricane recovery.

Win or lose, the volume of claims is a measure of the prevalent sense in this city that the United States created the disaster and that, worse, it has failed to make up for it in disaster aid.

“This was the largest catastrophe in the history of the United States, and people want justice,” said Joseph M. Bruno, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys handling the case in federal court.

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Army Corps of Engineers Rigs Bid in Favor of Company with Ties to Bush

It seems that in the Age of Bush, the military-industrial complex just can’t seem to be bothered to make a decent product as long as it can rely on political connections and influence to keep those contracts coming. In Iraq, the “free market zone” neoconservatives dreamed of:

  • KBR (Kellogg, Brown & Root), a subsidiary of Halliburton, tripled the cost of the gas it was supplying the US military and then failed to deliver what it billed for.
  • Halliburton itself routinely overcharges for every service it contracts for and doesn’t deliver on half of them. When it does deliver, its service is defective or diseased. For instance, it obtained a $$$billion$$$ contract to provide food and water to the troops in Iraq, then delivered food that was spoiled and water that was contaminated with sewage.
  • Custer Battles, a security company with ties to the RNC, received a $$100Mil$$ contract to provide security for the Baghdad airport, already guarded by Army troops, then another $$50M$$ to supply forklifts. It simply painted the forklifts that were already there with its logo and sent in its bill.
  • Blackwater, another security company, contracted for more than $$320M$$ to provide escorts for supply convoys and diplomats, and then double-billed for its services, effectively kicking the contract’s worth to almost half a $$$Billion$$$.
  • Parsons Corp, one of the largest construction outfits in Iraq, is under investigation by the Army Inspector General for “building only a small fraction of the health clinics planned to be built in Iraq and for building a police academy so flawed that human waste rained from the ceilings.”

Of course, that’s all war-profiteering and has nothing to do with what happens here at home, right?

Wrong.

The Associated Press is reporting that the Army Corps of Engineers may have conspired to pass the contract for the drainage pumps it used in the New Orleans levees to a company that used to employ Jeb Bush.

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Foreign Aid Money for Katrina Relief Rejected or Unused

On Sunday, the Washington Post reported that $$$hundreds of millions of $$$ in hurricane relief after Katrina has gone unused.

Allies offered $854 million in cash and in oil that was to be sold for cash. But only $40 million has been used so far for disaster victims or reconstruction, according to U.S. officials and contractors. Most of the aid went uncollected, including $400 million worth of oil. Some offers were withdrawn or redirected to private groups such as the Red Cross. The rest has been delayed by red tape and bureaucratic limits on how it can be spent.

In addition, valuable supplies and services — such as cellphone systems, medicine and cruise ships — were delayed or declined because the government could not handle them. In some cases, supplies were wasted.

“Could not handle them” my ass. As we’ve shown time and again, the Bush Administration had no desire to “handle them”, no desire in fact to do anything that would help the refugees or bring them home. Tens (hundreds?) of thousands of Katrina refugees still languish in FEMA trailer parks from Louisiana to Texas to Arkansas, reconstruction of the poorer neighborhoods is all but at a standstill while HUD refuses to either spend appropriated money or release it to be spent by Gulf state govts and Bush refuses to sign the waiver that would let those state govts do it themselves, and now we find out that not only did the Bushies turn down help offered by Europe, but the help they deigned to accept has been rotting away in banks and warehouses while the Administration claims it “can’t afford” any more aid.

We have proved over and over again that this inaction on the part of the Bush Admin is deliberate. It can’t be an accident, an oversight, a mistake, or incompetence. It has to be policy. There is no other rational explanation.

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State Farm Tries to Change Engineering Reports to Avoid Paying Katrina Claims

E-mails are all over the news these days. First, there are the missing RNC emails (funny how evidence of criminal activity by Pubs goes missing, ain’t it?), and then there are the ones that aren’t.

Attorneys for homeowners suing State Farm Insurance Cos. after Hurricane Katrina have long accused the insurer of pressuring engineers to alter reports on storm-damaged homes so that policyholders’ claims could be denied.Now, some of these lawyers claim they have evidence to prove their allegation — internal e-mails from an engineering firm that helped State Farm adjust claims after the Aug. 29, 2005, hurricane destroyed thousands of homes on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

State Farm denies pressuring engineers to change their conclusions, but the e-mails, obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press, indicate the company was threatening to dismiss Raleigh, N.C.-based Forensic Analysis & Engineering Corp. less than two months after Katrina.

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After Katrina: What the Democrats Are Up Against

In his recent press conference, memorable for a series of hypocritical and borderline-false statements, King George the Clueless berated the Democratic Congress for stuffing his supplemental war funding bill with what he called “pork”. Some $1.2B of that “pork” was headed for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, the majority of it targeted for housing construction and redevelopment. It was the first housing appropriation of any significance in the 12 years since the Republicans took over the House, and the first to directly address the devastation to housing when Katrina hit.

During the 12 years that Republicans ran the House, their leaders didn’t pay much attention to affordable-housing activists. Despite soaring rents and complaints of a deepening affordability crisis, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) told his conference that he didn’t want to see housing bills on the floor. He thought housing programs were unreformed welfare….

But now that Democrats took over the House in November, their leaders are affordable-housing activists. Liberals Barney Frank (Mass.) and Maxine Waters (Calif.) run the two panels overseeing housing policy after agitating for years, without success, for increased government rent assistance. They came to office promising to pass the first major housing legislation since the early 1990s.

Last month, the House passed their bill, a measure to address the housing shortages that have festered on the Gulf Coast since Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005. After the storm wiped out 82,000 rental units in New Orleans, DeLay blocked a housing bill from Richard H. Baker (R-La.) because, sources said, the majority leader did not consider Baker a “team player.” But Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), now speaker of the House, campaigned on Katrina inaction — a prime example, she told audiences last fall, of the “do-nothing Congress” — and vowed a fast reversal. The resulting Democratic bill includes several bold precedents, including a “right to return” for all displaced hurricane victims and “one-for-one replacement” for all demolished public housing units.

So actually appropriating the money you promised so glibly while you posed for a photo-op in Jackson Square after the storm passed is your idea of “pork”, Mr President? It was easy to make promises you knew Tom DeLay was going to kill, wasn’t it? But Tommy is back killing bugs and fending off corruption and fraud charges while comparing himself to Christ (link via Digby). Now that Nancy Pelosi is Speaker and the bill has actually passed, it’s “pork”? But…it was your idea, Your Majesty. Remember?

Fine words backed up by…nothing. And now that the Democrats have done the work for you, you won’t sign it? Are you going to veto these, too?

Democratic leaders say the Katrina bill — which has yet to come up for a vote in the Senate — is just a beginning. They hope to create a huge affordable-housing trust fund, restrict predatory lending, expand rent subsidies and tax credits for low-income housing, and push the federal government back into apartment construction.

“It’s night and day,” said Michael Kane, an affordable-housing advocate in Boston. “The atmosphere has totally changed.”

Housing has been a major problem for a decade, not just in New Orleans but all over the country. Rents have shot through the stratosphere while wages have remained stagnant for 20 years, the affordable housing market has shrunk beyond belief, the subprime mortgage market is imploding due to high-risk mortgage practices loaded with small-print clauses, tricks, and hidden charges (that’s deregulation for you), and you installed a HUD Sec who thinks it’s his job not to do his job. Marvelous.

Meanwhile, the crisis deepens.

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Allstate Accuses Homeowners of Fraud to Avoid Paying Katrina Claim

In the wake of Katrina’s devastation, insurance companies have been trying every trick in their thick tome of lies, dodges, denials, and legal skulduggery to avoid paying out what they owe Gulf Coast homeowners, but Allstate seems to have hit a new low even for an insurance industry which was pretty well down the bottom of the list to begin with. They’ve tried – with some unconscionable success – to claim that wind damage which they have to pay off on was actually water damage which they don’t. That’s bad enough, but now Allstate is accusing some homeowners of fraud.

For the second time in as many federal insurance trials in Louisiana, Allstate Insurance Co. has alleged that the homeowners bringing suit have committed fraud, and has asked for the case to be dismissed.

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WaPo Slams Bush for Holding Up Katrina Funds

Fred Hiatt, WaPo editorial writer, must be reading this blog.

LOUISIANA IS in a bind. Nineteen months after hurricanes Katrina and Rita decimated its economy, slashed its tax base and hobbled its workforce, the state is struggling to get back on its feet. Every dollar of redevelopment money is vital. That’s why there have been consistent calls on President Bush to waive the 10 percent local match requirement on projects using money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. And just as consistently, he has refused. Why is this 10 percent match, which local governments have to pay upfront, so important? Let us explain.

When disaster strikes, FEMA stands ready with financial aid. The agency is absolutely right to demand that states share in the expense of cleanup and recovery. Under circumstances deemed “extraordinary” and with damage assessments above $110 per capita, FEMA can shrink that burden from the customary 25 percent to 10 percent. But the president has the authority to waive even that requirement in the event of major catastrophes. Mr. Bush did this for New York after the horrific Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks (damage: $390 per capita).

Although Fred seems to have allowed his sense of humanity and justice to over-ride his usually-reliable loyalty to Bush for this one time, he still can’t bring himself to admit that Junior also waived the requirement for Florida after Hurricane Andrew when his brother Jeb was Gov.

Come on, Freddie. As long as you’re out on a rare truth-limb anyway, you might just as well tell it all.

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Bush Deliberately Stalling Katrina Money

A year-and-a-half after Katrina hundreds of thousands of ex-New Orleans and Gulf Coast residents are stuck in FEMA trailer parks from Alabama to Arkansas, dumped there and forgotten by the Bush Administration. The Emperor got his photo op, made his empty promises, and promptly forgot both the promises and the people he made them to. I realize that eight fired US Attorneys is important and that the scandals are coming thicker and faster than anybody can keep up with them now that the Republics can’t use the Congress to give him cover, but why isn’t somebody – just one person, I don’t care who, asking about the unconscionable abandonment of Katrina survivors?

New Orleans is still mostly a wasteland, and the hardest-hit towns along the Gulf Coast aren’t much better off. Yet, despite a recent dust-up on the House floor over the mess in Mississippi that got some attention, not one reporter questioned Bush at his press conference about the plight of the Gulf Coast or the difference between the flood of money he promised and the trickle he delivered.

Not one.

The supposed “pork” in the supplemental Bush is threatening to veto includes $1.6B for Gulf Coast relief – a significant number (though not nearly sufficient) compared to the mere millions allowed to filter through his cost-cutting net, most of which wound up in the pockets of politically-connected Bush Buddies. Meanwhile, public works are stymied.

Nineteen months after the storm sent nine feet of water through it, [St. Bernard Parish Fire Station No. 6] remains unusable. One wall is missing; the ceiling has fallen in; a uniform still on its hanger lies crumpled amid the dried mud and tumbled furniture.

None of St. Bernard Parish’s 10 fire houses have been rebuilt, even though local officials estimate that 26,000 people have returned to the area, just east of New Orleans. In fact, across southern Louisiana and Mississippi, many school buildings remain closed, public water systems leak, roads crumble and libraries molder. Local governments cannot afford to fix them, and billions of dollars in recovery assistance promised by the federal government have only started to trickle to the region.

(Photo by Cheryl Gerber/NYT)

Why, given the amounts (some $5Bil) even the Republic Congress allocated in the immediate aftermath? Because the Bush Administration is using a bureaucratic technicality to prevent relief money from being released.

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After Katrina: Why Isn’t HUD Building Housing?

Katrina + 10 months

(Video from truthout.com)

An editorial in today’s NYT finally does what, so far as I know, no newspaper has done since Katrina hit New Orleans: connect a few dots in the aftermath.

The Bush administration’s mishandling of the Hurricane Katrina housing crisis has often looked like an attempt to discourage survivors from applying for help. The House has taken an important step toward reversing this policy with a bill that would require the Department of Housing and Urban Development to issue tens of thousands of new housing vouchers under the Section 8 program, which allows low-income families to seek homes in the private real estate market.

Many of these families would have long since found permanent homes and settled into new lives had the Bush administration brought HUD — which was created to deal with these kinds of situations — into the picture at the very start. But Hurricane Katrina arrived just as the administration had made up its mind to cripple HUD and the successful Section 8 program, partly as a way of offsetting tax cuts for the wealthy.

The administration instead rigged up a confusing and inflexible housing program and put the Federal Emergency Management Agency in charge. FEMA frustrated landlords and Katrina’s victims alike. Last year, one federal judge likened the convoluted application process — which too often led vulnerable families to lose aid without knowing why or having reasonable recourse to appeal — to something out of a horror story by Kafka.

With thousands of families scheduled to lose their temporary aid by September, the Senate should move quickly to pass this much-needed legislation. Hurricane Katrina’s victims should not have to keep paying the price for the administration’s misplaced animosity toward low-income housing.

It doesn’t go far enough, of course. It has become painfully clear in the year-and-a-half since Katrina that the Bush Administration sees the new New Orleans largely as a predominantly white corporate theme park. It has scattered hundreds of thousands of homeless black Orleanians to the four winds and targeted Federal money to reconstruction efforts downtown and to upscale white neighborhoods. The touchy racist aspect of the BA’s response is apparently not something the NYT is yet prepared to deal with.

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