Wednesday, December 6

Bush League FEMA Added to Groups' Enemies Lists; Demo Congressional Katrina Inquiry Looming?

In covering the September 22 [2005] launch of the House inquiry into the flawed government response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster, The Washington Post and USA Today reported that House Democrats are boycotting the "bipartisan" investigation but failed to provide the reasons Democrats have given for the boycott: They would be outnumbered by Republicans on the panel and would not have subpoena power. Media Matters, 22 September 2005.

[In January 2007, the Demos will have the majority and subpoena power in both the House and Senate. What excuse will they then concoct to justify looking past Bush's blatant lying (see below) and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's failure in responding to Katrina, negligence occasioning the death of 3600 New Orleaneans and the horrible flooding that lay waste to their city. Note: Also watch below as U2 and Green Day sing "the saints" home to New Orleans. --Moose]

The Federal Emergency Management Administration, notoriously known globally since the 2005 hurricane season as FEMA, was fingered yesterday (6 December) in two news wire releases for its abiding pillage of Hurricane Katrina victims, principally those in New Orleans. As France's 17th-century bejeweled gift of bawdiness to Puritanical America, the city defied Louisiana's preference for GOP political leadership in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections to instead cast a majority of votes for George Bush's Democratic White House rivals.

Like the elephant on his political party's logo, the famously vindictive Bush never forgets.

Viewed against the legitimized criminality pocking his administration, Bush's 2003 reorganization of FEMA is an emblematic case study for his administration's systematic conversion of the federal bureaucracy from public service into cash cow conduits for the wealthy, well-connected and brazenly corrupt.

In 2002, the Brookings Institute praised FEMA "for emerging as one of the most effective arms of the federal government after years of 'determined effort' helping victims of major disaster like floods, fires and hurricanes." But in March 2003, after the GOP reclaimed the Senate in the 2002 midterm elections, the White House neutralized FEMA by rolling it up in the dark folds of a newly christened Department of Fatherland (Homeland?) Security, forever making it an enemy of the American people.

Wearing his hat as Center for American Progress senior fellow, journalist and author Eric Altertman a month after the storm held his news media colleagues responsible for the Bush administration's success in not being held accountable for and to no one for Katrina's tragic aftermath.

Bush administration officials, including most prominently the president himself, continue to resist citizens’ demands for an independent 9/11-style commission, preferring the political protection of a Republican-controlled effort in Congress. In this Potemkin investigation, viewers were graced with the spectacle of former FEMA head Michael Brown [photo]... attempting to blame Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin for his own agency’s failures.

“Brownie” also, somewhat surprisingly and ungratefully – given the fact that he had been graced with a job for which he had no apparent qualifications – pointed his finger at the Bush administration for what he called the "emaciation" of FEMA after round upon round of budget cuts forced the agency to let go of key personnel. Of course the media treated the catfight aspect of this accusation as irresistible. What might have been more useful, however, would have been a review of the extreme budgetary restrictions placed on FEMA by the president's spending priorities.

One report, appearing in the Los Angeles Times, predicted that Brown’s appearance was “likely to keep the Bush administration on the political defensive as it tries to project a strong commitment and direction in dealing with rebuilding New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf Coast." This almost reflexive instinct on the part of the press to consider the president's political health, rather than the health of the nation, has been one of the aspects of the weakness of its coverage that has allowed the administration to evade paying the price for its dishonesty and incompetence time and again.

Sadly, Alterman became of the media lynch mob unfairly scapegoating former FEMA chief Michael Brown for Bush's criminal negligence during Hurricane Katrina. An Associated Press report (3-minute Google video clip) filed five months after Alterman's assessment included footage of a 29 August 2005 pre-storm video conference call in which Brown warned George Bush a day before Katrina's landfall that the storm was a "bad one," that "this is... the big one." Four days after Brown's warning, Bush appeared on ABC TV's Good Morning America to defend his negligence, saying "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees"--though Brown's conference call warned of breached levees. Of course Bush administration officials tapped GOP congressional leaders to avoid any inquiry into their negligence in the 3600 lost lives to Katrina.

15 Months Later: FEMA Crime Wave Unabated

Without further ado, below are the two "FEMA-as-thief" news releases posted 6 December. The first is excerpted from the daily progress report from the Center for American Progress, filed in the "Under the Radar" news notes section. The second is from ACORN, an national advocacy group for low- to moderate-income American urban families, in 100 US cities.

1. KATRINA -- FEMA STINGY WITH EVACUEES AS MONEY TO SCAM ARTISTS GOES UNRECOVERED: "More than a year after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, life is still precarious and unpredictable for many evacuees, especially those who have depended on the government for a modicum of stability." 102,000 families still live in government trailers, and 33,000 live in apartments paid for by FEMA. The agency is closing five of the trailer parks, but the families "have not been told where their new homes will be." For those living in the apartments, FEMA has tried to cut them off "with little explanation," although a federal judge ruled the "'Kafkaesque' application process" had unconstitutionally denied aid to tens of thousands of hurricane victims. In addition, FEMA has "recouped less than 1 percent of an estimated $1 billion in fraudulent or unjustified payments it distributed" after the storms. "At the same time," a Government Accountability Office report found, FEMA "continued to wrongly send out millions of dollars of new aid this year, including $17 million in rental assistance to families living rent-free in FEMA trailers." Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) described as a "false choice" the agency's claim that they "could not figure out how to distribute emergency assistance quickly while preventing widespread waste and fraud."

2. ACORN Calls on FEMA to Adhere to Judge's Orders

ACORN Will Announce Next Steps in Suit and Campaign to Restore Housing Aid

WASHINGTON - December 6 - Members of ACORN will conduct press conferences at the U.S. Capitol and three cities around the country on Thursday, Dec. 7, to announce the organization's next steps to pressure FEMA's to comply with a federal judge's orders to "immediately'' resume making housing benefits available to 11,000 survivors of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Locations are:

In Washington, D.C., 10:30 a.m. (EST), 2220 Rayburn House Office Building

-- Speakers: Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA); Rep. Al Green (D-TX); Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX); Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA); Robert Coakley, ACORN Katrina Survivors Association; Mary Spencer, ACORN DC Leader

In New Orleans, 11 a.m., (CST) ACORN National Headquarters, 1024 Elysian Fields Ave.

In Houston, 11:30 a.m. (CST) Houston FEMA office, 2575 W. Belfort In Little Rock, ACORN Office, 2101 S. Main St.

Survivors of Hurricane Katrina and plaintiffs in the lawsuit will speak about their struggles over FEMA housing issues, and their work with public officials to pressure the agency.

On Tuesday, FEMA filed a motion to appeal the decision, but it is still under Court order to resume housing aid. ACORN's attorneys filed a motion in with Judge Richard J. Leon on Tuesday asking him to compel FEMA to produce a compliance plan.

"FEMA is still under a court order restore the housing support they illegally terminated. They haven't moved to do so yet -- even though more families are now facing eviction as December rents come due. ACORN members will continue push FEMA to put a quick procedure in place to get the people the assistance we were wrongly denied," said Wanda Jones, a Katrina Survivor and ACORN member in Houston whose housing assistance was terminated last summer. "It is long past due for FEMA to live up to its responsibilities and help families get on their road home to recovery."

The court ordered the aid restored retroactively, so affected families are to receive checks for past payments from Sept. 1 to now, and continued assistance until February 2007, or until FEMA gives them adequate notice of why they were ineligible. The ruling affects 11,000 families, mostly in Texas and Louisiana, who received FEMA rental assistance.

ACORN, a national community organization based in New Orleans, has organized thousands of dislocated Katrina survivors into local chapters. ACORN has pushed local and federal officials and lawmakers to provide Katrina survivors the assistance needed to take care of their families and rebuild their homes. In New Orleans, ACORN's Home Clean-Out Program has saved over 1,800 homes from decay, and the group and its partners are rebuilding homes in low and moderate income neighborhoods, while pushing for fair and inclusive rebuilding plans. Visit http://www.acorn.org/katrina to learn more.

ACORN is represented by Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid (Jerome Wesevich 915-241-0534) and Public Citizen Litigation Group (Michael T. Kirkpatrick 202-588-1000). The lawsuit and supporting exhibits are posted at: http://www.citizen.org.

Postscript: If you have yet to see U2 and Green Day perform their post-Katrina commemorative music video to New Orleans, treat yourself below.



Some of the shots in the video were from the groups' 25 September 2006 performance at a National Football Game welcoming "the Saints" football team's return to league play in New Orleans after Katrina. ABC televised the game, arguably the most politically loaded telecast of a professional football game in American history. I wrote about the behind-the-scenes pre-game and halftime machinations here in a 30 October Postscript.



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