Friday, November 30, 2007

What Fumes?

From Harry Shearer:
For those people who still don't believe that the federal government is doing everything possible to avoid any responsibility for anything connected to the flooding disaster in New Orleans, this note: remember FEMA's pledge to test its trailers for formaldehyde fumes? Well, according to Thursday's Times-Picayune, reporting on the agency's decision to close down the remaining trailer parks in Lousiana:

The agency has been careful not to attribute park closures to concerns about formaldehyde, which has been found at dangerous levels in some trailers. In a "Frequently Asked Questions" flier released Wednesday, a question asked: "Is FEMA closing parks because of formaldehyde?" FEMA answered: "Trailers were intended as short-term housing solutions. Rental resources are increasingly available in Louisiana and are more appropriate for long-term housing." Email

Testing of local units was scheduled to begin this month but has been postponed. It should begin "very soon," Josephson said.

This was testing that was originally scheduled to have been conducted months ago. In the meantime, of course, residents of the trailers have been exposed to months more of whatever it is that's in those vehicle/residences. I'm sure certain commenters are asking, "Why didn't they take personal responsibility and test themselves?"

Thursday, November 29, 2007

FEMA Sets Date for Closing Katrina Trailer Camps

NEW ORLEANS, Nov. 28 — Almost 3,000 families here and across Louisiana will have to leave their government-supplied trailers over the next few months under a new schedule prepared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

FEMA officials said Wednesday that the agency planned to close all the trailer camps it runs for victims of the 2005 hurricanes by the end of May, including its biggest camp for evacuees, outside of Baton Rouge. Here in New Orleans, 926 families are living in smaller FEMA camps, some of which are supposed to close within days. The agency says its action is intended to hasten the move of residents from trailers to permanent housing, and officials said FEMA is committed to helping them find new housing before the parks close. Counselors will work with residents to track down available apartments.

“We’re with them every step of the way,” said Diane L. W. Perry, a spokeswoman for the agency here, who added that no one will be forced out of a trailer without a home in which to live.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development will assume responsibility for paying to house poor families, as it is also doing for evacuees who are already in rental units around the country. Volunteer groups have been assisting with down payments and furniture in some cases, she said.

But advocates who work with trailer park residents are skeptical of the plan, noting anyone still living in a cramped, flimsy and possibly formaldehyde-tainted trailer probably has nowhere else to go.

Most of those still living in the FEMA parks — which occupy playgrounds, churchyards, parking lots and fields around southern Louisiana — had previously been renters, and little low-cost rental housing has been repaired or built since the storm. Many people in the trailer sites are elderly or disabled, and large numbers are living alone.

“I have talked with people who had no place to go and their location closed down,” said Davida Finger, a staff lawyer with Loyola University Law Clinic. “Booting people out of their one safe place is kicking people when they are down.”

The new schedule does not affect the largest number of trailer dwellers, those living in trailers on private property (usually their own driveways). The timetable for these 9,545 families depends in large part on their rebuilding progress and on local ordinances.

But by the end of next year, the agency will stop paying for about 3,700 families living in government trailers in private trailer parks, agency officials said. They plan to remove about 258 trailers requested by employers for their workers by the end of February.

Federal officials have always said that the trailer program was a stopgap, and that their goal was eventually to move hurricane victims into permanent housing. Publicizing the schedule — in many cases far in advance of the agency’s usual 60-day notice — is meant to help residents make plans, said Ms. Perry said.

“We want to make sure people are safe before the next hurricane season,” she said.

Earlier this year, concerns about formaldehyde contamination prompted the agency to end a plan to allow residents to buy their trailers.

The formaldehyde issue did play a role in the decision to move people out of the trailers, said Ronnie Simpson, a FEMA spokesman.

Because of chemical contamination, “it’s probably a good idea to get people out of trailers,” said Joseph Rich, a lawyer with the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington. “But not at the expense of making them homeless.”

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Debate about the Debate Continues

By Harry Shearer
New Orleans remains baffled and outraged by the decision of the Commission on Presidential Debates to bypass the city's application for a debate next year. Following up on questions asked by commenters to my previous post, I asked Anne Milling, of Women of the Storm (the non-profit organization which was the official proponent of the NO debate) to clarify the issues involved. Here's much of her response:

ONE SIGNATURE: The New York Times (11/24) said, The central problem was that while nine groups participated in the proposal, only one, a nonprofit advocacy group, signed the bid. The context of the story attributed the opinion to Mike McCurry, CPD's newest board member. From our initial inquiry, we were emphatically told by Janet Brown, the Commission's executive director, that there could only be one signatureone entity which must accept legal and financial liabilities. The application was sent to CPD with one signature; getting other signatures would have not have been a problem. Our application was submitted in concert with four universities. Officials of our city, state, convention center and hotel/motel association pledged the necessary resources through letters which were included in our application. I personally pledge the full cooperation of all city departments to ensure the success of the debate, said Mayor Nagin in his letter. If selected, we will work tirelessly to meet every need and requirement of the Commission, wrote Governor Blanco. We are pleased to offer as an in-kind contribution our state-of-the-art space for the debate and the media that will cover it, pledged Warren Reuther, chair of the board for the Morial Convention Center. Others made similar commitments.

If multiple signatures were necessary, then why was that not asked of us?

SPECIAL ATTENTION: It has been publicly and privately stated by Commission members that New Orleans received special attention with three or four staff visits.

This is totally erroneous. In addition to Mr. Slutsky's quick review of our damaged university campuses and walk-through of the Convention Center prior to our application being filed, only ONE staff member, Tammy Johnson, took part in the formal visit on June 19. We emphasize that, during this visit, the mayor, lieutenant governor, university presidents and the heads of the Hotel/Motel Association and Morial Convention Center were all present. Not a question was raised or a concern expressed. It is our understanding that we were the ONLY venue of the 16 applicants that had just one member of the CPD team at its official site visit. At least two of the sites selected for presidential debates hosted three-member CPD teams, according to media coverage.

Is this what the CPD considers special attention?

NO QUESTIONS BETWEEN MARCH 31 AND SEPTEMBER 24: On September 24, I received the first communication by e-mail (attached) from Ms. Brown, asking that a number of people from the city and state come to Washington immediately the same people who were available to the one CPD staffer who made the formal visit June 19. Coincidentally, when I received the e-mail, I was in Washington at a bank meeting with my husband so I offered to meet with her and CPD attorney Lew Loss on September 26. The following was discussed at that time: (and, yes, given the short notice of the meeting, I was the only one at the table!)

Money was no object, as significant commitments had been made by national foundations and corporations.

Although essential commitments by the city, state, convention center and hotel/motel association were clearly stated in our proposal (see attached letters of commitment) and those groups represented at the official site visit, we would have been delighted to have each entity sign an affidavit immediately, or, if necessary, meet in a designated city with Ms. Brown and Mr. Loss. Additionally, at the request of Ms. Brown, I gave them the name of our attorney, Bill Hines, of Jones Walker, which has offices in Washington and New Orleans.

On parting, Mr. Loss and Ms. Brown assured me they would get back in touch, perhaps that afternoon, with necessary paperwork for signatures from our public partners, which would certainly allay any concerns.

I waited and waited for the forthcoming legal documentsonly silence. On September 27, I e-mailed Ms. Brown and Mr. Loss because I had heard nothing. (e-mail copy attached). Finally, on October 3, I sent another e-mail (attached), again reiterating our desire to do whatever was necessary to assure the total commitment from our city and state. The responsesilence!

Were mayors, governors and hotel/motel associations required to sign affidavits in other venues? Why was it suggested that the written word of our public officials, incorporated in our application, was not sufficient?

NEW ORLEANS REJECTED: On November 19, CPD Co-Chair Paul Kirk in his phone conversation to me stated: New Orleans is not ready! though we just hosted conventions of 20,000 ophthalmologists and 25,000 Realtors and will host the Sugar Bowl and BCS championship in January and the NBA all-star game later in the year! What an incorrect, unsupported and damning statement this was to a city on the mend!

Frank Fahrenkopf stated to the presidents of Loyola and Xavier Universities, Technology is lacking. Our state-of-the-art convention center is ranked in the top five in the United States and will host a major cable/telecommunications convention next May the same center that, in March, CPD's lead producer pronounced ready to hold the debate tomorrow.

Mike McCurry was quoted in The Times-Picayune (11/20) as saying that we lacked financial support and that no one wanted to impose on the poor people of New Orleans. The leadership of the Commission knew that financial support from across the country was more than adequate (and that we had pledged not to solicit money in New Orleans).

How could men of such stature abuse their positions by clearly misleading the public with such untruths? How could anyone imply that our application did not meet or surpass all requirements?

Then those requirements became guidelines as the process unfolded! Even guidelines were ignored most blatantly in choosing Oxford, Mississippi, with 650 hotel rooms, less than 22% of the requirement that the Commission sets out in its published guidelines.

DISTORTIONS CONTINUE: Throughout the Thanksgiving holiday week, CPD representatives continued to misrepresent New Orleans and our application. Who could commit the convention center, the hotels, the financial obligations and the public services like police and emergency personnel ? asked Ms. Brown in The New York Times. Anne was the only person at the table, claimed Mr. McCurry.

Once again, we urge you to read our application and review the e-mails.

We question whether Ms. Brown and Mr. Fahrenkopf informed you that the Mayor of the City of New Orleans, the director of the Convention Center and our newly elected Republican governor, Bobby Jindal, phoned to underscore their written commitment?

We're not even sure about when or whether Commission board members met to review applications. Did you together weigh the merits of the 16 competing sites?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Katrina may have accelerated global warming, Tulane researcher says

As if Hurricane Katrina's wind and water hadn't inflicted enough damage, a group of researchers led by a Tulane University biologist has found that the monster storm may well have accelerated global warming.

As Katrina roared through coastal forests in August 2005, it destroyed thousands of trees. As those trees decompose, the carbon they release will be enough to offset a year's worth of new tree growth elsewhere in the United States, said Jeffrey Chambers, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. The team's report has been published in the peer-reviewed journal Science.

Forests are important adversaries of global warming because they remove carbon from the atmosphere during photosynthesis, thereby lowering the production of carbon dioxide. However, an increase in this compound warms the climate, resulting in more intense storms and, eventually, more trees that will decompose, the scientists found.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

FEMA tanks aquarium recovery

NEW ORLEANS -- In what some see as another bureaucratic absurdity after Hurricane Katrina, FEMA is refusing to pick up the cost of restocking New Orleans' aquarium because of how the new fish were obtained: straight from the sea.

FEMA would have been willing to pay more than $600,000 for the fish if they had been bought from commercial suppliers.

But the agency is balking because the aquarium replaced the dead fish using hooks and nets at a cost of $100,000.

''You get to the point where the red tape has so overwhelmed the process that there's not a lot you can do to actually be effective,'' said disaster manager Warren Eller.

FEMA's refusal to reimburse the aquarium is grounded in a law that says facilities can only be returned to their pre-disaster condition, not improved. The aquarium would have to buy fish of the approximate age and size of the lost specimens.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

New Orleans Is Not a Partisan Issue. Really.

New Orleanians want to know why the Commission on Presidential Debates rejected the city's bid to hold a debate. As Harry and the TP note, the commission's official explanations make no sense. And members are not eager to explain themselves further. Other than to assure us all that politics played no role.

The fact is, thanks to Brownie and the rest, New Orleans is an enormous embarrassment to the Republican Party. Holding a debate there -- at the Convention Center! -- would automatically put the Republican nominee on the defensive. That prospect clearly gave the vapors to the establishmentarians on the debate commission.

Well, the Republican Party should be embarrassed. Sorry about that. New Orleans was, and remains, the site of an epochal, multi-faceted domestic policy debacle with implications for the rest of the country, one that occurred on a GOP watch. The tenuousness of the city's recovery owes a lot to the President Bush's absentee leadership and the hand-washing, devolutionary approach of his White House.

Whether it's personal or political, the solution to an embarrassment is not to sweep it under the rug. Perhaps this will sound naïve, but New Orleans should not be -- and at bottom, is not -- a partisan issue. Its problems transcend party labels, whoever is president will have to take up this challenge. The Republican candidates aren't Bush. Each ought to be able to stride into the Convention Center with some answers for New Orleans, and America. A GOP nominee who did that would win points for vision. The fact that our political system can't process this is a sign of more problems to come.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

New Orleans' Dixie Beer fights to come back

NEW ORLEANS — The old brick building where Dixie Beer was brewed before Hurricane Katrina is vacant. More than two years after the storm flooded it and looters devastated it, the building with its looming tower and ornate iron gates is gutted and surrounded by padlocked fences.

But a century after its founding, the beer is coming back, say Joe and Kendra Bruno, who’ve struggled to keep the brewery going since buying it in 1986.

‘‘We’ve worked too hard to give up now,’’ said Joe Bruno. ‘‘Dixie is fine, a lot of people want it back on the shelves and so do we.’’

Beer industry pundits seem lukewarm on the brewery’s prospects. After all, Katrina has not been the only disaster to hit Dixie since founder Valentine Merz started production of the pale amber brew on Halloween 1907.

Of the 13 beers that were once brewed in New Orleans, only Dixie Brewing Co. was left by the early 1980s. With microbreweries the rage, and the national market dominated by heavyweights like Miller Brewing Co. and Anheuser-Busch Cos., Dixie became the last major independent brewer in the Deep South.

Once the city’s favorite beer — living up to the slogan, ‘‘Around here it’s Dixie Beer’’ — demand fell in 1975 after fumes from a chemical used to clean floors tainted the beer’s flavor. The bad batch haunted Dixie’s reputation long after the brew was back to normal.

By the time the Brunos bought the company from Neal Kaye Jr. in 1986, the brewery was almost $14 million in debt. Kaye had bankruptcy papers drawn up and was ready to file if the sale fell through.

The Brunos won’t discuss their finances. Kendra Bruno is the granddaughter of the founder of Barq’s Root Beer, a very successful soft drink producer in the south, and Joe Bruno was a real estate developer before getting involved with Dixie.

The couple won’t say how much they paid for the busted but once-beloved brand. ‘‘We only paid our lives, our blood, our sweat and tears,’’ Kendra Bruno said. ‘‘We love the place Dixie has always had in this city.’’

To compete with the craft beers, they developed Blackened Voodoo Lager, a dark beer, and Jazz Amber Light. They also produced a dessert beer, White Moose, with a taste of white chocolate.

Dixie was producing just under 50,000 barrels of beer a year with national distribution, and things were looking up until Katrina’s storm surge smashed levees and poured salty water into 80 percent of New Orleans on Aug. 29, 2005.

The flood waters took almost three weeks to recede. Bottling and packaging equipment was ruined. Carefully collected memorabilia was destroyed.

The loss was in the millions, Kendra Bruno said, and the couple did not have flood insurance. The building was left with gaping holes, though which looters carried away everything from the wiring and the giant copper vat where the beer was brewed to the cypress barrels where it was stored.

Now Dixie faces a fight just finding shelf space.

Most of the U.S. beer market is controlled by three companies, said Megan Haverkorn of Beer Business Daily, a trade publication. Anheuser-Busch has about 50 percent, Miller 25 percent and Molson Coors Brewing Co. 13 percent, she said. What’s left over is being gobbled up by micro-brews or the so-called craft beers.

‘‘Craft beers are huge right now,’’ Haverkorn said. ‘‘They’re getting a surge of growth similar to wine and spirits. People are kind of trading up from their regular beer.’’

After Katrina, the Brunos tried brewing at a small brewery near New Orleans, but it couldn’t produce in quantity. So a deal was worked out with Huber Brewery in Monroe, Wis., to produce Dixie.

Dixie brewmaster Kevin Stuart travels to Wisconsin to oversee the production, using the same recipe.

Dixie is being distributed in Louisiana, Massachusetts, Illinois and Colorado, Kendra Bruno said. Plans are to expand to Texas, Florida and New York and eventually into the international market.

‘‘We’re sort of doling it out at this point,’’ Kendra Bruno said. ‘‘So far the production can’t keep up with demand.’’

But after a two-year absence, attracting fans again is going to be difficult, according to Steve Hindy, founder of Brooklyn Brewery in Brooklyn, N.Y.

‘‘Dixie had a pretty good niche pre-Katrina, especially for its specialty beer,’’ Hindy said. ‘‘Blackened Voodoo was in a lot of restaurants in New York and specialty bars, but things have changed a lot since Dixie disappeared. The beer business is much more competitive now.’’

The Brunos have secured Distinguished Brands of Littleton, Colo., as a distributor, but Hindy said even that won’t offer a quick rebirth.

‘‘Distributors will take your beer, the hard part is at retail,’’ he said. ‘‘There is limited shelf space and it’s hard to get.’’

Still, the Brunos are plowing ahead. Rebuilding is expected to begin soon, with operations beginning in 2009.

‘‘We want to put in a smaller, state-of-the-art brewery in the building,’’ Joe Bruno said. And there are more changes envisioned for the landmark brewhouse.

A European-style beer garden is planned for the rooftop, and specialty shops would be a draw for shoppers. One model for the Brunos’ plan could be the former Jax brewery on the edge of the French Quarter.

At Jax, which was redeveloped in the 1980s after the brewery closed, trendy shops and restaurants are big draws.

But unlike Jax, which is across from Jackson Square in the city’s biggest tourism draw, the Dixie Brewery is on a Tulane Avenue strip that was depressed before Katrina and has been slow to recover. Marginal businesses, low-rent motels and empty buildings — many with extensive damage from the storm — indicate just how far the area has to go.

The renovation of Dixie could spark an upturn for the whole area, Joe Bruno said.

After years of what Kendra Bruno called ‘‘making more beer than money,’’ the ambitious plans will again be costly. But even after the losses to Katrina, the Brunos have no doubt they’ll do it.

‘‘Where will we get the money?’’ Joe Bruno said. ‘‘Who the hell’s business is it. Nobody thought we’d get the money to keep going as long as we have. But we’re not done yet.’’’

That "Fishy" Smell At FEMA

It's official: Larry, Curly, and Moe are running FEMA. Fresh off the spectacle of a fake press conference the tools at FEMA are raising incompetence to a new level. Enter the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans.

When Katrina hit New Orleans it knocked out power to the Aquarium, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city. Four days later when the staff made their way back they found almost all of their sharks, tropical fish, jellyfish, and thousands of other creatures dead in their tanks. FEMA quickly promised more than $600,000 to repopulate the Aquarium.

The staff members had another idea. Do it themselves and not wait for help from the feds. You'd think what follows below the fold would be a feel good story wouldn't you. But sadly, it isn't.

They wanted to do the work, you know, what we hear all the right wing gas bags (Rush, Beck, Hannity, and Savage) say people in New Orleans should do.

Don't look for government handouts. Pull yourselves up by the boat strips and fend for yourself.

To save precious time (time was actually money for them in a real sense), aquarium staffers improvised and went fishing, snorkeling, and scuba diving for the species needed in multiple expeditions to the Gulf of Mexico, the Florida Keys, and Bahamas. After weeks of effort they returned with 1,681 species. The total cost $99,766 (keep in mind FEMA was willing to pay $616,000).

Great news right? Well in the reality based world of course, but not in the bizzaro Bush world we currently live in.

When the Audubon Aquarium filed the invoices with FEMA they were told (via email mind you):

FEMA does not consider it reasonable when an applicant takes excursions to collect specimens. They must be obtained through a reputable sources where, again, the item is commercially available.

You don't need an advanced math degree to figure out that FEMA is refusing to authorize invoices that would save American taxpayers more than $500,000, simply because the aquarium didn't comply with shit-all-stupid FEMA regulations. Not to mention that the Aquarium was able to open much faster then if they would have waited to purchase what they needed through "reputable sources."Sixteen months after the above email was sent the Aquarium still has not been paid!

This is all happening because of the Stafford Act. The Act does a lot of bizzzare stuff, but one of them states "facilities can not be improved beyond their pre-storm conditions." So according to FEMA that meant the aquarium would have to find fish, through a commercial vendor, the approximate age and size of those that were lost. Of course multiple experts told the Association Press (AP) this isn't close to impossible, it is impossible.

Now I will admit, there is something to be said for rules and regulations, yet why does FEMA only seem to follow them when they hurt citizens. I mean a GAO report issued last week indicated (as I wrote elsewhere):

The report highlights that FEMA approved $16 million in improper or fraudulent invoices for trailer maintenance between June 2006 and January 2007. FEMA also failed to award those contracts to contractors with the lowest prices. Another $15 million was wasted on maintenance inspections FEMA cannot prove ever took place.

Adding to the waste (some like myself may say fraud) is FEMA’s decision to place many trailers at group sites, which at one location runs the agency an average of $30,000 per 280 square feet—because FEMA only placed eight trailers there. The contract for this site was fixed in advance, meaning the cost was the same no matter how many trailers were placed there. To pour more salt on the wounds of Katrina victims, at one site FEMA paid $229,000 for "repairs" on one trailer—the equivalent of a five bedroom house in that area. How do these people still have jobs?

I mean WTF is going on! The citizens of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are dammed if they do dammed if they don't. They try to do something on their own so it gets done faster and for less money they run into mountains of red tape. They don't do anything and wait for the government to do as they promised, and they wait and wait and get called "lazy."

The situation is a perfect example of FUBAR (Fu*^ed Up Beyond All Reason)!

Monday, November 19, 2007

"There's That Stupid Negative Sign"

Another landmark in the history of New Orleans' relationship with the US Army Corps of Engineers was reached today, according to Mark Schleifstein in the TImes-Picayune. The new gates and levee repairs by the Corps, which the agency announced with great fanfare had given between 4 and 5 feet of additional flood protection to the Lakeview and Old Metairie neighborhoods, both inundated when the floodwalls breached after Katrina, are, it now appears, giving almost no additional protection. The problem: a minus sign that should have been a plus sign. And still the Congress refuses to mandate independent peer review for the Corps' work in engineering and building structures upon which millions of people depend for their safety.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Take The Long Road Home

One of the questions most frequently asked by critics of the New Orleans recovery is "what happened to all that Federal money?" David Winkler-Schmit, in this week's Gambit Weekly, answers part of that question with a meticulously reported piece on the less-well-known half of Louisiana's Road Home program (the compensation for homeowners half is well known, and widely derided for slowness and bureaucracy).

The "Small Rental Property Program," supposedly designed to deal with the peculiarity of New Orleans rental housing -- most landlords own four units or fewer -- has instead become a Kafkaesque nightmare, teasing people with the illusion of almost enough assistance to begin rebuilding, while, in fact, giving them nothing: no payments occur until the owner has secured financing, rebuilt, and re-rented to a low-income tenant, with reams of paperwork to document every step.

Rest easy, there will be no fraud: so far, not one New Orleans landlord has received an SRPP check.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Grand Jury Probing HUD Chief's Statements

In case you haven't heard it enough times, it's not the crime, it's the cover-up. Or in this case, the lesson is not to make sweeping statements under oath that can be easily debunked. And for that, you can thank Housing and Urban Development Department Secretary Alphonso Jackson.

After Jackson boasted to an audience that he didn't give contracts to critics of the President, the department's inspector general and Congress pounced. Jackson, eager to clear his name, proclaimed, "I don't touch contracts."

Unfortunately, that appears not to be true, as the National Journal first reported last month. Now a grand jury is digging deep into Jackson's help for his friends:

Behind the scenes, Jackson has helped to arrange lucrative contract work running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars for friends and associates who went to work at HUD-controlled housing authorities in New Orleans and the Virgin Islands, according to people familiar with his actions. Indeed, one of Jackson's good friends, Atlanta lawyer Michael Hollis, appears to have been paid approximately $1 million for managing the troubled Virgin Islands Housing Authority. Before landing at the authority, some sources said, Hollis had no experience in running a public housing agency.

Jackson's past efforts to aid his friends are causing him no end of headaches. For several months, a federal grand jury, Justice Department prosecutors, the FBI, and the HUD inspector general's office have been exploring Jackson's role in contracting decisions at the housing department. According to people familiar with the investigation, federal agents are focusing on Jackson's relationship with one friend in particular, William Hairston, a stucco contractor from Hilton Head Island, S.C.

In interviews several weeks ago with National Journal, Hairston acknowledged that Jackson had helped him land a lucrative job around January 2006 at the Housing Authority of New Orleans, or HANO. HUD and a former HANO official have said that Hairston was paid about $485,000 for working as a construction manager at HANO during an 18-month period. As it turns out, new information uncovered by National Journal suggests that Hairston was paid even more than that. HSD, a Georgia company that was affiliated with Hairston, was paid $186,280 under a direct contract with HUD, federal procurement records show. A HUD document identified Hairston as a representative of HSD.
Federal investigators are digging deep into Jackson's relationship with Hairston, a sometime golfing buddy of the secretary's. According to the people familiar with the inquiry, federal investigators are also reviewing allegations that Hairston did work on Jackson's vacation home in Hilton Head. Investigators recently questioned at least one Jackson associate on that issue; National Journal could not confirm the allegations.

Apart from Hairston, investigators are exploring the circumstances under which HUD awarded management contracts for the Virgin Islands authority, the sources said. The grand jury is seeking information on Hollis and on a HUD contractor that initially employed him in the Virgin Islands, according to a copy of a grand jury subpoena obtained by National Journal. Hollis refused to answer questions about whether Jackson had aided him.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Factoid: Who's Stupidly Not Getting Flood Insurance?

A lot of the commenters who seem indisposed to sympathize with the plight of New Orleans call the citizens of that community dumb or careless for living in such a location. Yet, a New York Times story reports that: by the RAND Corporation, a research group, concluded that only about half of homeowners living in high-risk flood zones throughout the nation had flood insurance policies.

Compare this with the figures in this New Yorker blog post by the splendid reporter Dan Baum:

According to an article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune from March 19, 2006, sixty-seven per cent of New Orleanians carried flood insurance on their houses, compared with a national rate of just five per cent

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Depends on What the Meaning of Deceive Is

There's yet more on FEMA's hilarious defense that its fake press conference was not intended to deceive.

The former director of external affairs for FEMA, John P. Philbin, penned a letter to the editor of the Washington Post today decrying an editorial about the fake presser (thanks to TPM Reader WF for the link). Philbin, who left the agency shortly after the fake presser and seems to have lost a prospective job at the Directorate of National Intelligence because of it, writes:

Here is what happened: There was pressure to inform the public quickly, and the staff, exhausted from round-the-clock duty, dropped the ball on announcing the news briefing. I was busy with meetings and unaware before the briefing that reporters had not been given adequate time to arrive and that the phone line for reporters was "listen only." The staff tried to salvage the event by asking the kinds of questions they had been fielding that morning. . . .
Because I was in charge, I take responsibility for letting this hastily planned briefing go forward.

However, neither I nor anyone on the staff is guilty of any attempt to deceive.

I refer you again to the picture CBS scrounged up today. Go take a look. It's a hilarious example of no intent to deceive.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Lesson: Work for FEMA, Don't Get Helped by It

The sad comedy-drama of the FEMA trailers sent to the Gulf Coast, New Orleans and Mississippi alike, just got a new chapter. These trailers, which have been home to hurricane and flood victims for a year and a half now in thousands of cases, have been long since known not to have been put through the "curing" process (due to rushed FEMA orders) that ventilates out the toxic formaldehyde fumes. This year, FEMA had finally agreed to have the trailers tested for the fumes, although the testing, by the Centers for Disease Control, has been repeatedly postponed.

Friday's Washington Post, following up a report by CBS, adds the latest twist: FEMA prohibits its own employees from entering the same trailers in agency storage. But, lest you think that's a double standard, FEMA head David Paulison demurs:

Paulison said there is no double standard for Katrina survivors and FEMA employees. Instead, he said, the difference is between trailers that have been aired out by occupants and those sealed in storage. A new FEMA memo states that the latter be ventilated by forced-air pump for 30 minutes before any entry by workers, Knocke said.

"Aired out by occupants"? Herein may lie a clue to the postponements. Testing the trailers in the heat midsummer, when the vehicles' windows are shut and the AC is on, might result in higher, even dangerous, levels of the noxious fumes than after Thanksgiving, when trailer inhabitants may actually have had the windows open for a few weeks. Never too late to let the evidence blow away.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

FEMA Protecting Its Employees, Not Evacuees

There are still 50,000 families forced to live in FEMA trailers ever since Hurricane Katrina. Trailers in which the levels of formaldehyde present in the air are so high, CBS has obtained emails that indicate the agency is prohibiting its employees from even briefly stepping inside them, and despite agency claims “that it is still working on the formaldehyde problem,” it isn’t.

In July the head of the agency told Congress he was working quickly to deal with the toxic formaldehyde issue.

“FEMA and the CDC are scheduled to begin Phase One of a study in the Gulf Coast within the next few weeks,” said FEMA Administrator R. David Paulison.
Now FEMA says the study has been halted - not a single trailer tested.

The stated reason: the agency says it needs to identify “action levels for responding to the results.”

In other words, when FEMA finds high levels of the toxic fumes, the agency still doesn’t know what to do about it.

Sadly, this is exactly what we can expect as long as the party that doesn’t believe in government is heading our government. Ever since Ronald Reagan’s inaugural speech when he declared “Government isn’t the solution; it is the problem,” Republicans could hardly have done more to make sure it is the case.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


Another day of making fun of people, when are people going to wake up to this FRAUD. The reason limpbaugh needed all the OC is for his listener' could you not be on drugs to listen to this vile despicable scumbag!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Tragic Realities

The numbers tell the story of the federal government's continuing failures of Hurricane Katrina survivors. Instead of dropping as experts would expect, the percentage of Katrina survivors suffering mental illnesses has risen significantly.

As Newhouse News Service reported, Harvard University's Dr. Ronald Kessler said just 10.9 percent of survivors reported serious mental illness six months after the storm. But just before the second anniversary, the percentage was 14 percent.

Could there be any clearer sign that we are failing a whole region of this country in a time of need? Well, yes. Kessler's testimony to a Senate subcommittee noted that most of the increase in mental health issues had come from storm-ravaged areas outside New Orleans. In the city, in fact, the upward change was slight.

It would be easy to lay all of this on the Bush administration, especially since it has been trying to rewrite the Katrina history to escape most blame. But Congress has co-equal responsibilities to find funding, even in the midst of war, which matches the sterling volunteer efforts of Americans to help Katrina survivors.

At the first anniversary, Kessler and colleagues found Katrina survivors showing remarkable resiliency and communal optimism. But he told The Boston Globe at the time: "What if things aren't better a year from now? Those are the sort of nagging concerns that we have." Nagging concerns have turned into tragic realities.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

New Orleans Today

I just got back from N.O. and not much has changed. Travel through the French Quarter and it's back to normal but go out of the city and it's devastated. I remember after the storm the big box stores Walmart, Best Buy ET all said they would re-open to help rebuild the communites and not one opened! I went to some neighborhoods and not one chain store has reopened not Walgreen's or CVS no fast food only a few local business. I will add to this later