Thursday, March 23, 2006

What did they know
and when did they know it?

From the current issue of Newsweek:
March 27, 2006 issue - The Bush administration maintains top officials were unaware until the next day, but e-mails show that by the late evening of Aug. 29, some policymakers were told the damage to New Orleans might be worse than depicted on TV. In an e-mail to Homeland Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson at 11:05 p.m., Patrick Rhode, a top aide to FEMA chief Michael Brown, reported that a FEMA official in New Orleans had described a 200-yard levee breach near Lake Pontchartrain, that people were being rescued from housetops, that there were "unconfirmed random body sightings" and that 60 percent of the city seemed flooded. Earlier, in an e-mail to Homeland Secretary Michael Chertoff's chief and deputy chief of staff, Brian Besanceney, Chertoff's top media adviser, warned that "unconfirmed" reports from New Orleans "are far more serious than media reports are currently reflecting."
Read complete article, Katrina: The Scapegoat

Monday, November 28, 2005

Another man who knew

For those who still require convincing evidence that the Katrina tragedy could have been avoided comes this episode of PBS's Nova, called Storm That Drowned a City.

Among several faces that became familiar to the American public during the height of the storm coverage is that of Ivor van Heerden, a hurricane expert at Louisiana State University. Like AFGE's Leo Bosner, president of the Local at FEMA headquarters, van Heerden tried to alert any official he could reach to the tragedy that awaited New Orleaneans who remained in the city after the storm hit.

In numerous television appearances during the storm and its immediate aftermath, van Heerden reservedly explained, with scientific precision, what he knew about the storm and its wrath. Here, before Nova's cameras, however, he sheds tears over the lost opportunity to alert those in the Ninth Ward that the flood was headed their way:

The biggest failing in all of this was we should have warned everybody. We could have told the media on Monday night. The levees apparently broke Monday afternoon—the ones that really flooded the main city of New Orleans. We could have got to the media. We could have had vehicles driving on the interstates with bullhorns, telling people. We even could have used helicopters with bullhorns. We could have warned the people, "A big flood's coming, take evasive action." We didn't.

Monday, November 07, 2005

photo by Paul Treuting
The waterline halfway up the siding on this house in Picayune, Mississippi, means that although it's still standing, it will need to be rebuilt. The orange markings indicate that the house was searched by rescue teams, and no bodies were found.

Brother Paul Treuting, president of Local 1707 of the Laborers International Union (North America), kindly sent AFGE his account of New Orleans, his hometown, after the storm, a story he originally sent his LIUNA collegues in late September. Treuting works on a National Guard base in Mississippi.

FORT WORTH, TEX.--We evacuated our F-15's here on August 27th, before Katrina hit our area. We (14 of us) came here on September 19th to check on the status of our aircraft and were told to stay in place until Hurricane Rita passed thru the Gulf...

Those areas that were flooded were searched for the living by Task Force Teams from Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Missouri, New Hampshire and California. Listening to those folks' stories at dinner was amazing.

Where the water stopped is where they launched their boats. Each team was given a neighborhood to search. They would go door-to-door, knocking and beating on a home for any response. Some folks were still in their attics and replied with their frantic calls. Many were rescued through holes that were either axed or chain-sawed. Homes where bodies were found were marked with red spray paint and the location marked by GPS coordinates.

When possible, the bodies were secured with care and respect, so not to float around. In some areas, the water was three to four feet deep. In other parts, houses were submerged to the roof peaks...Many small coastal towns and communities are obliterated like a game of Pixy Stix gone wrong...

Click here to read Brother Treuting's complete story.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

FEMA contractors
screw up some more

From the MSNBC blog, The Red Tape Chronicles, we learn who's responsible for the switchboard meltdown experienced by Katrina survivors who tried to call FEMA's much-touted 800 number:
In October, FEMA's Nicole Andrews told that the agency had staffed up to 12,000 telephone operators, many on loan from the IRS. Some, she said, were outside contractors.

One of those outside contractors is Augmentation Inc., a call-center firm based in Rockville, Md., just outside Washington. According to the Washington Post, Augmentation had about 1,000 people answering the phones for FEMA last month. According to documents on FEMA's Web site, the firm has a $31 million contract for "temporary staffing."

But the company isn't great at answering its own phones. An operator hung up twice on a reporter who asked for the name of a public affairs official. Eventually, messages were left for company executives, but they were not returned. And FEMA representatives didn't return phone calls seeking comment about Augmentation or the FEMA call centers.
The Red Tape blogger, Bob Sullivan, also reports on the skeevy, quick-hire program for FEMA insurance adjusters, farmed out by FEMA to insurance companies.

Click here to read Sullivan's post on FEMA contractors.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Fair-pay provision for post-Katrina construction workers reinstated
Your signatures and congressional pressure bring victory for workers and their families

Under pressure from both Democrats and moderate Republicans, President Bush relented on his revocation of the fair-pay provisions of the Davis-Bacon Act, which guarantee the prevailing regional wage to workers engaged in rebuilding efforts after a federally designated disaster. From the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration will reinstate rules requiring that companies awarded federal contracts for Hurricane Katrina pay prevailing wages, usually an amount close to the pay scales in local union contracts.

The White House promised to restore the 74-year-old Davis-Bacon prevailing wage protection on Nov. 8, following a meeting between chief of staff Andrew Card and a caucus of pro-labor Republicans.
A great deal of credit for the turnabout belongs to Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who deployed a little-known parliamentary maneuver in the House that ultimately forced the president's hand. Here, from Jonathan Tasini at The Working Life:
Here's what I hear from my Capitol Hill sources: the president, who suspended the Davis Bacon provisions that guarantee people working on federal contracts are paid the prevailing wage, was concerned that he not be seen as caving in to Democrats. The Dems were lead by Rep. George Miller, who used a little known parliamentary motion to force a vote on the suspension.

Under pressure, Bush agreed to rescind the suspension by December 8th. But at least one Republican said that he would vote for the Miller resolution if the suspension was not lifted earlier. And no question that the fact that the Building Trades put pressure on Congressional Republicans (37 signed the letter to Bush supporting the reinstatement of Davis Bacon) helped. In any case, Bush caved. The suspension will be lifted on November 8th.

Brownie still doin'
a heck of a job

When assessing the characteristics of the Bush Administration, the answer to the question, "Do they have no shame?", has been granted definitively. No, they do not. How else to explain the extension of ex-FEMA Director Michael Brown's contract by an additional 30 days? Herewith, from the Associated Press (via

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff on Wednesday defended FEMA’s decision to extend former director Michael Brown’s post-resignation employment by another 30 days.

“It’s important to allow the new people who have the responsibility ... to have access to the information we need to do better,” Chertoff told The Associated Press as he flew to view Hurricane Wilma’s damage in Florida.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Where are the jobs?

From the Associated Press comes this sobering piece on how the scandal of FEMA's no-bid contracts to favored corporations for contruction projects in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is exacerbating the distrust of government, born of FEMA's feckless respose to the disaster, among many of New Orleans' African-Americans:

[T]he acting chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency has pledged that millions of dollars of government contracts initially awarded without bids will be reopened for bidding.

But there has been no guarantee those contract reconstruction jobs will go to New Orleanians who desperately need the work and money.

"People we talked to down there said jobs, jobs, jobs," [Mike] Davis[, a writer and historian who recently returned from New Orleans] says. "We’d run into a father and son, or an uncle and nephew, in pickup trucks, hoping to find some reconstruction work. They’re baffled that a month later, there are no real jobs."

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Seven dollars too much for Gulf Coast workers, says Pres. Bush

Brendan Danaher, AFGE's point man on the Hurricane Katrina aftermath, calls our attention to this item on TPM Cafe by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who has offered a resolution that would restore the fair wage protections, rescinded by President Bush, for the contruction workers who will rebuild the cities and towns of the Gulf Coast. Under a bill known as the Davis-Bacon Act, workers hired to rebuild after a disaster are guaranteed the prevailing wage in the region in which the disaster took place.

Here's Congressman Miller:
Every single House Democrat, 37 House Republicans, and one House independent are on record opposing the President's Gulf Coast wage cut - a clear majority of the House of Representatives. But Republican leaders in the House have refused to allow a vote to overturn the wage cut. Now it looks like they have no choice.

I was able to determine that, under the 1976 National Emergencies Act, I am able to force a vote within 15 calendar days of introducing a "Joint Resolution" - which I did at noon today. In this case, that means that if Congress doesn't act by Friday, November 4, I can go to the House floor and demand a vote on my resolution. Congress then has three days to schedule that vote.

So the bottom line is this: by the first or second week of November, there will be a vote on whether or not construction workers who are rebuilding the Gulf Coast will get a fair wage for their labor.
Note that we're not talking about some high-bottom wage here. In the Gulf Coast region, we're talking about a wage around $7.00 an hour. That's right: $7.00 to handle materials imbued with toxins and covered in mold. Seven dollars an hour to haul lumber, power tools, slop buckets--and who knows what else--around construction sites. Seven dollars an hour to risk life and limb in an environment so changed that its present constitution remains a mystery even to the experts. For this, President Bush thinks $7.00 per hour is too much.

If we've succeeded in making you mad as hell, please sign the petition being circulated by the AFL-CIO's Working Families network. And call your representative in Congress, and demand that he or she vote for Congressman Miller's resolution.

To read Rep. Miller's piece on TPM Cafe, click here.

Click here
to sign a petition demanding a fair wage for Gulf Coast workers.