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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Losing a city
Posted by Jill | 7:32 AM
I don't know why anyone still believes the Bush Administration is competent to handle anything. Iraq? FUBAR. Job market? FUBAR. Fuel prices? FUBAR. Housing prices? On their way to FUBAR, carrying the rest of the economy with them. And the non-wealthy, non-tourist sections of New Orleans? Utterly FUBAR.

Do you honestly believe that if we were talking about sections where wealthy white people lived, this would still be going on:

So far, the city has collected only $117 million to start the repair work in what has been billed as the largest urban restoration in U.S. history.

For every repair project, city officials must follow a lengthy application process — and spend their own money — before getting a dime of federal aid to fix at least 833 projects such as police stations, courtrooms, baseball fields or auditoriums.

Residents don't care much what the cause is. They're just tired of crater-like potholes, sudden drops in water pressure and debris-clogged storm drains.

"We're not asking for a lot. At this point, we're just looking for basic services: power, gas, water. Sewer that doesn't back up into your house would be nice too," said Jeb Bruneau, president of the neighborhood association in the Lakeview area. "Whatever the snafu was, the result is Joe Blow Citizen isn't seeing the effect of that federal money."

Louisiana eventually expects to get at least $25 billion in federal money for rebuilding projects, including everything from levee repairs to homeowner assistance. Of that money, $6 billion to $8 billion will be doled out statewide to repair broken roads, schools, water pipes and countless other problems.

But to get the money, the city — and other agencies such as the Sewerage and Water Board, the Regional Transit Authority and Orleans Parish School Board — must fill out worksheets for every construction project.

The worksheets are submitted to FEMA, which determines whether the project is eligible for federal aid. If approved, the federal government releases the approved money to the state, but the local government fronts the money to have the work done. After that, the local government can submit receipts for reimbursement.

The process takes months and can be further complicated if costs surpass the original request — a particular concern in New Orleans because of shortages of materials and construction workers.

It also requires the city have cash to pay upfront, forcing money to be diverted from other parts of the budget.

Bush says the rebuilding will "take time." The problem is, it has to START for it to "take time."

And just as an aside, Ned Lamont reminded us on Thursday just who it was who was highly instrumental in folding FEMA into the Department of Homeland Security:

In 2002, against the advice of experts like Clinton FEMA chief James Lee Witt and Brookings Institute senior fellow Ivo Daalder Sen. Lieberman plowed ahead folding FEMA into his shiny new Department of Homeland Security. Here's a warning from Ivo Daalder against putting FEMA in a giant bureaucracy from 6/25/02:

Daalder: Take FEMA. This is one of the best run federal government agencies. It has excellent record, gained through years of responding to natural disasters, of dealing with state and local government entities and first responders. In its FY2003 budget, the Bush administration proposed that FEMA take central control of all training and grant programs for first responders, providing state and local authorities with the kind of one-stop shopping and integrated training program they have long demanded. Why, then, tear an agency with such a successful record from its roots and integrate into a much larger bureaucracy, with new command and control lines? Much of its day-to-day responsibility has nothing to do with terrorism--and whatever responsibility it does have for this area is fundamentally different from the preventive and protective counter-terrorism functions of other parts of the proposed department. No one proposes to merge the diplomatic functions of the State Department with the military functions of the Pentagon, even though both have a role in national security policy--including in countering terrorism. Might it not be better, then, to leave FEMA be, and coordinate its counter-terrorism role as part of a well-functioning interagency process?

Lieberman ignored the advice of many Democratic experts and pushed ahead with his own vision for DHS. People of good will can disagree but shouldn't the Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committe and later Ranking Member do some kind of operational oversight to ensure his vision was actually being fulfilled? Sen. Lieberman did no such thing. Just a week before Daalder's prescient testimony Sen. Lieberman confirmed Michael Brown as Deputy Director of FEMA in a 42-minute rubber stamp abomination of a hearing.


Good morning. Welcome to you, Mr. Brown, and also to your wife, Tamara. We are here this morning for the nomination hearing of Michael Brown to become Deputy Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency--a government agency under much discussion these days, as we begin to reorganize government to better protect our citizens from terrorist attacks here at home. If, and I hope when, the Department of Homeland Security comes into existence, FEMA will be folded into the Department; we must ensure that the agency is equipped to function at the highest level today, and equipped to make the transition into the new department without losing a step tomorrow. Responding to terrorist attacks, of course, is just one piece of FEMA's mission. Re- cent floods in Minnesota and crippling forest fires in Colorado have reminded us of FEMA's critical, often life-saving role in helping Americans protect themselves from and recover from natural disasters....But because, by creating the Department of Homeland Security, we are in the throes of making such an important decision that will affect FEMA's historic and future responsibilities, I'd like to focus today on the agency's role as the lead federal agency responding to terrorist attacks.

Does Lieberman focus on terrorism at the expense of natural disaster readiness? More...

Based on a series of hearings on homeland security the Governmental Affairs Committee held last fall, it is crystal clear to me that effective coordination among and between layers of government is the crux of all quick and effective terror response. Therefore, FEMA must be an absolutely de- pendable link in that communications chain. It must ensure that the Federal Gov- ernment's entire emergency response network is a well-honed machine, and then that the Federal, state and local governments are just as well coordinated with one another. This is an immense challenge that FEMA has yet to meet. I am glad the President has nominated someone already familiar with FEMA's mission to become Deputy Director. Mr. Brown is currently General Counsel and Chief Operating Officer of the agency, a position he has held since February of 2001. Before joining the Bush Administration, I note from his resume, he served as execu- tive director of the Independent Electrical Contractors in Denver. In the early 1980s, Mr. Brown served as staff director of the Oklahoma Senate's Finance Com- mittee, while serving on the Edmund, Oklahoma, City Council. He ran for Congress in the sixth district, and, in what I think is particularly useful experience, early in his career, was assistant city manager in Edmond, with responsibility for police, fire and emergency services.

The advise and consent role of the Senate in confirming appointments is well-established. A good friend tells you when you have mustard on your chin, spinach in your teeth, or Michael Brown as a nominee. Joe Lieberman did none of these things for his friend President Bush. Instead he acted as a toady DC insider and just rubber stamped the nomination. This without making a single phone call as Chairman of the committee to verify the references of Michael Brown.


Now on to Lieberman's remarks at the Brown hearing.

Chairman LIEBERMAN . Mr. Brown, I thank you very much. I will certainly support your nomination. I will do my best to move it through the Committee as soon as possible so we can have you fully and legally at work in your new position. In the meantime, I thank you very much. I thank your family for their support of you, and at this point, we will adjourn the hearing.

You can view the hearing video at this link. Scroll down to find the appropriate Senate hearing.

Am I being too hard on Senator Lieberman and his uber bipartisan twin Sen. Susan Collins of Maine? In a word, NO. In the 2 years and 7 months from the time of Gov. Tom Ridge's confirmation hearing as first Secretary of Homeland Security in Jan '03 to the time Katrina made landfall in the Gulf of Mexico Lieberman and Collins held exactly ZERO hearings on FEMA's operational readiness. ZERO. Z-E-R-O. Lieberman and Collins as Ranking Member and Chairman did hold one hearing on FEMA cash payouts in May 2005. I'll let Sen. Lieberman's words characterize that meeting for the record.

Sen. Lieberman(PDF): FEMA's mission of responding to natural disasters and of providing financial assistance to those harmed by them is an absolutely critical one - and one I completely support. That's not what this hearing is about.

In the same 2 years and 7 months Lieberman's committee found the time to confirm David Safavian, a man since convicted of 4 felony counts of obstruction as a Bush appointee. And the Liebeman/Collins vaudeville act found time for 7 separate hearings on Postal reform and 2 separate hearings on diploma mills. How effective can Lieberman/Collins be on stopping bogus degrees when they can't be bothered to check Michael Brown's resume references the same as a junior manager at McDonald's checking a new fry cook?

I'm ranting at this point but I just wanted to reinforce Ned Lamont's criticisms of Joe Lieberman on Homeland Security and FEMA specifically. Lieberman is all talk, no action.

That so little progress has been made in even cleanup, let alone rebuilding, is a disgrace. If you saw even a little of Spike Lee's documentary this week on HBO, it showed an American shame, an American disgrace -- the kind of abandonment of a group of people solely because they do not donate to campaigns. And this is what we're telling the rest of the world to emulate?
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