|January 30, 2007|
||Stand Up For Justice|
||Go Beyond The Headlines|
||Coffee and Donuts Not Included|
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Stand Up For Justice
In his 2006 State of the Union address, President Bush spoke of the hurricane disaster recovery on the Gulf Coast and pledged to “stay at it until they’re back on their feet.” In his 2007 State of the Union address — delivered one week ago — Bush failed to once mention the “struggle to rebuild.” Last year, Katrina took up 165 words of the speech. This year, the recovery effort did not receive a single line out of 5,652 words. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) said the omission was quite fitting and spoke volumes about the priorities of the administration. “I just think it points to how far down the recovery has fallen on the president’s agenda because there are some positives that he could’ve mentioned,” she said. Yesterday, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a field hearing in Louisiana to discuss the reconstruction efforts. As the hearing commenced, a protester yelled, “Stand up for justice!” Panel member Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) noted, “There is not a sense of urgency in this administration to get this done. You get a sense that will has been lacking in the last several months.” Frustrated Louisiana residents feel betrayed. One displaced Katrina survivor described his reaction to Bush’s State of the Union snub: “I almost broke my TV, knocked it off the stand.” Joe Aguda, another Katrina victim who now lives in a FEMA trailer, said his reaction was simple. “We’ve been forgotten,” he said.
FEDERAL AND STATE BOTTLENECKS: In an interview with National Public Radio yesterday, Bush expressed no regret for omitting the Gulf Coast from his State of the Union, and instead claimed, “Our response to the Katrina recovery has been very robust.” That is not the view shared by New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who last month visited Washington, D.C. and said the federal government was “abandoning its legal obligation to help his city recover from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.” Yesterday at the field hearing, Nagin added, “The reality is that it has been 17 months since Katrina, Rita and the flooding that followed and citizens are tired, frustrated and angry. Worst of all, they are losing hope. We need systemic, meaningful change now.” Much of the growing tension between state and local officials in Louisiana stems from delays in a federal program that reimburses local officials for a host of infrastructure projects, including road repairs, public building construction, and debris removal. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) “has paid Louisiana roughly $5.1 billion to reimburse local officials for infrastructure projects following Katrina, but only about $2 billion of that money has reached communities 16 months after the storm” due to cumbersome audit procedures. State officials, too, have been slow to meet the demand. As of Jan. 18, FEMA “had agreed to pay for $334 million for infrastructure repairs in New Orleans, but Louisiana had forwarded only $145 million to the city. State officials have said city leaders failed to provide required documentation.” Additionally, only 300 of more than 100,000 applicants for the state’s homeowners aid program have been administered.
AN ECONOMIC DISASTER AREA: The Institute for Southern Studies aptly described the current state of Louisiana as “largely an economic disaster area as a result of Katrina.” Congress has allocated more than $110 billion on recovery efforts in the Gulf region, but there are still 62,000 people living in FEMA trailers, and the devastated 9th Ward of New Orleans ”remains all but vacant.” A federal judge recently ruled that the Bush administration “violated the Constitution when it eliminated short-term housing assistance” for Katrina victims. The effort to provide housing for displaced Katrina victims has been “a failure with many causes, including institutional neglect, lack of funding, and poor planning, decision making and execution.” Beyond housing problems, the reconstruction of the broken levees “has slowed.” Residents are in such desperate need of health care that a recent free health clinic drew thousands of uninsured registrants. New Orleans is also “facing an unprecedented mental health crisis — and the city has no way to deal with it.”
OVERSIGHT NEEDED: Yesterday’s field hearing was an important step by Congress to assert some oversight over the rebuilding efforts. But important questions about the White House’s negligence remain unanswered. Former FEMA chief Michael Brown said that in a still-secret videoconference shortly after Katrina hit New Orleans, he warned presidential aides that 90 percent of the city was being “displaced,” but was greeted with “deafening silence.” Brown also suggested “party politics played a role” in White House decisions to act in the aftermath of Katrina. In the last Congress, under conservative leadership, both House and Senate committees sought copies of the White House’s Katrina records, but the administration declined to turn over messages between the president and his top advisers. While the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee possesses subpoena power over some of these documents, the chairman — Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) — has “quietly backed away from his pre-election demands that the White House turn over” these potentially embarrassing documents. “Katrina was perhaps the government’s biggest failure ever,” said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight. “For the Congress not to be willing to stand up to the White House and demand to know who’s accountable is a total abdication of their responsibility.”
ADMINISTRATION — WHITE HOUSE NOT PROVIDING CLIMATE CHANGE DOCUMENTS TO OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: Today, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing to investigate “political interference in the work of government climate change scientists.” In the days leading up to the hearing, the committee requested “more than three dozen documents” from the White House Council on Environmental Quality “related to their climate programs.” As of late last night, the “documents that were requested as recently as last week and as far back as six months ago had not been provided to the committee,” CongressDaily reports. “We’re still trying to get them and not happy about it,” a spokesman for Rep. Thomas Davis (R-VA) said. The Union of Concerned Scientists and the Government Accountability Project said they would present “new evidence of suppression and manipulation of climate science” before the committee. Drew Shindell of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies will testify about a “now-defunct 2004 requirement that NASA press officers listened in whenever NASA scientists spoke with reporters, either on the telephone or in person.” Rick Piltz, who resigned in 2005 from the U.S. Climate Change Science Program will speak about White House interference with climate change reports and “questionable reviews of scientific research.”
ENVIRONMENT — OIL AND GAS FIRMS READY DRILLING PROJECTS IN NEWLY MELTED ARCTIC: Global warming caused by fossil fuel emissions is rapidly melting the Arctic. Sea ice coverage this past March “was the lowest in winter since measurements by satellite began in the early 1970s,” and NASA-funded U.S. scientists believe in 30-50 years, “summer sea ice will have vanished from almost the entire Arctic region,” conditions not seen in the area in a million years. For energy companies, this catastrophe means a “new era of oil and natural gas exploration in the region,” Greenwire reports, “The Arctic region contains a quarter of the world’s remaining oil reserves, experts estimate. It also contains massive natural gas fields in the Barents Sea, including Russia’s huge Shtokman field. ‘By 2040 or 2050, the Arctic Ocean will be navigable and that will mean significant developments very soon,’ said ArcticNet research group head Martin Fortier.” European Environment Agency head Jacqueline McGlade warned that “the region’s opening could lead to another rush like the Klondike gold rush, which ‘could potentially destabilize’ the area and its 10 million indigenous inhabitants.”
The Army and Marine Corps “are short thousands of vehicles, armor kits and other equipment needed to supply” the extra 21,500 troops President Bush plans to send to Iraq. “It’s inevitable that that has to happen, unless five brigades of up-armored Humvees fall out of the sky,” one senior Army official said.
Simulations of civil war in Iraq carried out by the Brookings Institution found that “as the descent into civil war gathered pace, confrontation between the US and Iran intensified, and Washington’s leverage on Tehran diminished. Civil war in Iraq would turn Iran into ‘the unambiguous adversary’ of the US.”
Testimony from former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer yesterday showed he knew only “what the truly powerful chose to tell him, and sometimes that was not much. On occasion he would pronounce with great authority the administration’s position on a topic only to find it had changed and nobody had bothered to let him know.”
The House has reconstituted “the Oversight and Investigations subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee” after “more than a decade of dormancy.” The subcommittee “will delve into the details of Iraq-related reconstruction contracts, troop readiness, equipment priorities and Iraq war strategy — looking for waste, fraud and shortfalls.”
33: Number of “forgotten emergencies” around the globe, according to UNICEF. Twenty of these crises are in Africa. UNICEF is calling on the world to give $635 million to assist children and women in these countries.
“Chile’s president has signed a decree so that the morning-after contraceptive pill can be given to girls as young as 14 without their parents’ consent.”
“Concerned about the way the Bush administration moved against Iraq,” a group of congressman led by Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) is pushing a resolution saying Bush must come to Congress before using military force against Iran. “The Congress should say to the President,” Jones said, “that ‘we believe you should come to the Congress before you initiate any kind of attack.'”
And finally: “If the thought of buying dolphin-safe tuna and free-range chicken makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, just wait until you can fill your car up at a Terror-Free Oil station.” The Terror-Free Oil Initiative “promises to sell gasoline sourced from countries that ‘do not export or finance terrorism.'” Its first outlet opens next month in Omaha, Nebraska, but locals “seem to be greeting the station with healthy dose of Midwest skepticism. ‘It’s really going to depend on the cost,‘ one told a local news station.”