Evidence has come to light over the past month that the so-called “incompetence” of the Federal response to Katrina is anything but. It has been a calculated effort led by Karl Rove to turn Louisiana from a Democratic state into a Republican state by destroying New Orleans, but it may backfire.
Two weeks ago the WaPo reported that roughly a quarter of a million people are suing the Federal government for damages, claiming that the Army Corps of Engineers screwed up the building of the levees, dams, in fact the whole New Orleans water delivery system.
Ever since the floodwaters receded, the idea that the U.S. government was to blame for the Katrina catastrophe has possessed and angered its victims.
A legion of lawn signs, posted in front of many wrecked homes, wagged a finger at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency responsible for the flood works: “Hold the Corps accountable!”
Turns out it was more than mere talk. After a massive deadline filing rush recently that is still being sorted through, the United States is facing legal claims from more than 250,000 people here demanding compensation because, they allege, the Corps negligently designed the waterworks that permeate the city.
[O]fficials said the damage claimed against the Corps exceeds $278 billion, an amount that dwarfs even the estimated $125 billion that the federal government has put up for Gulf Coast hurricane recovery.
Win or lose, the volume of claims is a measure of the prevalent sense in this city that the United States created the disaster and that, worse, it has failed to make up for it in disaster aid.
“This was the largest catastrophe in the history of the United States, and people want justice,” said Joseph M. Bruno, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys handling the case in federal court.
Suing a government is extraordinarily difficult and rarely succeeds since they have been very conscientious about immunizing themselves from any legal responsibility for what they do. It’s a measure of the anger the lack of response from the federal govt has engendered that so many people are willing to do it even though their lawyers have explained to them that they almost certainly won’t win.
Still, the plaintiffs most likely have a point. The ACE has had a lousy reputation for over 40 years. There have been charges of incompetence, mismanagement, poor design and even poorer execution floating around from one end of the country to the other on virtually every project the Corps has had a hand in since the end of WW II. Others have sued before, and to my knowledge, no one has won. Nor has the public pressure put on the Corps ever seemed to make the slightest difference in the way it goes about not doing its job.
It has survived, at least in part, because the Feds have always been willing to clean up the Corps’ messes. But the Bush Administration not only isn’t bothering, it’s actively making things worse. One of the elements spiking the anger in New Orleans in particular may have come to light last month when LA Sen Landrieu accused FEMA of playing politics with disaster relief funds.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said the Federal Emergency Management Agency plans to begin releasing $281.3 million to Mississippi for an alternative housing program Monday, despite her request that the distribution be delayed pending a hearing on whether the distribution discriminated against Louisiana.
Mississippi’s award was nearly four times as much as the $74.5 million awarded Louisiana — even though Louisiana lost more than 205,000 homes during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, compared with 61,000 in Mississippi.
The money was approved by Congress to test alternatives — such as “Katrina cottages” — to provide more permanent and comfortable housing after a disaster than the 101,000 travel trailers and mobile homes used for Katrina and Rita.
Almost 2 years after the hurricane passed, there are still tens of thousands of refugees living in trailers from Florida to Arkansas with little hope at this point that they will ever see New Orleans again – which is, as we have said before – the whole point of this exercise.
Karl Rove – who I probably need to remind you is in charge of the Federal govt’s reconstruction efforts (or lack of them) – seized on the disaster as an excuse to wipe out one of the few Democratic strongholds in the South. Money and aid have been delayed, diverted, cancelled altogether. He has dfeliberately allowed the anger to fester through inaction ane slimy tricks like this one.
FEMA said that the alternative housing financing wasn’t determined based on need but on the quality of the proposals, and that Mississippi’s proposals were superior. According to scoring summaries obtained by The Times-Picayune, Mississippi’s Green Mobile project and its Park Model-Mississippi Cottage project garnered scores of 184 and 182, respectively, compared with a score of 176 for Louisiana’s Cypress Cottage project.
Even assuming the scoring was fair, the differences weren’t significant enough to give Mississippi the vast majority of the money, Landrieu said.
Landrieu’s office said FEMA officials told Appropriations Committee members Friday that $275 million would be released for the Park Mobile Model and Mississippi Cottage Project. The agency did not reveal when it would release the $74.5 million for Louisiana, or the remaining $6 million scheduled to go to Mississippi.
“FEMA’s announcement today demonstrates a flagrant disregard for the oversight authority of the United States Congress,” Landrieu said Friday. “Rather than answer legitimate questions as to whether its decision-making reflects what Congress intended, FEMA has turned its back on the system of checks and balances.”
And this one, revealed today:
The massive federally funded program for rebuilding hurricane-damaged Louisiana homes is short nearly $3 billion largely because Louisiana officials are compensating thousands of homeowners who were not originally supposed to benefit, according to an analysis by the Bush administration.
The money was supposed to pay for rebuilding flooded homes but not those damaged by wind, said federal officials familiar with the negotiations between the administration and the state officials who designed the program.
The Louisiana administrators of the program, however, are on track to dole out an estimated $2.6 billion to cover damage in homes that were not flooded, federal officials said, and that policy explains why the $6.9 billion program for homeowners is short by nearly half.
State officials responded that it is unfair to compensate some owners but not others, depending on which hurricane phenomenon wrecked their home.
“The Bush Administration has been asking us to discriminate against storm victims since day one,” Andy Kopplin, director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, said in a written statement last night. “We rejected it then and we reject it today. . . . These are American citizens we’re talking about, and they’ve been out of their homes for almost two years now. Enough is enough.”
Federal officials said the flood-only provision was meant to ensure that, among other things, the hardest-hit areas would be served first.
“The money was supposed to go to places that were flooded like the Lower Ninth, Gentilly and Lakeview, but it’s going elsewhere,” said one administration official familiar with the negotiations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity pending a hearing on the issue scheduled for today. “We agreed to one thing, and we come back, and they are running a program that we said federal taxpayers were not going to fund.”
Kopplin has it exactly right. Rove doled out the relief money unevenly to discriminate between Republican states like Mississippi and Democratic states like Louisiana. He wanted to destroy New Orleans as a Democratic center of black power and replace it with a primarily white theme park that will be dominated by rich Republicans. (Is that redundant?) He is well on the way to achieving that goal.
Like the US Attorney firings, the “debacle” in New Orleans isn’t a debacle at all. It isn’t about incompetence, it’s about politics. Specifically, it’s about stealing the ’08 election by hobbling, obstructing, and eliminating all possible Democratic constituencies, especially blacks and minorities. Why else would Bush put a purely political animal like Rove in charge of the disaster relief program?
Without the anchor of New Orleans, Louisiana may go Republican in the next presidential election. Everything Rove is doing makes sense if you look at the totality from that angle. He hasn’t given up his dream of making the US a one-party nation despite the pounding the Pubs took in November. Indeed, he seems to have re-doubled his efforts, pulling rabbits out of hats and aces out of his sleeves.
The question now is: Is the rest of Louisiana so angry about the way New Orleans has been treated that Rove’s scheming will backfire on him?
(Cross-posted at Dispatch from the Trenches)