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Why The Bushies Really Are To Blame For Katrina
Greg Palast on Democracy Now! about how the Bush administration contracted out citizen safety. What did they (or rather, we) get for it? Misery and death -- when there was a reasonable sensible plan waiting, willfully ignored, in the wings:

GREG PALAST: This is Steven Smith. Like 127,000 others in this town, he didn't have a car in which to escape, so he was left in the rising waters. Stranded in the heat on a bridge, he closed the eyes of a man who died of dehydration after giving his grandchildren his last bottle of water.

What kind of evacuation plan would leave 127,000 to sink or swim? It turns out that the Bush administration had contracted out evacuation planning to a corporation, IEM, Innovative Emergency Management. I couldn't locate their qualifications, but I did locate their list of donations to the Republican Party. We went to Baton Rouge to talk to them.

These are the offices of Innovative Emergency Management. They were the ones that were paid a half-million bucks to come up with an emergency evacuation plan for the city of New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina. One problem is, I can't find the plan. So I’m coming here to ask them about it.

So when I showed up at their office, they would only talk to me from behind a glass wall. By phone.

Did you in fact come up with a plan, because it says it’s urgent to come up with a plan? Did you come up -- can you just tell me if you came up with a plan or not? I’m just happy to talk to you one-on-one. You're probably about 12 feet away from me. Or somewhere. I don't know, are you hiding in this office somewhere? I’m happy to speak to you face-to-face.

We can’t find your plan -- neither can FEMA -- that you were paid a half-million dollars for, that at least claimed to here. We can't find this plan. And it’s kind of a problem. I guess it's kind of hard to evacuate a city, if you can't find the plan itself.

IEM EMPLOYEE: Can we -- she's got a lot of experience in evacuation.

GREG PALAST: Is it more true that maybe it was helpful that she gave a lot of donations to the Republican Party? Maybe that's the experience?



GREG PALAST: So that's when they called in the guards.

IEM SECURITY GUARD: Security has been called. We ask that you please leave the building now.

GREG PALAST: So, quickly, before security gets here, I just want to tell you that this is Innovative Emergency Management, and it’s very innovative not to have a plan to manage an emergency.

I decided to look for someone with a little more experience in hurricane evacuation. LSU, Louisiana State University, they're just down the street from IEM. LSU has one hellacious football team. They also have the best team of hurricane experts in the nation. I met with Dr. Ivor van Heerden, deputy director of the university’s elaborate Center for the Study of Hurricanes. I asked this renowned specialist about the reputation of IEM, prior to their getting the half-million-dollar evacuation exercise contract.

DR. IVOR VAN HEERDEN: I hadn’t heard of them prior to this exercise, no.

GREG PALAST: The LSU scientist already had an evacuation model, but IEM and FEMA refused to use it.

DR. IVOR VAN HEERDEN: We had the science. We had really studied this thing. We knew what was going to go wrong. We had an enormous amount of information, right down to mapping where the gas tanks were and pipelines. Science was basically ignored all the way through the process.

GREG PALAST: The LSU professors warned, for example, that the IEM plan simply made no provision for people -- the old, the sick -- who couldn't escape in a car. I asked him the consequences of this oversight.

DR. IVOR VAN HEERDEN: Well, you know, 1,500 of them drowned. That's the bottom line.

GREG PALAST: Then the professor surprised me by saying that giving us this information put his job at risk.

DR. IVOR VAN HEERDEN: I wasn't going to let them -- let those sort of threats shut me down or any of the other sorts of nonsense that went on, because it was so important that we get out what had gone wrong and why.

GREG PALAST: Apparently, the heat from the university originated with a state official, who now works for IEM.

DR. IVOR VAN HEERDEN: We got a phone call from somebody in the state government who actually now works for IEM. But, I don’t think that was his plan at the time. And he jumped all over me and said, by criticizing their work, I was putting the whole exercise in jeopardy, and if I did it again, I would be banned.

GREG PALAST: Back in New Orleans, former city councilman, Brod Bagert, a lawyer, standing in the gutted wreckage of his own home, did not think kindly of the concealment of van Heerden’s warnings.

BROD BAGERT: Ongoing protection that should have been occurring was done -- it was done negligently. Not only wrong, negligently. And not only negligently, but reckless negligence, the kind of negligence for which an individual would be indicted, prosecuted, tried, convicted, and spend their life in jail. Negligence that killed people, lots of people. Reckless negligence that killed human beings. Old ladies watched the water come up to their nose, over their eyes, and they drowned in houses just like this in this neighborhood, because of reckless negligence that’s unanswered for.

Posted by aalkon at September 1, 2006 10:52 AM

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This is great. As an evacuee (not a refugee - I am in fact still an American in America, last time I checked, but it doesn't stop MSNBC and CNN to use the term still to this day), I am disgusted anew. What else can this be called but murder? Maybe negligent homicide at best? I'm not up on my legal definitions, but it is absolutely obvious at this point that someone needs to go to jail. This is such intolerable stupidity - "Science was ignored pretty much the whole time..." I personally am not surprised - nothing the White House Rednecks do at this point can surprise me. And because of this good ol boy "you grease my palm and I'll grease yours" anti-intellectual flat-out nonsensical cowboy mentality, 1,800 people are now dead, thousands more are displaced and without any sense of home anymore, and suffering from PTSD and depression, to name a few, and the most unique American city has been laid to waste and now sits in shambles waiting for someone to get their shit together already and put a plan for rebuilding into action. The mental health ramifications of what happened in New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast are slowly becoming known, and it's frightening. Suicide rates in New Orleans have tripled in the last year, and something like 80% of the population is on mood disorder prescription drugs. This rebuilding effort isn't going to take a few years - this will require an entire generation of effort. It is very hard to understand unless you are on the ground looking at the neighborhoods. Not much has changed since last year, and it's NOT because people are sitting around in big piles of money getting drunk - it's because the city planners can't decide on a plan, therefore no one is sure whether they should rebuild or not because if they DO rebuild and invest tens of thousands of dollars into fixing their home, and then the city government declares their old neighborhood "green space" - what then? Whole zip codes still don't have power. It is an absolute catastrophe down there. And we can all thank Mr. Bush and his four brain cells.

Posted by: Kelly at September 1, 2006 11:52 AM

Kelly, I'm sincerely glad you wrote that. But what happened to New Orleans didn't just happen because the President is dyslexic and an incompetent leader. The entire nation is letting New Orleans go to hell, and it always has.

Posted by: Crid at September 1, 2006 12:49 PM

Yep, you are right. I wasn't clear in my ranting. There's more than one person to blame here, for sure. Also, get this: There was an article on about how Houston wants "all the refugees outta Texas" and apparently - this is new knowledge for me - there is a general sort of impression in the US that New Orleanians are sitting around waiting for handouts and for the gov't to fix everything for them - not true. Your average white middle class uptown woman who's never done anything more labor-intensive than push the garage door opener button now knows how to spackle, hang sheetrock, bleach studs, and refinish flooring... at least that's the word I'm getting from back home. People are taking things into their own hands because all levels of government have failed the city.

Posted by: Kelly at September 1, 2006 2:20 PM

No one asked me for advice, and no one ever ever will, because it would be stupid. But here's some for free:

Move out of that city. It's sinking as the ground beneath it compacts, a few millimeters a year. The levees were incompetently constructed and are not being meaningfully improved. Environmental mismanagement of the entire continent will continue to reduce the hurricane protection afforded by eroding marshes and coastal barriers. The world-famous government corruption continues unabated, as does the city's status as a murder capital. An influx impoverished Mexicans and other low-wage laborers for rebuilding will shatter the culture without improving it.

America didn't care for New Orleans in the best of times, and those times are over.

Posted by: Crid at September 1, 2006 3:48 PM

Greg Palast is among the best of investigative reporters, a seemingly dying breed. It's a shame that his efforts are so often marginalized.

Posted by: Doobie at September 1, 2006 7:26 PM

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