Sunday, January 28, 2007

There will be a hearing on Katrina after all.

This seems to be good news.
BATON ROUGE - The next battleground to fix blame over why the response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita is so slow shifts to New Orleans on Monday morning, with U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., providing the star power.

The official title of the hearing by the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs gives a clue as to its purpose: "Hurricanes Katrina and Rita: Outstanding Need, Slow Progress."
. . . .
"We are at war here," Leger said.

Hmm, could get interesting.

Lots of activity today in the paper.

First, though, I got an email from C. B. Forgotston in the mail this morning, and I hope he'll put it on his site. He asks the right questions about the ICFI / Road Home fiasco. Here are a few:

-- Who selected ICF to manage LA's program?
--What leverage does LA have over ICF?
-- What company was hired to manage Mississippi's similar program?
-- How long will ICF be given to get it right?

All of these are questions that the news media and the legislators in this state should be asking. The governor may be frustrated with the pace of the program, but the only way to make progress is to haul the people responsible out into the public eye and make answer for their inaction. It's no good just to say that you're impatient with the progress ICFI is making.

You can find Forgotston here. I don't always agree with his point of view, but there's no question he has the state's best interests at heart.

What set off Forgotston's email this morning was this article in the Picayune. Here's the central thesis of the piece.

The record shows ICF making critical misjudgments almost every step of the way, typically by failing to bring sufficient staff resources to bear as applicants move through the process. A shortage of operators at a phone call-in center is addressed, only to be followed by a shortage of interviewers as applicants sign up for face-to-face encounters with ICF advisers. And so on down the line.

As Forgotston notes, though the article is quite long, there's little new in it, and very little attempt to find those responsible for the multiple screw-ups of ICFI. But it's an article worth reading and re-reading for gems like this:
Other critics of ICF point out that in Mississippi, the company handling the first phase of its homeowner grant program has already closed on 80 percent of the 14,615 applications deemed eligible for compensation, with total awards expected to reach about $1 billion. Mississippi officials attribute much of that progress to the fact that their contractor overstaffed at the beginning and quickly began laying off employees when the work was done. The state also loosened its verification requirements.
And this:
Tulane University professor Melanie Ehrlich, founder and co-chairman of the Citizens' Road Home Action Team, said members of the Louisiana Recovery Authority were so worried about designing a fraud-proof program that it is now loaded down with "excessive" verification requirements, such as multiple identification checks and title searches for homeowners who have already furnished up-to-date mortgage and title records.

And this:
Jones said the pilot project exemplifies ICF's approach, which he likens to a "python swallowing a pig." Instead of working out all the major kinks in advance, he said, ICF hasn't dealt with many issues until they became a crisis. Usually, he said, that happened when a large number of applications hit a critical point in the pipeline, such as scheduling appointments with advisers or calculating awards.

And more, including the fact that the Road Home Program is now requiring ICFI employees to identify themselves as such, not as members of the Road Home Program. The state program no longer wants to be identified with ICFI.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Sad. Very sad. We knew that this was true, but

it's good to have it confirmed.

FEMA Brown confirms that the White House was playing politics with the Katrina response.

"Unbeknownst to me, certain people in the White House were thinking, 'We had to federalize Louisiana because she's a white, female Democratic governor, and we have a chance to rub her nose in it,'" he said, without naming names. "'We can't do it to Haley (Barbour) because Haley's a white male Republican governor. And we can't do a thing to him. So we're just gonna federalize Louisiana.'"

Brown, 52, declined to say who in the White House had argued for federalizing the response only in Louisiana. He said that he'd later learned of the machinations through Blanco's office and from federal officials.

Blanco reacted sharply to Brown's remarks.

"This is exactly what we were living but could not bring ourselves to believe. Karl Rove was playing politics while our people were dying," Blanco said through a spokeswoman, referring to Bush's top political strategist. "The federal
effort was delayed, and now the public knows why. It's disgusting."

And now Liebermann won't put him under oath because he's not holding hearings. What a complete traitor to his oath of office!!!!

We have to demand an investigation. Now!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

ICFI Road Home improves performance.

Fifty-nine homeowners closed on deals in the seven-day period ending Jan. 16 in the most productive week of the first four months of The Road Home program.

The Road Home had averaged just 7.5 closings per week in the first 15 weeks of the program.

The total paid to homeowners nearly doubled in one week from $5.45 million as of Jan. 9 to $9.4 million as of Tuesday.

Road Home officials report interviews have been held or scheduled with 66,016 eligible homeowners affected by hurricanes Katrina or Rita. An estimated 123,000 can apply for up to $150,000 in compensation to help rebuild or relocate. Through four months,

from New Orleans City Business

But lawmakers still not pleased.

We’ve tried ICF (International). It hasn’t worked,” Sen. Derrick Shepperd, D-Marrero, said of the company running the program. “The ($756 million) contract is too big for ICF. Just call it what it is. It isn’t rocket science. We’re not getting any results.”

Mike Spletto, senior housing manager for the “Road Home” program, told the Joint Subcommittee on New Orleans of the Select Committee on Disaster Planning, Crisis Management, Recovery and Long-Term Revitalization that nearly 99,000 homeowners have applied for assistance under the program and some 63,000 appointments have been held — but only 177 homeowners have received funding as of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
from the Advocate

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

What Joe did to Mary.

From the Daily Kos
Make no mistake -- Lieberman has just made a fool of Landrieu. He has just told her he doesn't give a shit about her, her reelection efforts, her African-American constituents, nor all New Orleans and Louisiana residents. He obviously knows who brought him to the dance (Republicans), and he'll carry their water before he repays the efforts of one of his staunchest allies.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

What Mary Landrieu needs . . .

is a primary opponent who'll stand up for Louisiana against Bush-lovers like Joe Liebermann.

"Knowing Sen. Lieberman the way I do, I know he will work with us, as he has in the past, to get all of the facts about the federal, state and local response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., one of the few Senate Democrats who backed Lieberman in his campaign. "We don't want to waste time just trying to place blame. We want to find constructive ways to prepare the country for all future disasters.

Liebermann has backed out on his promise to investigate the Federal response to Katrina. Mary says it's OK with her. Way to sell out, Mary.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Joe Lieberman gives the president a pass on Katrina.

From Newsweek
Jan. 11, 2007 - Sen. Joe Lieberman, the only Democrat to endorse President Bush’s new plan for Iraq, has quietly backed away from his pre-election demands that the White House turn over potentially embarrassing documents relating to its handling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans.

This is more than shameful; it's cowardly and disgusting. Joe Liebermann, profile in gutlessness. Let's hope that the Democrats pull Liebermann's chain hard on this one. What's going to be the reaction of Vitter and Landrieu?

UPDATE: Crooks and Liars has more.
Congressman Charlie Melancon, a relatively conservative Democrat from Louisiana, has just hammered Lieberman's decision in an interview with Election Central.

"I'm just disappointed that he's not going to pursue it, particularly pursue it in terms of — I can understand that there's a whole lot of things we haven't had oversight on in six years — but Katrina is a major national occurrence."

Thursday, January 11, 2007

70% sounds like a majority to me.

WASHINGTON - Seventy percent of Americans oppose sending more troops to Iraq, according to a new poll that provides a devastatingly blunt response to President Bush's plan to bolster military forces there.

Devastatingly blunt response = Bush far out on limb.

Are we at war with Iran already?

From The Washington Note

Washington intelligence, military and foreign policy circles are abuzz today with speculation that the President, yesterday or in recent days, sent a secret Executive Order to the Secretary of Defense and to the Director of the CIA to launch military operations against Syria and Iran.

The President may have started a new secret, informal war against Syria and Iran without the consent of Congress or any broad discussion with the country.

Talk about wagging the dog!

An Email from RM

I got this today from one of my frequent correspondents who lives in Europe.
I figure they have stopped reducing memos to writing in the WH, so they have a version of kindergarten "show and tell" in the oval office where they each "say" their ideas, and about a week ago, Karl Rove said . . .

"Hey, way I figure is the media can only cover so many things at once, and they have the worst time with places than cannot spell or pronounce. Heck, I'm not sure about Somalia and nobody can spell or pronouce Mogadishu. Sooooo, let's go blow that place up. Tell 'em we're after al Queda, speaking of things no one can spell or pronounce. Get their eye off of Iraq a bit."

Second speaker (a wimp not long for the big leagues), "But we'd then be on the side of the guys who knocked Blackhawk down and brutally murdered our troops."

Cheney, seated in the Boss' chair, chewing on one of his pens, "That was Clinton's fault. Do it! Get some boats with guns and blow the place up. Say we are killing terrorists. Make sure we say we're killing no civilians."

Second speaker, "How do you know if you are killing civilians when you are at sea?"

"You think any reporter is going onshore to look around? Just do it." Cheney said.

Second speaker, "Shouldn't we ask the president?"

Rove shrugs, "He's busy with his ranch architect, looking at barn plans. No worries. He sure can't pronounce those places or find them on a map anyway. Do it!"

Olbermann on Bush screwups.

If you haven't seen this piece by Keith Olbermann listing Bush's mistakes, flip-flops, and blunders, you need to watch this.

Recovery grants forecast retracted

Oh, well, yeah. We DID expect something like this -- but so soon?
Recovery grants forecast retracted
ICF official backs off 500-a-day estimate
Thursday, January 11, 2007
By David Hammer

The much-maligned administrator of Louisiana's Road Home program is backing off a statement last month that it would hand out 500 grants a day to homeowners by the end of January.

In the 25 days since Road Home administrator Michael Byrne assured angry Louisiana Recovery Authority board members of the impending flow of housing aid, the program has averaged fewer than three closings a day.

ICF International, the company with a $756 million state contract to handle federal money -- including $7.5 billion in grants for homeowners -- came under fire late last year for errors and slowdowns. State legislators recommended firing the company.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Wishful thinking.

The 9th Ward and surrounding areas can be rebuilt largely as they existed before Hurricane Katrina flooded them, a survey contends.

The findings, based on a block-by-block survey of damage, contradict the common perception that these neighborhoods, which have become a kind of Ground Zero in the wake of Katrina, sustained such destruction that they need to be rebuilt from scratch, said urban planners who conducted the survey and released it Saturday.

If you're going to rebuild the Ninth Ward, you better make some changes. Like getting those houses safe up off the ground.

Call your congressperson. Demand an investigation.

One early indication of how aggressively Capitol Hill Democrats will investigate the Bush administration—and how strongly the White House will resist—will be how vigorously the new congressional majority pursues Katrina inquiries.

. . . . . .
FEMA chief Michael (Brownie) Brown told NEWSWEEK 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."

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Payton gets well-deserved honor.

"It's just been the right mix of guys who believe in each other," said Payton, who ran away in the balloting by a nationwide panel of 50 sports writers and broadcasters who cover the NFL.

"Players putting the team ahead of everything else. I think that's the biggest thing that we've been able to do to date. That's what's most important. That's what we were looking for in the offseason: character, toughness, those are things you win with."

He deserves his honor, and more. Ending nearly the 40 year old losing attitude of the Saints returns pride to this much-maligned state and sets a great example of how even entrenched old habits and failures can be redeemed. Just what Louisiana needs more of --- great leadership.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

CHAT and Think NOLA are on the case

Citizen's Road Home and ThinkNola in New Orleans have been doing a great job keeping up with ICFI's progress. Their site provides a link to the most recent ICFI Combined Report (PDF) of progress, along with links to ICFI's original contract and amendments.

Some really fine citizen activism.

ICF: What do the subs do?

According to this article, Quadel is in charge of hiring and training the staff for Road Home, and the Shaw Group set up the assistance centers.

These companies seem to have completed their work on time. That narrows responsibility for the Road Home FUBAR down to . . . ???