I made it in to the Louisiana Supreme Court for the Senate field hearing, “Hurricanes Katrina and Rita: Outstanding Need, Slow Progress.” Just getting in was an object lesson. First we (members of the publiuc) were shoved back out the door to wait in the cold, then we went through the obligatory metal detectors, then we were photographed and tagged. I’m now wearing a sticker with my name, picture and barcode. I’ve been told more than once that cell phones must be turned off but I see plenty of people using them so that’s how I’m posting this. I may be able to post updates here throughout the day or I may wait until it’s all over…
Update: The hearing started off with a bang. A young man stood up and unfurled a sign that said “PROBE THE WHITE HOUSE.” He urged Senator Lieberman to “probe the White House” and was yelling “stand up for justice!” as he was escorted from the chamber.
There were three senators at the hearing: Barack Obama, Joe Lieberman, and Mary Landrieu. All Democrats, you’ll note. Hmm. Coincidence? Or could Katrina be shaping up as a campaign issue for 2008 after all?
I’ll be the first to admit I’m out of my depth. Nevertheless here are my notes on the day’s hearing, rough and unfiltered…
Lieberman: Expressed sympathy with the protester, disappointment with State of the Union speech, “our work is not finished here.” Announced Landrieu is chairing new subcommittee on disaster recovery. Congress has appropriated $110 billion for Gulf Coast yet money is not arriving fast enough “while the people of New Orleans continue to suffer.”
Landrieu: Mentioned 650,000 displaced by Katrina — wasn’t it actually 2 million? Rattles off many alarming statistics. 70 countries have pledged aid.
Obama: Mentioned speaking at Xavier’s commencement, cited Musicians’ Village as hopeful sign. Concerned about healthcare mental health, criminal justice, no-bid contracts. Regarding Katrina: all of us felt ashamed, “I know I did.” Quoted Bush’s Jackson Square speech, “whatever it takes,” compared to State of the Union speech. “Were we being honest?” Comparison to Chicago, San Francisco rebuilding after disaster.
Donald Powell: “Most challenging, mind-boggling and frustrating time of my life.” “The levees are at pre-Katrina levels or better.” Spoke of the “transformation of this entire region.” Key issues: education, healthcare, criminal justice, workforce development, affordable housing, jobs and diversification of economy. (At this point the guy from ACORN sitting next to me leaned over and said, “That’s telling people what they want to hear.”) Believes we’ll see a “modern renaissance.”
Steven Preston spoke on behalf of SBA, but I couldn’t stay focused on the financial details.
Pamela Patenaude (HUD): “HUD cut red tape.” “Sec. Jackson is not satisfied with the pace of recovery.”
Gil Jamieson (FEMA): “I am the Reggie Bush of New Orleans when it comes to end runs.” 12,000 demolitions still estimated to remain in Orleans and St. Bernard parishes. FEMA will stay here “until the job is done.”
Gregory Kutz (GAO): Fraud, waste and abuse are bad.
Lieberman: Road Home — “what happened?”
Patenaude: not our fault
Lieberman: fire stations are operating out of trailers
Jamieson: FEMA can help
Lieberman: so why haven’t you?
Jamieson: blames the firefighters (did I hear that right?)
Landrieu: Big Picture — Louisiana is between $18-43 billion short of parity with Mississippi for recovery dollars. When Bush asks for more money for Iraq, I will ask for more money for rebuilding New Orleans. Get HUD and FEMA in the same building. Forgive 10% local funding match or allow it to be paid in one installment rather than thousands of individual filings.
Powell: cites UNOP as critical
Obama: money allocated still not reaching ordinary people
Lieberman: Federal commitment will continue for at least a decade. Must educate constituents around the country
[gotta run, more to come]
OK, Here’s the rest:
Landrieu: “duplication of benefits” with SBA was intended. Was meant to be double-dipped.
(This had to do with an issue regarding grants and loans from SBA that I didn’t fully follow. Nor did I understand Preston’s response.)
Obama: Debris removal was being fully funded by FEMA, now shifting to cost-sharing with local gov’t. Why? Why now? Why not continue waiver?
Obama: asked something about public housing
Patenaude: I’m not an expert on public housing
Obama: more concerned with no-bid contracts than individual abuse
Lieberman introduces Nagin as a “good friend”
Ray Nagin: We’re five months from hurricane season. Tourism has “always” been the main economic driver for New Orleans. Touted Road Home Fast Track program. Recapped BNOB > Lambert > UNOP almost as if it was planned that way from the beginning. Cited UNOP as culmination of “exhaustive public input process that we are really proud of.” Recommended change to Stafford Act so that major catastrophes are differentiated from other disasters. Criminal Justice: FEMA has allocated only 20% of amount needed. Not having resources at local level is killing recovery. African proverb: Two dancing elephants (state and federal gov’t) are trampling the grass (local gov’t).
Walter Leger (LRA): Three recommendations: 1. allow global match (or forgiveness), 2. allow use of hazard mitigation funds for Road Home, 3. resolve SBA loan/grant issue. 64,000 people living in trailers. Extensive listing of funding disparities between Louisiana and Mississippi. “We are at war.”
Suzanne Mestayer (GNO Inc): Business insurers are issuing five-fold premium increases, ten-fold deductible increases. Recommends increasing number of guest work visas.
Lieberman: Whose fault is it that Road Home program is bogged down?
Leger: Katrina and Rita. Federalism with strings.
Lieberman: What’s up with these fire stations?
Nagin: Differing estimates of damages.
Lieberman: What about problem of poverty with regard to disaster recovery?
Nagin: “I don’t see the will to fix it.” We spend plenty in Iraq but there’s this “dance going on in New Orleans.” Not asking for any more money, just want money allocated to get to citizens.
Landrieu: Troubled by Nagin’s last comment since since state is not getting proportional share. Regarding fire stations and police facilities, promises to investigate worksheets. Regarding violent crime, asks Nagin for three things that would help.
Nagin: 1. correcting problems with PWs (project worksheets), 2. (missed it), 3. more funding for crime cameras
Landrieu: Comparison of Road Home with Mississippi?
Leger: Didn’t get funding proportionate to need.
Obama: Compared our situation to Iraq. Not a sense of urgency coming out of this White House. “That will has been lacking.” At what point do you consider firing ICF?
Leger: (missed it)
Obama: What can feds do to help with violent crime?
Nagin: Everything starts with public safety. We are losing 17 officers/month. Clinton did something to fund 100,000 cops around the country.
Lieberman: “We shall return.”
[That's it. Sorry this is so raw. Maybe I'll have some thoughts or analysis later. Maybe not. Right now I just need a drink.]