And Two Steps Back

News blog of a college student that's too young to know anything.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Upheaving Their Roots

First the Flood, Now the Fight
Critics Say FEMA Is Impeding Gulf Coast Rebuilding As Disputes Hold Up Nearly $1 Billion in Relief Funds

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 30, 2006; A01

Someone had to pay to remove 3,000 dead trees in New Orleans. The trees, insisted the Federal Emergency Management Agency, couldn't have been killed by Hurricane Katrina's floodwaters because they weren't toppled to a certain angle. New Orleans would have to pay.

Nonsense, city administrators argued. Brackish water swamped the city for weeks, killing the trees where they stood. Only after months of delay did FEMA relent, adding the trees' removal to the toll of the catastrophe.

Through hundreds of such disputes large and small, the most costly disaster in U.S. history is fast becoming its most contentious, with appeals and disputes worth nearly a billion dollars bogging down repairs of critical public systems and delaying the return of residents.

Current and former officials at all levels blame FEMA workers' inexperience with eligibility rules, weaknesses in U.S. disaster laws and inconsistent treatment by Congress for much of the wrangling. The huge scale of the storm and honest disagreement over whether federal or local taxpayers should pay the tab add to the conflict.

"Disasters should be difficult to declare. . . . But once you get them, FEMA should not worry about cutting costs," said Daniel A. Craig, who stepped down in October as head of FEMA's recovery division and is now consulting for New Orleans. "Public entities are eligible for everything they have lost due to the disaster. It is not up to FEMA to cut corners or makes sure money is saved."

Gil H. Jamieson, FEMA's deputy director for Gulf Coast recovery, agreed that "we're in this to rebuild the city" and added: "We are not in it to delay for the sake of delay. Are there folks who sometimes hose it up? Absolutely. But I think we're doing a good job of helping it recover."

The disputes come as the costliest part of the recovery begins: restoring water, power, roads, bridges, schools and other public facilities along the Gulf Coast. Agency veterans said the spending will have more impact on the physical rebuilding of the Gulf area than anything else FEMA does over the next decade, possibly eclipsing its role in aiding individual victims of the storm.

The Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans, for instance, sustained $446 million in storm losses, said Executive Director Marcia St. Martin. But FEMA has committed just $113 million so far.

FEMA notes that New Orleans promised U.S. environmental regulators $640 million in repairs before Katrina, and that the antiquated system is too big for the Crescent City's reduced population.

"That's what makes a city -- if you don't have water, sewer and drainage, you don't have a city," lamented Robert Jackson, spokesman for the sewer board. "The money so far only scratches the surface of the devastation. In some cases you've got underground devastation that you haven't seen even in a year's time."

Jamieson acknowledged that "one of the toughest issues is: How do we not buy any city a completely new water and sewer system but in fact try to attribute how much it was damaged before the storm?"

"We want to give them what they deserve but . . . make sure they are not getting more than they deserve, at some other community's expense," Jamieson said.

Read the rest here.

While I understand trying to save the taxpayers money, to judge something and say, "Well, it looks to me that this wasn't damaged by the hurricane so no money for you." and rely on the insurance to pay for it?

And highschool sport players transferring to other high schools now find all their hard work at their new school was for naught.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Republican's New Clothes

Flag Burning Redux
If this is an election year, it must be time to amend the Constitution.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006; A20

WITH CONGRESSIONAL elections coming, the Republican leadership has found a pivotal issue. Terrorism? Hardly. Entitlement reform? Don't be silly. We're talking about the grave threat to America known as flag burning. Yes, that election-year favorite is back: the proposed amendment to the Constitution of the United States allowing Congress to criminally punish the "physical desecration" of the American national banner. If you haven't noticed a rash of flag-burning incidents sweeping the nation that's because, well, there isn't one. But that doesn't stop Republicans from trotting it out as a more-patriotic-than-thou card.

They are, as always, close to having the votes to send it to the states for ratification. The House of Representatives has passed the measure and the vote will be tight in the Senate, where the Judiciary Committee approved the amendment 11 to 7. We hope the amendment will fall short of the needed two-thirds majority on the Senate floor; it's depressing enough that a majority of senators will support it.

The amendment would soil the First Amendment's command that Congress shall "make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech." Flag burning is an odious form of expression. But there are lots of odious forms of expression the First Amendment protects: Holocaust denial and swastikas, racist rants and giant Confederate flags, hammers and sickles. The amendment's power is in its self-confident sweep: Speech, including expressive acts, will not be censored. Government cannot punish ideas. Members of Congress who would protect the flag thus do it far greater damage than a few miscreants with matches.

Editorial from here.

I think I finally discovered the reason why this is such a big issue (forgive me if it's been known for awhile) : most of the people who want to ban flag burning are usually the ones who are known to hide behind it. Though I can't help but think that even if they are naked and defenseless behind the flag, it would be like a case of the Emperor's New Clothes. When will Bush go proudly parading down the streets naked with everyone laughing. Figuratively I mean, not literally. Eww.

I would probably smile at the idea, but Wal-Mart is trying to get rights to the smiley face, and I don't want to risk trademark infringment.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

First post with a little trivia

Because I really didn't feel like covering my feelings of current news in my Livejournal, I figured I'd get trendy and get a Blogger. Hey, all the kids are getting one nowadays, so why the hell not?

So let's play a game, shall we? Recently, an emergency spending bill of $94.5 billion was passed in the Senate (with a rare 98 to 1 vote in favor) to cover war and hurricane relief expenses. Now, was the ratio of money:
A. Spead out evenly between the war and hurricane relief?
B. War costs were given a little bit more?
C. $66 billion was given to the war, with only $20 billion given the hurricane relief?

If you've picked C, you're correct! But wait, at least the hurricane relief efforts got some money right? Right?

Ooh, too bad the bill also included nearly $2 billion to beef up security along the U.S.-Mexico border (including $708 million to deploy National Guard troops), preventing the immigrants that are HELPING rebuild New Orleans out of the country.

Ouch, that's gotta hurt! Thanks for playing folks!