Welcome to South Plaquemines Parish,

where communities that once thrived on tourism, trade and oil management are now entirely devoid of housing stock.  Although the parish’s population was swept away by the waves of Bush’s failed response to Hurricane Katrina, some have returned, as evidenced by the two fenced prisons comprised of small and very uncomfortable FEMA trailors that abut Louisiana Highway 23, or the Belle Chasse Highway, in North Plaquemines Parish.  The people here are proud and resilient, and they intend to rebuild, some with a vengeance.  But the sluggish manner whereby applications are processed and checks are dispersed by the Louisiana Road Home Program and FEMA have frustrated these survivors’ valiant efforts.

Tract after tract of land is vacant in South Plaquemines Parish: vegetation is scarce, and every standing structure was destroyed in the weeks following the hurricane.  The crumbling levees have been restored, however, and traffic has returned to the roads and the river, breathing a bit a hope into this otherwise desolate landscape.

The complete and utter devestation of Plaquemines Parish leads one to wonder why FEMA would invest four times more revenue for alternative housing for Katrina survivors in Mississippi than in Louisiana.  After all, Louisiana experienced three times the amount of damage of Mississippi, and Mississippi did not have to endure the weeks of flooding that ensued after multiple levees were breached. 

Sen. Mary Landrieu, who has been fighting tirelessly for our state’s economic future and security since she arrived in office in 1996, has noted this discrepency, and she intends to correct it.  Here is Mary:

“FEMA has clearly learned very little from its mistakes, let alone basic math or a sense of fundamental fairness,” said Sen. Landrieu, who last month was selected for the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, which oversees FEMA. “Under FEMA’s upside down decision-making, Louisiana gets the short end of the stick for alternative housing programs by almost 4-to-1, despite suffering more than three times the housing loss. While we are happy that a significant Louisiana initiative was approved, the totality of this grant announcement simply isn’t right. Rest assured, as a member of the Senate committee that oversees FEMA beginning next month, I will do everything in my power to shake up this dead-end bureaucracy once and for all.”

This is mighty polemical language for a press release, and I certainly would not want to attend an oversight hearing knowing I would have to confront someone ready to make me and the agency I represent accountable for such egregious errors in grant allocation and disaster response.  But when Landrieu is upset, she is ready to fight, and she does not relent until she is completely satisfied.  She may not be the most progressive legislator, but she is definitely effective.

There is one hurdle to Landrieu’s quest to “do everything in my power to shake up this dead-end bureaucracy once and for all,” however, and this is Joe Lieberman, the man for whom Landrieu campaigned during his cynical and reprehensibly selfish reelection bid this past election cycle.  For according to Newsweek,

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….But now that he chairs the homeland panel-and is in a position to subpoena the records-Lieberman has decided not to pursue the material [pertaining to Katrina], according to Leslie Phillips, the senator’s chief committee spokeswoman. “The senator now intends to focus his attention on the future security of the American people and other matters and does not expect to revisit the White House’s role in Katrina,” she told NEWSWEEK.

How Lieberman can turn on his heels a whole one hundred and eighty degrees after he told the voters of Connecticut he would investigate the bungled response of FEMA and the White House to Hurricane Katrina is simply incomprehensible.  It certainly cannot be a result of his “bipartisanship,” for both Republicans and Democrats are floating from trailor to trailor as so much flotsam and jetsam in the seemingly endless wake of that storm.  And it certainly cannot be the result of the report he and Sen. Susan Collins drafted last year after their round of hearings, for that document is the product of an incomplete record.  Newsweek provides a short list of material yet to be vetted.

Among the missing material: the record of a videoconference in the White House Situation Room in which former Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown said he warned senior officials about the dire situation in New Orleans, but was greeted with “deafening silence.” Also missing: records believed to include messages and conversations involving the president, Vice President Dick Cheney and their top aides during the days in late August and early September 2005 when the Katrina disaster was unfolding and thousands of city residents were flocking to overcrowded shelters and hanging onto rooftops awaiting rescue.

And now we know FEMA continues to shortchange Louisiana.  Will this government body and the President who established it ever be held accountable?  And will Lieberman, who now chairs the committee that will supervises FEMA’s activities, finally correct that organization’s errors and thereby provide the beseiged people of south Louisiana a sense, however infintisemal, however belated, of retribution?  Will he restore our trust in our government?  Will he convince us that our votes for Democrats this past cycle were not in vain?  No, he will not.  And he has no regrets either.  For according to Lieberman’s chief committee staffperson,

“The senator is an independent Democrat and answers only to the people who elected him to office and to his own conscience.”

Where to begin with this statement:  with its sanctimony, its dismissiveness, it callousness?  And how is a senator who chairs a national committee that exercises oversight over a national organization only beholden to “the people who elected him to office?”  Were not these people, whoever they may be, compelled to vote for him as a result of his campaign rhetoric, wherein he promised to enjoin “the White House turn over potentially embarrassing documents relating to its handling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans?”  And does not his responsibility as Chairman of the Committe on Government Affairs and National Security require him to do more than just

focus on “the future security of the American people,” especially when a large number of those people are still awaiting a home and answers as to why they had to wait almost two years for a reliable shelter?

My consternation has reached debilitating levels.  Thankfully, Charlie Melancon, a Democrat from Napoleonville, who is presently serving his second term in the US House of Representatives, has commented on Lieberman’s recent statements. 

“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.”

And it continues to be a major national occurrence.  But Lieberman believes he is finished.  In fact, his staffer issued a response to the Newsweek article, which she predictably characterizes as unfair, and she cites as evidence of Lieberman’s committment to Louisiana the report he and Collins drafted, the very report whose deficiencies and lacunae the article explained at length.  Here is Lieberman’s vacuous staffer:

Furthermore, the idea that Joe Lieberman is giving a pass to the President on Katrina is absurd, as anyone familiar with his record knows. The fact is that Senator Lieberman spent almost a full year investigating Katrina and issued a hard-hitting 732 page special report. He publicly chastised the White House for its lack of leadership and for not cooperating with the investigation. And even with the information the Senator’s staff uncovered without the cooperation of the White House, the Senator was able to conclude that the White House response to Katrina was woefully deficient.

So Lieberman issues his report, holds a press conference, makes bankrupt promises and considers his job of supervising the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina completed.  “Doesn’t he get any credit for that?,” Lieberman’s staffer asks.  No, he does not, for the crisis still continues.  But I guess Lieberman is only answerable “to his own conscience.”  And we in Louisiana plan to make everyone aware of what the operations of that bipartisan, independently callous conscience actually are.

Please telephone Lieberman, and ask him to allow the people of South Louisiana to receive the accountability and response they deserve from FEMA and from the elected officials who ostensibly oversee the activities of that organization.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-CT)

706 Hart Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

(202) 224-4041 Voice

(202) 224-9750 Fax

For TTY Call 711

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