What Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor wanted the Easter Bunny to bring him.
South Mississippi Living 4/07

Friday, July 20, 2007

FEMA Failures Meet Democratic Oversight

by Ana Maria

"We have lost a great deal through our dealings with FEMA," said Paul Stewart, a former Army officer living in a trailer with his wife in Mississippi, "not the least of which is our faith in government."
When a retired military officer has lost faith in Bush’s government, that is a bell weather indicator of what many of us predicted since that horrendous day back in December 2000.

You remember that day in December in which the United States Supreme Court legally stopped the vote counting in a U.S. election. The self-proclaimed greatest democracy on the planet no longer believed that counting the votes counted in determining an election outcome. The case was Bush v. Gore, and a New York Times editorial last August summarized it succinctly.
The Supreme Court’s highly partisan resolution of the 2000 election was a severe blow to American democracy . . ..

And what we’ve learned since that day is just how true it is when we say that elections have consequences. Here we are with another set of scandals that negatively impact American lives directly in a real and palpable manner. One scandal centers on millions of dollars of ice for hurricane survivors melting in the sun. The other on FEMA deliberately weighing the cost of lawsuits against testing for the adverse health effects of its formaldehyde-filled trailers.

Burning Mad
Memphis, Tenn., news organizations reported “[h]undreds of bags of ice once intended for hurricane victims have been melting outside a Memphis warehouse for days and could pose a health risk if consumed. The Federal Emergency Management Agency bought the ice in November 2005 to use during long power outages, like those brought by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.” This is outrageous!

This past weekend, I watched another of Greg Palast’s riveting investigations, Big Easy to Big Empty. I highly recommend it. Palast told the story of a grandfather who gave his grandchildren his last bottle of drinking water. The grandfather died of dehydration.

Days after watching Big Easy to Big Empty, I learn what FEMA did with the ice that could have saved lives such as the grandfather who died of dehydration.

FEMA ice melting in Tennessee 2 years after hurricane

According to the FEMA Web site, the agency had 430 truckloads of ice in 2005. It increased the amount by 400 percent -- 2,150 truckloads -- for the following year. That's enough to provide ice to more than 1 million people for up to 10 days.

One million people?! For 10 days!!! That would have more than helped the entire Katrina-ravaged region to stay hydrated. Apparently, FEMA didn’t bother to have this kind of foresight before Katrina and Rita. That would require planning . . . and caring. Two traits that elude the Bush-Cheney Administration.

On July 4th, the daily Memphis paper, The Commercial Appeal reported "[h]undreds of bags of ice once designated for hurricane victims have sat melting outside an AmeriCold Logistics warehouse . . . Congressman Steve Cohen said citizens have been carting off some of the ice, and he's worried it may pose a health risk." On July 3rd, Cohen actually saw people taking the abandoned ice. Then the company itself moved the ice to garbage cans. What a waste!
"It is appalling to learn of the waste of $67 million in taxpayer money for the purchase, transportation and storage of ice," [Congressman Steve] Cohen
wrote in a letter to [FEMA Director David] Paulison Wednesday. "That an additional $3.4 million is being paid to melt the ice is unconscionable. To consider such waste a part of doing business is a slap in the face of hardworking Americans whose taxes pay our salaries."
Cohen on the phone with FEMA about the ice melting in the Memphis sun.
Rep. Steve Cohen
Submitted by WDEF on July 4, 2007 - 5:50pm

Newly elected to Congress last November to represent the greater Memphis area of Tennessee, Cohen (D-TN) has a lifelong history of fiscal responsibility and fighting to protect the public trust. As his website accurately states, he "never falter[s] in his fight for those who do not have the power bestowed by wealth and advantage, realizing that the American dream cannot flourish without constant rededication to its principle." We need more like him in Congress, the U.S. Senate, and the White House.

FEMA’s Headaches
Today, I went inside of a FEMA formaldehyde-filled trailer for the first time. I am coordinating the volunteers who are coming down next month to work on the home of this elderly retired public school teacher whom I love so much that I refer to her as “aunt.” For well over a year now, she and her family—including her school age great grandchild who lives with her—have been breathing in the formaldehyde.

As I sat next to her, my previous piece titled Formaldehyde-Filled FEMA Trailers went through my mind a time or two. I do hope that we can get things situated to move her back into her home by Labor Day. The air in those tiny Barbie doll sized trailers is hazardous to breathe.

When I came home, my FEMA education continued as I read the Washington Post.

. . . since early 2006 [FEMA] has suppressed warnings from its own field workers
about health problems experienced by hurricane victims living in government-provided trailers with levels of a toxic chemical 75 times the recommended maximum for U.S. workers, congressional lawmakers said . . . .
Excuse me?! They have known since a few months after Katrina that these sardine can sized trailers were toxic to the degree of being 75 times the healthy level?! Moreover, they knew of the toxicity in early 2006.

Today’s Washington Post is reporting

On June 16, 2006, three months after reports of the hazards surfaced and a month after a trailer resident sued the agency, a FEMA logistics expert wrote that the agency's Office of General Counsel "has advised that we do not do testing, which would imply FEMA's ownership of this issue." A FEMA lawyer, Patrick Preston, wrote on June 15: "Do not initiate any testing until we give the OK. . . . Once you get results and should they indicate some problem, the clock is running on our duty to respond to them."
What is this? Be responsible, test the FEMA air, protect the American families living in them . . . or be absolutely vile, contemptible, evil. Apparently, Bush’s FEMA has opted for the latter and adopted the Pinto Profit Protection Plan as the lens through which to cost out its options.

Remember the 1970’s case in which Ford decided that it would be financially cheaper for the company to forgo spending the $10 per car to fix the Pinto’s exploding gas tank. The corporation deliberately decided to allow its car to injure families then settle the cases with those individuals that actually pursued a legal case against the Ford Corporation.

My, oh my, oh my. Another of the Bush Administration’s vain attempt to pretend that the emperor has no clothes.

Thankfully, Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is politically smart, savvy, and sophisticated. He calls a spade a shovel. When necessary, he picks it up and hits up side the head whomever seems to be needing a verbal hit up side his or her head. At yesterday’s hearing, it was FEMA director, David Paulison. Waxman referred to FEMA’s perspective as “sickening.” At the hearing, Waxman said,
"The nearly 5,000 pages of documents we've reviewed expose an official policy of pre- meditated ignorance." He also criticized the testing standards that FEMA and the Environ- mental Protection Agency used before they even- tually came to the incorrect conclusion, as Paulison stated in May 2007, that "the formaldehyde does not present a health hazard." Trailers were left with windows ajar, air conditioning on and all vents open for days before interior air levels were tested for the gas — conditions that did not nearly approxi- mate actual living conditions. It was only almost a year and a half after the first complaint — and with the looming prospect of a con- gressional hearing — that FEMA decided to act. Just yesterday, the agency announced that it was teaming up with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct testing of the air quality in its trailers. [Emphasis added.]
Premeditated ignorance?! How loathsome. Yet, what did Bush’s FEMA director have to say about all of this?

"The health and safety of residents is my primary concern,"

David Paulison FEMA Director

Primary concern, my you-know-what! These folks feign compassion but their handling of Katrina’s before and aftermath demonstrates in clear and convincing ways that they care of no one but themselves and nothing but the Almighty Dollar.

Congressman Jim Cooper, a Democrat representing the Nashville area of Tennessee, spoke poignantly about Bush’s FEMA. "I haven't seen this level of government incompetence outside of the nation of China. . . . And they executed an official in China for not having done their job. No one is asking for that here, but how about a simple application of the golden rule?"

I’m a firm believer in the “what’s-good-for-the-goose” philosophy, myself, if you know what I mean. For the longest time, Paulison spouted the line that Bush’s FEMA trailers pose no real health threat then he and every FEMA employee that is marching in lock step with the White House talking points should demonstrate the strength of their convictions in the Bush Administration’s official advice. They should live in FEMA trailers for a few years.

Should they experience “headaches, burning eyes and throats, nausea and difficulty breathing” or if their noses start to bleed, they can just say a little prayer as they air out their trailers. When that doesn’t work, maybe they’ll turn in their faith-based, factually-free health recommendation for a dose of harsh reality. I wouldn’t count on it, though.The Bushies are more likely to hold their breath than to admit they deliberately deceived the American people with their willful neglect, stupidity, and blind faith in a White House that continues to betray the New Orleans and Mississippi Gulf Coast . . . along with everyone else from the East Coast to the West Coast. As they hold their breath, we can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that at our fingertips we possess the tools to help bring about a better outcome for those families living in formaldehyde-filled FEMA trailers.

Today’s Political Hell Raising Activities center on thanking Congressman Henry Waxman and Congressman Steve Cohen for their leadership. Here are the activities for Waxman, and here for the activities for Cohen. Think about it. When someone unexpectedly praises us for something at work or home, we beam from ear to ear. Our eyes get wide and begin to dance. We stand a little taller. We feel even better about doing whatever it is we did. We feel appreciated and respected.

You know what happens then? We are more likely to do it again. So let’s burn up the computer and phone lines with simple words of thanks and praise. As we do, we’re putting a down payment on a future government that we ourselves deliberately create so that the former Army officers around us can begin again to have faith in our government. And the key phrase is “our government.”

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