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Katrina Anniversary: Open Thread

I haven't yet had an opportunity to watch the Katrina and New Orleans coverage but I'm sure you have. Here's an open thread on all things related to Katrina -- the devastation and the Adminstration's woefully inadequate response. Will this tar Bush's legacy for good?

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Race, Katrina, and Republicans

by TChris

Racism -- or more broadly, intolerance based on characteristics of race, national origin, religion, and sexuality -- remains one of the most compelling challenges confronting the United States. The anniversary of Katrina drives the point home.

To live in the real world is to not be shocked when learning about how relief trucks passed by East Biloxi, a predominantly black community, to get to D'Iberville, a predominantly white middle-class community.

To live in the real world is to understand why the Red Cross station in East Biloxi barely served food, had no mobile health-care unit and was located in a depressing run-down building, while the Red Cross station in D'Iberville was pristine, well-stocked with food and supplies, and a full-service mobile health-care unit.

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Backlogs in New Orleans' Criminal Courts

by TChris

The White House wants voters to believe that the president has played a significant role over the past year to help New Orleans rebuild. Despite all the president's speeches, disapproval of his response to Katrina remains high. As it should.

A year after Katrina, "only half of the New Orleans courthouse's 12 courtrooms have come back into service since judges returned to the flood-damaged building in June." Jail inmates are waiting for trials; many are waiting to meet their public defenders. And they've been waiting for a year. Judge Arthur Hunter is right to think that they shouldn't be kept waiting any longer.

Hunter says that especially given a shortage of public defenders, many indigent prisoners locked up even before the hurricane haven't talked to lawyers or been charged with crimes; he believes their rights have been being violated for too long and that therefore their releases warrant consideration on a case-by-case basis.

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Katrina Timeline: Don't Be Fooled

Next week's Katrina anniversary poses a huge vulnerability for Republicans as they head into the November elections. The White House has already started a massive PR campaign to spin the facts. Don't be fooled. Think Progress has published a timeline laying them all out.

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Katrina Anniversary: Spike Lee Film and Water the Bushes

Spike Lee's four hour film on Hurricane Katrina and the government's woefully inadequate response airs Monday and Tuesday nights on HBO:

One of the most poignant interviews in the Hurricane Katrina documentary "When the Levees Broke" is given by a man who lost his mother in the aftermath of the storm, filmmaker Spike Lee said Sunday. In the interview, Herbert Freeman recalls his mother's death at New Orleans Convention Center and the moment he had to leave her body there as he and other evacuees were taken out of the city.

"Before he got on a bus _ he had a piece of paper, wrote his name, his cell number and her name and placed the paper between her fingers, her body," Lee said on ABC's "This Week."

Just unbelievable. Here's a little action alert that should be easy to do.

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Prisoners of Katrina Airs Sunday...in Great Britain

It's too bad American media doesn't care enough to make this kind of documentary. Cheers to the BBC who Sunday night will be airing Prisoners of Katrina at 2200 BST on BBC Two.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, while thousands fled New Orleans, the city's prisoners were trapped. Fresh eye-witness accounts reveal what really happened to those left behind, and how crucial forensic evidence was simply washed away.

In September 2005, long after most people had fled a devastated city, inmates of Orleans Parish Prison - many of them shackled - were still waiting to be rescued from the blazing heat and the stinking floods.

One man, a chef jailed for an unpaid fine that should have at most netted a week's term, ended up spending 103 days in the jail, "abandoned without food, drink or sanitation as the waters rose."

"We were just left there to die," said Cardell Williams, a prisoner who spent two months in jail without ever being charged.

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Katrina Looters Get 15 Year Sentences

This is just crazy. A New Orleans judge sentenced three people who looted liquor from a grocery store after Hurrican Katrina to 15 years in prison, saying he wanted to send a message.

They were convicted of attempting to leave the grocery with 27 bottles of liquor and wine, six cases of beer and one case of wine coolers, six days after Katrina made landfall. Little, McGowen and Pearson each testified that they were not looting, but they offered conflicting accounts of matters such as who drove to the store.

The looting law under which they were convicted had been in effect for two weeks. Compare their sentence to the year these men got for bribing a federal official in the aftermath of Katrina.

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Another Crisis in New Orleans: Indigent Defense

by TChris

Among a dozen criminal court judges in New Orleans, one so far has had the courage to stand up for the Constitution. Speedy trials are impossible in a city that can't get lawyers to indigent defendants, leaving more than a thousand jail inmates with no trial date, no lawyer, and no immediate hope of having their day in court. The presumption of innocence is a hollow promise to those who are jailed indefinitely as they wait for the system to fulfill its obligation to provide them with counsel.

Judge Arthur Hunter recognizes that enough is enough.

And so Judge Hunter, 46, a former New Orleans police officer, is moving to let some of the defendants without lawyers out of jail. He has suspended prosecutions in most cases involving public defenders. And, alone among a dozen criminal court judges, he has granted a petition to free a prisoner facing serious charges without counsel, and is considering others.

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Students Start Katrina Social Action Project

I'm always in awe of college kids who invest their time and energy in great social causes. Princeton has my admiration tonight. Students at Princeton University have launched a progressive social activism and fundraising campaign, The Katrina Project.

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Blogs Offer Apologies to FEMA's Michael Brown

I watched Hardball's interview with Michael Brown tonight. I was impressed. I'm going to join Jane and Moderate Voice and Taylor Marsh and say apologies are due him and I regret my criticism of him during Katrina.

On Hardball, Brown was confident and direct in answering the questions. His biggest beef is with HSA Chief Michael Chertoff. When asked to rank his own performance, Brown gave himself a 5. He also gave Bush a 5 (too high in my opinion, but it's probably out of loyalty.) He gave Chertoff a 2.

Michael Brown was a scapegoat for the Administration.

Sorry, Mr. Brown, I was was wrong about you.

Update: Michael Brown responds to Jane here in FDL's comments.

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Katrina Tapes Speak for Themselves

The Katrina tape showing that President Bush and HSA Chief Michael Chertoff were warned about possible massive death tolls in New Orleans speak for themselves.

Six days of footage and transcripts obtained by The Associated Press show in excruciating detail that while federal officials anticipated the tragedy that unfolded in New Orleans and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast, they were fatally slow to realize they had not mustered enough resources to deal with the unprecedented disaster.

Bush's comment when being told of the likelihood of massive deaths: "We are fully prepared."

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A Disastrous Idea

by TChris

Donald Rumsfeld is an expert at disaster creation. Why would the president want to put him in charge of disaster relief?

A White House assessment of the sluggish federal reaction to Hurricane Katrina concludes the Pentagon should oversee future catastrophe responses but does not recommend that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff be fired, officials said Wednesday. ... [T]he document - which a congressional aide said approaches 200 pages - proposes sweeping changes to federal response plans. These include making the military the lead agency to coordinate immediate relief when state and local resources are overwhelmed, one official said.

FEMA would continue to handle lesser disasters, thus dividing disaster management into two competing turfs. Can you imagine Rumsfeld and Chertoff arguing with each other -- as victims drown -- about which agency should be in charge of the latest hurricane response?

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Fire Chertoff

by TChris

An editorial in today's NY Times gives sound advice to the president: fire Michael Chertoff. In the wake of a report by an all-Republican Congressional panel that assigned blame for the inept governmental response to Katrina, Chertoff "stands out above the rest."

According to the panel's report, Mr. Chertoff has "primary responsibility for managing the national response to a catastrophic disaster," yet he handled his decision-making responsibilities "late, ineffectively, or not at all." A FEMA official named Marty Bahamonde sent word back to Washington on the same day Katrina struck, saying the 17th Street Canal levee in New Orleans had been breached. This was not based on a rumor; he had seen it with his own eyes from a Coast Guard helicopter. FEMA public affairs officials sent Mr. Chertoff's chief of staff an e-mail note that night. The former FEMA director, Michael Brown, says he notified the White House at the same time. Yet the next day, President Bush said New Orleans had "dodged the bullet," while Mr. Chertoff flew to Atlanta for a briefing on avian flu.

The president is more likely to give Chertoff a medal or a promotion than to admit that Chertoff wasn't up to the job, and we know he doesn't read newspapers. Still ...

It would be nice for the administration to finally send a message that if important people do a bad job, they go away.

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Katrina: Michael Brown Blames Homeland Security

Former FEMA director Michael Brown testified before Congress today, despite Bush's attempt to block his testimony by asserting executive privilege. He blamed Homeland Security. Crooks and Liars has some video.

Mr. Brown said that homeland security officials were being regularly updated by reports delivered through video conference calls, and that he personally contacted White House officials.

"My obligation was to the White House and to make sure the president knows what's going on," he said, "and I did that." Mr. Brown's testimony provided the first detailed look into communications between emergency management officials and the White House.

He said claims the White House didn't know of the levee failures until the next day are "baloney."

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Public Defender System Crushed by Katrina

More Katrina-related disaster: The public defender's sytem in New Orleans is dead.

Check out the news reports from Washington Post AP, and Henry Weinstein of the LA Times. More than 4000 people without a lawyers spells disaster again.

One month after Katrina, the Orleans Indigent Defender Board laid off more than 30 of its public defenders, said Tessier. There are now only four part-time public defenders in New Orleans, he said.

"My guess is that we have 4,500 people who have been sitting in jail for up to six months and haven't seen a lawyer," Tessier said. "The issue is what do we do with those people if we don't have public defenders for them and don't have money for lawyers."

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