Thursday, April 17, 2008

Gandhi Peace Brigade/ Bush & Katrina Collusion

Dear Friends,

Leslie and I have just returned from New Orleans. We were part of a CodePink contingency supporting the efforts of Common Ground, an organization dedicated to assisting the victims of Katrina. Their headquarters is located in the lower ninth ward, the area hit the hardest by the hurricane. Over 1800 people lost their lives.

A few unanswered questions:
Blackwater had a federal contract to provide 164 armed guards for FEMA reconstruction projects in Louisiana. This was announced just days after Homeland Security Department spokesperson Russ Knocke told the Washington Post he knew of no federal plans to hire Blackwater or other private security firms. "We believe we've got the right mix of personnel in law enforcement for the federal government to meet the demands of public safety." Who called in Blackwater and why?

Associated Press reported there was a gun battle between the New Orleans Police Department and U.S. "military agents" near the breached levy and five agents were killed. The Army Corps of Engineers said later they were "federal contractors" on their way to launch barges into Lake Pontchartrain to "fix" the 17th Street Canal. Who were these "military agents" and what were they really doing?

Louisiana State University's Hurricane Center used complex computer models and visual evidence to conclude that Katrina's surges did not come close to over-topping the levees. The combination of faulty design, inadequate construction, [and demolition?] most likely caused the flooding. [Washington Post]

At the height of the crisis, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin told an AP reporter,"If the CIA slips me something and next week you don't see me, you'll all know what happened." Later he told interviewers for CNN he feared the "CIA might take me out." What did the mayor know and why did he fear the CIA? In another interview, Mayor Nagin complained that Louisiana National Guard helicopters were told not to drop sandbags to plug the levee until after New Orleans was totally flooded.

Comments from an evacuee: "The 17th street levee was bombed by the Army Corps of Engineers to save the more valuable real estate in the city. To keep the French Quarter protected, the ninth ward was sacrificed. People are afraid to speak out. Everyone who was near there heard the bombings. They bombed seven times. That's why they didn't fix the levees."

In 2001, the Army Corps of Engineers spent $147 million on construction projects. In 2005, $82 million was spent, a 44.2% reduction from 2001. Unfunded projects included widening drainage canals, flood-proofing bridges and building pumping stations. The Corps also wanted to build levees in unprotected areas on the West Bank. In 2006 the Corps budget was cut by $71.2 million, the largest single-year funding cut ever experienced by New Orleans.

Why did the ninth and lower ninth ward flood so quickly? According to the mayor in an interview with Matt Lauer on The Today Show, pumping station #6 failed in the lower 9th ward and the Industrial Canal levee broke a few hours later.
If just the pumping station had failed, the 9th ward would have flooded slowly. The unexpected breach of the levee a few hours later released a wall of water, submerging houses and drowning anyone unlucky enough to be inside. The U.S. Supreme Court's recent eminent domain decision allowed the city of New Orleans to condemn the destroyed properties and seize the land. Most of the residents of the 9th ward were drowned, so there was no one to reclaim the properties.
Vice President Dick Cheney became deeply involved with FEMA. Not surprisingly, Halliburton was able to acquire lucrative contracts to "reconstruct New Orleans". Deals are already being made with a Las Vegas business group to construct multi-million dollar casinos on prime real estate once owned by African Americans.
In 1927, the Mississippi River broke its banks in 145 places, depositing up to 30 feet of water. New Orleans’ business owners (mostly white) pressured the state to dynamite a levee upstream to release water into areas of the delta inhabited mostly by poor African-Americans. The flooded residents were promised compensation, but little was given. Instead, they were forced to work on flood relief at gunpoint.

The white business class and the African-American elite have been trying for years to turn New Orleans into a theme park and this may finally happen. It will also become a Republican strong-hold. As Representative Baker, a 10-term Republican from Baton Rouge put it, "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did."

While Leslie and I were in New Orleans, we stayed with a representative of Plenty Tony Sferlazza. He told us this incredibly sad Katrina story at the breakfast table: We also attended Eve Ensler's V TO THE TENTH . On Friday we watched the premiere of Swimming Upstream, written by sixteen New Orleans' artists and on Saturday we joined over sixteen thousand other women for the 10th Anniversary of the Vagina Monologues. If you haven't seen The Vagina Monologues PLEASE DO! It is a masterpiece of empowerment.

Peace and Freedom,
Jes & Leslie

Check out the beautiful photos from CODEPINK's days in New Orleans VIEW

Jes & Leslie ... A Journey for Peace and Freedom:

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