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Field Hearing Notes

I made it in to the Louisiana Supreme Court for the Senate field hearing, “Hurricanes Katrina and Rita: Outstanding Need, Slow Progress.” Just getting in was an object lesson. First we (members of the publiuc) were shoved back out the door to wait in the cold, then we went through the obligatory metal detectors, then we were photographed and tagged. I’m now wearing a sticker with my name, picture and barcode. I’ve been told more than once that cell phones must be turned off but I see plenty of people using them so that’s how I’m posting this. I may be able to post updates here throughout the day or I may wait until it’s all over…

Update: The hearing started off with a bang. A young man stood up and unfurled a sign that said “PROBE THE WHITE HOUSE.” He urged Senator Lieberman to “probe the White House” and was yelling “stand up for justice!” as he was escorted from the chamber.

There were three senators at the hearing: Barack Obama, Joe Lieberman, and Mary Landrieu. All Democrats, you’ll note. Hmm. Coincidence? Or could Katrina be shaping up as a campaign issue for 2008 after all?

I’ll be the first to admit I’m out of my depth. Nevertheless here are my notes on the day’s hearing, rough and unfiltered…

Lieberman: Expressed sympathy with the protester, disappointment with State of the Union speech, “our work is not finished here.” Announced Landrieu is chairing new subcommittee on disaster recovery. Congress has appropriated $110 billion for Gulf Coast yet money is not arriving fast enough “while the people of New Orleans continue to suffer.”

Landrieu: Mentioned 650,000 displaced by Katrina — wasn’t it actually 2 million? Rattles off many alarming statistics. 70 countries have pledged aid.

Obama: Mentioned speaking at Xavier’s commencement, cited Musicians’ Village as hopeful sign. Concerned about healthcare mental health, criminal justice, no-bid contracts. Regarding Katrina: all of us felt ashamed, “I know I did.” Quoted Bush’s Jackson Square speech, “whatever it takes,” compared to State of the Union speech. “Were we being honest?” Comparison to Chicago, San Francisco rebuilding after disaster.

Donald Powell: “Most challenging, mind-boggling and frustrating time of my life.” “The levees are at pre-Katrina levels or better.” Spoke of the “transformation of this entire region.” Key issues: education, healthcare, criminal justice, workforce development, affordable housing, jobs and diversification of economy. (At this point the guy from ACORN sitting next to me leaned over and said, “That’s telling people what they want to hear.”) Believes we’ll see a “modern renaissance.”

Steven Preston spoke on behalf of SBA, but I couldn’t stay focused on the financial details.

Pamela Patenaude (HUD): “HUD cut red tape.” “Sec. Jackson is not satisfied with the pace of recovery.”

Gil Jamieson (FEMA): “I am the Reggie Bush of New Orleans when it comes to end runs.” 12,000 demolitions still estimated to remain in Orleans and St. Bernard parishes. FEMA will stay here “until the job is done.”

Gregory Kutz (GAO): Fraud, waste and abuse are bad.


Lieberman: Road Home — “what happened?”

Patenaude: not our fault

Lieberman: fire stations are operating out of trailers

Jamieson: FEMA can help

Lieberman: so why haven’t you?

Jamieson: blames the firefighters (did I hear that right?)

Landrieu: Big Picture — Louisiana is between $18-43 billion short of parity with Mississippi for recovery dollars. When Bush asks for more money for Iraq, I will ask for more money for rebuilding New Orleans. Get HUD and FEMA in the same building. Forgive 10% local funding match or allow it to be paid in one installment rather than thousands of individual filings.

Powell: cites UNOP as critical

Obama: money allocated still not reaching ordinary people

Lieberman: Federal commitment will continue for at least a decade. Must educate constituents around the country

[gotta run, more to come]

OK, Here’s the rest:

Landrieu: “duplication of benefits” with SBA was intended. Was meant to be double-dipped.

(This had to do with an issue regarding grants and loans from SBA that I didn’t fully follow. Nor did I understand Preston’s response.)

Obama: Debris removal was being fully funded by FEMA, now shifting to cost-sharing with local gov’t. Why? Why now? Why not continue waiver?

Jamieson: non-answer

Obama: asked something about public housing

Patenaude: I’m not an expert on public housing

Obama: more concerned with no-bid contracts than individual abuse


Lieberman introduces Nagin as a “good friend”

Ray Nagin: We’re five months from hurricane season. Tourism has “always” been the main economic driver for New Orleans. Touted Road Home Fast Track program. Recapped BNOB > Lambert > UNOP almost as if it was planned that way from the beginning. Cited UNOP as culmination of “exhaustive public input process that we are really proud of.” Recommended change to Stafford Act so that major catastrophes are differentiated from other disasters. Criminal Justice: FEMA has allocated only 20% of amount needed. Not having resources at local level is killing recovery. African proverb: Two dancing elephants (state and federal gov’t) are trampling the grass (local gov’t).

Walter Leger (LRA): Three recommendations: 1. allow global match (or forgiveness), 2. allow use of hazard mitigation funds for Road Home, 3. resolve SBA loan/grant issue. 64,000 people living in trailers. Extensive listing of funding disparities between Louisiana and Mississippi. “We are at war.”

Suzanne Mestayer (GNO Inc): Business insurers are issuing five-fold premium increases, ten-fold deductible increases. Recommends increasing number of guest work visas.

Lieberman: Whose fault is it that Road Home program is bogged down?

Leger: Katrina and Rita. Federalism with strings.

Lieberman: What’s up with these fire stations?

Nagin: Differing estimates of damages.

Lieberman: What about problem of poverty with regard to disaster recovery?

Nagin: “I don’t see the will to fix it.” We spend plenty in Iraq but there’s this “dance going on in New Orleans.” Not asking for any more money, just want money allocated to get to citizens.

Landrieu: Troubled by Nagin’s last comment since since state is not getting proportional share. Regarding fire stations and police facilities, promises to investigate worksheets. Regarding violent crime, asks Nagin for three things that would help.

Nagin: 1. correcting problems with PWs (project worksheets), 2. (missed it), 3. more funding for crime cameras

Landrieu: Comparison of Road Home with Mississippi?

Leger: Didn’t get funding proportionate to need.

Obama: Compared our situation to Iraq. Not a sense of urgency coming out of this White House. “That will has been lacking.” At what point do you consider firing ICF?

Leger: (missed it)

Obama: What can feds do to help with violent crime?

Nagin: Everything starts with public safety. We are losing 17 officers/month. Clinton did something to fund 100,000 cops around the country.

Lieberman: “We shall return.”

[That’s it. Sorry this is so raw. Maybe I’ll have some thoughts or analysis later. Maybe not. Right now I just need a drink.]

Published inKatrinaNew OrleansPolitix


  1. Just to let you know, that’s the normal procedure for getting in the Supreme Court Bldg. I’ve had to go to the Clerk’s office several times and each time I was photographed, etc. There have been several judges shot at some have been killed, including a federal judge in Mississippi.

  2. I think being a civil servant (even a judge) is safer than working for the Post Office or living in New Orleans. Security people take temselves too seriously and judges think they’re gods.

    Interesting tha the last few time I’ve gone to City Hall they didn’t have me sign in or show an ID.

  3. chrissieroux chrissieroux

    Thanks for this. I had clients all day today or I would have been there.

    Instead, I listened to Bush defend his State of the Union omission on NPR. He basically told the interviewer that he’s done enough. Ugh.

    What was your impression of Obama? He has always seemed one of the most sincere politicians going these days.

  4. Chrissie, sure, Obama seemed sincere. They all seemed sincere, Obama even more so. But that’s one things politicians excel at. I am extremely skeptical of all of them.

  5. Thanks for the notes. I’ve always thought that federal incompetence surrounding Katrina and the flood was going to be an issue in ’08.

    You’re quite right about the ability of a good pol to synthesize sincerity.

  6. This is the Congressional hearings into FEMA mismanagement all over again with some variations. I wanted to shake the TV then. If I’d been watching these proceedings, I’d still have wanted to shake the TV. It all unfortunately smacks of an empty show.

  7. Chrissie: They may want to help. It’s impossible to know what’s truly in someone’s heart, especially in this media-saturated age when appearances seem to matter more than reality. I think we need to focus more on what they do than what they say, and not concern ourselves too much with whether they are sincere. That’s my philosophy anyway. It’s too easy for slick politicians to fool us with smoke and mirrors. If they want to help, let them help, and let’s judge them by their actions.

  8. […] – Cheers to Bart who attended the Senate field hearing, “Hurricanes Katrina and Rita: Outstanding Need, Slow Progress” yesterday and punched in his notes via cell phone. « More Bears Fan Signs Revealed…   […]

  9. Bart, you know that I’m still drinking the Obama koolaid so far; I happen to think that, at least for a mainstream politician, he’s for real. He had the most effective lambasting of Bush by pointing out that not everyone could fill up the SUV and put the hotel room on a credit card. (and, for what it’s worth, folks, his Xavier commencement address was truly moving; Clinton’s taped greeting was pretty nice too)

    Anyway, thanks for attending, and I’m interested in your more subjective impressions. But what the hell is Lieberman doing? He shouldn’t have the balls to even come to the state after letting Bushco off the hook on this. It was his job to investigate the willful neglect, and he didn’t. Bastard.

  10. Bart, so sorry I wasn’t there to help record all this. Had a minor emergency at home that prevented it. Great job and thank you so much. I so wanted to hear what these people were going to say.

  11. chrissieroux chrissieroux

    I agree, Bart, that we should judge pols by their actions. But politicians can only wield the power they have, and they obtain that power by getting votes, gaining support (unless you’re a Bush). So at some critical point it does become a matter of judging sincerity, I think.

  12. I think we have to judge everyone by their actions in the event that what they say and what they do, don’t match.

    I was trying to watch the hearings on the computer at work (with complete disregard for my bosses’ disdain over my doing so) and I thought that I heard BO focusing on the fact that the President has the power to release the state and local governments from their percentage of the recovery cost mandated by the Stafford Act, as was done for NY after 9/11 and in FL after Andrew (and so articulately pointed out by Chris Cooper in his P. 1 article in Sunday’s WSJ – h/t Greg Peters). If this is one clog that has been identified and can be easily rectified, then why has it not be done?

    Thanks so much for the report, Bart.

  13. KamaAina KamaAina

    Far be it from me to nitpick at our future mayor :-), but Joe Lieberman is not technically a Democrat. He lost the Democratic primary to Ned Lamont and was re-elected as an independent. In fact, it is widely believed that none other than Karl Rove aided Lieberman’s independent candidacy, which might well explain why he’s gone soft on the Maladministration on this issue.

  14. Tim Tim

    The issue with the SBA/Road Home grants is this: The Stafford Act prohibits double dipping. So if you get reimbursed for a loss from one source, you can’t claim it again for benefits elsewhere. This is why the Road Home has to deduct all isurance payments from potential grants. In the case of SBA, they don’t do grants–only low interest loans. Well the lawyers looked at that and said that if you have a loan with SBA and then you get grant money from Road Home, the money must first be used to pay off the loan. Government lawyers do this all the time–they take the most restrictive interpretation of any law or regulation. So that’s the thing I think Senator Landrieu was talking about when she said, ““duplication of benefits” with SBA was intended. Was meant to be double-dipped.”

    Thanks for your on-going service, Bart!



  15. Therese Therese

    Bart, Did a petition to probe the White House get submitted Monday? I signed one that was supposed to be presented Monday.
    Thank you for being there and for the summary!

  16. LOL. I was thinking that as I was typing. He certainly has a commanding voice. It really struck me listening to the hearings. I am very excited about the coming national election cycle and I believe that what’s happened (or not happened) in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast will be a very important part of it. Thanks, Bart.

  17. Ray Ray

    Skepticism of all politicians, regardless of charm, is a very good thing. And people should be skeptical of Obama, if only given the fact that he’s received so much media attention despite having even less experience in government than John Edwards, who has received comparatively minuscule attention (probably because the potential woman vs. black man race is sexier, I don’t know). However, immediate distrust of all politicians in the lack of any compelling information to the contrary is cynical by definition and counter-productive. Our system makes getting much done very difficult, and if you expect any one politician (be he or she the prez, a senator, whatever) here to get as much change as anyone, himself or herself or his fans/constituency, the media or what have you, ever expects. Such immediate distrust makes one no better than the people at Fox going off in hysterical tones about how Obama went to an Islamic school (not particularly true), etc.

  18. Ray Ray

    And one more thing (sorry): The ultimate correct judge of a pol in our system is not “words vs. actions” (Isn’t judging words vs. actions that true for everyone you know, or who you may call a friend or significant other or not, etc.?) but, Does that person get shit done, is her or she competent in regard to governance in the US, and does the person get said shit done without screwing over the general public in the process?

    But getting shit done in this country has little to do with sincerity or charm. There is so much grey in there. At least within the domestic arena, for instance, the smarmy LBJ got more shit done than just about any pol in American history, certainly more than the more seemingly sincere JFK, and many of his programs are still around in some form or the other and beneficial. With foreign policy, of course, we can judge him harshly for the majority of the shit he did (and his apparently sincerely expressed reasons for doing so–to help the little people in little countries). To go further back, how would we judge Abe Lincoln if the South had won the war? As sincere, maybe, but just not good enough and a man who trampled over civil rights whilst losing the war?

    I could probably be a little more precise, but that’s about sums it up.

  19. Great food for thought in these comments. I wanted to answer Therese’s question directly: I don’t know about the petition. The protester who spoke at the beginning of the hearing said he had a petition with some number of signatures, and Sen. Lieberman said they’d be glad to accept the petition, but that’s all I know.

  20. chrissieroux chrissieroux

    I won’t beat the sincerity horse too much here, but I think you’re overlooking what I consider an important task of effective leaders: to bring comfort and hope to the people. Many disagree with me on this, but I believe strongly in the power of a leader to instill hope, to mitigate rampant cynicism. If we live in a cynical society, it is in large part because we have gone a long time without true leadership. Sincere leadership.

  21. Garvey Garvey

    “LBJ got more shit done than just about any pol in American history…and many of his programs are still around in some form or the other and beneficial.”

    Wow. You’ve completely bought into the myth. Keep ignoring the hard data which prove otherwise, you Reality Based Community, you! What benefits have a trillion dollars of largesse produced, exactly?

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