The devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina may not be entirely the result of an act of nature. After a flood killed six people in 1995, Congress created the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project. The Corps of Engineers strengthened and renovated the levees and pumping stations. In 2001, when George Bush became president, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) issued a report stating that a hurricane striking New Orleans was one of the three most likely potential disasters—after a terrorist attack on New York City (and a San Francisco earthquake). But in 2004, the Bush administration cut the Corps of Engineers' budget request for beefing up the levees that protect the city by more than 80%. By the beginning of this year, additional cuts forced the Corps to impose a hiring freeze. The Senate debated adding funds for fixing levees, but it was too late. Last year, the US Army Corps of Engineers proposed a study on how New Orleans could be protected from a catastrophic hurricane, but the Bush administration nixed the idea.
As looting and gunfire erupt in New Orleans, the authorities are shifting their attention from a humanitarian mission to what is starting to look like counter-insurgency. "They have M-16s and they're locked and loaded," Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said of 300 National Guard troops who landed in New Orleans fresh from duty in Iraq. "These troops know how to shoot and kill, and they are more than willing to do so, and I expect they will."
Cindy Sheehan and her entourage have left Crawford, TX, as Bush ended his vacation a few days early in response to the disaster in New Orleans. She is taking her act on the road with a "Bring Them Home Now Tour" which will culminate in an anti-war march in Washington DC Sept. 24. (AP, Aug. 31)
Oil prices hit new record highs, crossing $70 a barrel in Asian trading, as Hurricane Katrina threatened the Gulf of Mexico region and Bush urged residents of New Orleans to comply with a general evacuation order. A state of emergency has been declared for Louisiana and Mississippi. (AFX, Aug. 28) Chevron and Exxon have both shut offshore oil and gas production and evacuated staff, and the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port closed its pipeline to refineries. (Bloomberg, Aug. 28)
On Aug. 13, New Mexico governor Bill Richardson declared a state of emergency for counties along the Mexico border. Governor Janet Napolitano did the same for Arizona on Aug. 15. The states of emergency allow the two governors to spend nearly $1.5 million each to hire more police, buy vehicles and otherwise shore up law enforcement in the counties most affected by the illegal entry of migrants. Both governors had complained for months about federal inattention to the border situation; in an Aug. 11 letter Napolitano told DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff that federal officials had been responding with "bewildering resistance" to her state's offers to help with joint efforts confronting human trafficking.
In a sure sign that the anti-war movement is finally starting to have some effectiveness, protesters are now coming under violent attack. Over the weekend, police in Pittsburgh, PA, used dogs and tasers against a group picketing a recuitment center in the neighborhood of Oakland. From the Pittsburgh Independent Media Center, Aug. 21:
The Washington Post reports Aug. 8 that the Pentagon "has devised its first-ever war plans for guarding against and responding to terrorist attacks in the United States, envisioning 15 potential crisis scenarios and anticipating several simultaneous strikes around the country, according to officers who drafted the plans."
Both houses of Congress have now voted to extend the most onerous measures of the PATRIOT Act, which is due to expire in December. (IHT, Aug. 1) But these measures still may not survive judicial review. From Immigration News Briefs, Aug. 6:
Patriot Act Statutes Deemed "Vague"
In a July 28 decision, US District Judge Audrey Collins in Los Angeles ruled that several Patriot Act provisions on material support for terrorist organizations remain unconstitutional. Collins said Congress had failed to remedy all the problems she defined in a Jan. 23, 2004 ruling striking down the statute. "Even as amended, the statute fails to identify the prohibited conduct in a manner that persons of ordinary intelligence can reasonably understand," Collins ruled.