Friday, September 30

China's Ebola virus reports: finally, a break in the case

On September 24, after more than a month of reasonably patient waiting (and with a little prodding) I met with success. An Epoch Times employee sent an English translation of their Chinese-language March 25 report about an Ebola outbreak in Shenzen, in China's Guangdong Province.

Readers who slogged through the August Pundita essays on the Mystery Illness/Pig Disease outbreak in China would not require explanation about why I considered the March 25 article a key piece of the puzzle. Without further introduction here is the translation; I invite new readers to follow along as best they can. (Paragraph numbering is my addition.)

"Ebola Emerged in China, the Authority Tightly Blockaded the Flow of Information
March 25, 2005
The Epoch Times
[Translated from original text found at: ]

1. According to an insider from China's customhouse in Shenzhen City, Guangdong Province, Ebola virus (African hemorrhagic fever) caused several people's deaths. The authority tried very hard to blockade the flow of information.

2. According to this insider, in early January 2005, when conducting a suppressing smuggling campaign in Daya Bay, custom officials of Shenzhen City encountered a ship with unknown nationality.

3. The officials boarded the ship to investigate and the black sailors on the ship physically assaulted the Chinese officials, injuring two of them. One of the injured officials, Mr. Yang, died mysteriously in late February; his wife and son were put under quarantine immediately after his death. To date, their whereabouts are still unknown.

4. The other injured official, Mr. Jiang, is also missing after being forcibly taken away from Tianmian Garden located in the center of Shenzhen City.

5. It was revealed that the reason for their quarantine was that Mr. Yang's inamorata [*] vomited and had stomachache among with other symptoms in her residence in Buji district in early February. Two weeks after she was sent to a hospital in Buji district for treatment, she died mysteriously inside the hospital. Upon death, she had large area hemorrhage inside her body.

6. Two doctors involved in resuing [sic] her later developed same symptoms and died afterwards. Shenzhen authority immediately sealed off the hospital and took measures to prevent the outside world as well as customhouse related departments from knowing the truth.

7. According to an insider from the hospital, as a doctor with many years' experience, he had never seen such diseases [sic] before. When the patient developed this disease, her body was just like being dissolved. It was very similar to Ebola disease which recently emerged in Africa. Moreover, the route of infection is mostly through blood contact. The two doctors who died after treating the patient had had blood contacts with the patient.

8. As far as the insider knows, the other officials involved in that specific suppressing smuggling campaign don't have any symptoms yet, but they are forcibly put under quarantine.

9. Shenzhen authority had conducted a disinfection for Mr. Jiang's residence and forcibly taken away several people who had close connections with Mr. Jiang. Police had arrested and detained several inamoratas of Mr. Jiang, which might be only a partial list of his fancy women.

10. To date, several death cases have emerged and numerous people are missing as a result of this disease. Authority in Shenzhen City has issued orders to seal off the flow of information about this disease and demanded that when being asked, it should be described as AIDS. However, the authority did an investigation on epidemic prevention in several districts such as Buji, Tianmian, Gangxia, Shabutou, Xiabumiao and Badengjie. Patients who show abnormal symptoms are strictly monitored.

11. During this round of infection, the route of infection is completely via blood contacts. No cases have been seen as a result of infection via respiratory tract. However, because of the complexity of Shenzhen region and the mutability of viruses, once a variety of virus appears as contagious via respiratory tract, an outbreak of Ebola is very likely to occur.

12. A public health expert said the irresponsible approach adopted by the authority may well cause the outbreak of Ebola just like the outbreak of SARS in 2003; however, the harm brought by Ebola can be much more detrimental."

* From the report's second reference to "inamorata" it seems the translator is referring to Yang's mistress.
* * * * * * * * *
So we have another bunch of anecdotal reports related by unnamed sources to add to the pile. Is there anything of substance we can glean from the article? Yes, there is, if we study a detailed medical discussion about human symptoms of Ebola virus infection found in the Ebola article at

The following is an excerpt from an interview with Philippe Calain, MD, Chief Epidemiologist, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Special Pathogens Branch, Kikwit 1995:

"At the end of the [Ebola virus] disease the patient does not look, from the outside, as horrible as you can read in some books. They are not melting. They are not full of blood. They're in shock, muscular shock.

"They are not unconscious, but you would say 'obtunded', dull, quiet, very tired. Very few were hemorrhaging. Hemorrhage is not the main symptom. Less than half of the patients had some kind of hemorrhage. But the ones that bled, died."

Now let's return to Paragraph 7 of the March 25 article (emphasis mine):

7. "According to an insider from the hospital, as a doctor with many years' experience, he had never seen such diseases [sic] before. When the patient developed this disease, her body was just like being dissolved. It was very similar to Ebola disease which recently emerged in Africa. [...]"

So we arrive at a glaring discrepancy. According to a MD who is very knowledgeable about Ebola virus symptoms, there is no melting of the patient's body -- "melting" a term that can be used interchangeably with "dissolving."

According to a MD "with many years' experience," his reported eyewitness account is that a patient's body was "just like being dissolved" in a fashion "very similar to Ebola disease..."

According to Dr. Calain's medical opinion, the Chinese doctor could not have witnessed a symptom in the patient that was akin to Ebola virus infection.

It's possible there is an illness that causes clearly perceivable melting or dissolution of the victim's body, but this would not be Ebola. Yet why would a learned doctor deliver a misdiagnosis? For insights we return to

The Ebola virus was first popularized by novelist Richard Preston in his medical thriller, The Hot Zone, an exciting novel based on the Ebola outbreaks in Reston, Virginia and Central Africa.

The novel is significant because it is very dramatic and yet attempts to portray itself as a factual account of events, which has led to much misunderstanding about this virus from the general public and popular press.

It is important to note that ... Preston's novel was placed in the non-fiction section at many bookstores. [...]

Unfortunately, due to exaggerations in The Hot Zone and probably Hollywood films like Outbreak, it can be difficult for non-virologists to separate fact from fiction. Especially when the popular press compounds the problem by treating a highly dramatized story as if it were real.

Among certain biologists/virologists Mr. Preston is not highly regarded. A fifth strain of Ebola known as 'Ebola Preston' has been reported, "which attacks via print and visual media" (Ed Regis), and where "Bricks of bad information and fear-mongering set up a highly-efficient, deadly cycle of hysteria replication in the populace. The public hemorrhages, spilling hysteria to the next unwitting victim. Fear gushes from every media orifice. No one is safe from the hype." (Brian Hjelle)"

From all the above, we're left to puzzle over the Chinese doctor's account, which is not actually a description of Ebola virus symptoms. So, what type of disease presents with a symptom of a "dissolving" body along with symptoms that include vomiting, stomachache (and after death) a "large area hemorrhage inside the body?" (Para. 5) A blood-borne disease so highly infectious and lethal that within short order it killed two doctors who were exposed to the patient's blood? (Para. 7)

We also have to wonder about the sailors on the smuggler's ship -- a ship of unknown embarkation point, but manned by sailors of seemingly African origin; men who were hale enough to put up a fight with Chinese officials who boarded the ship. We don't know how long the ship was at sea before the officials boarded. Yet given the 2-21 day incubation period of Ebola, it's within the realm of possibility that a sailor in the early stage of Ebola virus infection would have enough energy to put up a vigorous fight.

However, my credulity is finally strained to the limit with a review of Dr. Wang's account. He said with certainty that the virus samples from Sichuan he analyzed in early June evidenced an Ebola strain.

So here we have an extremely rare African disease (just how rare, see the article) but reportedly it appears in China -- first in Guangdong then in short order in Sichuan province.

One can see how those who look for biowar lab explanations for unusual disease outbreaks would seize on the Ebola virus story. But it does not seem there was an Ebola virus outbreak in Guangdong province. It seems there was an outbreak of Preston virus.

Thursday, September 29

Avian Flu becomes a star! And on the need for redundancy in disaster preparations

National Geographic 9/27 cover story on Avian flu. ABC World News special report on Avian flu (airing tonight). Can an interview with Diane Sawyer be far behind?

As to why Pundita is cynical, because the UN crowd knows the party is over. They know the US has wised up about corruption and waste in United Nations aid programs for the world's poorest countries. I am very concerned as to how that crowd will spin getting ready for Avian flu: the best solution is to wring megabucks out of US to help the world prepare for pandemic. And of course the UN wants to control the distribution of financial aid.

Best ways America can help the world prepare for pandemic:

1. Retain complete control over how any US aid for H5N1 outbreak preparation is applied. For scoundrels, aid money for pandemic prevention is the pot of gold at the rainbow's end.

The more the US drains the swamp at the UN, the more you will see global Do Good organizations spring up with the same cast of characters lurking in the background that the oil-for-food investigators are trying nail.

Be aware that the thieves caught red-handed in the UN Oil for Food scam are just like the gangs in the American Old West. Run them out of Dodge City, they go to Abeline. Run them out of Abeline, they high-tail to Tombstone. Run them out of Tombstone, they turn up in Nogales. Run them out of Nogales, they skittle back to Dodge.

America, this is your life during the coming decade: Chasing varmits in circles. Get used to it.

Bright side: It costs the US less to chase varmits in circles than it costs the varmits to keep setting up shop. Sooner or later, they run out of moola -- provided US aid programs don't keep replenishing their coffers.

2. Continue dealing with our local, state and federal inadequacies with regard to disaster preparation and keep this is in the news as much as possible.

Never before has so much international television coverage been given to such issues. People in poorer countries don't see much if anything about their own disasters on TV. But the drama of Katrina (and the fact that it made the US look bad) has meant unprecedented TV coverage in poorer countries -- even those with very repressive regimes.

As with the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal, which also received TV coverage in countries with repressive regimes, widely publicized US mistakes and how Americans deal with them provide invaluable lessons to peoples in countries with repressive regimes.

America is the world leader but too much of our leadership has been lecturing and attempting to buy agreement with our views. Nobody in the world questions that America is the leader. However, what people everywhere expect from a leader is guidance by example. Showing the rest of the world how Americans deal with our mistakes is real leadership. It has the ring of truth.

Speaking of disaster preparation, Pundita stumbled across very instructive observations (published September 1) about Industry, Redundancy, and Coping with Hurricane Katrina at a blog called Indus Valley Rising:
It looks like fully industrialized societies may not be much of an improvement over societies that have not fully industrialized. In engineering (mechanical, software, etc.), when critical services that other system services depend on are concentrated in a single component or single center or operation, if that component or service fails the rest of the system goes down with it. That is called a "single point of failure."

Systems that have multiple failover mechanisms and redundant components are, however, considered more reliable because if one or more components go down, then the other redundant components for a time can assume the extra load. The system is strained, but it doesn't go down.

The cost of redundancy is high, but the cost of system failure is higher -- even if it rarely happens. Like any other system that depends on highly specialized components but lacks redundancy, a highly industrialized society is similarly fragile because critical services become concentrated with a small number of people or agencies. If small but important social components fail on account of sabotage or disaster, the effect on the rest of society can be disproportionately catastrophic.
Continue reading the essay (link above) for observations on the vulnerability of America's food supply in a time of disaster.

Redundancy, redundancy, redundancy: the more backup systems, the better the chance of surviving disasters. Because authorities neglected to stock up on diesel fuel for backup generators in key installations, New Orleans was thrown into chaos during Katrina's wake.

The unacceptably high price of neglecting backup systems is perhaps the biggest lesson we can take from Katrina. And, I might add, the critical lesson to apply in preparing for pandemic. Redundancy.

Hat tips: To Bruce Kesler for alerting me to the National Geographic story. To Dymphna at Gates of Vienna for mentioning my coverage of Katrina to the Indus Valley blogger, which by a long way around is how I happened across the essay about redundancy.

Wednesday, September 28

O Crystal Ball tell me when one governor's emergency is another governor's disaster

Before getting to the topic of this post, I want to pass along a letter I received from a reader in Alaska in response to yesterday's Don't Tread on Me post:

"The 72 hours cities are supposed to be able to hold out on their own is 72 hours until help starts arriving. As many people clobbered by Katrina can testify, just because the help is arriving and helping someone, does not mean it is helping you. I'd strongly recommend personal supplies for at least a week. Minimum."

Last night Margaret Warner at PBS NewsHour examined what she termed, "the call by some members of Congress for a review of the use of active military in domestic disasters."

Her guests were Lawrence Korb, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Personnel during the Reagan administration, now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank; and Gene Healy, an attorney and a senior editor at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.

Specifically, they discussed whether the US military be given a more prominent role in responding to natural disasters, whether the military should be used on American soil only as a last resort, the role of FEMA/Homeland Security, and which governing official has the authority to call for help from federalized troops.

(The last issue was touched on by Michael Brown in his testimony yesterday before the Katrina congressional hearing, which Democrat representatives are boycotting; they're calling for an independent commission.)

Gene Healy in particular repeated concerns expressed by Dan at Riehl World View, which I mentioned in yesterday's post. The NewsHour discussion is interesting if you're closely following the issues. Yet perhaps the most interesting thing about the discussion is that never actually addressed the question President Bush raised, even though his question was prominently featured in the introduction to the discussion.

Before moving to Bush's question, here's part of the panel discussion where it picks up on the issue about authority:

"WARNER: [...] on whose say-so should federal troops go in? And the question is: Do you wait for the governor to ask for the help, or should the circumstances be widened under which a president could just, on his own or her own authority say, we're activating American active duty forces?

KORB: Well, I think it's the president's judgment. He has to decide whether in fact the state is up to the job. Now obviously it works better if the state asks them to send the troops in, then you don't have any constitutional issues, but the fact of the matter is the president has to make that judgment.

If, in fact, the state is not up to the job or if the National Guard troops are deployed overseas, for example, as they're being used now, I think this is important for the Pentagon to be planning ahead of time so that when the president makes the decision, they know what to do.

I agree we ought to use National Guard when we can. But remember National Guard troops are trained in the same way active forces are. They're used very much. So the idea that they're under state control doesn't change the way that they've been trained.

WARNER: Is it constitutional, I mean, just under our current system, for a president to usurp the governor's powers in this regard?

HEALY: Well, under -- the Constitution seems to prefer in Article 4 Section 4 that there is a request from the state government -- the Insurrection Act does have a provision that allows even over the objection of the state governor that allows the president to send in active duty military. The president --

WARNER: A certain class of citizens isn't being protected?

HEALY: Well, it's actually when the law -- federal law cannot be enforced. This is what Eisenhower used in Little Rock. I don't think it's something we want to -- the way the law draws a line now is the president should think twice before he does this.

He still has the power in an extraordinary circumstance, but I think there are legitimate reasons that we would want the president to think twice before going in militarily over the objection of the sitting state governor. I think federalism matters here.

WARNER: The final question that came up at this hearing. If homeland security and FEMA were on top of their game in terms of coordination, would we even be having this conversation? Or would it obviate the need for having the military take charge?

LAWRENCE KORB: Well, someday they may be but it's clear to me they're not now. I mean, four years after Sept. 11, the Department of Homeland Security was supposed to be planning for 15 different scenarios. And it's clear to me that they can't handle it. Maybe at some point they might. But I think we don't have time to wait because you could have not only just another natural disaster, another terrorist attack and I would prefer that when the president makes this judgment -- however the circumstances may be -- that it goes quickly and we save more lives.

WARNER: [Gene] What's your view on that?

HEALY: I'm just concerned, you know, after we've seen another instance of colossal government failure on the state, local and federal level and too often the rush to judgment is, well, how can we centralize more power and, you know, use the military to carry out some of these goals?

I'd rather see some examination of what went wrong here and how they can use -- state, local and federal officials can use their considerable powers to deal with disaster relief without having a militarized, you know, federal war on hurricanes which seems to be what a lot of the talk in Washington is centering around."

The last comment got a titter from Warner and her other guest, but whatever "Washington" is making of the issues coming out of the Katrina response, President Bush is asking a highly focused question:
"Is there a circumstance in which the Department of Defense becomes the lead agency? Clearly, in the case of a terrorist attack, that would be the case. But is there a natural disaster which... of a certain size that would then enable the Defense Department to become the lead agency in coordinating and leading the response effort? That's going to be a very important consideration for Congress to think about."
Just so there was no misunderstanding about what Bush meant, Donald Rumsfeld chimed in:
"The reality was that the first responders at the state and local level were, in large measure, victims themselves, and, as such, somewhat overwhelmed by the catastrophic nature of the Hurricane Katrina and the floods that followed. So we had a situation that was distinctively different than the normal situation, which works pretty well for a normal natural disaster or even a normal manmade disaster. And the president's point was that there are some things that are of sufficient magnitude that they require something to substitute for the overwhelmed first responders at the state and local level. And that is the issue that he's thinking about."
That's clear. It's just that Bush's question seems to be getting lost in the shuffle of other questions and considerations. He's looking for an idiot-proof list of conditions. This is the same thing Pundita is looking for -- and I think anyone with sense wants to see. This is because one governor's emergency is another governor's disaster.

Ditto for how different US presidents and mayors would see crisis situations. So how can the military get a clear idea that they're going to be called up for a particular situation, if they have to guess how a particular governor might be thinking?

How can the military do really good planning, if they don't have certain knowledge of the exact conditions under which a presidential order will automatically go into effect?

This is not rocket science; we've passed the point where a particular individual's reading of the Insurrection Act is the only guideline for when the president can override the opinion of a governor.

In a real crisis, there's no time to consult with constitutional lawyers and the Congress because seconds count. The president needs a list of simple questions for a governor. For example, "Have you evacuated the entire city?"

If the answer is "No," glance at the Idiot-Proof List, then put the governor's call on hold and speed-dial the Pentagon.

The Pentagon has also their Idiot-Proof list: If "No" do X, Y, Z.

None of this calls for ruminations on the nature of democracy and limitations of government. I'm really talking about performance-related issues, issues of competence and being able to do your job well under the most severe situations. You cannot expect people to do a good job, if you hand them a crystal ball and say, "Use this to figure out what I mean."

I also think that's the issue informing Bush's question.

Here's the link to the PBS panel discussion.

Tuesday, September 27

A reasonably well-behaved bunch of ex-jailbirds

Last night John Batchelor read to his audience a Stratfor report indicating that background checks have revealed many New Orleans evacuees in shelters have a criminal record. That news caused Pundita to slap her forehead in sudden understanding.

Of course! There would be background checks once state and federal funds are distributed and the government becomes responsible for arranging temporary housing. People who have spent time in jail are notoriously shy of red tape.

That brings to light another reason why many of New Orleans' poorest did not evacuate ahead of Katrina. They preferred to take their chances with Katrina rather than cozy up with the Man.

Interestingly, a report published in The Seattle Times reveals that the vast majority of horror stories about rampant crime in New Orleans in the immediate wake of Katrina were unsubstantiated rumors.(1) (Hat tip: Powerline)
As floodwaters forced tens of thousands of evacuees into the [Superdome] and Convention Center, news of unspeakable acts poured out of the nation's media...The picture that emerged was one of the impoverished, overwhelmingly African-American masses of flood victims resorting to utter depravity, randomly attacking each other, as well as the police trying to protect them and the rescue workers trying to save them.

Four weeks after the storm, few of the widely reported atrocities have been backed with evidence. The piles of murdered bodies never materialized, and soldiers, police officers and rescue personnel on the front lines assert that, while anarchy reigned at times and people suffered indignities, most of the worst crimes reported at the time never happened.
What cosmic message might we glean by comparing the Statfor and Seattle Times reports?

For starters, local authorities need to use the brain God gave them when they do evacuation and quarantine planning. (Pundita hopes there is a quarantine plan for every city; reference the relentless march of H5N1.)

I think it can be gathered that only the horrific televised images of New Orleanians trapped in floodwaters, and the images of officials in Texas and other parts falling over themselves to be nice to New Orleans evacuees, convinced ex-offenders in cities such as Houston to evacuate ahead of Rita.

Those images will quickly fade from memory. So officials involved with disaster planning need to factor in the need for a special approach when it comes to the 'community' of ex-offenders. And there are parole jumpers and people evading arrest warrants residing in many cities. These would be the least likely to obey an evacuation order or mandatory quarantine.

To say, "Well we'll just shoot them on sight," if they disobey a quarantine is the Russian Roulette approach to solving a problem. How many people have they been exposed to outside the quarantine area before you see them and shoot them? How many helicopters, Coast Guard and National Guard have to be tied up rescuing people whose only reason for not obeying an evacuation order is that they fear a return to prison? Or deportation, for that matter?

Think. We need to start thinking real hard, real careful, real fast. We need to get our heads out of the political mindset and get them into the triage mindset. We need to stop acting as if we have all the time in the world to make life-and-death decisions. We need to learn to think like Americans instead of Democrats and Republicans because sure enough plague, hurricanes and Ayman al Zawahiri do not distinguish between US political party machines.

1) The Seattle Times Reports of anarchy at Superdome overstated by Brian Thevenot and Gordon Russell of Newhouse News Service.

Don't Tread on Me, but make sure I don't stand on a roof for five days

"I think what will be happening here and across the country is people will be looking at what level official orders and evacuation or requests of evacuation. It won't be just reevaluating routes used because we only have one major north-south corridor here, I-5. On a good day I-5 is massive gridlock."
-- Gil Kerlikowske, Seattle Chief of Police
Dan at Riehl World View has expressed thoughtful disagreement with points I made in yesterday's post. I find myself in complete agreement with the spirit of his disagreement and I heartily suggest you give his thoughts consideration. In arguing against turning to a federalized military "fix" Dan notes in part:
If we abandon any hope for our civilian government to operate effectively at the Federal level and fail to shore up local governmental accountability and the possible re-kindling of some sense of a decentralized Civil Defense in co-operation with the National Guard, exempt from Posse Comitatus except when federalized, by the way -- we won't be solving anything. We'll simply be sweeping the problem under the rug and institutionalizing failure.
Hear! Hear! However, it's late in the day to be calling for reforms of government at local levels. This kind of discussion should have been going on during the past five years. Better late than never but while we're hashing things out, forming commissions and committees and threatening to throw the bastids out at the voting both, we need to remember just how late in the day this is.

I thought of that while watching Americans stand on their roofs waiting for helicopter rescue in Katrina's wake. Reminded me of the joke about the man who drowned, then asked God on reaching heaven why He hadn't answered his prayers for help. God told him that he'd answered three times: First with a boat, then with a ladder, then with a helicopter. But the man had continued to insist that divine help be in the form of making the floodwaters go away.

Make no mistake: even with the federal military in charge, communities need to be prepared to hold out at least 72 hours before they can assume the cavalry will arrive. So all communities in this country have their work cut out for them.

In the meantime, we need the military in readiness to take charge if disaster strikes large numbers of Americans. The Indonesians got the benefit of US military efficiency in the wake of a tsunami; Americans deserve at least that much. Yet for that, we need to nail down legal questions and determine with precision the situations under which command and control automatically pass to the military.

In summary, I agree with Dan's view but I am unwilling to risk large numbers of Americans dying for principles that for decades have only been defended with lip service.

I want to make sure that lines of command and control are clearly established in a disaster; I want to be assured that every community knows exactly what they can expect from the US military when local resources for dealing with disaster are overwhelmed.

The quote I used to introduce this essay is taken from last night's PBS NewsHour. Margaret Warner gathered three officials involved with disaster planning:

> Edward Reiskin, deputy mayor for public safety and justice for Washington, DC.

> Carlos Castillo, director of Miami-Dade County's office of emergency management and the county's deputy fire chief.

> Gil Kerlikowske.

Margaret asked the panelists what lessons their cities took from the hurricanes and how this affected planning. The answers are instructive, and give a glimmer of hope that cities around the country will upgrade their disaster preparedness -- not just talk about it, but actually do it.

Click here for the NewsHour transcript; scroll down to "Discussing Evacuation Plans."

Monday, September 26

Problem is, Senator Landrieu, we can't courts martial Governor Blanco for dereliction of duty

President Bush said on Sunday that Congress ought to consider giving the US military the lead role in responding to natural disasters. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) doesn't like that idea. She told CNN's Late Edition that the military has a strong role to play "but so do our governors and our local elected officials."

"I mean we do have a democracy and a citizenship that has elected mayors, county commissioners and governors particularly. I'm not sure the governors association or all the mayors in America would be willing to step aside," she said.

Okay, let's stop and think this one through, Senator. You really don't want the governor's association and all the mayors in America to be the triage authority in times of disaster, do you? Katrina hit three states in one swoop and trod on many mayors' territory. So which mayor and governor -- or which association -- should have been in charge?

Look on the bright side, Senator. Putting the military in charge would also sideline FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security. Between those agencies and the local officials, the immediate wake of Katrina was everyone running around like chickens with their heads cut off.

And from all accounts there were life-costing turf battles in the wake of Katrina between FEMA, Blanco's office and Mayor Nagin's office (well, at least after the mayor's office was able to communicate with the outside world).

Days into the wake of Katrina's strike, the complaint voiced over and over by storm survivors, volunteers showing up to help and various federal personnel was that no one was in charge. In times of sudden crisis threatening the lives of millions of Americans, there needs to be one overarching authority making the critical decisions.

But I'll tell you why we're having this discussion, Senator Landrieu; it's because of the sorry situation US party politics has wrought. Truth is, it's come to the point where the US military is the only agency Americans can trust to put the welfare of all the citizenry first.

The big legal question is the exact conditions under which authority automatically passes to DoD. So this is a good time to read (or reread) Major Craig T. Trebilcock's Plain English explanation of the Posse Comitatus Act and why this sacred cow isn't sacred anymore: The Myth of Posse Comitatus

Also, a good time to plow through the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act published on the FEMA website.

Sunday, September 25

Extreme Makeover: Flood recovery advice from North Dakota and Minnesota

The Red River winds north through a table-flat valley to form most of the border between North Dakota and Minnesota. It spills from its banks almost every spring, but the high water usually only covers parks and yards. That wasn't the case in the spring of 1997, after record snows buried the region. A blizzard and ice storm struck the first weekend of April, knocking out power to thousands. And the river was only beginning to rise.

I remember watching the televised images of the mounting floodwaters with a sense of disbelief at first. The dikes had never been topped; they were so high it was unthinkable they wouldn't hold. But on a cold April morning, the swollen Red River broke through and topped by more than 2 feet the 52 foot dikes, wiping out the bridge that connected the cities of Grand Forks, North Dakota and East Grand Forks, Minnesota and virtually destroying both cities.

Paired border towns waged their battles against the rising floodwaters: Wahpeton and Breckenridge, Minn., at the river's headwaters, and Fargo and Moorhead, Minn., downstream. None was swamped like Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. Most of the homes in the two cities and the business districts were destroyed by the floods. More than 50,000 people were forced to flee.

The flood of 1997 created what was, until Hurricane Katrina, the largest mass exodus in the United States since the Civil War.

Eight years later, with a $400 million state-of-the-art 60 foot floodwall/dike system nearing completion, both cities have made an amazing recovery. And they are eager to give advice and help to Louisiana. In Grand Forks, City Council members are planning to enter a sister-city relationship with one of those ravaged by Katrina.

The consensus among council members is that New Orleans is simply too big and that they ought to set their sights on a city closer in size to Grand Forks, such as Biloxi, Mississippi.

"We had a great little downtown, but the city fathers were thinking too big for their britches, trying to make it Fargo or Minneapolis. I just hope the towns down there don't make the same mistakes we did," observed antique store owner Linda Magness.

Across the river in East Grand Forks, Mayor Lynn Stauss lauds his city as "a poster child for flood relief. Grand Forks got all the attention during the flood, but we wanted the attention for our recovery."

The mayor's words hint at the underlying tension that has long existed between the two cities, which now market themselves to the world as "The Grand Cities." Those tensions played out during the flood recovery, with officials sometimes unable to appeal to disaster officials with a single voice, Stauss said.

"Down there [the Gulf Coast], they've got to learn patience and avoid the resentment and finger-pointing that sometimes went on here," he said. "If they can't speak with one voice, it's going to confuse people and cause them to mistrust their leaders. And if that happens, you'll never gain that trust back."

The sentiment is echoed by his counterparts in Grand Forks. But for now, city officials are holding off on inundating the Gulf Coast with advice, recovery materials and volunteers, again based on their own experiences eight years ago.

Pete Haga, who coordinated volunteer efforts in 1997, said for this disaster: "We're trying to avoid the mistakes we made here. Right after the flood, I'd have people show up to help, but I didn't have anywhere to send them right away. People are calling now, saying they're ready to go, but I tell them to wait until we know what people down there need."

One member of the council has seized on the idea of recycling flood relief money that still flows into the city's coffers. Doug Christensen has proposed funneling $1 million or more in federal block grant funds to the Gulf Coast.

"Someday you'll become the other guy -- you just don't know when," he said. "Now that we've been that other guy, we have the opportunity to help the new other guy."

Not to strike a sour note, and with the caveat that I haven't studied and compared the technical information about the Louisiana and Red River flood control systems. But the $400 million pricetag for the Red River "state-of-the-art" dike/floodwall system (60 feet high!) prompts Pundita to question whether many billions of dollars are needed to upgrade the Louisiana flood system -- a figure I've often heard mentioned since Katrina struck.

The advice to remake New Orleans into a smaller city could save much money and provide realistic flood protection during the decades it would take to restore the natural flood protection to the land.

The question, however, is how to prevent the region from continuing to sink. There is an inherent conflict between levees and salvaging the valuable silt that the Mississippi spews during floods. Without the silt, it seems the only solution is to keep building higher and higher levees and floodwalls -- while the land on which New Orleans rests continues to sink lower and lower.

There should be an engineering solution -- there's always an engineering solution -- that allows the levees to exist on better terms with the river's natural land reclamation system. The solution could be where the "many billions" would reside but one has to be found and implemented.

With the exception of my observations this post is a compilation of accounts taken from a September 2005 Star Tribune article by Bob Von Sternberg with additional quotes from a 2002 Associated Press/USA Today report . The articles present detail on the recovery and the planning behind it.

Also, a hat tip to ABC World News for their Sunday segment on the recovery from the 1997 flood (and the news that the new Red River flood control system is "state-of-the-art").

Are Americans ready to get down to brass tacks?

There could be a silver lining to the storm clouds made by Katrina and Rita: after decades of kicking the can down the road, Americans might be willing to confront two issues that strike hard at both sides of the political aisle: Pork spending in appropriations bills, and whether the country should pay taxes that encourage Americans to reside on the edge of fragile coastlines in hurricane alley. Support for this novel idea comes from two September 23 PBS television offerings:

First, NOW's surprisingly objective (i.e., no bashing of the political Right) report titled Coastal Development and Flood Insurance. Second, the Journal Editorial Report's surprisingly objective (i.e., no bashing of the political Left) discussion of pork spending.

Both shows bluntly ask whether Americans are ready to get serious about confronting the issues under discussion. Here's Pundita's answer: If NOW and the Wall Street Journal editorial board are willing to chuck partisan politics long enough to take an objective look at fundamental issues, this is a sign that the rest of us should try.
NOW's producers recently traveled to Dauphin Island, Alabama, where 60% of the homes on the western edge of the island have been destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. But this isn't the first time the island has been hit hard. In the wake of previous flooding, communities like Dauphin Island have used federal dollars and federal insurance programs to rebuild. NOW asks if we have been making a mistake with government policies that encourage rebuilding in areas vulnerable to natural disasters.
The transcript continues with a summary of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and its importance to the US debate about coastal development, then goes on to lay out how the debate is shaping up. The NOW transcript is required reading, if you are new to the debate and believe it's an important one.

The Journal show's transcript also makes for riveting, educational reading. The panel of Journal editorialists reviews pork spending in the recent transportation bill and sounds out the American willingness to deal with pork:
STEVE MOORE: ... in Washington the pork has finally hit the fan and what's happening in this town is you're starting to see Americans all over the country seeing these visions of all of this pork in the [transportation] bill and they find it to be repugnant.

The problem for Republicans is when they took over Congress back in 1994 they pledged to get rid of all this irresponsible wasteful spending and now a lot of voters, especially conservative voters, are looking at what's going on in the Republican Congress when people like Tom DeLay say "We can't find anything to cut." And they're saying wait a minute, now we've got two big government parties in Washington.

PAUL GIGOT: Nancy Pelosi, the democratic house leader, this week volunteered to give up $70 million dollars worth of roads and other projects in her district in San Francisco which struck both good policy, but also very smart politics trying to reclaim the fiscal conservative mantle from the Republicans.

ROB POLLOCK: Absolutely. Look, there's a moral dimension to spending here and that's what we're seeing. Spending is ultimately about taxes, it's about coercion. I was surprised yesterday: Mary Landrieu, senator from Louisiana, she's requesting $250 billion dollars to be spent on her state alone. She says she admits that that's a lot of money. Well, how much money is that? That's $2,500 dollars per household in America.
The question is whether Americans will stay with the questions raised by both PBS shows, or whether we'll allow political agendas to once again send us down the garden path.

It's a vital question because several foreign interests have seen the Katrina disaster as the perfect opportunity to push harder for their own agendas, which range from pressuring the US on the Kyoto treaty to getting the US military presence out of the Middle East.

If Americans can manage to stay on track, this will not only do the United States a world of good; it will also serve as a model for peoples around the world who've never known anything but a raw deal and crocodile tears from their political leaders.

Saturday, September 24

Arkansas the Model

Amazingly, as many as half the evacuees from Katrina and Rita are expected to stay in Arkansas. It's especially amazing to me because if I hadn't caught the John Batchelor Show last night, I wouldn't have known that Arkansas splendidly managed a huge relief effort without any help from FEMA.

John interviewed Kane Webb, the deputy editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, whose article about the Arkansas relief effort was featured in the Wall Street Journal's September 22 Opinion Journal Online. I urge you to read Kane's article, Huckabee's Ark. (Subscription /registration not required.) The details give some support to Dave Schuler's argument posted at The Glittering Eye. In his September 9 list of suggestions for dealing with the Katrina aftermath, Dave wrote:
FEMA should be abolished. We should go back to something that more closely resembles the old Civil Defense approach. National Civil Defense should concentrate primarily on coordinating local Civil Defense (which in turn should be primarily volunteer), establishing standards, and measuring performance. Congressional rules should limit how much funding (for any purpose) states and localities should be able to receive that don't meet civil defense performance standards.
Earlier I'd contested the same argument from Dave by observing that two wage-earner families and single parents couldn't be expected to volunteer the time necessary to make the Civil Defense model work. After learning about the hugely successful volunteer response in Arkansas I'm willing to rethink my remark.

However, one learns from Kane's report that Arkansas has a striking advantage: the state is disaster prone. They've had lots of practice, on a yearly basis, at mustering quick help for residents made homeless and jobless by tornadoes and other natural disasters. When Katrina struck, Governor Mike Huckabee simply converted his well-tested TRACE (Tornado Recovery and Community Enhancement) response network for use by Katrina victims.

Practice seems to be the key to effective civilian response to an emergency. The state of Texas had a well thought-out plan for dealing with a massive evacuation effort, which they refined after absorbing the lessons of dealing with Katrina refugees. Yet the unprecedented number of Texas evacuees ahead of Hurricane Rita turned up oversights; notably:

> Failure to pre-position emergency gasoline refill tanker trucks along the evacuation routes.

> Failure to adequately coordinate timing of evacuations between state counties, which resulted in gridlock on the evacuation routes.

> Failure in Houston to adequately inform residents that the mandatory evacuation order extended only to the low-lying areas of the city, which contributed to gridlock on routes out of Houston and the run on the region's gasoline stations.

Of course the failures need to studied against everything that went right about the evacuation, which was considerable. All levels of Texas government did a great job handling the largest US emergency evacuation in history. Yet the failures stand as a warning about the limits of planning.

Drill is needed to iron out wrinkles that hide in planning on paper. This has been shown time and again since 9/11 when officials conduct homeland security drills. Every time they hold a drill they find situations that planning had overlooked.

Officials in New Orleans and Baton Rouge rationalized their poor readiness for Katrina by saying their planning was unable to imagine how a catastrophic hurricane would affect the region. Imagination is not a good friend in such instances, as the military could advise. Only lots of practice, in the form of drills, helps one prepare for the unimaginable.

Looking back, simple oversights had such horrific consequences that they defy comprehension. One example is that the New Orleans police department and Memorial hospital were thrown into chaos simply because they hadn't thought to stock up on diesel fuel for back-up generators.

But there is nothing like hindsight, which is best turned up through drills instead of the real thing. I will give Dave Schuler this much: If Americans are willing to make the time and take on the expense of routinely drilling for disaster, we might get away with abolishing FEMA -- or at least making it only a liaison agency between state governments and the federalized military.

If we want to consider the Civil Defense approach, the Arkansas response to the Katrina disaster is the model to study. Let's hope Governor Huckabee writes up a detailed report for presentation to Congress.

It would also be a help if the mainstream television media exerted themselves to report on the Arkansas success story. I can't understand why the Big Three (ABC, CBS, NBC) didn't do coverage in Arkansas during all these weeks of the Katrina aftermath.

If I missed the coverage I will apologize for my remark. Yet despite all the time I dedicated to watching broadcast coverage I don't recall reports about the all-over Arkansas relief effort, which involves so many of Katrina's victims.

Friday, September 23

Waiting and praying

I'm beginning to feel like a sailor's wife.

The King of Dance

"Dear Pundita:
We are the young couple who wrote you more than six months ago about not wanting to bring children into the world. You gave us a scolding and told a story you called Finish the Dance. We enjoyed the story and also it made us think about what you said, about not betraying the efforts of everyone in earlier generations.

We were in a bad situation at the time and feeling ashamed that we had done so poorly with our lives. We started saying, "Finish the dance" to each other and laughing. It became our private joke. Things are still difficult and we know that we can never return to our village. However, my wife is now pregnant and we are looking forward to the new life with hope.

So we are writing to tell you the good news and also to express sympathy for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. We watched the news about the floods on a neighbor's television. It was a shock to see the world's most powerful nation having such troubles but it was also a reminder that the weather visits tragedy on every nation. We send our prayers that the American people will recover soon.
[signed] "19 and 22"

Dear 19 and 22:
Pundita is happy about your good news. Thank you also for your prayers. Let me tell you how it is for Americans. We have been through much adversity for such a young nation. We had to fight hard for freedom, so we really appreciate it. Being free, we do a lot of complaining and criticizing of our government. Don't be misled by all the bad news you see on the television. Adversity is an old friend to the American people; it is just makes us stronger and wiser.

When adversity comes, you shouldn't think of it as a punishment or judgment on you but as the next bend in the road.

I was thinking of Beau Jocque when I received your letter. I have been thinking a great deal about Beau since Katrina struck Louisiana. Beau was a Louisiana musician who played a kind of music called zydeco but he was really the king of dance because you couldn't listen to his music without getting up and dancing, or at least dancing in your mind.

His birth name was Andrus Espre. He was born in Kinder, Louisiana in 1957. He spent his early adult years working as an electrician. In 1987 he suffered a back injury that left him paralyzed from the waist down for over a year.

He had always been bored by traditional zydeco music but during his convalescence, to pass the time, he picked up his father's Cajun accordion and began playing and singing. The music that poured from him was a fusion of zydeco with many streams of American music.

He formed his first band, the Zydeco Hi-Rollers, in 1991. The music he played was an overnight sensation because, well, because you couldn't listen without getting up and dancing. Eight years later Beau Jocque was dead of a heart attack.

Some great musicians die young. Why this happens is God's business; perhaps they are only on loan to the human race for a few precious years.

I wonder sometimes: did Beau cuss out God when he found himself paralyzed? Maybe, maybe not. What is known is that without terrible adversity, Beau Jocque wouldn't have given his gift of music to the world.

New Orleans will arise again but there is no going back; the city was sinking into the delta, for heaven's sake. It will be a different city when it's rebuilt but the best of the New Orleans tradition will live on.

Listen to Beau Jocque's music to understand America. This country is a fusion of many cultures united by love of freedom and self-expression for all people. So America is as old as human aspirations and ever young. That is the way it can be for every country, if the people have enough freedom.

Thursday, September 22

Baby kissers, corporate whiz kids and courtroom orators need not apply

Recently Dave Schuler at The Glittering Eye put together a chart that lists occupations of US senators and shows the percentage of each occupation represented in the Senate. Not surprisingly, 58% percent of the occupations are attorney.

Dave notes: "Many of the lawyers are actually lifelong politicians who’ve never done anything else. Note that more than [two-thirds] of the Senators are lawyers or people who’ve never worked in anything other than government."

He goes on to make thought provoking observations about the Senate's top-heavy representation of the legal profession and America's extremely adversarial political climate.

There are additional observations that could be drawn from Dave's chart. Please take a look at the chart. Then tell me whether you don't agree there is something very odd about the fact that scientists and engineers are not represented in this day and age.

The professions most needed for a grasp of efficiently managing large, complex systems are simply not represented in today's Senate. On one level that's understandable; after all, the Senate is a legislative body so of course it would attract legal minds. Yet legal minds are geared to analyzing situations after the fact of their occurrence. That kind of analysis is not geared to preventing disaster situations.

We can't expect every governor, every mayor, to have a degree in systems analysis or to come into office with experience managing a large city. Yet just because of this, Americans need to take a hard look at the makeup of the Congress and think about diversification of professional background. And think about upgrading the diversification to include the sciences and engineering -- and also a larger representation of high-level military command experience.

If you tell me you can't fight City Hall; that voters will always be swayed by emotion and promises of pork for their community -- all right, then how about a compromise between human nature and the challenges of the 21st Century?

Why not make it a law that US senators must take night courses on (1) managing large-scale social systems and (2) the worst problems affecting the largest urban areas in the United States -- and their course grades be published?

For readers who need a gentle reminder about why it's really very important to get the thinking of our elected leaders into the present day, consider the following situations:

"On 9/11 the cloak of competence was pulled off the City of New York. Safety codes treated a 100-story high-rise with the same guidelines as a ten-story building."
-- Sally Regenhard, mother of firefighter killed along with most of his company while trying to rescue people trapped inside the World Trade Tower on 9/11.(1)

"The Bonnet Carre Spillway [in New Orleans] is surrounded by oil refineries, chemical plants and a couple of nuclear reactors...And now it is being [proposed by Mayor Ray Nagin] as a site for a brand-new airport."
-- Save Our Wetlands commentary(2)

"Galveston City Manager Steve LeBlanc said the storm surge from Hurricane Rita could reach 50 feet. Galveston is protected by a seawall that is only 17 feet tall. ... The coastal city of 58,000 [sits] on an island 8 feet above sea level..."
-- Associated Press, September 22

About 22-million Californians depend on the water that flows from its delta. There are hundreds of thousands of people living on low land who could be flooded by levee overflows or breaks...." Much of the delta was filled in a century ago for farming." Since, much of that farmland has been turned into housing tracts. “The state looks after 1,600 miles of levees that protect at least a half-million people.” For example, “in 1997, more than 50 California levees broke on rain-choked rivers and killed eight people, forced the evacuation of 100,000 and damaged or destroyed 24,000 homes.” Yet, last January’s report by the State Department of Water Resources says levee maintenance funds have declined from Washington and Sacramento.
-- Bruce Kesler, You ain't seen nothing yet

Blanco finished second in the [gubernatorial] primary. Three days before the runoff election, she was trailing the front-runner, 32-year-old Republican whiz kid Bobby Jindal, when they met for a final debate. More polished and quick on his feet, Jindal seemed to have strengthened his standing that night. Then the two candidates were asked to name a defining moment in their lives. Jindal stayed on message, discussing his conversion to Christianity and the birth of his daughter.

"Blanco immediately knew she would have to address her rawest moment. Listening to Jindal speak, she says, she tried to summon a less painful memory, but she could not avoid it. "The most defining moment came when I lost a child," she told the statewide television audience. ...

"It's very hard for me to talk about it," Kathleen Blanco said as the debate wound up, looking into the camera and fighting tears. "I guess that's what makes me who I am today -- knowing that one of the worst things that can happen to a person happened to me, and we were able to protect our family, and the rest of my children have been strong as a result of it." ...

Commentators said her heart-felt response during the debate may have spelled the difference with voters. She overcame Jindal, defeating him 52 percent to 48 percent."
-- Tyler Bridges, Blanco's Bid

When he arrived in Baton Rouge on Sunday evening, [Michael] Brown said, he was concerned about the lack of coordinated response from Governor Blanco and Maj. Gen. Bennett C. Landreneau, the adjutant general of the Louisiana National Guard.

"What do you need? Help me help you," Mr. Brown said he asked them. "The response was like, 'Let us find out,' and then I never received specific requests for specific things that needed doing."

The most responsive person he could find, Mr. Brown said, was Governor Blanco's husband, Raymond. "He would try to go find stuff out for me," Mr. Brown said.
-- The New York Times, September 15: Ex-FEMA Chief Tells of Frustration and Chaos

1) Quote from Shortcuts to Safety by Matthew Reiss for Metropolis Magazine. If you haven't yet read about why the World Trade towers collapsed, and the New York-New Jersey port authority's exemption from building and safety codes, you should.

2) You'll have to scroll about halfway down the Save Our Wetlands page -- past the rambling rants against corporate greed and some of Mayor Ray Nagin's other decisions -- to get to the letters from New Orleanians about the airport idea. (Perhaps it should also be a law that citizens trying to light a fire under elected officials take a course in how to commit their central point to writing.)

Wednesday, September 21

Squire Nagin backpedals for the cameras; real estate speculators descend on Louisiana

What a difference a day and a presidential visit makes! After sneering that Vice Admiral Allen had crowned himself "the new federal mayor of New Orleans," yesterday Mayor Ray Nagin presented Allen with an "I Love New Orleans" T-shirt. He accompanied this gesture of noblesse oblige with a stiff little hug for the cameras.

We're "one leadership team," Nagin announced. "We may not always agree, but we have one mission: to bring New Orleans back."

And here I thought Allen was also tasked with the safety of the people in New Orleans. Silly Pundita!

In other developments, a real estate boom is on in Louisiana, with speculators from around the country snapping up property in New Orleans and nearby areas; this has sent prices on a steep climb.

So now, residents returning to the affected region to find their homes uninhabitable will not be able to rent or buy at pre-Katrina prices. And there is the added adventure of facing foreclosure:
New Orleans investors will be "pretty big investors who can write a check," said Dave Barry, a Boston-area investor who buys houses entering foreclosure. He predicted huge numbers of foreclosures in Louisiana, a process starting Sept. 1, when many probably missed mortgage payments. "This is a process that's going to play out over the next few weeks."(1)
One can sympathize with the eagerness of residents who only want to pick up their lives in New Orleans. And the determination of business leaders to get things moving again in the city is admirable. Yet it would be helpful if Mayor Nagin and the business community he represents considered the limitations of the hired help -- that being the federal government. And backed up their cheerleading for New Orleans with planning on how to accommodate returnees in a city still without basic services.

1) Boston Globe

Tuesday, September 20

Pundita catches Wolfy speaking WorldBankese; World Bank faction tries end run around Blair and Bush

Because nothing of any substance whatsoever occurred at the United Nations summit, we should look to the World Bank annual meeting this weekend, where the real fireworks will be found.

First, the really important news from the Bank -- long expected but now firmed:
Report filed by Lesley Wroughton, September 19

The World Bank plans to increase funding for infrastructure projects in developing countries by $1 billion a year over the next several years, according to a Bank report obtained by Reuters.

The plan, to be discussed at the Bank's annual meeting in Washington this week, would reverse nearly a decade-long decline in infrastructure spending.

"Most developing countries now face the challenge of correcting the huge infrastructure gaps that threaten growth and the achievement of social and other broader development goals," the report said.

"At the same time, the World Bank faces the challenge of rebuilding its lending and non-lending support and increasing its leverage to reverse the declines in infrastructure support experienced over the past decade," it added.

The increase would mean World Bank infrastructure lending could reach about $10 billion annually, from $7.4 billion last year. The move would lift spending to 40 percent of total Bank lending from a low of about 21 percent in 1999.

The plan follows a decade of cutbacks in spending by governments, particularly in the developing world, on infrastructure such as roads and power generators, due to low economic growth.

Now, with increased growth, infrastructure investment would need to be equivalent to 5.5 percent of gross domestic product, the report said. For poorer countries, the target should be as much as 7-9 percent.

Currently, governments are spending an average of about 2-4 percent of GDP on infrastructure investment, the report added. It said private businesses had not filled the infrastructure spending gap, with private sector investment falling to about $50 billion a year, significantly down from $100 billion a year in the late 1990's.

The report suggested a bigger role in infrastructure investment for the Bank's private sector wings, the International Finance Corp (IFC) and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA). [...]
For the rest of the Reuters report, which presents region-by-region analysis of spending on infrastructure, click here. The reason for the expected fireworks at the Bank annual meeting is slipped in at the very end of the report.
"In many of our client countries, decentralization of administrative responsibilities is proceeding at a rapid pace," [the report] said. "With many sub-national entities lacking adequate technical, institutional and credit capacity, there is a need for capacity-building assistance to help them achieve standards of administrative efficiency and financial transparency," it added.

It also said more emphasis was needed to help member countries manage infrastructure spending more efficiently, as well as using World Bank financial support to leverage private investment funds and help governments manage risk.
Translation: The Bank is planning to come down hard on corruption.

Note to US Congress: Watch World Bank for tips on oversight of federal projects earmarked for storm reconstruction in Louisiana, Mississippi.

Other Bank News
The Gleneagles G8 plan to cancel all debts owed by the 18 poorest (mostly African) countries to international lenders such as the World Bank has come under fire.
Tony Fratto, a senior American Treasury official, told The Sunday Telegraph: "It's not a done deal by any means. There are people who want this rewritten."

[...] An internal World Bank briefing paper has concluded that its International Development Association (IDA) will be hampered in making loans to low-income countries if the debts are written off, as the Bank itself would no longer receive interest payments.

In a second attack on the deal, the Netherlands and Belgium, apparently frustrated that they were not consulted over the G8 deal, have questioned some of the conditions of the debt write-off.

British and American officials are exasperated that the critical internal World Bank report, drawn up by a group of economists and analysts, overlooks provisions made at Gleneagles for the G8 countries to compensate for the lost interest payments, thus ensuring that the IDA can continue lending money.

"I'm not going to name names, but some people within the World Bank are dead set against debt cancellation because they feel it undermines their role," Mr Fratto said.

"There are people out there who want to make the deal seem untenable by chipping away at it. And there are some who just resent the American commitment to this.

"But there is no plan B. One hundred per cent debt cancellation was agreed at Gleneagles and we're not going back on that. This is the only deal on the table and the IDA will be compensated for the lost revenue."

[...] London believes that the deal will receive the required Yes vote, as the G8 countries make up the most powerful voting bloc on the World Bank board.(1)
In other Bank news, Wolfy reports that the Bank still hasn't made up its mind about putting a mission office in Iraq. "There is no question it is dangerous. It is not going to be a simple decision."
The bank evacuated its staff from Iraq in August 2003 after a deadly bombing at the UN headquarters in Baghdad, but has maintained a small Iraqi staff in the country.

The bank's coordination for Iraq has been run from an office in neighboring Jordan, but some in Washington feel it should have a presence inside Iraq to effectively manage the $500 million allocated for Iraq's reconstruction.

"What we are looking at is weighing the relative risks against the potential gains in terms of greater effectiveness," Wolfowitz said.

"Until I see a specific proposal as to what we are going to do and where we are going to be, I cannot predict when a decision will be made." (2)
With regard to that last utterance, every Bank employee down the entire chain of command is saying exactly the same thing. From this we can surmise: everyone has agreed that the Iraq field office stays in Jordan for now.

1) (UK) Sunday Telegraph

2) Reuters

Monday, September 19

Don't tempt us, Mr. Huey

Because Pundita earlier passed along two reports (NBC and NEWSWEEK) about the Orleans Levee Board's investigation of a New Orleans radio show host, I thought it only fair to give the board's president a chance to present his side of the story:
"Breaking a long silence over a bizarre controversy, Orleans Levee District (OLD) President Jim Huey says that, contrary to news reports, he did not authorize a cloak-and-dagger investigation of controversial right-wing radio talk show host Robert Namer, a vocal critic of the levee board.

Huey also discounts new allegations by attorney Patrick Klotz, who says the board also conducted private investigations of three of his clients, all critics of OLD themselves. [...]
Those quotes from a September 11, 2001 Gambit Weekly exclusive interview. Understandably New Orleanians had other things on their mind that day, so Mr. Huey's convoluted defense of his actions, and the board's, seems to have flown under the radar all these years -- at least, until the wake of Katrina.

Huey goes on to explain that actually he approved a cloak-and-dagger investigation into how board documents were "leaving the levee district," which included spying on Namer, and that actually the investigation cost $15,000 not the widely reported figure of $45,000.
"It did get a little out of hand and a little bizarre," he says, referring to one video surveillance episode in which a pair of trousers was secretly photographed in the studio of Namer's radio station (an incident dubbed "trousercam" by board attorneys).
Namer's attorney, Robert Harvey, gets in the last word: what do the probes of levee board critics "have to do with flood control?"

But to this and all other criticism since he took over presidency of the board in 1996, Huey has a stock reply: "If I'm doing something wrong, hang me."

Uppity house servant Vice Admiral Allen angers Squire Nagin

Before reversing course Monday, a clearly agitated Nagin snapped that Allen had apparently made himself "the new crowned federal mayor of New Orleans."
That verbal caning because Allen pointed out that NOLA didn't even have basic services such as 911 and working hospitals and thus, it was premature to call people back to New Orleans.

But we mustn't bother the squire with such details; his job is to make the NOLA business community happy. The federal government and military's job is to function efficiently under impossible conditions and know their place.

At least we're settling into the drill: New Orleans business and political leaders make the messes; the hired help -- that being the American taxpayer and charitable givers -- clean them up.
Elsewhere across the city, where the damage was more severe, much of the sentiment seemed to be with the mayor and his attempts to reopen the city quickly.

"Send Bush here and we'll make him a po' boy and tell him to leave us alone," Kathleen Horn said as she cleaned up the debris piled in front of Slim Goodies Diner on Magazine Street in Uptown.
Hush your mouth, Mr. President; just see the checks are written out.

All quotes from the Associated Press

File under When Pigs Fly: North Korea agrees to give up nuclear weapons program

Associated Press Report:
North Korea Demands Nuke Reactor From U.S.
Sep 19 11:14 PM US/Eastern
By JAE-SOON CHANG, Associated Press Writer
SEOUL, South Korea
North Korea said Tuesday it would not dismantle its nuclear weapons program until the United States first provides an atomic energy reactor, casting doubt on its commitment to a breakthrough agreement reached at international arms talks. The North insisted during arms talks that began last week in Beijing that it be given a light-water reactor, a type less easily diverted for weapons use, in exchange for abandoning nuclear weapons. [...]

Both the United States and Japan, members of the six-nation disarmament talks, rejected the North's latest demand. "This is not the agreement that they signed and we'll give them some time to reflect on the agreement they signed," U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in New York [...]
* * * * *
Where there's life there's hope but Pundita awaits details of the agreement and sight of flying pigs. Tehran and Pyongyang have a sweet deal: Tehran builds the missiles and buys the nuke material for the missiles from Kim Jong-il's crew.

Maybe if the other parties to the six-way talks and the EU can periodically cough up enough money to match Tehran's payments, the North Korean announcement to give up nukes might hold a grain of truth. In that event, the announcement should read "Successful Extortion Attempt" instead of "Agreement."
[...] Chinese chief negotiator Wu Dawei described the key point in the statement to reporters this way: "The DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning at an early date to the treaty on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons and to IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) safeguards."

North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 2003 and declared itself a nuclear-weapons power. North Korea is widely believed to have at least two nuclear weapons.

In exchange for North Korea saying it will give up its nuclear programs and weapons, the other five parties in the talks have expressed willingness to provide oil and energy aid and security guarantees to Pyongyang.

Washington has declared it has no intention of attacking North Korea and will respect its sovereignty. It also affirmed it has no nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula.

Washington -- which had previously dubbed North Korea part of an "axis of evil" -- has also declared it will work to "normalize" relations with Pyongyang over time. Japan has said it will do the same.

U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill said in Beijing today that North Korea had made the "right decision."

"It is a big decision for them (North Korea), a big undertaking, but it's absolutely the right decision for them," Hill said. "The security, the success, the prosperity of the DPRK does not depend on nuclear weapons. In fact, it depends on relations with others. So this is a moment which I think will be a very important moment in their history, to make this turn, and to turn away from these sorts of weapons and toward interactions with their neighbors and with other countries in the world."

Analysts say the agreement is a statement of principles whose details must still be worked out. But many today are expressing "cautious optimism" that the North Korean nuclear crisis will indeed be solved peacefully.[...]
Click here for rest of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty report.

Would President Karzai care to call the US 2006 elections?

Bruce Kesler, who in recent months has been churning out one great essay after another for the Democracy Project, just send me his latest post; it contains this delicious news:
Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan, had perhaps the most accurate prediction of the inconclusive German elections. “I think you very soon will see in Europe an exhaustion of political parties,” Karzai told an interviewer from Der Spiegel, the text of which appeared one day before Germany’s elections.
Bruce goes on to note:
Karzai’s interview is full of wisdom and insight into the situation in Afghanistan, and in Iraq. For example, he distinguishes between the colonialist border-drawing that made modern Iraq, contributing to its internal divisions, compared to that not being the origin of Afghanistan’s composition, and that Afghans have a long tradition of building consensus compared to less experience with that among Iraqis.
Well. What with consensus-building busting out all over in Afghanistan, and with Germans in a snit at both their major political parties -- wouldn't it be an interesting reversal if the world's youngest democracies taught a civics lesson to old Europe's?

But then this turn of events would be displaying an established pattern. After World War Two, the United States lavished attention on Germany and Japan's political process. When Americans put considerable attention (and yes, considerable funds and patience) into nursing along democracy in other countries, democracy blooms.

I wouldn't discount the efforts by many determined Iraqis to hold their country together. The Iran-Syria funded terrorist attempts to create a civil war in Iraq are having the opposite effect. Yet consensus building is of course a process that takes considerable ongoing citizen involvement; Iraq's experience at this time is a strong reminder of this for Americans -- and Germans. If you can't always have what you want, it's self-destructive to hold to a standoff that hurts the entire country.

Bruce's correspondence with David at Medienkritik blog has yielded a hopeful speculation about Germany's troop involvement in Afghanistan. For this and the rest of Bruce's post, click here.

When Posse Comitatus met Hurricane Katrina

"Dear Pundita,
Do you think that the Posse Comitatus Act and more broadly American federalism hampered evacuation and rescue efforts with regard to Katrina's strike on the Gulf coast?
Sandy in Glasgow"

Dear Sandy:
The topic you address is implicit in remarks uttered by President Bush during his address to the nation on Thursday:
The storm involved a massive flood, a major supply and security operation, and an evacuation order affecting more than a million people. [...] It is now clear that a challenge on this scale requires greater federal authority and a broader role for the armed forces -- the institution of our government most capable of massive logistical operations on a moment's notice.
Interestingly, the last sentence received only passing mention if that during media discussions, which focused on how to pay for the reconstruction Bush proposed.

I'd say it's not so much federalism as abuse of state power that played a significant role in the unnecessary disasters that accompanied Katrina's hit on the Gulf coast.

Even with the best response there would have been widespread devastation; Katrina was a vicious storm that struck four states hard. But the disasters on top of the devastation just won't stand.

Another sentence in Bush's speech that has gone virtually unremarked:

"Clearly, communities will need to move decisively to change zoning laws and building codes, in order to avoid a repeat of what we've seen."

That was as close as Bush came to reading the riot act to states but Pundita would not have wanted to be in the same room while he was expressing his frank opinion -- not without wearing industrial-strength earmuffs. The pre-Katrina situation with New Orleans housing was horrific, given the city's fragile position below sea level:
''There's a lot of older homes [that can't sustain winds higher than 85 mph], most of these homes are below sea level, most of these homes are termite-ridden,'' said Capt. Lou Robinson, a training instructor with the City of New Orleans Fire Department. ``The newer homes, construction-wise, they just meet minimum requirements. You know, just for cost-effectiveness, they scrimp. The roofs are manufactured with trusses or lightweight metal, but they just don't hold up under extreme conditions.'' [...]

The prevalent hurricane code in Louisiana has been what engineers consider the bare minimum --- that buildings be designed to withstand 100-mph winds.

In 2004, Louisiana approved a higher standard comparable to post-Andrew codes in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, the highest in Florida -- that buildings stand up to gusts of 146 mph.

But the legislature didn't require localities to adopt the new standard. New Orleans and Baton Rouge did, but many local communities have codes that haven't been updated in 10 or 15 years, LSU's Levitan said.

And, he added, the local building industry seems reluctant to adopt hurricane-resistant windows or shutters, which are now required for new construction in Broward and Miami-Dade. Levitan, for instance, is building a wood-framed home, but when his contractor told him he didn't need hurricane straps, he installed them himself.

In any case, New Orleans has seen little new development since adopting the new codes, meaning that most of its structures at best meet the inadequate old standard -- certainly no match for Katrina. And many of those are aging or have been damaged by a Formosan termite infestation.

Worst-case scenario? The city could lose half its homes, Robinson said. [...][1]
Things have come to the point where this nation cannot afford to put up with states that are run like a Third World government. With all the time in the world and the patience of Job, it should be possible to convince American voters that it's slow suicide to keep electing officials who act like 19th Century European colonizers. But right now America is staring down the barrel of the Three Strikes rule. The big worry is that the third strike will be pandemic.

Of course America is a federalist system and there's nothing wrong with the system in principle. However, Louisiana is an example of what happens when there is great abuse of the system. The bottom line is that you just don't stuff hundreds of thousands of people into substandard housing in hurricane alley in a region that's really not fit for human habitation. Not in the 21st Century. Not here in America. And not when a state expects the nation as a whole to help foot the bill for disaster relief and reconstruction.

With regard to the other part of your question: I would guess that if President Bush knew on the Friday before Katrina struck what he knows today about Governor Blanco, he might have gotten around the Posse Comitatus Act. It isn't that hard to do, according to Major Craig Trebilcock, a US military attorney (2):
[...]Through a gradual erosion of the act’s prohibitions over the past 20 years, posse comitatus today is more of a procedural formality than an actual impediment to the use of U.S. military forces in homeland defense.

The original 1878 Posse Comitatus Act was indeed passed with the intent of removing the Army from domestic law enforcement. Posse comitatus means “the power of the county,” reflecting the inherent power of the old West county sheriff to call upon a posse of able-bodied men to supplement law enforcement assets and thereby maintain the peace.

Following the Civil War, the Army had been used extensively throughout the South to maintain civil order, to enforce the policies of the Reconstruction era, and to ensure that any lingering sentiments of rebellion were crushed. However, in reaching those goals, the Army necessarily became involved in traditional police roles and in enforcing politically volatile Reconstruction-era policies. The stationing of federal troops at political events and polling places under the justification of maintaining domestic order became of increasing concern to Congress, which felt that the Army was becoming politicized and straying from its original national defense mission.

The Posse Comitatus Act was passed to remove the Army from civilian law enforcement and to return it to its role of defending the borders of the United States. [...]

The intent of the act is to prevent the military forces of the United States from becoming a national police force or guardia civil. Accordingly, the act prohibits the use of the military to “execute the laws.” [...]

While the act appears to prohibit active participation in law enforcement by the military, the reality in application has become quite different. The act is a statutory creation, not a constitutional prohibition. Accordingly, the act can and has been repeatedly circumvented by subsequent legislation. Since 1980, Congress and the president have significantly eroded the prohibitions of the act in order to meet a variety of law enforcement challenges. [...]

Congress has also approved the use of the military in civilian law enforcement through the Civil Disturbance Statutes: 10 U.S.C., sections 331–334. These provisions permit the president to use military personnel to enforce civilian laws where the state has requested assistance or is unable to protect civil rights and property. [...]

Federal military personnel may also be used pursuant to the Stafford Act, 42 U.S.C., section 5121, in times of natural disaster upon request from a state governor
[emphasis mine][3]. In such an instance, the Stafford Act permits the president to declare a major disaster and send in military forces on an emergency basis for up to ten days to preserve life and property. While the Stafford Act authority is still subject to the criteria of active versus passive, it represents a significant exception to the Posse Comitatus Act’s underlying principle that the military is not a domestic police force auxiliary.

An infrequently cited constitutional power of the president provides an even broader basis for the president to use military forces in the context of homeland defense. This is the president’s inherent right and duty to preserve federal functions. In the past this has been recognized to authorize the president to preserve the freedom of navigable waterways and to put down armed insurrection. However, with the expansion of federal authority during this century into many areas formerly reserved to the states (transportation, commerce, education, civil rights) there is likewise an argument that the president’s power to preserve these “federal” functions has expanded as well. The use of federal troops in the South during the 1960s to preserve access to educational institutions for blacks was an exercise of this constitutional presidential authority. [...]
However, this is an area of decision-making that can't be left to the last minute to wrangle over. As Bush indicated in his speech, to deal with the kind of devastation Katrina threatened takes federalized troop intervention at the soonest possible moment.

So it's time for the Congress to get down to brass tacks; spell out the exact conditions under which the commander-in-chief can supersede the constitutional authority of governors.

Dropping food, water and medical supplies into a zone already hit by a natural disaster is not a hard improvisational feat for the US military, as the quick response to the tsunami showed. But this is not the same as improvising the evacuation of a city and environs within three days.

The goal is not to force the military into improvisation. For that, a 'culture' has to be established whereby the citizens understand that they are ready to leave when the troops show up to escort them to shelter. And the military needs to do all the evacuation planning and drill well in advance of the evacuation operation.

Reminder to Americans: the role of the soldier is to kill people and break things. If they get really efficient at playing the role there is a conceivable dual use -- that of saving a large number of lives via managing evacuations, relief efforts and quarantines. However, one shouldn't expect Betty Crocker to show up at the door. Once the Department of Defense plays guardian angel, you do things the CENTCOM way.

John Batchelor recently remarked to his audience that Americans prize liberty above order. Yet we all saw that one doesn't have much liberty while stuck in an attic in a flooded house or pacing a roof for days in 90 degree heat. So I think there has to be a better balance achieved between what Americans prize and what we need.

1) Miami Herald

2) The Myth of Posse Comitatus

3) Stafford Act

Sunday, September 18

Voting Day

Two historic elections today -- one in a country that has never before respected women's rights, the other in a country that's in effect voting for a female leader for the first time in its history.

In Germany, Angela Merkel observed that never before has she been so aware of her gender in politics.

I think, I hope, the polls in Germany are wrong: the election is not as close as predicted. Germans should have enough common sense to elect Merkel's party by enough majority to escape the need for a counterproductive coalition. Otherwise, why not stick with peddling backward under Schröder and his dead-end party?

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, female candidates are just trying to live through the experience of running for office. There is also the problem of how to run for office if you can't leave the house.

In villages and remote areas, often women are simply not allowed to leave their homes, let alone publicly campaign and run for office. Many women candidates are forced to hold campaign meetings in their homes. Limited access to public platforms hampers women's ability to effectively campaign. And women who can appear in public are not allowed to appear in all public places.

There is also the problem of bringing the wrath of Allah down on one's head. Along with garden variety intimidation -- beatings, death threats -- faced by female candidates, they have to contend with warnings that prayers won't be recognized if people vote for female candidates.

“This is a serious threat against women in the society,” one female candidate observed with understatement.

When Osama bin Laden settled into Afghanistan, he bought the minor chieftains for as little as 300 rupees apiece; the big cheeses he bought for ten thousand bucks each.

Foolish men. It takes two types of outlook to survive if you can't keep capturing slaves to do your thinking for you.

Well, they have to elect at least some females to office. Afghan electoral law requires that at least 68 of the 249 seats in the general assembly are reserved for women.

Saturday, September 17

Louisiana misplaces 60 million FEMA dollars; FEMA Ice Follies tour USA

Zut alors! After decades of rotting away beneath the surface of the US national media's attention, Louisiana is finally getting the star treatment! Brace yourself; you'll soon be learning more about crime, corruption and just plain mismanagement in the Magnolia State than anyone ever wanted to know. And here Pundita thought Brazilians were having all the fun, what with televised hearings on corruption in Lula's government!

Today's Los Angeles Times digs up enough scandal to keep tongues wagging all week:
Louisiana Officials Indicted Before Katrina Hit
Federal audits found dubious expenditures by the state's emergency preparedness agency, which will administer FEMA hurricane aid.
By Ken Silverstein and Josh Meyer
September 17, 2005

WASHINGTON - Senior officials in Louisiana's emergency planning agency already were awaiting trial over allegations stemming from a federal investigation into waste, mismanagement and missing funds when Hurricane Katrina struck.

And federal auditors are still trying to track as much as $60 million in unaccounted for funds that were funneled to the state from the Federal Emergency Management Agency dating back to 1998.

In March, FEMA demanded that Louisiana repay $30.4 million to the federal government.

The problems are particularly worrisome, federal officials said, because they involve the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, the agency that will administer much of the billions in federal aid anticipated for victims of Katrina. [...]

Details of the ongoing criminal investigations come from two reports by the inspector general's office in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which oversees FEMA, as well as in state audits, and interviews this week with federal and state officials.

The reports were prepared by the federal agency's field office in Denton, Texas, and cover 1998 to 2003. [...]

Much of the FEMA money that was unaccounted for was sent to Louisiana under the Hazard Mitigation Grant program, intended to help states retrofit property and improve flood control facilities, for example. [...]
For the rest of the Los Angeles Times story and the juicy details, click on this link.

The reporters did a great job of -- what's that wailing sound reaching Pundita's ears? Oh for heaven's sake; the FEMA Fan Club feels neglected! Lucky for you, Lisa Myers and the rest of NBC's Investigative Unit are on a roll:
Fema Ice Follies
By Lisa Myers & the NBC Investigative Unit
NBC News
Updated: 7:37 p.m. ET Sept. 16, 2005
Initially, after Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, was slow in getting ice and water to victims. NBC News decided to look at the ice situation now, as a microcosm of the relief effort, and found that FEMA ordered plenty of ice -- but getting it to those who need it has been chaotic.

Outside New Orleans, Lori Rosete waited an hour to get ice to preserve food and chill her mother’s insulin.

“We just need this to keep coming,” said Rosete, “and do what we have to do, you know? Ration until we can't ration no more.”

Friday, NBC News located hundreds of trucks full of ice sitting around the country: in Maryland, Missouri, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana. Some had been on trips to nowhere for the past two weeks.

Elizabeth Palmer is a truck driver in Carthage, Mo.

“We really don’t understand,” said Palmer, “why FEMA is sending to all these different locations and just putting us in cold storage.”

Dan Wessels’ Cool Express ice company has worked with FEMA for years. He says he's never seen anything like it -- only one-third of his trucks have actually unloaded the ice that FEMA ordered.

“The left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing,” said Wessels. “The right hand is telling us to go to the left hand. We get to the left hand, they tell us to go back."

For example, one truck of ice left Oshkosh, Wis., on Sept. 6, and went to Louisiana. Then it was sent by FEMA to Georgia but was rerouted before it arrived to South Carolina, then to Cumberland, Md., where it has been sitting for three days at an added cost to taxpayers so far of $9,000. Multiplied by hundreds of trucks, this sort of dispatching could mean millions of dollars are being wasted.

"From a trucking aspect, I'm happy. Keep it coming," said Wessels. "From a taxpayer aspect, it's sick."

A FEMA official says, in the rush to respond to Katrina, the agency ordered too much ice. Rather than let it melt, they sent it to other parts of the country to be ready for the next hurricane.

But Wessels says FEMA just ordered more ice and re-routed some of his trucks again -- to Idaho.

Lisa Myers is NBC’s senior investigative correspondent.
By the way NBC is setting up a permament bureau in New Orleans (reportedly CNN is doing the same), so NBC's Ice Follies only picks at the tip of the iceberg, if you'll pardon the expression.

However, orientation is necessary before we embark on a festival of scandalous news. Thus, today's earlier Pundita post looks at New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana's Kathleen Blanco and her first year as governor.

For readers who saw the 'early edition' of the post: at 2:30 PM, EDT I added more footnotes and linked the book titles under discussion. Also, Dan at Riehl World View picked up on the Cuba angle mentioned in the post and put forth his thoughts.

The winds of Katrina have blown the lid off many, many things.