People Get Ready

[ make levees, not war ]

Archive for December, 2005

New Year’s Eve bonfire is a go

Posted by schroeder915 on December 31, 2005

The annual New Year’s Eve bonfire on the neutral ground in Mid-City at Orleans and Carrollton compares to the peaceful anarchy of the Burning Man project, although on a much smaller scale, people do keep their clothes on, and there’s no music … although there are quite a few hippies. Friends and neighbors have been celebrating the passing year by throwing their Christmas trees onto a bonfire every New Year’s Eve for as long as I can remember. It’s one of those unique celebrations that one can only find in New Orleans. Note: the Orleans and Carrollton neutral ground is one of the broadest in the city.

Neighbors were saying today that a bunch of contractors cleared away the pile of trees yesterday (probably thinking it was just hurricane trash). So bring your contributions … ahem, they are not accepting your moldy furniture — just trees thank you. The fire gets started at about 11:00.

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New Year’s Eve bonfire is a go

Posted by schroeder915 on December 31, 2005

The annual New Year’s Eve bonfire on the neutral ground in Mid-City at Orleans and Carrollton compares to the peaceful anarchy of the Burning Man project, although on a much smaller scale, people do keep their clothes on, and there’s no music … although there are quite a few hippies. Friends and neighbors have been celebrating the passing year by throwing their Christmas trees onto a bonfire every New Year’s Eve for as long as I can remember. It’s one of those unique celebrations that one can only find in New Orleans. Note: the Orleans and Carrollton neutral ground is one of the broadest in the city.

Neighbors were saying today that a bunch of contractors cleared away the pile of trees yesterday (probably thinking it was just hurricane trash). So bring your contributions … ahem, they are not accepting your moldy furniture — just trees thank you. The fire gets started at about 11:00.

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Floodwall failure linked to about 600 deaths

Posted by schroeder915 on December 31, 2005

By John Simerman, Dwight Ott and Ted Mellnik

December 30, 2005

NEW ORLEANS — Nearly 600 people who died because of Hurricane Katrina might have survived had floodwalls on two New Orleans canals not collapsed, according to a Knight Ridder analysis of where bodies were found after the storm.

The bodies of at least 588 people were recovered in neighborhoods that engineers say would have remained largely dry had the walls of the 17th Street and London Avenue canals not given way after the height of the storm.

In contrast, 286 bodies were recovered in the Lower Ninth Ward, New Orleans East and neighboring St. Bernard Parish, where Katrina’s storm surge poured over levees and flooded neighborhoods.

The role of the 17th Street and London Avenue canal floodwalls in the destruction of New Orleans has been hotly debated in the four months since the storm. Engineers who are investigating their collapse think that floodwaters generated by Katrina never rose high enough to pour over the walls, and they blame flawed design, construction or maintenance for the walls’ failure and the flooding that followed.

Louisiana authorities are investigating whether laws were broken during construction of the floodwalls, but until now there’s been no attempt to quantify how much their failure may have contributed to New Orleans’ death toll.

Louisiana State University hurricane expert Ivor Van Heerden said there was no doubt that vast areas of the city would have remained dry, and residents relatively unscathed, had the walls of the 17th Street and London Avenue canals not collapsed.

Asked in an e-mail whether the majority of the city would have stayed largely dry had those floodwalls held, Van Heerden replied: “A big yes.”

Peter Nicholson, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Hawaii, said some flooding in central New Orleans came from breaches on the west side of the Industrial Canal, but that those breaches were above sea level and the flooding stopped as Katrina’s surge died down Aug. 29.

“The big difference is with 17th Street and London the breaches opened gaps that were below sea level and continued to drain Lake Pontchartrain until they were closed,” Nicholson said.

This confounded rescue efforts and left thousands stranded in darkened hospitals, attics, on freeway overpasses or in the foul refuges of the Superdome and the convention center.

Dr. Frank Minyard, the Orleans Parish coroner, has estimated that 20 percent of Katrina’s victims drowned. Scores more died awaiting rescue, trapped by floodwaters. The causes of death for many will never be known because their bodies were too badly decomposed by the time they were recovered.

Months after Katrina’s landfall, experts are still debating how the tragedy might have been avoided. Local officials ordered an evacuation of New Orleans, but perhaps not soon enough. Tens of thousands of residents ignored the evacuation order. Federal help came slowly.

Debate also continues over what part Louisiana’s fractured system for governing the levees played in the flooding. In addition to the two canals whose floodwalls collapsed, engineers reported poor maintenance and construction practices at scores of places throughout the vast levee system.

Louisiana officials are still tabulating the death toll, which stands at nearly 1,100 statewide. Dr. Louis Cataldie, the state medical examiner, said a precise total might never be known.

The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, in response to a request from Knight Ridder, released a list this month of nearly 600 locations where at least 874 bodies had been recovered in Orleans and St. Bernard parishes, the two areas in Louisiana that Katrina hit the hardest.

Louisiana health officials say the list is incomplete, and a review of the data showed some inaccuracies.

But the addresses provided the first comprehensive view of where Katrina’s New Orleans victims were found and allowed a systematic look at the dead for the first time.

The addresses showed that far more dead were recovered in western and central New Orleans than in the city’s eastern neighborhoods, even though the Lower Ninth Ward, New Orleans East and St. Bernard Parish received the storm’s harshest battering.

Van Heerden, the LSU hurricane expert, said the flooding in the eastern areas began shortly before the storm made landfall at 6:10 a.m. – an 18-foot storm surge from Lake Borgne destroyed much of the earthen levee system that had protected St. Bernard Parish. Most of the parish’s 123 victims drowned in their homes, said Dr. Bryan Bertucci, the parish coroner.

By 6:30 a.m., water as high as 17 feet surged into a convergence of two channels east of New Orleans, engineers believe. It overwhelmed the levees, added to the flooding in St. Bernard Parish and began to flood the Lower Ninth Ward.

Just before 7 a.m., water poured over the top of the Industrial Canal, separating the Lower Ninth and New Orleans East from the rest of the city. The water eroded the back side of the levee, scouring out trenches that undermined the walls.

About 7:45 a.m., walls protecting the Lower Ninth were “explosively breached,” and a head of water almost 20 feet high mowed down houses in its path, Van Heerden said.

But Van Heerden’s re-creation of the storm’s flooding indicates that as the storm’s eye moved north to the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain, the surge that had buried St. Bernard Parish leveled off.

Most of central and western New Orleans remained dry – until the 17th Street and London Avenue canals’ floodwalls collapsed.

Van Heerden, the deputy director of LSU’s Hurricane Center, places the collapse of the 17th Street Canal wall at about 10:30 a.m., though others have reported it hours earlier. The breach would expand to 455 feet. The water overran the upscale Lakeview neighborhood and gradually filled the city.

At the London Avenue Canal, the 11-inch-thick concrete floodwalls bowed and then breached on both sides, at about 9:30 and 10:30 a.m. The two breaches measured 425 and 720 feet, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.

In central New Orleans, the water rose at different times, speeds and heights, depending on the neighborhood, and often the street. Water didn’t reach some areas until the next day. It leveled off two days after the storm.

New Orleans police Sgt. Forrest Austin’s mother, Winona Austin, 82, might have lived through the storm if water from the London Avenue Canal hadn’t inundated her home in the Gentilly neighborhood.

“I got a guilty feeling because I didn’t grab her by the arm and drag her out,” he said. His mother’s body wasn’t recovered until three weeks after Katrina.

Arthur Batieste Jr., 78, a retired truck mechanic, rode out the storm with others at Second Mount Bethel Baptist Church. Then he went back to his home on Toledano Street, west of the Superdome. Water from the 17th Street Canal reached there early the day after the storm, rising eventually to 9 feet. Batieste’s body was found two weeks later outside his house.

“I talked to him [that] Monday from the church on his cell phone a few times. He didn’t tell me he was going back,” said his daughter, Sharrell Irvin. “I guess people thought it was OK.”

John Simerman and Dwight Ott, reporting from New Orleans, and Ted Mellnik, reporting from Charlotte, N.C., write for Knight Ridder newspapers.

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What do good people do when bad things happen?

Posted by schroeder915 on December 30, 2005

An anonymous post in an earlier PGR collection of photos from St. Louise de Marillac Church in Arabi (St. Bernard Parish), in addition to the tragic reports I’m hearing and reading of suicides caused by the despair Hurricane Katrina has created — and which our government has allowed — prompts me now to post this reflection printed in an October Clarion Herald. It was composed by a Catholic priest of whom I am not very fond because he has allowed his orthodoxy and conservatism to narrow his understanding and compassion, nevertheless, he found the right words and tone here — and I don’t think you have to be Catholic (I’m not) to find your own meaning in the message:

To borrow a line: These are the times that try our souls. Times are especially trying for those who believe in an all-powerful, loving and knowing God. Faith is not only tested but also stretched to its limits. The usual pious bromides offer little relief. We want our faith to offer understanding in the face of the mystery of this physical evil.

First of all Catholic theology is faith seeking understanding. However, faith does not become reduced to a pure intellectual explanation. Neither does understanding give way to a pure faith devoid of reason. Faith and reason together offer us some insight into the mysteries, of which evil is one, of human existence.

Second, the mystery of physical evil is not a problem to be solved but a mystery that unfolds. If we approach Katrina as a problem we will continue to demand answers to all our questions. The main question that torments us is “why”? Honesty requires that we honestly say there is no good, satisfying answer as to why bad things happen to good people. Katrina is not a problem but a mystery. This does not mean that we cease questioning and stop the search for understanding. Rather, when we say that Katrina is a mystery to unfold this prompts us to ask a different question. We do not ask the “why” question (“Why do bad things happen to good people?”) but we ask the “what” question. Specifically, we ask: “What do good people do when bad things happen?”

This crucial shift in questions is the beginning of a peace that flows from action and solidarity. If we re-main fixed in the “why” question, we become paralyzed and incapable of action. We play endless mind games. We are forever victims of bad luck, fate or a God who is powerless or indifferent to our plight. Doubt and confusion give way to anger, depression and despair.

If we can refocus to the “what” question – what do good people do when bad things happen? – we begin to break the chains of fear and victimhood. We are liberated to act in response to God’s grace. Grace builds on nature. We are also liberated to be for others. A sense of solidarity overcomes the isolation that reduces the universe to the puny self. We are drawn out of ourselves. We become other-remembering and self-forget-ting. This dynamic brings us back to the heart of the Gospel: It is in dying to ourselves that we truly find God and ourselves. Of course, this sounds strange to the ears of a culture at-tuned to looking out for No. 1 and the need for self-promotion.

Let us return: What do good people do when bad things happen? Good people are not overcome. We strive to higher levels of service, generosity, heroism and valor. We do not give in to the pettiness and smallness of spirit that prevents us from reaching out to others. We are not frozen by fear and locked into a self-pity that keeps us from keeping on with life.

Hurricane Katrina has taught us many lessons about what really matters. We have come to see how fragile is life. So quickly can all of our material possessions and well-tested routines be swept aside. Things that seem so solid have evaporated into air and been washed away in the fury of rushing waters.

We also have come to experience what it means to be a pilgrim. We often talk of our faith as a journey. For many of us this is no longer a metaphor but a deep reality. It is our faith that keeps us together and moving forward. Earth is not our lasting home. We are made for heaven and glory beyond this passing world. We are alien-residents whose final rest will come when we rest in the One who is our true peace.

Finally, we are reminded how much life is connected to life. The myth of individualism has been exposed. We cannot live on our own. Dislocation means dependency. We recognize the limits of our abilities and resources. We come to appreciate the generosity and gifts of others. We come to see how little control we have over others. In the end we must recognize that being in the presence of others is a gift. What gifts we have received from all who have helped us in the last few weeks. No doubt more gifts will come to us in the future. May God give us the grace to be gifts to others in their time of need.

This has been a time of testing for all of us. Like gold, we are being tested in the fire of this great destruction. But the Christian message is one of hope. As an Easter people, hope is our message. Hope is that which carries us forward to proclaim even now, more than ever, alleluia.

Father William Maestri

Have the people we chose to govern us and spend our tax revenues done enough to help those in need? What can you do to shame them into action?

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People are hurting

Posted by schroeder915 on December 28, 2005

The Times-Picayune:

Filmmaker Stevenson J. Palfi, best known for the award-winning documentary “Piano Players Rarely Ever Play Together,” is dead at the age of 53.

Palfi shot himself Dec. 14 at his home, his family told The Times-Picayune. Relatives said Hurricane Katrina had destroyed or severely damaged almost all of his property and possessions, and he was severely depressed.

I know depression, but I’ve never lost hope. Life is too precious to give up. I can’t imagine the depths of grief and hopelessness which has overwhelmed those who have in recent months taken their own lives, but because I can identify with their grief, I mourn their passing as one would a brother or sister.

We need help! We need hope! We need it now!

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Bush delivers last rites to the Gulf Coast

Posted by schroeder915 on December 26, 2005

According to a report in The Washington Post, twice the number of Americans believe rebuilding the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina is more important, as those who think Iraq is more important:

According to a poll this month for the Hotline political newsletter, which asked whether Congress should tackle Iraq or the Katrina recovery first in 2006, Americans wanted the Gulf Coast rebuilt by 58 percent to 28 percent.

Of course, the Iraq fuckup George created has to be fixed just as much as the Gulf Coast has to be rebuilt, but why are so many Republicans out of step with the priorities of the rest of America?

“I think the country has moved beyond Katrina at this point,” said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), former House GOP campaign head and now chairman of the House investigation of the response.

According to Tulane University historian Douglas Brinkley, Bush doesn’t think it’s worth it to preserve New Orleans as a unique cultural landmark representing a fusion of African-American, French, Caribbean and Southern traditions.

That ignorant view can’t be allowed to prevail in the State of the Union speech Bush will deliver before Congress at the end of January. Contact the White House now and tell Bush what a jackass he really is!

Just out of curiosity, I visited the White House web site to see what our monkey-preznit might have said in his holiday radio address. All he had to offer the people of the Gulf Coast still reeling from hurricanes Katrina and Rita was sympathy and a prayer (my emphasis):

This Christmas, we remember our fellow citizens who suffered from the hurricanes and other disasters that struck our nation this past year. We pray for their strength as they continue to recover and rebuild their lives and their communities.

Meanwhile, I guess monkey boy thinks he only represents Christians — so all the rest of you can just go to hell:

At Christmas, we give thanks for the gift of the birth of Christ.

Finally, hey monkey boy — it might be time for you to pay New Orleans another visit so you can at least update the White House banner showing you with that stupid deer-in-the-headlights look!

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Trickle-down Santa

Posted by schroeder915 on December 25, 2005

I’m in Wisconsin visiting family. It’s Christmas morning and it’s snowing sporadically, but fairly heavily — a White Christmas after all. I hijacked a neighbor’s wireless connection to check up on what’s happening in New Orleans.

Here’s a little Christmas story. Quoth the Dark Wraith:

Santa caught George W. Bush stealing presents from under the Christmas tree. “Why are you doing this?” Santa demanded.

George, arms full of toys and about to head out the door, answered, “Because I’ll give these toys to the rich kids, who will use them to make jobs for the poor kids, and then the poor kids can buy toys for themselves. It’s called ‘trickle-down’, Santa.”

Santa rubbed his beard and said, “Well, yes, I know all too well about ‘trickle-down’. It works every time.”

So George, looking quite pleased, scooted out the door just as all eight reindeer on the roof took a dump, which landed right on top of George’s head. Santa came out the door, took one look at George, and said, “Yep, ‘trickle-down’ works every time.”

(Hat tip oyster, who has a great Santa picture, and who steered me to the Dark Wraith Forums site where the Santa trickle-down story can be found, which has a spooky account of a Dartmouth student questioned by the Department of Homeland Security Ministry of Love for checking out Mao Tse-Tung’s The Little Red Book. The student was preparing a paper on totalitarian and authoritarian regimes).

12/25/05 update: An anonymous comment points out the hoax of the DHS story.

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Merry Katrina Christmas

Posted by schroeder915 on December 23, 2005

Give Louisiana a Christmas present that will last forever. It doesn’t cost a dime — and won’t even come out of your taxes. Sign the petition to allow Louisiana it’s fair share of offshore oil revenues — the same benefit that other oil-producing states enjoy.

We request sufficient assistance and a streamlining of the relief distribution process to better enable the businesses and residents of the Gulf Coast to help themselves recover from this crisis.

We urge the President and Congress to make a commitment to coastal protection, a marrying of coastal restoration and hurricane protection that is key to rebuilding and revitalizing the region.
We call on the President and Congress to create a continuous funding stream to support coastal protection efforts, through a fifty-percent sharing of federal Outer Continental Shelf revenues from offshore Louisiana.

Lastly, we ask and invite every member of Congress to personally visit the Gulf Coast region to experience first-hand the devastation and to realize the full scope of this national tragedy.

I’m leaving New Orleans for a few days. It’s the first time I’ll have left since I came back three weeks after Hurricane Katrina. I could use a healthy dose of long highways to clear my head, and a change of scenery to get some perspective. So PGR will be down for about a week. Until then, I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas, or Hannakah or Chanukah, or Kwanzaa or … well, my friend Bill said it better than I could:

Now, I hope you’ve been good this year, because I already told Santa that everyone on my distribution list should get whatever (or whoever) they want for Christmas, or whatever holiday you celebrate. Actually, I didn’t tell him anything about naughty or nice, I just said you deserve what you get, I mean want. Yeah, you deserve to get what you want. …

If you travel be safe, if you’re with relatives be nice, if you’re with in-laws try to be nice, if you’re in-laws are your relatives, good luck.

And just for the occasion, two more Katrina Christmas photos … happy holidays!

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Merry Katrina Christmas: New Orleans home foreclosures expected to increase

Posted by schroeder915 on December 23, 2005

The BizNewOrleans newsletter is reporting that of 419,243 home mortgage loans in Louisiana, 24.63 percent were delinquent 30 days at the end of September. This compared to a 6.69 percent delinquency rate at the end of June.

Although lenders didn’t initiate any foreclosures during the grace period which ended December 1st, many lenders are demanding that postponed payments now be paid in full. As a result, the number of foreclosures is expected to dramatically increase.

What many homeless and jobless Louisiana residents will do to make payments is anyone’s guess. The situation for Louisiana residents this holiday season is incredibly bleak. BizNewOrleans is reporting that personal income in Louisiana fell $32.7 billion from the second quarter to $97 billion in the third quarter, and a separate BizNewOrleans article reports that the total number of storm-related job losses is 603,000.

Need it bear mentioning again … and again … and again, to a nation that fails to appreciate the gravity of the situation, we’re talking about perhaps 400,000 residents from New Orleans alone who can’t return to their flood-damaged homes, who remain in hotels across the country, or guests in other people’s homes.

Is anyone listening? Where’s the outcry!

All of this bad news comes on the heels of the defeat in Congress of the Baker bill which would have created a Louisiana Recovery Corporation to buy damaged homes — a bill which I didn’t support.

Why? Fundamentally, I don’t think the Baker bill was being scrutinized well enough. I hope to be corrected, but until I hear evidence to the contrary, I think the bill would be bad for homeowners, transferring their hard-earned wealth in home equity to developers.

I’ve been withholding judgment on the Baker bill, mostly because I’ve been pretty drained lately making appeals for relief to finally arrive for residents of New Orleans and Louisiana, but after four months of delays by the Bush administration and Congress, the situation seems pretty hopeless.

Sure, Congress is about to send to Bush’s desk a $29 billion budget for hurricane relief, but there is little in that budget that would lead anyone to believe that Washington understands how unspeakably dire the crisis is. I’m happy to see that Congress is allocating $11.5 billion to help homeowners without flood insurance to rebuild their homes, but my understanding is that the money will only help people who lived in areas that weren’t zoned as flood areas. By why would taxpayers want to invest any money at all when the only funding for levees in that bill is about $2.9 billion to repair the miserably-engineered levee system that rings New Orleans? Contrary to what President Bush said, that ain’t enough to assure business owners (or homeowners) that their investments in rebuilding will be secure in the future. New Orleans needs an IMMEDIATE, IRONCLAD COMMITMENT TO BUILD CATEGORY 5 STORM PROTECTION, and the first ribbon-cutting on some significant portion of that project should be the Louisiana 2012 bicentennial celebration.

Rather than re-compose another argument against the Baker bill, I’ll just post here what I said in a YRHT comment:

I haven’t had the emotional energy left to finish a post I was working on about the Baker bill. But I’ll speak up here. Do you really like a bill that turns property over to developers after giving homeowners and banks 60 percent equity — so they can retain the right to buy back their property at a higher value? Remember, Baker made his money as a developer. Who would benefit? It always looked to me like this was a publicly financed get-rich-quick scheme for developers, paid for on the backs of hard-working New Orleanian homeowners. Okay, so I’m not in the real estate business — I may not know what I’m talking about — but why hasn’t anyone else asked this question? I don’t disagree that homeowners need some help — like, YESTERDAY — but I never thought this was the right approach — not at 60 percent equity. How about trading homeowner equity for shares in developer companies? Why not just buy out people’s homes outright? Why not help finance their reconstruction? Why should they lose 40 percent equity? You can do the math — 200,000 homes at an average of $200,000 per home = $40,000,000,000. That’s $40 billion to buy those homes outright, but Republicans in Congress were trying to limit spending on the Louisiana Recovery Corporation to $30 billion (if I remember correctly). Why would Congress need to allocate any money to a plan that turns over equity to developers?

Obviously, I don’t know enough about the bill to answer any of these questions, but the fact that I’m not hearing anyone else ask these questions really makes me wonder about the investigatory skills of reporters covering the bill, and the intentions of the bill’s sponsors.

I know that time is critical. I know that the 90-day mortgage-payment grace period has passed. I suspect that the better mortgage companies would rather negotiate with homeowners than foreclose their homes — especially if, with all of the present uncertainty, the future value of those homes is uncertain.

Please prove me wrong. I would truly like to believe that something good can be done for New Orleans homeowners, but I remain extremely suspicious of anything that sounds too good to be true, when nobody has any alternative views or plans.

Here are a few more bits of information to inform readers about the Baker bill.

The Times-Picayune reported on December 20th that bankers may be willing to negotiate rather than foreclose:

Banking associations said Monday that it’s not in the interest of financial institutions to foreclose on seriously damaged or destroyed homes because they have little value and carry significant cleanup liabilities.

“Borrowers should talk to their banking institutions and I think generally there will be a willingness to work with them and try to accommodate their situation,” said Joe Pigg, senior counsel for the American Bankers Association.

A December 15th Times-Picayune article described the 60 percent equity payment to homeowners and mortgage lenders, and cited that an estimated 205,000 homes were damaged by flooding in the New Orleans area:

According to the latest version of the bill, homeowners could get no less than 60 percent of the equity they had in their home before the hurricane hit, based on various factors. Lenders would get no more than 60 percent of what is owed to them.

Oh, by the way, I don’t think I mentioned who we can thank for this major fuckup. Sure, you can point the finger at Ray-Ray, Guv’ner Blanco, the Louisiana legislature, Congress, blah blah blah … but everyone knows that if he made it his priority, our pissbrained chickenhawk-in-chief monkeyboy preznit could fix the problem.

Instead, Bush is leaving New Orleans victims of Hurricane Katrina the equivalent of a sack of coal — to which I respond by calling on Louisiana residents to protest by hauling their soggy, moldy sheetrock and furniture to Washington and dumping it in a big stinky pile in front of the White House and on Capitol Hill.

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DHS: Dissembling Office of Hokey Superficialities

Posted by schroeder915 on December 22, 2005

This little opinion by The Times-Picayune isn’t being mentioned prominently anywhere else, but should be:

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff shouldn’t have any trouble discrediting notes that quote him as saying that post-Katrina changes in FEMA are just a ploy to make people think the agency is improving.

All he has to do is make sure that the Federal Emergency Management Agency actually becomes more efficient and responsive.

The notes are being circulated by the president of the American Federation of Government Employees local, which represents workers at FEMA headquarters. They were taken by an unidentified FEMA official who is supposed to have jotted them down during the past week in a meeting with Chertoff.

The source, then, is murky, and Mr. Chertoff’s spokesman has strongly denied that his boss made the comments quoted in the notes.

But there should be an effort to find out whether the notes are bogus or not. If Mr. Chertoff or anyone else with Homeland Security or FEMA said that changes are “a perception ploy to make outsiders feel like we’ve actually made changes for the better” that should be grounds for termination.

The bungled response to Hurricane Katrina demands true reform, and that’s the only thing that will make anyone feel better.

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