Wednesday, January 2, 2008

RAPING LOUISIANA: HOW MANY BRANCHES OF GOVERNMENT ARE THERE?


We are taught in school that in the U.S. we have three branches of government: the executive, legislative and judicial. Our “founding fathers” felt that this separation of powers would result in a system of “check and balances’ that would prevent either branch from gaining too much power. For many years this system worked fairly well, until the development of huge government bureaucracies. While, technically speaking, the bureaucracy is under the control of the executive branch, it has become a fourth level of government. Armed with its rule-making authority and protected by civil service laws, the bureaucracy is a decision making body that functions without the controls once envisioned by our founders. A bureaucrat sees presidents and congress-people come and go but they remain.

Rules and regulations are meant to protect and not abuse. However, bureaucratic abuse was and is still is rampant with respect to handling the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. A recent AP article (12/19/07) reported that a “FEMA official’s idea to speed up Katrina disaster aid was overruled.” That article notes that a FEMA official in charge of streamlining the flow of disaster relief funds and who issued a directive to cut through red tape was overruled by higher ups. According to Gil Jameison, head of Gulf Coast recovery, one of the reasons why the directive was overturned was to allow more review time for review of recovery projects. Apparently, according to the AP, none of the projects that went through the longer review process were denied. What was denied was help to Americans whose lives were shattered.

In my book, “RAPING LOUISIANA: A DIARY OF DECEIT” I show that even years after the deadly landfall of Katrina, this type of bureaucratic abuse still persists. Based upon my friend’s true account as a clean-up truck driver in Louisiana and current news reports, we see the bureaucracy still rearing its ugly head despite efforts by legislators and executives to make improvements. Having kept a diary of his experiences from November 2005 until January 2007, my friend Steve offers an account of bureaucracy gone wild. Among the abuses cited in the book are the millions wasted on trailers that have never been occupied and that pose a health risk. We see land confiscated by eminent domain because homeowners could not start rebuilding in 30 days-a wonderful rule! Water hook-ups were forbidden unless you were on the list and God forbid they would let you do it yourself when all that was required was to connect a hose. People were condemned for not taking jobs even though all of their clothes were destroyed and there were no daycare for their children. Without public transportation those who could work lost all of their pay taking taxis to get to work. Crews were not allowed to help even the frail or elderly clean-up their yards since the rules said all debris had to be curbside. Steve saw hundreds of instances of the elderly struggling to get trees, destroyed appliances and the shattered remains of their homes by the side of the road as crews just went by dumping the remnants of lives into mountainous landfills. These and more abuses are documented in “RAPING LOUISIANA.”

One reviewer of the book, Shannon Evans, says “Ignored, Forgotten and abandoned the Gulf Coast is still a hotbed of contention and corruption.” A July 2007 New York Times article, written only five months ago by Shaila Dewan, documents the continued abuse. She cited that as of may 2007 some 30,000 families were still displaced; 18,000 were marooned in trailers and that hardly any of the 77,000 apartment units destroyed in the hurricane had been rebuilt. With lost ID’s many were and are unable to get work. We have also seen recent reports of soaring drug use and suicides and murders resulting from the emotion of despair. Another reviewer, Katrina Stiles, says that the book discovers “a state raped by nature and a people deceived by their government.” Author Marjorie Doughty writes, “The separate political representatives that butted heads over power and lack of apparent caring on the part of FEMA and others is truly soul-shattering.”

As our climate runs amok and new natural disasters are reported almost daily it is frightening to know that an unresponsive and uncontrollable level of government, the bureaucracy, has our lives in their hands. Nancy Ward, who issued the overruled reduce red tape directive was actually promoted to head FEMA’s West Coast Division. While she may be one shining light, it seems the rest of the bulbs are burnt out. My suggestion, in case of emergency is, be prepared to care for yourself.

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