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News :: Media

Wireless World: Stopping wireless ID theft

A New Jersey State Superior Court judge this week ordered a company that had acquired customer names from a major wireless carrier without its permission to refrain from selling those customer profiles to others and to surrender the names and transaction records. The order in the case of Verizon Wireless vs. Source Resources Inc. is the latest round in the ongoing war centered on stopping ID theft today, experts told UPI's Wireless World.
By Gene Koprowski

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News :: Indymedia

The Web: Internet voting still a long way off?

Republicans devise new ways to steal elections - just 2000.

Some of the recommendations to improve electronic voting technology made by the election reform commission headed by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker provide only "marginal" improvements in election security, but they do keep the concept of Internet voting alive for now, experts tell UPI's The Web. By Gene Koprowski

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News :: Media

The Web: Anti-phishing 'posses' hunt criminals

Technology capitalists take the law into their own hadns - imprison criminals themselves.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last Friday signed into law the first state legislation that penalizes fraudsters who steal online identities through "phishing" scams, but Internet companies and banks are not waiting for the law to stop the cyber-criminals and are actively taking covert measures to protect their customers, experts tell UPI's The Web. By Gene Koprowski

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Commentary :: Prisons

To those who blame the victims...

This is an open letter to the man sitting behind me at La Paz today, in Nashville, at lunchtime, with the Brooks Brothers shirt:

You don't know me. But I know you.

I watched you as you held hands with your tablemates at the restaurant where we both ate this afternoon. I listened as you prayed, and thanked God for the food you were about to eat, and for your own safety, several hundred miles away from the unfolding catastrophe in New Orleans.

You blessed your chimichanga in the name of Jesus
Christ, and then proceeded to spend the better part of your meal – and mine, since I was too near your table to avoid hearing every word – morally scolding the people of that devastated city, heaping scorn on them for not heeding the warnings to leave before disaster struck. Then you attacked them – all of them, without distinction it seemed – for the behavior of a relative handful: those who have looted items like guns, or big screen TVs.

I heard you ask, amid the din of your colleagues
"Amens," why it was that instead of pitching in to
help their fellow Americans, the people of New Orleans instead – again, all of them in your mind – choose to steal and shoot at relief helicopters.

I watched you wipe salsa from the corners of your
mouth, as you nodded agreement to the statement of one of your friends, sitting to your right, her hair neatly coiffed, her makeup flawless, her jewelry sparkling. When you asked, rhetorically, why it was that people were so much more decent amid the tragedy of 9-11, as compared to the aftermath of Katrina, she had offered her response, but only after apologizing for what she admitted was going to sound harsh.

"Well," Buffy explained. "It's probably because in New Orleans, it seems to be mostly poor people, and you know, they just don't have the same regard."

She then added that police should shoot the looters...

Tim Wise is the author of White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son (2005: Soft Skull Press). He lived in New Orleans from 1986-1996. He can be reached at timjwise@msn.com.

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Commentary :: Civil & Human Rights

NO ACT OF GOD

FACING SOUTH
September 9, 2005 - Issue #114

Facing South is published by the Institute for Southern Studies and Southern Exposure magazine. For more information visit www.southernstudies.org
_____

HOW YOU CAN HELP - Supporting Local/Grassroots Groups in the Gulf
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR - No Act of God
INSTITUTE INDEX - A Tale of Two Hurricane Seasons
KATRINA IN-DEPTH - How the Bush Administration Undermined FEMA
SPECIAL INSTITUTE REPORT - The Corporate Incentives Hustle
_____

HOW YOU CAN HELP - Supporting Local Groups in the Gulf

Here at the Institute, we've received many emails and calls from people wanting to know what groups are doing good work at the grassroots level to support those affected by Hurricane Katrina.

We asked some of our friends and allies for suggestions, and they gave us some great ideas. Here are some resources for contributing to community/labor/progressive groups that have close ties to the region and are making a real difference. We'll expand on the list in future issues. Please be as generous as you can -- they need all the help they can get!

Local Organizations/Funds

Baton Rouge Area Foundation
http://www.braf.org/

Louisiana Environmental Action Network
http://www.leanweb.org

Moore Community House (Biloxi, MS)
c/o Children's Defense Fund
P. O. Box 11437
Jackson, MS 39236-1437

People's Hurricane Fund/Community Labor United (Louisiana/Mississippi)
http://www.qecr.org./index.html

Lists of Other Local/Community-Based Groups

National Organizers Alliance
http://www.noacentral.org

Southern Empowerment Project
http://www.southernempowerment.org/

Sparkplug Foundation
http://www.sparkplugfoundation.org/katrinarelief.html

Investigative Reporting Fund

As reports grow of a media blackout in New Orleans and other areas affected by Katrina, the Institute/Southern Exposure will be sponsoring investigative reporters in Louisiana and Mississippi that can bring to light the stories of those affected by Katrina, and the political and economic decisions being made in the wake of the disaster. If you'd like to support the ISS/SE Investigative Action Fund to sponsor these in-depth reports, please visit www.southernstudies.org or use the form below.
_____

INSTITUTE INDEX - A Tale of Two Hurricane Seasons

Amount of aid President Bush immediately requested after hurricanes hit Florida in September 2004: $12 billion
Number of hours after Hurricane Charley made landfall in Florida that Bush authorized federal assistance: 1
Date in September that a FEMA consultant wrote a memo suggesting steps to ensure the Florida hurricanes not become a "liability" for the president's re-election: 2
Days after the memo that FEMA announced the pre-storm deployment of "a powerful list of disaster response personnel, equipment and supplies" in Florida for Hurricane Frances, including 100 truckloads of ice and water: 2
Amount of Florida hurricane aid that government investigators later concluded was "questionable," including housing disbursements to families that had not asked for it: $31 million
Number of hours after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast that FEMA authorized dispatching employees to the region: 5
Number of days they were allowed to take before arriving there: 2
Number of days after Hurricane Katrina struck that administration was "still assessing" amount of aid to request: 4
Amount that the administration requested for Hurricane Katrina, the worst in history, after four days: $10 billion

All sources on file at the Institute.
_____

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR - No Act of God

"Strictly speaking, there are no such things as natural disasters." So reads the United Nations' International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, which we quoted in the winter 2004/2005 issue of Southern Exposure, entitled "Acts of God?: How Natural Are Natural Disasters?"

The U.N. goes on to say that in reality, hurricanes and other violent storms are just "natural hazards" -- which only turn into "disasters" if communities are vulnerable or unprepared for whatever nature has in store. That was the main theme of the investigative reports and historical articles we published in SE a year ago: that the death and destruction wrought by hurricanes, floods and other supposed "natural" events are, in reality, largely the result of very unnatural problems: poverty, racism and other divides between those who have and those who don't.

These realities have again been brought into gruesome relief in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and its devastating impact on the Southern Gulf region -- despite the attempt by some in the media and government to paint Katrina as an unpredictable and unpreventable "natural disaster."

One of the clearest examples of how Katrina was a political as opposed to natural catastrophe is how the ability of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to response to cataclysmic weather has been systematically undermined under the Bush administration, especially since it was brought under the Department of Homeland Security.

The media is now busy wondering "what went wrong" with FEMA in Louisiana and Mississippi -- but the story has been in plain sight for a while now. Almost a year ago, journalist Jon Elliston (a Southern Exposure contributor) wrote the below in-depth expose for The Independent Weekly (Durham, N.C.) documenting FEMA's demise. We believe it provides a useful background to the current tragedy still unfolding in the Gulf, as well as an example of the important of "alternative" media in bringing critical issues to light. Unfortunately, it was all too prescient.

As we concluded our lead editorial in the 2004 issue of Southern Exposure, "The sooner we stop seeing these developments as "Acts of God" and admit that they are the byproducts of policies that we can and must change, the better off we'll be. Indeed, our survival may depend on it." I'm sure those who suffered in the wake of Katrina would agree.
_____

KATRINA IN-DEPTH - Disaster in the Making

As FEMA weathers a storm of Bush administration policy and budget changes, protection from natural hazards may be trumped by “homeland security?

By Jon Elliston
Independent Weekly
September 22, 2004

Fridays don't get much busier than this. It's the morning of Sept. 3, and Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Washington, D.C., is running at a full clip, having mobilized a cadre of disaster-response specialists in its National Emergency Operations Center the day before. "This is our 'war room,'" a FEMA employee explains.

"Right now we're in 24-hours-a-day activation," he says. "It's a double-whammy." Indeed, the agency is still busy helping Florida recover from Hurricane Charley's punishing winds and rain when satellite images show that an even greater storm, Hurricane Frances, will soon make landfall. It appears so threatening that most of FEMA's personnel on the ground, along with 2.5 million Floridians, have evacuated from the storm's projected path.

Pleasant Mann, a 16-year FEMA veteran who heads the agency's government employee union.
Inside the op center, scores of personnel from FEMA and a host of other agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Health and Human Services, buzz around in what appears to be a state of controlled chaos. They work the phones, hover over computer screens and trade the latest weather forecasts. Using a time-tested system of disaster management, they've split their tasks into 12 "emergency support functions" designed to bring in food, water, medical care, electricity, housing, transportation and other desperately needed resources as soon as Frances moves on.

John Crowe, a Department of Homeland Security geospatial mapping expert detailed to FEMA to help track such outbreaks of rough weather, steps outside the building for a quick cigarette. "Everybody's really running into gear here," he says between puffs. "FEMA's ready, about as ready as they've ever been."

FEMA's relatively quick response to the hurricanes has thus far won mostly high marks from Florida officials, who remember well a time when the disaster agency seemed the last party to show up after catastrophes. In addition, President Bush has paid multiple visits to assure storm victims they will get whatever help is needed, and he promptly secured more than $2 billion from Congress to fund Florida's recovery.

As storms continue to batter the Panhandle, no one would call Florida lucky. But with national elections just around the corner, the hurricanes could scarcely have hit at a better time or place for obtaining federal disaster assistance. "They're doing a good job," one former FEMA executive says of the Bush administration's response efforts. "And the reason why they're doing that job is because it's so close to the election, and they can't fuck it up, otherwise they lose Florida--and if they lose Florida, they might lose the election."

Such political considerations may indeed make this round of recoveries go better than most. But long before this hurricane season, some emergency managers inside and outside of government started sounding an alarm that still rings loudly. Bush administration policy changes and budget cuts, they say, are sapping FEMA's longterm ability to cushion the blow of hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, tornados, wildfires and other natural disasters.

Among emergency specialists, "mitigation"--the measures taken in advance to minimize the damage caused by natural disasters--is a crucial part of the strategy to save lives and cut recovery costs. But since 2001, key federal disaster mitigation programs, developed over many years, have been slashed and tossed aside. FEMA's Project Impact, a model mitigation program created by the Clinton administration, has been canceled outright. Federal funding of post-disaster mitigation efforts designed to protect people and property from the next disaster has been cut in half, and now, communities across the country must compete for pre-disaster mitigation dollars.

As a result, some state and local emergency managers say, it's become more difficult to get the equipment and funds they need to most effectively deal with disasters. In North Carolina, a state regularly damaged by hurricanes and floods, FEMA recently refused the state's request to buy backup generators for emergency support facilities. And the budget cuts have halved the funding for a mitigation program that saved an estimated $8.8 million in recovery costs in three eastern N.C. communities alone after 1999's Hurricane Floyd. In Louisiana, another state vulnerable to hurricanes, requests for flood mitigation funds were rejected by FEMA this summer.

Consequently, the residents of these and other disaster-prone states will find the government less able to help them when help is needed most, and both states and the federal government will be forced to shoulder more recovery costs after disasters strike.

In addition, the White House has pushed for privatization of essential government services, including disaster management, and merged FEMA into the Department of Homeland Security, where natural disaster programs are often sidelined by counter-terrorism programs. Along the way, morale at FEMA has plummeted, and many of the agency's most experienced personnel have left for work in other government agencies or private corporations.

In June, Pleasant Mann, a 16-year FEMA veteran who heads the agency's government employee union, wrote members of Congress to warn of the agency's decay. "Over the past three-and-one-half years, FEMA has gone from being a model agency to being one where funds are being misspent, employee morale has fallen, and our nation's emergency management capability is being eroded," he wrote. "Our professional staff are being systematically replaced by politically connected novices and contractors."

So while they're far from where hurricanes hit hardest, FEMA's Washington-based disaster managers find themselves in the middle of a perfect storm of their own. "All Hazards"
FEMA has dealt with disasters since long before the term "homeland security" came into vogue after the 9/11 attacks.

Created by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 to handle the country's worst-case scenarios, FEMA has always struggled to define its precise mission. In theory, it's responsible for "all hazards," which means the agency coordinates efforts to keep the United States safe from the full spectrum of domestic dangers, be they "acts of God" like weather emergencies or acts of human enemies like al Qaeda terrorists.

In the 1980s, the Reagan administration endowed FEMA with extraordinary powers to keep the country running--powers bordering on martial law, critics argued. The agency became responsible for "continuity of government" plans devoted to salvaging national authority in the event of a nuclear attack. Other plans, drafted by the likes of National Security Council aide Oliver North, laid the groundwork for rounding up rabble-rousers in the event of societal breakdown, whatever the cause. (The troubling implications of the agency's early work had a long legacy in popular culture, thanks to the X-Files TV show and movie, which often referenced the specter of how FEMA-rule would supplant constitutional government.)

As the Cold War ended, FEMA turned greater attention to handling natural disasters, but the agency proved unequal to the task. In August 1992, Hurricane Andrew assaulted Florida and other Southern states with 170-mile-an-hour winds, killing 23 people and leaving a trail of devastation. The severity of the storm caught FEMA off-guard, and the agency did too little, too late to help the state recover, enraging thousands of storm victims. Several days after Andrew dissipated, Dade County's emergency manager famously pleaded, "Where the hell is the cavalry?"

Two months later, President George H.W. Bush paid a price of sorts at the polls when Bill Clinton shrunk the incumbent's once-sizable lead and came within two percentage points of beating Bush in Florida. It was an important lesson learned for both the politicians and the emergency agency.

In 1993, President Clinton's new FEMA director, James Lee Witt, set the agency on a corrective course. Witt, who had served under then-Gov. Clinton as director of Arkansas emergency management, embarked on an ambitious campaign to bulk up the agency's natural disaster programs while staying prepared for "all hazards." Witt's changes eventually reversed FEMA's reputation for being unfocused and ineffective. The agency garnered praise from both Democrats and Republicans for improving coordination with state and local emergency offices and turning attention and resources to the benefits of disaster mitigation.

"Mitigation is the cornerstone of emergency management," a FEMA Web site explains today. "It's the ongoing effort to lessen the impact disasters have on people's lives and property." Under mitigation plans, houses in flood plains are moved or raised above the flood-line, buildings are designed to withstand hurricane winds and earthquakes, and communities are relocated away from likely wildfire zones. According to FEMA estimates, every dollar spent on mitigation saves roughly two dollars in disaster recovery costs.

The need for more systematic mitigation efforts was driven home by 1996's Hurricane Fran, which killed 37 people and caused tens of billions of dollars in damages. In 1997, Witt established Project Impact, which would become the agency's most high-profile mitigation program.

Under the project, FEMA fostered partnerships between federal, state and local emergency workers, along with local businesses, to prepare individual communities for natural disasters. Impact partnerships sprang up in all 50 states. In Seattle, Wash., for example, the grants were used to retrofit schools, bridges and houses at risk from earthquakes. In Pascagoula, Miss., the project funded the creation of a database of structures in the local flood plain--crucial information for preparing mitigation plans. In several eastern North Carolina communities, it helped fund and coordinate buyouts of houses in flood-prone areas.

By the time the Bush administration entered office in January 2001, some 250 communities had signed up for Project Impact. FEMA seemed sturdy, having found its role and proved itself capable of fulfilling it. But in the field of emergency management, some things can change as quickly as the weather.

BUSH's FEMA

From its first months in office, the Bush administration made it clear that emergency programs, like much of the federal government, were in for a major reorientation.

At FEMA, President Bush appointed a close aide, Joe Allbaugh, to be the agency's new director. Allbaugh had served as then-Gov. Bush's chief of staff in Texas and as manager of his 2000 presidential campaign. Along with Karl Rove and Karen Hughes, Allbaugh was known as one part of Bush's "iron triangle" of professional handlers.

Some FEMA veterans complained that Allbaugh had little experience in managing disasters, and the new administration's early initiatives did little to settle their concerns. The White House quickly launched a government-wide effort to privatize public services, including key elements of disaster management. Bush's first budget director, Mitch Daniels, spelled out the philosophy in remarks at an April 2001 conference: "The general idea--that the business of government is not to provide services, but to make sure that they are provided--seems self-evident to me," he said.

In a May 15, 2001, appearance before a Senate appropriations subcommittee, Allbaugh signaled that the new, stripped-down approach would be applied at FEMA as well. "Many are concerned that federal disaster assistance may have evolved into both an oversized entitlement program and a disincentive to effective state and local risk management," he said. "Expectations of when the federal government should be involved and the degree of involvement may have ballooned beyond what is an appropriate level."

As a result, says a disaster program administrator who insists on anonymity, "We have to compete for our jobs--we have to prove that we can do it cheaper than a contractor." And when it comes to handling disasters, the FEMA employee stresses, cheaper is not necessarily better, and the new outsourcing requirements sometimes slow the agency's operations.

William Waugh, a disaster expert at Georgia State University who has written training programs for FEMA, warns that the rise of a "consultant culture" has not served emergency programs well. "It's part of a widespread problem of government contracting out capabilities," he says. "Pretty soon governments can't do things because they've given up those capabilities to the private sector. And private corporations don't necessarily maintain those capabilities."

The push for privatization wasn't the only change that raised red flags at FEMA. As a 2004 article in the Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management would later note, "Allbaugh brought about several internal, though questionably effective, reorganizations of FEMA. The Bush-Allbaugh FEMA diminished the Clinton administration's organizational emphasis on disaster mitigation."

In February 2001, for example, the Bush administration proposed eliminating Project Impact, a move approved by Congress later in the year. (On the very day the White House proposal was submitted, a magnitude 6.8 earthquake rocked Washington state, which was home to several communities where Project Impact had sponsored quake mitigation efforts.) Ending the project and trimming other FEMA programs, the White House argued, would save roughly $200 million. In its place, FEMA instituted a new program of mitigation grants that are awarded on a competitive basis.

The administration also made a failed attempt to cut the federal percentage of large-scale natural disaster preparedness expenditures. Since the 1990s, the federal government has paid 75 percent of such costs, with states and municipalities funding the other 25 percent. The White House's attempt to reduce the federal contribution to 50 percent was defeated in Congress.

At the same time, Allbaugh gave off contradictory signals on the value of mitigation, on one occasion chastising a community for doing too little to prepare in advance for disaster. In April 2001, he caused a stir when he asked Iowans, then in the midst of massive flood recovery efforts, "How many times will the American taxpayer have to step in and take care of this flooding, which could be easily prevented by building levees and dikes?"

A month later, the Washington Post reported that the Bush administration's moves against mitigation programs were causing worries in disaster-prone states. "Statehouse critics of the proposed cuts contend that in the long run they would cost the government more because many communities will be unable to afford preventative measures and as a result will require more relief money when disasters strike," the newspaper noted.

By ignoring the logic of fully-funded mitigation and other preparedness programs, Bush's first FEMA director earned some scorn among emergency specialists. "Allbaugh? He was inept," says Claire Rubin, a senior researcher at George Washington University's Institute for Crisis, Disaster and Risk Management. "He was chief of staff for Bush in Texas--that was his credential. He didn't have an emergency management background, other than the disasters he ran into in Texas, and he wasn't a very open guy. He didn't want to learn anything."

Allbaugh's troubled tenure at the agency would be a relatively short one. In December 2002, he announced he would leave his post. While political observers expected Allbaugh to join the Bush re-election effort, instead he set about creating a string of lobbying firms, including New Bridge Strategies, which helps U.S. companies win reconstruction contracts in Iraq. This summer, he started another consulting company with Andrew Lundquist, the former director of Vice President Dick Cheney's secretive energy policy task force. The firm's first client was Lockheed Martin, one of the country's largest defense contractors.

THE MERGER

The early problems at Allbaugh's FEMA, nettlesome as they were, paled in comparison to the challenges the agency faced after 9/11. In the wake of the terrorist attacks, leading members of Congress pushed for a radical restructuring of the government's anti-terrorism apparatus. Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) proposed legislation to merge several federal agencies into a new security-focused umbrella department. At first, the White House opposed the plan, calling it impractical and unnecessary.

But then, as former counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke explained in his recent book Against all Enemies, "the White House legislative affairs office began to take a head count on Capitol Hill." Realizing that the Lieberman Bill would likely pass both houses of Congress, with no credit given to the White House, in June 2002 the administration changed its tune, calling for a new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that would be even larger than the one Lieberman had proposed.

Under the administration's plan, 22 government agencies, FEMA among them, would be merged into the DHS. Analysts in and out of government warned against subsuming the emergency agency's vital functions in a new super-department. "There are concerns of FEMA losing its identity as an agency that is quick to respond to all hazards and disasters," the agency's inspector general noted in a memo to Allbaugh. Congress' Government Accountability Office judged the merger to be a "high-risk" endeavor for FEMA, and the Brookings Institution, a leading Washington think-tank, cautioned in a report that such a move could hobble the agency's natural disaster programs. "While a merged FEMA might become highly adept at preparing for and responding to terrorism, it would likely become less effective in performing its current mission in case of natural disasters as time, effort and attention are inevitably diverted to other tasks within the larger organization."

But Bush's proposal won out, and a shift in priorities from natural disasters to counter-terrorism immediately took hold. In its 2002 budget, the White House doubled FEMA's budget to $6.6 billion, but of that sum, $3.5 billion was earmarked for equipment and training to help states and localities respond to terrorist attacks.

Michael Brown, a college friend of Allbaugh's who had served as FEMA's general counsel, was recruited to head the agency, which would now be part of the DHS's Emergency and Response Directorate. When the reorganization took effect on March 1, 2003, Brown assured skeptics that under the new arrangement, the country would be served by "FEMA on steroids"--a faster, more effective disaster agency.

But the merger into DHS has compounded the agency's problems, says FEMA employee and union president Pleasant Mann. "Before, we reported straight to the White House, and now we've got this elaborate bureaucracy on top of us, and a lot of this bureaucracy doesn't think what we're doing is that important, because terrorism isn't our number one," he said. "The biggest frustration here is that we at FEMA have responded to disasters like Oklahoma City and 9/11, and here are people who haven't responded to a kitchen fire telling us how to deal with terrorism. You know, there were a lot of people who fell down on the job on 9/11, but it wasn't us."

The FEMA program administrator says the crux of the problem is that the agency is buried in DHS, which is regarded as a "do-nothing agency" among FEMA's action-oriented staff. "You know, FEMA could do well by itself, and FEMA was starting to do well by itself. But that's changed."

Rubin, the George Washington University researcher, agrees with these assessments. "DHS has done a number of things to FEMA that are making it very, very hard for FEMA to function as it used to," she says. "A large number of people who are experienced with natural hazards no longer are doing that primarily or at all."

On Aug. 4, 2003, Brown announced that FEMA would at least be permitted to keep its name, if not its status as an independent agency. He has insisted that FEMA will stay prepared for "all hazards," even the non-terrorist ones. "Yes, it's a new world, it's a dangerous world, and the Department of Homeland Security will have a focus on terrorism, but it's not the only focus," he said in early 2003.

But the tension between Brown's competing duties has proven unavoidable. In May 2003, for example, the DHS staged TOPOFF 2--officially billed as "the largest homeland security exercise in the history of the United States"--to test the government's ability to deal with a terrorist attack with weapons of mass destruction. The same week of the exercise, hundreds of real-life tornadoes ripped through the Midwest, causing some FEMA staffers to find themselves torn between practicing for terrorism and handling an actual natural disaster. And while resources for the DHS exercise were readily available, according to Mann, FEMA's headquarters staff was forced, that same summer, to cancel disaster training drills due to budget shortfalls.

WHITHER MITIGATION?

In 2003, Congress approved a White House proposal to cut FEMA's Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) in half. Previously, the federal government was committed to invest 15 percent of the recovery costs of a given disaster in mitigating future problems. Under the Bush formula, the feds now cough up only 7.5 percent.

Such post-disaster mitigation efforts, specialists say, are a crucial way of minimizing future losses. It's after a disaster strikes, they argue, that the government can best take the steps necessary to avoid repeat problems, because that's when officials and storm victims are most receptive to mitigation plans.

Larry Larson is executive director of the Association of State Floodplain Managers, an organization that keeps a close eye on mitigation matters. The Bush administration, he says, is "being penny-wise and pound foolish" by cutting the HMGP formula. His group has pressed Congress to restore the federal investment to 15 percent of disaster costs, and he expects that some legislators will soon take up the cause on their own. "Florida's going to be looking for mitigation money so that they can rebuild in a safer fashion," he says. "I'm sure that the Florida delegation is going to be thinking now about how the state can't do what's needed with the recent cuts in post-disaster mitigation--how they can't do today what they could have done before."

Pressed on this issue, Bush administration officials have said that the formula puts more of the mitigation burden on state governments, where it belongs. But the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) points out that, now more than ever, cash-strapped states cannot afford to pick up the balance. "The federal focus on terrorism preparedness has left states with an increased responsibility to provide support for natural disasters and emergencies," noted a report released by the association this summer. "State budget shortfalls have given emergency management programs less to work with, at a time when more is expected of them. In fiscal year 2004, the average budget for a state emergency management agency was $40.8 million, a 23 percent reduction from fiscal year 2003."

The administration also argues that its new pre-disaster mitigation grants, which are awarded on a competitive basis, will help states pick up the slack. But again, emergency managers say it's not enough. In recent congressional testimony, a NEMA representative noted that "in a purely competitive grant program, lower income communities, those most often at risk to natural disaster, will not effectively compete with more prosperous cities.... The prevention of repetitive damages caused by disasters would go largely unprepared in less-affluent and smaller communities."

And indeed, some in-need areas have been inexplicably left out of the program. "In a sense, Louisiana is the flood plain of the nation," noted a 2002 FEMA report. "Louisiana waterways drain two-thirds of the continental United States. Precipitation in New York, the Dakotas, even Idaho and the Province of Alberta, finds its way to Louisiana's coastline." As a result, flooding is a constant threat, and the state has an estimated 18,000 buildings that have been repeatedly damaged by flood waters--the highest number of any state. And yet, this summer FEMA denied Louisiana communities' pre-disaster mitigation funding requests.

In Jefferson Parish, part of the New Orleans metropolitan area, flood zone manager Tom Rodrigue is baffled by the development. "You would think we would get maximum consideration" for the funds, he says. "This is what the grant program called for. We were more than qualified for it."

BRAIN DRAIN

Within FEMA, the shift away from mitigation programs is so pronounced that many long-time specialists in the field have quit. "The priority is no longer on prevention," says the FEMA administrator. "Mitigation, honestly, is the orphaned stepchild. People are leaving it in droves."

In fact, disaster professionals are leaving many parts of FEMA in droves, compromising the agency's ability to do its job. "Since last year, so many people have left who had developed most of our basic programs," Mann says. "A lot of the institutional knowledge is gone. Everyone who was able to retire has left, and then a lot of people have moved to other agencies."

There are at least at least two reasons for the exodus. On the one hand, FEMA, like the rest of the federal government's civil service, is hitting a demographic brick wall. Its staff of veteran managers, most of them baby boomers, is reaching retirement age.

But another factor is at work: disillusionment at the agency's new direction under the Bush administration. In February 2004, the American Federation of Government Employees surveyed 84 FEMA personnel about the state of things at the agency. The results showed a dramatic downturn in morale: 80 percent said FEMA has become "a poorer agency" under DHS, and 60 percent said that, given the chance to move to another agency and make the same salary, they'd do so.

For some, quitting the agency has become an especially attractive option, since FEMA is outsourcing more and many former employees have found work with contractors. It's an understandable choice, Mann says. "They're saying, OK, I can't develop my career here any more, so I might as well cash out."

Not everyone who has left did so because of disenchantment, asserts Laurence Zensinger, a longtime FEMA official who resigned this year and joined Dewberry, a Fairfax, Va.-based engineering firm that does disaster work for the government. Under the DHS reorganization, he says, some of FEMA's capabilities have in fact been strengthened, because the new arrangement aids coordination among federal agencies that FEMA regularly works with. Furthermore, he says, the rise in public and governmental attention to emergency programs since 9/11 has, in a larger sense, benefited the agency. "I think there's a lot that's happening that's sort of lifting all boats," he says.

Nevertheless, FEMA must now get by with a smaller number of in-house specialists. The irony, disaster researcher Claire Rubin says, is that FEMA will now have to hire former employees like Zensinger as contractors. "Now, frankly, the senior brains and the people with 20, 30 years of operational experience, there's more of them in the private sector than there are at FEMA. It's a significant shift. If the government's going to get smaller and the catastrophes keep getting bigger, the net effect will be to outsource what you need. It might be cheaper, it might be more expensive, but it's not a great way to run this part of government." Following the current spate of hurricanes, she predicts, "you will see FEMA contracts flying left and right so they can get these people back who know how to do this stuff."

"AN EXPOSED NERVE"

In case Congress hasn't gotten the message, former FEMA director James Lee Witt recently restated it in strong terms. "I am extremely concerned that the ability of our nation to prepare for and respond to disasters has been sharply eroded," he testified at a March 24, 2004, hearing on Capitol Hill. "I hear from emergency managers, local and state leaders, and first responders nearly every day that the FEMA they knew and worked well with has now disappeared. In fact one state emergency manager told me, 'It is like a stake has been driven into the heart of emergency management.'"

Lately, though, Witt has had nothing to say publicly about the agency's performance. His disaster management company, James Lee Witt Associates, recently won a $250,000 contract with Orlando, Fla., to help the city get its share of post-hurricane FEMA money. A company spokesman says that Witt will be making no comment while Florida's recovery efforts continue, out of respect for his former colleagues.

Waugh, the Georgia State University expert, says that the recent hurricanes could serve as a wake-up call to highlight FEMA's drift in priorities. "If you talk to FEMA people and emergency management people around the country, people have almost been hoping for a major natural disaster like a hurricane, just to remind DHS and the administration that there are other big things--even bigger things than al Qaeda.

"This is an exposed nerve in the emergency management community, in the sense that resources have been shifted away from hurricanes, tornados and other kinds of disasters--the kind of disasters that are more likely to occur than terrorism."

Jon Elliston is a writer who specializes in national security issues. This article originally appeared in The Independent Weekly (www.indyweek.com) and was funded by the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies and includes reporting by Folio Weekly in Jacksonville, Fla., and Gambit Weekly in New Orleans, La.
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INSTITUTE SPECIAL REPORT - The Corporate Incentives Hustle

Cash-strapped counties and towns in North Carolina are spending more and more on subsidies to corporations promising jobs. But even as local leaders fight to land trophy deals, few are feeling economic prosperity.

By Jordan Green
Institute for Southern Studies/Southern Exposure

Ramseur, a North Carolina Piedmont town on the Deep River near where US 49 cuts across Randolph County, has depended on textiles for its economic survival since at least 1949 when the fabric and yarn factory first opened its doors. Town historians date Ramseur’s first cotton mill back to 1850.

For many years the plant was run by Burlington Industries. When the textile giant staggered in the 1980s, a smaller and leaner company called Ramtex, owned by the Hong Kong-based Textile Alliance Limited, bought the plant and took over production. Since then, town officials have taken to heart a message understood by many North Carolina communities: if you want to keep the jobs and the tax base, find creative ways to use public funds to enhance private enterprise.

So in June 2001 when one of the company’s reserve water tanks began to leak and rust, Ramtex didn’t even have to ask the town for help.

"We never approached the town," Vice President Bob Durand said, "The town kind of felt an obligation because we were also committing capital to modernize. It was a signal that we’re staying; we’re not leaving."

Company officials did not say in direct language that they would close the plant if the town refused to provide incentives, but Mayor Hampton Spivey said in a recent interview that the threat was implicit in a presentation made on behalf of the company that paired the town’s agreement to repair the water tank with a company commitment to invest millions of dollars in retooling the plant. In case the town commissioners didn’t get the message, the presentation noted that another unnamed North Carolina community might be more accommodating. As is often the case, the deal was brokered by a county economic development official, a matchmaker whose salary is paid by both public and private funds.

"Ramtex considering capacity expansion to add cutting edge technology with a new air jet spinning process," the June 2001 minutes read. "Expansion will allow company to remain competitive in industry sector under intense pressure… No link to job creation, but direct link to job retention… Competitor offered incentive package for similar expansion in Triad company."

Faced with the prospect of Ramtex shrinking or moving, town commissioners sprung into action, voting unanimously to give the company $49,410 to make the repairs. Not a lot of money for a big city, but for a town the size of Ramseur (Pop. 1,588) the cost came to $31.11 per resident.

Spivey said the grant was made with the idea "that maybe if it came down to them leaving they’d give it a second thought. There was doubt if we could even survive as a municipality if they left. We were like the coal-mine towns in West Virginia where if the mines closed then the town would die."

In return for the water tank repairs, Ramtex agreed to invest $14 million to upgrade its plant and keep the jobs in Ramseur. But city leaders say that hasn’t happened.

"I don’t think they stood up to their end of the bargain," said Spivey, the town’s three-term mayor. "They’ve reduced their workforce. Every year they cut the amount of taxes they pay us."

Ramtex claims it has put money into the Ramseur plant, but for Spivey the betrayal is self evident in the plant’s gradually atrophying workforce and ever declining contributions to the town’s tax base. Since 2001, the company admits, the number of wage-earning employees at Ramtex has dropped from about 630 to 470. In August 2003 the company shed 60 to 70 jobs when the bottom fell out of the market for woven fabric.

The company’s management doesn’t express any guilt over taking the town’s money and then laying off workers.

"No, with reduced capacity falling on weaving and the unforeseen circumstances in the textile industry," Durand said, "as you know, it’s been very hard in the textile industry."

But some Ramseur residents whose livelihoods have been tied to Ramtex don’t accept the claim that the vicissitudes of the textile industry excuse the company’s downsizing. One is 53-year-old Sheena Cheek, whose husband quit his job at Ramtex during one of its layoffs.

"If you drive around here, people are losing their homes," she said. "People work all of their lives and they ought to have something to show for it."

With anger flashing across her face, Cheek added: "I don’t like it when they take the people’s tax money and give it to a company that’s laying people off. They need to give it to the people who need it."

THE CORPORATE SUBSIDIES GAME

Across North Carolina, the saga that transpired in Ramseur plays out dozens of times a year in meetings of local leaders desperate to create jobs and add some measure of security to their communities in a rapidly-globalizing economy.

The issue of public money for corporate recruitment splashed across North Carolina headlines last year, when Texas computer giant Dell held private meetings with state leaders to draft legislation delivering them more than $240 million state giveaways to set up a manufacturing plant in North Carolina, all the while intimating they might move to neighboring Virginia if the deal fell short of their expectations.

What’s less known is the explosive growth of special deals for corporations at the city and county level, where often cash-strapped local governments give millions and sometimes tens of millions of dollars to companies promising economic prosperity.

For this report, corporate subsidy deals were analyzed from the last five years in 10 counties across North Carolina: the state’s five largest counties — Mecklenburg, Wake, Guilford, Forsyth and Durham — and five others from the mountains to the coast — Burke, Cabarrus, Randolph, Vance and New Hanover.

Since 2000, corporate subsidies have skyrocketed at every level in North Carolina. In the 10 counties chosen for this study, subsidies have ballooned from about $10 million in 2000 to $75 million in 2004.

Following the General Assembly’s approval of millions of dollars in state funds to Dell and the company’s announcement that it planned to build its new factory somewhere in the Triad, local governments plunged into a well-documented bidding war over the plant. The fight pitted Greensboro and Guilford County against Winston-Salem and Forsyth County. Even the city of High Point and Davidson County made offers. Ultimately Dell chose Winston-Salem after the city and Forsyth County put together an incentives package that outspent all their rivals.

At $37.2 million it stands as a high-water mark for local governments, outdone only by a city/county package in Durham that offered $43.5 million to a consortium of developers for the American Campus project. In contrast to the Dell Deal, the purpose of which was limited to creating jobs and tax revenue, the Durham project had the additional selling point of filling a vacuum in a downtown that has lost much of its commercial core over the years.

Over the past five years, the 10 counties included in this report have committed more than $185 million in public funds to corporations, provided they deliver promised jobs and investment.

Economic incentives spending by local governments over the past five years mirrors a sharp increase in state spending on grants to induce companies to relocate or expand in North Carolina. Often local governments are corralled into granting incentives by a network of economic development officials that lines up funding from state, county and municipal sources for corporations looking for a handout.

Incentives grants to private companies authorized by the state of North Carolina — including the state’s two primary incentives programs, the Job Development Investment Grant and the One North Carolina Fund, along with the General Assembly’s special appropriation to Dell — have ballooned in the past five years, from less than $1 million in 2001 to figures in the hundreds of millions in 2003 and 2004.

Yet despite the staggering sums of public money spent on these deals, many towns feel the same anxieties as before about their economic future. As in Ramseur, it’s often companies in old, stodgy North Carolina industries like textiles and furniture that are taking local public funds — only to lay off workers or, in extreme cases, shut down entirely just a few years later.

Even with this checkered record, local officials interviewed for this story said with misgivings that pressure to give out subsidies is only increasing.

"I think you’ll find we have to give out incentives more and more," said Timothy Pegram, chairman of the Vance County Commission. "If nobody gave incentives it would be fine. But with some giving it, all the others have to as well."

Read the rest of the report here:

http://www.yesweekly.com/main.asp?SectionID=18&SubSectionID=44&ArticleID=535


This investigative report was done in collaboration with YES! Weekly (www.yesweekly.com) and made possible with support from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation and the Bob Hall Investigative Action Fund.
_____

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JOIN OR MAKE A CONTRIBUTION TO THE INSTITUTE!

The Institute is a one-of-a-kind research, education and media center for progressive change. We rely on friends and readers like you to support our award-winning reporting, unique progressive analysis, and resources for activism. Join the Institute for Southern Studies/Southern Exposure or make a contribution today!

Three easy ways to join or contribute:

1. Visit http://www.southernstudies.org/support.asp
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Commentary :: Indymedia

MAKE MEDIA, MAKE REAL TROUBLE: What's Wrong (and Right) with Indymedia

A Indymedia ally critiques the movement... required reading for imc-istas

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Commentary :: Peace & War

Southerners Most Effected by War

FACING SOUTH
August 25, 2005 - Issue #113

Facing South is published by the Institute for Southern Studies and Southern Exposure magazine. For more information visit www.southernstudies.org
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INSTITUTE INDEX - Kids At War
DATELINE: THE SOUTH - News and Trends Around the Region
INSTITUTE SPECIAL REPORT - Southerners Most Affected By War
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INSTITUTE INDEX - Kids at War

Number of 16-25-year-olds in the Pentagon's military recruitment database: 30 million
Percent of schools receiving No Child Left Behind Act funding that must give personal student information to the military unless student opts out: 100%
Annual military recruitment budget: $3 billion
Amount this represents per enlistee: $11,000
Percent of enlistees that don't receive funding for college: 66%
Minimum number of years new enlistees must serve: 8
Of 16 states providing the most Army enlistees aged 17-24, number in the South: 7
Number of students that have opted out of the military recruitment database: 13,000

All sources on file at the Institute.
_____

DATELINE: THE SOUTH - News and Trends Around the Region

TENNCARE BATTLE GROWS, GAINS NATIONAL SIGNIFICANCE: Plans by the state of Tennessee to slice 190,000 people from TennCare -- the state's health plan for the poor, sick and disabled -- are being watched closely by other states battling rising health costs. The cuts have also drawn a sit-in of the governor's office now in its 10th week. (Facing South, August 23)
http://southernstudies.org/facingsouth/2005/08/battle-over-tenncare-takes-on-national.asp

TEXAS BECOMES MAJORITY-MINORITY STATE: Texas has become the fourth state to have a non-white majority population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, a trend driven by a surging number of Hispanics moving to the state. Texas joins California, New Mexico and Hawaii as states with majority-minority populations; five other states - Maryland, Mississippi, Georgia, New York and Arizona - aren't far behind, with about 40 percent minorities. (Associated Press, August 11)
http://apnews.myway.com/article/20050811/D8BTJN0O0.html

VETS DON'T SEE PEACE PROTESTS AS ANTI-TROOPS: A north Florida newspaper finds that veterans in the area -- and some active-duty military -- see peace protests as a critique of current policy, not them personally. "Everyone supports the troops" says one. (Pensacola News Journal, August 21)
http://www.pensacolanewsjournal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050821/NEWS01/508210332/1006

TOYOTA BYPASSES SOUTH, HEADS TO CANADA: In a blow to Southern states competing for the plant, Toyota announced it is setting up a 1,300-job facility in Ontario, Canada because Canadians are "better trained." The company lamented workers in Alabama and Mississippi who often needed "pictorials" to teach workers how to use high-tech equipment. (CBC News, August 1)
http://www.cbc.ca/cp/business/050630/b0630102.html">http://www.cbc.ca/cp/business/050630/b0630102.html

STATE LOBBYING TOPS $1 BILLION: An analysis of lobbying records in 42 states by the Center for Public Integrity finds that 47,000 interests now employ over 38,000 registered lobbyists to influence legislation at the state level. This amounts to an estimated five lobbyists and $130,000 in expenditures per state legislator. (Center for Public Integrity, August 10)
http://www.publici.org/hiredguns/report.aspx?aid=728

CAROLINA ENACTS LOBBY REFORM: Lobbying reform advocates praised legislation that passed the N.C. House and Senate that requires more frequent reporting of expenses and closes a "goodwill" loophole, which allowed unlimited spending on lawmakers as long as no specific legislation was discussed. (Raleigh News and Observer, August 25)
http://www.newsobserver.com/news/ncwire_news/story/2750065p-9187682c.html

THERE'S MORE: For a daily dose of unique Southern news and analysis, visit the Institute's blog at http://www.southernstudies.org/facingsouth
_____

INSTITUTE SPECIAL REPORT - Southerners Most Affected By War

New report reveals Southern region most tied to, impacted by, U.S. military and foreign policy

DURHAM, N.C. – As national debate grows over the Iraq war and the course of U.S. foreign policy, a new report shows that the U.S. South – more than any other region of the country – is the most tied to and impacted by the nation’s military and foreign wars.

The study by the non-profit Institute for Southern Studies, “Missiles and Magnolias: The South at War 2005,? analyzed which states provide the most military recruits, where troops are stationed, and which states attract the most defense contracts.

“Politically and economically, the South remains the heart of our country’s military,? said Desiree Evans, a co-author of the report and fellow at the non-profit Institute. “The South stands the most to gain – and the most to lose – from the fortunes and misfortunes of war.?

Among the report’s key findings:

*** The South provides a disproportionate share of the nation’s troops. An analysis of Department of Defense state reveals that 35% of the nation’s active-duty military personnel come from 13 Southern states. Of the top 15 states where those serving in the military are born, the South accounts for seven.

*** The South especially dominant in stationing troops. 51% of active-duty U.S. military personnel based in the continental U.S. are stationed in the South. Four of the top states for stationing troops are in the South: Virginia, Texas, North Carolina and Georgia.

*** The South has been the region most highly impacted by the loss of soldiers in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Of the U.S. troops that have died in Iraq, 38% were based in the South. 47% of those killed in Afghanistan were based in Southern states.

*** Southern states draw a substantial share of military contracting and production. An analysis of prime defense contracts reveals that 32% of the contracts granted in 2005 have gone to companies operating in Southern states, led by states rich in defense production such as Virginia, Texas and Florida.

*** Southern leaders play a critical role in promoting a unilateral and aggressive foreign policy. An analysis of voting records reveals the critical role played by the South’s Congressional delegation in promoting military investment and foreign wars. For example, in the latest scorecard by Peace Action, 58% of Southerners in the U.S. House and Senate scored in the bottom quarter of the peace group’s ratings on key votes for the Iraq war, arms sales, and support for the United Nations.

The report singles out North Carolina as one state especially entangled with current military operations. Troops from Fort Bragg’s 82nd Airborne and other North Carolina units have been heavily involved in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Nearly 12% of the casualties have been military personnel from what a new advertising campaign calls “the nation’s most military-friendly state.?

“This report drives home what most Southerners already know,? says report co-author Chris Kromm, Executive Director of the Institute. “Almost everybody in the South knows someone in the service, who works at a base, or is otherwise connected to the military. That has a big impact on how Southerners view the military and foreign policy.?

The study is an update of a 2002 report by the Institute about the South’s military ties. The study three years ago found that 42% of the country’s troops hailed from Southern states, 56% of continental troops were stationed in the South, and over 40% of military contracts went to companies based in the South or carrying out operations there.

“Clearly, the military’s impact on the South hasn’t changed over the last few years,? said Kromm, who was also an author of the 2002 study.

The 2005 report also notes the impact of military base closures and realignments announced this past May. Although the Pentagon proposal recommended closing or trimming over 300 bases and a net cutting of 26,000 military and civilian personnel, the Institute’s analysis found that the South stands to gain a net total of 15,500 positions at over 50 bases that would grow in stature under the plan – a huge shift of base strength southward. The Base Realignment and Closure Commission is now weighing the Pentagon’s proposal and is slated to make final decisions by September 8, 2005.

The Institute for Southern Studies is a non-profit research and education center based in Durham, N.C., and publisher of the award-winning journal Southern Exposure. To view a full copy of the report, please visit www.southernstudies.org
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News :: Peace & War

Cindy Sheehan: Coming Back to Crawford

After taking a break form her Crawford vigil to tend to her ailing mother, Cindy is heading back to the continue her protest. Here's what she's got to say.

Published on Wednesday, August 24, 2005 by the Huffington Post
Coming Back to Crawford
by Cindy Sheehan

I'm coming back to Crawford for my son. As long as the president, who sent him to die in a senseless war, is in Crawford, that is where I belong. I came here two and a half weeks ago for one reason, to try and see the president and get an answer to a very simple question: What is the noble cause that he says my son died for?

The answer to that question will not bring my son back. But it may stop more meaningless deaths. Because every death is now a meaningless one. And the vast majority of our country knows this. So why do more young men and women have to die? And why do more parents have to lose their children and live the rest of their lives with this unbearable grief?

The presidency is not bigger than the people's will.

And when the people speak out, it's the president's reponsibility to listen. He is there to serve us, not the other way around.

This isn't about politics. It's about what is good for America and what's best for our security and how far this president has taken us away from both.

I'm coming back to Crawford because -- now and forever -- this is my duty for my son, for my other children, for other parents, and for my country.

© 2005 Huffington Post

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