Friday, September 23, 2005,8599,1108972,00.html

Wednesday, September 21, 2005 to me

well, my blog won't let me upload pictures, so i guess no HNT this week. what the fuck? last night it wouldn't let me post with pictures. in fact, it wouldn't let me post at all. today, i find the post did go through, but according to it didn't. now, no picture even on my create window. fuck it. i'm getting tired of this crap anyway.

FEMA, Michael Brown and Bush


Election 2004

FEMA Chief Brown Paid Millions in False Claims to Help Bush Win Fla. Votes
by Jason Leopold
September 19, 2005

Michael Brown, the embattled head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, approved payments in excess of $31 million in taxpayer money to thousands of Florida residents who were unaffected by Hurricane Frances and three other hurricanes last year in an effort to help President Bush win a majority of votes in that state during his reelection campaign, according to published reports.

“Some Homeland Security sources said FEMA's efforts to distribute funds quickly after Frances and three other hurricanes that hit the key political battleground state of Florida in a six-week period last fall were undertaken with a keen awareness of the looming presidential elections,” according to a May 19 Washington Post story.

Homeland Security sources told the Post that after the hurricanes that Brown “and his allies [recommended] him to succeed Tom Ridge as Homeland Security secretary because of their claim that he helped deliver Florida to President Bush by efficiently responding to the Florida hurricanes.”

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel uncovered emails from Florida Gov. Jeb Bush that confirmed those allegations and directly implicated Brown as playing politics at the expense of hurricane victims.

“As the second hurricane in less than a month bore down on Florida last fall, a federal [FEMA] consultant predicted a "huge mess" that could reflect poorly on President Bush and suggested that his re-election staff be brought in to minimize any political liability, records show,” the Sentinel reported in a March 23 story.

“Two weeks later, a Florida official summarizing the hurricane response wrote that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was handing out housing assistance "to everyone who needs it without asking for much information of any kind."

The records the Sentinel obtained were contained in hundreds of pages of Gov. Jeb Bush's storm-related e-mails the paper received from the governor’s office under the threat of a lawsuit.

The explosive charges of mismanagement of disaster relief funds made against Brown and FEMA were confirmed earlier this year following a four-month investigation by Richard Skinner, the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general. Skinner looked into media reports alleging that residents of Miami-Dade were receiving windfall payments from FEMA to cover losses from Hurricane Frances they never incurred.

Hurricane Frances hit Hutchinson Island, Fla., about 100 miles north of Dade County, on Sept. 5. Miami-Dade officials described damage there from heavy rain and winds of up to 45 mph as ''minimal,'' according to the Post.

Indeed. A May 14 story in the Sun-Sentinel said: “Miami-Dade County residents collected Hurricane Frances aid for belongings they didn't own, temporary housing they never requested and cars worth far less than the government paid, according to a federal audit that questions millions in storm payouts.

Responding to those allegations, Brown held a news conference Jan. 11 blaming the overpayments on a “computer glitch” and said the disbursements were far less than the $31 million that was cited in news reports and involved 3,500 people. Moreover, to silence his critics who said that Hurricane Frances barely touched down in Miami-Dade, Brown cited a report by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to prove that there were legitimate hurricane conditions there and as a result that a bulk of the payments was legitimate.

But according to the Sun-Sentinel, NOAA had refuted the weather maps Brown claimed to have obtained from them. That report prompted Congressman Robert Wexler to send off a scathing letter to President Bush calling for Brown’s resignation.

Bush rebuffed Wexler. However, the DHS’ inspector general launched a probe to determine how widespread the problems were involving overpayments to Miami-Dade residents. In May, the inspector general released his report. What he found was damning.

“The review found waste and poor controls in every level of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's assistance program and challenges the designation of Miami-Dade as a disaster area when the county "did not incur any hurricane force winds, tornados or other adverse weather conditions that would cause widespread damage."

In identifying one of the overpayments, the inspector general’s report said FEMA paid $10 million to replace hundreds of household items even though only a bed was reported to be damaged, the inspector general’s report said.

"Millions of individuals and households became eligible to apply for [money], straining FEMA's limited inspection resources to verify damages and making the program more susceptible to potential fraud, waste and abuse," the report states.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, chairwoman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, said during a committee hearing in May that Brown “approved massive payouts to replace thousands of televisions, air conditioners, beds and other furniture, as well as a number of cars, without receipts, or proof of ownership or damage, and based solely on verbal statements by the residents, sometimes made in fleeting encounters at fast-food restaurants.”

“It was a pay first, ask questions later approach,'' Collins said. ''The inspector general's report identifies a number of significant control weaknesses that create a potential for widespread fraud, erroneous payments and wasteful practices.''

But the most interesting charge against Brown is that he helped speed up payments in Florida and purposely bypassed FEMA’s lengthy reviews process for distributing funds in order to help Bush secure votes in the state during last year’s presidential election.

Bob Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America, who was a top federal flood insurance official in the 1970s and 1980s and a Texas insurance commissioner in the 1990s, told the Post “that in the vast majority of hurricanes, other than those in Florida in 2004, complaints are rife that FEMA has vastly underpaid hurricane victims. The Frances overpayments are questionable given the timing of the election and Florida's importance as a battleground state.”

FEMA consultant Glenn Garcelon actions certainly lends credibility to questions raised by Hunter.

On Sept. 2, 2004, Garcelon, wrote a three-page memo titled "Hurricane Frances -- Thoughts and Suggestions."

“The Republican National Convention was winding down, and President Bush had only a slight lead in the polls against Democrat John Kerry,” the Sentinel reported in its March 23 story. “Winning Florida was key to the president's re-election. FEMA should pay careful attention to how it is portrayed by the public, Garcelon wrote in the memo, conveying "the team effort theme at every opportunity" alongside state and local officials, the insurance and construction industries, and relief agencies such as the Red Cross.”

Gov. Bush received the memo Sept. 30, 2004 shortly before a swell of payments made its way to residents in Miami-Dade who did not sustain damage as a result of Hurricane Frances.

A couple of weeks before Gov. Bush received the memo from Garcelon, Orlando J. Cabrera, executive director of the Florida Housing Finance Corp. and a member of the governor's Hurricane Housing Work Group, said in a different memo to Gov. Bush that FEMA was allocating short-term rental assistance to "everyone who needs it, without asking for much information of any kind," the Sentinel reported.

In addition, "standard housing assistance," of up to $25,600, Cabrera wrote, is "liberally provided without significant scrutiny of the request made during the initial months; scrutiny increases remarkably and the package is far more stringent after an unspecified time."

The DHS audit report found that, under Brown, FEMA erroneously distributed to Miami-Dade residents:

* $8.2 million in rental assistance to 4,308 applicants in the county who "did not indicate a need for shelter" when they registered for help. In 60 cases reviewed by auditors, inspectors deemed homes unsafe without explanation, and applicants never moved out.

* $720,403 to 228 people for belongings based on their word alone.

* $192,592 for generators, air purifiers, wet/dry vacuum cleaners, chainsaws and other items without proof that they were needed to deal with the hurricane. Three applicants got generators for their homes, plus rental assistance from FEMA to live somewhere else.

* $15,743 for three funerals without sufficient documentation that the deaths were due to the hurricane.

* $46,464 to 64 residents for temporary housing even though they had homeowners insurance. FEMA funds cannot be used when costs are covered by insurance.

* $17,424 in rental assistance to 24 people who reported that their homes were not damaged.

* $97,500 for 15 automobiles with a "blue book" value of $56,140. In general, the report states that FEMA approved claims for damaged vehicles without properly verifying that the losses were caused by the storm.

Jason Leopold is the author of the explosive memoir, News Junkie, to be released in the spring of 2006 by Process/Feral House Books. Visit Leopold's website at for updates.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Stormin' and Struttin'

well, we've got another severe storm warning plus high winds. the winds have taken down a tree and a telephone pole on my block. in the seventh inning of the giants/nationals game there was a loud crack and an equally loud pop. the tree broke at its root base, grabbed onto a phone line from across the street, failed to keep itself upright with that, went to the ground with the line still in its clutches and the pole (rotten from the inside out) followed. the police are here now with lights flashing to let drivers know they should take another route. no rain, thunder or lightning, though. speaking of police...
it seems there was a child abduction at heaton elementary school this afternoon (about a four minute walk from my house). the 7 year old boy lives at the end of my block. the cops put out an Amber Alert, so it's on the radar. i'm sure the registered sex offender down my other street will have had a visit by now (whether or not it's warranted)...
the lightning has now arrived. beautiful forked lightning with three, four and five prongs. it remains to be seen if it will attack my neighborhood ( it can pour rain two miles away and leave my house completely dry often). but the sky light is gorgeous. the clouds are forming overhead, looming dark and foreboding. the wind is picking back up again. i won't be surprised if the power goes out at some point tonight...
still waiting for some city worker with a chainsaw to get the tree off of the street. still waiting for SBC to come and look at the phone line on the ground. perhaps, police cars should be equipped with saws of some kind instead of just guns, vests, restraint jackets, tasers, mace, etc. at least they're here...
as for the fringe festival, well. it was a very good time. lecram and i partied it up, coffeed it up, played it up and networked it up. the hotel we stayed in this year (because the essex hotel was sold to the city) was, uh, functional. no perks like rooftop access or The Mirror That Looks Back At You. it did have beds and a bathroom. and, really, what more does one need (other than Magic Fingers)? however, there was no interest in hanging out there if it wasn't necessary. no more Air Travel Hotel next year. it's just too dandy a place for poor slobs like us. oh, and how do flies make it seven stories up and into an open window? i thought they had like a 30 foot ceiling or something.
i saw ten plays this time around. and i was 8 for 10 in the good vs. not good scheme of things. a much better average than most years. not too much nudity this year. but plenty of cheese throwing, canadian club sipping, laughing. i even got spooged on by a giant penis (took me 5 minutes to get it all out of my hair).
the food was, of course, fantastic. friday night we supped on vietnamese food (their meatloaf is very interesting). saturday it was roast beef and lamb (at original joe's, which was the site of a robert downey, jr movie shoot on monday). and sunday it was indian. we naturally hit the Sunshine Kitchen for breakfast one morning (you can get rice with your eggs, bacon and toast, but i DIDN'T).
and a lot of time was spent at the powell street BART station drinking coffee and trying to guess who was a native and who was a was a lecram thing. i won by pointing at him and yelling "TOURIST!!!" over and over again. the "scenery" was very nice with plenty of european women cavorting about along with the chinese stewardesses staying at our hotel. in the theater i developed a crush on the main actress from "Go!". she was pretty, but when she began acting she became beautiful. and stage talent turns me on like almost nothing else...
...the rain has arrived. heavy downpour. we'll probably get a quarter of an inch in about an hour. in some states that would be considered a fine spring mist, but here in september it's pretty much unheard of. the lightning is hitting about every five to ten seconds and it is almost directly overhead. the raisins (a bazillion dollar crop) will be ruined if this storm is widespread. i feel sorry for the policemen standing guard over the tree. and for the family of the lost little boy. this turn of the weather can only make it more fearsome...
we ended our fringe tour by attending the closing night party. now, in past years this event had been plenty boring and pretentious. i almost opted not to go, but that's where the bar was and generik (who is a hell of a host even if he wouldn't take me to a giants game and can't hold his liquor) and i weren't finished toasting each other. off we went and to my surprise it was a hell of a shindig. all of the actors showed up and stayed. whether it was because of all of the press they received this year (hadn't ever gotten any before) and a new sense of community was born or because they all thought they could win an award (and almost all of them did, because the festival founder greatly expanded the categories this year and very rightly so) or they had nowhere to go and the food was free or they wanted to meet those super sexy rogue festival creators and rub up against their auras...who knows? but it was a grand time for all. and the hangover wasn't so bad the next day.
on monday, lecram and i were up at the crack of ass (which is much later than dawn and shouldn't be experienced in front of the children) and down to powell station for one more gulp and ogle. then, we cruised it down highway 101 and over 152 with a stop for lunch at casa de puta. i had an unbelievingly normal burger with fries and lecram had the crow pot pie (i believe it was called the "casa de caw caw"). after a stretch and a good casa de poo poo we headed back to I-5 and cut over to 99 via the Firebaugh exit. a good trip back with plenty of good conversation, though most of it came from the radio. and in spanish. and they wouldn't take calls from wedos ("no habla honkie")..., KVPT (our local public station) is off the air and not showing NOVA. i assume it's because of the storm. and the pizza delivery guy is lost and asking me for directions to an address that doesn't exist (i directed him to the house of my former car mechanic). the rain is still falling, but not as hard and the light show has eased. i wonder if this is the lull before the back edge hits. that's how it usually works here. the front dumps and blows and acts like a colicy baby, then mellows like a pothead on primo weed who's into computer games, then hits again as it exits as if to say "bitch! don't you ever hold out on me again!"....
and that's it for my adventures in The City. a good time, but it didn't refresh me in the normal manner. at work today i was a son of a bitch. didn't like anything. didn't want to do anything. i was tired and my back hurt and they shorted me on my paycheck (but it turned out to be okay, bacuse they told me they could get away with next holiday pay period i will NOT be going into work on a saturday to help out a manager if they won't pay me overtime and they can just kiss my overqualified ass). tonight i'm better, because i left without working extra, got a nap in and watched the giants beat the nationals in a late inning comeback AND barry bonds hit a monster of a homer that shut up the boos (yes, virgina, he CAN hit them farther than santa claus, so shut the fuck up and go to sleep). and it looks like the padres lost, so the giants creep within 4 or 5 games with a handful left to play. exciting to the finish. and the giants beat the stinking dodgers head to head this year and could finish up better in the standings. bite me, L.A. and now we have a storm and i do so love inclement weather. it hurts my pocketbook sometimes when no asphalt can be paved, but rain is more important than asphalt. rain brings forth, asphalt covers up.

Storm Warning

just a quick post. i've turned on the television set (which is hooked up to the Dish Network) and it is experiencing massive technical difficulties. which means a storm is interfering with the satellites. and there is a storm warning for my fair city that includes heavy rain, thunder and lightning, and nickel sized hail. i'd say it might be on its way. cool. for me. not cool for the raisin growers (if one can say that about the people who make raisins. they don't really grow them, they grow grapes and then let those grapes lie on paper until they're mere ghosts of the fat, succulent crowd pleasers they once were). i'm going to try and post on my trip to the San Francisco Fringe Festival at some point today, but i'm still recovering from the vacation.