Wednesday, April 05, 2006
Big screen TVs part of Katrina relief effort?
For months, the people of St. Bernard Parish, a blue-collar community outside New Orleans devastated by Hurricane Katrina, have blasted the federal government, especially FEMA, for the slow federal response. Now, the Empire strikes back.

Local officials say FBI agents are looking into how St. Bernard Parish spent federal relief money. The agents are asking about everything from a $700 million contract to haul away garbage to the purchase of three big screen TVs.

Larry Ingargiola, St. Bernard Parish's emergency management chief, says the feds "are on a fishing trip, and this fish won't bite." He says parish leaders did what they had to do after Katrina as quickly as they could "to save lives."

Ingargiola also says some of the big contracts the parish signed without FEMA approval might not have been legal, but "it was the morally right thing to do."

Neither FEMA nor the FBI will comment on an ongoing investigation. But contractors who did not get some of the early action, who missed out on the big money deals, are crying foul.

Louisiana Legislative Auditor Steve Theriot, the person in charge of going over all the documents, says state auditors are reviewing every single purchase made by St. Bernard Parish since the hurricane -- a review he says will take not days or weeks, but years.
Posted By Susan Roesgen, CNN Correspondent: 11:47 AM ET
  27 Comments
The probelm here isn't that money is being spent on big screen tvs it is that we are trying to rebuild at all. I know that people in the New Orleans area want to move back, want to rebuild, want life to be back to normal, BUT it just isn't right. New Orleans and everything south and east of there should be made into a federal wildlife reserve--much like the area around Mount St. Helens. The evironment in the NO area is being recked by the people who are currently there, the barrier island are eroding, the swamps are being drained and levied...
We should 'cut bait' and run, leave New Orleans to mother nature and move elsewhere, Katrina should have been a wake up call, not a rallying point for revitalizing the area. Leave now, enjoy some other already developed area of the country.
Posted By Anonymous Brant, Madison, Wisconsin : 12:50 PM ET
Well, here we go again: The rich get richer and the poor just have to fin for themselves. They could have just given the money to organizations like 'Habitat for Humanity' or 'Section 8 Housing,' and would have had a better outcome. And if you think 2005 was a bad year, just wait until the fourth quarter of 2006. With the way our government is being lead, you ain't seen nothin yet.

America has a multitude of problems to overcome this year: loss of factory jobs, exporting of work to other countries, importing low wage earning Mexicans, global warming, increasing tornados and hurricanes, loss of land to fire and mudslides, lack of medical insurance, loss of pensions and government benefits, loss of government programs due to war funding, increasing crime due to the thousands who have become poor in the last year, just to name a few.
Posted By Anonymous Cindy, Canton, Michigan : 12:55 PM ET
Aside from the media hoopla concerning Katrina, the true nature of people became apparent. It is a sad day when people exploit a natural disaster of the magnitude of Katrina for gain. I as a taxpayer was disgusted by the residents in the disaster area "whining" about the lack of government intervention, all the while gladly accepting all the government freebies that were being handed out. Truly a case of "biting the hand that feeds you." Come on folks there comes a time when you have to put down the remote, get a job, and quit taking advantge of people's charity. And to the government...quit enabling people to be lazy and shiftless. We all understand that a part of our country was devestated by this natural disaster but it is time to move on.
Posted By Anonymous JJ, Las Cruces, NM : 1:02 PM ET
I hope that the people in charge down in St Bernard Parish have acted properly or they are no better than FEMA. The problem here is that where there is big money to be had practically no one acts properly. Do not collect $700 Million. Go straight to jail.
Posted By Anonymous Stan M, Baton Rouge, LA : 1:19 PM ET
I don't know about the value of the contracts let out, but Louisiana has the reputation of being one of the most corrupt political machines in the nation, so I would not be surprised to learn that they may have padded the bill.

However, the relief response has been so slow (a six month delay to bring back cadaver sniffing dogs?!!) that I have to say I don't blame the Parish officials for just going ahead.

As far as Brant's idea of turning it into an environmental reserve, that will never happen. There is WAY too much money at stake. I heard lots of pointless discussions about this on NPR and on TV. "Will New Orleans Be Rebuilt?"

Well, that was a lot of hot air looking for ratings. Regardless of being 20 feet below sea level and built in a ridiculous place, OF COURSE it is going to be rebuilt. There is way too much money to be made in rebuilding and in property speculation.

I read in the news the complaints that only the rich areas of town were being rebuilt and no attention was being paid to the poor part of town. Well, there is a perfectly logical hard-headed and cold-hearted explanation for that.

The areas to be rebuilt first are those that can provide the most income to the city in terms of tourist revenue or taxes. The Lower Ninth will be dead last--not because of its racial makeup--but because it has a lousy tax base, high unemployment rate, lack of revenue producing businesses, and a high crime rate. That adds up to a net drain on the city's financial resources.

If they can figure out a way to turn that into a golf course or something without taking all the PR flack, I am sure they will.

New Orleans shipped all its poor people and criminals to the open arms of Houston--and regardless of the wishes of Houston, I am fairly confident that New Orleans is happy to leave them there.

Now that that problem is out of the way, the local politicians and the carpetbaggers can get down to the real issue--figuring out how to line their own pockets from all this.
Posted By Anonymous Bill, Chelmsford, MA : 1:31 PM ET
As mean spirited as it might sound I agree with Brant. To rebuild on top of a volcano would be seen as stupid, to rebuild below sea level in NO is just the same. Use the area as the much needed landfill for the hurricanes debris, cover it and make it our newest Preserve with dedication to those who perhised in the storm.
Posted By Anonymous Tim, Boca Raton, FL : 1:32 PM ET
When are people going to wake up and attempt to overthrow the bureaucracy that is smothering American liberty and justice? Really, it will take YEARS to review the purchases some schmuck made since Katrina? Meanwhile he cries and bleeds that its not enough! Cut the pork and do something beneficial for society - like making license plates for me while you're in prison.
Posted By Anonymous JP, Las Cruces, New Mexico : 1:36 PM ET
What bothers me a lot about this is the delay-tactics that these people use when probes into allegations are being made. Why would it take years for the state auditors to review the purchases and contracts in question?

If finding out why people's hard earned money was spent on big screen tvs is going fishing, I wish the FBI investigators a lot of luck!!!!
Posted By Anonymous Augie, Boston MA : 2:01 PM ET
Imagine that, people in Louisiana on the take! Wanna bet that 700 million dollar contract was to some community leader's relative? And the big screen tv's were to replace the looted ones that got wet while they were being looted! Stop throwing money down this pit. Turn it into a wildlife management area!
Posted By Anonymous Dave S. Corpus Christi, TX : 3:01 PM ET
I am sure that point of view makes sense in Madison, and I have heard similar thoughts from other areas of the country. On the other hand, while the Gulf coast is ecologically fragile, you could say very similar things about Miami and lower Manhattan. Should we have insisted Cuban refugees be transported to Houston or that the World Trade Towers be reconstructed in Wisconsin?

It seems to me that as long as New York, New Orleans and New Havana remain part of the United States they deserve to be treated equally.
Posted By Anonymous Bill, Columbia, MD : 3:01 PM ET
We should not "cut bait" and run. New Orleans is a city with much history and tradition; it's been around for hundreds of years. We should rebuild, but only after improving levee strength and coming up with better contingency plans than "put everyone in the Superdome."
Posted By Anonymous Robert, New Orleans, LA : 3:09 PM ET
I can honestly say that Hurricane Katrina and all of its after effects, has to be the saddest disaster that I have seen in my life. I think that the fact that the purchases that have been made in St. Bernard Parish are being questioned is just part of the "trickle down" effect. We are unorganized in the federal government, state government,city and local governments. It is easy to mismanage funds when no one is looking. In this whole Katrina catastrophe, no one is willing to step up and take some portion of the blame, yet everyone is quick to point their finger at someone else in order to save their job. It would be quite honorable, if those who knew that funds were indeed mismanaged, would come to the forefront and tell what they know. The last thing we need is another tedious and lengthy investigation.
Posted By Anonymous J.C,Dallas,TX : 3:42 PM ET
Brant has a good idea, never thought about it in that way before. Take the money and help these people rebuild somewhere else. Never know, it may happen again. Sometimes we need to listen to Mother Nature.
Posted By Anonymous Sandra Belvin, Richmond,Va : 3:53 PM ET
I believe spending should be questioned. If its appropriate, it should be covered. If its not, it should not be reimbursed. In regards to the message saying don't rebuild. I didn't hear that about the tornado victims this week. The storm didn't flood New Orleans, the failure of the flood walls did. Flood walls that were certified to withstand a hurricane of Katrina's strength. Interesting enough, the Corps of Engineers who designed the levees said it would take 1.5 Billion to repair them. This week, the price went up 6 Billion. Incompetent?
Posted By Anonymous Darrell, Kenner LA : 4:05 PM ET
Whether we are looking at FEMA or Bremer in Iraq, cost accounts are not part of the plan as dollars fly that require years of auditing. Would it seem to illogical to have accountants with limited authorization authority on sight and the availability of a full time supervisor to approve questionable or high cost items? Hurricane season is generally summer when many college kids need jobs. Would accounting majors not be a resource for these jobs with the possibly of some credit available.
Posted By Anonymous linda, bella vista, ar : 4:10 PM ET
I wonder who actually got the construction contracts to rebuild New Orleans. Is the make up of the companies contracted anything like the make up of the New Orleans community, or are the construction companies white owned?
Posted By Anonymous Mark, Pasadena, Ca. : 4:11 PM ET
I moved out, I moved on, but I read NOLA.com everyday and it's incredibly painful.
Every well-educated New Orleans resident knew what was going to happen from the levees, the Gov. response, to the bureaucratic & corrupted rebuilding process. This has been like watching a train wreck.

I hope these new elections go well but honestly we need the federal government to come in and set up a proper local government with checks and balances. Similar to what we're attempting in Iraq. We've had an unintelligent mob rule for far too long. I guarantee you will see massive budgetary oversights and widespread corruption of federal aid in the years to come.

Yes many areas are not worth rebuilding and hopefully we make the unpopular decision to make those areas green-space.
Posted By Anonymous Looking for Home, Boca Raton, FL : 4:18 PM ET
"I hope these new elections go well but honestly we need the federal government to come in and set up a proper local government with checks and balances."

You're kidding, right?? When the federal government can learn to handle the country's finances, THEN maybe they can advise states, other countries, et al. The excess pork in the federal budget is enough to make the largest hogs feel like baby piglets.
If we streamline government processes, make money handlers accountable and put the whole country on a "pork-free diet", the issue of funds for humanitarian relief would magically appear.
Posted By Anonymous Deb, Richmond VA : 4:46 PM ET
I take great offense at the comment about Gulf Coast residents needing to get up and get a job!! Such vague statements are ignorant! As a Rita victim I got FEMA and Red Cross money. And thank God because that money is what alot of families down here lived on until we could get back to work. I pay my taxes, am not of welfare, own my own home and work hard! Keep your ridiculous comments directed to the people that deserve it. Not everyone on the Gulf Coast deserves your hatred.
Posted By Anonymous Kerri Quebodeaux, Orange, Texas : 4:51 PM ET
...it will be rebuilt, and no person or group will stop New Orleans from being built. Just what will go there is a different story. Japan built an airport in 2 miles off its coast on an island it made specifically for the airport. I find it absurd to think that developers cannot or will not attempt to elevate the property to above sea level, at least in the areas most damaged. Talk about corruption. The fact that developers know that it can be done, but will not, because doing so will most assuredly eat into their profits. go figure.

As far as managing the money they have been issued. That is pork barrel money - very little will be used appropriately. Only time will tell. Our non-biased media will keep us informed - we will hear what we need to hear when the media or government wants us to hear it.

darb out
Posted By Anonymous darby Irvine California : 5:05 PM ET
This disaster has been mismanaged, if we don't get the levees rebuild to cat 5 storm protection and survey the building areas to were we build to at least sea level this will happen again.
Posted By Anonymous Dave Winfield Quincy, IL : 5:13 PM ET
6 Billion dollars? Do you have any idea what could be done to fix the environment near N.O.? As a landscape architect, I can say that with a fraction of that the natural systems surrounding the area could be restored, thus leading to a greater chance of LESS damage in the future. More hurricanes are going to hit the Gulf Coast sometime in the future. The way the recovery is going, the next one will hit before the debris is even cleared.
Posted By Anonymous Doug, Minneapolis, MN : 5:24 PM ET
I was on the ground in the gulf coast area, working with the Red Cross, and I actually had several evacuees ask me for additional $2,500 debit cards (they thought I was with FEMA) since they "used theirs up at the strip club". Until we get rid of this sense of victimhood and entitlement, nothing in New Orleans will change.
Posted By Anonymous Philip, Westminster, CO : 5:33 PM ET
What has the country come to when every organization is corrupt and merely attack each other to make the other look worse? The past few years have proved a massive overhaul of the existing government is needed to purge the nation of the corruption and scandal that plagues it. This is not a question of political parties, the Republicans are content to ruin the nation to make a quick buck and the Democrats feel content to complain about the present situation without having any real plan of action. A solution is needed, and soon. Oh brave, new world we live in.
Posted By Anonymous Emma Russell, Downingtown, PA : 6:26 PM ET
It doesn't sound like either side kept a paper trail of where the money went. I'm sure people have had their hands in the till. Both sides seem to be playing games with the distribution of funds and contracts granted. Have they found anyone yet that they can trust enough to organize this rebuilding process?
Posted By Anonymous Kathy Chicago, Il : 10:47 PM ET
I just don't understand why everyone sounds so surprised when they finally get the message that our government is corrupt. I had that one figured out even before the last presidentual election when, I thought, it became common knowledge.
Posted By Anonymous Fliptrx...St.Louis, Mo. : 11:59 PM ET
Yes, yes. The evil government is corrupt and screwing us all over. Seems to me to be something that has been said throughout the years in every nation and culture. Remember when we said it in 1776?
The problem is, that we have relied too much on a government and not enough on our own ability to make our situations better through hard work and perserverance.
Posted By Anonymous Beth Aurora, CO : 3:58 PM ET
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