In a prime-time speech from New Orleans, President Bush vowed last night that the country would rebuild the city and the Gulf Coast region as part of one of the largest reconstruction efforts in history. “And all who question the future of the Crescent City need to know there is no way to imagine America without New Orleans, and this great city will rise again,” Bush said. Bush outlined a plan to offer victims of the hurricane help on taxes, housing, education and job training. “It is now clear that a challenge on this scale requires greater federal authority and a broader role for the armed forces — the institution of our government most capable of massive logistical operations on a moment’s notice.” He also announced an immediate review of emergency plans for all cities and called for an expanded role of the U.S. military in times of national emergency. While Bush spoke for nearly 30 minutes he did not mention that he has put his top political advisor, Karl Rove, in charge of the reconstruction effort instead of appointing an independent reconstruction czar. Critics of the decision are predicting this could result in a bonanza for contractors such as Halliburton that has ties to the White House. Halliburton has already been hired to repair damaged military bases in the region.
In other news on the hurricane, The Guardian of London is reporting that the gulf Coast region is suffering from one of the worst oil spills in the country’s history. Over the past two weeks a total of 6.5 million gallons of oil has leaked into the waters of the region. In addition, more than 250,000 cars were submerged underwater from the flooding as were many gas stations. This marks the country’s most severe oil spill since the Exxon Valdez went ashore in 1989 leaking 11 millions gallons of oil in Alaska.
The commander of the Army Corps of Engineers admitted that the government should have pre-positioned more sandbags and helicopters in the New Orleans area before Hurricane Katrina. Lt. Gen. Carl Strock said this would have allowed the military to quickly repair the broken levees.
More information is emerging from New Orleans over how the police are treating people accused of looting. A 73-year-old woman remains in jail on a $50,000 bond after police arrested her for looting sixty dollars worth of sausage. At the time of her arrest, the woman — Merlene Maten — was staying in a hotel with her 80-year-old husband. She said they had followed orders to stock up on food and had stored some sausage in her car. After she took the sausage from the car, she says police handcuffed her and threw her in jail. A judge then set the bail at $50,000 — 100 times the maximum $500 fine under state law for minor thefts.
A group of 15 families from Louisiana have filed a lawsuit in an effort to have a state court judge rule that any flooding from hurricane Katrina be covered by a resident’s homeowner policy. At a hearing on Thursday state lawmakers accused the insurance industry of shirking its responsibility to residents whose property was destroyed by the storm.
Meanwhile Fox News host Bill O’Reilly has been attempting to downplay the government’s failure in helping residents of New Orleans evacuate ahead of the hurricane by claiming that many of those who stayed in the city were addicted to drugs or suffered severe emotional problems. “Many, many, many of the poor in New Orleans are in that condition,” O’Reilly said. “They weren’t going to leave no matter what you did. They were drug-addicted. They weren’t going to get turned off from their source. They were thugs, whatever.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate Judiciary Committee has concluded its nomination hearing for Supreme Court Chief Justice nominee John Roberts.The committee is expected to vote on Roberts next week. Near the end of the hearing Roberts said, “If you’ve looked at what I’ve done since I took the judicial oath that should convince you that I’m not an ideologue.” On Thursday Republican and Democratic Senators called a series of witnesses to testify about Roberts’s character. Long time civil rights leader and Democratic Congressman John Lewis warned that the confirmation of Roberts would be a setback to civil rights. Carol Browner, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency under Clinton, also criticized Roberts. So did Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center. Among the witnesses who supported Roberts were former Michigan Gov. John Engler who now heads the National Association of Manufacturers. Engler said he expects Roberts would add a business-friendly voice to the court. Meanwhile Democratic Senators continued to criticize Roberts for refusing to answer dozens of questions about his judicial beliefs. The Coalition for a Fair & Independent Judiciary began airing tv ads on Thursday that highlight Roberts’ refusal to answer many questions.
The Vatican has ordered a crack down on homosexuality at seminaries in the United States. According to the New York Times, the Vatican is sending teams of investigators to all 229 seminaries in the country in order to interview every faculty member and seminarian as well as everyone who graduated in the last three years. Archbishop Edwin O’Brien is supervising the review. Last week he told the National Catholic Register that “anyone who has engaged in homosexual activity or has strong homosexual inclinations,” should not be admitted to a seminary. He said the restriction should even apply to men who have not been sexually active for a decade or more. The investigators will also be on the lookout for any faculty members who dissent from church teaching. The last such review began about 25 years ago and took six years to complete.
Mitt Romney, the Republican governor of Massachusetts, has suggested law enforcement agents begin wiretapping mosques and conducting surveillance of all foreign students in the state. During a speech at the Heritage Foundation he called on the federal government to devote far more money and attention to domestic intelligence gathering. He said ’’How many individuals are coming to our state and going to those institutions who have come from terrorist-sponsored states? Do we know where they are? Are we tracking them?” Romney is considered to be a likely Republican candidate for president in 2008.
At the United Nations Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez accused the United States of trying to hijack the summit of world leaders. He called upon nations to do more to tackle poverty and improve the environment. The three-day summit was set up to find new ways to tackle poverty but the final document agreed to by UN member states saw almost every issue from education, disease, trade, aid and disarmament scaled down in an attempt to produce a text all governments could endorse by the summit’s end. Chavez also described the United States as a terrorist nation because it is harboring the tele-evangelist Pat Robertson. Chavez said, “He publicly asked for my assassination and he is still walking the streets. This is an international crime, terrorism, international terrorism.”
And in other news from the United Nations, a short note written by President Bush to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during the UN summit is making international headlines. A Reuters cameraman snapped a photograph of Bush writing the words “I think I may need a bathroom break. Is this possible?” The note appears on the cover of today’s Times of London under the headline: “Leaked UN Memo: What did President Bush ask Condi Rice?”