Shoddy levees may spur legal action

Louisiana prosecutors are investigating the failure of the levees around New Orleans to determine if bungled engineering and construction of the flood protection system warrants legal action.

Corrupt contractors and poorly coordinated government agencies may have played a role in the failure of the levee system that was supposed to protect New Orleans, experts investigating the breaches said.

Billions needed

Some two months after Katrina, half a million people are still displaced and homeless, 300,000 are without jobs and 70,000 still living in shelters in Louisiana alone, according to the AFL-CIO. The catastrophe also left New Orleans broke. The city laid off some 7,000 workers. All 12 institutions in the Louisiana charity hospital system will be completely out of money by Thanksgiving. The state has lost $1 billion in revenue and expects to drastically cut jobs and services as well.

Out of $62 billion already allocated by Congress for hurricane recovery, around $40 billion remains unspent. Estimates put the cost of rebuilding the area at $200 billion. (About $203 billion, to date, has been spent on the war in Iraq.)

The Rebuild With Respect Act, introduced by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), is the most comprehensive legislation to date that would address with fairness jobs, wages, affirmative action, and giving local small businesses priority in the reconstruction, instead of politically connected corporations like Halliburton.

Senate to Gulf states: ‘Drop dead!’

The Senate voted down an amendment (48-51) that called for the federal government to pay 100 percent of Medicaid costs formula for Louisiana, Mississippi and parts of Alabama, instead of previous cost-sharing arrangements. Gulf Coast states can no longer afford to continue operating without additional support due to the costs of recovery and rebuilding and the depletion of the states’ tax base.

Category 5 levees a must

Local officials are lobbying for a federal commitment to build levees capable of protecting against a Category 5 hurricane. Yet federal officials are dragging their feet, including newly appointed recovery chief Donald Powell. Powell, who just stepped down as the chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to take the job, is also known as a big donor to President Bush’s election campaign.

Brown’s e-mail disaster

While people were desperately calling for help during Hurricane Katrina, former FEMA chief (screw-up) Michael Brown asked an aide for fashion advice, “Tie or not for tonight? Button-down blue shirt?” he wrote in a recently released e-mail. Americans have their own question for President Bush, “Why is ‘Brownie’ continuing to get $148,000-a-year as a consultant?”

Plumbers wanted

The Plumbers and Pipe Fitters union is seeking welders, plumbers and others to join the union’s expanded apprenticeship and journeyman training programs. Once trained, workers will help rebuild the Gulf Coast and fill a nationwide shortage of skilled workers in those occupations. For an online application, visit the union’s web site,

Gulf Coast update is compiled by Terrie Albano (