WASHINGTON (AP) — An increasingly confrontational President Bush on Friday vetoed a bill authorizing hundreds of popular water projects even though lawmakers can count enough votes to override him. In doing so, Bush brushed aside significant objections from Capitol Hill, even from Republicans, in thwarting legislation that provides projects for a host of aims, including those that would repair hurricane damage, restore wetlands and prevent flooding in communities across the nation. This level of opposition virtually assured that Bush would have a veto overridden for the first time in his presidency. He has used the veto very sparingly for most of the time he has been in office, but has made more use of it recently. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Bush's veto indicates that he's out of touch with the American people and their priorities. "When we override this irresponsible veto, perhaps the president will finally recognize that Congress is an equal branch of government and reconsider his many other reckless veto threats," he said. Read more in the Times-Picayune
(AP) — Reaction from Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal, Gov. Kathleen Blanco and members of Louisiana's congressional delegation on President Bush's veto Friday of the Water Resources Development Act, or WRDA, bill. The bill would provide perhaps $7 billion for projects in the state, according to U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu's office. _"This long overdue bill has bipartisan support in Congress and authorizes billions of dollars to help protect our state from future hurricanes and flooding. The WRDA bill will help bring funding to all corners of the state, and is critical to our state's future." — Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal, a Republican congressman who said he plans to return to Capitol Hill next week to vote to override the veto. _"I am extremely disappointed President Bush has chosen to veto this critical legislation." — Gov. Kathleen Blanco. _"This is the wrong bill to try to regain the mantle of fiscal responsibility." — Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., on Bush, saying the president's commitment to rebuilding the Gulf Coast from hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 "could be questioned" as a result of the veto. She pledges to vote to override the veto. _"If the president and his administration are serious about addressing the infrastructure problems all over the country, from the Gulf Coast to the recent tragedy in Minnesota, then vetoing WRDA sends the wrong message." — U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., who says he will "enthusiastically" work to override the veto
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — State Farm Insurance Cos. is suing Mississippi's attorney general for allegedly violating an agreement to end a criminal investigation of the insurer's handling of claims on the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, according to court papers unsealed Friday. State Farm's lawsuit claims Jim Hood reopened a criminal probe of the Bloomington, Ill.-based company and its employees "for the purpose of harassment" and to coerce the insurer into settling civil litigation spawned by the Aug. 29, 2005, hurricane. State Farm says Hood agreed in January to end his office's criminal probe as part of a settlement agreement that called for the company to reopen and possibly pay thousands of policyholder claims. The company also says it paid Hood's office $5 million to cover the costs of his investigation. A state grand jury was hearing evidence when State Farm reached its agreement with Hood and attorneys for hundreds of State Farm policyholders. Hood has said he was probing allegations that State Farm and other insurers fraudulently denied claims. That deal later fell apart after a federal judge refused to endorse it. However, State Farm later reached a separate agreement with Mississippi's insurance commissioner to reopen and pay claims. Read more at the Times-Picayune
Tenants ask federal judge to stop demolition of public housing The Associated Press The Times-Picayune NEW ORLEANS (AP) — In the latest move to save the aging brick complexes that make up New Orleans public housing, former residents on Friday asked a federal judge to halt any demolition plans by the Housing Authority of New Orleans. Residents of the sprawling complexes prior to Hurricane Katrina, filed a federal lawsuit in June, days after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced it would tear down the city's four largest developments: St. Bernard, Lafitte, B.W. Cooper and C.J. Peete. Only Cooper has re-opened to some residents. All four, however, will eventually be torn down and replaced with "mixed income" neighborhoods. Without court intervention, HUD and HANO will be free to destroy much needed housing and leave displaced New Orleanians stranded hundreds of miles from home," said Judith Browne-Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, which is helping represent public housing tenants in the lawsuit filed in June. U.S. District Court Judge Ivan Lemelle has ruled that only certain tenants may sue as a class against HANO — those who have been forced to pay utility bills while living in private market apartments, an expense not placed on public housing tenants before the storm. But the plaintiffs lawyers, led by Loyola Law School professor Bill Quigley, haven't backed down from trying to stop HANO's redevelopment plans. Read more at the Times-Picayune
The Rev. Jesse Jackson is seeking a Congressional hearing on the police blockade that kept evacuees fleeing New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina from crossing the Crescent City Connection. Jackson's call came one day after an Orleans Parish grand jury refused to indict a Gretna police officer for firing a shotgun in the air as evacuees attempted to cross. Gretna police along with deputies from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office and Crescent City Connection police officers decided to close the bridge Sept. 1, 2005 amid the chaos in New Orleans and a fire that looters set at Oakwood Center in Terrytown. The grand jury's action Wednesday essentially ended the criminal case in New Orleans. On Thursday, Jackson, founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, said that federal funding to Louisiana should be stopped "until officials can ensure freedom of movement.'' "The Crescent City Connection is a state bridge and was built with federal funds,'' Jackson said. "The Gretna Police Department did not have the authority to barricade the bridge and prevent citizens from seeking safe ground.'' Read more in the Times-Picayune
One of the biggest problems in the post-Katrina recovery that we found in our recent report, Blueprint for Gulf Renewal, was jobs. According to Institute analysis, there are still about 100,000 fewer jobs in the Gulf than there was pre-Katrina -- a major barrier to families trying to get home. What's more, many of the rebuilding jobs are unstable and low-paying. It wouldn't be hard to tackle the problem. As we've mentioned before, a Gulf Coast Civic Works program could quickly put 100,000 people to work rebuilding their communities at a living wage. All for not a lot of money -- less than $4 billion, half what we spend in Iraq every month. That's why it's encouraging to see the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act introduced by Reps Zoe Lofgren (CA), Charlie Melancon (LA) and Gene Taylor (MS)in Congress. Here's the announcement from ACORN, the RFK Memorial and Scott Meyers-Lipton, a tireless advocate of the Civic Works idea (visit his site here): This legislation would create stronger and more equitable communities by funding and implementing critical infrastructure projects, directly creating 100,000 jobs for displaced and current residents. The bill creates partnerships to rebuild neighborhoods across the region devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, including Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. “Communities across the Gulf Coast suffer from crumbling roads and water systems, ill constructed flood protection, and closed police stations, fire house, schools and hospitals,” says Stephen Bradberry, head state organizer of ACORN Louisiana, the region’s largest association of low and middle income families. “We have an opportunity to jumpstart the recovery by empowering communities with the resources they need to lead.” Read more at Facing South
NASSAU, Bahamas - Hurricane Noel, the deadliest storm to hit the Atlantic this year, paralleled the U.S. coast on Friday, losing strength as it headed north toward Nova Scotia. Noel slammed the Caribbean earlier this week with heavy rains that caused flooding and mudslides, leaving 124 dead, officials said. After drenching the Bahamas and Cuba on Thursday, the Category 1 hurricane’s sustained winds were at 80 mph on Friday and its center was about 425 miles south of Cape Hatteras, N.C., the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said. Noel is moving to the north-northeast at about 17 mph but was expected to pick up speed. Jack Beven, a hurricane specialist at the center, said Friday that “we don’t expect the center to cross the U.S. coast. The track would take the center of the system over Nova Scotia.” But Beven also noted that the storm “is going to increase rather significantly in size” and that its effects would be felt in the U.S. Forecasters say 2 to 4 inches of rain could fall in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, while isolated areas of New England might see 6 inches. Read more at MSNBC
VILLAHERMOSA, Mexico - Hundreds of thousands of Mexicans fled a flooded region of the Gulf Coast Friday, jumping from rooftops into rescue helicopters, scrambling into boats or swimming out through murky brown water. President Felipe Calderon called the flooding in Tabasco state one of Mexico’s worst recent natural disasters and pledged to rebuild. A week of heavy rains caused rivers to overflow, drowning at least 80 percent of the oil-rich state. Much of the state capital, Villahermosa, looked like New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, with water reaching to second-story rooftops and desperate people awaiting rescue. At least one death was reported, and nearly all services, including drinking water and public transportation, were shut down. The flood affected more than 900,000 people in the state of 2 million — their homes flooded, damaged or cut off by high water. A 10-inch natural gas pipeline sprang a leak after flooding apparently washed away soil underneath it, but it was unclear if other facilities operated by the state-run Petroleos Mexicanos were damaged or if oil production was affected. Read more at MSNBC
It's just a bridge, isn't it? Like any other bridge, a man-made physical structure. Conceived in someone's mind, put on paper with specifications, renderings and the like, beginning at point A and ending at point B. Oh, you may speak of the blood, the toil and the tears that are a part of the alchemy of such a thing, but in the end it is a man-made object intended to transport cars and trucks and motorcycles and the people who drive them, and their passengers, over a particular body of water to destinations they have chosen. That is the way of humankind; we are captains of our universe, determined to overcome the impediments to our own inconvenience in such ways as the bridge provides. We enjoy the sense of dominion these edifices provide. So for all of those years before Katrina we drove across the bridge that spanned Biloxi Bay almost oblivious, even indifferent, to its physical presence, noticing it only occasionally when it opened its jaws wide to allow a boat to pass, slowing the rush of life to a standstill, requiring us to stop and to rest above the tranquil bay, perhaps to spy a gull or a fisherman and to envy their freedom. Read more at the SunHerald
BILOXI, Miss. --Two years ago, cities on the opposite sides of Biloxi Bay clashed over blueprints for a wider, taller bridge to replace a highway span demolished by Hurricane Katrina's storm surge. Those divisions were an afterthought for the thousands of Gulf Coast residents celebrating the partial opening of the six-lane bridge between Biloxi and Ocean Springs. The new 1.6-mile bridge, which opened to the public early evening Thursday, restores the last broken link in coastal U.S. 90, a landmark in the region's recovery from the Aug. 29, 2005, hurricane. "Water under the bridge," Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway said of his disagreement with his Ocean Springs counterpart, Connie Moran. Two of the bridge's six lanes opened following a daylong celebration at both ends of the $338 million structure. The span reconnects the casino resorts of Biloxi with the quaint shops and tree-lined streets of Ocean Springs, on the eastern side of the bay. In Katrina's early aftermath, the size of the new bridge was a sore spot for some in Ocean Springs. Moran had pressed the state to limit the bridge to four lanes - the same number as on the drawbridge that Katrina reduced to mounds of concrete and pilings. Moran, an advocate of the "New Urbanism" architectural movement's emphasis on creating compact, walkable cities, said she feared that a bigger, wider bridge would turn her city's center into an expressway.
We are faced with the daily reality of an imminent collapse of our criminal justice institutions." -- New Orleans Police Chief Warren Riley NEW ORLEANS -- Some say crime causes a city to be under siege; others say crime is the symptom of a city under siege. Either way, New Orleans is in serious trouble. Our criminal justice system is in unprecedented crisis. Thursday there were four murders in 24 hours in New Orleans. Over the weekend three more people died from gunshots. So far this year, 170 people have been murdered in New Orleans -- a rate seven times the national average. The District Attorney of New Orleans just resigned at the insistence of the Mayor, the Attorney General and several legislators. His office owes a group of discharged employees a federal civil rights judgment of over $3 million -- and neither the City nor State was willing to pay unless he resigned. There is high turnover in the office and thousands of people arrested have been released because the office could not timely decide whether to charge them with crimes or not. His resignation will not make New Orleans any safer. Katrina severely damaged an already dysfunctional criminal justice in New Orleans. In fact, what has occurred and is happening now in New Orleans is really neither "justice" nor a "system." Before Katrina, New Orleans averaged 1,000 violent crimes each quarter. In the second quarter of 2007, New Orleans reported over 1,300 violent crimes -- despite the fact that not many more than half the people of New Orleans are back. Read more at Facing South
WASHINGTON — For the first time in more than 40 years, the majority of children in public schools in the South are poor, according to a report released Tuesday. In 11 Southern states, including Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida, a significant increase in the number of poor children attending public school has sent district officials scurrying for solutions on how to best educate kids who are coming from economically disadvantaged homes. "The future of the South's ability to have an educated population is going to depend on how well we can improve these students' education," said Steve Suitts, a program coordinator with the Atlanta-based Southern Education Foundation, a non-profit organization that focuses on Southern educational issues and conducted the study. In places like Memphis, where roughly 80 percent of students come from low-income homes, that has meant adopting models that address teaching children in poverty. In Miami-Dade, where 61 percent of students are on free or reduced-price lunch, that has meant strengthening efforts to improve all students' math and reading scores and curb dropout rates. "The reason this presents a profound challenge for us is that low-income students as a group begin school least ready," Suitts said. "They are the students most likely to drop out of school. They perform at the lowest levels on tests that decide graduation and advancement. They have the least access to college." Read more in the McClatchy Newspapers
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