This clip is from Greg Palast’s film Vultures and Vote Rustlers which you can download for FREE this week
Six years ago today, 11 members of the Deepwater Horizon Crew were still alive. The Gulf of Mexico, thanks to decades of dredging by the oil companies was a slowly growing disaster – but it was still a tourist destination and a source of jobs for thousands of fishermen.
All this week we’ll be sharing the investigations that we did on British Petroleum’s disaster and its international fallout – including the one that could have foretold the April 20th blowout in the Gulf of Mexico.
A RUBBER DINGHY OFF THE GULF COAST, MISSISSIPPI, OCTOBER 2010
This was my first investigation of fish homicide, so I figured Rick and I needed a boat because Professor Steiner’s submarine had just cleared the Panama Canal and wouldn’t arrive in time for our filming.
However, Badpenny couldn’t hook up a canoe, let alone a skiff, because BP had put every Coon-Ass captain on its payroll for the oil clean-up, which mostly involved floating around looking busy when CNN showed up. BP would have to OK our taking one of their indentured boats, and BP never said OK unless they controlled the fish story. …more
It’s not news to anyone who follows my work that big oil likes to use their financial sway in higher education. Back in 2009 I wrote about the Deputy Director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center, Ivor Van Heerden who was pushed out of his job when he started talking too much about how Big Oil helped drown New Orleans.
I don’t get to use the word “heroic” very often. Van Heerden is heroic. It was van Heerden who told me, on camera, something so horrible, so frightening, that,…more
Don’t worry: the bankers are safe. The sub-prime sharks, derivatives divas, media mavens and their hairdressers, their trophy wives and their trophies’ personal trainers, the movers and shakers and money-makers, are all out of danger. Despite the warning that in a couple of days Hurricane Irene could well hit The Hamptons, the beach of the best of the ruling class will not lose a tan line.
I made sure they’re safe. A couple decades ago, I worked on an emergency evacuation plan for the county of Suffolk, New York, home of the Hamptons. It’s the wealthiest county in the United States.
The Hamptons’ hurricane plan is six volumes thick. The police and the politicians, the fire department and the first responders have their copies, their orders, their equipment and they are ready to roll before a single fake-blonde curl is ruffled by untoward weather.
The last hurricane to hit Long Island, far fiercer than Katrina, took two lives, not 2,000.
But then, the Hamptons isn’t New Orleans, is it?
In 1992, a big storm washed into 190 houses on West Hampton Dunes, getting many grade-B film scripts very wet. The federal government, with your tax dollars, rebuilt every single home on the beach (average value then, $2 million each)––and even rebuilt the beach with an endless samba line of trucks filled with sand, care of the Army Corps of Engineers.
There’s a photo of one, in case you’d like to move in. (Shouldn’t we each get at least a weekend in the surf for our money?)
Now look at Patricia Thomas’ home in the Lafitte Housing Project in New Orleans. I met her a year after the city flooded; she and her cousin and her cousin’s two kids, just off the bus from refugee centers in Texas, were told that if they returned to their homes, they would be arrested. It’s been six years and they still are not allowed back in. Doesn’t matter: three years ago, their houses were torn down to make way for yuppie condos, for the nouvelle carpetbaggers who will enjoy Lafitte’s locale near the French Quarter.
Last year, a judge ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers and the federal government were completely responsible for the flooding of Lafitte and half the city. [See the film ‘Big Easy to Big Empty.’ This week, the Palast Investigative Fund is providing the half-hour film without charge. Click here to download it.]
Under the Constitution, the President and Congress must authorize payment to flood victims, as they did for the Westhampton luvvies. But for the Thomas family, Obama requested, and Congress, appropriated … absolutely nothing.
What about the New Orleans evacuation plan? Where were their six volumes? When I watched the chaos in August 2005, I immediately called FEMA to ask for a copy of the plan. Why were there no busses to take out those without cars? The number of deaths should have been ZERO.
The answer: the New Orleans plan couldn’t be found. The company paid to draft it, Innovative Emergency Management, couldn’t find a copy either. Long after 2,000 drowned, I found the “plan”: no provision at all for the 27,000 residents without cars. That’s not surprising: the hurricane evacuation contractor had zero experience in hurricane evacuation. Rather, IEM’s chief did have lots of experience in donating to the Republican Party.
This week marks the sixth anniversary of the biggest ethnic cleansing in America since the Indian wars of the 19th Century: the flooding of New Orleans. We will celebrate this weekend, by worrying that Hurricane Irene will make the President and his donors on Martha’s Vineyard spill their daiquiris.
I met Patricia’s cousin five years ago today when, as dusk fell, she was in tears, wondering where she was going to stay with her kids that night. “That’s what I want to know, Mister, where we going to?”
Well, I know of some usually-empty and quite nice federal housing units on Westhampton Dunes….
Five years ago this week, a beast drowned New Orleans. Don’t blame Katrina: the lady never, in fact, touched the city. The hurricane swept east of it.
You want to know the name of the S.O.B. who attacked New Orleans? Locals call him “Mr. Go” – the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet (MR-GO).
MR-GO was undoubtedly the most bone-headed, deadly insane project ever built by the Army Corps of Engineers. It’s a 76-mile long canal, straight as a gun barrel, running right up from the Gulf of Mexico to the heart of New Orleans.
In effect, MR-GO was a welcome mat to the city for Katrina. Experts call it “the Hurricane Highway.”
Until the Army Corps made this crazy gash in the Mississippi Delta fifty years ago, Mother Nature protected the Crescent City with a green wreath of cypress and mangrove. The environmental slash-job caused the government’s own hydrologist to raise alarms from Day One of construction.
Unless MR-GO was fixed or plugged, the Corps was inviting, “the possibility of catastrophic damage to urban areas by a hurricane surge coming up this waterway.” (I’m quoting from a report issued 17 years before The Flood.)
A forensic analysis by Dr. John W. Day calculated that if the Corps had left just 6 miles of wetlands in place of the open canal, the surge caused by Katrina’s wind would have been reduced by 4.5 feet and a lot of New Orleaneans would be alive today. …more
Matt Pascarella and I encountered Patricia Thomas while she was breaking into a home at the Lafitte Housing Project in New Orleans. It was her own home. Nevertheless, if caught, she’d end up in the slammer. So would we. Matt was my producer for the film, Big Easy to Big Empty, and he encouraged my worst habits. I’d worked for the New Orleans Housing Authority years back and knew they wanted the poor black folk out of these pretty townhouses near the French Quarter. Katrina was an excuse for ethnic cleansing, American style. Matt and I skipped cuffs on this shoot, but were charged later by Homeland Security (see below). While I recorded the story of hidden evils on film, Matt gathered a story which no camera can capture. Here it is. — Greg Palast
by Matt Pascarella
Four years ago, on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I sat with Patricia Thomas. Greg Palast and I had just helped her break into her home in the Lafitte Projects. She had been locked out for a year. She showed us her former home, her belongings scattered everywhere, and wrestled out endless stories of post-Katrina life: how she struggled to find shelter over the last year, how they came and put bars on her doors and windows and locked her out, how it was “man made.” …more
But I’ve been in this investigating game long enough to know that van Heerden’s job didn’t die of natural causes or academic issues. This was a hit. Some very powerful folks wanted him disappeared and silenced — for good.
There’s another floater. Four years on, there’s another victim face down in the waters of Hurricane Katrina, Dr. Ivor van Heerden.
I don’t get to use the word “heroic” very often. Van Heerden is heroic. The Deputy Director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center, it was van Heerden who told me, on camera, something so horrible, so frightening, that, if it weren’t for his international stature, it would have been hard to believe:
“By midnight on Monday the White House knew. Monday night I was at the state Emergency Operations Center and nobody was aware that the levees had breached. Nobody.”
On the night of August 29, 2005, van Heerden was shut in at the state emergency center in Baton Rouge, providing technical advice to the rescue effort. As Hurricane Katrina came ashore, van Heerden and the State Police there were high-fiving it: Katrina missed the city of New Orleans, turning east.
What they did not know was that the levees had cracked. For crucial hours, the White House knew, but withheld the information that the levees of New Orleans had broken and that the city was about to drown. Bush’s boys did not notify the State of the flood to come which would have allowed police to launch an emergency hunt for the thousands that remained stranded. …more
America went through a terrible year. The levees broke in New Orleans. When bodies floated in the streets, the Republican Congress saw an opportunity for more tax cuts and consolidation of the corporatopia they had created for their moneyed donors. The Democratic Party was clueless, written off, politically at death’s door.
The year was 1927.
Back then, when the levees broke, America awoke. Public anger rose in a floodtide, and in that year, the USA entered its most revolutionary period since 1776. The thirty-four-year-old utility commissioner of Louisiana, Huey P. Long, conceived of a plan to rebuild his state based on a radical program of redistributing wealth and power. The ambitious Governor of New York, Franklin D. Roosevelt, adopted it, and later named it The New Deal. America got rich and licked Hitler. It was our century. …more
Damn that Abe Lincoln. When Louisiana and Mississippi seceded from the Union, a sensible president would have sent them a box of chocolates with a note, “Goodbye and good riddance.”
Tonight, following Barack Obama’s budget presentation to Congress, effectively the president’s first State of the Union Address, the Republicans chose to give their party’s response, the governor of the state that wanted to leave the Union, Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal.
Jindal told us that Barack Obama is a terrible President who passed a stimulus bill “larded with wasteful spending.” Where’s the lard? All week, Jindal has been screeching that Obama wants to require states like Louisiana to extend unemployment insurance to – get this – the unemployed! (Technically, the federal government would pay 100% of the cost of reforming Louisiana’s and Mississippi’s Scrooge-sized benefit requirements.)
Jindal, and some other Republican governors, notably Haley Barbour of Mississippi, are actually turning down millions in federal funds for their own state’s unemployed out of fear that, four years from now, they may have to maintain full unemployment insurance like the rest of America.
Barbour’s excuse, parroted by Jindal, is that the Obama payments to the unemployed of their states would mean, when the economy returns to expansion, that their state would have to increase unemployment insurance taxes and payments to the US average, scaring away new employers. “I mean, we want more jobs,” says Barbour. Um, this is the Governor of MISSISSIPPI talking. Exactly what new “jobs” is he talking about? Is Microsoft is based in Gulfport? Is Genentech opening its new headquarters in Moss Point?
As an economist, I can tell you that the only industry Mississippi leads in is deep-fried chicken-dog manufacturing. I will admit that Louisiana and Mississippi can boast of growing employment at several …more
This year another hurricane passed over the crescent city. Gustav left New Orleans with a tremendous amount of damage but none of the horrors that his sister Katrina did.
The media will discuss the effects of the hurricane on the Republican Convention and will report the big numbers, 800k without power, 2 million evacuated. But one thing will be certain there will be little or no discussion of why there was no evacuation plan in 2005, why the White House never did tell the locals about the levee breaches or why up until this year people were still living in Guantanamo-like camps. We can be sure that the words ‘right to return‘ won’t pass the lips of the talking heads. We certainly won’t here about the 89,000 names pulled from the voter rolls after the storm.
It’s stories like that that get reporters in trouble, you lose access, you lose your precious seat in the press conference. Well we find press conferences boring, and we never get called on anyway. The last time we were in Louisiana, Homeland Security was called on us… so we figure we must be doing something right.
You can read a full review of Palast’s writings on New Orleans and Katrina here. Also you can see a clip from the film Big Easy to Big Empty, listen to podcasts and read excerpts from Armed Madhouse.
[Thurs August 30] “They wanted them poor niggers out of there and they ain’t had no intention to allow it to be reopened to no poor niggers, you know? And that’s just the bottom line.”
It wasn’t a pretty statement. But I wasn’t looking for pretty. I’d taken my investigative team to New Orleans to meet with Malik Rahim. Pretty isn’t Malik’s concern.
We needed an answer to a weird, puzzling and horrific discovery. Among the miles and miles of devastated houses, rubble still there today in New Orleans, we found dry, beautiful homes. But their residents were told by guys dressed like Ninjas wearing “Blackwater” badges: “Try to go into your home and we’ll arrest you.”
These aren’t just any homes. They are the public housing projects of the city; the …more
It’s been two years already. If they had lived in Bangladesh during the tsunami, they’d be back home. But in New Orleans USA, more than half the original residents have not, CAN NOT, return to “The City That Care Forgot.” Now, in Big Easy to Big Empty, our investigative documentary re-released this week, meet the people that EVERYONE forgot. – Stephen Smith who had no car, and no way to evacuate New Orleans. He tells us his devastating story of being left behind, closing the eyes of an old man who died while waiting to be rescued on a bridge, watching helicopters soar pass overhead, and no one coming to rescue him or the dozens stranded with him, on that bridge, for days. After the storm it took him 3 months to find his children. He is currently working in a grocery store in Houston and wants to come back to New Orleans but has no place to live.
– Ivor Van Heerden, Deputy Director of Louisiana State University’s Hurricane Center reveals who knew what and when — before, during, and after the storm — and warns that his job is in danger for telling us his story.
“FEMA knew at eleven o’clock on Monday that the levees had breached, at 2 o’clock they flew over the 17th St. Canal and took video of the breaches, by midnight on Monday the White House knew, but none of us knew.”
– Brod Bagert, Former New Orleans’ City Councilman and lawyer takes us to a neighbor’s house where 5 bodies were found after the storm — in the back yard we find the levees that were supposed to protect the city from flooding; the levees that were supposed to protect the people who died here.
“Old ladies watched as water came up to their nose, over their eyes, and they drowned in houses just like this, in this neighborhood because of reckless negligence that is unanswered for.”
– Pamela Lewis, who had guns shoved in her face when she tried to evacuate with her 86 year old mother, has now been relocated over 100 miles from the city to one of FEMA’s giant trailer parks fenced in with barbed-wire and has lived there for 9 months. The trailer park is in a field literally in the middle of nowhere behind an Exxon Oil Refinery — the only bus available for residents goes only to Wal-Mart.
“It is a prison set-up. I’ve never been to the bottom of the barrel until I came here.”
– Patricia Thomas who broke her teeth while trying to evacuate is now homeless and is locked out of her public housing unit in the Lafitte housing project near the French Quarter. We go with her as she enters her blockaded apartment (which she now plans to illegally occupy) and find that it was not damaged by the flooding and could be re-opened within a week’s time.
“Katrina didn’t do this. Man did this. This was man made.”
– Malik Rahim, Director of Common Ground who is building communities aimed at bringing people back to New Orleans with affordable housing, collectives, and job-placement assistance.
“If we could do it – we could take a thousand people and house them in a humane way, why can’t the federal government do it?”
– Henry Irving Sr., home-owner in the Lower 9th Ward. His entire neighborhood has been completely destroyed, hardly anyone has returned, and those that have returned have been told not to — and yet Mr. Irving plans to stay.
“That’s what they want us to do. They want us to get discouraged and to leave. I’m going to stay here long enough to see it come back.”
Big Easy to Big Empty: The Untold Story of the Drowning of New Orleans.
“One of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen.” – Christiane Brown, Air America Radio.
SPECIAL THANKS! This report was possible only through the extraordinary support we receive from our donors. If you would like to support our work you can do so today and recieve a gift — just click here.
A very, very, special thanks to our Associate Producers on this particular story — without their generosity and support this report would not have been possible:
Greg Palast, Writer & Reporter Matt Pascarella, Executive Producer Jacquie Soohen, Co-Producer, Filmographer & Editor Coordinating Producers: Leni von Eckardt, Zach Roberts & Christy Speicher
Ann & Mike Chickey David Kahn Kenneth Green Keith Fuchslocher Paul Mann CF Beck, Custom Designs Charles and Candia Varni Bill Perk Janis Weisbrot Doris Selz & Erwin Springbrunn Steven G Owens Victoria Ward Frank Reid Gale Georgalas William Schneider Suzanne Irwin-Wells Dan Beach Fritz Schenk Kenneth Fingeret David Pelleg Dick Shorter John Wetherhold Charles Turk Edward Farmilant Donald Duryee/Pat Thurston Gilbert Williams Sam Cowan Andy Tobias Donna Litowitz Norman Lear Steve Bing Bill Perkins Tina Rhoades Jack Chester David Thomas David Griggs Barbara Sher John Pearce
It’s been two years. And America’s media is about to have another tear-gasm over New Orleans. Maybe Anderson Cooper will weep again. The big networks will float into the moldering corpse of the city and give you uplifting stories about rebuilding and hope.
Now, let’s cut through the cry-baby crap. Here’s what happened two years ago – and what’s happening now.
This is what an inside source told me. And it makes me sick:
“By midnight on Monday, the White House knew. Monday night I was at the state Emergency Operations Center and nobody was aware that the levees had breeched. Nobody.”
The charge is devastating: That, on August 29, 2005,
The Department of Homeland Security, after a five-year hunt for Osama, finally brought charges against... Greg Palast.
As America crawled toward the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attack, Homeland Security charged me and my US producer Matt Pascarella with violating the anti-terror laws. Don't you feel safer? And I confess: we're guilty. ...more
The White House knew [the levees broke] because the Army Corps of Engineers sent them photographs. Again, I want to emphasize that the White House had the photographs of the levees breaking, and didn’t tell state and local officials who had stopped the evacuation because the hurricane missed New Orleans. Everyone thought they dodged a bullet, but the White House didn’t tell anybody the levees broke and were drowning the city. — Greg Palast
Greg Palast is just unstoppable, and after you watch his remarkable new DVD, “Big Easy to Big Empty: The Drowning of New Orleans,” you’ll understand why. …more
special investigation for Democracy Now! Monday, August 28. From New Orleans.
DON’T blame the Lady. Katrina killed no one in this town. In fact, Katrina missed the city completely, going wide to the east. It wasn’t the hurricane that drowned, suffocated, de-hydrated and starved 1,500 people that week. …more