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WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?
Magpie is a former journalist, attempted historian [No, you can't ask how her thesis is going], and full-time corvid of the lesbian persuasion. She keeps herself in birdseed by writing those bad computer manuals that you toss out without bothering to read them. She also blogs too much when she's not on deadline, both here and at Pacific Views.

Magpie roosts in Portland, Oregon, where she annoys her housemates (as well as her cats Medea, Whiskers, and Jane Doe) by attempting to play Irish music on the fiddle and concertina.

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Friday, July 21, 2006

Hurricane Katrina takes away your house ...

... and the feds take away your freedom of speech.

The Baton Rouge [Louisiana] Advocate reports that FEMA won't let Katrina refugees who live in the agency's trailer parks talk to reporters — unless, of course, the reporters are accompanied by a FEMA 'minder.' Why the minder? Apparently, it's to keep residents from telling the press anything about why at least two trailer parks in Louisiana — which cost millions of dollars to build — have been sitting virtually empty for months.

"We all wonder why no one lives there [in the 198-trailer Lake End park]. FEMA spent $7.5 million to build it: electricity, gas, water, sewer, a lift-station, roads," said Morgan City Mayor Timothy Matte. "There's about 50 more new FEMA trailers in various mobile home parks around town, and no one lives in those, either. It doesn't really make much sense."

FEMA, which says 15 families live in the Lake End facility now, refuses to say how much was spent to build the park or why 183 of the trailers are vacant.

And FEMA rules make it hard for reporters to talk freely to the few park residents about life there. During an interview in one trailer, a security guard knocked on the door, ordered the reporter out and eventually called police, saying residents aren't allowed to talk to the media in the park.

Similar rules were enforced in Plaquemines Parish, where 242 new travel trailers in a FEMA park in Davant recently were empty. Security guards there allowed a reporter and photographer to drive through the two side-by-side parks, but ordered them not to talk to anyone or take pictures.

And as with the Morgan City facility, FEMA refuses to say how much it cost to build the Davant park. FEMA spokeswoman Rachel Rodi gave no reason for not disclosing how much was spent.

"We're not going to talk about cost," she said.

Rodi also said the empty trailers are going to be moved.

Rodi wouldn't say whether the actions of the security guards in Morgan City and Davant complied with FEMA policy, saying the matter was being reviewed. But she confirmed that FEMA does not allow the media to speak alone to residents in their trailers.

"If a resident invites the media to the trailer, they have to be escorted by a FEMA representative who sits in on the interview," Rodi said. "That's just a policy."

Gregg Leslie, legal defense director for The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said FEMA's refusal to allow trailer park residents to invite media into their homes unescorted is unconstitutional.

"That's a standard for a prison, not a relief park and a temporary shelter," Leslie said "They cannot deny media access. It's clearly unconstitutional ... and definitely not legal."

Thanks to the First Amendment Center for the heads-up.

More: If the link to the Advocate's story has expired, most of the details are available in this story that ran on the AP nationally.

| | Posted by Magpie at 9:40 AM | Get permalink




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