Wednesday PM August 29th, 2007

President Bush marks two-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina...Boeing Space Exploration selected as contractor for Ares I rocket for future moon missions...Teamsters Union asking federal appeals court to prevent Mexican trucks from carrying cargo in U.S...

It was two years ago Wednesday that Hurricane Katrina battered Louisiana and the Gulf Coast, killing hundreds of people and exposing weaknesses in the government's ability to cope with the disaster. President Bush and Mrs. Bush are there to mark the moment. It's the President's 15th trip to the region since Katrina struck. President Bush and his wife dined Tuesday night at a one-time New Orleans landmark that still hasn't officially opened since being damaged by Hurricane Katrina. The couple joined about two dozen people at Dooky Chase, an eatery that was once a gathering place for civil rights leaders and has become famous for traditional Creole cooking. Around the large square table with Bush, federal, state and local officials mixed with athletes, artists, developers and others. Bush called them all "quiet heroes who have helped bring optimism and hope to New Orleans'' after the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina two years ago Wednesday. The restaurant plans to finally reopen from the storm's damage in a couple of weeks. Bush and his wife on Wednesday visited a New Orleans charter school and a community center down the Gulf Coast in Mississippi.

Two years after the storm, there has been progress. New Orleans' population continues to grow and sales tax revenues are approaching normal. But huge areas of the city remain in shambles. Bureaucracy is choking federal and state assistance, which hasn't helped redeem the federal government from its performance in the storm's immediate aftermath. Bush's Gulf Coast rebuilding chief says $96 billion in aid has been disbursed or is available to local governments, implying the fault lies with local officials. The storm killed more than 1,600 people along the Gulf Coast and flooded nearly 80 percent of New Orleans.

Louisiana residents displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita could get federal money to help cover the cost of moving home. The maximum $4,000 FEMA grant comes with restrictions. The program will finance both reimbursements and advances for those who can't afford to get back to areas where they lived before the 2005 storms. Several hundred thousand people evacuated to Texas. Rita made landfall in southeast Texas in September of 2005. The one-time FEMA benefit can cover moving expenses incurred between February 1st of 2006 and February 29th of 2008. To be eligible, a household must have been displaced more than 50 miles from its original residence and already qualified for FEMA's Individuals and Households program. That program's $26,200 cap will be enforced in figuring the travel grants.

Houston-based Boeing Space Exploration has been selected by NASA as a contractor for the Ares I rocket that will help launch future human missions to the moon, according to Boeing's Jim Chilton.

"As you all know we recently learned this afternoon that we were selected by NASA to be the Ares I upper stage production partner. And we are very happy about that. We are honored and frankly humbled to have earned a seat at the Constellation table—the rocket that'll take Americans back to space after Shuttle. We're still committed to our small business approach."

Chilton says the contract is for the upper stage element of the Ares I rocket.

"What this contract award is: to produce the stage which is the cylinder that had the J2X engine, at the aft end of it, and the tankage—the liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen tankage that's required to feed that engine. There's a main propulsion system—valving and sequencing and the like—between the tanks and the J2X engine. The engine's got to be steered with a thrust vector control system. These are large cylinders that steer the engine, and that's connected to the guidance system. In addition to all that, we'll build an inter-stage, which is what separates the first stage from the second stage."

The Ares I upper stage will provide the navigation, guidance, control and propulsion required for the second stage of the rocket's ascent.

The Teamsters Union says it'll ask a federal appeals courts to stop the Bush administration from allowing Mexican trucks to carry cargo anywhere in the United States. The union said it's learned from the Transportation Department's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration that the first Mexican trucks would cross the border on Saturday. Teamsters leaders said they'll seek an emergency injunction from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Since 1982, Mexican trucks have had to stop within a buffer border zone and transfer their loads to U.S. trucks. Last week, the Bush administration said it would start the cross-border program once the Transportation Department's inspector general certifies safety and inspection plans. Supporters of the Bush administration plan say letting more Mexican trucks on U.S. highways would save American consumers hundreds of millions of dollars. But labor and driver-owner groups have been fighting the proposal, saying it would erode highway safety and eliminate U.S. jobs. Joining the Teamsters in seeking the emergency stay are the Sierra Club and Public Citizen.

Texas has reached a Medicaid fraud settlement with assisted living facility operator Emeritus. Attorney General Greg Abbott announced Seattle-based Emeritus is paying nearly $1.9 million to Texas to resolve false and inaccurate billing to Medicaid. The AG's office says a review found improper billing practices at 11 Emeritus facilities in Texas. Abbott says Emeritus deprived its residents of legally required amenities and services. Authorities say Emeritus also has remodeled its facilities to comply with the law.

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