New Orleans

Christ. I have nothing to add to the chorus of voices out there discussing the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, except to yet again wish that I lived in a country whose top administrators weren’t so malignantly incompetent. If I actually told you what I thought about the President saying that “I don’t think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees” on national television when FEMA had it as one of the top three worst things that could happen to the US all the way back in 2001, the Secret Service would be required to come to my door in order to investgate me. Suffice to say that my longtime hedge of suggesting that George W. Bush is only the most incompetent president of the last 80 years is no longer in effect. As it stands, only James Buchanan now guards the way between George Bush and the black abyss. Bush’s appalling statement wasn’t just another example of the man’s personal obliviousness, it’s an encapsulation of his administration’s entire ethic: It doesn’t know anything it doesn’t want to know anything about.

My heart is sore that New Orleans has been literally wiped off the map, but what enrages me is that the reason it’s been wiped off the map is not Hurricane Katrina (which, you may recall, it actually survived, thanks to Katrina’s last-minute jig to the east) but because of a conscious decision by the federal government — originating with the current administration’s budget proposal — not to fully fund the programs that would have improved the levees that held the water back.

Yes, it’s entirely possible that even improved and fortified levees would have failed, faced with the punishment even a deflected Katrina heaped upon them. But it’s absolutely certain that not improving them has had disastrous consequences. The areas where the money diverted from the levees has gone (the New Orleans Times-Picayune noted that “the federal government began reducing Corps of Engineers appropriations in 2001, as more money was diverted to homeland security, the fight against terrorism and the war in Iraq”) have not exactly been shining examples of administrative competence, either. “Penny wise and pound foolish” has been an operating maxim for this administration from the start.

No doubt the adminstration will do what it always does when confronted with its own incompetence: Attempt to change the subject, question the motives of those who question them, and work to conceal the proof of their incompetence. I doubt it will work. This is an American city that’s sunk beneath the water, and this time the administration can’t keep the press from showing pictures of our American dead.

No, damn it, it’s not about them being Republican. A competent Republican adminstration would be like ice cream on a summer day compared to these people. There’s nothing inherently Republican or Democratic about making sure one of America’s major cities — and our major port — doesn’t get erased under the water of a nearby lake. You’re not suddenly paying over $3 for a gallon of gas (when you can find it) because George Bush is a nominal Republican. You’re paying that much because he’s completely goddamned useless, and he’s dragged the government down to his sorry level.

(Having said that, when I hear that both Dennis Hastert and Donald Rumsfeld have expressed doubts about the utility of rebuilding New Orleans, you have to wonder if being Republican in today’s world means intentionally signing up for brain damage. Seems that port down there isn’t just used by the folks in New Orleans. It could be that not having it around might cause trouble. If one of my Republican readers (or leaders) would like to assure me that they’d prefer not to leave New Orleans as a rotting abscess at the end of the Mississippi River, I sure would appreciate it.)

New Orleans is a physical embodiment of something I’ve thought for a very long time: That it’s going to take years to repair the all the totally unnecessary damage to our country that this adminstration has seen fit to wreak upon it. The good news is that more people seem to be waking up to that. The bad news is it took the destruction of New Orleans to bring it home.

(Incidentally: The American Red Cross. Donate. I did.)

59 Comments on “New Orleans”

  1. And after they messed up, let’s not forget the shining handling of the aftermath. Five days, and they haven’t yet managed to get food and water to the designated shelters in New Orleans.

    And he’s still smirking on TV.

  2. The Big Easy

    I’m still buried, but I wanted to say a few things about the unfolding tragedy. Fortunately, Mr. Scalzi has done the job for me, better than I ever could have.

  3. Yeah, I was confused by that comment… I’m pretty sure the bulk of national news coverage in the 3-4 days leading up to the actual event can be summarized as “oh crap! The levees are gonna blow!” Maybe he doesn’t watch the news?

  4. I got halfway through the entry and thought, “Here’s a chance for me to be glib about partisanship,” and then you beat me to the punch. Ruined all my fun.

    Seriously though, while I understand that the administration screwed up, and I have certainly never been a supporter of Bush, I think that assuming that this event will somehow galvanize anyone is silly. Any administration could’ve gotten egg on their face for this, just because of a lousy decision to let some levees go. If people aren’t interested in hating Bush for killing people in a war, then they’re not going to be interested in hating him for simple (but terrible) negligence.

    I’m not saying it’s not a sin, what’s been done here, but it’s certainly not the most grievous.

  5. “If people aren’t interested in hating Bush for killing people in a war, then they’re not going to be interested in hating him for simple (but terrible) negligence.”

    Considering Bush’s approval rating prior to the hurricane was flirting with the high 30s, I think people had already reached a certain point of dissatisfaction with the man. I suspect this will matter commensurately.

    I do note, however, that the “people like Bush” meme has still managed to hold up, in spite of all actual evidence to the contrary. Due credit to the meme’s crafters for that.

  6. Don’t forget that the stuff we have been failing to do—provide food, shelter, medical care and water to tens of thousands of people who have been evacuated—is exactly the stuff we were supposed to be prepared to do in case there was another terrorist attack. If we aren’t prepared to help the poor of New Orleans after Katrina, how were we planning to help the poor of, say, Chicago after a dirty bomb? Or has it turned out that we don’t have a plan for that, either?
    Thanks,
    -V.

  7. Natalie – Delaware – I write about books and culture and whatever else strikes my fancy. I have so many opinions. I was a finalist for the Best Fan Writer Hugo in 2017.
    Natalie

    You know, I work in help manage capital expenditures at a very large corporation. When we’re prioritizing our capital budget each year, we look at all the projects on deck and prioritize them by urgency and category. Maintain/repair and safety projects generally get highest priority. Growth and improvement are lower on the list.

    If we had a business come to us with two capital needs, one of them a repair that was urgently needed to prevent a catastrophic release of toxic nastiness and the other a project to increase product yield by 2%, we’d choose to do the repair every damn time. Maintain/repair projects aren’t fun or glamorous, but they’re essential.

    What our wonderful, wonderful government has chosen to do instead is to spend the capital on pork projects ($223 million bridge in Ketchikan, for example) and hostile takeovers (Iraq) instead of essential infrastructure repair and maintenance (levees in New Orleans). They’ve gone for glamour over structure–because, as far as I can tell, it’s all about appearances with them and not actually doing their damn jobs.

  8. Christ. I’ve been a reluctant defender of Bush throughout much of his administration, but it’s coming to the point where I no longer have faith in him. It is unbelievable to me just how tone-deaf the guy is. He has not said one thing to inspire anyone or give anyone a glimpse of hope in this situation. I’m not going to be as hyperbolic as John (“it’s going to take years to repair the all the totally unnecessary damage to our country that this adminstration has seen fit to wreak upon it”), but it’s quite obvious that the man has become a profound disappointment.

    That said, it’s a little ridiculous to blame this entire mess on the administration. New Orleans has been a disaster-in-waiting for decades now. And even if the city had gotten the funds it requested in 2001 (and by the way, funding for New Orleans’ engineering issues seems like a job for the state of Louisiana), repairing and reenforcing the levees would have taken at least six or seven years, and there’s no way of knowing if it would have even worked against a storm like this.

    If we use apparent incompetence as a measuring stick, then everyone from the city of New Orleans on up deserves blame. It is absolutely horrifying and embarrasing to know that the world is watching this breakdown of society unfold. And it’s not just the response of our government that is shameful, it’s the behavior of the citizens in New Orleans as well. People are shooting at rescuers trying to evacuate flooded hospitals! Fuck those people! And fuck the people shooting at helicopters. And fuck the people raping women in the Superdome. I have never been more embarrased for my country than I am right now. This kind of shit should never happen in the U.S. There is an entire major U.S. city descending into anarchy right before our eyes, and nobody knows what the hell to do. A country of our vast resources should never have let this happen. It makes me sick.

  9. Knayte:

    “That said, it’s a little ridiculous to blame this entire mess on the administration.”

    I don’t. I blame it for not funding the levees, which is the proximate cause for the level of flooding in the city. And Bush’s aggressive cluelessness offends me, which is the proximate cause for this entry. But as you note, there’s enough blame to go around on all levels of government in how this is unfolding.

    I take your point re: the length of the time it takes to build the levees, incidentally. However, I’d note there is a substantial difference between “We were building the levees, but they weren’t finished in time for this particular hurricane,” and “We didn’t fund these levees.”

    I, also, wonder what the hell the people shooting at the choppers were thinking, and a little shocked at just how quickly people got out of hand.

  10. Regarding the shooting at helicopters, the most generous interpretation I can think of is they’re trying to get the helicopter pilot’s attention so they could be picked up.

    Less generous interpretations would be, “well, if you’re not going to come rescue me, then you’re not rescuing anybody!”

  11. I, also, wonder what the hell the people shooting at the choppers were thinking, and a little shocked at just how quickly people got out of hand.

    I’m remarkably unshocked. New Orleans is one of the most uncivilized cities in the country. It has been the rape capital forever.

    This is not an attempt to diminish the tragedy, it is also not an attempt to call “Gomorrah” on it. I’m just saying that for some reason or another, New Orleans has always been unruly. And for some entirely different reason, I never quite internalized an expectation that people will civilize themselves in the midst of normalcy obliterating crisis. I’ve always been more likely to expect The Road Warrior, than Logan’s Run.

  12. I’ve heard for years how wasteful and ineffective our government is and how much rampant pork-barrel spending goes on, but it never really clicked in my head that it was potentially dangerous to actual human life. Now we’re seeing that this is in fact the case. It’s one thing to divert funds to fight a war, it’s another to do this (found at The Corner):

    “Just last year, the Army Corps of Engineers sought $105 million for hurricane and flood programs in New Orleans. The White House slashed the request to about $40 million. Congress finally approved $42.2 million, less than half of the agency’s request.

    Yet the lawmakers and Bush agreed to a $286.4 billion pork-laden highway bill that included more than 6,000 pet projects for lawmakers. Congress spent money on dust control for Arkansas roads, a warehouse on the Erie Canal and a $231 million bridge to a small, uninhabited Alaskan island.

    How could Washington spend $231 million on a bridge to nowhere – and not find $42 million for hurricane and flood projects in New Orleans? It’s a matter of power and politics.

    Alaska is represented by Republican Rep. Don Young, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, and Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, a senior member of the all-important Senate Appropriations Committee. Louisiana’s delegation holds far less sway.”

    http://apnews.myway.com/article/20050901/D8CBNMA88.html

    I would say that I hope this is a wakeup call to our leaders, but what’s the point.

  13. John, regarding the “outrage” over the budget cuts and how people claim they “could” have made a difference were they not cut, please read this.

    No matter what people want to say, with a disaster the magnitude of Hurricane Katrina, a chunk of New Orleans was destined to become part of the Gulf.

    We should be focusing on the people, who need the attention now. Relief money should go towards relocating displaced people and to create new jobs elsewhere, not be spent on fighting a losing battle to recover a small chunk of submerged land. There’s plenty of dry land in … Nebraska. Why the hell should my tax dollars go to restoring submerged land in New Orleans?

  14. Dossy writes:

    “Why the hell should my tax dollars go to restoring submerged land in New Orleans?”

    You are clearly one of the people who is working under the impression that the Port of Southern Louisiana — the largest in the United States — is serviced by leprechauns.

    The implication of your link, as far as I can tell, is that since the construction on the levies wouldn’t have been completed by the time the hurricane hit, that we should excuse the Bush adminstration for not funding the levees at all, and that it was perfectly fine to defund the levees while they were an ongoing project. Needless to say, if that is indeed what you’re saying, I think that’s pretty fucking dumb.

  15. OK, I guess I should have expected this, but it still shocks the hell out of me. How about we wait until we fish all the dead bodies out of the water before we start blaming the disaster on a particular lineitem in a particular budget from a particular administration, OK?

    John – I’ve certainly learned my lesson about calling you partisan & would never dream of doing it again, but politics is, at best, a tiny part of this problem (at least right now), and we’re only discussing it because you brought it up. Not to mention, the spin is incredible.

    Yes, the latest budget proposal underfunded the levee work. Congress added additional funding, but still funded around 50% of the requested amount. Funding for these projects began dropping off in 1991, three administrations ago. And the article that you linked to states that levee strengthening projects started in 1965 are still not complete. The problem is well stated by former Mississippi congressman Mike Parker: “These projects are huge, they’re expensive and they’re not sexy.” I’m not absolving Bush in the least, but everyone shares a little of the blame here – up to & including the construction firms that have been dragging their feet for forty years on the previously approved projects.

    As for the national guard, the blogosphere seems to have reached the foregone conclusion (almost gleefully, in my opinion) that we don’t have enough help down there because the national guard is overstretched in Iraq. It’s a big, giant “I TOLD YOU SO!” all around.

    The facts I’m reading, however, don’t support this at all. According to the New York Times, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana have called up about 10,000 troops, and Arkansas, Texas and other neighboring states are contributing troops also. Louisiana’s national guard stood at 65% of capacity available, and Mississippi’s stood at 60%.

    On top of that, a US Navy assault ship and six search & rescue helicopters are already on the scene, and four other Navy vessels are en route with food, medical supplies, hover-craft, etc. The Coast guard has deployed 40 aircraft and 30 ships. FEMA has sent 10 search & rescue teams and 23 disaster medical assistance teams. The Department of Transportation has sent 390 trucks containing, among other things, “millions of liters of water and millions of pounds of ice.” It’s the largest domestic disaster response in the nation’s history.

    It’s true that many of the supplies & rescuers can’t get to where they need to be, which really, really sucks. While I’m sure it’s satisfying to blame this on Bush’s incompetence, it also has something to do with the access paths that are blocked by heavy debris. Also, a large portion of these folks were ordered to stop providing assistance yesterday, so they could stop some citizens of New Orleans from raping, killing, and looting those who have been hit hardest. For Chrissake, people are stealing medicine from hospitals at gunpoint while their elderly patients suffocate and die from lack of oxygen and medicines due to the massive power outages. Don’t these morons deserve some of the blame too?

    As there always is, there will be plenty of time to criticize President Bush. Right now, there are much, much bigger fish to fry here.

  16. Sorry for the double-post, but you asked if there were any Republicans around who are in favor of rebuilding New Orleans. Here you go: I’m a registered Republican, and yes, I think we should rebuild it. BUT, we better spend some time figuring out how to rebuild it so that it’s better off than it was. Rebuilding it with exactly the same problems it had before would be assinine.

  17. The flooding of New Orleans may well have been inevitable, but the fact that there was no sane evacuation plan and apparently nobody had actually planned a relief effort either, those are not inevitable facts of nature. Those are people who are paid to yield power grieviously neglecting their duties.

    Shit happens. Civilization should be about predicting it and minimizing its effects. The fact is, there have been people predicting it. I’ve read at least a dozen articles about the consequences of a Category 5 hitting New Orleans before last Sunday. I suspect there are lots of people who have been pushing for good well-concieved damage control plans too. They’ve just been ignored.

  18. Also, it sort of puzzles me when people use the argument “It’s the biggest relief effort in the history of this country.” Yes, well, on the face of the worst catastrophe that hit it, that’s the least one can expect. The point is, is this effort efficient, timely, well-prepared, well-coordinated? Until now, not terribly much. Is this the implementation of a well-rehearsed plan, or just haphazard mobilization?

  19. For those who are indulging in knee-jerk Bush Admin criticism…..the Corp of Engineer project to shore up the N.O. levees was first proposed…. IN 1965!!!! And has been neglected ever since. So include Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bush I and Bill Clinton in your mindless partisan criticisms. Try knowing what the hell you’re talking about before apply fingers to keyboard…..

  20. Brian Greenberg:

    “OK, I guess I should have expected this, but it still shocks the hell out of me. How about we wait until we fish all the dead bodies out of the water before we start blaming the disaster on a particular lineitem in a particular budget from a particular administration, OK?”

    How about we don’t, Brian. How about we note that this particular administration stopped the work on the levies, began the process of dismantling FEMA and siphoned off a significant chunk of the Louisiana National Guard to Iraq, which despite your stats almost certainly made a rather significant difference in the first response.

    How about we acknowledge that whatever is on the ground now in terms of resources is there playing catch-up. Yes, I’m really happy the administration has all those bags of ice on the way to New Orleans. It would have been nice to have a few of them on the ground in New Orleans on, say, Monday, before all those people in the Superdome completely lost their shit because they had nothing.

    How about we acknowledge that an adminstration that has been in power for five years bears some responsibility for being able to craft a coherent response to a natural disaster — particularly one that has made its reputation on the idea of “keeping America safe.”

    Thousands of people are likely dead, hundreds of thousands are homeless, New Orleans is damaged for years, and we’ve got a President whose is surprised that the levees he defunded cracked under the strain of a hurricane that was barely under category 5 strength when it slammed into Louisana. I don’t find that satisfying. I think it’s just about the most tragic thing I’ve seen.

    You think I find it satisfying to lay this at this administration’s feet? You think I don’t want to be able to trust and respect my own government, just for the amusement of being able to slag on it? [Intemperate comment deleted due to calming down.] All right, that last comment was over the top, because Brian is done his usual thoughtful job of responding. My apologies, Brian. But I don’t get any joy out of thinking this is yet another Bush screwup.

    Absolutely agree, however, that we need to think on how to rebuild New Orleans so that it is hopefully less susceptible to flooding and levee breaking in the future. Haven’t the slightest idea where to begin.

  21. Hey, Chris Gabel, try reading some of the other comments before you start spewing brainlessly. Thank you.

    What really gets me about these “the levees would have taken years anyway!” comments is none of them seem to entertain the idea that it’s possible that the construction that would have been completed by the time Katrina hit might have been sufficient not to have turned 80% of New Orleans into a reconstituted swamp. Of course, it’s all academic, since 80% of New Orleans is now a reconstituted swamp.

  22. John, you are correct. Whether or not the levees would have been finished in time for Katrina, the project should not have been defunded in the first place considering all the warnings we’ve had about a potential disaster in New Orleans. It’s becoming painfully clear that lots and lots of people have fucked up in enormous ways.

  23. FYI for everyone: An article on the levees (including their long history of not always being a priority) is here. It’s basically covering what everyone’s saying here: It takes a long time to get anything done when it comes to levees (the point others are making), and the levees were poorly funded by this particular administration (the point I am harping upon).

    Also of interest: this article on the federal government response, which is not particularly charitable, and properly so.

  24. Natalie – Delaware – I write about books and culture and whatever else strikes my fancy. I have so many opinions. I was a finalist for the Best Fan Writer Hugo in 2017.
    Natalie

    Just to clarify: I wasn’t saying the funding was the only reason things are as fucked up as they are in New Orleans, but it was certainly a contributing factor.

    Right along with the apparent lack of planning for taking care of people after “The Big One” and every other blasted thing that’s gone pear shaped.

  25. Aside from my outrage at the defunding of work on the levees I’m absolutely appalled at the utter incompetence with which disaster response is being conducted. The bushies seem to make all of their appointments soley on the basis of patronage with actual competence in the relevent areas completely ignored.

    Bush and his cronies saying “be patient” in a situation where waiting for clean water, food, medicine is a life and death matter is beyond clueless. And blaming those who didn’t evacuate for their plight is reprehensible when there was no help given to get people out.

  26. Forgot funding of the levee. It was never going to withstand this storm.

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-0509020195sep02,1,1457842.story?coll=chi-news-hed

    “However, [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Officials] noted that the levees were designed for a Category 3 hurricane and could not handle the ferocious winds and raging waters from Hurricane Katrina, which was a Category 4 storm when it hit the coastline. The decision to build levees for a Category 3 hurricane was made decades ago based on a cost-benefit analysis.”

    Another choice bit:

    “Congress in 1999 authorized the corps to conduct a $12 million study to determine how much it would cost to protect New Orleans from a Category 5 hurricane, but the study is not scheduled to get under way until 2006. It was not clear why the study has taken so long to begin, though Congress has provided only in the range of $100,000 or $200,000 a year so far.”

    There’s plenty of blame to go around with regard to the levee. The real problem is denial that it could ever happen here.

    At what point do the state and local officials come in for blame? They dropped the ball every bit as much as the feds.

  27. Yes, Scott, but let’s also note this in the same article:

    “Several critics, including a former head of the Corps of Engineers, suggested in a Tribune story Thursday that the flooding in New Orleans could have been less severe had the federal government fully funded projects to improve the levees and drainage in the city.”

    Let’s just say that given this administration’s track record in diverting attention from its own shortcomings in its response to the flooding, the suggestion that flooding was inevitable should be greeted with all appropriate skepticism, particularly when people with experience with the same projects suggest that the flooding need not have been as severe.

    Let’s also note that the Lake Ponchartrain levees were indeed being upgraded — and underfunded: “Another project designed to shore up defenses along Lake Pontchartrain was similarly underfunded, as the administration budgeted $22 million of the $99 million requested by the Corps between 2001 and 2005. Congress boosted spending on that project to $42.5 million, according to Landrieu’s office.”

    While we’re at it, let’s also note that the comment in the article that says “Strock also denied that escalating costs from the war in Iraq contributed to reductions in funding for hurricane projects in Louisiana” is at odds with previously published reports on the matter.

    So, you know, if it’s all the same, let’s not forget the levees quite yet.

    “At what point do the state and local officials come in for blame?”

    Who says they’re not? There’s more than enough blame to go around, to be sure. This doesn’t mean the federal government should be allowed to deflect it’s own very healthy share of blame onto them, however.

  28. John:

    How about we note that this particular administration stopped the work on the levies, began the process of dismantling FEMA and siphoned off a significant chunk of the Louisiana National Guard to Iraq, which despite your stats almost certainly made a rather significant difference in the first response.

    Well fine, but the thing is it wasn’t just “this administration” that stopped work on the levies. Yes, they underfunded it and yes, in hindsight, that was the wrong thing to do. But as Chris Gabel correctly noted (before he went off the deep end with an ad hominem attack), lots of administrations have been ignoring this problem for four decades, not to mention local officials, as well as the folks who are actually supposed to be doing the work. History shows that we dump a bunch of funding on these levies every time a big storm hits (1965, 1977, 1992) and then a few years later, the work hasn’t been done, and the funding slowly dries up. Bush & Co should be held accountable, but they’re at the end of a very, very long list.

    As for the national guard, I’m not sure how you can say “despite the stats…” If the problem were a lack of rescue workers, then more rescue workers would have made it better. Everything we’re reading is suggesting that the problem is logistics, power, communication, transportation, etc. If we needed more NG troops, they appear to be available right now.

    FEMA is a more interesting discussion, since these would be the guys responsible for logistics, communiation, transportation, etc. Having spent some time in the insurance industry, I can tell you that FEMA has the most thankless job in the world – in every single disaster, people are upset with FEMA’s response, almost regardless of what they do. I also recognize that they’re dealing not just with New Orleans, but with Mississippi and Alamaba as well, and they’re dividing their time between helping people and shoring up the coastline. So maybe they’re screwing it up – hell if I know, but to claim it’s because George W. Bush reorganized them into the DHS still strikes me as a stretch.

  29. I’m sorry, but I have to call bullshit. It was Clinton who began cutting the funding for the NOLA levees:

    http://eurota.blogspot.com/2005/09/us-left-all-straws-clutched-every.html

    And besides the point is moot. The Lt. Gen. in charge of the Army Corps of Engineers said that the completed higher levees probably wouldn’t have saved the city anyway.

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-050901corps,1,7189346.story?coll=chi-news-hed&ctrack=1&cset=true

    As far as the relief efforts go, well, now that we can remain in agreement. I just can’t hold the federal level to complete responsibility though, as this has pretty much been a disaster of logistical coordination at all levels of government. Although, I think most of this was because of different sets of expectations at the different levels. Local and state planned for hurricane not hurricane-then-flood. And federal planned for flood, but mostly-evacuated-city flood, not 100,000-people-still-trapped flood.

    I’ve written about this a bit (sorry for the plug, easier to point there than regurgitate the whole thing):

    http://www.radicalbender.com/blog2/?p=157

    But finger-pointing in general is pointless at this stage. The truth won’t come out for months at the earliest. All this is is speculation, posturing and grandstanding from everyone and I’m sick of it. I’m calling the local Red Cross over lunch – we’re getting about 25,000 evacuees here in Dallas and I need to see if there’s anything I can do to help.

  30. I thought we had invaded Iraq so that we’d have enough sand for sandbags when New Orleans flooded. If it weren’t for the insurgents gumming up the works over there, the administration could have exported enough sand to LA to prevent the disasters. Once again, the brilliant planning of our administration has been foiled by evildoers. We should start some kind of vague neverending war/struggle against them.

  31. Not to add fuel to the righteous anger here, but I just had to share this little tidbit: Among the things that the money that should have been spent protecting Nawlins was actually spent on is this gem I get to see every morning:

    Homeland Security has launched the “Secure Automated Inspection Lanes (SAIL) Screening Pilot Project” here in San Francisco. This delightful scheme will screen one hundred percent of all passengers on the ferry route from Marin County–the most affluent county in the entire country–to downtown San Francisco. Passengers are handed a sheet of (I assume specially treated) paper, stand in a line, and then hand the paper to a TSA employee who slots it into a machine to test if you’ve been handling explosives.

    Because, you know, if I plan to blow up a building in San Francisco, oh yeah, I’m so gonna take the ferry.

    It’s not the program that twists my knickers as much as the advertising for the program. Thousands of slickly-produced, full-color brochures have been distributed (and discarded), featuring gorgeous photos of the ferries in action, printed on heavy card stock with a semi-matte finish. (You can see a PDF here.) I dunno if anyone else here has ever seen any numbers for printing this kind of thing, but let me tell you, that shit is expensive. And that’s not even counting the huge posters and special tickets that are all being distributed as part of this PILOT program. (See them all here.) So we can assume that, should this ever become a full-fledged, official program, we can expect another round of posters, fliers, and tickets.

    Roughly four thousand people ride the ferry every day (not sure if that counts return trips; it could be as low as two or as much as eight). Contrast this with one hundred thousand people driving across the Golden Gate Bridge every day (which, incidentally, is owned by the same company that runs the ferries).

    Bottom line: Homeland Security has never made me feel safe. In fact, they’ve always made me feel less safe, because they always seem to focus on programs that would make absolutely no real difference, to the detriment of anything that might prove truly effective in protecting this country.

  32. *fumes* I cannot believe that someone who works in a city that’s a paved-over swamp says, “It makes no sense to spend billions of dollars to rebuild a city that’s seven feet under sea level.”

    Okay. I can believe it. Unfortunately.

  33. Yes, Scott, but let’s also note this in the same article:

    “Several critics, including a former head of the Corps of Engineers, suggested in a Tribune story Thursday that the flooding in New Orleans could have been less severe had the federal government fully funded projects to improve the levees and drainage in the city.”

    Let’s just say that given this administration’s track record in diverting attention from its own shortcomings in its response to the flooding, the suggestion that flooding was inevitable should be greeted with all appropriate skepticism, particularly when people with experience with the same projects suggest that the flooding need not have been as severe.

    Given that the study to see if it was feasable to upgrade the levee to be able to withstand a storm like Katrina wasn’t scheduled to start until next year (WTF?) suggests to me this view is highly speculative. Which projects is the former head of the USACE referring to? If projects existed to strengthen the levee to withstand a Katrina type storm then why was there a study scheduled? Perhaps this is a case of one hand not knowing what the other is doing. If the levee was only designed to withstand a category 3 hurricane that detail should be public record. Actual plans to strengthen the levee to withstand stronger storms should also be public record. Sadly, I don’t have any faith in today’s journalists to actually look it up and report on it.

    I brought up the state and local officials because I’ve seen many blogs piling on Bush (much of it warranted) but no mentions of the governor or mayor. Even the news coverage on the web (I don’t get the TV version) seems focused on the Federal level. Perhaps I’ve just not looked hard enough.

  34. Scott Janssens writes:

    “Given that the study to see if it was feasable to upgrade the levee to be able to withstand a storm like Katrina wasn’t scheduled to start until next year (WTF?) suggests to me this view is highly speculative.”

    Well, as mentioned before, there were ongoing projects to strengthen the Lake Ponchartrain defenses, so I don’t see why this seems terribly speculative. Also, of course, one must entertain the notion that a former head of the Army Corps of Engineers speaks from a position of knowledge neither you nor I have. My point is that choosing to close the matter for discussion based on one source when there are conflicting opinoins from reputable other sources seems a bir precipitate.

    I fully acknowledge that this opinion is tempered by my opinion that members of this particular adminstration so frequently get their “facts” from alternate universes that I tend to consider their facts non-operable until proven otherwise. Irregardless, even if I were inclined to believe them, I’d want more information.

    Radical Bender writes:

    “It was Clinton who began cutting the funding for the NOLA levees”

    So what? Wasn’t Bush supposed to be a refreshing change from Clinton? If we are to accept the premise that certain former presidents and administrations were bad actors in this regard, how does this excuse the current adminstration? The reason we have different administrations is to do things differently.

    Bush cut funding for levees. There’s no bullshit in that statement. It is what it is.

  35. “You are clearly one of the people who is working under the impression that the Port of Southern Louisiana — the largest in the United States — is serviced by leprechauns.”

    Let me just respond to this with a quote, which I’m hoping is easily recognized:

    “Listen, lad. I built this kingdom up from nothing. When I started here, all there was was swamp. Other kings said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built it all the same, just to show ’em. It sank into the swamp. So, I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. So I built a third one. That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp. But the fourth one… stayed up! And that’s what you’re gonna get, lad: the strongest castle in these islands.”

    How many times should we try to build a castle in the swamp, John?

    It may not have been serviced by Leprechauns but the location sure was chosen by idiots.

  36. Dossy writes:

    “It may not have been serviced by Leprechauns but the location sure was chosen by idiots.”

    Yeah, God forbid anyone would want to put a port at the foot of the mightiest river on the entire continent, which was and is America’s major channel of commerce. Yes, yes, these people must be completely insane.

    Dossy, I realize you think your Monty Python reference was unbearably clever, but it actually just suggests that your thinking about this particular subject is painfully shallow, as does your lack of understanding as to why New Orleans exists. this article might be of some use to you; it explains why people would choose to make a city there even when in certain non-trivial ways it’s (yes) more than a little nuts to do so.

    I grew up in California, which has three of its major cities directly off a major fault line. Periodically the fault heaves and the cities blow up and then fall down. We don’t suggest people don’t live or build there, because these cities have other geographic advantages (they are all ports, like New Orleans, for example); we use our big meaty brains to construct the cities do they don’t fall down as hard the next time. I use California as the example because I’m familiar with it, but every major city you could choose has a game-ending feature: Seattle has a volcano, for example. Las Vegas has no water. Most of Florida is profoundly vulnerable to hurricanes (remember Katrina killed a dozen or so people there on its way to squash New Orleans). Washington DC was built on bug-infested swamp for no other good reason than that the states couldn’t agree which should hold the national capital.

    New Orleans is below sea level, but so is much of the Netherlands, including most of its major cities. The technology exists to make being below sea level a reasonable way to live. The issue with New Orleans is not that it was under the sea level; it was that the system that was holding out the water was not sufficient to the task.

    New Orleans will almost certainly be rebuilt; it’s still at the base of the Mississippi, after all. Not rebuilding it would cost the US more in shipping and transport costs for imports and exports than it costs to build it back. What needs to be asked is how it will be rebuilt — whether we just build another castle in the swamp, to use your not especially clever image, or whether we build a system that allows the castle to stay up and be useful.

  37. Having lived in Florida, the Caribbean and New Orleans at various times since 1979, I have become all too familiar with hurricanes. These experiences have also given me a benchmark for post-storm relief efforts by FEMA.

    The worst storm I lived through was Hurricane Marilyn (Cat. 3/4) which hit St. Thomas, USVI on the evening of September 15, 1995. The entire island was devastated, with 80% of homes damaged.

    On the morning of September 16, HOURS after the storm had passed, FEMA was already flying in and delivering relief supplies.

    A summary of FEMA’s excellent response in St. Thomas is found at:

    http://www.colorado.edu/hazards/qr/qr82.html

    This begs the question: What has happened to FEMA?

    Ten years ago, this was an organization that learned from prior catastophies and built upon that knowledge. FEMA’s “weak” response** this week shows that the organization has leadership problems and is a shadow of its former self.

    Therefore, I was not surprised to learn that the current administration appointed a real estate attorney who had no experience with disaster relief to head FEMA.

    http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/12/20011203-6.html

    I was even more shocked to find out he had been terminated (forced to resign?) from a position at the Int’l Arabian Horse Association.

    http://storiesinamerica.dailykos.com/storyonly/2005/9/2/34622/68348

    It sickened me to watch Bush praise the efforts of his friend “Brownie” (FEMA Director Mike Brown)
    yesterday.

    The people of New Orleans, and America for that matter, deserve better. They at least deserve the FEMA organization that was able to respond to
    a devastated island within hours.

    I must agree with John – this adminstration has alot to answer for.

    ** Republican David Vitter assessment of FEMA’s response.

  38. For those who say “sure Clinton cut funding first but we expect more of Bush” you have to remember that Clinton cut funding during one of the largest economic bubbles this country has ever seen. At the time he cut funding it looked as if we had money coming out our ears! This is exactly the time when you do fully fund preventative projects.

    Bush took over at the beginning of one of the largest bubble bursts in this countries history. Followed by one of the most devastating attacks (both in loss of life and in financial effect) ever made to the united states of america. We are still in a recovering economy. Not exactly when you would finally fully fund a 40 year old project to bring levees up to spec to protect against a level 3 hurricane.

    Now for the part that will get me in trouble. Why is it the federal governments problem to build up levees for New Orleans? Here in california we increased taxes took out bonds etc to pay for the retrofit for earthquake readiness. It is part of the cost of living in this state. If New Orleans is such a valuable port, increase port fees to pay for the levees. If it is such a vacation jewel, increase Hotel taxes. Why isn’t this a local government issue?

    Don’t get me wrong. I understand and agree with the federal government aiding in the rescue and rebuilding of the area. This is just common decency but the American People should not subsidize anyone’s way of life.

    Ask your selves this. What strength hurricane should we fund for defense against? What strength of earthquake are you willing to fund for me to be safe in california?

    BTW: Bush in an unprecedented move declared a state of emergency 2 days before the hurricane hit! If the response was not fast enough it was not because the president didn’t act.

  39. Doug Petrosky

    “Bush took over at the beginning of one of the largest bubble bursts in this countries history. Followed by one of the most devastating attacks (both in loss of life and in financial effect) ever made to the united states of america. We are still in a recovering economy. Not exactly when you would finally fully fund a 40 year old project to bring levees up to spec to protect against a level 3 hurricane.”

    Uh-huh. This would be a fabulous argument if the Bush Adminstration had even pretended it ever had even the slightest bit of fiscal restraint, which it never has — check the budgets — and if there went billions of dollars of pork going all over the country. Fully funding the levees is a matter of an additional $100 million a year, which is chicken feed, relative to other projects, including the $190 billion we’ve sunk in Iraq. You can’t seriously suggest that not funding the levees was part of an overall belt-tightening initiative on the part of the Bush administration.

    “BTW: Bush in an unprecedented move declared a state of emergency 2 days before the hurricane hit! If the response was not fast enough it was not because the president didn’t act.”

    You’re joking, right? Declaring an emergency is all very nice, but what would have been even better is if members of this man’s administration had then gotten off their collective asses and gotten aid to the area within five days of the hurricane hitting. If Bush had acted in a timely matter, he and his administration would not now being furious jamming into recovery mode, trying to explain why they didn’t act.

    Let’s not pretend that if Bush and his gang of incompetents had acted in a timely manner, that he wouldn’t be reaping the benefits and taking the credit. So fair, being fair, when his administration is falling flat on its ass, it’s perfectly reasonable to give him a heaping share of the blame.

  40. A preventable devastating multi-pronged terrorist attack,
    three pointless wars of retribution,
    and then the worst natural disaster in US history made worse by apathy and incompetence.

    I yearn for the days when the worst thing that could be said about our president was he was unfaithful to his wife and lied about it to Congress. I’ll take a personal indiscretion over a complete lack of competence any day.

  41. I have to agree with John Scalzi’s post regarding what has happened to FEMA? Additionally, I have been asking why more people are not calling for Dept. of Homeland Security Director, Michael Chertoff’s resignation. On the DOHS website, Chertoff lists his resume as http://www.usdoj.gov/olp/chertoffresume.htm

    While Harvard educated, Chertoff certainly has no relevant experience to run such a vast department of important agencies designed to protect America’s citizens. I am concerned if he lacks the strategic skillset to coordinate effective disaster relief for our treasured New Orleans and surrounding gulf how then can we ever trust him to protect us from a potential man-made or other organic disaster? Does anyone have any ideas how we can coordinate such an effort? We need someone who can do the job.

  42. “…it’s going to take years to repair the all the totally unnecessary damage to our country that this adminstration has seen fit to wreak upon it.”

    “The bad news is it took the destruction of New Orleans to bring it home.”

    I have to say, I hate Bush as much as anyone. But these two statements are outrageous and outright irresponsible. To imply that Bush could have done something to stop Hurricane Katrina is just hateful. I am sorry that I accidently stumbled upon your column while looking for information on the situatiion. I feel sorry for you sir.

  43. Huh? Nowhere do I suggest that Bush could have stopped a hurricane; that’s just ridiculous. He could have fully funded the work on the levees, which what this article is about.

    Please try to read more carefully next time.

  44. Question:

    What was the proposed cost to repair the levees of New Orleans vs. the proposed cost of this disaster (BEFORE we even talk about the rebuilding of the city)? Levee repair vs.rescue, recovery, clean up and sustenance for the displaced folks of New Orleans.

    I am sorry to read that Mr. Bush is heart broken over the criticism of his leadership. However, I want to know who signed off on Mr. Brown of FEMA. My heart aches for all you folks caught in this mess.

  45. I, too, lived through Hurricane Marilyn (1995) on St. Thomas. The FEMA response wsa quite good. Perhaps the response to Hurricane Hugo (1989) on St. Croix helped to streamline the overall relief response there.

    At this time, newspapers from the Virgin Islands contain articles about what type of response might be expected if there is a major hurricane in the Eastern Caribbean this year …

    However, hurricane preparedness there is far more a way of life than it is among most statesiders.

  46. Guys,

    The levees which failed were New Orleans run levees. The Corps of Engineer levees did not fail. The question of the day? . . .What did New Orleans city government do with all its levee money it solicited from its people and from the rest of the citizens of the US?

    The Mayor should be looked into, i think.

  47. I think that this is a wake up call for Americas to do what is right things are happening that never happen before. I think that Bush should be out of office

  48. I was there for Hurricane Hugo back in 89.I am also a Katrina Victim.There is nothing in the world that could have prepared me for the disaster that I saw when I returned home to New Orleans.It hurts even more when people who are not experiencing this tragedy has so much negative things to say towards the victims such as “FUCK THOSE PEOPLE”.I think most of us know that this is a very heartbreaking situation for our children.Do some of you people think about that while you are expressing you deepest feelings towards the victims of Katrina?

  49. PLEASE!!!! The federal government gave these crooks plenty of money to fix their levees. They just decided to spend the money on other things. this has nothing to do with Bush. In my opinion New Orleans shouldn’t even be put back on the map for something like this to happen again. And the racist politicians of New Orleans should be dumped on the side of a deserted road somewhere.

  50. Please,
    Do some real research (not moveon.org)and learn to think for yourselfs. You people think with your hearts and not your brains. The local and state goverment are responsible for all of the coordination (or lack of)the 5 days after and FEMA could not get one decision from a State offical.

    The good mayor made many bad decisions, included moving everyone into the Dome, which was not an approved shelter. He did not follow any of the ERP procedures. The only reason a manditory evacuation was called, was because Bush called him and asked him too. He had only issued a voluntary, decpite being warned by the National Weather Service. They could not help them help them. Try looking up the State ERP and FEMA ERP, and reading them. Then give your opinion. Until then, shut up. People like you vote because Hollywood tells them too and your the reason our country is Fucked up.

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