Friday, September 02, 2005

Politicians Failed Storm Victims

Yahoo! News reported At every turn, political leaders failed Katrina's victims. They didn't strengthen the levees.

I dont see how that is the Federal Government's problem, but as Michelle points out below, it was a decision made in the Clinton administration as well as the Bush administration.
They ceded the streets to marauding looters.
FEMA went in to help, and started getting shot at. The governor has now issued "Shoot to Kill" orders
They left dead bodies to rot or bloat.
They did not have refrigerated trucks to store them; they were more focused on finding people that were still alive.
Thousands suffered or died for lack of water, food and hope. Who's at fault? There's plenty of blame to go around — the White House, Congress, federal agencies, local governments, police and even residents of the Gulf Coast who refused orders to evacuate. But all the finger-pointing misses the point: Politicians and the people they lead too often ignore danger signs until a crisis hits. It wasn't a secret that levees built to keep New Orleans from flooding could not withstand a major hurricane, but government leaders never found the money to fully shore up the network of earthen, steel and concrete barriers.
It is foolish to try to protect a large city that is 10 to 15 feet below sea level with levees on all sides. What if the hurricane had come right over New Orleans, rather than taking the jig to the east, and dumped all the rain in the city. It still would have been flooded, even if the levees had held. If the city is to be rebuilt, it should be rebuilt somewhere else.
Both the Bush and Clinton administrations proposed budgets that low-balled the needs. Local politicians grabbed whatever money they could and declared victory. And the public didn't exactly demand tax increases to pay for flood-control and hurricane-protection projects. 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?
The only thing that will solve the problem of pork laden projects is a constitutional amendment giving the president the line item veto.
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.

Steve M. blogged There will be careful media examinations of what happened, both in the years before the levees failed and as the relief effort descended into anarchy -- but far more of the coverage will be in this same "It's all so incomprehensible" vein. And the conventional wisdom will be that it was all too overwhelming to really be anybody's fault.

Steve Antler blogged Maybe I'm reading this wrong, but Ron Fournier seems to be insisting we take pork barrel spending from all around the country and send it to New Orleans flood control instead

James Joyner blogged There's plenty of "blame" to go around here, if it's warranted. Certainly, no president in my memory has launched a crusade to spend tens of billions more on levees and other storm protection measures. Nor, despite their willingness to spend exhorbitant amount of money on various "pork barrel" projects in their states and districts, has Congress allocated these monies. Again, Parker is right: That sort of spending isn't very "sexy." Whether it's smart, in the grand scheme of federal priorities, is again well beyond my expertise.

Michelle Malkin blogged Naturally, Bush's critics want to make this into a major issue in the run-up to the 2006 mid-term elections next fall. But the reality is more complex than the Bush Blamers will admit. They want you to believe that inadequate flood-control protections became a problem only after Bush took office. However, the New Orleans Times-Picayune has written numerous articles over the years describing the threat posed by inadequate funding for flood-control measures. Many of these articles, such as the one authored by Pam Louwagie on June 1, 1999 (see extended entry), appeared well before President Bush took office.

The Times-Picayune's articles make clear that throughout much of the 1990s, officials in Louisiana couldn't come up with state money needed to match federal funds. The resignation of Rep. Bob Livingston in December 1998 didn't help. (Livingston was chairman of the House Appropriations Committee; federal funding for flood control projects was one of his pet projects.) Nor did environmental laws, such as the Migratory Bird Act of 1918. (Construction on a hurricane protection levee in St. Charles Parish was halted for months because a great egret nesting area sat in the levee's path.)

One of Bush's critics cited a February 16, 2004, New Orleans CityBusiness article. That critic, however, chose not to excerpt these two sentences:
The Corps' New Orleans district in 2003 spent about $409 million on construction contracts, dredging and maintenance for the state's waterways, real estate purchases, private sector design contracts and in-house expenditures, according to the Corps. That more than doubles the $200 million the district spent in 1991.
Presumably those sentences were omitted because they do not support the notion that the Army Corps of Engineeers in New Orleans was starved for funds.

And don't expect Bush's critics to mention that the main levee that was breached earlier this week had recently been upgraded. Per the New York Times:
No one expected that weak spot to be on a canal that, if anything, had received more attention and shoring up than many other spots in the region. It did not have broad berms, but it did have strong concrete walls. Shea Penland, director of the Pontchartrain Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of New Orleans, said that was particularly surprising because the break was "along a section that was just upgraded." "It did not have an earthen levee," Dr. Penland said. "It had a vertical concrete wall several feel thick."
The Chicago Tribune makes the same point in even stronger terms:
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Thursday that a lack of funding for hurricane-protection projects around New Orleans did not contribute to the disastrous flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina. In a telephone interview with reporters, corps officials said that although portions of the flood-protection levees remain incomplete, the levees near Lake Pontchartrain that gave way--inundating much of the city--were completed and in good condition before the hurricane. However, they noted that the levees were designed for a Category 3 hurricane and couldn't 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.

Read the whole thing.

Michell has a lot more than I have printed here. Read all she has to say

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