Democracy Arsenal

September 02, 2005

Hurricane Katrina

Katrina and the World
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Today I have been fielding two kinds of inquiries, and I don't know which is worse.  One is from Americans who aren't foreign policy experts, asking what the rest of the world must think of us.  The other is from Europeans, asking, with exquisite politeness, why on earth we can't get medical supplies and relief to our own people within 72 hours.

There's genuine bewilderment out there -- people may scorn our politics and culture, but they do still tend to belive that we are technologically advanced and incredibly citizen/consumer friendly -- that this is basically a great, if soulless, place to live.  The scenes on our tvs do not compute.  (I know, they don't compute for us either.)  And, if only we can lift up our heads to see it, there's a genuine outpouring of sentiment -- and donations -- at least among foreign bloggers.  Check out some non-US blogs on this mixture of fondness and astonishment:  France, Croatia, Britain/Spain.

Had the incredibly odd experience of listening to the BBC interview rural Delta residents who were asking when the foreign aid was going to show up.  One of our readers suggested that this period will presage a tremendous turn toward isolationism -- I'm not sure that's true.

Meanwhile, we hear the Germans are sending aid and a Dutch frigate is steaming in from the Caribbean.  NATO to the rescue, after all?

It will be interesting to see whether this spurs a decline in views of US hyperpower/omnipower.  If so, this Administration will have only itself (and global warming) to blame.   This interview with Homeland Security Chertoff, in which he denies the nightmare at the New Orleans convention center, and a staffer has to call later and admit NPR was right, is one of the most shameful performances by a Cabinet-level official I've witnessed.  Robert Siegel finally says to him, more or less, but didn't someone near your office have a contingency folder that said, "New Orleans is inundated" on it?

Good question.  Juliette and Derek, Gingrich and Mitchell are all very well, but when we have your Katrina Commission, let's insist that it be run by people who are familiar to -- and have credibility with -- the folks who were left behind in New Orleans and the Delta.  The folks the planners forgot, because they don't have cars and laptops and cellphones and big credit cards to fund hotel stays.


Hurricane Katrina

A Katrina Commission
Posted by Derek Chollet

The finger pointing has started.  Regardless of your political persuasion or party affiliation, one cannot watch the horrifying images coming out of New Orleans – and read the articles about how officials knew for a long time that something this terrible could happen -- and conclude that the recovery effort has gone well. 

Of course, the aftermath of this disaster will have huge political consequences, and there’s no doubt that the White House is hoping that today’s images of President Bush “taking charge” and of troops and supplies pouring into New Orleans will quiet the political beating he has taken during the past few days (of course, this morning there were already dueling press events, with the Congressional Black Caucus slamming the recovery efforts, while Bush was in Alabama flanked by two Republican governors and Mississippi and Alabama Republican Senators praising his efforts).  Yet with lawmakers returning to Washington next week, don’t expect any of this to go away.

But as Suzanne and Lorelei here at DA and many others in the blogosphere, on TV, and in print have been writing for the past few days, our government’s response to this disaster raises many serious questions about its preparedness to anticipate and handle another such event, whether from a natural disaster or a terrorist attack, especially a chemical or biological attack that would impact a large geographic area.  Why didn’t more people leave New Orleans when the warning went out?  Why has the relief and refugee effort in the city been so screwed up? Why has it taken troops so long to get on the ground and for food and supplies to arrive?  Why did FEMA appear to be slow out of the gate?  Could more have been done last weekend before Katrina hit?  Or more fundamentally, why wasn’t more done years ago to ensure that levees could withstand anything greater than Category 3 storms?

We need answers to these and other questions, and we have to learn from these mistakes.  We need to ensure that nothing like this happens again, and yes, hold our leaders accountable.

This morning over at TPM’s America Abroad, Juliette Kayyem suggests that an independent investigation like the 9-11 commission – let’s call it the “Katrina Commission” -- should be launched to do just that.  I agree.  I don’t think it is an overstatement to say -- as many have -- that this is an event of 9-11 proportions – on our economy, on our politics, and as a wake up call to leaders at local, state and the federal levels and for people all across the country who are thinking and worrying about how their cities and communities are prepared (or not) for a similar catastrophe, whether natural or manmade.

The President said this morning that he’s going to find out what’s not working and fix it, and find out what is working and duplicate it – well, if he’s smart he should ask Congress to help him appoint two well-known leaders from each party to form an independent commission to report on what happened and why and to make recommendations.  How about Newt Gingrich and George Mitchell (they did a great job as co-chairs of a recent commission on UN reform)? If he doesn’t do this, Congress should do so when it returns to Washington next week.  Obviously such a commission won’t alleviate the suffering of anyone right now – and that clearly should be the priority – but if done right, it could be an important step in ensuring that no one ever has to go through this again. 

Hurricane Katrina

Katrina: Some questions
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

How about these:

- What does this say about the status of homeland security preparedness steps taken since 9/11 - plans for "first-responders," command and control, the efficacy of disaster drills, etc.

- If we cannot deal with this, how would we ever cope with, say, a dirty bomb?

- What is the true impact of our obligations in Iraq on our ability to mobilize in response to this disaster?

- Why, as reported this morning, have some troops serving Iraq been flown in and heading straight to duty in New Orleans?  Were these people scheduled to come home?  Were they ordered home?  Are we that short of manpower?

- What will the rest of the world make of this - a grim reminder of America's gaping class and racial divisions?  more evidence that we're not omnipotent?  more gratitude for what we have contributed to the tsunami and other relief efforts?

- How will the hurricane affect already waning public support for the Iraq war effort?  What about the war on terror?

While we ponder and debate, here's a link to liberal blogs for hurricane relief.

September 01, 2005

Hurricane Katrina

Killing New Orleans
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Katrina's wicked aftermath in Louisiana and Mississippi is heart-wrenching for Americans.  But some of our tears should be shed in fury. The shocked, looting-obsessed blatherers on TV obviously finds it distasteful to bring up politics as we watch our nation's most unique city sink into a deadly brew, yet we need to face the fact that our leadership's track record on keeping Americans safe at home  is clearly not a priority. 

Water destroying New Orleans has always been a matter of national defense. Despite this, and  aided and abetted by conservatives, President Bush has gutted the Federal Emergency and Management Agency (FEMA) exiled the National Guard to purgatory in Iraq, and stripped flood control and mitigation programs --just to mention three relevant items.  Though these actions did not cause the hurricane, they left New Orleans vulnerable and now bereft. Conservative politics and the safety of American citizens  have come full circle on the Gulf Coast and collided in spectacular horror with the citizens taking the hit.  Natural disasters are in the hands of God.  Incompetence and ideology are ours to claim, however, and today they reign supreme.

A broken levee wall is what caused the city to drown. For years the walls have been sinking.  Starting in the 1960's, the federal government began working with regional state and local officials on major hurricane and flood relief efforts.  Congress authorized the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, or SELA in 1995. Yet after 2003, the flow of federal dollars toward SELA dropped to a trickle. As blogger Attytood  notes,  the Corps never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures  of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security -- coming at the same time as federal tax cuts -- was the reason for the strain. The $750 million Lake Pontchartrain and Vicinity Hurricane Protection project is another major Corps project, which remained about 20% incomplete due to lack of funds. That project consists of building up levees and protection for pumping stations on the east bank of the Mississippi River. In early 2004, as the cost of the conflict in Iraq soared, President Bush proposed spending less than 20 percent of what the Corps said was needed for Lake Pontchartrain.

FEMA enfeebled: FEMA's Project Impact, a model mitigation program created by the Clinton administration, was  canceled outright under Bush and conservative congressional leadership. Federal funding of post-disaster mitigation efforts designed to protect people and property from the next disaster was cut in half.. In Louisiana, requests for flood mitigation funds were rejected by FEMA this summer.

The tradeoffs are appalling. In Fiscal Year 2006, Louisianan's will spend 78.4 million dollars on Cold War boondoggle missile defense.  They will spend 1.7 billion for the war in Iraq.  Mississippi will spend 42.9 million on missile defense and 918.7 for the war in Iraq. This would have paid for the levee repair with change.

Bush's tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% of Americans would have translated into 930 million dollars for Louisiana and 707.1 million for Mississippi.  Louisiana spent 1.6 million dollars on abstinence only education programs last year.

Like a macabre parody of Thomas Frank's economic thesis, Louisiana's congressional delegation became majority conservative in the last election.  Senator David Vitter was designated the most conservative of the freshman class by the National Journal this year. He has voted for every tax cut as well as for the invasion of Iraq . A cursory check on a vote rating website showed similar results for the mostly Republican Louisiana delegation.

Although it is not linear, there is a relationship between budget priorities and people dying right now.  These terrible tradeoffs are what happens when your political leadership relies on an extreme ideological base --many of whom attack reasoned debate as treasonous and any questioning of our national priorities as communism redux. Maybe it will now be obvious.  Our leadership is a bunch of towel-snapping fraternity boys who are not interested in government.  Likewise, their mean spirited power base--instead of governing--would rather stand on the last radioactive pile of rubble with a megaphone yelling "I told you so!"  Maybe this will be more clear to middle Americans as they watch our precious New Orleans drown.

Sign-up to receive a weekly digest of the latest posts from Democracy Arsenal.

www Democracy Arsenal
Powered by TypePad


The opinions voiced on Democracy Arsenal are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of any other organization or institution with which any author may be affiliated.
Read Terms of Use