September 1st, 2005

The Ghost of Rawk?

The situation as it stands.

FEMA has determined that it's no longer safe in New Orleans, which has fallen into a state of anarchy. People are shooting at helicopters out of frustration. Many feel like they're being left to die. Mothers are giving their babies to CNN reporters.

They have nowhere to put the dead bodies, so they are left floating on the water or lined up in the street. The ones who have died in the Superdome are just being left there. Where are they going to put them?

The Superdome has degenerated into a vision of hell. There is no air conditioning, toilets are overflowing, there are no supplies. One man killed himself by throwing himself from the top balconey. Some people are reporting rapes inside.
An old man in a chaise lounge lay dead in a grassy median as hungry babies wailed around him. Around the corner, an elderly woman lay dead in her wheelchair, covered up by a blanket, and another body lay beside her wrapped in a sheet.

"I don't treat my dog like that," 47-year-old Daniel Edwards said as he pointed at the woman in the wheelchair. "I buried my dog." He added: "You can do everything for other countries but you can't do nothing for your own people. You can go overseas with the military but you can't get them down here."

Just above the convention center on Interstate 10, commercial buses were lined up, going nowhere. The street outside the center, above the floodwaters, smelled of urine and feces, and was choked with dirty diapers, old bottles and garbage.

"They've been teasing us with buses for four days," Edwards said.

National Guardsmen are arriving today. They had to be flown in. The Louisiana Guard is stretched too thin with so many of them in Iraq. Oh, and when they went to Iraq they took high water vehicles, humvees, refuelers and generators with them.

FEMA has been fairly ineffective. And why not? The head of FEMA is no emergency management specialist. He's a friend of the President's. His last job was as an estate planning lawyer in Colorado.

Yesterday I said that I would not join the chorus of people criticising the president for slashing funding to projects aimed at repairing and maintaining the levee system. But looking at the things that are starting to break has changed my mind. Because it's not just the funding: it's taking away the national guard, slashing funding to FEMA, doing away with Clinton-era contingency protocol for just such a disaster. When you look at all of it's just not pretty.

And they have no one to blame but themselves. Gone are the convenient scapegoats like Clinton's handling of the Taliban or the insurgents or Al Queda. This is Bush policy, a policy which took a gamble and said, essentially, "This is a risk we're willing to take because we believe that we are shifting this funding and these resources to a much nobler cause."

Well. There are a few thousand souls who would beg to disagree.

This morning the President said two very interesting things while appearing on Good Morning America. The first was this:
"I hope people don't play politics at this time of a natural disaster the likes of which this country has never seen."

The response, from Hunter at Daily Kos, is pitch-perfect:
Oh, I'm touched. Utterly touched. After 9/11, the entire Republican Party went en masse to get Twin Towers ass tattoos. The Republican convention was a wholesale tribute to crass exploitation, the sets themselves designed to evoke the aftermath of the attack. Every domestic and international policy this administration -- no, this entire Republican government -- has produced has been heaved up before the public while waving the spectre of 9/11 as the catch-all vindication of every administration whim. Every tax cut, every civil rights issue, every budget cut, every budget expansion, no matter how tortured the logic must be, has some Republican senator standing on the Senate floor and proudly raping the corpses of that day as justification for their particular agenda item.

Oh, we've seen politicization of disaster. Every Republican campaign for the last four years has revolved around the politicization of disaster.

But Lord help us, George W. Bush is going to get the vapors if anyone asks him to explain his administration's active cuts of the very programs designed to keep New Orleans safe.

It would be one thing if the reaction were coordinated and if there had not been budgetary cuts to these programs. Then we should hang our heads and say, "What can we do in the face of the power of nature? We have done ALL THAT WE COULD DO. But that's not the case.

The response has been frighteningly anemic and is taking too long. People are dying and going mad. And you get the sense that The President and his staff still have no idea how big this is. This is huge. This is Hell. This is so strange and so sad.

And just when you think you can't get angry on top of all of this, George Bush says the second interesting thing from his GMA interview:
"I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees."

Take a moment.

Yes, sir. Nobody anticipated a breach in the levees. Except for the people who lived there. And the people who begged for federal funding to restore the levees.
"It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us." -- Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 8, 2004.
* * *

The $750 million Lake Pontchartrain and Vicinity Hurricane Protection project is another major Corps project, which remains about 20% incomplete due to lack of funds, said Al Naomi, project manager. That project consists of building up levees and protection for pumping stations on the east bank of the Mississippi River in Orleans, St. Bernard, St. Charles and Jefferson parishes.
The Lake Pontchartrain project is slated to receive $3.9 million in the president's 2005 budget. Naomi said about $20 million is needed.

"The longer we wait without funding, the more we sink," he said. "I've got at least six levee construction contracts that need to be done to raise the levee protection back to where it should be (because of settling). Right now I owe my contractors about $5 million. And we're going to have to pay them interest."

* * *

That second study would take about four years to complete and would cost about $4 million, said Army Corps of Engineers project manager Al Naomi. About $300,000 in federal money was proposed for the 2005 fiscal-year budget, and the state had agreed to match that amount.
But the cost of the Iraq war forced the Bush administration to order the New Orleans district office not to begin any new studies, and the 2005 budget no longer includes the needed money, he said.

* * *
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, according to a Feb. 16, 2004, article, in New Orleans CityBusiness.

When asked about this sort of thing, Scott Mclellan's response was infuriatingly (and strangely refreshingly) typical.
REPORTER: There's a lot of discussion going on about the funding of projects prior to this, whether projects in New Orleans in particular were underfunded because of the Iraq war or for other reasons. Do you find any of this criticism legitimate? Do you think there is any second guessing to be done now about priorities given that [a disaster in] New Orleans was sort of obvious to a lot of the experts?

MCCLELLAN: As I have indicated, this is not a time for politics. This is a time for the nation to come together for those in the Gulf Coast region and that's where our focus is. This is not a time for finger-pointing or politics. And I think the last thing that the people who have been displaced or the people who have been affected need is people seeking partisan gain in Washington. So if that's what you're talking about, that's one thing. Now, if you're talking about specific areas, I would be glad to talk about some of those, if that's what you want.

REPORTER: I'm talking about policy

REPORTER: One project, for instance, is the one where people felt they needed $60 million in the current `06 fiscal year, and they were given $10 million. Those types of projects. And a lot --

MCCLELLAN: Which project is this?

REPORTER: Southeast Louisiana Flood Control.

MCCLELLAN: Flood control has been a priority of this administration from day one.

And, as a kick in the face:
So the Gulf Coast has gone all Mad Max, women are being raped in the Superdome, and Rice is enjoying a brief vacation in New York. We wish we were surprised.

What does surprise us: Just moments ago at the Ferragamo on 5th Avenue, Condoleeza Rice was seen spending several thousands of dollars on some nice, new shoes (we’ve confirmed this, so her new heels will surely get coverage from the WaPo’s Robin Givhan). A fellow shopper, unable to fathom the absurdity of Rice’s timing, went up to the Secretary and reportedly shouted, “How dare you shop for shoes while thousands are dying and homeless!” Never one to have her fashion choices questioned, Rice had security PHYSICALLY REMOVE the woman.

Angry Lady, whoever you are, we love you. You are a true American.

Let's all pray. Things are going to get better. They have to.

Via Wonkette, the FEMA workers on the scene have a new name for the flood waters in New Orleans.
We're naming it Lake George, 'cause it's his frickin fault. Have you seen all that data about the levee projects' funding being cut over the past three years by the Prez, and the funding transferred to Iraq? The levee, as designed, might not have held back the surge from a direct Class 5 hit, but it certainly would not have crumbled on Monday night from saturation and scour erosion following a glancing blow from a Class 3. The failure was in a spot that had just been rebuilt, not yet compacted, not planted, and not armed (hardened with rock/concrete). The project should have been done two years ago, but the federal gov't diverted 80% of the funding to Iraq. Other areas had settled by a few feet from their design specs, and the money to repair them was diverted to Iraq.

The NO paper raised hell about this time and again, to no avail. And who will take the blame for it? The Army Corps, because they're good soldiers and will never contradict the C in C. But Corps has had massive budget cuts across all departments (including wetland regulatory) since Bush took office, and now we've reaped what was sown. It really pisses me off to see the Corps get used by the Administration to shield Bush -- they do great work when they're funded. This was senseless, useless death caused not by nature but by budget decisions.

Nevermind. General Wesley Clark wrote this Christastrophe way better than I did.