Friday, September 02, 2005

Why New Orleans is in deep water, Molly Ivins

Molly Ivins, Creators Syndicate
Published September 1, 2005

AUSTIN, Texas -- Like many of you who love New Orleans, I find
myself taking short mental walks there today, turning a familiar
corner, glimpsing a favorite scene, square or vista.
And worrying about the beloved friends and the city, and how they are now.

To use a fine Southern word, it's tacky to start playing the blame
game before the dead are even counted. It is not too soon,
however, to make a point that needs to be hammered home again and
again, and that is that government policies have real consequences
in people's lives.

This is not "just politics" or blaming for political advantage.
This is about the real consequences of what governments do and do
not do about their responsibilities. And about who winds up paying
the price for those policies.

This is a column for everyone in the path of Hurricane Katrina who
ever said, "I'm sorry, I'm just not interested in politics," or,
"There's nothing I can do about it," or, "Eh, they're all crooks

Nothing to do with me, nothing to do with my life, nothing I can
do about any of it. Look around you this morning. I suppose the
National Rifle Association would argue, "Government policies don't
kill people, hurricanes kill people." Actually, hurricanes plus
government policies kill people.

One of the main reasons New Orleans is so vulnerable to hurricanes
is the gradual disappearance of the wetlands on the Gulf Coast
that once stood as a natural buffer between the city and storms
coming in from the water. The disappearance of those wetlands does
not have the name of a political party or a particular
administration attached to it. No one wants to play, "The
Democrats did it," or, "It's all Reagan's fault." Many
environmentalists will tell you more than a century's interference
with the natural flow of the Mississippi is the root cause of the
problem, cutting off the movement of alluvial soil to the river's

But in addition to long-range consequences of long-term policies
like letting the Corps of Engineers try to build a better river
than God, there are real short-term consequences, as well. It is a
fact that the Clinton administration set some tough policies on
wetlands, and it is a fact that the Bush administration repealed
those policies--ordering federal agencies to stop protecting as
many as 20 million acres of wetlands.

Last year, four environmental groups cooperated on a joint report
showing the Bush administration's policies had allowed developers
to drain thousands of acres of wetlands.

Does this mean we should blame President Bush for the fact that
New Orleans is underwater? No, but it means we can blame Bush when
a Category 3 or Category 2 hurricane puts New Orleans under. At
this point, it is a matter of making a bad situation worse, of
failing to observe the First Rule of Holes (when you're in one,
stop digging).

Had a storm the size of Katrina just had the grace to hold off for
a while, it's quite likely no one would even remember what the
Bush administration did two months ago. The national press corps
has the attention span of a gnat, and trying to get anyone in
Washington to remember longer than a year ago is like asking them
what happened in Iznik, Turkey, in A.D. 325.

Just plain political bad luck that, in June, Bush took his little
ax and chopped $71.2 million from the budget of the New Orleans
Corps of Engineers, a 44 percent reduction. As was reported in New
Orleans CityBusiness at the time, that meant "major hurricane and
flood projects will not be awarded to local engineering firms.
Also, a study to determine ways to protect the region from a
Category 5 hurricane has been shelved for now."

The commander of the corps' New Orleans district also immediately
instituted a hiring freeze and canceled the annual corps picnic.

Our friends at the Center for American Progress note the Office of
Technology Assessment used to produce forward-thinking plans such
as "Floods: A National Policy Concern" and "A Framework for Flood
Hazards Management." Unfortunately, the office was targeted by
Newt Gingrich and the Republican right, and gutted years ago.

In fact, there is now a governmentwide movement away from basing
policy on science, expertise and professionalism, and in favor of
choices based on ideology. If you're wondering what the
ideological position on flood management might be, look at the
pictures of New Orleans--it seems to consist of gutting the
programs that do anything.

Unfortunately, the war in Iraq is directly related to the
devastation left by the hurricane. About 35 percent of Louisiana's
National Guard is now serving in Iraq, where four out of every 10
soldiers are guardsmen. Recruiting for the Guard is also down
significantly because people are afraid of being sent to Iraq if
they join, leaving the Guard even more short-handed.

The Louisiana National Guard also notes that dozens of its high-
water vehicles, Humvees, refuelers and generators have also been
sent abroad. (I hate to be picky, but why do they need high-water
vehicles in Iraq?)

This, in turn, goes back to the original policy decision to go
into Iraq without enough soldiers and the subsequent failure to
admit that mistake and to rectify it by instituting a draft.

The levees of New Orleans, two of which are now broken and
flooding the city, were also victims of Iraq war spending. Walter
Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, said on
June 8, 2004, "It appears that the money has been moved in the
president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq."

This, friends, is why we need to pay attention to government
policies, not political personalities, and to know whereon we
vote. It is about our lives.

Molly Ivins is a syndicated columnist based in Washington. E-mail:

2 Thoughts:

Blogger Doug said...

NYT Editorial: Waiting for a Leader

Friday, September 02, 2005 12:37:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Krugman, "A Can't-Do Government

Friday, September 02, 2005 12:39:00 PM  

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