The Gulf Coast

I wanted to post collating some of the thoughts about New Orleans and Biloxi, but my brother has already beaten me to it in a very good post. I’ll admit that I’ve been steaming mad about the whole white people “find”, black people “loot” syndrome.

Now is a moment of grief and rolled up sleeves for relief. Soon, very very goddamn soon, I want an accounting from my government why they have been diverting the money from fixing the known dangers of the levees in New Orleans to invading countries that pose hypothetical and ultimately non-existent threats. Don’t tell me that I want the real dangers in my own country addressed before fake dangers across the world because I hate freedom. The time for the easy evasion is over, time now for those accountable to answer the questions. Time for the conservatives to live up to their talk and take some personal responsibility.

Update: In comments, Rob S expresses dismay at me playing politics with the disaster. He asks “Is the state responsible for the maintenance of each levee or is it the federal government?” These were not hypotheticals, there were people on the ground in New Orleans who had been trying to guard against this day, and found their money previously earmarked moved to other priorities. Here is the quote that made my head boil, via the Daily Kos:

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.

Rob, read that whole page at Kos and tell me if you think I’m overreacting or playing politics.

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Dave Slusher is a blogger, podcaster, computer programmer, author, science fiction fan and father.

15 thoughts on “The Gulf Coast”

  1. Somehow I knew that certain people would look to assess blame on the President or people who favor a particular political point of view for this disaster. Quite surprised to see it in this space.

    I’m not sure about the politics or economics of the levee situation in New Orleans. Is the state responsible for the maintenance of each levee or is it the federal government? Is it possible to build a levee that is impenetrable no matter what type of natural disaster occurs? What have the local politicians in Louisiana been doing to lobby for an improved levee system? Those are some questions that should be answered prior to any finger pointing. The important thing now is that all efforts are made to help those affected rebuild their lives.

    Bringing the war in Iraq into this seems to be a stretch, possibly caused by anger related to the devastation you’re seeing on TV. I’ve talked to a couple of my co-workers who live on the gulf coast. One of them completely lost his house and the other is not sure of the fate of his house, but the prospects aren’t too good. They’re not concerned with the politics of public infrastructure. They’re simply glad that they got out with their families lives intact. Friends and co-workers will help them to get their lives back on track.

    My humble opinion is that people’s energy is better spent helping folks get their lives back on track as opposed to playing a political blame game with a natural disaster that no person could prevent.

  2. Rob, I posted an update with some specifics in the main post.

    Your final line is crap. If I posted some stupid thing unrelated, would you say I should be spending THAT energy instead of “playing a blame game?” No, you wouldn’t give a shit. Only criticism of the very bad management of this country would draw that. Should I point out that while this catastrophe was happening, the president had time to go to San Diego and give a rah rah speech, trying to prove that invading Iraq was like post-war Japan. Was he playing politics rather than spending energy helping folks get their lives back on track?

    No one can be expected to know this levee would fail in New Orleans at this time. You could be expected to know that something would fail somewhere in this country, and some city would be weathering a horrible disaster at sometime, probably in the near future. When you commit the people that keep this country safe somewhere else, when you spend this country’s money somewhere else, you decide not to have those resources here. This is entirely a legitimate question, wondering if what we gain elsewhere is better than what we lose by not having them here.

  3. Of course people are blaming Bush & Co. Why? Because they’ve been systematically stripping funding from Gulf Coast levee maintenance and hurricane preparedness, and reallocating it to the DHS and the invasion of Iraq.

    This is a known thing. Heaps of facts. Years-long back history of articles and public statements on the dangerous short-sightedness of this policy.

    Some of us check the facts before shooting our mouths off.

  4. This really boils down to a question of risk management. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has always played it fast and loose with risk management. The pretext for going to war in Iraq was to alleviate the risk that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and the ability to hit targets of interest to the U.S. and that he served as an ally for terrorists. In fact, the risks presented by those two ideas were incredibly low, since neither one of them proved to be true, a fact which the administration clearly knew at the time they committed U.S. troops in Iraq.

    The disaster underway in New Orleans was not only forseeable, but was in fact forseen. Study after study suggested storm activities could devastate New Orleans, which is why such sidespread projects at flood control were undertaken, work which was in large part uncompleted due to repurposing of money to the war on terror. Traditionally, the national guard has been available to help out in these situations, but with relatively low level of troops available domestically, it’s very, very bad.

    The question facing the federal government was: what are the risks to our citizenry? In New Orleans, what are the relative risks from terrorism as compared to hurricaines? The administration funding in the post 9/11 era was that terrorism presented a greater risk than flood control. That was stupid. Really stupid.

    Heads should roll over this. They won’t, but there is certainly cause.

  5. Blaming the current adminstration is far too easy. Arguments can be made for every administration since the levees were built. (e.g. Clinton should have done it in the 1990s, when the country was rolling in money and not spending it on full-scale miltary operations (justified or not).)

    From the sound of it, not spending money on upgrading the levees has been going on for a long time. They have never been able to withstand a Cat4 hurricane or higher. What shortsighted politician decided to roll the dice on NOLA never seeing something greater than a Cat3?

  6. Right on Dave. I think the smartest thing we can do at this point is look forward to see what else has been cut in the past years that would similarly endanger our homeland. I’m sure that levees in New Orleans aren’t the only thing that fell upon the Bush axe.

    But the more pressing issue is to help the people in the affected areas. Instead of heading to San Diego the President should have got right on the horn and called up the U.S. Navy and Marines to get right in there with ships, hovercraft and helicopters with supplies. I know they’re on their way now but they should have already been in standby mode as soon as the hurricane was headed for New Orleans. Bless the Coast Guard for the job they’re doing but they must be tired as hell.

    To fix the levees I think they’ll probably have to build a dam with a spillway and close that when this temporary dam is done. As it is now it’s just too much power to just drop big sandbags and concrete barries to stem the flow.

  7. Maybe the administration is to blame, maybe the rotten system is to blame. I honestly don’t know. What really sucks though is when yet again, the poor, in this case mostly African-Americans take it in the shorts.

    Hello folks- oil prices $70 plus per barrel. Let’s see who’s an oilman and has all oil friends, well George W,. for one.Maybe going into Iraq was all a coincidence and had nothing to do with driving the price of oil up so all these theiving bastards could make a killing.

    Another war and another corporate windfall paid for by the bloodof the innocent. My heart and prayers goout to those affected by this disater as it does here in taiwan,morning after Typhoon Talim. I also pray the guilty repent and God have mercy on their souls!

  8. I’d have to agree with Gray. This disaster was a long time coming, and the current administration just gets to take the credit for 40 years of crossed fingers. Let’s face it, it’s a national trait to ignore a problem until it blows up on you, then bemoan all the things that could have been done to prevent it. Does’nt excuse the situation, but it’s unfair to place this soley on the shoulders of Bush & Co.

    And to be fair there was only what, 3 days notice that this thing was headed to the gulf coast area? There’s only so much that can be put into motion in that time (responding to Baron above about ships and supplies).

    I’ve been reading your blog and listening to the clambake’s for awhile now, and I really enjoy your point of view on things. But regardless of how you intended it, for me this just sounds like political grandstanding. Even if Bush had fully funded the leevy projects the day he took office, it’s almost certain they would have failed anyway since they were never designed to take this kind of storm.

    Anyway, hope your friends out there made it through ok, or whatever the right term is for surviving this kind of thing.

  9. Levees are mans attempt to control nature. We have altered our planet to such a great extent that the Colorado river no longer flows to the gulf of Mexico. It runs dry before it reaches it’s destination. What are we doing? We should live with nature not dominate it. It is time to create a zone by the ocean where no humans may live. This isn’t going to happen though. I understand the beauty of the ocean and the expense and complication of moving people. I also understand that politcs and public demand make any major changes in policy impossible. This is the sad and pathetic situation America finds herself in. We pretend that Republicans and Democrats are so different but it’s like rooting for your favorite football team; in the end they are both playing the exact same game with the same rules.

  10. I know emotions are raw and Dave has a lot of ties to New Orleans, so I don’t blame him for being angry. Especially when everything seemed like it was going to be ok, and then all Hell broke loose over these levees.

    But, I’d have to agree with Frit and Gray on this one. Everyone wants to lay blame after a natural disaster and it just ain’t that easy. I bet people have fumbled this levee issue, probably going back to the Eisenhower or Kennedy administration. Likewise, you can probably pick almost any issue and say that it would have been money better spent fixing the screwed up levees. Sure, you can pick the war expenditures, but I could probably argue that we shouldn’t have invested in a space program, or landing a man on the moon in the 60’s, or a lot of political pork or social program expenditures until the levees were right, too. I think we ought to be able to do these things, if we want or need too, AND have sound engineering for these levees…..and it isn’t so easy to just pick one issue and one snapshot in time and blame that as the reason for the engineering failures.

    Anyway, right now i have donated to the Red Cross and have helped my company put together a matching donation program for folks who want to contribute. Americans always come through in a time of crises, and I’m sure we will this time. What we need right now is everyone banding together, working as one and helping folks. There will be plenty of time for finger pointing and federal commissions (where they will all cover their asses) and partisan bickering over this…..down the road.


  11. I’ve read some really disgusting, racist remarks about the New Orleans “looting”, which is really nothing more than people surviving. For example:

    “I have yet to see a single WHITE looter. What a bunch of worthless trash they have in New Orleans.”

    Here’s the racist pig:

  12. The levee funding for NO was scheduled going to be reduced for fiscal year 2006 which starts on 10/01/2005. IN FY2005 the Army Corp of Engineers for the NO district had a budget of $343M. Was going to be reduced by $71M for FY2006. The stated reason was for DHS funding and Iraq.

    Before everyone gets excited about the budget numbers the hurricane happened before FY2006. I am pretty sure NO can count on an increase in funding now.

    Billions have been spent on the NO levees and it was not enough.

  13. The problem is not that the levees were underfunded, it is that the exist in the first place. Levees have proven time and time (and time) again to be ineffective, and in the long run, they do more damage than good. Someone commented that they want facts from our government… how about facts about geology? Here are some links that I found quickly:

    The truth is that it is NOT responsible planning to build a city that is below sea level and surrounded by a huge river, lake and gulf. New Orleans is a planning disaster created by greedy developers more concerned with making money than building responsibly. The only people to blame are generations of people who continue to fight nature. Even if Bush (and every president before him) had sunk billions of dollars into levees, nature will always win. Every year, Americans waste millions of dollars reclaiming land from the sea, enlarging beaches, propping up hillsides, etc. because they refuse to understand geology and the hopelessness of trying to fight it. If you want to complain about the current administration wasting money, maybe you should consider the billions of dollars that have been and will continue to be wasted to sustain a city that shouldn’t be located where it is! If people would respect nature, a lot of disasters all over the country could be avoided.

  14. I’m not laying blame at anyone’s feet. I’m just trying to understand how this happened.

    I have relatives in Holland who can’t understand how this happened. Holland, like New Orleans, is below sea level and the Dutch have spent literally hundreds of billions of dollars on creating the most advanced and sophisticated engineering infrastructure in the world. They had horrible flooding in the 1950s and realized that they needed to do far more to “hold back the sea” and protect themselves. Their hydraulic sea walls and pumping stations and so on are a genuine masterpiece of modern engineering and the Dutch continue to invest billions into it because they understand the importance of it.

    New Orleans had a full-scale hurricane in 1965 and yet it seems that instead of modernizing and upgrading the infrastructure that was protecting the city, NO suffered 40 years of “patching up” outdated levees, which couldn’t withstand a cat-4 hurricane anyway.

    So my question is this: in modern times, say from the Reagan years on up, did ANY President invest money into researching and re-designing the infrastructure that was protecting New Orleans from this kind of devastation? This is NOT a partisan question; I’m just trying to get some honest answers here. Did Reagan? Bush I? Clinton? Hell, even Carter? Did any of them have the foresight to say that New Orleans was being protected by an antiquated system of levees and needed to have a system much more similar to Holland’s? Does anyone have facts and figures on this, because every time I try to Google for information, I’m given only RECENT news.


  15. There has been some talk about Holland recently and it turns out according to some scientists that Holland is a catastrophe waiting to happen.

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