Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Katrina and New Orleans

Almost immediately after returning from Crawford, I headed off to Burning Man, so I haven't had time to say much about Hurricane Katrina and the City Formerly Known as New Orleans. I grew up on the Gulf Coast, and I've seen hurricanes. I sat through a direct hit from a Category 2 hurricane in the Caribbean a couple of years ago. Even a mere "tropical storm" is not to be taken lightly, and Katrina was a hurricane of epic scale.

Hurricane Katrina has exposed the incompetence and callousness of the Bush administration with unprecedented clarity. Anyone who has watched television in the last five or ten years knew that New Orleans was in danger of catastrophic flooding if a major hurricane broke the levees that keep the Mississippi River, Lake Pontchartrain, and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico from reclaiming the city. The Army Corps of Engineers sought $2.5 billion to reinforce the levees, but the Bush administration insisted on slashing the ACOE's budget instead, because they needed the money for the war in Iraq and for tax cuts for the wealthy. One after another plea for funding to prevent this disaster was rebuffed. Building levees and sea gates and other mechanisms to prevent or at least control flooding is not the province of individual citizens or private enterprise. On this scale, I believe it is not even the province of local or state government, but rather of the United States government. Bush is willing to spend piles of government money to protect golf courses in Wyoming from non-existent terrorist threats, but not to protect an entire city from a well-known, entirely foreseeable natural threat. We are the righteous servants of God, so He will protect us from hurricanes, earthquakes, and plagues of locusts.

Congress has already allocated $10.5 billion in emergency aid for the Gulf Coast region, and more will be needed. The city of New Orleans will take months just to clean up before it can even think about rebuilding. The Port of New Orleans will be unusable for the foreseeable future, and economic devastation will ripple outwards, ultimately affecting every corner of the country. $3 gasoline is only the beginning. Certainly there would have been considerable destruction even if the New Orleans levees had held, but how can Bush justify refusing the money to bolster them?

Now Bush wants to keep all news media out of New Orleans, so that you won't see the piles of rotting corpses, especially the people who died after the hurricane passed through, waiting for relief that came too little, too late.

What should Bush have done? As Katrina was approaching New Orleans, he should have had Homeland Security mobilize a fleet of buses to carry evacuees out of the danger zone. About 20% of the population of New Orleans stayed behind simply because they had no way to get out, and the federal government hardly lifted a finger to help them. After the storm itself passed, Bush should have had FEMA on the ground within hours, with emergency food and water and medical care. Bush should have immediately federalized the national guards from nearby states such as Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, even before the hurricane hit, to help with evacuation, relief, and security.

Instead, Bush sat on his duff doing nothing, saying that no one could have predicted that which was repeatedly and loudly predicted.

The people of New Orleans have George Walker Bush to blame for their plight. It's time to make him pay for his blunders, for once in his life.