September 08, 2005

Lileks on the "Blame Bush" Mentality And Some Other Random Thoughts In the Wake of Katrina

Check out this column from James Lileks (easily one of the most fun to read pundits around):

Oh, the lessons we learned from Katrina. Bush’s refusal to invade New Orleans tells everything you need to know about Republican racist perfidy. The local government’s incompetence tells you nothing whatsoever about Democrats ability to govern at the micro level. Lethal storms can be turned aside months in advance by signing the right treaties. Or so they’re saying in the reality-based community.

Check the blogs: they’re calling President Bush’s response to Katrina “My Pet Goat pt. 2.” It’s a reference to the idea, so beloved of the Michael Moore enthusiasts and Osama Bin Laden, that President Bush’s initial reaction to the 9/11 was to give a what-me-worry grin and keep reading a kid’s story, because he wanted to know how it ended. These people seem to believe that a complete set of evacuation plans – including the removal of the entire city, buildings included, to Manitoba – were slapped down on the President’s desk the moment Katrina was just a stiff breeze, and Bush said nope. Call me when gas hits nine bucks a gallon, and besides, the town’s just full of Democrats; let ‘em float out in those Cadillacs they bought with welfare checks.

That’s what the frothier elements on the left seem to think. One Air America host said as much; various rappers and actors have blamed Bush for not calling Superman on the hotline and blowing the storm away with Superbreath. One theory – and it’s an interesting one, as Howard Dean would say – suspects the Administration of deliberately flooding New Orleans to test the nation’s ability to deal with a nuclear strike. That makes sense. Sure. Why bother to drill to learn lessons that can be applied in other cities when you can drown a city and learn nothing about the hazards of radioactivity? The latter method has the added virtue of a conspiracy, which means there’s a good chance someone in the chain will breach the levee of secrecy, leading to what the Founding Fathers called Super Extra Immediate Impeachment Plus.

Crazy, yes. But this is what it’s come to. According to the choir of professional carpers, President Clinton spent half his two terms personally drawing up plans for new levees - when he wasn’t sneaking around Afghanistan in camo paint trying to apprehend Bin Laden, that is. By contrast the Bush Junta sent 100 percent of the National Guard to Iraq, which meant the 12th Airborne Plunger Brigade couldn’t descend to the Superdome with jetpacks and unstopped the overflowing toilets. Doesn’t matter that New Orleans had hundreds of school buses unused for evacuation – blame the Feds who cut matching funds for bus-driver instruction back in 1927.

What I do not understand is this - where is the Democrats outrage about the many failures of Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco? Oh, that's right... I forgot. They are Democrats. Evidently, no one on the left has any interest in being intellectually honest. The strategy must be to paint Bush as the problem so as to divert attention from the Democrat's inability to run a city or state during a crisis.
Certainly, Bush and the Federal Government could have acted more quickly. Keep in mind though - FEMA is meant to assist local governments in responding to natural disasters. FEMA has never been staffed or funded to serve as the nation's sole first responder to natural disasters. It has always been understood that the local governments were in charge of first response and that FEMA would supplement such efforts.
Notwithstanding, what must not be overlooked is the failure of Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco to adequately plan for the hurricane, to implement any pre-existing hurricane response plans, to evacuate New Orleans early, to ensure that there was adequate transportation for all New Orleans' residents, to stop the looting, to build better infrastructure and coordinate relief efforts as quickly as possible.
The Mayor and Governor were on warning that a Hurricane could be a disaster for New Orleans. Why didn't the state, city or county governments do anything to strengthen the levies?
The immediate response from the left would be that the evil Republicans cut funding for such infrastructure. Why was this a federal government issue? The residents of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana would seem to have a greater interest than anyone else in ensuring that their City, which is built below sea level, had sufficient infrastructure to withstand hurricane conditions. So, why didn't they?
The National Review cites a Washington Post article, which provides that the Bush administration's requests for funding for key New Orleans flood control projects actually increased during the first five years of the Bush administration and the amount of funds provided was higher than during the Clinton administration:
Kudos to the Washington Post and reporter Michael Grunwald for today’s story showing how Louisiana’s state delegation diverted funds away from reporting levee’s in the years leading up to Hurricane Katrina. The Post also reports that federal money going to Louisiana’s hurricane prevention efforts actually increased during the first five years of the Bush administration. But politicians like Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu “have kept bringing home the bacon” even using Iraq funding requests to bring more pork home for pet projects:

“In Katrina's wake, Louisiana politicians and other critics have complained about paltry funding for the Army Corps in general and Louisiana projects in particular. But over the five years of President Bush's administration, Louisiana has received far more money for Corps civil works projects than any other state, about $1.9 billion; California was a distant second with less than $1.4 billion, even though its population is more than seven times as large.

Much of that Louisiana money was spent to try to keep low-lying New Orleans dry. But hundreds of millions of dollars have gone to unrelated water projects demanded by the state's congressional delegation and approved by the Corps, often after economic analyses that turned out to be inaccurate. Despite a series of independent investigations criticizing Army Corps construction projects as wasteful pork-barrel spending, Louisiana's representatives have kept bringing home the bacon. … Overall, the Bush administration's funding requests for the key New Orleans flood-control projects for the past five years were slightly higher than the Clinton administration's for its past five years.”
The issue is not necessarily one of federal budget cuts - rather the issue is why did Louisiana representatives siphon funds, which were provided by the Federal Government, to other pork barrel projects (from the Star Tribune):

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Before Hurricane Katrina breached a levee on the New Orleans Industrial Canal, the Army Corps of Engineers had launched a $748 million construction project at that very location. But the project had nothing to do with flood control. The Corps was building a massive new lock for the canal, an effort to accommodate steadily increasing barge traffic.

Except barge traffic on the canal has been steadily decreasing.

In Katrina’s wake, Louisiana politicians and other critics have complained about paltry funding for the Army Corps in general and Louisiana projects in particular. But over the five years of President Bush’s administration, Louisiana has received far more money for Corps civil works projects than any other state, about $1.9 billion; California was a distant second with less than $1.4 billion, even though its population is more than seven times larger.

Much of that Louisiana money was spent to try to keep low-lying New Orleans dry. But hundreds of millions of dollars have gone to unrelated water projects demanded by the state’s congressional delegation and approved by the Corps, often after economic analyses that turned out to be inaccurate. Despite a series of independent investigations criticizing Army Corps construction projects as wasteful pork-barrel spending, Louisiana’s representatives have kept bringing home the bacon.

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