Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Emergency preparedness botched, aftermath mismanaged by Bush administration

Don't politicize a tragedy.

That's what Republicans are shouting at us right now as we seethe with rage over the way the Hurricane Katrina relief effort is being handled on the federal level.

The administration's incompetence, lack of preparedness, and outright lies about the situation are stunning, and unbelievable.

Looking through the news coverage, I keep seeing new items that have me shaking my head in disgust. Why don't we start with the lack of emergency preparedness?

There was a great article on Editor & Publisher yesterday fromn Will Bunch, entitled, "Did New Orleans Catastrophe Have to Happen? 'Times-Picayune' Had Repeatedly Raised Federal Spending Issues".

(The Times-Picayune is a major newspaper in New Orleans).

New Orleans had long known it was highly vulnerable to flooding and a direct hit from a hurricane. In fact, the federal government has been working with state and local officials in the region since the late 1960s on major hurricane and flood relief efforts. When flooding from a massive rainstorm in May 1995 killed six people, Congress authorized the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, or SELA.

Over the next 10 years, the Army Corps of Engineers, tasked with carrying out SELA, spent $430 million on shoring up levees and building pumping stations, with $50 million in local aid. But at least $250 million in crucial projects remained, even as hurricane activity in the Atlantic Basin increased dramatically and the levees surrounding New Orleans continued to subside.

Yet after 2003, the flow of federal dollars toward SELA dropped to a trickle. The Corps never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security -- coming at the same time as federal tax cuts -- was the reason for the strain. At least nine articles in the Times-Picayune from 2004 and 2005 specifically cite the cost of Iraq as a reason for the lack of hurricane- and flood-control dollars.
(emphasis mine)

So we have a lack of emergency preparedness. We have an overseas war that has turned into a quagmire - a complete disaster, an utter failure. And this conflict, which we started, has spiraled out of control and has prevented us from taking care of our own people and our own needs here at home.

We have that, coupled with Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy. We have a surplus that Clinton built through careful budget managament that Bush has turned into a massive deficit. The federal government is essentially out of money.

Not enough money was spent on emergency preparedness.

What's worse is that this isn't an unexpected disaster. It didn't have to be this way (again from the E&P article):
"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."

The Senate was seeking to restore some of the SELA funding cuts for 2006. But now it's too late.

One project that a contractor had been racing to finish this summer: a bridge and levee job right at the 17th Street Canal, site of the main breach on Monday.

The Newhouse News Service article published Tuesday night observed, "The Louisiana congressional delegation urged Congress earlier this year to dedicate a stream of federal money to Louisiana's coast, only to be opposed by the White House. ... In its budget, the Bush administration proposed a significant reduction in funding for southeast Louisiana's chief hurricane protection project. Bush proposed $10.4 million, a sixth of what local officials say they need."

Local officials are now saying, the article reported, that had Washington heeded their warnings about the dire need for hurricane protection, including building up levees and repairing barrier islands, "the damage might not have been nearly as bad as it turned out to be."
But no. BushCo had, and still has, other priorities. We know what their priorities are. The people hit hard by Katrina are not their priority.

Even more astounding: FEMA had ranked New Orleans in 2001 as a target of one of the three likeliest disasters facing the United States. This from the Houston Chronicle (2001):
New Orleans is sinking.

And its main buffer from a hurricane, the protective Mississippi River delta, is quickly eroding away, leaving the historic city perilously close to disaster.

So vulnerable, in fact, that earlier this year [2001] the Federal Emergency Management Agency ranked the potential damage to New Orleans as among the three likeliest, most castastrophic disasters facing this country.

The other two? A massive earthquake in San Francisco, and, almost prophetically, a terrorist attack on New York City.

The New Orleans hurricane scenario may be the deadliest of all.

In the face of an approaching storm, scientists say, the city's less-than-adequate evacuation routes would strand 250,000 people or more, and probably kill one of 10 left behind as the city drowned under 20 feet of water. Thousands of refugees could land in Houston.

Economically, the toll would be shattering.
There was a huge lack of preparedness. The administration has not not funded disaster and emergency preparedness and response. Important projects were not completed. New Orleans was ignored.

And now that the hurricane has hit? It's being mismanaged. The frustration in the disaster zone is at a breaking point. People are angry and upset. Local officials are furious:
Four days after Hurricane Katrina roared in with a devastating blow that inflicted potentially thousands of deaths, the frustration, fear and anger mounted, despite the promise of 1,400 National Guardsmen a day to stop the looting, plans for a $10 billion recovery bill in Congress and a government relief effort President Bush called the biggest in U.S. history.

New Orleans' top emergency management official called that effort a "national disgrace" and questioned when reinforcements would actually reach the increasingly lawless city.


As he watched a line snaking for blocks through ankle-deep waters, New Orleans' emergency operations chief Terry Ebbert blamed the inadequate response on the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"This is not a FEMA operation. I haven't seen a single FEMA guy," he said. He added: "We can send massive amounts of aid to tsunami victims, but we can't bail out the city of New Orleans."

FEMA officials said some operations had to be suspended in areas where gunfire has broken out.


About 15,000 to 20,000 people who had taken shelter at New Orleans convention center grew increasingly hostile after waiting for buses for days amid the filth and the dead. Police Chief Eddie Compass said he sent in 88 officers to quell the situation at the building, but they were quickly driven back by an angry mob.

"We have individuals who are getting raped, we have individuals who are getting beaten," Compass said. "Tourists are walking in that direction and they are getting preyed upon."
The administration is mismanaging the crisis. There appears to be mass confusion on the federal level. There are outright lies coming from administration shills about the response.

Local officials are mad. People who are stuck in New Orleans are mad:
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.

"You can do everything for other countries, but you can't do nothing for your own people," he added. "You can go overseas with the military, but you can't get them down here."

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. "They're telling us they're going to come get us one day, and then they don't show up."

Every so often, an armored state police vehicle cruised in front of the convention center with four or five officers in riot gear with automatic weapons. But there was no sign of help from the National Guard.
It's intolerable. It's inexcusable. It's unacceptable. Yet it is happening.

This morning, Bush said on Good Morning America:
"I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees. They did appreciate a serious storm but these levees got breached and as a result much of New Orleans is flooded and now we're having to deal with it."
That is a lie. A disgraceful, pathetic lie. Nobody anticipated the breach of the levees? It's a lie on its face! Think Progress blasts the lie to pieces.

And again from Think Progress, we get this excerpt from the White House press briefing:
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.
Scott McClellan is a terrible liar. Nobody's buying that. Nobody except the administration's lapdogs are going to believe that crap. It's clear and evident that hurricane protection has been a low priority for the administration (Think Progress link).

Bush went on national televsion yesterday to speak about Katrina, and what he said, and how he said it, indicated again this crisis is being mismanaged:
George W. Bush gave one of the worst speeches of his life yesterday, especially given the level of national distress and the need for words of consolation and wisdom. In what seems to be a ritual in this administration, the president appeared a day later than he was needed.

He then read an address of a quality more appropriate for an Arbor Day celebration: a long laundry list of pounds of ice, generators and blankets delivered to the stricken Gulf Coast. He advised the public that anybody who wanted to help should send cash, grinned, and promised that everything would work out in the end.


Sacrifices may be necessary to make sure that all these things happen in an orderly, efficient way. But this administration has never been one to counsel sacrifice. And nothing about the president's demeanor yesterday - which seemed casual to the point of carelessness - suggested that he understood the depth of the current crisis.

While our attention must now be on the Gulf Coast's most immediate needs, the nation will soon ask why New Orleans's levees remained so inadequate. Publications from the local newspaper to National Geographic have fulminated about the bad state of flood protection in this beloved city, which is below sea level. Why were developers permitted to destroy wetlands and barrier islands that could have held back the hurricane's surge? Why was Congress, before it wandered off to vacation, engaged in slashing the budget for correcting some of the gaping holes in the area's flood protection?

It would be some comfort to think that, as Mr. Bush cheerily announced, America "will be a stronger place" for enduring this crisis. Complacency will no longer suffice, especially if experts are right in warning that global warming may increase the intensity of future hurricanes. But since this administration won't acknowledge that global warming exists, the chances of leadership seem minimal.
And that was the New York Times editorial board. Slamming it down. Right where the blame belongs.

Another sign the crisis is being mismanaged? The Canadians aren't being allowed to help. Kos reports this:
On tonight's news, CTV (Canadian TV) said that support was offered from Canada. Planes are ready to load with food and medical supplies and a system called "DART" which can provide fresh water and medical supplies is standing by. Department of Homeland Security as well as other U.S. agencies were contacted by the Canadian government requesting permission to provide help. Despite this contact, Canada has not been allowed to fly supplies and personnel to the areas hit by Katrina. So, everything here is grounded. Prime Minister Paul Martin is reportedly trying to speak to President Bush tonight or tomorrow to ask him why the U.S. federal government will not allow aid from Canada into Louisiana and Mississippi. That said, the Canadian Red Cross is reportedly allowed into the area.

Canadian agencies are saying that foreign aid is probably not being permitted into Louisiana and Mississippi because of "mass confusion" at the U.S. federal level in the wake of the storm.
It's incredible. It is absolutely incredible, how incompetent this administration is. The federal response to this disaster has been a complete disaster in itself.

Another outrage: FEMA is urging people to send money to Pat Robertson:
FEMA has released to the media and on its Web site a list of suggested charities to help the storm's hundreds of thousands of victims. The Red Cross is first on the list. The Rev. Pat Robertson's "Operation Blessing" is next on the list.
No big surprise there, but intolerable again.

And then there are the insensitive Republicans, administration allies:
House Speaker Dennis Hastert dropped a bombshell on flood-ravaged New Orleans on Thursday by suggesting that it isn't sensible to rebuild the city.

"It doesn't make sense to me," Hastert told the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago in editions published today. "And it's a question that certainly we should ask."
Not rebuild New Orleans?

Let the people of the Big Easy hear that. Let the people of Louisiana hear that. Let all of America hear it.

And this disaster isn't helping Bush: A FOX News poll conducted after Katrina (taken August 30th-31st) shows Bush's job approval rating still sucks: 50% disapprove, 45% approve, and 5% aren't sure. And this is a FOX news poll.

The bottom line: emergency preparedness was botched, and the aftermath has been terribly mismanaged by the federal government. Americans should be angry. The best we can do is offer our houses and donate to the Red Cross, and continue to lay the blame where it belongs.

Maximum firepower. The administration must be blasted with everything we've got.

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