Levees Not War
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Posts Tagged ‘army corps of engineers’

Hurricane Isaac and Tampa’s Blizzard of Lies

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

What Would Romney-Ryan Mean for FEMA and Infrastructure?

[ cross-posted at DailyKos ]

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“One of the themes of the Tampa convention will be the failure of government, and the prosperity that will result if it is cut to ribbons. But in a different corner of the television screen, the winds of Isaac are a reminder of the necessity of government—its labor, its expertise, its money—in the nation’s most dire moments. It is hard to forget what happened to New Orleans when that Republican philosophy was followed in 2005, and it will be harder still to explain how it might be allowed to happen again.” —“The Storm, Again,” NYT editorial, Aug. 27, 2012

“We have responsibilities, one to another—we do not each face the world alone. And the greatest of all responsibilities, is that of the strong to protect the weak. The truest measure of any society is how it treats those who cannot defend or care for themselves.” —vice presidential nominee Paul D. Ryan, acceptance speech, Republican National Convention, Tampa, Aug. 29, 2012

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If Hurricane Katrina was indeed divine retribution for abortions and tolerance of homosexuality, then how are we to understand God’s twice visiting strong hurricanes upon the U.S. at the exact moment when the Republican National Convention gathers to nominate its presidential candidate, with Gustav in 2008 and now with Isaac, which made landfall on the Gulf Coast on August 29, the exact 7-year anniversary of Katrina? (Rush Limbaugh has a suspicion.)

Far be it from us to question the wisdom of the true believers, but it’s our view that if hurricanes must come at all, it’s best they blow when the elephants are gathering at the water hole—preferably in Florida, or some other red coastal state. Let the screen be split. Let the images be juxtaposed. Let the nation never forget how the Republican way of governing—staffing disaster relief agencies with inexperienced cronies and then cutting funds—resulted in the disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina: immeasurable death, destruction, anguish, financial ruin and impoverishment, dispersal, heartbreak . . . (To be sure, however, blame rests with both parties for the chronic underfunding of the Army Corps of Engineers that left the city’s levees and outflow canals’ floodwalls compromised.)

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), established by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 at the persistent urging of state governors, only functions well when Democrats are in the White House. Democrats take governing and disaster management seriously, and Republicans do not. Bill Clinton’s FEMA director James Lee Witt (1993–2001) and the present director, W. Craig Fugate, are widely respected as disaster response professionals. In Disaster: Hurricane Katrina and the Failure of Homeland Security (2006), Chris Cooper and Bobby Block survey the sad story of Republican disregard for disaster relief. FEMA’s tardy and disorganized response to Hurricane Andrew (shown above) in August 1992 likely cost President George H. W. Bush many votes in Florida, and beyond. Bill Clinton wrote in My Life (2004):

Traditionally, the job of FEMA director was given to a political supporter of the President who wanted some plum position but who had no experience with emergencies. I made a mental note to avoid that mistake if I won. Voters don’t chose a President based on how he’ll handle disasters, but if they’re faced with one themselves, it quickly becomes the most important issue in their lives.

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More Tax Cuts for the Rich, While Disaster Relief Is Held Hostage?

Five, six days after the storm, the lights are just coming back on in Mid-City and other parts of New Orleans. It’s 93 degrees, and thousands are still in the dark, without air conditioning.

While Hurricane Isaac was not as destructive as we feared—the reinforced floodwall system around greater New Orleans held up well—this storm’s timing was a reminder that there is one political party that is not to be trusted with disaster management, or with anything else relating to the social safety net. Mitt Romney’s economic plan would reduce non-discretionary spending by 30 percent.

Others have examined the falsehoods in Paul Ryan’s v.p. nomination acceptance speech and the overall dishonesty of the RNC show in Tampa (see here and here). Many have objected to the Republicans’ hypocrisy in blaming a president for failures ensured by their own blocking of every effort at repairing the economy. They filibustered or voted No on all potential remedies to make the public reject Obama. Many independents as well as Democrats and moderate Republicans are put off by the Mad Tea Party–style conservatives’ insistence that nothing good can come of government.

Many of the lies and evasions that concern us most, however, stem from the GOP’s hostility to spending taxpayers’ dollars on programs of direct help to the public, from Medicare and Social Security to FEMA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which includes the National Hurricane Center and the National Weather Service.

Paul Ryan sounds reassuring when he says, “The truest measure of any society is how it treats those who cannot defend or care for themselves,” but the budgets he has put forth as chair of the House Budget Committee tell another story: You’re on your own.

Tim Murphy of Mother Jones in “What Would Romney-Ryan Mean for FEMA?” surveys the implications for disaster relief in the Ryan budgets—the same ones that would convert Medicare to a privatized “Vouchercare.” Murphy notes that the Ryan budget does not detail specific cuts (just as Mitt Romney avoids specifics), but “the overall math suggests that [the cuts] would be drastic.” In 2011 there were 14 disasters costing over $1 billion in damages, a record high, and with the intensifying climate change that the Republicans refuse to acknowledge, the disasters’ frequency and destructiveness are only going to get worse.

Murphy writes:

“. . . under a Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan administration, FEMA’s ability to respond quickly and effectively to natural disasters could be severely inhibited. In a 2012 report on Rep. Paul Ryan’s ‘Path to Prosperity’ roadmap (which Romney has said is similar to his own), the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted that, due to the severe cuts to non-entitlement, non-defense spending, the costs for things like emergency management would have to be passed on to the states—which, with just a few exceptions, are currently in an even tighter financial bind than Washington.

“FEMA also helps states and local governments repair or replace public facilities and infrastructure, which often is not insured,” the CBPP report explained. ‘This form of discretionary federal aid would be subject to cuts under the Ryan budget. If it were scaled back substantially, states and localities would need to bear a larger share of the costs of disaster response and recovery, or attempt to make do with less during difficult times.’ ”

Pat Garofalo at ThinkProgress describes how Republicans held disaster relief funding hostage several times in 2011, demanding that funding be offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget. “The GOP pulled the same trick when Missouri was hit by a deadly tornado in May, when Virginia was affected by an earthquake, and when Hurricane Irene struck America’s east coast.” Garofalo quotes David Weigel at Slate:

According to the House Appropriation Committee’s summary of the bill, the [GOP's 2011 continuing resolution] funds Operations, Research and Facilities for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association with $454.3 million less than it got in FY2010; this represents a $450.3 million cut from what the president’s never-passed FY2011 budget was requesting. The National Weather Service, of course, is part of NOAA—its funding drops by $126 million. The CR also reduces funding for FEMA management by $24.3 million off of the FY2010 budget, and reduces that appropriation by $783.3 million for FEMA state and local programs.

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We won’t pretend to interpret divine intentions in the timing of the recent hurricanes and other disasters, but we can be thankful for the opportunity to point out to the concerned public that there is one slate of candidates who will not be there for you when a tornado rips through your town, or an earthquake splits your streets. We won’t say (though others may) that natural disasters are God’s way of saying “Vote Democratic,” but don’t you want to be on the safe side?

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Photo credits: Hurricane Andrew (1992) by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); downed stop light in New Orleans (2012) by Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images.

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Is Katrina More Significant Than September 11?

Saturday, September 11th, 2010

Thoughts on Two American Traumas

[ Cross-posted at Daily Kos. ]

Between 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, which do you think gets most attention, and why?

What if the national focus on 9/11 is exaggerated and the nation should focus instead on 8/29—Hurricane Katrina—as the catastrophe that signifies the greatest threat to America? The fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina has received high-profile attention, marked by the release of feature films (Spike Lee, Harry Shearer), hour-long special reports (Brian Williams, Anderson Cooper), and a presidential address at Xavier University, so we’re not complaining that Katrina has been ignored.

We were in Manhattan on September 11, 2001, and saw men and women in dust- and debris-covered clothing walking the streets in a daze and crossing the 59th Street Bridge into Queens as from an apocalypse. We heard distraught eyewitnesses on pay phones talking about seeing the burning, falling bodies (“Look, Mommy, the birds are on fire”); we have heard first-person accounts from survivors who were just 20 feet away when their coworkers fleeing the burning towers were crushed beneath chunks of falling metal the size of garbage trucks. We’ve heard accounts from neighbors who were trapped on the E train near the World Trade Center while frantic escapees pounded on the doors to get in. The haunting stories, the anguish go on and on. Many others have experienced far worse than we can ever imagine. So, the following thoughts are by no means intended to diminish the trauma of September 11 or the necessity of dealing with al Qaeda and other extremist threats.

Anorexia of the Homeland: Making War While “Starving the Beast”

And yet we think maybe the challenges this nation faces are more accurately represented by the natural and bureaucratic/political disaster suffered on August 29, 2005, and in the following days, weeks, months, years. The United States is falling apart from a lack of funding of every kind of infrastructure—resulting from neglect, indifference, and a mean-spirited conservative agenda that seeks to roll back the progressive reforms of the 20th century. Our nation is in a downward spiral because of political unwillingness to protect the environment and our fellow citizens who are poor, jobless, homeless, in need of medical care and decent education. Our coasts and cities are vulnerable because of long-term environmental neglect and denial of the effects of industry—global warming, rising sea levels, intensified storms resulting from warming seas—and because corporate-captive politicians of both parties have put industrial and political interests ahead of what’s best for the planet, humanity, and other life forms. Even if 9/11 had never happened, all these conditions would still threaten our way of life.

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Throw Us Somethin’, Mister President

Monday, June 8th, 2009

President Obama with Homeland Security Council president John O. Brennan  (left), DHS secretary Janet Napolitano, and FEMA administrator Craig Fugate.  FEMA photo by Bill Koplitz.

President Obama with Homeland Security Council president John O. Brennan (left), DHS secretary Janet Napolitano, and FEMA administrator Craig Fugate. FEMA photo by Bill Koplitz.

We’ll Take Some of That “Socialist Overspending”

It was good to see the president on Hurricane Season’s eve being briefed by new FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, and Homeland Security Council president John Brennan on preparations for the upcoming season. We are relieved that the president has appointed serious professionals in these critical positions, as we are encouraged by his nomination of Jo-Ellen Darcy to oversee the Army Corps of Engineers. But we want more of Mr. Obama’s attention—and more of his “socialist overspending” for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast: for the rebuilding of shattered communities, the reinforcement of the flood control systems, housing and education of citizens displaced by flooding resulting from breaches in federally built levees, and so on.

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How Rumsfeld Aggravated Katrina’s Destruction (How Many Died from SecDef’s Turf War?)

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

LNW_Rumsfeld-ReutersThe New York Times and other sources have reported on the biblical quotations that adorned the cover pages of Pentagon intelligence briefings sent to the Bush White House (“Therefore put on the full armor of God. . .”) in a GQ profile of former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld by Robert Draper. Not good, especially when the Muslim world had already heard Bush describe the War on Terror as a “crusade.” In our view, however, Draper’s most distressing revelation is that days after Hurricane Katrina, when tens of thousands of victims were in desperate need of rescue and medical care, Rumsfeld refused to deploy a fleet of search-and-rescue helicopters at Hurlburt Field Air Force Base in Florida—only 200 miles from New Orleans—who were waiting for go orders. Indeed, when Bush tried to drag cooperation out of him, Rumsfeld only grudgingly relented. A nice touch when 80 percent of New Orleans was flooded after the failure of the federally (Army Corps of Engineers-) built levees. From “And He Shall Be Judged” in the June 2009 issue of GQ, by Robert Draper, author of Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush:

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Roll Up Sleeves, Pick Up Phone

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

“The situation could not be more serious. It is inexcusable and irresponsible to get bogged down in distraction and delay while millions of Americans are being put out of work. It is time for Congress to act. . . . This is not some abstract debate. It is an urgent and growing crisis.”
President Obama, Feb. 6, 2009

LNW_USA.sleeveAll week we’ve been wondering Where are the f—ing Senate Democrats?! It’s as though the camera hogs have turned into groundhogs, frightened of their shadows, leaving Obama to do all the heavy lifting on the American Recovery and Investment Plan, better known as The Stimulus.

We’ve tried calling a half-dozen senators’ offices to find out why Reid, or Durbin, or Schumer—usually so eager for the spotlight—have been camera-shy, but for some reason the lines were busy. Why haven’t the Senate Democrats been pushing back against the GOP’s flood of distortions and exaggerations? They should be out there explaining—simply, directly, using the same honest and memorable phrases over and over—the need to invest in public transportation and other infrastructure, helping homeowners avoid foreclosure, extending unemployment benefits and food stamps, and helping states pay Medicaid and education expenses so they don’t have to cut vital programs. Many senators, we know, are busy hashing out the details of the stimulus package, but we want to see the Democrats compete for air time with the Republicans, who have at least been showing up for work on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, CNBC, and everyplace else with a camera. (See “GOP Outnumbers Dems 2 to 1 in Cable News Stimulus Coverage” and “Dems Acknowledge They’re Being Outworked on TV, Vow to Fix.” And Daily Kos points out that, “adding insult to injury, a number of the Democrats who appeared are opposed to the stimulus bill.”)

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Get Congress on Track to Stimulate Mass Transit

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

“For every $1 billion we spend on transportation infrastructure, we get a 6-times multiplier effect and between 25,000 and 30,000 jobs created. . . . The Chinese are spending $600 billion over the next two years on infrastructure—while we are told we can only spend $40 billion?”

—Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) to the House of Representatives

LNW_GCT.midQ: Why are Democrats bowing to Republican demands for tax cuts ($300 billions’ worth in a $825 billion package)—and cutting badly needed appropriations for the Army Corps of Engineers / infrastructure / mass transit projects to win unobtainable “bipartisan” support for the stimulus bill?

Elana Schor at TalkingPointsMemo.com reports that the economic recovery package being considered in the House of Representatives gives “only $10 billion for rail and other public transportation projects, compared with $30 billion for roads.” The Senate Appropriations Committee is considering even less for mass transit projects: $9.5 billion. In a package projected to cost $825 billion, in a nation where public transit has been shortchanged for over a decade, that just ain’t enough. The U.S. spends about $12 billion each month in Iraq. Ten billion is as much as has been given to Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley (each) in the $700 billion bailout for banks and insurers—and only one-fifth of what Citigroup is getting.

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There Will Be Floods

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

Illustration by Andrea Dezsö in The New York Times.

Illustration by Andrea Dezsö in The New York Times.

An excellent Op-Ed piece by Alex Prud’homme in the Feb. 27 New York Times explains the nation’s critical need for infrastructure reinforcement, as seen in Hurricane Katrina and recently in a flood in Nevada. (See “Floods in Nevada?” in In the News, left column.) The U.S. is threatened by dangerously inadequate levees, he says, and Congress must allocate funds for the Corps of Engineers to do its job: “We need to reinvigorate the Army Corps of Engineers and give it a mandate to build and maintain a coherent, robust, nationwide flood protection system—as opposed to the ineffective, piecemeal measures that failed so catastrophically in New Orleans.”

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Celebrate! Good News for Water Works! (A One-Two Punch for The Decider)

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

Mardi Gras parade float, Knights of Momus, 1907.

Mardi Gras parade float, Knights of Momus, 1907.

November 8, 2007

We haven’t had much practice lately at reporting good news, but we’re happy to re-learn: Within two days, the two chambers of the U.S. Congress have voted to override the president’s veto of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA)—the first water projects bill in seven years (normally passed every two years), and the first override of a presidential veto since 1998. Today the Senate voted 79 to 14—an overwhelming margin similar to that of the House’s 361 to 54—to authorize spending levels for about 900 projects nationwide, including about $7 billion for Louisiana coastal restoration and flood protection. Bruce Alpert of the Times-Picayune notes, “Congress still must approve individual appropriations to get the work done.”

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