2005 September 01 Thursday
Partisan Politics And The New Orleans Hurricane Katrina Disaster

Kevin Drum assumes his duty on the Left in the inter-party blame game for the New Orleans disaster.

  • Summer 2004: FEMA denies Louisiana's pre-disaster mitigation funding requests. Says Jefferson Parish flood zone manager Tom Rodrigue: "You would think we would get maximum consideration....This is what the grant program called for. We were more than qualified for it."
  • June 2004: The Army Corps of Engineers budget for levee construction in New Orleans is slashed. Jefferson Parish emergency management chiefs Walter Maestri comments: "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."
  • June 2005: Funding for the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is cut by a record $71.2 million. One of the hardest-hit areas is the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, which was created after the May 1995 flood to improve drainage in Jefferson, Orleans and St. Tammany parishes.

Does Lousiana have no money? Does the New Orleans government have no money? Why does the state of Lousiana need federal money (i.e. money taken from the pockets of people in other states) to prepare for natural disasters?

So Drum is all huffy. He gets huffier still:

A crony with no relevant experience was installed as head of FEMA. Mitigation budgets for New Orleans were slashed even though it was known to be one of the top three risks in the country. FEMA was deliberately downsized as part of the Bush administration's conservative agenda to reduce the role of government. After DHS was created, FEMA's preparation and planning functions were taken away.

Actions have consequences. No one could predict that a hurricane the size of Katrina would hit this year, but the slow federal response when it did happen was no accident. It was the result of four years of deliberate Republican policy and budget choices that favor ideology and partisan loyalty at the expense of operational competence. It's the Bush administration in a nutshell.

Drum's post illustrates why I do not often read the heavily partisan blogs on either the Left or Right: Every event is turned into the fault of the opposing side if the opposing side is in control in Washington DC. But this disaster was predicted for decades, and not just by the latest staff of FEMA. Why didn't the Clinton Administration build much bigger levees around New Orleans? Or Bush Sr., Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy or Ike? You blame many past US Presidents and Congresses for the weak levee system that made this tragedy possible.

Hurricane disaster budget cuts predate Bush's Administration.

Congress in 1999 authorized the corps to conduct a $12 million study to determine how much it would cost to protect New Orleans from a Category 5 hurricane, but the study isn't scheduled to get under way until 2006. It was not clear why the study has taken so long to begin, though Congress has only provided in the range of $100,000 or $200,000 a year so far.


Funding for these projects has generally trended downward since at least the last years of the Clinton administration. Congressional records show that the levee work on Lake Pontchartrain received $23 million in 1998 and $16 million in 1999. It was not clear how much the drainage project received in 1998, but records show it received $75 million in 1999.

But this is all chump change. Surely Senator Landrieu and other federal-level Louisiana politicians have gotten hold of much larger chunks of money for a variety of pork projects during the 1960s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and since 2000. They could have gotten a lot more for flood control.

But I'm a federalist. While I have a fairly negative of view George W. Bush why can't the people of New Orleans and Louisiana finance a sufficient levee system that would handle even the worst case storms? Why didn't the local governments increase property taxes to fund the construction of levees to protect their property? Doesn't the blame rest on local elites and local voters?

In a nutshell: Why should the rest of the American public pay for property protection when a tax on local property owners to pay off some bonds could have built up sufficient levees?

The insufficient levees were a disaster waiting to happen for decades. That successive generations of Louisiana politicians failed to address the known threat says more about the voters than it does about the obviously inadequate Democratic Governor Blanco or Republican President Bush or ditzy Democratic Senator Landrieu.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 September 01 09:03 PM  Politics Money

Engineer-Poet said at September 2, 2005 6:20 AM:

Once responsibility for something has been taken by the Feds (e.g. the Army Corps of Engineers), it is extremely difficult to get it back; even if the locals could have come up with the money (to protect a city serving a vital port, which is definitely of more than just local or state interest as Iowa farmers will tell you) they probably would have had to deal with obstruction by the Feds protecting their turf.

Derek Copold said at September 2, 2005 3:14 PM:

New Orleans is an extremely important city, arguably more important even than New York or Washington. It's the port to the largest waterway in the nation. Almost all our agricultural exports go through that port, as well as our large imports. Then there's the oil... George Friedman of Stratfor has an important article detailing New Orleans' importance. You might want to look it up.

Here's a link to an excerpt on NRO's Corner:

This city's security goes beyond the state and local level. What if Al Qaeda had demolished those levees instead of Katrina? The fact is, this problem had been identified by the DHS, and nothing was done about it. You're right to point to local and state failures, but there's no way the Bush Administration gets out this without its share of blame.

Also, it should be noted that federal projects upstream of New Orleans contributed to its vulnerability.

John S Bolton said at September 2, 2005 4:29 PM:

Decades of quotas have turned NO into a racial patronage society. It is an antimerit city with no community of values. They could have had competent officials, police, firemen and so on; but they wanted the racialized antimerit system. The effect shows up dramatically now, more than in less stressed times. Under this stress, the antimerit society's decimation of community of values results in the still to be revealed, ghoulish picture of a putrid sea of floating carcasses. Those believing in a hierarchy of ruthless violence, shoot at the rescuers for evacuating the sick and the weak ahead of the burly and menacing. Why doesn't the big boy on the block get help ahead of the weaklings, would be their feeling as they shoot at the rescuers.

John S Bolton said at September 3, 2005 6:05 AM:

Regarding the blame to be assigned to the president and governor; there is major guilt in that they, for racial reasons most likely, refused to brush aside the inept or malicious mayor, and let the nightmare roll on for days. In NY and LA during Bush's father's time in office, there was a similar gingerly and squeamish hesitation to shoo away the black mayors who had allowed pogroms to spoliate their cities. Now there may be thousands of unnecessary deaths attributable to the priceless racial sensitivities of Bush and Blanco. Is there any chance that their consciences will disturb them in the least over this, if the reason for the hesitation is as suggested? Sacrificing thousands in order to primp a politician's image for respecting black power, will not be criticized by anyone prominent in the regulated media, nor any professor in the pay of the government, nor any elected official, perhaps; if indeed this is waht caused the macabre debacle, the nightmare.

FriendlyFire said at September 3, 2005 8:57 PM:

I have to agree with every word that Bolton has written.
Iraq consitution bebacale ?, Chalabi made oil minister ? Corruption and incompetence ?

Why Bush hails that as a vicory for democracy.

david said at September 22, 2005 3:53 PM:

Hopes Rita Could Gut Texas
Millions all over the world are watching television screens intermittently in keen anticipation of Texan disaster as Hurricane Rita approaches the US Gulf Coast.
There are high expectations the ironic hurricane, which grew in power after crossing over monoxide-heated Pacific waters, could cause significant damage to the oil-loving State of Texas.
The oil wealth of the powerful US State has funded and inspired wars, assassinations, presidential campaigns and fuelled massive Texan greed and profiteering since the film Giant was released more than 50 years ago in an early critique of the insufferable Texan character.
US authorities have disappointed the storm's many fans in recent hours, downgrading Hurricane Rita's severity from category five to category four.
While there is now little chance Texas will be washed away entirely, viewers arond the world hope to see the most obnoxious state of the union seriously reduced by the storm.
In a further irony, many of those stuck in traffic on highways out of Houston and other Texas towns are running out of 'gas', suddenly not so flush with the black gold they've grown fat on, and could be left sitting on the tarmac when the big winds hit.

D Smith said at September 24, 2005 1:54 PM:

"Hopes" that significant damage could be caused to "THE MOST OBNOXIOUS STATE OF THE UNION" (emphasis, mine) as I wonder if that is with or without loss of life, homes, etc. "While there is little chance Texas will be washed away entirely"... you got that right. The post from which I've taken these quotes is beyond the pale. What venom.

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