Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Helpless And The Helping 

And I don't mean all those desperate people waiting for help in New Orleans.

I mean our President. I suppose one could substitute "clueless" for "helpless," but in the end they pretty much come to the same thing.

I didn't think I'd be writing this kind of post. For myself, I'm corny enough to feel that you only got one President, and when he's leading the nation in the context of a national tragedy, you give him the benefit of the doubt.

So, although I thought it was perfectly all right to bring up issues that attach themselves to a category 5 hurricane hitting a major city and causing the failure of the levees that are supposed to keep it from becoming uninhabitable, issues like the cutting of funds previously earmarked for defending against that possiblity; my impulse was to refrain from language that puts the fault for this particlar happening directly on the shoulders of the President; we can't be sure if the full funds had been appropriated, "Katrina" wouldn't have triumphed.

And the matter of the levees and whether they have turned out to be the right answer for New Orleans is a question in itself.

Then, this morning, listening to NPR, I heard a voice that could only have been George W. Bush's say something to the effect that "nobody could have anticipated the breaching of the levees." Nobody could have anticipated the breaching of the levees? Truth to tell, he might have only said "nobody anticipated the breaching of the levees," but that's just as bad.

It will be poetic justice if either version becomes the final mantra of this Bush administration. "No one anticipated the breaching of the levees."

How disconnected from reality does a President have to be to be able to make either statement? People have been anticipating the flooding of New Orleans for years now, and the role of hurricanes in several possible scenarios of destruction have become almost rampant since that hurricane named "Andrew" hit Florida.

Are we really dealing here with a President who thinks that shutting his eyes, putting his thumbs in his ears and stamping his feet will make unpleasant facts go away. Is that the true meaning of "staying the course?"

Not that anyone on the right would deign to actually look at an actual episode of NOW with Bill Moyers, but in September of 2002, NOW did a two part series examining the issue of New Orleans and hurricanes.
The Mississippi River delta is disappearing. One of America's most vibrant and productive ecological regions is slipping into the Gulf of Mexico at an alarming rate. Every year, a chunk of land nearly as big as Manhattan crumbles and washes away. As it erodes, it not only threatens one of the country's most abundant fisheries and a vital home for wildlife, but it imperils the nation's energy supply. And, as the coast of Louisiana continues to slip away, tens of thousands of lives are at risk from devastating hurricanes. The crisis in the delta could reach catastrophic levels in the next few decades, with far-reaching environmental, human, and economic consequences.

NOW presents the story of the disappearing delta in two parts: "Losing Ground," uncovers how one of the biggest civil engineering projects in U.S. history — the leveeing of the Mississippi River — has brought Louisiana and the nation to the brink of what could be the most costly environmental disaster in history.

"The City in a Bowl," NOW with Bill Moyers returns to the Mississippi River delta to examine another ominous effect of this crisis — the risk that a massive hurricane could drown New Orleans gets worse every single year.
My memory of this was jogged by reader Hobson in comments.

Here's a short selection from the transcript of "Losing Ground."
ZWERDLING: The US Army took over the job in the late 1800s and every time they thought they'd conquered nature, the Mississippi River proved them wrong. So the Army's Corps of Engineers built more walls, and they built them higher. It's been one of the biggest engineering projects in history. Today, the Army manages more than two thousand miles of levees, and they've finally won the war — they've stopped the flooding in Louisiana.

OLIVER HOUCK: And so the project was, from an engineering point of view, brilliant, brilliant. From an environmental standpoint, it was a disaster. And it was a disaster because all of that bed load, all of that material that had built south Louisiana for thousands of years, now was thrown away like a waste product into the deep Gulf. And Louisiana was poised like a patient in a hospital. It was put on a starvation diet. It wasn't killed it was just made weak and susceptible to attack. And in about the 1930's the attack came.

ZWERDLING: That 'attack' was the oil and gas boom. All the big companies flocked here. They ripped up the wetlands to get to the energy underneath.


ZWERDLING: Back then, hardly anybody realized the consequences and the whole country got the benefits. The companies sold us energy, the Army kept homes in Louisiana dry. But Reed says now we know the price: the wetlands are sinking into the Gulf.
And the link to New Orleans and its levees? From the transcript of "City In A Bowl:"
DANIEL ZWERDLING: The American Red Cross lists the worst natural disasters that might strike America. They worry about earthquakes in California, and tropical storms in Florida. But they say the biggest catastrophe could be a hurricane hitting New Orleans.

People have known for centuries that they picked a risky spot to build this city. In fact, some of the first French settlers wanted to abandon it.

The biggest river on the continent snakes around it. Most of the land here is below sea level. And every time people tried to expand the city, the Mississippi promptly flooded it.

DANIEL ZWERDLING: Why did people stay here? I'm, it became obvious very, very quickly after the French came that this was a really lousy place to live.

OLIVER HOUCK: They made a lot of money. They made a lot of money because they were the transfer point for all the shipping that came out of the belly of the country and went to France and went to South America and went to England and all of the ships coming in, you had to pass by New Orleans.

DANIEL ZWERDLING: So they launched what's become one of the biggest construction projects in history. To protect their investments. As of today, the us arm has built 2000 miles of levees to stop the Mississippi from flooding. And until recently, scientists thought that these walls of soil and concrete and steel had made New Orleans safe. They never dreamed that the levees would come back to haunt them.

OLIVER HOUCK: So the irony of history and the evolution of the problem has been that we've been like one of those old citadels in an adventure story, defended ourselves against the enemy that we knew, which was the river. But to the rear and to the flank was this other threat that we're only beginning now to appreciate, and it may be too late to prevent.
Both transcripts and the background information NOW always includes about subjects it tackles are well worth reading.

MJS of MortalJive has a surprising and fascinating analysis of what makes our President...woof.


MoveOn is launching a web-based emergency national housing drive to connect empty beds with people who need shelter while reclamation of disaster struck areas goes forward. Naturally, the most useful offers must come from people who live relatively near the disaster areas. A reasonable driving distance is being defined as 300 miles.

MoveOn is setting up a website, hurricanehousing.org

From an email signed by Noah Weiner:
But no matter where you live, your housing could still make a world of difference to a person or family in need, so please offer what you can.

The process is simple:

You can sign up to become a host by posting a description of whatever housing you have available, along with contact information. You can change or remove your offer at any time.

Hurricane victims, local and national relief organizations, friends and relatives can search the site for housing. We'll do everything we can to get your offers where they are needed most. Many shelters actually already have Internet access, but folks without 'net access can still make use of the site through case workers and family members.

Hurricane victims or relief agencies will contact hosts and together decide if it's a good match and make the necessary travel arrangements. The host's address is not released until a particular match is agreed on.

If hosting doesn't work for you, please consider donating to the Red Cross to help with the enormous tasks of rescue and recovery. You can give online at:


As progressives, we share a core belief that we are all in this together, and today is an important chance to put that idea to work. There are thousands of families who have just lost everything and need a place to stay dry. Let's do what we can to help.


Thanks for being there when it matters most.

That pretty much seems to say it all.

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