Democrats & Liberals Archives

Be Prepared

We have been hit by a horrible tragedy. The City of New Orleans is gone, flooded by Katrina. The catastrophe is almost as bad as the catastrophe of 9/11. Maybe worse. A whole city no longer exists. Oil facilities have been destroyed. In addition to the hundreds now declared dead, there are tens of thousands alive whose past has been erased and need to start a new life. It’s heart-breaking that we were not prepared for this cataclysm, just as we were not prepared for 9/11. We did not follow the Boy Scout motto: Be prepared.

President Bush, rushing to protect himself, said:

"I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees."

This is false. In May of this year, Chris Mooney wrote this:

"In the event of a slow-moving Category 4 or Category 5 hurricane (with winds up to or exceeding 155 miles per hour), it's possible that only those crow's nests would remain above the water level. Such a storm, plowing over the lake, could generate a 20-foot surge that would easily overwhelm the levees of New Orleans, which only protect against a hybrid Category 2 or Category 3 storm (with winds up to about 110 miles per hour and a storm surge up to 12 feet). Soon the geographical "bowl" of the Crescent City would fill up with the waters of the lake, leaving those unable to evacuate with little option but to cluster on rooftops -- terrain they would have to share with hungry rats, fire ants, nutria, snakes, and perhaps alligators. The water itself would become a festering stew of sewage, gasoline, refinery chemicals, and debris."

Mooney is not the only one. Many leaders of New Orleans foresaw the same thing and begged the administration for help. The administration felt that it was more important to fight the "war on terror" in Iraq. As Bush loves to put it:

We fight the terrorists in Iraq so that we would not have to fight them here.

Here's a corollary to that:

We spend a lot of money in Iraq so that we would not need to spend as much in U.S.

The results are devastating, as you can see. FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Administration) was very slow to respond. It should have been there as soon as the Weather Service announced that Katrina was headed towards New Orleans.

The history of FEMA is interesting. During the administration of the first President Bush, Hurricane Andrew did tremendous damage and FEMA did not respond properly. President Bill Clinton strengthened FEMA and made it a cabinet-level agency; it did excellent work during Clinton's 8 years. The second President Bush downgraded FEMA. He placed it under the Homeland Security Department and decreased its budget. In addition, last June Bush chopped $71.2 million from the budget of the New Orleans Corps of Engineers, a 44 percent reduction. That meant that there was no money for major hurricane and flood projects for trying to protect the region from a Category 5 hurricane.

They say Bush sticks to his goals stubbornly. You bet. He decided that the war in Iraq is worth whatever money we can throw at it. Since he has been criticized by Republicans that he is making the government bigger, he decided to reduce money spent on "non-priority" items such as the New Orleans levees. Other "non-priority" items include laws and regulations that help the environment and the poor.

Do you know that Bush repealed Clinton's tough policies on wetlands and that this made the New Orleans calamity worse? Do you know that many of the 20% of New Orleans citizens who are poor were stuck there because they did not have the means to evacuate?

We were not prepared. We were focused on something else: the Iraq war. We were told that this war was more important than anything else. As a result we did not take care of the basic needs of Americans, such as, making them safe.

Shouldn't we learn a lesson and prepare better for the future? To start with, let's take FEMA out of the Homeland Security Department and make it once again a cabinet-level agency. And let's give it a decent budget. Let's build up our infra-structure all over the country. I read today that the Delta levees in Northern California are similar to those in New Orleans and need to be fixed. There are many infra-structure projects needing funds in the U.S.

Where do we get the money? Cut back the tax cuts for the rich. Stop the "death tax" repeal. Stop the upcoming "simplification" of the tax code to put more money in the hands of the rich. Rescue Social Security from those who want to "save" it.

Regardless of what happened before, let's be prepared in the future - against natural calamities as well as against foreign enemies.

Whether you agree with what I said or not, follow the example of Tony (one of the commenters in another column) and donate whatever you can to help the unfortunate victims of this disaster. Jump now to the Red Cross and do it.

Posted by Paul Siegel at September 1, 2005 5:36 PM