Wednesday, September 14, 2005

What about Gulfport?

Most of the attention in the aftermath of Katrina has rightly focused on the horrible human tragedy that has taken place in New Orleans, and how race and class may have affected the response on the part of the federal government. Most of the rest of the Gulf Coast, as a result, has fallen off the radar screen. Take Gulfport, Mississippi, for instance.

Gulfport is a medium-sized city (71,127), whose racial make-up is roughly 62 percent white and 33.5 percent African American. According to a story in the webzine Salon nobody in Gulfport has even seen anybody from FEMA yet--13 DAYS AFTER THE EFFIN HURRICANE. Most of Gulfport was detroyed in the hurricane, and the residents there have not been happy with the federal government's response to their situation, as Dick Cheney can attest. They can be no happier with their lard-ass Republican governor (and former chair of the RNC), Haley Barbour, who, despite his close connections with the Bush administration, has not been able to get anyone to pay any attention to Gulfport except for the occassional photo op (see Cheney link above--and after his reception there, they are probably having a difficult time even getting that). Gulfport is a working-class town:
The median income for a household in the city was $32,779, and the median income for a family was $39,213. Males had a median income of $29,220 versus $21,736 for females. The per capita income for the city was $17,554. 17.7% of the population and 14.1% of families were below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 25.8% of those under the age of 18 and 13.7% of those 65 and older were living below the poverty line.
While Gulfport has a much smaller percentage of residents living below the poverty line, there are still a substantial number--and a substantial number who will find recovery from this disaster extremely difficult.

The point of all of this is not to try and diminish the effect that race has had in this fiasco; large numbers of poor Gulfportians are undoubtedly African American. It is to argue, instead, that class plays a role just as important.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

New Orleans levees

Michael Ledeen early this afternoon from his cave at NRO:
Rich: you are quite right to ask 'how come it was the new, reinforced, federally funded levees that failed?' and it is entirely plausible that the materials used were inferior. If NOLA were Naples (and you know that NOLA is 'our Naples') everyone would know, intuitively, that the levees were inferior because a lot of the money had been pocketed by the local pols and mafiosi. Maybe that's worth looking into?
Maybe Ledeen's daughter can debrief him on the nine billion dollars that "local pols and mafiosi" (also known as contractors) in Iraq skimmed while the Coalition Provisional Authority, with the assistance of the best and brightest from the Heritage Foundation, was in charge of the country.

The New New Orleans

After yesterday's post on the faults of the Toledo Blade, today I have come to sing their praises--or, at least, the praises of one of their reporters. Jenni Laidman reports on the science beat for the paper, and her article this past Sunday, "Raising New Orleans," lays out the options for what should be done in the city as rebuilding starts. The key is overcoming the man-made problems that created the susceptibility in the first place.
"Experts in coastal geology, storm surge behavior, levee engineering, and other disciplines who focus on the unique coastal region of Louisiana point to the critical work that mud, sand, and river sediment must play in creating a city that would be able to withstand another devastating natural disaster."
In other words, the levees that have protected the city from flooding have also contributed to the city sinking below sea level. After raising most of the city above sea level, the levees must also be raised to levels that can withstand a Category 5 hurricane--but even that is not enough:
Mr. Suhayda envisions a rebuilding plan that begins with levees that are higher than the 14-foot levee needed for a category 3 storm. On Wednesday, he said he stood in the gap of one of the broken levees.

“The water that came through this spot flooded 80 percent of the city,” he said. “Let’s build a category 5 levee, but let’s assume it will fail,” said Mr. Suhayda. “We have to have back-up plans B and C.”

Plan B, in Mr. Suhayda’s view, would prevent the near total inundation of the city by a single levee breach, as happened in Katrina.

“We have to compartmentalize the city like waterproof chambers in an ocean liner,’’ he said.

“A majority of the levees performed exactly as they should,’’ he said, but that didn’t save the city. Compartmentalizing would allow the good levees to do their protective job.
Plan C, according to Suhayda, is for essential buildings like hospitals--which were never part of the evacuation plan--to get their generators out of the basement and above the possible flood.

A step that should be taken in conjunction with this is restoring wetland areas south and east of New Orleans, which would act as a buffer for New Orleans:
While improved levees seem a nearly inarguable condition for a rebuilt New Orleans, others see protection against future storm surges as a far more practical solution than raising a sinking landscape by filling in the lowlands.

“Geologically, it makes more sense to me to think about protection of New Orleans, rather than try to fill New Orleans with sediment,’’ said Mr. Roberts.

It’s a matter of restoring lost friction. Hurricanes slow when they cross land, and for centuries Louisiana’s 7,000 square miles of coastal wetlands acted as a natural brake on raging storms. But the processes that built the marshlands over 5,000 years are gone, victims of human settlement. The river no longer floods, and it was flooding that released sediment into the ever-renewing delta wetlands. Much of the sediment that would have maintained the wetlands now jets into the Gulf of Mexico.

Activities like oil and gas exploration and canal dredging compounded the sediment loss. So does the natural subsidence of the watery marshlands in an era of rising sea levels.

As a result, Louisiana lost 1,900 square miles of wetlands from 1930 to 2000. If nothing changes, another 700 square miles will disappear in the next 50 years, according to a U.S. Geological Survey report issued in 2003.

The problem, of course, is that all of this will cost hundreds of billions of dollars--and the political will to follow this course over the next ten to twenty years. Expecting this kind of leadership from the present Republican leadership, however, is about as intelligent as spitting into Katrina-force winds.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Jack Kelly--A National Disgrace

In the past year, the Toledo Blade has earned a Pulitzer Prize for its series on the atrocities committed in Vietnam, and put themselves in consideration for another such award with their top-notch reporting on the still developing Coingate scandal. Why they still feel the need to carry the rantings of a fourth-rate Republican hack like Jack Kelly is beyond reason.

Kelly was a minor political appointee in the Reagan administration. He has been able to parlay that into a position on the national board of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Toledo Blade, with a weakly (no, that is not a typo) column in each paper. This week's
topic was the Bush administration's (non)response to Katrina. Kelly cites an expert, Jason van Steenwyk, a "Florida Army National Guardsman who has been mobilized six times for hurricane relief. He notes that:'The federal govern­ment pretty much met its standard time lines, but the volume of support provided during the 72-96 hour was unprecedented. The federal response here was faster than Hugo, faster than Andrew, faster than Iniki, faster than Francine and Jeanne.'”

At first glance, this Steenwyk guy seems to have a lot of experience in hurricane response--until you do a little research. See, Hurricane Iniki occured in Hawaii in September 1992. Do you remember another big hurricane that occurred late in August of that year? Hint: it was the first Atlantic hurricane of the season. That's right--Hurricane Andrew. Don't worry if you got it wrong; so did Kelly
--"For instance, it took five days for National Guard troops to arrive in strength on the scene in Homestead, Fla., after Hurricane Andrew hit in 2002 [emphasis mine]. But after Katrina, there was a significant National Guard presence in the afflicted region in three days.

The point here is, you can't cite Steenwyk as a source of firsthand knowlege for both Iniki and Andrew, because he could not have been at both. To his credit, Steenwyk attempts to (slightly) correct the record at his blog, linked to above.

Back to Kelly, though. Don't you remember how the media praised the first President Bush for his administration's rapid response to Andrew? It was one of the reasons he was re-elected, wasn't it? Jack, buddy, did you have an acid flashback there, or did your memory just go selective? The slooooow response to Andrew was one of the factors that cost Bush pere the '92 election.

Not only is Kelly apparently a former drug-use, but he also imbibes wingnut kool-aid during working hours:
"A better question — which few journalists ask — is why weren’t the roughly 2,000 municipal and school buses in New Orleans utilized to take people out of the city before Katrina struck?"
Yep, if only Nagin would have packed off 12,000 to 13,000 evacuees on those 2,000 buses, this whole disaster could have been averted. Then the rescue teams would have only had to handle 20,000 evacuees that would not have had seats on the buses, instead of the 32,000 that they ended up having to rescue off of rooftops. And all of this time, I thought it was the fault of the Bush Administration for repeated failures to address serious problems with the security of this country.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Katrina and Davis-Bacon

After resting for six months, I've got a lot to say. It has become quickly apparent that George Bush is determined to rebuild the Gulf Coast on the backs of the working-class. In one of his earliest actions, Bush announced that he was revoking Davis-Bacon protections for workers employed on Katrina-related reconstruction projects, meaning that contractors can pay below the "going rate"--meaning, below the union rate--on these projects. Time magazine is reporting via Kevin Drum that the White House plan to boost the President's popularity (his approval rating is as low 38 percent in some polls)is to throw unlimited amounts of money into reconstruction projects down there. So, the Bush administration is going to spend huge amounts of tax dollars along the Gulf, but limit the amount of money that will be paid to workers--who will probably be risking their health, and possibly their lives, in the remnant of the "toxic soup" that now covers most of New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast. Hmm, sounds like Bush is once again taking care of his "base."

September 11 -- Four Years After

As many have already noted, today is the fourth anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center, the Pentegon, and the crash in western Pennsylvania. This has also been widely noted as the defining moment of the first Bush term. Many Americans chose to overlook the fact that Bush ignored the warning of the impending attack, given during his month-long vacation at his compound in Crawford on August 6, 2001. After getting word of the first attack on the World Trade Center while on his way to a grade school in Florida, Bush sat in the classroom while Chief of Staff Andrew Card informed him of the second attack. After completing his PR responsibilities, Bush and his entourage spend most of the rest of the morning on Air Force One, while most of the rest of America (and the world)watch in horror as the twin towers collapse in New York City--killing nearly 3,000 tower workers and first responders.

With the help of the SCLM, however, most Americans have been able to willfully ignore these shortcomings, and see the strong leader that we wanted to see during that unsettling time. That image of strong leadership most Americans retained, despite the failure to capture Osma bin Laden, and despite the "failures of intelligence" that led to the vanity war in Iraq.

Since the Bush "mandate" in the November election, however, the scales have begun to fall from the eyes of many Americans. With nearly 1900 casualties in the Bush vanity war and the continual rise of gas prices, there has been good reason for Bush's steady fall in popularity. Events along the Gulf Coast during the past two weeks, however, have exposed Bush for the abysmal leader that he is. Despite being briefed on Saturday, before the storm hit, Bush continued on his merry way, west to Phoenix and San Diego, to a friendlier crowd to attempt to sell some more Social Security snake oil as well as some Iraq War oil. In the meantime, of course, the city of New Orleans drowns in one of the disaster scenarios that FEMA had previously warned against.

Which finally brings us full circle. We are perhaps more vulnerable to attack and disaster four years after the events of 9/11. Four years that should have been spent in shoring up government capabilities to respond to events like Katrina, have been instead wasted on public relations window-dressing by the Busheviks. Four years that should have been spent improving the levys in southern Louisiana were instead spent issuing nonsense terror warning meant to shore up Bush's poll numbers. Perhaps 10,000 mostly poor, and mostly black, Americans--three times the number killed in the terror attacks of 9/11--have had to pay the ultimate price for Bush's incompetence.