Columns » Outsider


A time for anger


There will be time to mourn. Time to mourn the victims, time to mourn that great city at the mouth of the Mississippi, dark and wounded, vanished into the remembered past.

Now is the time to help, to give to the Red Cross, to open our houses to refugees, to admire the selfless courage of so many who have given so freely.

And now is the time for anger. Now is the time, while the wound is raw and bleeding, to ask ourselves why it happened, whether it could have been prevented and, yes, to ask ourselves who bears the blame.

The spin machines already are at work. Now we're reading that New Orleans was a "systemic failure" -- everybody screwed up, so no one's responsible. We listen to the president's mealy-mouthed sycophants try to make it seem that everyone performed just magnificently. We listen to President Bush, who tells us that "no one thought that the levees could breach" when, in fact, every study of the New Orleans levees highlighted such a breach as an eminently possible worst-case scenario.

And we listen to the once-obedient voices of Fox News and CNN as they lose it, as they defy their corporate bosses and the clueless federal bureaucrats presiding over the disaster and ask the angry, insistent questions that need to be asked.

For at least 25 years, it has been clear that New Orleans was at severe risk of total destruction. If ever the levees that protected the city from Lake Pontchartrain, the river and the ocean were breached, the city would die.

Solutions were discussed, plans were made, funding was sought. To rebuild and strengthen the levees would have cost about $2.5 billion -- a lot of money, but not even a rounding error in the bloated federal budget. But nothing ever was done.

Why not? Everyone (except, it seems, the Bush-appointed director of FEMA) knew what the risks were. If one of our greatest cities was in deadly peril, why didn't government respond?

Let's look at two phenomena. Since 1980, Republican presidents have occupied the White House for 17 years, Democrats for eight. The lone Democrat, Bill Clinton, was timid domestically, especially after the failure of his health care initiative. Remember his words as he tried to seize the high ground from the GOPsters on welfare reform? "The era of big government is over!"

But the Republicans weren't timid at all. They were in Washington to cut taxes, spending and the size of government. They were, and remain, happy to fund the military, no matter how outlandish the project. But public works? No way -- they were gonna cut pork!

But they didn't. They adopted a system of organized larceny to allocate federal infrastructure money.

Instead of coming up with a process that would rank projects hierarchically, the congressional leadership expected every representative would advocate for his own district, every senator for his own state.

Money followed power. So Alaska's Sen. Ted Stevens, the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, got $231 million in this year's budget for a bridge to nowhere, connecting the mainland with an island whose population is less than 4,000. At the same time, the Bush administration cut the budget of the New Orleans district of the Corps of Engineers by $70 million.

Republicans cared little for government itself. They just wanted to "starve the beast." The basic functions of government, including funding massive public works projects, were of no interest. Public works spending was just a way to reward Republicans and punish Democrats.

In 2002, after 9/11, a federal study identified the three most likely catastrophes that could befall our country: another terrorist attack on New York, a major earthquake in San Francisco and the failure of the levees in New Orleans. Nothing was done for New Orleans, maybe because the Bushies saw no reason to dump billions into a liberal sinkhole full of gays, African-Americans and breast-baring college girls.

New Orleans was not destroyed by a natural disaster. This disaster was entirely man-made, and entirely predictable.

So, all of you smug Colorado Springs right-wingers who love TABOR and Douglas Bruce: Read about the local floods of 1935 and 1965. If there's a repeat of '35, much of our city will be destroyed.

But it probably won't happen, will it?

So why spend money fixing storm water drainage? After all, small government's best, right?


Add a comment

Clicky Quantcast