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Irresponsible government, public apathy, and recipes for disaster.
Sunday September 04th 2005, 1:23 pm
Filed under: politics
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A Flood of Bad Policies
By Molly Ivins, AlterNet. Posted September 2, 2005.

While Katrina’s dead have not yet been counted, it’s not too soon to hammer home a point: government policies have real consequences in people’s lives.

Like many of you who love New Orleans, I find myself taking short mental walks there today, turning a familiar corner, glimpsing a favorite scene, square or vista. And worrying about the beloved friends and the city, and how they are now.

To use a fine Southern word, it’s tacky to start playing the blame game before the dead are even counted. It is not too soon, however, to make a point that needs to be hammered home again and again, and that is that government policies have real consequences in people’s lives. This is not “just politics” or blaming for political advantage. This is about the real consequences of what governments do and do not do about their responsibilities. And about who winds up paying the price for those policies.

This is a column for everyone in the path of Hurricane Katrina who ever said, “I’m sorry, I’m just not interested in politics,” or, “There’s nothing I can do about it,” or, “Eh, they’re all crooks anyway.” Nothing to do with me, nothing to do with my life, nothing I can do about any of it. Look around you this morning. I suppose the NRA would argue, “Government policies don’t kill people, hurricanes kill people.”

Actually, hurricanes plus government policies kill people. One of the main reasons New Orleans is so vulnerable to hurricanes is the gradual disappearance of the wetlands on the Gulf Coast that once stood as a natural buffer between the city and storms coming in from the water. The disappearance of those wetlands does not have the name of a political party or a particular administration attached to it. No one wants to play, “The Democrats did it,” or, “It’s all Reagan’s fault.”

Many environmentalists will tell you more than a century’s interference with the natural flow of the Mississippi is the root cause of the problem, cutting off the movement of alluvial soil to the river’s great delta. But in addition to long-range consequences of long-term policies like letting the Corps of Engineers try to build a better river than God, there are real short-term consequences, as well.

It is a fact that the Clinton administration set some tough policies on wetlands, and it is a fact that the Bush administration repealed those policies — ordering federal agencies to stop protecting as many as 20 million acres of wetlands. Last year, four environmental groups cooperated on a joint report showing the Bush administration’s policies had allowed developers to drain thousands of acres of wetlands.

Does this mean we should blame Bush for the fact that New Orleans is underwater? No, but it means we can blame Bush when a Class 3 or Class 2 hurricane puts New Orleans underwater.

At this point, it is a matter of making a bad situation worse, of failing to observe the First Rule of Holes (when you’re in one, stop digging). Had a storm the size of Katrina just had the grace to hold off for a while, it’s quite likely no one would even remember what the Bush administration did two months ago.

The national press corps has the attention span of a gnat, and trying to get anyone in Washington to remember longer than a year ago is like asking them what happened in Iznik, Turkey, in A.D. 325. Just plain political bad luck that, in June, Bush took his little ax and chopped $71.2 million from the budget of the New Orleans Corps of Engineers, a 44 percent reduction.

As was reported in New Orleans CityBusiness at the time, that meant “major hurricane and flood projects will not be awarded to local engineering firms. Also, a study to determine ways to protect the region from a Category 5 hurricane has been shelved for now.”

The commander of the Corps’ New Orleans district also immediately instituted a hiring freeze and cancelled the annual Corps picnic. Our friends at the Center for American Progress note the Office of Technology Assessment used to produce forward-thinking plans such as “Floods: A National Policy Concern” and “A Framework for Flood Hazards Management.” Unfortunately, the office was targeted by Newt Gingrich and the Republican right, and gutted years ago.

In fact, there is now a government-wide movement away from basing policy on science, expertise and professionalism, and in favor of choices based on ideology. If you’re wondering what the ideological position on flood management might be, look at the pictures of New Orleans — it seems to consist of gutting the programs that do anything.

Unfortunately, the war in Iraq is directly related to the devastation left by the hurricane. About 35 percent of Louisiana’s National Guard is now serving in Iraq, where four out of every 10 soldiers are guardsmen. Recruiting for the Guard is also down significantly because people are afraid of being sent to Iraq if they join, leaving the Guard even more short-handed.

The Louisiana National Guard also notes that dozens of its high-water vehicles, humvees, refuelers and generators have also been sent abroad. (I hate to be picky, but why do they need high-water vehicles in Iraq?) This, in turn, goes back to the original policy decision to go into Iraq without enough soldiers and the subsequent failure to admit that mistake and to rectify it by instituting a draft.

The levees of New Orleans, two of which are now broken and flooding the city, were also victims of Iraq war spending. Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, said on June 8, 2004, “It appears that the money has been moved in the president’s budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq.”

This, friends, is why we need to pay attention to government policies, not political personalities, and to know whereon we vote. It is about our lives.

Molly Ivins writes about politics, Texas and other bizarre happenings.

5 Comments so far
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I know I am a foreighner here, but if I were American, I would demand impeachement for a President whose policies have lead to catastrophy uncomparable with any possible terrorist attack.

Comment by dingo_the 09.04.05 @ 3:19 pm

Thanks Donna. This article is a great companion piece to Andrei’s Driving Socrates blog A Disturbance In the Force and is surely one of many that will be written in the weeks to come. I agree with dingo_the, impeachment would be a welcome and sane antidote to a government that could almost care less about the environment. In fact environmental protections beyond sustainability should be written into the constitution, anything less is unnacceptable unless we are happy with deselecting ourselves from existence. Yes, Bush and cronies, Global Warming is real and environmentalists aren’t the tree-hugging nuts you’ve portrayed them to be. Good luck on the spin now W; lets see if you can work around the hurricane of criticism heading your way. For those who don’t know, one of W’s first anti-environmental acts consisted of lowering the restrictions on levels of Arsenic in water for his buddies in the mining industry; a blatant and criminal portent of things to come.

Bush and Arsenic

Bush and Arsenic

Another Molly Ivins gem

Comment by tao 09.04.05 @ 3:33 pm

I think that IMPEACHMENT is too easy on them. Can we point out how Bolton is running interference against an international war crimes tribunal? These people have committed crimes against humanity. I know I am not the first one to think it and I doubt I am not the first one to say it; but they are guilty of crimes against humanity. Now that humanity is Americans. Will that finally make a difference? Tear down their protections and give them to a world court to decide if they are guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Before it’s too late.

Comment by Danny Boyle 09.04.05 @ 8:51 pm

Thank you for writing this. I think a copy should be sent to our president, since he doesn’t read any newspapers, so that he can see how his policies affect others. I have to assume that he really doesn’t know, because the alternative is that he is purposefully breaking down our society one policy at a time. I honestly don’t understand how this administration can continually get away with things, denying everything and answering nothing. I also agree that this is not the time for blame, because there are thousands of people in a very desperate situation right now. But when you do nothing for so long, and then do very little, and then down-play the whole thing, I have to blame Bush and his crew. They are the ones making these decisions. And I know that if this had happened in a more affluent neighborhood, we wouldn’t be talking about much of this right now. Thanks again for writing this so eloquently.

Comment by laura 09.05.05 @ 10:31 am

this is so well written – we neeed more of this sort of thing on DS – I feel not only informed but armed with the sort of foundational conversation peices to really build more cross subject cases for policy based decision making and the need to encourage our fellow citizens to really consider the rippling impacts of policies. Definately good food for thought. Thanks Donna!

Comment by andrei hedstrom 09.08.05 @ 9:48 pm

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