QUESTION: Did the president do all he could do to prevent the disaster?
The answer is not only no, but he actually drastically cut the budget:
Until recently, efforts to squeeze coastal protection money out of Washington have met with resistance. The Louisiana congressional delegation urged Congress earlier this year to dedicate a stream of federal money to Louisiana's coast, only to be opposed by the White House. Ultimately a deal was struck to steer $540 million to the state over four years. The total coast of repair work is estimated to be $14 billion.
In its budget, the Bush administration had also proposed a significant reduction in funding for southeast Louisiana's chief hurricane protection project. Bush proposed $10.4 million, a sixth of what local officials say they need.
In fiscal year 2006, the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is bracing for a record $71.2 million reduction in federal funding.
It would be the largest single-year funding loss ever for the New Orleans district, Corps officials said.
I've been here over 30 years and I've never seen this level of reduction, said Al Naomi, project manager for the New Orleans district. I think part of the problem is it's not so much the reduction, it's the drastic reduction in one fiscal year. It's the immediacy of the reduction that I think is the hardest thing to adapt to.
QUESTION: What was the concrete impact of these cuts?
According to a July 8, 2004 article (via Josh Marshall), the project basically stopped:
For the first time in 37 years, federal budget cuts have all but stopped major work on the New Orleans area's east bank hurricane levees, a complex network of concrete walls, metal gates and giant earthen berms that won't be finished for at least another decade.
"I needed $11 million this year, and I got $5.5 million," Naomi said. "I need $22.5 million next year to do everything that needs doing, and the first $4.5 million of that will go to pay four contractors who couldn't get paid this year."
QUESTION: Why were there such drastic cuts?
The Army Corp of Engineers comes out and says it:
The Corps never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security -- coming at the same time as federal tax cuts -- was the reason for the strain. At least nine articles in the Times-Picayune from 2004 and 2005 specifically cite the cost of Iraq as a reason for the lack of hurricane- and flood-control dollars.
QUESTION: How has the fact that 40% of the Louisiana Guard is deployed overseas impacted the response to the flooding?
The major levee at the 17th street canal didn't get patched:
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin is "very upset" that an attempt to fix the breach in the levee at the 17th Street canal has failed, and he said the challenges that the city is facing have "escalated to another level."
Nagin said the sandbagging was scheduled for midday, but the Blackhawk helicopters needed to help did not show up. He said the sandbags were ready and all the helicopter had to do was "show up."
He said he was told that the helicopters may have been diverted to rescue about 1,000 people in a church.
QUESTION: How did the president respond to the catastrophe?
He maintained his vacation schedule by:
-Traveling thousands of miles away from the disaster area to have a good old time during a staged Medicare event:
CAPTION: Myrtle Jones, 80 of Rancho Cucamonga, has a moment with President George W. Bush as he talks about Medicare at the James L. Brulte Senior Center in Rancho Cucamonga, August 29, 2005.
-Having a birthday party:
The president paused on the tarmac to help celebrate McCain's 69th birthday, but on a blazing Arizona day, the cake melted before he could taste it.
-Visiting a El Mirage, AZ country club to give another staged Medicare event:
WHITE HOUSE CAPTION: President George W. Bush shares a laugh with 82-year-old Margaret Cantrell of Scottsdale, during a Conversation on Medicare Monday, Aug. 29, 2005, at the Pueblo El Mirage RV Resort and Country Club in nearby El Mirage, Ariz.
Not everyone thought he should be there
I'm guessing that Monday, Aug. 29, 2005, will not be remembered as the day President George W. Bush stopped by a retirement community in El Mirage to discuss prescription drug benefits for seniors.
-He got guitar lessons:
President Bush plays a guitar presented to him by Country Singer Mark Wills, right, backstage following his visit to Naval Base Coronado, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2005.
-Via ThinkProgress he slept peacefully on his "ranch":
Following his speech at the naval base to commemmorate the 60th anniversary of the Allied victory in World War II, the President will fly to his ranch in Crawford, Tx. before returning to Washington on Wednesday morning.
UPDATE: John at AmericaBlog, which has been hammering the president, points to the Manchester Union Leader editorial calling Bush Out:
AS THE EXTENT of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation became clearer on Tuesday — millions without power, tens of thousands homeless, a death toll unknowable because rescue crews can’t reach some regions — President Bush carried on with his plans to speak in San Diego, as if nothing important had happened the day before.
Katrina already is measured as one of the worst storms in American history. And yet, President Bush decided that his plans to commemorate the 60th anniversary of VJ Day with a speech were more pressing than responding to the carnage.
A better leader would have flown straight to the disaster zone and announced the immediate mobilization of every available resource to rescue the stranded, find and bury the dead, and keep the survivors fed, clothed, sheltered and free of disease.
The goal is to get these legitimate questions and criticisms on the front page of every major newspaper in the country and on the lips of every anchor.
UPDATE #2: I forgot to include this NY Times article:
New Orleans has 22 pumping stations that need to work nearly continuously to discharge normal storm runoff and seepage. But they are notoriously fickle. Efforts to add backup power generators to keep them all running during blackouts have been delayed by a lack of federal money.
I knew there had to be a picture of Bush with the cake. Picture is from the White House website, caption is from a Washington Post article.
UPDATE #4: Added art from the El Mirage event.
Below "dash" points to yesterday's Washington Post:
Which makes it all the more difficult to understand why, at this moment, the country's premier agency for dealing with such events -- FEMA -- is being, in effect, systematically downgraded and all but dismantled by the Department of Homeland Security.
Indeed, the advent of the Bush administration in January 2001 signaled the beginning of the end for FEMA. The newly appointed leadership of the agency showed little interest in its work or in the missions pursued by the departed Witt. Then came the Sept. 11 attacks and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. Soon FEMA was being absorbed into the "homeland security borg."
This year it was announced that FEMA is to "officially" lose the disaster preparedness function that it has had since its creation. The move is a death blow to an agency that was already on life support. In fact, FEMA employees have been directed not to become involved in disaster preparedness functions, since a new directorate (yet to be established) will have that mission.
FEMA will be survived by state and local emergency management offices, which are confused about how they fit into the national picture.
I think the effectiveness of this new system is self-evident, but just in case you want to hear directly from the horse's mouth: "There is way too many fricking cooks in the kitchen" -Mayor Nagin
And "Volvo Liberal" rightfully mentions that Josh Marshall is helping lead the call for accountability.
UPDATE #6: (courtesy "Volvo Liberal" below) Sidney Blumenthal summarizes most of what we've already posted. He does add a few new facts:
A year ago the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed to study how New Orleans could be protected from a catastrophic hurricane, but the Bush administration ordered that the research not be undertaken.
The Bush administration's policy of turning over wetlands to developers almost certainly also contributed to the heightened level of the storm surge. In 1990, a federal task force began restoring lost wetlands surrounding New Orleans. Every two miles of wetland between the Crescent City and the Gulf reduces a surge by half a foot. Bush had promised "no net loss" of wetlands, a policy launched by his father's administration and bolstered by President Clinton. But he reversed his approach in 2003, unleashing the developers. The Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency then announced they could no longer protect wetlands unless they were somehow related to interstate commerce.
In response to this potential crisis, four leading environmental groups conducted a joint expert study, concluding in 2004 that without wetlands protection New Orleans could be devastated by an ordinary, much less a Category 4 or 5, hurricane. "There's no way to describe how mindless a policy that is when it comes to wetlands protection," said one of the report's authors. The chairman of the White House's Council on Environmental Quality dismissed the study as "highly questionable," and boasted, "Everybody loves what we're doing."
Via Kevin Drum, the bureaucrats are speaking out offering damning information:
"What you're seeing is revealing weaknesses in the state, local and federal levels," said Eric Tolbert, who until February was FEMA's disaster response chief. "All three levels have been weakened. They've been weakened by diversion into terrorism."
The slow response to Katrina and poor federal leadership is a replay of 1992's mishandling of Hurricane Andrew, said former FEMA chief of staff Jane Bullock, a 22-year veteran of the agency.
Bullock blamed inexperienced federal leadership. She noted that Chertoff and FEMA Director Michael Brown had no disaster experience before they were appointed to their jobs. (ME: You gotta be fucking kidding me. I knew cronyism allowed a few campaign supporters to get cozy FEMA jobs, but the fucking Director of the agency didn't have any disaster experience?!)
Last year, FEMA spent $250,000 to conduct an eight-day hurricane drill for a mock killer storm hitting New Orleans. Some 250 emergency officials attended. Many of the scenarios now playing out, including a helicopter evacuation of the Superdome, were discussed in that drill for a fictional storm named Pam.
This year, the group was to design a plan to fix such unresolved problems as evacuating sick and injured people from the Superdome and housing tens of thousands of stranded citizens.
Funding for that planning was cut, said Tolbert, the former FEMA disaster response director.
Being prepared for a disaster is basic emergency management, disaster experts say.
For example, in the 1990s, in planning for a New Orleans nightmare scenario, the federal government figured it would pre-deploy nearby ships with pumps to remove water from the below-sea-level city and have hospital ships nearby, said James Lee Witt, who was FEMA director under President Clinton.
Federal officials said a hospital ship would leave from Baltimore on Friday.
"These things need to be planned and prepared for; it just doesn't look like it was," said Witt, a former Arkansas disaster chief who won bipartisan praise on Capitol Hill during his tenure.
Will Bunch, the author of one of the first post-flooding articles chronicling the administration's culpability in this tragedy is blogging.
More pre-Katrina outrage from the New Orleans press about the budget cuts (courtesy "dissenter2004")
And the New York Times is hammering the president, providing even more backbone to we, who think the president must be held accountable now, so as to enact policy changes and resource commitments immediately.
I'll add more information as it becomes available.
Everyone please remember to take action! Write and call-in and demand that the president be held accountable for his dereliction of duty and reckless negligence.
I posted this diary this morning but if someone wants to post another with more media contact links and tips, I'll link to it.
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