Dark Bilious Vapors

But how could I deny that I possess these hands and this body, and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors....
--Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy: Meditation I

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09/03/2005: Follow the Threads....

This is a "response" post that would be overlong in Haloscan to some commenting on Len’s previous post of Sept 1: Prophetic:

This one: "I heard this morning on NPR someone from the Army Corps of Engineers saying that even if they had gotten the extra $71 million appropriation it would not have been used on the levees that broke, as the Corps had already determined that those levees were sufficient.

Are you going to run a correction or apology now or does it slip down the memory hole?"

and This one: "…I've been amazed at how many people want to politicize this and blame on Bush. I didn't vote for him (I'm a Libertarian) but to blame all this on him is ridiculous.

First of all, people are responsible for themselves. Next, the mayor has the first line political responsibiliy for planning and management. The governor is the next layer. Both of them are closer to the situation and deserve any political fallout…"

Click on the “more” to follow the threads of answers I have to these two comments.

I guess – Like most Americans Surveyed (2 out of 3 from this week’s survey) - on the following issues:

I say: “the Federal Government is *not* doing enough to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina.” And similarly, “Americans today say local officials are unprepared to meet the challenges before them” and furthermore “disapprove of President Bush's handling of the situation. And far from being an "over the top" criticism, more and more Americans are realizing the importance of asking these questions, assessing the policy implications of certain decisions and hoping to avoid such a repeat of poor planning and response for the future.

Up for grabs is a public discussion about whether the city of New Orleans should be rebuilt. But for the record, ole DHC Home Boy, Denny Hastert, who caused a flap with his remarks this week, has changed his rhetoric on the subject.

isn't this really about three issues, separately considered and should not be merely conflated together:

1) pre-planning from 1998 til present day.
2) the five day notice before the actual disaster and evacuation.
3) aftermath planning for aid, rescue, food, water, looting, etc.

Both comments seem to be taking aim at the first point covered in an earlier post about the Mark Fichetti article in Smithsonian and whether the policies and plans may or may not have affected the actual outcome of the disaster. But, unfortunately, I haven't been able to read the COAST 2050 plan (cited here -- But the web link was “bizee” all day – probably lots of folks trying to read that one). So, I'm not certain that viewpoint of it "making no difference" is correct, nor that had other parts of this reengineering had been implemented that it wouldn't created a better situation overall in the event of a Category 4 hurricane.

But here is a direct response from an e-mail posted on the Daily Dish on this very NPR interview (But Sullivan lists all comment anonymously so no attribution beyond his site link is possible):
” EMAIL OF THE DAY II: "I've worked closely with Corps personnel for 6 years in various scientific and regulatory capacities on wetlands issues. While the Corps is often maligned by environmentalists, I will be the first to defend the professionalism, commitment and skill of their regulatory field staff.

The Corps, however, is Army - the institutional culture is one of top-down control and damn-the-torpedoes, and a deeply-ingrained instinct against criticising the chain of command. In an email yesterday that eventually ended up on Wonkette, I predicted that they would be good soldiers and insulate Bush against charges that the levees weren't finished, and indeed I woke up to Al Naomi saying just that on NPR. And General Strock from HQ had to be brought in to do the real damage control: "I don't see that the level of funding was really a contributing factor in this case," said Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, chief of engineers for the corps. "Had this project been fully complete, it is my opinion that based on the intensity of this storm that the flooding of the business district and the French Quarter would have still taken place." (from Chi Trib).

But there are really TWO questions that must be answered:

1) Was the levee complete and at design spec?

2) Would a design-spec levee have withstood Katrina?

1) The truth is that short of a whistleblower, we may never know the condition of that levee on 8/29. My source on its inadequate condition isn't solid enough. But I know the following things:

a) You don't finish levees and walk away. They need regular maintenance - even when you haven't built them on dewatered organic soils that settle every year.

b) A District that had just taken a one-year budget cut of $71 million will have had to make some very hard choices about whether maintenance on this particular levee fell (in Corps parlance) "above the line - priority" or "below the line - optional". Their SOP (Standard Operating Procedures) guidance might tell us, but somebody needs to get a FOIA cookin' on this right now.

c) The question of levee adequacy breaks down at least into "was it at spec height?" [yes!] and "was it structurally sound to spec?" [oops!]. Because of the nature of the levee failure (not overtopped, but burst), watch for Corp HQ to focus on the first question (which pins the deaths on nature), and ignore the second (which might pin the deaths on budget decisions).

2) Over the coming days, the Corps' message will be this: "Katrina was greater than the design storm for this levee." This is at least an open question - purportedly the levees were designed to withstand a direct hit from a Category 3 hurricane. Katrina was a Category 4 at landfall, presenting her weak side to the levees at a distance of some 40-50 miles. The question appears debatable on its technical merits, and Strock's facile answer is far too politically expedient a conclusion to take at face value from Corps HQ. I have seen them fall on their sword for Presidents before, and the need has never been greater.

To sum up: Gen. Strock is asking us to accept that the Army Corps could maintain the structural integrity of every last mile of levee built on subsiding soils in a District that had taken a $71 million budget cut in one year. AND that they would admit it if they hadn't, when the reputation of the President is at stake. All my experience rejects both propositions."

So there is the answer in two parts:

A) That this response may not have taken into account the completion level of this levee and the maintenance budgeting (which has been documented to have been CUT in the Federal Budget.)

B) The Reputational BUTT-Covering answers given by a Lt-Gen in the ARMY Corps of Engineers.

In any event, the COAST 2050 plan was not implemented; FED budget dollars for this maintenance were cut. But most importantly, and GEE, I just hate to contradict the ole Fearless Leader’s inaccuracies, but the breach of the levees and the resultant disaster WAS predicted.

About number 2) The lead time and five days notice prior to Hurricane Katrina hitting land: Many People's only options to evacuate were limited. On both a state level they were poorly organized and there was NO involvement of the FEDs before hand...unless I missed something. But Bryan (WHY NOW) seemed to hit that point accurately about how many people were trapped in New Orleans to wait out the storm and drown and be left for “refugees” in this disaster. Is this both a State and Federal deficiency - I'd say so. And it's no good only assessing the fault of one without the other when it comes to the scale of the predicted outcome.

and 3) The after-math response for the situation as it unfolded: This has been well covered by any number of pundits, but I'll just choose a comment from Paul Krugman (NY Times):
"First question: Why have aid and security taken so long to arrive? Katrina hit five days ago - and it was already clear by last Friday that Katrina could do immense damage along the Gulf Coast. Yet the response you'd expect from an advanced country never happened. Thousands of Americans are dead or dying, not because they refused to evacuate, but because they were too poor or too sick to get out without help - and help wasn't provided. Many have yet to receive any help at all."

Which "help" only arrived min before Dumbya himself, for his photo op. And yes...I'm cynical as the day is long where this sound-byte-Pres is concerned.

I even made a similar observation in an e-mail (but not posted) to that of Jack Cafferety on CNN. Because, if you watched it live, there was a strange short “detour” of sorts to drop in on Biloxi and a four minute visit with a couple residents. No Tour, No extensive interviews…just a strange “out-of-nowhere” character to this Photo Op, and -- Whoosh -- the Helicopter was off with the Pres. Then was the CNN commenting that the Convoys of Trucks with supplies still had a couple minutes to go before arriving at the Superdome. And the juxtaposition seemed “obvious” (?!?) that GW didn’t want to arrive ahead of the trucks of supplies. Would have spoiled the Photo-Opishness of the moment. Staged to the minute. Very strange.

And more strange is the faux “levity” of the Fearless Leader in making Trent Lott house rebuilding jokes(?!?). I see nothing humorous in this enormous, sad, disaster and the thousands of lives lost, no matter what eventually gets rebuilt or salvaged later out of this mess.

And unlike the “libertarian commentator,” I DO think it is the both the duty and obligation of the FEMA agency and the National Government to provide Immediate Aid for a disaster of this magnitude involving the US and US citizens. And that the monies would have been well spent on plans like COAST 2050 to have attempted to avoid this in the first instance and not undercut the funding for these projects nor have permitted overdevelopment of the wetlands under this bAdmin. And that this is not a purely State issue. But then perhaps that is why I don’t Identify myself as a “libertarian” and my views are not going to reflect that point of how governments should behave.

Finally, is the MAJOR point, IF this is the kind of disaster response - since 9-11- that can be expected for any, ANY, disaster (natural, man-made, terrorist…) then we, as a Nation, have failed!! And it bodes ill for the next looming crisis to be so poorly prepared.

UPDATE: This one by Thomas over at Newsrack also underscores the Photo-Op callous disregard under the circumstances of the "scripted" handling of Dumbya's visit to New Orleans:
"Live by the photo op, die by the photo op, II

Bush figuratively, but Gulf coast residents probably less so. David Pace of Associated Press reported reported on Louisiana Congressman Charlie Melancon's futile efforts to see or get in touch with the president. The congressman was unable to get a security clearance to see Bush in person, and had no luck contacting him by phone either:
After waiting 90 minutes Friday while a U.S. marshal using a satellite phone repeatedly tried, and failed, to contact Bush's plane - located just 300 yards away at New Orleans' Armstrong airport - a disgusted Melancon left.

'After an hour and a half of that, and two hours to get down there, I am now back on my way, without seeing the president, not accomplishing anything in my mind today. I've wasted time while people are dying in South Louisiana,' he said in a telephone interview. 'It's not personal to the president. It's just that this whole thing has been handled terribly.'

Melancon said the communications problems that kept him from meeting with Bush are symptomatic of the problems that have plagued the slow-moving federal response to the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina.

In St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes, just south of New Orleans, victims of the hurricane are still waiting for food and water and for buses to escape the floodwaters, Melancon said. And for the entire time Bush was in the state, the congressman said, a ban on helicopter flights further stalled the delivery of food and supplies.

Via Arthur Silber, via digby. I found no confirmation of a routine statewide ban in the Wikipedia entry for "Marine One," but found numerous anecdotes about restricted air space in the vicinity of the president -- bad enough when he was in any of the afflicted areas. Bush should of course have waived any such rules, or found a different venue for his televised expressions of concern.

Karen on 09.03.05 @ 08:49 AM CST

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