Friday, August 3, 2007

Thank You, Time Magazine

From Time Magazine by Michael Grunwald:

The most important thing to remember about the drowning of New Orleans is that it wasn't a natural disaster. It was a man-made disaster, created by lousy engineering, misplaced priorities and pork-barrel politics. Katrina was not the Category 5 killer the Big Easy had always feared; it was a Category 3 storm that missed New Orleans, where it was at worst a weak 2. The city's defenses should have withstood its surges, and if they had we never would have seen the squalor in the Superdome, the desperation on the rooftops, the shocking tableau of the Mardi Gras city underwater for weeks. We never would have heard the comment "Heckuva job, Brownie." The Federal Emergency Management Agency (fema) was the scapegoat, but the real culprit was the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which bungled the levees that formed the city's man-made defenses and ravaged the wetlands that once formed its natural defenses. Americans were outraged by the government's response, but they still haven't come to grips with the government's responsibility for the catastrophe.

And haven't I been saying this over and over? I am so pleased that a national news magazine is telling this story. Maybe now folks in the rest of the country will "get it".

There's this on the mostly inept and not-to-be trusted US Corps of Engineers:

But Corps officials have also committed to restoring the surge-softening marshes, cypress swamps and barrier islands that are disappearing at a rate of a football field nearly every half-hour. They say they now understand that the survival of New Orleans depends on a sustainable coast. "This is not the Corps of old," says Karen Durham-Aguilera, director of the agency's Task Force Hope. "The world has changed, and the Corps is changing too."

So. Now they understand about the marshes. I hope so, but I'm not holding my breath for the Corps to keep the promise about the restoration of the marshes. It's not entirely the fault of the Corps, which is funded mainly by earmarks, with politicians meddling in a heavy-handed manner in their plans and projects.

The article is well done. Grunwald did his homework before writing his story, which is more than I can say for other prestigious journalists. I don't agree with every single statement in the story, but he mostly gets it very right.

Thanks to Oyster at Your Right Hand Thief for the tip to the story.


  1. Off topic, but for your Vitter file - just noticed this in the "Nation":

  2. Lapin, I had read about this elsewhere. He's a prince of a man, isn't he?

  3. And while we're on the right-wing hypocrisy business, this, also from the Nation (good to check their site a couple of times a week):

  4. I note that this month's National Geographic has a cover story on New Orleans' post-Katrina prospects.

    I haven't read it, but intend to buy the magazine for the new map of Mexico. But it may be worth a look.

  5. Rick, I've read the NG piece. It's a good one, too.

    What I like about the Time piece is that it says plainly, right up front, what I and others have been saying for two years, that the flooding of New Orleans was mainly due to faulty levee construction.

  6. thank you for reminding me where the incompetence began, Grandmere Mimi. years of neglecting the infrastructure...
    ...I'm kind of thinking of that, on a smaller scale, with the bridge right now.

  7. Diane, I'm afraid that the condition of the Minneapolis bridge is not an isolated problem.

  8. Just finished James Lee Burke's mystery set in post-Katrina New Orleans and the gulf area. He gets it.

  9. Ann, he'd better. I like his Dave Robicheaux books and his short stories. I have not read the post-Katrina one, yet.

  10. Grandmere, you might like to read a book by a friend of mine, published a year before Katrina and eerily correct in predictions of disaster: Bayou Farewell, by Mike Tidwell.

  11. The Great Deluge (can't remember the author) is even-handed in its damning of multiple parties, including the US Corp of engineers.

  12. "The Great Deluge" was written by Douglas Brinkley. I believe he was on the Tulane faculty. It was one of the first books written about the aftermath of the storm and he was one of the N.O. residents who lived through it. It it an amazing book.

  13. LJ, we have it, and we have read it. So, he's a friend of yours. He did his homework and wrote a good book.

    Caminante, as Boocat says that was Douglas Brinkley. He's right. Every level of government failed the people of New Orleans.

    Boocat, Brinkley was offered and accepted a job at Rice University.

  14. Mimi,
    When I was doing relief work in MS following the storm, we heard all of this from FEMA people in the field. They could say all kinds of things, they still didn't do squat for the folks though.

    I lived one year in NO and loved that time except for the heat and the pollen. It is a wonderful city. I want to see the city rebuilt so that people can see that it is up to the people in the city about what their future is. But you are right, long-time denial from politicos and greed from both politicians and the taxpayers and those in charge of the levees spelled the disaster of Katrina.

    And you are also right about the bridge in MN. We lost 2 truckers to a similar bridge failure in the floods of a year ago in the Southern Tier of NY.

    It is the unwillingness of people to accept the burden of the cost to keep our infrastructure up and running that is going to be the downfall of our nation if we aren't careful

  15. Mimi, I know the bridge is not isolated. that is part of what scares me.
    LJ, hmmm, the name Tidwell sounds familiar, I'll look it up.
    I have never lived in NO, but I took a whole bunch of south dakota Lutheran kids down there for a youth convention and we all fell in love with it.
    We took this long walk from our hotel every day to the convention center and every morning this little blonde girl and street musician would greet each other: she'd say, "You the man!" and he'd say, "You the woman!"
    She comes from a town of 63 people. well, two miles outside of it.

  16. I consider it a privilege to have grown up in NO. The culture, the music, the food, the diversity of the people, all made the city a wonderful place. I made my way around by walking or by public transportation, because we never had a car.

    I liked the French Quarter when it was a little shabby and run-down with hardly a tourist in sight.

    No, Americans want it all, but with no taxes. We can't do it that way forever.

    Diane, I can just picture the girl and the street musician - a very New Orleans scene.

  17. Grandmère, what is the condition of the Ponchartrain Causeway post Katrina? Does anyone know? My family traveled that bridge many times every week when we lived in Mandeville. After Pre-stressed Concrete was closed so that developers could get the lake front property in Mandeville, I wondered what would be done if a new span was ever needed there and if anyone was really checking how it was holding up. I was so shocked at the population explosion on the North Shore when I was down for Katrina clean-up, I am sure that there is much more traffic on the Causeway than was ever anticipated when it was built.

  18. Ah, Lapinbizarre beat me to it (the Nation article.)

    Not much to add. I'm feeling soppy this morning. Jufi prayers ascending for NOLA and for our whole disintegrating country. That's about it.

  19. Boocat, who knows the condition of the causeway over Lake Pontchartrain? There's talk of another bridge, because traffic is a nightmare at rush hour.

    Folks in Jefferson Parish are pissed because traffic is a nightmare on the Metairie side in the streets near the causeway. In Mandeville traffic is beyond nightmare at rush hour.

    Many years ago, on a foggy morning, I was in a 17 car pile-up on the causeway, and I have been spooked by it ever since. I don't drive it, unless there is no other choice,

    Population on the North Shore of the lake has exploded, with all the troubles that come with unplanned or poorly-planned development.

    PJ, keep in mind that we must spend our billions to fight the terrorists in Iraq or we'll have to fight them "over here". Every so often, I hear that stupid comment, even today.

  20. Grandmère, the terrorists in Iraq are the ones who were sucked into the vacuum we created there by stupidly attacking a people who did not attack us first. That is what drives me up a wall about the Iraqi thing. Afghanistan, was one issue; Iraq quite another. I find myself wondering what would have happened if we had poured all of the funds we have squandered in Iraq into rebuilding Afghanistan. Would that have not been the wiser path? Of course, I am just a simple little woman in the provinces, so what do I know?

  21. Grandmère, the terrorists in Iraq are the ones who were sucked into the vacuum we created there by stupidly attacking a people who did not attack us first.

    Boocat, I know that. Should I have added an irony alert?

    Once we were in Afghanistan, we dropped the ball. I can't say what the outcome would have been, because the Russians were bogged down there for years.

    There was absolutely no reason for us to invade and occupy Iraq.

  22. Grandmère - keep on saying it re: NO. Authorities failed to protect the city in advance -- and then let it stay drowned. I grieve for the web of human connections broken.

    About bridges: here in SF, we've been unable to get the Bay Bridge (which failed in the 1989 earthquake) properly replaced in 18 years!! We might have a new bridge by 2012. Clearly our systems of social connectedness and responsibility aren't working.

  23. Mimi,
    Mike was a member of my last congregation and we worked closely together on the grassroots Climate Change group he formed and directed (still does) on which I was an original board officer. Mike is smart, passionate and energetic. I don't always agree with him and he can be extreme in making his point. E.G. after Katrina, he wrote an article in the LA Times saying New Orleans should be shut down completely, not rebuilt. I think his point was that the attempts at reconstruction being done were incompetent and unrealistic, but that kind of extremism to make a point can be hard to take. (As his ex-wife, also a friend of mine, can attest!!) But he's a good writer.

  24. LJ, my best wisdom tells me that Tidwell was partially right. In my humble opinion, having no expertise whatsoever, New Orleans should have focused on a smaller footprint, building upwards on the high ground. I'm talking apartments and condos several stories high in the areas which did not flood or flooded less than a foot or so.

    There was a grand opportunity to turn more of New Orleans into a pedestrian and public transport area, but the rebuilding is hardly regulated at all.

  25. Jan, we can only hope that the Bay Bridge hangs up there for another five years.

  26. The truth of the situation in southeast Louisiana is far different than TIME magazine portrays in “The Threatening Storm.” The Corps and its many federal, state, local, and private partners have made great progress in enabling the rebuilding of New Orleans. IPET’s state-of-the-art risk modeling shows that the hurricane protection system is now more effective than it was pre-Katrina.

    For more info visit:

  27. Corps Employee, thank you for your comment. The Corps has a long history in Louisiana, and not all o ftheir projects have been to the benefit of the state. I'd mention MRGO and the levees that failed and caused the major flooding in New Orleans.

    You say:

    IPET’s state-of-the-art risk modeling shows that the hurricane protection system is now more effective than it was pre-Katrina.

    I doubt that. Portions of the same faulty levees that failed are still there, with only the breaches patched by reinforced sections. The new pumps seem to have more than a few problems and may not function as well as the the Corps projects. We shall see. When the next storm comes we'll know if the Corps' projections about New Orleans being safer are true.

    I am no expert, but experts have weighed in and come to different conclusions than the projections of the Corps.

  28. takeupyourbedandrunOctober 18, 2007 at 5:22 PM

    In 1969, I took a Geology 101 course from a professor whose ambition was to debunk the sanctitiy of the Army Corps of Engineers. He showed us slide after slide of ACE foibles--from building coffer dams that wouldn't hold, to roads built in beds of dried up rivers, so that to hear the failure of ACE in New Orleans is a testament to quality instruction I received from Dr. Richards back in the day. This is not new "news;" it's just more of a continuing sage that has gone on for 50 years or more. When will we the people say, "Enough is too much!"?

  29. TUYBAR, your geology professor was a wise man. What we know is likely only a small part of what the COE did wrong, not just in New Orleans, but all over the country.

    We say it's enough, but no one with power listens.

    I like your handle. All of us in south Louisiana should be so prepared.


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