Thursday, December 01, 2005

Former Tulane Prof trashes Louisiana

My apologies in advance for such a long post. Usually I like to keep things short, but this piece of propaganda for the administration is such a rich distillation of the bullshit which has been slung at Louisiana and New Orleans, that I cannot let it pass. In an article in Commentary, former Tulane professor Wilfred M. McClay presents us with a handy compendium of distortions, excuses and evasions in an attempt to absolve Bush and his administration of any responsibility for the devastation of Katrina, and thus push his argument that we shouldn't rush to restore the city of New Orleans.
Herewith a few selected paragraphs.
The failure of the 17th Street and London Avenue drainage canals on the lakefront side of town, whose rupture led to the flooding of much of the city, seems to have occurred not because waters from Lake Pontchartrain topped the levees, as was first believed, but because the peaty soil deep beneath the concrete floodwalls had become saturated and was pushed out of place by the surging waters, thereby causing the concrete structures above them to collapse. Given the nature of the problem, any pre-Katrina effort to raise the existing levees to a greater height would merely have magnified the likelihood of collapse. What might have worked would have been supporting piles sunk much farther into the earth, perhaps to a depth of 40 feet or more. But this would have entailed a project of mammoth expense—just such a project as will have to be considered in any calculation of the cost of rebuilding New Orleans and rendering it safe.

Not so. If the Corps had followed the orginal plans, which called for deeper pilings and more sturdy concrete superstructures, the walls would have held. The surge was only eleven feet and the floodwalls were supposed to withstand at least fourteen feet, if they had been build as specified. The LSU and Corps studies indicate a massing engineering blunder. (See the posts on this below, from the Picayune.)

Most notably, the armoring of the river’s banks in the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project (established in 1928), along with ever higher levees and the creation of spillways and reservoirs to regulate river flows, has led to the erosion of Louisiana’s coastal marshes, which serve as an important buffer against marauding Gulf hurricanes, and to the steady subsidence of the city of New Orleans itself.

The professor does not note that the Mississippi River levees did not fail. And that the failures were on the floodwalls. A red herring to distract us from the fact that the Corps can and does build suitably and well, when there are business interests, such as shipping, at stake. The Mississippi levees are not for the protection of the city; they were begun for the sake of navigation, and the dredging of the channel does indeed destroy the wetlands -- for shipping, not for the protection of New Orleans.
But any effort commanding widespread support will have to proceed on the basis of sober and disinterested realism, with complete honesty about the risks, and costs, and tradeoffs involved.

Yes, above all let's forget the people who live there and examine only whether the professor thinks the job is worth the cost. And that, he argues, is almost impossible because of the atmosphere of "sensationalism, emotional oversimplification, and ideological opportunism," which makes it difficult to consider the facts soberly, and for which, of course the media and liberals are to blame.
Now comes the part where the professor ducks all responsibility for any part of the disaster.
There is, for example, no way that the Bush administration or anyone in it can be held responsible for the levee failures.

Really, then I guess that when a foot of water showed up last summer at the foot of the floodwalls, Bush's funding of the Corps had nothing to do with the fact that there were no inspectors around to investigate. Later, that foot of water turned out to be the first sign of failure.
As for the inadequate response to Katrina, no doubt it will turn out that FEMA deserves some limited portion of the blame; but FEMA is a relatively small agency with only about 2,500 full-time employees, and its chief purpose is to assist in the coordination of work by other public and private agencies.

Poor FEMA. Unable to coordinate rescue or recovery with only 2500 employees. What indeed would they be unable to do if they had more money and time. Wait three months to help identify the bodies? In the same amount of time, provide a total of 100 trailers to St. Bernard Parish when they need 6500? Turn back need supplies at the height of the recovery? Ask anyone who has dealt with them in Louisiana, Texas or Mississippi and the category 5 chorus of invective will blow down your levees too, professor.
In any case, chief responsibility rests not with Washington but with the state and local officials who are, in the American system of government, rightly tasked with the bulk of emergency planning and first response to crises of this kind.

I knew this was coming.
And here it is in full. The usual accusations-- after telling us how dastardly the media and liberals are at playing "the blame bame."
If villains are to be sought, then, they have to be sought among officials like Kathleen Blanco, the hapless Louisiana governor who was late in ordering an evacuation,

Wrong. The evacuation, as any New Orleanian will tell you was quite effective, and the interstates clear by Sunday night. A far better outcome than in Texas a few weeks later when the roads were so clogged that some cars never were able to leave Houston.
late in requesting federal troops,

Wrong. She requested the full response of the Federal government immediately. What part of "everything you've got" doesn't the professor understand?
and late in getting the Louisiana National Guard onto the street,

Again. How does this guy get everything so wrong?
The National Guard was immediately on the scene. But most of their equipment and half of their men were in Iraq, and many of them were struggling to regroup after their headquarters, communications and remaining equipment were flooded with eight feet of water. It's hard to start a half-ton when it's under water.
who declined to permit President Bush to federalize rescue and relief efforts,

An absolutely unnecessary step which Haley Barbour, Republican governor of neighboring Mississippi also refused to take. There is no need to federalize in order to bring troops in.
and whose own Louisiana Department of Homeland Security inexplicably barred the Red Cross from bringing water, food, and health supplies to the stricken New Orleanians camped out on bridge overpasses and in the two megashelters.

This so so outlandishly wrong it's laughable. It was FEMA that kept the Red Cross out. And if it were really so that Louisiana people were preventing rescue of their own citizens (a truly batty idea) where were Brown and Chertoff, who were supposed to be running things?
Or Ray Nagin, the mayor of New Orleans, who also waited too long to evacuate and failed to implement the city’s own evacuation plan—

He may be faulted for some of his decisions, but he ordered the evacuation in tandem with the Governor, on Saturday, in plenty of time for it to take place. And it was very effective. For those who had cars. The FEMA approved plan, formulated just the year before, did not provide for evacuation of either the sick and elderly or those without transportation. That would have "cost too much."
which, as officials knew, was the only real defense the city had against catastrophic storms—allowing hundreds of municipal school buses under his direct control to sit idly in a parking lot.
The oldest of the canards of the reactionaries. There were no drivers for the buses. And the flood happened so fast that it was impossible to find National Guardsmen (who were also flooded) to drive them in time to save the buses.

The truth is that the the city was destroyed. No communication. No transportation. No food. No water to drink. The Governor waited for FEMA to provide buses (her biggest mistake) while for days Brown sought a provider who was also a Bush contributor, and turned down the state's proposal to use the regional carriers association which could have been on the spot within six hours. As for Nagin, one might second-guess his preparedness, but like almost everyone else in New Orleans, he had no thought that the emergency would not be over within two or three days at most, as happens with most hurricanes in this part of the world.
To top it off , the professor presents us with the by now thoroughly discredited horrorshow description of chaos, where the life of man is nasty brutish and short.
But the stories that came out of those places were the stuff of X-rated horror or disaster movies, as scripted by Thomas Hobbes. It was said that evacuees were firing upon helicopters trying to rescue them, and killing those around them for food and water. There were stories of women, children, and even babies being raped, of dead bodies being stacked in a freezer. Police officers were said to be involved in repeated shootouts with heavily armed gang members inside the two buildings; outside, snipers were reportedly firing from rooftops and high-rises at doctors and soldiers. The dead lay piled everywhere.

Hysteria! The dead lay piled everywhere. It's a scene out of "Night of the Living Dead." In spite of media hype and the hysterical Chief of Police Compass (thankfully Nagin fired him a few days later), all very exhilirating and thoroughly discrediting to the people of New Orleans. Except that not a one of the stories that the professor is salivating over is true. None of that has ever been confirmed. No baby raping took place. No helicopter pilot has come forward to say that he was shot at. Bodies were stacked in a freezer, but all but one had died naturally, and that one was a suicide. There were no shootouts in the Dome or the Convention Center. (A policeman killed someone outside the Center. The man allegedly jumped on the hood of the police car and acted menacingly.) There were scattered dead near the Dome and Convention center, but most of the casualties of Katrina died in their homes, frantically waiting for rescue.
And here's the target of this ritual flinging of mucus. The nub of the argument:
To wit: Now don't hold back professor:
Poured in an uncontrolled and unsupervised way into the notoriously corrupt political culture of south Louisiana, such spending will almost certainly do more harm than good, abetting the same disinclination to make responsible choices that got us where we are today

Well, if this isn't the warmed over hash that Republicans in the House have been serving up for two months! Surprise! Louisiana, we're assured in the most devout tones is corrupt, and therefore unworthy of help. Unlike the state of California and the Republican party which has been harboring the saintly Duke Cunninghame, who just pled guilty to accepting $2.5 million in bribes. Or the various players in Ohio who've been scamming the state in a crooked coin-collecting scam. Or Tom Delay who gets golf trips to Scotland in exchange for helping cronies like the detestable and jail-bound Abramoff. So what's the difference between our "corruption" and theirs?
The party of the governor. California, Ohio, Texas, all now confirmed cesspools of corruption, and all with Republical governors. Louisiana, surprise, is governed by a (ptui!) Democrat.
The professor's mindset is perfectly summed up in a self-praising and exaggerated anecdote about his experience in New Orleans.
I remember getting caught in one of these sudden downpours while on my way home from a Tulane University graduation one May afternoon. Forced to pull my Toyota up onto someone’s lawn on Prytania Street, I sat for three hours, still wearing my academic regalia, reading the one book that happened to be in the car with me: Miguel de Unamuno’s The Tragic Sense of Life. A classic New Orleanian moment, and one that only the most insensate rationalist could fail to cherish.

Not my kind of New Orleanian moment. I must be an "insensate rationalist." My New Orleans moment would be something like eating a poboy or a muffelata or listening to music at Tipitina's. Corrupt, huh?

Many thanks to BayouStJohnDavid at Moldy City for pointing this article out to me.

1 comment:

bayoustjohndavid said...

I don't think you overreacted at all. Residents have every reason to be mad at the S&WB for not reporting the apparent leak along the 17th street canal (at least they could have prepared, flood insurance, etc.), but I fail to see how it could have prevented the break. If money diverted from SELA to Iraq a year or two ago would have been too late to do any good, so would a report a year ago. They can't have it both ways on this. The federalized response criticism seems a total crock (the offer came after the crisis), see media matters on the red cross thing, the other criticisms were at best one sided. McClay's "affection" for the city was the most aggravating thing, it reminded me of David Brooks' "criticisms" of Republicans: pure tripe put in to be able to claim balance.

You (and I for that matter) only overreacted if McClay's article was an isolated piece and not the beginning of a new PR offensive. If it was a trial balloon, it demands an immediate reaction. Keep up the good work.