Sunday floodgate of unholy water

It's Sunday morning, and as is so often the case, I find myself subjected to morality sermons I didn't ask for -- for the simple reason that I didn't go to church. But these days (at least in larger urban areas like Philadelphia), there's a huge class of guilt-infected, self-hating people who don't go to church. With no one to minister to their need for a good Sunday scolding (and there's no need needier than a need which dare not speak its name), naturally other moralists have stepped in.

To fill the breach in the moral levee, perhaps? Right now, they're yelling and screaming about the breach in the physical levee in New Orleans, and it's really important to make it -- and the flooding, and the devastation and the racism -- all Bush's fault. Above all, it must be tied to Iraq. Especially on Sunday.

To many critics, it's self apparent that the break in the levee (which is responsible for the disastrous flooding) should have been anticipated, that federal money to repair the levee was withheld (presumably because of racism) and that all of this Bush's fault. Here's Sidney Blumenthal:

With its main levee broken, the evacuated city of New Orleans has become part of the Gulf of Mexico. But the damage wrought by the hurricane may not entirely be the result of an act of nature.

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. After a flood killed six people in 1995, Congress created the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, in which the Corps of Engineers strengthened and renovated levees and pumping stations. In early 2001, the Federal Emergency Management Agency issued a report stating that a hurricane striking New Orleans was one of the three most likely disasters in U.S., including a terrorist attack on New York City. But by 2003 the federal funding for the flood control project essentially dried up as it was drained into the Iraq war. In 2004, the Bush administration cut the Corps of Engineers' request for holding back the waters of New Orleans' Lake Pontchartrain by more than 80 percent.

The problem with this argument (as even the New York Times grudgingly acknowledges) is that the area where the breach occurred was recently upgraded:
No one expected that weak spot to be on a canal that, if anything, had received more attention and shoring up than many other spots in the region. It did not have broad berms, but it did have strong concrete walls.

Shea Penland, director of the Pontchartrain Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of New Orleans, said that was particularly surprising because the break was "along a section that was just upgraded."

"It did not have an earthen levee," Dr. Penland said. "It had a vertical concrete wall several feel thick." (Emphasis added.)

According to, the Army Corps of Engineers confirms that even if all the upgrades had been done, this only would have provided protection for a Category 3 hurricane -- a fact that the breach occurring in one of the recently upgraded areas would seem to confirm.

Nevertheless, that hasn't stopped today's relentless Sunday scoldfest. Trudy Rubin (and many others) are using the strongest possible editorial language (well, not as strong as Steve Gilliard) to make the tie-in to Iraq:

There's something ghoulishly fitting about talking by phone to Baghdad while watching the chaos in New Orleans.

In my ear I'm hearing about the absence of electricity or water in 120-degree heat and daily shooting in Baghdad's streets. On CNN, a doctor from New Orleans' Charity Hospital is relating how nurses are giving each other IVs so they can keep working because there's no more water or food. Meanwhile, there's gunfire in the hospital's garage.

How is it possible that Americans have been watching victims of Hurricane Katrina clinging to rooftops for days? How is it possible that we watched, like helpless voyeurs, as mothers and babies roasted in the Superdome without food or water - while women were reportedly raped in the restrooms?

Do we not live in the richest country on earth? How dare anyone claim that it is "playing politics" to ask why officials weren't prepared to cope with this hurricane.

The Baghdad and New Orleans debacles lay bare the dangerous American aversion to long-term planning. Lack of planning for the postwar gave us the current mess in Iraq. Lack of preparedness for a New Orleans flood produced a disaster that makes America look like a Third World country. Offers of help are pouring in from around the world as if we were Bangladeshis; even Cuba offered more than 1,000 doctors.

Wow. Such a well-deserved Sunday scolding! I damned near wet my pew! Really I almost feel like I raped and murdered and drowned people myself! (At least the kindly Castro might take pity on my victims....)

If I didn't know any better, I'd almost think Ms. Rubin fancied herself Philadelphia's Moralist-In-Chief. Anyway, she blames Bush, and particularly the Iraq war, which she's had on her brain for so long that it cannot but infect her analysis of whatever issue might cross her journalistic path.

Bush is a liar, of course, and his statement that the breach in the levee hadn't been anticipated is being attacked by many as a lie of astounding proportions.

Is it?

Again, according to the Corps of Engineers, flooding was anticipated, but not the breach:

In an interview on ABC’s "Good Morning America" on September 1, President Bush said:

Bush: I don’t think anyone anticipated breach of the levees …Now we’re having to deal with it, and will.

Bush is technically correct that a "breach" wasn't anticipated by the Corps, but that's doesn't mean the flooding wasn't forseen. It was. But the Corps thought it would happen differently, from water washing over the levees, rather than cutting wide breaks in them.

Greg Breerword, a deputy district engineer for project management with the Army Corps of Engineers, told the New York Times:

Breerword: We knew if it was going to be a Category 5, some levees and some flood walls would be overtopped. We never did think they would actually be breached.

A Category 5 hurricane certainly could have been (and was) anticipated, and of course there had been warnings for decades. (Hurricane Betsy flooded the city for three weeks in 1965.) But had there been no budget cuts, no one has shown how the proposed upgrades would have been prevented a break "along a section that was just upgraded."

Even assuming Al Gore had been elected in 2000.

Or Kerry in 2004.

These endless, emotionally overwrought attempts to make tenuous connections are getting really tedious, but I'm sure they'll get steadily worse, because those who beat the drums against the war have been beating on them for a long time now, and now they've got a perfect new issue fitting right into the old meme of "people died while Bush lied." Because now, Americans have died!

The opportunity is too irresistible. I can't say I blame them.

Again, Trudy Rubin:

There's something ghoulishly fitting about talking by phone to Baghdad while watching the chaos in New Orleans.
I'm tempted to agree, but it might be taken as an insult.

MORE: It should be borne in mind that FEMA is another issue apart from the levee. (I think it was itself a disaster waiting to happen, quite possibly incapable of being fixed, but I'm just not into sermonizing right now.)

posted by Eric on 09.04.05 at 09:27 AM


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The fact that the breaks occurred in the recently updated portion of the levee also opens the door for the observation that it is possible, just possible, that corruption still runs rampant in local government in New Orleans. After all, a levee failure COULD be the result of less than proper construction in the surrounding infrastructure.

If we're going to second guess, let's second guess everything fairly and squarely.

Bill Turner   ·  September 4, 2005 9:42 PM

President Bush is a racist. I heard him say to me: "I should never have appointed Condoleeza Rice to be my Secretary of State. She is a ------. I hate her. Her dark skin reminds me of the dark pits of Hell. Clarence Thomas should not be on the Supreme Court. He should be impeached for being a ------. I'm glad I started that hurricane which is now killing all the ------- in New Orleans. After that, I shall pull this lever on my secret Weather Control Machine and start a tornado to wipe out Harlem. I also hate Michelle Malin because she looks like a ---. Soon, I will exterminate everybody who is not an Aryan like me. I am an Aryan. I secretly came from India. I am a Hindu, of the Kshatriya warrior caste. I worship Vishnu. The Jews are secretly Aryans also. They also secretly worship Vishnu. If you read this secret code, you will understand that the Bible is secretly a translation of the Mahabharata. That is why I am a Zionist. Israel is secretly a colony of India. India-Israel-Amerikka shall soon rule and oppress the world. HEIL EVIL! IT'S ALL ABOUT THE OIL!!!!!!"

Bush also hates the environment. He told me: "With my secret Weather Control Machine, I will wreak havoc on the environment. I will wipe out every endangered species. I will wipe out every species of animal except cows. We Hindus worship sacred cows."

Iran and Ireland (Erin) are also part of Bush's Zionist Aryan Conspiracy, as their etymologies show.

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