Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Blame Game...

On the heels of Katrina's rampage across the Gulf South, the finger-pointing has already begun.

From the on-line edition of the German magazine Spiegel, Clinton apologist Sidney Blumenthal weighs in. Managing to wrap all of the radical left talking points into a single package--he even works Haliburton into the diatribe --Blumenthal suggests that President Bush is somehow responsible for the disaster in New Orleans. Blumenthal claims that the Bush Administration cut flood control funding for the city by 44% to pay for the Iraq War.

Of course, Sid's argument has more than a few holes in it. First of all, warnings about the impact of a major hurricane on New Orleans date back at least two decades. But Congress didn't get around to creating the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project until 1995, when Blumenthal's crew was running the White House. Did the Clinton Administration identify this project as a top funding priority? Apparently not. As with many Corps of Engineers projects, the flood control effort meandered along, much like the Mississippi River through New Orleans. And what about the Mississippi Gulf coast, which was hit just as hard by a 23-foot storm surge that devastated Biloxi, Gulfport, Pascagoula and other cities. Efforts--and funding--to alleviate the effects of hurricanes in that region received virtually no attention from the Clinton White House, or more recently, from the Bush Administration. But Sid ignores the tragedy in Mississippi-- a state that his old boss wrote off long ago.

I haven't done an exhaustive analysis of the numbers, but from what I've read, the federal government has spent about $425 million on flood control in the region over the past decade; that translates to about $40 million a year, far below the amount required to build a higher, redundant levee system. By some estimates, New Orleans needed a network of triple levees, at least 10 feet higher, to provide adequate protection from a Category 4 or 5 storm. Yearly funding for the project did not increase significantlu under the Clinton or Bush Administrations, despite warnings from experts.

And what about local contributions? There, the numbers get a little fuzzy. Apparently, local officials in New Orleans saw flood control as a federal problem. Fair enough, but if they were so concerned about a potential disaster, why did they allow continued development in flood-prone areas? Or why were some federal dollars spent on other projects--such as a highway bridge--that had little to do with the overall flood control effort. The seeds of what happened in New Orleans were sown locally--not just in Washington, D.C.

There will probably be Congressional hearings on the disaster in New Orleans, and there's plenty of blame to go around. But assigning blame soley on the Bush Administration is short-sighted and inappropriate, at a time when Katrina's survivors are in desperate need of assistance.

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