Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Hurricanes are political

First, all my hopes and wishes to my friend Matt's family and friends in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

Now, to policy: The levies that protect New Orleans were meant to be reconstructed and enhanced. I'm not an urban planner and I can't move rivers so I have no idea if those improvemnts would have saved New Orleans. However, those enhancements were not made and they might have helped. They weren't made because, after 9-11, budgets were changed and money that would have gone towards that sort of project went instead to Homeland Security efforts.

"It appears that the money has been moved in the president’s budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that’s the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can’t be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us." -- Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 8, 2004.

This is the epitome of humanity, always behind the times. We get attacked by terrorists and all of our efforts go towards preventing attacks by terrorists. We forget, in the meantime, natural disasters, or basic infrastructure, or education, or the digital divide, or any other issue that is real and that can harm people if left unchecked because we're myopic about the last big tragedy.

Heck, before 9-11, we ignored terrorism because it hadn't happened. After 9-11, it was as if no other issue was potentially even important.

Societies are complicated. They are threatened in numerous ways. But in a society as prosperous as the United States, there shouldn't be a trade off between protecting the ports from terrorists (something we, er, haven't actually done) and protecting our most vulnerable cities from hurricanes. You only have to make such trade offs when you go into $300 billion worth of debt to invade Iraq and you have no plan to pay for it. I proved here, in earlier posts, that the entire nation's social security system could have been made solvent by investing $200 billion, the cost of the Iraq war at the time, in US and foreign bonds. Well, for what fraction of $200 billion, could the New Orleans levies have been enhanced?

How can it be that our government could spend that much in Iraq when it didn't pay to keep a major city from being flooded? I remember John Kerry complaining that we were closing fire houses in the US while we built them in Baghdad and he was soundly drubbed for being selfish. What if those firehouses were a metaphor, though? Isn't it time we demanded to know why $300 billion could go towards a war of choice and yet, we're so unprepared for domestic disasters that people have fretted about forever? Isn't it time we had a conversation about the fact that choices have been made?


At 9:38 AM , Blogger adriana said...


At 10:12 AM , Blogger Missy said...

mike -
thanks for the good wishes. As far as we know, everyone is safe and sound. Matt's dad has almost surely lost his beautiful house in Mississippi but we are all safe. Our hearts are another matter. It is surreal to see Americans living in this situtation. Have you ever heard the word "refugee" used to refer to Åmerican citizens? I think its also a godamned shame that our national guard is in Iraq when more should be home to handle problems like this - that's their purpose. Bush not only cut funding for the Levy system but he cut drastically slashed funding for the coastal erosion project that Senator Mary Landrieu has been lobbying so hard for. That would not have stopped the storm but the barrier islands would have cut down on the storm surge damage. I only hope this waking nightmare will end soon and my dear family and friends will be able to return home to rebuild the big easy - alas the city and its resilient residents will never be the same. I thank the powers that be that I have this beautiful ray of light baby to remind me that with loss comes rebirth and life. Love and peace to all!

At 2:59 PM , Blogger adriana said...

Missy, our deep love and light go with you and your family.


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