They Saw It Coming: They Looked Away

By cjohnson | September 2, 2005 12:52 am

In the online magazine Salon yesterday, Sidney Blumenthal wrote an opinion piece which contained some interesting and depressing information. The piece is entitled “No one can say they didn’t see it coming” and the opening lines are:

In 2001, FEMA warned that a hurricane striking New Orleans was one of the three most likely disasters in the U.S. But the Bush administration cut New Orleans flood control funding by 44 percent to pay for the Iraq war.

Here’s an extract from the body of the article:

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.

Here’s another extract, from discussion of the Bush administration’s refusal to listen to -and deliberate undermining of- the opinion and advice of environmental experts who are not in line with their own policy goals. This may have exacerbated the situation, since the proposed restoration of wetlands in the area is known to significantly help with storm surge problems:

…four leading environmental groups conducted a joint expert study, concluding in 2004 that without wetlands protection New Orleans could be devastated by an ordinary, much less a Category 4 or 5, hurricane. “There’s no way to describe how mindless a policy that is when it comes to wetlands protection,” said one of the report’s authors. The chairman of the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality dismissed the study as “highly questionable,” and boasted, “Everybody loves what we’re doing.”

The article goes on to discuss this now-standard tactic of the Bush Administration of

trumping of science by ideology and expertise by special interests

mentioning, among other things, the recent postponing by the FDA of the morning-after pill (despite it passing all saftety tests), as described recently by Risa, and the following:

The United Nations special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa accused the Bush administration of responsibility for a condom shortage in Uganda — the result of the administration’s evangelical Christian agenda of “abstinence.” When the chief of the Bureau of Justice Statistics in the Justice Department was ordered by the White House to delete its study that African-Americans and other minorities are subject to racial profiling in police traffic stops and he refused to buckle under, he was forced out of his job. When the Army Corps of Engineers’ chief contracting oversight analyst objected to a $7 billion no-bid contract awarded for work in Iraq to Halliburton (the firm at which Vice President Cheney was formerly CEO), she was demoted despite her superior professional ratings. At the National Park Service, a former Cheney aide, a political appointee lacking professional background, drew up a plan to overturn past environmental practices and prohibit any mention of evolution while allowing sale of religious materials through the Park Service.

Overall, this is just wrenchingly awful: It is one thing to get annoyed about the anti-science policy of the Bush Administration when the consequences -while dangerous, poisonous, and severely damaging- are somewhat incremental, accumulating their results over a long time. It is quite another level of dismay and horror when such policies may well have exacerbated a sudden humanitarian disaster.


(Thanks KC.)


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