Sunday, September 04, 2005

Katrina, Homeland Security, and more incompetence

I resisted posting anything about Hurricane Katrina out of respect for the people who have suffered such incomprehensible loss, who should not be used as political footballs. But since Rick raises the subject in a comment to my August 22 post about Homeland Security, I decided to go ahead.

The incompetence and lack of candor displayed over the past week should make every one of us ill. This disaster long ago was identified as one of the three most significant risks to the country, along with a terrorist attack in New York and a major earthquake in California. I think I’d better stock two weeks’ of provisions in my house because, given our government’s performance in New Orleans, when the earthquake hits on the Hayward Fault—one mile from my house—the feds will he worse than useless.

The statements by the heads of Homeland Security and FEMA that what happened was unforeseeable are either bald-faced lies or utter, astonishing stupidity on their part. Every single thing that has happened was predicted by those who modeled the potential impact of a category 4 or 5 hurricane on New Orleans. Need proof? Read this article from the October, 2004 National Geographic:

Gone With the Water

On Wednesday, I watched CNN interview a professor from LSU who was part of a team that studied the likely outcome of a hurricane of Katrina’s magnitude striking New Orleans. Here’s my from-memory paraphrase of the interview:

“Did you anticipate levee breaches as well as overflows?
“Oh yes. Those were clearly the two likely risks.”
“Did you anticipate having 20% of the population fail to evacuate?”
“Yes. A large part of the population is always unable to evacuate, especially on short notice. The post-hurricane evacuation issues were clear to us.”
“Did you anticipate the lawlessness?”
“Of course. Whenever you place people in a position this extreme, where their lives are at risk, resort to looting and worse is predictable.”

Hey, want more? Remember that idiot Chertoff’s press conference—just yesterday—where he continued to insist nobody could have predicted this result? Where he insulted the intelligence of every viewer by arguing that to expect FEMA to have foreseen the flooding and the need to evacuate would be like asking them to draw up a plan for a hurricane followed by an atomic bomb? (Am I the only one who wanted to punch him in the nose at that moment?). This guy had six days to prepare himself for a press conference and he still could not avoid sounding like Homer Simpson? Anyway, read this:

Chertoff: Katrina scenario did not exist

and this:

Washing Away

Unforeseeable, Mr. Chertoff?

Then we have the head of FEMA stating that he didn’t know about the crowds at the New Orleans convention center needing evacuation (and food and water) until THURSDAY, three days after the hurricane. Maybe the guy ought to turn on his TV and tune to CNN. Apparently he’d learn more from watching a cable news network than from his own organization. Or maybe he should have called the mayor?

If this is the best that we can do in the case of a disaster for which we have several days’ advance warning, I don’t want to see what happens in the event of either of the other two already-identified ultra-disasters, which of course will occur without any advance notice. All those billions of dollars we have spent to plan and prepare, and this is the result?

I don't see evidence of criminal intent, as Rick's comment implies. But you can be darn sure that a failure of this scope in any private corporation would cause heads to roll among the top officers. Bush finally said that the federal government’s efforts were "unacceptable," but I give you dollars to donuts, at the end of the day Bush and Michael Chertoff and Michael Brown will be high-fiving each other on what a great job they did.


Blogger Richard Wolfe said...

No criminal intent? Well, okay, I'm willing to concede that I have perhaps an overly developed mental pathway that leads me to perceive motivations where there may be innocence, but what about criminal negligence?

In today's New York Times, two columns, taken together, put the bulk of my thoughts on the table without my having to lift a finger:

Killed by Contempt (Paul Krugman)

A Failure of Leadership (Bob Herbert)

September 05, 2005 8:32 AM  
Blogger truejim said...

And here's what I emailed to some of my regular correspondents yesterday, pretty much along the same lines as what Jim H just posted:

Although not hard to find on the Internet, some of you may not be aware that you can access the New Orleans Times-Picayune's prophetic, prescient, indeed eerily and very disturbingly so, special series published three years ago, in June 2002, that pretty much laid out precisely the catastrophic scenario that has unfolded this past week. And as I mentioned before, this is far from the only such prophetic piece of writing. See, e.g., "National Geographic" special in October 2004.

In light of all this accessible information, could you believe your eyes and ears, even after the incredible bullshit that has gone down this past week, that that absolutely fucking incompetent idiot, Michael Chertoff, said again as recently as this morning that FEMA had no plan for what unfolded this week because nobody had thought of such scenario?! And Chertoff, revealing himself as nothing more than a jumped-up, jackleg bullshit lawyer who has been promoted way above his level of incompetence, purports to be the Director of Homeland SECURITY?! He and FEMA Director Michael Brown, and planty more besides, ought to be not just fired, but sentenced to live in the refugee camps with the New Orleans evacuees!



It's only a matter of time before South Louisiana takes a direct hit from a major hurricane. Billions have been spent to protect us, but we grow more vulnerable every day.
Five-Part Series published June 23-27, 2002
For larger image and explanation of image at left, click here



• IN HARM'S WAY Levees, our best protection from flooding, may turn against us.
• WRITTEN OFF A new hurricane levee will protect some, but leave some coastal towns outside the walls.
• EVOLVING DANGERS - Scientists say we're more vulnerable than we thought.
» Go to Part 1

• THE BIG ONE A major hurricane could decimate the region, but flooding from even a moderate storm could kill thousands. It's just a matter of time.
• EVACUATION It's the best chance for survival, but it's a bumpy road, and 100,000 will be left to face the fury.
• LOOK BACK AT GEORGES - Stories, video and weblogs from Hurricane Georges.
• STORM WARNING - The weather bulletin that set off what was then the biggest evacuation in U.S. history.
» Go to Part 2



• EXPOSURE'S COST In the wake of Sept. 11, insurers are taking a hard look at high-risk areas and levying tough fees, a change that's already affection our economy.
• SEEKING SHELTER Three years after Hurricane Floyd, some North Carolina residents are still in temporary shelters.
• BUILDING BETTER - Changes to building codes could ensure that more of New Orleans' buildings would survive a storm.
» Go to Part 3

• TEMPTING FATE As the country becomes more crowded, the damage from natural disasters skyrockets in at-rist areas such as Louisiana's coast.
• MODEL SOLUTIONS Experts are using high-powered computers to create models that predict where flooding and storm surge dangers are worst.
• SHIFTING TIDE - The Army Corps of Engineers has made Louisiana habitable . . . but it's also caused many of the problems.
» Go to Part 4



• COST OF SURVIVAL: New Orleans will continue sinking and hurricanes will continue threatening us. But efforts to rebuild the areas's natural coastal protections are showing promise.
» Go to Part 5

• STAY INFORMED: When tropical systems begin churning toward the United States,'s extensive Hurricane Center provides up-to-the-minute details on everything from multiple satellite views to expert forecasts to local Doppler on demand.
» Go to Hurricane Center

September 05, 2005 1:53 PM  
Blogger Richard Wolfe said...

I've been reading reports of how all this is viewed from abroad, and I find the reactions very telling. All over the world, people are nodding their heads at these events, which they see as confirmation of policies pursued by conservative administrations in this country that are fundamentally uncivilized. In the following article, The Washington Post, marshalling its correspondents based all over the world, documents the worldwide consensus:

September 06, 2005 2:56 PM  
Blogger Jim H said...

What has the world come to when Arianna Huffington makes more sense than mainstream media?

Memo to the Media: Stop Enabling the White House Blame Game

Why Now Is Precisely the Time for Finger-Pointing

September 07, 2005 3:47 PM  
Blogger Richard Wolfe said...

Re "Bush Rules Out a Tax Increase for Gulf Relief"
(The New York Times, Sept. 17, 2005)

There is an explicit reason why the President and his handlers persist with their tax cuts for the rich even in the face of a national consensus for shared sacrifice to rebuild the Gulf Coast. Fiscal irresponsibility is their avenue of choice for provoking governmental crisis. They welcome this opportunity to further balloon the deficit and undermine the country's global fiscal standing. Only by putting the country's back to a wall can enough pressure be exerted to force the dissolution of our social safety net and wind the clock back to pre-Rooseveltian Amerika.

September 20, 2005 12:14 PM  
Blogger Richard Wolfe said...

re "Message: I Care About the Black Folks," by Frank Rich
The New York Times, Sept. 18, 2005

... in which Mr. Rich characterizes the slogan "Compassionate Conservatism" as a sham ...

Mr. Rich may be pleased to learn that, somewhere in the archives of National Public Radio, there exists a record of the President's definition of Compassionate Conservatism. I know, because I heard it, when it was broadcast during the 2000 New Hampshire primary campaign. The NPR reporter was allowed to ask the candidate for a definitive explanation of his slogan, and the candidate responded, "Well, I think there should be compassion for taxpayers, too." Don't believe me? Check those NPR archives!

September 20, 2005 12:18 PM  
Blogger Jim H said...

Today's Washington Post reports that the federal government now says that the cost of rebuilding all New Orleans levees to required standards would be $9 billion. That's too much, says the Bush Administration, so some areas will have to go without. See Levee Repair Costs Triple.

The Congressional Research Service projects that the 2006 cost of the Iraq war will exceed $9 billion per month. U.S. War Spending to Rise 44% to $9.8 Bln a Month, Report Says

This juxtaposition of $9 billion price tags speaks for itself.

March 31, 2006 11:24 AM  
Blogger Richard Wolfe said...

The state of Louisiana has the power to self-finance the levees and gates. It should simply proceed on its own, while concurrently suing the federal government for recovery.

Time is of the essence. Another hurricane season is only five months away. New levees won't be ready by then, much less the giant, Netherlands-style gates that are the only way to fend off the storm surge and avoid last year's funneling effect. (See Scientific American, Oct 24, 2005.) But every month counts in the race to be ready before the city is struck by another hundred-year event, and every week of delay in Washington is to New Orleans' detriment.

Unilateral action via a state bond issue would have the side benefit of giving the state the power of the purse. For one thing, this ought to enable the state to call the shots with the Corps of Engineers. The state could block the Corps from using more of the same crumbly dirt for the levees and force them to go beyond local soils and barge in clay materials that are competent to the task.

Waiting for the feds to do something is foolhardy. POTUS now finds himself unable to recruit a FEMA director. A who’s-who list of emergency management directors nationwide has refused the job, some of them openly citing a lack of confidence in the Administration (New York Times, April 2, 2006). More recently, the job was belatedly offered to the current acting director, who graciously accepted, despite the slap implied in getting an offer after the failed recruiting effort.

I believe I need not go into the lack of action in Congress, nor the paltry sums initially proposed by the Administration. Jim H has done us a favor with his observations about the state of federal rebuilding action.

BUT: could Louisiana, or any other state, borrow nine billion dollars? New York and California have floated general obligations or similar securities on this order to fund past emergencies (the Shoreham nuclear plant buyout in New York, the fiscal crisis stemming from the failed deregulation of electricity in California… and yes, I am going from memory here and relying on my years as a municipal bond analyst).

Unfortunately, for Louisiana, a smallish state and one with a chronically weak bond rating, that kind of borrowing capacity, even on the state’s full faith and credit, probably just isn’t there.

Which leaves us with the bond insurers: do they have the capacity? I believe that, as a group, the answer is yes. The key question is whether the rating agencies would downgrade them. The bond insurers would die without their “AAA” ratings. As an insider (having been a senior analyst in the bond insurance ratings group at one of the top two agencies) my opinion is: the agencies, either by convincing themselves (the same way they convinced themselves to award the “AAA” ratings in the first place) or by being afraid of the consequences of a downgrade (including the political fallout for queering the deal) would maintain their ratings on the insurers.

So, go ahead Governor Blanco. Do it. Get going. What’s stopping you?

Curiously, in the months since the hurricanes, I have seen perhaps one mention of using the municipal bond market to pay for New Orleans’ restoration.

But surely, given this blog’s vast readership, this must now change.

April 08, 2006 9:49 AM  
Blogger Richard Wolfe said...

"New Orleans Population Is Reduced Nearly 60%"

If you were President and this happened on your watch, wouldn't you resign?

October 13, 2006 6:29 AM  

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