A New Orleans Situation in Every U.S. City

9/15/2005

It took
Hurricane Katrina to break through the layers of spin the Bush
administration has manufactured for five years to obscure the dangerous
effects of its policy directions. Americans may think that the tragic
situation in New Orleans is singular because the city was built in a
shallow basin surrounded by bodies of water, but the four major causes
of that crisis are also in place now in nearly every U.S. city.

First, the heightened emergency preparedness that was promised for
American cities following the terrorist attacks on September 11 has
never been fully developed and executed because only a small portion of
the promised federal money was actually sent to the cities. Most
Americans assume that by now our cities have received sufficient
Homeland Security funds and other assistance with this preparation and
training. This is not the case. Instead of ramping up the Federal
Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) since 9-11, the Bush administration
deemphasized it, slashed its budget this year from $664 million to $444
million, and reduced it to a political patronage job tucked within the
Department of Homeland Security, which is not focused on the aftermath
of natural disasters.

Why is there no money for the updating and further developing of
emergency preparedness in American cities? For the same reason there is
no federal money available for needed improvements in education,
healthcare, housing, public transit, and environmental protection:
President Bush drastically reduced the incoming revenue of the federal
government by his huge tax cuts for the rich (which Congress may soon
make permanent), and he then mired the United States in the enormously
expensive invasion and occupation of Iraq, which is costing American
taxpayers $200 billion this year alone. Our country was led into that
war on false pretenses, and we are paying now not only with the lives
of our military personnel but also with a significant drain on our
financial capabilities at home. The effects of this shortage of funds
for federal spending, which is a central part of the current
neoconservative strategy to shrink the size of government, are apparent
all across the country. Reinforcements and repairs to infrastructure
are being deferred for lack of federal assistance.

Second, one-third of the American forces that have been sent to Iraq
are civilians who are members of the National Guard in their state.
Approximately 33% of the National Guard in Louisiana and 40% of those
in Mississippi were unavailable to help with the crisis because they
have been dispatched to Iraq. Moreover, those who volunteer for service
in the National Guard, to be ready to help with emergencies in their
state, are disproportionately from police departments and fire
departments, leaving serious shortages in communities throughout our
country now that they have been shipped out (which most National Guard
members most certainly did not expect when they enlisted).

Third, the assault on the environment that the Bush administration
has pursued relentlessly has resulted not only in more polluted air and
waterways but also in removing protection of wetlands throughout the
United States, leaving them vulnerable to developers, who drain them
and build properties on them. Thus they have destroyed the age-old
system of drainage and cachement that had previously lessened the
effects of storms and high water. In nearly every city, stormwater
run-off is a problem during heavy rains, often causing local flooding.
So one might expect the federal government to promote the successful
ecological approach to managing stormwater implemented in recent years
by the Los Angeles County Watershed Management District (formerly the
LA County Flood Control Division) and the LA Watershed Protection
Division (formerly the Stormwater Management Division). Instead, the
Bush administration holds ecological solutions at arms length while
continuing to allow corporate destruction of our life-support systems
in nature.

Fourth, not only did President Bush slash the federal funding for
flood-control in New Orleans by 44%, in spite of scientists' warnings
about the vulnerable levees and lack of a surge gate between Lake
Pontchartrain and the Gulf of Mexico, but he has repeatedly insisted
that global warming is not really a serious problem. In fact, it is
increasingly recognized as the cause of the global climate disruption
that the planet is now experiencing. Insurance companies are well aware
that natural disasters are becoming increasingly devastating year by
year; a Level 5 hurricane is no longer improbable. Yet where is the
Bush administration in helping American communities to be prepared for
the stronger hurricanes and storms, more frequent tornadoes, and longer
droughts than they have dealt with before?

The Bush administration has been politically successful while
endangering the health and well-being of Americans in numerous ways,
but Hurricane Katrina exposed the raw cynicism and cruelty behind their
game. Every American city can now see more clearly its own real
situation.