From today's American Progress Report, on a day when I also heard that they found yet another body in a house in New Orleans. This tragedy has no end.
KATRINA - Once More Unto the Breach
President Bush will visit New Orleans tomorrow to try "once more to woo the fractious locals in a region still buried in debris." His "visit to Katrina-ravaged Louisiana on Wednesday follows six months of bungling" that have bogged down reconstruction efforts. Sixty-four percent of the public disapproves of the way Bush has responded to the needs of Katrina victims, and even staunch Bush supporters like Bill Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, have labeled the response "an emblem of the administration that just isn't as serious about the competent execution of the functions of government as it should be." "They had better sort it all out swiftly," Newsweek warned. "Hurricane season begins in just three months."
CAUGHT ON TAPE: During the past week, the right wing has attacked the Associated Press for reporting that a new video contradicted what Bush told Diane Sawyer a few days after Katrina: "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees." His defenders argued the new video showed Bush was merely warned the storm could "top" -- not "breach" -- the levees. Fox News anchor Brit Hume claimed "we learned next to nothing" from the tape and that Bush "received no such warning" about levee breaches. Hume misses the point. First, we already know experts warned Bush repeatedly about a levee breach. In the early morning hours of Aug. 29, the Department of Homeland Security sent a "Fast Analysis Report" to the White House situation room. "The potential for severe storm surge to overwhelm Lake Pontchartrain levees is the greatest concern for New Orleans," the report said. "Any storm rated Category 4 on the Saffir-Simpson (hurricane) scale will likely lead to severe flooding and/or levee breaching. This could leave the New Orleans metro area submerged for weeks or months." Additionally, a White House aide sat in on the "Hurricane Pam Exercise" in 2004. That exercise concluded that a Category 3 storm could "cause flooding that would leave 300,000 people trapped in New Orleans, many of whom would not have private transportation for evacuation." More generally, the AP video "makes it perfectly clear once again that this disaster was not out of the blue or unforeseeable" and that our government "failed to deliver."
MANY KATRINA VICTIMS REMAIN HOMELESS: Seventy-two percent of Americans think the Bush administration does not "have a clear plan for finding housing and jobs for people left homeless by Hurricane Katrina." Right-wing columnist Robert Novak wrote yesterday that only $27 billion has been spent of the $85 billion appropriated by Congress. "Of the $27 billion, nothing has been spent on housing." "We have thousands of acres of homes just standing in ruins, and the pace with which that cleanup is going is bitterly frustrating," Rep. Richard Baker (R-LA) told Novak. The Brookings Institution's "Katrina Index" found only 16,000 building permits have been issued in New Orleans "because of the cloud of uncertainties still lingering over the city." Rebuilding is slow because "FEMA has not released its revised flood plain zones for the state" that would tell developers the best locations for rebuilding. Also, the $4.2 billion housing request Bush will tout Wednesday contains a "hazard mitigation" program that would give cash reimbursements to the newly-homeless, but would not allow new homes to go up in the place of those Katrina destroyed.
LEVEES MAY BE TOO WEAK TO FACE HURRICANE SEASON: The Washington Post reported Monday that "two teams of independent experts…say large sections of the rebuilt levee system will be substantially weaker than before the hurricane hit." The experts cited construction shortcuts and "weak, substandard" building materials as problems. Additionally, "a plan to line the bases of certain critical levees with a protective layer of rock or concrete - a process known as 'armoring' - is not expected to begin until summer." Louisiana State University professor Ivor van Heerden said New Orleans continues to have "a compromised levee system that failed during a fast-moving Category 3 hurricane. Absolutely nowhere are the levees ready to stand up to the same kind of test." His assessment shows how elusive the administration's goal of "building that levee system better and stronger than before" remains. Meanwhile, thousands of city residents are planning to rebuild their homes in the same place as before the storm, despite the unknown levee strength. "This is an unhealthy situation," said Tulane University's architectural school dean. "We all want people to be able to rebuild. But we want them to rebuild safely."
BETTER INFRASTRUCTURE KEY TO ATTRACTING INVESTMENT: "By the way, in a year from now," Bush boasted at the signing of the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act, "we're going to be talking about, what are we going to do about all these jobs, and who's going to fill them." Unfortunately, the Gulf Opportunity Zone plan has thus far failed to attract businesses to New Orleans. Bloomberg News reported, "As of March 1, only one company had applied" for the nearly $8 billion worth of available financing in New Orleans. Companies are staying away because they have not received adequate "assurances that new levees will protect their investments and that new federal maps won't put them in the middle of flood plains." Researchers have found "the main reason investors are staying away is that there's no funding to make the levees withstand a storm more powerful than category 3."
RED TAPE SLOWS SEARCH FOR VICTIMS: Last week, officials restarted their search "through ravaged neighborhoods with cadaver dogs in hopes of locating 300 to 400 people still unaccounted for." "Since December," CNN reported, "bureaucratic red tape has blocked funding to find more bodies of missing residents hidden in the storm's wreckage." Louisiana medical examiner Dr. Louis Cataldie said, "We used state funds as long as we could until we ran out of money. … Then [we] made the federal request, and that money just came in so we are doing what we can."
VOTING TROUBLES EXPOSE RACIAL DIVIDE: A federal judge last month refused to "order Louisiana officials to provide out-of-state satellite polling places for displaced voters" in the New Orleans primary election. Instead, over 700,000 former city residents will receive "information packets" about how to vote by absentee ballot. The ruling against satellite polling locations sparked outrage among the city's dispersed African-American voters and "has lent the mayoral contest a particularly volatile character." "They had all kinds of excuses why that couldn't happen," City Council President Oliver M. Thomas Jr. said. "But the Iraqi people voted [at satellite offices]. Why can't we do that for all of our voters?" Currently, candidates in the April 22 primary "are planning campaign stops and possibly even advertising in places as far away as Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Memphis and Jackson, Miss."