[T]he electorate will settle increasingly nasty bouts for lieutenant governor, secretary of state and the state board of education. Local ballots are dotted with contested legislative matchups, a handful of judicial contests in New Orleans, and parish offices in Jefferson, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Tammany, St. Charles and St. John the Baptist.
Voters also must navigate a gaggle of state constitutional amendments and several local tax issues at the parish and municipal level.
Polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. Any voter in line by 8 p.m. should be allowed to vote. Louisiana requires voters to present valid identification.
The big national name on the ballot is Bobby Jindal, up for re-election to his second term as governor; Jindal, the nation’s first Indian-American governor, turned 40 in June.
In Louisiana’s idiosyncratic system, Jindal needs 50% of the vote today to avoid a runoff. He enters the day a prohibitive favorite:
Jindal, who easily won his first term in 2007, has raised over $11 million for his bid, trumping his nearest rival, Democrat and Clairborne Parish teacher Tara Hollis, who has raised only $40,000, of which $18,000 came in the form of in-kind contributions.
Jindal has been leading in recent polls, coming in at 57 percent in a WWL-TV poll earlier this month, with Hollis polling at five percent.
Louisiana, as a socially conservative Southern state, has trended Republican at the national level for decades, but only after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina left the state’s Democratic political elite badly discredited did Republicans really break through – Jindal won the Governor’s mansion in 2007 and in 2010 gained the first GOP legislative majority in the state since Reconstruction. The inability of the state’s Democratic machine to mount a credible challenge to Jindal is symbolic of those shifting fortunes in the state and the region, and also of Jindal’s status as a rising star in the national GOP: Jindal is the same age as Mitt Romney in 1987, Rick Perry in 1991, Barack Obama in 2001, and Ronald Reagan in 1951. We will be hearing a lot more from him in years to come.
*This analysis of major league managers’ tendencies illustrated as cartoon faces is…well, you have to click on the graphic to get the full effect. It’s bizarre. H/T Rays Index.
*Today is the 97th anniversary of the introduction of baseball’s MVP Award by automaker Hugh Chalmers. The first-ever MVPs? In the AL, 24-year-old Ty Cobb for his first and best .400 season, batting .420/.467/.621 with 47 doubles, 24 triples and 83 steals, scoring 147 runs and driving in 127. In the NL, 28-year-old veteran Cubs rightfielder Frank “Wildfire” Schulte, narrowly over Christy Mathewson, for batting .300/.384/.534 with 21 triples and 21 homers (only the third 20-HR season ever if you exclude the fluky 1884 Cubs), 105 Runs, and 107 RBI.
*Our old friend Dr. Manhattan is back blogging! While I was tied up doing my baseball previews, he had a fine column taking John McCain to task for his knee-jerk ignorance on the connection between vaccines and autism. As a general rule, the more science is involved in an issue, the worse McCain is. He seems sometimes to have a superstitious faith in junk science.
*Former equipment manager Yosh Kawano is leaving the Cubs clubhouse after 65 years. That’s a very long time to work for one baseball team and not get a World Series ring. I think Kawano’s name is familiar to me from one of Joe Garagiola’s books…as in, he was there when Garagiola played for the Cubs.
*Via Pinto, Travis Nelson at Boy of Summer has a lengthy attack on Melky Cabrera. I’m more optimistic about Cabrera’s potential for across-the-board growth as a hitter, but I’d generally agree that his prospects are much dimmer if you don’t regard him as a competent defensive center fielder.
*There’s no such thing as an innocent non-Muslim? This may go a ways to explaining what this means. I can’t buy into Hawkins’ notion, which has been pushed for some time by my RedState colleague Paul Cella, that the U.S. should bar immigration by Muslims, but when you consider Hawkins’ logic, I have to admit that that’s more an emotional reaction than a reasoned position on my part.
*While I don’t agree with all the analysis, David Frum and Bill Kristol have some useful points about the perlious passivity of the Bush Administration in responding to criticism, most particularly the conviction that there’s no point in fighting over the past. The Administration’s enemies have nourished a number of myths about the past 7 years that have proven terribly corrosive of its credibility, goodwill and, ultimately, ability to get anything done. (On a related note, consider how little press went to the Army Corps of Engineers’ ultimate admission that its design defects caused the flooding of New Orleans).
*Yes, Glenn Greenwald is still a fool who has trouble with elementary logical reasoning.
*The Nineties economy in a nutshell. This, too.
*Guns don’t kill people, guns kill movie scripts.
*24 is coming back! Maybe that means Jack Bauer will stay out of trouble.
It Wasn’t George W. Bush. In Fact, It Wasn’t Really Hurricane Katrina, Either.
We know now that the Hurricane Katrina story is the greatest media failure of our times, dwarfing not only single-issue scandals like “Rathergate” but also broader failures like the media’s coverage of the War on Terror. The media got so many things wrong in such a short time that we will not, in our lifetimes, see the truth widely accepted. Newsday’s Lou Dolinar, for example, has chronicled the extensive, heroic and totally unsung rescue efforts in New Orleans, mainly by the National Guard and the Coast Guard, here and here. Historians will have a field day with all the hoaxes circulated by the likes of Anderson Cooper, Shepard Smith and Oprah Winfrey.
But nobody has been more dogged and diligent in following this story after the tide of headlines receded than Paul of Wizbang! If you missed it Monday, you must read the latest post in his long campaign to demonstrate that the flooding of New Orleans was the result of levee breaches caused by poor construction by the Army Corps of Engineers, rather than levee overtopping caused by a massive hurricane (and, thus, an essentially bureaucratic failure rather than a political one – as portrayed by some – or a simple Act of God). In fact, Paul now argues that the flood could have happened in any big storm, or indeed at any time, given the condition of the levees. Go read it (and watch the video that was kep under wraps by Congress for 10 months), and if you care at all about the truth of this story, spend some time with Wizbang’s Hurricane Katrina archive. I guarantee you will learn something.
Official estimates at this point suggest the [National] Guard, working from the Dome, saved 17,000 by air and uncounted thousands more by boat.
Let’s try that again: The cavalry wasn’t late. It didn’t arrive on Thursday smoking a cigar and cussing. It was there all along.
. . . [R]escue operations saved up to 50,000 lives, with perhaps an equal number making their way to shelters on their own.
Except for the Coast Guard’s brilliant performance, which saved up to 30,000 lives, most of the rescue operation was run by local National Guard middle management, combat tested in Iraq, accustomed to hardship, and intimately familiar with the city. (In fact, as I previously reported, Guard members rescued other Guard members, who then reported for flight duty.)
Gov. Blanco, facing the voters in 2008, is eagerly, and with justification, claiming some of the credit for the rescue operation. “When all the stories are told,” Gov. Blanco is quoted as saying, “the story is going to be that Louisianans were saved by Louisianans.” Understandable, but a little bit of a stretch, as it conveniently leaves out the federal contribution, namely the Coast Guard, the regular armed forces and Guard units from other states, as well as the key coordinating role the National Guard Bureau played.
What’s more puzzling is why the White House hasn’t joined Blanco in trying to rehabilitate its reputation. . . .
The president’s side isn’t a complicated story. He sits atop a huge bureaucratic machine. He’s responsible for how the pieces of the pyramid work, not every last detail. “The rescues happened way below the radar screen and that’s not bad,” Carafano said. “You want this kind of decentralized execution. If we have to sit around for someone in Washington to make a decision, we’re all going to die.”
FEMA failed miserably. Yet the Coast Guard, a branch of the much-maligned Department of Homeland Security, operated precisely according to plan and saved up to 30,000 lives amid near total destruction. The National Guard Bureau helped run the show. The State Guard and regular military, which owes its extraordinary professionalism to the administration’s insistence on training and equipage for service in Iraq, saved tens of thousands more.
I still think this account is too easy on Blanco and Nagin for not conducting a more thorough evacuation, although even on that score, reports after the fact have stressed that many more people were evacuated successfully than it first appeared. Overall, though, Dolinar makes yet another compelling case that the people responsible for first response accomplished the best you could ask of them, and – more to the point – they, not people in Washington or Baton Rouge, were the ones who were really responsible for handling the crisis. Read the whole thing. Unfortunately, as usual, the Bush White House is only facing forward while it bleeds profusely from shots to the back over the past, instead of setting the record straight.
I have been, I admit, most delinquent in following up on the Hurricane Katrina fallout. I’m not alone: the national media, having initially blamed President Bush for nearly everything, lost interest in the story, and national Democrats are all too happy to leave things right where they are.
But the New Orleans media and some dogged observers have not been so content. One story that they have pursued is the long-term institutional culpability of the Army Corps of Engineers, which designed, constructed and maintained the levees surrounding New Orleans, for building levees that were unable to withstand the pressure of the water that built up against them, and eventually breached, flooding the city.
To backtrack a bit: you will recall that much of the official concern about Katrina hitting New Orleans, including specific concerns raised by and to President Bush, was that the levees would be “overtopped” – i.e., that the water level would rise above the tops of the levees and surge into the city. Thus, for example, if you have a 14-foot levee and 15 feet of water, you get one foot of storm surge lapping through the streets. Instead, however – and unexpectedly, for federal, state and local officials managing the crisis – the levees were breached, meaning that the walls gave way and the whole 14 feet of water came pouring in, a disaster of many times the magnitude of overtopping of the levees.*
Two of the more diligent bloggers following this story and its reporting in the New Orleans media have been New Orleans-based Paul of Wizbang and Harry Shearer (yes, the Harry Shearer, of “Spinal Tap” and the voice of Mr. Burns, among others) at the Huffington Post (h/t Kaus). Here, Paul explains why the Army Corps of Engineers manual shows that the levees should have been constructed to hold more water than they did. Here, Paul notes that tests done by the Corps showed the weaknesses of the way the levees were being built almost two decades before Katrina. Here, he notes that the badly-designed levees that failed were constructed in the late 1990s, and argues that the Corps is still using bad, old data to build new levees. Here, Shearer flags the admission by the head of the Corps at a recent Senate hearing that it was design defects in the levees that caused the flooding of the city. And here, Shearer excoriates the media for not caring about the Corps story.
Paul keeps talking about a lawsuit and perhaps there are some federal contractors who might not be protected by Boyle immunity for some reason, but I’m not sure who could get sued; I know that this lawsuit does not sound promising:
A lawyer who has filed a class-action suit over the levee failures said Strock’s statement may mean little for his case because the corps is generally immune from legal liability by virtue of a 1928 law that put the agency in the levee-building business.
“The words are heavy and important'” Joseph Bruno said. “The problem is legal impediment called immunity. It was tort reform that began in 1928.”
However, lawyer Mitchell Hoffman said it could help his case, which seeks to sidestep the corps’ immunity by alleging the levee failure amounted to a massive government seizure of peoples’ homes and land.
“It simplifies the case significantly because we don’t have to have a battle of experts,” Hoffman said. “Now the judge can say because of the enormity, it was a taking and the government needs to pay these people for their property.”
I can’t see how you can squeeze the square peg of a charge of negligent levee design into the round hole of a claim of Fifth Amendment takings of property.
Instapundit carries a debate on the wisdom of building vulnerable buildings on beachfronts in the aftermath of the hurricane, centering on this blog post from a series at Popular Mechanics on the aftermath of Katrina:
Biloxi ought to be Exhibit A in any discussion of whether current coastal development regulations make sense. The beachfront properties were devastated, but only a few hundred yards inland, damage was moderate. Maybe there’s a lesson there for developers? Apparently not. Compared to New Orleans, where whole neighborhoods remain deserted, Biloxi is crawling with construction teams. Most of them are busy rebuilding hotels right at the waterâ€™s edge.
I disagree. It’s in the nature of beachfront properties to be second homes, hotels, resorts . . . buildings that are owned by for-profit companies, investors, and wealthy individuals, not someone’s only home. These are the property owners most able to bear financial risk in return for the many pleasures and financial benefits of owning beachfront properties, and most able either to self-insure or to purchase specialized insurance from large and sophisticated insurers and reinsurers. In short, they’re the very opposite of the hand-to-mouth denizens of the poorer wards of New Orleans, whose losses were personally devastating and whose care had to be taken up by the state in the aftermath of a disaster.
By all means, let’s have a debate about putting urban slums back in harm’s way. But if investors in beachfront hotels want to gamble on how many seasons it will be before the next Category 4-5 hurricane in the Gulf, let them. It’s their money.
The Club for Growth notes:
[T]he Army Corps of Engineers is, in large part, to blame for the levees breaking down in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Now, thanks to Republican Senator Thad Cochran, part of the funds being used to help pay for Katrina relief – approx. $13 million – will be used to build a museum celebrating the Army Corps of Engineers!
Let’s repeat that.
Part of the money being used to fix the levees will be used to celebrate the government’s inability to build levees that don’t break.
Now, the Army Corps of Engineers has, in fact, had some accomplishments, but it’s obscene to choose this time and place to siphon off money from rebuilding a mess that its own engineers were largely responsible for so as to build a museum in its honor. We should be discussing radical restructuring of the Corps right now, not a freaking museum.
Via Mary Katherine Ham, at Hewitt’s place.
And then there’s Mike Brown starting a disaster preparedness firm.
Were I Karl Rove, I would send out a memo to Republicans everywhere: this firm should never, ever, ever get a government contract of any kind.
John Derbyshire notes speculation that a very large portion of the absent police force in New Orleans during Katrina was either nonexistent cops or cops with no-show jobs and that New Orleans used the inflated numbers to scam federal dollars. Presumably, if this turns out to be true, someone in the know could file a lawsuit under the False Claims Act to recover the improperly allocated federal funds (I’m assuming without checking here that the FCA covers municipalities).
UPDATE: Lyford writes in to point out that this particular report is satire. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen reports of there being some genuine concerns about no-show jobs, but not in that scale.
I caught a few minutes of CNN last night, and, to their credit, Aaron Brown and Anderson Cooper were walking through all of the false stories they had helped circulate during the week following Hurricane Katrina – 10,000 dead, babies being raped in the Superdome, etc. I’ve seen the same stuff done on blogs and in the newspaper investigations that exposed a lot of these falsehoods, but it was really something different to see it on TV, with the reporters who spread the stories walking them back, and with video clips of Mayor Nagin and the now-former New Orleans Police Chief telling totally baseless horror stories to a mortified Oprah. Cooper seemed particularly shaken by the extent to which he’d bought in to and repeated things he’d heard from NOPD sources that turned out to be false. One can only hope that Oprah performs a similar service for her massive audience, many of whom likely don’t read blogs or watch late-night cable news.
The chief of the New Orleans Police Department has stepped down. According to some reports, as many as 300 of New Orleans’ 1,750 cops went AWOL during Hurricane Katrina, and that’s before you discuss cops who joined the looting. A man can’t be proud of running a department that goes to pieces like that in a crisis, when it’s needed most. LA cop Jack Dunphy explains.
Slightly more than half of American teenagers, ages 15 to 19, have engaged in oral sex, with females and males reporting similar levels of experience, according to the most comprehensive national survey of sexual behaviors ever released by the federal government.
The report today by the National Center for Health Statistics shows that the figure increases to about 70 percent of 18- and 19-year-olds.
The survey, according to those who work with young people, offers one more sign that young women are more sexually confident than they used to be.
As a friend writes, “One could, accurately, replace the word ‘confident’ with ‘promiscuous.'”
*Is Anderson Hernandez on the way?
*Michael Newdow may have won another round in California, but the US District Court in DC rejected his attempt to get a permanent injunction against prayers at the inauguration of the President. (Link opens PDF file).
*Maybe you saw, or heard, the tearful story told on national TV by Jefferson Parish president Aaron Broussard:
The guy who runs this building I’m in, emergency management, he’s responsible for everything. His mother was trapped in a St. Bernard nursing home and every day she called him and said, ‘Are you coming, son? Is somebody coming?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, Mama, somebody’s coming to get you. Somebody’s coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody’s coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody’s coming to get you on Thursday. Somebody’s coming to get you on Friday.’ And she drowned Friday night. She drowned Friday night.
If so, you were lied to. Via Jeff Goldstein, who has been en fuego on the Hurricane Katrina story, to the point that he can barely keep his server running.
*Wonder if the people who got all bent out of shape over the Tom Delay-Homeland Security-Texas Legislature flap will go nuts over a Louisiana Democratic Congressman, who is perhaps not coincidentally under federal investigation, diverting the National Guard to clear possessions out of his house rather than save people.
*Speaking of DeLay, if he really believes Congress is doing a good job holding the line on spending and there is no fat left to cut in the budget, it is clearly past time for the House GOP to go get itself a new leader. Via NRO (and yes, I’ve seen subsequent reports putting the quote in context – they make it a little more understandable but no more defensible.
*Then there’s the story of a 57-year-old New Orleans man who drew on his long-ago training as a Vietnam veteran and walked out of town. Via Brian Preston, who has likewise been all over Katrina and its aftermath.
*Classic George Will (via NRO). Favorite line: “You can no more embarrass a senator than you can a sofa.”
*Go read Ann Althouse on John Roberts’ view of the use of foreign law in interpreting the United States Constitution (hint: he’s agin’ it).
*So, what does the Chief Justice do? His main importance on the Court is that he picks who writes the opinions, out of the Justices in the majority (if he joins the majority – Burger used to switch sides just so he could control who wrote what). Rehnquist was reportedly less interested in using this power, except when he wanted one for himself. It was presumably Rehnquist who decided that the Bush v. Gore opinion should be an unsigned per curiam opinion.
However, the Chief has other jobs all to himself, such as heading the Judicial Conference and power of appointment for FISA court judges; this article explains these duties well. And more here. Also, as we recall, he presides at trial if the President gets impeached, although the way Rehnquist interpreted this role left most of the procedural rulings to be made by the Senate, not the Chief Justice.
*Some jokes never get old, especially #4 here.
*Mark Steyn, as usual, had the definitive word on the “Crescent of Embrace” design for the Flight 93 memorial, which has since been scrapped:
[T]he men who hijacked Flight 93 did it in the name of Islam and their last words as they hit the Pennsylvania sod were no doubt “Allahu Akhbar”. One would be unlikely even today to come across an Allied D-Day memorial so misconceived in its spirit of reconciliation as to be called the Swastika of Embrace. Yet Paul Murdoch, the architect, has somehow managed to produce a design whose two most obvious interpretations are a) a big nothing or b) a splendid memorial to the hijackers rather than their victims.
In order to draw attention to Wal-Mart’s paying its workers an average of $10.17 an hour with benefits, the UFCW hired a bunch of temps at $6.00 an hour with no benefits. And while the oppressed, exploited Wal-Mart workers slave away in air-conditioned comfort, those blessed with the Union paychecks walk up and down outside in the sun until they get blisters on their feet. The Wal-Mart workers are coerced into taking regular breaks in a private area; the Union employees are dropped off at the beginning of their shift and left to fend for themselves for the entire day.
If the Democrats really want people who work and shop at Wal-Mart to vote Republican, and they get the people who hate the place, I’ll take that deal. Dick Cheney understands that.
We’ve heard a lot lately about the notion that FEMA should have taken, and should take in the future, a more leading role in making the federal government, in effect, a first responder to natural disasters and terrorist attacks. Now, there’s a fair debate here over whether the federal government ought to improve its ability to respond quickly with redundant capacity to provide emergency supplies, evacuation, etc. in the event that state or local first responders are for one reason or another incapacitated.
But we should resist, at all costs, the idea (pushed by Mickey Kaus, among others) that the federal government should centralize a greater amount of the nation’s first-response capacity. Let’s look at two aspects of this problem.
Let’s think rationally here, in terms Osama bin Laden would understand, and we – as long as we’re fighting him, or fighting anybody else, for that matter – can ill afford to forget. We have two choices:
A. Centralize disaster-response with FEMA, with the heads of DHS and FEMA and the President personally responsible for making the crucial decisions.
B. Decentralize disaster-response, with decisionmaking power in the hands of 50 Governors and scores of Mayors.
Even the leader of a ragtag terrorist operation can tell you that decentralizing authority into local cells that can operate on their own for long stretches makes you less vulnerable to your enemies. The more we centralize our response to disasters with FEMA, the more we hand our enemies the ability to cripple our response to multiple simultaneous attacks in different parts of the country. Imagine if Flight 93 had hit the White House – wouldn’t it then have been a particularly good thing that Rudy and Pataki could put the NYPD and NYFD into action without awaiting word from Uncle Sam? Why on earth should our response to this disaster be to centralize rather than distribute our ability to respond in a crisis?
2. Local Knowledge
As critics of the Iraq War never tire of reminding us – and, for that matter, as opponents of the Vietnam War often noted – for out-of-towners, there’s no substitute for knowing the neighborhood. Even closer to home, consider the lesson of the 2004 election. As was much remarked at the time, outside of the big cities – where Democrats had longstanding political machines skilled in getting voters to the polls on Election Day – Republican get-out-the-vote efforts were generally more successful than those of the Democratic side, in part because the Republican “GOTV” operation was carried out locally by local voters, whereas the Democrats in many areas were dependent upon outside groups. While you can debate the degree of importance of this factor, virtually every post-mortem on the election concluded that the Democrats need to improve their local grassroots operations.
What has this got to do with disaster preparedness? Quite a lot, actually. Just as with voter turnout, getting people to evacuate a city or gather in a safe shelter is a job in which there’s just no substitute for local knowledge. You have to know who lives where, how to persuade them to budge, and you have to know the fastest way out of Dodge. And even moreso than in doing Election Day turnout, you don’t have time to learn all of that in the chaos of a disaster or an attack that may give just a few days’ or hours’ warning, if even that much.
By all means, let’s talk about improving the federal response to disasters; regardless of who deserves credit and blame for the response to Hurricane Katrina, nobody who watched the unfolding of events in New Orleans could conclude that there is no room left for improvement at all levels. But in so doing, let’s not make ourselves more dependent upon Washington and less reliant on the people who are in the best position to know their own turf.
Bob Somerby collects excerpts from an interview with Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, which make clear how incapable she is of answering even the simplest of questions; really, the excerpts alone tell the story. (Via NRO). This line is one no Republican could get away with:
Mayor Nagin and most mayors in this country have a hard time getting their people to work on a sunny day, let alone getting them out of the city in front of a hurricane.
And I thought Republicans were cynical about big urban political machines. (John Hawkins has more horrendous quotes from Left and Right about the hurricane).
I’ve created a new separate category for posts on Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Even as the issue is politicized, I don’t really feel comfortable just logging entries on this topic under the heading of “politics”.
3. The Mardi Gras Carnival Parade will go on “as scheduled” for February 28, 2006.
4. Within thirty days, electricity will be restored to a majority of NOLA.
5. Within thirty days, 90% of the city will by dry enough to access by civilian SUV.
6. Dependent on the restoration of water/sewer service, of which I have no first hand knowledge to comment, large numbers of NOLA residents will be going home by Thanksgiving.
7. Ninety percent, or more, of the residents that were displaced in NOLA will eventually return to the city in search of the now greatly expanded employment prospects in construction.
Read the whole thing. If you look solely at the questions of pumping water out of the city and rebuilding, the optimistic view may well be the better bet; it can be all too easy to underestimate the human, and specifically American, capacity for rebuilding when people need to get resettled. But stories like this one, from Thursday, make me wonder:
Four persons have died in what federal health officials think was likely a bacterial infection circulating in Hurricane Katrina’s contaminated floodwaters in New Orleans, and new EPA tests show the water is full of sewage and lead.
Environmental Protection Agency Director Stephen L. Johnson said yesterday that the amount of E. coli and coliform, a bacterium found in sewage, in the water was at least 10 times EPA’s recommended levels. Lead levels in the water also were elevated, he said.
Sure, the water can be pumped out of the city. But the 1-2-3 punch of bacterial infections, chemical contamination, and mold could make the city uninhabitable in practice for much longer. It took a long time to knock out all the buildings contaminated by mold in lower Manhattan after September 11, and Manhattan isn’t surrounded by humid swamps (recall that even before Katrina, Governor Blanco was forced to abandon the Louisiana Governor’s Mansion for the summer due to a tenacious mold problem). That problem will be multiplied by the need to inspect virtually every building still standing in the city to see which ones need to be knocked down. I want to be optimistic, but I’m not holding my breath.
Jeff Goldstein collects some examples, from Andrew Sullivan and others, of Bush critics calling for the media to photograph and display the corpses of victims of Hurricane Katrina, presumably as a means of making the president look bad. (Hat tip: Vodkapundit). Goldstein notes the ghoulishness of this strategy, and its departure from the basics of human decency and respect for the dead.
But there’s a more fundamental problem here: the victims of Katrina, like those killed by hurricanes, wars, terrorist attacks, and other catastrophes both man-made and otherwise, aren’t just hunks of flesh made to be grist for political debates. They were our fellow human beings, and they deserve to be remembered as they were in life, not as their decayed remains are in death.
The New York Times, to its great credit, did an exhaustive, months-long series of obituaries entitled “Portraits of Grief” (now available in book form), which sought after September 11 to show, not the bodies of the victims (and heroes) of that day, but the people, the lives, who were lost to us. The media has likewise served a useful purpose in the Iraq war when it gives us, rather than casualty statistics or the Koppel-esque reading of laundry lists of names, profiles of the soldiers who have given their lives for their country. (This includes efforts made more recently to profile Casey Sheehan). In each case, the simple human truth about the departed is more than enough to sadden and, as appropriate, enrage most people about the loss of each precious human life.
After the deluge in New Orleans, it will be hard, hard work for the media to track down information about the lives of Katrina’s victims, especially because so many were poor, or elderly, or sick, because reporters love to talk about poor African-Americans but don’t so much enjoy talking to them, and because those who knew them are scattered, almost literally, to the four winds. And there may well be too many stories to tell them all. But New Orleans deserves its own Portraits of Grief. Tell us those stories, about life; if we are not moved, then the dead have lost their power to move us. But let the bodies of the dead be buried in peace.
Well, the Mets are officially dead – when you get swept in such backbreaking fashion and then roll over the next day and play dead, it’s over. Stephen Keane and Faith and Fear in Flushing had some pointed thoughts on the final collapse at Turner Field; I hadn’t seen the report about the likelihood of the Mets non-tendering Vic Zambrano, but it makes sense.
On to other things:
*Will the Saints go marching out of New Orleans? This from Deadspin, the new-to-me Gawker sports blog. I’m skeptical that there are enough sodomy jokes in sports to keep a Gawker/Wonkette/Defamer-style blog in business, but these guys do have a successful track record. Personally, I drop by a few of the Gawker blogs from time to time, and almost always come away disappointed.
*Mickey Kaus asks whether the NEA is using the hurricane as an excuse to evade standards imposed by No Child Left Behind. I can see exempting kids who just arrived in your school from the tests, but exempting whole districts and states is just a little too clever a trick.
*How crazy can the Kos/MoveOn left get? Plenty crazy. I dare you to guess what they’re speculating about now, before you click this link and find out. Via Llama Butchers, who think Karl Rove has been spiking MoveOn’s happy juice again.
*Varifrank has a thought-provoking essay on the possibility that mass tort lawsuits will render New Orleans uninhabitable and ruin the state and city governments (via Instapundit). Meanwhile, Prof. Bainbridge and the Wall Street Journal ($) ponder how the legal system in Louisiana will survive the inundation of courthouses and law offices and the destruction of evidence and docket files.
*From a few months back (obviously), Annika’s guide to the Supreme Court. Hilarious.
*You don’t usually see studies linking “Marines, Korean men, gays and transsexuals”, but this one does. The LA Times’ effort to come up with a politically palatable explanation is very amusing.
*Will Mitt Romney’s Mormonism hurt him with evangelical Christians in the GOP primary? The author is obviously ill-disposed towards conservatives generally, but there are a few points in here I didn’t know about the intensity of anti-Mormon sentiment.
*The latest here and here on medical reports about the death of Yasser Arafat.
*Long profile of Bill Clinton by a sympathetic liberal writer who nonetheless picks at a few of Clinton’s flaws; I had intended to comment on this, including some of the sillier anti-Bush potshots, but there’s too much in here and too much else going on. Read the whole thing.
Like a lot of people on the Right, I was appalled last week at the rush of people on the Left seeking to blame anything and everything related to Hurricane Katrina on President Bush, even at the height of the disaster when partisan point-scoring should have been the last thing on anyone’s mind. We saw at work two classic features of a left-wing swarm: (1) the belief that you can win an argument by being the angriest guy in the room, and (2) the effort, as we’ve seen so often in the past, to nail down the perception of events before the truth has a chance to lace on its boots.
Now, we see the same people reacting in shock and horror at the thought that the White House might try to get its side of the story out. Go figure.
It is, for the most part, still too early to reach any kind of definitive judgment about where the blame lies and what things can’t fairly be blamed on anyone. If you don’t believe me, think back to September 11, and all the times over the first few weeks after the attacks that we had to revise the things we thought we knew. (See Matt Welch here – updated here and here, via here – and McQ here on the slew of initial reports, especially regarding violence at the Superdome, that may have been overstated or outright wrong).
That being said, obviously, the effort to hold off on the fight over “who lost New Orleans” is one that can’t be won. (There don’t seem to be similar questions for the rest of Louisiana, Mississippi, or Alabama, none of which faced the same catastrophic breakdown of government services, nor are there questions about how New Orleans handled the hurricane itself, so much as the ensuing flooding). And in the long term, recriminations and finger-pointing will be a necessary and healthy part of the process; without that, nobody gets held accountable, and nothing gets changed. So, in the spirit of preliminary assessments, I offer my own framework for thinking about the issue. As usual, I’m trying to frame the questions; I don’t pretend to have answers to all of them.
I. Primary Issues
There are four primary questions that need to be answered in the wake of the flood that devastated New Orleans: why did the city flood, why were so many people trapped in the flood, why were they without basic supplies, and why did it take so long to get supplies, evacuation and law enforcement to the people trapped in the flood?
A. Why Did New Orleans Flood?
The initial question is why the levees were breached. In part, as far as I can tell, this was a result of a long-ago decision made at multiple levels of government not to reinforce the levees beyond the strength needed to survive a Category 3 hurricane; Katrina was a Category 4 or 5 (depending on when you measure it). On the other hand, Katrina didn’t score a direct hit on the city. The question of why the specific sections of the levees gave out is mainly an engineering question, and thus one that will take some time and patient investigation to figure out.
Aside from “why” is the question of “who”. Apparently, the construction and maintenance of the levees had been principally a federal responsibility since the Army Corps of Engineers, in what was apparently one of its signature early successes, took over the job as part of the War of 1812 (in which the Battle of New Orleans was a key engagement), and – in a development that should be familiar to observers of federal agencies – never relinquished that role. However, it appears that much of the work is carried out by local contractors, and it’s unclear to me what role the state and local governments play in implementing federally funded projects. Tom Maguire predicts that before this is over we will see the relevant local contractor investigated for corruption or other improprieties.
Some commentators have fairly asked why, as a policy matter, funding and execution of projects protecting one city in one state should be a federal responsibility, and specifically why – if Louisiana officials actually believed that the levee maintenance project was dangerously underfunded – they didn’t step in with funds of their own. These are good questions in the abstract, and they do point to some local responsibility for getting serious on the issue, but in the real world, if the feds have been funding something for 190 years, it’s presumptively a federal responsibility unless there is a clear statement by the Administration that the state will now be on its own.
The Bush Administration has come under fire for cutting the funding in recent years for the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, an initiative begun in 1995. It’s deeply ironic, of course, that an administration that has shown so little willingness to fight to cut spending would end up in hot water for actually succeeding in the task. Still, while there may have been pork in this project – one pre-Katrina account quotes project manager Al Naomi saying that “When (former Rep.) Bob Livingston (R-Metairie) was chairman of the Appropriations Committee, we didn’t have a monetary problem. Our problem was how do we spend all the money we were getting” – even most conservatives would agree that preventing catastrophic floods should not be one of the first places you look to cut the budget (As Mark Steyn observed, “why did the porkmeisters of the national legislature and national executive branch slash a request by the Army Corps of Engineers for $105 million for additional flood protection measures there down to just over $40 million, at the same time they approved a $230 million bridge to an uninhabited Alaskan island?”). Unless there’s a real good explanation from Bush as to why these funds were cut (and if there was, I suspect we’d have heard it by now), he’s going to deserve the criticism he gets on this.
Of course, just because Bush cut funding on the project doesn’t mean that those cuts actually contributed to the breaches that flooded the city. In fact, at least one of the major levee breaches was in a concrete section that had just been upgraded. Democratic critics conceded that the funding cuts didn’t cause the floods. And there is reason to believe that a genuine fix for the levees would have been decades away anyway.
And the Bush Administration wasn’t alone in questioning levee-maintenance projects. The New York Times repeatedly criticized the Army Corps of Engineers’ levee-building and maintenance plans on environmental grounds and called for funding cuts, and environmental groups stopped an earlier, more comprehensive project with a 1977 lawsuit. So, Bush may have some strange bedfellows in the dock on this issue.
UPDATE: Instapundit points to an article in this morning’s Washington Post fingering Louisiana Senators and Congressmen for diverting hundreds of millions of dollars from flood control to other water projects in Louisiana. Louisiana Democrat John Breaux’s words may be an epitaph for a generation of Louisiana’s political class:
“We thought all the projects were important — not just levees,” Breaux said. “Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but navigation projects were critical to our economic survival.”
And a perspective-giving excerpt:
Louisiana’s politicians have requested much more money for New Orleans hurricane protection than the Bush administration has proposed or Congress has provided. In the last budget bill, Louisiana’s delegation requested $27.1 million for shoring up levees around Lake Pontchartrain, the full amount the Corps had declared as its “project capability.” Bush suggested $3.9 million, and Congress agreed to spend $5.7 million.
Administration officials also dramatically scaled back a long-term project to restore Louisiana’s disappearing coastal marshes, which once provided a measure of natural hurricane protection for New Orleans. They ordered the Corps to stop work on a $14 billion plan, and devise a $2 billion plan instead.
But overall, the Bush administration’s funding requests for the key New Orleans flood-control projects for the past five years were slightly higher than the Clinton administration’s for its past five years. Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, the chief of the Corps, has said that in any event, more money would not have prevented the drowning of the city, since its levees were designed to protect against a Category 3 storm, and the levees that failed were already completed projects.
SECOND UPDATE: John Berlau at NRO has a closer look at environmental lawsuits, including one in 1996, obstructing the building and maintenance of the levee system. Also, Rich Lowry notes a 2004 federal indictment of Louisiana officials for “obstruction of an audit of the use of federal funds for flood mitigation activities throughout Louisiana.”
THIRD UPDATE: Looks like Louisiana’s state and local governments didn’t make levee building and maintenance much of a priority, to the point that “local and state officials did not use federal money that was available for levee improvements or coastal reinforcement and often did not secure local matching funds that would have generated even more federal funding.” (Via QandO . . . really, I think I’m gonna end up linking to everything McQ has written on this in the past week; you should be over at the QandO site for all the latest on Katrina and the recriminations).
TO FOLLOW: The other three primary issues, the secondary questions, and the red herrings.
I say that in the spirit of the Mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, the Anti-Giuliani, a Mayor Culpa who always knows where to point the finger.
John Fund, writing in today’s OpinionJournal Political Diary (a subscriber-only email service):
Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans has become an anti-Giuliani, a walking Mayor Culpa who wants to finger everyone but himself for his city’s poor handling of its evacuation, which most infamously left 20,000 people at the city’s Superdome without adequate food or security.
I think Steyn is owed a credit for that line, no?
UPDATE: Fund emails to tell me that he picked up the line from a friend who emailed from Louisiana, not knowing that Steyn had coined it.
The new evacuation order has been drafted and will be issued shortly, Mr. Nagin said, even though Louisiana state officials question his authority to issue such a command. “I don’t care, I’m doing it,” he said. “We have to get people out.”
2. Guess who said this, in calling for “an independent commission to investigate the federal response to the disaster, saying neither Congress nor the administration should do it”:
“I don’t think the government can investigate itself.”
Yes, that’s right: Hillary Clinton. Oh, the irony.
I’m heartened to see that the Senate and House are launching their own investigations; back in the days when John Dingell and Henry Waxman were committee chairmen, Congress didn’t punt all of its investigative powers to secretive prosecutors and unelected commissions. It’s about time Republicans acted like they were elected by the people to be in charge.
Inevitably, there will also be an “independent” or “bipartisan” federal commission to study the question, and I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that, too, although if it follows the 9/11 Commission model it will consist of Kathleen Blanco, James Lee Witt, a left-wing lawyer and a handful of retired liberal Republicans. As we have seen in the past, though, such commissions tend to redirect public attention away from the facts (see Claudia Rosett on the UN Oil-for-Food inquiry, due to issue a report today) and to be treated in their bottom-line conclusions as gospel by a lazy media, even when their investigative work has been shoddy or biased. Let’s make sure that the facts get a little play, too.
Next up in the sequence of Biblical plagues on New Orleans: e. coli bacteria in the water.
There are many worthy chariities competing for attention that can help hurricane victims. Among those, one blog-driven effort you should consider is Michele Catalano’s drive to bring school supplies to children displaced by the hurricane.
Mike Krempasky at RedState asks a painful question: what do we do about people who are still in New Orleans and refuse to leave?
Apparenly, it took a personal plea from President Bush just to get Louisiana Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin to order the evacuation of New Orleans. Where would the city be if they hadn’t done that much?
Now, if only they had used the buses, like Jeb does in Florida.
UPDATE: Yeah, still too early to lay blame. But it’s worth mentioning, before the historical record gets cast in concrete.
Only Reuters could take a news story about gasoline shortages and price spikes and entitle it, “U.S. car culture is running on empty in storm’s wake”, as if people driving automobiles (or ‘horseless carriages,’ as I suppose they are called) is some newfangled innovation of those crazy cowboys and rednecks.
I’d say people who believe that the automobile is a good thing are feeling pretty justified right now. People in New Orleans who owned cars mostly got themselves safely out of town before the storm (unless they chose to stick around). People who didn’t, and were dependent upon on mass transit, wound up drowning, getting herded into the Superdome or the Convention Center or are still otherwise in harm’s way, facing possible starvation as well as predation by looters and thugs. Many of them had little choice, of course – they were poor people living in a big city. But obviously, they did not wind up better off for not owning a car.
The lesson here is that anybody who can afford a car is crazy not to have one, the dreams of bicycle-riding environmentalists and central planners the world over to the contrary. In addition to its other virtues, a car can get you out of harm’s way without having to depend on the government in a time of crisis.
Also note that suicide bombers regularly target trains (London, Madrid, Tokyo), buses (London, Israel) and planes (9/11, the shoe bomber) – but rarely if ever go after motorists, who remain more dispersed and therefore less vulnerable except when passing bridges and tunnels.
There remain those who resent the automobile, which puts the individual citizen literally in the driver’s seat. But sometimes, the ability to get yourself out of town without waiting for the government to get you there makes all the difference.
Quote of the week, from Tom Maguire:
I suspect that anyone opposed to putting up affordable housing in a toxic-waste flood plain will be denounced as racist (go figure).
And another bold prediction:
Let me throw in my own guess – eventually, the contractor who upgraded the 17th St. levee will be investigated, and the contract will be found to have been influnced by poltical intrigue. In Louisiana!
Read the whole thing. A lot of hard questions ahead, especially about what to do about all the people who lived in poverty, in crime-ridden neighborhoods, in harm’s way. Try to persuade them to relocate? Put them back where they were? And, of course, who decides? And how quickly? We can afford to leave Ground Zero in lower Manhattan fallow for four years while the politicians squabble. We can’t afford to do the same for the homes of hundreds of thousands of people.
*Characteristically brilliant Mark Steyn column (reg. req.) taking the long view on why we should be optimistic about Iraq’s future in general and its new constitution in particular, comparing it favorably to the failed EU constitution:
The Kurds drove a hard bargain and the Shia accepted it. The Sunnis did not. Sad, but not fatal. You wait around for unanimity, you wait for ever. The US framers said nine out of 13 states would be enough to proceed, and Rhode Island and North Carolina were still not on board at George Washington’s inauguration. Quebec, incidentally, has still not signed the Canadian constitution.
There’s nothing wrong with the hard-fought trade-offs of smoke-filled rooms: that’s what the US constitution is, and, come to that, Magna Carta. The flop constitutions, on the other hand, are those that reflect the modish unanimity of a homogeneous ruling class – like the European constitution. The Iraqi document is a very subtle instrument: it effectively uses Sunni intransigence to give the Shia majority an interest in Kurdish federalism – and, if in the end that doesn’t work, supplies the mechanism for 85 per cent of the Iraqi population not to get sucked down with the hold-outs. As the aerial TV shots of looters in New Orleans remind us, at defining moments not every citizen rises to the occasion. What matters is that enough do. The Iraqi constitution understands that.
As always, read the whole thing.
*John Hawkins asks whether we really should rebuild New Orleans. A hard question, but a necessary one in the weeks to come. Louisiana without New Orleans is all but unthinkable, and abandoning cities is emotionally hard to do (the Japanese rebuilt Hiroshima, after all). But it would be wise to consider whether the city can be structurally reconfigured as a smaller and less vulnerable one.
*New Orleans-based Ernie the Attorney, who’s been dealing with the aftermath of the catastrophe himself, recommends this book about the 1927 flood of the Mississippi.
*Former Red Sox Ace Mel Parnell is apparently among the missing, as is rock legend Fats Domino (UPDATE: They found Domino). While the worst impact of the hurricane and the deluge – especially in New Orleans – predictably fell on the sick, the old and the very poor, many of whom are now dead or in mortal peril, the rich and powerful weren’t spared the destruction of homes: among those who reportedly lost their homes include Trent Lott, Bobby Jindal and several other Louisiana Congressmen, and the Neville Brothers. The rain, as the Bible reminds us, falls on the rich and the poor, the just and the unjust.
*Rod Dreher suggests a way we can expect help from the French in rebuilding New Orleans.
*The finger-pointing can wait for later, but McQ does have some useful background here, and more here from the Wall Street Journal.
*Lost in the flood-related news was the sudden death of supply-side guru and all-around gadfly Jude Wanniski. Wanniski wasn’t always right or even rational, and he allied himself with all sorts of horrendous people and ideas along the way, but he was provocative and influential, and should be duly remembered.
*I agree with Kevin Drum’s thoughts on the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, Ann Althouse on Jon Stewart and Bill Maher, and these thoughts on looters from Ted Frank, Jonah Goldberg, and Instapundit (also here).
*Dean Barnett thinks Bill Weld will beat Spitzer. (via Ace). It’s not likely, but it’s possible, and a match between a true libertarian like Weld and a dedicated nanny-stater like Spitzer could provide an interesting contrast. Howie Carr, on the other hand, thinks the Bill Weld of 2005 is not the Bill Weld of 1990, and all but calls Weld a shiftless drunk. Obviously, the key question is whether Weld still has the fire in the belly to run a tough race against an unusually ruthless opponent.
*Ann Althouse discusses the issue of men who lose sexual desire for their wives after witnessing childbirth. My advice: as the dad, you’re not delivering the baby, you’re providing moral support. Stay up at the head of the bed, look your wife in the eye, and hold her hand. That’s all she needs anyway.
*Interesting USA Today profile of Sandy Alderson.
There’s charity drives springing up all over for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, and you can see a list over at Instapundit. Personally, once I sit down with my wife and figure out how much to give, I’ll probably chip in to the Red Cross, which has the relevant experience in this type of thing, or possibly to Catholic Charities.
But here’s one more for your attention: the Baseball Think Factory crowd is looking for volunteers and donations to bring baseball equipment to people displaced by the hurricane. It’s not the most immediately urgent need, but it can do some good once things settle down a bit.
Lawrence Lynch on Buddy Bell and anti-war protests at Arlington National Cemetary.
*This Michael Yon combat journal is a must-read, albeit of the “print and read at leisure” variety due to its length. Yon is that rare journalist who gets so close to the fight that, in this instance, he had to pick up and fire a weapon.
*Quote of the week, from Justice Scalia (of course):
Now the Senate is looking for moderate judges, mainstream judges. What in the world is a moderate interpretation of a constitutional text? Halfway between what it says and what we’d like it to say?
*LaShawn Barber on the DaVinci Code movie; I hadn’t realized it was quite so perniciously anti-Christian. And yes, that bothers me a lot more in a movie than in a book; at least books are read by people who read. Of course, I agree with one of her readers that, in contrast to the Muslim reaction to similar provocations, “the DaVinci Code’s movie release may provide an opportunity for Christians to show that we can oppose such a blasphemous work without resorting to violence . . . ”
*The US has, in fact, been quite fortunate not to have the sort of radicalized and subversive Muslim population that exists in Europe. But Wizbang notes that that doesn’t always mean that American Muslims are sympathetic and cooperative in efforts to root out terrorists in their midst.
*Via Instapundit, the international tribunal investigating the Rafik Hariri murder may be closing in on pointing the finger at the only plausible suspect, the Syrian government. Of course, that will once again front-burner the issue of what to do about Syria; we would desperately like to see the end of the Assad tyranny, which (as this investigation is likely to show) has grown incompetent in addition to brutal. But unlike in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon, there’s not a lot of cause for optimism in the short term about a democracy movement arising to take Assad’s place. Still, as always, there’s no way out but forward.
*Stuart Buck catches Jack Balkin, who is a very smart liberal law professor, giving away the game in defending the “living constitution” as opposed to originalism:
Originalists are right that the Constitution is binding law, but they confuse the constitutional text — which is binding — with original understanding and original intentions, which are not. A living Constitution requires that judges faithfully apply the constitutional text, given the meanings the words had when they were first enacted, applying those words to today’s circumstances.
(Emphasis mine). Of course, reading the words to mean what they meant when they were first enacted is precisely what originalists set out to do. But go read Stuart’s whole analysis, which points to more concrete examples of why Balkin’s framing of the issues doesn’t get him where he wants to go.
*Buck again, on humorless liberals calling John Roberts a sexist for what any lawyer, or any person with a little perspective, would instantly recognize as a lawyer joke.
*The people losing their homes in the Kelo case in New London are now being billed by the city for rent for living in their own homes.
*From the Blogometer, yes, people on the left are eagerly blaming Bush for the hurricane:
For more than a few lefty bloggers, Pres. Bush bears a lot of responsibility for the suffering that is expected. Diarist Patricia Taylor at Daily Kos: “Historically, it is the National Guard, along with other emergency personnel, who attempt to provide emergency services to the community in disaster relief situations like Katrina. And where are these National Guard right now? Iraq.” Wampum calls it “A Bush-made catastrophe in the making…” Skippy the Bush Kangaroo and Swing State Project make similar points. So does Steve Gilliard, who writes: “The next closest thing to this is a nuclear explosion.” AMERICAblog suggests that New Orleans could get more attention from the Bush admin. by renaming the storm “Hurricane Terri”; a little Photoshop work places Terri Schiavo’s face over the eye of the storm. TalkLeft: “One other point: we need to stop destroying the Louisiana wetland which serves as a buffer.” Wizbang’s Paul picks up the Daily Kos diary, and adds this comment: “Actually if the dumbass used google news they would have known the Guard is in the Superdome.” Liberal BooMan Tribune: “It looks like it is time to put partisanship and politics aside. Dealing with this calamity is going to require a unified approach from all Americans.”
I haven’t been hurricane-blogging, but the one thing I’ve been watching is New Orleans’ decision to house 9,000 people in the Superdome. I hope that’s the right move, because if it’s not, it could wind up being one of the biggest mistakes in the history of disaster relief. I was initially worried when parts of the roof peeled off; now word comes that things are not going so well in the aftermath of massive post-storm flooding:
With water rising perilously inside the Superdome, [Louisiana Governor Kathleen] Blanco said the tens of thousands of refugees now huddled there and other shelters in New Orleans would have to be evacuated.
For now, all the rest of us can do is hope and pray.
UPDATE: But if you want to do something more concrete, Glenn has a list of places to donate.
When you interview random passerby on live television, this sort of thing tends to happen.