Over the past couple of days, the cable news networks have been soiling themselves as presumably thousands of people have lost their lives in what is turning into the worst disaster in American history. The levee at 17th Street in New Orleans that kept Lake Ponchartrain a lake and New Orleans a mostly dry city breached, spilling millions of gallons of water into the streets of New Orleans, Metairie, Kenner, and beyond. There are casualty reports, but they're currently so ridiculously low they're hardly worth discussion; once everything is said and done, thousands of people will have perished.
This morning, the worst president in American history went on national television and told Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson the following (which was quoted by the BBC):
"I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees. They did appreciate a serious storm but these levees got breached and as a result much of New Orleans is flooded and now we're having to deal with it and will."
There's simply no way around it. This statement by President Bush is a lie.
According to Will Bunch, a former Pulitzer winner and current senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily News writing in the trade publication Editor & Publisher, "at least nine articles in the [New Orleans] Times-Picayune from 2004 and 2005 specifically cite the cost of Iraq as a reason for the lack of hurricane- and flood-control dollars."
Officials in Louisiana have anticipated the breach of these levees for years; they've admitted this to be one of their greatest fears, one of those things that keeps them up at nights. They've told Bush about it -- several times, in fact.
Further, Bush's latest I-didn't-do-it crapfest neglects that President Clinton and a Republican Congress authorized the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project after a rainstorm killed six people in May 1995. In other words, one former president and at least 218 congressmen anticipated the breach of the levees -- a decade ago. And if modern political history is any gauge, they were probably several years late to the game. Local officials have known about this ... well, pretty much since those levees were built.
Face the facts. Bush is too busy spending our money in Iraq or giving it to his buddies via tax cuts to notice that we need it to strengthen America's infrastructure. And now, tanned and happy after his five-week vacation, he's taking to the airwaves to lie to us and to shield himself from the obvious blame that belongs square on his brush-clearing shoulders.
Newhouse News Service, in an article posted late Tuesday night at The Times-Picayune Web site, reported: "No one can say they didn't see it coming. ... Now in the wake of one of the worst storms ever, serious questions are being asked about the lack of preparation."
In early 2004, as the cost of the conflict in Iraq soared, President Bush proposed spending less than 20 percent of what the [Army Corps of Engineers] said was needed for Lake Pontchartrain, according to a Feb. 16, 2004, article, in New Orleans CityBusiness.
In other words, the Bush administration ignored engineering estimates and instead funneled money towards Baghdad.
More from Bunch:
On June 8, 2004, Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; told the Times-Picayune: "It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us."
In an area that's below sea level and is ravaged by hurricane threats virtually every year, most reasonable people would conclude that it makes more sense to invest American money repairing and strengthening levees near America's 34th-largest city than it is to spending billions in taxpayer money so corporations with personal connections to the president have free access to a "democratic" Iraq and all its lovely oil. But we don't have a reasonable person running the country. We have an egomanaical and elitist pawn who is in power only to serve corporate interests.
Also that June, with the 2004 hurricane season starting, the Corps' project manager Al Naomi went before a local agency, the East Jefferson Levee Authority, and essentially begged for $2 million for urgent work that Washington was now unable to pay for. From the June 18, 2004 Times-Picayune:
"The system is in great shape, but the levees are sinking. Everything is sinking, and if we don't get the money fast enough to raise them, then we can't stay ahead of the settlement," he said. "The problem that we have isn't that the levee is low, but that the federal funds have dried up so that we can't raise them."
The panel authorized that money, and on July 1, 2004, it had to pony up another $250,000 when it learned that stretches of the levee in Metairie had sunk by four feet. The agency had to pay for the work with higher property taxes. The levee board noted in October 2004 that the feds were also now not paying for a hoped-for $15 million project to better shore up the banks of Lake Pontchartrain.
In other words, the feds would no longer pay to protect the people living around New Orleans from the one thing that was keeping that city from becoming a modern-day Atlantis. At the same time, Bush was spending fistful after fistful of money in Iraq while also granting tax cuts to his friends.
It is possible that thousands of people have now died directly because of Bush's political payoffs. Money from those tax cuts could have strenghtened these levees. But in the eyes of George W. Bush, it's more important that millionaires and billionaires realize some tax savings than it is to protect an entire American city from disaster.
The 2004 hurricane season was the worst in decades. In spite of that, the federal government came back this spring with the steepest reduction in hurricane and flood-control funding for New Orleans in history. Because of the proposed cuts, the Corps office there imposed a hiring freeze. Officials said that money targeted for the SELA project -- $10.4 million, down from $36.5 million -- was not enough to start any new jobs.
There was, at the same time, a growing recognition that more research was needed to see what New Orleans must do to protect itself from a Category 4 or 5 hurricane. But once again, the money was not there. As the Times-Picayune reported last Sept. 22:
"That second study would take about four years to complete and would cost about $4 million, said Army Corps of Engineers project manager Al Naomi. About $300,000 in federal money was proposed for the 2005 fiscal-year budget, and the state had agreed to match that amount. But the cost of the Iraq war forced the Bush administration to order the New Orleans district office not to begin any new studies, and the 2005 budget no longer includes the needed money, he said."
Read that last sentence again.
There you go, people. There's your president. The cost of the Iraq war is too high, we don't have much money to go around because of the war and those tax cuts, so there will be no new studies.
If you don't think people should politicize events like this, get over yourself. A series of ignorant political decisions by the Bush administration led to this disaster. This was not an act of madmen, like the tragedy of September 11. This was an entire region of the United States of America being neglected by an administration that put more worth on a pet project in the middle east than it did on events happening on its own soil.
Bunch correctly points out that the Senate, led by Louisiana's two senators (Democrat Mary Landrieu and Republican David Vitter), had been working to restore funding for these projects in 2006. One can't help but believe they would have been unsuccessful as well, with Bush's private war in Iraq not going any better now than it was a year ago.
Finally, it should be noted that one of the projects that was halted because of Bush's decision to ciphon funds from Louisiana to Tikrit? "A bridge and levee job right at the 17th Street Canal, site of the main breach on Monday," writes Bunch.
Bunch's article concludes:
The Newhouse News Service article published Tuesday night observed, "The Louisiana congressional delegation urged Congress earlier this year to dedicate a stream of federal money to Louisiana's coast, only to be opposed by the White House. ... In its budget, the Bush administration proposed a significant reduction in funding for southeast Louisiana's chief hurricane protection project. Bush proposed $10.4 million, a sixth of what local officials say they need."
Local officials are now saying, the article reported, that had Washington heeded their warnings about the dire need for hurricane protection, including building up levees and repairing barrier islands, "the damage might not have been nearly as bad as it turned out to be."
There's no way of saying this disaster absolutely could have been prevented. There's no way of saying that these repaired levees absolutely would have performed better under the stress of Hurricane Katrina than these sagging, sinking levees did. But we can absolutely say that Bush knew about this risk, and he consciously ignored the risk in order to pay for tax cuts and Halliburton payoffs -- with our money, no less.
Newly elected and re-elected Presidents of the United States recite an oath when they take office. It is a simple oath which states: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." The first line of the United States Constitution states the purpose of that document is, among other things, to "insure domestic tranquility ... (and) promote the general welfare" of the American people. Not the Iraqi people, and not the American corporations. The American people.
By pretending he was completely unaware of the risks of levees breaching in Louisiana while greedily funneling money towards pet projects that to date have helped not one average American citizen, George W. Bush has violated the presidential oath. He is a risk to the United States and should be removed from office before he has the chance to kill any more American soldiers or civilians through his myopic self-serving policies. We the People have had enough.