Morning Report 9/1/05
We Leave New Orleans Before We Leave Baghdad

Bush chose the Persian Gulf war over Gulf of Mexico flood protection

Sgt. Lorie Jewell/U.S. Army

First Lieutenant Jeffrey Adams, the first Louisiana National Guard member wounded in Iraq, gets a visit from General George Casey last winter at Walter Reed. Adams's left leg was blown off by a bomb in Baghdad last November 7, and he's had 15 operations so far. He got out of the hospital in May.

What a bitter blow that we're evacuating all Americans from New Orleans before we evacuate all Americans from Baghdad.

What's worse is that Baghdad was not threatening our homeland security when the Bush regime was concocting phony reasons for the March 2003 invasion.

In the meantime, catastrophic storms were a real threat to New Orleans, but millions of dollars were diverted from Gulf Coast flood protection so we could fulfill the neocons' cockamamie schemes in Iraq.

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And, as I wrote the other day, a big chunk of that diverted money was funneled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to Halliburton over the objections of its top civilian contracting official, Bunny Greenhouse. This is the same Corps of Engineers that is responsible for protecting U.S. cities from floods and other natural disasters.

Where's the Louisiana National Guard? Risking life and limb in Iraq. Some members of the Guard, like Jeffrey Adams (see photo), have already sacrificed a limb. The first member of the Louisiana National Guard wounded in Iraq, Adams had his left leg blown off by a roadside bomb in Baghdad only four days after he arrived. He was with the Guard's 1088th Engineer Battalion, a unit that would have come in handy protecting New Orleans instead of Baghdad.

There's a flood of stories about the diversion of desperately needed money and manpower. The angriest is by Paul Craig Roberts in this morning's CounterPunch:

    Chalk up the city of New Orleans as a cost of Bush's Iraq war.

    There were not enough helicopters to repair the breached levees and rescue people trapped by rising water. Nor are there enough Louisiana National Guards available to help with rescue efforts and to patrol against looting.

    The situation is the same in Mississippi.

    The National Guard and helicopters are off on a fools mission in Iraq.

    The National Guard is in Iraq because fanatical neoconsevatives in the Bush administration were determined to invade the Middle East and because the incompetent Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld refused to listen to the generals, who told him there were not enough regular troops available to do the job.

Yesterday, also in CounterPunch, Alex Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair zeroed in on the money angle:

    As the New Orleans Times-Picayune has reported in a devastating series of articles over the last two years, city and state officials and the Corps of Engineers had repeatedly requested funding to strengthen the levees along Lake Pontchartrain that breached in the wake of the flood. But the Bush administration rebuffed the requests repeatedly, reprogramming the funding from levee enhancement to Homeland Security and the war on Iraq.

    This year the Bush administration slashed funding for the New Orleans Corps of Engineers by $71.2 million, a stunning 44.2 percent reduction from its 2001 levels. A Corps report noted at the time that "major hurricane and flood protection projects will not be awarded to local engineering firms. … Also, a study to determine ways to protect the region from a Category 5 hurricane has been shelved for now."

But this isn't just a general complaint about money. There was specific work that was abandoned so the war could be pursued:

    Work on the 17th Street levee, which breached on Monday night, came to a halt earlier this summer for the lack of $2 million.

    "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," Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana told the Times-Picayune in June of last year. "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."

    These are damning revelation that should fuel calls from both parties for Bush's resignation or impeachment.

Will Bunch, writing in Editor & Publisher last night, has more on the scandal:

    New Orleans had long known it was highly vulnerable to flooding and a direct hit from a hurricane. In fact, the federal government has been working with state and local officials in the region since the late 1960s on major hurricane and flood relief efforts. When flooding from a massive rainstorm in May 1995 killed six people, Congress authorized the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, or SELA.

    Over the next 10 years, the Army Corps of Engineers, tasked with carrying out SELA, spent $430 million on shoring up levees and building pumping stations, with $50 million in local aid. But at least $250 million in crucial projects remained, even as hurricane activity in the Atlantic Basin increased dramatically and the levees surrounding New Orleans continued to subside.

    Yet after 2003, the flow of federal dollars toward SELA dropped to a trickle. The Corps never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security — coming at the same time as federal tax cuts — was the reason for the strain. At least nine articles in the Times-Picayune from 2004 and 2005 specifically cite the cost of Iraq as a reason for the lack of hurricane- and flood-control dollars.

And Greg Mitchell, editor of the rejuvenated E&P (it used to be just a dull mag catering to newspaper bureaucrats and execs), chimed in with snatches of an editorial yesterday in the Sun Herald in devastated Biloxi, Mississippi:

    On Wednesday reporters listening to horrific stories of death and survival at the Biloxi Junior High School shelter looked north across Irish Hill Road and saw Air Force personnel playing basketball and performing calisthenics.

    Playing basketball and performing calisthenics!

    When asked why these young men were not being used to help in the recovery effort, our reporters were told that it would be pointless to send military personnel down to the beach to pick up debris.

    Litter is the least of our problems. We need the president to back up his declaration of a disaster with a declaration of every man and woman under his command will do whatever is necessary to deal with that disaster.

Bush was busy invoking God. At his press conference yesterday in D.C., after he returned from Prairie Chapel Ranch, the president promised aid and closed his remarks with this:

    The country stands with you. We'll do all in our power to help you. May God bless you.

Spare us the fucking benediction.

It was something Bush said earlier in his photo-op with the press that really hits home:

    I think the folks in the affected areas are going to be overwhelmed when they realize how many Americans want to help them.

They're already overwhelmed. And when they start to understand that the money and manpower they needed before the storm hit was being pissed away in Iraq, they'll be overwhelmed by anger.

Where does this all end? Only a couple of days ago, Bush added a fresh reason for the Iraq adventure: protection of the oil fields there. And now, our oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico are ravaged, and gas prices are soaring.

I'm so glad our billion-dollar embassy in Baghdead is still intact.

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