Obama’s Katrina in the Gulf? No comparison
The NY Times today runs—and, perhaps more significantly, Politico’s Playbook email blast cites—a classic case of pointless navel-gazing the press too often engages in, at the expense of actual reporting. The whole structure of the piece is typical: You start with a link-baiting headline, “Shadow of Hurricane Katrina Hangs Over Obama After Spill.”
Then you go on to demonstrate how responsible you are by saying, in the 13th of 15 paragraphs, that there is a “key difference” between the spill and Katrina.
In between you dig up an academic—in this case, a self-promoting professor at a fourth-rate university—to say something that sounds detached and intellectual, but in fact is a total case of log-rolling, with the log having been replaced by a piece of bullshit in the shape of a log. I wonder how many calls Helene Cooper had to make to get someone to say something to support her obviously pre-determined thesis, that the spill is somehow comparable to the Great Flood of New Orleans?
The Times has therefore, in an attempt to demonstrate its lack of liberal bias, launched a meme in the political discourse, justifying pundits’ forthcoming “balanced” debates on cable about an issue that doesn’t exist.
Here are a few “key differences,” in the hopes that as little as possible breath and ink is wasted on this baseless comparison.
1) Katrina was not an accident, and as such, it was predictable. We must remember that what happened in New Orleans was not a natural disaster; it was entirely man-made. The state of the levees protecting the city was well-known: the Army Corps of Engineers, which was responsible for them, knew it, and anyone who read the Times-Picayune’s superb series on the danger posed to the city by a major hurricane due to the weak levees knew it too. The Corps’s budget for levee construction in New Orleans was slashed by Bush 14 months before Katrina, and its overall budget was cut by $71.2 million two months before the storm. Bush, as he never tired of reminding us, was Commander in Chief, and therefore bore ultimate responsibility for not fixing the levees in the four-and-a-half years he had to do so before the hurricane struck.
2) Hurricanes are forecast; the type of accident that exacerbated the spill has never happened before. Bush had days, if not weeks, to send emergency supplies to New Orleans and help with its evacuation as the storm came from the Atlantic, across Florida, west through the Gulf, and finally north to the mouth of the Mississippi. By contrast, the mechanism that’s supposed to shut off BP’s oil well has never failed before. This shouldn’t be read as an endorsement of offshore drilling, or an excuse for BP, which spent $700m on the rig that exploded and $1m a day to run it. But Bush could have prepared for the flood of New Orleans, and chose not to. It’s true that Obama could have, in general way, done more to prevent an oil spill in the Gulf, but foreseeing this disaster would have been impossible, because no such disaster of this particular type had ever occurred. Not so with Bush.
3) Bush deliberately dismantled the system for responding to disasters, both directly and indirectly. Bush directed in 2005 that FEMA “officially” lose disaster-preparedness capabilities, leaving no federal agency to perform this essential function. In January 2001, he had named a crony from Texas with no experience in disaster management to head FEMA. This guy handed the reins to Mike “Heckuva job” Brown, a college friend who also had no experience, and had been fired from his previous job for mismanagement. Brown was at the controls when Katrina came ashore. FEMA denied flood-control requests from Louisiana.
4) Bush slept, and New Orleans wept; Obama was on the case from Day 1. Here’s a timeline of the days before and after Katrina. It shows that 3 hours after first reports of levee breach, Bush was making a speech somewhere (“My Pet Goat,” anyone?) and 12 hours after, Rumsfeld was at a baseball game. The governor of Louisiana made a desperate plea for help at 8pm on the 29th; Bush went to bed that night without responding. The next day, he went on vacation. Three days later a campaign had begun to blame local officials.
By contrast, the Coast Guard was on the scene within hours of the explosion at the oil rig; the DepSec of Interior was there the next day, and coordination with local officials and with BP have been constant from the beginning.
So that ought to be enough about that.
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