Friday, September 02, 2005

Blumenthal bombast

Sydney Blumenthal’s effort to place blame for what is probably the worst natural disaster in American history directly at Bush’s feet is starting to make the rounds, and will no doubt be well received by its European target audience. It has already appeared in Germany’s Spiegel, and today the very same piece makes its appearance in The Guardian. And, of course, its theme will continue to be amplified by ostensibly objective news stories of the “critics of Bush say” variety. (See the previously mentioned Paul Reynolds piece.)

Not that it would ever stop the likes of The Guardian from trumpeting his claptrap, but we should note that, over and above the unsettling swiftness with which Bush’s political enemies seek to capitalize on this human tragedy, his claims have already been thoroughly debunked. A poster at has put up an excellent and long critique of the “blame Bush” meme, culminating with this:
Was it rational and defensible to shift funding from any source toward defense- and war-related activities in the aftermath of 9/11? Of course. Did that shift leave the levees unready to handle Katrina's deadly burden? No. The levees were inherently unready: even at maximum proposed funding, their design was only for a Cat3 storm, not the Cat4/5 that Katrina was. It is true that in 2004, proposals were floated to upgrade to a Cat4/5-capable levee system; it is also true that even in an ideal situation, the studies — not the construction! — necessary to assess what that would entail would not be finished before 2008.
As for Blumenthal’s claim that Bush’s development policies are responsible for degrading the wetlands around New Orleans which, he says, would have reduced the storm surge if better maintained, consider this MSNBC report:

[Envornmental experts] say the levees that ring the city have led to the rapid decay of nearby wetlands during the past century, removing a crucial buffer zone that once protected the area from hurricanes...

Several factors — most human-made — have contributed to the steady decline of the delta at the bottom of the Mississippi. But most of the erosion is blamed on the levees, which faithfully steer all the water from the Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico. That prevents occasional flooding, keeping area residents above water most of the time. But one unforeseen consequence of the levees has been to cut off wetlands from their life force.

The regular floods served nature's purpose by feeding the delta, bringing fresh water and sediment that served to sustain life and replenish the wetlands. Without the regular flooding, the wetlands naturally “compact.”

“Simply put, when the land does not have any nutrients and fresh water it dies,” Marmillion said.

So, it was not Bush, but the very fact that the Mississippi was prevented from flooding in the first place, which caused the degradation. [Update: the preceding sentence was originally, and erroneously, placed in italics, making it appear to be a part of the MSNBC report. It was not. It was my own comment. My apologies for the error.]

I don’t expect these facts to keep the media from credulously citing Blumenthal’s latest hit piece, but they are worth pointing out, nonetheless.

(Hat tip to NRO)


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12:37 AM  
Anonymous Mark said...

I'm posting this on Sept. 10. I heard yesterday on C-SPAN from a Louisiana official make a comment about the wetlands effect on the storm surge. He said it would have reduced it by a foot in height. Sorry but that's not enough to reassure me that that would've prevented the flooding. The storm surge that came into the Mississippi coast was by some accounts 4 stories high!

There have been stories coming out in what I'll call the "partisan press" of late that point some finger of blame at the environmental community for the disaster, particularly their legal obstruction of attempts by the Army Corps of Engineers to enhance the flood control systems near New Orleans. National Review posted "Greens vs. Levees" on the subject. It turns out the Corps has tried to get improvements to the flood control system implemented, in anticipation of a storm like Katrina, since the late 1970s. They were blocked every time by legal actions on the part of the environmental community. They claimed any improvements would hurt the wetland ecology. I guess they gave no consideration to how not improving the system would hurt people, particularly the poor that liberals pay such lip service too.

11:43 PM  
Anonymous Mark said...

Guess I should've put up another source, "New Orleans: A Green Genocide" at The NRO article only goes back to the 1990s. "Green Genocide" cites problems going back to the 1970s as I talked about in my previous post.

I saw on the news the other day an interview with a man who was an expert on the flood walls and levee systems in Louisiana. He said that if he were given the task of reenforcing the flood walls so they could handle the surge from a storm like Katrina, he would've needed a budget of $1 billion, and about 20 years to complete it. What he was talking about was thickening the existing walls, and possibly making them taller, along their entire length. This idea sounds different from what the Army Corps was proposing, but it gives you an idea that even when these projects commence, they take a while to complete.

12:03 AM  

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