The Politics of Katrina

Rarely has a natural disaster become so politicized. From climate change to Iraq to bankruptcy reform, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has touched on many current controversies.

It's been suggested that global warming may lead to more severe weather, including more (and more severe) hurricanes. And forecasters are calling for stronger hurricane seasons in the years to come; however, many are arguing that this is part of a natural cyclical variation. While we know with a good deal of certainly that climate change is occurring, and that part of it is driven by human activity, the picture just isn't clear enough to connect hurricanes with CO2 emissions.

What is clear, though, is that our boondoggle in Iraq has diverted national resources that could be helping in rescue and recovery actions right now. 40 percent of the Mississippi National Guard, and 35 percent of the Louisiana National Guard, has been deployed to Iraq, thus making them unavailable to, you know, Guard the Nation. Federal officials maintain this is not hurting the relief effort; if you believe that, I'd like to invite you to my next poker game. Bring lots of cash, sucker.

Speaking of cash, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin notes "We authorized $8 billion to go to Iraq, lickety split.... You mean to tell me that a place where most of your oil is coming through ... that we can't figure out a way to authorize the resources that we need."

More bone-chilling to consider is the possibility that the flooding of New Orleans could have been prevented if the Bush administration hadn't directed national finances to the Iraq invasion and tax cuts for the wealthy. But at least nine articles in the Times-Picayune from 2004 and 2005 specifically cite the cost of Iraq as a reason why funding for the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project dried up in 2003, leaving $250 million in crucial projects incomplete. One incomplete project that a contractor had been racing to finish this summer was a bridge and levee job right at the site of the main breach on Monday.

White House designated prevaricator Scott McClellan has claimed that "flood control has been a priority of this administration from day one," but ThinkProgress.org has done the breakdown of the funding. In 2004, the Army Corp of Engineers requested $11 million for the Lake Pontchartrain and Vicinity Hurricane Protection project; Bush requested $3 million, and Congress increased the amount to $5.5 million. In 2005, the Corps requested $22.5 million - Bush, $3.9 million, and Congress approved $5.7 million. (For comparison, spending on the Iraq mess is on the order of $7.4 million dollars an hour.)

That's on top of the Bush administration's gutting of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the organization responsible for coordinating disaster response since the late 1970s. It's being dismantled in favor of of the Department of Homeland Security - you know, the duct-tape, color-code guys that have done so very much for us.

Katrina has also shined a spotlight on the growing economic disparity in the nation. New Orleans' poverty rate is nearly double the national rate, with 40% of children there living below the poverty line as well as below sea level. Many of the poor lacked cars, leaving them unable to escape the city. It's no wonder that their rage and desperation have played out to create a scene where police are locking themselves in their own headquarters in fear. At least a group of progressive congressional Democrats have started a push to protect victims of Katrina from the recent screw-the-poor bankruptcy "reform" act.

And Katrina has also shined a light on George W. Bush - revealing, yet again, his general incompetence. The New York times called his deer-in-the-headlights response on Wednesday "one of the worst speeches of his life", and my friends, that's saying a lot. Election fraud, war crimes, criminal incompetence...isn't it long past time to impeach this jerk?

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