A Man, A Plan, A Levee
Panamanian strongman John McCain has this idea that, by halting most RNC convention activities and sending Bush and Cheney home, he will be seen as a noble warrior fighting the hurricane all by himself and restoring the Grand Old Party's good name. And that may be true - certainly McCain was aching for a way to keep Bush at arm's length, he would have sent him off if there was the chance of hail somewhere in the country - but if the levees fail again three years after billions of dollars was appropriated to fix them, the conservative failure of government will look hauntingly familiar.
On the eve of Hurricane Gustav's expected arrival, many in New Orleans, from residents of the Ninth Ward to the city's mayor to the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, have their doubts about whether the levees will hold.
"There is a real likelihood of getting some overtopping. Additionally, rain is a big factor here," said DHS chief Michael Chertoff about water pouring over the tops of the levees.
Three years since Katrina and $3 billion later, the levees still leak and much of the repair work remains incomplete.
"Huge areas of Louisiana are going to be devastated. We're going in essence to see what Katrina didn't destroy, what Rita didn't destroy in 2005 being destroyed now in 2008," said Ivor Van Heerden, a professor at Louisiana State University who wrote a book about why the levees broke during Katrina.
At best the levees are estimated to be able to withstand water levels rising at the rate of an inch and hour. The coming storm, however, promises much more. In some places storm surge could reach 18 feet.
The Army Corps of Engineers, tasked with repairing the levees, says work was being accelerated.
Despite Congress authorizing $12.8 billion to rebuild the levees, only $3 billion has been spent. The engineers blame red tape, saying the studies, approvals and environmental committees have all slowed down the work.
The Army Corps is already trying to blame it on the environmentalists, but considering that the press recently found engineers filling the levees with newspaper, their protestations aren't really credible. In fact, they failed to use the money and are scrambling to finish in 48 hours what they haven't done in 3 years.
And levee money isn't the only money unspent in New Orleans.
NEW ORLEANS — It was the largest housing aid program in American history, billed as the essential government tool that would make New Orleans whole after Hurricane Katrina.
Yet even though about $3.3 billion of federal taxpayer money has been spent here on the cash grant program known as the Road Home, New Orleans on the third anniversary of the hurricane remains almost as much of a patchwork as it did last year, before most of the money was spent.
The program has had no effect on most of the houses in New Orleans, and has played only a limited role in bringing back the neighborhoods most flooded in the storm. And as Hurricane Gustav bears down on the city, many residents are worried that the work already accomplished could be set back.
I sincerely hope that the storm makes a hard left and New Orleans is spared, but if it heads in its current direction, the levees are going to fail and the city will again fill with water. And no amount of efforts to care from St. Paul will be able to counteract that shot of a flooded city as a cause of levee failure, again. The evacuation appears to have gone well, and Bush and his team have at least looked attentive, but they don't necessarily get credit for doing their job the second time around, and they certainly get no credit for building substandard levees. Republicans will be forced to own their own failure, both in their inability to build workable infrastructure and their resistance to combat climate change and the stronger, more frequent storms that are a side effect.