Saturday, September 17, 2005

Not again!?

(Sat Sept 17 11:09pm): I'm in no way a meterologist, so please take this with abundant caution due to my ignorance. Still, take a look at the National Hurricane Center's 3- and 5-day cones for Tropical Depression 18 as of Saturday night:

[Click on the image for the most current version of this map.]

Here's the roughly equivalent map for Katrina:

Katrina came in somewhat farther north than 18 is, and small differences can apparently make big differences in how a storm moves, but it's still rather disconcerting to see another storm taking a very roughly equivalent path as Katrina, when the Gulf coast still lies devastated, and New Orleans' flood control system is damaged.

I hope that nothing comes of it.

Here's another map, showing tropical storm force probabilities. It shows New Orleans, Biloxi and Gulfport all within the 10 - 20% probability area to see tropical storm force winds sometime in the next 5 days.

[Click on the image for the most current version of this map.]

At least one computer model puts the storm closer to New Orleans.

[Click on the image for the most current version of this map.]

I assume everyone is keeping a (excuse the expression) weather eye on this storm to see how it develops.

(Sun Sept 18 5:00am): As of the 5am update, the projected 5-day track for TD18 had shifted south somewhat, avoiding New Orleans and the Gulf. It was expected to reach tropical storm force by Monday 2am, before it began passing by Florida, near the Keys.

(Sun 3:00pm): Incidentally, just going by a visual inspection of the various computer models' predictions for Katrina, it looks as if the GFDL model (the red one above) was the most accurate of them -- with the NOGAPS (light blue) close behind it. (NOGAPS came closer to the correct landfall, but was still off by almost 150 miles, putting it near Mobile. GFDL had it even farther down the coast, near Valparaiso, Florida.) The BAM Medium model -- the yellow one which shows the TD18 approaching the closest to New Orleans -- was among the most inaccurate, which bodes well for New Orleans with TD18 (soon to be Tropical Storm Rita).

(And, as long as I'm on the subject, but not apropos of anything regarding New Orleans or the Gulf Coast, Tropical Storm -- soon to be Hurricane -- Phillipe is aimed directly at Bermuda.)

(Mon 3:30am): All 5 computer models are now showing Rita (aka TD18) heading towards Galveston. If they're right, it would make landfall there sometime on Saturday night.

(Mon 2:30pm): As of this morning's 11am advisory, Rita has reached a point much more similar to the one for Katrina I posted above (second image), and the penumbra of the 5-day forecast cone has shifted to include New Orleans, although the most likely landfall is still near Galveston:

[Click on the image for the most current version of this map.]

Mayor Nagin of New Orleans really should reconsider his decision to re-open parts of the city. I understand, I think, why he wants to take the first steps back to normality as soon as possible (he's hoping to create facts on the ground which will sap the strength of arguments against New Orleans being rebuilt), but the timing is wrong, not only because of the conditions in the city, but because of the potential for Rita to cause even more havoc.

[Post re-organized Mon Sept 19 9:20pm]

(Mon 9:30pm): The charts now put New Orleans in the 30-40% probability band to receive tropical storm force winds, and in the 5-10% band to receive hurricane force winds. Mayor Nagin has suspended the re-opening of the city.

(Mon 11:30pm): There a discussion in Kevin Drum's comments about Rita's track, including contributions from some real-life meterologists.

One point made in that discussion (which everyone should be warned contains a significant amount of right-wing b.s.) is that it won't require Rita to make landfall in Lousiana for New Orleans to be affected. Depending on how large it gets, and how powerful, there could be significance for the city even if it lands farther west. It may be that the hurricane would have to take a big turn to the southwest in order for New Orleans not to feel its effects.

(Mon/Tue 12:00 mid): The Army Corps of Engineers on the state of New Orleans water defenses:
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is performing a detailed assessment of about 350 miles of hurricane levee and developing a comprehensive, prioritized plan to repair it and the pumping stations that support New Orleans and surrounding areas.

“The system in its present condition does not ensure that the city will be protected from flooding resulting from storms or hurricanes,” stressed Col. Duane Gapinski, Task Force Unwatering commander.

Gapinski says that residents may be placing their lives and property at risk by re-entering flooded areas until additional emergency levee repairs are made. State and local leaders are being informed as assessments are being completed and repairs are made. The Corps continues to work with state and local leaders to make assessments and repairs of the system.

(Tues 12:50am): Billmon points out that

if the current track were to hold, Rita would make a direct hit on Galveston Bay -- site of what is probably the largest petrochemical infrastructure complex in the western hemisphere, and front door to the USA's 4th largest city.
The petrochemical industry is, of course, already operating under its normal capacity due to Katrina. (Washington Post)
Four major Gulf Coast refineries remain idle because of Katrina, according to the Energy Department. Even before that storm, analysts had said refining capacity worldwide was struggling to meet demand.

Now analysts say they are concerned that the developing tropical storm could hit Texas, home to about 27 percent of U.S. refining capacity, according to the Energy Department.

D. Mark Routt, an analyst with Energy Security Analysis Inc. of Wakefield, Mass., said Houston is an "extremely important hub" for pipelines and other oil industry operations, adding to concern about storm damage.

Analysts said that they were concerned about damage to oil production in the gulf but that those concerns were secondary to refining.

Nearly 56 percent of daily oil production in the Gulf of Mexico remained off line yesterday because of Katrina, amounting to almost 838,000 barrels a day, according to the Minerals Management Service.

As a result, oil prices jumped up:

Oil prices soared yesterday in the largest one-day gain ever as fears mounted that a developing tropical storm could damage oil operations in the Gulf of Mexico and Texas.

U.S. benchmark crude for October delivery gained $4.39 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange to close at $67.39. That was the largest one-day dollar gain since oil started trading on the exchange in 1983, according to the Energy Department. The oil price closed at a record $69.81 on Aug. 30.

Futures prices for gasoline, natural gas and heating oil also rose yesterday.

So it's reasonable to assume that gas prices will soar again if Houston suffers a direct hit.

(Tues 5:15am): As of the 5am advisory, it looks as if the forecast models are calling for a landfall farther down the Texas coast, between Galveston and Corpus Christi, possibly moving the area of the Gulf Coast striken by Katrina farther out of reach of the worst of the storm.

(Tues 5:30pm): The National Hurricane Center 5-day projection (see first map below) still shows Hurricane Rita (which is category 2 right now) making landfall about halfway between Galveston and Corpus Christi, but the computer models (second map) are split between that place (GFDL & UKMET), Galveston (GFS & BAMM) and Brownsville (NOGAPS). Obviously, there are better and worse places for Rita to hit (the area between Corpus Christi and Brownsville is reportedly underpopulated, and Hurricane Bret, a category 4 storm, hit there in 1999 without any deaths), but given the crippled condition of New Orleans and that area of the Gulf Coast, the farther west it is, the better off for everyone. Of course, a direct hit on Houston would put the Orleanian evacuees there through their second major weather-related trauma in just a few weeks. Still, that's preferable to putting New Orleans through more flooding.

(Tues 6:00pm): From the latest Discussion issued by the NHC:


Again, I'm not in any way a meteorologist, or even knowledgeable about the subject, but I assume that if Rita were to stall, the way Katrina did, it would not only give it more time to intensify, but the ridge guiding it would be farther to the east when the storm got out into the Gulf, which would make its turn bring it closer to the Katrina-affected areas.

If that's true (and perhaps someone who knows something about the subject can put me straight), then we should be watching to see if it continues to move away from the Keys.

BTW, it's amusing to see people in the media paying more attention to Rita's effect on the Keys than is really warranted. Wolf Blitzer was interviewing someone who stayed behind in Key West, and wanted to know why -- in the light of what happened with Katrina, why did the guy stay behind? The caller, a bar owner, seemed a little non-plussed; his attitude was, it's a category 1 hurricane, we've been through them plenty of times, this is nothing special -- and I think he was right.

Because of Katrina, and especially because of the governmental fuck-up in dealing with its aftermath, everyone's super-sensitive to the effects of hurricanes (the same thing happened in North Carolina with Ophelia: FEMA had armies of people standing by to deal with a fairly normal occurence, a category 1 storm hitting a barrier island), but Katrina was important because

  1. it was a massive category 4 storm, and might have hit as a category 5 if it hadn't weakened just before landfall, and

  2. it was heading straight for New Orleans which is below sea level and protected by a flood control system only intended for a cat 3.

Since neither of these apply to a category 1 storm hitting the Florida Keys, Blitzer's concern is misplaced -- which is why my attention here has been put on what I think is important, which is where will Rita hit, and what effect will it have on New Orleans and the Katrina-ravaged areas of the eastern Gulf Coast. That's really what's important about this story, not how many power outages there are in the Keys.

(I hit on Blitzer because he's such a satisfying target, but he's representative of the media in general.)

(Wed Sept 21 1:00pm): Rita is now category 4, with winds of 140 mph, and the computer models are currently agreed that landfall will be between Galveston and Corpus Christi, with several putting it quite close to Corpus. (I've heard quite a bit about evacuations in Galveston, but nothing about Corpus Christi, a fast-growing city of almost 300,000 people.)

A hit to the south and west of Galveston puts Houston on the "dirty" side of the storm, where there are stronger winds and larger storm surges.

(Wed 5:00pm): Rita is now category 5, with winds of 165 mph, a monster. New forecast tracks should be coming out very shortly, but at the moment it's still heading to the west of Galveston/Houston, putting those cities on the "dirty" side of the storm.

We know about Galveston being wiped out by the storm of 1900, and we've learned about New Orleans unique flooding problems, but guess what city was cited as having the worst flooding problems, second only to New Orleans?

A 1998 National Wildlife Federation study entitled "Higher Ground" ranked Houston and Harris County third and fourth of the top 200 repetitive flood loss communities in the United States. The only communities ranked higher are Jefferson Parish and New Orleans, both of which are below sea level.

More here.

(Wed 7:30pm): Rita is now the fifth third most intense hurricane on record, just behind ahead of Katrina. (8:45pm: Corrected here.)

(Wed 9:00pm): At least one of the tracking models now puts landfall directly on Galveston. The others spread out to the west a little, down to about Port Lavaca / Point Comfort, which is a major port, with a county population of about 20,000. (It's also a Texas Superfund clean-up site, due to contamination from the Alcoa plant there.)

(Wed 11:30pm): Maximum sustained winds are now 175 mph, and it's slowed down a bit, from 13 or 14 mph to 9 mph, and wobbled to the north. None of this is good news (although the NHC says that the slowing down is normal, due to the eye being reorganized). Rainfall is expected to be 8-12 inches with 15 inches in some isolated locations. The official forecast track now calls for landfall on the west end of Galveston, either a direct hit or just off of it, sometime early Saturday morning. It should land as a category 3 at minimum, but could be stronger.

(Thurs Sept 22 12:15am): Just one note: I began this post because I thought I saw a resemblence between Rita (back when it was Tropical Depression 18) and Katrina, and I was concerned about what that would mean to New Orleans and the part of the Gulf Coast devastated by the latter. Now it seems clear that Rita will, for the most past, steer clear of that area, and will instead hit somewhere in Texas, probably near Galveston. (I note that by the time Katrina had left the area of the Keys, the NHC's forecast track had an accurate read on where it would make landfall -- their advisory at 11pm EDT on Friday the 26th, about 52 hours before landfall, was substantially correct, and the next one, at 5am the next morning was dead on. Right now, Rita is about 50 some odd hours from landfall.

I'm going to close out this post and continue posting on Rita here.

[More Rita posts here.]


Ed Fitzgerald | 9/17/2005 11:09:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


More about rebuilding

On his weblog, Follow Me Here, Eliot Gelwan has a reaction to my comments about rebuilding New Orleans:
I am not sure I agree with his emphasis on it being largely a function of how much the residents want to return, however, both because of the environmental factors and the fiscal. While the pronouncements on the toxicity of the stew in which the city has been bathed and the residue that will remain on everything are so far more fraught with emotion and political agenda than scientific appraisal, I think it remains an open question whether we have the capability to make New Orleans safe to live in again. On the other hand, given the demographics of the displaced people, who will be the advocates for protecting those who wish to return from the environmental risks? And, of course, economic interests — both insurance industry and government budgetary concerns — mitigate against recreating the same diverse lively city. Despite Dubya's glorious and empty vision of reconstruction, the people bringing you this project are the same people who tried to do the Iraq war on the cheap, with too few troops and too little armor to do the job (although giving plenty of funding to their cronies at Halliburton), and they still defend it in the face of the results coming home in the body bags every week. My guess is that this represents an unprecedented opportunity for the neocons to do a social experiment with wiping a city clean of an underclass that is in their minds a burden rather than a contribution; a shadow economy largely disconnected from their notions of the economic life of the city. In terms of the psychogeographical argument that New Orleans has a unique and irreplaceable place in the American psyche we cannot afford to lose, look for the rebuilt New Orleans to be a theme park caricature of itself. What else do you expect when the reconstruction effort is shaped by people who live a caricature of leadership?

I too fear the "themeparking" of a new New Orleans -- in an earlier post I warned that if the rich elite of the city get their way

look for New Orleans to be something like a cross between an urban festival marketplace and a gated community, which, of course, won't really be New Orleans at all.

What has been determined over and over again is that the attempt to completely sterilize a city of its dangers also sterilizes it of its character, and destroys many of the reasons people like living in cities, despite the discomforts and drawbacks. The arts and entertainment industries (if we can call them that) are inextricably linked upwards and downwards, to the upper class elite who fund much of it, and to the underclass from which comes much of its energy and vitality. The Disneyfication of a city into a idealized replica of its former self -- Main Street, Latin Quarter, USA -- could certainly sustain a significant flow of tourists, but it would be totally artificial and require constant tending and upkeep in the way that living urban cultures don't.

In a way, I think there really needn't be a debate about whether New Orleans should be rebuilt, because I think it inevitably is going to be. Mayor Nagin's actions in opening up parts of the city, probably well before the infrastructure can comfortable support it, is a step in the direction of ensuring it. I'm certan that he realizes that facts "on the ground" speak louder than theory or ideology or rational policymaking in determining what the final outcome will be. Once the city is open, and people start trickling back, that fact, combined with the needs of the local industrial base (petrochemical and shipping), should make the inevitable question not whether it should be rebuilt, but how -- and that's as it ought to be.

There're numerous places in this country where people choose to live when a totally rational evaluation would say that there crazy to do so, and the population of those places must total in the tens of millions. In fact, I haven't done the math, but I think it's possible that fully a third of the country lives where they shouldn't be. (Just to take one instance, the Los Angeles basin can support a population of perhaps a hundred thousand or so, not the many millions who live there. There's much of Florida, of course, and anywhere within range of the Cascade volcanoes or the Yellowstone caldera. The coastlines are full of people living on barrier islands, and the floodplains of our rivers are heavily populated as well. And let's not even talk about San Francisco.)

So Eliot is right in saying that we should keep tightly focused not on the question of "to build or not to build", but on the question of how to rebuild while minimizing the environmental risk, not only from the toxic aftereffect of Katrina, but from future environmental dangers (hurricanes, floods from the Mississippi, etc.). He's also right that there is absolutely no reason to believe that the Bush administration or its surrogates will have the best interests of the regular citizenry of New Orleans in mind when they plan and put into effect the rebuilding, nor can it be taken for granted that they're going to have any greater competence in effectively rebuilding New Orleans than they've shown in the "rebuilding" of Iraq.

Perhaps what Democrats need to do, in their weakened position in Washington, is to attempt to channel the character of the rebuilding in as stealthy a way as possible. For instance, the more decisions that are made locally, the more there is a chance that they will reflect the broad needs of the locals, in spite of the efforts of the elites to sterilize the city. In this instance, the widely condemned ethos of corruption in New Orleans might actually be useful, in that it can introduce a certain amount of porousness into even the most hermetically sealed of plans. So if Democrats push to enable as much local influence as possible, say by minimizing the power of the insurance companies to determine the nature of the rebuilding, they may well be helping to avoid the kind of sanitized future for New Orleans I've been worrying about about.

Update (Sun 9.17 4:00am): It seems that it may be a bumpy road in reaching a local consensus about what to do about rebuilding New Orleans:

Twelve days after Hurricane Katrina, as the worst of the storm's physical perils subsided, about 60 business people and public officials from New Orleans gathered in Dallas with Mayor Ray Nagin to discuss the future of the city.

The room full of "type A" personalities, as one participant described them, showered advice on the mayor. But it was New Orleans-born trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis, one of several people participating by phone, who passionately made the point that seemed to resonate most with the group: New Orleans must rebuild its cultural, as well as its economic, strength.

For a city suffering an almost total exodus of residents and standing on the precipice of historic change in its population size and demographic makeup, the challenge of Marsalis' message struck deeply, according to people who attended the Dallas meeting Sept. 10. One huge concern is the potential loss of a disproportionately large number of African-Americans whose neighborhoods endured some of the most damaging flood waters and whose low incomes hinder their return.

Reaching agreement on how to rebuild New Orleans won't be easy. Nagin's effort already has run up against a Louisiana political environment rife with historical divisions and turf wars. The city's initiative also will face a headstrong wave of federal aid and free-market forces that will play a role in making or breaking a new grand plan, whatever it turns out to be.

"We can talk in the abstract about what a rebuilt New Orleans would look like," said Jim Schwab, senior research associate with the American Planning Association. "In the end that is not going to matter nearly as much, I hope, as what the people of the region themselves decide they want."

And while critics from across the political spectrum darkly warn about the dangers of "social engineering" as a strategy for rebuilding the region, costs, safety issues and what insurance companies are willing to underwrite may be the determining factor in many decisions.

Urban planners who have studied the history of communities struck by disaster recommend they begin by building a consensus about what they want to preserve and create, Schwab said. But Katrina makes that job especially difficult.

"Every time you've done it before, you still had people in the community," Schwab said.


Marsalis and others participating in the Dallas meeting predicted that if the diverse peoples of New Orleans do not return, its distinctive neighborhoods, musical inspirations and culinary traditions probably won't, either.


Confusion, hard feelings

The Dallas meeting was an early lesson in the difficulties facing those who seek a consensus on a plan for the future. It quickly ignited a controversy and led to miscommunication and hard feelings among some political leaders.

One of its organizers was Nagin's Regional Transportation Authority chief, Jimmy Reiss, a white businessman who was quoted that week in the Wall Street Journal saying that some people who want to rebuild the city foresee a town with a new demographic of fewer poor people. To some in the city, the story painted an impression of an elitist cadre of white New Orleans leaders callous to the plight of the city's poor.

"It was an extremely unfortunate article," said Bill Hines, a lawyer and leader of the economic development group Greater New Orleans Inc. who attended the Dallas meeting.

The story enraged a number of black state lawmakers and New Orleans City Council members, including Council President Oliver Thomas, state Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, and Sen. Diana Bajoie, both D-New Orleans, who confronted Nagin in a public meeting Sept. 12 at the state Capitol. They expressed concern that Nagin and the Dallas group of mostly white businessmen were coordinating a recovery program assuming that a large portion of poor African-Americans would be discouraged from returning to the city.

As the legislative hearing room gained the air of a formal inquiry, Nagin responded sharply that he had no such intention and said he had made that point clear at the Dallas gathering.

"So don't worry about this city being hijacked by a small group of people who are trying to take us backward," said Nagin, who is black.

Reiss, contacted at his home in Aspen, Colo., would not comment. In a letter to The Times Picayune, he said, "there was no selfish politics, no parochial goals" at the Dallas meeting. "We all shared the same objective: Make New Orleans a prosperous city that provided jobs and a high quality of life for all of its citizens, and preserving the diverse cultural and ethnic heritage that makes us special."

Some of those who joined the Dallas meeting, which lasted several hours, said it was positive and unified, and that Nagin persuasively articulated his dream for a prosperous city. In addition to Marsalis, there were other African-Americans who participated, including Entergy New Orleans chief Dan Packer, who is the board chairman of the Louis Armstrong International Airport, businessman David White and state Sen. Derrick Shepherd, D-Marrero.


Whitney National Bank President King Milling, who participated in the Dallas meeting, said that despite all the obstacles, he is hopeful consensus can be formed on a recovery plan.

"We can create a better community in the long run with the same sensibilities and culture," said Milling, who is white.

Late last week, Nagin spent considerable time building political allies and staking out a national media presence to put a confident face on the daunting recovery effort. Now out of crisis mode, he can spend more time on the future.

"We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rebuild the greatest city in the world," Nagin said. "It's been a wild ride, and we're getting ready to get on another wild ride."

What's most interesting about this article is the effect that the cultural argument had on the participants. While I've been attracted by the idea (expressed here, for instance) that the culture of New Orleans is unique and valuable and therefore deserving of being saved, at the same time it's seemed to me to be fairly weak as an argument for the manifest necessity of rebuilding New Orleans. After all, it has to compete with stronger, more powerful forces, such as the desires and needs of the local industrial base, those of the rich and powerful white elite of the area, the dictates of the insurance industry, the political whims of Karl Rove and the impersonal forces which influence the ebb and flow of cities throughout the world (as discussed a bit by Joel Garreau). On its own, the vibrancy and vitality of New Orleans' cultural mix seems undoubtedly cause enough to rebuild the city that nurtures it, but up against stronger competitive forces, the cultural imperative suddenly doesn't seem so imperative after all.

But as the Times-Picayune article above shows, the culture of New Orleans can play a very different kind of role: it can act as the glue which holds together the people who represent at least some of those other, competing interests, and cause them to work more diligently towards compromise than they might otherwise be willing to do. So the role culture plays is a little more like that of the kids in a troubled marriage, where the partners are encouraged to try harder to make things work "for the sake of the children."

So, the argument from culture can play a role -- although of necessity a limited one, since it appeals primarily to the locals and the cognoscenti who already appreciate it. It can't, for instance, reach out and melt the hard hearts of insurance company executives, or change the requirements of the petro-chemical industry, or alter the realities of New Orleans geography and topography. Nor can it make toxic sludge soaked land less toxic.

It can, however, be co-opted, and used to further the theme-parking of New Orleans.

Update (9/28): Salon has a roundtable discussion on the rebuilding of New Orleans.

[More Katrina posts]


Ed Fitzgerald | 9/17/2005 10:50:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Who deserves a break today?

I heard this on Headline News just moments ago:
President Bush is spending the weekend at Camp David, his first break since cutting short his vacation at the end of August.

Gave me quite a laugh.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/17/2005 05:04:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


John & Judy sittin' in a tree...

John Bolton, neocon anti-UN crackpot turned recess-appointed U.S. Bush Ambassador to the UN, was one of the celebrities who visited NY Times reporter Judith Miller in jail, where she's serving a contempt of court charge for refusing to name the source inside the government who leaked Miller name of CIA-agent Valerie Plame, thus breaking several serious Federal laws.

Bolton's visit prompted some people to speculate that Bolton might have been Miller's source, raising the delicious possibility that Bush's personal UN envoy, who was never voted on by the Senate because the administration refused to release pertinent documents about his record. might be indicted! Maybe that's why Bush went ahead and appointed Bolton -- he figured the poor guy didn't have a lot of time left on the outside, and being even temporary UN ambassador insurgent would be something to think about and remember with fondness as he wiles away the hours in jail.

Jane Hamsher has the story on firedoglake.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/17/2005 04:14:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Shirts off to the customs folks

From FEMA's website:
U.S. Customs and Border Protection(CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) trucks delivered several thousand items of clothing to Hurricane Katrina evacuees in Jackson, Miss., Houston and San Antonio, Texas. The clothing, seized in violations of U.S. trademark laws is worth estimated at over $17 million.

So clothing seized because distribution of it would damage the trademark holders, is being distributed anyway. It's a good idea --after all, why waste perfectly good clothing? -- if just a tinge ironic.

(BTW, I'm glad to hear that our customs officials aren't spending so much time protecting us from terrorists with potentially damaging devices that they can't spare a few seconds to serve their corporate masters and stop bogus t-shirts from filtering into the country. Who knows what the state of our economy would be if ersatz "Eminem" t-shirts were allowed in to flood the market.)

[More Katrina posts]


Ed Fitzgerald | 9/17/2005 01:28:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Going under?

Based on a suggestion by Josh Marshall.

[More Katrina posts]


Ed Fitzgerald | 9/17/2005 01:04:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Friday, September 16, 2005

45 years of American poverty

The chart below originated with one from the Census Bureau, to which I added the presidential terms. (The Census Bureau poverty main page is here, and the page accompanying the graph is here.)

[Click on the image for a larger version of this graph, or here for the Census Bureau original.]

[Links corrected, 9/19 8:25pm]

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/16/2005 05:22:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


His blogger's voice

The New Yorker:

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/16/2005 04:42:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Al Gore: A moral moment

Al Gore, speaking to the Sierra Club convention in San Francisco on September 9th:
We are now told that this is not a time to point fingers, even as some of those saying, "Don't point fingers," are themselves pointing fingers at the victims of the tragedy, who did not -- many of whom could not -- evacuate the city of New Orleans, because they didn't have automobiles, and they did not have adequate public transportation.

We're told this is not a time to hold our national government accountable because there are more important matters that confront us. This is not an either/or choice. They are linked together. As our nation belatedly finds effective ways to help those who have been so hard hit by Hurricane Katrina, it is important that we learn the right lessons of what has happened, lest we are spoon-fed the wrong lessons from what happened. If we do not absorb the right lessons, we are, in the historian's phrase, doomed to repeat the mistakes that have already been made.

All of us know that our nation -- all of us, the United States of America -- failed the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast when this hurricane was approaching them, and when it struck. When the corpses of American citizens are floating in toxic floodwaters five days after a hurricane strikes, it is time not only to respond directly to the victims of the catastrophe but to hold the processes of our nation accountable, and the leaders of our nation accountable, for the failures that have taken place. [applause]


There are scientific warnings now of another onrushing catastrophe. We were warned of an imminent attack by Al Qaeda; we didn't respond. We were warned the levees would break in New Orleans; we didn't respond. Now, the scientific community is warning us that the average hurricane will continue to get stronger because of global warming. A scientist at MIT has published a study well before this tragedy showing that since the 1970s, hurricanes in both the Atlantic and the Pacific have increased in duration, and in intensity, by about 50 percent.

The newscasters told us after Hurricane Katrina went over the southern tip of Florida that there was a particular danger for the Gulf Coast of the hurricanes becoming much stronger because it was passing over unusually warm waters in the gulf. The waters in the gulf have been unusually warm. The oceans generally have been getting warmer. And the pattern is exactly consistent with what scientists have predicted for 20 years. Two thousand scientists, in 100 countries, engaged in the most elaborate, well-organized scientific collaboration in the history of humankind, have produced long-since a consensus that we will face a string of terrible catastrophes unless we act to prepare ourselves and deal with the underlying causes of global warming. [applause]

It is important to learn the lessons of what happens when scientific evidence and clear authoritative warnings are ignored, in order to induce our leaders not to do it again and not to ignore the scientists again and not to leave us unprotected in the face of those threats that are facing us right now. [applause]

The president says that he is not sure that global warming is a real threat. He says that he is not ready to do anything meaningful to prepare us for a threat that he's not certain is real. He tells us that he believes the science of global warming is in dispute. This is the same president who said last week, "Nobody could have predicted that the levees would break."

It's important to establish accountability in order to make our democracy work. And the uncertainty and lack of resolution, the willful misunderstanding of what the scientific community is saying, the preference for what a few supporters in the coal and oil industry -- far from all, but a few -- want him to do -- ignore the science -- that is a serious problem.


This is a moral moment. This is not ultimately about any scientific debate or political dialogue. Ultimately it is about who we are as human beings. It is about our capacity to transcend our own limitations; to rise to this new occasion; to see with our hearts, as well as our heads, the unprecedented response that is now called for; to disenthrall ourselves; to shed the illusions that have been our accomplices in ignoring the warnings that were clearly given; and hearing the ones that are clearly given now.

Where there is no vision, the people perish. And Lincoln said at another moment of supreme challenge that the question facing the people of the United States of America ultimately was whether or not this government, conceived in liberty, dedicated to freedom, of the people, by the people, and for the people -- or any government so conceived -- would perish from this earth.

There is another side to this moral challenge. Where there is vision, the people prosper and flourish, and the natural world recovers, and our communities recover. The good news is we know what to do. The good news is, we have everything we need now to respond to the challenge of global warming. We have all the technologies we need, more are being developed, and as they become available and become more affordable when produced in scale, they will make it easier to respond. But we should not wait, we cannot wait, we must not wait, we have every thing we need -- save perhaps political will. And in our democracy, political will is a renewable resource. [sustained applause]

[Thanks to Susan]

More here.

[More Katrina posts]


Ed Fitzgerald | 9/15/2005 05:00:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Before and after

The top NASA image is a mosaic made from images taken in April and September 2000, while the bottom image is from September 13, two days ago.

The NASA animated GIF below shows the Gulf area on August 27th (before Katrina hit), and then on the 30th and 31st.

[If necessary, refresh the page to make the animation run again.]

Addenda: This Times-Picayune map shows the extent of the flooding as of Wednesday 9/14:

Update (9/16): Here's another image from NASA, taken from the space station, which shows the flooding as of Thursday the 8th, several days before the second image above:

[More Katrina posts]


Ed Fitzgerald | 9/15/2005 04:19:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Will New Orleans be rebuilt?

In the Washington Post, Joel Garreau makes the case that New Orleans will not be rebuilt. Not that it shouldn't be rebuilt, but that it won't be, at least not beyond the areas necessary to support tourism.
The city of New Orleans is not going to be rebuilt.

The tourist neighborhoods? The ancient parts from the French Quarter to the Garden District on that slim crescent of relatively high ground near the river? Yes, they will be restored. The airport and the convention center? Yes, those, too.

But the far larger swath -- the real New Orleans where the tourists don't go, the part that Katrina turned into a toxic soup bowl, its population of 400,000 scattered to the waves? Not so much.


Certainly, as long as the Mississippi River stays within its manmade banks, there will be a need for the almost 200 miles of ports near its mouth. But ports no longer require legions of workers. In the 21st century, a thriving port is not the same thing as a thriving city, as demonstrated from Oakland to Norfolk. The city of New Orleans has for years resembled Venice -- a beloved tourist attraction but not a driver of global trade.

Does the end of New Orleans as one of America's top 50 cities represent a dilemma of race and class in America? Of course. There are a lot of black and poor people who are not going to return to New Orleans any more than Okies did to the Dust Bowl.

What the city of New Orleans is really up against, however, is the set of economic, historic, social, technological and geological forces that have shaped fixed settlements for 8,000 years. Its necessity is no longer obvious to many stakeholders with the money to rebuild it, from the oil industry, to the grain industry, to the commercial real estate industry, to the global insurance industry, to the politicians.

If the impetus does not come from them, where will it come from?


The original reason for founding La Nouvelle-Orléans in 1718 was the thin crescent of ground French trappers found there. Hence the name "Crescent City." Elevated several feet above the Mississippi mud, it was the last semi-dry natural landing place before the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico. That crescent today is where you find all the stuff that attracts tourists, from the French Quarter, to the Central Business District (the "American Quarter") with the convention center and the Superdome, to the Garden District and Uptown. This area is roughly comparable to Washington from Adams Morgan through K Street to Georgetown and Foxhall Road.

That tourist crescent is relatively intact. (Only two of the 1,500 animals at the Audubon Zoo died.) But it is only perhaps 10 percent of the city.

The rest to the north of the river -- as distinct from the Algiers district on the south bank, which has always been something of an afterthought -- is under as much as 25 feet of water. For the last 90 years, this vast bulk of the city has required mammoth pumps to clear the streets every time it rains. This is where you'd find working folk -- cops, teachers and nurses -- with bathtub madonnas and colored Christmas tree lights. It's also where you would find areas of soul-destroying poverty, part of the shredding fabric of a city that had a poverty rate of 23 percent. Planners have warned for years that this area would be destroyed if the levees were ever breached.

Yet, as novelist Anne Rice wrote of her native city a week ago: "The living was good there. The clock ticked more slowly; people laughed more easily; people kissed; people loved; there was joy. Which is why so many New Orleanians, black and white, never went north. They didn't want to leave a place where they felt at home in neighborhoods that dated back centuries . . . . They didn't want to leave a place that was theirs."

Sentiment, however, won't guide the insurance industry. When it looks at the devastation here, it will evaluate the risk from toxicity that has leached into the soil, and has penetrated the frames of the buildings, before it decides to write new insurance -- without which nothing can be rebuilt.


How a city responds to disaster is shaped both by large outside forces and internal social cohesion. Chicago rebuilt to greater glory after the fire of 1871 destroyed its heart. San Franciscans so transformed their city after the earthquake and fire of 1906 that nine years later they proudly hosted the Panama-Pacific International Exposition to toast the Panama Canal and their own resurrection.

Not long ago, I co-taught a team of George Mason University students in a semester-long scenario-planning course aimed at analyzing which global cities would be the winners and losers 100 years from now. The students were keenly aware of the impact that climate change might have on their calculations, among hundreds of other factors. Yet in the end they could not bring themselves to write off such water cities as New York and Tokyo. They simply wouldn't bet against the determination and imagination of New Yorkers and the Japanese. As someone put it at the time, "If it turned out New York needed dikes 200 feet high, you can just hear somebody saying, 'I know this guy in Jersey.' "

Will such fortitude be found in New Orleans? In his 2000 book, "Bowling Alone," political scientist Robert Putnam measured social capital around the country -- the group cohesion that allows people to come together in times of great need to perform seemingly impossible feats together. He found some of the lowest levels in Louisiana. (More Louisianans agree with the statement "I do better than average in a fistfight" than people from almost anywhere else.) His data do not seem to be contradicted by New Orleans's murder rate, which is 10 times the national average. Not to mention the political candidates through the ages who, to little effect, have run on promises of cleaning up the corruption endemic to the government and police force. New Orleans is not called the Big Easy for nothing. This is the place whose most famous slogan is " Laissez les bons temps rouler" -- "Let the good times roll."

I hope I'm wrong about the future of the city. But if the determination and resources to rebuild New Orleans to greater glory does not come from within, from where else will it come?

In Slate, Jack Shaefer bluntly puts the case for should not.

The arguments Garreau and Shaefer make are hard to refute, if not terribly sensitive to the moment. I'm more than willing to see what the people of New Orleans decide to do. Will they decide to stay on in the cities they have dispersed to, or do they want to return? Will they create a strong-enough pressure to overcome counter-vailing forces from the insurance industry and the federal government, enough passion to change the minds of the Shaefers and Hasterts of the world?

It's true that New Orleans' geography and topograpy make it a rather egregious case, but no city is perfectly attuned to its surroundings -- all of them are (by definition) unnatural, and all of them rely on various technological fixes and control mechanisms to remain viable. As Garreau points out, cities grow in response to any number of forces, including that people simply want to live there. If enough New Orleanians want to return, and live again in their city, it's rather incumbent on us to help them do so.

Not only that, but it's rather an either/or proposition: either the city get rebuilt in toto or it doesn't get rebuilt at all. Rebuilding only the tourist sector may seem like an option, but it really isn't, because such a place would, eventually, start attracting more people to live there, who will require places to live, and political and physical infrastructure to support them, that means that all the decisions which were avoided in the first place will ultimately have to resolved anyway.

Such a slower evolutionary scheme might be the best way to put New Orleans back together, but if that's going to be what happens, then many decisions that need to be made right now (or in the very near future) will have to be made with that idea in mind.

Addenda: USA Today has a good round-up of the issues surrounding the rebuilding of New Orleans.

Update (Fri 9/16): An earlier piece in Slate by Ari Kelman explains why New Orleans was built where it was, consideration of which might be vital to deciding about its rebuilding:

New Orleans' dysfunctional relationship with its environment may make it the nation's most improbable metropolis. It is flood prone. It is cursed with a fertile disease environment. It is located along a well-worn pathway that tropical storms travel from the Atlantic to the nation's interior. From this perspective, New Orleans has earned all the scorn being heaped upon it—the city is a misguided urban project, a fool's errand, a disaster waiting to happen.

But such insults miss why most American cities are built in the first place: to do business. In 1718, when the French first settled New Orleans, the city's earliest European inhabitants saw riches inscribed by the hand of God into the landscape of the vast Mississippi valley. The Mississippi river system takes the shape of a huge funnel, covering nearly two-thirds of the United States from the Alleghenies to the Rockies. The funnel's spout lies at the river's outlet at the Gulf of Mexico, less than 100 miles downstream from New Orleans. In an era before railways, good highways, and long before air travel, much of the interior of the nation's commerce flowed along the Mississippi, fronting New Orleans. The river system's inexorable downstream current swept cotton, grain, sugar, and an array of other commodities to New Orleans' door. Because of the region's geography and topography, many 19th-century observers believed that God—working through nature, His favorite medium—would see to it that anyone shrewd enough to build and live in New Orleans would be made rich.

So, people built. Some lived. A lucky few even got rich. Many others, usually poor residents, died. They were carried away in floods. They were battered by catastrophic storms. They were snuffed out by yellow fever epidemics, like the great scourge of 1853 that killed nearly 10,000 people in the city. Over time, New Orleans developed a divided relationship with the environment: Nature, as embodied by the Mississippi, promised a bright future. But it also brought water, wind, and pathogens, elements of a fickle environment that in the past as now turned cruelly chaotic.

Geographers refer to this as the difference between a city's "situation"—the advantages its location offers relative to other cities—and its "site"—the actual real estate it occupies. New Orleans has a near-perfect situation and an almost unimaginably bad site. It's because of the former that people have worked endlessly to overcome the hazards of the latter.

Update (9/17): Kash at Angry Bear has a look at the declining population of New Orleans.

He guesses it might be as low as 350,000 by the census of 2010.

Update: Over on TPMCafe, commenter Sara suggests a large-scale big-government New Dealish approach to rebuilding the Gulf region, modelled on the Tennessee Valley Authority. I think it's a non-starter in the current political atmosphere, and perhaps not even ideal on its own terms, but others may differ. Elsewhere on the same site, Swopa suggests that a bit of political juijitsu might be in order, and that Democrats should use the "populist, anti-big government rhetoric" -- the very same rhetoric that the right has parlayed into the conventional wisdom of the moment -- as ammunition to fight against Bush's big-spending ripe-for-corrupton-and-patronage bail-me-out-of trouble-boys plan for the region. Winston Smith, on the other hand, thinks that "Emotional outrage is all we need" to damage the GOP in the mext electons. That may be true, but it would be nice to get these ruined areas back on their feet in the meantime. We can't, and shouldn't, approach Katrina's aftermath as merely a political opportunity, however much that it is just exactly that, because such blatant cynicism is more easily smelt by the voting public, especially one that's been primed for it by right-wing lies.

And finally on TPMCafe, I offer an alternative explanation for why Bush might want Rove to be in charge of reconstruction:

I think it's possible (just barely possible) that there's a somewhat less cynical reason for Bush to put Rove in charge of the reconstruction effort. I think that Bush looks upon Rove as the archetype of The Competent Man, a person who can cut through the bullshit and Get the Job Done, and that he has put Rove in charge in the hope that he'll manage to avoid the incompetency and screwing up at top levels that has marked the effort to this moment. In this way he'll be extracated from the morass he finds himself in.

(Note that even if this is true, it doesn't negate the probability that Rove sees the assignment solely in patronage and pork terms, and not as a chance to do a good job and help out a devastated region.)

Of course, Rove may well be (and probably is) very, very competent in his area of expertise, but the ability to get idiots elected and pull the wool over the eyes of millions of fools isn't exactly the kind of experience that the head of such a complex and massive effort needs, but Bush's thinking doesn't run in such empirical reality-based tracks as that. To him, it may be as simple as See Rove Can Get a Job Done, This Job Needs to Get Done, Use Rove for This Job -- the stripped-down logic of the intellectually unsophisticated.

[There's more on the rebuilding of New Orleans in this later post, and in this earlier one.]

Update (9/28): Salon has a roundtable discussion on the rebuilding of New Orleans.

Note: I've added to the "hurricane 2005 relief" sidebar on the right several organizations that I think deserve your support, including the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

[More Katrina posts]


Ed Fitzgerald | 9/14/2005 10:16:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Not up to their usual standard

The Bushies are really off their game. They don't have any real idea of what true leadership actually is, but they've always been tops at presenting a superficially convincing facade of strong leadership. They seem to have lost their touch -- having Bush ride around in the back of a truck looking at the devastation of New Orleans isn't leadership, it's tourism.

Addenda: A friend of mine sent me this quote:
If Clinton were president during Katrina, he would have had three televisions blaring at all times and would have been on the phone with FEMA, three governors, and as many mayors while working on the New York Times puzzle -- in ink.

Exactly right.

[Thanks to Shirley]

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Ed Fitzgerald | 9/14/2005 04:35:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


"May you live in interesting times"

Kevin Drum's got an entry detailing the history of this phrase, which I have always found, well, interesting.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/14/2005 02:03:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Penny wise, pound foolish

Then, $14 billion to help shore up the natural barriers to a hurricane striking New Orleans:
As recently as this summer, Louisiana pleaded for federal help to protect the state's rapidly eroding coastline -- a key natural defense against floods and major storms like Hurricane Katrina -- but the state was rebuffed by an administration and a Congress bent on budget-cutting and reluctant to pay for expensive preventative measures, according to congressional staff and budget-watchers.

Cajun State lawmakers, worried that a single powerful hurricane would do even more damage to its coast, wanted a provision in the massive federal energy bill that would give Louisiana a share of profits from offshore oil drilling. The plan would pour an estimated $1 billion a year into the state's coffers, money it would use to build up its natural barriers against flood waters from a hurricane -- a project lawmakers estimate would cost up to $14 billion over 10 years.

But the idea was slashed from the energy bill, which had been criticized for being packed with local pork projects like a $1.1 billion nuclear reactor for Idaho and a multimillion-dollar coal plant for Alaska. Previous attempts to get federal funds for the Louisiana coastal project had been rejected over the course of decades.

Now, potentially a cost of $100 billion to the Federal government connected with the disaster in New Orleans:

The federal government's costs related to Hurricane Katrina could easily approach $100 billion, many times as much as for any other natural disaster or the $21 billion allocated for New York City after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"There is no question but that the costs of this are going to exceed the costs of New York City after 9/11 by a significant multiple," predicted Senator Judd Gregg, Republican of New Hampshire and chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.

Administration officials said today that rescue and relief operations in Louisiana and Alabama are costing well over $500 million a day and are continuing to rise.

[More Katrina posts]


Ed Fitzgerald | 9/13/2005 11:53:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


About Bush's taking "responsibilty"

President George W. Bush took responsibility on Tuesday for any failures in the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina that struck two weeks ago and acknowledged the storm exposed deficiencies at all levels of government four years after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Asked if Americans should be concerned their government remains unprepared to respond to another major disaster or a terrorist attack, Bush said: "Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government, and to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility.

Bush is taking responsibility only in a wafer-thin public-relations spin-doctoring damage-control kind of way, the kind of "responsibility" intended to stem the tide of criticism and allow them to try to get back to putting in place their agenda of transferring funds to the well-to-do from the have-nothings and the middle class. He's claiming responsibility, but has done nothing to indicate that he's accepting the blame, or the consequences which are normally inherent in screwing up so totally.

Granted, given his personality, it must have taken a powerful argument from Rove to convince Bush to even say the words "I take responsibility" publicly, because ducking responsibility has pretty much been his life's work up until now, but, however hard it was for him to say, it's certainly not sufficient, especially when you consider how utterly meaningless the gesture really is.

Addendum: And, by the way, speaking of responsibility, where was Cheney? [Thanks to Peggy]

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Ed Fitzgerald | 9/13/2005 10:15:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


McPhee on controlling the river


John McPhee is the kind of writer whose work I just can't put down. I read my first McPhee book (Assemblng California) in May of 1997, and before three weeks had past I had read five more, including The Control of Nature. That happens to be where I was first introduced to the story of the work the Army Corps of Engineers has done in trying to tame the lower Mississippi and protect New Orleans from flooding from the river and Lake Ponchartran, a massive and complex undertaking of civil engineering, the recent failure of which was the proximate cause of the flooding of the area.

I was reminded about the McPhee book when The New Yorker republished an excerpt from it last week, as part of its coverage of the tragedy in New Orleans. If you're not familiar with McPhee's work, check it out, you're in for a treat; and if you're a fan, as I am, you'll welcome the chance to read it again.
In southern Louisiana, the bed of the Mississippi River is so far below sea level that a flow of at least a hundred and twenty thousand cubic feet per second is needed to hold back salt water and keep it below New Orleans, which drinks the river. Along the ragged edges of the Gulf, whole ecosystems depend on the relationship of fresh to salt water, which is in large part controlled by the Corps. Shrimp people want water to be brackish, waterfowl people want it fresh—a situation that causes National Marine Fisheries to do battle with United States Fish and Wildlife while both simultaneously attack the Corps. The industrial interests of the American Ruhr beseech the Corps to maintain their supply of fresh water. Agricultural pumping stations demand more fresh water for their rice but nervily ask the Corps to keep the sediment. Morgan City needs water to get oil boats and barges to rigs offshore, but if Morgan City gets too much water it’s the end of Morgan City. Port authorities present special needs, and the owners of grain elevators, and the owners of coal elevators, barge interests, flood-control districts, levee boards. As General Sands says, finishing the list, “A guy who wants to put a new dock in has to come to us.” People suspect the Corps of favoring other people. In addition to all the things the Corps actually does and does not do, there are infinite actions it is imagined to do, infinite actions it is imagined not to do, and infinite actions it is imagined to be capable of doing, because the Corps has been conceded the almighty role of God.

Read the whole article here, or buy the book here.

[More Katrina posts]


Ed Fitzgerald | 9/13/2005 10:00:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


In the aftermath, comes the truth


Evan Thomas in Newsweek on How Bush Blew It:
It's a standing joke among the president's top aides: who gets to deliver the bad news? Warm and hearty in public, Bush can be cold and snappish in private, and aides sometimes cringe before the displeasure of the president of the United States, or, as he is known in West Wing jargon, POTUS. The bad news on this early morning, Tuesday, Aug. 30, some 24 hours after Hurricane Katrina had ripped through New Orleans, was that the president would have to cut short his five-week vacation by a couple of days and return to Washington. [...]

The president did not growl this time. He had already decided to return to Washington and hold a meeting of his top advisers on the following day, Wednesday. This would give them a day to get back from their vacations and their staffs to work up some ideas about what to do in the aftermath of the storm. President Bush knew the storm and its consequences had been bad; but he didn't quite realize how bad.

The reality, say several aides who did not wish to be quoted because it might displease the president, did not really sink in until Thursday night. Some White House staffers were watching the evening news and thought the president needed to see the horrific reports coming out of New Orleans. Counselor Bartlett made up a DVD of the newscasts so Bush could see them in their entirety as he flew down to the Gulf Coast the next morning on Air Force One.

How this could be—how the president of the United States could have even less "situational awareness," as they say in the military, than the average American about the worst natural disaster in a century—is one of the more perplexing and troubling chapters in a story that, despite moments of heroism and acts of great generosity, ranks as a national disgrace.

I had been mulling over the discrepency between Bush's awareness of the danger posed by Katrina and my own. I spent at least one sleepless night following the storm's progress (and blogging about it), because I had been reminded of the potentially devastating effects of the "nightmare scenario" of an extremely strong storm hitting New Orleans, and another sleepless night trying to determine if the city had indeed "dodged the bullet" as it had seemed it did. I did this, despite the fact that I have no particularly strong relationship to New Orleans (which I've been to once, for a week, while touring with a musical) or the rest of the Gulf Coast, no family or friends in harms way, no property in danger.

Yet at the same time I was losing sleep over what might happen, the President of the United States was apparently unaware of the potential for disaster, unconcerned about the scope of the consequences, and unwilling to cut short his vacation until days after the storm had hit.

Simply amazing.

Dan Froomkin in the Washington Post has a good round up of some of the immediate political consequences of Bush's lack of character. The economic and social consequences we'll be adding up, and coping with, for years to come. [Thanks to Shirley]

(4:00am): Of course, along with the truth come lies and deceit.

I have no specific proof one way or the other, but everything about this story, from the U.K. Daily Mail screams "hoax":

Doctors working in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans killed critically ill patients rather than leaving them to die in agony as they evacuated hospitals, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.

With gangs of rapists and looters rampaging through wards in the flooded city, senior doctors took the harrowing decision to give massive overdoses of morphine to those they believed could not make it out alive.

In an extraordinary interview with The Mail on Sunday, one New Orleans doctor told how she 'prayed for God to have mercy on her soul' after she ignored every tenet of medical ethics and ended the lives of patients she had earlier fought to save.

Her heart-rending account has been corroborated by a hospital orderly and by local government officials. One emergency official, William 'Forest' McQueen, said: "Those who had no chance of making it were given a lot of morphine and lain down in a dark place to die."

I'll be looking to see if anyone follows up to corroborate this story, or debunks it (far more likely, I suspect), but to me it really smells like a complete scam. I think the Mail got taken.

(4:30am): This Times-Picayune story paints a much more palatable, and plausible, picture of what went on in the hospitals of New Orleans:

Despite horrendous conditions, desperate hospital staff struggled to accord dignity to the dead, moving at least a dozen bodies into a chapel and covering each with a blanket or placing them in body bags.

The bodies were not recovered from the hospital until days after the storm passed, officials said.

"Everything was done to protect the remains," Hackney said, adding that security workers remained at the hospital until Thursday or Friday after the storm to keep watch over bodies that were scattered all over the hospital, including the top floors where some had been brought in the hope of rescue by helicopter.

Staff managed to evacuate 270 patients, he added.


"Nurses stayed up all night, literally, fanning patients with paper or pieces of cardboard just to keep them cool. There were older people lying on the floor on mattresses or right on the floor. Others were manually giving them oxygen for hours at a time," she said, describing the resuscitation bags that were used after electrical ventilators stopped working.

Generators failed the day after the storm, leaving the building unbearably dark, hot and humid, said Carstens, who had arrived at Baptist with her husband on the eve of Katrina’s landfall.

"I remember it was just so dark … you couldn't see anything and there were looters trying to get in the hospital and there was no security," she said.

To reach helicopters landing on the roof of an adjacent parking garage, staff moved patients through a hole smashed in the side of the building to avoid floodwaters below, Carstens said.

Inside the garage, some patients were placed in the bed of a pickup truck and driven to the top of the garage to wait for helicopters.

Some of the dead later found on the hospital’s upper floors apparently were taken there by staff hoping that they would be rescued from the roof, Hackney said.

This story doesn't contradict the one in the Mail, of course, and there's no logical reason why both couldn't be true, but the T-P story just feels much more believable to me, and not because it paints a fairly heroic portrait of the doctors and nurses.

(Wed 14 Sept 12:30am): The Mail followed up with another story, intriguing for what it did not say:

A BRITISH nurse last night told of the agonising decisions she was forced to make as she 'played God' with patients in her New Orleans hospital, besieged by armed gangs and under fire from snipers.

Sharen Carriere, 46, originally from Holbeach, Lincolnshire, chose to stay at the Memorial Medical Centre in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina struck, never imagining the horrors that would unfold before her.

Her eyes filling with tears, she said: 'I have been a nurse for 21 years and my job is to care for people. When the hurricane warning came, I volunteered to go in to work. I never thought I would ever be in the position of playing God.

'I literally had to look at patients and make the choice about who would live and who would die. Some patients were so sick that I knew they would not make it. I had to go against everything I believe in and focus on saving those who could be saved. It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.' Although she had to make heartbreaking decisions, she said she never witnessed any incidents of euthanasia that other New Orleans medical staff saw.

'People were dying like flies,' she said.

'All I could do was care for the living and try to make the final moments of the dying as dignified and comfortable as possible. [Emphasis added. -- Ed]

Here's how I interpret this story: the Mail, nervous that no other media outlet was running with their story, went looking for confirmation and came across this British nurse who describes harrowing medical triage decisions necessitated by the conditions during the worst of the disaster. The situation she describes are very much like that described in the original story, and so supports it, but she explicitly states that she did not see any euthanasia, so that specific charge, the nub of the Mail's original story, is not verified.

I had a bit of time to think about why the original story doesn't cohere for me. I still don't have a lot of specific reasons, it's still more a matter of instinct, of "smell", but there are these issues:

That doctors from a hospital in New Orleans would do this and then tell the story to a British newspaper is pretty incredible. Why would they tell, when it amounts to confessing to a state felony? Who would think to look closely at the dead patients if they had done it and didn't say anything? Did their intense guilt cause them to pick up the phone and call a newspaper in London?

And how did this "emergency official" or "utility manager" or "government official" (as he's described in the story) in Abita Springs, a town about 30 miles from New Orleans, north of Lake Ponchartrain, find out about what these doctors and nurses did in order to corroborate the story? If he approves of what they did -- "They had to make unbearable decisions" -- why did he tell the relatives of the supposedly euthanized patients what has happened to them? Wouldn't someone who agreed with the decision keep his mouth shut?

Why hasn't any mainstream media outlet run with this story, when they are going with the nursing home deaths and the deaths described by the nurse in the second story?

The story could be true, but it doesn't hang together for me at all. It could have happened, and I can be convinced that it's possible that euthanasia should have happened, but so far I'm not compelled to believe that it did happen.

The claim that doctors and nurses is New Orleans euthanized patients without their consent or that of their next-of-kin is an extraordinary one, and it should require us to have, at the very least sufficient evidence of its occuring before we accept it.

Eliot Gelwan has an entry on this, and there's some discussion connected to it (including a comment by me that repeats part of what I've written here).

Update (9/17): There more on William "Forest" McQueen, the only person named in the story in the Mail, here:

The only disclosed source for this story about euthanasia in Louisiana is an utility manager or emergency official or groundskeeper that may have been hired by the Abita Springs council who works and lives with his brother over a half-hour away from New Orleans where he is presently making phone calls to inform relatives that patients have been murdered with morphine instead of calling his family to let them know he survived.

[More Katrina posts]


Ed Fitzgerald | 9/13/2005 02:45:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, September 12, 2005

Bush & Company are...

I've started a new section in my sidebar on the right. It's a collection of adjectives and short descriptions which complete the phrase "Bush and Company are..."

So far, here's what I've got:
Bush & Company are...

hostile to science
lacking in conscience
lacking in empathy
not candid
not trustworthy
out of control
without scruples

This covers most of the basics, I think, but I'll keep adding to the list as I think of more. Anyone with any suggestions can post them in the comments here, or e-mail them to me.

I'm looking primarily for descriptions of the entire Bush Administration, its character and that of its policies, not specifically for descriptions of Bush himself. For instance, while I would accept "stupid" or "incurious" as defensible descriptions of Bush himself, they don't really apply to the administration as a whole, which has some brilliant, if unscrupulous and dishonest, people in it.

Addenda: Already, I've added despicable (Kaiju) and impudent (Ivan Raikov).

More: Buck-passers and blame-placers (Shirley); dishonorable, without integrity and clueless (Kathy); and dangerous and warmongers (Breeze).

And: I'm adding from Chuck arrogant (very good!, how did I miss it?) and destructive, and also indifferent (rather than his suggestion of "apathetic," the connotation of which seems slightly wrong to me) and wrong-headed, suggested by his "wrong"; from Roger (aka MyFriendRoger), I'm adding corrupt (yes!), craven, sleazy (absolutely), pernicious, venal, calculating, perverse, conspiratorial, culpable, insincere and debased, and I'm replacing my "without scruples" with his unscrupulous (I was trying to avoid "un-" words).

I'm holding off on some that have been suggested to me: bastards, butt-wipes, atrocious, monstrous, satanic, vile and the big one, evil. Also "pathetic", because they do not arouse any sympathy or pity in me.

Et cetera: S.M. Dixon suggests "sociopathic" which seems slightly problematic to me. The dictionary says a sociopath is "One who is affected with a personality disorder marked by aggressive, antisocial behavior," which looks somewhat appropriate but feels slightly off the mark to me, perhaps because it's generally applied to an individual and not a collection of people and policies. Certainly the policies of the Bush administration have, since 9/11 especially, been quite aggressive, and they have also been, more generally speaking, very aggressive in implementing their disastrous agenda -- so I think aggressive would be an appropriate add. On the other hand, "antisocial" is a difficult one. Certainly their policies have been diametrically opposed to what I and most enlightened people believe are best for society, but that's not exactly what "antisocial" means. Still, there must be an approprate word to describe their agenda. I'm going to add undemocratic, plutocratic, and oligarchic, but they don't quite get at it. What I think I'm looking for is an antonym for "civil" or "comity" which describes the Bushies' profound disrespect for the egalitarianism which underlies the fabric of our society -- or at least its intended fabric. (I'm also adding disrespectful, now that I think of it.)

"Treasonous" I shall hold off on.

Moreover: Breeze adds: conniving, con artists, deceitful, and secretive, which suggested to me propagandists.

And then came: Roger adds dogmatic, absolutist, rigid and inflexible, and argues for "sociopath":

As you perhaps know, "sociopath" and "sociopathic" are among my favorite terms. Of course, I long ago liberated it from its rather rigorous scientific definition (in part because the psychological profession has officially abandoned it anyhow. They like the term "anti-social."). I use it in a broader sense. I have argued, only very slightly tongue-in-cheek, that there are only three kinds of Republicans: dogmatists, sociopaths, and useful idiots.

If you want to get clinicial about it, well, Newt Gingrich is possibly a clinicial sociopath (I mean, how else can you think of a guy who tries to trick his wife into signing a divorce agreement just as she's coming out of anesthesia from cancer surgery?). And I am absolutely, utterly convinced that Shrub himself is a Narcissistic sociopath ... and I DO mean in the full clinical sense.

But more broadly, I am convinced -- although I cannot prove it -- that if you were to come up with some test which could assign people somewhere on a numerical "empath-sociopath" scale, in general Republicans would score quite a bit further toward the sociopathic end.

There's more in the comments.

Even more: I've added uncompromising, compassionless, relentless, selfish and insensitive. I thought about "lamentable" but it really describes more our response to them rather than their behavior and actions -- we lament over what they do, they certain don't lament it.

Is there a good word to express "uncivic-minded" or lacking in public spirit -- and is there a word that describes class warriors? (Maybe German has one.)

Upstate: Shirley comes up with oblivious.

The list to this moment (5pm on Tuesday the 13th):

Bush & Company are...

class warriors
con artists
hostile to science
lacking in empathy
lacking in public spirit
not candid
not trustworthy
out of control
without integrity

Winding down? I'm adding not "reality-based" and disconnected.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/12/2005 04:34:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Sunday, September 11, 2005

A new blog: And the Beat Goes On

An online friend of mine, patticass, has started her own weblog, called And The Beat Goes On -- take a look!

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/11/2005 04:31:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Four years ago

9/11, anthrax, the invasion of Iraq, the world turned in large part against us, North Korea gets the bomb, Katrina devastates the Gulf Coast and no one in Bush's admnistration seems to give much of a damn.

Do you feel safer now than you did four years ago?

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/11/2005 05:24:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


American health care

Malcolm Gladwell looks at the American system of healthcare, and why it is such a mess:
One of the great mysteries of political life in the United States is why Americans are so devoted to their health-care system. Six times in the past century—during the First World War, during the Depression, during the Truman and Johnson Administrations, in the Senate in the nineteen-seventies, and during the Clinton years—efforts have been made to introduce some kind of universal health insurance, and each time the efforts have been rejected. Instead, the United States has opted for a makeshift system of increasing complexity and dysfunction. Americans spend $5,267 per capita on health care every year, almost two and half times the industrialized world’s median of $2,193; the extra spending comes to hundreds of billions of dollars a year. What does that extra spending buy us? Americans have fewer doctors per capita than most Western countries. We go to the doctor less than people in other Western countries. We get admitted to the hospital less frequently than people in other Western countries. We are less satisfied with our health care than our counterparts in other countries. American life expectancy is lower than the Western average. Childhood-immunization rates in the United States are lower than average. Infant-mortality rates are in the nineteenth percentile of industrialized nations. Doctors here perform more high-end medical procedures, such as coronary angioplasties, than in other countries, but most of the wealthier Western countries have more CT scanners than the United States does, and Switzerland, Japan, Austria, and Finland all have more MRI machines per capita. Nor is our system more efficient. The United States spends more than a thousand dollars per capita per year—or close to four hundred billion dollars—on health-care-related paperwork and administration, whereas Canada, for example, spends only about three hundred dollars per capita. And, of course, every other country in the industrialized world insures all its citizens; despite those extra hundreds of billions of dollars we spend each year, we leave forty-five million people without any insurance. A country that displays an almost ruthless commitment to efficiency and performance in every aspect of its economy—a country that switched to Japanese cars the moment they were more reliable, and to Chinese T-shirts the moment they were five cents cheaper—has loyally stuck with a health-care system that leaves its citizenry pulling out their teeth with pliers.

America’s health-care mess is, in part, simply an accident of history. The fact that there have been six attempts at universal health coverage in the last century suggests that there has long been support for the idea. But politics has always got in the way. In both Europe and the United States, for example, the push for health insurance was led, in large part, by organized labor. But in Europe the unions worked through the political system, fighting for coverage for all citizens. From the start, health insurance in Europe was public and universal, and that created powerful political support for any attempt to expand benefits. In the United States, by contrast, the unions worked through the collective-bargaining system and, as a result, could win health benefits only for their own members. Health insurance here has always been private and selective, and every attempt to expand benefits has resulted in a paralyzing political battle over who would be added to insurance rolls and who ought to pay for those additions.


Gina, Steve, and Loretta are ill, and need insurance to cover the costs of getting better. In their eyes, insurance is meant to help equalize financial risk between the healthy and the sick. In the insurance business, this model of coverage is known as “social insurance,” and historically it was the way health coverage was conceived. If you were sixty and had heart disease and diabetes, you didn’t pay substantially more for coverage than a perfectly healthy twenty-five-year-old. Under social insurance, the twenty-five-year-old agrees to pay thousands of dollars in premiums even though he didn’t go to the doctor at all in the previous year, because he wants to make sure that someone else will subsidize his health care if he ever comes down with heart disease or diabetes. Canada and Germany and Japan and all the other industrialized nations with universal health care follow the social-insurance model. Medicare, too, is based on the social-insurance model, and, when Americans with Medicare report themselves to be happier with virtually every aspect of their insurance coverage than people with private insurance (as they do, repeatedly and overwhelmingly), they are referring to the social aspect of their insurance. They aren’t getting better care. But they are getting something just as valuable: the security of being insulated against the financial shock of serious illness.

There is another way to organize insurance, however, and that is to make it actuarial. Car insurance, for instance, is actuarial. How much you pay is in large part a function of your individual situation and history: someone who drives a sports car and has received twenty speeding tickets in the past two years pays a much higher annual premium than a soccer mom with a minivan. In recent years, the private insurance industry in the United States has been moving toward the actuarial model, with profound consequences. The triumph of the actuarial model over the social-insurance model is the reason that companies unlucky enough to employ older, high-cost employees—like United Airlines—have run into such financial difficulty. It’s the reason that automakers are increasingly moving their operations to Canada. It’s the reason that small businesses that have one or two employees with serious illnesses suddenly face unmanageably high health-insurance premiums, and it’s the reason that, in many states, people suffering from a potentially high-cost medical condition can’t get anyone to insure them at all.


The issue about what to do with the health-care system is sometimes presented as a technical argument about the merits of one kind of coverage over another or as an ideological argument about socialized versus private medicine. It is, instead, about a few very simple questions. Do you think that this kind of redistribution of risk is a good idea? Do you think that people whose genes predispose them to depression or cancer, or whose poverty complicates asthma or diabetes, or who get hit by a drunk driver, or who have to keep their mouths closed because their teeth are rotting ought to bear a greater share of the costs of their health care than those of us who are lucky enough to escape such misfortunes? In the rest of the industrialized world, it is assumed that the more equally and widely the burdens of illness are shared, the better off the population as a whole is likely to be. The reason the United States has forty-five million people without coverage is that its health-care policy is in the hands of people who disagree, and who regard health insurance not as the solution but as the problem.

Here we see yet another example, like the botched response to Katrina, of how the Bush right-wing ideology of mistrust of all government functions effects us

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/11/2005 05:06:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Ed Fitzgerald

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bush & company are...
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