The story is actually more painful than it initially appears, according to the research I’ve done over the past few days.
Neil Smith in his 2006 article talks about some of the pre- huricaine contributions to the disaster, including the Bush budget cuts which deep-sixed plans for improvements in the levee system and its pumping capabilities. All in all a total of 80% of that budget was cut. Administration plans turned “hundreds of square miles of protective wetlands” over to developers, with predictable results. Despite the plans made by the Army engineers to deal with such eventualities, the history of storms and floods in the past and the knowledge of the deteriorating state of repairs, Bush was later to pretend that the situation was utterly unforseeable. The link goes into other issues in considerable and interesting depth. I am not familiar with the political slant of the source.
Charles Perrow in an articles from an article in the same series offers some interesting side comments on the same material. Perrew is from Yale, which one tends to think of as a conservative institution, but his point of view here seems studiously neutral. You’ll have to judge for yourself.
Perrew points out that FEMA was an organization that was foundered by Jimmy Carter in 1979 with a dual mandate. On one hand, it was supposed to help with security issues and problems arrising from them, and on the other it was supposed to deal with natural disasters and relief of natural disasters. Which mission it takes as its focus tends to depend on the politics of the administration it works for. Thus, under Reagan, Bush and the current President, it has focused on defense issues, and under President Clinton, it forcused on civilian relief and disaster relief issues.
Particularly useful in this article is the section labled FEMA Under Bush. I urge EVERYBODY to have a look at this section, because it explains an awful lot of the original questions I think all of us had about how such a thing could be allowed to happen in the first place. It doesn’t justify it, mind you, but it does seem to explain.
A clearly left wing blogger (yay team!) posted material about a similar FEMA incident in Kansas that sounds pretty familiar as well.
Because of the bias, I include this only because it reads so much like so many of the news reports I saw and heard over TV and radio at the time. It also sounds like the accounts I’ve heard from people who have told me they’ve been there.
Once the immediate force of Katrina had dissapated, the government through FEMA began to designate people who would take charge of the reconstruction efforts. The contracts were awarded to four of the same contractors who have taken much of the contract work for the government in Iraq. Bechtel, CH2M Hill, Shaw,
and Fluor by some incredible twist of fate proved to be exactly the right people for the three billion dollar Cost Plus contracts.
Now I too find it difficult to believe that the GOA was only asked to investigate a limited amount of detail about these contracts, but that seems to be exactly the case. I continue to look for something that seems to fit more closely with my sense of reality, but there you have it. Only a small number of “non-representative” transactions were investigated and in these about 32 millian dollars worth of fraud and theft was uncovered. I wonder what might have been the case if a thorough investigation of the whole thing might have been undertaken.
Balladeer, I understand that you don’t agree with Susan here. I am not sure that here terms are more or less factual than anybody else’s here. When you say, “The levees broke. The hurricane hit. Over a hundred thousand people were instantly homeless. The government acted, without taking the time to sit around in groups and brainstorm.” I believe that your history is off base. If fact, the government, because of the way it it views FEMA these days, made a point of not acting, and in preventing other people who might have made things better from acting as well. I’ve supplied you with the links to support that above if your memory needs to be jogged.
The government did better when the victims were Republican in Texas or Florida, but even so didn’t do as well as iut had been able to do before FEMA had been merged with the Department of Homeland Security. Lord help us, Something the Democrats helped to come up with and certainly didn’t stand up against when it was being formed. Another not so proud moment in Democratic party history.
The form that the action took was to give out non-competitive cost-plus contracts to the buddies of the administration, and to pretend that such Hurricanes hadn’t been predictable given the deteriorating shape the N.O. levees were in and the funding cuts from the corps of Engineers. There was time to plan for and prevent many of the problems. If the contracts had not been cost-plus contracts with profit built in, the companies might have been a bit more worried about quick delivery, and might well have been able to provive quick inexpensive fixes. It wasn’t in their economic interests to do so because the party that believes in letting the market work, really only means that for peopole that they aren’t cozy with. They didn’t structure it for the market to work in favor of the government or the people who needed the services, but the people who were providing them.
Susan doesn’t know how many of the children will sicken and die from exposure to formaldehyde fumes. Is she wrong to panic about the number of them that will be adversely affected? I am compelled to give two answers here. One is that she is theorizing in advance of her data, so she doesn’t know and she can’t tell for sure. The other is that she’s got pretty good reason to think that formaldehyde at least contributes to COPD and asthma at levels below what’s common in those trailers. She’s got pretty good reason to believe that there are going to be some pretty sick kids for reasons that could have been prevented. And that cost/benefit analysis of profit taken in versus damages paid out per death due to formaldehyde poisoning by the contractors manufacturing those trailers is an extremely cynical method of deciding what materials should be used. It makes the Chinese plywood cheaper, even if you do count in the number of people who will have to be paid off for the deaths that will be caused, so by all means, use the chinese plywood. More money to be made there. They teach coursework in cost/benefit analysis, you know.
Knowing that business routinely uses such analyses should not add to her peace of mind. It doesn’t add to mine and I suspect it souldn’t add to yours, Balladeer. It didn’t go out with the Corvair.
On the flip side, I am compelled to acknowledge that there is nothing to what you’re saying, Balladeer, that has data behind it that’s any more compelling than Susan’s. Why would you assume that formaldehyde wouldn’t have the effects she suggests. It’s one of those ingrediants in tobacco that makes it more toxic, it’s used as an embalming agent because it’s really not very good for promoting health and growth but for freezing it and killing it in its tracks. I’d say that it’s pretty much a toss up with more data apparent on Susan’s side.
I’m always willing to be convinced otherwise, of course.
Best to everybody about this interesting topic. Sorry about the complexity of the GOA link. It’s driven me quite mad with all the letters and numbers and trying to keep everything straight. I believe I’ve got at least the general gist, however. I really want to see if there’s some GAO document someplace that tackles the whole Three Billion dollar ball of yarn. Anybody else looking?
Best to you all trying to make sense of this, and love. BobK.