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"It doesn't make sense to me."
September 1, 2005 4:54 PM   Subscribe

"It doesn't make sense to me." Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert weighs in on rebuilding New Orleans during an interview (bugmenot) by the Chigago Daily Herald. "It doesn’t make sense to me, and it’s a question that certainly we should ask. . . First of all your heart goes out to the people, the loss of their homes . . . but there are some real tough questions to ask about how you go about rebuilding this city. We help replace, we help relieve disaster . . . (Rebuilding) is certainly the decision the people of New Orleans are going to make. . . But I think federal insurance and everything goes along with it and we ought to take a second look at it. . . How do you go about rebuilding this city? What precautions do you take? . . . It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed. . . But you know we build Los Angeles and San Francisco on top of earthquake fissures and they rebuild, too. Stubbornness." Dennis Hastert was a sponsor of the legislation that cut the funding needed to upgrade New Orleans levee system to withstand category 5 hurricanes. He also failed to vote on legislation this year which would've provided additional funds for the Army Corps of Engineers.
posted by insomnia_lj (98 comments total)

 
Um.

Look down bro.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 4:55 PM on September 1, 2005


(But this is a much better post.)
posted by Optimus Chyme at 4:56 PM on September 1, 2005


12 Katrina posts....
posted by fixedgear at 4:57 PM on September 1, 2005


Sorry. That's what I get for doing the extra research to actually piece what Hastert said together.
posted by insomnia_lj at 5:00 PM on September 1, 2005


fixedgear, I'm not sure most US readers are inclined to talk about much else at this point. It's one NewsFilter story that seems to be increasing hourly in both how appalling it is and how many different angles for discussion it raises.

I'm a very sentimental guy (and no fan of Hastert by ANY stretch) but this is a discussion that needs to happen; maybe the rebuilding should take place in a different location. The need is there for symbolism and sentimentality to be balanced with practicality.

That said, let's get everyone out alive first.
posted by gazole at 5:03 PM on September 1, 2005


That said, let's get everyone out alive first.

Before they're raped.

Jesus holy Jesus.
posted by billysumday at 5:13 PM on September 1, 2005


New Orleans isn't in a location that is any worse than Miami. If this hurricane had hit Miami dead center, we'd be talking about worse damage than this. New Orleans might have flooded badly, but that is because its levee system was never funded for an upgrade to withstand category 5 hurricanes (i.e. - The levees would have to be strengthened and built higher, the pumping system would have to be more resilient.

Truth is, there is no place between Charleston and Texas that is more secure in the event of a hurricane than New Orleans. Even the old system of levees was better than anything else out there... it just wasn't good enough.
posted by insomnia_lj at 5:14 PM on September 1, 2005


If you doubt me that New Orleans is the safest coastal city around, go ask the people who successfully rode out the storm in Gulfport and Biloxi, and who checked in the next day via email, weblogs, mobile phones, and webcams... you'll have a hard time finding them.
posted by insomnia_lj at 5:19 PM on September 1, 2005


We'll look back and say that this was when the republicans finally lost their grip on the south.
posted by mullingitover at 5:23 PM on September 1, 2005


Why doesnt everyone just move to Nebraska? We could use a mardi gra up here.
posted by j-urb at 5:23 PM on September 1, 2005


Why doesnt everyone just move to Nebraska?

What, and dodge tornadoes in 40 below weather while enraged mutant frankencorn hunts us in the dark with its heat vision and cruel whips?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:28 PM on September 1, 2005


Don't they have fucking floods in Illinois? And those blizzards? Should we be helping them either?

What an asshole. Can Pat Robertson get people to take him out, too?
posted by tkchrist at 5:33 PM on September 1, 2005


It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed

The same could be said for Capitol Hill.
posted by eddydamascene at 5:41 PM on September 1, 2005


New Orleans isn't in a location that is any worse than Miami.

As a Miami resident during Hurricane Andrew and someone who loves New Orleans, I have to say.... dead wrong. The levees keeping things out are only part of the issue. Dump a bunch of water on Miami (something the sky does all the time) and it drains off on its own. Not the case in NO.
posted by phearlez at 5:46 PM on September 1, 2005


I say we take a page out of whatever book the Dutch use to keep the Netherlands high and dry, but the Christian right isn't going to like it when the Federal Government says that Nawlins needs more dykes.
posted by ooga_booga at 6:00 PM on September 1, 2005


People will continue to do stupid things no matter how many times Nature comes in and smacks them down with a firm "No."
I am not entirely certain if this is good or bad.
posted by nightchrome at 6:03 PM on September 1, 2005


We're over in Iraq pissing away money and lives to rebuild that shithole of a failure and the American people have to endure a leadership that would actually pose such a question publicly? Wow....it's all I can say.
posted by j.p. Hung at 6:06 PM on September 1, 2005


You defund government, you defund public works, you rearrange police and emergency services to be geared toward chasing a largely illusory threat, and then you have a major disaster, and this is what you get.


We've got a bunch of fucking snot-nosed kids running this government, and once again, the grownups will have to take over and fix things in '06 and '08.
posted by stenseng at 6:07 PM on September 1, 2005


Ooga Booga: The Dutch have conveniently located their nation in an area that doesn't receive category 3+ hurricanes. I suppose we could try that with New Orleans but it might be hard getting Mother Nature to go for it.
posted by Justinian at 6:18 PM on September 1, 2005


I can't believe a politico would even THINK about making a statement like this right now. Dead bodies are still floating in the streets of New Orleans, and meanwhile a state safely north of hurricane territory has their Rep. on TV in an air-conditioned office saying, "You know, it's not like we really NEED your city, anyway."

The insensitivity just boggles my brain. How about waiting until they're through dying at least, before you start disenfranchising them, eh Mr Hastert?
posted by BoringPostcards at 6:20 PM on September 1, 2005


Before we even talk about rebuilding, we first need to decontaminate what has just become the nation's largest hazardous waste dump.

I read an interview with a hazmat remediation guy in the last day or two that said he thought the entire U.S. GDP was not enough to do the job. (Wish I could find the link -- did anybody else see it?)

And unlike rebuilding, not decontaminating is not an option...right? Right?
posted by ottereroticist at 6:22 PM on September 1, 2005


New Orleans will be rebuilt, whether it makes sense or not, because a) the rebuilding will be a huge source of pork, and b) not to do so would be to admit defeat. These are the same reasons we are going to build a huge, ugly monument on the site of the World Trade Center, even taller than the original buildings. That'll show those terrorists!
posted by LarryC at 6:28 PM on September 1, 2005


Bush had no trouble bailing out the airline industry after 9/11 to the tune of something like a whopping $15 billion. They have no trouble bailing out failed industries or SNL's. The agricultural industry gets how much in subsidies every year? But we can't rebuild one of America's greatest cities. These guys are financial genuises they're going to throw how many hundreds of years and hundreds of billions of dollars of investment and property away because the Iraq war is that precious to them.

I can't believe an American leader would even think such a thing.
posted by Buck Eschaton at 6:38 PM on September 1, 2005


New Orleans isn't in a location that is any worse than Miami.

Miami is in a swing state with a huge number of electoral votes. Dennis Hastert would have personally driven Saddam back to Baghdad in order to free up the National Guard if this had happened to Miami.
posted by swell at 6:38 PM on September 1, 2005


I think it's going to be rebuilt only as a monument to the thousands of people who are dying there right now thanks to the monumental incompetence of the Bush administration.

Gee, isn't the DHS supposed to be able to handle a major disaster in a major US city with thousands of casualties? And most importantly, one that came with no warning?

Good job, guys! I can see our billions in tax dollars have gone to good use.

The biggest monument should be for the American citizens that our soldiers, who are being sent in to "restore order," will be killing in their own home city over the next week or so.

I feel really, really sick. And through-the-roof angry.
posted by zoogleplex at 6:39 PM on September 1, 2005


zoogleplex, now just imagine if instead of an accidental, mindless natural event which was predicted for quite some time, the disaster had been intentionally planned out and launched without warning by terrorists.
posted by nightchrome at 6:44 PM on September 1, 2005


If NO was the safest place between Charleston and Texas, why was a Cat. 5 hurricane striking it on FEMA's list of likeliest disasters in 2001?
posted by aaronetc at 6:45 PM on September 1, 2005


A bit off topic, but it appears there was just a magnitude 6 earthquake in northern Mexico.
posted by icosahedral at 6:58 PM on September 1, 2005


"As a Miami resident during Hurricane Andrew and someone who loves New Orleans, I have to say.... dead wrong."

Yes, Miami doesn't flood as bad... but Andrew wasn't anything close to a direct hit on the city.

The Great Miami Hurricane of 1926 was, however... and at a low cat-4, it sent a 15' storm surge over a mile inland and destroyed most buildings in the heart of Miami. It flooded Lake Okeechobee and broke their dike, killing many of those who lived nearby.

It is estimated that if a similar hurricane hit Miami today, it would inflict $110 billion in damage and would, most likely, kill more people than Katrina. But imagine if it came in as strong as Katrina did... there would be no wetlands between Miami and the hurricane to slow it down. Instead, Miami would've gotten walloped by 165+ MPH winds and a 20'+ storm surge, with waves on top of that.

Here's an account of the hurricane:

"The wind instruments blew away at a hundred twenty-five miles. The leaves went, branches, the bark off the trees. In the slashing assault people found their roofs had blown off, unheard in the tumult. The water of the bay was lifted and blown inland, in streaming sheets of salt, with boats..., coconuts, debris of all sorts, up on the highest ridge of the mainland...At eight o'clock next morning the gray light lifted. The roaring stopped. There was no wind. Blue sky stood overhead. People opened their doors and ran, still a little dazed, into the ruined streets. Only a few remembered or had ever heard that in the center of a spinning hurricane there is that bright deathly stillness. It passed. The light darkened. The high shrieking came from the other direction as the opposite whirling thickness of the cyclonic cone moved on over the darkened city..."

And that was with 125 mph winds... light, in comparison to the worst of Katrina. If you think Miami is safe, then you're living in a pre-Katrina dream.
posted by insomnia_lj at 7:00 PM on September 1, 2005


I wouldn't have guessed that mother nature would be one to provide FEMA with their first big test. I'm frankly not surprised they blew it. You can't help but wonder if they would be able to respond to other kinds of disasters in other cities any better. Maybe it's time for me to think about moving out of NYC.

On another note, it was nice to see old Bill and Bush I on the tube today. I was amazed at how un-cartoonish they seemed. Bush I especially. There was something about them, an air of... oh, I don't know... credibility? How I used to loath that old patrician credibility! Now it brings a tear to my eye.

Wish I could comment on the rebuilding thing. It'd be nice to have some kind of primer on the economics of rebuilding -- setting aside for the moment the issue of whether it would be pointless. Let's see... Dresden, Hiroshima... I guess I'm not as versed as I should be in municipal destruction.
posted by Hobbacocka at 7:02 PM on September 1, 2005


To clarify, so long as New Orleans doesn't flood, the part of New Orleans behind the levees it is safer and more protected from hurricanes than any other part of the coast. It's got wetlands and a strong levee system to protect it.

Unlike most cities, they would've held together just fine if they got hit by an incoming cat-3... it would've hit the coast and either fizzled out or bounced, most likely. Instead, they had an incoming cat-5 that decreased to a strong 4.

The essential problem isn't that New Orleans is in a bowl. The problem is that the rim of the bowl wasn't designed either high or strong enough.
posted by insomnia_lj at 7:13 PM on September 1, 2005


I'm a New Orleans refugee. I haven't been posting because I've been too busy trying to keep my life in order. As far as Hastert goes, fuck him. It's not his decision to make, it's mine and the people who live in my city. If we decide not to rebuild then great. At least we made the decision and not some cockholster in Washington.

I want Hastert to say that shit to my face.

I am so angry. I'm tired, outraged, numb, furious, exhausted, and livid.
posted by djeo at 7:15 PM on September 1, 2005


insomnia_lj: No matter what happened in Miami, you could start cleaning in days, and rebuilding in a few weeks. With NO, it's going to take months to drain all the water.

Lots of cities have had all their buildings destroyed. This is the first one to get turned into a lake. (or at least the first large one)
posted by delmoi at 7:17 PM on September 1, 2005


Um - Ignore that my last comment. It looks as if it was a mistake, as the box indicating a magnitude six has disappeared.

With everything that's been happening, I just hope that if, god forbid, the big one comes in California - that it will be handled more successfully than this. I'm sadly disillusioned with the federal emergency response.
posted by icosahedral at 7:23 PM on September 1, 2005


Wow. I do not understand the kind of break from reality necessary to make such a statement.

I think someone should bulldoze Dennis Hastert's house and tell him that it was in a bad spot and he should just build another one... three thousand miles away. By himself. Here's a stick, Dennis. Get started.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:27 PM on September 1, 2005


These guys are financial genuises they're going to throw how many hundreds of years and hundreds of billions of dollars of investment and property away because the Iraq war is that precious to them.

They simply can't admit that the Great United States just doesn't have the resources to do everything it wants. The current administration has a real problem with financial hubris.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:30 PM on September 1, 2005


Oh, and get ready for $8.00/gallon gas.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:30 PM on September 1, 2005


I am beginning to believe that Katrina will mark the popping of the Bush bubble.

Just like tulips, just like Pets.com, a definition of a bubble is when people behave a certain way despite all evidence to the contrary. During the dot-com bubble, people -- both individual investors and institutions -- poured money into dot-com start-ups despite the lack of any viable revenue streams or sane business plans due to a belief that "the business models have changed." With the benefit of hindsight we know this was blind folly. At the time it seemed like inspired foresight.

And so it goes, I believe, with President Bush. When I think of a bubble, I'm not talking about the US at large -- obviously, the ongoing poll results and 2002 balloting indicates the country is deeply split between "love Bush" and "hate Bush." The bubble I perceive is his, to now, solid support amongst the Republican portion of the political elite -- the political bureaucracy, pundits, party, media, lobbyists, etc. They have stayed loyal to him despite all evidence of not only his incompetence but his disloyalty to fundamental Republican tenets:
- massive expansion of the federal bureaucracy;
- "nation-building" and foreign intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq;
- military expeditions without clear goals or exit strategies;
- protectionism;
- a "corporate CEO" during a time of rampant corporate corruption;
- expansion of tax cuts in the face of a near unprecedented growth in the federal deficit.

Many of these have been justified by Mr. Bush and his party as a novel necessity forced by the War on Terrorand the dissolution of the post-Cold War consensus. And, true, many might be a result of the fact that the Republican party has shifted from its traditional neo-liberal, conservative base due to greater influence by southerners and fundamentalists.

But maybe the obvious incompetence and insensitivity displayed by Mr. Bush and Co -- in addition to the unsavoury practices illuminated by the Niger affair -- are a turning point, or a tipping point, in US politics. Maybe the suffering and despair of NOLA will serve as a symbol of the rottenness of the administration, just as Lewinskigate served as a symbol of the convenient relativism of Mr Clinton (and the ruthlessness of his opponents.) I don't know. I suspect.
posted by docgonzo at 7:36 PM on September 1, 2005


Is there any place on the face of this earth that isn't vulnerable to disasters of some kind or another? Floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, ice storms, wildfires, earthquakes, mudslides, typhoons, tsunami, volcanic eruptions, meteor strikes. Any location you name has fallen or will fall victim to one of these at some point or another.
posted by darukaru at 7:41 PM on September 1, 2005


I can't say a lot for Hastert's timing, but the question of whether it is prudent to rebuild the city in a *continually sinking* bowl below sea level really should be asked.

Rather than the government deciding for the people that rebuilding is not an option, they could still bring about some kind of change, if necessary, by re-legislating the rules for the National Flood Insurance Corporation so that coastal areas below sea level are ineligible for future insurance. If it really is a bad idea, pay everyone their money now, and tell them they can't get paid again.

Then people can decide whether it is really worth staying.

Anyway, enough of me.
posted by bugmuncher at 7:43 PM on September 1, 2005


We insure cities behind levees 12 to 20 feet below sea level, we insure homes on the shore that is washing away, we insure homes on the valley that burns with regularity. Are we insane? When do the people who take the enormous risks ever bear the burden themselves? The Feds provide this insurance because the market will not. What does that say? Perhaps there are just some areas unsuitable for human habitation, or at least unsuitable for insurance from the inevitable disaster.
posted by caddis at 7:43 PM on September 1, 2005


There's always this point of view.
posted by Captaintripps at 7:44 PM on September 1, 2005


How I used to loath that old patrician credibility! Now it brings a tear to my eye.

Well said, Hobbacocka.
posted by LarryC at 7:47 PM on September 1, 2005


I thought the bubble was going to burst with Sheehan? With the Novak/Rove scandal? With the Downing Street Memos? With the Yellowcake debacle? Let's stop predicting when the Bush bubble will collapse.

I see no signs that the terrible situation in New Orleans has anything to do with Republicans or Democrats. To put the blame on either party makes us look silly.
posted by geoff. at 7:50 PM on September 1, 2005


Now, putting blame on the ENTIRE government...that's reasonable.
posted by nightchrome at 7:52 PM on September 1, 2005


It seems small and trivial amidst all the tragedy to mention the following, but it makes me incredibly sad anyways...

Alex Chilton, famed musician from bands like Big Star and The Box Tops, stayed behind in New Orleans.

From the Alex Chilton Yahoo group:
"What I know as of now is that alex boarded up and then at the last minute he stayed, apparently gambling it wouldn't be so bad. He apparently made it through the winds ok, but I gather it scared him. This was as of yesterday afternoon, from another friend who phoned
him then. Today no one can get through to see if he is ok, but I am hoping he is since the bigger worry would have been getting through the winds. He lent two other evacuating friends his car however and so I don't know how he is getting out. Hopefully he will be ok. I am kinda mad that he didn't leave and worried. I tried to tell him."


This was before the flood waters came in. The area he is in is very substantially flooded.

Fats Domino also stayed behind, but CNN is reporting that he is okay.
posted by insomnia_lj at 7:53 PM on September 1, 2005


I quote Atrios:

Why is rebuilding Iraq more worthy of our tax dollars than rebuilding New Orleans?
posted by Remy at 7:53 PM on September 1, 2005


Why is rebuilding Iraq more worthy of our tax dollars than rebuilding New Orleans?

Because we broke Iraq?
posted by caddis at 7:56 PM on September 1, 2005


The Feds provide this insurance because the market will not. What does that say?

Government is bigger than private enterprise. Duh.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 8:02 PM on September 1, 2005


Sure, almost any place in the world is vulnerable to some sort of disaster. However, some places are way, way more vulnerable to disasters than others. New Orleans is a city below sea level and sinking further every year, surrounded by higher water, in a region that gets hit by powerful hurricanes on a regular basis. Compare that to, say, Chicago. The only disasters on darukaru's list that are particularly likely to hit Chicago are ice storms and tornadoes; neither of those cause damage on anywhere near the scale that Katrina has caused New Orleans.

So sure, everyone is at a little risk for some sort of natural disaster, but some people choose to live in places which have much, much more risk. Occasionally, they're unlucky and they have to suffer the consequences.

I'm not quite sure why so many people find the idea of rebuilding at least parts of the city outside of the basin to be so unthinkable. Yes, people have deep emotional attachments to the city, and there's a lot of history to the place. However, at some point, one has to draw a line and say "certain places are just too damn dangerous to be inhabited." By rebuilding all of New Orleans in precisely the place it is right now, the rebuilders are, I think, guaranteeing that at some point in the future, a lot of people are going to be killed and the same property damaged in a future hurricane. Years of meddling with the levees, river, and wetlands have only left the area more vulnerable; I find it hard to believe that now we'll magically devise a solution that will leave New Orleans safe for the forseeable future.

Maybe for you [or for the residents of New Orleans], the risk is worth it, and paying out of pocket and dealing without insurance for the privilege of living there is worthwhile. However, I don't think Hastert should be attacked for asking a painful but pragmatic question about whether or not it is sane for the nation to support a city that's so incredibly vulnerable and so frequentlhy threatened.
posted by ubersturm at 8:03 PM on September 1, 2005


Let's stop predicting when the Bush bubble will collapse.

Let's not.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 8:05 PM on September 1, 2005


However, at some point, one has to draw a line and say "certain places are just too damn dangerous to be inhabited."

So much for the moon colonies, then.

How much will infrastructure investment is necessary to make NO survivable for the next 200 years? $10B? $50B? If it's between those two numbers then I say let's do it.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 8:09 PM on September 1, 2005


Government is bigger than private enterprise. Duh.

Duh, no.

It means that government will take a risk that defies good business sense. Sometimes that is for the public good. Here, we have a whole city of people living in an area just waiting for disaster and when the inevitable disaster arrives they want everyone else to pay, because they could not buy insurance on their own.

If you want a million dollar life insurance policy, and you inform the insurer that you play Russian roulette once every year, they will want about $400,000 per year for your premium. Too rich for your blood? Maybe the Feds will insure you for $4,000. That would be about like this, although my numbers are just random.
posted by caddis at 8:12 PM on September 1, 2005


Heywood Mogroot, new technologies can, of course, change things. I'd wager that in some ways, moon colonies would be safer than major cities like New Orleans. The supply chain would probably be the weakest point - beyond solar flares, and the challenges of living outside the atmosphere, conditions on the moon remain pretty damn constant. No volcanism, no earthquakes, no weather, no water - not much to make a natural disaster with. Of course, I think with our current technology [and our current dependance on the space shuttle], moon colonies are still over that line... but they won't be forever. With New Orleans, however, we get to look forward to the fact that without some huge changes, the city will continue to grow more and more vulnerable as it sinks further and as short-sighted engineering projects of the past and similarly short-sighted commercial developers continue to denude the protective wetlands. While I'm optimistic about our ability to one day build colonies on the moon and beyond, New Orleans is a problem that will grow more difficult and expensive as time goes on.
posted by ubersturm at 8:21 PM on September 1, 2005


djeo:

An aside, but I'm glad to hear you're safe, if shaken and angry. May you continue to be so, and those you love.
posted by trigonometry at 8:22 PM on September 1, 2005


What ubersturm said.
posted by jikel_morten at 8:27 PM on September 1, 2005


> Currently, pretty much every long-term trend cuts against the safety of New Orleans. Levees are subsiding; coastal wetlands (which can slow storm surges) are continually disappearing; and sea levels are rising. And then there's global warming -- a warmer world with warmer ocean temperatures should theoretically experience worse hurricanes. Most importantly, the Atlantic Ocean appears to have entered an active hurricane cycle, with the potential to fling storms at the Gulf Coast for years to come. This puts New Orleans on the vanguard among U.S. coastal cities (including New York) that will have to think hard about their growing vulnerabilities in the coming years. The process of deciding how to save an entire coastal metropolis has begun, but the discussion has largely been confined to experts, and not nearly broad or ambitious enough yet. -- Chris Mooney, in the liberal magazine American Prospect, three months ago.

Other choice quotes:
New Orleanians are in for another nail-biting fall and once again must contemplate the possibility of the dreaded "Atlantis scenario" becoming reality.

A direct hit from a powerful hurricane on New Orleans could furnish perhaps the largest natural catastrophe ever experienced on U.S. soil. Some estimates suggest that well over 25,000 non-evacuees could die. Many more would be stranded, and successful evacuees would have nowhere to return to. Damages could run as high as $100 billion. In the wake of such a tragedy, some may even question the wisdom of trying to rebuild the city at all.

New Orleans already boasts some of the most powerful hurricane defenses in the world, yet the city will have to greatly amplify their strength. That engineering feat will take years, prompting talk of more radical short-term protections. Joseph Suhayda, a retired engineer and hurricane expert from Louisiana State University, has seriously proposed creating "community havens" by erecting massive concrete walls down the middle of New Orleans.

The Army Corps of Engineers has considered the notion of armoring the I-10 twin span, near the mouth of Lake Pontchartrain, with a miles-long bulwark rising out of the water. If tall and strong enough, the sea wall, dubbed "Operation Block," would knock down any storm surge rising out of the Gulf of Mexico before it hit the lake.

New Orleans would be the "only city in the country or even the world" with Category 5 hurricane protections... But these ideas are in little more than a brainstorming stage at this point; whether the bureaucratic Corps can lurch into action quickly enough to protect a city faced with ever increasing vulnerabilities remains a serious question.


I don't believe there is a partisan dividing line between rebuild or not. There absolutely must be a national debate on the question of what we as a society will spend now, and in the future, to permit people to live below sea level.
posted by dhartung at 8:27 PM on September 1, 2005


However, I don't think Hastert should be attacked for asking a painful but pragmatic question about whether or not it is sane for the nation to support a city that's so incredibly vulnerable and so frequentlhy threatened.
So, then do you support permanently evacuating other frequently threatened areas, such as extremely large portions of California and Florida, most of the Atlantic coast, and possibly the entire western United States should Yellowstone decide to blow? These are also frequent federal money-sinks, and I'd wager that over the years, the cash spent on relief for repairing those areas again and again far outweighs the final cost of Katrina.
posted by darukaru at 8:35 PM on September 1, 2005


These guys are financial genuises

.
posted by nervousfritz at 8:36 PM on September 1, 2005


Hell, personally I find the idea of the federal government telling me where I am allowed to live a much more serious violation of my rights than any of the Patriot Act nightmares people have cooked up.
posted by darukaru at 8:39 PM on September 1, 2005


"I'm not quite sure why so many people find the idea of rebuilding at least parts of the city outside of the basin to be so unthinkable."

Because it would arguably be less safe.

The worst examples of flooding and wind damage actually took place outside of the bowl to the southeast, not inside of it. Most of the bowl, as described, isn't even that deep. There are plenty of places at or even slightly above sealevel which are also flooded. As for New Orleans sinking, they're not the only place in the world that is. So is Venice, Chicago, Mexico City, Shanghai, and many more. Over 46 cities in China alone. Add in global warming and soup's on!

The risk isn't primarily that the city is sinking . The risk is water flooding into the city and overwhelming the pumps, from either broken levees or levees that aren't tall enough. The current levee system isn't tall enough by at least 6 feet. The pumps are only about five feet above water and are subject to flooding if the Lake spills over into the city or if the levees break.

and all of them are doing so rather slowly.

When it works, the levee and pump system of New Orleans is a thing of beauty. The problem is, it can't work as currently designed in the event of a direct hit by a major hurricane.
posted by insomnia_lj at 8:41 PM on September 1, 2005


"Everything has to make sense in order for us to do it. It just does."
I'm really sick of that attitude.
posted by PHINC at 8:45 PM on September 1, 2005


darukaru, I'd disagree with your claim that all of those areas are as perilously located and as frequently threatened as New Orleans. Earthquakes in California are less frequent than hurricanes in the Gulf, and most of them do less damage [although the big ones can be just as devestating.] Yellowstone doesn't blow every year; the northern half of the Atlantic Coast doesn't get hit by hurricanes [and the storms that sometimes hit do not do damage on a scale anywhere near Katrina] and much of the southern half, like Maryland or Virginia or North Carolina, gets hit far less frequently than Florida and the Gulf.

As I said: there is some amount of risk living anywhere. Some places have more risk than others, and I'd say that New Orleans has more risk than any of the places you mentioned - even Florida, which gets hit hard by hurricanes but at least doesn't run the risk of being submerged for months after one hits. Over the years, yes, the cash spent on fixing every single other disaster in the US will be greater than what could possibly be spent on fixing Katrina's ravages. However, few other cities or even regions run a risk of having this level of damage, let alone running the risk of being damaged the very same way the next summer, or the next, or the one after that. I suspect that the price tag for dealing with Katrina will be about as much as the US has ever spent fixing up a single city... and again, New Orleans runs the risk of having this kind of damage happen over and over.
posted by ubersturm at 8:47 PM on September 1, 2005


I understand the positions of people in/from New Orleans who want to rebuild. It's their home. It's what has tied together their lives, by providing them with work, friends, etc.

I don't understand why anyone else is defending it, though. A city, in a bowl, which grows deeper every year, right next to a gulf that is regularly hammered by hurricanes.

And the most frequent argument is "they're doing dumb expensive shit in Iraq, so they should do this". I can't grok that. I thought people who thought the dumb expensive shit in Iraq was bad partly because it was dumb and expensive. How can one then say "We should do dumb expensive A, because we're already doing dumb expensive B"?
posted by Bugbread at 8:50 PM on September 1, 2005


I suspect that the price tag for dealing with Katrina will be about as much as the US has ever spent fixing up a single city... and again, New Orleans runs the risk of having this kind of damage happen over and over.

Not if we build some big-ass dykes, for the central-city at least. The outlying areas can be considered disposable. Tiltups and frame houses don't last more than 50 years anyway, and prior to this they were saying a 15% chance of destruction over the next 50 years.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 8:53 PM on September 1, 2005


awesome to see that so many people still have no idea how important new orleans is to the economy of the US.

will they rebuild new orleans? umm , yeah, they have to . we still need that port and the river north for much of the eastern seaboard's trade. the question is not will they rebuild the question is who will pay for it, and since all of us benefit indirectly from new orlean's port i guess it will be ok if the Fed flips the bill. or maybe thats just to much "big government" for your liking, in which case i suggest you call your congressmen, and let him/her know you are sick of all the pork barrel spending thats taking away from military spending. :P if you doubt that new orleans is of such importance , ask your self this, why have they not moved to a different area long ago, the answer is the cove, and the mighty mississippi
posted by nola at 8:53 PM on September 1, 2005


I read an interview with a hazmat remediation guy in the last day or two that said he thought the entire U.S. GDP was not enough to do the job.

It might have been Hugh B. Kaufman in this morning's Washington Post, saying ""There is not enough money in the gross national product of the United States to dispose of the amount of hazardous material in the area."

A more entertaining quote is ""Got a 91-year-old father. Got a mother in her mid-80s. I cook for them once a week," said Mr. Kaufman, leaning over the table. "I'm raising a 16-year-old daughter. And the whole world is going fekak and I've got 24 cases where people are being poisoned and EPA's trying to kill us, and some meshugenah A-rab is — some guy wants to go back to the 1600s.""

See also his public statements about a post-9/11 NYC air quality coverup . Was fired/reassigned by both the Clinton and Bush White Houses.
posted by johnwilcox at 8:54 PM on September 1, 2005


darukaru : "Hell, personally I find the idea of the federal government telling me where I am allowed to live a much more serious violation of my rights than any of the Patriot Act nightmares people have cooked up."

Good thing they aren't doing that, then, eh?
posted by Bugbread at 8:55 PM on September 1, 2005


A city, in a bowl, which grows deeper every year, right next to a gulf that is regularly hammered by hurricanes.

The investment to fix this isn't that big a deal. We've got the resources. Bring in fill dirt (river's good for that!), fill in the bowl a bit. Build big-ass dykes around the bowl.

This is under $50B, easily. The cost to Japan to build their Kansai landfill airport out in the bay is $30B (for both stages).

Plus the money spent isn't going to disappear from the economy, either. Good ol' Keynesian juicing.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 8:57 PM on September 1, 2005


nola : "awesome to see that so many people still have no idea how important new orleans is to the economy of the US."

Which of those many people are those? The people saying that no city providing similar benefit should be built anywhere remotely near the region? Because I don't see many of them. I just see a lot of people saying "don't build in the fucking bowl again".
posted by Bugbread at 8:59 PM on September 1, 2005


" By rebuilding all of New Orleans in precisely the place it is right now, the rebuilders are, I think, guaranteeing that at some point in the future, a lot of people are going to be killed and the same property damaged in a future hurricane."

I suppose we can stop paying to rebuild all those multi-million-dollar homes in the canyons of California that burn every few years, too. Right?

Don't get me wrong, I agree that building (and rebuilding) a city that's below sea level is a stoopit, stoopit idea, but it's just as stoopit to rebuild the ones that burn every few years in the same places.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:00 PM on September 1, 2005


It means that government will take a risk that defies good business sense

Not necessarily. Government has the resources, and obligation, dammit, to look at 100-year payouts.

Private enterprise and government operates in totally separate spheres. One is rapacious, the other constructive, at their most optimal/effective.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 9:06 PM on September 1, 2005


Because we broke Iraq?

We didn't break Iraq, it was broke when we got there. We just spent our money so we could take on the liability.

It's like when Dick Cheney had Haliburtion merge with Kellog Brown and Root, which had billions of dollars of liability from asbestos in their construction. Spend billions so you can spend billions more.

It's easy to be stupid when it's other peoples money (and other people's lives).
posted by delmoi at 9:07 PM on September 1, 2005


insomnia_lj - fortunately for, say, Chicago, they're not below the level of the lake, and hurricanes don't occur on the Great Lakes. Venice will, realistically, probably have to be abandoned at some point in the future, but again, unlike New Orleans, they're not in an area that gets hit by hurricanes. Sure, other cities are subsiding, but name me others that have the great combination of being located in a basin below sea level and being located in an area prone to frequent and frequently devestating hurricanes. They run some risk, but nothing like the risk New Orleans runs.

Additionally, we can't just build a system that will keep New Orleans safe for the forseeable future. The levees themselves are subsiding. The wetland areas around New Orleans continue to erode, and have probably been further damaged by Katrina. The sinking of the city is not the primary and immediate risk, but it makes long term solutions difficult, and it exacerbates any problems that exist in the levee/pump system. Katrina was weaker than expected and off course, and the system still couldn't handle it. Levees broke, everything went to hell. To me, it seems like a rather bad bet to rebuild everything and sit around hoping that we got it right this time.

To clarify: I don't think that New Orleans should be rebuilt as a megalopolis. Some areas of the city can probably be sufficiently fortified, if they happen to be fortuitously located and protected by a better dyke/levee system. unfortunately, the location is far too important for shipping to be abandoned completely. However, the idea of rebuilding the city just as it was seems like madness. Locate as much as possible above sea level - it'll still need to be designed to withstand powerful hurricanes, but the prospect of flooding that could last weeks or months would be less of a problem. Limit buildings in the most dangerous areas to things that really can't be located anywhere else. I'm not intimately familiar with the geography of the area, and I'm not an urban planner, so my ability to come up with useful designs is limited, but to rebuild everything as it was and hope that adding a few feet to the levees will make everything ok - that pretty much guarentees future disasters. If other people want to build in the most endangered areas, they get no insurance and no help rebuilding if and when another hurricane destroys everything.
posted by ubersturm at 9:08 PM on September 1, 2005


it's just as stoopit to rebuild the ones that burn every few years in the same places.

I believe it is stupid to build housing, especially luxury houses, on sand. New Orleans is not that particular proposition, though.

It's gone what, 50-80 years without a disaster, and just-almost survived this one relatively unscathed. I say we throw $50B at it, make an inner city we can be proud of for a change.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 9:09 PM on September 1, 2005


but to rebuild everything as it was and hope that adding a few feet to the levees will make everything ok - that pretty much guarentees future disasters

We do a lot, lot better than that for $50B.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 9:11 PM on September 1, 2005


This is under $50B, easily. The cost to Japan to build their Kansai landfill airport out in the bay is $30B (for both stages).

Exactly. It dosn't really matter how much it costs, because that money will go into the pockets of construction workers, contracters, etc, etc. It will be good for the economy.
posted by delmoi at 9:11 PM on September 1, 2005


It will be good for the economy.

Weird. $50B spent over 5 years is just 166,000 good-paying jobs ($60k/yr).

But one angle that got clipped in the other thread was my argument about LVT (land value taxes).

Right now the value of submerged land in the bowl isn't that much. But by investing in levees, the land values will skyrocket and I believe it is very important that a LVT regime (on the unimproved value of land) collect that value.

(Once your brain is exposed to the LVT your entire thinking on the economics of land changes).
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 9:20 PM on September 1, 2005


It might be worth pointing out that the people who question "throwing away" a huge financial investment in the city of New Orleans are quibbling about not billions, but tens of millions of dollars a year.

If New Orleans were drained, cleaned up, and given a billion dollars a year from the feds to seriously address its flood control problems, that would be about 95 times what Dubya budgeted for them this year. Think they might be able to do something with that?!

You know, Chigago is too cold and we just lost a major part of our oil supply. Sounds awfully untenable to me...
posted by insomnia_lj at 9:22 PM on September 1, 2005


How quickly does New Orleans continue to sink? A few websites give the figure as one-half to one-and-a-half inch per year. At the low end of that range, we have 50 inches a century--four feet. Twelve feet at the high end. That seems like a lot for a city that already is nine feet below sea level in some places.

On the other hand, science marches on... Maybe in a hundred years we can pump up the ground below the city and raise the whole thing a comfortable 20 or 30 feet?
posted by LarryC at 9:26 PM on September 1, 2005


They are sinking about 9 millimeters a year... about a quarter of an inch. Why, a hundred years from now, they'll be two feet lower! Oh nooooo!

The horrible thing, however, are the levees... they're sinking faster than the city, presumably because they're heavier and nearer to the water. They not only need to be raised substantially -- which could cost a couple billion over the next decade -- but they also require regular, fully funded maintenance!

Nooooooo!!!
posted by insomnia_lj at 9:41 PM on September 1, 2005


Build big-ass dykes around the bowl.

Yeah - if you can get them to congregate there.

Otherwise, fortify the dikes!
posted by ericb at 9:48 PM on September 1, 2005


The people and the City of New Orleans has soul, Dennis Hastart doesn't.
posted by thedailygrowl at 10:01 PM on September 1, 2005


Louisiana Governor Blanco demands apology from Dennis Hastert!

"To kick us when we're down and destroy hope, when hope is the only thing we have left, is absolutely unthinkable for a leader in his position. I demand an immediate apology."
posted by insomnia_lj at 10:03 PM on September 1, 2005


We didn't break Iraq, it was broke when we got there.

DUDE.
posted by dreamsign at 10:04 PM on September 1, 2005


"I find it hard to believe that now we'll magically devise a solution that will leave New Orleans safe for the forseeable future."

Devise what? A solution was devised, and proposed, and approved, then under-funded by 80%. That scrimping (which is shameful when you consider that we still went $450 billion over-budget, not including the war) is going to cost us a hell of a lot more. Rebuilding the city will be completely additional in cost, on top of finally building the levies that were urgently advised in early 2001.

This is a test of the Bush Emergency System, were this more than a test, no one would do a goddam thing differently. I've been surprised a couple of times at the tone that reporters have had with the president since tuesday. They're too close to the story, and he's still thinking of vacation, and to me it sounds like reporters aren't comfortable pretending that what's happening in New Orleans isn't happening.
posted by Busithoth at 10:20 PM on September 1, 2005


The question of rebuilding may have already been answered for many New Orleans residents. From the New York Times:

Payouts Hinge on the Cause of Damage

In many of the Louisiana counties hit hardest by Katrina, less than half of households are covered for floods, according to an analysis of federal data by The New York Times. In Orleans Parish, which includes New Orleans, and in St. Tammany Parish, roughly 4 in 10 households are covered. But in St. Bernard Parish and Jefferson Parish, 57 percent of households bought flood protection.

Katrina could still rank among the costliest storms on record. Eqecat, a risk management firm based in Oakland, Calif., predicted on Monday that insured losses - which would exclude federal flood insurance - would total $9 billion to $16 billion. "That's big," Mr. Thorpe of Fitch Ratings said. "That's the largest insured loss since Sept. 11."


Some Katrina insurance advice is available from the Insurance Information Institute.
posted by cenoxo at 11:12 PM on September 1, 2005


One part of this question not yet beaten-to-death is whether it will even be possible to rebuild. If the bowl has truly become the toxic waste dump predicted and feared, it may simply not be possible to rebuild there, which would make this whole discussion moot.

That's a question which it will only be possible to answer in the weeks and months to come. For now, hope is important, and I hope the rest of the rescue operations complete quickly and smoothly.
posted by Invoke at 11:24 PM on September 1, 2005


Cities may be located where they are located for reasons of practicality (or what stands for practicality at time of settlement), but the practical advantages of a given location are rarely the reason why anyone stays. I have family members who have lived in New Orleans for decades. All of them are well-versed in discussing worst case scenarios, and have tragically been forced to put those grim hypotheticals to the test over the last week. Now scattered across five different states with little more than a suitcase and the clothes on their backs, watching the city they love overtaken by death and destruction, they remain resolute in their belief that their city can recover, that it's worthy of saving, and it is one of the only things keeping them from falling apart entirely. Right now, any analysis of whether failing to rebuild is the practical thing to do, is at best irrelevant, and at worst, callous.

For some people, their city of residence is just an address. For others, it is so much more than that. Places inform our sense of history, of community, of shared experience, and of identity. New Orleans, in my experience, is the kind of place that has inspired that level of devotion from so many of its residents, in spite of, maybe even because of its risks. I doubt Dennis Hastert has ever felt so strongly about any place he has lived. I didn’t grow up in New Orleans, but I’ve spent enough of my life there to love it (irrationally or “stupidly” as it may be) enough to believe it’s worth saving. The cost cannot be greater than letting one of the most extraordinary cities in the US die because we’re afraid of what might happen again. The idea of abandoning New Orleans to a page in a history book and a pre-fab chain of theme restaurants is beyond heartbreaking.
posted by thivaia at 11:58 PM on September 1, 2005


people are talking about the port facilities, but couldnt they just use a train to get workers to it?
Why does a port need a million person city right next to it? how many workers actually work there?
posted by Iax at 11:59 PM on September 1, 2005


Perhaps the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hasn't been able to update news about all their Louisiana flood control projects, but they state "No information at this time" for:

Orleans Parish Digital Flood Insurance Rate Map [see this June 8, 2004 article]
New Orleans to Venice, LA Hurricane Protection Project


In the FAQ for the following project, they admit that funding is woefully lacking:

Lake Pontchartrain and Vicinity Hurricane Protection
Q: What othe work neds to be done on the project?
A: We curently have contracts that need to be constructed, but unfortunately a lack of Federal funding prevents us from proceeding. These contracts are in all four parishes. We could use a total of $20 million in FY 2006 to proceed with work on these contracts. At present the proposed federal budget is $2.977 million.


Progress here sounds better, as long as the money holds out:

Southeast Louisiana, Orleans Parish Flood Control Project
In Orleans Parish, nine contracts have been awarded, seven are complete, two are underway, and one remains to be awarded. Most of the remaining contracts had been scheduled for award in fiscal year 2003; however, funding limitations have prevented moving forward with those contracts. Overall, the currently scheduled work in Orleans and Jefferson Parishes is about 70 percent complete and should be finished in 2008, if funding can keep pace.


Much, much work to do in so many areas.
posted by cenoxo at 12:34 AM on September 2, 2005


mr_crash_davis - I'd actually tend to agree with that, and with similar rules for people who build on hills in California that are frequently subject to mudslides. If they choose to live in someplace that's so dangerous, they ought to be liable for the risk. Obviously, some definition of what "too much risk" is, but it seems obvious to me that people in certain situations are running foolish risks, while most people are running lesser and acceptable risks.

insomnia_lj - a lot of power comes from coal or nuclear power plants... increased oil prices aren't anything remotely like "under many feet of water, contaminated with sewage and unknown amounts and types of chemicals, populated by an unknown number of corpses, looters, and people who couldn't/wouldn't get out, etc." I'm trying to talk about a realistic appraisal of the situation; your reductio ad absurdum isn't very useful. Furthermore, between sinking levees and a sea level that's likely to rise due to global warming, I'm not so sure that a city sinking two feet is anything to scoff at [let alone the larger estimate of four to twelve feet mentioned upthread.] Do you really think that rebuilding New Orleans will be a matter of "tens of millions of dollars"? Individual buildings often cost that much, and between the toxic waste cleanup, the help for refugees, reconstruction of buildings, and major engineering projects needed to deal with future disasters, a billion dollars seems _way_ too low an estimate. We're not just talking annual levee upkeep here, man. We're talking rebuilding an entire city, dealing with refugees for weeks or months, and initiating major civil engineering projects. Iax and Invoke have comments that seem to be a little more thought-provoking than your dismissive sarcasm.
posted by ubersturm at 12:44 AM on September 2, 2005


There's a reason why New Orleans is there, you know... It's the biggest navigable river in the U.S. It does a helluva lot more than just supply oil.

New Orleans would be worth saving, even if it were only for tourism alone. It's a cultural landmark. It *IS* America.

Why do we need any Canadian cities, when all we really need is to clearcut it for the trees, eh?!
posted by insomnia_lj at 12:46 AM on September 2, 2005


Excellent thread. I have one hope (which is somewhat selective) and two observations (which may be relevant or not).

Hope: That the historic areas of New Orleans will be cleaned up, restored, and surrounded by flood fortifications.

Observations: I live in Belfast, Northern Ireland, a city which is built on sand and marsh. Every new building is supported on metal piles driven down to bedrock. Every old building is supported on massive treetrunk piles driven down to same. The only leaning building we have here is an old clock tower, and its lean developed to a grand total of a few degrees over 100 years.

Holland exists easily behind levees. They have politicians who recognise that keeping them strong enough is vital, and their spending is not unaffordable, but certainly astronomical by comparison with the Gulf Coast's previously permitted spend.
posted by paperpete at 1:44 AM on September 2, 2005


I don't understand why anyone else is defending it, though.
Because if it were my hometown destroyed, and the federal government were gearing up to betray the trust that I and my neighbors and our families placed in it, I would be pretty fucking pissed off.

This sets an extremely dangerous precedent. The next time we have a disaster, any disaster, what's to keep the Hasterts of the world from saying "Oh hell, we can't be bothered?" and go off spending the cash that would otherwise go to recovery on an overseas adventure.
posted by darukaru at 7:55 AM on September 2, 2005


"Do you really think that rebuilding New Orleans will be a matter of "tens of millions of dollars"?

Per year, once the levee system is fixed and upgraded to handle cat-5 hurricanes? Yes... tens of millions, meaning about 100 million a year to maintain.

That was why New Orleans is flooded. Because tens of millions (not billions) were cut from their budget over the past several years, preventing them from making the needed improvements and doing needed maintenance.
posted by insomnia_lj at 9:45 AM on September 2, 2005


Metafilter, 1906: "San Francisco, leveled by earthquake and fires? Screw 'em. It's their own damn fault." And yet look at SF today.

You know, I wouldn't argue so much if we already lived in Libertopia and the Feds hadn't spent the last century or so gladly collecting income taxes from the citizens of NOLA.
posted by darukaru at 10:06 AM on September 2, 2005


darukaru, I don't think people are suggesting that New Orleans should not be rebuilt and the cash should be tossed at Iraq instead. I certainly wasn't suggesting that, and I can't see anyone else who was. "Spending the cash to resettle at least portions of the city in nearby areas that are less vulnerable to this kind of disaster," yes. But that's a pretty different thing. Again - do you really think that there isn't a line beyond which it isn't reasonable to rebuild? What if Mt. St. Helen blew, burying nearby towns in lava flows - do we dig them out and rebuild there? What if there's a reactor meltdown or accident a la Chernobyl - do we give all the residents lead-lined suits and tell them to go about their business? cart the entire city off to Yucca Mountain? It's self-evident to me that there is a point when it is not sane to rebuild. I happen to think that the idea of rebuilding New Orleans as is and depending on slightly higher levees to keep it safe is foolish. Perhaps someone will come up with a plan which combines a re-engineering of the Mississippi mouth, a better levee system, and a relocation of residential neighborhoods from the most vulnerable areas at the bottom of the basin. If that ends up being the plan, I'll cheer. But if people say [as they've said on this thread] something closer to "we need to rebuild everything exactly as it was, because if we admit that this is a risky place to live or change anything at all, the terrorists - er, hurricanes - will have won!11!!!1", I won't be able to do anything but shake my head and dread the inevitable next huge disaster to strike the city. It'll be all the more horrible and frustrating because we won't have learned from this disaster.

insomnia_lj - sure, assuming it doesn't get damaged badly in any future hurricanes, assuming that NO doesn't have to contend with any Cat 4 or Cat 5 hurricanes in the near future, assuming that that's the only major engineering project that gets carried out [which seems like a bad idea, given that the way the river is channeled makes NO more vulnerable every year], assuming that you can dismiss the billions of dollars it'll take to decontaminate, clear, and rebuild much of an entire city, etc. I don't think those risks and costs can be easily dismissed. You do; perhaps you're just more of an optimist than me. However, I don't think optimism should play much of a role in planning how to help a vulnerable city deal with disaster, or in plans for rebuilding that city after a disaster.
posted by ubersturm at 2:34 PM on September 2, 2005


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