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Monday, August 28, 2006

Putting America Second

Yesterday, I wrote about how the Bush administration is responding to the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina with a PR campaign. Australian Broadcasting Company quotes President Bush as saying:

"Unfortunately, Katrina also revealed that federal, state and local governments were unprepared to respond to such an extraordinary disaster," he said.

"And the floodwaters exposed a deep-seated poverty that has cut people off from the opportunities of our country.

"So last year I made a simple pledge, the Federal Government would learn the lessons of Katrina.

"We would do what it takes and would stay as long as it takes to help our brothers and sisters build a new Gulf coast, where every citizen feels part of the great promise of America."

We'll leave aside the 'deep-seated poverty' comment, because no one in their right mind believes Bush gives a damn or is willing to do anything about it -- unless you believe they just need capital gains tax cuts or are spending too much money on abortions and gifts at gay wedding receptions.

Has the government learned the 'lessons of Katrina'? Apparently not. AP reports:

Despite aggressive efforts to repair the New Orleans levee system following the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, it isn't clear yet whether it could withstand a hurricane with heavy storm surge this year, the head of the Army Corps of Engineers conceded Saturday.

Lt. Gen. Carl Strock said the agency was carefully tracking Tropical Storm Ernesto, which was in the Caribbean and projected to reach hurricane strength Tuesday. It was on track to enter the Gulf of Mexico, but it's too early to tell whether it would strike the southern United States.

Strock was confident the Corps had done all it could to repair and reinforce 220 miles of levee walls, but he said many variables would determine whether the levees could withstand a major hurricane striking near New Orleans, as Katrina did Aug. 29, 2005.

"To pinpoint it to one thing and say 'yes' or 'no' is very difficult," said Strock.

The Democratic National Committee released a report, titled Americans Less Safe Because of Bush Administration's Shortsightedness and Failed Leadership, which reports:

This morning, Federal Emergency Management Agency Director David Paulison shed light on the short-sightedness of the Bush Administration's emergency preparedness efforts and called into question the Administration's ability to respond to another disaster. Asked whether New Orleans' levees could withstand another storm, Paulison said, "I don't know whether they'd hold or not. It really doesn't matter because that whole area is in an evacuation zone." (Face the Nation, 8/27/06) It is precisely this kind of short-sighted thinking that has made America less safe on Republican watch.


But That Was Four Years After 9/11, and After The 9/11 Commission Cited Poor Communications in Response to Terror Attacks. The 9/11 Commission found that the inability of first responders to communicate with each other and their commanders resulted in a loss of life. The Commission stated that additional radspectrum [i.e., radio frequencies; Wisco] was crucial to assist police, firefighters, and emergency responders during an emergency. The problem remains; during and after Hurricane Katrina, the interoperable communications network failed and New Orleans communicated through the use of five or fewer mutual aid channels. A survey of cities with a major chemical plant demonstrated that 97 percent did not have interoperable communications capability between the chemical plant, police, fire, and EMS. Sixty percent did not have interoperable communications with state emergency operations systems. (The State of Homeland Security, 2006: An Annual Report Card on the Department of Homeland Security" prepared by the Democratic Staff of the Committee on Homeland Security.)

So how prepared are we elsewhere? Not very, says Newhouse News Service:

A pipeline shuts down in Alaska. Equipment failures disrupt air travel in Los Angeles. Electricity runs short at a spy agency in Maryland.

None of these recent events resulted from a natural disaster or terrorist attack, but they may as well have, some homeland security experts say. They worry that too little attention is paid to how fast the country's basic operating systems are deteriorating.

"When I see events like these, I become concerned that we've lost focus on the core operational functionality of the nation's infrastructure and are becoming a fragile nation, which is just as bad — if not worse — as being an insecure nation," said Christian Beckner, a Washington analyst who runs the respected Web site Homeland Security Watch (

The American Society of Civil Engineers last year graded the nation "D" for its overall infrastructure conditions, estimating that it would take $1.6 trillion over five years to fix the problem.

"I thought [Hurricane] Katrina was a hell of a wake-up call, but people are missing the alarm," said Casey Dinges, the society's managing director of external affairs.

Infrastructure has always been a matter of national security. In addition to the power grid, airports, and oil pipelines, infrastructure includes water systems, highways, and hospitals -- essential in a disaster. A sound infrastructure also averts disaster. Dams, emergency alert systems, and the New Orleans levees would all be included.

Here's the thing; if our infrastructure is deteriorating "at an alarming rate," as the Commission on Public Infrastructure at the Center for Strategic and International Studies says, then we're unprepared not only for a natural disaster, but for a major terrorist attack.

As of today, we've spent over $310,000,000,000 in Iraq (for a good idea of the rate of spending, visit the National Priorities Project's counter). Thats about $12,000 per iraqi. In 2005, we spent $412,700,000,000 on federal domestic spending or roughly $1,375 per american. In three years, we've spent about three times more on any given iraqi than we have on any given american.

We're throwing money down a rathole in Iraq that we could be using to keep people safe here at home. Since when did we elect Bush to be the President of Iraq?


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