Crisis Is the Health of the State

Katrina had been well known to scientists and emergency professionals long before it made landfall in New Orleans. Far from being a storm that was 'breathtaking in its surprise,' as Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff described it [1], Katrina was virtually scripted in a five-part New Orleans Times-Picayune article in 2002. [2] The writers, John McQuaid and Mark Schleifstein, noted that despite 'billions of dollars worth of levees, sea walls, pumping systems and satellite hurricane tracking' systems, Louisiana has been growing more vulnerable to hurricanes. Their articles of three years ago tell us: - The Army Corps of Engineers has built levees that have wiped out barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico and turned marshlands into open water, making it easier for hurricane winds and flooding to move inland. - 'Some hurricane experts fear that even a moderate hurricane could churn up [Lake Pontchartrain], causing a sloshing effect that would top the levee, leaving much of New Orleans under water, possibly for months.' In September 1998 Hurricane Georges, a Category 2 storm, pushed waves to within a foot of the top of the levees. Had it been on a slightly different course and stronger, the hurricane could have been New Orleans' worst nightmare: 'hundreds of billions of gallons of lake water pouring over the levees.' - A Category 4 or 5 hurricane poses grave risks to communities inside the federally-built levees. About 200,000 people will be left behind after evacuation. The Superdome will house the sick and infirm, and most of the rest will be on their own. 'According to the American Red Cross, a likely death toll would be between 25,000 and 100,000 people ['] Thousands will drown while trapped in homes or cars by rising water. Others will be washed away or crushed by debris. Survivors will end up trapped on roofs, in buildings or on high ground surrounded by water, with no means of escape and little food or fresh water, perhaps for several days.' - 'Mobilized by FEMA, search and rescue teams from across the nation will converge on the city. But just getting into the city will be a problem for rescuers. Approaches by road may be washed out. ['] Stranded survivors will have a dangerous wait even after the storm passes. Emergency officials worry that energized electrical wires could pose a threat of electrocution and that the floodwater could become contaminated . . .' - Terry Tullier, acting director of New Orleans' Office of Emergency Preparedness, said: "We think we're going to do our people a terrible disservice if we don't tell them the truth. And the truth is that when it happens, a lot of people are going to die." No one seriously disputed New Orleans' vulnerability to a hurricane, the flooding it could cause, and the horrible toll it would take. 'Filling the bowl' was not only well-known to FEMA and most people in south Louisiana, the Red Cross considered it 'the worst potential scenario for a natural disaster in the United States,' ahead of earthquakes in New Madrid, Missouri and San Francisco, 'the next two deadliest disasters on the agency's list.' [3] The only uncertainty was when a storm like Katrina would arrive. Thousands of people would die, and no one did anything to prevent it, least of all the people likely to perish. The attitude of turning our worries over to government prevailed, and now, as bodies are collected, we witness federal officials playing their hand, giving us spinning press conferences, bureaucratic stonewalling, a growing military occupation, and a craven Congress writing fat checks without cutting spending, starting with a $50 billion appropriation to FEMA [4] for what President Bush considers the 'heck of a job' it's doing. [5] As we've seen since 9/11 and what Robert Higgs has compellingly argued [6], crises are indispensable for state growth. Government's approach is to make a half-hearted show of preventing them while often increasing our vulnerability, then seize the opportunity when calamity arrives. The state not only 'mobilizes its resources,' it expands them ' rewarding the well-connected at the expense of everyone else. The Time-Picayune called for the firing of every official at FEMA for its lies and incompetence. [7] Instead, the federal agency gets a flood of it own ' an outpouring of money to dish out as patronage. War may be the ideal tonic for state health [8], but creative power-seekers don't limit themselves to the shooting kind. 1 Chertoff: Katrina scenario did not exist 2 Washing Away 3 Ibid 4 Bush requests $51.8 billion for hurricane relief

5 FEMA Director Singled Out by Response Critics 6 Higgs, Robert, Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government, Oxford University Press, 1987, New York City, New York 7 Paper: Fire Every FEMA Official! 8 War is the health of the state, Randolph Bourne

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George F. Smith is the author of The Flight of The Barbarous Relic, a novel about a renegade Fed chairman.  Visit his website.