Thursday, December 08, 2005

Did Bush Decide to Take His Ball and Go Home?

I just received my December issue of Harper's Magazine , yes mail service is still that far behind, at least in the parts of the city that get mail service. In his notebook, Lewis Lapham made the valid point that "attributions of competent criminal intelligence" toward the Bush administration miss the point. His comment that Bush and his friends more closely resemble spoiled trust funds kids or juvenile delinquents than Jesse James or Commodore Vanderbilt was penetrating, but it didn't go far enough; the behavior of the Bush Administration more closely resembles that of a bratty ten year old. Lapham couldn't foresee it, but when the "Category 5 deluge of fraud, graft, corrupt self-dealing, and outright theft," described in his essay, became threatened by serious calls for accountability and open bidding, the administration began to back away from its pledge to do "whatever it takes" to restore the region. In effect, upon being asked to play by the rules, the Republican leadership decided to take its ball and go home.

Before I go any further, I should say that I don't believe that the entire Republican Party has turned its back on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in a snit over open bidding. I'm sure that some of the GOP leadership is composed of true fiscal conservatives who just don't understand the full extent of the disaster or the degree to which the federal government was responsible. However, when you consider that the fiscal conservatives in the administration or congress hadn't won a major budget battle in five years, the apparent willingness of the administration to walk away from this one without a fight seems somewhat odd.

All that said, there are certain key talking points that have either been missed or underemphasized:

1. Most of the responsibility for the destruction of New Orleans lies with the Federal Government. As poorly as local agencies performed their maintenance responsibilities for the area levees, the Corps of Engineers had ultimate responsibility for the design and construction of the levee system as well as shared responsibility for inspection and maintenance.

2. The costs of coastal reconstruction and flood protection are totally separate matters from any reconstruction aid requests. Yes, the state's original request was bloated, but the $14B for coastal restoration and the estimated $30-60B for levee repairs and upgrades should not be held against a new, scaled down aid request. To put that in perspective, $14B was about the cost of Boston's Big Dig. More on coastal restoration here; for more on both Louisiana's wetlands and my next point see this testimony before congress.

3. If revenue from oil-and-gas drilling in federal waters offshore were treated the same as revenue from on shore drilling on federal lands, Louisiana could shoulder most of the costs of its own reconstruction:

inland states split oil royalties from federal property 50-50 with the federal government. But Louisiana receives relatively little from oil-and-gas drilling occurring in the Outer Continental Shelf in federal waters far offshore.

For instance, Louisiana received less than 0.5 percent of the $5 billion in oil-and-gas royalties generated in federal waters off its coast in 2001.

4. The arguments that had been used for maintaining strict federal control over reconstruction spending -La. officials are too corrupt and incompetent to trust with the money- are now being used to limit reconstruction financing altogether. Any leader who implies that this a good reason for limiting aid should be forced to state it explicitly.

With the above in mind, I urge everyone to sign this petition that I received from The Gulf Restoration Network, as well as this one that Joseph has put up at Blageur. I would also direct your attention to this diary from Booman Tribune. Please write (or copy and paste Julie Smith's letter)your senators and congressman, as well as any of the key leaders listed. I would also add Jeff Bingaman and Chris Shays to the list.

I have no idea where Sen. Bingaman stands on reconstruction, but he has been very vocal in his opposition to a renegotiated offshore revenue deal. He does have some valid reasons, but I think he now has the obligation to be equally vocal in his support of aid for gulf coast reconstruction. He can be reached

I included Chris Shays because on the Oct. 4 edition of Scarborough Country, he blamed the tragedy at the Superdome entirely on Mayor Nagin and used the incompetence of local officials as a rationale for maintaining strict federal control over spending. Now that some of his colleagues are using that as a rationale for severely limiting, rather than monitoring, federal aid, I'm sure that Mr. Shays would welcome the opportunity to clarify his position. From what I gather, he is a moderate Republican who's widely praised for his bipartisanship, right? Emails must go through his site:

Please sign the petitions and try to find time to mail your representatives.

Very good points about the difference between rebuilding protection for N.O and reconstruction of the city. Two different matters. Still no plan, no word, no nothing from Bush on how to proceed.
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Old Favorites
  • Political Boxing (untitled)
  • Did Bush Take His Ball and Go Home
  • Teratogens and Plan B
  • Foghorn Leghorn Republicans
  • Quote of the Day
  • October's News(Dec.1)
  • untitled, Nov.19 (offshore revenue)
  • Remember Upton Sinclair
  • Oct. Liar of thr month
  • Jindal's True Colors
  • No bid contracts