Immanuel Wallerstein: Katrina ... The Politics of Incompetence and Decline





The entire world has been following with stupefaction the incredible performance of the U.S. federal government's response to the physical and human disaster of the hurricane Katrina. All the television networks of the U.S. and of many other countries plus all the major newspapers have been following the story in detail. The general reaction has been to ask how could the government of the richest and most powerful country in the world have reacted to this disaster as poorly as, or even much less well than, governments of poor Third World countries? The simple answer is a combination of incompetence and decline. And the results of this disaster will be a further diminution of respect for the president within the United States and a deepened skepticism in other countries about the United States' capacity to put action behind vacuous rhetoric.

The initial reaction of George W. Bush to Katrina was to say, how could anyone have predicted that the levees would be breached and 80% of the city of New Orleans flooded? As a matter of fact, the Houston Chronicle predicted it in 2001. The New Orleans Times-Picayune predicted it in 2002. And the National Geographic, one of America's most widely-read magazines (and one totally apolitical), predicted it in 2004. As a matter of fact as well, such a catastrophe was listed in documents of the government published during Bush's own presidency as one of three potential major catastrophes that were quite possible. In addition, anyone listening to the television two days before Katrina struck heard the mayor of New Orleans warn the citizens of New Orleans (and the world) that this time, this was a really serious storm, and he ordered mandatory evacuation of the city. As everyone knows now very well, only 80% of the residents had the car and the money with which to evacuate. Did the U.S. government think urgently to send in buses before the storm hit and the levees broke, in order to evacuate the other 20 percent? Of course not.

Ten days after the crisis began, the government seemed to get its act together somewhat, but ten days is a long time. This long delay was however not accidental. It is the direct result of how the Bush regime operates--poor judgment and active indifference to anything that isn't high on their list of priorities. They missed the boat at many different points in the almost five years before Katrina. After Sept. 11, they promised to make sure that the government would be prepared for any emergency. This was in fact the whole point of establishing the Dept. of Homeland Security. Obviously, they did not do it. They proved as unprepared for Katrina as they were for 9/11. Just last year, they urged Congress to reduce the amount of money that could have been used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to repair the levees that were in bad shape. So the Corps of Engineers had to postpone the work....


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John H. Lederer - 9/27/2005

What is the difference between "topped" and "breached"? Which was predicted?

And was this predicted?

"Van Heerden said his survey of the levees showed that some broken walls had sheet pile bases extending only 2 or 3 feet down. Dan Hitchings, director of the Corps Mississippi Valley Division forward team working in New Orleans, said that the corps is examining the sheet piling depth as a possible issue in the failures."

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