Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Link

In my policy debate days, a lot of issues rested on the Link. Let me explain how policy debate works for a second: the affirmative side of the debate proposes a new policy falling within the bounds of a topic for the year (a topic such as: the United States should change its foreign policy toward China), while the negative side attempts to show that this policy change will bring about the End of Western Civilization. How you get from banning municipal curfews to the End of Western Civilization is the Link.

The Link does not often exist in the wild, because in actual fact if Bill Clinton's approval rating had lost a percentage point, we would not actually have derailed NASA and failed to get off the planet into space colonies before an enormous asteroid careened into Earth, causing the extinction of the human race. That is, this kind of policy storytelling, which, come to think of it, is an awful lot like other kinds of storytelling, is fun and interesting and may even highlight important issues in the world. But historiography, the science of stories, tells us that there is usually more than one explanation, more than one cause; we can play our debate game, but real life is too complex to nail down in 8 speeches, 4 cross-examinations, and 90 minutes or so.

While you're paying attention to the coverage of Hurricane Katrina and the horror stories that are only now emerging from a city hip deep in water and bodies, and going mad ("The Coast Guard also said it is avoiding areas where there are reports of gunfire."), remember this, the honest-to-God Link:

New Orleans had long known it was highly vulnerable to flooding and a direct hit from a hurricane. In fact, the federal government has been working with state and local officials in the region since the late 1960s on major hurricane and flood relief efforts. When flooding from a massive rainstorm in May 1995 killed six people, Congress authorized the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, or SELA.


Yet after 2003, the flow of federal dollars toward SELA dropped to a trickle. The [Army Corps of Engineers] never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security -- coming at the same time as federal tax cuts -- was the reason for the strain. At least nine articles in the Times-Picayune from 2004 and 2005 specifically cite the cost of Iraq as a reason for the lack of hurricane- and flood-control dollars.


In early 2004, as the cost of the conflict in Iraq soared, President Bush proposed spending less than 20 percent of what the Corps said was needed for Lake Pontchartrain, according to a Feb. 16, 2004, article, in New Orleans CityBusiness.

On June 8, 2004, Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; told the Times-Picayune: "It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us."

Read the whole article. Then think about what happened because we spent our money on a grand diversion in Iraq, the last ride of the Lone Ranger.

The Link: Because we spent our money in Iraq, we didn't have enough money for New Orleans.

Here's why I want you to remember: "The 2000 census put New Orleans's population at 484,674 and the population of Greater New Orleans at 1,337,726." You now have hundreds of thousands of reasons to remember the consequences of our misguided, deceptive, irrational march to war, one for every American refugee.

Would we be here today if we hadn't gone to war in Iraq? Maybe we still wouldn't have been ready, although the evidence screams that local officials were desperate for the money and would have used it for flood control. But in the reality that we all inhabit now, the war in Iraq squeezed our spending on America so much that it made the failure of the levees inevitable.

We didn't go to Iraq to bring about an Islamic state, liberate God-alone-knows tons of explosives for use by insurgents, terrorists, and militias, increase sectarian religious violence, find no WMDs, kill Iraqi civilians and American soldiers. We didn't go to drown one of our major cities. But what are we supposed to say? Oops? Sorry? No one saw it coming? But we did, we did.

One last thing, and then I'll go. There are 6000 members of the National Guard from Louisiana and Mississippi who are in Iraq today:
Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said the Gulf states have adequate National Guard units to handle the hurricane needs, with at least 60 percent of the Guard available in each state.

In Louisiana, which took the brunt of Katrina, some 3,000 members of the 256th Combat Brigade are in Iraq, while 3,500 members of the Guard were deployed to help hurricane victims and another 3,000 were on standby.

In neighboring Mississippi, the Guard had 853 troops on hurricane duty — a small slice of the more than 7,000 Guard troops in the state's ground and air components. Some 3,000 National Guard troops from Mississippi are in Iraq, another 300 in Afghanistan.

Do you believe Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita?

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