Denny Hastert: How Not to Walk in the Katrina Political Minefield...

House Speaker: Rebuilding N.O. doesn't make sense (about half way down the NOLA page, permalink is broken...snippets under the fold) (Note: also make sure to note the articles telling teachers to get jobs elsewhere, than the Saints and Hornets are looking for new facilities to play their games, and many other things in the NOLA article list this links to.)
WASHINGTON - House Speaker Dennis Hastert dropped a bombshell on flood-ravaged New Orleans on Thursday by suggesting that it isn’t sensible to rebuild the city.

"It doesn't make sense to me," Hastert told the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago in editions published today. "And it's a question that certainly we should ask."

Hastert's comments came as Congress cut short its summer recess and raced back to Washington to take up an emergency aid package expected to be $10 billion or more. Details of the legislation are still emerging, but it is expected to target critical items such as buses to evacuate the city, reinforcing existing flood protection and providing food and shelter for a growing population of refugees.

The Illinois Republican’s comments drew an immediate rebuke from Louisiana officials.

“That’s like saying we should shut down Los Angeles because it’s built in an earthquake zone,” former Sen. John Breaux, D-La., said. “Or like saying that after the Great Chicago fire of 1871, the U.S. government should have just abandoned the city.”

Hastert said that he supports an emergency bailout, but raised questions about a long-term rebuilding effort. As the most powerful voice in the Republican-controlled House, Hastert is in a position to block any legislation that he opposes.

"We help replace, we help relieve disaster," Hastert said. "But I think federal insurance and everything that goes along with it... we ought to take a second look at that."

The speaker’s comments were in stark contrast to those delivered by President Bush during an appearance this morning on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“I want the people of New Orleans to know that after rescuing them and stabilizing the situation, there will be plans in place to help this great city get back on its feet,” Bush said. “There is no doubt in my mind that New Orleans is going to rise up again as a great city.”

Insurance industry executives estimated that claims from the storm could range up to $19 billion. Rebuilding the city, which is more than 80 percent submerged, could cost tens of billions of dollars more, experts projected.

Hastert questioned the wisdom of rebuilding a city below sea level that will continue to be in the path of powerful hurricanes.

"You know we build Los Angeles and San Francisco on top of earthquake issures and they rebuild, too. Stubbornness," he said.

Hastert wasn't the only one questioning the rebuilding of New Orleans. The Waterbury, Conn., Republican-American newspaper wrote an editorial Wednesday entitled, "Is New Orleans worth reclaiming?"

"Americans' hearts go out to the people in Katrina's path," it said. "But if the people of New Orleans and other low-lying areas insist on living in harm's way, they ought to accept responsibility for what happens to them and their property."

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Every so often in life, someone accidentally tells the truth. But it's a truth no one can hear, so of course they have to be castigated for it, everyone has to pretend to be shocked that anyone should say such a thing, the person has to apologize and explain that he never really meant to say that. Meanwhile everyone knows that it was the truth, but nobody can say so.

We're a funny species.

but saying it three days after the damned storm?  political suicide, even if true...
Unfortunately, Hastert has "accidently [told] the truth". Sea level rise from climate change alone in this century will make NOLA uninhabitable as currently constructed. Efforts can be to make the protection against storm surges better but no doubt new hurricanes just as intense as Katrina will hit it again in the next 10 years.
If a person tells the truth at the wrong time, and in the wrong way, he will just look and sound callous. And it also weakens his ability to make the argument in the future.

You can hold the opinion Hastert holds, but still sound human, very easily. You just withhold comment. "We must pay attention to pressing priorities right now. We need to help the living with all possible urgency, then bury the dead, and then work to control the flooding. We'll make the best possible decisions about how rebuild in the future, but it's too early to speculate on specifics."

Thus far, all the government communications I've seen on Katrina have been appalling. Government (in)actions have been far worse.

from skagen: I have to tell you that I agree with Dennis Hastert. While I am on the same side of the aisle as him, I was talking with my brothers last night, who are very left-wing, and they were the ones that instigated that line of thought. I think there are many, many people who believe that there may be justification to let some parts of New Orleans go, but the political firestorm of saying something like that is clearly going to get you into hot water right now.  

I know that in the end the "cost/benefit" analysis may go to the wayside when it comes to the debate as emotions come into play. I would wager that even though the people on this board would vote 99-1 against the possibility of letting parts of New Orleans go, the overall populace is much more of a split as to what to do now.

(I'm not saying ditch the whole city, I'm saying make a really honest judgement about whether or not it makes sense to save certain areas of the city when the cost is factored into play). Truth is, 99.9% of us don't really know the hard numbers, but I think it's is wise to be open to all possibilities, even the ones we don't want to think about.

Skagen, I think that you are missing the point.  The refinery and port operations that have built up around New Orleans are there because of one thing: the Mississippi.  That is a reality of geography and cannot be wished away to serve political or financial espediency.

The workers for both the port and the refineries will need to be returned, eventually so will their families.  And so will all of the service workers that keep housing, food, education, transportation, etc. etc. for those port and refinery workers.  The city will be repopulated because it must be.

The alternative...give up on the city, which means giving up on the economic role the Mississippi has played for the US since the beginning.  That, simply put, is NOT going to happen.

Finally, I don't think Denny Hastert is speaking as a republican or for republicans in general when he made the statement quoted here at TOD.  I think he made the statement as part of a very short sited group of power drunk morons who have hijacked the republican party so that they and their buddies could steal as much of the country's candy as possible before they die.  There are plenty of life-long republicans who will find Hastert's comments absolutely outrageous.  Not because they are soft-hearted wimps who can't stand the sight of people who are suffering, but eyes-wide-open realists who understand the essential role the city of New Orleans has played in the US economy for most of it's 200 years.  Just as the article given above argues

I'm an antiwar organizer, and I agree with Hasfert.

From my blog, Politics in the Zeros.

Hasfert has a point. Why rebuild below sea level if it'll happen again?

Ditto for L.A. (where I live.) Yeah, we're thinking of relocating. Katrina has speeded up the process. The traffic is insane and unending, there's a sense the wheels are falling off regionwide, and if the Big One ever hits, it'll be the equal of Katrina.

Indeed, why rebuild, only for it to happen again? There are better ways to rebuild than just repeating the same mistake, hoping it'll be different this time.

After the storm in 1900 they raised the level of Galveston Island by seventeen feet (it was basically at sea level, and part of the reason 6,000 died in the storm)

On the one hand, that's a sign that they felt the city too important to simply not rebuild.  They raised the surviving buildings and moved utilities to match the new level.  Quite the feat (16 million cubic yards of sand, give or take)

On the other hand, they haven't been hit by a really Big One in a while, and had Katrina veered further west we might all be bemoaning the loss of Houston's refineries and pipelines instead of Louisiana's.

Good point about the Mississippi, and if fuel stays expensive we will need the port more. But we can't afford to rebuild it the same way it was.

I've seen some of the waterworks they use in order to live near and below sea level in The Netherlands - where they do not even get Category 4 and 5 storms. By comparison to those works, that flimsy concrete seawall you all saw in the news photos of the levee breaches was a very, very sick joke. And the apparent notion of protecting an entire strategic city in the world's worst hurricane zone with largely earthen levees is an even sicker joke.

The legendary easygoing corrupt cheapskate approach is simply not an adequate way to live safely in such a harsh spot. Local people (it's not all GWB's fault) are going to have to take part of the responsibility, rather than spending every available dime on Mardi Gras costumes, however lovable, and on Superdomes, Convention Centers, and all that sort of entertaining fluff. First things first.

Keith Olbermann on MSNBC interviewed an expert who is familiar with disaster management.  His question was best and worst case scenario for a return of 10% (that's TEN PERCENT) return of the population.

BEST: 6 months

WORST: 3-5 years

I think more people agree with his statement than you might think.  A politician who actually speaks the truth, how remarkable.

This city should probably never have been built there, definately not to this scale.

Los Angeles and New Orleans don't seem to make for good comparisons.  The Northridge quake didn't wipe Los Angeles out.  This hurricane wiped New Orleans out.  And major quakes are somewhat rare.  Hurricanes happen nearly every year.  

New Orleans could get another one next week for all we know.

I am immediately relieved to hear sanity from a government person.  The thought has been placed on the table for us all to consider.

Regarding the importance of the port, I believe a port facility will be rebuilt somewhere, but that's not the same thing as a city.  

Also, rebuilding takes energy, which is different from money, and which we should use carefully.

People who are happy to abandon the city take note:  It is not the port that really matters, it is that port's location relative to the Mississippi that matters.  Don't know how many remember their high school geography (or for a more recent source, have read Jared Diamond).  But, cities don't become major economic centers just because some people thunk it up on a whim, and then were just too darn stubborn to leave when times got tough.  This is true for LA as much as it is for NOLA.  Their location relative to a whole host of geographic features that facilitate the needs of commerce are what matters (even at extraordinary cost of those living there).  Being an area that can serve as a port town (i.e., with the right kind of bay or sound or whatever) AND being at the mouth of THE major north-south river system of North America matters.

That is unless you are really post-modern, and believe things like "rivers don't exist beyond our cultural constructions of them. So why don;t we just construct a new geography some place else"  Though the tone of the conversation feels a little post-modern to me.  Derida anyone.

I defer...

I think the appropriate statement would have been, "It will be for the people of Louisiana as to how thay wish to go about this matter. The Federal Government will do everything in its power to help and aid the people of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana"
Here is my approach to restoring New Orleans. The flooded areas should be cleared and restored to green space.  Housing should be built north of the Lake (between Covington and Slidell).  A high speed, double tracked train would link this new residential area to the city.  The Quarter, Downtown,
and Uptown would be preserved and would form the core city - all surrounded by green space.  A high speed rail line would also link the airport to the core.  Thus the new New Orleans would be the historic districts surrounded by green parkland that no one would care if it occassionally flooded.  The trains would bring workers into the city and the airport would bring in the tourists.  It would make one of America's unique cities even more unique.

The beauty of this approach is that the restoration of the city can preceed on a dual track.  The new residential area can be being build while the flooded areas are being cleared.  The rail line can also commence construction.  

I agree that it's foolish to rebuild the residential infrastructure below
sea level in an age of powerful storms but there is no way I would abandon the history and beauty of New Orleans.  Expensive?  You bet but I'd rather spend $300 billion here than in Iraq.

I like your lateral thinking; so easy to think there are only two options:

a) abandon it
b) totally rebuild it

But as you point out, there is
c) something in between

Thanks for your insight!

We REQUIRE a port at the mouth of the nations largest watershed, for both commerce and national security.

The Army Corps of Engineers has been trying to control the river for over a century, and in the process, they have disallowed flooding into the Atchafalaya basin, which feeds a lrge portion of the Louisiana marshlands. This has let salt water encroach into the marsh, and without more sediment coming from the river system (now it empties at the mouth of the river, causing a 24/7-365 days a year dredging operation), the marsh cannot replenish itself as the sediments compact and sink. This is simple depositional geology, and to deny it is just ignorance when the sedimentary record shows exactly what the progression of events is in keeping and building marshlands.

This has basically removed the natural hurricane buffer, and dramatically increased Louisiana's vulnerability across their entire coastline. But if you look at the are below New Orleans, you can see that today there is no marsh, just the east and west levee's holding the river!

The port will be rebuilt, and it is in a good location. But we need to actually apply some systemic thinking to this, not just willy-nilly rebuild it. IMO, they need to get it drained and actually see how much of the city should be condemned, then make their decisions. If it has to be leveled in spots, then why not build those spots up prior to rebuilding? You can actually design the place to accomodate flooding, rather than fighting to avoid it.

Other cities have done this in small degree. Houston relocated thousands of homes after their last big flood, and now they have local runoff catchments to disallow flash flooding to a large extent. Dallas has an entire zone near their most flood-prone river that is designed for rising water overflow.

It's usually a lot easier to work WITH the natural system than to try and control it.

Certainy the Northridge quake was nothing like Katrina (and I walked around Ground Zero in Northridge.)

However the Big One on the highly populated Inglewood-Long Beach fault line could be something else, with LAX and the ports disabled or gone.

Most of the drinking water in LA is piped in over a pass, with the biggest pumps in the world atop that pass. If a quake took the pumps or ruptured the underground aqueducts...

It would be hideous in a different way from NOLA, and I doubt there's much of a workable disaster plan here either.