September 08, 2005

You Want Finger Pointing? I'll Give You Some Finger Pointing.

That hive of arch-Conservative Rovian dupes, the Washington Post, has an article today that, in a sane world, would throttle the Bush-Gutted-Corp-of-Engineers-Flood-Control-Funding-To-Pay-For-Halliburton's-Iraqi-Conquest meme in its cradle. But in the Bizarro World of politics, who knows what effect it will have.

Money Flowed to Questionable Projects -
State Leads in Army Corps Spending, but Millions Had Nothing to Do With Floods

In Katrina's wake, Louisiana politicians and other critics have complained about paltry funding for the Army Corps in general and Louisiana projects in particular. But over the five years of President Bush's administration, Louisiana has received far more money for Corps civil works projects than any other state, about $1.9 billion; California was a distant second with less than $1.4 billion, even though its population is more than seven times as large.

So where'd all that money go? Oh, yeah, the pork barrel:

Much of that Louisiana money was spent to try to keep low-lying New Orleans dry. But hundreds of millions of dollars have gone to unrelated water projects demanded by the state's congressional delegation and approved by the Corps, often after economic analyses that turned out to be inaccurate. Despite a series of independent investigations criticizing Army Corps construction projects as wasteful pork-barrel spending, Louisiana's representatives have kept bringing home the bacon.

For example, after a $194 million deepening project for the Port of Iberia flunked a Corps cost-benefit analysis, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) tucked language into an emergency Iraq spending bill ordering the agency to redo its calculations. The Corps also spends tens of millions of dollars a year dredging little-used waterways such as the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, the Atchafalaya River and the Red River -- now known as the J. Bennett Johnston Waterway, in honor of the project's congressional godfather -- for barge traffic that is less than forecast.

The article notes that the Bush Administration has sought cut-backs on Louisiana Corp project funding. However -

[O]verall, the Bush administration's funding requests for the key New Orleans flood-control projects for the past five years were slightly higher than the Clinton administration's for its past five years. Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, the chief of the Corps, has said that in any event, more money would not have prevented the drowning of the city, since its levees were designed to protect against a Category 3 storm, and the levees that failed were already completed projects. Strock has also said that the marsh-restoration project would not have done much to diminish Katrina's storm surge, which passed east of the coastal wetlands.

That there were major weaknesses in the Federal government's [update clarification: and everybody else's who was involved] preparedness for Katrina seems indisputable. But the levee business has nothing to do with Chimpy McHitler and his Rovian Hoardes skimming tax money into defense contracts or Carlyle Group Basra drilling prospecti. It's a systemic failure of power, greed and politicking, much of it based in Congress. (Pop Quiz: Anybody recall what branch of the Government actually controls the power of the purse? Anybody? Anybody? Bueller?)

And truth be told, I doubt if there is any real distinction between Repubs and Dems in this regard - this is what goes on here every day, and damn near anybody who expects to get reelected participates in it. Money goes where votes are to be got. This is by no means the same thing as saying the money goes where it can best be used. Results? Well, remember what P.J. O'Rourke said: Giving money and power to Congress is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.

One of the Twelve Labors of Hercules (he said, radically shifting metaphors) was to clean out the extremely filthy Augean Stables in a single day. Hercules did it by diverting the course of a pair of rivers right through the stables. Will Katrina's floodwaters have the same effect on the Pork Barrel Stables? I wouldn't bet on it.

Yips! to Michael Turner.

UPDATE: James Joyner is more charitable about the decision-making process in terms of how funding choices are made. But he makes the same point about the attempt to turn bets that don't come off into political ammunition against Dubya.

Oh, and speaking of presidential politicking over all this, I think that Dick Morris is pretty, well, sleezy, but I also think he's probably right about the long-term fallout.

Posted by Robert at September 8, 2005 02:23 PM | TrackBack
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