Friday, December 30, 2005

A Letter to Glenn Greenwald

Unclaimed Territory is the most interesting blog I've discovered in the past week. Its proprietor was a First Amendment lawyer and now litigates in Brazil. In this post he argues, essentially, that George W. Bush is creating a new McCarthyism and rules us by our fears, concluding:

Acknowledging a threat, even a serious threat, and taking steps to address it, does not require fear. But what does require fear is an agenda which demands that blind faith be placed by the citizenry in the power of the Government in exchange for being protected by it.

To which I responded:

...There are reasonable fears and unreasonable fears. 9-11 demonstrated that terrorist attacks culminating in mass destruction are reasonable fears.

(Please read at least my post Holy Warrior Education & The Patriot Act before you respond, and maybe my Why is the U.S. in Iraq? series for my full philosophy. What we are doing is not "overreaction", nor is anyone calling for "abuses".)

I consider that it is irresponsible to acknowledge reasonable fears yet not act upon them responsibly (you offer no counter-proposals) because of some red herring - isn't that how you conclude your post? For I do not perceive that George W. Bush demanded "that blind faith be placed by the citizenry in the power of the Government in exchange for being protected by it".

But when he was running for President, was that not the attitude of Senator Kerry, as he never explained himself and his policy plans consistently and cogently? President Bush's speeches are thus the height of responsible conduct, and offer to all the chance to sensibly critique his policies.

The atmosphere in America today is not the paranoia of the McCarthy era. No one's career is threatened by the charge that they are too far to the left or even Islamist, nobody is afraid that they will be suddenly interrogated before a congressional committee for their political convictions, etc.

Glenn, you have command of some of the facts, but you seem locked into one particular frame of mind as to how to perceive them. Consider shifting the frame around a bit, and you may discover a perspective that fits reality better, although it may not match your preconceptions.

Maybe, just maybe, such fellows can escape from the prism of a First Amendment prison to perceive that George W. Bush has been doing pretty much the right thing, in the right way, and in the right cause.

A "Bartending Atrocity"?

Dave Schuler of The Glittering Eye laments upon the closure of The Berghoff Restaurant in Chicago. "In honor of" its passing, he posted a few of their recipes, including one for a "Bergoff Sour Cocktail". I commented that this creation

reads like a bartending atrocity: it abuses both good beer and good bourbon in a single drink.

As a lark, last night I decided to try it anyway. Using a tablespoon for precision, I measured out the correct amounts of Old Setter bourbon and Sam Adams Hefeweizen (a malty wheat beer). Add lemon, sugar, ice, shake & strain...

Results? Wow, it's GREAT! All the ingredients blend together perfectly: A malty, bubbly start, a lemony, spicy body, and a sweet finish. The truly evil thing about this drink is that it doesn't seem alcoholic at all. After the first sip, I quickly downed the rest.

For about twenty seconds I had hiccups. I then decided - at eight-thirty at night, long after dinner - to celebrate by engaging in another first-time cooking attempt: creating a pareve (no milk) Yorkshire Pudding!

No, I wasn't drunk. Perhaps a bit of alcohol just set my creative juices flowing. As Winston Churchill once said: "I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me."

Update, 1/4/05

I tried to make this again last night but the result was undrinkable! Apparently I shook the ingredients too much and the sugar completely dissolved. Sugar-sweetness pervaded the cocktail, submerging both the spicyness of the bourbon and the hoppiness of the beer.

A very tricky drink to master. I was lucky to get it right the first time.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

"Personal Statement" Terrorism

Chandler, Arizona. December 18th, 2005 (Hat Tip: LGF):
Ali Warrayat told authorities he wanted to be killed or deported from the United States. It wasn't immediately clear where Warrayat is originally from.

The documents say Warrayat drove through the store early yesterday until he crashed in the paint department.

The paperwork filed by the arresting officer says Warrayat had wanted to cause an explosion.

When that didn't occur, Warrayat allegedly set fire to chemicals spilled in the crash...

...He told Chandler police he was angry at Home Depot, where he worked as a paint stocker, about not getting a proper raise. He was mad at the United States for proposing a 700-mile fence along the Mexican border.

He wanted to make America "more free."

So the Jordanian-turned-U.S. citizen devised a plan to make a grand statement...

At first, he wanted to wear a Palestinian flag, but later decided to place it in the trunk of his car, along with a copy of the Quran and a necklace...

When an officer asked if he understood his Miranda rights, Warrayat shot back in a foreign language. The officer asked if he understood English, and Warrayat replied in English, "Do you speak Arabic?"

"...When I saw him on TV, he did not look like the Ali that I know," Bustamante said. "He was a hard worker and worked circles around everybody, and he was a very private person."

Islamic terrorism doesn't need the loose organization of al-Qaeda to flourish, only the attitude that such violence is an acceptable means to call attention to one's desires. How Americans treat such cases today may set our response to Islamic terrorism at home for decades to come.

A Home Depot official told police that if Warrayat is released from jail, management is considering placing armed guards at all of its East Valley stores.

Thank you for shopping at Home Depot, and Have a Nice Day!

AP: Arab Deaths Don't Count!

Not if they are killed by other Arabs, certainly. In this headline, AP only counts Israeli deaths:

Suicide Bomber Kills Israeli at Checkpoint

JERUSALEM - A suicide bomber blew himself up near an Israeli military checkpoint in the northern West Bank on Thursday, killing one Israeli and three Palestinians, military officials said...

It's tough being a Palestinian today; it seems your life and death only have meaning if you can be a victim or killer of the Israelis, otherwise you are nothing - nothing newsworthy, anyway.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

On the Right of Return

A side discussion at The Lebanese Bloggers:
rincewind said...

Hizbullah is regrouping-internally and trying to consolidate a couple of alliances, particularly with aoun. Why would they want to exert pressure upon themselves? It doesn't make sense for it to be Hizbullah. Besides, they could have done it within the rule of the game in Shebaa. This was even against the april 96 agreements.

Now who did this? A possibility is the Jabha Shaabiyya-alQiyada al Amma. Ahmad Jibril is a military man, a good one at that, but his mind works in a way that never includes political consequences as a factor while making decisions. That's how he ran the PFLP-GC all his life: a military wing of a non-existant political movement. They fired katyosha's in 2002 without Hizbullah's knowledge. But please, you may disagree with the man (I do), you may hold him to blame for so many erroneous decisions, such as:
-participating , brutally in the lebanese civil war,
-saving Junblatt's ass in the mountain wars 1983(wish he'd left him to his demise)
-sending 2000 fighters to Libya, to save Qahddafi's ass on the sourthern front, while they were needed against israel
- reducing a cultural, political, social and military fight into a solely military one

But in all that, he was not a stooge, so you can't go on calling people stooges, and reducing men and women, who, whether you like them or not, are part of the region's history, into 'stooges'.

Now about the peace, I've reached the conclusion that there will never be peace while zionism is an applied, living, breathing ideology. It simply will not work.
Without Justice, there will be no peace, even if the heavily corrupt PA tries to pass one. Remember that the palestinians are 10 million, and they're not only the 3.5 million in the WB and Gaza. For the others, the PA can never deliver the solution (esp with regard to the Right of Return).

Zionism is an idea counter to justice, and israel, founded on ethnic cleansing and terrorism, can not overlook escape this past forever. I do believe in a real peace, one based on liberty, freedom, justice and humanity. That peace will not stand on the shoulders of racist ideologies such as zionism, or islamic nationalism for that matter.

9:25 AM
Solomon2 said...

Exactly backwards! Zionism counters injustice! The idea of what is just and what is not has been made murky by years of false anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propaganda. By returning to the Land, Israel is rectifying "ethnic cleansing", and it is only a victim of terrorism, not a perpetrator of such acts!

Rincewind, you have reason, but you lack correct facts and context. But IMO Arabs and Muslims usually reject these in favor of their own macho ego-satisfying conceptions - which is why the M.E. is so fractured by tribalism and dictatorship.

Rincewind, could you ever abase yourself and publicly admit error? If yes, then I suppose I'm wrong.

9:37 AM
Rincevent said...

I would, and I've done so in the past.

Please do the honours of pointing me to the errors in my argument and I'll gladly acknowledge all. However, your 'Arabs and Muslims' generalization, that conveniently stuck a label on me and put me in a tidy, little, and easily
Please do the honours of pointing me to the errors in my argument and I'll gladly acknowledge all. However, your 'Arabs and Muslims' generalization, that conveniently stuck a label on me and put me in a tidy, little, and easily managable box leaves me with little room to with little room to even wiggle a little. Oh and it speaks Volumes about you, too.

Since you're so humanely against ethnic cleansing, what do you call the ethnic cleansing of 700-800 thousand palestinians? A free one-way tourism?

The only solution is the one that safeguards the rights of all the people in historical palestine (all of them, and call it israel if you like), while giving the ethnically cleansed their Right of Return. There are 2nd, 3rd and 4th generation israelis who did not choose to be born there, and as such, are now natives of the land. However, their rights should not supersede the rights of the dispossessed.

If you're such a firm believer in human rights, tell me, what is wrong with granting the palestinians the right of return? Is 'preserving the character of a state' more important than Human Rights?

10:25 AM
Solomon2 said...

They weren't "cleansed"; most left or were constrained to by their leaders, and quite a few never orginated in "Palestine" at all! Israel has a double-digit Arab population, descendants of those who stayed after the U.N. granted independence. Can you point to the same good treatment afforded Jews in any Arab country since 1948?

Jews have been kicked out of their land and abused throughout the world for 2,000 years. No displaced people anywhere has such a claim to their homeland, is that not so? Look at the Ottoman census records: palestine was pretty much a backwater before Jews started moving there in the 19th century. That's why the Jerusalem Post was originally called the Palestine Post.

The problem is that the goal of the "right of return" is to swamp Israel and its Jews and prevent their existence at all. Did you not know that the original concept of the Zionist movement was to establish a homeland under Ottoman rule, not an independent state? Only racist Arab violence pushed the Jews into complete independence.

Desecendants of palestinian arabs can live with their brethren in 22 Arab states throughout the M.E., which would be appropriate as almost all Jews were kicked out of them after 1948. Certainly the Arab World possesses enough oil riches to resettle every such family generously and productively.

And they are generally safe in those areas rapidly being colonized by Arabs throughout the world. If you believe in Human Rights, how can you deny security to the Jews, Ba'hais, Samaritans, and others who feel they can only find security and community in the State of Israel?

11:23 AM
Rincewind said...

The argument of 'look the arabs have 22 states why won't they allow us one?' is pathetic.

These people are palestinians, they were ethnically cleansed (even if they left on their own accrod, which they didn't, don't they have a right to go back?) from a certain land, and they want to go back to it. Irrespective of what arab states did or didn't do, answer me this:

Don't they have a right to go back to the land which they were kicked out of in 1948? Some people always try to muddy the picture by bringing 'collective arabism' into it. I'm talking about individual rights, I-N-D-I-V-I-D-U-A-L R-I-G-H-T-S: A person, a single individual was kicked out from his/her home, does he/she have a right to go back to it or not?

ps: most of your facts are wrong, and no it was not 'a backwater' but there was a thriving community, with schools, hospitals and all.

ps2: The right of return does not mean kicking anyone out. The Stern, Irgun and Hagannah terrorist gangs started their atrocities before 48, so it was not 'arab' violence that instigated the 'oh-so-innocent' push to independence, but it was a a rather premeditated plan to achieve control over the land of palestine.

ps3: the jewish population in lebanon tripled after 1948. the palestinians in israel-proper were 125,000 after the ethnic cleansing of 48, and the founders of the state regretted letting them stay, in hindsight.

If you want to talk about arab states' errors, mistakes, atrocities, betrayals of the palestinians, we can talk from now till tomorrow, but let us focus on the individual rights of people, which are the most basic of human rights. Are you willing to do that?
If you are, I recommend reading a few books instead of myths and zionist pop-culture: Morris, Pappe, Shleim, Segev, Khalidi, Zureiq, Matar (to revisit the 'backwater', I recommend Matar's encyclopedia of the palestinians.

Human rights are not transferrable, and you can't rectify the expulsion of jewish inhabitants of arab countries post-48 by expelling the palestinians are claiming that this was tit-for-tat; human rights are both individual and collective, and you can't address one and ignore the other.

11:55 AM
Solomon2 said...

The argument of 'look the arabs have 22 states why won't they allow us one?' is pathetic.

O.K., I accept your position that you lack empathy.

Do Arabs have a right-to-return if that means free reign to murder or enslave their non-Arab neighbors? Not in my judgment, not as long as they have the opportunity to dwell in their own communities where they are today. Nor are you granting the Israelis who were kicked out of Arab lands the same rights as you demand for others - and human rights are supposed to be universal, not particular.

The power of the Stern and Irgun gangs did not prosper in democratic Israel, and their expulsionist philosophies were not applied. Most of the other "Jewish terror" stuff is fabrication. Jews defending themselves from attack were not and are not terrorists.

Only the twisted or deluded think Israel is expansionist; Israel's actions are consistent with a philosophy to do the minimum necessary to protect the security of its population. That's why Arabs don't fear that a nuclear-armed Israel with first-strike capabilities will suddenly blast them to smithereens without provocation. Sadly, it is difficult to conceive of any Arab political entity that would show the same restraint against its "enemies", be they Arab or non-Arab.

I don't know what you mean by "transferable". Many Israelis can trace title to their properties to deeds sold by Arabs long ago, even pre-1948; should their descendants have the right to reoccupy these areas and kick the Jews out?

One only has to to a very little bit of poking around to discover that many more Arabs claim to be from Palestine than actually lived or had parents there. Some areas, like the Syrian-controlled but U.N.-demilitarized areas of the Golan, were depopulated and their former inhabitants re-labelled "Palestinians".

It isn't fair that "Palestinians" (Arafat ruminated at Wye about the difficulties of creating an artificial history) have been treated so abominably, and almost always by their leaders or other Arabs. But justice isn't always fair, and it is only just for Israel to exist, and it is only just to put the major part of the onus for the Arabs' plight upon Arabs themselves.

12:27 PM
Rincewind said...

Do you think that calling them 'arabs arabs arabs' will make it ok to stick them in KSA or Jordan or Iraq?

They are palestinian, irrespective of being arab or not. They'd been in palestine for hundreds (if not thousands) of years, untill the Nakba. In 1948, 92% of the land was owned by palestinians, and the 8% that was sold by corrupt feudal lords who got it unfairly under lax ottoman laws in the first place.

Do the palestinians, kicked out in 48, have the right to return under an equal-rights state? Definitely. Does any jewish person, kicked out from iraq, syria, egypt have the right to his property, citizenship, etc...? Without a doubt. Human rights are universal,... and individual.

So, the question remains: Do the refugees have the right to come back to the land they left behind in 48, if that does not trample on the rights of the current population in that land? If so, then there are so many ways to figure a solution out (85% of the land refugees left behind is uninhabited, btw).

it's amazing how two wrongs (expelling a jewish person from an arab country, expelling a palestinian from palestine) is suddenly justice.

Outremer lasted 150 years, israel is a new manifestation of the same colonial mentality. I have no doubt that, in turn, it will cease to exist in its current form.

Believe me, when that happens, lots of blood will be shed. If that time comes in my life, I'd be more than happy to give my all defending the jewish inhabitants of the land and their right and the right of their children to live there, but you'll find very few who'd be willing to do that, least of all the imperial west that created the state of israel in the first place.

Humanity First!

1:10 PM

Rince, read Jews Stole Land?, please.

Glenn Greenwald: At #10 on the List of Worst Americans is

the Commenters at Little Green Footballs - a truly unique brew of genocidal fantasies, raging fascist impulses, genuine collective mental imbalance, and towering stupidity who, on a daily basis, industriously convert even innocuous news articles into a pretext for their repetitive, ritualistic orgies where they primally beat their chests, single out the Culprits of the Day, and then gleefully advocate their violent, gruesome deaths.

Let us credit Mr. Greenwald (Unclaimed Territory) for amusing us with his colorful prose!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Holy Warrior Education & The Patriot Act

Seven years ago, the Clinton Administration attacked installations presumed to be Al Qaeda facilities, in President Clinton's one and only action to oppose Muslim terrorism. Jeffrey Goldberg documented the response of madrassa students to America's actions two years later in Pakistan:

......I began by saying that bin Laden's program violates a basic tenet of Islam, which holds that even in a jihad the lives of innocent people must be spared. A jihad is a war against combatants, not women and children...They did not like the idea of me quoting the Prophet to them, and they began chanting, "Osama, Osama, Osama..."

"All things come from Allah," one student said. "The atomic bomb comes from Allah, so it should be used."

I then asked: Who wants to see Osama bin Laden armed with nuclear weapons? Every hand in the room shot up. The students laughed, and some applauded...

What would you do if you learned that the C.I.A. had captured bin Laden and was taking him to America to stand trial?

A student who gave his name as Muhammad stood up: "We would sacrifice our lives for Osama. We would kill Americans."

What kind of Americans?

"All Americans."

Where are these students of yesteryear? What are madrassa students thinking today? Note the emphasis of these schools is rote learning and indoctrination, not reason. The students drowned out any opinion that differed with the conceptions drilled into their heads. They were imbued with religious certainty that justified any deed performed in the righteousness of their cause - not just survival but domination of militant Muslims over others - no matter how people could be killed doing so, and without regard to differences of opinion or interpretation outside their own community.

One can either smash such foes physically, or brutally confront them with an environment that forces them to change their thought processes. Both approaches take time.

Can we really maintain that just because the U.S. "has not had a single attack for four years" that the Global War on Terror is nearly over, and that the Patriot Act is an insufferable assault on American freedoms? If the law of the land is such that we cannot defend ourselves with it, the law should be changed.

And yes, the change in law may change us as well, but at least we will survive and possibly triumph, and our political system will remain such that we can "lower the shields" if we so desire it. The expiration of the Patriot Act is not an indication of the end of the War on Terror, but a reminder that we do not have to accept its restrictions as a permanent law of the land. But for now, the War on Terror continues, and the Patriot Act should be renewed.

For those concerned that the GWOT is "open-ended" I ask: how "open-ended" was World War II? The Civil War? The Cold War? One does not end war according to a precise schedule; only in Vietnam did a previous generation shirk from the task, and the results were horrific.

Let us learn from history and not repeat the same mistakes. For now, we must continue to soldier on.

Update, 12/28/05

In the comments John of Crossroads Arabia directed me to this recent review of the madrasas publshed in The New York Review of Books. The review leads off with a story of a visit to the same madrasa that Goldberg visited 5½ years ago! We discover that Taliban chief Mullah Omar himself was trained there, that the director still sends students out to fight at his call, and that any Pakistani "crackdown on centers of radicalism" "is for American consumption only".

The review presents no evidence that teaching philosophies or practices have changed, but does draw a line between the "cannon fodder" these madrasas claim to produce and the western-educated, sophisticated, tech-oriented terrorists that are at the apex of al-Qaeda. Osama bin Laden is described as usurping "the role of madrasa- based ulema".

Did you know that such Western academic practices as the tasseled hat, robes, and the endowed chair trace back to the madrasas? (What does it mean for Western universities when they accept endowments from Saudi Arabia?)

A review of reviews shouldn't offer much, so I suggest my readers absorb Inside the Madrasas themselves. It is a worthy article, even if the reviewer, William Dalrymple, can't resist throwing in a couple of grossly gratuitous slaps at Israel, slurs meant to work on the unconscious mind: Yeshiva students don't graduate to hijacking planes and terrorizing the world.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Lebanese Coup Imminent?

Raja thinks Hezbollah is trying to take over, or at least "invalidate", the present government. I concur. Over at Tigerhawk I noted that this hypothesis meshes perfectly with Hezbollah effort to distance itself from Al Qaeda.

Hezbollah control of Lebanon may be a vital prerequisite to any Iranian plan to station nuclear-capable missiles upon Lebanese soil.

Bizarre College Courses?

Going around the blogosphere is the story of The Dirty Dozen: America’s Most Bizarre and Politically Correct College Courses.

Allow me to differ by NOT poking fun at academia in this matter: Believe it or not, I think the subject matter of some of these courses is a worthwhile study, but IMO undergraduates need to study the basics of the historical context before they truly appreciate the meaning of 17th-century cross-dressing, bulimia in the time of the Pharaohs, or Greek sexuality. (And that assumes these courses are taught properly, not just for the titillation factor.)

It should sober us to realize that a couple of centuries from now people may similarly consider "goofy" courses with such titles as: "Bodybuilding's Impact Upon 21st-Century American Government" or "The Importance of Hairstyle, Drugs, and Tie-Dye Fabric During the Johnson-Nixon Era." These things seem so obvious to us now, we don't bother to record them much - and that's exactly the sort of history that is likely to get lost, and what advanced students of history have to dig to seek.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Another Great Column from VDH!

Iraq & Moral Distortion:

How did America’s willingness to remove fascistic and odious regimes like the Taliban and Iraqi Baathism result in such a skewed moral reaction?

First, for a great many Western elites, and the Third-World intellectuals who take their cues from them, it is a given that anything the United States is for, they are against. America enrages these people...

...How can the U.S. regain the moral high ground it deserves today? We should begin by -

Excerpts aren't enough. Read it all!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Iran Throws its Weight Around

In the American Future:

Not satisfied with antagonizing the West, the Iranian government is now publicly denouncing its Arab neighbors. The occasion for Tehran’s latest outburst is an on-going meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a group that includes representatives from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar.

Reuters reports that GCC Secretary-General Abdul Rahman al-Attiya said the representatives were very worried about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and one of the proposals on the agenda was for a deal to be brokered between Iran and neighboring GCC states to make the region nuclear-free

They really cannot resist throwing their weight around ahead of time. ..note that Iran is seeking an "instant" nuclear capability - they are developing the delivery systems first, so when they have The Bomb they feel it will be too late for anyone to stop them.

That should be a concern not just for Iranians, but for any country who tolerates Iran-funded armed forces. What will the world do if the Iranians tip Hezbollah's missiles with nukes? Ah-hah, they will think their own country can't be attacked, but only the poor Lebanese will be victims again. Then, after the Israelis strike the Lebanese, Iran can destroy Israel while maintaining the most pious of intentions under international law. And anyone who complains, well, there will always be Zionists and Jews hiding in the woodwork somewhere who can be blamed, isn't that so?

Update, 12/20: Relevant comments at Dr. Sanity

Update, 12/21: Moving Fast
Syria has signed a pledge to store Iranian nuclear weapons and missiles. [Hat tip: Regime Change Iran]

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Another Iraq Election Photograph

Courtesy of Netzeitung, (Hat tip: Misunderestimated Germans):

What has this person experienced in life? What are her feelings at this moment captured by the camera? An entire novel is encompassed by this one face!

I doubt Leonardo could ever paint this, though perhaps Goya could. I invite not only psychologists but art analysts and historians to leave their own comments.

Addendum, 12/19/05

It is interesting to contrast this photo with the one I blogged from the January election. The feelings of the young lady are easy to guess, despite the fact that only one eye, one finger, and one tear are visible. But this old woman, despite the fact that we see all of her face, is far more difficult to interpret. Strange.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Here's to You, Ms. Friedenauer!

Is the MSM finally starting to turn? Fairbanks News-Miner correspondent Margaret Friedenauer, embedded with the 172nd Stryker Brigade in Mosul, reports (Hat tip: Dr. Sanity):

Everything I thought I knew was wrong.

Maybe not wrong, but certainly different than [I had] playing in my head...I had similar notions about Iraq, Mosul, the war and what exactly soldiers do. And it was handily shattered like glass today by a group of soldiers, half of them younger than myself...

I still haven’t seen U.S. troops engaged or encounter car bombs or explosives. But I did see them play backgammon with some local police and Iraqi soldiers. I saw them take photos with more locals and make jokes mostly lost in translation. They gave advice and expertise to local troops on how to conduct a neighborhood patrol. They drank the local customary tea, and many admitted they’ve become addicted to it. They know several locals by name. I didn’t hear one slight or ridicule of a very distinct culture.

...people back home don’t quite get it. They don’t see the real picture. They don’t get the real story. Some of them, like Lt. Col. Gregg Parrish, look seriously pained in the face when he says only a part of the picture is being told; the part of car bombs and explosives and suicide bombers and death. It’s a necessary part of the picture, but not a complete one, he says.

I’ve listened to the soldiers and Parrish about the missing pieces of the puzzles that don’t reach home. My selfish, journalistic drive immediately thinks “Perfect. A story that hasn’t been told. Let me at it.”

But I have a slight hesitation; I need to keep balanced. I can’t be a cheerleader, even if I have a soft spot for the hometown troops, especially after the welcome they’ve shown me. I still need to be truthful and walk the centerline and report the good or bad.

But then I realize it’s not a conflict of interest. If I am truly unbiased, then I need to get used to this one simple fact; that the untold story, might in fact, be a positive one. It takes a minute to wrap my mind around it, as a news junkie that became a news writer. The great, career-making, breaking news stories usually don’t have happy endings

Ms. Friedenauer thus cites another motivation behind the endless criticisms of America's conduct: the desire of the journalist for career-making, high-visibility glory. It takes "a minute to wrap my mind around it" because Ms. Friedenauer - "a news junkie turned news writer" - finally realizes, to her shock, that such careerism can be a prime conflict with truth telling, and she needed the time to sort out which ideal she valued more, before deciding how to report to her newspaper.

Of course, truly experienced MSM journalists would never make such a mistake. Here's to you, Ms. Friedenauer!

Iraqi Election Photos

Did Iraqis ever experience such intense feelings of duty, dignity, pride, and joy under the rule of Saddam Hussein and his Ba'athists?

Here's another link to Iraq and America the Beautiful!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Tipple Time!

And now for something completely different...

I have decided to buy another bottle of bourbon. This is a momentous decision for me, because my current bottle of Old Setter was purchased before bar codes even existed! (Believe it or not, The Wife worries that I'm becoming an alcoholic!)

Jews who keep kosher can only choose from a limited number of wines, as grapes and grape products must be handled specially. But since bourbon is distilled only from grains, observant Jews have just as wide a choice as everybody else.

I've read numerous reviews and sampled several products with my friends. My top three picks are Woodford Reserve, Basil Hayden's, and Maker's Mark.

Readers, I look forward to your comments.

Update, 12/22

I chose Woodford Reserve. Perhaps not quite as sweet as I desire, but complex and entertaining, with a mild finish that keeps me coming back for more - dangerous stuff. And none of the bad "notes" I've experienced with Wild Turkey or Old Setter. The "nose" of Maker's Mark was too much like rubbing alcohol. Basil Hayden's was just a touch more expensive and that decided me.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Media War on Israel - and On Our Souls

Andrew Bolt, columnist for the Australian Herald-Sun, cites eleven factors in detail:

1) Selection of journalists (to be like everyone else)
2) Lack of personal leadership (by media bosses)
3) No appreciation of history (see #11)
4) Textbook reality (books, especially Marxist ones, have all the answers)
5) Disdain for wealth (Israel=rich, Arabs=poor)
6) Disdain for personal achievement (Leninist-Stalinist thinking)
7) Disdain for Christianity (too many values shared with Judaism)
8) Revival of paganism and tribalism (like Greens' enviro-worship)
9) Hidden admiration of violence (I didn't know it was hidden!)
10) Contempt for democracy (lefties want to RULE others, not be ruled by them)
11) Post-modernism (only opinions, not facts, count)

That's just my summary list. Read it all. (Hat tip: my namesake)

I think the list is incomplete, and a partial diversion from true core issues:


No one is scared that Israelis might deliberately target journalists for their opinions. But everyone knows that starting at least with the 70s civil war in Lebanon, terrorists started doing exactly that. At first, journalists acknowledged they were writing under-the-gun. Then they stopped doing that, arguing that they didn't need to repeat this in every story.

Nowadays such acknowledgements don't happen at all, or very rarely. At CNN the media boss who admitted kowtowing to Saddam (after Saddam's overthrow) was contradicted by one of his reporters who claimed"

"my station was intimidated by the Administration and its foot soldiers at Fox News. And it did, in fact, put a climate of fear and self-censorship, in my view, in terms of the kind of broadcast work we did."

Bull! What reporter has ever felt intimidated by the Bush Administration? Rather than believe the reporter, we should stop and think a moment: the reporter still works in dangerous places, the boss does not. Is it not more likely, then, that the reporter is making this patently false claim to shield herself from the thugs she still deals with?

These are not the days of World War II; death is comparitively rare, and reporters can choose to stay out of danger or not, as they wish. The bravest reporters, those willing to freely report without the protection of the American security umbrella - Atlantic Monthly's Michael Kelly, The Wall Street Journal's Daniel Pearl, and independent art critic Steven Vincent come to mind - are dead. They have not been replaced, and with their departure the last vestige of honest and straightforward reporting has nearly vanished from the terror zones of this world.

There is an exception: Michael Yon comes close, but he consciously considers himself an author, not a reporter, and he concentrates on individual units of the American military. Tellingly, Yon did not rise to his position as America's chief war correspondent through the mainstream media, but through his blog -- and until he appealed to his readership for funds, he could hardly afford it.

Why won't the MSM hire Yon as a war correspondent? Mr. Yon might sniff that he would never want to, but he has bills to pay, and I guess that he wouldn't turn down a good offer. But no one has stepped forward to hire him, although the media have snapped up his photographs eagerly.

Why haven't any of the big networks or major newspapers or wire services offerred to employ Yon?


Because Yon is the real thing, as much as Murrow and Cronkite were in World War II, and by hiring him, the MSM would be putting everyone else - including their defeatist Vietnam-shaped editors - to shame. Who has ever met a modest big media reporter or editor? [12/13/05 Update: Just look at this narcissistic Washington Post article!] And that is the key cultural weakness of the MSM. One has to be endowed with modesty to swallow one's pride and admit or yield to superior talent and courage.

Out of suppressed fear and shame, violent feelings ensue and emerge to lash out as targets that can not or do not strike back. As the Talmud says, "Those who start out kind to the cruel, end up being cruel to the kind". Thus Israel - and the United States - are prime targets of the MSM's secret shame.

It is the fears of the MSM that have lead to its misleading reporting and slow extinction as a credible source of truth. May the rest of us take a different course, and thus avoid our extinction - physical or spiritual - as well.

Update 12/19/05

I was wrong - at least partially. Michael Totten is one brave guy. Just read this.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Tet-heads vs. Net-heads

Senator Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) is in trouble:

Lieberman has argued that Bush has a strategy for victory in Iraq, has dismissed calls for the president to set a timetable for troop withdrawal, and has warned that it would be a "colossal mistake" for the Democratic leadership to "lose its will" at this critical point in the war...[his] latest defense of Bush and his stinging salvos at some in his own party have infuriated Democrats, who say he is undercutting their effort to forge a consensus on the war and draw clear distinctions with Republicans before the 2006 elections.

Leftist Democrats (most all of the Democrats in Congress nowadays) see the Iraq "insurgency" as the Tet Offensive all over again: that with the help of the MSM, defeat can be pulled out of the jaws of victory and the President will be crushed by the media-inspired doubts of "credibility."

Both "Troops-must-stay" Senator Lieberman and "Troops-must-leave" Congressman Murtha spoke out after actually visiting Iraq and surveying the scene in detail. By not just supporting President Bush but using the MSM to propagate a too-juicy-not-to-publish statement supporting him, Lieberman is threatening the leftist strategy. But not by much: MSM stories about "pro-War" Congressman John Murtha (D-Pa.) advocating immediate troop withdrawals far outnumber stories about Senator Lieberman supporting President Bush.

In 1968 Johnson had no way to fight back and resigned. But in 2005 there is the World Wide Web and Fox News. The weapons and soldiers are different but the war is the same! There are no guarantees, but this time, the outcome may be very different.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

"Millions For Defense, Not One Cent For Tribute"

This just in:

The "tribute" referred to was the millions paid in the 18th century, shortly after independence, to ransom American hostages - now lacking the protection of the British Navy - from the Barbary pirates of the Ottoman Empire.

This tribute was a substantial proportion of federal revenues at the time. President Jefferson didn't want to pay it and sent the little U.S. fleet and its Marines into action. Together with Arab allies and foreign mercenaries, U.S. forces reached "the shores of Tripoli" and subdued its pasha into peace. This task was repeated under President Monroe a decade later, and this time piracy was ended permanently.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

It certainly does. The motto is attributed to Representative Robert Goodloe Harper in 1798, so this 1841 "NOT ONE CENT" - actually a token that circulated as a sort of currency - commemorates the accomplishments of the two previous generations. These naval actions were controversial two centuries ago, but at least Congress understood the need for flexibility by commanders in distant theaters, and the importance of the country's image abroad:

...In operations at such a distance, it becomes necessary to leave much to the discretion of the agents employed, but events may still turn up beyond the limits of that discretion. Unable in such a case to consult his government, a zealous citizen will act as he believes that would direct him, were it apprised of the circumstances, and will take on himself the responsibility. In all these cases the purity and patriotism of the motives should shield the agent from blame, and even secure a sanction where the error is not too injurious....

A nation, by establishing a character of liberality and magnanimity, gains in the friendship and respect of others more than the worth of mere money.
[President Thomas Jefferson, Special Message to the House and Senate, January 13, 1806.]

In the present age of our hyper-critical media always on the attack against any Administration that actually defends America's interests, I believe that an effective way to counter its disruptive influence - Jim Hoagland in today's Washington Post actually cites image and not substance as threatening - is the presence of American soldiers and diplomats abroad, and the reputation they establish for themselves and their country.

Update 12/15/05: Mightier Than the Pen

It appears this former reporter thinks so as well:

I happened to meet a Marine Corps colonel who'd just come back from Iraq. He gave me a no-nonsense assessment of what was happening there, but what got to me most was his description of how the Marines behaved and how they looked after each other in a hostile world. That struck me as a metaphor for how America should be in the world at large...

...I decided to do my first physical training and see what happened...I met a Marine...and started training with him. Pretty soon I filled out the application...

In a way, I see the Marines as a microcosm of America at its best. Their focus isn't on weapons and tactics, but on leadership. That's the whole point of the Marines.

Update, 1/6/06

A related, Mudville-inspired post here.

Note, 2/13/07: Attention university students! Apparently this is a popular post for college essays and mid-term papers. I suggest you reference it correctly.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Second Response to Hareega

Today Reega posts terrible pictures of Iraqis children in the aftermath of terror attacks. She asks:

Will these Iraqi children remember the day people were allowed to vote more than the day they lost their parents ?

Will they think of this was as a war on terror or a war of terror?

This war has transformed each of these children to a potential "Bin Ladin" when they grow up.

Can't Americans stop singing "we didn't start the fire" for just one day?

This is my response:

If you read my blog, especially the entries starting with Why is the U.S. in Iraq?, you would see that this American doesn't think the question applies. It isn't that "we didn't start the fire"; it's that Iraq was already run by a terrorist before the U.S. invaded and civilian casualties have dropped by a factor of at least five (and are still dropping) since. It's just that photographers can now snap away at the remaining carnage with far less fear for their lives.

Nevertheless, your point is a good one. But in a sense this dilemma doesn't apply. I agree with your characterization: Iraqis get democracy in exchange for U.S. and Iraqi soldiers killing Al-Qaeda. But had America invaded with three times the force -- enough to suppress any "insurgency" -- the long-run shame of Iraqis may have generated the destructive impulses you fear.

Al-Qaida would then have stayed away from Iraq and attacked elsewhere, rather than slowly eroding its strength through fighting in Iraq. Only a few years ago, Al-Queda planned to devastate Jordan with chemical attacks that would have killed tens of thousands. Last month's attack accomplished only a fraction of this carnage -- and the attackers were relatives of terrorist leaders, a sure sign that the noose is tightening. Imagine how much worse Al-Qaida's attacks would be around the world if the U.S. never invaded Iraq in the first place.

Since the U.S. force is small, it can only succeed in establishing peace and democracy with active Iraqi participation, the Iraqis can take much pride in their accomplishments -- but as the world can see, the children are being attacked by the terrorists as a result of U.S. sensitivity to these matters.

I expect neither excessive "love" nor hatred from Iraqis; both Americans and Iraqis are acting out of self-interest. I can hope the children who survive these horrors will have the opportunity to mature in a free society and thus may be free from the destructive impulses you fear. The children of the Holocaust do not dream of killing Germans.

Do you have any better answers, Reega?

[Photograph added 12/8/05]

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Sabotaging the Soviets

Economic sabotage during the final decade of the Cold War. What makes it especially scrumptious is that the Communists thought they were secretly stealing deliberately flawed technologies from the West. Cute. (Hat tip: Wired)

It does sound a little like a "B"-grade movie plot, or an old episode of Mission Impossible. Who knows, maybe that's what inspired President Reagan to approve it!

Friday, November 25, 2005

A French Immigrant Looks at Thanksgiving

What a strange holiday that is! A day to offer our thanks, in a complete secular way (if one chose so), for what we have. There is no equivalent anywhere in the world.
I did not always celebrate Thanksgiving. It seemed a weird celebration with strange food...

An American diplomat, Dr. Demarche, writes that July 4th and Thanksgiving are the two holidays he misses most. Christians celebrate it, my family celebrates it, Muslims celebrate it. Even some American Indians celebrate it, for it was also a celebration of the friendship of peoples, before darker incidents occurred to sunder them.

It is a truly American holiday, for why did so many peoples leave their homes for America in the first place, if not to better their lives? And so we give thanks with prayer and such a feast that Thanksgiving is, as Art Buchwald wrote, the one day of the year that Americans eat better than the French do.

Dr. Sanity: "Moral Exibitionism"

Scratch the surface of a moral exhibitionist, and you will find an opportunistic idealogue who actually believes in nothing and stands for nothing.

And my response in the comments. (The Assistant Village Idiot also has an interesting perspective on things.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Is it all DeGaulle's Fault?

After all, he created the unique DeGaullist philosophy that justified France's cynical opportunism, maintaining that France must operate independently of its "allies" or else risk internal political fracture. France, then, would partly oppose the U.S. geopolitically to extract maximum political advantages for itself, and let others bear higher costs for ends that France itself desired, yet would not admit publicly.

DeGaulle either wouldn't admit, or implicitly accepted, that such a policy would be a moral cancer that would eat into the French soul: if France cannot articulate its true desires and interests, how can its people tell what France truly stands for, good or evil, brotherhood or selfishness?

Clearly this disease is as much a part of France's domestic politics as it is of its foreign policy. Will the French elite change, do nothing, or depart? They can no longer comfort themselves by thinking Aprés moi, le deluge.

Friday, November 11, 2005

French Muslims & American Blacks

Marc over at American Future has a discussion on the parallels between the U.S. Civil Rights Movement that has largely permitted black integration and France's current troubles. Here is my contribution:

The American solution consisted of several steps:

1) The Civil Rights Act of 1964 dismantled legal barriers.

2) Suspension of the Draft (1970) meant that blacks (I use "black" because I know too many white African-Americans) could no longer complain that military service was an unjust burden for people without equal rights.

3) Massive increases in welfare payments (~1972?) paid off the masses.

4) Affirmative Action (starting mid-70s) allowed blacks to feel they could get a step up in the world as they couldn't before.

5) Welfare reform (1996) removed the rent-seeking ennui at the root of minority dissatisfaction. (The welfare state is very boring and offers no opportunity for jobless men on the dole to prove themselves.)

Sometime in the next ten years I hope Affirmative Action will be eliminated, except as a monitoring function. Then, after seventy years - three generations - America's Civil Rights Revolution will be complete.

For I date the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement to 1943, when the Tuskeegee Airmen demonstrated in World War II that blacks could fly and fight just as well as anybody else, that they could be entrusted to kill white people and be patriotic Americans. The lesson bit deep in the military and spread from there.

France doesn't have the luxury of a seventy-year time frame. The Tuskeegee Airmen started the Civil Rights Movement with a demonstration of their patriotism. What are the rioters in France demonstrating?

Response to Hareega

I'm not pro-qaeda or pro-Hamas or pro-any extreme religious organization, including Israel. However I'm still too sensitive to Israel and its flag and will always consider it an occupier, never a friend. The way Israel was created out of nothing and the way palestenians were expelled from their lands is something the entire world should be ashamed of.

(sigh) Where does the idea come from that Jews "stole" land to establish Israel? And exactly who should be "ashamed" at "the way palestinians were expelled"?

After their victory, Israel passed a law that allowed Arab refugees to re-settle in Israel provided they would sign a form in which they renounced violence, swore allegiance to the state of Israel, and became peaceful productive citizens. During the decades of this law’s tenure, more than 150,000 Arab refugees have taken advantage of it to resume productive lives in Israel.

That's over a quarter of those who fled. None of the 700,000 Jews expelled from Arab-controlled areas since 1948 have ever been allowed back to their former homes.

"The Arab armies entered Palestine to protect the Palestinians from the Zionist tyranny but, instead, THEY ABANDONED THEM, FORCED THEM TO EMIGRATE AND TO LEAVE THEIR HOMELAND, imposed upon them a political and ideological blockade and threw them into prisons similar to the ghettos in which the Jews used to live in Eastern Europe, as if we were condemmed to change places with them; they moved out of their ghettos and we occupied similar ones. The Arab States succeeded in scattering the Palestinian people and in destroying their unity. They did not recognize them as a unified people until the States of the world did so, and this is regrettable".

- by Abu Mazen, from the article titled: "What We Have Learned and What We Should Do", published in Falastin el Thawra, the official journal of the PLO, of Beirut, in March 1976

"Abu Mazen" is the nom de guerre of the current Palestinian President.


Second Response to Hareega

The British Empire: Palestine

Former PLO Terrorist Now Advocates Israel
BBC News: Palestinian militant turned peacemaker
Three ex-terrorists speak in Princeton
Muslim cleric defends Israel, Blames Arafat, Arab leaders...

Stealing Israel's History

Nekama's Hammer

The UN and Palestinian Refugees - a Zionist Remembers

Through Arab Eyes

A Koranic reconciliation with the Jewish Return

Islam’s mystical claim on Jerusalem
What does the Koran say?
Even the Koran Affirms Jews' Rights to Jerusalem
The Koran and the Jews
Does Jerusalem Really Matter to Islam?
Is the Koran Zionist?
Jerusalem In The Koran
Pakistan Today: Thinking Jerusalem
Die Welt: Religious Madness
A tale of shame and darkness

Warrant for Genocide: The Myth of the Jewish World Conspiracy and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion

Solving the Palestinian/Israeli Conflict

Why Does the Left Hate Israel?

Answering a Plagiarist
Why this agnostic WASP is a Zionist

“Palestine Is Our Land And The Jews Are Our Dogs”

Why this venom towards Israel?

Imperial Israel

As a young woman, I visited a Christian friend in Cairo during Friday prayers, and we both heard the verbal attacks on Christians and Jews from the loudspeakers outside the mosque. They said: "May God destroy the infidels and the Jews, the enemies of God. We are not to befriend them or make treaties with them." We heard worshippers respond "Amen".

My friend looked scared; I was ashamed. That was when I first realised that something was very wrong in the way my religion was taught and practised.
We were brought up to hate - and we do

"The unique misfortune of the Palestinian refugees is that they are a weapon in what seems to be a permanent war." The Atlantic, 1961!

1948, Israel, and the Palestinians: Annotated Text

The Legal Foundation and Borders of Israel under International Law

Why religion is part of the solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict

Times Archive: Establishment of the State of Israel

Keeping Israel On The Defensive As Long As Possible With Lie After Lie

The Illegal-Settlements Myth

*** NEW!!! ***

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Happy Birthday, USMC!

Today is the 230th anniversary of the founding of the Marine Corps (Tip: Daily Demarche). I know them best from the Iwo Jima Memorial I drive by on a regular basis. It is a larger-than-life memorial for larger-than-life men.

Every now and then, someone in Congress thinks they have a bright idea: Let's save money by merging the Corps with the Army! Luckily, a storm of protest always squashes such foolish ideas.

I do not disparage the Army when I write that the Marine Corps represents a separate and very fine tradition of total dedication to defending their country and their honor that is worth supporting. As one witness to the flag-raising at Mt. Suribachi said, "the raising of that flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next five hundred years."

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

On the Levees of New Orleans, Book III

A Unique Site, A Unique Theory, and A Unique Solution

Now the story is that the Corps wanted gate instead of levee walls:

An Army Corps of Engineers proposal to build a gate across the 17th Street Canal instead of building levee walls along the canal's banks was shot down in 1990 by the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board and the Orleans and Jefferson parish levee boards because of fears the gate could cause flooding from rainwater accompanying a hurricane.

Corps officials still think the proposed structure, known as a "butterfly gate," would have made more sense...

"The butterfly gates would have worked," [Corps project manager] Naomi said. "The problem was that when the gates are closed, you can't use the pumping station. The city can't pump out water from rainfall."

...Naomi said the corps argued that when storm surge accompanying a hurricane moved up the canal without the proposed gate, the pumping station's ability to pump water out of the city would be reduced and eventually halted anyway.

"You can't pump against the high head created by storm surge, and then you can't pump the rain out anyway," Naomi said.

The very point I made in my original post.

... Harold Gorman, former executive director of the Sewerage & Water Board, confirmed that the agency recommended against the gate idea because water board officials thought the risk of rainwater flooding from hurricanes was too great...

"The corps had talked about putting butterfly gates in all the drainage canals, and our big concern was that it would shut down all the pumping stations, and that's what would have happened," Gorman said...

If it had been built, the butterfly gate would have normally been in an open position, allowing water to flow from the canal into the lake.

When a hurricane approached, the gate's individual valves would have remained open as long as the water level in the canal was higher than lake side, but would close when the water level in the lake was higher than in the canal behind the gate.

That would allow the pumping station to continue to operate, even in a hurricane, as long as the water pressure it generated was greater than the push of water from the lake, according to the corps documents.

But the local Board just didn't get it, apparently. No wonder the State of Louisiana is considering seizing control itself:

There are currently 24 levee districts in the state that operate individual boards to administer flood-control programs. Most have their own budgets with very little oversight as well as full-time staffs and policing powers in certain cases.

A group of Republican lawmakers wants to consolidate the two dozen boards and give the state full control of their operations, in the hope that the move would impress a wary Congress enough to dole out more money.

More money, but would state control really make a difference? Remember, the current hypothesis is that flood control ultimately failed due to Army Corps of Engineers-approved design flaws, not maintenance or local oversight issues.

...Rep. Warren Triche, D-Chackbay, said he wouldn’t mind seeing levee boards disbanded.

"All these levee board members, except for a small handful, aren’t worth a flip," he said. "They spend taxpayers’ money and don’t have to answer to no one. If you put one person in an authoritative position, at least they would have to be responsible to the people...Some of these levee board commissioners would sell their mothers’ gold teeth to keep their positions..."

Triche himself has a unique solution to everything:

"None of this would be happening if we would have sold New Orleans to Cuba like I’ve been saying."


The Army Corps of Engineers new creature, IPET, is active and its web site is up and running. The plans of the 17th Street and London Avenue Canals are already available, and they include lots of information on the soils beneath the floodwalls! I hope the Orleans Canal plans will be available soon for comparison.

Professionals reviewing the plans may may recall Vincent Ettari's "Evidence of Misdesign" critique from three weeks ago. (Of course, New York possesses something New Orleans severely lacks: bedrock! But that doesn't invalidate Mr. Ettari's other points.)

In a private email, Dr. Okey Nwogu, a professor of hydrodynamics and wave mechanics at the University of Michigan, hypothesizes

"that the soil was undermined due to cyclic loading associated with low-frequency wave-induced oscillations. These low frequency waves (also known as infragravity waves) were generated by a complex process of nonlinear energy tranfer from the wind-wave frequencies (5-6s) to periods of 30s to 200s due to the shallow nature of Lake Pontchartrain."

Dr. Nwogu's short but detailed paper on this, featuring a preliminary numerical simulation, is available here.

Update: 11/3 & 11/4/05

Congressional hearings

on the levee failures have begun. Solomon2 wishes someone would pay him to attend - these sessions can be much more fun than C-SPAN reveals - but I'll have to settle for the news reports collected from the AP , Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times:

The engineers who designed the floodwalls that collapsed during Hurricane Katrina did not fully consider the porousness of the Louisiana soil or make other calculations that would have pointed to the need for stronger levees with deeper pilings and wider bases, researchers say.

At least one key scenario was ignored in the design, say the researchers, who are scheduled to report their findings at a congressional hearing Wednesday: the possibility that canal water might seep into the dirt on the dry side of the levees, thereby weakening the embankment holding up the floodwalls.

"I'd call it a design omission," said Robert Bea, a University of California at Berkeley civil engineering professor who took part in the study for the National Science Foundation.

The research team found other problems in the city's flood-control system, including evidence of poor maintenance and confusion over jurisdiction.

Bea also questioned the margin for error engineers used in their designs, saying the standards - which call for structures to be 30 percent stronger than the force they are meant to stop - date to the first half of the 1900s, when most levees were built to protect farmland, not major cities.

"The center of New Orleans is certainly not protection of farmland, so the factor of safety was incredibly low," Bea said. "We're talking about thousands of families without homes and shutting down a commercial infrastructure that's pretty darn important to the United States."

Yes, I noticed the low safety factor as soon as I glanced at the plans for the 17th Street Canal. Margins that low are more typical of situations where the alloy compositions and rivet weights are known to three decimal places, like aerospace. Why even consider such low margins for civil engineering projects that require much greater tolerances?

...Steel-sheet pilings driven into the ground are meant to stop seepage from the wet side of the levee to the dry side and serve as an anchor for the levees' protective, concrete walls. But a number of engineers have said the pilings apparently were not driven deeply enough into the relatively loose, porous soil endemic to southern Louisiana.

The result: Water seeped deep into the ground and destabilized the soil, causing the walls to collapse.

Bea also said that the flood-control system has many jurisdictions involved, and the resulting confusion leaves "no one minding the store."

While the Corps is responsible for levee construction, local levee boards take care of most maintenance. In some cases, the state highway department or railroad companies handle maintenance of floodwalls when their rights of way cross the levee system.

A flood gate near the Industrial Canal, which helped inundate parts of east New Orleans, was missing because of damage caused by a train, Bea said. The Union Pacific railroad had removed the gate for repairs, and it dispatched employees to fill the gap with sandbags as Katrina approached.

"It didn't hold," Bea said. "There isn't a door, and they've got measly sandbags they're putting in to compensate."

A good partner to these reports is this photo gallery posted by the Times-Picayune.

One of the three investigating team leaders reports on relations with the Corps of Engineers:

Seed described what he called "variable levels of cooperation" from the Corps, depending on personal contact, geographic location and even what day of the week. He said the NSF's team of engineers and the Corps spent a week's worth of back-and-forth communication "in which the responses, in our view, were insufficient and sometimes misdirected."

"It became clear to us that they were struggling to get the right kind of people put in charge of the projects to get the concerns addressed," Seed said.

The Corps has since corrected that gap amid what Seed called tremendous logistical difficulties. "The Corps of Engineers is working very hard at all this," he said. "They're also stretched very thin."

Yesterday's post pointed out that the prevailing theory right now is that design flaws are to blame, but allegations (not proof) of shoddy construction are also aired:

...The allegations, although not proved, have prompted investigators to request a meeting next week with federal law enforcement officials to share details of the reports.

The list of alleged misdeeds includes the use of weak, poorly compacted soils in levee construction and deliberate skimping on steel pilings used to anchor floodwalls to the ground.

"What we have right now are stories of malfeasance and some field evidence that seems to correlate with those stories," said Raymond B. Seed, leader of one of three independent teams of experts investigating why the levees failed. Seed, an engineering professor at the University of California at Berkeley, said it is not yet clear how big a role such acts played in the failure of the levees...

"...These levees should have been expected to perform adequately at these levels if they had been designed and constructed properly...Not just human error was involved..."

Seed's preliminary findings were buttressed by similar comments Wednesday by Peter G. Nicholson, a University of Hawaii engineering professor who heads a separate investigation by a group from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Ivor van Heerden, a Louisiana State University geologist heading a third inquiry, for the state of Louisiana, also raised doubts about the levees' design and construction.But Paul Mlakar, a senior research scientist for the Army Corps of Engineers who is heading the agency's internal probe, was reluctant to offer firm conclusions before completion of his investigation, expected in June.

Nicholson said New Orleans levee boards rarely coordinated and instead "did what they saw fit," leading to a hodgepodge of earthen, cement, sand and sheet-metal floodwalls of varying heights and designs.

He said evidence suggested repeated "transition failures," weak links in levee walls where municipalities bordered with each other — and where gaps in uniformity may have led to erosion and flooding.

At the 17th Street levee, where an early-morning breach Aug. 29 led to flooding in downtown New Orleans and on the city's west side, the floodwall's old sheet-metal underpinnings may have not reached the depths called for by the Army's overall design — perhaps because of shortcuts during construction of the foundation in the early 1990s.

Seed declined to specify the "malfeasance" alleged, saying he planned to meet with federal officials to request help verifying corruption reports. "We're talking about people who can subpoena things," Seed said.

He said his team had heard troubling reports from "engineers, contractors and, in some cases, from widows" of contractors who worked on levee projects.

...After the hearing, Seed said that corps design documents detailed four different depths for sheet piles at one stretch of the 17th Street levee, and that the team had heard allegations that the pilings did not reach the depth specified by corps engineers.

Robert G. Bea, a civil engineering professor at Berkeley and a member of Seed's investigating team, said that the sheet piles, heavy-gauge steel supports, were driven into the foundations of the 17th Street canal to a shallower depth than the design required — possibly weakening the levee's underpinnings.

The investigators have already determined that the design for the storm walls along the canal misjudged the strength of the soil in the area and that the sheet piles were too shallow. Those design missteps — which would have been the responsibility of the corps — could have been compounded by construction firms that further reduced the strength of the levee wall by installing even shorter piles, Bea said.

The London Avenue levee also breached after Katrina. There were separate reports that contractors cut corners in the amounts of dirt used in the levee foundation. One official said the earthen berm appeared to be built up with spongy, substandard "swamp muck" — perhaps dredged from the levee channel — instead of dry, compact and less porous dirt fill.

Investigators have found that the fill used at the London Avenue levee was full of "shell material" and sand, both too weak to withstand walls of rushing water when the levees were subjected to the surges during the hurricane.

Design documents for the levees called for stronger dirt fill, Bea said. A photograph taken after the storm and displayed at Wednesday's hearing showed that large quantities of weak fill, mainly sand, had washed away from the levee breach. Evidence suggests the fill material was dredged from the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, a waterway that cuts through a former swamp.

Seed said the Army Corps of Engineers fell short not only in its levee design but in its oversight. He said the corps had been weakened by years of budget cuts and an exodus of top-flight engineers.

Corps spokeswoman Carol Sanders said the agency still had "some of the best engineers in the world." She added that she had been unaware of any allegations of corruption in New Orleans levee construction.

"I was surprised to hear that today," she said.

Obviously, with planned safety margins below 2.0, unplanned weak fill of shells and sand wasn't going to do the job. I've witnessed Army supervision of projects before and I can guess it wasn't "the best engineers in the world" who handled this.

However, I suppose even good engineers may hesitate to push if the contractor is in dire financial straits: "If I insist he does everything all over again but he declares bankruptcy, what are we to do with this half-finished floodwall and no contractor? Maybe it'll be all right as is, and I'll just alter this document a little so it looks all right..."

Engineers have to be strong, their bosses need to put muscle behind objectively negative assessments, and there has to be some mechanism for dealing with project setbacks or failures without killing people's careers.

(This ASCE page summarizes Nicholson's testimony and offers links to his full account and the ASCE Preliminary Data Report.)

Update 2: 11/11/05

Short Sheeted

But according to the engineering section of the Orleans board, in 1988 those pilings were pulled as part of work done by the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board, and new pilings were driven. The length of those piles is not a part of the public record, and the Sewerage & Water Board did not answer requests for details on that work.

"The corps keeps saying the piles were 17 feet, but their own drawings show them to be 10," van Heerden said. "This is the first time anyone has been able to get a firm fix on what's really down there.

"And, so far, it's just 10 feet. Not nearly deep enough."

Now we're getting down to the nitty-gritty of the engineering records. It doesn't look good, but it isn't yet complete, either. I can't yet come to the conclusion Wizbang does. Not yet. Still, how could it happen? I don't think the Army is short of diagnostic equipment: sonar could have detected these problems a decade ago as well as it could last week.

The Engineering News-Record offers stories on the technical and human aspects of levee reconstruction:

Under a 52-day, $6.2-million contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Boh Bros. Construction, New Orleans, now has started driving 65-ft long ARBED AZ 26 sheet pile 40 to 50 ft into the floor of the 17th Street Canal to create a 700-ft-long dam around the canal side of the breach. The pile work should take about 21 days...

...Bertucci's crew camped out the first couple of weeks in trailers at the company yard. For the first 22 days, Gaspard didn't even get a break to see his family. "I have a good friend who just lives four blocks this way," he said, pointing west toward Jefferson Parish on the opposite side from the fatal breach. "He was lucky that he didn't get water because it could have just as easily broken on the other side."

(Note: my computer can't load the IPET website. It seems that my computer is blocking access and I can't unblock it. I encourage my readers to examine the IPET site and notify me of any significant additions there.)

Update 3: 11/14/05

Shell Game?

The "Like Putting Bricks on Jell-O" Newhouse News article referred to by Wizbang and the LA Times article on corruption during levee construction (extract posted above) both refer to poor soils used in levee construction as contributing to the failure. Instead of dry dirt the fill material consisted of "shells and sand", probably material dredged from the "Mister Go" waterway on the other side of the city.

How did that stuff end up being used to "support" the levees and floodwalls of New Orleans? Isn't enough good dirt available in Louisiana?

I wondered about this until a former NOLA resident mentioned to me that such "shell and sand" material was commonly dredged from Lake Pontchartrain and used to surface driveways and roadways in the West End/Lakeshore area. He added that in the 1980s employees at the Corps of Engineers continually complained that there wasn't enough money for them to do their jobs.


In any construction project, moving heavy equipment and material to the work site is a major expense; if equipment is already present from another job nearby, the contractor's costs can be substantially reduced. Perhaps investigators of the levee failures can examine what major roadway projects were taking place in the neighborhood while the deficient canal segments were under reconstruction. One can easily imagine a devious contractor arranging for extra truckloads of dredged sand to be delivered to the canal area instead of the road construction site -- and pocketing the difference, of course!

As road construction often occurs at night, this particular maneuver may have escaped the eyes - or instrumentation - of the cash-strapped Army Corps of Engineers. That doesn't excuse the Corps from its oversight duties, and it doesn't mean the floodwall design wasn't deficient in the first place. But it may be another piece to the puzzle of how the levees failed.


From last month, an excellent article in the University of California - Berkeley newspaper, Big hurt in the Big Easy, detailing the activities of the Berkeley investigating team led by professors Ray Seed and Bob Bea:

...Bea noted that weak soils associated with a peat layer at the base of the levee likely allowed the levee and wall at the 17th Street Canal to slide laterally by about 35 feet, "like stepping on a banana peel."

...Bea expressed doubt that these levees could withstand a Category 3 storm, let alone a Category 4 like Katrina. An expert in organizational behavior, he faulted the Corps for building up the levees to a single, inadequate standard and not confronting the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of the levee flood-defense system.

"The Corps of Engineers built to a set of standards, but they were the wrong standards," he said, noting that even though 1965's Hurricane Betsy was a Category 4 hurricane, the Corps continued to strengthen levees to withstand only a Category 3 storm. Bea is also aware, however, that the Corps from its inception was mandated to focus on specific projects, not the whole picture. With declining funds and a strictly defined mission, the failure of the flood-control system was almost inevitable.

"We tied their hands, and we got what we paid for," Bea said.

The Berkeley and ASCE teams concurred that jurisdictional issues may have created weak links in the levee system. Ports, railroads, parishes, and the Corps all have different construction techniques and maintenance standards, and where levees and walls cross jurisdictions, failures are more likely. Bea pointed to a railroad floodgate at the lakeside port that had been damaged by a train and not yet repaired when the hurricane struck. The team is still investigating whether the gap was adequately sandbagged to close the resulting gap, as there is evidence that this was a point of entry for floodwaters along that levee section.

"It would be like leaving the drain open in a bathtub," another team member said. "It's a recipe for potential disaster to have 70 miles of levee, and then have so many different people in charge of different pieces."

Said Bea, emphatically: "This problem is much broader than the Corps of Engineers or any other individual group. At every interface we encountered in our investigation — whether between soil and concrete or people and organizations — there has been a breakdown...

In short, because no one looked at the whole picture, "failure was almost inevitable". Does this not imply that the U.S. needs a permanent Advisory Board on waterway issues? Louisiana isn't the only state that may be threatened by failing to see "the whole picture" of multiple water projects.

Update 4: 11/16/05

Cuba's Loss

New Orleans won't get sold after all. Instead, the Louisiana Senate plans to consolidate the various local levee authorities into one agency (Senate Bill 95) at the end of the year.

Although I think this move is correct in the abstract, it seems premature to do so before the levee failure investigation is complete - immediate reorganization may even impede it. Most annoyingly, the bill rules out the appointment of any out-of-state carpetbaggers to the commission. This two-year residence rule seems tailor-made to exclude most of the personnel on the investigating teams analyzing the levee failures.

It also appears to be a subtle message to the in-state personnel that shared responsibility for the mess in the first place: keep quiet to the investigators, and there may be a place for you at the new Southeast Levee Authority:

Any employee heretofore engaged in the performance of the functions of a former levee board may, insofar as practicable, continue as an employee of their respective levee district at the pleasure of the southeast levee authority created in this Chapter and may, insofar as practicable, retain all rights, privileges, and benefits enjoyed by each under the former board.

What is worse is that it seems commissioners will remain "subject to Senate confirmation and serve at the pleasure of the governor making the appointment." In other words, they are carefully vetted to ensure their political acceptability and can be tossed out at any time; they have no politically independent authority.

I am disgusted. Louisiana asks for billions in federal funds but makes it illegal for any out-of-state citizen to help administer it. They couldn't get it right by themselves before; why should New Orleans' citizens or the rest of the nation trust them now? Can Louisiana really re-populate New Orleans by such selfish maneuvers? Who thinks that Congress will be so forthcoming with funds if it is denied effective oversight? Is Louisiana so insular that it thinks it cannot learn from the rest of the world? Dutch experts have already pointed out flaws in the current system. (John McQuaid of Newhouse News is really staying on top of things.)

I have a better suggestion: make it mandatory to appoint at least one-third - preferably one-half - of the levee commissioners from outside Louisiana, including the Executive Director. That will make the great impression that Louisiana is trying to be responsible to the rest of America. Orleanos will then have some assurance that they won't be sacrificed to the old game of plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.


Peter Zimmerman is a Tennessee engineer who criticizes the neglect he discovered of the locks at the Inner Harbor Navigational Canal. Other independent engineers speculate that the Corps won't finish rebuilding the levees before its June deadline.


More events on the corruption front: the ex-head of the Orleans Levee Board gave up his illegal back pay, but relatives of a Louisiana lawmaker won $108 million in no-bid temporary housing contracts - though they lacked a license to do so.


P.S.: lawhawk offers his comments on SB95.

Update 5: 11/17/05

"We Need Leadership"

A must-read interview with waterway historian John Barry:

GW: If you were a consultant to the various commissions, what would your top recommendation be?

BARRY: First, I agree with the Category 5 standard. I think we need to have a comprehensive review of the flood-control system to get there. This would involve the Corps working with outside scientists so that there would be a lot of confidence in the result. I have a lot of friends in the Corps. I have a lot of respect for the Corps. Yet obviously, in this instance, the Corps failed. I'm sure people in the Corps feel almost as badly as anybody else. Obviously nobody feels as badly as someone whose home was destroyed, or whose family had lives lost. That doesn't mean they don't feel the responsibility and feel pain over it. And as I said earlier, I don't agree with the idea of not rebuilding the Ninth Ward. It's clearly a major task, but the area can be protected.

Update 6: 11/18/05

The Locals Mess Up

U.S. Senate Hearing Focuses on Repairing Levees in New Orleans

It is clear that there were multiple causes for the levee failures in New Orleans, but researchers need to gather more data to better understand what they were and how to rebuild properly after the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, according to testimony today [Nov. 17] before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Tom Zimmie, professor and acting chair of civil and environmental engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, offered his perspective on the degree to which the preliminary findings on the failure of the Gulf Coast levees are being incorporated into the restoration of hurricane protection.

“There is not one simple answer as to why the levees failed,” Zimmie said in a prepared statement. “Field observations indicated various causes: overtopping of the levees, erosion, failure in foundation soils underlying the levees, seepage through the soils under the levees causing piping failures, and this is not a complete list...”

Who messed up the soils under the levees? Not the Corps, but the local levee boards. Here are two stories that describe how it happened, first from the experience of local residents, second from the viewpoint of the bureaucracy:

Levee leaks reported to S&WB a year ago

"We called Sewerage & Water Board, and one of their guys tested the water and said it was coming from the canal," LeBlanc recalled. "They sent repair crews out. They tore up sidewalks and driveways. Things got better, but it never got dry.

"So I keep wondering why no one ever came out to ask about it. No one from the Corps of Engineers. No one from the Levee Board. Sewerage & Water Board never came back."

The corps wonders as well.

"If someone had told us there was lake water on the outside of that levee -- or any levee -- it would have been a red flag to us, and we would have been out there, without question," said Jerry Colletti, operations manager for completed works at the corps' New Orleans office.

"We have nothing on that, nothing at all. That's something we should have been told about."

But investigators on forensic engineering teams probing the failures said they aren't surprised the corps didn't know about that leak -- or about numerous other leaks and problems with the levees that residents reported to them. That ignorance reflects a minefield of twisted bureaucratic jurisdictions, poor levee maintenance, missed opportunities and suspect engineering they say likely contributed to the costliest natural disaster in American history.

Interviews with Bellaire Drive residents, officials at the corps and engineers who investigated the breaks, as well as an investigation of Sewerage & Water Board work reports, paint a picture of a disaster that was bound to happen.

"Certainly, that kind of leaking is a warning sign that should have raised alarms, that something was wrong with an important component of the hurricane protection in the city," said J. David Rogers of the University of Missouri, a noted forensic engineer with a specialty on levees and floodwalls who led an inspection of the levee failures.

"But, sad to say," he said, "I'm not surprised if it was missed." He said most of those on the forensic teams investigating the levee failures "do not know who has responsibility for what in New Orleans. That's just the opposite for the rest of the country where levees and dams and such are concerned.

"The residents were right to be concerned."

'Coming from the canal'

They became concerned around Thanksgiving of last year, when LeBlanc's yard at 6780 Bellaire began to look like a wading pool. Her house is about 100 yards south of what would become the breach that flooded much of New Orleans.

"It was at least 6 inches deep the entire length of the yard -- 80 feet from the front to the levee in the back," said LeBlanc, who was left with half a house after the levee break. "At first we thought it was a broken pipe, so we called Sewerage & Water.

"The man in a truck that said 'Environmental' tested the water, and said it wasn't (drinking water or sewage), he said it was coming from the canal behind the levee."

Red tape added to levee failure

-- The structure the Corps of Engineers chose to protect against a Category 3 storm was built atop previous work done by the Orleans Levee District and the Sewerage & Water Board, using engineering drawings and soil strength information handed down by the local agencies -- but never vetted through separate investigations by the corps.

-- The controversial sheet pilings whose length has been the subject of intense scrutiny were not owned or originally driven by the corps.

-- The corps did not build the levee that it depends on to support the floodwall.

It may not be the best way to do things, experts say, but it's the way things are done.

"Unfortunately, that's kind of the norm," said J. David Rogers of the University of Missouri-Rolla, a noted expert in forensic engineering who investigated the New Orleans failures. "The reality is that the corps often gets politicked into taking these things on. So they come in after other things have been done. Then they have to assume what (the previous agencies) giving you is accurate, and that's always scary."

No absolution

Major General Don T. Riley, director of civil works at the Corps of Engineers, said the practice was "not atypical" because the corps often partners with other agencies, many of which have done earlier work on the sites.

But Bob Bea, a University of California-Berkeley engineering professor who helped lead a National Science Foundation investigation of the levee failures, said the professional canons of the American Society of Civil Engineers make it clear: Mistakes made by previous teams at the sites do not absolve the corps of ultimate responsibility.

"The engineer that comes in and builds on top of something -- be it the ground or other facilities -- is responsible for knowing what the conditions are," Bea said. "There should be no confusion about that -- no matter what took place there before they arrived."

The corps was certainly not the first public agency to work on the 17th Street Canal.

The first sheet piles apparently were driven by the Orleans Levee District in 1947 after a hurricane that caused widespread flooding. As reported in The Times-Picayune, the plan was to raise flood protection to 9.5 feet by increasing the height of the levee and driving sheet piles in its center.

In 1966, after Hurricane Betsy caused more flooding, the original pilings were pulled, new pilings were driven between I-10 and the lake, and finished with a small concrete cap. Newspaper photos of the work indicate the pilings were about 18 feet long.

Pilings piled on

Levee District engineers said that in the 1980s, the Sewerage & Water Board deepened and widened the canal, and in doing so pulled the original pilings and drove new ones set farther back form the originals, presumably to be in the center of the repositioned levee. The S&WB did not respond to requests for records, but a Corps of Engineers spokesman said its records show the S&WB received a permit to "dredge and enlarge" the canal in June 1984, and was granted an extension on that permit in 1992, apparently because the work wasn't completed.

That work had to be finished in Aug. 1993, because corps records show that's when Pittman Construction, working under a corps contract, began building the concrete cap that was placed atop the sheet piles. That means the corps was using sheet piles driven by the S&WB supported by a levee recently reshaped by the local agency.

While the corps long maintained that the pilings were driven to 17 feet, last week an LSU forensic engineering team using sophisticated ground sonar said the pilings were driven to just shy of 10 feet.

Either length was too shallow to provide adequate support for the floodwall because of the weak soils of the levee and played a part in the collapses, investigators have concluded. But, based on original design drawings of the floodwall made by the corps, the information the corps collected from the Levee Board and the S&WB about the sheet piles and the soils was accurate.

Risks cited

The corps "drew those lengths at 10 feet, and they had the original soil borings, and the tests on the soil strengths," Bea said. "When we started our investigation, that's what the drawings we had showed. Then the corps gave us new drawings, which we assumed were the as-built set, which showed the pilings driven to 17.

"Now it looks like either they misled us, or they were misled."

Bea said the practice of accepting previous work without further scrutiny has become a common practice at the corps only in recent years. Previously, the corps did all designs, soil investigations and other engineering work in-house.

"Today, due to what we would call downsizing and out-sourcing, that capability does not exist any longer inside the corps," Bea said. "So now they have to use an outside contractor for this work.

"I think the question to ask is, 'What are the savings involved in accepting those risks for projects that are so important?' "

Judging from the Corps' post-Katrina reconstruction process, "outside contractors" are almost always local firms. Very probably, the local levee boards had a hand in selecting and supervising them. Nevertheless, Louisiana seems to be preparing to reorganize the levee board system to permit business as usual, this time with the goodies doled out by the state:

Senate OKs single levee board

"We have to protect the people and the politics have to go by the wayside," an emotional Boasso said after the 37-0 vote.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who is supporting her own levee reform bill as part of a coastal-restoration and flood-control plan, said Thursday she does not oppose the Boasso initiative. Blanco's proposal would create a statewide board with some oversight functions of local levee boards, but it does not replace the local boards.

One of the keys to success for Boasso's legislation appears to be a lobbying campaign by the Business Council of New Orleans and the River Region, a group of top executives from a variety of local corporations who took out full-page newspaper ads Thursday calling for levee reform.

"We're trying to create the political environment so our political leaders are in the position to do the right thing," Council Chairman Jay Lapeyre Jr. said.

Boasso's bill limped out of a Senate committee earlier in the week, exempting the Orleans and West Jefferson levee districts from its provisions.

But Sens. Francis Heitmeier, D-Algiers, and Ed Murray, D-New Orleans, got Boasso and the Senate to accept an amendment that lets the Orleans Levee Board retain a large amount of autonomy over nonflood-control issues.

The amendment also allows two members of the Orleans board to be a part of the superboard to deal with flood issues. The rest of the seven-member board in Orleans would deal with the Orleans Levee District's other functions, such as operating a police department, leasing land, and running Lakefront Airport and two marinas.

Mike McCrossen, the Orleans Levee Board's acting president, could not be reached for comment...

Sen. Julie Quinn, R-Metairie, added a provision to the bill requiring superboard officials, who would be named by the parish governing board and lawmakers from the parish's legislative delegation, to have a college degree in engineering or hydrology, or a college degree in another field and at least 10 years of flood-control experience.

"This should not be someone who puts up your campaign signs and gets a job on a levee board," Quinn said.

O.K., "superboard officials" have to have a college degree and 10 years flood-control experience. That rules out teenage campaign workers. Do public relations personnel from a local levee board qualify, as long as they have a college degree?

But - according to lawhawk - they also have to have lived in Louisiana for the past 10 years. The number of such people must be quite small and neatly eliminates all personnel who came from out-of-state to investigate and clean up levee matters after Katrina. And SB95 says they can always be given the boot by the governor, without any explanation. So much for accepting guidance from the Dutch, along with experts from the rest of the U.S.:

Getting federal funding is vital, but it will take a unified plan. "Our nation has a short attention span," warned former chief engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Gen. (Ret.) Robert P. Flowers, now CEO of HNTB Federal Services Corp. "New Orleans and the Gulf States must quickly identify a long-term, broadly supported recovery plan," he said. "Competing plans will send mixed signals to Congress and likely reduce federal support."

Even with federal funds, others said most of the money for recovery will have to come from private sources. But they noted there is opportunity to rethink infrastructure design, maintenance and financing in the process.

One problem, one board: Perhaps due to ignorance, the Times-Picayune takes sides, piously denouncing those who oppose competent management by promoting the fiction that this "reorganization" changes things, and labelling all opponents to SB95 as profiteers to boot:

...Sen. Boasso's bill could well run into resistance from those who profit from the current system. But the future of greater New Orleans depends on building a secure levee system and maintaining it lovingly, efficiently, even obsessively. If the Legislature wants to show that Katrina ended business as usual in Louisiana, creating a professional regional levee board would be a good way to start.

Katrina and Rita combined sapped 11 years of job growth from Louisiana. How much incentive can businesses and insurance companies have to reinvest if Louisiana state and local governments are playing games like this? FEMA isn't paying the bills anymore, and there will certainly be pressures in Congress to suspend or cut further aid if Louisiana continues to refuse substantial changes in its waterway practices. Locals may give up some "sovereignty", but if money is desired confidence-building measures are required.

Update 7: 12/2/05

Short Sheeting Part II, & An Immodest Proposal

The Corps of Engineers released more material on the IPET website the day before Thanksgiving. As I noted at lawhawk's blog, page 6 of DACW29-3-93-B-0025 does have a notation that seems to indicate sheetpile depth "Varies 10' to 17'". That should have triggered alarms in people's heads, yet it did not. This system -- and the current reporting on it - is still not being reported cogently and correctly. I don't currently have much time to do so myself.

Over at Wizbang I commented:

Although the floodwall plan was poor, its execution was truly awful, and I feel it in my bones that the locality must share some responsibility for this fiasco because the levee boards aren't cyphers and the Army can't oversee everything. It is very difficult for Army engineers to blackball a contractor, especially if the contractor has local support and the Army engineers are too under-funded to check important stuff. (This can happen when budgets remain stable yet oversight responsibilities increase as projects accelerate.)

I suspect something of the sort happened here. There won't be any paperwork to back it up; investigators will have to look into COE staff budgets to figure this part out.


The Louisiana House has defeated SB95, and for that we can all be grateful. In Update 4 I had discussed damaging aspects of this bill, but the full implications of its text had passed me by:

The terms of all such commissioners whether heretofore or hereafter appointed, shall, after July 10, 1986, be subject to Senate confirmation and serve at the pleasure of the governor making the appointment.

That's the current system of levee boards, and the language was carried through unchanged into SB95. Supposedly this is a "minimal" change, but the implications are vast. Previous levee boards were appointed over a series of years. Now, the super-board will be appointed all at once, by a governor unlikely to win re-election, yet the proposed super-board would permit Governor Blanco to wield executive authority even if she is defeated!

How is that? Because even though SB95 was defeated, SB85 was passed, and that bill puts 75% of all discretionary tax funds* into the hands of the boards. As the hurricanes have decimated the Louisiana tax base, state revenues will crash, and the next governor will have almost no way to steer the remaining discretionary funds: they will all be controlled by Blanco's cronies, and she can dismiss them at will.

It's not hard to imagine that her successor won't be able to equip the Governor's mansion with toilet tissue without receiving permission from ex-Governor Blanco, and the resulting collapse of state government services -- to be blamed on incompetence, of course -- will lead to a drive to put Blanco back into office.

Very clever. And very undemocratic. Local press and businesses are pushing hard for this, and no wonder: the opportunity to exclude out-of-state contractors (i.e., newspaper advertisers) from multi-billion dollar reconstruction contracts would turn Lousiana firms into huge national enterprises, regardless of their competence -- which in my opinion is severely open to doubt.

Recently the Times-Picayune editor ran a pleading op-ed in the Washington Post: Do Not Forsake Us; but the week before the T-P ran another editorial sternly lecturing its home audience about how "It's time for a nation to return the favor".

I do not look upon this conduct favorably. If New Orleans and Louisiana come to D.C. with cup in hand begging for federal funds, they should also be willing to assure us that the money will be well spent. Although the Army Corps of Engineers is mostly responsible for this disaster, I cannot believe that the locals had nothing to do with it; quite simply, if the levee boards don't pay attention to the levees, than what do they do?

If Louisiana pursues this course of beggary and unaccountability, I propose that Congress pass a new law: The Louisiana Accountability Act, to investigate the use of federal reconstruction funds as contracts are awarded and funds are spent. As one wag put it, “In Louisiana, they don’t tolerate corruption; they insist on it”. Repeated failures are sufficient demonstrations of incompetence if not corruption; it is up to Louisiana to prove itself not unworthy!

* 12/05/05 Correction: "discretionary tax funds" should read "nonrecurring revenues" - that is, all the extra money from outside the state that will be directed to the Louisiana state government as a result of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

12/23/05: Time presses, and regretfully I cannot devote my resources to the NOLA levee issues right now. I suggest my readers monitor Wizbang until that time (if any) that I start Book IV. Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah to All!

1/8/06: I'll probably start Book IV in the next week or two. Stay tuned!

Note: This entry continues the discussions of On the Levees of New Orleans, Book I and Book II. Book I concluded with the recommendation to appoint a federal Advisory Committee on Levee Safety as a first step to solving New Orleans water problems. Book II concluded with the revelation that the equivalent team actually appointed is called IPET.