Monday, August 29, 2005

Why the President Is Unlikely to Visit Louisiana Just Yet 

Courtesy of our esteemed colleagues at Swing State Project, a timely quote Lt. Col. Pete Schneider gave to WGNO-Channel 26 News four weeks ago today:
When members of the Louisiana National Guard left for Iraq in October, they took a lot of equipment with them. Dozens of high water vehicles, humvees, refuelers and generators are now abroad, and in the event of a major natural disaster, that could be a problem.

"The National Guard needs that equipment back home to support the homeland security mission," said Lt. Colonel Pete Schneider with the LA National Guard.

Col. Schneider says the state has enough equipment to get by, and if Louisiana were to get hit by a major hurricane, the neighboring states of Mississippi, Alabama and Florida have all agreed to help.

"As Governor Bush did for Ivan, after they were hit so many times, he just maxed all of his resources out, he reached out to Louisiana and we sent 200 national guardsmen to help support in recovery efforts," Col. Schneider said.

Members of the Houma-based 256th Infantry will be returning in October, but it could be much longer before the rest of their equipment comes home.
If the President needs another reason to duck N'Awlins for the next couple of weeks, Tim Grieve of Salon's War Room found a choice one here:
In fiscal year 2006, the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is bracing for a record $71.2 million reduction in federal funding . . . .

The cuts mean major hurricane and flood protection projects will not be awarded to local engineering firms. Also, a study to determine ways to protect the region from a Category 5 hurricane has been shelved for now . . . .

One of the hardest-hit areas of the New Orleans district's budget is the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, which was created after the May 1995 flood to improve drainage in Jefferson, Orleans and St. Tammany parishes. SELA's budget is being drained from $36.5 million awarded in 2005 to $10.4 million suggested for 2006 by the House of Representatives and the president.
Grieve notes that $72.1 million would be enough to pay for roughly nine and a half hours of the war in Iraq. And as long as we're discussing the Army Corps of Engineers (see item immediately below), we should add that the same figure would almost cover the annual cost of housing KBR managers in the swankier waterfront hotels of Kuwait City. Excepting the poolside Mai Tais (which are frankly overpriced for the value -- more juice than booze), we are hard-pressed to imagine how our tax dollars could be more wisely spent:
They availed themselves of hotel laundry service, even while KBR was paying outrageous prices to a subcontractor for laundry. And when they left their hotels, they didn't carpool or take buses. They'd requisitioned expensive-brand S.U.V.'s for themselves. DeYoung did some number crunching and came up with the figure of $73 million a year . . . .

What were the KBR managers actually doing there? Not overseeing construction projects, or kicking the tires of convoy trucks they'd brought in to supply the troops, or looking at blueprints for new army bases in Iraq. According to deYoung, they weren't doing any of that. They were sitting in their hotel rooms, or out on their waterfront balconies, giving the nod to subcontractors to do all the work. (KBR says it "self performs" some jobs and subcontracts others.) Once a subcontractor was hired, the KBR team had no idea whether goods or services were delivered, deYoung asserts. The team just paid whatever invoices the subcontractors submitted, and hoped for the best.
UPDATE: Our distinguished colleague Chris Bowers of MyDD, who was all over this story yesterday, adds another reason why Mr. Bush might wish to avoid dwelling on, not to mention in, the Pelican state. His approval ratings are already in free-fall, and the current act of God has just boosted oil prices to $70.80 a barrel:
Oil prices surged to a record above $70 a barrel on Monday as one of the biggest hurricanes in U.S. history churned through the Gulf of Mexico, forcing major oil producers and refiners to shut down operations.

U.S. crude oil futures jumped nearly $5 a barrel in opening trade to touch a peak of $70.80 a barrel, surpassing last week's $68 high to the highest frontmonth price since the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) began trading contracts in 1983 . . . .

Oil product and natural gas prices also shot higher to records, with gasoline soaring 12 percent to $2.1575 a gallon and heating oil rocketing past $2.00 a gallon for the first time. Natural gas prices were up 21 percent.

Prices leapt as Hurricane Katrina, the 11th named storm of what is expected to be an unusually severe season, threatened to do lasting damage to vital U.S. oil and refining assets in the Gulf of Mexico, further straining an industry that has struggled to keep up with two years of strongly rising oil demand.

More than 40 percent of all U.S. crude oil production in the Gulf of Mexico was reported closed down due to the hurricane, with the total expected to rise significantly as more operators report affected production to the U.S. government on Monday.

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