Speaking of newsmagazine pieces with refreshingly strong points of view, don’t miss the always excellent Michael Grunwald’s cover story in the current issue of Time: "The Threatening Storm."
It’s a detailed, enraging indictment of the Army Corps of Engineers — its incompetence before Katrina and its ongoing failure to protect the Gulf coast from future hurricanes. While the details are fascinating, everything you need to know is contained in the devastating lead:
The most important thing to remember about the drowning of New Orleans is that it wasn’t a natural disaster. It was a man-made disaster, created by lousy engineering, misplaced priorities and pork-barrel politics. Katrina was not the Category 5 killer the Big Easy had always feared; it was a Category 3 storm that missed New Orleans, where it was at worst a weak 2. The city’s defenses should have withstood its surges, and if they had we never would have seen the squalor in the Superdome, the desperation on the rooftops, the shocking tableau of the Mardi Gras city underwater for weeks. We never would have heard the comment “Heckuva job, Brownie.” The Federal Emergency Management Agency (fema) was the scapegoat, but the real culprit was the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which bungled the levees that formed the city’s man-made defenses and ravaged the wetlands that once formed its natural defenses. Americans were outraged by the government’s response, but they still haven’t come to grips with the government’s responsibility for the catastrophe.
They should. Two years after Katrina, the effort to protect coastal Louisiana from storms and restore its vanishing wetlands has become one of the biggest government extravaganzas since the moon mission — and the Army Corps is running the show, with more money and power than ever. Many of the same coastal scientists and engineers who sounded alarms about the vulnerability of New Orleans long before Katrina are warning that the Army Corps is poised to repeat its mistakes — and extend them along the entire Louisiana coast. If you liked Katrina, they say, you’ll love what’s coming next.