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Friday, February 10, 2006

Ego no te absolvo

It seems Donald Powell was feeling talkative at lunch in Baton Rouge Wednesday:

Louisiana must make do with the $6.2 billion in block grants authorized by Congress on all of its housing relief, and if it spends the money wisely more could follow, Don Powell, the former FDIC chairman overseeing the Gulf Coast recovery, said Wednesday.

Does that sound just a smidge paternalistic to anybody but Polimom?

Looks like they had quite the Q&A session, actually, and a lot of very good questions were asked - some of which he answered (although he couldn't explain where that "lot of money" is being spent). He did address an important one, though, that has confounded many people: Why did the White House stomp on the Baker Bill?

According to Powell, it’s because they feel that if you live in a flood plain, you should have had flood insurance.


Fifth District Savings and Loan Association chairman Michael Nolan asked Powell: If the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed in the levee design and construction to protect the city, why wouldn’t homeowners be made whole by the federal government?

“If a homeowner suffered damage because of a failure by a federal agency of government, why should they settle for less than 100 percent?” he said.

Powell answered that residents living in the flood plain should take responsibility for their own property.

“I have flood insurance for my home (in Amarillo, Texas) where it rains 17 inches a year,” said the wealthy former head of First National Bank of Amarillo. “Is that wasting my money? Yes maybe, but it’s responsible.”

As I said once before, I understand this. However, like the City-Journal, I don't see that the situation in New Orleans as quite so cut and dried:

But the moral-hazard issue here is not as clear-cut as it seems. New Orleans residents understood that their properties would flood sometimes, but not catastrophically; they thought, reasonably, that the levees designed and built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in response to previous floods would protect their homes. Those levees, of course, gave way after Katrina, due in part to failures on the part of the Corps as well as on the part of state and local officials, who were responsible for maintenance.

The article goes on to explain how the federal government could work with the Baker Bill, to create a scenario in which the homeowners themselves take on much of the responsibility:

Baker has shown himself willing to modify his bill in response to reasonable criticism, and the administration could help him perfect his plan by asking him to change it to place more financial responsibility for rebuilding flood-wrecked properties in the hands of exiled Big Easy homeowners. Such a move would join reasonable federal supervision with the power of the ownership society that President Bush rightly values.


Washington can pave the way for reconstruction by working with New Orleans to build adequate levees, of course. It should also work with local authorities to set out clear and non-negotiable reconstruction standards. No house will be issued a permit for occupancy unless its main living quarters are elevated enough from the ground to withstand future floods. Properties must be built to wind- and flood-resistant standards, as has happened in vulnerable areas of Florida.

But evidently the feds aren't interested. They have absolved themselves.

Taking responsibility for the enormous damage in New Orleans is, I think, a two-way street. Yes, many people did not have adequate flood insurance. To balance that, the Army Corps of Engineers did not build adequate protection.

Polimom isn't ready to say "Te absolvo" for the sin of the failed levees.

Has the non-stop blame-gaming that we've seen since August 29 contributed to this sullen "not my problem" on the part of the feds? I dunno.

Was pushing for 100% compensation what ticked them off? I dunno.

Is there anything that will bring the two sides together in a shared way, so that New Orleanians can find their way out of the tunnel?

Sigh.... I dunno.


  • At 7:58 PM, Blogger blueshead said;

    blueshead opens , yet another beer.peers through this blog..Mardi Gras starts today,,Krewe du Viuex..the only ones allowed to march through the French Quarter will be passing by his house....It's my first day off in 2 months..puts his carpenters hammer down.. :)

  • At 7:42 AM, Blogger fairscape said;

    polimom is it possible that NO was purposfully allowed to go under to
    1. disperse the indigent populace-it seems the wealthier areas were on higher ground
    2. allow for change of land use (MORE COMMERCE)
    in the affected areas
    3.alter the political balance of the area
    it just seems to me if you have an accident waiting to happen and you let it happen it just isn't an accident anymore

  • At 8:08 AM, Blogger Polimom said;

    Fairscape: I really think that what happened to N.O. was a combined negligence and apathy across decades and generations, with enough blame to apply liberally to absolutely every finger that ever touched the pie - local, federal, Democrat and Republican. All of them.

    Of your 3 possible goals for a purposeful abandonment, only one of them - the third - is a probable outcome, and even that doesn't look like a "done deal" to me.

    #1 certainly displaced the indigent, but it also displaced wealthy and middle class areas. NOLA's higher-ground has been there far longer than any other part of the city, yes - but even uptown isn't exclusively wealthy, nor is the Irish Channel / garden district.

    #2 - the outcome here is unclear yet. I suspect much of the change in land use will not result in more commerce, but undeveloped land instead. That won't increase or stimulate a tax base or market economy.

    #3 - while this looks quite likely at the moment, I'm not sure it's a given either. If one considers "political balance" to be Republican vs. Democrat, then it's even less of a certainty. NOLA is unhappy with its current electorate, yes... but they're also unhappy with the federal leadership. I suspect change is coming in a big way (and I sure hope so!), but I don't know that it will split down a partisan line.

    Sometimes, a rose is just a rose, and I really do think that's what happened here.

    Contrary to a lot of discussion and dialogue, the DHS and FEMA would have failed miserably on a disaster of this scale anywhere in the country. They were / are the disastrous equivalent of the Keystone Kops.

    All of this is IMHO, of course... but it's really how I see it.

    I don't trust our administration as far as I can lift and toss the White House they're based out of, but I think the hardest accusation I can level at them is that they are focused so tightly on Iraq and the Middle East that they've absconded on American citizens.

    Malicious neglect? Probably not. Stupidly and erroneously distracted from their primary duties? Yes.

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