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Iraq 100, Louisiana 8: "The Garden of Eden" vs. "Hell on Earth"

Iraq 100, Louisiana 8: "The Garden of Eden" vs. "Hell on Earth"

Is it possible to actually quantify how screwed up the priorities of the Bush cabal in Washington have been? Usually not. But when it comes to the issue of wetlands -- the natural buffer that could have protected New Orleans against a deadly storm surge liked the one that essentially wiped out the city last week -- the answer is "yes."

In 2004 -- at a time when George W. Bush was running for re-election and presumably courting votes in Louisiana, a potential swing state -- the White House proposed spending a whopping 12 1/3 times as much taxpayer money restoring wetlands in southern Iraq as he planned to spend on the same task in the Mississippi Delta.

Before Congress intervened, the Bush administration asked for $100 million to restore the Iraqi marshlands, drained and destroyed by Saddam Hussein, to its status as -- according to legend -- the Biblical "Garden of Eden."

The proposed funding that year for the Louisiana wetlands, heavily damaged by overdevelopment, was just $8 million. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the city once buffered by those disappearing wetlands is now Hell on Earth.

Even though the Iraq wetlands project didn't get the federal dollars, it did get the next best thing: American know-how. And so some of the best minds that were supposed to be studying and improving Lousiana's environment instead found themselves in the Persian Gulf. This is from an April 24, 2004, article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

Corps officials involved in restoring Louisiana's wetlands also have been sent to assist those fighting in and rebuilding Iraq, including oversight of a similar wetlands restoration project there, he said.

Ed Theriot, a Vicksburg-based engineer who had directed the Louisiana Coastal Area Ecosystem Restoration Study, was sent to Iraq four months ago to oversee the restoration of the "Garden of Eden" wetlands at the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that were destroyed by Saddam Hussein in the 1990s.

While Theriot was pulled away from his work in the New Orleans area, his work in Baghdad was deemed highly successful. The picture below shows Theriot in Iraq, receiving the Department of Defense Exceptional Civilian Service Award from then-American proconsul Paul Bremer.

Despite a balking Congress, the Bush administration seemed determine to fund the Iraqi marsh project -- pardon the awful pun -- come hell or high water, even if foreign allies had to pay for it. USA Today reported:

The United States, Italy, Canada and others are offering aid to Iraq for marshland restoration. They also are offering expertise to maximize the chances of successfully returning the marshlands to their previous state. U.S. officials estimate that 25% to 35% of the marshes can be restored in two to three years.

In his $20.3 billion request for rebuilding Iraq, President Bush asked for $100 million to restore the marshes, but Congress cut it entirely, along with some other programs. Officials remain confident, however, that they can transfer the money from elsewhere to pay for the restoration.

"We need to restore the marshes," says Andrew Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Indeed, the project did eventually get major funding from Japan -- roughly $11 million -- and from Italy, some $1.3 million. Nothing wrong with that, although it does seem ironic in the wake of Bush's refusal to accept foreign aid last week to help out folks in Louisiana.

For years, federal officials have been warned that the lost of wetlands had made New Orleans more vulnerable to a hurricane than when Betsy struck the region in 1965.

Sidney Coffee, executive assistant to the governor for coastal activities, said about 1,900 square miles of wetlands have disappeared from the area since the 1930s, and the receding continues at a rate of about 24 square miles per year. The erosion has a direct impact on New Orleans' ability to absorb the blow of a storm like Katrina, she said. For every 2.7 miles of wetlands, storm surges are reduced by about one 1 foot, she said.

Now, it's fair to note that even a massive influx of federal dollars in fiscal 2005 would not have brought back the wetlands in time for Katrina, a supposed once-in-a-lifetime event. Nor are we denying that the destruction of the Iraqi marches was a global environmental travesty.

But once again, it's the priorities that show how screwed up the Bush administration truly is. Clearly, the White House had no concept of fiscal constraint when it came to throwing literally tens of millions of dollars at any problem in Iraq, 7,000 miles away. Apparently that's easy to do when you have $192 billion -- and counting -- to burn.

It was only here in America, on domestic programs, that the budget bean counters held sway.

And now New Orleans -- a beloved American city that once truly was a garden of earthly delights -- has become a living hell.


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From an article by Robert Scheer published by

For half a century, free-market purists have to great effect denigrated the essential role that modern government performs as some terrible liberal plot. Thus, the symbolism of New Orleans' flooding is tragically apt: Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and Louisiana Gov. Huey Long's ambitious populist reforms in the 1930s eased Louisiana out of feudalism and toward modernity; the Reagan Revolution and the callousness of both Bush administrations have sent them back toward the abyss.

Now we have a president who wastes tax revenues in Iraq instead of protecting us at home. Levee improvements were deferred in recent years even after congressional approval, reportedly prompting EPA staffers to dub flooded New Orleans "Lake George."

None of this is an oversight, or simple incompetence. It is the result of a campaign by most Republicans and too many Democrats to systematically vilify the role of government in American life. Manipulative politicians have convinced lower- and middle-class whites that their own economic pains were caused by "quasi-socialist" government policies that aid only poor brown and black people — even as corporate profits and CEO salaries soared.

For decades we have seen social services that benefit everyone — education, community policing, public health, environmental protections and infrastructure repair, emergency services — in steady, steep decline in the face of tax cuts and rising military spending. But it is a false savings; it will certainly cost exponentially more to save New Orleans than it would have to protect it in the first place.

God spake these words and said...

"I am so pissed at these damned 'Christians'!"

"I sent My Son to the world, and He told them this: 'You will love God with all your being, and you will love your neighbor as you love yourself. On these two commandments hang ALL the laws and the prophets.'

"And He warned them not to go out and claim My Name, but ignore My children -- their brothers and sisters -- in their hour of need. And He told them what would happen to them if they did: 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.' And they will go away into eternal punishment.'"

"He came to tell them about My New Deal with humanity. I even let Him die a horrible, painful, public death to get their attention. But noooo - they want to stay with the OLD Deal.... or rather, the snippets of it that they find convenient.

"Well, I didn't like the Old Deal. The only part of Me that was even in it was the Ten Commandments, and in the New Deal I edited those down to just two.

"I especially didn't like all those people trying to use Me as their personal bully to curse those of My children whom they didn't like or whose nature or behavior they disapproved. If I had wanted to stay with the Old Deal, do you think I would have sent My Son and allowed Him to be sacrificed?

"I'm also especially pissed at people who are claiming that this hurricane is My Judgement because New Orleans was a 'sinful' city. Wake up, people -- I wouldn't have even done this in the Old Deal. Don't you remember I offered to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if Lot could find just one good man? You go on and on about people destroying 'innocent life' and then you have the unmitigated gall to accuse Me?? Do you have any idea how many babies and pregnant woman you claim to be so concerned about were in New Orleans?

"My Son came to tell you 'Christians' the spirit that I want to you to live by, and He also told you what was going to happen to you if you didn't.

"And I strongly suggest that if you have any concern about your immortal soul, that you get with the program right now! Judgement is Mine -- and it is NOT yours!"

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