Harry Shearer On The Continuing Plight Of New Orleans

harry_shearerHarry Shearer, the voice of multiple Simpsons characters and a member of Spinal Tap, has been a relentless critic of the government's response to the 2005 disaster in New Orleans. The Economist asked him eight questions recently, but this response to this one seemed to nicely summarize his informed take on the government's failure to rebuilld the city and protect it from another such calamity.

DIA: As you say, you have a home in New Orleans and have criticised the government's efforts to rebuild the hurricane protection system there. Where do you place the most blame, and do you think things have improved under the Obama administration?

Mr Shearer: Well, who cares where I place the blame? But I have read the executive summaries (and interviewed the authors) of the two major independent forensic engineering investigations of the disaster in New Orleans on August 29th, 2005, and they both place the blame squarely on the design and engineering flaws of the so-called "hurricane protection system". That system was under the exclusive supervision and control of the US Army Corps of Engineers (which itself, in its own, delayed report, said it was "a system in name only"). So the American taxpayers paid to drown New Orleans; it seems only right the taxpayers should pay to fix it. This is regarded, by critics, as the city wanting a handout. The Corps—the very same Corps—has assumed the task of "doing it right" this time around, even though they've already publicly announced that for one part of the project they're adopting the "technically... not superior" solution, because of lack of funding. That makes us feel safe. Not a dollar from the stimulus package was devoted either to that project or to the equally imperative job of restoring the coastal wetlands south of New Orleans. That land, which acts to sap the strength and severity of oncoming hurricanes, has been decimated by decades of canal and pipeline construction through it to bring Gulf oil and gas to the other 49 states. President Obama has yet to visit New Orleans. His one constructive act so far has been to appoint a far better head of FEMA, who has acted to unblock the flow of funds for rebuilding of flood-destroyed infrastructure.