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Kenneth Turan's film pick of the week: 'The Big Uneasy'

August 26, 2010 |  7:50 am

If you know Harry Shearer only as a key voice on "The Simpsons," you're missing a lot, especially his work as a fearless and incisive social commentator on his KCRW program "Le Show" and in his excellent muckraking documentary, "The Big Uneasy," playing in theaters nationwide one night only Aug. 30.

A part-time resident of New Orleans, Shearer has put together a gripping, persuasive film that posits that the catastrophic flooding that overwhelmed New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina was not a natural disaster but the result of years of ruinous decisions and horrific misjudgments by the Army Corps of Engineers, the same people who are in charge of the city's latest flood-control plan.

With the help of lively computer imagery and smart interviews, "The Big Uneasy" shows what went wrong and how both academic investigators and a Corps of Engineers whistle-blower were unceremoniously quashed. Essential viewing. Showing at the Grove, the Americana in Glendale and theaters listed at thebiguneasy.com.

-- Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic

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Folks were warning about that potential for catastrophe in New Orleans years ago, and not all of that info was quashed. I live in Wis, never been there, and I knew about the situation. Looking forward to the film.

I do think the Army Corps of Engineers has to shoulder a great deal of blame for the flooding in New Orleans during and after Katrina made landfall; however, the Corps of Engineers is frequently responding to pressure from local sources and from Congress and others when making these decisions.

Take a look at the ongoing debate in Dallas right now with the Trinity River levees. The city, backed by developers such as Ross Perot, Jr. and Robert Dechard (publisher of the Dallas Morning News) want to build a $2 billion tollroad between the levees (in the river, for all intents and purposes) in order to more easily connect one Ross Perot property with another.

The Corps on Engineers, in toughening up levee safety in the aftermath of Katrina, has failed the levees and continues to refuse to sign off on building a road in the river. Instead of sitting up and saying "Well, the Corps says the levees are crap and that the road is just going to make things worse, so we should get on that", local officials are up-in-arms, exerting whatever pressure they can to get the Corps to back off of their assessment of the levees and to approve the tollroad even though it increases the potential for flooding in Dallas (a 1998 Corps of Engineers report says that the tollway project would reduce valley storage and require the levees along the river to be raised to make up for the road. There are no plans in the tollroad project to follow through with that Corps requirement).

The Mayor talks about how the Corps is being too stringent and is overreacting. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) and Congresswoman Edie Bernice Johnson (D) worked to get a special law passed getting the tollroad exempted from environmental review. And the Dallas Morning News has repeatedly attacked the Corps for carping about the levees and not allowing the tollway project a clear path through.

While the Corps of Engineers should be above such local and national pressure, they, like many government agencies, are susceptible to pressure from powerful interests (and funding. The Dallas levee repairs are expected to be largely funded locally, which will likely require a bond election which has to be approved by public vote).

Are we to understand that there were people who DIDN'T know that N.O. was a disaster waiting to happen?

This is a great public service to the people of New Orleans. HOwever one thing that it does not point out is the part played by local criminals, the New Orleans City Hall Gang, in deliberately setting up the city for disaster.The destruction of the larger part of the city, the part west of the Industrial Canal, was caused by the collapse of those phoney floodwalls built by the Corps of Engineers along the drainage canals.When the Corps submitted the pland for those worthless floodwalls, the vetran engineers of the Sewage & Water Board objected, saying that they would never hold. Mayor "Slimy Sidney" Barthelemy "rewarded" them by PURGING them, replacing them with obedient flunkies, who later deliberately and carefully made sure that the floodwalls would collapse by dredging the canals in such a manner as to scrape away what little foundation they had.The statement that City Hall "had to accept whatever the Corps offered them" is a total LIE.This city had one of the most powerful congressional delegations in the country, which got Barthelemy BILLIONS in federal pork over the years. They could easily have forced the Corps to build REAL floodwalls;the evidence against their original plans was overwealming.In fact, those plans were made in such total disregard of the most elementary principles of engineering as to make you wonder if something much worse than mere incompetence was involved.
Like a business owner who decides to torch his own building to collect the insurance, the City Hall Gang decided that the city was worth more to them DEAD than ALIVE.We were SET UP FOR THIS DISASTER so that the politicians could gorge themselves on the GRAFT from the "federal aid" that they knew would pour into the city when the next big hurricane pushed over their cardboard floodwalls.And like the vultures that they are, the LAUGHING MURDERERS OF CITY HALL have been picking our bones ever since.Virtually all of the "aid" went to the PERPETRATORS of this tragedy, not to their VICTIMS.


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