Updated Dec 1, 2018
When Sandy Rosenthal founded Levees.org in 2005 with her 15-year old son Stanford, she was immediately targeted by a military campaign aiming to discredit her and her work.
Rosenthal, her son and her supporters were hammered with ugly comments from dozens of different online critics with a consistent message: “Rosenthal is a liar. New Orleans was flooded due a monster storm and lazy local officials.”
In December 2008, Rosenthal figured out and exposed that it was the Army Corps of Engineers that was leading the campaign.
She exposed the scandal using backend tools available to any amateur blogger. But in 2008, the techniques called “astroturfing” and “trolling” were not well-known. Levees.org was one of the first victims of the technique – a squadron of foot soldiers employed by the military to wage warfare on social media against grassroots groups.
Today, in 2018, it’s now documented that the federal government spends millions trying to stop true grassroots groups like Levees.org. It is remarkable that Levees.org prevailed.
The demeaning comments posted to social media, from 2005 to Rosenthal’s discovery in 2008 had the combined effect of shifting responsibility for the Army Corps of Engineers’ levee failures during Katrina away from itself and onto the citizens of New Orleans. Below is a small sample of comments taken from thousands.
Dec 3, 2008
There you go again, Sandy, with another amateurish posting. Let’s examine your argument:
1. Only a handful of civil engineers have stepped forward to castigate the US Army Corps of Engineers – That must really get your goat since you are so convinced that the Corps shoulders all responsibility for the damages suffered during Katrina. But we’ve already hashed this out, so I’ll move on.
2. In the Levees.org parallel universe, the solution to this “problem” is quite obvious – The evil Corps, which is so inept at engineering, is brilliantly successful at punishing critics. Yes, that must be it because otherwise any self-respecting engineer would jump at the opportunity to “publicly rebuke and berate the Corps of Engineers for its well documented gross negligence.” Do you even know the definition of gross negligence? And who has documented such….
Posted by stevonawlins 12/03/08 at 6:03PM
Note from Levees.org: The commenter above is making a personal attack against a corps critic and also making an untrue statement. Levees.org has never claimed the Corps “shoulders all responsibility for the damages suffered during Katrina.”
Dec 15, 2008
News Video: Controversial Levees.org video
Shame on Sandy for using her kid for a cheap publicity stunt. Obviously her group has NO EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER and so she put her own child up to making a video of SLANDER and INNUENDO. You can’t just call Asce liars and think they aren’t going to defend themselves. Sandy obviously told those kids what to say and set them up for the kill. What’s Asce supposed to do? Let Sandy run around and lie about them? Of course they sent her a letter warning her to stop. And of course she had to comply–not because she doesn’t have the money because god knows people would throw money all over her to help defend her. No, the truth is it’s Sandy who is the liar. Prove me wrong. Let’s see the facts.
Note from Levees.org: The commenter above is verbally abusing Levees.org founder Sandy Rosenthal after her group produced and uploaded a satire spoofing the cozy relationship between the Corps of Engineers and the American Society of Civil Engineers.
May 02, 2008
Article: Judge: Corps can be sued for flood
Hooray! Now we can waste more time and effort on endless lawsuits that are doomed to failure. Newsflash: The Corps, LSU and the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources have all concluded that the shipping channel had only a negligible effect on Katrina’s storm surge. The funnel everyone loves to talk about is the two levees, one along the MRGO and the other along the GIWW, that trap the storm surge and make it shoot into the inner harbor canal. The MRGO shipping channel does nothing.
We really need to move forward, people.
May 19, 2008
Forum discussion: levee leak and safety
The most famous proof of Bea’s madness is when he saw a water puddle on the side of the street in the 9th Ward and told a reporter from National Geographic that it was definitely seepage from the Industrial Canal. The reporter asked how can you be sure? It just looks like ordinary gutter water. Bea said, “You can taste it.” And he did. He leaned over and scooped up a taste. Oh yes, the acclaimed doctor said, that’s no ordinary gutter swill. That’s vintage canal water. A brackish bouquet with just the right taste of salt. This entire episode was posted on the National Geographic web site WITH A VIDEO, but when they realized what quackery this was they removed it. That’s just one example of his nuttiness.
posted by swain 7:15 ET
Note from Levees.org: The commenter targets Bob Bea, University of California, Berkeley. Professor Bea, as co-chair of an independent levee study post Katrina, was frequently critical of the corps.
May 29, 2008
Article: Third party to sort out seepage at 17th Street canal
What I want to know is, who is going to be on this Independent Team of Engineers?
First off, it can’t be anybody from the Corps, or anybody who used to work for the Corps, or anybody who might one day work for the Corps.
It also can’t be anybody from the levee board or ASCE since nobody will trust them. It can’t be Professor Bea because he’s a paid consultant on the lawsuit. It can’t be anybody local, either, because then they’ll be accused of bias if they flooded or knew someone who flooded or died.
And then it has to be somebody who will work FOR FREE, because you know Sandy will excoriate any report that comes from somebody who gets paid to provide an opinion (unless of course the results support her opinions).
Who does that leave????
Note from Levees.org: the commenter is claiming that Louisiana soils cannot support the levees designed and built by the Corps of Engineers.
July 31, 2008
Article: Court allows tree cutting along 17th Street Canal
Overwrought and lawlsu, you are exactly correct. Tuffcookie, the document you seek is state law. Your arguments are on the level of a C- high school civics paper and then you resort to Corps-bashing. Must be reassuring to be so certain in your simple understanding of property rights and so much smarter than the engineers and scientists who are working long hours to protect you from your own ignorance.
Posted by StevoNawlins on 08/01/08 at 9:23AM
Note from Levees.org: The commenter is attacking a proponent of the 17th Street Canal Coalition, a citizens group opposed to the Corps of Engineers seizing their land without compensation.
Oct. 15, 2008
Article: Industrial Canal lock price tag now estimated at $1.3 billion
Xman & Neilcos,
You guys got it right – this project is essential for the future vitality of New Orleans as a major port and the entire nation’s shallow-draft navigation system. The immediate construction of this new lock should be championed by our local political leadership for the many local jobs and numerous other benefits that would come from this $1.3 Billion project. Imagine the devastated Lower Ninth Ward revitalized by a project of this magnitude if our “leaders” would simply roll up their sleeves and make this project work for the citizens of New Orleans, rather than the non-stop begging for handouts from the rest of the nation.
But that probably won’t happen because of the determined opposition of a handful of left-wing interests (Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, Holy Cross Nghd Assoc, Gulf Restoration Network, etc.) with their own selfish agendas, exaggerated claims and complaints, and distortions of facts. It’s quite clear that some folks simply want to keep things as they are…that sucking sound you hear is the slow, agonizing death of our city.
Posted by stevonawlins at 8:34AM
Note from Levees.org: The commenter is targeting Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association, Gulf Restoration Network all of which have criticized the Corps of Engineers.
Oct. 24, 2008
Blog post: See you at the New Orleans Institute
Are you so blinded by your antipathy towards the Corps that you can not truly understand the problems? In your simplistic world view, all of us who built or bought homes below sea level are faultless, local governments and elected federal officials who failed to make flood protection a priority are without fault. It sure makes life simple if you can blame our situation on the dastardly folks at the Corps of Engineers who are just too dumb or mean-spirited to build proper flood protection.
Posted by stevonawlins at 2:16PM
I don’t dispute your litany of Corps failures but where were the state and city governments when these errors were made? What about us citizens who were warned repeatedly about our risk exposure but chose not to make flood control a priority? Where was Dollar Bill and our Senators when more funding was requested by the Corps but never delivered? Are we helpless wards of the federal government or should we take some responsibility for our situation? Stay vigilant on the Corps but make sure you work to address the local and state issues as well.
Posted by stevonawlins at 2:23PM
If telling the truth is your mission, then I suggest you have some work to do as well. The public would be better served by truly responsible advocacy. Your performance to date suggests that you have chosen Corps-bashing as your mission with the expectation that when you manage to persuade enough under-informed people that Katrina was a federal flood, then the rest of the nation will pour even more money into the sinkhole of New Orleans.
December 18, 2008
Article: New computer storm model condemns role MRGO played in Katrina flooding
Ivor has a new computer model and a study paid for by the lawyers. Yeah, rite. He’s not even an engineer. Let me know what happens when it undergoes independent peer review.
Posted by swain on 12/18/08 at 10:25PM
okctomsy0010, You don’t have to be an engineer to understand that you should not get engineering advice from someone who is not an engineer. Ivor works at the LSU hurricane center, but he’s not an engineer. Period. He’s the Director of the Center for the Study of Public Health Impacts of Hurricanes.
If there’s litigation about how you got dysentery after Katrina, I guess he’s your man. But if you want someone to give an expert opinion on flood hydraulics and concrete wall construction, Ivor is no more qualified than Joe the Plumber.
Posted by swain on 12/19/08 at 11:25PM
Note from Levees.org: The commenter is targeting Ivor van Heerden who has been a frequent critic of the Corps of Engineers before and after the August 2005 storm.
Feb. 16, 2009
LTE: “Anti-stimulus vote tough but justified, Cao says
Plugging the MRGO will do absolutely nothing to protect St. Bernard from future flooding. This is a pure “feel good” project and political grandstanding by parish officials.
Hey, what about the levee that really protects St. Bernard? When is that going to be raised to the 100 year level of protection? They haven’t even started building that yet. Complete by 2011??? NO FRIGGIN WAY.
Posted by swain on 03/26/09 at 10:51PM
June 5, 2009
Article: U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu: U.S. should adopt Netherlands-like policies for flood control
The Senator is correct: we should adopt the Netherlands plan. That includes better water management inside the levees, like “retaining lakes” to store rainfall. But wait, we talked about that back in 2005, didn’t we? And when they printed maps in the newspaper showing possible areas where people would *not* be allowed to rebuild, remember the great wailing and gnashing of teeth?
And the Dutch also require floating houses in the lowest areas of the country. Why don’t we have that here? Heck, you can’t even convince people to elevate 3 lousy feet.
Yes, I support the Senator’s plans. I say, Bring it On. But will New Orleans, and Chalmette, and the Lower 9th ward go along with this sensible plan? I doubt it.
Posted by swain on 06/05/09 at 9:54PM
Apr. 17, 2008
Article: ASCE urges corps to tell residents of continuing flood risk
Anyone who has been paying attention knows that today’s letter from ASCE is just one of many over the past two years in which the highly respected engineering society calls the Corps of Engineers to task and points out errors and oversights.But of course, the Times-Picayune doesn’t write about the many prior letters. They mostly just print Sandy’s wild and unsubstantiated accusations.
Posted by swain on 04/18/08 at 3:32PM
A cute video, but I’m afraid evidence means EVIDENCE, not just Sandy’s endless allegations. This is starting to sound a lot like the 9-11 “conspiracy” and the “fake” moon landing…
Posted by swain on 04/19/08 at 11:09PM
April 10, 2008
Forum discussion: Want to be scared?
The river is forecast to crest at 17, a good 3 feet lower than the levee top. It’s already at 16.5, so do you think 6 inches is going to kill you? Plus, the spillway is going to open and the stage will drop. Take a deep breath, open a beer, and go back to watching Judge Judy…
May 21, 2008
Update: Leaky New Orleans levee alarms experts
Seepage at the 17th Street canal breach location? Who cares?
When a storm comes, we’ll shut the gate!
Problem solved. That was easy.
You may now turn your attention to the next fabricated crisis that sells newspapers and drives the TV ratings.
Aug 20, 2008
Article: Levee officials decry corps’ dual pumping plan
Hey, Sheila, are you blind??? The S&WB operates “tandem” and “dual” pumps every day of the week!!! That big pump station on Broad and Washington pumps into the Palmetto Canal, which feeds the 17th Street canal pumps. There’s another pump station on Broad that pumps north to the London Canal pumping station.
They’ve been doing this for almost 100 years but suddenly it’s “risky” and it requires “delicate synch.” OMG THE SKY IS FALLING! Nice headline grabbing.
Posted by swain on 08/20/08 at 6:24PM