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August 31, 2005


BTW, we've been discussing bird flu preparation for a while. Don't think there's no parallel.

As to a possible pandemic, you need to prepare, even though preparation won’t stop it coming. Not everyone will take that warning seriously. When it misses, the ‘warnings’ will be poo-poohed. But the big one will eventually hit, even though no one can say when.

Even when it does, it will be dismissed by some before so, despite all the evidence and warning. And afterwards there will be questions as to why we weren’t better prepared.

Protect Your Health and Safety After a Hurricane - from CDC, some ideas applicable in any natural disaster, such as discarding spoiled food, disinfecting water, etc.

Keep your fingers crossed for New Orleans. And let’s learn what we can from the situation, after we help clean up.

And in case you missed the link in the story (under 'political dimension') from E&P:

The 2004 hurricane season was the worst in decades. In spite of that, the federal government came back this spring with the steepest reduction in hurricane and flood-control funding for New Orleans in history. Because of the proposed cuts, the Corps office there imposed a hiring freeze. Officials said that money targeted for the SELA project -- $10.4 million, down from $36.5 million -- was not enough to start any new jobs.

There was, at the same time, a growing recognition that more research was needed to see what New Orleans must do to protect itself from a Category 4 or 5 hurricane. But once again, the money was not there. As the Times-Picayune reported last Sept. 22:

“That second study would take about four years to complete and would cost about $4 million, said Army Corps of Engineers project manager Al Naomi. About $300,000 in federal money was proposed for the 2005 fiscal-year budget, and the state had agreed to match that amount. But the cost of the Iraq war forced the Bush administration to order the New Orleans district office not to begin any new studies, and the 2005 budget no longer includes the needed money, he said.”

The Senate was seeking to restore some of the SELA funding cuts for 2006. But now it's too late.

Tactically, I think it would be smart to begin calling for him to go to New Orleans ASAP. I think Bush hates it when anybody tells him what he should be doing; after all, he's "the leader," he's a man now. So, he will resist calls from others since he can't abide being reactive, and this will result in bad gestures that will hurt him further.

I don't think either way this effects the outcome of federal action, so I have no problem advocating it.

This is a worse human and economic disaster than 9-11. Let's start saying that.

I know I'll drift to the political dimension before long -- that news item you post makes my blood rise. But for right now it's hard to feel anything but heartbreak. My wife is from New Orleans. Her family, blessedly in this case, is no longer with us, but friends still live there (they fortunately got safely out). More important, a whole part of our lives is there. To think of this wonderful city (one of maybe half a dozen in America with true distinctive character) slipping away just makes me hurt deep inside.

I was thinking earlier -- sorry to go semi-metaphysical on everyone -- that we as a country seem to have slipped into a down cycle, one where the news just keeps getting worse all the time. (I could say "the world", but I'm one of those US-centric Americans who mostly views things through his national lens) I was born during the country's great postwar up-cycle -- give or take a McCarthy era, the postwar years till Kennedy's assassination were a relatively good time. The sixties and seventies, though -- while they provided manic ups -- delivered a series of well-documented blows: assassinations, riots, Watergate, oil shocks, deep recessions. The bad news just didn't seem to end.

Until it did. While I was nothing like a fan of Reagan's, I have to concede he was in charge at the time things did swing around. The end of the cold war, and (apart from that nasty Bush I recession) a pretty decent period of peace and prosperity -- the later Reagan and most Clinton years -- made life feel pretty easy to take.

But now that's over. You can argue whether it began with Election 2000, or if it waited till September 11th. But there's no question that right now we're in a period of war and deception and, both here and abroad, disaster beyond imagining. Are their bio-rhythms to history? Are we doomed to experience ill fortune till sometime up ahead our luck finally turns again?

Sorry to blather like this. Consider it the ravings of someone full of sadness he's barely able to express.

Demtom, it can never be argued that Reagan was not a master (like Clinton) at the ceremonial and symbolic aspects of leadership, which creates this metaphysical sense you're talking about. It helps create the fiction that this *is* a cohesive and not fractured society. (Was it ever really NOT fractured?)

I do think this is a dark time, and external conditions may soon unmask the difficulties of our economy caused by long term trends, and only partially by current leaders. And there will be political ramifications. As an example, was the economy of the 70s and the hostage crisis really Carter's fault? Both certainly doomed him. SCOTUS regardless, the moment may come when Democrats are glad that they were not in power in 2000-2008. Yes, I think only misfortune creates change. Historians help me, but we had pain before the Progressive Era, and FDR said that the Republicans would have to screw up badly before electing himself and Democrats again.

I have been numb for days watching the tragedy unfold. I don't think it is too early to talk strategy.

With global warming coming, this is only the beginning. Ironically, on Sunday night I finished a recent novel on that very subject that ends with an eerily similar scenario taking place in DC. At the end of the book the Senate staffer says to his boss as he goes by in a boat, "So, are you going to do something about global warming NOW?"

Natural disasters like nothing else demonstrate the fallacy of the GOP idea that we are all rugged individualists who can, by ourselves, determine the proper allocation of resources if the gov't will just get out of the way. Disasters, by nature, require a coordinated response, in both aspects of preparedness, that is prevention, and rescue, relief and rebuilding.

If ever there was a time that demonstrates the value of the public sector, this is it. Only government, with its ability to marshall resources and its authority can take the necessary steps for disaster preparedness, including making decisions about where people can live, and what resources should go where.

This is a case the Dems have to start making. Who better? This, and the fundamental reallocation of priorities that the country so desperately needs. The idea that we can let Bush fiddle (on the guitar) while the South drowns, or the West burns, is fast becoming simply irresponsible.

We need an orderly withdrawal from Iraq, to stop the real and financial bleeding, bring the physical resources home where they are needed and rebuild our military. We need to increase energy independence and reduce green house gases and pollution (unlike the Bush EPA, which, with exquisite timing, has just announced new rules for new sources that will actually worsen, rather than imporove, air pollution), revamp disaster preparedness and rebuild our infrastructure.

Above all, we need an end to tax cuts. This means no repeal of the estate tax, no extension of the dividend and capital gains tax and no further tax cuts until we are sure that sufficient money is there so that our own Gulf Coast can be rebuilt and that and other areas can be strengthened. This needs to be an absolute line in the sand for the Dems, after the revelations on how the money for rebuilding the very New Orleans levees that failed was diverted to the Iraq war and the phony war on terror.

All of these are classic Demcoratic ideas, and if the Dems don't come back from Labor Day swinging on these issues they don't deserve to come back into power.

More thoughts. One of the real casualties of the GOP rewriting of our history is the denigration of the ideas of collective action and governmental planning. These ideas were, of course anathema to the free marketeers and freebooters that populate one wing of the GOP, but they were assiduously undermined with the rest of the population through association with godless communism over the last 70 years or so.

These notions have reached (one hopes) their apogee in the Bush II adminsitration, whose hallmark seems to be an utter inability to do large-scale planning and coordination.

It is ironic that a time when science and game theory are demonstraing that altruism is generally the best strategy for not only the group and the species, but the individual as well in recurring situations where the same players encounter each other repeatedly, we should have such an exaltation of individual selfishness and social darwinism.

By nature I am an optimist, although that is being strained these days. Consequently, I subscribe to the "it's always darkest just before the dawn" theory, and Hegel's notion that we only really see what is happening as history is passing into a new phase. Still, the night can be very long sometimes. We all need to be lighting those candles in whatever way we can.

Proving my point, according TAPPED, to some clown on Fox said that the Constitution says nothing about disaster relief; therefore, the taxpayers should not have to pay and private efforts can rebuild the Gulf Coast. Or not. How could a benevolent god create such people?

Mimikatz, I not only agree with all you say -- many of those same thoughts have crossed my mind in the past 48 hours.

I was talking to an evacuated New Orleans friend on Monday. She opined that surely they'd have no trouble getting Federal money for the city now (this was even before the levees gave). I shocked her with the story of how difficult it was for NYC to get all its funding after the supposedly all-altering September 11th; how Clinton & Schumer found their stories of the destruction sloughed off by GOP Senators claiming they'd had disasters in THEIR states and didn't get special treatment. The punchline is, this woman (our friend) is a Republican, who loves her tax cuts. She -- and others like her -- need to be forced to face the fact that, when you complain you hate "big government", it means you forfeit your right to demand help just like this. The connection between money collected and money available for spending was somehow disconnected under Reagan, and the populace needs to understand anew how the go together.

And I agree with you even more emphatically on the tax cut thing. The fantasy I had earlier today was of a Democratic Senator standing on the floor of Congress when (and you know it's when, not if) Bush tries to go cheap on New Orleans/Mississippi relief, saying "Mr. President, is there ANYTHING for which you'd forego tax breaks for millionaires?"

I'm actually, like you, a long-term optimist, and I do think these things we've talked about -- along with the near-certain housing bust and peak oil crisis -- will lead to a shift in priorities the way you and Crab Nebula suggest. I just feel losing New Orleans is a pretty high price to pay.

Where is our generation's Roosevelt to lead us out of the mess we're in? Where will they come from?

Less optimistic than most of you that we will learn anything from this mess. For example on four-year anniversary of 9/11 the NYC police and fire still can't talk to each other by radio, and other basic recommendations of 9/11 Commission are unmet as well. I wish this were true:

If ever there was a time that demonstrates the value of the public sector, this is it. Only government, with its ability to marshall resources and its authority can take the necessary steps for disaster preparedness, including making decisions about where people can live, and what resources should go where.

but what I see happening is Bush putting more not less money into private & religious groups like the Red Cross and Salvation Army and letting FEMA rot. I don't see any way to stop that shift of responsibility.

I mean, after the Red Cross cleans up New Orleans, which Democratic congressperson will stand up to speak AGAINST the Red Cross and say a government bureau would have done a better job?

I was unaware that the Red Cross built and repaired levees, pumped water, decontaminated toxic waste sites and otherwise substituted for a public health service that could declare the area safe for habitation.

The Red Cross' forte is relief, not rebuilding. Not on the massive scale that the Gulf Coast will need. If we are talking private sector, we aren't talking churches, we are talking Bechtel-Halliburton. So that is one aspect that bears close watching. But rivers and harbors and levees is the Army Corps' job, toxics is the EPA's job and public health is the USPHS's job. There are private companies that do decontamination and environmental cleanup, but the only people who can do rezoning and certifying places are safe and healthful are public agencies. And with NYC's experience with the latter, EPA bears careful watching here.

DemFromCT, I didn't mean to say that they did.

But since you bring it up -- in the 1900 storm the Red Cross helped to rebuild housing for 8,000 homeless. The Salvation Army occasionally builds dams for communities, though nothing on this scale to my knowledge. I think each group has the capability to assess needs, collect donations and other resources, and hire contractors to handle the specific jobs you mentioned, and many others.

I would answer the way I did if/when it's broungt up on the floor of Congress. Red Cross is no substitute for FEMA, Army Corps of Engineers, etc. and it is a reasonable response to make.

Mimikatz, thanks. I guess I should clarify. I wanted to put out the idea that what the neocons would like is to have exactly the responsibilities you say can only be done well by government (and I agree) to be taken over by private groups; what I didn't perhaps make clear was that I think this is a long-term plan, say on a 20-year time scale. What I DIDN'T mean to say was that they will try to have them take over all at once, today, right now, in New Orleans (as perhaps you and DemFromCT both read -- my bad writing, I'm afraid). I meant that while I agree with you that this disaster SHOULD be a kick in the pants for everyone to realize we need stronger local & government agencies, what I fear WILL happen is it will be co-opted by Bush's crew as an example of all the private sector is capable of.

The objective I'm hypothesizing is to shift the government agencies you mention to hollow shells that rubber-stamp the work done by private groups, and sign the checks.

Understood, emptypockets, but it's times like now that put the lie to the idea that government is bad, unneeded, rapacious, etc. and now is when the point should be crystal clear to everyone.

Dem, Busco cut the shit out of FEMA, too, which is why we are seeing such a late and weak response to this disaster.

yeah, it's part of the 'new' look for disaster. Let's see how it works.

President Bush, who plans to visit the storm-ravaged areas on Friday or Saturday, met after his return to Washington today with a task force he established to coordinate the efforts of 14 federal agencies. He will ask Congress for more money to aid those affected by the storm, and he put the federal response to the disaster in the hands of the Homeland Security Department, led by Mr. Chertoff.

That designation will set in motion, for the first time, a national emergency plan devised after the 2001 terror attacks to coordinate the work of several agencies aiding recovery efforts. "We will work tirelessly to ensure that our fellow citizens have the sustained support and the necessary aid to recover and reclaim their homes, their lives, and their communities," Mr. Chertoff said in a televised briefing.

Michael Leavitt, the secretary of health and human services, who is part of the task force, said he was declaring a public health emergency for the entire gulf region because of the threat of an outbreak of disease in areas without running water or electricity.

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