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John Kerry: Climate Change Is ‘World’s Most Fearsome’ Weapon of Mass Destruction

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

climate-change_Image Credit-kwest:Shutterstock

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“When 97 percent of scientists agree on anything, we need to listen, and we need to respond. . . . And the results of our human activity are clear. If you ranked all the years in recorded history by average temperature, . . . you’d see that all 10 of the hottest years on record have actually happened since Google went online in 1998.” —Secretary of State John Kerry in Jakarta, Indonesia, Feb. 16, 2014

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But Will He Oppose Keystone XL Pipeline?

In a speech in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry called climate change “perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction,” and urged international action to combat greenhouse gas emissions.

The science of climate change is leaping out at us like a scene from a 3D movie. It’s warning us; it’s compelling us to act. . . . When I think about the array of . . . global threats . . . terrorism, epidemics, poverty, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction—all challenges that know no borders—the reality is that climate change ranks right up there with every single one of them. . . . 

We should not allow a tiny minority of shoddy scientists and . . . extreme ideologues to compete with scientific fact. . . . This is not opinion. This is about facts. This is about science. The science is unequivocal. . . . 

Notwithstanding the stark choices that we face . . . there is still time. . . . But the window is closing. . . . The United States is prepared to take the lead in bringing other nations to the table.

us-state-kxl-co2-scenarios-When he was a United States senator (1985–2013) and the Democratic candidate for president in 2004, Kerry was a strong advocate for environmental protection and action against climate change. However, as Think Progress points out, his fine-sounding speech “is utterly at odds with State’s logic-twisting Keystone-friendly Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.” Joe Romm of Think Progress writes:

A must-read new analysis by Oil Change International finds that “all of the scenarios used by the State Department” in their Final Environmental Impact Study (EIS) of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline “result in emissions that put us on a path to 6 degrees C (11°F) of global warming according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).” Talk about mass destruction! 

A report about Kerry’s speech on the BBC’s Global News podcast (2/16/14) includes comments by  environmental correspondent Matt McGrath suggesting that, with President Obama under intense political pressure to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, and with a decision possibly to be announced this year (after the 2014 midterm elections?), “this is Kerry laying down [for the eyes of the world] the Obama administration’s green credentials, their determination to get a [climate change] deal in the future.” Kerry’s speech, he said, was not only for an international audience but also for American listeners.

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Back to 2009: How “Hopenhagen” Became “Brokenhagen”

Countdown-Copenhagen1In related news see BBC environmental correspondent Matt McGrath’s report, “Emissions Impossible: Did Spies Sink Key Climate Deal?,” on how the NSA helped U.S. officials monitor the communications of other nations’ negotiators at the 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen, “according to documents released to a Danish newspaper by [Edward] Snowden.”

“All the spying in the world wouldn’t have secured an agreement in Copenhagen,” said a Danish source of McGrath’s. “We all knew the Gordian knot was that China wouldn’t accept an agreement that omitted the Kyoto Protocol and the US wouldn’t accept one that included it. This was impossible to cut through and everyone knew this beforehand.” 

And so it was that “Hopenhagen” rapidly became “Brokenhagen.”

•  See LNW’s “Copenhagen Climate Accord Better Than Nothing (Sound Familiar?)” (12/19/09), which includes links to many climate-related articles and web sites.

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Photo credit: kwest / Shutterstock

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Elvin R. Heiberg III, General Who Took Blame for Hurricane Katrina Failures, Dies at 81

Friday, October 4th, 2013

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Former Head of Army Corps of Engineers Regretted Not Fighting for Storm-Surge Gates
As Tropical Storm Karen approaches the Gulf Coast, and FEMA employees, furloughed by the latest GOP Government Shutdown, are called back to work without pay, The New York Times reports the death of Lt. Gen. Elvin R. Heiberg III, “who rose to the top of the United States Army Corps of Engineers in the 1980s and decades later expressed regret for failing to fight hard enough to build floodgates that he believed might have protected New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina.” Gen. Heiberg died last Friday, Sept. 27, in Arlington, Va. He was 81. In June 2007, the Times reports, “nearly two years after Katrina, General Heiberg wrote a letter published in The Times-Picayune of New Orleans that ‘As too many continue to rush around to find someone to blame for the Katrina engineering failures, they can blame me. I gave up too easily.’ ” After Hurricane Betsy in 1965, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conceived a plan to build flood-surge gates at the eastern edge of Lake Pontchartrain at the Chef Menteur and the Rigolets passes to be lowered in case of an oncoming hurricane (map below). Environmentalists worried that the presence of the floodgates would make it easier for developers to drain areas for development and that the flow of water would be blocked.Luke Fontana, executive attorney for Save Our Wetlands Inc., filed a lawsuit to block the floodgates. In 1985, twenty years after Hurricane Betsy, the Corps gave up the plan. (The plan and its defeat—“death-by-environmentalism,” we call it—is discussed in detail in Mark Schleifstein and John McQuaid’s excellent 2006 book Path of Destruction: The Devastation of New Orleans and the Coming Age of Superstorms. See our interview with Schleifstein here.) In an interview cited by NPR online, Gen. Heiberg said, “I think that’s probably the biggest mistake I made, quitting instead of fighting. . . . I think Katrina proved that.” (See “Why Did the 17th Street Canal Levee Fail?” NPR, May 19, 2006.)   1965CorpsFloodgatesPlan The New York Times obituary in full appears below.
Elvin R. Heiberg III, General Who Took Blame for Hurricane Katrina Failures, Dies at 81
04heiberg-popup Lt. Gen. Elvin R. Heiberg III, who rose to the top of the United States Army Corps of Engineers in the 1980s and decades later expressed regret for failing to fight hard enough to build floodgates that he believed might have protected New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina, died last Friday in Arlington, Va. He was 81. The cause was cancer, said his daughter Kay Bransford. In June 2007, nearly two years after Katrina, General Heiberg wrote a letter published in The Times-Picayune of New Orleans that read: “As too many continue to rush around to find someone to blame for the Katrina engineering failures, they can blame me. I gave up too easily.” He explained that in the 1970s, when he commanded the New Orleans district, the corps planned to protect the city by building gates at the east end of Lake Pontchartrain. Environmentalists opposed the project, and local interests objected to sharing the costs, as federal law requires. A federal judge blocked the project and called for a more thorough analysis of its environmental impact. In the 1980s, when General Heiberg was commander of the corps, or chief of engineers—the youngest man to head the corps since the 19th century—the fight over the so-called barrier plan was still going on. “I was discouraged and decided to stop fighting for the barriers any longer,” he wrote in The Times-Picayune. “In retrospect, that was the biggest mistake I made during my 35 years as an Army officer.” In lieu of the barrier, the corps turned to raising levees and floodwalls around the city. It turned out to be a patchwork project that was still not complete when Katrina hit 20 years later and many segments of the floodwall failed. The official corps report on the disaster called the hurricane protection system “a system in name only.” General Heiberg’s letter fed an argument that had begun circulating soon after the storm that had blamed environmentalists for the destruction of the city, accusing them of blocking efforts to protect it. The conservative FrontPage Magazine called their tactics “Green Genocide.” But the barrier envisioned by the corps would have been ineffective, said G. Paul Kemp, an author of Louisiana’s official report on the disaster and an adjunct professor at the Louisiana State University department of oceanography and coastal sciences. Much of the water that inundated New Orleans, he said, had flowed in from a corner of Lake Borgne, which lies to the south and east of the city and which would have been outside the barrier’s reach. Alfred Naomi, a former senior project engineer for the corps in New Orleans, agreed that the barriers “might not have made a difference for Katrina,” though he argued that some areas might have suffered less damage had the barriers been there and that the project would have improved safety overall. He expressed admiration for General Heiberg and his public stand. “That showed integrity and moral certitude that you don’t find a lot in today’s society,” he said. “Right or wrong, he took the hit — and took some responsibility.” Elvin Ragnvald Heiberg III—he went by “Vald”—was born on March 2, 1932, at Schofield Barracks, the Army installation on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. Like his father and a grandfather, he joined the Army and attended the United States Military Academy at West Point; the grandfather served as military attaché in Rome and died when he was thrown by a horse while visiting the Austro-Hungarian front in 1917. Vald III graduated from West Point in 1953 and earned master’s degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and George Washington University. His career in the Army and Corps of Engineers took him to wartime service in Korea and Vietnam and to Saudi Arabia, where he oversaw $14 billion in corps-led construction projects for the country’s national guard. He led the corps’ cleanup and rebuilding effort after the eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington State in 1980, and ran the Army’s Ballistic Missile Defense Program, a precursor to the Reagan administration’s “Star Wars” plan. General Heiberg’s many decorations included the Silver Star Medal, the Legion of Merit and the Distinguished Flying Cross from his Vietnam service; he twice earned the Distinguished Service Medal. After retiring from the military, he worked with a number of companies, including Dawson & Associates, a consulting and government relations firm with expertise in water resources, where he was a senior adviser. In addition to Ms. Bransford, General Heiberg’s survivors include his wife, the former Kathryn Schrimpf, whom he married in 1953; another daughter, Kathryn Heiberg-Browning; two sons, Walter and Elvin IV; and a sister, Dorethe Skidmore. Contacted by a reporter last year to discuss the old barrier plan, General Heiberg said, “I haven’t changed my mind on any of that.” New Orleans is now protected by a $14 billion ring of walls, levees and gates, including a two-mile barrier at the northwest corner of Lake Borgne, and gates that can close the city’s drainage canals to block any surge from Lake Pontchartrain. Barriers for Lake Pontchartrain are again under consideration. #


Ask Not “Why Live There?”—Ask “How Can I Help?”

Saturday, November 3rd, 2012

[ cross-posted at Daily Kos ]

Please Give to Red Cross

We just made a donation to the American Red Cross. We’re asking all our readers to please make a donation if you can. Click here or phone 1-800-HELPNOW or text “RedCross” to 90999. Even $5 or $10 can help buy food, water, bandages, batteries, blankets, and other necessities for people hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. Thank you.

Click here and here for lists of volunteer opportunities and relief efforts that could use your help. Merci.

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Ask “How did you do?” and “How can I Help?”

Who can forget the question asked repeatedly after Hurricane Katrina, “Why do they live there?” The question was usually spoken with a tone of contempt or exasperation, and without sympathy, perhaps out of impatience after days of seeing “those people”—poor, forlorn—on TV screens where faces of “that complexion” were rarely seen. Maybe it was a Fox News–type of question. If those people just had sense enough to evacuate . . .

Now the same can be asked of those who live—as we do—in the largest, most densely populated metropolitan area in the United States, along the heavily populated upper Atlantic Seaboard. “Why do they live there?” is a fair question, as long as it’s not asked with contempt, without compassion. It could be asked as well of those who live in other at-risk areas such as Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, the Netherlands, or low-lying coastal areas of India, Bangladesh, and so on. It can also be asked of people in Tornado Alley in the central United States. Just about every spot on earth has its hazards, as we know.

The fact is, for very logical, practical reasons, humans have always tended to live near water. And, though it may seem strange, water often tends to be near coastal areas, which are sometimes prone to high tides, severe storms, and worse. (Inland people, too, can be flooded: Just ask Cairo, Ill., Memphis, Vicksburg . . .) On Wednesday Rachel Maddow showed a map identifying the population centers along the coasts of the United States: some 63 million residents, amounting to one-fifth of the U.S. population. Nineteen million in and around New York City, nearly 13 million in metro Los Angeles, and millions more in and around New Orleans, Miami, Tampa, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, and so on. Is “Why do they live there?”—in the sense of “How could they be so stupid?”—a reasonable question of all these people?

In a letter to the editor of the New York Times printed Nov. 1, Suzette Marie Smith of New Orleans wrote:

We could not have said it better. We hope everyone will take Ms. Smith’s lesson to heart. Have compassion for your fellow Americans. We live in a time of extreme weather in all forms, and, though we hope not, next time it could be you, whether you live on a coast or in the middle.

Click “Read More” for dramatic photos of what Sandy left behind

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When Seawater Occupies Wall Street

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

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A security guard walks through a flooded street in the financial district of Manhattan early on Tuesday, Oct. 29. Photo by Adrees Latif/Reuters.

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Knee-deep thought of the day:

When seawater occupies Wall Street, perhaps Nature itself is telling Big Business and elected officials—and the public in general—to take climate change seriously, at last. 

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The world is likely to build so many fossil-fuelled power stations, energy-guzzling factories and inefficient buildings in the next five years that it will become impossible to hold global warming to safe levels, and the last chance of combating dangerous climate change will be “lost for ever,” according to the most thorough analysis yet of world energy infrastructure. 

Anything built from now on that produces carbon will do so for decades, and this “lock-in” effect will be the single factor most likely to produce irreversible climate change, the world’s foremost authority on energy economics has found. If this is not rapidly changed within the next five years, the results are likely to be disastrous.

“The door is closing,” Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency, said. “I am very worried—if we don’t change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum [for safety]. The door will be closed forever.”

Please keep reading at “IEA Sees ‘Irreversible Climate Change in Five Years’” (LNW 1/21/12).

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Recommended reading: Elizabeth Kolbert’s Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change (Bloomsbury, 2006).

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Gov. Cuomo cites “dramatic change in weather patterns”

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Sees Evidence of Climate Change, Need for Upgraded Infrastructure

In his 11:30 a.m. briefing the day after Hurricane Sandy, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo made a clear reference to climate change, or global warming, about 30 minutes into his remarks: “Anyone who thinks that there is not a dramatic change in weather patterns is denying reality.”

There has been a series of extreme weather incidents. That’s not a political statement, that is a factual statement. Anyone who says that there is not a dramatic change in weather patterns I think is denying reality. . . . I said to the president kiddingly the other day we have a one hundred year flood every two years now. So, this city doesn’t have experience with this type of weather pattern. . . . I think it’s something we’re going to have to take into consideration, and educate ourselves. And as we’re going through the reconstruction and rebuilding, we’re going to have to find ways to build this city back stronger and better than ever before. . . . We have a new reality when it comes to these weather patterns. We have an old infrastructure and old systems, and that is not a good combination. And that is one of the lessons I’m going to take away from this. That and the courage of New Yorkers and the spirit of community of New Yorkers . . .

Thank you, Governor Cuomo. We have been making the same point ourselves (see here and here), but it makes a much bigger impact when the governor of New York says that climate change is behind the “dramatic change in weather patterns”—especially when the presidential candidates dare not face the fact or call it by its name.

Gov. Cuomo covered many other important points as well. More about his remarks here (see 12:56 p.m., Oct. 30).

Al Gore: “Dirty Energy Makes Dirty Weather”

Another heavy hitter spoke out today where candidates fear to tread. Former vice president Al Gore contributed a “Statement on Hurricane Sandy”:

Scientists tell us that by continually dumping 90 million tons of global warming pollution into the atmosphere every single day, we are altering the environment in which all storms develop. As the oceans and atmosphere continue to warm, storms are becoming more energetic and powerful. . . . 

Sandy was also affected by other symptoms of the climate crisis. As the hurricane approached the East Coast, it gathered strength from abnormally warm coastal waters. At the same time, Sandy’s storm surge was worsened by a century of sea level rise. Scientists tell us that if we do not reduce our emissions, these problems will only grow worse. 

Hurricane Sandy is a disturbing sign of things to come. We must heed this warning and act quickly to solve the climate crisis. Dirty energy makes dirty weather.

Al Gore, “Statement on Hurricane Sandy

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Hurricane Watch in New York City

Sunday, October 28th, 2012

Extreme Weather Coming Soon to an Eastern Seaboard Near You

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“We have a tropical hurricane merging, or folding in, with a mid-latitude weather system, one of those low pressure systems that track across the country. The two systems’ dynamics are very different and when they occasionally fold together, they actually produce the worst characteristics of both. . . . This is the same thing that happened during the perfect storm of 1991 [as popularized by author Sebastian Junger], and at roughly the same time.” —Barry Keim, Louisiana State Climatologist, quoted by Mark Schleifstein, Times-Picayune

“Sandy also is different in its size, rivaling the largest cyclones ever recorded around the globe, Keim said, with hurricane-force winds extending outward 175 miles from its center and tropical storm-force winds extending out 485 miles.” —Mark Schleifstein, Times-Picayune

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Last year when Hurricane Irene was barreling down on the East Coast—on the 6th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, as it happened—we were (ironically) safe from the storm, attending the Rising Tide conference in New Orleans. Irene, a Category 1 hurricane when it hit the East Coast, caused over $15 billion in damage and left many in the Northeast without power for a week or more. Now a bigger and badder storm, 900 miles across, is taking aim at the Atlantic Coast, from North Carolina to Connecticut, and low-lying areas around New Jersey and New York City and Long Island are being evacuated, with warnings of dangerously high sea water. Storm surge could reach 11 feet in New York Harbor and Long Island Sound.

The New York City subway and bus system (MTA) has been shut down as of 7:00 p.m. Sunday by order of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, along with the Long Island Rail Road and Metro North Railroad. That’s 468 subway stations going dark, and officials warn that trains may not run again until Wednesday. (The MTA normally moves about 8.5 million passengers a day.) Schools and offices are closed in New York City and around the metropolitan area for Monday, and we’ll see about Tuesday. Evacuations have been ordered for the lowest-elevation areas shown in red on the map above. Workers are laying down plywood over subway air vents on city sidewalks to prevent or lessen flooding in the subway tunnels, many of which are below sea level—some far below.

Oct. 29 update: The New York Times reports that Amtrak has canceled most trains on the Eastern Seaboard. Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia mass transit systems and New Jersey Transit are also shutting down till the storm passes. • NYT live updates here. • Click here for a NOAA animation of satellite observations showing Hurricane Sandy in motion Oct. 26–29. • NASA images here.

2012’s Extreme Weather Triggered Decades Ago

It is often not possible to tie any given weather event directly to man-made climate change, so we cannot say at this point whether this oncoming storm is intensified by greenhouse gas emissions. But Hurricane Sandy is coming rather late in the hurricane season (June 1–Nov. 30), and it’s the second hurricane in 14 months to strike the East Coast in a big way. The point of climate change is not just “global warming,” but extreme weather, as in the frequent tornadoes that pummeled America’s midsection in the spring of 2011 (see “Wrath of God? : Global Warming and Extreme Weather”).

In this year that saw widespread drought and crop failures in the United States, with over a thousand counties in 26 states declared natural disaster areas by the U.S. Department of Agriculture—the largest such designation ever—the two mainstream presidential candidates have avoided even uttering the word “environment,” unless in reference to “the business environment.” Climate change denial expands (see “Ides of March” below) even as the ice caps’ summer melts reach alarming new records.

[In a GOP primary debate, however, Mitt Romney said that emergency management should be handed over to the states. “Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction.” Including disaster relief? the moderator asked. “We cannot . . . afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids.” Historical note: It was in response to persistent pleas from state governors that President Jimmy Carter established FEMA in 1979.]

During the peak of this summer’s heat blast, New Yorker environmental reporter Elizabeth Kolbert pointed out one of the most alarming facts about the extreme weather: As hot as it was this summer, the record-setting heat of 2012 was set in motion decades ago:

One of the most salient—but also, unfortunately, most counterintuitive—aspects of global warming is that it operates on what amounts to a time delay. Behind this summer’s heat are greenhouse gases emitted decades ago. Before many effects of today’s emissions are felt, it will be time for the Summer Olympics of 2048. (Scientists refer to this as the “commitment to warming.”) What’s at stake is where things go from there. It is quite possible that by the end of the century we could, without even really trying, engineer the return of the sort of climate that hasn’t been seen on earth since the Eocene, some fifty million years ago.

Along with the heat and the drought and the super derecho, the country this summer is also enduring a Presidential campaign. So far, the words “climate change” have barely been uttered. This is not an oversight. Both President Obama and Mitt Romney have chosen to remain silent on the issue, presumably because they see it as just too big a bummer.

And so, while farmers wait for rain and this season’s corn crop withers on the stalk, the familiar disconnect continues. There’s no discussion of what could be done to avert the worst effects of climate change, even as the insanity of doing nothing becomes increasingly obvious.

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Hurricane Isaac and Tampa’s Blizzard of Lies

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

What Would Romney-Ryan Mean for FEMA and Infrastructure?

[ cross-posted at DailyKos ]

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“One of the themes of the Tampa convention will be the failure of government, and the prosperity that will result if it is cut to ribbons. But in a different corner of the television screen, the winds of Isaac are a reminder of the necessity of government—its labor, its expertise, its money—in the nation’s most dire moments. It is hard to forget what happened to New Orleans when that Republican philosophy was followed in 2005, and it will be harder still to explain how it might be allowed to happen again.” —“The Storm, Again,” NYT editorial, Aug. 27, 2012

“We have responsibilities, one to another—we do not each face the world alone. And the greatest of all responsibilities, is that of the strong to protect the weak. The truest measure of any society is how it treats those who cannot defend or care for themselves.” —vice presidential nominee Paul D. Ryan, acceptance speech, Republican National Convention, Tampa, Aug. 29, 2012

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If Hurricane Katrina was indeed divine retribution for abortions and tolerance of homosexuality, then how are we to understand God’s twice visiting strong hurricanes upon the U.S. at the exact moment when the Republican National Convention gathers to nominate its presidential candidate, with Gustav in 2008 and now with Isaac, which made landfall on the Gulf Coast on August 29, the exact 7-year anniversary of Katrina? (Rush Limbaugh has a suspicion.)

Far be it from us to question the wisdom of the true believers, but it’s our view that if hurricanes must come at all, it’s best they blow when the elephants are gathering at the water hole—preferably in Florida, or some other red coastal state. Let the screen be split. Let the images be juxtaposed. Let the nation never forget how the Republican way of governing—staffing disaster relief agencies with inexperienced cronies and then cutting funds—resulted in the disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina: immeasurable death, destruction, anguish, financial ruin and impoverishment, dispersal, heartbreak . . . (To be sure, however, blame rests with both parties for the chronic underfunding of the Army Corps of Engineers that left the city’s levees and outflow canals’ floodwalls compromised.)

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), established by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 at the persistent urging of state governors, only functions well when Democrats are in the White House. Democrats take governing and disaster management seriously, and Republicans do not. Bill Clinton’s FEMA director James Lee Witt (1993–2001) and the present director, W. Craig Fugate, are widely respected as disaster response professionals. In Disaster: Hurricane Katrina and the Failure of Homeland Security (2006), Chris Cooper and Bobby Block survey the sad story of Republican disregard for disaster relief. FEMA’s tardy and disorganized response to Hurricane Andrew (shown above) in August 1992 likely cost President George H. W. Bush many votes in Florida, and beyond. Bill Clinton wrote in My Life (2004):

Traditionally, the job of FEMA director was given to a political supporter of the President who wanted some plum position but who had no experience with emergencies. I made a mental note to avoid that mistake if I won. Voters don’t chose a President based on how he’ll handle disasters, but if they’re faced with one themselves, it quickly becomes the most important issue in their lives.

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More Tax Cuts for the Rich, While Disaster Relief Is Held Hostage?

Five, six days after the storm, the lights are just coming back on in Mid-City and other parts of New Orleans. It’s 93 degrees, and thousands are still in the dark, without air conditioning.

While Hurricane Isaac was not as destructive as we feared—the reinforced floodwall system around greater New Orleans held up well—this storm’s timing was a reminder that there is one political party that is not to be trusted with disaster management, or with anything else relating to the social safety net. Mitt Romney’s economic plan would reduce non-discretionary spending by 30 percent.

Others have examined the falsehoods in Paul Ryan’s v.p. nomination acceptance speech and the overall dishonesty of the RNC show in Tampa (see here and here). Many have objected to the Republicans’ hypocrisy in blaming a president for failures ensured by their own blocking of every effort at repairing the economy. They filibustered or voted No on all potential remedies to make the public reject Obama. Many independents as well as Democrats and moderate Republicans are put off by the Mad Tea Party–style conservatives’ insistence that nothing good can come of government.

Many of the lies and evasions that concern us most, however, stem from the GOP’s hostility to spending taxpayers’ dollars on programs of direct help to the public, from Medicare and Social Security to FEMA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which includes the National Hurricane Center and the National Weather Service.

Paul Ryan sounds reassuring when he says, “The truest measure of any society is how it treats those who cannot defend or care for themselves,” but the budgets he has put forth as chair of the House Budget Committee tell another story: You’re on your own.

Tim Murphy of Mother Jones in “What Would Romney-Ryan Mean for FEMA?” surveys the implications for disaster relief in the Ryan budgets—the same ones that would convert Medicare to a privatized “Vouchercare.” Murphy notes that the Ryan budget does not detail specific cuts (just as Mitt Romney avoids specifics), but “the overall math suggests that [the cuts] would be drastic.” In 2011 there were 14 disasters costing over $1 billion in damages, a record high, and with the intensifying climate change that the Republicans refuse to acknowledge, the disasters’ frequency and destructiveness are only going to get worse.

Murphy writes:

“. . . under a Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan administration, FEMA’s ability to respond quickly and effectively to natural disasters could be severely inhibited. In a 2012 report on Rep. Paul Ryan’s ‘Path to Prosperity’ roadmap (which Romney has said is similar to his own), the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted that, due to the severe cuts to non-entitlement, non-defense spending, the costs for things like emergency management would have to be passed on to the states—which, with just a few exceptions, are currently in an even tighter financial bind than Washington.

“FEMA also helps states and local governments repair or replace public facilities and infrastructure, which often is not insured,” the CBPP report explained. ‘This form of discretionary federal aid would be subject to cuts under the Ryan budget. If it were scaled back substantially, states and localities would need to bear a larger share of the costs of disaster response and recovery, or attempt to make do with less during difficult times.’ ”

Pat Garofalo at ThinkProgress describes how Republicans held disaster relief funding hostage several times in 2011, demanding that funding be offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget. “The GOP pulled the same trick when Missouri was hit by a deadly tornado in May, when Virginia was affected by an earthquake, and when Hurricane Irene struck America’s east coast.” Garofalo quotes David Weigel at Slate:

According to the House Appropriation Committee’s summary of the bill, the [GOP's 2011 continuing resolution] funds Operations, Research and Facilities for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association with $454.3 million less than it got in FY2010; this represents a $450.3 million cut from what the president’s never-passed FY2011 budget was requesting. The National Weather Service, of course, is part of NOAA—its funding drops by $126 million. The CR also reduces funding for FEMA management by $24.3 million off of the FY2010 budget, and reduces that appropriation by $783.3 million for FEMA state and local programs.

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We won’t pretend to interpret divine intentions in the timing of the recent hurricanes and other disasters, but we can be thankful for the opportunity to point out to the concerned public that there is one slate of candidates who will not be there for you when a tornado rips through your town, or an earthquake splits your streets. We won’t say (though others may) that natural disasters are God’s way of saying “Vote Democratic,” but don’t you want to be on the safe side?

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Photo credits: Hurricane Andrew (1992) by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); downed stop light in New Orleans (2012) by Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images.

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Isaac Aims at Mouth of Mississippi, Greater New Orleans

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

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On exactly the seven-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina (Aug. 29), Tropical Storm Isaac is heading toward the mouth of the Mississippi River, likely to make landfall as a Category 1 hurricane, and possibly as a Category 2, with wind speeds up to about 100 m.p.h. Click on the diagram above, drawn by the excellent graphic artists at the Times-Picayune, to see details of the $14.6 billion storm protection system that has been put in place by the Army Corps of Engineers since 2005. Click NOLA.com to see periodic updates by environmental reporters Mark Schleifstein, Bob Marshall, and others. More details to follow.

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