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“State Of Disaster”: How Many Natural Disasters Will It Take For The Lone Star State To Wake Up To The Disaster Of Its Elected Officials?

As extreme weather marked by tornadoes and flooding continues to sweep across Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott has requested – and President Obama has granted – federal help.

I don’t begrudge Texas billions of dollars in disaster relief. After all, we’re all part of America. When some of us are in need, we all have a duty to respond.

But the flow of federal money poses a bit of awkwardness for the Lone Star State.

After all, just over a month ago hundreds of Texans decided that a pending Navy Seal/Green Beret joint training exercise was really an excuse to take over the state and impose martial law. And they claimed the Federal Emergency Management Agency was erecting prison camps, readying Walmart stores as processing centers for political prisoners.

There are nut cases everywhere, but Texas’s governor, Greg Abbott added to that particular outpouring of paranoia by ordering the Texas State Guard to monitor the military exercise. “It is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed upon,” he said. In other words, he’d protect Texans from this federal plot.

Now, Abbott wants federal money. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency is gearing up for a major role in the cleanup – including places like Bastrop, Texas, where the Bastrop State Park dam failed – and where, just five weeks ago, a U.S. Army colonel trying to explain the pending military exercise was shouted down by hundreds of self-described patriots shouting “liar!”

Texans dislike the federal government even more than most other Americans do. According to a February poll conducted by the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune, only 23 percent of Texans view the federal government favorably, while 57 percent view it unfavorably, including more than a third who hold a “very unfavorable” view.

Texas dislikes the federal government so much that eight of its congressional representatives, along with Senator Ted Cruz, opposed disaster relief for the victims of Hurricane Sandy – adding to the awkwardness of their lobbying for the federal relief now heading Texas’s way.

Yet even before the current floods, Texas had received more disaster relief than any other state, according to a study by the Center for American Progress. That’s not simply because the state is so large. It’s also because Texas is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather – tornadoes on the plains, hurricanes in the Gulf, flooding across its middle and south.

Given this, you might also think Texas would take climate change especially seriously. But here again, there’s cognitive dissonance between what the state needs and how its officials act.

Among Texas’s infamous climate-change deniers is Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, who dismissed last year’s report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as “more political than scientific,“ and the White House report on the urgency of addressing climate change as designed “to frighten Americans.”
Smith is still at it. His committee just slashed by more than 20 percent NASA’s spending on Earth science, which includes climate change.

It’s of course possible that Texas’s current record rainfalls – the National Weather Service reports that the downpour in May alone was enough to put the entire state under eight inches of water  – has  nothing to do with the kind of extreme weather we’re witnessing elsewhere in the nation, such as the West’s current drought, the North’s record winter snowfall, and flooding elsewhere.

But you’d have to be nuts not to be at least curious about such a connection, and its relationship to the carbon dioxide humans have been spewing into the atmosphere.

Consider also the consequences for the public’s health. Several deaths in Texas have been linked to the extreme weather. Many Texans have been injured by it, directly or indirectly. Poor residents are in particular peril because they live in areas prone to flooding or in flimsy houses and trailers that can be washed or blown away.

What’s Texas’s response?  Texas officials continue to turn down federal funds to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, thereby denying insurance to more than 1 million people and preventing the state from receiving an estimated $100 billion in federal cash over the next decade.

I don’t want to pick on Texas. Its officials are not alone in hating the federal government, denying climate change, and refusing to insure its poor.

And I certainly don’t want to suggest all Texans are implicated. Obviously, many thoughtful and reasonable people reside there.

Yet Texans have elected people who seem not to have a clue. Indeed, Texas has done more in recent years to institutionalize irrationality than almost anywhere else in America – thereby imposing a huge burden on its citizens.

How many natural disasters will it take for the Lone Star State to wake up to the disaster of its elected officials?

 

By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, May 31, 2015

June 1, 2015 Posted by | Greg Abbott, Natural Disasters, Texas | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Constitution? What Constitution?”: Paul Ryan Refuses To Provide For The General Welfare

When the members of the 113th Congress of the United States took office this week, they swore an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic and to “bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”

The preamble to that Constitution establishes its purpose: “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”

The Constitution rests a special responsibility in this regard on the legislative branch of the federal government, declaring that the Congress shall use its powers to tax and spend to “provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.”

A good debate can be had about the precise meaning of “the general Welfare of the United States.” The founders had that debate—with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton differing vociferously—and it has continued in the Congress and the courts to this day.

But even in the 1790s, there was broad understanding that providing for the “general welfare” involved the taking of steps to protect the people from “misfortune, sickness, calamity or evil”—and to help them respond to such circumstances. Then, as now, “calamity” was understood to involve epic storms, floods and natural disasters.

It is difficult to imagine a recent crisis that more precisely fits the definition of “calamity” than Superstorm Sandy and its aftermath, which has left hundreds of thousands of Americans with destroyed or damaged homes and made it impossible for thousands of businesses to operate along the East Coast of the United State. Whole communities are struggling simply to return to something resembling normal.

On Friday, mere hours after swearing an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” and to “bear true faith and allegiance to the same,” the House of Representatives faced a simple vote on the most basic federal intervention on behalf of the victims of Superstorm Sandy: a measure to temporarily increase the borrowing authority of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assure that the National Flood Insurance Program could meet its obligations.

One hundred and ninety-one Democrats voted for the first real response by Congress to a disaster that occurred more than two months earlier. They were joined by 161 Republicans, including Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota.

But sixty-seven House members —led by House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan—voted “no.” The House Budget Committee chairman termed the maintaining of the existing flood-relief program to be “irresponsible.”

Ryan, as is frequently the case when it comes to matters constitutional, was precisely wrong.

One of his few clearly defined responsibilities, one of the few clearly defined responsibilities of any House member, is “to provide for the general Welfare.” They swear an oath to do so. And, barely hours into the new Congress, Ryan and his compatriots rejected that oath and a fundamental premise of the Constitution it supports.

By: John Nichols, The Nation, January 5, 2012

January 7, 2013 Posted by | Constitution, Politics | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Glib Ideological Purity”: Mitt Romney Would Pass The Buck On Disasters

Back when he was being “severely conservative,” Mitt Romney suggested that responsibility for disaster relief should be taken from the big, bad federal government and given to the states, or perhaps even privatized. Hurricane Sandy would like to know if he’d care to reconsider.

The absurd, and dangerous, policy prescription came in a GOP primary debate in June. Moderator John King said he had recently visited communities affected by severe weather and noted that the Federal Emergency Management Agency “is about to run out of money.”

“There are some people . . . who say, you know, maybe we’re learning a lesson here that the states should take on more of this role,” King said. “How do you deal with something like that?”

Romney replied: “Absolutely. 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. And if you can go further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.”

Romney went on to express the general principle that, given the crushing national debt, “we should take all of what we’re doing at the federal level and say, ‘What are the things we’re doing that we don’t have to do?’ ”

King gave him a chance to back off: “Including disaster relief, though?”

Romney didn’t blink. “We cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids,” he said, adding that “it is simply immoral . . . to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids.”

Now, with an unprecedented and monstrous storm bashing the East Coast, this glib exercise in ideological purity is newly relevant. Was Romney really saying that the federal government should abdicate the task of responding to natural disasters such as the one now taking place? Yes, he was. Did he really mean it? Well, with Romney, that’s always another question.

As the legendary Watergate source Deep Throat never actually said: “Follow the money.”

The dishonest “solution” proposed by Romney and running mate Paul Ryan for the federal government’s budget woes relies largely on a shell game: Transfer unfunded liabilities to the states.

Most disastrously, this is what Romney and Ryan propose for Medicaid, the health-care program for the poor. The GOP plan would give the states block grants that would not begin to cover Medicaid’s rising costs. Governors and legislatures would be forced to impose draconian cuts, with potentially catastrophic impact for millions of Americans.

Medicaid’s most expensive role — and thus, under Romney, the most imperiled — is to fund nursing-home care for seniors who classify as “poor” only because they have exhausted their life savings. Transferring the onus of Medicaid and other programs to the states would save money only by making it impossible to provide services at current levels.

For the hard-right ideologues who control the Republican Party, this would be a good thing. Our society has become too dependent on government, they believe, too “entitled” to benefits; we are unwilling to “take personal responsibility and care for” our lives, as Romney said in his secretly recorded “47 percent” speech.

Romney’s budget proposals would end all this coddling — except for the Pentagon and its contractors, who would get a big boost in federal largess, and of course, the wealthy, who would get a huge tax cut.

So-called “discretionary” federal spending would be sharply reduced. This would include spending for such agencies as FEMA. So yes, even if Romney was just pandering to the right-wing base at that June debate, one consequence of his policies would be to squeeze funding for federal emergency relief.

I guess having to survive a few hurricanes, tornados and earthquakes on our own would certainly foster personal responsibility.

And by the way, why is it that we’re having such a huge hurricane make landfall in such an unusual place at such a late date in the season? Is this another of those freakish once-in-a-century weather events that seem to be happening so often these days?

I know it’s impossible to definitively blame any one storm on human-induced atmospheric warming. But I’m sorry, these off-the-charts phenomena are becoming awfully commonplace. By the time scientists definitively establish what’s happening, it will be too late.

As has been noted, the words “climate change” were not spoken during the presidential debates. Hurricane Sandy wants to know why.

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 29, 2012

October 31, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Send Disaster Response To The States”: Mitt Romney’s Disastrous Emergency Management Plan

As 50 million East Coast residents brace for Hurricane Sandy’s impact, President Obama has already signed disaster declarations for at least a dozen states, making available the resources and unique coordinating capabilities of the federal government — specifically, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA – to assist in the response and recovery.

It’s worth noting that Mitt Romney has said he’d get rid of FEMA and leave states to fend for themselves.

At a CNN-sponsored GOP debate last June, moderator John King asked Romney what he would do to keep FEMA solvent. Romney replied that we need to cut government spending and should “send it back to the states … And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.” King looked a bit surprised and followed up to make sure Romney was saying what he appeared to be saying. “Including disaster relief, though?” King asked. Romney answered affirmatively: “We cannot — we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we’ll all be dead and gone before it’s paid off. It makes no sense at all.”

A Romney spokesperson, in a vague statement to the Huffington Post last night, suggested that eliminating FEMA is still Romney’s position.

“Send it back to the states” is a typical conservative talking point, of course. But the states don’t inspire much confidence when it comes to emergency management. FEMA also has a budget of about $6 billion that would disappear from the total pool of money available for disaster relief if the agency were eliminated tomorrow, unless states raised their taxes to make up for the loss, something Romney and his party seem unlikely to support.

Romney, as a former governor, ought to know better.

This is how a federal disaster area gets declared: The governor of a state submits a letter to the local FEMA branch requesting help. “In this request the Governor certifies that the combined local, county and state resources are insufficient and that the situation is beyond their recovery capabilities,” according to FEMA. So every time a governor submits a request for assistance — and there were a record 99 disaster declarations in 2011 — they have to declare they are incapable of handling the situation on their own.

And Romney does know, firsthand. For example, there was a November 2006 chemical plant explosion in Danvers, Mass. “You know, we’ll be looking at what the requirements are from a, from a national standpoint. We do have FEMA here now … The needs of the state or it should be the needs here, if they can be met by the state, they will be. If it’s beyond the needs or the capability of the state, then we’ll go to the federal government,” he said at a press conference.

Several months before that, in May, Romney requested additional money from FEMA to deal with flooding in Lowell, Mass. Before that, in October 2005, Romney requested FEMA help for several counties affected by flooding. Etc. etc.

But perhaps it isn’t fair to criticize Romney over these instances, since he was merely operating under the existing system and naturally wanted to do everything he could do to help his state.

But the idea of sending things back to the state makes little sense if you think about it for even a second. Natural disasters frequently transcend political borders, affecting multiple states simultaneously. Absent a unified chain of command coordinating the response in affected areas, you’d get a patchwork of different responses and approaches, which may be very difficult to coordinate. Poorer states with a weaker tax base may be less able to respond adequately. A national agency can pool and transfer resources across the entire county in a way that states can’t — individual state may go years without a major disaster, whereas FEMA is always busy. There are plenty of legitimate criticisms of FEMA, especially after Hurricane Katrina, but they all relate to how it needs to be more effective, not less so.

In a nutshell, disaster preparedness hits at the whole point of having a federal government and federalism. It’s a pretty good illustration of how far to the right the GOP has shifted that Romney wants to send disaster relief to states despite that being an obviously terrible idea. And privatizing disaster relief is even scarier. Who will pay for that? How will contractors be held accountable? Other cases of largely privatized disaster relief have raised serious red flags.

 

By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, October 29, 2012

October 30, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“You’re On Your Own”: Mitt Romney Called Federal Disaster Relief “Immoral”

Hurricane Sandy now threatens the eastern seaboard of the United States. You can follow the storm here. As the storm disrupts the final days of the presidential election, it’s important to think about the candidates’ positions on disaster relief.

During the GOP primary, as the candidates pitted themselves against each other in a contest to see who could call for more austerity, Mitt Romney called the money the federal government spends on disaster relief “immoral”:

“We cannot — we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we’ll all be dead and gone before it’s paid off. It makes no sense at all”.

Of course the amount of money we spend on disaster relief – approximately $6.1 billion is allocated for 2013 — is a fraction of the estimated $294 billion Mitt’s latest proposed tax cuts would cost.

During the Republican National Convention, as Hurricane Isaac forced the GOP to cancel the first day of its festivities, Mother JonesTim Murphy looked at how Romney’s proposals and his running mate Paul Ryan’s budget would affect disaster relief and found that “…under a Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan administration, FEMA’s ability to respond quickly and effectively to natural disasters could be severely inhibited.”

But at least disaster victims would have the relief of knowing that the rich have more tax breaks to keep them warm.

 

By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, October 28, 2012

October 29, 2012 Posted by | Disasters, Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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