Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Why is the Hurricane Harvey response lurching around and late to get started?

Twelve years to the day after Katrina our government is still improvising and coming up short on dealing with this predictable disaster in Texas and Louisiana and, of course, has done nothing worthwhile to prevent it.  

The reason why was displayed today listening to the California Report on KQED.  Our upbeat reporter was talking upbeat innovation with our upbeat candidate challenger who wants to run against “old guard” (read white, male, Republican) in a congressional district on the border with Nevada.  

What was so innovative? Some new internet site to raise money for politicians online that will let them sell their campaign ideas before actually becoming a registered candidate. The “innovation” was to test market this kind of fundraising. 

In the course of her report, the upbeat reporter had talked about how prior challengers to the old white republican guy hadn’t gotten very far and had only raised $50,000 to $100,000 which the reporter called “chump change”. 

Now “chump change” is an ugly, money grubbing expression closely related to the phrase “money talks and bullshit walks,” but to call more money than most of us make in a year “chump change” says a lot, including the fact that most of us are seen and treated as chumps by those who bask in the favor of our vile, money-mad, status-minded elites.  

Why are we evacuating residents of Houston in private fishing boats?  

Because we have a political system that organizes itself around money and the job of governing and providing for us chumps is secondary at best and usually an afterthought or brand positioning for the next round of vote marketing and paid advertising “political” campaigns.  

We all know this.  So much has been said and reported that there is not one person in the country who does not know that to be an elected official one needs piles of cash.  All of us have seen the avalanche of political advertising every two years.  

Why should we expect our elected officials to have any other priority than Dollars?  

Why isn’t Houston ready for this hurricane? It is hardly the first one to hit the area between New Orleans and Corpus Christi.  Galveston has been blown down how many times now?  

The words “fiscal reality” have already been used to explain away the poor response, failing dams and levies, failed pumps, lack of evacuation vehicles, etc. while the press is flooded with a bunch of boosters talking about how well the underfunded local, state and federal emergency agencies are cooperating and how heroic the first responders are.  There is no talk of why everyone is so underfunded past the vague, now accepted poverty of “fiscal reality.”

The first responders and the volunteers with their fishing boats ARE heroic.  
The elected officials who made the “fiscal reality” decisions are not.  

A couple days back a very important Op-Ed was published by Newsweek.  In it the point was made that Houston was the proud home of regulation-free urban growth under a system of free market madness worse than the nationwide norm. 

The article gets to the point when it comes to letting the market take the place of zoning. 

I say only worse than the norm, because the norm is to cave into the moneyed interests first and then “balance” the “needs of the other stake holders” second.  Our government is a process of players at the table where you have to have cash to play and the rest of us are chumps who are not “stake holders” and who are not at the table when “win-win” deals are cut because having a stake in the game is more important than unfunded things like paying attention to science or being a citizen.

And not listening to basic hydrology science is THE source of the current problems in Houston.  

There is every material reason not to have allowed Houston to expand in that area using those methods. 

Even without global warming, Houston was a place where the hurricanes were going to come, have come and will come again. The city was built in the path of heavy rains and they paved over the ground that should have soaked up the water in the process.  

So now there is a flood?  Well duh, we built a city in a flood plain

Those rains are going to come, and the reason we don’t have rain proof cities there is squarely the fault of the elected officials, state, local and federal. 

And who were all those national, state and local elected officials listening to?  
Let’s try looking at where those politicians get their campaign funds for starters.  

Well, just looking at the disaster news, one sees that the prices for gas has gone up at the pump and supplies have dropped because the refineries that transform the oil are in the areas affected.  

Any wonder that the local political class is so close to the free market fanatics and the climate change deniers?  Or is someone going to try to tell us that the world's largest industry, the oil industry, does not advocate for itself and exert influence where they have so many refineries?  

By the way, until the situation gets better, Chevron’s office in Houston is mostly closed. It is one of the largest Chevron has and one of the largest in Houston.  

It is easy to sit in California and take pot shots at Texas and its ultra-right Tom Foolery, especially when a center of climate change denial is busy shaping fiscal realities and finding a balance between the economy and whatever they don’t want to do, as their feet are wet. 

It would be a lot funnier if this was not costing lives, and causing suffering and loss for tens of thousands of common people in their homes. 

And California has little to boast.  

Our state is currently building environmentally destructive aqueduct tunnels to take northern water south, under the delta, and “balancing” the needs of “farmers” with the environment (for “farmers” please read “owners of agribusiness”). All the while we Californians still don’t have a sustainable water usage plan, much in the way of water recycling, grey water use, or any serious management of our depleted Central Valley aquifer.  We have declared our drought to be over, but have no plan to really adapt to our own climate and stop using, sourcing and disposing of water in a unsustainable, albeit profitable, way. 

Any idea of how much political power agribusiness wields in California?

We are also letting money dictate the constant loss of farm lands and natural spaces to track homes and strip malls.  We have some regulation and planning, more than Texas, but are still poorly prepared for fires, floods and earthquakes -- all of which just as are sure to come as the gulf winds are sure to blow more rains upon East Texas.  

Any idea of how much political power developers wield in California?  Try that at the state and local level and don’t be surprised that some of the people transforming farmland into profitable real estate are those who owned the land already.  Oh, and protective regulations to keep some of the land as a natural buffer?  Those get chipped away at every session of your county board or city council.  

The distortions I describe here are just development and water regulation. One could go on with other examples.  Mass transit comes to mind.  How many other subjects relating to regulation and planning play out a similar song of not doing the intelligent thing because of political and fiscal realities imposed by those with the cash?  How many don't?

And remember, we live in a state where $50,000 for a candidate running for office is “chump change.”

Of course, when the time comes, we always have heroes in our own first responders dealing with disasters that our own elected officials could have avoided, but don’t because they respond to one thing above all others, and that is money.  


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  2. Hitting the nail on the head does not drive sense into moneymakers. Similar stuff has been going on for decades. Developments on lands that are technically unsafe or unsound in the face of known natural hazards, even to the point of making the original situation even worse.
    In a course I took back in the early 70s about natural hazards and why people still settle near them, living in San Francisco and knowing that earthquakes and the occasional or periodic big one entails making a decision. People choose to live in such areas for different reasons, even with the perception of impending disaster.
    In the specific case of San Francisco, it was complicated further with the construction on lands reclaimed from the bay. Not only would the people living there be at ground zero for a major earthquake, their particular piece of ground zero would subduct into the water due to the vibrations accompanying the earthquake in a process called liquefaction in which unconsolidated "solid" material starts to act like a liquid and everything sinks.