Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Times: Let's Hear It For BIG GOVERNMENT! NOW!!

THE NEW YORK TIMES, SPEAKING AS THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE DEVASTATED BY HURRICANE SANDY in the region served by this nation's most influential newspaper was swift to assert the URGENT need for BIG GOVERNMENT to confront severe weather emergencies. Just a few points to bolster the Times' argument:

1. FIRST AND FOREMOST: DAMN YOU, DAMN YOU TO HELL, YOU DAMNED ANTI-SCIENCE REPUBLICAN LUDDITES! Anyone, ANYONE who doesn't think man-made GLOBAL WARMING has contributed to this latest catastrophe is a DANGEROUS, UN-AMERICAN, UN-PATRIOTIC FOOL! Now is not the time to make SAVAGE CUTS to government; quite the contrary. If these anti-science Republicans have their way, we will be giving away our CROWN JEWELS, which is our cutting-edge scientific can-do know-how through neglect and IGNORANT, STUPID defunding of BIG GOVERNMENT (see below). Worse, in this instance, we'll be ceding our weather tracking capabilities to the EUROPEANS! (Romney said President Obama wants to turn America into Europe ... WRONG! He wants to RETURN America to our LEADERSHIP role in cutting-edge science.)

2. An Op-ed by two meteorological experts at the U of Georgia sounds the alarm against the REPUBLICAN TEABAGGER TRAITORS in Congress, as Hurricane Sandy is being tracked by a U.S. climate-and-weather network — largely funded by the federal government — that is coming under increasing financial pressure. Here are excerpts: (ANGRY emphasis mine.)

"Recently, GOES-13, the United States’ main weather satellite monitoring the Eastern Seaboard and Atlantic/Gulf of Mexico hurricane basin, experienced technical difficulties and was taken offline. Luckily, a “spare” satellite was in orbit and was able to provide seamless coverage until GOES-13 was reinstated.

What if we didn’t have that spare? Or what if budget pressures were setting up the real possibility of significant gaps in satellite coverage in the coming five to 10 years? These are not hypothetical questions. The National Research Council recently called attention to the consequences of a degrading or waning research and operational satellite fleet.

Policymakers must continue to adequately support satellite, aircraft, and observational capacity. Such investments pay for themselves multi-fold through saved lives, property, and dollars from needless evacuations and other planning costs. The best estimates are that taxpayers reap $5 or more from every $1 spent on weather forecasts.

We must also continue to ensure that our world-class weather modeling centers have the necessary funding and manpower to implement the most advanced modeling and data assimilation techniques. Numerical weather forecasting was invented in the United States, but today other countries have extremely capable modeling capacity.

In Great Britain, the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts was targeting an East Coast landfall days ahead of the best American model. With the appropriate resources, the U.S. could firmly establish itself as the leader in weather forecasting and increase our lead time for weather disaster preparation, if the public and political will exists to do so. The cost would be peanuts compared to most other government programs. The entire budget of the National Weather Service—everything and everyone, from computers to carpet—is less than $1 billion per year.

Improvements in track forecasting, intensity changes, and storm genesis often come from collaborations among the government, private sector, and academia. Scientific meetings are key forums to share scientific research, vet new methodologies, and forge new partnerships.

Yet, recently, our federal meteorologists and other scientists have been denied access to such meetings due to budget or administrative mandates. Even worse, some have suggested scientific meetings are a waste of taxpayer dollars. It is reasonable to ask how well we would be able to predict or assess a storm like Sandy without the knowledge and capacity gained through meetings held by the American Meteorological Society or the National Weather Association.

Most taxpayers clearly recognize the impact that weather events like Sandy and the “ghost” of Sandy megastorm can have on life, property, and the economy. In austere times, it is critical that neither required fiscal discipline nor short-sightedness jeopardize U.S. citizens. We should not let an obsession with penny-pinching trick us into thinking that a penny saved on weather forecasts is a penny earned. Instead, it is nickels and dimes and dollars lost, as well as lives lost. Let’s treat ourselves to a safer future instead."

And here, in this context, is today's Times Editorial:

A Big Storm Requires Big Government

Most Americans have never heard of the National Response Coordination Center, but they’re lucky it exists on days of lethal winds and flood tides. The center is the war room of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, where officials gather to decide where rescuers should go, where drinking water should be shipped, and how to assist hospitals that have to evacuate.

Disaster coordination is one of the most vital functions of “big government,” which is why Mitt Romney wants to eliminate it. At a Republican primary debate last year, Mr. Romney was asked whether emergency management was a function that should be returned to the states. He not only agreed, he went further.

“Absolutely,” he said. “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 even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.” Mr. Romney not only believes that states acting independently can handle the response to a vast East Coast storm better than Washington, but that profit-making companies can do an even better job. He said it was “immoral” for the federal government to do all these things if it means increasing the debt.

It’s an absurd notion, but it’s fully in line with decades of Republican resistance to federal emergency planning. FEMA, created by President Jimmy Carter, was elevated to cabinet rank in the Bill Clinton administration, but was then demoted by President George W. Bush, who neglected it, subsumed it into the Department of Homeland Security, and placed it in the control of political hacks. The disaster of Hurricane Katrina was just waiting to happen.

The agency was put back in working order by President Obama, but ideology still blinds Republicans to its value. Many don’t like the idea of free aid for poor people, or they think people should pay for their bad decisions, which this week includes living on the East Coast.

Over the last two years, Congressional Republicans have forced a 43 percent reduction in the primary FEMA grants that pay for disaster preparedness. Representatives Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor and other House Republicans have repeatedly tried to refuse FEMA’s budget requests when disasters are more expensive than predicted, or have demanded that other valuable programs be cut to pay for them. The Ryan budget, which Mr. Romney praised as “an excellent piece of work,” would result in severe cutbacks to the agency, as would the Republican-instigated sequester, which would cut disaster relief by 8.2 percent on top of earlier reductions.

Does Mr. Romney really believe that financially strapped states would do a better job than a properly functioning federal agency? Who would make decisions about where to send federal aid? Or perhaps there would be no federal aid, and every state would bear the burden of billions of dollars in damages. After Mr. Romney’s 2011 remarks recirculated on Monday, his nervous campaign announced that he does not want to abolish FEMA, though he still believes states should be in charge of emergency management. Those in Hurricane Sandy’s path are fortunate that, for now, that ideology has not replaced sound policy.

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