What does Superstorm Sandy tell us about how to vote? Is disaster aid “immoral?”

Is it immoral for the federal government to coordinate disaster responses, and to provide aid for disasters, especially during and after superstorms like Sandy?

SUOMI view of Hurricane Sandy, early October 29, 2012 - NASA image

Caption from NASA: This night-view image of Hurricane Sandy was acquired by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite around 2:42 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (06:42 Universal Time) on October 28, 2012. In this case, the cloud tops were lit by the nearly full Moon (full occurs on October 29). Some city lights in Florida and Georgia are also visible amid the clouds.
CREDIT: NASA/Suomi NPP – VIIRS/Michael Carlowicz

I was troubled when GOP Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal called for cuts to disaster forecasting and especially our volcano monitoring systems, in 2009. I’ve been troubled by slams at NASA and NOAA with calls to cut budgets for orbiting satellites used to forecast storms and floods and other disasters, from the GOP.

And, with Sandy bearing down on the U.S. Northeast, Middle Atlantic and New England states (where older son Kenny lives in building that is, we hope, about 20 feet above sea level), I’ve been troubled by memories of calls for cuts to FEMA in the Republican presidential primaries.

Correspondent James Kessler tracked down a transcript from a campaign event in June, a presidential candidate cavalcade broadcast by CNN, with John King as moderator/anchor.  Look at this exchange:

KING: What else, Governor Romney? You’ve been a chief executive of a state. I was just in Joplin, Missouri. I’ve been in Mississippi and Louisiana and Tennessee and other communities dealing with whether it’s the tornadoes, the flooding, and worse. FEMA is about to run out of money, and there are some people who say do it on a case-by-case basis and some people who say, you know, maybe we’re learning a lesson here that the states should take on more of this role. How do you deal with something like that?

ROMNEY: 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 even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.

Instead of thinking in the federal budget, what we should cut — we should ask ourselves the opposite question. What should we keep? 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? And those things we’ve got to stop doing, because we’re borrowing $1.6 trillion more this year than we’re taking in. We cannot…

KING: Including disaster relief, though?

ROMNEY: 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.

Can you imagine how different the world would be today had Americans shared that view in 1936, or 1940, or 1942?  Immoral to do what is necessary to preserve the future, because we have to borrow to do some of it?

Has Romney changed his position in the last 24 hours?  I predict he will change it very soon, if he hasn’t already flip-flopped on it.  Of course, he may double down on crazy, and stand pat.   What do you think a rational patriot would do in this case?  [At about 1:00 p.m. Central Time, I heard an NPR radio news report — Romney urges private contributions to the Red Cross.  Meanwhile, President Obama has been working all morning to make sure the disaster response from the federal government is coordinated with affected states.] [Ha! But within hours, Romney has taken the almost-opposite position again.  World land speed record for flips on an issue?]

I erred, perhaps.  I had thought Mitt Romney the most capable and sober of the GOP candidates for president, and I urged by GOP friends to support Romney if they had no chance of completely recovering their senses by November.  Now I realize that, on the GOP side, “most capable” should be “most nearly capable,” and still means “incapable.”  And “sober” means nothing at all.  Perhaps worse, he’s still the best of the GOP lot this year.  Even worse, he has a chance to win.

Can we blame Romney?  Yes, we can blame people who reject science and don’t think of consequences past election day.  Yesterday Greg Laden offered a long post on what we should have learned from the “Storm of 1938” and the remnants of Hurricane Irene that slammed the Northeast in 2011, “What you need to know about Frankenstorm Hurricane Sandy”:

Here’s the thing. Imagine that a storm like Sandy came along in either of two years; 70 years ago or 35 years ago. Sandy is much larger and contains much more energy than the ’38 storm, or for that matter, of any known storm of the North Atlantic (we’ll get to that below). If Sandy hit the region in the 1930s, it would have been without warning, and it would have been prior to the reconstruction of seawalls and the development of flood mitigation measures inland that have happened in recent decades. Sandy, in ’38, would kill tens of thousands and destroy thousands of structures. That would be an average Sandy, a Sandy not being as bad as the most dire predictions we are considering today as the storm begins to take a grip on the eastern seaboard.

A Sandy of 35 years ago would have been predicted. The ability to see hurricanes coming was in place, but not as well developed as it is today. We would have seen Sandy coming, but her massiveness and extent, and her exact trajectory, would probably have been unknown. But at least there would be warning. Many of the seawalls and flood mitigation systems would have been in place, but the overbuilding on barrier islands and other vulnerable coastal regions would have been at or near a peak. With evacuations, Sandy would not kill 10s of thousands… probably only hundreds. But the number of buildings destroyed would be unthinkable. Most of those buildings are now gone or shored up. A Sandy in 1975 would have left some very interesting coastal archaeology for me to have observed during my trips to the shore in the 1980s. Very interesting indeed.

Mr. Laden always offers a good view of science, and his history is good here, too.

We can learn from the past.  FEMA is charged with learning from past disasters.  It’s a function of federal government we would be foolish to forego.  “Austere” shouldn’t mean “stupid.”

What do you think?  Is it immoral for the federal government to provide disaster assistance?


9 Responses to What does Superstorm Sandy tell us about how to vote? Is disaster aid “immoral?”

  1. jsojourner says:

    Hi David!

    You do know, don’t you, that Greece and Ireland — the two nations with the worst economic travails of any European nations — have revenue problems don’t you?

    Ireland had virtually no taxation and Greece, while it technically has taxes, is home to some of the world’s most stubborn tax scofflaws. Not paying income or other taxes is considered a badge of honor by many Greeks and there is little infrastructure in place to police the matter.

    Close behind are Spain, Portugal and Italy…also low revenue nations.

    Hey David, how are Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Austria doing these days? Any clue?

    They have very progressive tax rates, a wide variety of taxes and populations that do their patriotic duty. Hint: They’re weathering the storm nicely.

    The key is higher, broader taxation and more spending on job creation via infrastructure and natural resources.


  2. JamesK says:

    Well Sandy tells us that we should tell Mittens and his desire to gut FEMA and privatize it and his desire to fire firemen and police and other first responders that he should go to hell and take the rest of those who think like him with him.

    But no..the low information Republicans like David will continue to cheer on Mittens and proceed to shoot themselves in the foot in so doing.


  3. JamesK says:

    David writes:
    At sometime , if the debt is not reigned in , if spending isnt reigned in…..the democracts will runout of other people money to spend and Greece will beckon.

    First off..Greece’s problem is more in the fact that they think tax evasion is some sort of birthright. Meaning, child, that Greece’s problem is because it follows the Republican motto..taxes as low as possible and people cheating on them.

    But I find it cute that you continue to compare us to Greece when our economy is far stronger. Oh and all the other variables at play that you conveniently ignore in pursuit of your dimwitted supply side economics.

    Secondly…where was your concern for the debt and spending when your party was running up the debt and spending like hookers who just stole their last john’s platinum card?

    Sorry, David, it is the GOP that has spent far more then the Democrats over the last 40 years and it is the GOP that continously runs up the debt and the deficit…far more then the Democrats over the last 40 years.

    Nothing you say changes that fact.

    And you want to reign in spending when we’re just getting out of a recession that your party created? Um..what do you think will happen when you cut spending and therefor remove all that money from the economy?

    Yeah we need to deal with spending and the debt…once the economy is strong enough to take the blow. Doing so now will just send us right back into recession…just like it’s done to England, Spain and all the other countries that have foolishly followed austerity’s false promise. In fact you can’t point to a single example of austerity ever working.

    And the other part of the equation, David, is that we need to get rid of those stupid tax cuts to the rich your party insists on giving. The rich need the tax cuts for what reason? Ah yes…because they’re “job creators” except no they’re not. The ones who create jobs is the workers by creating demand for the products. The rich only reap the benefit…and too much of it as of the last 40 years thanks to your precious GOP.

    And you can consider MIttens 20% across board tax cuts and his desire to increase military spending by 2 trillion dollars DOA. They won’t help…they will just run up the debt and deficit that you so love to claim to be worried about.

    So if you’re really worried about the debt and spending..then stop supporting the GOP.


  4. Ed Darrell says:

    At sometime , if the debt is not reigned in , if spending isnt reigned in…..the democracts will runout of other people money to spend and Greece will beckon.

    You think we should buy Greece? I don’t think it’s for sale.

    We cannot — absolutely cannot — make any progress on reining in debt without growing government income. Short of crippling tax rate increases, the best way to grow revenues is by increasing the number of taxpayers, that is, increasing employment in good jobs, and then in growing the incomes for the people in those jobs. To Mitt Romney, paying 15% income tax sounds like a burden. To an unemployed person, paying 33% income tax sounds like easy street, and a very good deal.

    We had a balanced budget, with surpluses looming over the horizon (surpluses to pay out in bad times, like war, or recession). George Bush and the GOP cut taxes on the rich to end those surpluses and to redistribute income to the upper classes. Result: Worldwide economic calamity, unbalanced budgets, fewer taxpayers, decreasing incomes for most Americans.

    Worry about deficits? Sure. But let’s worry about getting them fixed. That means we must spend money now. Who can borrow in this climate? The U.S. government. Therefore it follows, as the night follows day, that the federal government is the entity that should borrow money to create jobs, which will boost tax revenues, which will also help increase incomes, and which will ultimately result in debts being reined in.

    Cutting budgets and spending now is to surrender to debt, and to surrender the good destiny of America to a doomed future instead.


  5. David xavier says:

    At sometime , if the debt is not reigned in , if spending isnt reigned in…..the democracts will runout of other people money to spend and Greece will beckon. You say we cannot lose funding for important emergency programs…, then how about entitlements for Government employees? Nope …well when the house of cards falls down , because America could not do the hard things necessary , the hard trade offs ensure the viability of the State then you will lose more than that.

    “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”


  6. Ed Darrell says:

    Hmm. Romney campaign doubling down on doing away with FEMA: http://nbcpolitics.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/10/29/14782407-romney-and-fema-would-republican-favor-local-approach?lite

    Clown, a “straw man” argument is where one sets up a false claim, a “man of straw,” to knock down. I can’t see that this is anything other than Romney’s views. As you noted, they are repugnant views, contrary to common sense and usual American “We Can Do Anything Together” attitudes.

    But that only goes to show how far out of the mainstream, how radically out of touch Romney is.


  7. Ed Darrell says:

    Romney’s talking about not giving aid in emergencies, saying it’s immoral to do that if the federal government is running a deficit. Read his remarks — I don’t think he wavered from his stand. The GOP Platform is quite anti-science, and calls for ending a lot of agencies with disaster responsibilities.

    Encouraging contributions to the Red Cross is a good thing, yes — of course, he doesn’t back away from his claim that we don’t need FEMA. Can Red Cross do it on its own? No. Recovery efforts from Katrina and Ike took about three decades’ worth of Red Cross budgets.

    Then he picked Ryan as a running mate, the guy who championed no disaster aid after the Virginia earthquake, along with Eric Kantor (go figure on that one).

    I think, Clown, you assume these people are “public” figures — they are not, they are anti-public figures — and that they have some stature that would temper their proposals with reason.

    Would you do us the favor of finding some place Romney supports FEMA? Don’t let me put words in his mouth beyond his claims already that FEMA should be defunded — show us the statement.

    Romney’s words make it the opposite of a straw man. Did you even bother to read what he said?


  8. whataclown says:

    What nonsense. What a veritable feild of straw men. It is hard to know where to start.

    No one is talking about not giving Federal aid in these emergencies and absolutely no one is claiming that we do not need the functions at some level. At the very worse, hey are talking about redundancies and waste

    You quote from Romney has absolutely nothing to do with this issue at all. You are in effect lying here. His were general comments, quite common sensensical in nature, and notions that the vast majority of Americans agree with. Most American agreed with this throughout our history, and that includes those in “1936, or 1940, or 1942”. If you actually knew anything about your countrymen you would know this.

    That Romney encourages people to donate to the Red Cross is well and good and you inference that this suggest he is against any sort of Federal money is purely a fantasy. All public figure of stature would encourage this. You are again putting words in his mouth and outright lying through your teeth.

    As always, you cannot rise above straw men and personal attacks. You cannot come up with any real and substantive argument for your vile ideology.


  9. Ed Darrell says:

    Then I get e-mail:

    Ed —

    This is a serious storm, but we are going to do what it takes to keep people safe and secure, and make sure the communities affected get the assistance they need. FEMA is working with state and local governments to respond effectively. We all owe a debt of thanks to the first responders who will be dealing with the immediate impact of the storm.

    If you live in the storm’s path, please listen to state and local authorities about where and how to take shelter and stay safe — and encourage your friends and family to do the same. If you are asked to evacuate, please take that seriously.

    For more information on how to prepare for this storm, visit Ready.gov.

    And if you’d like to find out how to support relief efforts where they’re needed most, please visit the Red Cross or your local relief organization:


    Michelle and I are keeping everyone in the affected areas in our thoughts and prayers. Be safe.



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