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

October 29, 2012

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?

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No, WHO is not taking over the world with swine flu scares

August 9, 2009

Turn up the craziness that is opposition to health care reform, and you get genuine, full-blown “hot zone” conspiracy wholly ungrounded in reality.

Like coathangers, hoaxes multiply in the closet!  Put ’em in the dark, they’ll invent stuff beyond your wildest imagination.  It’s a perfect storm of voodoo science, voodoo history, paranoia and just plain hysteria.

TinFoilHatArea sign

But they’ll swear it’s true.

A new hoax claims the World Health Organization (WHO) got a secret law passed to allow them to take over the world just as soon as they can get a few more people to catch swine flu.  No, really.

Under special pandemic plans enacted around the world including the USA, in 2005, national governments are to be dissolved in the event of a pandemic emergency and replaced by special crisis committees, which take charge of the health and security infrastructure of a country, and which are answerable to the WHO and EU in Europe and to the WHO and UN in North America.

If the Model Emergency Health Powers Act is implemented on the instructions of WHI, it will be a criminal offence for Americans to refuse the vaccine. Police are allowed to use deadly force against “criminal” suspects.

Through their control of these special pandemic crisis committees with the power to enact legislation to be set up most countries, the WHO, UN and EU become the de facto government of a large part of the world.

Mass murder and death will also bring economic collapse and disruption, starvation and wars – and these events will lead to a further population reduction.

Absolutely false.  WHO has no such plans.  Check with your health professionals, they’ll tell you swine flu is a real concern (even though it looks like swift action has prevented a lot of trouble so far, and may prevent a lot of ill health later).

If you made up this sort of stuff for a movie, they’d tell you “Dr. Strangelove” pushed the envelope as far as parody would go, and you should give up writing comedy, even dark comedy.

Did you notice the typographical error there in the second paragraph, where “WHO” turns into “WHI?”

That’s a DNA-style marker for this hoax.  Watch for it as it shows up at other sites where tinfoil-hat bedorned people mindlessly copy this chunk of fiction and pass it along as if it were just news about the new shopping center going in around the corner.

Much of the nuttiness appears to originate at WakeNews, from someone named Jane Bürgermeister who has grabbed .pdfs of a couple of WHO memoranda on the dangers of swine flu, and claims that instead of warnings about swine flu based on research, they are textbooks for how to use swine flu as a weapon of war against civilians.  Or it may be originating at a website she may run, Case About Birdflu (this is the url, I kid you not:  http://birdflu666.wordpress.com/) (This post, about her being fired, and with lots of “attagirls” from too-willing nutters, should be a roadmap for Prozac salesmen.)

Do not any of these people ever stop to wonder, “Hmmmm.  Curious about how this doesn’t appear on the WHO website, and how there are no links to anything that sounds even tangentially rational — I wonder if it’s true?”

Wall of Shame: Here are sites that repeated the hoax blindly, without even bothering to correct the typo (notice how few of these sites will allow you to point out an error):

Reality:  No plans to take over the world; tough plans to fight swine flu

Swine flu, more specifically the H1N1 virus, poses severe threats to real people, including you.  WHO has plans to combat the disease and its spread — laid out publicly here, for example.  There is even a Center for Strategic Health Operations (SHOC in the odd acronymical lexicon of the UN).

Preparations to fight epidemics and pandemics are part and parcel of public health operations around the world.  Almost every county in the United States has a public health office that makes plans for how to protect the local community from such diseases, and how to treat people who get the disease to help them survive.  Those who spread these hoaxes rarely know that they have people in their towns to do this work — the United Nations and WHO have no authority to intervene in these cases.

What about the Model Emergency Health Act? Proposals under that name exist — none allow people to be executed for refusing vaccinations.  As a matter of U.S. policy, almost all health legislation includes an out for religious objectors — Christian Scientists, for example, generally refuse vaccinations and much other treatment.  Jehovah Witnessses refuse transfusions.  In almost every case, those religious beliefs can be accommodated so long as the rest of us bother to protect ourselves against disease.

All of the proposals are designed to help public health officials fight disease.  Public health officials might be described as the embodiment of the name Milquetoast.  They are rarely in the forefront of your run-of-the-mill power-mad megalomaniac.  Former public health officials who rose to power in any circumstance can be counted on one hand, if there are any.  Contrast that with former religious officials, or former business executives, or former college presidents, and you begin to see reality.  WHO is not populated with people who wish to take over the world á la Pinky and the Brain.  WHO does not answer to people who resemble Pinky or the Brain in any way, either.

You may review the first (and most worrisome) draft of the Model State Emergency Health Powers Act in .pdf here.  Note carefully the strong defense of the rights of individuals recognized in the preamble to the draft bill.  The 2003 version of the Model Act can be reviewed at Alaska’s site; you can also find a section-by-section analysis and other explanatory material.

This document tracks state legislative actions so far — I dare anyone to find the trampling of civil rights and lunatic claims made at the websites listed above.  If you do find troubling actions, please note them in comments here. Note well that the documents in the previous three links are maintained by officials at the State of Alaska — Sarah Palin’s appointees and public health team.  It’s unlikely that Sarah Palin would be involved in a massive, international conspiracy to imprison millions of citizens just because they are not immune to influenza.  Of course, maybe you know Palin better than I do and you think she’s a megalomaniac just looking for her chance to play Mussolini in America — but I doubt it.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are deeply involved in preparations for influenza outbreaks, and swine flu is no exception.  CDC features a page showing international preparations for swine flu; note that plans to round up recalcitrant non-inoculants for execution are not in the program.  From that page you can get to the WHO page on international preparations, and there you can link to to international health regulations on the issueWHO’s “edict” so far:

Concerning public health measures, in line with the Regulations the Director-General is recommending, on the advice of the Committee, that all countries intensify surveillance for unusual outbreaks of influenza-like illness and severe pneumonia.

That’s it.

There is an Emergency Committee set up to deal with H1N1 specifically. The group has met four times; here is the report from the fourth meeting, in June:

11 June 2009

DG Statement following the meeting of the Emergency Committee

The Emergency Committee held its fourth meeting on 11th June 2009.

The Committee considered available information on transmission of New influenza A (H1N1) in a number of locations in countries in different regions of the World Health Organization, and concluded that the criteria for a pandemic have been met.

Following the advice from the Committee the WHO Director-General decided to raise the level of influenza pandemic alert from the current phase 5 to phase 6. At this early stage, the pandemic can be characterized globally as being moderate in severity.

As previously recommended by the Director-General, countries should not close borders or restrict international traffic and trade.

Countries should assess their specific situation and make a timely transition from focusing national efforts on containment to focusing on mitigation measures, including appropriate non-pharmaceutical interventions.

WHO remains in close dialogue with influenza vaccine manufacturers. It is understood that production of vaccines for seasonal influenza will be completed soon, and that full capacity will be available to ensure the largest possible supply of pandemic vaccine in the months to come.

You can see that the paranoia reflected in the sites on the Wall of Shame, is unwarranted.

Coda: You gotta love the guys who quickly see a way to make a buck on this fear.  Here’s a guy who will sell you a “smartroom” decontamination unit to retrofit any room in your home to make you safe from swine flu — just $1,899! Crazy with dollar signs in his dreams.

The SmartRoom is designed to protect you and your family from all viruses and bacteria. It can be quickly and easily installed. The SmartRoom is lightweight, compact and is totally collapsible for storage.

The SmartRoom features an Ultraviolet Biological Airlock that you attach to any room entry in your home or office. The Smartroom Tri Filter Biological Filtration Unit creates a Biological Saferoom under positive air pressure or a Quarantine Room under negative air pressure.

If it were only so easy to protect from swine flu.  If only it were so easy to protect ourselves from the conspiracy crazies.

Update, August 11, 2009:  More than 19,000 tinfoil hatters (TFH) have signed a petition against WHO’s imagined mandatory vaccine campaign.  Sign a petition against a problem that doesn’t exist!

Update, September 12, 2009: See this debunking of pseudoscience anti-vaccine claims at Respectful Insolence.


Friends don’t let friends be hoaxed:  Don’t be fooled!  Share the news.

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