Browsing the archives for the disasters, natural and unnatural category.


Rushing to Judgment

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disasters, natural and unnatural

The Dumbest Man on the Internet reports that Andreas Lubitz — the man accused of flying a Germanwing plane into a mountain, killing himself and 149 other people — was a recent Muslim convert. He got this from a “German news website,” he says. The sit is a right-wing blog with the name “news” in its title, but hey, whatever works. Pam Geller and the rest of the Usual Shriekers are repeating this revelation uncritically.

Meantime, it’s slowly coming to light that Lubitz suffered a yet-unspecified illness. Reports that he suffered “depression” or “mental illness” appear to be unsupported. Something was wrong with him, however, and he had been advised by a doctor to take the day off.

The fact is, we don’t really know that Lubitz deliberately crashed the plane.  A French prosecutor concluded that’s what Lubitz did, based on the cockpit voice recorder. Leonid Bershidsky of Bloomberg News says that the same evidence is consistent with Lubitz’s being unconscious, however. Maybe his unspecified illness made him pass out, and the pilot was unable to re-enter the cockpit because of “safety” devises that required a response from Lubitz. See also Don’t be so quick to believe that Andreas Lubitz committed suicide by Jeff Wise.

Elsewhere — yes, I saw that Harry Reid is retiring. I am of mixed feelings about that. Your thoughts?

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Keystone Cop-outs

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Canada, Congress, disasters, natural and unnatural, environment, Obama Administration, Republican Party

Along with dynamic scoring, aka fantasy budgeting, another issue to be pushed by congressional Republicans is approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline. There’s a nice op ed in The Hill explaining why Keystone XL is not in our national interest. The main points.

It’s not much of a jobs-creator. “The pipeline company, TransCanada, told the U.S. State Department the pipeline would create 35 permanent U.S. jobs. That’s about half as many workers as it takes to run a McDonald’s.” Further, it will create fewer than 2,000 temporary constructions jobs, and if those are such great jobs why don’t we spend some money and put people to work fixing public infrastructure, hmm?

For that matter, remember when righties cheered when Gov. Chris Christie killed the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) rail tunnel that would have gone under the Hudson River and provided better connections between New Jersey and midtown Manhattan?

The project would have eased overcrowding in Penn Station by building a new rail station at 33rd Street and 7th Avenue on the West Side of Manhattan, and it would have generated 5,700 construction jobs and 44,000 permanent jobs, and increased home values in towns that would now have one-seat service to Manhattan, the study noted.

Yes it cost money, buckets of which the feds had already handed over for the project, and much of which Christie had to hand back. It would have been good for the economies of both New Jersey and New York City and added a lot of value to a lot of businesses. Not to mention lightened the aggravation factor of trying to commute into Manhattan, which half of New Jersey seems to do every day.

And keep in mind that New Jersey under Christie has had terrible job growth numbers. Under Christie, New Jersey jobs growth has been among the slowest in the nation. I’m pretty sure New Jersey beats Kansas, but not many other states. Most damning is that New Jersey has lagged way behind all its neighboring states in jobs growth, especially Delaware and New York.

But we’re talking about the Keystone XL Pipeline. Noting that a lot of the same people who applauded Christie’s killing of the tunnel project are now claiming that Keystone XL is needed to provide jobs, let’s go on to the next point.

The Keystone XL oil is not going to provide more gas for U.S. cars. The oil isn’t for us; it’s meant to be refined and shipped overseas. I think most of the people who support it have some notion that as soon as the pipeline is built all kinds of cheap gas will show up at the local Shell station. It won’t.

If something goes wrong, it could go really really awful bad wrong and cause long-term disaster. The tar sands oil is really dirty oil, the article says, and if it spills or leaks it’s even harder to clean up than most oil. The pipeline is intended to go through many critical wetlands and agricultural areas, and a leak or spill could do huge amounts of damage that no doubt would cost U.S. taxpayers dearly to clean up.

In Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, the pipeline would run within a mile of more than 3,000 wells that provide drinking and irrigation water. It would also cross 1,073 rivers, lakes and streams — from the Yellowstone River in Montana to the Platte River in Nebraska — along with tens of thousands of acres of wetlands. Pipeline blowouts are not rare events, and the transport of tar sands oil threatens all those resources. Between 1994 and late 2014, there were nearly 6,000 pipeline blowouts or other serious incidents, spilling a cumulative 100 million gallons of oil and other hazardous liquids. A spill of tar sands crude, which has proven more damaging and difficult to clean up than conventional oil, would make matters worse.

Bottom line, it’s a hugely risky project that would provide very little benefit to the United States and its citizens. Note that a many Canadians want to stop the tar sands oil extraction because it’s doing a lot of environmental damage in Canada.

A pro-pipeline article argues that absent a pipeline, the crude oil is being transferred by train, which (it argues) is even less secure than a pipeline. Also making the oil available on the world’s oil economy would stop OPEC from messing with prices. And, of course, the real long-term answer to that is to learn to be less dependent on fossil fuel, period. Between the deep ocean drilling that caused the contamination of the Gulf of Mexico that still hasn’t been cleaned up properly to the Keystone disaster-in-the-making, we’re basically tearing our planet apart trying to wring every last bit of fossil fuel out of it already. Is there anyone out there foolish enough to think this isn’t going to have to stop sometime, somewhere?

Well, yes, unfortunately. I guess there are.

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Derp Nation

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disasters, natural and unnatural, elections

Headline on an AP Story: “Exit poll: Voters unhappy with Obama and GOP.” So they elect more Republicans to send to Washington? Why do voters hate America?

We’re in for a nasty couple of years.

Peter Baker writes in the NY Times that President Obama is “fighting for his own relevance.” But President Obama’s relevance is the least of my concerns today. What’s really at stake is America’s relevance. If we thought U.S. politics has mostly been a clown show for the past 20 years, I fear that was just the warm up act. I know we’ve been joking for years about moving to Canada, but frankly were I a young person I would seriously be considering finding a more stable country to live in. We can’t keep this up.

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When Capitalism Kills

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disasters, natural and unnatural, Obama Administration, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

Republicans blame President Obama for letting Ebola cross the border, because Presidents are supposed to be able to stop such things with their magical brain waves, apparently.  Others are calling for the head of the CDC to resign, or perhaps to commit ritual suicide. But the picture that is emerging just about everywhere but on Fox News is that Ebola spread to two nurses (so far) largely because of really bad hospital management.

Which takes us to our next installment of “When Capitalism Kills.” I’m not sure when the last one was, but I’m sure I’ve written on this general theme before.

The husband of an ER nurse at a Florida hospital formerly owned by Gov. Rick “ball fan envy” Scott  writes at TPM that his wife’s place of employment is run like most large companies/corporations in America. That is, the people at the top have no background or interest in how the products or services their companies provide actually happen. They are strictly money guys who have backgrounds in finance or something related but couldn’t manage production of their own products if you put a gun to their heads and threatened to shoot them if they don’t get that toothpaste into the tube.

Further, they have no respect for the expertise of the people who really are somehow making the products or services happen and would no more think to consult them about how to run the company better than they’d try to fly off the roof of corporate headquarters. Instead, if they decide something is amiss they hire outside consultants who will spend a few days having lunches with upper management and who will provide recommendations that, if implemented,  would make everything worse. Just about anyone who has ever worked in the trenches of production or engineering departments of large companies/corporations will tell you this.

If you are such a person, read this and tell me how familiar it sounds —

… it is obvious to those who work there that the combination of lax training and toxic labor relations ‘leaders’ like him have brought to the company are emblematic of a big problem for US hospitals if a major outbreak of ebola or other infectious disease occurs. My wife’s ER has an ‘ebola cart’ with some lightweight protective gear and written instructions for putting on a PPE, but the instructions are a loose bundle of papers and the pictures don’t match the gear in the cart and has inaccuracies that put them at serious risk. It’s an object of gallows humor for the staff. That’s the totality of their training or preparedness so far. As we all now know, PPEs are not easy to put on and take off correctly. Even though nurses all have experience with standard droplet control (they see TB and HIV all the time), ebola is a special case. They have gone months and months without a nurse education director because no one wants to deal with their management and take the position. Her coworkers are clear that they will refuse to treat an ebola patient because they have woefully inadequate training in the correct procedures and lack proper gear.

And yet the head of infectious disease at this hospital went on the local news to proclaim the hospital was ready to receive ebola patients safely. They obviously didn’t bother to speak to a single nurse on the front lines. I’m not particularly panic-y about ebola, even though obviously the family members of ER personnel have a lot at stake in ebola preparedness. But I think that this situation will be the weak link in any major national response. So many of our hospitals are run by lunatics like Rick Scott who seek only the highest profit margin. They do not invest in training, they build charting mechanisms that are good for billing but not treating patients, they constantly fight with their unionized employees, they lie to the public, etc, etc. We like to imagine that competent, highly-skilled medical institutions like Emory will save us, but we have way more Dallas Presbyterians in this country than we have Emorys. You can see exactly this managerial incompetence—and toxic labor relations—woven through the statement released by the nurses at Dallas Presbyterian today. Also see the head of National Nurses United on All In With Chris Hayes for a similar perspective.

To put it bluntly: we’ve entrusted our national medical system to the managerial competence and goodwill of the Rick Scotts of the world, and that is much scarier than a podium fan.

One of the nurses at the Texas hospital said that in the second week of the Ebola crisis at her hospital she was provided insufficient protective gear that left her neck exposed. Meanwhile the hospital was releasing statements to the press saying they were taking every precaution and going beyond CDC recommendations.

In other words, standard corporate bullshit.

Meanwhile, many politicians of both parties are babbling about hiring an “Ebola czar,” who no doubt would end up being the public sector equivalent of private sector consultants — some Very Important Person who will perform public “we’re doing something about this” theater.  And nothing any VIP does will ever trickle down  to the level of the people directly confronting Ebola in hospitals, working with inadequate direction and protection because management doesn’t know the difference between a virus and vichyssoise.

Because here in America, that’s how we roll.

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There are Known Knowns, and Known Unknowns, and Then There’s the Stuff We Know But Ignore

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disasters, natural and unnatural

Numbers of dead and missing from last week’s massive mud slide in Oso, Washington, keep shifting around, and every news story has different numbers. As of today there are somewhere between 18 to 25 dead and another 30 to 90 or so unaccounted for.

Last week the county officials who control land use permits said there was no way to have predicted the disaster. Now we know that at least a couple of studies had warned that it was going to happen, precisely where and how it happened. The only thing they didn’t know was when. Somebody chose to ignore the warnings.

The most recent study was done in 2010. It was commissioned by the county to comply with federal law. The area that was buried was ranked as high risk for being buried.

Also, geologists surveyed the area back in 1999 and predicted the area would suffer a “catastrophic failure” in precisely the spot that failed.

It wasn’t that hard to predict, apparently, because the earth on the hillside shifted around a lot, especially after heavy rain. One of the geologists went back to look at the area after a large 2006 mudslide that didn’t hurt anybody.

“There was new construction,” he said. “The sound of hammering competed with the sound of [destabilized] trees snapping after the mudslide. I can’t believe that someone wanted to build their home there. It was a very bad idea.”

Charity Prueher, 41 and raised in Oso, said homeowners rarely mentioned the slides. When they did, the coursing mud was considered a small disruption, more of an annoyance than a major problem.

“They’re so content with the beautiful place where they live, they don’t think anything would happen,” Prueher said.

Prueher said she helped clear debris from the 2006 mudslide when she was a volunteer firefighter. The thought that another slide could come that was far worse never occurred to her.

Timothy Egan writes that the hillsides became dangerous because they were overlogged. He had visited the area 25 years ago and watched a massive mudslide then. He adds,

Yes, but who wants to listen to warnings by pesky scientists, to pay heed to predictions by environmental nags, or allow an intrusive government to limit private property rights? That’s how these issues get cast. And that’s why reports like the ones done on the Stillaguamish get shelved. The people living near Oso say nobody ever informed them of the past predictions.

Just upriver from the buried community along the Stillaguamish is Darrington, a town with a proud logging tradition. The folks who live there are self-described Tarheels, transplanted from Southern Appalachia several generations ago after their own timber mills went bust. They hold a terrific bluegrass festival every year, and they show up in force at public hearings where government and environmentalists are denounced with venom. It’s not their fault that the earth moved, certainly. But they should insist that their public officials tell them the plain truth when the science is bad news.

Most of us live somewhere where there’s a potential for natural disaster. I live close enough to Long Island Sound that flooding from a big hurricane is a real concern. But that’s not likely to be a sudden disaster. I’ve told myself that if there’s ever a prediction of a big hurricane I would pack up my essential stuff and Sadie Awful Bad Cat and go somewhere else, away from water, until it’s safe to come back. There was only minor damage in this neighborhood from Sandy, though, so it would have to be a worse hurricane than Sandy to flood the place out. I don’t think I’m being entirely crazy to live here.

Still, the human capacity to ignore what you don’t want to acknowledge never ceases to amaze.

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AFP: Avarice on Steroids

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disasters, natural and unnatural, environment, science, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

The Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity is warning Congress against spending money on Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.

Earlier this week, AFP, which is chaired by [David] Koch and believed to be financed by several other plutocrats from the New York City region, released a letter warning members of Congress not to vote for the proposed federal aid package for victims of the storm that swept New Jersey, New York City and much of the surrounding area in October. An announcement on the group’s website says that the vote next week for the Sandy aid package will be a “key vote”—meaning senators who support sending money for reconstruction could face an avalanche of attack ads in their next election. Already, opposition to the bill is growing, although it passed one procedural hurdle last night. …

… Koch’s top deputy in New Jersey, a surly gentleman named Steve Lonegan, who heads the local AFP state chapter, called the aid package a “disgrace.” “This is not a federal government responsibility,” Lonegan told reporters. “We need to suck it up and be responsible for taking care of ourselves.”

As was asked in a famous joke — Who do you mean by “we,” Kemo Sabe? This is especially rich considering all the Koch Brothers/oil industry money that has gone into discrediting climate science. The AFP website, btw, is screaming about the looming “fiscal cliff” tax increase that would, if Dems get their way, only affect the upper 2 percent.

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Trick or Treat

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disasters, natural and unnatural, Mittens, Obama Administration

Wow, the sun is out, the sky is blue. Haven’t seen than in a while. Still no heat, but it’s not that cold outside. Washed my hair in cold water and am now awake.

Anyhoo — more details are coming out about Mitt’s “relief” party.

The plan was for supporters to bring hurricane relief supplies to the event, and then deliver the bags of canned goods, packages of diapers, and cases of water bottles to the candidate, who would be perched behind a table along with a slew of volunteers and his Ohio right-hand man, Senator Rob Portman. To complete the project and photo-op, Romney would lead his crew in carrying the goods out of the gymnasium and into the Penske rental truck parked outside.

But the last-minute nature of the call for donations left some in the campaign concerned that they would end up with an empty truck. So the night before the event, campaign aides went to a local Wal Mart and spent $5,000 on granola bars, canned food, and diapers to put on display while they waited for donations to come in, according to one staffer. (The campaign confirmed that it “did donate supplies to the relief effort,” but would not specify how much it spent.)

Zombie Eyes had his own “relief” events in Wisconsin, where people had to hold up work so there’d be something left for the candidate to do when he showed up. No more washing clean pots!

This is so stupid. It may cost more to truck the stuff from Wisconsin than the stuff is worth. And I bet most of these donations are just going to sit on a loading dock for weeks until someone gets around to dealing with them. Eventually they’ll probably end up in a “free food” pantry for the poor after things are more back to normal.

And they really do have lots of grocery stores in New Jersey. Many are closed, but you can check the Twitter feed #njopen to find out where to get stuff. People without power or Internet need generators more than they need cans of corn.

Joan Walsh:

It’s impossible not to see that this storm has devastated Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy. The response to the hurricane has seemed like one long dramatic Obama campaign commercial, a lesson in “We’re all in this together,” while Romney, the man who said he’d dismantle FEMA, flails on the sidelines….

…I can’t be sure whether or how much disaster relief will matter to swing state voters outside of the hurricane zone, but I am stranded (on a blue island) in the swing state of Wisconsin, where people are tuned in to the storm and the government response. No one can be reassured by Romney’s empty posturing. Unless there is some government-abetted or neglected further disaster, I think Obama will be reelected next Tuesday. Hurricane Sandy has reminded us what’s at stake.

Alec MacGillis:

… to the extent that the race was still an open question, with some voters still making up their minds or willing to change them at the last instant, it is hard not to believe that the storm has helped the president. Put simply, it has brought the race back closer to first principles. For most of the year, Obama had successfully framed the election as a choice between two approaches, one favoring the Bain Capital upper crust, the other geared toward the broad middle—the 99 percent and, yes, the 47 percent.

We’ve still got SIX DAYS to go. By this weekend, people still without power (or hot water!) will be very cranky, and Fox News will be talking about “Obama’s Katrina.” So the President has to stay on his toes. But right now, from here, Sandy looks like “Mitt’s Waterloo.”

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New Jersey Is Not a Third-World Country

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disasters, natural and unnatural

Maybe it’s me, but I think Mitt’s little “disaster relief” stunt in Ohio today was not just pathetic and silly; it was insulting. He’s collecting canned goods to distribute in New Jersey? Like there aren’t already canned goods in New Jersey? And what good is a can of food to someone who doesn’t have electricity or a kitchen?

The Red Cross does’t want canned goods, because they’ve got their own procurement and logistics processes in place and don’t want to have to figure out what to do with random cans of whatever. It would be interesting to find out exactly what happens to the stuff Romney packed up on trucks to send to New Jersey and how it is being distributed. The east coast Mormons might have a network in place for distributing stuff like that, but I can’t think of who else would do it.

IMO the photos of Mitt collecting little boxes of Pasta Salad (which has to be cooked to eat, I believe) and what not just makes him look silly, given the magnitude of the crisis. If he’d diverted some of his campaign money to the Red Cross it would have been more impressive.

See also “When Mitt Met Sandy.”

Update: Most of the neighborhood is still dark, which is making me feel very indulgent that I just cooked myself a hot dinner in my well-lit kitchen and am watching Rachel Maddow while being on the Internet. I do wish I had heat and hot water, but maybe tomorrow.

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Party Tonight!

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Bush Administration, disasters, natural and unnatural, Hurricanes, Mittens, Obama Administration, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

The virtual debate party begins here tonight at 8:30 eastern time, for the pre-debate warmup. BYOB. I’m taking suggestions for drinking games.

There are a number of articles out now that claim debates make no difference to elections, but Nate Silver’s analysis says that they often help the challenger. However, it could be argued that the post-debate spin was what made the difference, not the debate itself. For example, the numbers show that the Clinton-Dole debates in 1996 helped Dole just a little, and there’s no way. Dole was awful. I was embarrassed for him.

On the other hand, Nate’s numbers say that if the election were held today, Mitt’s chance of winning would be 2.7 percent. heh.

I’m not too worried about the spin. Why? Because righties are so out to lunch they couldn’t spin a dreidel on a turntable on a carousel. Right now they think they have a BOMBSHELL video of President Obama in 2007 telling an audience of black ministers that the federal government did not do enough to rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Seriously. That’s their idea of a controversy. I guess we’re supposed to remember that Brownie did a heck of a job.

Righties say Obama’s remarks were racist because he ties the not-rebuilding of New Orleans to racial discrimination. Um, yeah, that was pretty obvious. Although I suppose it could be argued that it wasn’t so much racist as an attempt to finesse Katrina for political gain by making a Democratic governor look bad. And that the federal dollars eventually offered to New Orleans mostly went into the pockets of contractors with ties to the Republican Party and were not spent on, you know, rebuilding. And that was just good old-fashioned corruption. But it’s still not likely the Bushies would have played games like that if the neighborhoods that were destroyed were mostly white. I think anyone but a white racist can see that.

See also “Breaking: Obama Is Black” and “Right-wing Racial Panic.”

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A Word on Looting

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disasters, natural and unnatural

Apparently there is some looting going on in Japan, after all, contrary to myth. Oh, and contrary to Faux News.

It interests me that the “no looting in Japan” meme has been so embraced by the Right. Over the past few days I’ve also seen a number of comments that claimed there was no looting in Iowa after the 2008 floods (not true); there was no looting in New York City after 9/11 (actually there was, but not by poor people), but New Orleans was a looting riot (exaggerated in news stories) after Hurricane Katrina. And this is explained by racial factors, naturally.

I’ve said before that comparisons between 9/11 and Katrina are absurd, because the natures of the tragedies were entirely different. In Katrina, people were trapped for days without rescue or provisions. On 9/11, the survivors could walk a few blocks and find everything from hot dog vendors to grocery stores to five-star gourmet restaurants open for business.

And also, on the days that followed 9/11, lower Manhattan was closed off and patrolled by NYPD and the National Guard.

The more interesting question is why there wasn’t more looting in New York City during the 2003 blackout, when a similar blackout in 1977 touched off a festival of crime. Interesting article about that at History News Network.

In brief, relative order after a disaster has a lot to do with the degree to which people trust the social contract to look out for them. New Orleans residents, particularly in the areas most impacted by floods, had little reason to trust the system. And the system pretty much proved they were right.

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