Trick or Treat

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.”

New Jersey Is Not a Third-World Country

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.

Party Tonight!

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.”

A Word on Looting

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.

Reactions to the Crisis in Japan

Since yesterday the news about radiation levels in Japan has become far more ominous. It appears even the experts aren’t sure what’s going to happen next or what the likely consequences might be.

There appears to be a strong potential for widespread public exposure to devastating amounts of radiation. This outcome may not be inevitable, however. And we may not know the truth of the situation for a long time.

I am struck by the way reactions to this unfolding tragedy are tinted by human reactors’ personal biases. A clear example of this is Glenn Beck, of course. Beck’s explanation of how nuclear reactors work involved M&Ms and cookware, which arguably trivialized the disaster, although it wasn’t necessarily wrong.

But then he launched into a diatribe about how scientists were spinning the situation at Japan’s reactors into something worse than it really is to promote their personal agendas, whatever that is, and that the real danger to the world is that if the bond market fails America will have no more money, and then people will die because “the U.S. military won’t be able to go in and save them; won’t be able to go in and protect them. … Ask what happens. Ask the people in Libya what happens.” Surreal. And, anyway, my understanding is that the biggest threat to the bond market is Republicans in Congress who are balking at raising the debt ceiling. But that’s another rant.

Oh, and Rush is telling his listeners there is no nuclear danger in Japan, that the reactors are “behaving as designed,” and that “the media” is (sic) speading disaster stories because “the media wants a disaster in Japan.” One wonders what Rush’s tune would be if he lived next door to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and he thought radiation might reach him.

Beyond the frightening stories of radiation leaks, the bigger issue (seems to me) is the widespread and terrible destruction from the tsunami. We see videos of communities in devastation and want to help.

Felix Salmon wrote a column for Reuters warning people “don’t donate money to Japan.” His argument is that donations earmarked for a particular disaster often “leave large piles of money unspent in one place while facing urgent needs in other places.”

Commenters pointed out that many relief organizations accept donations with a disclaimer that surplus funds may be applied elsewhere. And other relief organizations don’t allow for earmarking of donations at all, but that doesn’t mean they can’t use a burst of cash during an extraordinary crisis.

Salmon also wrote, “we are all better at responding to human suffering caused by dramatic, telegenic emergencies than to the much greater loss of life from ongoing hunger, disease and conflict. That often results in a mess of uncoordinated NGOs parachuting in to emergency areas with lots of good intentions, where a strategic official sector response would be much more effective.”

That last probably is true. I also have no doubt that various evangelical groups already are planning their crusades to Japan to rescue the simple indigenous people for Christ in their time of need. (Update: Yep.)

So if you do want to donate money, I suggest giving to the excellent Tzu Chi, a Buddhist relief organization headquartered in Taiwan. Relief efforts in Japan are being coordinated through long-established Tzu Chi offices and volunteer groups in Japan, not by random do-gooders parachuting in from elsewhere. Tzu Chi does a lot of good work around the globe, so your money will be put to good use somewhere.

Salmon also says,

Japan is a wealthy country which is responding to the disaster, among other things, by printing hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of new money. Money is not the bottleneck here: if money is needed, Japan can raise it.

Well, the U.S. is a wealthy country, also, but that didn’t help New Orleans, did it? However, reading through comments on various sites, I’ve been struck by how many people bring up New Orleans as an example of undeserving people being given too much help, when the fact is that the U.S. government sat on its hands and allowed the stricken parishes of New Orleans to rot. But that’s another rant.

Anyway — in the long term it may very well be true that Japan has the resources to put itself together again, but in the short term it’s also probably true that people need immediate help that government may not be ready to provide. Experienced relief organizations like Tzu Chi, Doctors Without Borders, etc. probably are much better than government at responding to the immediate human crisis and the needs of people in the hours and days after a disaster.

I see also that Annie Lowrey warns against giving money earmarked for very specific projects, because it is often the case that charities find themselves with a glut of money earmarked for projects that, it turned out, nobody really needed, while there is no money to meet other needs that are genuinely critical. I think the moral is that it’s best to give money to experienced and reputable relief organizations and let them decide what to do with it.

I’ve read articles noting that there appears to be no looting in Japan. Again, this is bringing up very ugly and racist comparisons with New Orleans. In the credit where credit is due department, a post at American Thinker (normally too right wing for my taste) has a more plausible explanation of why the Japanese may be better at maintaining social norms in extraordinary times than most people.

Back now to the nuclear issue — should we or should we not be re-thinking use of nuclear power? Greg Palast wrote that nuclear reactors can’t be trusted because the people who build and run them can’t be trusted, and that Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) is involved in nuclear power projects planned for the United States, and we should all be afraid. At the same time, two of the damaged plants in Japan were built by General Electric. And we should all be afraid.

On the other hand, as Josh Marshall points out, the proper and planned use of fossil fuels is, arguably, causing a bigger disaster to the planet and taking more lives than the terrible but localized consequences of a failed nuclear reactor. It could be argued that in the long run, nuclear power is safer than fossil fuel power.

On the third hand, there is William Saletan. At the beginning of his column, his position seems to be that, yeah, maybe some people will get hurt by radiation leaks, but only wusses get hysterical about it. Explaining that the U.S. seems to have moved on after last year’s Gulf oil spill, Saletan says,

That’s how we deal with tragedies in the oil business. Accidents happen. People die. Pollution spreads. We don’t abandon oil. We study what went wrong, try to fix it, and move on.

That may mean we are crazy, but what the hey. But then Saletan goes on to make the point that nuclear power probably is safer in the long run than fossil fuel. Which says to me that we really, really need other sources of energy.

Remember the Gulf

It’s a gorgeous Memorial Day here in Westchester County, New York. I’m sure lots of people are heading for the shores of New Jersey and Long Island today. Owners of seasonal businesses must be very happy.

I don’t know what the weather is like along the Gulf Coast today, but I suspect the moods are darker. “Top kill” failed after all. The oil could keep gushing for months. This is the worst oil spill in U.S. history. It’s affecting fisheries, tourism, shipping, and wildlife.

Whether the spill is the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, as some are saying, is questionable; I think the young folks have forgotten the Dust Bowl. But it’s really, really bad nonetheless.

I read somewhere that the oil spill isn’t expected to affect the U.S. economy, but I think whoever said that must be a fool. How can it not?

This was in a news article from yesterday (emphasis added):

“This scares everybody: the fact that we can’t make this well stop flowing, the fact that we haven’t succeeded so far,” BP’s chief operating officer Doug ­Suttles said yesterday.

“Many of the things we’re ­trying have been done on the surface before, but have never been tried at 5,000ft.”

However, back when BP was applying for a permit to drill in the gulf, the company declared it could handle a spill ten times larger than the one it can’t handle now.

In other words, the permit application was written by the company’s marketing department, not the engineering department. I’d bet money there were engineers at BP who realized there were contingencies they weren’t prepared for, and they were told to shut up about it if they wanted to keep their jobs.

Well, as Bill Kristol brilliantly said, offshore drilling is perfectly safe “except where there is a disaster like this.” No, really, he said that.

For the record, Kristol is also wrong when he said the Exxon Valdez spill was worse.

Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road


Hidden in an article reporting that Cheney’s going to go hunt up some support for the $700,000,000,000 bailout is this admission that the Bush Administration has been sitting on it for some time:

    Fratto insisted that the plan was not slapped together and had been drawn up as a contingency over previous months and weeks by administration officials. He acknowledged lawmakers were getting only days to peruse it, but he said this should be enough. [my emphasis]

So, for months the Administration has been telling everyone they’ve got the financial situation under control, then all of a sudden Congress has to pass a $700 billion giveaway to the financial sector right now don’t think about it just do it now now now. And Congress is warned that if it doesn’t act now now now and pass this bill as the Administration wrote it with no changes there will be terrible consequences and they would be Congress’s fault. And Congress can’t take any time to read the bill, even though it’s been sitting around in Cheney’s desk drawer for months.

Uh huh.

Little Katrina?

Iowa has been slammed lately — killer tornadoes and now floods. The worst may be yet to come, if weather reports are correct.

I’ve been thinking of the Mississippi floods of 1993. I was living in New Jersey then, but the floodwaters covered parts of Missouri that I knew very well (near the southernmost dot on this map). The house my family lived in when I was a small child was, I was told, under water. Today there’s an empty field where a neighborhood of neat frame houses, vegetable gardens, and swing sets used to be.

Some people I knew in New Jersey weren’t terribly sympathetic to the Midwesterners. Why did those idiots live near a river, anyway? They didn’t comprehend the enormity of the flooding. There were places underwater that were no where near a river and had never flooded before, either in memory or, I’m pretty sure, recorded history.

Anyway, there are places in New Jersey that flood every ten to fifteen years, and it always catches people off guard, as if such a thing had never happened before.

Right now, I don’t believe a repeat of the 1993 floods is expected, but I don’t believe it has been ruled out, either. Depends on the weather.

Although the danger isn’t over, some righties already are thumping their chests and proclaiming the inherent superiority of Iowa over New Orleans. One writes,

The thing is, though, the people of eastern Iowa seem to be stepping up in the Iowa stubborn way. I have seen any number of man-on-the-street interviews, and nobody is complaining. They all seem to be working to solve their problem, which is not surprising because Iowans do not complain about tragedy. They complain about hot weather and dry weather, but not tragedy. And I have looked for reports of looting and come up empty so far. …

…In Iowa there is a 500 year flood, but the people are not paralyzed, whining, or looting. There will be no massive relief effort from around the world, and nobody will step up to help Iowans except for other Iowans. Yet years from now, there will be no Iowans still in FEMA camps.

From today’s Des Moines Register: “State officials promise aggressive push for federal money, other aid.”

BTW, don’t read the comments to the rightie post linked above unless you have a very strong stomach. Truly, the Ku Klux Klan is alive and well and on the Web.

As bad as the Iowa flood must be, it doesn’t compare to New Orleans. People who draw easy parallels are idiots, just as people who drew parallels between Katrina and 9/11 were idiots. Not only the extent and suddenness (or not) of the flooding, and the geological complications, but also the circumstances of the people living in the flooded areas are entirely different.

Even so, there are echoes of New Orleans in some Iowa news stories.

An estimated 24,000 Cedar Rapids residents were driven from their homes, including Lisa Armstrong – who wept in a shelter while watching television footage of a boat saving her as the waters flooded her home.

“I didn’t think it was going to be as bad as it was, and we should have got out when we were told to leave,” said Armstrong, one of about 150 evacuees moved to the gym at Prairie High School in Cedar Rapids.

As in New Orleans, when the floods are gone there will be at least a few people who have lost their homes and their jobs and who lack the resources to start over without assistance from somebody. Oh, and there will be stories about how many people didn’t have flood insurance. However, I suspect the flooded areas of Iowa have much lower population density than New Orleans, and people won’t be trapped there for days with no way out, so post-flood Iowa won’t be as awful as post-Katrina New Orleans. Nor will Iowa get the same media coverage, so you may never hear about the hardships to come.

And a rightie myth will grow that those Iowans put their lives back together in no time, with nary a complaint.

Iowans do have one huge advantage over New Orleans — no Karl Rove.