Provide For the Common Defense or Go Galt?

We awake to a changed and battered country this morning. CNN’s headline at CNN.com currently blares “Millions wake to devastation”, while AP gives us a state-by-state rundown of the effects of Hurricane (and then Superstorm) Sandy. At a time, though, when the natural American response is to help one another, we have perhaps the strongest example of what is at stake next Tuesday as we go to the polls for a Presidential election. Here is Mitt Romney in the Republican debate hosted by CNN:

The idea that an “immoral” FEMA should be disbanded in favor of private sector disaster response did not go over well with the editorial staff of the New York Times. From this morning’s editorial:

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.

A common refrain for the Galt crew is that they want to go back to the basics of the Constitution. And yet, here is the Preamble:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The simple truth is that if we wish to provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare in the face of such a huge storm, then a Federal agency coordinating the preparations before the storm and the response afterwards is the most efficient plan. Putting disaster capitalists in charge instead would only lead to many more deaths and huge delays in response times.

As the country responds to this terrible blow from the storm, it is worth considering whether we wish to go back to the ineptitude of the Katrina response (or worse) or if we want to work together for the common defense through a properly funded FEMA.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.
11 replies
  1. Phoenix Woman says:

    FEMA is the perfect example of how a Federal agency’s performance is affected by whether it’s treated seriously or used as a place to park otherwise-unemployable political cronies. Under Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton (particularly with Clinton’s excellent FEMA director, James Lee Witt), FEMA was the gold standard for rapid response. Under Reagan and the two Bushes, it was used as a turkey farm for political friends. (See also: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/the_hasbeen/2005/08/miracle_worker.html )

  2. Sojourner says:

    You could expand this topic even further because it also applies to common defense against businesses cutting corners and tainted products. I guess what comes to mind are the cases of meningitis caused by poor sanitation practices at a pharmaceutical lab. But, it is everywhere. Our Republican and Tea Party friends have forced so much austerity that our government cannot do what it is supposed to do. I have a friend who works at a federal agency that is supposed to enforce certain financial regulations but they are so overwhelmed (i.e.-short-staffed) that they can only deal with a few problems at a time.

    We need a federal government to ensure that we are not at the total mercy of unbridled business. I fear what will happen if Romney is elected.

  3. Sojourner says:

    @Jim White: Aha! I am sorry I missed that posting — excellent! Due to work and other combined life demands I have been a somewhat sporadic reader and commenter anywhere, so my apologies for restating the obvious!

  4. bsbafflesbrains says:

    @Sojourner: Heh, restating the obvious is our main task these days. Let’s resolve to continue restating obvious truths til they replace the BS.

  5. bsbafflesbrains says:

    @Jim White: Thank you for all you do, very informative and well written work and much appreciated but not sure you get thanked enough, so thank you to restate what I hope was obvious. :)

  6. greengiant says:

    @Sojourner: You should review Bill Black’s stories about the 80s. The corporate captured regulators were trying to stall prosecutions but Black and the ethical ones managed to do 10,000 prosecutions.
    Now the regulators are completely captured no matter who is running the executive. Corporate elite socialism is just as effective as Marxist socialism at destroying the 99 percent.

  7. noble_serf says:

    Under national response framework, all heavy lifting is already contracted out.

    Not much to cut but oversight or National Guard….

    Military contract companies branched into this work and drool over it.

Comments are closed.