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[graphic: Hurricane Maria, 20SEP2017, via NASA GOES]

Three Things: Was Slow Response to Hurricane Maria Deliberate?

NB: First, a call to action at the bottom — come back and read this after you’ve read the call. Don’t let last night’s tragedy swamp effective action; Congress continues its work no matter what tragedies befall the rest of us.

Having worked in both site and systems administration with responsibility for business continuity, I can’t help wonder why the post-hurricane response to Puerto Rico’s devastation was so bad — so bad it looks deliberate.

~ 3 ~

As an administrator, I looked ahead a year or more to mitigate both costs and risks to my employer and stakeholders. Budget roof repairs expenses for this year, budget roof replacement capital next year; replace the analog alarm system with digital system, budgeted last year. It’s pretty dull stuff but all it takes is one break-in, or one bad storm, and the losses from damage and business disruption could easily surpass capital and expense budgets combined.

But what of states and territories? State/territory, local and federal governments do what they can within the plodding framework of legislation, regulation, and budgetary requirements and restraints. Sometimes things just can’t be addressed preemptively, like major storms. Fortunately, there’s adequate monitoring to help predict when they will hit and what the likely impact will be, and there’s the awesome power of the largest military in the world to deploy as needed.

We have monitoring like NASA’s GOES satellite imaging, which visually tracked Hurricane Maria from birth to death as a weakened tropical storm.

And NOAA’s Hurricane Center, which makes accurate assessments of timing and strength of a storm’s impact.

Not to mention whatever additional monitoring and reporting the Defense Department had to offer.

We know with certainty the U.S. government was aware from NASA and NOAA reporting that Maria was a Category 5 storm as it approached Puerto Rico. The National Hurricane Center issued 17 reports over four days warning of the storm’s size, strength, and timing of landfall. I can’t imagine government agencies offering any less now than they did under the last administration.

And yet the Trump White House did virtually nothing to prepare for storm response.

You’d think that a guy with experience managing real estate and businesses for continuity would have utilized these best-on-earth notifications to mitigate and recover injury and damage to Puerto Rican Americans and their property. But for some reason this same guy now occupying the White House spent his time harping about NFL players and golfing instead.

~ 2 ~

This tweet thread crossed my timeline last week; I wondered who leaked and why there was so little followup, because the claim it makes is quite serious. (Click to expand the thread in Twitter.)

If this claim is accurate, the Trump White House sat on its tiny mittens and did absolutely nothing to approve a response to a major catastrophe which was expected with a very high degree of certainty to devastate an American territory home to ~3.5 million citizens.

If this happened five days AFTER landfall, was nothing done by the White House BEFORE Maria made landfall?

It’s not as if taking proactive action was difficult, either. I am certain government agencies and the Defense Department were ready to move with plans they’ve had prepared for some time, tweaked for this particular event. All it would take is a simple verbal Yes to proceed.

Or an executive order which we all know this White House can produce like so much facial tissue.

~ 1-a ~

All the monitoring and reporting provided to the White House, from NOAA and NASA to Defense Department, was budgeted and authorized by Congress for the purposes of serving American citizens. The public expects a level of performance for the taxes they pay; monitoring and reporting on weather and risks from weather are but part of their expectations.

American citizens expect and pay for their government to deliver effective and timely response when their domestic tranquility and general welfare are disrupted, whether nation-state or weather- and climate-based threats. They do not expect to be left without clean water, no minimum shelter, no emergency health care, let alone an empty wallet depleted by taxation which paid for common defense they didn’t receive.

Why have Puerto Rican Americans not received the same level of government responsiveness and services their fellow citizens have received post-hurricane Harvey and Irma?

Why can’t we get a straight answer about the White House’s planning in response to Hurricane Maria two to three days after landfall? Is it because the lack of any response is as bad as the lack of preparation — utterly missing, perhaps deliberately so?

At some point this isn’t about the White House and its executive function. It’s about Congress which has failed to ensure the executive knows exactly what is expected of it and what action should be nearly automatic from the executive office.

Oh, but that’s too much legislation, conservatives will say. No — it’s inadequate existing legislation which has incorrectly assumed for too long a competent manager will execute U.S. laws. It’s too many sick, injured, dying, dead Americans in the wake of ineffective governance.

And it’s inadequate action on the part of Congress to tolerate an incompetent executive.

To be concise, more than one branch of government failed Americans.

And those branches now have blood on their hands.

Do something about this before more Americans die. Do more than hold a hearing.

~ 1-b ~

By the way, FEMA’s Brock Long has proven himself an idiot. He should be given the boot.

An under-funded agency could land two rovers successfully on Mars and operate them for years to conduct research, but humanitarian response to a predicted hurricane utilizing the largest standing military on earth is too complicated? Fuck that.

And fuck this guy — I don’t even know who this pasty slack-handed suit is, but he can take his lies and shove them sideways. The storm did NOT cause you and your co-workers to be idiots and liars, boy.

~ 0 ~

Call to Action: Congress continues to work on bills regardless of the tragedy in Las Vegas or the growing catastophic death toll in Puerto Rico. Your efforts helped kill the last ACA repeal attempt formerly known as Graham-Cassidy. These are our next challenges.

CHIP expired at midnight Saturday night. Congress left for the weekend allowing health care funding for 9 million American children to expire. Not much better than President Cheeto going golfing while ignoring Puerto Rico. Call your representatives and demand CHIP funding be addressed immediately. Script for the Wyden-Hatch bipartisan CHIP bill here — note also you may need to call your state officials as well.

Net Neutrality is back on the bubble. FCC chair Ajit Pai has consistently attacked it throughout his brief tenure, sucking up to the telecom industry while ignoring the public’s best interests. Call your representatives and demand net neutrality be assured by voting NO on another five-year term for Pai as chair. Script for your call here. VOTE IS SCHEDULED TODAY — HURRY. Get a leg on this before AT&T persuades the Supreme Court to wade in.

Guns on schedule this week: a bill to approve the sale of gun silencers. Las Vegas’s mass shooting last night should be proof enough that “hearing protection” for shooters is the last thing Congress should worry about. The bill also allows the sale of armor-piercing ammunition. Hell, no. Script for your House rep, and script for your Senators.

A vote to make abortion illegal at 20 weeks on tap tomorrow. No. No freaking way. You may not like abortion, but read this piece — imagine the emotional and physical horror for a woman and her family as she is forced by law to carry a non-viable fetus to term. This decision should be between her, her partner, and her doctor. Make the call.

Congress’ switchboard number is (202) 224-3121. Don’t be like the guy in the White House when you can see action is needed.

Wednesday: This One Day

In this roundup: British fascists rise, smart fridge serves porn, and a Zika overview.

Today’s featured short film by Crystal Moselle is about finding one’s tribe, finding one’s place, crossing the threshold to adulthood in the safety of community. Men may not feel this one as keenly as women will. Many of us are skating alone, running into obstacles set before us simply because we are. With a little support we could skate the world.

Love how Bikini Kill’s Rebel Girl plays us out at the end. That.

Brexit and broken

  • Ian Dunt: Tories have become Ukip (Politics.co.uk) — Op-ed looks at UK’s Conservative Party and its aggressive shift toward white nationalism.
  • No joke: UK’s Home Secretary sounds like a Nazi (LBC) — Seriously, read the link. Can’t tell Amber Rudd’s speech from Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
  • The Daily Mail as Tories’ key influencer (OpenDemocracy) — Anthony Barnett looks at the Mail’s succession to Murdoch’s right-wing propaganda mill. The Mail was one of the two largest traditional media influences on right-wing politicians and Brexit voters (the other being NewsCorp’s The Sun); an American parallel would be the shift in media influence on public opinion as Fox News gave way to a more rightest, Trump-friendly CNN. We don’t trust CNN any more than we do Fox, and the UK shouldn’t trust the Mail any more than it should trust The Sun.
  • Theresa May’s Tory Conference speech: fascism wearing a progressive mask (VICE) — May isn’t well known by either UK or US public; her speech this week to her own party gave us a better look at the politician, and she’s not at all pretty. May uses progressive language to make her case, but what she’s really pushing is outright fascism.
  • Unwinding a country rich in diversity (OpenDemocracy) — University of Birmingham lecturer and Oxford University research associate Nando Sigona looks at the United Kingdom as an EU citizen. How does a small but densely populated country — land mass the size of Michigan with a population equal to California and Texas combined — move away from the diversity which has made it rich for millennia? Imagine one of those U.S. states (MI/CA/TX) suddenly telling anyone not ‘native’ to that state to leave; what would it do to that state, let alone the people who must leave? It’s not tenable.
  • 80th anniversary of East London’s Battle of Cable Street (Guardian) — The British have apparently forgotten their history and are now condemned to repeat it. Who is this generation’s Oswald Mosely: Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Michael Gove, Theresa May? With attacks on immigrants increasing, the new blackshirts already make their presence known; they only lack a Mosely.

Still skeptical about Tories’ aggression? Just look at this tweet from Tim Colburne, former deputy chief of staff for LibDem Party’s Nick Clegg. This is not the work of a party working for business interests. We are watching a new Nazism rapidly engulfing the United Kingdom. I doubt it will remain united much longer at this pace.

Keep in mind some of the foreign workers and children the Tories (and Ukip) want identified are U.S. citizens.

Elsewhat, elsewhere

Cybernia, ho!

  • Ireland not happy about the Yahoo email scandal (ITNews-AU) — Ireland wants to know if Yahoo’s scanning emails on behalf of U.S. government compromises Irish citizens’ privacy. Germany’s Fabio de Masi, a member of the European Parliament, has also asked for more details. Yahoo’s scanning could put the brakes on a US-EU data sharing agreement.
  • Alleged terror plotter charged, had operating system in cufflink (Guardian) — Located in Cardiff, Wales, the accused also possessed a book on missile guidance and control; he was responsible for a blog with information about Isis and cyber-security guidance.
  • Smart refrigerator – now with Pornhub (The Register) — Didn’t manufacturers clue in about so-called smart refrigerators a couple years ago after they were hacked? Clearly not if it’s still possible to hijack displays on Internet of Things devices for porn.

Longread: Overview on Zika
This is a decent meta piece in Omni magazine. Article also points out simple preventive interventions to reduce Zika infections: air conditioning and window screens. Also suggests implementing these in Africa where other arbovirus diseases are endemic, like yellow fever, dengue, chikunguya as well as Zika — except AC will create a greater demand for electricity as well as manufacturing pressure for screens. Also doesn’t really deal with the fact more people are outside during daylight hours in warmer climates, and those who work outdoors (like farmers) have no choice. More comprehensive research on arboviruses is needed and work toward vaccines is probably cheaper, faster, and less taxing to the environment than scaling up electricity and manufacturing. Worth a read if flawed.

Phew. That’s enough for today. Thankfully it’s downhill from here. Catch you later!

Monday: American Mouth

In this roundup: Volkswagen vacillations, disappointments a la Colombia, UK, Hungary (and don’t forget Poland!), anthropocene extinction, and maybe a straggling bit at the end to get this Monday on the road. Read more

Pakistan’s Geo Now Accused of Blasphemy: That Couldn’t Happen Here, Could It?

Just under a month ago, Pakistan’s largest private television news station was engaged in a dispute with Pakistan’s intelligence agency, ISI, over charges that the ISI was behind an assassination attempt on one of its anchors. For Geo, those probably seem like the good old days, because now the station is engaged in a controversy that has already caused a proliferation of lawsuits and threatens to erupt into massive vigilante violence against Geo employees and buildings. Reuters describes the threats Geo now faces and how the situation came about:

Pakistan’s biggest television station said it was ramping up security on Tuesday after it became the object of dozens of blasphemy accusations for playing a song during an interview with an actress.

Geo Television is scrubbing logos off its vans and limiting staff movements after receiving scores of threats over allegedly blasphemous content, said channel president Imran Aslam.

“This is a well-orchestrated campaign,” he told Reuters. “This could lead to mob violence.”

/snip/

The cases allege a traditional song was sung about the marriage of Prophet Muhammad’s daughter at the same time a pair of shoes was raised.

Both elements are traditional in a wedding ceremony but the timing was insulting to Islam, dozens of petitioners have alleged. Others allege the song itself was insulting.

Lawsuits arising from the incident are proliferating. The Express Tribune has a partial list of the cases filed recently here.

But the Reuters article points out that under Pakistani law, blasphemy itself is not actually defined clearly:

Blasphemy carries the death penalty in Pakistan but is not defined by law; anyone who says their religious feelings have been hurt for any reason can file a case.

But it gets even wilder. It turns out that a rival station is now also accused of blasphemy. Why? Because they repeatedly played snippets of the original program carried on Geo. And Reuters points out that blasphemy cases also are dangerous for judges and attorneys, as well:

Advocate Tariq Asad said his suit named the singers and writers of the song, cable operators, television regulators, a national council of clerics and ARY, a rival television station.

ARY repeatedly broadcast clips of the morning show, alleging it was blasphemous, an action that Asad said was blasphemous in itself.

Judges frequently do not want to hear evidence in blasphemy cases because the repetition of evidence could be a crime. Judges acquitting those accused of blasphemy have been attacked; a defense lawyer representing a professor accused of blasphemy was killed this month.

So just repeating the blasphemous material, even as a judge or attorney citing it in court, is a blasphemous act in itself worthy of vigilante action.

But of course, nothing so outrageous could happen here in the US, could it? Sadly, such a ridiculous state of affairs doesn’t seem that far off here. Note that politicians, even leading candidates for the US Senate, now openly state that “Government cannot force citizens to violate their religious beliefs under any circumstances” and even that such stances are not negotiable in any way. But that’s not just a campaign stance. We have companies now going to the Supreme Court to state their right to ignore laws to which they object on religious grounds.

So if both politicians and companies now openly advocate to ignore laws on religious grounds, how far away are we from these same zealots advocating for prison terms or even death sentences for those who offend their religious sensibilities? After all, we have already seen a bit of the vigilantism that goes along with such attitudes.

Update: It turns out that the incident with ISI hadn’t blown over yet. Breaking news from Dawn:

A committee formed by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) has suspended the licences of three television channels owned by the Geo TV network.

The committee has also decided that Geo TV offices be immediately sealed.

However, a final decision on the revocation of the licences will be announced following the meeting on May 28, which will also be attended by government representatives.

The committee, which includes members Syed Ismail Shah, Pervez Rathore and Israr Abbasi, was tasked to review the Ministry of Defence’s application filed against Geo TV network for leveling allegations against an intelligence agency of Pakistan.

It will be interesting to see how Geo responds.

Verboten: Vagina and Vasectomy

In spite of the fact that MI’s economy–which had been turning around–is now turning back down again, the Republicans who run Lansing are busy enacting new restrictions on abortion and contraception. Busy with that, and busy silencing two state Reps who had the audacity to say “vagina” and “vasectomy” on the House floor.

Representatives Lisa Brown and Barb Byrum, both Democrats, were barred from participating in debates Thursday because they were “disrupting decorum” during debate on Wednesday over three bills that would put restrictions on abortions, said Ari Adler, spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger.

The cause of Brown’s gag order was this statement, which she made during a floor speech opposing a bill that would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks: “I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but no means no.”

Byrum’s speaking privileges were revoked after the state congresswoman shouted multiple times at the legislature’s chairman that she should be given a chance to speak on her amendment, a chance she was not given during debate Wednesday.

Byrum’s amendment, which ABC apparently doesn’t want to talk about either, was to require men to show medical necessity before getting a vasectomy.

Byrum caused a stir when she marched through the House gallery Wednesday protesting that she hadn’t been allowed to speak on her amendment to the anti-abortion bill that would have required a man to have proof of a medical emergency before he could have a vasectomy.

“It’s my impression that I’m being banned from speaking as a result of my use of the term vasectomy — a medical procedure,” Byrum told The Huffington Post.

Now that the national press has wondered what kind of neanderthals ban the use of vagina (they’re afraid to talk about that other V-word), Republicans have responded by making their “issues” clear.

“They behaved in a way that disrupted the decorum of the House,” [House Majority Leader’s spokesperson Ari] Adler said. “For Brown, it was not the words she used, but the way she used them that resulted in her being gaveled down.” In Byrum’s case, Adler said, “I hate to put it this way, but she essentially had a temper tantrum on the House floor.”

When women try to ask men to be held to the same terms as women, you see, it amounts to a temper tantrum.