sandy new york

US Reaction to Hurricanes shows a profound Failure of Leadership

Reflecting on the past decade of hurricanes’ devastation – Katrina, Sandy, Harvey, and all the others – I’ve seen that our leaders have a nearly unvarying knee-jerk response, as Michael Kimmelman puts it:

American politicians make big promises. They say: We will rebuild. We will not be defeated. Never again will we be caught unprepared.

But then they don’t actually come through. 

Take Harvey as the most recent example:

Michael Kimmelman, Lessons From Hurricane Harvey: Houston’s Struggle Is America’s Tale

Unfortunately, nature always gets the last word. Houston’s growth contributed to the misery Harvey unleashed. The very forces that pushed the city forward are threatening its way of life.

Sprawl is only part of the story. Houston is also built on an upbeat, pro-business strategy of low taxes and little government. Many Texans regard this as the key to prosperity, an antidote to Washington. It encapsulates a potent vision of an unfettered America.

Harvey called that concept into question. It may have been an unusually bad hurricane, dumping trillions of gallons of water in a few days, even more to the east of the city than to the west, in the prairie, and setting all kinds of records. But it was also the third big storm to slam Houston in three years, dispelling any notion that Houston shouldn’t expect more of the same.

Climate change holds a mirror up to every place its impact is felt. Global warming may not specifically have caused Harvey, any more than a single major league home run can be attributed to steroids.

That said, scientists have little doubt that climate change is making storms worse and more frequent. The floods that ravaged Houston on Memorial Day in 2015 and in April of 2016 — now called the Tax Day flood — left behind billions of dollars in damage. Coming right after those events, Harvey has led even some pro-development enthusiasts to rethink the city and its surroundings.

“Harvey caused me to look differently at the world we live in,” said Judge Ed Emmett, the chief executive of Harris County, which encompasses Houston and much of the Katy Prairie. A self-described traditional Republican and big backer of the Grand Parkway, Judge Emmett had planned on spending his twilight years in public service saving the Houston Astrodome from demolition. Harvey altered that. Now he thinks his mission is to protect the entire region.

“Three 500-year floods in three years means either we’re free and clear for the next 1,500 years,” as he put it, “or something has seriously changed.”

After every natural calamity, American politicians make big promises. They say: We will rebuild. We will not be defeated. Never again will we be caught unprepared.

But they rarely tackle the toughest obstacles. The hard truth, scientists say, is that climate change will increasingly require moving — not just rebuilding — entire neighborhoods, reshaping cities, even abandoning coastlines.

I completely agree with the necessity of adopting a long-term view of climate-change-induced hurricane activity. The appropriate course is *not* to rebuild in vulnerable areas, and *not* to create counter-to-reality incentives for increasing development and growth in areas like Houston, Miami, and other low-lying areas in the most likely paths of future hurricanes. But that is the modus operandi.

And there is no dislodging the now deeply embedded and nonsensical approach that we see every. Single. Time. 

The details Kimmelman offers about Houston’s specific situation, while informative, are swamped by the similarities with other locales. New Orleans residents grew angry when discussion turned to relocating people from the most flood-prone neighborhoods. In New York and New Jersey, residents of the neighborhoods hardest hit by Sandy continue to try to rebuild. Yes, in all locations some are trying to have their homes acquired by state and federal governments, especially those that have been flooded out several times in recent years. But the general trend is the recitation of Kimmelman’s litany: We will rebuild. We will not be defeated. Never again will we be caught unprepared. Blah blah blah.

The reality is that our leaders have not accepted the fact that the climate has already changed profoundly, and it will not ‘get back to normal’ – even with our best efforts – for a thousand years. Time is not on our side. 

But, the politicians say their rote responses, and then return to arguments about who should be using which bathroom, or attempting to increase our nuclear weapon stockpile. 

This is strangely similar to our political response to mass killings. First, the prayers and condolences. Then the pledge that this must never happen again. That actions will be taken. That the crazy won’t get access to guns. Commissions are appointed. And then, people change the channel and set their alarm clock.

Of course, life is full of trial and tribulation. We live in a vale of sorrows. We’ve accepted 40,000 dead each year from car accidents in the US as just a matter of course. What’s a few thousand more dead from assassin’s bullets or a few hundred from a heated up climate’s megastorms? What’s on TV tonight? How about those Knicks?

But we are supposed to have a more deliberate and far-seeing approach from our government, those we put into power to take the long view and to not turn on the Late Show. 

We should be preparing a reasoned response to global climate change and its most obvious manifestation: megastorms, increased temperature, more variable weather patterns, and so on. We can’t afford the hundreds of billions or trillions that could be squandered on pointless redevelopment of vulnerable areas. 

But a similar argument could be made about the stupid human waste and needless suffering of allowing mass murder on a national scale. 

In the final analysis, these are both failures of leadership, of foresight, and of base venality. And the only answer is better leaders.

This lost toy at Vidler’s 5 & 10 in East Aurora is taking to the Internet in an effort to find the friend who misplaced them.  While larger stores might have seen the small cat and thrown him into the trash after a few days of remaining unclaimed, Vidler’s wasn’t about to say “die.”  After fixing the small tear in the toy’s leg, the store made sure to post this whimiscal tale of the cat trying to find his owner in an effort to reunite the two parties.  Reposts and Reblogs of this picture are welcome as they continue to search for the cat’s owner.

Once America decided killing children was bearable, the U.S. gun control debate was over.
—  Dan Hodges, referring to the 2012 attack that killed 20 young students at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

“Even the smallest act of service, the simplest act of kindness, is a way to honor those we lost, a way to reclaim that spirit of unity that followed 9/11.”
—President Obama in a 2011 radio address

“If we learn nothing else from this tragedy, we learn that life is short and there is no time for hate.”
—Sandy Dahl, wife of Flight 93 pilot Jason Dahl, in Shanksville, Pa., in 2002

“One of the worst days in America’s history saw some of the bravest acts in Americans’ history. We’ll always honor the heroes of 9/11. And here at this hallowed place, we pledge that we will never forget their sacrifice.”
—President George W. Bush at the Pentagon in 2008 

“So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart.”
—New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the World Trade Center site in 2003

January 19, 1972

At the age of 36 years and 20 days, former Dodger pitcher Sandy Koufax, who placed himself on the voluntarily retired list because of an arthritic left arm in 1966, becomes the youngest player to be elected into the Hall of Fame. Also getting the nod from the baseball writers are Yankee legend Yogi Berra and Early Wynn, a 300-game winner.

October 2, 1963

In the Game 1 of the World Series‚ Sandy Koufax strikes out his 15th batter of the game when he fans pinch hitter Harry Bright for the final out of LA’s 5-2 victory over the Yankees. Koufax, who struck out the first five Yankeees he faced in the game, surpasses Brooklyn’s Carl Erskine’s 1953 World Series mark of 14, which was also accomplished against New York.

Modern large studio home in Portland, Oregon. 

At 704 sq. feet, it was built on a lot for around $135,000 after tearing down and recycling a small, two-bedroom. The property includes a green roof with local fauna, dual sheds for tools and storage, and reusable storm water from a 550-gallon rain barrel. After their mortgage is paid off, they’ll have monthly costs of roughly $370 for property taxes, utilities, municipal services and insurance.