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Sunday, February 28

Cyclone, flooding, wreak havoc in western Europe; at least 51 dead

March 1 UPDATE - 1:20 PM EST
That storm was no joke. A national emergency has been declared in France. Weak sea walls dating back to Napoleon's time are being blamed for the disasters in France's Atlantic coast regions of Vendee and Charente-Maritime. See this BBC report published at noon today EST.
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What next? A blizzard in Egypt?

From Wikipedia and AP reports: The storm was described by France's civil defense as the most violent since since 1999. Many of the victims in France died from drowning in flash floods. Rivers overflowed their banks in Brittany, while high tides and enormous waves swamped Atlantic Ocean communities.
Paris, France (CNN Updated 1811 GMT) -- A winter storm named "Xynthia" battered the western coast of Europe Sunday, its high winds downing trees and power lines and leaving as many as 51 people dead, authorities said.

Hardest hit was France, where at least 45 people were killed, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon announced.

The extra-tropical cyclone whipped the country's coastal regions and moved inland, bringing sometimes heavy flooding with it.

"It's a national catastrophe," Fillon said in a brief news conference. "Many people drowned, surprised by the rapid rise of the water."

The departments of Vendee and Charente-Maritime, on the French coast west of Paris, had severe flooding flooding when the strong winds whipped up the water at high tide.

"At 3 o'clock in the morning, we heard the toilets backing up. We got up to look and then we saw 80 cm (about 31 inches) of water in the garage," a resident of Aiguillon-Sur-Mer, in the department of Vendee, told CNN affiliate BFM. "It was rushing in, it broke down the walls around the garden and the gate."

At least one million households were without power Sunday afternoon, Bernard Lassus of Electricite de France told BFM.

The high winds -- at times spiking to 200 km/h (124 mph) -- reached inland as far as Paris, where as many as 100 flights were canceled at the Paris-Charles de Gaulle International Airport, BFM reported.

In Spain, three people were killed in the storm, Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said in a news conference Sunday. Two children died in a car accident and another person was killed in northwestern Spain, the minister said in a news conference on CNN sister station CNN+.

At least 17 provinces were on high alert due to the strong winds, CNN+ reported, and some flights and train services were canceled.

A 10-year-old child was killed by a falling tree in the high winds in Portugal, Patricia Gaspar, National Operations Assistant with the Portuguese National Authority for Civil Protection, confirmed to CNN.

There are also some power outages in the country, Gaspar said. Some residents have reported roofs blown off and smaller houses collapsing, she added.

One man was killed in southwestern Germany when a tree fell on his car, local police said. The man's wife was seriously injured.

The storm also reached England, where one woman was reported dead when the vehicle she was driving became submerged and washed down a swollen creek in the northeastern part of the country. [...]

CNN's Per Nyberg in London, England, contributed to this report.

Saturday, February 27

Series of Small Earthquakes Strike Central California as Huge Quakes Rock Japan and Chile

10:00 AM EST UPDATE
> Tsunami alarm to be sounded in Hawaii at 6:00 AM (11 AM EST). "All shores at risk no matter which direction they face," says U.S. agency, from Reuters report.

> Tsunami warnings issued as precaution for all countries throughout Pacific, as far away as Australia. A tsunami advisory has been issued for coastal California.

> Once again, as with the Haiti earthquake crisis, CNN has shifted all their reporting to the crisis in Chile and related news. CNN is continuously monitoring and reporting on news from the social media sites as well as the news wires about the Chile crisis.

> CNN just reported that Ustream is doing live TV reporting from Chile, so it's a good source if you understand Spanish -- but even without that, the live pictures are giving a good indication of the situation. Ustream allows users to broadcast video live to the world from a computer, mobile or iPhone in minutes. Wikipedia has an article about Ustream if you've never heard of the source before.

> CNN reports that if the earthquake that struck Chile is indeed 8.8 magnitude it is among the top ten earthquakes in recorded history.

> Seven of Chile's eight zones have been declared a disaster area.

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Re Chile earthquake: Via Twitter about 5:35 AM EST:
David_Hallett: RT @SirJaxx: Confirmed. At least 500 people at Concepcion Hospital in "Critical" condition. Death toll rising very quickly now #chile #earthquake
Re the California quakes (H/T Twitter), report filed by Zach Behrens at laist, 12:47 AM PST today:
Microquakes have been shaking the Coso Junction area of Eastern Central California all week, but it wasn't until tonight when more noticeable ones struck. A light 4.1 earthquake struck at 10:22 p.m., followed by two minor shakers--a 3.8 at 11:10 p.m. and a 3.4 at 11:21 p.m.

Meanwhile, today has been subject of two much stronger quakes. A 7.0 magnitude quake struck off the coast of Okinawa, Japan in the Ryukyu Islands around 5:31 a.m. Saturday local time, or 12:31 p.m. Friday Pacific Standard Time. There have been no reports of major damage or injuries.

Then at 10:34 p.m. PST, an 8.8 earthquake struck off the coast of Maule, Chile, causing buildings to collapse and power outages in the Chilean capital Santiago. "My mom and little brother lost everything but their lives. Thank God!" said a relative living in Southern California. "When morning comes over there we will know more about the damages."

In 1960, Chile experienced a 9.5 magnitude quake that left 1,655 people dead.
What a year, and it's only February. With the historic quake in Haiti, historic snowstorms in the United States and Europe, flooding on Portugal's Madeira island (worst storm there since 1993), California's massive "Station Fire" and flooding, and now the large 'twin' quakes in Chile and Japan, I fear that TIME magazine's annual "Person of the Year" award is shaping up to be 'The Planet.'

Sunday, February 21

Glenn Beck to CPAC: No Prisoners. Plus Pundita tells Glenn what's really wrong with the USA and tosses in a lesson on Global Village Math

Last night Glenn Beck gave the keynote address at the annual CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) in Washington. The speech, which lasted about an hour and included as 'special guest' Glenn's trademark chalkboard, was a huge hit with the audience, which had packed the lecture hall to capacity. However, the key point in Glenn's speech is not good news for America's centrists, those Independents who prefer to fence-sit, and the Republicans and Conservatives who want to regain the White House at any cost.

He stood before the CPAC and said bluntly that there could be no compromise with the Progressive position; it would have to be a fight to the political death, winner take all.

He also spoke of the Progressive philosophy as a cancer that had to be cut out of American society before the country could find its way back to sustained prosperity and a sane political system.

I'm not sure how Newt Gingrich, who is a Conservative, and who also spoke at CPAC, is taking Glenn's news that no, there can't be a "principled bipartisanship" between the Left and the Right in Congress.

Glenn's position is that one can't compromise with a position that's destroying the country. And last night he aimed the message straight at Republicans. In his most evocative utterance he spoke of being stabbed in the eye by a Democratic screwdriver, and that he didn't consider being stabbed in the other eye with a Republican pin to be effective relief.

His speech got cheers and standing ovations but many in that audience of over a thousand, and indeed the ten thousand in attendance at CPAC, were college students. So I'm also not sure how Glenn's message will be received by the most powerful Republicans.

And I don't think it takes a crystal ball to predict the reaction from Wall Street and corporate board members who traditionally divide their donations between Republicans and Democrats, and who just want to see enough gridlock in Congress to allow them to get business done. That crowd includes Glenn's boss at Fox Cable News, Rupert Murdoch, a self-described Libertarian who's made a career of bending with political winds around the world to protect his far-flung media empire.

As to how the Libertarians at CPAC took Glenn's speech, which comported with major Libertarian principles, it was well received but that's not necessarily saying much. Shortly before Glenn spoke the results of the CPAC straw poll were released, in which the attendees voted their pick for the next U.S. President:

Ron Paul, the leading Libertarian politician in America, got a stunning 31 percent of the vote, which left all other Conservative candidates in the dust: Mitt Romney got 22 percent; Sarah Palin, 7 percent; Tim Pawlenty, 6 percent. (And a majority of the voters said they wished the Republicans had a better field of potential candidates.)

However, within moments of the announcement a Fox reporter at the convention did some detective work. She learned that only about two thousand attendees had voted. She found that the ballots hadn't been distributed among the ten thousand attendees; they were available at only one table in the convention hall and unless people sought out the table they didn't get a chance to vote. She added that Ron Paul's highly organized and energetic supporters had made sure to snap up ballots.

So while the Tea Party rebellion probably gave Ron Paul the largest vote he's ever received at CPAC, it's doubtful he was the most popular candidate at the convention; a chorus of boos accompanying the cheers from his supporters during the announcement shores this observation.

Most Conservatives consider Ron Paul too radical in his positions -- although I think it might have been Larry Kudlow, the supply-side economist and financial news commentator, who said in 2008 that with every year that passed Paul's position sounded less radical to him.

Yes, in the awful aftermath of the financial markets meltdown Paul's warnings and imprecations don't sound nearly as a radical as they did a decade ago. But that plus 50 cents in a national election won't go far, not for those who're determined to put a Republican in the White House no matter how much compromise it takes.

As for the Tea Partiers, the other day Pat Buchanan observed for Human Events, a Conservative publication that's one of the CPAC organizers:
[...] This week, a smoke detector went off. China, in December, had unloaded $45 billion of its $790 billion in T-bills. Is Beijing bailing out?

To assure the world we are not Greece writ large, the United States must soon adopt a visible plan for slashing the deficit.

There are three ways to do it. One is through growth that increases the tax revenue flowing into the Treasury and reduces the outflow for safety net programs like unemployment insurance.

But growth only comes slowly and can take us only so far.

Needed is a combination of big budget cuts and tax hikes. But the only place one can get budget cuts of the magnitude required is from the big entitlement programs, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. And the only place to get revenue of that magnitude is by raising taxes on the American middle class.

And here is where Barack Obama hits the wall.

Republicans are not going to give him a single vote for a tax increase. Not only would this violate a commitment most made to the people who elected them, it would be politically suicidal. For behind the GOP today, and its best hope of recapturing Congress in 2010, are the Tea Party irregulars.

And Tea Partiers now play the role of Red Army commissars who sat at machine guns behind their own troops to shoot down any soldier who retreated or ran. Republicans who sign on to tax hikes cannot go home again.[...]
Pat is sympathetic to the Tea Party position and Glenn Beck's:
The Tea Party folks are not into the Gerald Ford politics of compromise and consensus. They have seen what it produces: the inexorable growth of Government. [...] Principled conservatives are resisting tax hikes because they believe government has grown too huge for the good of the country. And if that means putting the beast on a starvation diet -- no new tax revenue to batten on -- so be it. Cold turkey time.
But his article is titled, Is this how democracy ends? In his closing remarks he wonders what will happen to an American political system that can no longer bend to accommodate compromises:
Anticipating gains in November, Republicans will not give Obama any new taxes before then. After November, their ranks swollen by Tea Party support, they will be even more intractable.

Where does that leave Obama -- and us?

Later this year or early next, to avoid a debt crisis, Obama will ask Congress to raise taxes and pare back entitlement programs.

And a paralyzed government will drift closer toward the maelstrom.
That is the argument centrists and many Independents will use, and which leaders in both the Republican and Democrat parties will use against the Tea Partiers: cut out the extremists on both sides and find a compromise we can all live with.

I think the answer to the argument is to ask how compromise got so elevated in the American political system that it became the system's defining characteristic. In Glenn Beck's view the obsession with political compromise, which amounts to 'You scratch my back I'll scratch yours,' has created massive corruption in Washington.

As to what the Chinese are going to do to us if we don't stampede into compromise -- there is a path other than the three Pat Buchanan named. It's called default. Before you scream and faint, yes it will mean higher interest rates for U.S. borrowing, but this will drive down the U.S. dollar, which will drive up U.S. exports, which makes Beijing happy because the renminbi is pegged to the dollar. However, this will make Brussels unhappy because the euro will appreciate too much against the dollar, driving down EU exports. Ergo, a way will magically materialize to remove the stigma from the U.S. default, thus returning more strength to the U.S. dollar. Global Village Math. It's a wonderful thing.

I hope we don't have to take the drastic step of default but the world is not going to come to an end, and neither is the United States, if we don't hurry up and compromise our way into yet another blind alley.

As to whether Glenn has correctly identified America's root problem, the impossible can never be a root cause. The economics that Progressive or 'Leftist' policies depend on don't work, they can't work. But they've been working in one fashion or another in the United States since the end of World War Two. How to explain this seeming contradiction?

The explanation is essentially the same one that kept the Soviet Union afloat during the Cold War. After Stalin's death Moscow abandoned isolationist policy and began selling energy to Western Europe, which had an insatiable need for fuel, as their economies began to grow in the wake of reconstruction era.(1)(2) From that point on, which was even before Ostpolitik, Russia had an economy that was part bare-knuckles capitalism. Saudi Aramco used to complain in those days that Russia was undercutting their prices in the oil markets.(3)

So Russia's central planning schemes, which did not work, and which could not work in any galaxy, were propped up by capitalism and American support of our dear NATO allies in Western Europe, who were buying scads of fuel from Moscow.

If anyone's wondering: Yes, there were protests on Capitol Hill. Some members of Congress said, 'We're helping to support the Soviets while we're fighting them. This is nuts.'

It was either be nutty or pull out of NATO. Actually there was a rational alternative to the U.S. continuing the farce. Washington could have admitted that Communism was deader than a doornail in Russia, then re-thought the Cold War. But where's the fun in being rational?

The Russians didn't want to admit the obvious, either. They had a reputation as Communists and successful central planners to keep up, even though all of Europe knew the real story.

The point here is that it's a joke that the Soviet Union was able to function for any length of time according to central planning. And Marxist schemes were propped up by oil and gas sales, which incidentally spawned a class of kleptocrats that ran the Soviet Union into the ground.

It's essentially the same with government-backed Leftist schemes in the United States. Something's been propping them up all these decades, even though FDR's handling of the Depression was clear demonstration that redistribution of wealth doesn't work. You have no further than your wallet to look for the solution to the mystery. Those U.S. dollars are not just a medium of exchange; they're also a commodity -- one the world can't live without.

Because the U.S. dollar is the world's primary reserve currency, central banks have to buy dollars and hold a certain amount of their reserves in dollars. That means Washington generated their own Commanding Heights industry, which brought in revenue that's quite distinct from tax revenue. That is how the world's oldest continually functioning democracy managed to spawn an imperial government, one that over the decades was increasingly insulated from the will of the people. So it's not in your imagination that no matter who the voters send to Congress it's always business as usual in Washington.

The profit from U.S. trade in dollars meant that Washington could literally paper over the failures of internal and external policies. It didn't matter whether Progressive schemes worked; they could be kept on life support by dollar sales.

But that also explains why the federal government has made increasingly stupid decisions and keeps repeating the same stupid decisions. This is the Little Emperor syndrome in action: if you're always protected from the worst consequences of your mistakes, if there's always a blank check to bail you out, which is what the dollar trade amounts to, there is no impetus to learn from your mistakes.

In short, the U.S. dollar's role as the world's chief reserve currency, which has done so much since World War Two to stabilize and grow international trade, turned out to be America's Achilles Heel. That's because an endless series of blank checks are too much for human nature to resist abusing.

The same happened to the British when the pound sterling was the world's reserve currency. They abused the pound's reserve status, and they paid a tragically high price for that. I think that's why John Maynard Keynes suggested at Bretton Woods that an alternative to a national currency be devised to handle international payments. He proposed a global currency unit he called the Bancor, which was to reflect the averaged price of 30 of the most important commodities, including gold.

The idea was shot down by the Americans, who told the British delegation that from then on the U.S. dollar, not the pound, was to be the world's major reserve currency.

It's a great irony that Keynes's daffy economic ideas were accepted, while his sound idea for the Bancor was rejected. But that observation is with hindsight, and glosses the way things were at the end of the Second World War. Much of the world was in ruins. People all over the world trusted the U.S. dollar, and it was something tangible. They wouldn't have trusted a medium of exchange that was not based in a successful, stable, and powerful nation. Keynes's idea was simply ahead of its time.

Has the Bancor's time arrived? I mentioned in a post I wrote last year, when Glenn Beck and Larry Kudlow had become alarmed by Robert Fisk's blitherings that the U.S. dollar was to be dumped tomorrow as a reserve currency, that you can't just wave a wand to create a new reserve currency. Many conditions must be met, and these conditions can't be forced.

For years the world has been gradually moving away from the dollar as the major reserve currency. That trend will continue. Today at least 20 percent of a major central bank's reserves is in euros. Yet that's been part of the problem for the United States: for more than a half century the increasingly big trade in the dollar commodity gave Americans a misplaced sense of security. No matter how much we lost in industrial output, we didn't fall because we had that ace in the hole -- that endless series of blank checks generated by dollar sales.

So while the dollar sales helped build the global economy, our dependence on those blank checks made our own economy weak. As the world began to diversify away from dollars, as a natural consequence of the success of globalized trade, the weakness became evident but only after the financial crash. And here we are today.

At some point in the future, maybe not even in our lifetime, the world will be ready for something like the Bancor. For now, we depend on the Lords of the Craps Table, who meet at places such as the Bank for International Settlements, to keep patching things in The Casino (the international monetary system), so it can lurch along.

(Don't worry; the central banker types in The Casino are just window dressing. The Lords really run things and they're like your cousin Vinny. The only difference is that their parents drew the line when they learned their child wanted to monkey with the innards of cars instead of going to college. Yes, these Lords have degrees in finance but they're tinkering brains. They can patch anything, even a broken financial system, with nothing more than duct tape and chicken wire. So what if the patch only lasts 15 minutes? They live to patch things.)

And don't worry about China. The next time a Chinese economist tells you, 'We're going to create an Asian reserve currency,' do me a favor: Look as pitiful as you possibly can and whimper, 'Please please Bre'r Sir don't throw us Americans in the briar patch. Do what you want with us, just don't make an Asian reserve currency.'

Let me tell you what will happen the day there's an Asian reserve currency. George Soros and the rest of the blood-sucking currency speculators will get off our backs and go leech off the Asian economies. And with any luck Soros will change his citizenship yet again, then proceed to do for China exactly what he did for the USA.

All right; that's enough happy thoughts for one day. Yes, Leftist schemes to redistribute wealth need to be exposed as unworkable, and Glenn Beck has been doing a magnificent job at that. He just needs to widen the lens to see that final piece of the puzzle: why the unworkable has hung on so long in this country.

1) From a 1982 paper for the Heritage Foundation titled Is Soviet Gas Pipeline a Steel Noose?:
Since 1955, oil and natural gas have accounted for 85 percent of Soviet energy growth. More important, however, crude oil sales have become the major source of Moscow's hard currency earnings. In 1980, oil sales brought in two out of every three foreign exchange dollars earned, even though the one million barrels a day exported to the West were hardly a major factor in the international oil market. Yet it constituted 70 percent of all Soviet trade outside the East bloc.
2) For more readings on Soviet energy sales to Europe, see Ruhrgas AG Company History and The Recurring Fear of Russian Gas Dependency

3) The Threat Of Soviet Oil; Saudi Aramco World, Volume 13, Number 3; March 1962

Friday, February 19

Note

The next post will be on Monday at 9:00 AM ET.

Regards to all,
Pundita

Wednesday, February 10

Live Blogging Washington's Blizzard (Last updated 5:45 PM)

UPDATE 5:45 PM Eastern Time
From 12 minutes ago via Drudge Report, AP has a summary of news about this wide-ranging storm, which is raging up the east coast. Pennsylvania is getting hit hard. See also Record snow paralyzes Philadelphia via Drudge (H/T RBO) -- and thanks to RBO for crossposting this entry. Also, for anyone who's wondering about using snowmobiles: from a news report a few minutes ago, they're getting stuck in the snow drifts, too.

UPDATE 4:50 PM
After I logged back on again I exchanged emails with correspondents about the blizzard: I'm adding here what I wrote, as an update:

The situation is now turning grim. There were entire blocks of families stuck in Virginia and Maryland with no electricity before this storm hit -- the ones who didn't get their electricity back on after the Fri-Sat storm knocked it out because the utility couldn't get into the neighborhoods.

These families and the crews, some of which came from the Carolinas and even Texas to help the utilities in this region during the crisis, didn't know until it was too late about the strategy that the local governments decided on to leave the secondary roads unplowed until Tuesday evening and Wednesday.

So now they're facing maybe another week without heat in sub-freezing weather, with drifts of 3 feet of hard packed snow outside the door, their side street impassable so that even an emergency vehicle can't get through to take them to a warming center. Even those families with fireplaces that had firewood stacked up are now running out.

Nothing like this series of storms has ever happened in the District -- not in recorded history, and certainly not in this very fragile modern era. In the 1700s and 1800s, people in this region chopped enough wood and put up enough preserved food to get through an entire winter if they were snowed in. Today, we have become so dependent on our modern systems that urban dwellers and even suburbanites are very vulnerable, particularly in a region that usually doesn't see much snow and isn't set up to handle it.

So it's been a slowly unwinding crisis. As I observed in my first post on the blizzard, it all started out with almost a holiday atmosphere. People heard the news that The Big One would arrive on Friday, got to the stores on Wednesday and Thursday and filled on up gas, and so on.

But on Wednesday and Thursday they didn't know a historic blizzard would be hitting the region on top of the historic snow levels dumped on Friday and Saturday. Now many people are beginning to realize they're in trouble -- and with another storm on the horizon.

No small part of the trouble is people who can't get to work but are in such bad financial straits they can't afford to miss a paycheck. And for unemployed people who need to get to food banks and day shelters -- they're going to have to go without food.

As for the housebound -- elderly, ill, handicapped who depend on Meals on Wheels and similar programs for their daily meals -- they're out of luck too if the program can't scare up enough SUVs and/or the SUVs get stuck.

This just in from Twitter: Fraternity at George Washington University evacuated, closed after #snow buildup threatens to collapse roof.
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9:45 AM Eastern Time
The wind is blowing the snow around so much it's going to be hard to get an accurate total count for this storm. But a meteorologist said a few minutes ago that today's storm, coming on top of the others this winter, guarantees this is the worst winter for snow in Washington, DC since snow records have been kept.

Washington, DC's Mayor Adrian Fenty has contacted the mayor of Buffalo, New York (one of the nation's blizzard capitals) for advice on how to handle a snowstorm of this magnitude.

Yesterday I wrote that on Fri-Sat we had our "very own blizzard" but technically it wasn't a blizzard, only close to it. A blizzard is 35+ winds and visibility at less a quarter mile. Today we're having a technical blizzard in the Greater Washington, DC area (The District plus parts of Virginia, Maryland).

Manassas, VA has clocked wind gusts of 60 mph; for the last 90 minutes or so the District was seeing winds of up to 40 mph and visibility ranging from quarter mile to bursts of whiteout. We're in sort of a trough right now, as one band of the storm moves out, but the winds will pick up again later.

On the weekend WUSA-9 (local CBS affiliate TV station) was sending petite female anchors around the city to report. This morning they were replaced by big strapping guys, but one of them had anchor himself in a snowdrift to keep standing in the wind gusts.

There was one female TV reporter around this morning. She must work out at the gym. She picked up a huge block of ice from the road to show to her cameraman and said to the TV audience, "This is what's blowing onto the roads. STAY HOME. DON'T DRIVE UNLESS YOU ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO."

That's been the message of the morning from officialdom, as well.

That block of ice was from the Fri-Sat 20+ inch snowfall on Fri-Sat; that was heavy, wet snow. Then, since Sat., it melted a bit then refroze. Now the wind is turning chunks of those ice blocks into missiles.

10:15 AM
Montgomery County just announced they were pulling all their snow plows off the road; conditions are just too dangerous for the plow operators. There are a lot of spin-outs on the roads. Pepco utility also made the same decision -- although some of the crews might still be out.

PGE (Prince George's County, MD) still has their operators on the roads -- they're just learning about the Montgomery County decision. 10:26 AM they're telling WUSA they will make a decision in the next few minutes. 10:38 -- I think they reported they were also pulling their crews.

The District has also pulled their snow plow operators.

VDOT (Virginia Dept. Transportation) told WUSA at 10:20 they're keeping their snow plow crews on the road and telling them to just pull over and wait out the whiteouts.

Pepco, which also services parts of Maryland, did a great job on Saturday of restoring power outages in the District. On Saturday at noon Mayor Fenty announced there were 6,000 outages in the District and an hour later there was a report of 10,000 out. But by 10 PM the Washington Post was reporting the total down to 1,500 or maybe it was 1,700, and by yesterday all the outrages from the Fri-Sat storm were repaired.

Pepco was like a marauding army. They were working in coordination with snow plow operators to clear a road; they'd pull a tree or branch off the downed wires, then get the wires repaired presto. But they were just dealing with heavy snow at that time, without much wind.

So, now, with Pepco crews off the road, as the outages occur during this storm there's going to be a big backlog.

Montgomery, MD and Fairfax, VA counties, which were hit hardest with power outages during the Fri-Sat storm, went into this one with tens of thousands of outages still not repaired. Now those residents will be lucky to see the outages repaired by the end of next week.

Just to give you an idea of temperatures those residents without heat are dealing with, right now it's 25 degrees in the District without factoring in wind chill. The temperatures will go down to the single digits overnight for some of those areas.

No word yet from Virginia Dominion Power as to whether they're pulled their repair crews.

Metro has pulled all their bus drivers -- I don't think they even went out this morning -- but they're keeping them on stand-by so they can draw a paycheck.

This is the big problem: as the snow days get used up, even people who have a steady job are having to look at maybe the rest of the week without drawing pay. That's why there are people getting to work on foot right now, even in the blizzard, even if they aren't essential employees. These are the people who are already on the edge financially. They have no choice but to get to work.

Metro told WUSA an hour ago they've been keeping their underground trains running -- all above-ground stations are closed. They're keeping the trains running today until midnight and having their crews keep escalators, entrances, cleared of snow.

10:50
Uh oh. WUSA just announced that Metro is having to pull some of their crews -- I guess from plowing the parking lots at the Metro stations.

Will Round Two of the Great Snowball Fight take place in Dupont Circle today? Those people are crazy; of course they'll be there. Same time as for the Sat. snowball war:2:00 PM, if you're in the neighborhood and you're crazy.

At least this time the Dupont Circle Starbucks is open. Dupont Circle residents were going out in skis and snowshoes on Saturday to get their caffeine fix at Starbucks. The TV anchor who was stationed there was intoning at them, like Poe's Raven, "It's closed."

Starbucks customers. A breed unto themselves.

Sometimes she'd relent and call after them, "But the 24 hour CVS is open." The hardcore Starbucks drinkers had probably wiped out the CVS supply of bottled Starbucks drinks the night before.

Yet the Silver Diner in Tyson's Corner opened at 8 AM on Saturday and they were open on Friday until 9:00 PM. The staff there probably camped out. They were giving 25 percent discounts to first responders and snowplow operators who ate there on Friday night and Saturday morning. So they were getting their parking lot cleared as the snow fell.

However, the Silver Diner started running into the same problem that was occurring everywhere in the region on Saturday: where do you put the plowed snow? There was so much of the stuff falling so quickly that as soon as the plow operators turned around there was another pile to plow. Pretty soon, it was a few valleys of plowed pavement between mountains of snow piles.

The District is going to have to truck much of the plowed snow out, there's so much of it.

Even on the interstates feeding into this region there was only one lane open despite the good job that the snow plow operators did. The rest was reserved for the snow mountains. That was on Saturday. Now, with many snow plow crews off the roads, they're going to have to start almost from scratch once the winds die down.

As for the people living on secondary roads, there's been some controversy about the region-wide strategy of leaving those roads unplowed until Tuesday and Wednesday, in order to focus on the primary roads. That strategy was devised when today's storm was being described by meteorologists as "a few snowflakes" and a "nuisance storm."

On Sunday there was one homeowner in PG county who was fit to be tied. She was standing on a main road, gesturing at her side street and yelling at plow trucks, "When are you going to plow here?"

She told the TV reporter, "I've seen forty plows go by. What am I paying taxes for?"

They'll get dug out sometime before the Spring.

At 8 AM this morning the District's fire chief, Dennis Rubin, told WUSA that as of that time, there were 20 roof collapses from snow piled up on the roof. He said the fire department had added an extra shift and doubled up on the firefighters. Normally they deal with about 400 calls per day. The emergency calls were up to 900 today -- many of those snow related emergencies; people getting heart attacks from shoveling snow, slip and fall accidents, women giving birth inside the house because they couldn't get to the hospital, and so on.

Yes, all the TV stations have repeatedly warned to be careful about shoveling snow and they explained in great detail the exact dangers. But a lot of people don't take the warnings seriously enough. They overestimate what they're capable of doing, then they get chest pains. Today's snow flakes, although falling heavily, are light and dry. But the heavy, wet snow that fell on Sat. can be a killer to shovel unless you pace yourself very carefully.

Even the big fire trucks have gotten stuck in the snow; there was a tragic incident on the weekend when the fire crews couldn't put out a house fire even though they worked desperately with snow plow crews to free their stuck truck. The most they could do was wade through thigh-deep snow to the house to get the residents safely out. But they had to stand helplessly and watch the house burn. Firefighters take that kind of situation very hard.

Even many snow plows were getting stuck on Saturday -- even the big trucks. Residents who saw that would grab their shovels and run to dig out the trucks. Same for other vehicles that were stuck.

There were thousands of vehicular incidents, from crashes to tractor-trailer jack-knives, on the weekend. On Saturday morning at 10 AM Martin O'Malley, the Governor of Maryland, held a press conference and grimly addressed the issue.

He asked, "If you won't play in the ocean during a hurricane, why would you go out on the roads during a severe snowstorm?"

Many people didn't listen -- including big rig interstate drivers. When they got stuck on ramps or they crashed, the rigs blocked traffic on highways with only one lane cleared. That made it impossible for ambulances and other first responders to get through. And it meant that snow plows and tow trucks had to be diverted to haul the wreckage away.

By the afternoon on Saturday, Maryland State Trooper officials were furious with the situation. One told a TV station (I think maybe it was WJLA) that they'd put up warnings to interstate truckers all the way to New Jersey to not attempt to drive into the District via Maryland at that time but that many truckers were ignoring the warnings.

When the TV station asked the Virginia State Troopers if they were having the same problem they got stonewalled by a representative. They finally spoke with someone in the state police and learned that Virginia was having the same problem as Maryland; there had already been 3,000 vehicular incidents.

Of course there are some people who have to be out on the roads but you can see the difference today, after the warnings and imprecations finally sank in. The traffic reporters were pointing to their traffic-cams, which showed very few vehicles on the roads.

Noon
Pepco reporting there are now 4,000 power outages in their service area. New outages in areas serviced by other utilities but I didn't catch the totals.

Back to 8:00 AM: Dennis Rubin said he was worried about the next snowstorm on the horizon for the District. He's worried about the cumulative effects. WUSA reported this morning that the next storm will just be a "Clipper" to arrive on Monday and move right out.

Yeah, but there's a lot that can happen in the upper atmosphere between now and then, as we saw when a nuisance storm morphed into today's monster. So now it's a race to get as many power outages restored, roads plowed, grocery stores restocked, and snow removed. And get more roofs cleared of snow buildup.

These roof collapses are not just striking the obvious roofs. This weekend a roof at a fire station collapsed in the middle of the night. The fire crew was okay; some vehicles were damaged. So the crew bunked a fire station in another country. No sooner had they settled that the roof at that station collapsed.

Back to Noon
O'Malley, who's having a presser right now, just announced that the federal government is treating the cascade of snowstorms as one incident so Maryland can get federal emergency funds. Probably the same will happen for Virginia and the District.

12:40 PM
The winds have picked up here again; they're howling outside our window and there are still near-whiteout conditions with the snow. But WUSA is reporting right now that in some regions the sun is peeking through as the snow bands move out, although the winds remain high. The winds are expected to remain until tomorrow.

Hospitals in the region are putting out a "desperate" call for volunteers with SUVs to help transport patients. However, driving an SUV is no guarantee of not getting stuck so only volunteers on mercy runs should take the risk.

All and all the city, federal, and county agencies that have been involved with handling the myriad situations created by the snow emergencies have done a great job. The strategy of focusing exclusively on plowing major roads has been the only mistake I know about, and that mistake was because they didn't have a crystal ball.

Up to this time there have been no casualties associated with today's storm and arguably only two throughout all the storms -- two men who seemed to have died from carbon monoxide poisoning in a car, perhaps because they didn't know to clear impacted snow from the car's muffler.

This region sees so little snow that precautions that are automatic for people in say, Albany, have to be taught to residents here.

There was also a father and son who were killed on Friday when they got out of their car to help a stranded motorist. But if that's the situation I've heard about they probably would have been killed, snow or no snow. They were struck by a drunk driver who'd already had her license revoked.

There have been countless missions of mercy of all kinds during these storms. I've seen people going on foot through snowdrifts to bring bags of groceries to elderly neighbors, and shoveling their walks for them. And the National Guard pitched in to help the firefighters.

Kudos also to WUSA-9, which has been a lifeline for residents in this region. On Friday WJLA News (ABC TV local affiliate) and WRC News (NBC local)abandoned their audience and switched to prime-time programming. WUSA News bumped their prime time programs to after midnight, then stayed on the air from early afternoon until midnight giving reports on the snow emergency and all related situations.

As for the Fox local network affiliate -- I confess that I forgot to check on their reporting.

On Saturday WUSA stayed on the snow story all day and again until midnight. The other two stations took a powder again and switched from snow reporting to prime time shows. I can't believe they thought programs such as My life with the Nanny, or whatever that reality show is called, took precedence over keeping their audience informed about the snow emergency. It takes all kinds, I guess.

Anyhow, WUSA has done a great job, a great public service, during this crisis for the nation's capital. I for one will show my gratitude by making WUSA my source for local news.

Anyone outside the region who wants to keep up with the snow situation here, visit the WUSA website. They also have posted resources, such as the addresses for "warming centers" in the region (places where residents without heat can stay), utility companies, and so on.

1:30 PM
Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) is elaborating for WUSA on the decision to release federal emergency funds to Maryland. Ordinarily the snowfall has to be 28 inches before such funds can be released. Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano recognized the special situation and put today's storm and the weekend one together, and called them the "Valentine's Day" snow emergency.

That's a good note on which to end this report. Right now winds gusting over 50 mph; lightning in some regions and "This is the storm that just refuses to move much" according to WUSA chief meteorologist Topper Shutt. Moderate to heavy snow still falling here and with an "unprecedented" wind pattern.

2:18 PM Update
So many emergency response vehicles are getting stuck in the snow that authorities are now asking drivers to respond only to life-threatening situations.

2:26 PM
VDOT has put up message on light signs on interstate overpasses: "WHITEOUT CONDITIONS. DO NOT DRIVE."

The rep told WUSA that VDOT had never put up such a message before. She also said that conditions in Northern Virginia are still very bad and that she doesn't know at the moment about farther south in the state.

2:31 PM
District has announced they're going ahead and trying to get side streets plowed; they're using private contractors with small front-end loader plows, bobcats, etc. to attack and remove snows that haven't been plowed even once. That's good news.

I should add that Mayor Fenty tried to get the city back to work on Monday -- he even demanded that city workers show up on Monday morning, even though many couldn't get out of their driveways.

He also announced Sunday night that he was opening the schools on Monday morning. Parents went up in arms -- there was no kids could get to the school. The Metro buses weren't even running.

So that decision lasted for all of an hour or two. But even though he backtracked and said the kids and teachers didn't have to show up, he demanded that the administrators show up. This only clogged roads that plow crews were trying to clear ahead of the next storm. Every agency connected with handling the snow emergency has been yelling and screaming, STAY OFF THE ROADS.

But at least Fenty tried to keep the city running and not pay for additional snow days -- although he went overboard.

2:48 PM

Here's that rainy day they told us about

Okay, I really am logging off now but for continuity I'll tack on here my post from yesterday and emphasize the passage about Haiti's disaster and the Washington snow emergency. This series of historic snowstorms in the Greater Washington, DC area couldn't have come at a worse time given the severe strain on local and federal budgets. But Nature never waits for a convenient time ....

Saturday night, February 6
We got respect even from Albany, New York, which has to be one of the blizzard capitals of the USA; Greater Washington, DC's snow totals for this winter are running ahead of theirs. But it's not so much the totals -- as high as 40 inches recorded in Colesville, Maryland -- as the speed with which they accumulated during just this one snowstorm. Those 40 inches fell within a 30 hour period.

The storm that crept in on little cat feet on Friday morning roared like a lion across West Virginia, Virginia, the District of Columbia, and Maryland with such ferocity that even its 'outer bands' dumped more than two feet of snow as far north as Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

"This is a winter hurricane," announced Topper Shutt on Friday night -- Topper is chief meteorologist for CBS TV local affiliate WUSA-9 in Washington -- "And this is our storm, not New York's storm, nobody else's storm."

Actually I think the massive weather front that created the hurricane-like conditions blew in from Georgia or the Carolinas but yes, it was our very own blizzard.

And everybody here knows that some spoilsport camped out at Reagan National airport during the storm and kept blowing on the ruler so the final total for Washington, DC for the Friday-Saturday storm was only 17.8 inches Reagan National is in Alexandria, Virginia, for crying out loud.

Okay, Reagan is not much more than a stone's throw from the District but why can't we have our own official snow measuring ruler? Why why why do we have to depend on the one at National? Virtually all parts of the District got hit with about 24 inches during that 30-hour period.

Tuesday February 9, 9:30 AM Eastern Time
All fine here; thanks to readers who've inquired. We have enough groceries to last a month and if we stretch it maybe until Spring lol. So there's nothing to do now but hunker down and wait for today's storm to arrive.

Washington's quartet of winter snowstorms, and the suspension of much ordinary activity here because of them, has put me in a contemplative mood. Of course the trials and triumphs of Washingtonians due to this winter's snow emergencies in no way equal those of the Haitians dealing with the January earthquake. And yet the snowstorms reveal as much about the fragility of even the most advanced, wealthy urban societies as the earthquake did about poor and underdeveloped ones.

Haiti's earthquake took 16 seconds to strike. The snows in Washington -- and here I mean the Greater Washington, DC area, which includes parts of Virginia and Maryland -happened over a period of weeks; the potential for disaster unfolded slowly, in cumulative fashion.

The first big snowstorm -- among the top ten snows for Washington, at more 10 inches, on December 19 -- caused a great deal of inconvenience but things were quickly put to rights as city, county, and state-federal governments efficiently chewed through the storm's aftermath. The second storm, which dumped no more than a couple inches on the District, was in the nuisance category.

The next storm, the one that struck on Friday February 5 and went through Saturday afternoon -- everyone had plenty of advance warning it would be The Big One and that they should prepare to be snowbound for at least a couple days.

So while there wasn't exactly a festival atmosphere ahead if the snow's arrival, which converged with preparations for Super Bowl parties, there was sort of a Swiss Family Robinson adventure about it. Everyone knew the drill -- stand in line at the stories, stock up on enough groceries for three or four days, get batteries and candles, ice melt, and so on.

Grocery chains in the region had gone to DEFCON1 at the first mention of the storm -- double and quadruple ordering, so that the stores wouldn't be picked clean in the first hours hordes of customers descended to stock up.

All city, state, and federal agencies in any way involved in snowstorm management across Virginia, Maryland, and the District had also geared up for war. The local utilities put out calls to utility companies in other states, as they do ahead of summer hurricanes, to send as many workers as they could spare to help restore downed power lines even before the storm ended.

Washingtonians, tired of being laughed at for years in Buffalo and Albany and other regions in the USA where two feet of snow was nothing, were determined that the Big One wouldn't cripple the city so badly it would take weeks to recover.

There was more than city pride at stake: federal and state snow budgets had been pretty much decimated by the first major snowstorm this year. And while many in the region's workforce were employed by federal and city governments and agencies or big corporations that paid employees for snow days, the recession had been hard on hourly workers and those employed in small businesses that couldn't afford to pay for snow days. Washington's working stiffs had to get back to work as quickly as possible, even if Congress used the excuse of the storm to play hooky.

On Friday afternoon, the 5th, as The Big One closed in, the local meteorologists mentioned another snow a few days out, "but it'll be just a few flakes, at most a couple inches -- a nuisance snowfall."

On Sunday afternoon, when the full scope of The Big One's crippling aftermath was evident, the meteorologists were grim-faced. The "nuisance" storm on the horizon was growing, and possibly threatening to be another Big One when it arrived sometime on the 9th.

At that point Washington wasn't in the bull's eye of the storm's path, they said; the worst of the storm would be farther north and dump probably no more than 10 inches on Washington.

Noon
Now the meteorologists are reporting that the bull's eye will be north and east of Washington; the big east coast cities -- Philadelphia, New York, and Boston -- "could get clobbered" with two feet or more of snow.

The worst part of the storm will hit Washington tomorrow morning and afternoon, with high winds -- 20 to 40 mph. Snowfall for Washington is now expected to be between 8-16 inches, with blizzard conditions tomorrow afternoon.

Tuesday, February 9

Snowbound: Washington's Historic Winter Hurricanes of 2010

Saturday night, February 6
We got respect even from Albany, New York, which has to be one of the blizzard capitals of the USA; Greater Washington, DC's snow totals for this winter are running ahead of theirs. But it's not so much the totals -- as high as 40 inches recorded in Colesville, Maryland -- as the speed with which they accumulated during just this one snowstorm. Those 40 inches fell within a 30 hour period.

The storm that crept in on little cat feet on Friday morning roared like a lion across West Virginia, Virginia, the District of Columbia, and Maryland with such ferocity that even its 'outer bands' dumped more than two feet of snow as far north as Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

"This is a winter hurricane," announced Topper Shutt on Friday night -- Topper is chief meteorologist for CBS TV local affiliate WUSA-9 in Washington -- "And this is our storm, not New York's storm, nobody else's storm."

Actually I think the massive weather front that created the hurricane-like conditions blew in from Georgia or the Carolinas but yes, it was our very own blizzard.

And everybody here knows that some spoilsport camped out at Reagan National airport during the storm and kept blowing on the ruler so the final total for Washington, DC for the Friday-Saturday storm was only 17.8 inches Reagan National is in Alexandria, Virginia, for crying out loud.

Okay, Reagan is not much more than a stone's throw from the District but why can't we have our own official snow measuring ruler? Why why why do we have to depend on the one at National? Virtually all parts of the District got hit with about 24 inches during that 30-hour period.

Tuesday February 9, 9:30 AM Eastern Time
All fine here; thanks to readers who've inquired. We have enough groceries to last a month and if we stretch it maybe until Spring lol. So there's nothing to do now but hunker down and wait for today's storm to arrive.

Washington's quartet of winter snowstorms, and the suspension of much ordinary activity here because of them, has put me in a contemplative mood. Of course the trials and triumphs of Washingtonians due to this winter's snow emergencies in no way equal those of the Haitians dealing with the January earthquake. And yet the snowstorms reveal as much about the fragility of even the most advanced, wealthy urban societies as the earthquake did about poor and underdeveloped ones.

Haiti's earthquake took 16 seconds to strike. The snows in Washington -- and here I mean the Greater Washington, DC area, which includes parts of Virginia and Maryland -happened over a period of weeks; the potential for disaster unfolded slowly, in cumulative fashion.

The first big snowstorm -- among the top ten snows for Washington, at more 10 inches, on December 19 -- caused a great deal of inconvenience but things were quickly put to rights as city, county, and state-federal governments efficiently chewed through the storm's aftermath. The second storm, which dumped no more than a couple inches on the District, was in the nuisance category.

The next storm, the one that struck on Friday February 5 and went through Saturday afternoon -- everyone had plenty of advance warning it would be The Big One and that they should prepare to be snowbound for at least a couple days.

So while there wasn't exactly a festival atmosphere ahead if the snow's arrival, which converged with preparations for Super Bowl parties, there was sort of a Swiss Family Robinson adventure about it. Everyone knew the drill -- stand in line at the stories, stock up on enough groceries for three or four days, get batteries and candles, ice melt, and so on.

Grocery chains in the region had gone to DEFCON1 at the first mention of the storm -- double and quadruple ordering, so that the stores wouldn't be picked clean in the first hours hordes of customers descended to stock up.

All city, state, and federal agencies in any way involved in snowstorm management across Virginia, Maryland, and the District had also geared up for war. The local utilities put out calls to utility companies in other states, as they do ahead of summer hurricanes, to send as many workers as they could spare to help restore downed power lines even before the storm ended.

Washingtonians, tired of being laughed at for years in Buffalo and Albany and other regions in the USA where two feet of snow was nothing, were determined that the Big One wouldn't cripple the city so badly it would take weeks to recover.

There was more than city pride at stake: federal and state snow budgets had been pretty much decimated by the first major snowstorm this year. And while many in the region's workforce were employed by federal and city governments and agencies or big corporations that paid employees for snow days, the recession had been hard on hourly workers and those employed in small businesses that couldn't afford to pay for snow days. Washington's working stiffs had to get back to work as quickly as possible, even if Congress used the excuse of the storm to play hooky.

On Friday afternoon, the 5th, as The Big One closed in, the local meteorologists mentioned another snow a few days out, "but it'll be just a few flakes, at most a couple inches -- a nuisance snowfall."

On Sunday afternoon, when the full scope of The Big One's crippling aftermath was evident, the meteorologists were grim-faced. The "nuisance" storm on the horizon was growing, and possibly threatening to be another Big One when it arrived sometime on the 9th.

At that point Washington wasn't in the bull's eye of the storm's path, they said; the worst of the storm would be farther north and dump probably no more than 10 inches on Washington.

Noon
Now the meteorologists are reporting that the bull's eye will be north and east of Washington; the big east coast cities -- Philadelphia, New York, and Boston -- "could get clobbered" with two feet or more of snow.

The worst part of the storm will hit Washington tomorrow morning and afternoon, with high winds -- 20 to 40 mph. Snowfall for Washington is now expected to be between 8-16 inches, with blizzard conditions tomorrow afternoon.

Tuesday, February 2

Haiti's Crisis: Oil, Oligarchs, and The Groundhog Day Manifesto

Brenda, you guessed well. The link you sent, to Ezili Dantò/Marguerite Laurent's website and specifically her post about oil, is the one I was thinking about yesterday when I mentioned a claim that U.S. and other foreign interests were exploiting Haiti's alleged oil/natural gas reserves at the expense of Haiti's poor.

Perhaps you can see why I was reluctant to link to her post. Ms Laurent, Esq. doesn't know whether she wants to channel Hugo Chavez or the Haitian mother goddess Ezili Dantò. She's a depressingly typical American New Age Leftist and fantasist of the Afro-Luddite variety: All was well in the world when Haitians lived in hogans and bartered vegetables. Then white devils and their fungible currencies came along.

As for Ms Laurent's mile-long list of accusations against the white devils, which ranges from charges of sex tourism to ethnic cleansing, whatever nuggets of hard data she provides are scattered through the minefields of her invective.

Given her Haitian ancestry she might be suffering from a variation of Survivor's Syndrome. It can strike children of emigres from poor countries who come to resent their parents having had the good sense to decamp to a better-off nation. Tack a law degree onto that resentment and you have an extremely irritating adult, one whose romance with the history of Haiti is often patronizing of the Haitians.

The only thing I see solidly in her favor is that she's not trying to use the earthquake to push forward her agenda for Haiti. Almost everything she's published on her website was prior to the earthquake.

With that off my chest, it doesn't take a mining operation at Ms Laurent's website to intuit there was something hinky about doings in Haiti prior to the earthquake. Reportedly there were 10,000 foreign NGOs operating in that small country. That's 9,500 NGOs too many to pass for humanitarian intervention -- particularly because the intervention didn't do enough to justify its activities after last year's hurricanes.

Does the hinkiness have any connection with oil and gas in Haiti? It's up to Ms Laurent and her sources to back their accusations with more data than they've given. So while I've provided the link to her oil post to make the Black Helicopter crowd happy, I'm going to run with the Bloomberg report you sent about Haitian oil and gas because I find that informative. But first there is one set of accusations and a bit of Haitian history Ms Laurent brought up that made my ears perk. Scattered through her writings are references to Haiti's 'oligarch families:'
[...] Today's MEGA wealthy, 'subcontractor' families in Haiti, most former asylum seekers from generations back, (Arab Migration. Christian Egyptian, Lebanese, Syrian, Germans and Sephardic Jews running from religious persecutions, economic deprivations or political oppression) who found SANCTUARY, ASYLUM and a SAFE-HAVEN in Haiti, but who thank the Haitian nation and peoples' hospitality with a bloody history of hiring paramilitaries, private security/attaches and military to promote their own personal wealth; morally repugnant economic opportunist who thank the Black Haitian nation by using their skin privileges [here she rambles on about the rape of Haiti, neoliberal death projects, etc.]

They are often collectively referred to as Syro-Libano-Haitian or the "Arabs." Their children reside and are educated outside of Haiti. They carry multiple foreign passports and, according to Rudolph Henry Boulos of the right-wing Boulos family, "90% of the (Oligarch) ... class of Haiti reside in the Dominican Republic." [...]
Here I sense an opportunity for fundraising, as I look through the partial list of clan names Ms Laurent provides. You may recall I took Africa's governments to task for their very limited response to Haiti's crisis (several on my hit list have coughed up since then), and I went after Arab governments that were dragging their feet about making a donation. However, I confess that out of a sense of fairness I refrained from asking Haiti's feudal class for donations; I thought I'd give them time to clamber out of the rubble first. So. Most of them live in the Dominican Republic, eh? In the manner of Pakistani feudal lords who reside in Dubai and Mexican feudal lords who hang out in Switzerland. All right then:

Dear Mr and Ms Acra, Nadal, Coles, Baussan, Vital, Vorbes, Madsen, Mevs, Brandt, Kouri, Sada, Loukas, Boulos, and Bigio:

Is it true you stayed in the Dominican Republic rather than pony up to fix Haiti's electricity grid after the hurricanes last year? FYI the Haitians who had no choice but to tough it out in Haiti had only 8 hours a day of electricity. Since the earthquake they've been going without any electricity while what's left of the grid is patched.

I don't know what it costs to build a modern grid, one that would be adequate to serve Haiti's population. But shall we start the bidding for your collective donations at $3 billion?

With regard to the accusation that was flung around in a June 13, 2008 Nouvelliste article, which Marguerite Laurent mentions:
... in these last months, more than 40 to 50% of the imported rice that is subsidized by the Haitian State is CONSUMED in the DOMINICAN REPUBLIC?...And that even Haitian clandestinely subsidized petroleum products, cheaper Haiti oil products, are also being consumed by wealthy foreign ships passing through Haitian waters, instead of the impoverished and starving Haitians these food and gas subsidies were intended to benefit" [...]
I'm sure this is all a misunderstanding that can be easily set right, but I think what American taxpayers would want to know is whether U.S. food handouts to Haiti's government are being skimmed off and sold in the Dominican Republic.

On second thought maybe we should start the bidding at $5 billion for your generous donations to the construction of a new electricity grid.

In closing, understand this: Americans are not made of money. We're reaching our gag limit with the downtrodden of the world always having their hands out.

For decades the feudal classes of the world have been protected by the Left-Right political debates in this country, which have acted as a smokescreen for what's really going on in many countries. Frankly these debates are Eurocentric and grounded in Marxist ideas. Karl Marx was a city boy protesting the worst aspects of the industrial revolution in Europe. He had no understanding of agrarian-based feudalism in the old worlds of Asia and Africa, and its roots in ancient dynastic societies and tribal chieftain-worship; i.e., totemism.

Neither do his intellectual descendents and opponents understand. The most they get is the part about European colonialism propping up the worst aspects of ancient societies but it gets fuzzy beyond that point.

Here's how I can make things clear without tedious forays into anthropology: The American north fought a war that was partly to break up the land holdings of what was in essence a feudal class in the south. Now watch carefully, don't blink: Despite that history no American has ever accused Abraham Lincoln and William Tecumseh Sherman of being communists.

Americans are a very strange people, in case you haven't noticed. We're frighteningly comfortable with being a mass of contradictions. I myself can eat a meal of pizza, Moo Goo Gai Pan, and grits without giving it a thought. So I offer this friendly advice: Clean up your act before Americans wise up to matters Haitian; if you have to do it afterward it might have the fig-leaf term 'land reform' attached to it -- just so nobody calls us commies.

If you chortle that Americans will never wise up, I wouldn't put money on that. Are you familiar with the film "Groundhog Day?" It's about a man who's condemned to re-live the same day until he notices and corrects an error in his ways. Americans wouldn't put up for 15 minutes with living under a feudal class. But guided by that contradictory streak that so characterizes us, we've found nothing odd about U.S. policies that prop up feudal classes in a host of countries. We've done this with the vague idea that it has something to do with our national defense and warding off communism.

And yet, as the post-WW2 decades have progressed, we've asked with increasing interest, 'How is it that the more we give to the poor in other parts of the world, the more their lot worsens or stays the same?'

The sharp economic downturn in the USA has given urgency to the question because, as I noted earlier, Americans aren't made of money. Sooner or later and I predict sooner Americans are finally going to notice that if you continue giving to a government that's kept in power by a feudal class, this provides no incentive for the government to collect taxes from the class and no incentive for the society to reform.

Cordially,
Pundita

All right; I've done my Girl Scout deed for the year. I've given Ms. Laurent a little platform without making Ezili Dantò and myself look like complete idiots. I did this for Haiti's earthquake survivors, not for Ms. Laurent. I don't like it that she frequently lapses into portraying the Haitian as babies. I seriously doubt this can be blamed on a mother goddess.

For example she mentions that Haitians are "forced" to eat dirt. That's not true. The Haitians pay to eat dirt; they purchase the dirt patties from Haitian female entrepreneurs who are probably descendents of African traders that could sell anything to anyone.

Each dirt patty maker has her own recipe and makes enough profit to buy the dirt that goes into the patty. Western aid agencies have tried their damndest to talk the women into another line of baking but as of last year, when I saw a news report on the situation, the women refused to give up their lucrative business.

Anderson Cooper and other reporters who were on the ground in the hours after the earthquake remarked on the ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit of Haitian earthquake survivors who had the right to sit in the road and wail. Instead, they got busy rigging car batteries to recharge cell phones and charging for the service, and setting up kiosks in the tent camps to sell overseas phone calls.

Everyone who knows the history of Haiti's slave rebellion knows their fledgling country got a raw deal from the Dominican Republic and every country, including America, that supported the use of slave labor. Yet between then and now are many mysteries about why the society kept floundering despite the energy, ingenuity, and resourcefulness of the people. The mysteries surely have as much to do with Haitian society as with the foreign governments that have machinated in the country.

The world outside Haiti's door is today engaged in helping the Haitians but before real change can happen it will take Haitians confronting aspects of their society that have been their Achilles Heel. Until then, Haitians are caught up in their own Groundhog Day. Ms Laurent is not willing to admit that. Yet every society facing severe, entrenched problems has to go through the same process of self-examination, as Americans are doing these days about their society.

Now where was I?:
Jan. 26 (Bloomberg) -- The earthquake that killed more than 150,000 people in Haiti this month may have left clues to petroleum reservoirs [...] The Jan. 12 earthquake was on a fault line that passes near potential gas reserves, said Stephen Pierce, a geologist who worked in the region for 30 years for companies including the former Mobil Corp. The quake may have cracked rock formations along the fault, allowing gas or oil to temporarily seep toward the surface, he said yesterday in a telephone interview.

“A geologist, callous as it may seem, tracing that fault zone from Port-au-Prince to the border looking for gas and oil seeps, may find a structure that hasn’t been drilled,” said Pierce, exploration manager at Zion Oil & Gas Inc., a Dallas- based company that’s drilling in Israel.

“A discovery could significantly improve the country’s economy and stimulate further exploration.”

[...] “Haiti, from the standpoint of oil and gas exploration, is a lot less developed than the Dominican Republic,” Pierce said. “One could do a lot more work there.”
I think the rest of the report will be interesting to anyone who's looking for ways to help Haiti attract investors. And I note it stands in contradiction to accusations about a secret oil drilling program or suppression of Haitian oil finds by American interests. That Haiti has oil has been noticed since Abraham Lincoln's day but, at least according to the Bloomberg report, it hasn't been considered sufficient to inspire serious oil exploration, drilling and reclamation projects. That could change in post-earthquake Haiti.

One passage from the Bloomberg report caused me to raise an eyebrow:
Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive met yesterday in Montreal with diplomats, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to discuss redevelopment initiatives. Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said wind power may play a role in rebuilding the Caribbean nation, where forests have been denuded for lack of fuel, the Canadian Press reported.
So, are T. Boone Pickins, and the Leftists who planned to turn the Mojave desert into a wind farm until Lefty environmentalists threw a fit, now going to fob a zillion windmills he can't use onto the Haitian government, and for a steep discount price? A price to be paid with donation money earmarked for Haiti's earthquake survivors?

Just asking.

The World Bank has known for decades about ingenious, cheap, and efficient portable cooking stoves that don't need wood fuel, and which don't require turning Haiti into a laboratory for every wacko Green Energy experiment that comes down the pike.

If I remember correctly the stoves burn dried cow dung patties. Don't make a face; actually they don't smell bad at all. Kind of a pungent woodsy smell. And they are sterilized in the drying process. So I see an opportunity here, a stopgap one until a new electricity grid is built. Maybe the Haitian dirt patty-makers could learn from Indian village ladies how to make cow dung patties for fuel; i think their profit margin would be considerably greater if they sold the fuel rather than the dirt patties.

The cow dug patty-making classes could be done via internet hookup. Say, I wonder if T. Boone Pickins would like to donate to the cause?

Happy Groundhog Day, everyone.

Monday, February 1

Haiti Crisis: Making an Ark out of many ships: a proposal to temporarily berth ill earthquake survivors on cruise liners.

REMINDER: This February HBO is re-broadcasting the documentary "Terror in Mumbai," which I discussed in the December 20, 2009 Alden Pyle in Pakistan, Part 2: Once upon a time in Saigon and Mumbai. See the HBO website for the airing dates.
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On Saturday I came across two claims:

  • Haiti has significant oil and natural gas reserves and that the U.S. and other foreign governments have been machinating with regards to these, going back years, and at the expense of Haiti's poor.


  • Orphanages and schools in Haiti run by foreign charities are taking care of children of well-off Haitians while the donors in the foreign countries are under the impression they're giving money to help Haiti's poorest. I don't think the claim extends to every such facility but the person who made the claim alleges he worked in Haiti's 'aid industry' for ten years and that from his experience the rackets are widespread.


  • With regard to the latter claim, according to a CNN TV report it is true that in Haiti the term "orphan" is used in a way that's understood differently in the USA and other Western countries. In Haiti it means a child who lives in an orphanage but is not necessarily orphaned. Evidently many Haitian families put their children in orphanages run by foreigners because the children get better food, education, etc., that way.

    However, CNN made no mention of a racket and neither did the report suggest that donors were being misled, or that only children of well-off Haitian families were being served by these facilities.

    Yet of course the opportunity for abusing such a system would be there. And the system explains why the Haitian government is adamant that children who are survivors of the earthquake not be taken out of the country until it can be determined whether they have family, even if they're connected with an orphanage.

    I am not going to provide links to either claim at this time because I want to show them to a few colleagues and get their input before I start a riot. The only reason I'm mentioning the claims now is because I am sensing donor fatigue. Yet if only a fraction of the two claims are true, what can I say, except that Haiti's poor have certainly been run over from every direction you can think of.

    So despite worries that with such vast amounts of aid money being poured into the country there's bound to be theft, waste, etc., this is not the time to close the checkbook. Not with the potential for a second catastrophe bearing down on the survivors, and which will hit the poorest and weakest the hardest. That catastrophe is the rainy season on top of the earthquake and aftershocks.

    According to reports last week the rainy season will arrive in Haiti in four to six weeks (CNN) or in a couple weeks (PBS NewsHour). I assume the CNN estimate is more accurate; in any case, according to what Haiti's president said last week there are only 2,500 tents in Haiti, whereas at least 200,000 are needed. "More than exist in the world," he added

    Whether or not his figures are strictly accurate, he's in the ballpark. And even if there are that many tents for sale and they're waterproofed to take heavy rains for weeks on end, donation money has to be split between water, food, medicine, supporting the army of aid workers now on the ground in Haiti, and a thousand other critical items.

    That means aid agencies are now in a race against time before mudslides and water-borne disease threaten to escalate Haiti's present catastrophe into one of unimaginable proportions. Not to gross you out, but realize that the survivor encampments are generating virtual mountains of rotting garbage that are stacked on the outskirts of the camps, and that large amounts or human feces are deposited near those camps. Come the rains, all that stuff will start flooding into the living areas of the camps including the cooking areas.

    Haiti's large shantytown, Cité Soleil, escaped mass deaths during the earthquake because most of the homes there had tin roofs, which meant that even if the cinder block walls collapsed, people who survived the quake could clamber out of the rubble. However, big mudslides could swallow up the town's shaky structures, which are built almost on top of each other.

    As for present shelter arrangements, most Haitian survivors are living in 'tents' that are made from sheets and blankets. In recent days some Haitians have been scavenging wood and tin to make more permanent living structures but these are placed in camps that have no drainage, no running water, and no PortaPottys.

    There are a certain number (exact number not known) of Haitians in those tent camps who have homes that are still standing. But they're afraid to return to the homes because they fear the next tremblor will collapse the structure. That's a viable worry, particularly when the rainy season will further erode foundations already weakened by the earthquake and aftershocks.

    All of that is on top of other crises that have settled over the Haitian survivors. Readers who've been following the story don't need the laundry list. But just a few highlights:

  • It was not until this Saturday that a rational food distribution strategy was finally worked out by the World Food Program, with the help of the U.S. military. But the WFP is just delivering bags of rice -- no cooking oil, vegetables or high quality protein. Rice can sustain life but it's not enough to rebuild health. There are still huge logistical problems with getting food and water aid to the survivors. These have led to some near-riots that had to be dispersed with tear gas and shots fired overhead, and which meant no food was distributed.

  • The electricity grid is still down, and from a CNN television report last week it could be another month before it's up at least in part. Why is it taking so long? Because the grid was only operating at a fraction of capacity before the earthquake. That's because the country was hit by a series of devastating hurricanes last year, which took down the grid. Since it went back online it was only operating eight hours a day before the quake. That explains why gasoline was in such short supply when the quake hit. Everyone who could afford gas-powered generators -- government buildings, embassies, hospitals, hotels, etc. -- was using generators when the electricity was cut off daily to prevent the grid from crashing.

  • From a PBS NewsHour report yesterday, about 200,000 Haitians are suffering from earthquake-related injuries/illnesses. We can assume a large number of these are children. The airlifts of critically injured patients to Miami hospitals are being restarted after a five-day suspension, which happened because the hospitals were overwhelmed and caught in reimbursement red tape. The reimbursement issue has been settled but the Miami hospitals (and ones in Dominican Republic) are still filled to capacity with seriously injured Haitians.


  • And even if hospitals in other parts of the USA and the world can take in more of the seriously injured patients even a generous estimate of 50,000 hospitalizations would leave 150,000 injured and ill Haitians, many of them children, to face the rainy season while they are in bad shape. Meanwhile, cruise ships ply the Caribbean -- ships that could easily be converted into recuperation facilities.

    So I propose an emergency plan, to be in effect during Haiti's rainy season and/or until sufficient tents and sanitation measures can be deployed. The plan is to sequester cruise ships that can, within a week, reach shores or near to shores in Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cuba, other Caribbean ports, and even Miami. Then airlift ill/injured Haitians to airports near the port cities and have them board the cruise ships there, or ferry them to the ships.

    I asked RBO's Brenda J. Elliott to do preliminary research on major shipping lines that sail the Caribbean, and the number of passenger berths in each ship. She graciously put aside her own research for the project.

    I was stunned by what she turned up; one cruise liner -- the world's largest -- has 5,400 berths. And she informed me that she'd only provided a sampling of the cruise lines, and that the other ships average 2,000 berths each.

    Just among four of the largest cruise lines that sail the Caribbean, the total number of berths for 68 ships is 165,825 -- that's if you take 2,000 berths as an estimate for ships owned by those companies that are not on Brenda's list. (See below.)

    If you could get half or even a quarter of that number of Haitians on board cruise ships over the next month to six weeks, and keep them there for several weeks until aid agencies/governments were able to build safe temporary encampments for them, you might end up saving many lives.

    And while the airlift and preparations would be a massive project, it would be more do-able than the vague idea being floated by the UN of somehow relocating a million people to a mega-tent city -- if the tents can be found. Even so, there is no time before the rains to set up such an encampment, not one with toilets and a drainage system.

    Brenda pointed out that the cruise-ship plan might be trading one set of problems for another. First, the shipping lines would have to be indemnified as well as reimbursed for lost business. Yes. The companies would also have to be supplied with the food and other items the survivors would need as well as guards, monitors, and medical staff, if the cruise line didn't want to use its own staff.

    And she mentioned that the cruise ship generates its own set of communicable infections. That is a serious point. However, while I'm not the expert on this, I think most of those cruise-liner disease outbreaks amount to vomiting and or/diarrhea, and can be treated with antibiotics and other simple medical procedures.

    And I assume that the biggest breeding grounds for the bacterial outbreaks on the ships are self-serve food bars, fresh vegetables and fruit, and water sport/relaxation areas -- pools, water slides, hot tubs, etc. The water areas could be shut while the Haiti survivors are on board. And the self-serve food bars could be shut except for holding box meals. And bottled fruit and vegetable juices could be largely substituted for fresh produce.

    Also, the cruise ships could be much more liberal with disinfectants than they would for customers, who don't want their vacation smelling of Clorox. I doubt the survivors would complain on that score.

    Another point is that hospitals are notorious breeding grounds for infectious outbreaks -- life-threatening ones. At least on a cruise ship the Haitians could get out of their cabins, and get fresh air. Most importantly they could be away from the horror of Haiti's present for a few weeks.

    All that would give strength to fragile immune systems and help people, especially children, heal emotionally. And a bonus is that the big cruise ships are floating playgrounds; they have all kinds of toys, games, etc. for kids.

    Also, there is plenty of clean drinking water on board these ships so people won't be dehydrated. And of course there are toilets and showers -- and laundries, so that clothes and bedclothes stay clean. There is also privacy in the sleeping quarters and round the clock protection so the people who have lived in terrible conditions for weeks can get some decent sleep. All that would put people who are injured or ill, but not critically so, quickly on the mend.

    Another benefit of using the cruise ships is that up to this point, civilian volunteer medical, nursing, and aid workers who've been in Haiti since the quake have been going on adrenaline. They will soon start falling like flies. The volunteers are risking their health to work with people in the tent camps. And simply surviving the stress of working in the post-earthquake settings takes a huge toll because the volunteers have to keep functioning.

    So, volunteers could be berthed on the cruise ships for three days so they could get sleep, rest, eat good food and de-stress, then be rotated out to make way for another group of volunteers in need of rest.

    Brenda mentioned that alternative medicine practitioners and therapists who specialize in stress-relief techniques (e.g., massage, acupuncture, aromatherapy) treated rescue workers in New York after the 9/11 attack and in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina; the healers could visit the cruise ships to help the aid/health care workers working in Haiti and Haitian survivors. (She mentioned that Acupuncturists without Borders is requesting volunteers to go to Haiti.)

    Another reason for transforming the cruise ships into a kind of networked Ark is that this finally makes manageable the Herculean task of sorting through survivors and getting personal data on them. There has to be a lot of sorting out, particularly with regard to the orphans -- matching up those who have families and identifying the ones who don't.

    The cruise-ship plan addresses other problems, as well. The survivors who are injured or ill are a drain on the fragile health care system in Haiti. Removing the sick to ships that can function as recuperative facilities would reduce strain on the system.

    Another benefit of using the cruise ships is that it takes a little pressure off Haiti's seaport and the airport runways, as well as overland distribution. The cruise ships could be berthed near coasts of neighboring countries and supplies airdropped onto the ships, or loaded from piers that are in better shape than Haiti's main port. In this situation "a little" pressure off translates to big savings in terms of manpower, gasoline, wear and tear on trucks, etc. And it disperses distribution points, cutting down on delivery bottlenecks.

    All right, that's enough to sketch the proposal. What's needed next is for logistics specialists to tear into it. If the troops in Haiti are tied up -- what about Wal-Mart? Those people have geniuses working on the logistics of supply and distribution. Same for several giant corporations that must move around large numbers of people and goods.

    Up to this point private industry has been confined to writing out checks to help Haiti's earthquake survivors. The checkbooks need to stay open but brainpower is also desperately needed right now. I would like to see private industry get involved in a hands-on way at this critical stage.

    There are a couple questions and one final point I've saved until last. One question is deciding how to prioritize which groups among the injured and ill get onto the ships. Not to wimp out but this is getting into triage and triage is above my pay grade. However, if you could remove even 100,000 ill and injured people from Haiti's health care system for several weeks, that is thinning the forest, isn't it? In theory it would allow for more care of those left behind.

    The other question is how the cruise companies would respond. Some months ago I saw a CNBC program that looked at the business angle of cruises. The cruise companies were hurting because of the economic downturn. So getting paid by governments for a full house would be great for them.

    And I should think the great free publicity the shipping lines garnered from taking the Haitians on board would translate into more business than they knew what to do with, in the next year or two.

    Brenda's list does not include the Disney cruise ship (there might be more than one) and I don't know if they sail the Caribbean. Yet if those ships, which are set up for children, took on board Haiti's earthquake survivor children -- I think Disney would almost be willing pay to take them because the company couldn't get that much good publicity at any price.

    Finally, even in the tightest-run charities and government aid programs there is fraud, waste, price gouging by suppliers, accounting errors, etc.; it's unavoidable. This is particularly true in the early weeks of relief efforts, which are always chaotic.

    But cruise line companies are very hard nosed about waste and graft, very sensitive to price gouging for supplies they purchase. And they are set up to handle huge supply purchases. Those cruise ships are floating towns. By removing anywhere between 100,000 and 200,00 Haitians from the chaotic situation on the ground in Haiti, and putting the cruise lines in charge of ordering the supplies for their Haitian passengers, you'd stretch the aid money.

    Of course the cruise companies would bill extra for accounting services. Yet I believe it would work out cheaper. And the fun part is that it's really hard for supplies to sprout legs and walk off cruise ships.

    Below is Brenda's list. (I did not add the last cruise line to my calculations because I'm not familiar with the company.) And again, for the ships that Brenda did not name, but which are also owned by the big four, I estimated 2,000 berths per ship.

    I'm hoping that readers who think the proposal is worth exploring, and who've taken vacations on the ships Brenda lists, might call the cruise lines and suggest the proposal. And of course you could also contact your congressional representatives, the State Department, USAID, and even the White House, about the proposal.

    And I hope readers in the military/National Guard who know someone who specializes in logistics will pass along the proposal for review and comments.

    Oasis of the Seas (Largest Cruise Ship in the World) can carry 5,400 passengers
    - Explorer of the Seas can carry 3,114 passengers
    - Voyager of the Seas can carry 3,114 passengers
    - Brilliance of the Seas can carry 2,501 passengers
    - Enchantment of the Seas can carry 2,446 passengers
    - Jewel of the Seas can carry 2,501 passengers

    Carnival Cruises
    - Carnival has 23 vessels
    -- Conquest can carry 2,974 passengers
    -- Destiny can carry 2,642 passengers
    -- Dream (Superliner) can carry 3,646 passengers
    -- Ecstasy can carry 2,616 passengers
    -- Splendor can carry 3,006 passengers
    -- Valor can carry 2,974 passengers

    Norwegian Cruise Line
    . owns 11 vessels
    - Norwegian Gem can carry 2,394 passengers
    - Norwegian Jewel can carry ? [figure 2,000 average]
    - Norwegian Dawn can carry ? [figure 2,000 average ]
    - Norwegian Epic can carry 4,200 passengers
    - Norwegian Pride of America can carry 2,156 passengers
    - Norwegian Sky can carry 2,400 passengers
    - Norwegian Sun can carry 2,400 passengers

    Celebrity Cruises
    .owns 12 vessels
    - Eclipse can carry 2,850 passengers
    - Solstice can carry 2,850 passengers
    - Summit can carry 2,046 passengers
    - Mercury can carry 2,200 passengers
    - Constellation can carry 3,450 passengers

    Azamara Club Cruises
    - Journey can carry 694 passengers
    - Quest can carry 694 passengers

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