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Tuesday, October 30

Sandy the Perfect Storm and America's antiquated form of government

We dodged the bullet in Washington, DC although the flooding is expected to get worse here over the next couple days. Next to what happened in New York City, Sandy let Washington off easy.

High tide came in with a full moon during the height of the storm's strike on New York City.  So as one weatherperson said, the sun, moon and gravitational pull all aligned to bring in a historically high tide during the worst of Sandy's onslaught on New York.  No one was prepared, or could have been prepared, for the consequences, which are running in so many directions that the Washington  Post weather blog I link to above termed it "ridiculous."

The New York Times interactive blog on the storm is overwhelming to read. Accompanying photos also help to bring home the variety and severity of the disasters that struck New York during the storm.   Yet while New York is the biggest urban victim of Sandy the radius of the storm, which is still traveling -- and meeting with snow fronts -- is mind-blowing.  It's even extended as far as Chicago.  So in terms of the number of American lives disrupted in a short period by a natural disaster, I don't think there's a precedent for this in U.S. history.

The most unsettling part is that this historic superstorm could happen all over again in a year or so. This point was brought home by a meteorologist who spoke with two anchors at Fox News, which tends to be on the skeptical side of the global warming issue.  He said that he'd been tracking weather for more than 20 years and that the pattern in the last few years was that the big storms were getting more frequent and getting worse.

So he wasn't saying this was global warming. He was just saying 'This is what's happening.'

The harbinger was Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Since then there has been one natural disaster after another (including the swine flu outbreak) in the USA.   Taken together the disasters expose how many American cities have been riding on the fumes of luck.

At last count 14 state governments including the District of Columbia declared an official emergency to deal with Sandy's aftermath so they could get federal assistance. But as the meteorologist's observation underscores, it's gotten to be one emergency after another.

When states of emergency become the norm, that's a sign America's system for dealing with natural disasters is inadequate.

The State's response to its shortfalls is to ask for more money so it can expand departments and add more employees. But this is an outdated approach given the sheer number and frequency of emergencies.

New York City's first responders were overwhelmed by Sandy because our society has to a great extent walled off its government employees from the rest of the citizens. This meant excluding many able-bodied New Yorkers who with a little advance preparation could have helped the responders deal with the storm.

The walling off between the State and civilians is an outgrowth of a bureaucratic style of governing that's rooted in monarchism, which can work in a genuine democracy only when it doesn't meet severe tests and new challenges.  So let's all put on our powdered wigs and dance a minuet, as our answer to the challenges of this era.

I think a lot of Americans already have an intuitive understanding of what I'm saying.  Recently a news anchor mentioned in passing a survey that found some 60 percent of voters thought the federal government was too big.  Those surveyed included Democrats as well as Independents and Republicans. 

If the survey is accurate, that means a solid majority of Americans know what century this is.  It's just that the only alternative offered to big government is more capitalism, and more reliance on the business sector.  That doesn't sit right with a lot of people.

They should be leery. The company that irresponsibly left an unsecured crane on a high-rise under construction in New York ahead of Sandy's approach is a good illustration of the limitations of the business and finance sectors when it comes to fixing government. The perfect metaphor is the thing dangling above 57th Street like the Sword of Damocles in hurricane-force gusts.

In the American democracy the government is supposed to be the people.  When the people are only allowed to participate in their governing by voting and writing checks to support bureaucracies, that's not democracy and it's not even representative democracy. That's a system of patronage. 

Hello, it's the 21st century in these united states of America.  Time to upgrade our way of governing ourselves.

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