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September 06, 2005

Katrina: The Global Response
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Everyone from rural Delta folks to our fellow bloggers have been asking where the foreign help is.  Yes, other countries -- and the UN -- have responded to Katrina, in some cases rather rapidly. 

It just doesn't seem to make the news.

The US has gotten offers of help from more than 20 countries -- admittedly, Cuba's offer of doctors and Venezuela's offer of cheap fuel and relief workers have something of the political about them.  And W. promptly insisted that we'd step up and handle it ourselves, which sounds great in theory.

Nadezhda started a list of responses from foreign governments last week.  She also expresses the hope that Bush will correct the mis-impression that foreigners aren't helping.  Of course he won't.  That would undermine the idea that we're out there by ourselves and can't trust international cooperation.  So we ought to keep the lists updated and zipping around the blogosphere.

Herewith, the inauguration of an occasional feature to list and document how generous some other societies are being -- some of them our oldest friends and others countries with precious little to spare themselves.  I'm only including countries where I have evidence that a specific amount is being provided, not just pledged.  Links are provided as best I can, and readers are encouraged to add to the list.

Afghanistan -- $100,000 (with a per capita GNP one-fiftieth of ours, this is symbolic but still astonishing)

Likewise Sri Lanka, one of the countries hardest-hit by last year's tsunami, pledged $25,000 to the American Red Cross.

Australia -- already donated $7.7 million to the American Red Cross and sent emergency specialists to see what else could be of use.

Japan -- donated $200,000 to the American Red Cross and pledged $300,000 of supplies.

Singapore sent four Chinook helicopters for relief operations.

Kuwait is donating $500 million of oil and relief supplies, per Brian Ulrich.

NATO allies responded rapidly to a specific list of US requests:

Germany has sent 40,000 ready-to-eat meals and is sending another 30,000.

The UK is sending half-a-million ration packs.

France, according to the Financial Times, has requisitioned 300 tents as well as other gear from the Antilles.  (I'm making a vow not to comment on any of these, even though some seem to be crying out for it.)

Luxembourg and Romania came through with blankets and beds and medical teams, respectively.

Canada, according to the blog centerfield, has offered to help and so far is being assessed by our Department of Health and Human Services for what it might do.

The Dutch deployed a naval frigate that had been in the Caribbean.

And those hated international organizations?

The US has accepted the UN's offer of help (gee, who knew) and allowed UN assessment teams in to start figuring out what prepackaged UN supplies, housing, etc could come in handy.  Just watch out for those black helicopters.

The International Energy Agency offered 60 million barrels of crude oil or gasoline to help us over the current shortages.

Soon, when I don't owe the rest of the evening to my in-laws, I'll run some comparisons to help us think about how this aid stacks up to the quantity of aid we dispense elsewhere.  And I'll again solicit reader help in keeping this list going and accurate.


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All these foreign donations are swell; as is the tremendous outpouring of generosity by Americans who are giving money, food and other goods to just about anyone who is willing to collect these items, or claim they are collecting them.

But what we really need right now is is for we the people to step up as citizens, not mere individuals, and tax ourselves more, with the burden falling heaviest on those with the most to spare. We are a rich country and can easily afford it. The relief of Katrina's victims and the reconstruction of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast will be a massive, expensive and logistically complex undertaking. It's not a job for your local Rotary or church choir, any more than fighting a war is. It's a job for the feds.

Surely one of the lessons of this disaster is that we have allowed our national government to grow dangerously weak, inefficient, underfunded and disorganized - particularly in an area that is clearly one where a strong federal role is most needed: the funding, organization and administration of costly and complex projects of vital national interest that cross many state borders - projects that include disaster response.

If we were faced with the prospect of fighting a war against a powerful and dangerous enemy, would we fight it by taking up local collections to buy ammo, sending small local militias to the front with the intention of making themselves useful in some way, donating cans of food to those militias through the Salvation Army, holding bake sales, supplying Humvees and helmets by paying an extra buck at Walmart or the local pizzaria? Of course not! That would be a ridiculously disorganized and inefficient way of running a war. It is no different in the current situation.

One hears that new taxes would damage and depress the economy in the wake of this disaster. And no doubt the Republicans will be calling for yet new tax cuts to stimulate the economy and ward of recession - their answer to every economic challenge is another tax cut. But this is bunk. Americans are already giving piles of money away to charities. They are not investing that money; they are transfering it to non-profit organizations that will then spend it in ways that stimulate the economy. A Katrina tax will do exactly the same thing. But the difference is that the government, despite its all-too-obvious flaws, is likely in the long run to spend that money more intelligently, efficiently and productively than the totality of private companies and civic organizations many of whome are heading off in their own directions, and will waste money on redundancies and mismanagement, and even fraud in many cases, and also pay higher prices for their purchases because they cannot command the low prices that are routinely given to large buyers.

We are all being seduced once again by the spirit of Republican voluntarism, privatization and anti-government reaction. We must end the absurd and counterproductive hatred of government that has paralyzed our national life and crippled our ability to execute large national projects. We are a self-governing people, and our government is supposed to be us. In a democratic society, uniform hatred of government is a kind of slavish self-loathing. Why is it that people think donating money to a charitable relief organization for Katrina relief and reconstruction is the height of virtue, but that giving money to the one organization that is best equipped to administer this massive project - the federal government - is an odious burden? If you really want to do the most good, rather than do what feels most good, then write or call your congressional representatives and tell them you are willing to perform your civic obligation by contributing to the national treasury, and not just your moral obligation as a private individual by contributing to private charities. Tell them we've had enough of telethons, enough of penny jars at store counters, enough of little platoons of faith-based helpers, and we are ready to do something big, organized and serious.

I am embarrassed to take donations from countries that are much poorer than we are, and am in no mood to celebrate, or grow warm and misty, as they chip in to foot the bill for our own reckless habit of undertaxing ourselves, and failing to meet our national obligations for self-government. If we were destitute and needed the money, that would be one thing. But we are the richest country in the world.

Dan, you're talking about rebuilding New Orleans.

Is there any reason to think that will happen? When the budget is so far in the red already, wouldn't it make more sense to allocate some money for it, particularly for studies to decide what to do, and then shift most of the money over to something more important, and leave it to the Democrats to figure out how to deal with it if they ever get into office?


I don't believe any Republican has ever passed or even proposed any legislation that prevents you from sending extra money to the I.R.S. as a "donation".

Speaking for myself, I don't "hate" government -- I just don't think that it needs to do absolutely everything for us, or that there's anything wrong with private citizens, corporations or charities occasionally also lending a hand.

And that's really all we're talking about here -- the vast majority of the rescue work and aid and reconstruction is being funded by and will continue to be funded by our Federal tax dollars, exactly as you demand that it should be.

Total up the numbers -- U.S. private charitable contributions related to Katrina have topped $500,000,000 so far. Foreign governments have contributed perhaps half again or twice that much. Those numbers sound huge until you compare them to the initial outlay of $10,000,000,000 by the Federal government, just as an immediate reaction. All of these numbers will rise, of course, in the coming weeks and months (some estimates on the rebuilding of New Orleans approach the $100 billion level) -- but it will continue to be the case that the vast majority of the rescue, relief and reconstruction funding will come from U.S. taxpayers -- exactly as it should.

Do we need those foreign donations? No, of course not. But when you're lying in the hospital recovering from an unexpected illness, having enough money to cover what your insurance won't, the slew of get well cards, flowers and balloons that you receive shouldn't make you feel ashamed -- even if some of the flowers are quite expensive, or if some come with well-intentioned recommendations of homeopathic remedies.

When people see something bad happening, their best impulse is to offer to help, even if only by letting you know they care. Spurning those offers is neither virtuous, nor a good way to make friends, it's just arrogant.


Would you care to make a wager on whether we'll have begun the actual reconstruction of New Orleans before President Bush leaves office?

(Dennis Hastert's rapid retreat last week should have made this clear.)

My prediction: next year's Mardi Gras will be the largest in New Orleans history.

Clint, I'm certain that the reconstruction of iraq//// New Orleans will have "begun" before Bush leaves office.

They can pass a bill, and set aside some money, and spend a little bit on studies, and hire a construction crew to dig up enough stuff to get a stable platform, and then lay foundations and such for the TV cameras to watch. Everybody who isn't there will think that reconstruction has "begun". And that can be it until Bush leaves office.

And they can demand that New Orleans be 100% depopulated before the reconstruction starts, and keep out the residents until Bush is out of office, and I suppose we could get a sense of how fast the reconstruction is progressing by looking at satellite photos.

So it isn't enough to bet whether reconstruction "begins". The more important thing will be whether there is significant reconstruction.

But then, the big companies that do so much work with the ports will have to reconstruct their stuff, and they'll need places for their employees to live and shop. How many people is that? A lot of the ones that don't actually need a presence in NOLA might leave, but the ones connected to the port need to be there. And they'll need things like sewers, so somebody will have to clean out the ones they need. So we can expect a small rebuilding even if the government doesn't spend any money on it, and the governments will surely spend some to make those companies happy.

So what I'm interested in is reconstruction that lets people come back to NOLA who aren't just the big corporate employees or the support people for them.


You seem to answer yourself.

Like every other city, the N.O. area will very soon again house the employees of the oil refineries (which are rapidly coming back on line) and the port facilities (which will be a major priority, for obvious reasons) and the massive construction crews. Almost immediately, these people and their families will have demands for both public sector (police, fire, schools, DMV etc) work and private sector (grocery stores, movie theaters, malls, barber shops, dry cleaners...) work -- and voila, you've got a city just like any other.

Will "reconstruction" be "complete" in three years? I doubt the city of New Orleans will have finalized plans for the memorial they'll construct by then. (witness N.Y. and the 'freedom tower') But the population of New Orleans will be nearly back to its previous size long before then, and all of the now-submerged city blocks will be pumped out and cleaned in time for Mardi Gras in six months.

Clint, suppose that it takes a year to get the NOLA sewer system working again. It might take that long or longer, or maybe they can get it going pretty quick -- supposing they can put enough money into it. If it takes a long time, won't the oil refineries and the port just build their own little company towns for their employees?

And they can get company police, and possibly a private school for employees who want to have their children near the refineries, and this and that. Maybe get a few little independent private businesses near the company towns.

Why would that bring back NOLA faster?

So anyway, it's going to take a whole lot of work to get the sewer system in shape because a lot of it will be full of mud and sand. Expensive. And who's going to pay for that? Not NOLA, NOLA is no longer a going concern. LA doesn't have much money. That leaves the federal government.

They'll have to bring in construction workers and put them in mobile homes or something, and give them porta-potties that they can dum in the ocean or wherever. Federal workers. Will they give them very high pay for a hardship post? The guys who worked on the Alaska pipeline didn't depend on theaters, malls and dry cleaners. They could pay high prices for booze and broads or they could save their money and think about how much they could buy later.

Or will they pay minimum wage, or sub-minimum wage? Bring in third-world workers for the grunge work and then ship them out again afterward?

Neither approach gives you a population back. And either one can run on whatever schedule the contractors choose. The contractors the federal government hires. It's a giant job, probably nobody is qualified to bid on it but Halliburton. Mmmm. Very expensive to do right, the whole place is a toxic waste dump, slow and expensive to clean it up without endangering the workers. Yes, that project could take years and years and years. And they can't let anybody back in until it's essentially complete.

I don't know which way it will go but it isn't implausible it will take a very long time.

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