Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

1-24 Taking Advantage of Disasters


SANTA FE � Using the tsunami disaster to one�s advantage has become a popular sport among many these days.
Some environmentalists call it a �weather related event,� making it appear to have been caused by global warming. Religious leaders call it an act of God. Supporters and detractors of the United States are trying to maneuver it to their political advantage. And people such as I use it to point out human frailties and inconsistencies.
We won�t spend time here addressing the obvious opportunists, who are trying to make a quick buck off the tragedy. Let�s look at the propagandists wanting to further their beliefs.
The environmentalists have a point, but many are vastly overstating it. The undersea earthquake and resulting tsunamis were not caused by anything we did to our environment. They were the result of plate tectonics that were moving continents around eons before humans arrived to populate the beaches of the world.
Environmentalists do have a point, however, that coral reefs, sand dunes and mangrove forests, cleared away to build harbors, hotels and shrimp farms could have slowed down the killer waves in many cases.
Various religions have tried to explain the disaster as God punishing the bad and sparing the good. Others have said he is testing us. But scientists tell us the disparities were caused by the direction in which the plates rubbed against each other, sending the most brutal waves to the east and west.
Religions must learn to deal with the fact that bad things sometimes happen to good people and good things sometimes happen to bad people � and that we all have a certain amount of good and bad in us. But our culture still is a ways away from that acknowledgement when insurance companies still call natural disasters an act of God.
Our nation�s detractors had a field day when our president didn�t publicly acknowledge the disaster for several days and then low-balled our pledge to the recovery effort. We now are on track to handle it as we should, doing what is necessary and saying we will address the costs later.
But the world is watching anyway. We can�t spend too much time pointing out how generous and compassionate a nation we are, without out detractors charging that we are only trying to improve our image with the world.
We can only hope a rational assessment of the situation will include notice that United Nations Secretary General Kofi Anan was equally slow to speak out about the disaster and that oil-rich Arab nations, some of which make donations to families of suicide bombers, have donated very little to help the plight of the mostly Muslim nations affected.
President Bush�s touch was masterful in appointing his father and former President Clinton to head our nation�s private fund raising effort. Clinton has been especially supportive of the president in this effort and in support of his post-9/11 and Iraq policies.
Part of that may be to protect the presidency and part may be to rehabilitate his own image. It�s nice to see Clinton doing the right thing, even if he, also, is taking advantage of the situation. Some have also wondered about the president�s brother, Jeb, being sent to assess the South Asia situation.
He�d had experience with hurricane relief in Florida, but it also was a nice start at giving him some international experience for an expected 2008 presidential candidacy. Since this is such a family affair, maybe Clinton should request a role for Hillary.
Even some in the scientific community appear to be taking advantage of the number of natural disasters occurring in the world by making doomsday predictions of their own based on worst-case scenarios that seem quite improbable.
It may be that many are ready to hear such things. I have some very intelligent friends who are worried. But remember when we hear reports that the weather is the most extreme it has been in 80 years, that means it was even worse 80 years ago � and we survived.


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