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Natural disasters and national cataclysm

By James Hall
web posted June 17, 2002

Droughts, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanoes and wildfires are just some of the examples that Mother Nature uses to put balance back into the earthly environment. Most people consider these natural catastrophes conditions to fear. Others respond with an outpouring of help and generous assistance. Government aid and support are marshaled to meet the challenge. And future plans are designed to reduce the risk for future disasters.

But nature always has her way. Man may well be able to defuse lesser conditions that influence and induce floods and wildfires, but who would be so bold as to claim that humanity has the ability to alter the normal patterns of the natural order?

Well, don't be dismayed. Maybe we can't do much to tame the weather, but we sure are capable of altering the natural landscape of politics.

Most Americans are generous and accept that coming to the assistance of their fellow citizens is a noble practice. Government involvement during a crisis is not just acceptable by has become expected. In theory, all seems well with this rationale. Even CINDI - Center for Integration of Natural Disaster Information, part of the U.S. Department of Interior, provides valuable advice.

However, with the creation and evolution of FEMA, we have entered into a control zone that has very little to do with piling sandbags at the banks of an angry river. It is well known that FEMA's role has been expanded over many administrations through Executive Orders. But did you know that the President has already declared a national emergency? In the aftermath of 911 emergency powers have been triggered and are directed under the National Security Council, while FEMA manages the implementation. Now up to this point, we have not seen the exercise of these drastic measures. Nonetheless, this should not give any of us comfort! Public psychology may require additional and more severe "situations" before the full unleashing of a draconian state of emergency, will be accepted.

Accepted? Sad to say, what would stop the public from not only embracing the imposing security, but heartily demanding it? The short answer is nothing. Before you dismiss this peril as unfounded alarm, why is it necessary to establish such a trail of executive orders that run inextricably contrary to Constitutional restraints? We are all familiar with the powers of a declared marshal law, which has always been available in a true national emergency. So what is the overwhelming need to empower an agency that is ready to function outside any clear, compelling and present danger? By now the overkill of the basic hazard of domestic terror has depleted the rational capacities of the public. Just like the predictions from NOAA's National Weather Service, we only get projections of the track of the storm. We receive warnings to leave low-lying areas, stock up on essential provisions and fill the car with gas. When the typhoon hits, no doubt there will be damage, but that is why we buy insurance. Only the fool rebuilds without it and the more prudent leaves the area of continual risk. The country is never destroyed by even the worst natural disaster, nor should we fear that terror could do what nature cannot.

The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, did change America in a profound way. It advanced the expansion of the federal government and set precedents for further involvement. But those changes, while gradual, amplified the role of federal responsibility, never threatened the internal fabric of the nation. We cannot say the same about the 'battle to maintain the state of terror'. The most reviled president of the last century, FDR took full advantage of the insecurity of his era. You remember the entire context of his most famous quote?

"This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself-nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." - FDR's First Inaugural Address

Well, this is the first time that the great destroyer of America spoke the truth! Yes, we have overreacted as a country to the threat from overseas enemies. Make no mistake about it, America does have adversaries bent on our destruction. The course of erosion in our basic principles is more dangerous than the force of the muddy waters of that "Old Man River". Are we intelligent enough, as a 'People', to temper emotions and search the depths of our collective consciousness to see through the same ploy that Roosevelt used to thrust our country into the camp of Socialism?

FEMA is just one glaring example of what is in play. America has never been at risk from occupation or rule from foreign forces or regimes. The underlying serpent emerges from the swamps as the floodwaters spread over the land. The accompanying disease and sickness that follows is as certain as the next cycle of natural disasters. We are unable to halt those patterns, but why are we so unwilling to confront and face despots, while we have the ability to effect meaningful change?

Many may conclude that Bush will be benign in his stewardship, but the uninterrupted current of this raging river in government regimentation, goes rushing on . . . The loss of America is not inevitable, as is the dynamism of nature. Its corrosive decay is the result of those who fear the wrong foes. It is time to grow up and become a responsible citizen. The excuse for running with the pack of those bruised overbearing flag wavers is over. The terror we all should fear is home grown.

James Hall, AKA Sartre, is the driving force behind Breaking all the Rules, a collection of his essays.

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