China's market turmoil reverberates worldwide. More than 100 people die this week in Europe's ongoing migrant crisis. And the new U.S. envoy for Syria pushes for a political solution to the civil war. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
President Obama is expected in New Jersey today to meet with Governor Chris Christie and view the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy. New Jersey and New York were hit particularly hard by the storm. Along the East Coast, at least 50 people lost their lives. And millions are still without power. The economic cost has been estimated at between $30 billion and $50 billion. The hurricane placed election campaigning on the back burner as President Obama canceled appearances and Governor Romney altered his event schedule. Diane and her guests discuss the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and how the natural disaster might affect the 2012 election.
- Jackie Calmes national correspondent for The New York Times.
- Ed O'Keefe congressional and political reporter for The Washington Post; he spent recent years also covering FEMA.
- Beth Reinhard reporter for National Journal.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Residents of more than a half dozen states on the East Coast are dealing with damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. With the presidential election just a week away, there are questions about how the historic storm might affect the outcome. Joining me in the studio to talk about the aftermath of the storm and the election ahead: Beth Reinhard of National Journal, Ed O'Keefe of The Washington Post, and Jackie Calmes of The New York Times.
MS. DIANE REHMYou are always a part of the program. I want to hear from you this morning. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning, everybody.
MS. JACKIE CALMESGood morning, Diane.
MR. ED O'KEEFEGood morning.
MS. BETH REINHARDGood morning.
REHMEd O'Keefe, let me start with you. Give us the latest assessment.
O'KEEFEEstimates at this point are that there could be more than $50 billion in damage which would make this one of the most expensive and devastating storms in U.S. history, dozens dead. The death toll continues to climb, especially in the New York and New Jersey area. I think one of the more dramatic moments of the day certainly will be when the president tours the damage with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
O'KEEFEBut millions still without power across New York, New Jersey, several other states. And just, you know, in the early hours of today, the storm finally moved in to Canada and out of the United States. So certainly, the cleanup continues.
REHMAnd the cleanup, as Ed says, could cost billions. But economists, Beth, believe the storm is not going to hurt the U.S. economically. How come?
REINHARDRight. Apparently, the economists' thinking is that it's, you know, a short-term setback that will, you know, even itself out as communities sort of rebuild and dig out from the damage.
REHMAnd, Jackie, New Jersey Gov. Christie has been singing President Obama's praises in the past day-and-a-half. Is that goodwill likely to continue?
CALMESI think it will and, you know, to the consternation of some of the Republicans in Boston at Romney headquarters. But, you know, this is sort of a win-win for Gov. Christie. He's -- part of the reason he's so popular in New Jersey is because he's seen as sort of just an independent, say what's on his mind person, even though he's, at the same time, very much a partisan Republican.
CALMESBut, you know, he's governing a state that is considered a blue Democratic state. There seems to be no question that it's going to -- its electoral votes will go to President Obama. So it works for him and his state to be seen as somebody who doesn't -- isn't playing politics with the disaster.
REHMHow would you characterize, Ed, the job that the president has done so far?
O'KEEFEWell, he's done exactly what he's done throughout a series of natural disasters that have hit over the course of his administration. He, you know, orders his agencies to stand up and prepare in advance. He takes advantage of reforms that were put in place after Hurricane Katrina which encourage governors to make early disaster requests so that FEMA personnel and other agencies can get there to the emergency operation centers and be in the room with these governors as they start to make decisions and then quickly relay that information back to Washington.
O'KEEFEYou know, conventional wisdom suggests that everything he's done so far politically makes sense, that he canceled his campaign appearances, that he's off the campaign trail again today. He'll have to feel his way, I think, through the rest of this certainly because if things suddenly make -- take a turn for worse in New York or if there's word that things are being delayed for whatever reason in New Jersey, then certainly, I think he could face some criticism.
O'KEEFEBut he was out there yesterday, saying very clearly, if you're a mayor or a governor who's having issues getting stuff from the federal government, you call me at the White House and let me know, and I suspect that he'll hold on to that vow.
REHMAnd he had a conference call, I gather, with 20 mayors, governors on what they are seeing and how they're seeing it. But, Jackie, this subway system in New York sounds absolutely devastating.
CALMESOh, yeah. I mean, they closed the subways very early on as the, you know, storm was still far from New York, so there was some anticipation. But truly, I don't think many people really expected the damage would be this great. It just was, you know, as the meteorologists were saying, this just perfect storm where you had high tides bringing in the storm surges, you know, with these two storms colliding with each other, and it just was as bad as it could have gotten.
REHMAnd does anyone know how the fire in Queens began?
O'KEEFEAt this point, I think that it was sort of that classic flooding led by either a gas main break or a natural gas leak of some kind. I mean, we've seen these situations in hurricanes before down South where, you know, the last thing you think is going to happen is a fire, and certainly, a fire then goes and destroys a flood-ravaged area. So I think that's just consistent with what happened in Queens.
REHMJust absolutely incredible. Since the hurricane hit, reporters have asked Gov. Romney a number of times if he would eliminate FEMA if he were elected president. How's he responded, Beth?
REINHARDHe didn't respond at all. His campaign did put out a statement saying that he supports the states being in charge of disaster relief, but he also made it clear in that statement that he would not eliminate FEMA. And really, that's not so different from the way it works today. You know, FEMA exists mostly to send the states the money and supplies that they need.
REINHARDSo there's really not much of a policy change. I think it was more of a tonal thing with Romney, stressing the state control, which is, you know, that's a Republican principle that, you know, the state should control more things than the federal government.
REHMBut do I understand correctly that Gov. Romney has put out a statement previously that he would reduce funding for FEMA by some 40 percent whereas President Obama has said he would reduce spending across the board and his amount for FEMA would be 3 percent? Jackie.
CALMESI'm not sure about those exact percentages. But the most -- the clearest statement of Gov. Romney on FEMA was in the Republican primaries where, in a debate hosted by CNN, he said that he would -- you know, he -- FEMA was an example. He was talking about this -- the -- generally speaking about returning as many functions as possible from the federal government to the states. And when John King of CNN asked him about -- specifically about disaster aid and FEMA, he said yes, and that the states were better-equipped to do a lot of those things. And they've since qualified that.
CALMESBut again, you mention a 40 percent cut. These are the sorts of things -- FEMA funding, disaster aid is part of this grand pot of money known as discretionary spending, money that's appropriated every year that -- by Congress and is not part of the entitlement programs, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. Those programs are in for huge cuts if indeed across-the-board cuts take place.
O'KEEFEBut one critical thing to remember, especially as we enter the discussions about the fiscal cliff and how do we reverse these automatic budget cuts, the disaster relief fund, which is sort of billions of dollars sitting there to aid the states and cities that affected by natural disasters, has been exempt from the Budget Control Act or those cuts that have to go into effect currently. Keeping that separate along with some military spending and a few other programs is designed to allow that system to keep working and not have to go back to Congress on a regular basis to ask for more money.
REHMHelp me to understand. Could this cleanup take place without FEMA? Ed.
O'KEEFEThat's the sort of $3 billion question or perhaps $50 billion question, depending on how much this all costs. In conversations I've had with emergency management folks who either study this or are carrying it out on a regular basis, they point out -- and I think we've discussed this even on this program in the last two years -- that as the states and cities have suffered under the sort of fiscal mess that the country faces, the first things that they often have to cut are mitigation or prevention programs that are designed to sort of make sure that things like this don't happen.
O'KEEFEWell, if the cities and states are cutting back, then, of course, they have the obligation to turn to the federal government. And the argument that the emergency managers I've spoken with is is, how can you ask the states to pick this up if they can't pay for most things right now anyway? The federal government has to be there to do this. That's -- one of its basic constitutional responsibilities is to help when needed.
REHMSo how do we assess whether, in fact, cleanup could take place without a FEMA?
O'KEEFEAs far as I know -- again, in talking to these people, they say they know of no serious academic study or attempt to figure out what it would look like. But certainly, if you would remove the federal coffers and leave it to a state like New York which has suffered or New Jersey which has had big shortfalls, one wonders whether they would afford to be able to do it.
CALMESWell, let's just look at the politics of this to see, you know, how much, you know, gauge, how much the public demands that there be something. If there weren't a FEMA, you'd have to create it. I've covered three presidents. President Clinton had a very aggressive FEMA. The President Clinton recognized that when it comes time for disasters -- when there are disasters, people want to have the government.
CALMESAnd that -- and the federal government is best equipped to answer that. He had a FEMA director, Jamie Lee Witt, who was very popular with state disaster chieftains, and he -- you know, there were lots -- I went on, you know, post-tornado, post-hurricane tours with President Clinton, and they were very , very attentive to this. And then you have the Bush administration, which is famous for Katrina. He put in -- Jamie Lee Witt and the current FEMA director, Mr. Fugate, are both disaster professionals who came up from the states.
CALMESThe -- Michael Brown "Brownie" to President Bush during Katrina was not a disaster aid professional, and you see, you know, what happened. I mean, I'm not going to get into the particulars of all these, but it is something the public wants to have. FEMA is seen as a -- has come to be seen as one of the functions of the federal government and something that can help in the states 'cause so many of these disasters, as we've seen, do not honor state borders.
REHMJackie Calmes, national correspondent for The New York Times, Ed O'Keefe, congressional and political reporter for The Washington Post -- he spent recent years covering FEMA -- and Beth Reinhard, reporter for National Journal. We'll take a short break here. More when we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about the aftermath of Sandy, the extraordinary cleanup which could cost as much $50 billion. So far, dozens of people have died in the flooding. The storm just devastated the East Coast. Now, there are a number of people raising the question, which I think each of you could be in a position to answer: How much of the aid currently going and the attention currently going to the East Coast states hit by Sandy is election related, Jackie?
CALMESI'd say zero, period. You know, this is -- I've seen this for decades of when there's a disaster. I mean, all summer long, there's been disaster aid for farmers in the red rural states. There have been, you know, this just -- the color of the state does not matter when it comes to disaster aid. Republican governors and Democratic governors are just as quick, and mayors, too, to ask for federal disaster declaration.
CALMESAnd in recent years, theses declarations have been coming before the disaster even hits in many cases, which it wasn't true in the past. You know, it's not like President Obama wants to be spending his days before the election in blue states that he was sure to get, like New Jersey and New York. At the same time, you know, he gets to look presidential, which is a good thing. So, you know, I just think it's bound to happen when we're days before an election that people are going to look at the politics of this. But I think, you know, it's very -- you know, it's very little about politics.
O'KEEFEAnyone who is concerned about this should call Bobby Jindal in Louisiana, Haley Barbour, the former governor of Mississippi, Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, the governors in Tennessee, the mayor of Nashville, who dealt with a horrific flood a few years ago. And ask them, how was the Obama administration in an odd and even year -- odd-numbered year? And they'll tell you they were fantastic. They were quick. They took the recommendations of people that spoke out after Hurricane Katrina, and they made it happen.
O'KEEFEThis is a president who, four years ago, was campaigning on fixing this specific issue in order to ensure that every state, no matter its color on a political map, was doing well. But I tell you, like you mentioned earlier, I've spent time covering this, and every time you call a Republican governor, you think you might get a little pushback, and they've had nothing but effusive praise for this administration, for Craig Fugate, for the president.
REHMAnd here is someone calling from Durham, N.C. Reid says that there are hurricanes regularly in North Carolina, and FEMA takes forever to arrive. "Why was it so quick to respond this time? Is it because of the election or because it happened up north?" Beth.
REINHARDI don't think we can assign, you know, geographic favoritism in these kind of situations. You know, Ed mentioned Craig Fugate's reputation as the head of FEMA. He made his name in Florida under Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, who, you know, sings his praises. You know, Jeb Bush, by the way, kind of set the benchmark for talking about hurricane politics, like, how to be above politics, how to look like you're in charge without looking like you're in the way and maintaining that, you know, professionalism. I almost wonder if either of the campaigns consulted with the former governor of Florida yesterday.
REHMYou know, it's interesting. It seems to me political lines do get erased, certainly blurred, but perhaps even erased in times of need and disaster. Here's a tweet, saying, "I wonder how many New Jersey and New York Tea Party folks are hollering for government help now that their homes are literally underwater." And I don't think it's just Tea Party folks.
REHMI think it's anyone who is need of help is certainly looking to FEMA. There has also been some concern expressed about the Election Day and whether, because of so many systems being affected, including transportation, would that, could that affect the election? Beth.
REINHARDI think we -- you know, it's a possibility that we may see some pretty big hiccups in states like New York and New Jersey.
REHMWhat kind of hiccups?
REINHARDWell, you know, this is really the crunch time for those election officials. You know, every day is spent, you know, working very long hours preparing for Election Day. I mean, as one political science professor I talked to compared it to -- it's almost like you're having this massive party at your house, and you're expecting all these guests.
REINHARDAnd you are preparing up until the very last second so that your guests have a, you know, seamless experience. And, you know, if you get sick or you can't get to work or the electricity goes out and you lose time that you would be spending preparing, then, you know, that's less preparation.
O'KEEFEI would say that, you know, we've seen reports out of New York, the city, at least, that the State Board of Elections is talking to local officials, and that if they need to move some voting locations, they'll move them. But that could be like moving it from, you know, East -- 4th Avenue to, you know, East 3rd or something like that, just simply because, you know, one street is flooded, the other one isn't. And remember, you know, in the last 12 years, New York has had some experience with this. They had to postpone primaries on Sept. 11, 2001.
O'KEEFEThey had to hold them later in the year because of the terrorist attacks. They were scheduled the same day. So the state and the city have some precedent in moving things around because of disasters. Where, I think, you might have more questions and perhaps more challenges is in a state, for example, like Pennsylvania. You've got a lot of damage up through North Central Pennsylvania, some concerns in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The governor extended absentee ballot applications through Thursday, but the deadline to send them back is still Friday.
O'KEEFESo, you know, in a crunch in certain areas, you might perhaps see some legal challenges saying that perhaps the governor didn't provide enough of a window for people who were affected to either apply or send back their absentee ballots. And it should be noted in checking with the Postal Service, they have made it very clear that they're doing everything they can to move things around, and they don't expect any significant delays in getting mailed ballots either to the voter or back to Boards of Elections.
REHMFascinating. I had thought because the government was shut down here in Washington that there would not be any mail coming on Tuesday -- Monday or Tuesday. But indeed there was, Jackie.
CALMESI was shocked.
REHMSo was I.
CALMESSo were my neighbors. And I -- you know, it gave new meaning to the old slogan about through rain, sleet and...
O'KEEFENeither sleet nor snow, yeah.
REHMExactly. Beth, you've said that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush set a high bar for hurricane politics whereas his brother President George W. Bush set the bar low. What do you mean by that?
REINHARDWell, I think Jeb Bush really polished his reputation in Florida as a strong governor partly because of the way he responded to hurricanes, and he had quite a few of them. And like I said, you need to be in charge but not in the way. I mean voters don't want to see a governor whose entourage is getting in the way of emergency vehicles or who is, you know, mugging for the cameras in a way that's clear they're trying to score political points and not, you know, really about public safety.
REINHARDAnd it's -- there's a fine line there, and Gov. Bush walked that line. Obviously, his brother -- his legacy will be forever tarnished by, you know, the incompetent response to Hurricane Katrina. And this is -- these natural disasters are real test of leadership, and that's why President Obama and Mitt Romney have to be on their very best behavior. I mean, you ask this, is the response any different because the election is a few days away? I don't know if the response is different, but you can bet that the administration is on its toes knowing that the election is just a few days away.
REHMAnd, Jackie, President Obama has canceled appearances now for the third day. How could or how might that affect the outcome of the election?
CALMESWell, it's really hard to say. But in this case, President Obama had a surrogate who was, you know, as some people put, the next best thing. He was scheduled to campaign in a few places with former President Bill Clinton. Once the storm was approaching and it was clear how devastating it might be, President Obama started canceling his appearances. And it was President Bill Clinton, in some cases with Vice President Biden, who stepped in, and not only stepped in, but added a number of states to his -- he's going to be campaigning through, you know, through the Election Day pretty much.
CALMESAnd, you know, when it comes to drawing a crowd and, you know, getting out the message, you know, some would argue that he's -- that Bill Clinton is better than Barack Obama. So that helps. And, again, you know, what is going to be on the TV screens and cable every day? It would be pictures of the president being the president.
REINHARDI was going to say that, you know, people are watching TV today, whether it's because they need to know what's happening in their community or because they want to know what's happening in other communities. And you can bet there'll be a lot more pictures of President Obama with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie surveying the damage than there will be of Mitt Romney campaigning in Florida with former Gov. Jeb Bush, which is a must-win state for him.
REHMAt the same time, Gov. Romney did cancel some events. He's been on kind of a relief support campaign. Ed, tell us about that.
O'KEEFEThat's right. And the reporters who travel with him noted that though yesterday's event -- and I think it was Dayton, Ohio -- was designed to encourage supporters to bring along supplies and donations, they said it still had the trappings of a campaign event. There was still Romney paraphernalia. People showed up in T-shirts that said: Fire Obama.
O'KEEFEThe biographical video that ran during the convention of Romney was airing while people were dropping off supplies and Romney was collecting them. And the music that plays before and after he appears onstage was also playing in the gymnasium where they were. That said, he only gave a very brief address. It was focused primarily on thanking people and encouraging people to donate. But, you know...
REHMTo the Red Cross.
O'KEEFERight. And, you know, you're kind of darned if you do and darned if you don't. Do you hold an overtly political event and take the criticism? Or do you not and try to make it about the storm and then perhaps coming through some criticism as he did from the Ohio Democratic Party that said he shouldn't have held that event?
O'KEEFEIt was the Ohio Democratic Party chairman who told us at The Post. He said, you know, this is a guy who could cut a $10 million check to the American Red Cross and go spend the day with his family. But, instead, he decided to hold this event and sort of score some political points in the process.
REINHARDWell, you know, things do not occur in a vacuum one week before the election. The fact that Gov. Romney held this event in Ohio, a state that is crucial to him winning, is something that we have to note. At the same time, I think he's doing, you know, the best he can under the circumstances. Unlike the president, he doesn't have sort of a natural platform here. He doesn't have mayors and governors to call and brief, and he doesn't get to go to New Jersey today to survey the damage.
REINHARDSo I think they did the best they could in trying to strip the event of some overtly -- you know, removing campaign signs, having the Red Cross number there, him giving those brief remarks. The fact that he wouldn't answer questions about FEMA, I think, just shows what a mine field these hurricane politics are.
REHMBeth Reinhard, reporter for the National Journal. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850, to Winston-Salem, N.C. Good morning, William. You're on the air.
WILLIAMGood morning. Good morning. I just have this comment. When you were speaking about the money set aside for FEMA by the federal government, could that money, in light of the fact that Katrina was a disaster and the federal government's involvement was at least questionable with trailers setting -- sitting for years and finally sold at a great loss after not being used and other things in -- of that nature, couldn't that money from FEMA be distributed to the states where they could use it more effectively, less bureaucracy to be involved and thus be -- do a better job with their money on their own turf?
O'KEEFEWell, yeah, you could do that, but then you step into the mine field of how much does each state get, and how are they supposed to use it? And does the federal government get to keep tabs on how that money is spent? Is the state absolutely obligated to spend it on either disaster prevention or disaster response? This is why, at least from a realistic -- well, maybe not realistic, but from a sitting-here-in-Washington-and-looking-at-it perspective, you can understand why it would be difficult to sort this out and somehow find a way to give this money to the states.
O'KEEFEAnd, you know, the number of -- or the amount of money needed changes every year based on the disasters that occur. There's a formula that they follow and that -- and wants to say that the amount of money given to, for example, North Carolina one year would be enough the following year if something more tragic were to happen.
REHMTo Tuscaloosa, Ala. Good morning, Dustin.
DUSTINGood morning. How are y'all today?
REHMI'm fine. Thanks.
DUSTINI was just -- I work for the city of Tuscaloosa, and, you know, everyone knows we've had the tornadoes come through. And speaking on the political side of President Obama showing up in New Jersey and everything, I was working in the destruction area, and, you know, he was here. And this is one of the reddest states in the union.
DUSTINYou know, it doesn't get much redder, unfortunately, but, you know, he was here. FEMA was awesome. We went through, and Tuscaloosa is coming back very quickly because of it. I didn't really have a question. I just wanted to point it out. You know, everyone is saying that he's trying to mug for the camera and whatnot, at least here.
REHMThanks for calling, Dustin.
O'KEEFEWell, and I was in Tuscaloosa right after those tornadoes, and he's right. I mean, FEMA was there. And one of the elements of FEMA that was on display are these -- they're called community liaisons, which is essentially a troop of civilians who live all across the country who are activated only when something like this happens. And their job is to go walk the streets to talk to people to make sure that they have applied for assistance.
REHMAre they activated through FEMA?
O'KEEFEAnd they're paid through FEMA. And essentially when they're activated, they're told, you're on call 24 hours a day for about 30 days. And they will go, and they will spend 30 days in a place they don't know. They will sleep very little, and they will spend most of their time essentially serving as liaisons, helping affected families.
REHMHow is that different from private contractors, Ed?
O'KEEFEIt's different because these folks only work on an as-needed basis, and they do receive compensation from the federal government, but they're only used as needed. And they're specifically designed to know sort of -- they can look at a situation -- let's say it's a destroyed, flattened home there in Tuscaloosa -- and say, well, if this has happened, here is what you can apply for.
O'KEEFEHere is the number you should call. Make sure that you get the different identification numbers that you need. Make sure that you have your insurance information ready. And if you have any problems, you know, call me or come to our location. We're set up at the school down the street.
REHMAnd you saw that happen.
O'KEEFEI walked the streets with them, and they did it. And they were -- they said, we will be here for as long as necessary, and it's, you know, people who are retired schoolteachers or it's guys who are in their 20s who, you know, maybe are college students who are willing to go out and do this.
REHMEd O'Keefe of The Washington Post. And we'll take a short break here. When we come back, we'll go to Blacksburg, Va., Houston, Texas, Atlanta, Ga., Gainesville, Fla. They all know storms well.
REHMAnd we've had several emails along this line. This one says, "Romney also said the best course would be to privatize disaster response. Would that mean our tax dollars would be paid to private companies to handle it? So in his ideal scenario, part of our tax dollars would go to the profits of the disaster response companies?"
O'KEEFEThere's been talk of that. There were people out there who would gladly, you know, create a business model that would support that, but I think as we were suggesting during the break, you know, where would the accountability go and would disaster victims really be comfortable with a private company profiting off of their despair?
REINHARDExactly, I mean, the areas where you've seen a lot of privatization like running prisons, you know, when there are problems there, you're talking about prisoners. If there are problems with disaster relief, we're talking about storm victims. And so I think anytime you're introducing a profit motive where the company -- it's in the company's interest to do it as cheaply as possible, there are a lot of risks.
REHMAll right. One of our emailers apparently thinks that we, the four of us, are trying to sway voters. Michael says, "Is it your intent to sway voters away from Gov. Romney by connecting his objection to FEMA whose existence encourages speculative development in uninsurable areas with Storm Sandy? In fairness, you should explain the downside of FEMA." Ed.
O'KEEFEWell, there is that, and then there -- and certainly FEMA has come in for a lot of criticism of its handling of flood insurance and also in the months and years after disaster and sort following up and making sure that the communities who ask for their money are still getting it. They've also, in these early days, faced questions about potential fraud. In the past, there were big concerns about how FEMA was distributing aid, especially to individuals whose properties were destroyed during Katrina.
O'KEEFEThere were great examples along the Gulf Coast, those people who perhaps own the home in Louisiana and also owned a home in Texas and both were destroyed by both hurricanes that hit within a year. And there were questions there about, should they be applying twice? And, in fact, really they shouldn't have been, but then it's, you know, does FEMA go and take money back from people that they accidentally gave it to?
O'KEEFEIt's a bit of a minefield, and it becomes a really big headache for them. Congress and the White House have worked together to try to eliminate some of this fraud, and Craig Fugate has said in the last few days that they will certainly be focused on preventing fraud, but he doesn't want to do it in a way that would over burden people who are obviously dealing with a lot of other situations right now.
REHMAll right. To Blacksburg, Va. Hi there, Douglas.
DOUGLASThanks, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
DOUGLASAs a person who's lived through FEMA experience, my sister's home in Richmond, Va., 2004, it was taken by hurricane, tropical storms. In 2006, after we rebuilt the house with no assistance, it happened again. In 2006, I paid attention. I was aware of what was happening in the streets, and the emergency responders were from Montana, a company called Bridgewater Construction. And the -- in order to rebuild the sewer pipe that had collapsed, the draft environmental assessment prepared by FEMA was conducted by an engineering firm in Anchorage, Alaska.
DOUGLASWhat this did to the community was it prevented anyone on the local level from having, one, access to the documentation and, two, the ability to affect local controls on how things changed in the future. My personal opinion is this is a control mechanism. And if we've got the funding through the federal government, they should be giving it to the states, and FEMA should be set up as a bank account manager, not a disaster manager for local communities.
REHMThat's certainly a possibility, Ed.
O'KEEFEYeah, and that argument has been made before, and there have been examples of that.
O'KEEFESo, yeah, I think he's right, and it just behooves those that represent them in Washington to make sure that those things don't happen.
REHMTo Houston, Texas. Hi, Bill.
BILLGood morning, folks.
BILLWe've been through two hurricanes down here on the Gulf Coast. The most recent one was '08's Ike. And there's no way that we would feel comfortable having FEMA's capabilities in the private sector. And I want to say that I've heard president -- not president -- candidate Romney say that the private sector is better able to deal with emergency situations. We don't think so. The last thing we want is somebody coming in here with a potential to take us to the cleaner zone -- just little things. I'd rather have somebody that we can find again when something goes wrong.
REHMThat's your point, Jackie, about how democracy operates, that there is some accountability.
CALMESExactly. And you saw, I mean, one of the -- it was one of the many factors, but the response to Katrina was a factor in the 2006 midterm elections where Republicans lost control of Congress. It was -- you know, so like in a lot of midterm elections, voters take out their unhappiness with the sitting president on that president's members -- members of the president's party in Congress, and we saw that happen.
CALMESNow, there were other factors, too, but that was certainly a big one. So, you know, that's -- something like, you know, disaster aid is both something that most people just do not want to see, you know, a profit motive injected into it, and, if something goes wrong, they want to be able to take out their complaints. And no better place to do that than the ballot box.
REHMJackie, let me ask about the New York Stock Exchange, which closed Monday and Tuesday. What are the consequences?
CALMESWell, I think there won't be great consequences. We see in stock markets, you know, it's very much an in the moment thing. Stocks are up one day, down another. The market opened today, and when I came in here to the studio, it was up slightly. Beth mentioned that most people don't think the economic cost of this will be, while they'll be huge in terms of the impact on the economy, it won't be huge in the long run.
CALMESAnd, you know, it's like a lot of things in economics, you know? Even when something bad, it has a silver lining. It's just like it seems in economics, there's nothing that's just -- almost nothing that's just all bad and no good. And in this case, to the extent that you're rebuilding, you're giving people jobs, and you're creating a demand for supplies. And it, you know -- and it adds to growth.
O'KEEFEAnd it's happened -- as unfortunate as it is, you don't want this ever to happen anywhere. But it happened in a region that is economically strong for the most part. I mean, certainly the New York tri-state area has suffered during the recession but not nearly as poorly as some other parts. If this had happened in certain parts of the Midwest or in the South, you'd have big questions about whether companies could reopen.
O'KEEFEBut being that it is a financial sector, that it has a transportation infrastructure that now is just nearly going to need some cleanup and updating, you know, it's a region that can sustain this kind of a hit and still move on, you know, relatively smoothly, though, of course, billions of dollars in damage and the deaths of dozens, you know, are obviously important and notable.
REHMTo Rochester, N.H. Good morning, Glenn.
GLENNYes, good morning.
GLENNYeah, hi. I was wondering if, due to the size of the disaster and everybody without power and all of that, if the elections could be pushed back maybe a week, maybe two weeks to allow them to get the infrastructure back up and running?
REINHARDI'm very skeptical that would happen. The elections are run by the states. It's not a decision that can be made by the federal government. And, you know, I think Ed addressed what they're dealing within New York. They may have to move polling places. I think that it'll be logistically a challenge, but I would be very surprised if there are any delays.
O'KEEFEThe beauty or the headache of our voting system in this country is there's 50 states, and then there's thousands of jurisdictions underneath them. And anyone curious about this needs to go read the state constitutions to figure out whether each of these states would do something.
REHMTo Gainesville, Fla. Good morning, Pegeen.
PEGEENGood morning, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
PEGEENI wanted to just share quickly, Craig Fugate is someone I have known for more than 20 years because he started out with the Alachua County Emergency Management System. And I worked for the county as a hazardous materials manager. He went on to be Gov. Bush's emergency manager, then Gov. Chris, both Republican. And now, he's with the Obama administration obviously. But I'm a very deep Democrat, obviously a supporter of the president.
PEGEENFormer mayor of Gainesville, I served 12 years in political office. I would guess myself -- I mean, I have no idea what Craig Fugate's political affiliation is because he is completely nonpartisan. He is one of the most excellent professionals I ever worked with in every capacity I worked with him. And I know that his intent is simply to both prevent disasters and address disasters when they happen. So I believe it's completely nonpartisan. It certainly was under the Bush administration here in Florida. He was an excellent governor in that regard, and Craig was his right hand on that.
PEGEENSo what I do want to say is that it is partisan, however, with regard to how we prevent these disasters to the extent we can -- or not prevent a disaster, obviously, but prevent a disastrous response to the disasters by having resilient communities that have strong police and fire response, that have robust infrastructure, that have good flooding prevention and storm water management systems and so on.
PEGEENAnd, unfortunately, we have, you know, sort of a philosophy now that emanates from the Tea Party and others that we should starve government, starve local government, starve state government. And 70 percent of Gainesville's budget, while I was mayor, was police, fire and public work.
REHMPegeen, thanks for your call. Beth.
REINHARDI was just going to say the other issue that has become very partisan is climate change. And, you know, there are scientists who say that, because of climate change, we're in for a lot more extreme weather and storms like this and...
REHMThat is not a happy thought.
REINHARDIt's not a happy thought. And so if this is what we can come to expect as the new normal, some of these very extreme storms, you know, partisan affiliation does come into play.
REHMBut do you think that thinking about climate change could be changed because of this storm, Ed?
O'KEEFEWell, you've seen the governors and the mayors in the New York area already suggested that, you know, gosh, we had this last year with Hurricane Irene. We're having it again. And Gov. Cuomo told one of the networks last night, we seem to having a 100-year flood every two years. And if this is going to be happening more often up here, we really need to start thinking about not only climate change but how do we protect ourselves infrastructurally up here if this is going to happen again.
REHMInteresting. All right. To Chepachet, R.I. Hi there, John.
JOHNHello. Good morning.
JOHNYeah. I just wanted to raise the point that it seems like it's a lot of the same Tea Party people. And people are always, like, saying, like, against the insurance mandate for health insurance are the same ones that are always calling, you know, to get rid of FEMA. And so, I mean, the principle is we all put in and contribute, so, God forbid, something happens to one of us, you know, you're not wiped out. I mean, it's the real reason to have insurance, you know. And then as soon as they need it, they want help. But it's, like, (unintelligible) had to pay for it.
REHMAll right. I'm afraid you're breaking up on us, John. I get the point. People don't understand the necessity of prevention. And then when they need it, they need it right away. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To the Twin Cities in Minnesota. Good morning, John.
JOHNGood morning. Yeah, I used to be a responder for a local company that we had out of Lino Lakes, Minn. I've been to a lot of different disasters. And, unfortunately, the concept of having the states pay for all this because people are cringing at the amount of money FEMA spends on these disasters, we can't guarantee which state's going to have the disasters. I've been to major fires in Idaho, Montana, was to the fire and tornado recovery in Wisconsin in 2001.
JOHNMy company sent a crew up to 9/11. And basically what my boss did was ripped off millions of dollars through FEMA, and he gets out of prison 2015 for over 51 counts of fraud. Well, what was really sad is the 350 of us employees that did our job out of our heart -- and I love doing emergency services work -- we all lost our jobs. And right now I'm driving an (word?) truck just to put bread on the table.
JOHNAnd I would love to be up in New York using the skills that I've been blessed with. But, you know, this concept that we can voucher everything, you know, it sounds good, but we need to slow down and really pay attention to this mechanism that's in place. I'm right now going to a load in North Carolina after doing a delivery out of Macon, Ga. And I watched one of the FEMA teams in the government trucks heading up I-95.
JOHNThese management teams are developed due to forest fires and are very specialized to come in and assist the state. And I've been to disasters. We've had the National Guard, which, surprising, I'm a former member of the National Guard. I just transferred back to the Army Reserves. And I got to see how all the different mechanisms work in a place. And, you know...
REHMSure. Sure. Well, John, I really want to thank you for calling in this morning, reporting on your own experience, which clearly has been very broad. Ed, do you have any comment?
O'KEEFEI just think if you're looking for examples of what could happen if things were privatized, that's certainly a good one. I mean, and you could look at, you know, contracting fraud during wars and all sorts of other government entities that have been outsourced or contracted.
REHMAll right. Now, one last question, should the rebuilding go sour, then what happens? Jackie.
CALMESWell, I think the rebuilding, it's going to be very balkanized. So it won't be like you can just, like, some -- everything will go wrong, and you can blame. I mean, they'll be -- and a lot of this will be locally -- you know, Mayor Bloomberg in New York will be on the hook for, you know, just how well New York proceeds, but it'll be patchwork. And, you know, FEMA's involvement will be ongoing, but it will be sort of, as an umbrella, available to the local authorities. But the actual rebuilding will be very much a local event.
O'KEEFEIt'll have to be bipartisan. I mean, most of New Jersey's congressional delegation is Democratic. Most of New York's, most of Connecticut's and Pennsylvania's is Democratic. You have a Republican-led House, a Democratic-led Senate right now. Who knows who will be president? Keep one thing in perspective. New York area lawmakers fought for almost 9 1/2 years to get a bill passed in Congress that would provide better health benefits to first responders after Sept. 11.
O'KEEFEIt took 9 1/2 years. Who knows how long it might take to get all the aid that they need up there after this.
REHMAnd here's a final email from Lindy in Fort Worth, Texas, who says, "Even before Mr. Obama became president, America knew our infrastructure funding was being ignored and put on the backburner. He has urged and voiced the need for infrastructure buildup many times." We'll see what happens after this disaster. Thank you all so much. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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