A week to remember

Tomorrow morning, congress will be back at work, with a dozen working days to knock off a list of tasks that would be daunting even without an infantile, grievance-besotted, Russia-crazed president throwing sand in the works, and even if its own managers didn’t have a Freedom Caucus of know-nothing ideologues hanging on its ankles, and even if Trump hadn’t just tossed it the anvil of immigration reform.  Wow.

But that’s not all; this month only (but continuing for weeks and months of political hassle), you also get Harvey recovery, and wait, if you order now, and also if you don’t, you get two or even three additional exciting climate/weather events !  “Disturbance 1” is chugging west from near Cabo Verde at 10 mph with (at this writing) an 80% chance of getting organized within five days; “Disturbance 2” is brewing up exactly where Harvey started as a little baby orange X in the southern Gulf.

Irma is shaping up to be a very interesting event, as it is now drawing a bead on the east coast of Florida, likely to sail over warm water south of the Bahamas, turn right, and run north along the coast as a 3 or a 4. Of course these projections have a wide error band, but for now, let us reflect on what Neil Frank, the former director of the National Hurricane Center spent his career warning us of about just this storm.

(1) Evacuation routes in this region mostly run north and south; roads going inland (and you have to go a ways inland to be ahead of the storm surge) are basically narrow streets that peter out quickly among the alligators.  If the storm is following the shore north from about Miami, driving along the coast is not going to help you much.

(2) Almost no-one living on this coast has ever experienced a major hurricane and has no idea what to expect. Since the last one, there’s been significant sea level rise, increased paved area, land subsidence, and lot more people. There is no real high ground in  south Florida. Whole streets in Miami flood now just from a high tide.

(3) From Boca Raton south is a miles-long row of high-rise condominium towers lined up along the beach like dominoes, many taller than the space between them.  They are built on sand under (i) Florida building codes and (ii) Florida local government administration. The former are not as insouciant and optimistic as the rules that put Houston under water last week, but close; the latter is not as corrupt as Louisiana’s, but, um…my father had an expression “as crooked as a dog’s hind leg” …

Frank used to predict that the storm surge will wash the sand out from under some or many of these buildings and they will tip over, perhaps into the condo tower next door. If evacuation doesn’t work, there will still be people in them.

(The governor overseeing this mess will be the deeply odious, reactionary, willfully ignorant, climate denier Rick Scott, who’s idea of Christian charity is drug tests for welfare recipients, and of responsive government is allowing Floridians to be sure their children don’t learn anything they don’t know, like evolution.)

Irma is due (according to current model runs) about next weekend; the other two, too early to tell. Oh yeah, Russiagate continues to slowly fulminate, and North Korea…oy.

The writer Saki, back at the beginning of the last century, said “the Balkans create more history than can be consumed locally.” I think current times create more news than society, or anyone in it, has the bandwidth to cope with. Or that the remaining adults in government can react to usefully.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

3 thoughts on “A week to remember”

  1. Oh, and just to make you feel better, if Congress does in fact pass legislation appropriating billions of dollars for disaster relief in the next few weeks, there's a not-insignificant chance that those checks will bounce.

  2. All true, but maybe there is a tiny bright spot in that Trump himself, or someone with influence on him, just might be realizing that the Freedom caucus really is destructive, and that it is best to work around them as much as possible.

    The plain common sense idea of eliminating the debt ceiling is encouraging.

    We'll see.

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