Wednesday, October 24, 2007

You Have Reached The National Guard. We Aren't Home Right Now.

Heard about our fires?

22 wildfires, some of which have joined together, have burnt up 434,543 acres of Southern California, with San Diego County taking the worst of it. 950,000 people have been evacuated from their homes and it is thanks to some really heroic emergency response teams that a lot of them are returning to their homes. Nearly 1,500 homes have been lost, however, and 25,000 structures remain under threat. (These numbers were all quoted by the Governor of California earlier today.) It is being referred to without controversy as the worst national disaster since Hurricane Katrina.

Your friendly correspondent is in no danger, and suffering nothing more than stinging eyes and a foul disposition from the lousy, smokey air that has filled the Los Angeles basin.
That does not mean, however, that I feel particularly safe.

According to Senator Boxer, 50% of the California National Guard's equipment is in Iraq. According to Senator Kitt Bond, a Republican, the National Guard was underfunded even before they got sent to fight a foreign war; with half of that underfunded National Guard occuping a foreign country, these United States have been left with severe challenges responding to disasters at home.
Furthermore, Senator Boxer has produced a letter from the Pentagon confirming that we've got a problem. She wrote to the Secretary of Defense on May 24, expressing concern about National Guard equipment shortages and its ability to respond to domestic emergencies.

Acting Army Secretary Peter Geren wrote back to her on July 13 confirming the fears. The National Guard, in his judgment could respond to "small and medium domestic missions" but "equipment shortages could potentially limit their capability to respond to large-scale emergencies such as a catastrophic earthquake or major flood."

Even more unconscionably, because this issue HAS to be brought up as a matter of sound public policy and public safety, it has immediately been made into partisan meat by the unscrupulous or the just-plain-stupid, who throw up their hands and write headlines like, "Media Blame Another Natural Disaster On Bush."

Again, as with Hurricane Katrina, my feelings about my country are tested. One of the basic functions of our union, one of the basic reasons to maintain such a beast in the first place, is to muster resources to help one another in the event of a major disaster.
We praise the first-responders for doing what they can with inadequate resources. We refuse to invest what we need to invest to give fire departments and medical agencies what they need to respond to large disasters. We have plenty of money to invade and occupy foreign countries that have not attacked us. When some officials attempt to tell the truth about the status of the state National Guard, which has been commandeered by the fed for inappropriate missions, they are lambasted for it by people who should know better. And our other Senator, a supporter of the war (in action if not always in words), said nothing about the National Guard equipment when she assessed California's response to the fires.

Voters, too, are to blame in this - go to the polls and read those ballot measures, folks, because a lot of them have to do with issuing bonds to upgrade and expand emergency assets.

Tomorrow, the King will visit California along with our Governor. Arnold, please, bring yourself up to your full height, look Caesar in the eye, and say in your coldest Terminator voice:

"George. You borrowed our equipment. We need it back."
UPDATE ON THURSDAY AFTERNOON: It should be pointed out, however, that Senator Boxer also praised the Governator's response to the fire, noting especially his rapid deployment of NG resources away from a border mission and back to coping with the fire storms and evacuations.
It remains, however, unnecessary and sad that we must praise our Governors and emergency agencies for heroically making do with insufficient resources. Clearly, we have plenty of money to spend on the things that are most important to us. Now let us have some frank conversations about what is important to us.

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