Sandy and the Government

It's been easy to see the connection between Sandy and our feelings about the role of government when we listen to Congressional arguments about disaster relief for Sandy victims. It's harder, but more important, to understand what happened to state and city government. 


The Washington response has been dominated by efforts to squeeze the Sandy relief bills into an ideological pigeonhole. Those who view government as an enemy or undesirable actor have criticized the legislation supported by Obama and a sort-of bi-partisan majority in the Senate. Some of the criticism needs to be taken seriously, at least that part that tries to distinguish between relief for victims, and investments in prevention of future disasters. We certainly ought to do both, but it's not inherently unreasonable to distinguish between an emergency appropriation and a change in national policy. I believe both should be in the bill, but it does no harm to respond thoughtfully when thoughtful questions are asked, no matter who asks them.

Other criticism is silly and unfair, especially when the bill is criticized as containing "pork." You can question the wisdom or affordability of $9 billion to plan for prevention of the worst consequences of storms, but it's not "pork." That kind of rhetoric is Washington at its worst.

The state/city question is important and has gone unexamined. It turns out that there is a state law that requires both NYC and NYS to consider and act on plans to prevent storm damage. Neither did so. This isn't just an academic failure. One visible consequence of inaction was the flooding of the MTA's car and subway tunnels as well as the PATH tunnels to Jersey, with hundreds of millions of damage ensuing. Yet one block away, Goldman Sacks of all people knew enough to sandbag its huge headquarters building on the Hudson to a height of 16 feet.  GS suffered no real damage. Trains and cars were dealing with the tunnel problems for weeks.

The failure to meet the legal requirement to prevent damage shouldn't be treated as a secret. If we're going to avoid the worst of the next storm, both Cuomo and Bloomberg should 'fess up and get going on the kinds of plans and decisions the law call for. 

Government has to step forward as we face the consequences of climate change. And things need to start moving in Washington, Albany and City Hall faster than they've been moving so far.