Mitt Romney's disaster response is a joke, right?

By Scott Weinstein
October 30, 2012

Mitt Romney collecting food at a storm relief effort in Kettering, Ohio for victims of "Sandy". 
Photo: Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

Mitt Romney's response to Tropical Storm Sandy was to collect some soup cans and packaged food for the victims. He said it was “the American way”.

$20 billion plus in damages, millions without power, massive flooding, and Mitt Romney’s message is to cut federal emergency disaster relief and stage a photo op today in front of a table of Kraft Pasta Salad.

“We’re going to box these things up in just a minute and put them on some trucks, and then we’re going to send them into, I think it’s New Jersey. There’s a site we’ve identified where we can take these goods and distribute them to people who need them"; Romney was quoted in the New York Times.

Romney's belief in disaster-capitalism, where soup cans and our tax dollars go to private relief corporations to rescue victims and rebuild cities, is to put it charitably "hallucinatory".

I've been to two major disasters: Hurricane Katrina killed over one thousand people and flooded 26 miles of cities and towns, and the 2010 Haitian earthquake that killed 200,000 people and half destroyed their capital. Major disasters require the immense resources of nations, whereby food and material donations are measured by the tons and dollars by the tens of millions. State, national governments and great international agencies have to coordinate rescue and relief response.

After the Haitian earthquake hit, I was fortunate to be collaborating with a wonderful doctor, James Cobey, who got a call while I was in his office from a friend in the US State Department asking what medical supplies they should send. Within minutes, the US State Department had our list. When I was in Haiti, I saw some of the millions of dollars in medical aid being used that we suggested to the State Department.

I am not criticizing
individual volunteers and relief workers who are needed. Often, street medics have the flexibility and bravado to start health care relief where bureaucracies fear to tread. Individuals collecting funds are needed - to stock up for the next disaster.

Let's be clear, the massive quantity of major disaster relief must arrive quickly from stockpiled supplies and financial reserves that can only be met by national governments and international relief agencies.

Ideally, disaster donations and relief should also help rebuild the devastated economy, and hire people newly unemployed. That is where we can really show our solidarity with the victims, beyond giving them food, shelter and medical charity.

Mitt Romney is no regular Joe wanting to help out. Running for the President, he advocated cutting the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA's) funding and also ending FEMA as a federal department. He says individual states and private corporations should run disaster relief.

This is the privatizing agenda Republicans cling to - cut government services and transfer tax dollars to private corporations to provide those services. It is not only greedy, but also a recipe for, well, disaster.

Imagine a state pummeled by a major disaster, phone lines down, no electricity, roads washed out, and a weakened government whose workforce has previously been slashed to lower their deficit. Now they have to rebuild their emergency management system out of nothing. In disasters, you don’t want to be a dollar short and a day late.

Or the same state could contract their disaster response to private corporations. How efficient is private disaster relief? 
Following Hurricane Katrina, Vice President Cheney’s former Halliburton Co subsidy Kellogg Brown and Root snapped up the multi-million dollar no-bid contract to place blue tarps on hurricane-damaged roofs. The final sub contractors generally got 10% of the $2,000 contract per roof, often using Hispanic immigrants without any medical insurance.

Romney is sending a cynical message days before the election about helping each other out. His American way is take from those in need to enrich the private contractor class.

- Scott Weinstein is a street medic who has helped organize medical relief in two disasters: New Orleans and Port au Prince, Haiti. He received a plaque from Homeland Security for helping provide health care to first responders and New Orleans residents following Hurricane Katrina, and then went on to assist anarchists and local residents establish the Common Ground Health Clinic with boxes of medicine provided by FEMA.

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