Thursday, September 21, 2017

Forced to Escalate

 VS
 
“The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea… Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself.”
Donald Trump addressing the UN General Assembly on September 19th
"There is a saying that goes: 'Even when dogs bark, the parade goes on'…. If [Trump] was thinking about surprising us with the sound of a barking dog then he is clearly dreaming."
North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho to reporters after hearing Trump’s speech.
Mr. Trump is "mentally deranged" and his comments "the most ferocious declaration of a war in history… [I will deploy] “the highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history [against the US. Trump’s] remarks ... have convinced me, rather than frightening or stopping me, that the path I chose is correct and that it is the one I have to follow to the last… As a man representing the DPRK and on behalf of the dignity and honor of my state and people and on my own, I will make the man holding the prerogative of the supreme command in the U.S. pay dearly for his speech.”     
Kim Jong-Un, in a statement carried by the North's official KCNA news agency September 21st.

The North Korean delegation to the United Nations General Assembly was “fortuitously” seated in the front row as President Trump delivered is speech on September 19th. As Trump uttered the above words, there was an audible gasp from many seated delegates; the North Koreans just shrugged it off. A dare? An invitation for a direct confrontation? Baiting North Korea to escalate its “tests”? Following the speech, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders sought to soften the notion that Trump's remarks were a break from past U.S. policy, tweeting: “Presidents have always been clear to deter threats: ‘We could, obviously, destroy North Korea with our arsenals’ -@BarackObama last year.” Uh-huh, right…
Most of the world felt that Trump pushed the danger level one giant notch upwards, literally forcing Kim Jong-Un to respond rather tangibly with a nasty show of force. Former US Secretary of State, John Kerry questioned using an insulting word to describe Kim – “Rocketman”: "You have to ask yourself: Is America safer because of 'rocket man’?" 
We’re living in a world of a “barking dog” and a “Rocketman.” We’re distracted by truly devastating hurricane damage, a horrific killer earthquake in Mexico and Senate Republicans scrambling to pass a deeply-flawed “repeal and replace Obamacare” bill by September 30th (after which a 51 voted majority will no longer be enough). But the potential of a thermonuclear war has risen to a level not seen since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. It’s too easy to forget that reality.
After pledging to allow other nations their sovereignty, after asking the world to join the United States in a global effort to force the Kim regime to denuclearize, in the very same speech, the President promptly trashed the last such global effort – the successful 2015 UN-backed agreement between Iran and the five permanent members of the Security Council (including the United States) – to halt Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, widely believed to be a necessary precursor to developing nuclear weapons. In mid-July, the Trump administration “certified to Congress that Iran is still complying with the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal, but it also promised to impose new sanctions on the country over its ballistic missile program and other alleged misbehavior.” Politico.com, July 17th.  But Trump effectively threatened the sovereignty of two “rogue” nations. North Korean and Iran… strongly suggesting that US support for that nuclear accord was about to end.
The six-party Iran agreement was focused on one program: stopping Iran’s enrichment of nuclear materials necessary to weaponized Iran’s military accordingly. It was most definitely not a be-all-and-end-all to deal with all of Iran’s unwanted actions, from fomenting regional instability through its Hezbollah surrogate to developing other weapon systems including its missile program. Nor was that rather sweeping, broader containment of Iran’s efforts even realistic within parameters of a multiparty agreement. While the agreement falls short in many areas, it has successfully, by the Trump administration’s own certification, halted Iran’s nuclear program. There’s no reason why there cannot be another, separate, negotiation with Iran on those additional issues. Not enough, says Donald Trump.
Trump’s speech: “The Iran deal is one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the US has ever entered into to. Frankly, that deal was an embarrassment to the US.” A hint that the United States would withdraw? Leading to what? Iran continue to abide by that accord with the remaining signatories… provoking the United States to sanction its allies for not cutting Iran off? Provoking Iran to redouble its nuclear efforts? Perhaps convincing Iran to return to the bargaining table? Iran’s traditional enemies – Israel and the Sunni Arab nations – cheered Trump’s castigation of the Iran accord.
Iran’s President, Hassan Rouhani, responded in his own address to the UN General Assembly: “Ugly, ignorant words were spoken by the U.S. president against the Iranian nation… full of hatred and baseless allegations.” Rouhani defended his country's participation in the nuclear agreement and directed this a threat towards the U.S., saying that Iran “will respond decisively and resolutely to its violation by any party.”
Without Iran’s participation, the Middle East will continue to spiral out of control. Russia has seized on that opportunity – reinforcing its support of both Iran and Syria’s Assad regime – to counter “whatever America wants”… letting Iran know that it will make sure trade will continue with Moscow no matter what. Putin has also recently added a new ferry service between Russia and North Korea, again a rather direct taunt to American policies against the North.  And of course, Russia lambasted Trump’s anti-Iran, anti-North Korea rhetoric in his UN speech.
The “one true thing” about Kim Jong-Un’s nuclear and missile program: he passionately believes that without such massive deterrents, the United States will topple his regime and end his ambition to dominate the entire Korean peninsula. For him, it’s a matter of life or death, and he has rather successfully convinced his own people that the United States (a) is a bully that must be stopped (the North’s main “enemy”) and (b) North Korea is fully capable of defeating America in a war. Seriously. With few exceptions, most global leaders believe that Trump’s vicious and insulting rhetoric is both beneath the dignity of the world’s only remaining superpower – hardly commensurate with Kim’s tiny nation – and is literally baiting an exceptionally-insecure tyrant to escalate his missile and nuclear program even further.
Kim wants recognition as a bona fide member of the world’s nuclear club, joining the United States, several EU nations, China, India, Pakistan and Israel. He needs to maintain what he believes are the only factors that keep him in power: missiles and nukes. If the United States could live for decades with equally hostile enemies during the Cold War – the Soviet Union and the Mao-controlled People’s Republic of China – surely it could return to that era of mutually-assured destruction stasis with the North, he believes not without some logic.
On September 21st, Trump added new sanctions against the North, targeting individuals and banks that deal with Kim Jong-Un… even Chinese banks. Even if Kim’s people are reduced to eating grass (the average N. Korean currently consumes about 1100 calories a day), virtually no global leader truly believes that Kim Jong-Un will ever denuclearize… but that’s what Donald Trump is demanding… along with US-demanded blanket support from every other nation on earth. Uh-huh, right… Are “Rocketman” and “Barking Dog” speaking to the world… or are they simply speaking to their respective bases? The world is listening… very intensely. There are consequences.
I’m Peter Dekom, and there appears to be a genuine Trump-disconnect between what can realistically be achieved with vitriol and vinegar, baiting the insecure, and what might work on the plain of realpolitik in the world as it actually is.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

California, New York, Massachusetts and Maryland

According to the Congressional Parliamentarian, the GOP-Senate has until September 30 to repeal Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act – ACA) with a 51 member simple majority vote (when their nuclear option expires); after that, they would need an impossible 60 votes to reach the same goal (to achieve cloture). They would be stuck having to work with Democrats to “fix” the ACA, just as House Speaker, Republican Paul Ryan said he had no intention of allowing any of those fix-it bills to reach a full House vote.
So Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), has hastened a red-state-biased piece of legislation, fomented by Bill Cassidy (R-LA, left above) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC, right above), which would repeal the ACA and replace it with allocated block grants to the states from the federal government without any reference to local medical costs, instead simply based on a simple per capita allocation. McConnell and Graham stated, rather openly in a press conference, their expressed intention to end the 37% of all ACA dollars going to the above four specifically-named states – not coincidentally “blue” states with large urban populations – and spread the block grants at exactly the same per capita level to red states, where historically rural healthcare costs are significantly lower than what is charged in more urbanized areas. For more details, see my September 9th Repeal and Destroy blog. In short, red state healthcare remains the same or gets better; blue state care crashes and burns.
The GOP thinks that they can muster the votes, as the “Congressional efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act sprang back to life on Monday [9/18] as Senate Republicans pushed for a showdown vote on new legislation that would do away with many of the health law’s requirements and bundle its funding into giant block grants to the states.
“The Republican leaders of the latest repeal effort, Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, said their effort — considered all but impossible earlier this month — was gaining momentum. The seven-year drive to repeal President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement appeared to collapse in July when it fell one vote short in the Senate…
“Under the Graham-Cassidy bill, millions could lose coverage, Medicaid would face cuts comparable to those in earlier repeal bills, and insurers in some states could charge higher premiums to people with pre-existing conditions. But only days remain before the expiration of special parliamentary language that protects repeal legislation from a filibuster in the Senate, and pressure is mounting for another vote.” New York Times, September 18th.
Indeed, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona has strongly pressed the swing vote that tanked the earlier effort to repeal the ACA, John McCain (R-AZ), to reverse himself and support this repeal. The GOP mantra is that there is nothing in fixing the ACA that particularly benefits their red state constituency and that the only big losers would be the blue states with big cities. Not a completely accurate assessment, as noted above. McCain’s immediate response: “I’m not interested in only having an up-or-down vote on what’s one-fifth of the gross national product.” Will he hold the line? Time will tell.
It is McConnell’s expressed intention to limit committee hearings – literally only giving Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy a platform to present the bill. Otherwise, the total amount of discussion will be limited to two minutes, with no amendments, no other votes. Even as such a Senate floor vote looms in the immediate future, there have been no public hearings, and the Congressional Budget Office has not presented its analysis and projections of the impact of this bill (and the only CBO report that can be released before 9/30 relates not to who loses coverage… just on what the federal budget impact of the bill will be).
Citizens of California and New York, with much higher costs of living, would be devastated under this bill; federal healthcare funding in California would drop by an estimated $57,547 per person while New Yorkers would see a loss of about $33,058 per capita. No other state even comes close. For many red states like Wyoming and South Dakota, the bill is a wash, dropping funding less than $1,000 over a decade. It’s no secret that this proposed legislation has been deliberately crafted to punish states that voted for Democrats while protecting those that voted for Republicans.
The only signal this seems to send is that red states and blue states should not be in the same country… a horrible statement from Senate Republicans. At a time when Americans need reasons to bond together – evidenced by the massive cooperation among left, right and center in response to the recent hurricane disasters – Senate Republicans are becoming the poster-“boyz” for permanent polarization, the kind of lines in the sand that spawned the Civil War.
But even for red states with larger urban populations and significant uninsured and lower income residents, they too were aghast at the powerful negative impact of this hasty and ill-conceived legislation. “Eleven governors, including five Republicans and a pivotal Alaskan independent, urged the Senate on Tuesday [9/19] to reject a last-ditch push to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.
“But Republican leaders pressed toward a showdown vote. And they choked off separate bipartisan efforts to shore up health insurance markets under the Affordable Care Act, hoping to give Republican senators no alternative but to vote for repeal.” New York Times, September 19th. This bill is truly a cruel and crushing piece of heartless greed, intended to generate additional federal money for the GOP plan to cut taxes for the rich. Screw the little guy… again.
I’m Peter Dekom, and I am deeply ashamed by the above last-ditch efforts and wondering precisely what it means to be an “American” these days.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The War of 1812 in 2017

The last time the British and Americans fought each other – 1812 – the Brits burned down our White House. But while Donald Trump applauded the U.K. as it opted out of the European Union – a decision seems to suffer from waning popularity even in the strongholds in the British Isles that championed Brexit – and heralded the conservatives who brought that vote home, Donald Trump’s interminable and unrepentant hoof (tweet?) in mouth disease is making him wildly unpopular even with those segments of U.K. politics with whom he is most closely aligned. Tory PM Theresa May had to bite her tongue at Mr. Trump’s latest tweet-faux-pas. The U.S. and the U.K. are supposed to be allies, but it is clearly now a stretch for British leaders to maintain any semblance of closeness to American policy statements.
Reeling from a 9/15 firebomb attack on a London Underground (at Parsons Green), where 30 people were injured (some seriously) though without any fatalities, Londoners were reminded how stupid they were, how ineffectual their police force (Scotland Yard, no less) was and how their failure to contain their Muslim population was the root cause of their ills by Donald “the mouth” Trump. With a native-born Londoner arrested and the investigation in its nascent stages, the Donald could not stop himself, with zero facts to back him up, from tweeting:
9/15/17 3:42 AM: “Another attack in London by a loser terrorist. These are sick and demented people who were in the sights of Scotland Yard. Must be proactive!
9/15/17 3:48 AM: “Loser terrorists must be dealt with in a much tougher manner. The internet is their main recruitment tool which we must cut off & use better!
It seems that the “loser terrorist,” an 18-year-old, had not done anything obvious to fall within “the sights of Scotland Yard,” as Trump used this rather awkward and inopportune moment to tout his globally denounced Muslim-targeted “travel ban” as evidence why the United States gets it right while Europe does not.
9/15/17 3:54 AM: “The travel ban into the United States should be far larger, tougher and more specific-but stupidly, that would not be politically correct!
Trump’s callous misstatements were echoing in negative headlines all over the U.K. press. These rather antagonistic and usually ignorant tweets are pretty consistent with Donald’s rather severe disdain for (a) facts and (b) anyone who chooses to do things in an un-Trump-like manner. His constant need to tell the world how much better his approach to anything is over what other world leaders choose for their own countries is sadly reflective of a deeply insecure human being. But it is who he is, and the messages are pretty much fodder for his Base that accept everything he tweets as gospel.
“Mr. Trump’s assertion that the assailants had been known to Scotland Yard angered Prime Minister Theresa May, who said it was not helpful for anyone to speculate while an investigation was underway. Mr. Trump was later briefed about the attack and called Mrs. May with condolences, according to a senior official, though he did not apologize.
“It was the latest episode in which Mr. Trump was at odds with Britain over sensitive security issues. In June, he criticized London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, over his response to another terrorist attack, misconstruing Mr. Khan’s words. In March, the White House press secretary at the time, Sean Spicer, repeated allegations that a British intelligence agency had wiretapped Trump Tower, which British authorities dismissed as ‘utterly ridiculous.’
“Trump’s assertions were also a sign that for all the talk about a more disciplined White House under the new chief of staff, John F. Kelly — who has urged the president to have tweets vetted by his aides — Mr. Trump was still determined not to censor himself on social media and was fully capable of roiling the diplomatic waters with a single unguarded post.” New York Times, September 16th.
Commenting on Trump’s tweets noted above: “‘It is never helpful to have speculation about an ongoing operation and I would include the president of the United States in that comment,” said [U.K Home Secretary] Amber Rudd, who said the tweet was not based on intelligence... ‘It is pure speculation,’ she told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday.” The Guardian (U.K.), September 17th. Human rights? Constitutional mandates? To Donald Trump: inconveniences to be manipulated.
As you might be aware from reading just about any international journal, not to mention more than a few contributions from Trump-despised mainstream media right here in the U.S.A. (including this blog), there are virtually no politicians running for top offices in the truly democratic world who want to be perceived as catering to just about anything “Trump.” My September 2nd Turning Friends into Enemies blog provides a litany of Trump statements and actions that have alienated leaders from Canada, Germany, China, the Philippines, Mexico, the Islamic world (1.6 billion strong), other nations in Latin America and Asia, etc., etc. Europe thinks he’s baiting Iran in precisely the wrong way at precisely the wrong time over their nuclear accord.
We’ve seen how politicians everywhere are addressing the obvious feelings of their constituencies by distancing themselves from Donald Trump and his policies. With the possible exception of Israel, nobody seeking leadership roles in democratic nations is embracing a close and working relationship with the Trump administration. They may try. They may suggest there are still close ties, but when pressed… yeah, bad. On October 18th, China begins a process of reconfiguring its Politburo (particularly the standing committee at the top) as President Xi Jinping consolidates his power further. Preliminary signals suggest that Xi is going to get a lot tougher on Sino-America trade and political ties; word has it he wants to put Donald Trump in his place.
Tuesday morning (9/19), Trump addressed the United Nations General Assembly. After bragging about the economic “successes” and the largest military budget in global history he has implemented in the United States, Trump attacked “Rocket Man” (a purposely insulting term for Kim Jong-Un) as being on a suicide mission and directly threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea if it continues its present path, slammed the untenable “radical Islamic terrorists” in many lands, condemned Iran as a terrorist state (lambasting at the “embarrassing” and “worst and most one-sided” Iran nuclear accord, hinting that the U.S. may well withdraw from that agreement), and decimated Nicolas Maduro’s regime in Venezuela.
Trump envisioned a join global fight to prevent the “triumph of evil.” His “America First” message was watered down, however, to reflect the obligations of any leader putting their nation’s priorities in first position. He did not take on Russia or China, but seemed to egg them on to diffuse a “depraved… band of criminals” of Kim Jong-Un regime into a completely, and very unlikely, denuclearized status. While nobody on the planet condones Kim’s nuclear program and his roiling threats, most world leaders believe Trump’s insulting rhetoric is making the risk of nuclear holocaust much more likely, baiting Kim Jong-Un to escalate his “tests” and threats.
Trump presented a dark vision of the world and the growing “evil” all around the world. We are “guided by outcome and not ideology” was a classic Trump message. The message on reforming the UN and focusing on the good work done in fighting disease around the world were positions generally held within the UN itself. But he suggested that support for displaced persons did not mean immigration, that money was better spent where they reside… without acknowledging that those lands may no longer be places sustainable for locals.
Bottom line: Trump demanded greater global efforts to reign in a nuclear North Korea even as he threatened to withdraw from an earlier parallel global effort, one that clearly was championed by Britain among others, in the internationally drawn Iran nuclear accord under the aegis of the United Nations. The world heard that America supported UN actions and policies only to the extent that they implemented American priorities and that the United States could not be relied upon to honor its treaty obligations. The presentation was clear but not well-received by the international community (except Israel). The US seemed to be parting company with the rest of the world to the extent international coalitions did not follow the American-dictated demands. It will be increasingly difficult for the United States to find willing international partners to benefit Americans.
The talk played well with the President’s base, however. “Who cares?! We don’t need them!” scream Trump’s constituents, just as they call for massive federal budget cuts. Going it alone, believing we can “do it ourselves” without international cooperation in an overly-globally-connected world, is not just absurd thinking; it means we have to foot the bill for costs we used to share with others. Think the Brits might like another shot at burning down the White House?
            I’m Peter Dekom, and the only consolation I can think of for having Donald Trump as our president is that at least we don’t have a possibly worse choice with Mike Pence who is waiting in the wings.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Givin’ Floridians an Equal Shot at Surviving a Hurricane



My guest columnist, Emily Patricia Graham, is a Clearwater, Florida - based attorney (practicing in Louisiana and California as well).  Past Chair of the Florida Bar’s Entertainment, Arts, & Sports Law Section, an LL.M. in Real Property Development Law, and well published, Emily’s work with the Greater Miami Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida moved her to write on this topic.
Now, y’all can get gumbo in Florida, but not like this. Yes, I’m in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I was one of the lucky ones who could evacuate from Irma. Heard that the lights in my home came back on Tuesday after the big storm, and thank God there was no damage. By the time Hurricane Irma reached Tampa Bay, she was a category 1. This was good news for many Floridians who live in newer buildings or who could evacuate, but there are still many Floridians who are struggling with issues such as flooding, returning home, power and related health issues. And the heat. Does it make you angry that some people are using Irma as a chance to travel while others are stranded living in shelters with the roofs of their homes blown off? Dare I say, shouldn’t it?
Jennifer Kay, of The Washington Post wrote on September 7, 2017, “In Andrew’s wake [that huge 1992 Florida Hurricane], Florida mandated the most stringent building codes in the U.S. Since 2001, structures statewide must be built to withstand winds of 111 mph (178 kph) and up. The Miami area has even higher requirements.” Some newer buildings, including one with a singular car elevator, even claim to be category 5 resistant, with windows that are one inch thick.  The Real Deal, September 6th. Able to withstand a cannon firing a 2x4 timber directly aimed at the center of the pane.
However, these current building codes do not apply to older buildings in Florida; there are lots of older buildings, especially in the least affluent neighborhoods. Many people don’t live in/can’t afford to live in in these usually-more expensive, hurricane-proof buildings. In fact, according to a September 9th article in Quartz, 50% to 75% of the homes in Southern Florida, including Miami-Dade and Collier County are still not required to comply with that updated building code.
Not only are wealthier Floridians more likely to live in hurricane-proofed buildings, some with hurricane shutters, they also can afford the plywood to board up windows (or hire someone to do that for them), they have the money to stock up with food, some even have back-up generators or solar power, and, best of all, they can afford to leave until their neighborhood recovers while avoiding nasty shelters. Second home or hotel far away, anyone?
 For those living in low income areas, it’s not so nice. In Miami’s Liberty City, where the Academy Award winning “Moonlight” was filmed, they had no other option but to brave the storm in dangerously unfortified homes.  “‘I know what I need to do,’ [local resident, Michael] McGoogan said. ‘If the windows start smashing, I’m going to put my mattress up against them and if that don’t work, I’m going to hide in the bathroom,’” as reported on September 9th in The Guardian.  At least he had a place.



The homeless? Most wouldn’t stand a chance outside in a category 4 hurricane without shelter. Police officers and homeless advocacy organizations got the word out about the storm to those living on the streets. “‘We’re going out and every single homeless person who is unwilling to come off the street, we are likely going to involuntarily Baker Act them,’ Ron Book, chairman of the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust, told ABC News, on September 8, referring to law enforcement’s ability to institutionalize those who are a danger to themselves or others [for up to 72 hours]. As of [that] Friday afternoon, officers had detained at least 6 people.”
Irma made no promises – weather never does – but it didn’t look good. By looking at Irma’s size alone, she could eat former-big-guy-Florida Hurricane Andrew (1992) alive. Andrew spurred big changes in local building codes. The Lady Irma barreled through Antigua and Barbuda, leaving utter devastation in her wake. It seems that the poorer the country – and the Caribbean is heavily laden with poverty – the more obvious and terrible the devastation. And next, she was aiming straight for Miami. Families on Miami Beach evacuated. They said it was a harrowing drive north, through the worst traffic they’d ever seen on I-75. Even worse than Los Angeles during rush hour!
In Tampa Bay, I held tight and looked at flights-out every day, but could not leave my parents who lived close-by. They would need my help if they stayed or even if they chose to leave. Like many Floridians, my father was hell-bent on working till the last day before the hurricane warning, hoping that Irma would stay out of Tampa Bay’s cross-hairs. Many people in Florida have to work until a Hurricane warning is issued – tough bosses – and by then it is often too late to evacuate.
Plane tickets became increasingly scarce, and exploded to ten times the normal price. By night before the storm began to hit South Florida, there were no more regional plane tickets to be had. Florida’s Attorney General Pam Bondi gave a speech earlier that day thanking some airline companies for capping the cost of tickets to leave Florida at $99. Those tickets were nonexistent. Rather airlines were cancelling flights and the airports were shutting down early. At the same time, the wealthy had purchased $14,000 Jetsmarter “Uber of private jets” tickets, according to the Miami New Times on September 8.
Gasmageddon was real for those of us driving to get out of Dodge. From then on till Gainesville, there was not one gas station with fuel. We had not seen a single gasoline tanker on the road going in any direction. The hotels were all booked. The fear of getting stranded on the road during hurricane force winds was palpable. Thanks to the widely-used GasBuddy app, we were able to find a rare gas station that still had a trickle left.
Not everyone in the estimated 6.3 million people Florida’s Division of Emergency Management ordered to evacuate, as reported by CNN on September 9, could even get out. Many people were stranded by work those commitments or simply by not being able to afford a car.
Eugene Johnson, whose only source of income is his Social Security check, told NPR on September 8, before the storm that he was “just hoping his supply of a few cans of tuna, the bread and the water a friend is supposed to bring him will help get him through the storm… ‘I'm alright with my medicine and stuff,’ said Johnson. ‘So the main thing I'm worrying about is surviving.’”
 


Irma made no promises – weather never does – but it didn’t look good. By looking at Irma’s size alone, she could eat former-big-guy-Florida Hurricane Andrew (1992) alive. Andrew spurred big changes in local building codes. The Lady Irma barreled through Antigua and Barbuda, leaving utter devastation in her wake. It seems that the poorer the country – and the Caribbean is heavily laden with poverty – the more obvious and terrible the devastation. And next, she was aiming straight for Miami. Families on Miami Beach evacuated. They said it was a harrowing drive north, through the worst traffic they’d ever seen on I-75. Even worse than Los Angeles during rush hour!
 In Tampa Bay, I held tight and looked at flights-out every day, but could not leave my parents who lived close-by. They would need my help if they stayed or even if they chose to leave. Like many Floridians, my father was hell-bent on working till the last day before the hurricane warning, hoping that Irma would stay out of Tampa Bay’s cross-hairs. Many people in Florida are required to work until a Hurricane warning is issued – tough bosses – and by then it is often too late to evacuate.
 Plane tickets became increasingly scarce, and exploded to ten times the normal price. By night before the storm began to hit South Florida, there were no more regional plane tickets to be had. Florida’s Attorney General Pam Bondi gave a speech earlier that day thanking some airline companies for capping the cost of tickets to leave Florida at $99. Those tickets were nonexistent. Rather airlines were cancelling flights and the airports were shutting down early. At the same time, the wealthy had purchased $14,000 Jetsmarter “Uber of private jets” tickets, according to the Miami New Times on September 8.
 Gasmageddon was real for those of us driving to get out of Dodge. From then on till Gainesville, there was not one gas station with fuel. We had not seen a single gasoline tanker on the road going in any direction. The hotels were all booked. The fear of getting stranded on the road during hurricane force winds was palpable. Thanks to the widely-used GasBuddy app, we were able to find a rare gas station that still had a trickle left.
 Not everyone in the estimated 6.3 million people Florida’s Division of Emergency Management ordered to evacuate, as reported by CNN on September 9, could even get out. Many people were stranded by work those commitments or simply by not being able to afford a car.
 Eugene Johnson, whose only source of income is his Social Security check, told NPR on September 8, before the storm that he was “just hoping his supply of a few cans of tuna, the bread and the water a friend is supposed to bring him will help get him through the storm… ‘I'm alright with my medicine and stuff,’ said Johnson. ‘So the main thing I'm worrying about is surviving.’”


Now, after the storm, those in modern buildings are fine, even though some don’t have power. However, many of the lucky ones who evacuated are planning logistics of how to make their way back through another gasmageddon; so very many people and businesses still don’t have power. And man is it hot… blazing… with Florida humidity. No AC. No fans. No water. No ice. With all that water sitting around…
 Some of the most vulnerable who weathered the storm are in Immokalee. On September 12 the LA Times reported; “Roofs were blown off many of the trailer homes and ill-constructed shacks that pass as housing here for the multitudes of farmworkers, mostly from Central America and Mexico, but with a considerable contingent from Haiti. Pools of water from the hurricane still were found on streets and front yards.”
In some places, even the affluent weren’t spared. Strangely, there is a similar problem with flooding in Brickell, an affluent professional area just south of downtown Miami. The lower and middle Florida Keys, where even trailer homes are expensive, were devastated by the strongest strike on the country.
In addition, for those who are older or have medical conditions, inconvenience for most becomes life-threatening to them. Like those who depend on power for complicated life-saving medical assistance (like those who require dialysis or oxygen) or people for whom sweltering Florida heat can fatal. Eight people living in a nursing home perished from the heat when air conditioning was cut off; a criminal investigation is pending. A friend called me frantically about a disabled family member who required power for a home-respirator. The home generator didn’t work and the family member was brought to a hospital. However, the attending physician threatened to discharge the family member, knowing fully well that there was nowhere with power to go. “That isn’t my problem,” the physician said.
But here wasn’t just bad news. Chris Morris, writing on September 14 for Fortune, says that there were also stories of great generosity. Tragedy can bring out the best of us. A millionaire opened his family home to 70 foster children and set up a GoFundMe page to rebuild their foster home. Patch on September 14 reported that the Clearwater Police Department showed up at 94 year-old Betty Helmuth’s door with water, food, and flashlights, after her daughter had called the police to check up on her.
An article in the September 8 Miami New Times tells of a cat lover rescued 40 strays, turning her home into an “animal hostel.” And if all else fails, there was always a place for people at a Pasco nudist resort, as reported in the Tampa Bay Times  on September 8.
Floridians are known to joke about hurricanes. This is not to say that we make light of a serious situation. We’re concerned. We’ve seen the “future maps” with the bottom third of the state under water. We don’t like what we see and don’t particularly know what to do, but... We just have to look at the Keys (top photo above) and Brickell. 
By the time Irma struck the mainland, winds were reduced. Most people who needed to evacuate, but could not, did not merely face an inconvenience; they faced weathering deadly storm, some in poorly built homes, and some without even a place to stay for the night… many stranded on the road with no gas. These are not merely nasty discomforts for the poor or middle class inconveniences. They are real dangers to life and limb that both the poor and working middle class Floridians had to the face, where the wealthy were vastly better-prepared for whatever the storm would bring. We will rebuild, but what have we really learned? About nature? About building codes? About the future risks? But really, about ourselves?
I’m Emily Graham and if Florida is a paradise, Irma just showed the world how the poorest members of any society always suffer the most but also that kindness that can exist in extraordinary situations… reflecting that we really can be civil and caring for each other… every day if we want to.
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Peter Dekom adds this postscript, an excerpt from a Forbes article (9/13) Ms. Graham sent me after her contribution. A tough reality: “In the coming weeks, property owners will be scrambling to assess the full scope of the damage. Those lucky enough to have insurance will likely begin rebuilding. The unlucky uninsured might sell their land and leave, and wealthier entrants are sure to jump on the opportunity to buy beachfront property on this coveted strip.
“There is just one problem in this zeal to redevelop the islands: The Next Storm. The Keys—like much of south Florida’s waterfront—are sitting ducks. They have been ravaged in the past by major storms, and will be flattened again with greater frequency in the future. They are not meant to be an axle of human habitation. In short, the Keys should not be rebuilt.
“A micro-illustration of the folly of developing the barrier islands comes from the tale of tiny Dauphin Island off the coast of Alabama. The island is home to 1300 residents and many tourist rental houses. It has been rattled by nearly a dozen hurricanes since 1979. Each time, the government pays the bulk of the reconstruction, a serial money burning enterprise that already cost over $150 million.” Many of these properties cannot generate a mortgage or qualify for insurance coverage.