Wednesday, October 24, 2007

do the newly homeless of Southern California owe their large insurance payouts to George W. Bush?

I’m asking. . . because I don’t really know.

At writing, the wildfires in Southern California have burned over 420,000 acres, destroyed over 1,100 homes, and displaced nearly a million people. In less than four days, this year’s fires have nearly surpassed the record destruction of October 2003. While, to my mind, the long-term drought and record heat wave of earlier this year owe much to the global warming crisis that has received something less than lip service from the Bush Administration, my opening question has more to do with fighting the fires than with their cause.

In years past, the California National Guard has played a large part in fighting brushfires, especially in cases where there were multiple fires burning simultaneously over the region. What is the toll of having a large percentage of the California Guard deployed to Bush’ Iraqi sinkhole? What about the equipment that went with them?

The California National Guard numbers roughly 20,000, of which, somewhere between 8,000 and 9,000 are now serving overseas (more than any other state with the exception of Texas). I can find nothing on the numbers and kinds of heavy equipment that has left California for Iraq. Since it became clear after tornadoes in Kansas earlier this year that response was seriously slowed by the strain put on their Guard by the Iraq war, it doesn’t seem a far out question to ask what effect this fiasco is having on California’s firefighting capabilities.

And, yet, it is not a question I can find asked or answered in any establishment media reporting.

The most I have been able to dig up are these two paragraphs from the Orange County section of the Los Angeles Times:

Local fire officials were similarly frustrated, arguing that if the state had provided adequate aircraft and personnel, the devastation could have been prevented and the Santiago fire could have been quickly extinguished. Now the fire will take at least two weeks to contain and could enter the national forest, they said.

"It is an absolute truth -- if we had more air resources we would have been able to control this fire," said Orange County Fire Authority Chief Chip Prather.

While I could infer that there might have been more resources available had it not been for Iraq deployments, Chief Prather might simply be referring to resources that were allocated to fires burning elsewhere in the Southland—I just don’t know (the story does not make it clear). I can find no other reporting or analysis—beyond repeated statements that resources are stretched to the limit—about what might have been had all the National Guard and their equipment been available to respond to this disaster.

I feel it is important to document all of the costs of Bush’s ego-gratification, local and global. If anyone out there has seen or read anything on the repercussions of administration policy with regard to the California wildfires, please send it my way or leave a comment (preferably with a link to a source). Thank you.

UPDATE: Six hours after I ask my initial question, Think Progress answers:

The San Francisco Chronicle reported last May that the California National Guard had been depleted and warned that severe “equipment shortages could hinder the guard’s response to a large-scale disaster,” such as a “major fire”:

In California, half of the equipment the National Guard needs is not in the state, either because it is deployed in Iraq or other parts of the world or because it hasn’t been funded, according to Lt. Col. John Siepmann. While the Guard is in good shape to handle small-scale incidents, “our concern is a catastrophic event,” he said.

“You would see a less effective response (to a major incident),” he said.

At a press conference five months ago, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) echoed these concerns, stating, “A lot of equipment has gone to Iraq, and it doesn’t come back when the troops come back.” The Chronicle reported that the California National Guard was missing about $1 billion worth of equipment.

. . . .

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said, “Right now we are down 50 percent in terms of our National Guard equipment because they’re all in Iraq. The equipment — half of the equipment, so we really will need help.” California Lieutenant Gov. John Garamendi (D) said on Harball yesterday, “What we really need are those firefighters, we need the equipment, we need, frankly, we need those troops back from Iraq.”

When asked about California’s concerns of depleted equipment caused by the Iraq war, White House spokesman Dana Perino said yesterday, “I haven’t heard that specifically.”

(cross-posted on The Seminal)

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