As the agony of Japan continues to unfold in real time before our eyes, two thoughts for the day.
First, in addition to the BBC and the Wall Street Journal, check in at Team Rubicon's website throughout the day. This is a unique organization, made up of veterans of the American military, medical specialists and experienced first responders, which has deployed teams in recent years to Haiti, Pakistan, Burma, and Sudan, but only does so when the nation's own relief infrastructure is overwhelmed. If Team Rubicon sends one or more teams to Japan, it will be a very effective recipient of any donations you want to make.
Second, governments exist to provide for defense against enemies, secure domestic tranquility, and respond to overwhelming disasters such as this one. "Mission creep" of government not only drains treasuries and diminishes private sector vitality, it detracts from these central missions so that when war or disaster strikes, there are far fewer resources left in the national bank with which to absorb the blow. Keeping government focused and effective means preserving the ability to respond when it is absolutely necessary to have the government take the lead.
The various public policy debates that have been absorbing the attention of American political elites --the Wisconsin battle over whether public employee unions can bargain over the size of their pensions, the effort by California Governor Jerry Brown to push tax hikes in California, the obvious corruption and deeply corrosive effects of left-wing elitism at NPR-- these are all interesting stories but they pale in comparison to the devastation in Japan.
The immensity of the disasters like the Haiti earthquake of 2010, the earthquake in China in May of 2008, the Pakistan earthquake of October 2005 and the earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean in December 2004 are all reminders of the inevitability of an enormous natural disaster in the U.S., one of potentially much greater fury than even Katrina's fury in 2005.
We have no financial reserve for such an inevitability. California, among the likeliest of locations for the blow, is effectively bankrupt with little capacity for shared sacrifice or any sort of rebuilding effort of the sort that would be required if the luck that has held off the "Big One" runs out in the next decade.
This is a sobering reality, but one that Congress and state legislatures cannot avoid. They have consumed not just the reserve supplies but the seed corn. They have to stop now and begin again to plan for the shocks that great nations must deal with.
If the United States Congress cannot deal with a debt crisis, how in the world could it possibly be expected to cope with the sort of emergency that would follow the sort of natural disaster that is all too common an occurrence.