Thursday, 31 August 2017

Britain in Texas and USA in UK - waving or drowning?

The details of the effects of Storm Harvey on Houston and Texas are horrifying. And the storm warnings now spreading as far as Louisiana.

And as with Storm Katrina and the deluge that afflicted New Orleans just a few years ago, it is astonishing to see a city, an American city, and Houston as the 4th largest American city yet again in a primeval life or death struggle.

That said, to have just two deaths in the first few days and as of now still only seven deaths is very fortunate indeed. Especially with Storm Harvey retreating, then attacking the American coast again.

With most households without insurance and at least 10% and upto 30% of America's oil refining affected, the economic storms - and blame game - will continue long after Harvey has disappeared. Moody's already place the storm damage at upto $50BN - something of an extraordinary guesstimate given the storm still rages.

Certainly Climate Change has yielded one of the strangest Summers - perhaps with La Nina an added and foreseeable factor - with blazing forest fires across California, Portugal, France, the Balkans and Australia. Floods of the same magnitude of Harvey have affected India and Bangladesh, Nepal and Thailand several times this year with 1,200 dead in the latest stormburst.

And with the Arctic icecap at its lowest level and potentially a sea route, Climate Change is cutting no ice in the threat it poses and already a very real factor for Resilience beyond the Lone Star state and levees of Louisiana.

##The only negative on the Bank Holiday the worst UK motorway accident in decades with 8 dead in the sort of minibus and HGV and drinkdriving crash that is sadly all too routine in Thailand - the latest toll of over 8,000 dead so far this year now routinely cited in comparison to (4x) UK levels. The UK as a Sporting Superpower whether by Aston Martin or on the buses should certainly consider itself a Road Safety Superpower too.

And here in Kent the warmest Bank Holiday Monday on record is a relief but likely matched by more severe Autumn and Winter storms. A drop of rain though playing havoc with East Kent's broken sewers and blocked drains that would shame Houston and should shame Southern Water.

While Houston’s issue of building on flood plains and weak town planning is hardly unknown in UK given the rash of mega-towns planned with no more review than dividing the bloated annual housing target by each council.

The rising tide of excessive salaries and pensions for monopoly institutions such as councils has begun to be highlighted by Lord Adonis in readiness for Parliament returning, over university vicechacellors and academy schools.

And still there is no NHS update on last Winter's excess OAP deaths - the awful sight of Houston's La Vita Bella care home patients upto their waists in floodwater a real concern for UK too. While the damage to hospitals and pharmacies and their medical stocks will pose a medical threat beyond diabetes and defibrillators, or statins and tetanus.

While the strange Sussex toxic coastal haze - just down the sealanes from East Kent - with hundreds of sunbathers affected by a mysterious choking cloud has raised questions over shipping pollution, access to decontamination units and even wartime mines.

And if USA as the world's richest nation and plethora of State agencies from FEMA to DHS to National Guard to USCG to military reservists can be so badly affected by not one but two storms, then the warning light is blinking for the rest of the world.

Perhaps the Louisiana Delta should be added to the Bangladeshi and Mekong deltas - or even the Thames Barrier - as the UN regions most at risk of ongoing Climate Change.

And of particular concern is the closure of the UK's Texas consulate during the storm. Surely that's when it's most needed for UK and EU - and USA - residents and tourists and businesses? What worth is a fair weather friend when the storms blow?

It's possibly the worst UK effort on the American continent since Yorktown.

And a Trumpian wall has proved something of a liability given Mexico not hesitating in stepping forward with support for their Texan friends.

And what worth is the UK in the Caribbean if the Royal Navy is not on high alert during the storm seasons?

There's no vast meteorological expertise needed to know that the Caribbean and Pacific in Summer have the most damaging storms - some 90% of all natural disaster casualties. A navy that sails away from the guns and thunder is of little use.

Monserrat for example as a British Overseas Territory and Caribbean Commonwealth member, even suffering a volcanic explosion that affects it today.

But the Bank Holiday Monday hosted the Notting Hill carnival in London - Europe's largest street festival - and slightly more subdued than usual for its proximity to the Grenfell tower block fire.

And astonishingly a Royal Navy parade too. A rum do indeed.

Surely the Royal Navy is needed in Texas and the West Caribbean not sashaying through West London, on the lash for rum and sodomy?

This RN pina colada party on the rates all the more embarrassing with the Edinburgh military tattoo hosting a US admiral for the first time, and the grim accidents afflicting overworked US Navy ships such as USS John McCain.

The UK's Royal Marines could perhaps best deployed in their traditional role of shooting down errant bluejackets if this is the best use of tax.

The excellent Max Hastings book Catastrophe 1914 even cites Winston Churchill - the archbuccaneer of Channel raids and Gallipoli - as First Sea Lord(!) that: "the Navy are very bad at war" and much earlier that the navy was: "intellectually becalmed in the smoke of Trafalgar".

Losing the peace seems the order of the day now - or at least the Caribbean - and endangering UK citizens with a lack of Resilience rigour.

How would British relatives contact Texas with the consulate closed? More pressure on the 911 numbers? Via the UK embassy in Washington - a continent and two or three time zones away so that it may as well be in the Solomon islands. Via the Eire embassy and overwhelm their phone systems too? Or leave a soggy voicemail after the beep if the electricity is still on?

Operation Smile medical ships as a minimum would be a serious improvement in military medical support. Although the NATO naval efforts in the Mediterranean regimes collapse and thousands of boat people deaths, even with Britain only now refloating the Libyan embassy and Thomas Cook refloating the Tunisian tourism industry, hardly inspires confidence.

And if the success of the RNLI in fundraising is perhaps negative in excessive kit - a quad bike roaring up and down Kent's Blue Flag beaches? - for just 40 water deaths a year then surely as a sea-based Red Cross its international activities are far weaker than they should be? 400 water deaths in Vietnam and the same again in Thailand and Philippines can only increase without Climate Change Resilience efforts.

While the UK's municipal dither and can't-do over incidents such as Grenfell, or Thor mercury – is that so different from the Arkema explosion or flood dangers at UK nuclear sites such as Dungeness - is in stark contrast to the firm leadership of US Governor's Abbott in Texas with Harvey, McCauliffe in Virginia with Charlottesville, and Bobby Jindal with Deepwater Horizon.

While Asia's Prayut and Duterte haven't been caught slow in stepping forward on the Isaan floods and resurgent ISIS Marawi conflict.

Fortunately, Arizona's veteran Senator shrugging off brain cancer in the sunlit uplands of the fight for Obamacare. And Thailand's dynamic Senator Tammy Duckworth leading the charge on aviation improvements in Illinois factories and universities that, beyond mere earmarks, and the scraping of the pork barrel, would fully deliver American Resilience.

While previous Ambassador Barzun sterling efforts in highlighting Kent's Pocahontas and Virginia's Jamestown whether in the cold Kentucky rain, London fog or Kent sunshine means he’s not the first Kentucky thoroughbred or hopefully the last to turn up on Kent’s shores.

Flyover country can't always be a flyspeck in Washington? And there must be more inspiring sports events than the Bladensburg Races?

And new Ambassador Woody Johnson must also be loosening his dungarees, tapping out his corncob pipe and pulling up a straw bale at the County Barn to see how Kent and USA links can be developed? Any fried chicken mess on the front seat of his Jeep Landrover or John Deere tractor could be wiped away with a Johnson and Johnson wetwipe to develop USA trade beyond junk food. Just look at the success of Wyoming in ASEAN.

A 21st century Lend-Lease for say cargo helicopters and support ships for Caribbean and Pacific nations is hardly impossible - nor is consistent global emergency numbers and websites. At least Texans on holiday know to call 911 in New Orleans or New York but what about in New Delhi or New Caledonia or if there was a Harvey in Havana, or even the Shambles of Old York underwater again?

And such efforts would be sustainably viable to help refloat the global economy and minimise future storm damage. In my advertising role, perhaps icons such as The Man from the Pru, or the quiet diligence of Willis, is needed once more if the men from the Royal Navy are out partying?

And in my politics role I've long argued for Town Insurance Schemes - Bristol and London scoping out similar green energy plans - of reduced insurance for say East Kent's 250,000 citizens and 75,000 homes joining a council plan. Such volume and certainty, would also allow for rapid and full settlement of claims along with, say free travel insurance for Kent's citizens, as well as any Texan visitors.

Certainly the storm clouds of UKIP medical tourism would be held at bay - and Learmonth's Learjet on standby for Kent citizens unfortunate to fall prey to the worst excesses of America's dysfunctional healthcare systems.

For East Kent in the shadow of the white cliffs of Dover, needs no lessons in the value of the sea, and not since the days of the perilous storms of the Spanish Armada with UK citizens and sailors abandoned dead and dying in the streets of Margate has there been such failure of national will in the howling winds of Climate Change.

With most of the world's 7BN mouths in cities and most of those cities by the coast and rivers, the dangers of Harvey are ever more likely and the failures of Katrina ever more unacceptable.

While the absurd overspend on aircraft carriers without any - or very few - aircraft seems a result of what Hastings terms the Admiralty's slow seadogs. The Russian Defence Minister - worryingly also viewing UK through the telescope of the defunct Cold War as an implacable European foe - simply terms them bigger targets for drones.

And the UK RN base in the Gulf seems to be the Navy's 7 ships trying to ape the role of the USN 40 ships. Or worse, propping up some of the worst Gulf kingdoms - that increasingly an anachronism with the end of both oil and the combustion engine.

Private Eye citing the Northern Ireland police denying then confirming training the Omani police and military in torture techniques raises questions of how UK military and civilian police should be used abroad.

The chaos of the Trump White House still hasn't appointed FEMA hurricane directors and only now some 10 months on after election and the tempest of Oval Office purges, a USA Ambassador to London. Shouldn't Anglo-American relations be better than the usual better late than never? Perhaps the Lone Star state should reopen its old embassy in Trafalgar Square to fast-forward support from the limeys and other Europeans.

But for all the Royal Navy's idling in port, Hastings cites over 809,000 men, 203,000 horses and 250,000 tons of stores shipped across the stormy Channel without loss, as well as fending off the first Uboat induced famine, in the Autumn of 1914.

The lack of cargo helicopters and in-air refuelling now suggests deeper failures in Resilience and war-making capabilities sit under the surface. The US Marines buying up all the UK's Harrier jump jets, for carrier and jungle and desert airstrips.

And even President Trump raising concerns over the cost and viability of the F35 jets, and Saudi Arabia flying more British military jets than Britain, suggests the Royal Navy is adrift in a sea of vanity projects, Cold War reactionism, inter-service rivalry, and plain old-fashioned nautical nincompoopery.

Since at least the carrier battles of 1944, the role of the world's navies has been something of an anachronism as well as a luxury. And Houston underwater is an unacceptable price to pay for either a lack of UK Resilience efforts or the UK standing both shoulder to shoulder and knee deep with the Lone Star state.

The beginnings of another round of naval disarmament and limits may be beyond any one military service, but at the very least a more co-ordinated UK and NATO is crucial. And Resilience factors, whether the military and first responder coordination or cargo helicopters and forward-placed aid dumps and rotations is vital.

A cheap and simple and recyclable Higgins Boat – developed on the bayous before DDay -or Barney’s Barges, if you will. Britain's shipyards couldn't build them all but whether in San Diego or Virginia Beach, or Dhakar or Hong Kong or Pusan a raft of such Gresham Liberty Ships, and new materials such as graphene would be a breakwater against Climate Change.

While Bill Gates sat in the pouring, ever warmer, rain of coastal Seattle must surely have computer-crunched population centres and rainfall with the 8% of malaria deaths not in Africa, or at least in Central America's Nicaraguan Mosquito Coast and Haiti?

How disastrous if the Houston disaster was to last as long as the aftershock of the Port-au-Prince earthquake.

While USA struggling already with Third World medicare even before the Trumpian attemps to reverse Obamacare, must highlight the need for civil and military medical Resilience. Even if the Canadian NHS has to provide it.

To say nothing of cancer or dementia drugs poured down the plughole in hospitals and pharmacies from disasters such as Harvey.

The UK's year of silliness on Brexit, and now the empty position papers must have cost at least 0.7% in GDP for nothing at all except national decline and drift.

And Gates and Buffett and Branson and Bezos and Slim and Polman and Bono and Carter and Annan urging a G20 UNSDG 0.7% Fund would almost instantly deliver it. Who would want to delay the UNSDG30 and Resilience in its first year? If President Trump delayed, then President Zuckerberg certainly wouldn't, but why wait four more years or even four more months?

While the bumper glut of Latin American crops this year and the usual tsunami of Thai and Indian rice should refloat any Resilience city or island, as well as being regularly funnelled into UNFAO Scaling Up Nutrition work against malnutrition.

Virginia's dynamic Governor and First Lady keeping a weather eye out for childhood malnutrition, and proving their Breakfast Club has more substance than an ‘80's teenflick. All the more concerning here in UK with a rising tide of food banks, junk food malnutrition, cuisine culture fading and inattention to five a day foods.
And even important beyond La Vita Bella for Kent's pensioners in care homes, or with meals on wheels nursing, and especially Kent's Special Measures hospitals if water already has to be issued on prescription.

And Houston may yet face the waterborne diseases and alligators that Togo with the Carter Center has helped overcome this week to end lymphatic filariasis.
But Port Arthur battening down the hatches in true Dunkirk spirit and issuing an SOS call for a fleet of citizens and Little Ships that Ramsgate knows all too well.

The issue for the Lone Star state though is how quickly Houston will be rebuilt - the aftermath of Katrina and Fukushima, and Kobe and Nepal earthquakes even now suggests far less than is needed, or stated, will be done.

But certainly Royal Navy ships and helicopters would have been vital assists.

And what happens with the next storm? Waving or drowning again in USA and UK?


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