When hurricanes and politics collide

In times of national tragedy, it must be difficult for the politics-obsessed among us to resist a “serves ’em right” smugness. Garrison Keillor couldn’t.

In his latest column, the humorist joins forces with hurricanes to take aim at red states where people chose to live, not at all unlike the people in eastern Minnesota who shrugged when the Red River destroyed homes and businesses 20 years ago and they said, “why did they choose to live near a river?”, a question which revealed more about their knowledge of Minnesota geology and history than the IQ of people in trouble.

But the fact is you cannot want a more civil world and then find glee in your heart when people suffer.

Conservatives blanch at spending additional billions to subsidize health care for the needy, but a truckload of cash for Texas? No problem. It makes me think that we Minnesotans should get a few billion in federal aid for recovery from the upcoming winter.

It is going to be cold. This will cause damage to homes. Drive-in movie theaters and golf courses and marinas will suffer loss of revenue. We must salt the highways to prevent accidents and the salt corrodes our cars. And then there is the mental anguish.

If Minnesota gets billions of dollars for winter recovery, then I am going to seriously consider becoming a conservative. As a philosophy of governing, conservatism is rather sketchy, but if it helps Minnesota, I am all in favor. I have my principles but I can be bought, same as the rest of you.

Hurricane Irma is bearing down on a red state with 29 electoral votes. Try to contain the glee, please.

  • jon

    Irma is likely to hit Puerto Rico today… FL won’t get hit until later this week.

    PR is of course part of the USA (incase some one didn’t know), but I suspect we won’t be hearing much about the recovery there, and I’m curious to see how much federal money get’s sent to help the folks who don’t have a senator or representative to vote in favor of it… and who have no electoral votes.

    I hope, that PR makes it through this storm unscathed, and I hope that perhaps some movement on statehood for PR can happen so they can have representation to go with their taxation… though I don’t hold my breathe, not while the GOP only holds the senate by two votes, and adding two new senators from a brand new blue state would challenge that control…

    • Only 23% of voters in Puerto Rico bothered to vote a few months ago in the statehood referendum.

      • jon

        And the point of that factoid is?

        Similar turnout rates are common in odd year municipal elections in the rest of the country. Hawaii only had something like a 35% turnout rate for their statehood vote… (and voter turnout numbers for other states are hard to come by…)

        Yet rarely do I recall anyone pointing out the turnout rate for those elections, particularly as a way of delegitimizing the results like is often used in discussions on PR.

        And I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of the results of an election in the US being thrown out because of low voter turnout.

        • // And the point of that factoid is?

          That there’s not going to be any great push/support for statehood coming from the mainland since there isn’t much of it on PR.

          It related to your sentence, ” that perhaps some movement on statehood for PR can happen so they can have representation to go with their taxation.”

          Don’t hold your breath, in other words.

          • jon

            Ah 23% of a the population favoring statehood at a 97% rate isn’t enough support…

            How would a 54% turnout rate with 51% favoring statehood seem? I mean 54%… that’s like the 2000 presidential elections and nobody broke 50% in 2000…

            That’s closer to what it would be if the opposition didn’t set out before the election to delegitimize the vote by boycotting it…

            Delegitimize the vote… that’s how you kill democracy… if you kill the politicians they’ll elect new ones, if you kill the ability to appoint new ones, that’s when democracy dies.

        • In July 1959, Hawaii had 155,000 registered voters. 140,000 votes were cast. By my calculation, that is not anywhere near 35% turnout; more like 90%. Also: 93% of the votes cast (i.e., 133,000) were in favor of statehood.

          Compare that to PR’s statehood referendum in 2017, when there was only 23% voter turnout (2,260,000 registered voters vs. 518,000 votes cast). That is the point of Bob’s “factoid”.

      • Karl Crabkiller

        I was in Puerto Rico just before the “statehood” election. Other than the media no one seemed excited about it. Locals I talked to were not happy with the tax situation but did not people in Washington telling them how to run their country. Most were pleased with recently passed legislation that changed “burdensome ” local labor laws in hopes they could attract more investment in the island.

  • MrE85

    It’s my birth state, which could be another reason for God’s wraith. Hunker down and stay safe, fellow Americans. You too, Caribbean neighbors.

    • Jerry

      So Florida to Indianapolis to the Twin Cities? By this trend, I assume you are going to retire to Winnipeg or Yellowknife.

      • MrE85

        That idea gets more appealing every day. Go North, old man, go North!

        • Jerry

          Cold acts as a preservative. It keeps you healthy.

      • The permafrost is melting.

        • MrE85

          I should have seen that call coming on my Apple watch.

  • Rob

    I take no glee in the miseries of folks suffering from natural, climate change-exacerbated disasters that have been compounded by conservative hostility to reasonable infrastructure and safety needs. And I have no interest in antagonizing these folks either.

    But human nature being what it is, people who should know better – and who can afford to change their circumstances – will continue to live and build/rebuild in places where natural disasters will strike again. And human nature being what it is, these same folks will continue to vote against their own political, social and economic interests.

    • // people who should know better – and who can afford to change their circumstances – will continue to live and build/rebuild in places where natural disasters will strike again.

      Where is a place where a natural disaster can’t occur?

      • Rob

        Maybe I should have been more explicit. I’m talking about large-scale disasters – like hurricanes, striking places that tend to get struck by hurricanes. Or massive spring melting that doesn’t have to be a disaster, but is because people continue to build/rebuild on a flood plain.

        Tornadoes suck, but don’t usually cause widespread devastation. Same with forest fires. Here in St. Paul, I lose very little sleep worrying about the likelihood that a massive natural disaster will take me and the rest of the neighborhood out. A ginormous earthquake is possible here, but I’m guessing such an event is much more likely near the San Andreas Fault – which happens to be in a state that has had one or two fairly significant quake events already.

        Oh, wait – I hadn’t considered mega-asteroids. Now I am truly freaking out.

        • jon

          one word:

          • Rob

            Pompeii 2.0, here we come!

      • Singapore used to pride itself as being impervious to earthquakes, cyclones, typhoons, etc. It lies in a tropical rain forest zone, though, and receives at times copious amounts of rain that are channeled into the straits via a system of huge storm drains constructed over the past 50 years. (Flooding used to be a frequent problem.)

        However, over the past 20 years, Singapore has found itself smothered for weeks at a time by smoke and ash from Indonesian clear-cutting fires. (Photo is of the Marina South district, in the south of the city.)

        So, no. There really isn’t anywhere someone could travel or live that isn’t affected in one way or another by weather, natural disaster, or man-made hazard.


      • Brian Simon

        We build homes, around here, to withstand known conditions, which can be a bit harsh in winter, for example. There is a reasonable question as to whether we should continue to subsidize others’ choices to live in areas prone to flooding. I believe the Fed flood insurance program is a valuable one. But I also believe we should be more particular about what risks we’ll cover. In high risk areas, we should pay out once. If you choose to rebuild in the same spot, it’s on you, not us. We sunk a ton of money into rebuilding new Orleans. But did we address any of the inherent flaws tied to building a city on silt, below sea level? Will we rebuild again after the next Katrina? Or can we say, at some point, enough is enough?

        • The Red River is certainly prone to flooding. If you moved people out of the area outside the glacial lakebed, you’d have to move them to Alexandria. But then, what’s the plan for growing your food (not to mention your barley for beer, in the case of Moorhead). Are we going to build new refineries farther inland to replace what’s in Houston? I’m guessing not.

          If you’re going to move people, you’ll have to move their economy and infrastructure too.

        • Rob


  • AL287

    As my sister so aptly pointed out, President Trump’s photo op was in Houston not in the towns that were literally destroyed by Harvey as in Port Aransas, Rockport and Corpus Christi.

    Mississippi took the brunt of Katrina but all the news was about New Orleans and the convention center. My brother lost everything in Ocean Springs. He watched as the 28 foot storm surge from Katrina swallowed his house. The surge traveled several miles inland to just north of Interstate 10.

    At least some of the “fake” news organizations had the courage to point out Ted Cruz’s hypocrisy on the Sandy devastation in New York and New Jersey. He definitely has both hands out now.

    I have a niece with a young family who lives in one of the northwest suburbs of Houston. Lucky for them their house didn’t flood but they couldn’t get out of their neighborhood for a week.

    I have several cousins who live in the Port Arthur area as well as friends in Lake Charles.

    The people who live in the coastal areas and in the river sheds live there for the natural beauty and like Bob H said, those who can afford to will rebuild again.

    My brother chose not to rebuild his home. The emotional and physical blow was more than he was willing to bear again. He still owns the land/lot where his home once stood, a bitter reminder of what once was.

  • I’m more of a “call out hypocrisy” rather than a “wish harm upon fellow citizens in need” kind of guy.

    • MikeB

      Must be taking up all of your time these days

  • KTN

    Not glee, but schadenfreude.

    • NG

      Yes, but I feel a bit bad about that too. I can point and laugh at other’s misery while wishing them well and donating money to help… very confusing. My moral side says I shouldn’t feel that way, and yet I can’t help feeling that it’s incredibly amusing.

  • Angry Jonny

    I’m about as leftist as they come, and I still think Garrison is kind of a dink. He has about as much authentic understanding of rural Minnesota as does Jason Lewis.

    • Jerry

      But he spent a little while in Melrose 40 years ago. Clearly he understands modern rural Minnesota.

    • NG

      :), I grew up in rural Minnesota. I’ve never taken his Prairie Home Companion show as anything but amusing entertainment. 25 years ago, maybe he was not far off the mark, but yes, modern rural Minnesota is very different.

  • Brian Simon

    I’m not seeing the alleged glee in the quoted excerpt. Perhaps there is some to be found in the full original.

  • crystals

    The most interesting thing to me is how all of the Texas congressional folk who voted against relief for Sandy victims in New York and New Jersey are now justifying how their need for aid is different.

    We either look out for each other or we don’t. It shouldn’t take your state, and your constituents, to make you believe in the government’s role in caring for its people times of need.

    • MikeB

      “We either look out for each other or we don’t. It shouldn’t take your state, and your constituents, to make you believe in the government’s role in caring for its people times of need.”

      But it does take that in these times we live in now. For a sizable minority in power government attention and benefits is conditional on your identity and where you live. And there is no political price paid for that so it will continue.

    • Bridget L.

      And it shouldn’t be based on who suffers more from a natural disaster than the other. Not saying that’s what anyone said but I can see it getting to that point. You’re right, we look out for each other or we don’t.

  • Not to the Reader’s Digest crowd.