When the Pacific tsunami rolled through San Francisco 10 days ago, the tide was low, and the event was unremarkable. Just to the north in Crescent City people were swept out to sea, though, and just to the south in Santa Cruz there was substantial property damage -- but everyone was prepared.
Why? Because of a network of tsunami detectors deployed across the Pacific Ocean by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in partnership with 25 other nations.
This network has largely been put in place since the catastrophic 2004 tsunami off Indonesia. At that time there were only six tsunami-detecting buoys in the Indo-Pacific ocean system; now there are 39. While there have been tsunami-related deaths since -- thousands from the Japanese catastrophe alone -- few have died because their region didn't know a tsunami was coming. Probably tens of thousands of lives were saved.
So what is the response of the new Republican leadership in the House to this tremendous success by the federal government? You probably guessed -- eliminate its funding. HR 1, the continuing resolution which Speaker Boehner continues to praise, would slash funding for NOAA's weather and other disaster forecast systems. It would leave enough money in NOAA to keep the actual tsunami buoys already deployed in place, but would slash funds for staffing and further expansions.
A NOAA official warned, "NOAA has put together part of a contingency plan to handle such a massive cut, and while it spares tsunami buoys, all other coastal buoys are non-funded and there will be furloughs at both Tsunami Warning Centers (TWC)...These furloughs will take away the TWC's ability to upgrade tsunami models and will put considerable stress on watchstanders ability to react."
The Constitution specifies that one of the reasons for creating the United States of America, to replace the previous confederation, was "to promote the general welfare." Activities like tsunami warning systems, which neither the private market nor states and localities can create, are the heart of the logic behind a strong national government. Yet these "general welfare programs" are routinely disparaged by the media as "discretionary spending" and viciously attacked by the Tea Party as "out-of-control federal spending."
A tsunami is something out of control. A tsunami warning system is a sensible, patriotic American response. Defunding it is close to treason. It's definitely a death sentence for thousands of people.