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Jewish World Review
Oct. 26, 2007
/ 14 Mar-Cheshvan
Where there's fire, there's politics
LOS ANGELES You might think nobody could make politics of a tragic fire, but if you think that you would be wrong. Not only is the personal political, so is the fiery impersonal.
Everybody's heroes finally got the fires under control yesterday, and vast arrays of million-dollar houses in the canyons and arroyos up and down the coast from San Diego to Malibu were mere tracts of smoldering ruins.
It's not quite clear how fire can be credibly blamed on George W. Bush, but some people are working on it. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the leader of the Democrats in the Senate, at first said that "one reason why we have fires is global warming." Since everybody knows George W. invented global warming, the senator's meaning was clear. Later, pressed by reporters to say whether he actually, really and truly thinks global warming set the fires, the senator said, well, ummm, no, not really. "There are many factors." Even senators can be shamed sometimes.
It's an ill Santa Ana that blows nobody good, and CNN, consistently the most hysterical of the cable networks, told its producers to be careful how they use the fires to raise a media din about a docu-drama about global warming. Be careful, but use it. Even Michael Brown, the former director of FEMA who was last seen consoling New Orleans and the Gulf Coast ("You're doing a great job, Brownie"), seized the opportunity for a little payback. Mr. Brown a consultant, naturally, on emergency response and reconstruction said "the White House needs to recognize that we are overstretched [in Iraq] and there is a problem. They need to increase the size of the Regular Army and stop relying so much on the National Guard."
The commander in chief, remembering the stinging rebukes for his late response to Hurricane Katrina, toured the embers yesterday with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, perhaps to bask in his shadow. That shadow is golden after the events of the week. "The optimistic and omnipresent face of the wildfire response," in the description of the governor by the Los Angeles Times, "consoler to the evacuees, debriefer to the media, cheerleader to the firefighters and personal liaison to the federal government."
Earlier in the week the Terminator now terminating evil fires as well as evildoers took Michael Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security, on a tour of the fire line at Lake Arrowhead, consoled thousands of burnt-out cases at the stadium confiscated for the moment from the San Diego State Aztecs and gave press conferences up and down the coast.
As the Santa Ana subsided and the firefighters could almost relax, at least a little, the early estimates of the size of the disaster inevitably shrank, as first estimates of natural disasters nearly always do. The early estimates of the number of those forced to flee, a million or more in some fevered television accounts, were revised downward to less than half that. Still, that's a lot, and nobody deserves to be "revised" into a mere statistic. But the sky, choked with smoke and occasional flying embers, had nevertheless not fallen. Global warming could be preserved as hysteria to frighten senators on another day.
The Santa Ana winds were democratic enough, enabling even lawyers to aspire to pity. "As a brown haze shrouded Southern California on Tuesday," one online law journal reported, "law firms in San Diego's Carmel Valley region remained shuttered, and more and more local attorneys were forced to leave their homes. At [one prominent law firm] the chief operating officer and a partner have already lost their homes, and dozens of attorneys have been displaced including [the managing partner]. 'It's pretty unreal down here,' said [the partner], who's staying in the Marriott after being displaced from his Rancho Santa Fe home. Last night, he and his family stayed in the Hotel Solamar, which offered a $99 rate." But this being California, that rate still includes wine and cheese.
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