Puerto Rico got hit hard by Hurricane Maria. An understatement.

An aide at the White House has said that the disaster bill will be sent to Congress in the first or second week of October. (FEMA is already there, but they are insufficient.)

And the news is that most of Puerto Rico may be without power for up to six months. Only one major port is operational, roads are washed out, communication grids are (obviously) down, and water is unavailable in many places.

Our modern distribution system is a wonder of efficiency, in terms of cost. But it is “just in time,” it does not leave large stocks piled up the way the older system did. This is a problem for a lot of non-obvious items–for example, medicine. This concerns not just things like insulin, but medicines you don’t want to be suddenly thrown off and into withdrawal: A lot of psychiatric medications have terrible withdrawals, often as bad as many illegal drugs.

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What is interesting about all this is not so much the scale of the disaster as the indifference of the response.It is more extreme than that which greeted other catastrophes, such as when New York was hit, and even then the areas where the lower classes lived were ignored, until they could be bought up.

But while Puerto Rico is more extreme, it is along the same continuum. The US has become very bad at disaster relief, because US elites don’t really care unless it affects them.

It is impossible to imagine this level of indifference in the 1950s through the 1970s, whatever else those decades’ flaws. Americans were proud of their ability to mobilize, proud of their protectorates, and could and would get material and people on the ground, fast.

This indifference, this lack of both fellow feeling and real pride (not in the sense of saluting the flag, but in the sense of actually making the country work), is, next to excessive corruption, the surest sign of the US’s decline.

Puerto Rico is an imperial possession, and America does not care about its possessions any more: It does not take pride in them.

And one wonders how much real mobilization ability the US has left (as opposed to theoretical). Can the US effectively mobilize any more? Or has everything become so corrupt, overpriced, and sclerotic that, really, there just isn’t that much surge ability?

I suppose Puerto Ricans can be left to rot, though they shouldn’t be–and doing so will have consequences beyond Puerto Rico. But when something the elites consider important gets hit, does the US have the ability to respond effectively?

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