Saturday, January 01, 2005

The confirmed death toll in Southeast Asia today rose to 140,000. Indonesia alone accounts for 100,000 of those deaths. Half a million people are estimated to have been seriously injured in what Indonesia's president calls the worst natural disaster since Krakatoa erupted in 1883, which killed 36,000 people. Potentially five million people have lost their homes and worldly goods as a result of the earthquake last Sunday and the tsunamis it generated. According to the New York Times, this catastrophe may turn out to be one of the worst in human history (among catastrophes not made by humans).

The Bush administration announced an increase in its initial aid pledge from $35 million (which itself was increased from $15 million after that was criticized as being stingy) to $350 million. Obviously, this is very good news, and it's about time. It's also obvious that the increase was spurred by political considerations; the explanation for such a huge increase in aid was so patently phony that a child of 4 could have seen through it:

. . . Mr. Bush said that he decided on the increase after Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and the director of the Agency for International Development, Andrew Natsios, told him that "initial findings of American assessment teams on the ground indicate that the need for financial and other assistance will steadily increase in the days and weeks ahead."
Are we to understand from this that "Mr. Bush" needed assessment teams to tell him that "the need for financial and other assistance" would increase? It's absurd. Either the President of the United States is a mindless puppet with no brain or common sense, OR he is making no effort to come up with a credible explanation. Especially given the additional fact that "[as] recently as Thursday, a senior State Department official deeply involved in the rescue efforts said that Washington had not received any word from any assessment team asking for more money," although the official hastened to add that the money would be available if and when an assessment request did come in.

Or maybe a staff member told Bush that a pledge of $35 million for the worst natural disaster in 40 years, and maybe in all of history, looked really, really bad when they were spending $40 million for the inauguration festivities.

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