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23 Feb, 2021 19:05

The US loves to accuse other nations of being unable to cope in a crisis, but the chaos in Texas shows it can’t look after its own

The US loves to accuse other nations of being unable to cope in a crisis, but the chaos in Texas shows it can’t look after its own

The US has finger-wagged at other countries for decades, alleging they can't care for their people. But when disaster strikes at home, America is not prepared, with the winter storm in the Lone Star State just the latest example.

The storm that ravaged Texas and moved northeast last week revealed, once again, major failures in America's infrastructure, causing unnecessary suffering, and even death, in affected areas. Power outages worsened during the week, depriving over 4 million people of electricity.

Pipes froze and burst, water treatment plants shut down and household taps stopped flowing. Even some hospitals were without water for days while people lost heat and stood in long lines searching for food. The big chill contributed to a deadly toll of over 70 fatalities across several states among people who perished from carbon monoxide poisoning, in house fires, during road accidents, and by freezing to death.

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The Texas Agriculture Commissioner warned of food shortages and “a food supply chain problem like we've never seen before.”

With the worst of the storm over, as of a few days ago over 14 million people still remained without a consistent supply of clean drinking water, and hundreds of thousands of Texans had no electricity. 

Granted it was an unexpected winter storm in states that don't usually experience such extreme cold, but if the Texas power grid and the nation's emergency response were better, perhaps some of the deaths could have been avoided.

Even officials from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) reportedly admitted the Texas grid was “seconds and minutes [from possible failure],” and that the power outages “could have occurred for months.”

Venezuelan Government Was “Incompetent” When Similar Power Outages Occurred 

Similarly, in March 2019, the lights went out across Venezuela, in an outage which the Venezuelan government accused the US of orchestrating by means of combined cyber, electromagnetic and physical attacks on the power grids.  

Certainly, the second round of power outages which followed were indeed physical sabotage, with the main Guri Dam Hydroelectric Plant attacked, causing a fire at three transformers

I got to Venezuela three days into the first outage, at a time when Western officials and media were accusing the Maduro government of incompetence, blaming it for the outages, and feigning concern for the same Venezuelans who were dying under Western sanctions. 

Media were in chorus depicting scenes of chaos and food shortages. But, as I wrote at the time, wherever I walked and went, I found supermarkets supplied, and in Petare, a district known as the largest “slum” in Latin America, “I found vegetables, fruit, chicken and food basics sold wherever I went, from the main square to hillside barrio of 5 of July (5 Julio).”

I definitely did not see chaos. To the contrary, people waited patiently in lines for ATMs and communities helped one another. 

Venezuelans calmly collected spring water (as last week Texans collected water from a public park tap), but Western media spun this, falsely claiming they were collecting wastewater.

I went to the area in question and saw residents collecting clean water, bathing in it, and feeling insulted by media allegations that it was filthy. 

In another area, I saw government-supplied water tankers filling up, prioritizing water delivery to hospitals first and then around the city. 

The government's subsidized food box delivery program (CLAP), reaching six million of Venezuela's poorest families, continued to function, providing ridiculously inexpensive food to people who can't afford supermarket prices. 

But the media didn't report this. They were determined to paint Venezuela as a failed state, in chaos. 

A Univision anchor even went as far as to film men allegedly “eating out of” a garbage truck, claiming the scene was “near”, “close to”, and “minutes from” Venezuela's presidential palace, when in fact he was in a wealthy eastern Caracas district roughly 7 km away. I went to that district to film it and show that it was decidedly not “close to” Miraflores and that the journalist was lying.

No Western media or pundits that I am aware of reported on the deadly and immoral sanctions imposed on Venezuela, which are a major factor determining the quality of life of the same Venezuelans the pundits pretend to care about. In 2017-2018, the sanctions were estimated to have caused 40,000 deaths 

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American highways vs. Syrian highways 

Syria has been warred upon for ten years now, with America openly backing terrorists there, and under increasingly brutal sanctions that hurt the Syrian people and target reconstruction. And yet, it might surprise readers to know that the main highways are well-maintained and smooth – in contrast to many, if not most, of America's.

Ever since going to Syria in early 2014, I have marvelled at how the country maintains smooth roads (even ones routinely attacked by terrorists), repairs destroyed electrical towers and lines soon after an area is cleared of terrorists, maintains garbage collection (which neighbouring Lebanon might envy, with their repeated garbage crises), and has continued to provide massively subsidized bread, as well as free health care and higher education.

In fact, when a few days ago snowfall closed some roads in the southern city of Dara'a, Syrian soldiers delivered the bags of subsidized bread by tractor

This is all while Syria is under increasingly brutal sanctions by the US and allies. 

Meanwhile, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) 2017 Infrastructure Report Card gave US infrastructure a D+. As per a 2019 Business Insider article, the ASCE “estimates the US needs to spend some $4.5 trillion by 2025 to fix the country's roads, bridges, dams, and other infrastructure.” 

In 2007, a Minneapolis bridge collapsed, killing 13 people. “Rush-hour traffic that was stalled on the bridge went into free fall; as dozens of vehicles plummeted into the Mississippi River,” an article on the collapse noted. 

Knowing America's poor infrastructure report card, it is sadly quite likely more will fail. Search “bridge collapse America” and you might be surprised how many deadly collapses there have been and how many are at risk.

Prior US Disasters and Neglected Infrastructure  

The August 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster displaced over a million people and led to the deaths of over 1,000.

Since then, there have been many criticisms of how the crisis was handled, including that “government officials neglected their duties to prepare for a forewarned catastrophe,” that there were flaws in construction of the levees, with two major drainage canals failing at their foundations, and that “none of the relevant government agencies had a plan for responding to a levee breach” (although the Department of Homeland Security was aware of the likelihood).

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Moving on to 2014, Flint, Michigan endured a five-year water crisis that saw dangerously high levels of fecal bacteria and lead contaminating the water, rendering it undrinkable for its 100,000 residents and exposing up to 12,000 children to the neurotoxin. Critics and residents wonder why it took so long for lead-free water to be supplied, and they can be forgiven for not trusting that the issue has really been resolved. 

There are other crises that could have been far less dramatic were America to prioritize people and infrastructure instead of military spending and wars. When the countries heavily targeted by US wars and sanctions can still manage crises (arguably better) with more concern for the well-being of their citizens than the US can, it is time for America to either up its PR game or actually take measures to help its people.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.