Monday, July 17, 2017




          Is it political vengeance or merely a Republican President trying to make budget cuts on everything that’s not military?

          That’s the real question about Donald Trump’s first budget as it moves through congressional committees en route to becoming reality. It’s a question that reverberates especially on the West Coast, where not just California, but Oregon and Washington, too, voted heavily against Trump in last year’s election. The mid-Pacific state of Hawaii also strongly opposed Trump.

          The latest proposed budget victim coming to light is the life-saving tsunami detection system that gives early warning to all four of those states (and Republican Alaska) whenever a major earthquake strikes anywhere around the Pacific Rim’s so-called “Ring of Fire,” where those quakes sometimes produce enormously destructive tidal waves thousands of miles from the epicenters.

          Before the system of 39 deep-sea sensors and floating, tethered buoys existed, a tsunami measuring at least 20 feet tall slammed into Crescent City, near the California-Oregon state line in 1964 with very little warning. It decimated the city’s harbor and killed 11 persons who could not escape the city’s harbor in time.

          The early-detection system was in place by 2008 when a tsunami of similar size struck the same place. No one died because there was ample warning.

          Now Trump seeks to cut most of the $12 million federal contribution to maintaining the warning system, reducing staff from 40 full-time positions to 15 and cutting out one of the two tsunami warning centers. He also would end $6 million in safety grants to tsunami-prone states.

This proposal comes at the same time Trump seeks to eliminate the $10 million annual federal contribution to an under-construction earthquake early-detection system that could provide between 30 second and two minutes of notice before large quakes, thus potentially saving hundreds, perhaps thousands of lives.

          Both these systems have had strong backing from both Republican President George W. Bush and his Democratic successor, Barack Obama and it’s looking like a House committee may restore all the funds. That would not change Trump’s intent.

          Before Trump, there was a realization that even if a state went strongly against the eventual winning presidential candidate, the same state nevertheless contained millions of voters who went for the winner. That was how it went in California last year, when almost 4.5 million state residents voted for Trump, even though Democrat Hillary Clinton carried the state by the widest margin since the Franklin Roosevelt in 1936. Trump’s losses in Washington, Oregon and Hawaii were almost as wide.

          There is, of course, no plan for quake warnings on the East Coast, where almost no such shakes occur, but the tsunami warning system does cover Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia, all states with low-lying coastal areas, and all of which went Democratic last year.

          Cutting the federal contributions to these systems would be a classic case of being penny-wise and pound-foolish, if a natural disaster should hit without warning and destroy many lives along with billions of dollars in property. Spending by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, even under Trump, would likely dwarf the less than $28 million involved here. That spending could be cut substantially if there were sufficient warning for vehicle owners to get their cars and trucks out of tsunami zones or place valuable but fragile possessions in safe places before an earthquake arrives.

          Unless, of course, Trump should decide that residents of the states involved are not as American as other citizens and decline to issue post-disaster emergency declarations that free up grant money.

          Meanwhile, California would be hit harder than other states if Trump’s much larger planned spending cuts on things like Medicaid, public education and homeland security grants are ratified by Congress. The putative Medicaid cuts alone could lop $24 billion a year worth of California health care, an amount the state’s recent budget surpluses cannot make up.

          It’s still too early to say for sure that all this is pure political revenge for voting against the President. But the more Trump presses cuts in programs that disproportionately affect states like California, which voted against him, the more plausible become suspicions of vengeance.

    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It" is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit