The Big Smokey?

So, I have to go to the Daily Mail to really get some good coverage of this since the US  corporate media isn’t quite up to getting to news anywhere in the Great Fly Over.  New Orleans has spent 4 days now in a blanket of nasty white smoke from what was one and now is two marsh fires.  The second marsh fire is more threatening and is supposedly the result of arson.

This incredible image that looks straight out of Star Wars shows how smoke from a raging marsh fire in New Orleans has surrounded the iconic Superdome, as an emergency is declared in the city.

Helicopters are dropping water from 500-gallon baskets, hundreds of acres of land have been burned and now a second marsh fire has started in what is turning into a city-wide disaster.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu spotted a second marsh fire during a flight over one that has hazed the metro area with smoke for three days and he has now declared an emergency.

Okay, as of yesterday, we’re beginning to get some attention. It’s not exactly as bad as when I was screaming to every media outlet I could about the BP Oil Spill that all of them ignored for weeks.

Haze from the fire was reported as far west as the Baton Rouge metro area, the National Weather Service said. It expanded its smoke alert from New Orleans and six suburban parishes to 23 parishes, including towns 100 miles from New Orleans.

As of Tuesday morning, the original fire had burned all but about 537 acres — about eight-tenths of a square mile — of the trees, shrubs and grass on a 1,552.5-acre area surrounded by canals, said Ryan Berni, spokesman for Landrieu. It started in the center of the area and has been spreading outward.

“It would take an armada of helicopters” to drop water on it and douse it, said state Rep. Austin J. Badon, Jr., D-New Orleans, who flew over the fires separately from Landrieu.

Landrieu said he was told that each basket of water, when it hits earth, covers an area about the size of a pickup truck.

Along the East Coast, some 40 hot spots in the Great Dismal Swamp were still smoldering even after Hurricane Irene dumped 10 to 15 inches of rain on the area, according to a news release posted Tuesday on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website. That fire that lightning started on Aug. 4 has burned more than 6,000 acres in southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina.

Some New Orleans schools had canceled outdoor activities because of smoke which has spread across the metropolitan area for three days. Meteorologists expected the smoke to move north over Lake Pontchartrain by evening, but to settle over the metro area again overnight.

I’ve had a nearly constant headache and sick feeling since Sunday when I went out to walk the dog through what looked like white fog.  The smell definitely will let you know that this is not fog.  It’s an acrid, nasty smoky smell and its full of particulates.  We’ve had unhealthy air now for several days and the hospitals are filling up with people whose respiratory  ailments cannot handle the excess stress.

What I really want to point your attention to is an appearance by Tulane Professor Melissa Harris Perry as the Guest host of the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC.  I can’t pick up the video at the moment so you’ll have to go check it out yourself here.  She explains how this health disaster might be better managed than it is being handled now if we had marsh buggies or the funds to get to big planes to drop substantial amounts of water on the fire.  We don’t have any of those because the state doesn’t have money at the moment.  Yes, a lot of that is due to the fact that our Governor is obsessed with getting his ass ready to run for President 4 years from now and has even vetoed the cigarette tax in the state since it could be used against him as a possible tax increase by the Grover Norquist crowd.

This brings me to the larger topic of Eric Cantor who is insisting that any disaster aid to any of the victims of the flooding in Irene or any place else right now including tornado ravaged Joplin Missouri be offset by spending cuts.  Also, nasty little neoconfederate Ron Paul wants to eliminate FEMA. I have no idea what it’s going to take to get these folks to understand simple things like economies of scale and public goods that exist because the private sector can’t or won’t do it, but you’d think these kinds of disasters would be no-brainers on just the it’s our country and their our people argument.  Cantor isn’t busily cutting off his own but others while Ron Paul thinks the recent response to Galveston flooding was a lot more worse than the horrible Galveston hurricane of 1900 where thousands died.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) insistence that federal disaster aid be offset elsewhere in the budget runs directly counter to his position in the past when the money went to help his district.

In the summer of 2004, after Tropical Storm Gaston slammed into Richmond, Cantor was on the front lines of efforts to secure millions of dollars in federal assistance to clean the wreckage and repair damaged infrastructure. Although the funding was not offset, Cantor cheered its arrival.

“The magnitude of the damage suffered by the Richmond area is beyond what the Commonwealth can handle,” Cantor said in a news release at the time, “and that is why I asked the president to make federal funds available for the citizens affected by Gaston.”

That episode is raising eyebrows this week, after Cantor told Fox News that disaster aid in the wake of Hurricane Irene should not be funded with borrowed money. Instead, Cantor said Monday, all federal assistance should be offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget.

“Yes, we are going to find the money. We are just going to have to make sure there are savings elsewhere to continue to do so,” Cantor told Fox. “Just like any family would operate when it’s struck with disaster, it finds the money to take care of a sick loved one or what have you, and then goes without trying to buy a new car or [putting] an addition onto the house.”

Yes, Eric, even if the metaphor worked–which it doesn’t–most families do find the money.  They get loans and grants from the Federal Government just in case you didn’t know.  But, back to that metaphor,  when I can print money that every one universally accepts or when I can sell bonds that every one in the world wants at nearly zero interest rates, I’ll get back to you with some support for your lunacy. I can tell you how devastated my grandparents were by the 1927 flood too and how it took them decades to recover because they had no help and were dirt poor too. They had exactly one porcelain pig cream pitcher to show for their first decades of marriage and work and had to crawl out of poverty yet one more time after that flood.

I have no idea what it is going to take to get these neanderthal Republicans out of the 1900s and into the 21st century where we know that evolution is a scientific theory because there is tons of proof and no holes, where we know there is a role for the federal government in creating jobs and jumpstarting a bad economy, where we know that global warming exists and that climate science isn’t a hoax.  I imagine that it’s going to take something of a miracle to get the Koch brothers money and the religious right’s tentacles out of our government, but whatever ever it takes, it’s a battle we need to wage.

Here’s a good example of the problem from Matt Yglesias who for some reason keeps getting lumped in with liberals. It’s a pretty good indicator that progressive is a misnomer and more than just Neanderthal Republicans can jump the shark on public goods.

Suzy Khimm asks, sensibly, “Why are we subsidizing the building of homes in flood-prone areas?”

As she explains, the National Flood Insurance Program offers sub-market insurance rates to people who want to build houses in very flood prone areas. It’d be as if we had a special program to offer subsidized health insurance to people who refuse to wear seatbelts. Sounds nuts? And yet there it is. But I do think it’s important to note that this kind of program, generally the worst kind of thing the federal government does, tends to be totally uncontroversial politically. The National Flood Insurance Program Reextension Act of 2010 was sponsored by a bipartisan group, it passed the filibuster-ridden Senate by unanimous consent on September 21, it passed the House of Representatives on a voice vote on September 23, and was signed into law by President Obama a week later. The lead sponsor of the current Flood Insurance Reauthorization is Senator Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi. Amidst fierce ideological debate about the size and scope of the federal government, in other words, there’s no serious budget-cutting move to stop subsidizing people from living in dangerous flood zones.

Risk Theory is not the easiest topic to study unless you love calculus and probabilities.  This is the theoretical basis for insurance and it does explain a lot of things like moral hazard or information asymmetry. Risk theory and basic microeconomics also explains why some public goods are necessary because the private sector won’t provide them or they provide them at such a cost that nearly no one can afford them.  The deal is this.  FEMA does provide flood insurance.  It also provides a plan to folks who repeatedly live in areas that flood with a that plan buys them out or makes them do something to offset the risk–called hazard mitigation–so that these kinds of repetitive losses do not recur on our tax dollars or any one else’s money. But then, journalist memes and lore are so much more fun that facts!! FEMA also provides flood insurance because no private company will do it at a reasonable cost.  Private insurance is basically a Mafia-type gambling activity.  They only provide insurance when there’s a distinct house advantage.  For example, my Allstate homeowner’s insurance policy for which I pay more than I ever used to now has a wind and rain deductible that exactly equals my loss during Katrina.  That’s the only claim I’ve ever had in the 11 years of living here. Also, sit down with me and a beer some time and let me tell you all the things that they were supposed to cover which they never did. FEMA flood insurance provides a small sum of money that would barely cover the rebuilding cost of my small house, should it have flooded.  I know that no one back east that has the insurance is going to get an amount close to rebuilding their house.  Yet, what little they do get will stop them from going into complete personal devastation and that’s the point.  A sum of $250,000 will get you back on your feet a lot quicker than the fisting you’ll get from the good hands people, believe me.

So, my rant is not that an act of lightening set a marsh on fire or that some idiot arsonist compulsively made life a lot worse for a lot more folks for some reason.  It isn’t that that mother nature shouldn’t send floods or prairie fires or hurricanes.  It’s that in a huge country, there are huge risks.  Huge risk pools are only possible when you opt in the population and you go around the private sector that wants to cherry pick its way to executive bonuses.  Economies of scale in standardized processing, ratings, policies and administration is only possible at the public good level.  Same deal goes with health insurance which is something every other developed nation figured out a long time ago.  However, they obviously don’t have to deal with lobbyists and neanderthals and neoconfederates like we do.

19 Comments on “The Big Smokey?”

  1. The Rock says:

    I’ve heard you talk about the marsh fires here, but that is the first picture I’ve seen of it. My God, what in the name of all that is good are the public officials doing about the fire?? The public health risk to kids alone should have them formulating policy on Saturday night. 500 letters should have been sent to Napolitano and Obumbles by this point. Is everyone at least wearing those surgeons mask that have to be in that muckety muck?? I am so sorry you and everybody down there are going through that. I’ll send another letter to my rep (Al Green – D, TX) about this. Because of the leadership, I’m scared for this country.


    Hillary 2012

    • dakinikat says:

      They finally started dumping some water on it from the air because of the public outcry. They were going to just leave it alone and let it burn out because Louisiana (our governor is a cheap bastard when it comes to people, he only puts out for corporations) doesn’t have the proper equipment to deal with them and usually letting them burn works when you’re not in a drought because the rain puts them out.

    • dakinikat says:

      and yes, those pictures over at The Mail are amazing. Walking through the stuff is awful. I’ve got stuff in my eyes, my nose is running, my throat hurts, and I have a terrible headache AND I’ve taken an antihistamine. I put on my a/c’s fan because the a/c alone wasn’t keeping it out of the house.

      • northwestrain says:

        Smoke — constant smoke — Summertime in WA state. Clear cut the forest and then burn the slash piles. Research seems to show that there is a link between constant smoke from fires and the increase in Asthma. Cause/Effect is hard to prove — but when the air is smoke filled for months at a time and the asthma rate goes up . . . .

        As soon as you started blogging about the constant smoke I’ve been worried — our smoke is from stupids and it is deliberate. Constant smoke is a health hazard.

        Do you have an air purifier in your house? Those really do help — I have one going in the bedroom. Costco generally keeps air purifiers stocked up here.

    • Minkoff Minx says:

      Yeah, that is the first picture I have seen too.

      Damn, I just don’t know what to say Dak…this is terrible.

  2. dakinikat says:

    More private sector “efficiency”

    US defence contractors ‘waste’ $12m a day #FinancialTimes

  3. bostonboomer says:

    This is terrible, Dak. And arson? Why would anyone do such a thing?

  4. bostonboomer says:

    Ironically, NPR just had Ron Paul on for an interminable interview–it seemed like at least half and hour. They let him ramble on about how the states should be able to handle emergencies and the government shouldn’t provide insurance–people who live on the beach and get to enjoy it should also pay the price when their house gets flooded. And FEMA should be disbanded, because when the federal government gets involved in anything it just makes things worse. And so on. The man is nuts, and they let him talk without any challenge whatsoever.

    • dakinikat says:

      at least people can judge for themselves just how crazy he is now ….hopefully, we’ll get more on insane Rick Perry too

    • The Rock says:

      What is sad is that his arguments are gaining traction among GOP voters and independents. I can’t tell you how many people I run into that buy into his ‘let’s disband everything except defence’ idea. Without challenge from the questioners, just like you said, he can get away with it. His elevation to 1600 Penn Ave would be the day that I move to Canada or back home. Maybe Bachmann could edge him out and become prez in ’12. Then we would just have to schedule the rapture for ’13….

      We are so f^&*d……

      Hillary 2012

  5. madamab says:

    Such terrible news…do you think that the marshes have residue in them from the BP oil spill, and that is why the fires are a health hazard?

    I sure hope you all get some relief soon.

    By the way, Yglesias can kiss my butt. His argument is typical Libertarian BS, as though people have the options to live wherever they want regardless of circumstances! Besides, you can never tell what is actually going to be in a flood zone. Look at Vermont. I’ll bet people there didn’t think they were in danger of flooding before Irene. 😦

    • dakinikat says:

      These marshes undoubtedly have dispersant in them. I’m not sure about the oil but there’s all kinds of stuff people dump in the marshes which is also contributing to the air quality.

    • dakinikat says:

      Yglesias is a yuppie born swimming in white male privilege. He’s got “standing” to write from that viewpoint out his ass.

    • Minkoff Minx says:

      do you think that the marshes have residue in them from the BP oil spill, and that is why the fires are a health hazard?

      Oo, good point madamab

  6. madaha says:

    this is awful. what a third world country this is.

  7. Branjor says:

    How awful. Between the BP oil spill and now this marsh fire, your health and that of everyone in the area certainly has been put at risk. I wish Eric Cantor et. al. would just shut their big mouths and let needed aid go unhindered to areas which need it.

    So, I have to go to the Daily Mail to really get some good coverage of this since the US corporate media isn’t quite up to getting to news anywhere in the Great Fly Over.

    Same here! I had to go to the Daily Mail to get some good coverage of the Lakewood, NJ tent city. I found out during Irene that one of the friends I spent the storm with sent the story in herself, which I hadn’t known when I linked to it on SD

  8. B KIlpatrick says:

    Ahem, we don’t have any money because state and local spending per capita have doubled since 2000….