The Big Smokey?Posted: August 31, 2011
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.