--CNN, specifically, right now, Soledad O’Brien, is unbelievable. She’s gone on the offensive the last couple of days, vilifying FEMA, President Bush, and DHS for all she’s worth. She acts as if there should have been 100,000 troops on the ground (err, in the water) by Tuesday morning, 5,000 tons of food ready to go at a moment’s notice, a contingency plan set out for every little problem, facilities to house a million people with full medical care, clothing, and food just sitting there waiting for a disaster that could happen in 2005 or might never happen in 200 years. Even her cohorts and the people she’s interviewing have to back up from the extreme criticisms thinly disguised by her questions. She’s outraged that things aren’t going as smoothly as she would like. I think she’s right up there with Katie Couric.
Of course, this attitude is somewhat shared by the starving refugees. They ask, “what are we SUPPOSED TO DO???!?” Well, it’s not called a tragedy, a disaster for nothing. There is no prescribed “supposed to do” in this situation. This is a horrible tragedy, the destruction of a city, and nobody can blame a left behind refugee for asking the question, but the fact is there was an evacuation order a day ahead of time; you stayed behind at your own peril; nobody wanted this hurricane, nobody could stop it, nobody created it (although see below for the European viewpoint); I understand some people didn’t feel they had the wherewithal to leave – no car, no money, no relatives living elsewhere; so we say that some people chose to stay while others couldn’t leave. Well, I’m sorry, but clearly just because you can’t leave ahead of time on your own does not mean the government has a plan for you ALL mapped out ahead of time for exactly how you’ll get out, where you’ll go, what you’ll wear, how you’ll stay safe, what you’ll eat, where you’ll live afterward, etc. It just doesn’t work like that in the year 2005 after a city is destroyed in this manner. No person DID THIS to you. It’s an awful situation. No good news.
One guy tried to explain that enormous resources have been mobilized, a billion dollars a day are being spent (and rising), tens of thousands of people are involved, but even if in some alternate universe the response was somehow TEN TIMES what it is, it STILL wouldn’t come close to meeting the immediate need that exists to help the homeless who stayed for Katrina. Some things just take time, some things just aren’t possible, and hundreds or thousands of people now living will probably die for one reason or another in the next week.
There's just frustration at the facts, at the technology level of 2005. When you destroy the roads and knock out all communications, and you have people scattered all over an entire city who were told it was of the UTMOST importance that they MUST leave (and for whatever reason they did not), and you have armed gangs trying to kill and fend off the arriving help, well things are going to take a while to get better. They'll get everyone they can out, because they must, but it's going to take a while -- the destruction is spread across an area larger than many countries, after all.
Various “civil rights leaders” have been playing the race card, leveraging the fact that the Bush administration and the federal government are not Superman, are not miracle workers, and there are people left on the ground, and trying to make the case that they’re left on the ground because they’re black, because they’re "low income," and because white America doesn’t care. That’s an example of bullshit and opportunism. It's insulting beyond belief to the tens of thousands of people involved in the thankless job of trying to get things done and help people to continually denigrate every effort made as inadequate and steeped in racism. And it would be nice to hear an ounce of gratefulness from refugees coming to other states, other schools, people's homes, etc.
--Another target for Soledad is Dennis Hastert, who was bold enough to ask the question, “does it make sense to rebuild a city that’s below sea level?” Well, does it? If the Euros are right (see below), we’re going to see more and more hurricanes, and the chance of another Katrina hitting New Orleans in the next fifty years will increase dramatically. Big changes need to occur if the city is to come back from this blow. They couldn’t transform a whole city before when the threat of “the big one” was well-known, and it’s not exactly starting from scratch now, but it really DOESN’T make sense to do things the wrong way again.
Some people are complaining that if we knew about this possibility years ago, why didn't they do anything. Do WHAT?? Some things just aren't possible, and it's infantile of Soledad and others to keep harping on the lack of preparedness and the lack of gigantic changes in the city ahead of time. I guess they wanted a state-of-the-art 21st century city overnight. One former Louisiana lawmaker blames environmentalists for radically slashing the budget of the Army Corp of Engineers, such that there was no money to redesign the levees for a Category 5 hurricane and even less money to actually execute the changes.
--Looting. There certainly is a large difference between breaking in to steal a plasma television and trying to keep your family alive by scavenging for food and water. This is survival mode. Price is no longer a valid rationing device. It’s all down to “first come first served” and “might makes right.” There is no infrastructure. There is nothing. I don’t blame someone taking food and water from a store one bit. I promise I would attempt to do the same.
What’s sad is that the gangs of New Orleans are adopting the warlord system. This is reminiscent of Somalia. Ambulances have been shot at. Helicopters have been shot at. This is tremendous. Can you imagine the sub-human scum trying to destroy rescue helicopters? That’s what insurgents do in Iraq. Many rapes have occurred as well. The police who haven’t fled are under attack. They hide at night.
What about the seizure of the busses? These tourists got together their own money and hired buses to come and pick them up. Here are people actually doing for themselves. And the military confiscated every single bus. That’s embarassing. And we’re concerned about food looting?
--Papa Johns is one of hundreds of companies (including my company) throwing help at the situation. The pizza chain is sending 10,000 pizzas to the Astrodome and also offering jobs to refugees. There’s nothing any company can possibly do that would appease some of the media though. Personally, I’m encouraged by how a lot of firms are reacting.
--I’ve heard reports that a lot of folks in the middle east are rejoicing over Katrina’s damage, which is to be expected. Maybe they think Allah is taking his revenge, the divine counterpart to 9/11. Some Europeans are more logical. It goes like this: oilman Bush/SUVs/too much driving/too many highways/dirty industries/not enough pollution standards = causing global warming = unnatural weather patterns = monster hurricane = death and destruction = we brought it on ourselves = we got what we deserved (just like we did with 9/11). So that’s how the United States and its people caused this hurricane and this destruction. This probably isn't a widespread spoken belief, but some are saying (writing) it and many are thinking it.
--Gas is high. I paid $3.16 this morning for 93 octane (required in my bike). I’m sure it’s higher now, a few hours later. I think it will peak here in the $3.40 range for 87 octane. A lot of experts are predicting a national median of $4.00 or more. Maybe two-wheeled transportation might become more attractive if we see $5 or $6/gallon gas at the pumps, but the cost of buying the bike, insurance, training, various riding gear, accessories, maintenance, supplies, plus the added risk (for a country of the worst car drivers in the history of the world) and upkeep responsibility and the fact you still need to own and insure a car for your high heat/low cold/wet days and for groceries… my bike gets 48+ MPG when I’m taking it halfway easy, at least 44 when I hit it pretty hard for a lot of the tank, but I’ve spent many thousands on it that I could have saved for gas. Of course, I could ride my bicycle to work and the grocery store if things got really bad, such as shortages or rationing. My motorcycle miles are mostly a luxury item, however.
The fluid price of gas is an important rationing device. The price NEEDS to be able to adjust without media morons and sensitivo guv’ners screaming “GOUGER!” Keep the price artificially low and when demand undergoes a tremendous spike – for whatever reason – you likely WILL have people lined up for 300 feet waiting to buy gas, because the price has not changed to reflect the increased demand. There’s no extra cost for filling the tank (and the gascans!) and topping it off every single day, so why not? This will likely result in SHORTAGES, an INEFFICIENT allocation of gasoline, in a persistent high demand/low supply environment. Those who didn’t get any gas because there’s now a shortage would have been willing to pay MORE for SOME gas, but because of PRICE CAPS (like those now in Hawaii and those implicit in all the gulf coast and deep south states) those who were able to get gas first took all they could at the artificially low price when they might have only been willing to take SOME at the higher natural market price. If this sounds simple, it’s because IT IS. You all should have learned this in 8th grade, had it reinforced in 10th and 12th grades, and gone into higher thinking and detail in college.
Another nice aspect is CNN (why do I keep watching these people?) encouraging folks to call the office of the governor to report “gougers” who ripped them off. So you’re telling me somebody should engage in mutually-beneficial exchange, be willing to pay the asking price, AND THEN try and bring the lawyers in to punish the merchant?
Cries of price "gouging" are coming from consumers who just don't like that prices are higher and understand supply and demand about as well as they understand quantum physics and neurochemistry. They'll be pissed about two things at once: shortages AND "gouging." The government and media encourage them to report "gouging" and of course what else would they do?
Other brilliant ideas: a consumer price cap but with the government (federal, state, local, I don’t know) subsidizing the difference between the wholesale price and the retail price (oh yes, that’s fraught with all kinds of “fairness” and stability, isn’t it?); rationing – basically an overseer gets to decide who gets what (socialism in microcosm). A statewide price cap, as in Hawaii, is simply NOT the answer in this volatile environment, unless you plan to constantly adjust it or peg it to wholesale prices. Otherwise, what happens if the market price for gas goes so high that the wholesale price is actually HIGHER than your retail price cap?? A shortage wouldn’t describe that. Nobody would or could (or should) sell gas in your state. Then the state has to change or rescind the price cap OR get in to the business of selling gas. Terrible idea. Sounds good on the surface, though, all warm and fuzzy and benevolent of them. That darn reality thing though…
--The economic impact will be enormous, and felt for years. There are hundreds of thousands of newly-unemployed people. There is the well-known energy problem. There are the billions and billions in insurance payouts and tens of billions in government costs and aid. Prices for virtually everything will experience upward pressure directly attributable to Katrina. The weak dollar will get even weaker -- the trade deficit will obviously grow, and imports will cost more for Americans. There's no industry in the country which won't be affected, and many big ones -- insurance, real estate, construction, energy, good production -- will be severely affected. We're headed for another recession, with growing inflation. We did not need this.
Finally, it could have been worse: Katrina's eye could have gotten closer to New Orleans (it "missed," which on Monday morning was an initial relief); Katrina could have moved slower (slow-moving hurricane = more time spent ravaging each spot); Katrina could have been Category 5 hurricane instead of degrading to a Category 4; it could be cold instead of hot; there could have been even less evacuation; ALL the levees could have broken; it could have continued raining all week. Small mercies...
--UPDATE: the Democrats and "civil rights leaders" and media continue to brutally and insultingly criticize the whole relief effort. I wish they could shut the HELL up for five minutes. The relief effort has been massive and awesome. Every shred of infrastructure was destroyed. They had to start utterly from scratch with vast variables. I'm so SICK of "black leaders" throwing accusations of racism and classism and complacency at FEMA, DHS, and the administration. Who the fuck are they helping? Themselves. Bastards. I'm stunned by the civilian, military, agency, corporate, charity, and private citizen response to this whole thing. Texas has absorbed a quarter of a million former Louisiana residents alone. They're all being sheltered, fed, tended to medically, and comforted. Baton Rouge has more than doubled in size, probably permanently (where else are they going to go? New Orleans? Not for several months or several years!). There are still people out there stranded on the tops of buildings. And this should highlight the difficulty involved, the superhuman task of saving people when there's absolutely no infrastructure, no communication, no transportation, danger from rogue gangs with arsenals, huge fires, alligators, etc.
--UPDATE: as far as gas prices, it seems we've weathered the worst of the short term problems. And the price of crude is back under control due to the actions of several governments and OPEC. In the mid term (next six months) we'll probably continue to have upward pressure due to reduced refining capacity. Other energy areas (like heating) are going to suffer this winter as well. In the long term (next six years) we're in trouble.
By the way, I didn't say climbing gas prices were GOOD, or that I like em (they could be disastrous to the economy), I just said higher prices are better than the alternative, which is artificially static prices (due to government meddling) and the resulting SHORTAGES.
--UPDATE: and now for some pure entertainment, hear the wisdom of some guy named Kanye on MTV (right click Save File As).
--UPDATE: Well, thousands are refusing to leave their putrid rotting disease factory homes in New Orleans. That doesn't bother me. But they want folks to boat them in food and water every day. FAT CHANCE!! This city is destroyed and it's not coming back any time soon. It will be years and tens of billions of dollars before some of the problems are sorted out. Life goes on, but New Orleans does not necessarily go on.
On gas prices: the biggest actor in the short term in the US is refining capacity. Also, as the price of crude increases, it becomes financially feasible to bring certain marginal oil scavenging locations and methods on line. The quantity supplied will adjust upward in the long term, as more resources are shifted toward the production of crude, in response to higher and higher crude prices. This in turn will put downward pressure on crude prices and a new equilibrium price will emerge. When people demand a higher quantity of gasoline, FOR WHATEVER REASON, if the price of gasoline is not allowed to adjust upward because of artificial price caps (or the fear of "price gouging" accusations), then there's an inefficiency going which could lead to shortages at the pump. My hedge is putting my 401K in energy and natural gas mutual funds and my nonretirement account in energy stocks.
It's just stunning to me to see CNN.com, for instance, continue to beat the drum for the "price gouging" meme. They even have a guide for determining if you've been "gouged!" Y'see, if all the other gas stations around are charging significantly less than the station where you bought gas, you may have been gouged, according to them. To me, if the station where you bought gas is charging a lot more than all the rest, you may be a fucking idiot. But really, didn't these people learn about shortages and the role of fluid prices in the allocation of resources? Gas is a commodity, essentially. This is idiocy.
--UPDATE: Al Sharpton is about as complete an idiot as one can possibly be and still get invited on various television programs.
--The water still covering much of the area is a "toxic soup." FEMA has ordered 25,000 body bags.
--The Kneeslider had a good point today: For those of us who really like motor vehicles and often own several, I found this article extremely interesting. When looking at the recent hurricane and examining why so many people were stuck and left behind, rather than blaming a lot of different people or government agencies, you can look at one simple fact: Most of the people that had their own vehicles simply left, those that didn’t were helpless. Next time you hear one of those anti car public transit types spouting off, you might mention this.
And from the link: Critics of autos love the term "auto dependent." But Katrina proved that the automobile is a liberator. It is those who don't own autos who are dependent -- dependent on the competence of government officials, dependent on charity, dependent on complex and sometimes uncaring institutions.