The story that nobody is talking about this weekend nationally should be making your head spin and your heart flutter.

Gas lines are back in America.  And the thing is, they may be here to stay for quite some time.

While Congress and Bush administration officials have been working to complete a bailout plan and stem the financial contagion on Wall Street, a different kind of economic crisis emerged across the South this week: A severe, hurricane-related gasoline shortage has curtailed trucking from Atlanta to Asheville, N.C., and created a wave of panic buying among motorists.

The return of gas lines has largely flown under the radar of politicians who are usually keenly attuned, because their constituents are, to what’s going on at the pump. But more of the Capitol gang should be paying attention to this.

That’s because nationwide our gasoline inventory is shockingly low. Liquidity must be restored soon to this market, or we could be facing a crippling run on the gasoline bank. And if you think Americans are outraged about Wall Street, wait until their Main Street grocery store doesn’t get the bread and milk delivery for a week or two.

I have family in Western NC.  I can tell you that these gas shortages for the last two weeks are very real, and that these shortages are going to be way more common in the future for a number of reasons.

No slack in the system.  America works these days on the Just-In-Time delivery principle.  Supply routes for everything you buy are computerized and calculated to arrive “just in time” to restock supply.  Warehousing stock for long periods of time wastes money.  If a product is sitting in a warehouse when it could be on a store shelf or in your shopping cart, the company selling that product is losing money on it.

The stores where you live are sent what the corporations think they will sell each week and no more.  This goes for groceries, electronics, sports equipment, guitars, beauty products, fast food hamburger patties and this includes gasoline as well.

Ike hit the system for the Southeast US.  The Colonial Pipeline is what provides gasoline for the interior regions of the South and Mid-Atlantic:  northern Alabama, northern Georgia, eastern Tennessee, upstate South Carolina and western North Carolina, as well as parts of eastern Virginia, Maryland, and even Delaware and western New Jersey are all served by this pipeline.

But the Just-In-Time system has no slack in other parts of the country right now, because inventories are so low.  They are that low because storing gasoline is expensive.  Wringing out slack saves refiners and gas stations money.

We had a hurricane shut down the Colonial Pipeline at the same time gasoline inventories were at 50 year lows.  Result:  Just in time is not in time.  Shortages will continue in the South for the foreseeable future.

Now here’s the real problem.  Everything else in just-in-time delivery works on gasoline.  Shortages on gas mean delivery interruptions for everybody else.  Delivery interruptions means stores are having either sit on supply because customers can’t get to the store to buy it, or that stores have shortages because of no deliveries on time.  These refineries create diesel fuel too.  Trucks have to have it or they stop.  No diesel, no delivery.

This leads to panic buying where there are shortages. What you’re seeing in cities like Charlotte, Hickory, and Asheville in North Carolina right now could end up getting a whole lot worse very very quickly as fuel shortages may very well become shortages of everything else.

No fuel means no deliveries of other just in time items…like electronics, shampoo, car parts, fertilizer, oh and things like, I dunno, food.

No gas.  No fuel to truck food in.  No food.

There’s a cheerful thought.  Panic buying of gas leads to shortages of everything else across the board, including food.

Now imagine that hitting where you live.  Grocery stores start running out of food because there are no deliveries…leading to panic buying of groceries in your neighborhood.

How long would you last not being able to buy food right now?  There are food shortages across the world right now, water as well.  Just-in-time delivery, plus a rotting American infrastructure, plus commodity shortages around the world…that equals catastrophe for urbanized areas of the world.

If even one of these crucial links in the chain drops out, disruptions across the entire system result.

Systemic disruptions can lead to the crash of the entire system.  As megacorporations grow fat off of wringing out the slack in the system, Americans grow increasingly dependent on the system just to survive.

And if the system does crash, then what?  You’re betting on the Federal government, this government, OUR government, to save you?

Good luck on that.  What do you think would happen where you lived if there was no gasoline and no diesel within a full tank’s drive of your house for a period of seven days?  What would happen, honestly?

System crash.

We’re seeing chaos in that part of the country.  I’m pretty scared, my parents and brother live there.  They’re doing alright according to Dad, but those gas shortages are beginning to take their toll.  Lines are bad.  People are cutting way back on activities now.  They’re having to miss work and school.  Another couple of weeks of this and things could be bad.

Very bad.  The refineries are still down.  No slack to help from other parts of the country.  One real good weekend of panic buying could really cause serious problems.

When Barack Obama says that our economy is a national security issue, this is what I think it means.  I hope he understands the issue.  The Bush administration’s entrenched corporate culture of greed, deregulation of industries and allowing them to police themselves, removal of consumer protections because they are “expensive regulatory barriers” and PROFIT PROFIT PROFIT has led directly to this situation.

Because we’re going to see a lot more of this as the economy continues to tank.  We don’t have the money for infrastructure.  We’re almost $11 trillion in the hole now.  We spent that money on Iraq and Afghanistan and Wall Street, not fixing and future-proofing our most basic infrastructure systems.

We privatized them instead.  Look how that turned out.  Disaster capitalism at its finest.  And we’re going to be in for a lot more of it in the future before we’re forced to try to salvage a system on the brink of collapse.

What happens when the systems we rely on to kick in when the primary systems are down, are also down?

System crash.  I’ve been talking about an economic system crash for months now.  We’re seeing that happen.  But there are many, many other systems, and wringing every drop of blood out of them for PROFIT PROFIT PROFIT always PROFIT has left those systems just as vulnerable.

And all those systems are interconnected.  They affect each other.  If one goes down, they take the others with it.  We live in a systemic, interconnected world.  All those systems have to work.

Now realize Bush has been in charge of watching those systems for eight years.  McSame and Palin and the GOP want to continue that same philosophy.

Scared yet?  I am.  You need to be too.  It needs to scare you into action.

Be prepared.

Cross-posted at ZVTS.

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