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Archive for May, 2010

“Our Kinship Will Not Be Washed Away”

Monday, May 31st, 2010

We always hate to miss a good protest, so we really wish we could have been in Jackson Square yesterday for the big SAVE THE GULF rally (organized, at least in part, by Murdered Gulf). In her HuffPo blog Karen Dalton-Beninato brings us an account of the strong lineup of speakers, including Phyllis Montana-Leblanc and Dr. John, with a rain-damp but spirited crowd that included Spike Lee, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Tim Robbins. (See photos posted by Derek Bridges @ Flickr and below; Editor B @ Flickr [with cool panorama]; Times-PicayuneNew Orleans Ladder; and NewOrleans.com.)

Probably the hottest and most articulate rant—worthy of Treme’s Creighton Bernette, or New Orleans’s late, beloved Ashley Morris—was given by activist Ian Hoch, who focused the crowd’s attention on the damage to the fishermen along the Gulf, on corporate malfeasance that is not limited to BP, and on the need to turn this oil slick crime into the moment when America shifts gears toward alternative energy sources. (See Gore, Kerry, Sanders at “In the News,” right.) Speaking through a bullhorn, Hoch aroused raucous cheers as he called for action and support of fellow Louisianians:

“Help the men and women in the coastal parishes yourself. Go visit St. Bernard, go visit Terrebone and Lafourche and Plaquemines. Eat at their restaurants and drink at their bars. I haven’t been fishing since I was 10 years old—I don’t even know if I like fishing—but I know that I would take immense pleasure in supporting a charter boat captain whose livelihood is endangered by BP’s corporate malfeasance. [applause] If everybody here today got together with a couple of their friends and booked a charter fishing trip I know we’d make a difference. And if everybody here asked the waiter every time they visit a restaurant, ‘Are you serving Louisiana seafood?’ I know we would make a difference. . . . I’m not going to stay here in town enjoying the current renaissance of New Orleans while our brothers and sisters are out on the water twisting in the wind.

“Let’s boycott BP, and let’s use less gasoline and reduce our carbon footprint. Thomas Friedman says “Change your leaders, not your lightbulbs.” So keep your anger focused on the politicians. Corporations will be corporations, and politicians will be politicians. But BP doesn’t answer to you. But Mary Landrieu and Bobby Jindal and David Vitter and Joseph Cao and Barack Obama do answer to you. [applause] Self-serving politicans enable the bad guys, and we enable the self-serving politicians. So call your congressmen and tell them they must not allow this disaster to corrode the social fabric of the coastal parishes. Tell them you want to be sure that BP doesn’t get to pick an oil-industry affiliated judge in Houston. . . .

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“This Small Planet”

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

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At a loss for words while Louisiana’s at a loss for land, life

Like many bloggers we’re sometimes at a loss for words in the face of the widening catastrophe in the Gulf—the one that began with a bang on April 20, Earth Day. We want to say something, to do something that will stop the hemorrhage (we can’t) or make the federal government push harder on BP to work faster and be more honest in their damage assessments (any progress?). There is much we could say, some of it ambivalent or confused and self-contradictory or unrealistic. How is it possible to be realistic when we cannot see the full scope of the catastrophe? We want to be accurate and comprehensive (on one hand, on the other hand), yet the subject has grown so large that, as with the all-touching subject of Hurricane Katrina, comprehensiveness and accuracy seems beyond anyone’s grasp. So instead we’ll take bits and pieces. It’s okay to take small, focused subjects, too.

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One specific, poignant subject is the absolute heartbreak of seeing a dead pelican—the state bird of Louisiana—being carried in a plastic bag along the oil-stained beach by an emergency clean-up worker. Other photos show pelicans trying to clean the oil slick off their feathers. Only last November the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu announced that after some four decades the brown pelican, once driven nearly to extinction by the pesticide DDT, had repopulated enough that the species no longer required specific federal protection. Where is the pelican now? Dripping with oil, gasping for air, like the state it symbolizes.

(See “The Brown Pelican Is Back.” Click here for a gallery of photographs of the brown pelican by Times-Picayune photographer Scott Threlkeld • Boston Globe slide show • New York Times oil spill slide show • Washington Post photo gallery of the oil spill’s animal victims • ProPublica.org oil spill slide show.)

We treehuggers are often scoffed at for caring about the animals and other life crushed by industrial expansion, and it is true that sometimes environmentalists concerned about a single species in a specific habitat have lost sight of a larger good—sometimes a larger environmental good. Go ahead, we can take the scoffing—we have skin like tree bark—but who that has a soul feels nothing in common with other creatures? The animals are the same as us, only without the protections humans can (sometimes) afford. Let’s all remember that, as President Kennedy said in his famous commencement address at American University in June 1963:

“. . . in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

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Top photograph from ThinkProgress.org.

Bagged pelican photograph by Gerald Herbert/Associated Press.



“Sometimes Accidents Happen”

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Libertarian snipes at “un-American . . . criticism of business”

Dr. Rand Paul’s comments about the 1964 Civil Rights Act have been getting the attention they deserve, but we’re also troubled by his criticism of the Obama administration for keeping the pressure on BP to plug its five-week-plus Deepwater Oil Hemorrhage in the Gulf of Mexico. In an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on May 21 Rand said:

What I don’t like from the president’s administration is this sort of, ‘I’ll put my boot heel on the throat of BP.’ I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business. . . . I’ve heard nothing from BP about not paying for the spill. And I think it’s part of this sort of blame game society in the sense that it’s always got to be someone’s fault instead of the fact that maybe sometimes accidents happen.

“Accidents” surely do happen (“stuff happens,” too), but what also happens to make avoidable industrial accidents potentially catastrophic is that corporations decide to cut costs by not installing shut-off mechanisms such as the acoustic switch that BP opted not to use on the Deepwater Horizon well. (See “Oil-Spotted Dick: Cheney’s Oily Fingerprints in the BP Disaster.”)

As the Times-Picayune’s Bob Marshall points out in a strong opinion piece, “Oil Disaster Brought to You by Deregulation,” it’s deregulation—“the movement to eliminate federal laws that protect people and the environment,” and industry lobbyists’ financing of the public officials now jostling for position in enviro-friendly photo ops that have brought us this fine mess.

Even after the disaster, industry promoters are saying how rare such accidents are, are talking (in almost reverential tones) about how amazing the technology for deep-ocean drilling is, often using the refrain “this is like stuff we do in space.” . . . minimizing the catastrophic damage possible from an accident in these locations is beyond technological hubris. It is closer to criminal malfeasance on the part of those sworn to protect the public’s property and health. . . . We always knew accidents would happen, but what this event teaches us is the industry has no effective way to prevent a mishap from becoming a catastrophe.



BP Oilpocalypse Threatens New Orleans’s Very Existence

Friday, May 14th, 2010

Steve Wereley [of] . . . Purdue University, told NPR the actual spill rate of the BP oil disaster is about 3 million gallons a day—15 times the official guess of BP and the federal government. . . . Eugene Chiang . . . [of] the University of California, Berkeley, calculated the rate of flow to be between 840,000 and four million gallons a day. These estimates mean that the Deepwater Horizon wreckage could have spilled about five times as much oil as the 12-million-gallon Exxon Valdez disaster, with relief only guaranteed by BP in three more months.  Experts: BP Disaster Spilling the Equivalent of Two Exxon Valdezes a Week” | ThinkProgress.org

We have a dream—and it may sound wicked, but its cause is just.

If our wish could come true, the “volcano of oil” unleashed by BP would be driven eastward by ocean currents out of the Gulf of Mexico, loop around the pristine shores of Florida, and sweep up the Atlantic seaboard, hovering offshore just close enough to terrorize and activate the American public and elected officials to finally swear off the national addiction to oil. Let the nation get a taste of what’s sickening Louisiana and the Gulf Coast.

As long as we’re visualizing a targeted spread of two Exxon Valdezes per week’s worth of oil, we’d like to see it hovering like an evil genie from a lamp and dripping, dripping malodorously down on the homes and finely manicured lawns of all politicians who have accepted campaign contributions from the oil industry for their votes favoring lax regulations, expanded drilling rights, and low or no royalty revenues for Louisiana.

Fellow Americans who benefit from Gulf Coast oil, it’s time to push Congress and governors to begin developing of alternative energy sources, electric cars, and massive investment in public transportation. (The U.S. is already deep in debt for oil-driven wars, so let’s shift gears and spend instead on immediate national security + new jobs.)

Everyone (almost) is already worried about the Big Spill’s damage to the livelihood of Gulf Coast fishermen and related businesses and the threat to birds, fish, oysters, shellfish, and other coastal fauna. Dead dolphins and sea turtles are pathetic and sickening. But also stomach-turning, terrifying—and possibly fatal to New Orleans—is the fact that the BP “oilpocalypse” is killing the sea grass and other vegetation in the already imperiled, already dwindling Louisiana wetlands that serve as a buffer against hurricanes’ storm surge.

Here’s how it works: Every 2.5 to 4 miles of wetlands reduce hurricane storm surges by about a foot; measured another way, each mile of marsh reduces storm surges by 3 to 9 inches. To protect against the awesome 25- to 30-foot storm surges brought by massive cyclones like Katrina and the Category 5 Hurricane Camille in 1969, for safety southern Louisiana would want (in addition to the barrier islands that have all but washed away) about 50 to 75 miles of wetlands between the Gulf of Mexico and the city of New Orleans. But metro New Orleans, home to about 1.5 million, is now protected by a buffer no more than about 20 miles of wetlands.

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“Oil-Spotted Dick”: Cheney’s Oily Fingerprints in the BP Disaster

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

It’s Not “Obama’s Katrina”—But It’s Cheney’s Second

[ cross-posted at Daily Kos ]

Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy.”

—Vice President Dick Cheney, quoted in New York Times, May 1, 2001

The good people of Great Britain have a beloved and time-honored delicacy, a steamed suet pudding known as spotted dick. Well, we Americans too have a celebrated concoction that has served as vice president and secretary of defense as well as CEO of Halliburton. And what a rare and piquant morsel is our Dick.

Conservative media outlets and their followers at CNN have been quick to ask in their usual accusatory way if this disaster is “Obama’s Katrina” (by all means, lose no opportunity to attack!). It is probably true that the administration should have been more proactively skeptical of BP’s assertions that the situation was under control. (TPM’s timeline here.) But the responsibility for the leak’s happening at all lies closer to the George W. Bush administration—and to its all-powerful vice president. Halliburton was cementing the base of the well at the time of the explosion, and for its involvement in the accident the Houston-based oil services giant is named in a lawsuit filed by the widow of one of the 11 missing offshore workers. The Wall Street Journal reported (4/30):

The scrutiny on cementing will focus attention on Halliburton Co., the oilfield-services firm that was handling the cementing process on the rig. . . . Halliburton also was the cementer on a well that suffered a big blowout last August in the Timor Sea, off Australia. The rig there caught fire and a well leaked tens of thousands of barrels of oil over 10 weeks before it was shut down.

But Cheney is implicated also in the absence of a device that could have stopped the leak. The Wall Street Journal, Salon.com, the New Republic, and Michael Tomasky at The Guardian have been following the dripping trail of oil that leads to Dick Cheney’s (formerly undisclosed) location.

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“Held Up Without a Gun”

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

I was out driving just taking it slow / Looked at my tank, it was reading low / Pulled in a [BP] station out on Highway 1 / Held up without a gun / Held up without a gun . . . Bruce Springsteen (1980)

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BP’s 2010 first quarter profits were $5.6 billion, a 135 percent increase over the first quarter of 2009

While BP scrambles to clean up its mess in the Gulf of Mexico with one hand, it’s raking in money with the other, just like its big four partners in the oil business. Daniel J. Weiss and Susan Lyon report at Grist.org:

Much of the U.S. economy is slowly recovering from a deep recession, but oil companies continue to prosper. The big five oil companies—BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell—announced huge first quarter profits—four of the five companies announced profits larger than analysts predicted. As the chart below shows, big oil saw profits in the first quarter of 2010 that far eclipse analysts’ projections and are significantly higher than 2009 profits as well.

BP’s 2010 first quarter profits were $5.6 billion, a 135 percent increase over the first quarter of 2009. This profit was 50 percent higher than predicted by The Financial Times. Shell announced that its profits had risen by 49 percent since the first quarter of 2009. Chevron’s profit was $4.6 billion, a 156 percent increase, while ConocoPhillips had $2.1 billion in profits. The world’s largest private oil company, ExxonMobil, had a first quarter profit of $6.8 billion, which was 38 percent more than 2009.

Keep reading “Big Oil Continues to See Big Profits, Pollution, While Americans Get Robbed at the Pump.”

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“Break the Addiction” : A New Ad from Greenpeace

Monday, May 3rd, 2010