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June 2010
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Stopping Some Spills and Encouraging Others

There was an interesting cartoon on the BP oil spill that caught my attention. Unfortunately I didn’t save it, but I’ve keep thinking about it. I can’t recreate it exactly, but someone was saying, “Outlaw all ships!” and in the background was the Titanic sinking. The caption was “For those who think we should stop all offshore oil drilling.” It was published in late April or very early May. The BP spill in the Gulf was April 20.

I thought at the time that you’d think the cartoonist might want to see if they could stop the leak first—or see the damages it causes—before writing it off so easily.

David Helvarg recently wrote Saved by the Sea. Chapter 3 is about his days in SD’s Ocean Beach. Helvarg spent a lot of time in the Gulf area while writing about the Coast Guard and is the founder of the Blue Frontier Campaign to clean up our oceans (

Haven’t we heard that this is the first major oil spill since the Exxon Valdez spill?

Helvarg has a different view. Less than five years ago the Coast Guard reported that over eight million gallons of oil spilled as a result of Hurricane Katrina. That’s 2/3 the size of the Exxon Valdez spill and didn’t count the 180 rigs that were “damaged, destroyed or set adrift.” It only counted spills from active rigs.

In brief: ½ million gallons spilled when Hurricane Ike went through in 2009. In 1979 the Ixtoc platform exploded and released 150 million gallons over ten months. It hit the beaches of Texas and people there protested, but anti-drilling news doesn’t get much press in Texas.

Helvarg points out that there are persistent leaks from active rigs that don’t get any press. Nor do they calculate “normal” leakage from the river traffic on the Mississippi.

All this, Helvarg says, “about a product that’s no longer viable.” Coal and oil belong to the 17th and 19th centuries. Isn’t it time to move on?, he asks. What havoc have wind and wave generators caused?

Thirty-eight states still import foreign and domestic coal (2008 figures). Georgia spent the most, $2.6 billion, followed by North Carolina, Texas, Florida, Ohio, Alabama, Michigan, Tennessee, Indiana and Missouri, all spending more than $1 billion. No sunshine in Florida or Texas? Waves or wind?

I’ve thought that if we are running out of oil, as we hear, then we explore alternatives, but don’t we also want to save a little? Maybe we’ll discover there are some things that only oil can do well. Or maybe it will take us longer to figure out how to replace it for some of its uses.

As I listen to the costs to BP ($452 million so far) I think that my solar panels cost less than $25,000 and California paid half of that. BP’s profit in the 31 days after the spill was over $2.8 billion. Almost $4 million an hour. That’s a few solar panels.

Putting a price on beaches or knowing how this affects wildlife won’t be easy. Paul Harrison of the Environmental Defense Fund has said that all of the 110 neo-tropical migratory songbird species rely on these wetlands. As many as 25 million birds can pass through that area each day. The wetlands are also one of the biggest sources of seafood in the country.

BP has stepped up and announced they will pay for clean up, which also happens to be their legal obligation. Guess they needed to reassure us.

Knowing the heartache caused by the Exxon Valdez spill—especially to those who lost their livelihoods because of the spill—Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) hopes to avoid those long, disappointing compensation trials this time around. She’s introducing a bill that would require BP to pay for only the first 5 days of the cleanup. Guess who would pay for the rest? Congress knows bailouts.

Rand Paul, new Republican candidate for Senator from Kentucky, sides with BP and said he never heard anything about BP being unwilling to pay they bill. Murkowski must have taken it on her self to help BP out, kinda like a surprise birthday party, I guess.

For those of you worried about our free-enterprise system being weakened, or concerned that a business might have to actually risk their capitol in order to gain a profit, rest assured their fully funded reps in both parties in D.C. are doing their best to make sure they aren’t thrown to the gods of the marketplace. I mean, what’s more fragile? The environment or capitalism? The earth is pretty stable, after all. It’s intelligent life on it that’s most as risk these days.

For his part, the President offered vehicle mileage requirements, appointed un-elected people (not bad) to investigate the spill and even criticized all involved, including government “regulators.” But was that a whole day’s work? How about an energy policy?

Rand Paul still thought it was too much and called it un-American for the President to criticize business. Newt Gingrich agrees, somewhat.

As seen through the visionary eye of Newt, the President’s direction is a bigger threat to America than Adolph Hitler in Nazi Germany. Didn’t we win that one? And on their turf? Not just conjuring up anything in his cauldron, Newt’s eye sees what’s coming. But how can he really compare Obama Care to Hitler’s retirement plan for European Jews?

Easy. What Washington insiders have been saying for months is obviously true: Gingrich has advance copies of the history books approved by the Texas Board of Education. Gingrich, you might remember, put out a Contract on America when he was Speaker of the House.

With new texts, now everyone will know how America was built by corporations. DC stands for direct current. General Electric paid for the naming rights. Well, they didn’t pay any taxes and had a little extra change. Oops, sorry, that was 2009 they didn’t pay taxes.

The focus on the Texas Board’s revisionist history lessons has actually brought about some good.

It’s not exactly educational, but interesting to look at some of their changes. Additions included a list of Confederate generals that students must now study. Less of Thomas Jefferson, an advocate of separation of church and state. They inserted text that suggested the Founding Fathers didn’t really mean that anyway since they were all good, strong Christians.

The term “slave trade” was replaced with “Atlantic triangular trade.” Now they’re mixing history with math? What does that mean?

Jefferson Davis’s inaugural address was added, as were requirements to study the Moral Majority’s founder Jerry Falwell.

As to whether that included his forgiving Gingrich’s infidelity during the same time period when Gingrich was in Congress investigating Clinton’s infidelity, is unclear right now, but it does sounds like a good topic of a future term paper.

Historian Paul S. Boyer commented he was now uncomfortable recommending his own book.

The good news is that their revisions are so partisan there is now a chance that the books will never cross the Texas border. The California legislature is talking about banning them, as are many other states. The book publisher recently announced that digital technology makes changing pages easier to do.

Obviously there are more than a few opinions about how the country will work best these days. A pertinent question might be: Can corporations be content with just profits or only record profits? Can they actually live up to the human—or personhood—status they have been given? When?

When will someone free sunlight, free wind and free waves for the public?

Some good news is that it looks like banking reform may bring some consumer protection after all. Just like the oil spills, whether we pay attention to protecting our interests and environment or not, you can count on big businesses watching out for theirs. Surely they’ll get over the selfish-child stage any time now.

Obviously there’s something missing from the new “populist” agenda when they call criticism of business un-American. People are missing. A pro-corporate populist? Have enough already, thanks.

The good news is that it’s people who are making the biggest difference now. We’ve heard the economy is getting better. Why? We’ve also heard jobs have left us/US that aren’t coming back. All true. A report on CBS News reported that half a million new businesses are being created each month now. Not by big business, but by those who have been laid off. Now that sounds a little more populist.

Meanwhile, pass that mike around, let’s hear more from Paul and all those with eyes that see things most of us don’t. Spill all your thoughts for people to digest, please. It’s election time.

Have a great month,