MAY 1, 2010 4:37PM

Irony washes in with the oil

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The smell comes first. Residents in Mississippi and Louisiana are catching the first whiffs of disaster’s approach. The oil is on its way.

The sense of dread running down the central Gulf Coast grows heavier by the day. You can see it in the faces you meet, the voices you hear. Catastrophe is common in a hurricane-plagued region but this is different. This viscous invader carries far more irony than any mere storm.

The oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon has spawned pointing fingers and the target is predictable considering the political mood of the area. Conservative politics and lifestyles are a given here in Tea Party Central, Old South Division. 

The local daily newspaper, the Press-Register has clarified local sentiment with its front-page editorial of Friday, April 30. In it, they waste no time affixing fault. 

Already, the mistakes of Hurricane Katrina are being repeated.

The federal government is charging to the Gulf Coast to help try to keep massive amounts of oil from washing onto the coast and into the marshes of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana — but it’s more than a week late.

BP, the company that was operating the Deepwater Horizon rig when it exploded, wasn’t quick enough to recognize, let alone contain, the scope of the oil spill that now threatens catastrophic destruction of marsh and wetlands.

And, as the Press-Register is reporting in today’s paper, if federal officials had ordered burning of the oil sooner — before the wind switched from north to south — then the damage could have been lessened.

State government leaders in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana have moved quickly to plan their disaster responses, and grass-roots groups across the coast are mustering volunteers. But they’re acting individually.

Just as was the case after Hurricane Katrina, there seems to be no one in charge of the overall response effort.

So here’s what needs to happen, and right now: President Barack Obama needs to put someone in charge. One person, reporting directly to the president, needs to direct the preparations to contain and clean up the oil spill.  


Nowhere does it mention the fact that BP has clouded things every step of the way, that their obfuscations stymied quicker action. No, in customary fashion, Big Business gets every benefit of doubt possible.

The editors ignore the oil giant’s circumvention of recommended precautions. They could have installed the valves that would have prevented this fiasco but they wanted to save half a million dollars so they cut corners and our throats in one move.

There is no discussion of the fact this is an unprecedented event with no model for action. What makes its comparison with Katrina most ridiculous is that we know Bush’s admin knew how to respond to hurricanes. It’s a certainty. Why? Because we saw it done the year previous when Florida was strafed with four storms and FEMA performed admirably.

It’s easy to see why the newspaper is doing this. The sentiment abounds in remarks from readers following the oil spill stories on the paper’s Website. Some are even honest enough to admit that they want to saddle the Obama administration with blame for this disaster simply because Bush caught grief over Hurricane Katrina. “Turnabout is fair play.” “This is Barry’s Katrina.” The Press-Register is merely doling out the red meat.

Much in the way they are looking for any way to pin this on the White House, going so far as to say that NOAA personnel discussing worst case scenarios constitutes federal knowledge and then equivocating that with Obama’s inaction.

I'll admit Katrina is being repeated in a way, mainly in the way local conservatives are turning it into political fodder, praising all agencies dominated by their right wing brethren.

“Drill, Baby, drill” rang from the throng of SUVs and giant pick-up trucks that clog the Gulf Coast roadways. Now all these small government disciples demand federal help, mad that “Big Government” wasn’t hovering all the while. The folks who previously despised intervention, who had been doing a damn fine job of poisoning the region with chemical plants, paper mills, nuclear dumps, steel production, they now want to scowl at Washington for lack of oversight.

People here are angry and scared. This area hasn’t always been the most prosperous or economically stable but when all else failed, one thought pulled them through: “At least we have the water.”  Tourists came to the beaches and the bays. Deep-sea fishing was a healthy business. Shrimpers, oystermen and all types of fishers wrested a life from it. Even on a merely personal level, the repast, recreation and reflection available from the water raised the quality of life immeasurably. It is more than a trump card, it’s the root of the region’s identity.

Now it’s all shot to hell. If the worst projections play out, with hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude per day spewing into the Gulf for months, it will be cataclysmic. Not for a year or two as with the worst storms, but maybe for a generation or more.

That's a lot of irony to scrub away. 

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Truly, Kevin, this is a catastrophe the like of which we have never seen before.
Irony seems too mild a word for what you describe. Willful corporate negligence and crass, if not evil, political manipulation come to mind. I keep thinking of the millions upon millions of birds and sea creatures that will die in this ecological disaster, and of course, all the people who will lose their livelihoods. Too bad many of those same people will once again point the finger at the wrong people in their hate to blame someone for what happened.
Also wanted to say that it's good to see you writing at OS again!
This is a fantastic post about a horrible topic, but kudoes to you for writing it. I've heard that Sarah Palin continues to insist that drilling is still the way to go, latest evidence to the contrary, and has the gall to say that the Exxon Valdez mess has been all cleaned up. Like, "we're over that now." Yeah. Tell that to the untold number of sea mammals, fish, birds that died, those who suffered economic devastation or their way of life.
And really? What drives this? (pun intended) Our fucking addiction to oil, our refusal to get right with the environment, our refusal to make sacrifices on behalf of the earth. Some because they believe that the End Times are near and might as well use up what's here, and some simply because they don't give a shit.
I grew up in the stench of pulp mills--and yeah, I'm guilty of my waste of paper as a writer. All those lovely trees, cut down to make paper and other products. Yes. Wood is a renewable resource--to a point. The soil can only sustain so many new growths before it becomes exhausted. But, at least after a forest fire, nature knows what to do. Forest fires are part of nature's method of dealing with a too-crowded forest floor.
Having millions of gallons of oil dumped into a body of water is nowhere in nature's game plan.
Sorry. I'm hijacking your post with my irate ramblings, but my anger has seized hold of me. The fact that people want to make political hay out of it burns me. I think that every single person who chanted "drill, baby, drill," should be out there right now, cleaning seabirds, hosing down the beach, placing booms, skimming the water. Why is it always the folks who never have to deal with the consequences of their selfishness that we have to deal with?
Ugh. Sorry. I'm writing too much. I'll shut up now.
My heart bleeds for the Gulf, and for the 11 people who died aboard that rig. I'm sorry for their families. I'm sorry for the loss of human life, and for the disaster we'll be dealing with for years.
This disaster never should have happened. I ache for the residents of the Gulf, the wildlife, everything affected by this epic event fueled by corporate greed, political posturing and the nonsensical notion that offshore drilling is the answer to our energy needs.
Kevin, this is so well written...your personal take along with your cultural understanding make this a first rate piece. This is an incomparable disaster. Will we see, at last? Will we feel the extraordinary pain of those who make their livelihood from the sea, the devastating loss of our precious wildlife, the clear truth that it is greed that brought this? It is my fondest wish that many will read your article before taking the red meat offered in media and simply turn it into another schoolyard fight over whose president did or didn't do what. xox
I was hoping I would never again hear or see the words, "Already, the mistakes of Hurricaine Katrina are being repeated." It makes me sick to my stomach.

Thank you for posting this. It needs to be read.
the only Big Government they don't want is that which is helping someone else
It makes my gut cramp when I hear of the marshes that will be ruined, and that is just one small aspect of the tragedy. Where are those "drill here" wactards now?
Very lucid and well-stated statement of why this matters and why the spin the tea-partyers are trying to use is inaccurate and deceptive. Not that I'm surprised that facts influence their thinking.
Jeanette- I agree. This is a first of its scope for this nation.

Lefty- I'd rather be right than Right.

Emma- I agree with all you say. My first and deepest concern has been for the wildlife that will pay the ultimate price for this. I've noted, too, that in the responses I've read and heard, those who lean right seem to state worry over the tangential industries most, while the leftists are worried about the ecology for its own sake, not how it can be exploited. It will echo throughout the chain as well. The concern we had over dead zones in the Gulf for the last decades will seem blessed compared to what this could wreak.

As to your last statement, I have been posting all along, just not with the frequency many others here exhibit. I have my "day gig" writing that eats up time, along with a side project I've just started and the cultural organizations to which I belong. I try to stay busy and involved even if I'm not making money. It's my way of trying to make this town the kind of place I would enjoy rather than just bitching alone.

Which brings to mind the fact that a great deal of what preys on my mind can get repetitive and there's no use beating that dead horse on this forum. I don't want to be TOO BIG a "downer."

I've also refrained from e-mailing OSers about new posts for a while just to see what would happen. Response seems to bear out that the e-mails have some effect on things.
finger- "Why is it always the folks who never have to deal with the consequences of their selfishness that we have to deal with?" I don't know. Why is it the states that bitch most about the federal government are the ones who drain the most from it?

Chuck- It was bound to happen with the increase in deep sea drilling. It was a matter of time.

Robin- Thanks. Your wish about readers will likely not meet the sentiment. The fact that it was posted on the weekend makes it highly unlikely it will see the front page.

Renaissance- You're not the only one. Hell, there are still plenty of latent effects of Katrina through the area.

Kathy- That's exactly right. This whole scenario is a lose-lose for Obama. There is too much political rivalry and plain hatred for him to ever get credit for anything.

A sizable contingent here are predisposed to find fault in whatever he does. The feds could do everything for these people, give them pills to make them vomit gold nuggets, whatever. None of it will be enough. They will take whatever you give them and then curse you for doing so.

Stellaa- It will rock the region if it continues as projected. The effect, as bad as it will be in the short term, will take a few years to be seen completely.

Bill- Yeah, marshes are a huge part of the Gulf ecosystem, nurseries for an integral portion of the food chain. They are like sponges too in that all that oil will saturate them and be hard to clean out.

mginmn- The Tea Partiers just see an opportunity for political games. They are taking out their frustrations on a convenient scapegoat.
you see what happens when you let politicians run the nation, you shake your heads, you stamp your feet, but that's all you do.

that's all you can do, because you haven't got citizen initiative. what else you haven't got is a hope of changing anything till you get it.
catastrophic destruction ~

the leading horse is white
the second horse is red
the third one is a black
the last one is a green
Hi, I live in Baton Rouge and the effects of this will impact me and my children and grandchildren maybe for the rest of our lives. I was at a crawfish boil yesterday with some LSU professors that will be involved in determining the cost of this mess. Much of what they discussed, I hadn't read in the papers.

You say,

"The editors ignore the oil giant’s circumvention of recommended precautions. They could have installed the valves that would have prevented this fiasco but they wanted to save half a million dollars so they cut corners and our throats in one move. "

We all suspected it was a case of simple economics. What I'd like to know is, where did you get this information on the valves that would have addressed this catastrophe?

Here's a WSJ article I found, with technical information in it, including about the "acoustic switch" -- a third line of defense to trigger the shut off valves.
An excellent and original parse of this catastrophe. Made me think. Thanks.
well done and true to the point of being painful
al- good points all but the spill is worst for the marks it will leave on the SAILBOATS!

Hoop- I don't doubt it but it's the one I've been paying most attention to and the one at Ground Zero for the spill and response.

nader paul kucinich gravel mckinney- Didn't you guys sue my neighbor?

denese- you answered your own question. Check the dates on that story.

greg and nikki- Thanks
Corporations like to do things as cheaply as possible even if it's clearly against their own best interests to do so. Is the Gulf disaster the end result of doing business on the cheap? How many safety procedures were neglected in the name of economy? Is massive wastage of a finite resource merely a tax write-off to BP executives?

Anyway, we'd all better lose our taste for fish and seafood, because the prices of those commodities are going to go through the stratosphere.
Was it due in some part to corporate adherence to the bottom line? I'm sure. The corporate culture creates that.

As far as seafood, most of the shrimp and a lot of the fish that Americans have been eating for the last decade has come from Asia. Some things – grouper, blue crab, oysters – will certainly jump in price. Looks like it's a good time to be involved in West Coast seafood.
Amen!! And pass the soap and buckets, this is going to be a biggun to clean up!!!