Saturday, May 01, 2010

Worse Than Valdez?

What makes an oil spill really bad? the AP story asks, and answers: Most of the ingredients for it are now blending in the Gulf of Mexico. Experts tick off the essentials: A relentless flow of oil from under the sea; a type of crude that mixes easily with water; a resultant gooey mixture that is hard to burn and even harder to clean; water that's home to vulnerable spawning grounds for new life; and a coastline with difficult-to-scrub marshlands.

Gulf Coast experts have always talked about "the potential for a bad one," said Wes Tunnell, coastal ecology and oil spill expert at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. "And this is the bad one. This is just a biggie that finally happened."

And so Think Progress adds: The catastrophic gusher of oil unleashed by the explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig last week is on track to quickly exceed the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, an independent expert warns."

The story notes that the spill is already larger than 31 nations of the world. And the oil may continue gushing from these wells (apparently there are now two) into the sea for months. So far, no one knows how to stop it.

As the destructive effects begin to become obvious, the questions also begin: did the company involved use the correct safety mechanism to cap the well? Did the explosion happen because of a Halliburton operation? Did BP do enough to contain the oil? To the last question, the White House says no. (See this other Think Progress story on the reality behind BP's "Beyond Petroleum" green energy advertising campaign.)

But note this: the attempts to shift blame to the federal government have already begun--not just party politics, but in the service of the corporate giants who are actually responsible. Will the questions about them fade in the corporate media? (Though this Halliburton connection was made by the Wall Street Journal.)

The U.S. government is responding, including with troops. Several relevant cabinet secretaries are at command centers in the region, and President Obama may visit the area Sunday. Meanwhile, new offshore oil drilling is suspended.


All species of sea turtles are currently endangered. Several species are in direct danger from the Gulf oil disaster. But unusual numbers of one species have already been washing up on Texas shores, with most appearing to be victims of other human/industrial activities. These scenes however are likely to be repeated in the coming days and weeks, as victims of the oil disaster mount.

Friday, April 30, 2010


Can you spell Arizxenophobia? The overtly racist "show me your papers" law--something that more than echoes Nazi profiling of Jews--is exposing and inflaming a racial divide, especially as several other states are clamoring to pass similar laws, and polls suggest the Arizona law is widely popular.

But let's parse this for a moment. First of all, racism by whites and by police against browns in Arizona is not in any way new. Writer Leslie Marmon Silko has been exposing harassment and terrorizing since the 1980s (it's a particular problem for Native Americans whose tribal lands are on both sides of the Mexican border--but then, a Native American with Spanish blood pretty much defines "Mexican.") So when they say they know an illegal immigrant when they see one, they mean brown and poor. This story corroborates that impression in the Phoenix area, where the Sheriff and most popular white political figure in the state has been employing it for years. (Whereas the strongest opposition to the law is coming from the Sheriff in the Tucson area, and law enforcement there.)

But it's not all racism, just as the racially tinged innuendo and outrageous charges leveled at President Obama is not because he's black, exactly. It's because black people are Democrats. If black people or Latinos were Republicans, most of the GOPers in national politics at least would accept them without batting an eye. But Republicans have made themselves into the White People's Party, and they need to limit the political power of non-whites, including the number of voters. This may be intuitively obvious, but here's a story specifically about Arizona with numbers.

Since sending black people back to Africa didn't work, the best they can do about keeping the numbers down is prevent efforts to register blacks (so they demonized and effectively destroyed Acorn) and keep the Census from counting them. They can do the same for Latinos, but they can also prevent more of them from becoming citizens and voters, by keeping them out or even sending them back.

Of course, they find a ready tool in the residual racism among whites, in using the grievances (real and imagined) of poorer whites, and stoking everybody's fears on every level--personal, neighborhood, city, nation, society. It's the fear that greeted and oppressed every immigrant group, except perhaps the first whites to arrive and take the place over. But in this obviously crowded and troubled country, it's worse now in a number of ways. So, in the end, it is the political use of racism, for whatever reason, and so it is racism after all.

It's there in the virulence of the opposition to health care reform: it's because some white people are persuaded that the beneficiaries are going to be black and brown; that, like government programs for the poor, they are going to be taxed to pay for the medical care of blacks and browns, violating their Freedom and Liberty to spend that money on what they want. They know this because the President is black, so he's engineering everything to take away from whites and give to fellow blacks, not to Americans. They know this because the biggest white mouths on radio, Fox News and in various legislatures and governor's mansions are telling them so.

But about those polls. While the answers to some questions are pretty troubling, some others indicate the general impatience with ineffective immigration policy and rules. Those involved in governing rather than political grandstanding for fun and profit pretty much know the current mixed bag of contradictory policies and rules don't work, even on the level of fairness.

Barack Obama talked a lot about bipartisan solutions to big problems, and in office he's tried to walk that talk, and here's yet another obvious reason: it's an issue so charged and so easy to exploit for political and monetary gain (ask Sarah) and yet so important to deal with for the health and basic functioning of this society that only responsible people of all political persuasions willing to work together sincerely to come to a real solution will be able to fix this.

It's hard to see the Republican strategy of inflaming this as working in the long term. It's a mid-term strategy, and then for as many elections as it proves successful. But the demographic trends are unlikely to change in favor of a white majority. Then throw the Climate Crisis into the mix--the permanent drought in Arizona to the point--and things get really roiled. One thing I'm willing to bet on--if Arizona registers a population gain in the 2010 Census, it will be the last Census it does so. I haven't yet seen anyone write about any possible connection between the ongoing drought and this resurgent racism. But there's been a connection elsewhere. In a place called Darfur.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

"Of National Significance"

The importance of the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico jumped during the day Thursday, as officials stared at possible consequences ranging from species extinctions(the reddish egret, pictured above) to massive killing of shrimp and other shellfish that supply the world. The danger is not only to the sea and shore but to the marshes, where oil may arrive as early as tonight. Once in the marshes, there is little that can be done to prevent severe damage. There is even some danger to the Mississippi River.

So earlier today, according to the LA Times:

"I have been receiving frequent briefings from my Cabinet and White House staff," Obama said. "While BP is ultimately responsible for funding the cost of response and cleanup operations, my administration will continue to use every single available resource at our disposal including potentially the Department of Defense to address the incident."

"This is a spill of national significance," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told reporters at an earlier White House briefing. The designation means that assets from around the country and especially from other coastal areas can be used to fight the spill.

Officials said the government would open a federal command center in Mobile, Ala., joining another center in Robert, La., to oversee the response to the spill.

The New York Times added: Cleanup efforts, however, suffered a setback on Thursday when sea and wind conditions prevented officials from executing a controlled burn of some of the floating oil, said Rear Adm. Sally Brice O’Hare of the Coast Guard, who also took part in the briefing.

“We are being very aggressive, and we are prepared for the worst case," Rear Adm. O’Hare said. The United States Navy sent equipment and several vessels on Thursday to lend a hand, according to The Associated Press.

The Pentagon said on Thursday that “there is a full-blown effort” to determine how it best can help the cleanup efforts, said spokesman Geoff Morrell, but that no conclusions have been made about what that help would be."

Among the many species threatened by the oil well disaster in the Gulf, gushing oil at five times the rate first estimated and still growing, are the sperm whale and the snowy plover. The deep ocean well is still not capped, and desperate clean-up efforts include oil burns on the water. What's clear by now is that the industry that claims to have everything under control, doesn't have a clue. Quote for the day comes from Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry:"It's premature to say this is catastrophic. I will say that this is very serious." The first oil could hit the Louisiana shore by Friday. Then it might not be premature anymore.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hubble Hubble!

The official 20th birthday photo for the Hubble space telescope: the Eagle Nebula.

Look Ma, I'm Blogging!

The Unpronounceable Volcano of Iceland is quieter, at least for now, but its eruption inspired a couple of volcano-related web gems, one about the role of such ice-covered volcanoes in the study of climate change, and another about how a really big eruption is potentially as much a doomsday scenario as any wandering asteroid.

While the Senate climate bill has been dead, crappy anyway, alive, dead again and maybe not so dead, the effects of climate change that scientists predicted continue to accumulate, though noted in separate little stories. Apart from the weird weather, tornadoes and storms last week and this, the effects on the birds and the bees of spring coming early, not to mention the pollen count, and the spread of a fungal disease south of its usual range. Update: And this story about present and future loss of beaches on the U.S. East Coast, due mostly to climate change.

Meanwhile, Governor Ed Rendell of PA said on Rachel last week: " the Tea Parties get tremendous coverage. And think about it—week before the health care vote, they had a rally in Washington, got 1,000 people, maybe not even that. The tax day rally, the big rally to protest federal taxes got less than 1,500 people showing up, according to their own organizer. Other people thought it was in the 400 or 500 range...And yet, the media, including the so-called liberal and progressive media, have given the tea party-ites elevation in terms of the impact they‘re having on the national debate and discussion—way above what they deserve."

And as if the point needed proving, there is a rumor that there were between 100,000 and 200,000 people on the Washington mall Sunday demonstrating about something called Earth Day. If true, this would be a gathering of about a hundred times more people than the Tea Party tax rally which got endless coverage and discussion.

Sure, the Tea Parties are newer, whereas the first Earth Day crowds were forty years ago, and the wingnuts set off alarms the nice green tea-sipping enviros don't. They probably sat around singing you know what. I fault the environmental movement for part of the invisibility--this was no coalition effort, its political content was tepid, its form unimaginative. But the corporate media is also culpable. To cover the Tea Party people to such an extent, and ignore a much larger show of support for what the wingers deride, is inexcusably biased. Even, as Rendell notes, on the part of the so-called progressive media, just as locked into hot-button political issues of the moment over the ones that ultimately count so much more.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"Call it preaching to the choir if you will, but I've always thought the choir a good place to direct one's efforts. Presumably they know something about music; and, whatever their doubts, they have at least made it to church."
--Jonathan Lear
And Happy Birthday to the Hubble telescope, author of the image above