Friday Reads

newstand Good Morning!

There appear to be a few interesting headlines up this morning for a good change.  Some of them actually involve stories that we’ve followed here for some time.  I have a few things involving the Gulf Coast, Oil Spills, and Coastal Restoration.  The breaking news is that Halliburton is going to plead guilty in the Gulf Gusher case.

Oilfield services giant Halliburton has agreed to plead guilty to destroying evidence in connection with the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, the Justice Department (DOJ) announced Thursday evening.Halliburton was the cement contractor on BP’s ill-fated Macondo well that blew out in April of 2010. The blowout and explosion of Transocean’s Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers and ultimately dumped several million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.Halliburton has agreed to pay the “maximum-available statutory fine,” will be subject to three years of probation and continue cooperating with the federal government’s ongoing criminal probe, DOJ said in a summary of the case.

 I’m not sure if you have heard this news but there is an additional leaking oil rig in the Gulf right now.  It’s spewing natural gas and has been on fire.  Forty-Seven folks were rescued from the rig about two days ago.

A fire has broken out on a rig drilling for gas in the Gulf of Mexico, 55 miles (85km) off the Louisiana coast, US officials say.

A blowout at the well on Tuesday morning forced the evacuation of 44 workers from the platform.

US Coast Guard and federal safety officials are still trying to assess the potential hazards.

The area was hit by the Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded in 2010, leaking millions of gallons of oil.

Eleven oil rig workers were killed in what was the worst US offshore disaster.

The latest blowout was not of that magnitude, officials told the Associated Press news agency.

On Wednesday morning the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) said the fire was damaging the rig structure.

“As the rig fire continues, the beams supporting the derrick and rig floor have folded and have collapsed over the rig structure,” the agency said in a statement.

But after an aerial tour of the rig, no gas sheen was visible on the water surface.

One Coast Guard cutter, Pompano, is near the scene and another, Cypress, is travelling to the area.

In addition, “a third vessel equipped with fire-fighting capability and improved monitoring system is enroute,” the BSEE added.

The portable drilling rig – which operates in shallow waters of 154ft (47m) – is owned by Hercules, a contractor for the exploration and production company Walter Oil & Gas Corporation.

The BSEE said the fire broke out while workers were completing construction of a “sidetrack well”. The purpose of the sidetrack well was not immediately clear, but industry analysts say they are sometimes used if there is a problem with the main well.

The most disgusting of the headlines explains the actions of my idiot Governor Bobby Jindal who is trying to protect the oil and gas industry from local governments trying to get coastal restoration and clean up funds.  He is trying to interfere with them and trying to get the taxpayers to foot the bills.

The board that oversees the levees in the New Orleans region filed suit in state court Wednesday against about 100 leading oil and gas companies, asking that they repair damage done by the industry’s network of access roads and pipeline canals, which has contributed to the loss of thousands of acres of wetlands a year since the 1930s.

But by the end of the day, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) said the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority had overstepped its purview, and he demanded that it cancel contracts with the four law firms that had agreed to handle the case on a contingency basis.

In the suit, the flood authority asks the oil and gas companies to restore the wetlands, which once acted as essential buffers against storms. Without them, the authority said, too much pressure is placed on its levees, which were designed as protection against Mississippi River floods, not as bulwarks against the Gulf of Mexico.

Jindal, however, said the best strategy is to persuade the federal government to share more of its royalties with states to finance restoration projects.

The flood authority’s lawsuit — and Jindal’s response — mark another chapter in a state where politics and oil have been closely entwined for decades. Onshore oil production in Louisiana began in the early 20th century and peaked at 1.35 million barrels a day in 1970, according to the Energy Information Administration, providing the industry with influence.

“For nearly a century, the oil and gas industry has continuously and relentlessly traversed, dredged, drilled and extracted in coastal Louisiana,” the flood protection authority said in its lawsuit. “It reaps enormous financial gain. . . . Yet it also ravages Louisiana’s coastal landscape.”

The agency added that “an extensive network of oil and gas access and pipeline canals slashes the coastline at every angle, functioning as a mercilessly efficient, continuously expanding system of ecological destruction.” It said that the canal network allowed “corrosive saltwater” to flow into interior coastal lands, “killing vegetation and carrying away mountains of soil.”

“What remains of these coastal lands is so seriously diseased that if nothing is done, it will slip into the Gulf of Mexico by the end of this century, if not sooner,” the lawsuit asserts.

I am wishing and hoping and praying that our next Fed Chair will be a woman.  Specifically, I am pulling for Janet Yellen.  You may recall that I lived blogged a speech she gave about 1 1/2 years ago for the FMA Conference in Denver where I was presenting a paper. She has a lot of fans and her reported competition is Larry Summers.

A letter circulating among U.S. Senate Democrats in support of Janet Yellen’s candidacy to succeed Ben Bernanke as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Bloomberg reports.

It was drafted by Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, and it is said to have signatures of other Democrats.

Bernanke’s term ends this year, and many expect him to retire.

Yellen, who is currently the Vice Chair of the Fed, has been long considered the favorite for the position.

But in more recent periods, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers has emerged as someone who could also take the vacated spot.

Just yesterday, Ezra Klein wrote a piece titled “Right now, Larry Summers is the front-runner for Fed Chair.

“President Obama really likes Summers,” said Klein. “And he’s surrounded by Summers’s longtime colleagues and friends.”

Earlier today, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi praised Yellen during an interview with Bloomberg’s Al Hunt.

“I think it would be great to have a woman — first woman chairman of the Fed, no question about it,” she said. “She’s extremely talented. It’s not just that she’s a woman.”

 Robert Reich put the choice a bit more succinctly on his facebook page yesterday.

Word in Washington is President Obama will nominate either Janet Yellen or Larry Summers to be the next Fed chief. It’s not quite as important a decision as a Supreme Court nomination but it’s a very big one: The Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board is the single most important economic player in the United States. So who would be best — Yellen or Summers? I know both fairly well. Janet Yellen has impeccable credentials. She’s now vice-chairman of the Fed, after having been head of the San Francisco branch of the Fed, and before that, an economics professor at Berkeley. In 2007 she was one of the very few voices sounding the alarm about the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Not incidentally, she’s also a delightful person. Those who have worked with her tell me she listens carefully to all views, and is respectful of her employees. If selected, she’d be the first woman to head the Fed.

I worked with Larry Summers in the Clinton administration, where he eventually became Treasury Secretary. Under Obama, he ran the National Economic Council. Personally, I like Larry. He’s very bright, and able to see the nub of most policy problems very quickly. But he has the tact and personality of a bull in a China shop, and he’s been notoriously wrong about a few big things. In the late 1990s, he urged Clinton to sign off on legislation killing off Glass-Steagall, and was also part of the Rubin-Greenspan cabal that rejected the arguments of Brooksley Born, then chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, for why the CFTC should regulate financial derivatives. Summers’ subsequent tenure as president of Harvard came to an end after he suggested one reason women were not well-represented in the sciences is they don’t have the mind for it. As chair of the National Economic Council under Obama, he and Tim Geithner, then Treasury Secretary, bailed out Wall Street while refusing to impose tough conditions on the banks.

Yet another person speaks out on the lack of critical and rational thought in our national conversation.  This is from Henry A. Giroux at Truthout. It’s an essay that is worth reading.

America has become amnesiac – a country in which forms of historical, political, and moral forgetting are not only willfully practiced but celebrated. The United States has degenerated into a social order that is awash in public stupidity and views critical thought as both a liability and a threat. Not only is this obvious in the presence of a celebrity culture that embraces the banal and idiotic, but also in the prevailing discourses and policies of a range of politicians and anti-public intellectuals who believe that the legacy of the Enlightenment needs to be reversed.  Politicians such as Michelle Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich along with talking heads such as Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck and Anne Coulter are not the problem, they are symptomatic of a much more disturbing assault on critical thought, if not rational thinking itself.  Under a neoliberal regime, the language of authority, power and command is divorced from ethics, social responsibility, critical analysis and social costs.

These anti-public intellectuals are part of a disimagination machine that solidifies the power of the rich and the structures of the military-industrial-surveillance-academic complex by presenting the ideologies, institutions and relations of the powerful as commonsense. [1] For instance, the historical legacies of resistance to racism, militarism, privatization and panoptical surveillance have long been forgotten and made invisible in the current assumption that Americans now live in a democratic, post-racial society. The cheerleaders for neoliberalism work hard to  normalize dominant institutions and relations of power through a vocabulary and public pedagogy that create market-driven subjects, modes of consciousness, and ways of understanding the world that promote accommodation, quietism and passivity.  Social solidarities are torn apart, furthering the retreat into orbits of the private that undermine those spaces that nurture non-commodified knowledge, values, critical exchange and civic literacy. The pedagogy of authoritarianism is alive and well in the United States, and its repression of public memory takes place not only through the screen culture and institutional apparatuses of conformity, but is also reproduced through a culture of fear and a carceral state that imprisons more people than any other country in the world.

One last interesting item that’s worth looking at.  More than 3.700 photos of Marilyn Monroe are going on the auction block in LA.

The photos — plus negatives, slides and copyrights — are part of a collection of more than 75,000 images taken by fashion photographer Milton Greene in the 1950s and 1960s.

They will go on the block both at the auction house and online on Saturday.

By pairing the images with their copyrights, buyers will be allowed to print, sell and earn royalties off the photos.

The photographer’s son Joshua Greene said earlier this month in online journal The Huffington Post that it was “a bad business deal.”

The archive also includes photos by Greene of Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Farrah Fawcett, Jane Fonda, Ava Gardner, Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn.

Some of the Monroe photos depict a racy starlet against a black background, covered in a black sweater that highlights her bare skin.

Other more innocent shots show Monroe in a white coat against a white background.

Greene and Monroe met in 1953 at a photo shoot for Look magazine, when the photographer was 26.

When Greene sent her a copy of the images, Monroe responded with two dozen roses and phoned to say they were the most beautiful photos she had ever seen, according to the Profiles in History auction house.

During the next four years, until Monroe married Arthur Miller, Greene took more than 5,000 pictures of her, the auction house said on its website.

Greene worked for magazines such as Vogue, Glamour and Harper’s Bazaar during his long career.

Be sure to check out the photos.  Some of them are truly amazing.

So, that’s enough to get us started this morning.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

Sunday Reads

The Natchez Trace National Park, Mississippi

Good Morning!!

After the discussion of detective stories on the morning thread yesterday, I was inspired to read another book by Nevada Barr. Barr is a former National Park ranger who writes novels about Anna Pigeon, a park ranger who works in law enforcement. The books take place in different national parks, as Anna is transferred from place to place during her career. The one I’m reading right now is called Hunting Season. It is the second book Barr has written that takes pace in the Natchez Trace in Mississippi.  I like Barr’s books, because she describes beautiful outdoor settings and the animals and people who populate our national parks.

Another book I really enjoyed recently was The Girl on the Stairs. I think most of you know by now that I am interested in the Kennedy Assassination. I really liked this book because it was written in the form of a memoir.

The author, Barry Ernest became involved in research about the assassination as a young man. Early on he read in the Warren Report about a young woman named Victoria Adams who had witnessed the assassination from the fourth floor of the Texas book depository–two floors below where Lee Harvey Oswald supposedly shot at the president from a sixth floor window. Over the years Ernest interviewed almost every important witness of the events in Dallas on November 22, 1963, and worked with several early assassination researchers. He didn’t find Victoria Adams until many years later. I found the story of his journey of discovery fascinating and moving.

In the news, there’s a new theory about the purpose of Stonehenge–offered by a team of archaeologists who have been investigating the site for the past ten years.

Dismissing all previous theories, scientists working on the Stonehenge Riverside Project (SRP) believe the enigmatic stone circle was built as a grand act of union after a long period of conflict between east and west Britain.

Coming from southern England and from west Wales, the stones may have been used to represent the ancestors of some of Britain’s earliest farming communities.

According study leader Mike Parker Pearson of the University of Sheffield, Britain’s Neolithic people became increasingly unified during the monument’s main construction around 3000 B.C. to 2500 B.C.

“There was a growing island-wide culture — the same styles of houses, pottery and other material forms were used from Orkney to the south coast,” Parker Pearson said.

“Stonehenge itself was a massive undertaking, requiring the labour of thousands to move stones from as far away as west Wales, shaping them and erecting them. Just the work itself, requiring everyone literally to pull together, would have been an act of unification,” Parker Pearson said.

Tropical Storm Debby is moving towards the Gulf of Mexico. I hope she won’t cause too much trouble for those of who who live down in Texas and Louisiana. Of course, as Dak pointed out to me last night, Debby might just head up toward New England after she’s finished with the Gulf coast. Yikes!

Tropical Storm Debby crawled slowly closer to the northern rim of the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday, its exact track still uncertain as forecasters warned the system could begin strengthening and produce near hurricane force winds in coming days.

Amid an ongoing threat of torrential downpours from Debby, authorities warned of the possibility of flooding and strong winds from Texas to Florida. At least one tornado linked to the storm touched down Saturday in southwest Florida, but no injuries were reported. Heavy squalls pounded parts of that state.

At 5 a.m. EDT Sunday, Debby was about 165 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

Debby was moving toward the north at 3 mph and was expected to strengthen as it gradually takes a more westward direction in coming hours.

In politics, there are two big secret meetings of superrich Republicans going on this weekend.

It’s going to be a big weekend in the world of big conservative money: Both Mitt Romney and billionaire industrialist brothers David and Charles Koch are holding hush-hush events with wealthy donors designed to keep the dollars coming in.

Romney’s three-day retreat, which is being held at the Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah, is an opportunity for about 700 Romney’s biggest fundraisers to get some face time with the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. (Many of them are “bundlers” – wealthy and well-connected individuals who call on their family, friends and associates to max out their contributions to Romney and the GOP – who have raised in the area of $250,000 for Romney.) Some of the biggest names in the Republican Party, and many of the top contenders to be Romney’s running mate, are also coming to Park City: CBS News has confirmed that attendees will include former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, South Dakota Sen. John Thune, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, 2008 GOP presidential nominee John McCain, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Republican strategist Karl Rove, former Reagan chief of staff James Baker, Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone and Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker.

And there’s also the Koch brothers’ “confab.”

While Romney and his Republican allies are busy cultivating donors in Utah, the Koch brothers will be in San Diego holding a convention designed to help them generate hundreds of millions of dollars to advance conservative causes. At least we think they will: The event is shrouded in secrecy, and neither representatives for Koch Industries nor a number of expected attendees contacted by CBS News would even confirm that it is taking place.

Word got out last week that it was indeed happening, when Minnesota television station owner Stanley Hubbard confirmed its existence – and San Diego location – to Politico. In an apparent attempt to head off protesters and potential infiltrators, organizers and attendees will not say exactly where the convention will be held; a San Diego alternative newspaper is holding a “Find the Koch Brothers Confab” contest in order to figure it out. (CBS News’ attempts to confirm the venue have thus far been fruitless, though we have our suspicions.) Liberals have their own version of the Koch brothers’ confab called The Democracy Alliance, where security is similarly strict; both events are awash in security personnel looking to escort uninvited guests (such as reporters) off the premises.

The Boston Globe has an article about Mitt Romney’s history with Michael Milken, “the junk bond king.”

It was at the height of the 1980s buyout boom when Mitt Romney went in search of $300 million to finance one of the most lucrative deals he would ever manage. The man who would help provide the money was none other than the famed junk-bond king Michael Milken.

What transpired would become not just one of the most profitable leveraged buyouts of the era, but also one of the most revealing stories of Romney’s Bain Capital career. It showed how he pivoted from being a relatively cautious investor to risking his reputation for a big payoff. It is one that Romney has rarely, if ever, mentioned in his two bids for the presidency, perhaps because the Houston-based department store chain that Bain assembled later went into bankruptcy.

But what distinguishes this deal from the nearly 100 others that Romney did over a 15-year period was his close work with Milken’s firm, Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc. At the time of the deal, it was widely known that Milken and his company were under federal investigation, yet Romney decided to go ahead with the deal because Drexel had a unique ability to sell high-risk, high-yield debt instruments, known as “junk bonds.”

The Obama campaign has criticized the deal as showing Romney’s eagerness to make a “profit at any cost,” because workers lost jobs, and challenged Romney’s assertion that his business background best prepares him for the presidency. Romney, meanwhile, once referred to the deal as emanating from “the glorious days of Drexel Burnham,” saying, “it was fun while it lasted,” in a little-noticed interview with American Banker magazine.

At the New Yorker, John Cassidy asks whether Hispanics can “save Obama.”

I’ve decided to post some in-depth interviews with campaign officials, politicians, policy wonks, and others with something worthwhile to say. The first one, which you can read in full below, is with Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow at the Center for Economic Progress and at the Century Foundation.
An expert on demography and polling data, Teixeira co-authored a very influential 2002 book titled “The Emerging Democratic Majority,” which argued that the Republican era that started in the late nineteen-sixties was coming to an end.

Many of the things that Teixeira and his co-author John Judis identified ten years ago—the rising number of Hispanic voters, an emerging gender gap between the two parties, and a shift to the Democrats among urban professionals—played into Obama’s victory in 2008. Despite Republican gains in the 2010 midterms and Mitt Romney’s recent rise in the polls, Teixeira believes that Obama is still well placed on the basis of demography and geography. “All the trends we identified that helped lead to Obama’s 2008 victory have continued apace,” he told me.

The rapidly growing Hispanic vote is particularly important, Teixeira insists. In Nevada, for example, it is now approaching twenty per cent, and the overall minority-vote share is close to forty per cent. And Mitt Romney, after taking a hard line against illegal immigration during the primaries, has no credible way to reach Hispanics. “I think they’re stuck, and I think they know they are stuck,” Teixeira said.

What’s happening in your neck of the woods today?

Saturday: Big Easy Reads

Morning, news junkies.

I’m going to start this Saturday with my history pick first:

La Nouvelle-Orléans (New Orleans) was founded May 7, 1718, by the French Mississippi Company, under the direction of Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, on land inhabited by the Chitimacha.

Click thumbnails for HQ views at Photography by Alfonso Bresciani.

I know we’ve had the perfunctory “Gulf oil spill: one year later” press coverage over the last few weeks, but since today marks the anniversary of New Orleans’ founding, I thought it would be prudent to take time out to dig deeper and get beyond the soundbytes. So this Saturday’s link dump is going to focus exclusively on the Gulf.

So how are NOLA and the Gulf Coast really doing?

Vanity Fair has posted a web exclusive from New Orleans-based photographer and CBS-affiliate videographer Jackson Fager, documenting the faces of shrimpers, fisherman, and oysterman along LA’s coastline, many of whom had their livelihoods snatched from them when the oil spill struck. Please check out Fager’s observations, thoughts, and photos. Here are the faces of the two women included in his slideshow (click for HQ and descriptions at the VF site):

Next up, from an interview (posted April 27th) with an environmental justice organizer with the Sierra Club:

BETWEEN THE LINES: And the Vessels of Opportunity, that was what BP set up to hire local fisher folks to clean up the spill, right?

DARRYL MALEK-WILEY: Right, that was funded by BP to hire people to go out and do clean-up work. A number of problems with that…No. 1, the Louisiana Environmental Action Network actually purchased safety gear and gave it to a number of fishermen to wear — respirators and things like that — because the environmental community knew about the dangers of the health impacts. And BP basically told fishermen and Vessels of Opportunity that if they wore the protective gear, they would no longer be working for BP.

In the interview, Malek-Wiley discusses a new organization called GO FISH (Gulf-Organized Fisheries in Solidarity and Hope), which is mobilizing fishermen and their families all the way from Alabama to Texas to fight for fair compensation from BP. Here’s what Malek-Wiley says these fishermen on the frontlines have to say about the official government spin that the oil has mostly disappeared:

DARRYL MALEK-WILEY: Yeah, what they say is that the oil is still here. We see it daily…tar balls are washing up all along the Gulf Coast. Just the way the winds blow…in the wintertime, the wind blows offshore so it’s blowing out into the Gulf; in the summertime we start getting southern winds blowing stuff back on shore. So we’re starting seeing tar balls come in; some of the oil come in. Because all the dispersant did was put it on the bottom of the Gulf, and so we’re starting to see some of that oil and dispersant coming back up and impacting a number of different coastal areas.

And, on dispersant:

DARRYL MALEK-WILEY: There is still a wide range of opinion. You know, the environmental community and fishermen basically agree that the use of dispersants without the needed scientific data on the long-term impacts of the stuff was not a smart thing. One point eight million gallons of dispersants into the Gulf of Mexico — nobody’s ever put that amount of dispersant anywhere in the world, so we don’t know what the impact of that is going to be. Some of the people who are sick, they’re taking samples of their blood and they’re finding the chemicals that make up the dispersants in their blood, as well as Louisiana sweet crude, and having serious health impacts.

Check out the rest of the interview to read more about those serious health impacts. It’s rather alarming, especially when you consider we’re talking about a population that has been out of work and lost their health insurance.

Dispersants: Questions remain

Last week the FDA declared seafood safe in Barataria, the coastal area hardest hit by the BP oil spill. The Miami Herald/AP article at the link says that means 99% of LA’s waters are open for fishing. The only meat I eat is seafood, and down along the Gulf we’ve gotten repeated “assurances” that our food supply isn’t tainted, but even all the way here in Houston a local chef who serves seafood still has unresolved concerns about dispersants:

“The thing that scares me the most about the oil situation is the dispersants, and from everybody that I talked to — from scientists to fisherman that’s the one thing that sit there and they hold onto,” he said.

Government scientists say their tests show no trace of any oil or dispersant in any seafood. They say the dispersant breaks down faster than oil in the water. NOAA says dispersant is simply not a concern, and for now, Caswell says he believes them.

“I eat it,” he said.

I eat it too, though I have cut back and still find myself wondering whether our public and private institutions are leveling with us on just how much they don’t know about the long-term impact of having these chemicals in our ecosystem and food supply and how far the reach of these effects might be. How many people have to get sick before they’ll admit anything?

Take for example this report out of Raceland, LA on fisherman Brandon Cassanova, who has mysteriously fallen ill, possibly due to exposure to dispersants. For months, Cassanova has been experiencing seizures, abdominal pain, memory loss, racing heartbeat, and elevated blood sugar, and his symptoms appear to be getting more acute. His lifelong primary-care physician, Dr. Mike Robichaux, believes Cassanova’s illness matches a “bizarre cluster” of symptoms experienced by people who say they have been exposed to dispersants and other toxins related to the oil spill. Robichaux, a former state senator and longtime advocate for locals exposed to pollutants, has written to Sen. Landrieu and others demanding the government for answers. He isn’t buying the line that the Gulf seafood is safe to eat, either.

While formal data collection by the LA Dept. of Health & Hospitals and long-term NIEHS research are underway, the task of proving causality between exposure and symptoms remains a hurdle. According to Tulane’s Dr. Luann White, most of the cases being reported are of a short-term and mild nature and dilution by the Gulf waters makes detecting chemicals and pathway of exposure to the public difficult. Anecdotally, however, Lafayette-based toxicologist Wilma Subra–who researched the chemistry of dispersants and came up with a list of possible effects–says she’s seen 600-700 people exhibiting this cluster of symptoms after being exposed to dispersants and crude, and that each of these cases seems to know of yet others going through the same thing.

A Thought Experiment on the Gulf Coast

This next one is interesting food for thought. Via geekosystem: What if the Gulf Oil Spill Never Happened? It’s a 2-minute animation clip by Chris Harmon, entitled Oil’d…please give it a look if you haven’t seen it yet:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The Gulf Coast Oil Spill and Climate Change

I want to touch on the impact of the spill in terms of the broader environmental challenges for the Gulf…it seems like disaster capitalism struck this region and went into overdrive right at the time when it was most vulnerable and needed improvements in infrastructure and conservationist attention more than ever. Funny timing, that.

Over at, Chelsea Cooley paints a bleak picture with this headline… Last Days of Louisiana’s Bayous:

The 2010 BP Oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico harmed Louisiana’s coastal eco-system in some obvious ways and in many other ways yet undiscovered. One unsettling truth is that the diminishing state of the wetlands actually aided the widespread effects of the oil spill, as the wetlands might otherwise have provided a protective barrier, preventing oil seepage into the bayous’ central regions. Barataria Bay, for example, a popular nesting ground for Louisiana’s pelicans, was one of the areas most polluted by the spill. The crisis compounded problems faced by an already delicate ecosystem.

However, the wetlands are also suffering due to a dramatic rise in sea-level associated with Global Warming. According to one professor of earth science from Tulane University, the sea-level rise in the Gulf Coast is occurring at a rate five times faster than it did in the 1000 years preceding the Industrial Revolution. The implications of human activity are on the table for all to see.

Also take a look at this SciAm/Reuters headline the other day that Dakinikat passed along to me… Seas Could Rise Up to 1.6 meters by 2100:

OSLO (Reuters) – Quickening climate change in the Arctic including a thaw of Greenland’s ice could raise world sea levels by up to 1.6 meters by 2100, an international report showed on Tuesday.

Such a rise — above most past scientific estimates — would add to threats to coasts from Bangladesh to Florida, low-lying Pacific islands and cities from London to Shanghai. It would also, for instance, raise costs of building tsunami barriers in Japan.

“The past six years (until 2010) have been the warmest period ever recorded in the Arctic,” according to the Oslo-based Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), which is backed by the eight-nation Arctic Council.

And, this piece at Huffpo brings it altogether. Pre-Spill, Coastal Threats Cannot Be Ignored, Environmentalists Say…It’s breathtaking to read the entire piece and the extent of the challenges the Gulf region is up against. I’m just going to quote a few snippets:

Dr. Virginia Burkett, senior science advisor for Climate and Land Use Change at the U.S. Geological Survey, said the spill contributed to Louisiana’s wetlands loss, which was already well underway because of multiple stressors. And, she said, a year after BP’s rig explosion, cumulative effects of climate change and the spill are still poorly understood. Climate change itself, however, has been well studied.


Louisiana is in the grip of global, environmental change. “Temperatures and ocean waters are rising because of increased greenhouse or heat-trapping gases, like carbon monoxide, in the atmosphere,” Burkett said. “Glacial mass and annual snowcover are declining more rapidly than many scientists had predicted.” Ocean temperatures and acidity are increasing, and rainfall volume has grown. But spacing between rain events has expanded so droughts are more frequent in some regions of the world, she said. And in several ocean basins around the globe, hurricanes have become more intense.

As much as our government tries to pretend like the oil that gushed out into the Gulf last year just disappeared, they cannot wipe away the consequences of the larger pattern of environmental destruction that the BP oil spill has contributed to in the area. The spill last year wasn’t the first domino to fall, and it won’t be the last:

Burkett said events that hastened coastal erosion in recent decades won’t be the last.”When I was a child, Hurricane Camille was the big benchmark event, then it was Katrina.” And in the current decade, the Gulf oil spill is the gorilla.

What can we do?

Burkett offers these suggestions:

“Barrier islands and wetlands can be restored for hurricane protection,” Burkett said. “River sediment can be used to build marsh, instead of letting sediment wash out to sea.” Preparations can be made for more intense drought and wildfires.

“Home owners and communities can elevate houses, and cities can adapt infrastructure to the rising sea. In some areas, however, retreat may be the most effective option.” Her parents, for example, moved inland when they lost their home in Biloxi, MS to Hurricane Katrina.

So how much ‘ruin there is left in a nation’ may very well depend on just how much ‘retreat’ there is in it.

And, our ability to retreat depends on us even knowing we’re in danger in the first place. We saw the failures to get people out in time during Katrina and the several weeks it took for the current Administration to really respond to the BP oil spill, but what about the mini-disasters that build up cumulative damage yet go virtually unnoticed, leaving people unaware of the true extent of the daily threat they’re up against and how unsustainable their living spaces are becoming. had a really interesting read recently on what can be done to better track crude leaking into the Gulf using satellite imagery… Gulf Oil Shouldn’t Spill Beneath the Radar:

A year after the Deepwater Horizon blowout sent 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, smaller leaks still bubble across the Gulf — but unlike big spills, they’re largely ignored.

A nonprofit organization called SkyTruth, which uses public and commercial satellite imagery to assess environmental damage, recently added airplanes and ships to its Gulf monitoring. But the group can still investigate just a tiny fraction of spills and leaks that may be reported, underreported or not reported at all by oil companies.

SkyTruth founder John Amos, a geologist and a former oil-company research scientist, thinks roughly $3 million per year could buy the necessary data and provide the first continuous, accurate assessment of Gulf oil pollution.

“The oil industry has done a great job convincing the public that modern drilling pollution is nonexistent. But we’ve discovered wells damaged by hurricanes in 2005 that are still leaking,” said Amos, who may have caught an oil company grossly under-reporting one of its leaks. “We have some tools available to do investigations, but in many cases it’s just not enough. For smaller spills, we need an up-close look from satellite imagery.”

On the proactive side of things, over here at Houston’s Reliant Center, the Offshore Technology Conference this past week has yielded some interesting results:

A possible tool for preventing oil spills like last year’s Gulf disaster arrived on the floor of Houston’s Reliant Center this week, courtesy of an auto industry refugee and a jackknife can opener.

The Latest Threat

As mentioned earlier, the BP oil spill isn’t the first or last threat the area is facing. Here’s the latest trouble, via the Daily Comet… Flood will deal blow to struggling oystermen.

Via the Sun Herald… Another slam for the Gulf:

GULFPORT — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to open the Bonnet Carre Spillway on Monday, sending a flood of fresh water through Lake Pontchartrain, through a strait and into the Gulf.

It’s something officials don’t do often, because of the effect it has on the marine life and the Mississippi Sound.

But the Mississippi River — already high at 1.6 million cubic feet per second flowing past Natchez — is expected to increase to 2.45 million cubic feet per second by May 22.

Knowing that volume is coming down the river, opening the Bonnet Carre is an attempt to divert some of it before it gets to New Orleans.

But scientists who study marine life in the Gulf cringe.

“It will change things, that’s for sure,” said Bill Hawkins, director of USM’s Gulf Coast Research Lab. But how much change depends on the volume and duration of the diversion.

Jay Alford has more — The Coming Waters (h/t Dakinikat):

There’s more water on the upper Mississippi River right now than any time in history, period, in any time in history,” said Garrett Graves, chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. “This overwhelms the volume of water that was in the river in 1927, 1937, 1997, 2008. An extraordinary flow is coming down the river.”

That water levels are expected to be above crest for seven to 10 days doesn’t inspire much confidence. Graves said there are “vulnerabilities everywhere from the levees in Baton Rouge to the levees in south Louisiana.”

Final Thought

I’ll close with the WSJ’s review this Saturday, of Rowan Jacobsen’s Shadows on the Gulf: A Journey Through Our Last Great Wetland.

The headline says a lot in itself… A Gulf Requiem:

Click to view on Amazon.

“Most of the Gulf Coast has not been touched by the oil spill,” Mr. Jacobsen reports, “and is beautiful and vital as ever.”

Yet these early avowals of glass-half-fullism notwithstanding, it’s hard not to hear the mournful sounds of a pipe organ on nearly every page. And you have to wonder why all the people—oystermen, oilmen, shrimpers, tourists—are so grim-faced, as if shuffling past what appears to be a Gulf-sized casket.

It’s a true shame that we’d let an area that is one of our national treasures become a laboratory for climate change and disaster capitalism in this fashion. Take a good look, because what’s happening to the Southern Louisiana area and the rest of the Gulf is foreshadowing of the rest of our country’s future, if the interests of profit continue to be put before people, unabated, and people get pushed off further to the margins of the margins.

Wouldn’t it have been nice if our president would have responded to the death of OBL by using the new presidential force behind the bully pulpit to restore our attention to the Gulf Coast and all that has been neglected over the past decade… too bad any reminder of the Gulf and the struggles of ordinary people conflicts with the fierce urgency of Obama’s permanent campaign.

[originally posted at Let Them Listen; crossposted at Taylor Marsh and Liberal Rapture]