Gulf of Mexico: “There is no life out there”

Reprinted from Transition Voice under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

By Tom Lewis

Gulf-Oil

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge Manager Jereme Phillips reports oil on a refuge beach in Alabama in June of 2010. Three years later, the hits just keep on coming. (Photo: Jennifer Strickland USFWS)

The Gulf Oil spill is old news, right? 2010? Over and done with. The seafood industry has recovered. tourists are back, BP has kept its promises to make things right.

We know that because that’s what the incessant BP commercials on television are telling us. BP seems to believe its own commercials, because it announced in June that it and the Coast Guard were ending regular patrols of the Gulf Coast (except for Louisiana) looking for washed up oil. It did this, it said in its exuberant announcement, because of its “extraordinary progress in cleaning up the Gulf,” which, it declared, is almost back to normal. Who you gonna believe? BP’s commercials, or your lyin’ eyes?

In June a 20-ton mat of “oiled material” was found off Louisiana, and another two-ton mat was discovered a week ago.  Tarballs are a daily sight on the curve of beaches from Louisiana to Key West. Almost all of the oil in these materials appears to have come from the Deepwater Horizon blowout. And before BP virtually shut down its cleanup operations in June, nearly three million pounds of the gunk had been collected — in just six months, off the Louisiana coast alone. That’s the bad news. Now for the really bad news.

The ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico appears to be collapsing. The top end of that system — crabs, oysters, shrimp, finfish — provides food for humans and raw material for an enormous complex of industries, all of which are in serious, perhaps mortal, decline. Some of the evidence:

  • The oyster season opened in Louisiana on October 15th.  Veteran oysterman Brad Robin says that 70 per cent the harvest grounds are “dead or mostly dead.” He’s only using two of the ten boats in his fleet, he says, because “there is no life out there.” And it’s not just the oysters, he adds: “We’re seeing things we’ve never seen before.”
  • Mississippi oystermen, who used to harvest 30 sacks a day, routinely, this year are struggling to find six.
  • Grouper fishing takes are sharply down all along the Florida west coast, and many grouper caught have tar balls in their stomachs.
  • The crab harvest is far below pre-blowout norms, and many crabs taken have deformities such as holes in their shells.
  • Substantial numbers of shrimp taken are not marketable because they have large tumors or other deformities, such as a lack of eyes.
  • 212 dolphins and other marine mammals have died this year in the northern Gulf. BP oil is a prime suspect.

There’s much more, of course, as any logical person would expect in the aftermath of a dump of 200 million gallons of crude oil into a pristine estuarine ecosystem. Numerous studies have chronicled the harm to corals, micro-organisms, and various species of fish — toxic, carcinogenic and genetic harm.

But in the happy TV world of BP — which is vigorously down-playing the size of the spill, rejecting claims for compensation, shutting down its cleanup, and arguing in Federal court that it should not even be fined for the spill — all is well along the Gulf Coast. No scenes of oiled feet, cancerous crabs, eyeless shrimp, dead dolphins. No interviews with bankrupt fishermen or desperate seafood wholesalers. Not here, on BPTV.

But so far, only Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana seems to have been offended by the fact that BP is “spending more money on television commercials [$500 million last year} than they have on actually restoring the natural resources they impacted.” But as Governor Jindal understands very well when campaigning on his own behalf, perception beats reality every time.

Hear the podcast version.


Without Progressive Uproar, Social Security and Medicare Face Axe

Reprinted from Common Dreams (October 21, 2013) under Creative Commons License

By Jon Queally, staff writer

The lines are being drawn for a ‘Grand Bargain’ and the Democrats’ continued willingness to give away role as defenders of safety net and earned benefit programs, say critics, is deeply worrying

From left: Sen. Dick Durbin, Sen. Harry Reid, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and President Obama. Are these the people who will agree to cut Social Security and Medicare? (Photo: WhiteHouse.gov)

 

If U.S. citizens are increasingly concerned that the Democratic Party is no longer willing to fight off the right-wing attack on Social Security, Medicare, and other key social programs, Sen. Dick Durbin, President Obama and other party leaders have recently offered plenty of evidence to increase that worry.

Since the end of the government shutdown and standoff over the debt limit ended last week, Obama has repeatedly said that he wants to find a “balanced” solution to the ongoing budget debate with Republican lawmakers.

Unless a broad-based populist movement against such a deal manifests—and soon—the American public should expect some scenario in which programs like Medicare and Social Security receive long-term cuts in exchange for a short-term budget deal with Republicans.

In his first public remarks following the reopening of the government, Obama said his goal would be a “balanced approach to a responsible budget” and later declared: “The challenges we have right now are not short-term deficits; it’s the long-term obligations that we have around things like Medicare and Social Security.”

On Sunday, Durbin repeated another familiar GOP talking point by telling Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace: “Social Security is gonna run out of money in 20 years. The Baby Boom generation is gonna blow away our future. We don’t wanna see that happen.”

But as the Huffington Post’s Zach Carter, reportingon Durbin’s Fox appearance, immediately pointed out:

Social Security will not run out of money in 20 years. The program currently enjoys a surplus of more than $2 trillion. Social Security will, however, be unable to pay all benefits at current levels if nothing is changed. If a 25 percent benefit cut were implemented in 20 years, the program would be solvent into the 2080s.

Responding to Durbin’s Fox News performance, FireDogLake’s DSWright fired off a postwhich included:

If this is what Democrats do after they win a budget standoff I would hate to see what they do after they lose one.

A truly progressive Democratic Party would be calling for – at least in their first offer on a conservative television network – expanding Social Security not cutting it. Which could easily be done by removing the cap on Social Security taxes so those making over $113,000 a year simply continue paying Social Security taxes on all their income like the rest of us. This would not only ensure solvency for Social Security well into the future but could easily provide additional benefits to current retirees. More revenues and benefits!

Even if you think removing the cap is too progressive, wouldn’t you at least startthere?

And 20 years? We have record poverty, unemployment, and stagnant wagestoday. It’s time for the Democratic Party to prioritize and not open the negotiations by buying the Republican’s framing of the argument and offering cuts to historic promises. Especially without even offering a progressive alternative. Otherwise what was the point of winning the budget showdown – to reopen a conservative government?

And Richard Eskow, a fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future, went further, blasting Durbin for what he termed “inflammatory” rhetoric that isn’t “just false” but comes “dangerously close to demagoguery.”

According to The Nation’s John Nichols, the budget battle is now heightened in the wake of the latest shutdown fiasco, and it remains unclear how members from the Senate and House will craft a deal that doesn’t end in a repeated stalement. As Nichols reports:

The deal that ended the shutdown set up a high-stakes conference committee on budget issues. If there is to be a “grand bargain,” this is where it will be generated. And Ryan—the most prominent of the fourteen Democrats, fourteen Republicans and two independents on the committee—is in the thick of it.

The Budget Committee chairman says it would be “premature to get into exactly how we’re going to” sort out budget issues.

But no one should have any doubts about the hard bargain he will drive for. In the midst of the shutdown, Ryan jumped the gun by penning Wall Street Journal op-ed that proposed: “Reforms to entitlement programs and the tax code…”

“Here are just a few ideas to get the conversation started,” Ryan wrote. “We could ask the better off to pay higher premiums for Medicare. We could reform Medigap plans to encourage efficiency and cut costs. And we could ask federal employees to contribute more to their own retirement.”

Translation: Get ready for the radical reshaping of Medicare so that it is no longer a universal program. Make way for more price-gouging by the private companies that sell supplemental insurance. Launch a new assault on public employees who have already been hit with wage freezes and furloughs.

However—and despite those (Eskow among them) who congratulated the president for “not negotiating” when the recent threat of a federal default loomed—it seems that the long-game for GOP “hostage-takers” is to see how often they can impose a crisis before the Democrats finally are allowed to bend (as they’ve repeatedly suggested they will) on dismembering their most successful and once-coveted policy achievements: Social Security and Medicare.

As Eskow, citing ample evidence, writes:

Not only do [Democrat leaders] apparently want to cut “entitlements” – some such cuts are included in the President’s current budget – but they’ve essentially conceded as much, leaving them very little negotiating leverage.

For their part, Republicans say they’re willing to give up the harmful cuts known as sequestration – and only those cuts – in return for Social Security and Medicare benefit reductions. Their defense-contractor patrons would be amply rewarded in return for sacrifices from America’s seniors and disabled.

Within the established circle of Beltway punditry and cable news shows, the idea of a negotiated settlement in which Democrats offer up cuts to earned benefit programs like Social Security in exchange for some sort of vague “revenue increase” is now heralded as the “obvious” and “mature” course for Congress and the Obama White House.

However, as Eskow argues, “entitlement cuts are not an ‘adult’ position” but rather “the conservative position” of long-standing.

Further, pushing back against Democrats who have embraced the idea of a so-called ‘Grand Bargain’ with their Republican counterparts, Eskow says that unless a broad-based populist movement against such a deal manifests—and soon—the American public should expect some scenario in which programs like Medicare and Social Security receive long-term cuts in exchange for a short-term budget deal with Republicans.

More and more, Eskow writes, “we find ourselves in a Bizarro-World situation where too many Democrats speak like Republicans, most Republican Party leaders speak like right-wing extremists, and the Republican Party ‘insurgents’ sound more and more like the leaders of paramilitary militias.”

This lurch to the right is not only bad economics, he argues, but clearly bad politics, too. He writes:

Any scenario which leads to Social Security or Medicare cuts would be bad for seniors. It would also be bad for any politician who supported it.

A recent poll by Lake Research shows that 82% of all Americans oppose cuts to Social Security, including 83% of Democrats, 78% of independents, 82% of Republicans – and, in one of the most startling findings of all, fully three-fourths of all self-described Tea Party members (74%). (Social Security Works has a video and a petition on this subject.)

Democrats hold the advantage on this issue right now, which means it’s theirs to lose.

But for those Americans forced to watch the increasingly ‘Bizarro-World’ of Washington politics surrounding the budget battle, what is the scenario in which the idea of Social Security or Medicare cuts are vanquished? Eskow predicts the odds are slim, but argues the only scenario to be hopeful for is one in which “progressives, both officeholders and activists, lead a popular movement which reflects public opinion and defends these programs from so-called ‘Grand Bargain’ cuts.” And concludes:

It won’t be an easy victory. But it’s the only ending to this story in which everybody lives happily ever after: Seniors and disabled people aren’t forced unnecessarily into penury or financial insecurity. Good Democrats get elected, or reelected, to office. A serious conversation is begun about how to mitigate the effects of runaway profit-seeking on American healthcare.

That scenario won’t come by itself. People will have to work for it. But it would be more than worth the effort.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Wolf Creek Community Alliance Presents: State of the Creek

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WCCA Oct 24 Press Release
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How GOP Changed House Rules to Preclude Discharge Petition

Proponents of democracy and of basic sanity have lately pinned some hope on the possibility that a discharge petition could be used to circumvent the intractable GOP leadership and force a vote in the full House on reopening the government. Some of us have wondered impatiently why this has not yet been done.

Here (at 3 min 35 sec into this video) Rep. Chris Van Hollen explains how the GOP has rigged the rules of the House — in a vote taken in the dead of night before the shutdown — in order to preclude the possibility of using the discharge petition to reopen the government:

The following video has had nearly 3 million views on YouTube. It shows Chris Van Hollen on the floor of the House, uncovering HR368, the rule change that now prevents the possibility of using the democratic discharge petition option:

Are We Dangerously Close to Runaway Global Warming?

One big problem with discussions of climate change is that the facts have become so alarming that it’s tempting to dismiss the mere recitation of them as “alarmist” and “needlessly hyperbolic.”

But what if alarm is entirely warranted? What if the shock of alarm is the only force sufficient to rouse us to action? I’m concerned that we’ve become so jaded that we’re increasingly immune to this sort of shock.

Watch this short video on the uncanny similarity between our current predicament and past mass extinctions (particularly with regard to the melting of methane hydrates) … and decide for yourself whether the video is merely “alarmist” or justifiably alarming:

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