Monday, May 24, 2010

The Oily Bird Special

The most moving song I know about the Gulf Coast is "Biloxi" by Memphian Jesse Winchester. (Click on post title to hear "Biloxi"). When he resided here, Jesse went by the name of Jimmy Winchester and fronted a great garage band called the Church Keys. I was a freshman at Christian Brothers High School when he was a senior and a member of the National Honor Society. With a limitless future, Jesse was instead forced to flee this country and accept refuge in Canada rather than participate in the Vietnam War. It was while living as an expatriate that he wrote the wistful "Biloxi;" an evocative childhood memory of frolicking in the salty sea water of the Gulf, made more poignant by Winchester's circumstances. When a potential draftee sought sanctuary from Vietnam in a foreign land, he became a man without a country and was unable to return to the United States without the threat of arrest and imprisonment. So Jesse Winchester wrote "Biloxi" as someone who never expected to see the Gulf again. The song takes on weighty new meaning today, since none of us may ever see the Gulf Coast again; at least as we remember it.

After Jimmy Carter pardoned hundreds of thousands of draft resistors living abroad, Winchester was able to sing "Biloxi," at the Ritz Theatre on Madison Ave. It was the same year that Jimmy Carter tried to warn us about the dire consequences of our dependence on foreign oil. Regardless of your opinion of Carter as president, he was the first visionary to advocate for wind and solar energy. Had we heeded that advice thirty-five years ago, or learned from the Exxon Valdez disaster twenty years ago, we wouldn't be facing the most massive man-made catastrophe since the New Orleans levees broke five years ago. Even then, floodwater eventually recedes; a tsunami of oil is a bit more tenacious. With this ecological 9/11 looming, it seems as if even the local politicians still don't grasp the scope of the danger. Like myopic bureaucrats in a bad disaster movie, Senator Mary Landrieu and Governor Bobby Jindal see no reason to suspend permits for future off-shore oil exploration even while the Louisiana marshes are dying. Landrieu is so deep in the pockets of Big Oil, her campaign contributions are greasy, and "Drill Baby Drill," has reverted to the original "Burn Baby Burn."

BP has become the villain of this piece, although they are as beholden to the petrol cartels as any other major oil trust. What's astonishing is their admitted cluelessness over what to do about it. Too bad we don't have an underwater equivalent to Red Adair. When alleged "experts" in their field begin asking the public for suggestions on how to plug a leak, you know we're in big trouble. And they continue to refer to it as a "spill." A spill is what happens to a glass of wine. Two million gallons of oil gushing into the Gulf every day is not a spill, it's an underwater volcano, and BP's attempt to insert tubing into the shattered pipes to capture the oil is like siphoning water from the Mississippi with a garden hose. Now a month after the explosion and fire, and we have only seen their faulty caps and cement doghouses fail to stop it. The company's latest plan is to bombard the area with tires, ropes and golf balls. Wasn't that the premise of a Seinfeld episode? Rush Limbaugh removed an obstruction from his blowhole to blame the Sierra Club for the leak, by forcing the oil syndicates to drill further offshore with their pesky regulations. Come to think of it, old Rush might be the perfect fit to plug that thing.

This atrocity's origins can be found in the era of lax regulation by government, and corner-cutting by ruthless profiteers. Since Dick Cheney allowed industry insiders to write this country's energy policy behind closed doors, we have lurched from one Enron rolling blackout to the next, driven by unfettered corporate greed. No company in US history has benefited more from friends in high places than Halliburton. Yet from the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Mexico, they have been the very model of incompetence. It was Halliburton's responsibility to properly seal this well, but they used seaweed instead of cement. The only thing more disastrous than Cheney's oil war has been his corporate crony energy policies. Has there ever been a Vice President who has done more personal damage to his country than Dick Cheney? I think there's finally enough accumulated evidence to charge him with international racketeering under the RICO statutes. Hey, they finally got Al Capone for income tax evasion.

Cheney's been eerily silent about this mess, but he's gone back into hibernation now. This bomb went off on Obama's watch and it's past time for him to get his wingtips dirty and get his ass to New Orleans. If we learned nothing from Hurricane Katrina, it's that the perception of leadership in a crisis is as important  as the methods used to alleviate the problem. The government claims to have its "boot on the neck of BP." Well, time to take the boots off of BP and get down there in the muck with them. Assigning blame is no longer sufficient. There is an urgency now and action needs to be taken or else those white sand beaches that Jesse Winchester sang about, and all that "fun among the sea oats" enjoyed by thousands of Memphians and millions of Southerners will be lost for a century. The "Redneck Riviera" may seem remote to our distant countrymen, but let that crude get into the loop current and start landing on the beaches of Miami and Florida's Gold Coast and we may yet see some outrage. Five states are facing an environmental and economic apocalypse while sea and land creatures face extinction, yet Tony Hayward, CEO of BP, told Sky News, "I think the environmental impact of this disaster is likely to be very, very modest." My father used to say, "It's a dirty bird that fouls his own nest." Heads up to the human race: we just peed in the gene pool. 

Thanks to Bill Day for the magnificant illustration.


JimBob said...

Hey Randy. Maybe I'm losing my mind but did you just criticize Barack Obama? Great title, by the way.

geno722 said...

Thank you Randy. I watch in horror as BP does to the coastal wetlands and the economies of places like New Orleans and Biloxi what Hurricane Katrina could not. It should be given the sort of emergency priority of a 9/11 or relief efforts following an earthquake. BP doesn't seem to know how to stop this leak, and if the Federal government knows how, they're not telling, or don't see it as their responsibility to step in and take control of the situation away from BP. I must admit it's hard not to get cynical that the President I voted for is in the pocket of Big Oil just like the regime we just finished ousting. One more cheery thought: this oil will still be there when hurricane season commences. How about a 20-ft. storm surge of oily Gulf water driven miles inland by hurricane-force winds?

Anonymous said...

phukin phantastic

Anonymous said...

Boy, you a great writer, for an ole southern boy. Why aren't you published?

Anonymous said...

Great article. Loved the Jesse Winchester reference. I wish Memphis would take his song "Talk Memphis" as our theme.

Alan said...

To set the record straight, Enron occurred under Clinton & Gore not Cheney. The fall was in late 2001, but the damage from being unchecked was done during the 8 years of Clinton. I have a prediction on this oil leak. I bet that in 3 years there will be virtually no trace of what happened. Both sides have blown it out of proportion for political gain. I have had to remediate Petroleum Hydrocarbons on my properties over the years. We were good environmental stewards and our business for over 100 years has been recycling, but the legacy was land that was considered contaminated by Petroleum Hydrocarbons. The cheapest and best way to clean the land is to aerate it and let the oil evaporate. The oil coming out of this well is light crude which will evaporate much faster that the types of oil we had to remediate.

Anonymous said...

Condsidering the amount of time that's elapsed since this clusterfk, I think they're trying to go about this the wrong way. Think ying/yang.... In other words, it's time they start trying to seperate the water from the oil!


Anonymous said...

This man in the White is incapable of leading his ass out of a brown paper bag.He is an organizer and that's it.

Joe Spake said...

My friends in Biloxi have been able to smell the oil in the Gulf for a couple of weeks now. Makes that song, that has made me cry for decades, a lot more poignant. Thanks for this great post.

Anonymous said...

It's an atrocity. My heart aches for the destruction of the water, the sealife, the birds. It's a sin...pure and simple...that is if people even remember the concept of sin.

I'm getting ready to move to the Gulf Coast. I'll do anything I can to help...especially for the animals.

Obama hasn't done a damn thing to correct this situation.

Diane McManus

Anonymous said...

Oh yes, and I'm one of those crazy people who believes in NO MORE OIL!
Diane McManus