British Petroleum Gulf Disaster

bp-atlantis-offshore-platformNew Orleans This is not a public relations disaster for British Petroleum to try and manage from the Exxon Valdez playbook, but an environmental cataclysm of epic “worst-in-class” proportions that needs an immediate and stepped up response so that we do not have a Katrina II catastrophe sweeping not only Louisiana but once again parts of the entire Gulf Coast from Texas to Florida. It’s off the chain, literally! BP is acting contrite but this is not a simple contractor problem, especially when a critical safety device was missing that could have prevented this. What the frick?!?

I’m oil field trash, born and raised in oil camps in Wyoming, Colorado, Kentucky, and finally washing up in New Orleans during the Gulf oil boom. I have an uncle who now in his 80’s is still a wildcatter studying geological surveys. What shook me a little was a Franklin High science project, where working with the geologists at Chevron, I found foraminifera – oil bugs – in polluted samples all around Lake Pontchartrain even before the Lake was later closed to swimming. Won some ribbons, but didn’t connect the dots at the time, but I have now. I’m not anti-oil or oil companies, but, damn, this is ridiculous!

The rough outlines are clear: major explosion, 11 dead, a nearly $400 million rig sunk, and now a steady flowing oil river shooting into the Gulf that BP now agrees with the U.S. Coast Guard is 4 times the earlier estimate, so at 5000 barrels and over 200,000 gallons will be MANY times worse than the Valdez or Santa Barbara spills. Remember, this is no spill. There’s no “over” on this one until the pipe is capped or the entire reserve leaks out into the Gulf over coming months. In the meantime the winds will blow oil, now touching the shore in Louisiana, and put thousands of fisherman and others out of work, and potentially cripple the rich estuaries that are best shrimp, oyster, and crab grounds in the country. Modest damage and recovery efforts are already couched in terms of decades. How can we allow this to ever happen or certainly ever happen again?

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The 1199 and California Factors

woodruff_smNew Orleans I was intrigued by a bill in the Louisiana legislature to allow congregants to carry guns in church to “protect the children” proponents claimed, because I had not realized that we needed to be really worried about “church invasions,” but I found myself rereading several times a piece that Steve Early, the labor journalist, critic, and former CWA stalwart, had sent to me and others from a recent posting on the In These Times “working life” blog, which might be worth more contemplation. Despite his thinly veiled contempt and animus towards SEIU and its leadership, Steve provided a service by working his sources and the internet to get copies of letters back-and-forth in the recent palace struggle within SEIU written by top leaders of the union.

He quotes a letter from Dennis Rivera, former head of SEIU’s largest local, the New York based 1199, which had called for “unity,” meaning a waiting ground for Mary Kay Henry as Secretary-Treasurer while Anna Burger became president. Having Dennis support her candidacy would normally have been seen as a coup for Burger, who had assiduously courted the mercurial and gifted Rivera during his years in New York and the years that Anna personally serviced and supported the local unions on the East Coast so that she would have a real base within the union outside of Stern himself. Dennis had never given much attention or time to the meetings of the International Executive Board, being frequently absent or otherwise engaged during meetings, and always making it inherently clear that he was simply the big dog running. No longer commanding and directing the several board votes of 1199 over the last several years, as he brilliantly worked the inside strategy for health care reform, Dennis would have been a presumptive candidate worth serious consideration as president of SEIU, but would hardly have been an effective lobbyist with tens of board members whose names he probably hardly remembered from his vantage point at the top of a 200,000 member local and big time player, would have scarcely cared about seriously. Strategically, Anna and the 8th floor had always seen Dennis as someone who needed to be checked and clutched to the breast tightly to make sure that he didn’t mount a direct challenge to Andy or to her ambitions when the time was right. The strategy seems to have worked, but to not have mattered in the end.

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