Sunday, June 20, 2010

Black Wave

From the Portland Daily Citizen, a photo of the spill as it was occurring in 1989.

I happened to see "Black Wave," a documentary concerning the Exxon Valdez oil spill and its long and continuing aftermath, last night. Here's a link:

This is the official website for the film. There's plenty of other discussion of the documentary on line. No doubt right wing critics of the film with point out that it appeals to our sense of fair play, to our empathy with both our fellow humans and with other species caught in such a catastrophe. No doubt people such as Congressman Barton of Texas will leap forward with defenses of ExxonMobile (at least in a non-election year, or after the waters have been more thoroughly tested than was the case last week, when Mr. Barton first apologized for President Obama's efforts to establish a large escrow fund for the victims of the BP Gulf of Mexico blowout, then apologized for his apology at the behest of his superiors in the GOP). The film spends much time with a marine biologist, after all, and she even raises the issue of Global Climate Change, which has been stomped flat successfully by everyone but the scientists. A sociologist in the film suggests that the people of Cordova, where the spill effects crushed very successful fishing operations, are suffering from stress at a level comparable to a person who has been raped--that there are raised levels of suicide, alcoholism, and divorce--no doubt sociologists will be poopooed, and the whole discipline of sociology raised into question as "junk science."

All of this is not particularly the point. Watch the documentary. See what you think. Rather, I want to direct your attention to one small aspect of the Exxon Valdez situation, as it relates to the Gulf blowout. After several years of litigation, and after initial promises by Exxon that Exxon would repair the damage (something that the oil industry is not capable of doing in significant measure), a jury awarded the victims of the spill damages from ExxonMobile of some $5.2 billion dollars.

After appeals which lasted until 2008, this award was lowered by the U.S. Supreme Court to some $800,000 dollars. The Court making this ruling was the Roberts Court, Roberts and Alito being justices placed on the Court by George Bush--an oil man of course. (And of course Congress did indeed ok their appointments.) This final award was so small that people in the documentary estimated that it was about one-tenth of their losses. (What kind of "losses" are we talking about? Well, for example, a man once employing 50 people in a herring fishery operation went bankrupt because the entire herring population collapsed two years after the spill due to a viral infection caused by immune system degradation and systemic birth defects, both of which were caused by the oil spill. The herring fishery is still vanished.)

What this documentary tells me, then, is that for all the sniping on the Right about President Obama not being up to the challenge of the Gulf Spill--in one respect he has been exactly right and entirely Presidential. This is in the area of the $20 billion escrow fund that has been established just this last week.

The Exxon Valdez was a leak from a ship. It was finite. The Gulf blowout continues, now into its 60th day and counting. It is affecting a far larger area, and an area even richer in marine life than Alaska waters. It will affect hundreds of fishing fleets based in hundreds of little fishing towns around the Gulf of Mexico. It may well affect foreign waters as well as our own. It may be that $20 Billion is actually not nearly enough.

But one thing is at least a 99% certainty. British Petroleum is not going to just accept this escrow account situation forever. If the GOP returns to Congressional majority you can bet the farm that efforts will be made to impeach Obama and to reduce or even destroy the agreement made last week. The argument will be made--because it has already been made--that Obama was acting as a thug, that he was being unconstitutional in negotiating the account with BP executives. There has already been a test of this thesis--and the people affected by the Exxon spill lost. And it didn't take a cockamamy impeachment proceeding such as wasted half the Clinton adminisration either--the judgement occurred quite lawfully, and all it took was the right five Supreme Court Justices.

It would seem to me that we all ought to keep in mind just whose side the political parties are on in the good old USA. Right now we have a President who did, in fact, successfully negotiate a very large fund of money for the very large body of people whose lives have been utterly upended by the Gulf spill. ExxonMobile spent as much money litigating the eventual outcome of the lawsuits against it as was the final much reduced judgement against them. They saved themselves some $4 billion buckaroos. This is the situation which fishermen and motel owners in the Gulf States face. In America, money has the loudest political voice, and fighting big money is always an uphill climb. Right now it looks like we won one for a change.

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