Tag Archives: Katrina

Oxy, Tesoro and Valero: Drilling at the Ballot Box

In the aftermath of Katrina, nearly everyone pitched in to help (except George Bush, but that’s an old story).  Even Wal-Mart lent is vaunted logistics expertise to the devastated Gulf Coast.

This time around, in a man-made disaster more insiduous than Katrina, the oil industry that chomps at the drilling bit to pump crude from any crevice without regard to consequence, sits idly by, unwilling to lift so much as a pen to help out in the Gulf.  Worse still, Occidental Petroleum, Tesoro and Valero, along with a few secretive allies, have put up over $2 million to pass an initiative here in California that would effectively elminate AB 32, our land mark green economy and clean air legislation, simply to make more money from fouling our state. They see BP and raise a California.

That’s why Courage Campaign Thursday called on those companies to donate at least that much money to efforts to rehabilitate the Gulf, to help the tens of thousands whose lives have been upended or worse by the petro-sharks.

The usually incisive Josh Richman of the Contra Costa Times  had this to say:

But… really? Isn’t demanding that Tesoro and Valero pay to mitigate a BP oil spill sort of like demanding that Honda recall and fix Toyota’s cars? Think what you will of out-of-state oil companies buying a California ballot initiative to protect their profits, but it’s odd to advocate expanding one company’s responsibility and liability to an entire industry just like that. Or, were we supposed to think that big oil – one of the world’s richest, most politically connected industries – would instantly abandon all of its political efforts and slink away due to BP’s ecological and economic trainwreck

It does not seem odd at all. Honda did not seek to weaken safety laws when Toyota began to fail. Imagine if Honda had put millions of dollars into a ballot measure that called for a moratorium on safety checks for five years. You can’t.  No other industry would be so brazen and outrageously rapacious.  That’s the analogy here.  

A well-run company (think Berkshire Hathaway) works toward sustainability which is in the best interests of its shareholders.  Putting tons of oil into the sea and investing in legislation that encourages similarly destructive practices is short-term thinking at its worst. This is the same thinking that allows employee-CEOs to become billionaires by cutting corners and taking profits without investing in the future.  It’s not only legitimate to call on these companies to help out when their industry fails so blatantly, it’s a kind of litmus test.  If they are not willing to help out when people, animals and the nation itself are drowning in dirty crude, we can imagine what will happen if they pass this legislation in California. Screw California and the country:  we want our bonuses.

The end of a green economy and a continual reliance on oil at any price from any place will not be their problem.  It’ll be ours.

I used to work at Occidental Petroleum.  I know that companies can do bad and good.   Oxy, Valero and Tesoro should at least take a page from Wal-Mart’s book–no corporate Boy Scout–and lend a hand in this time of need.  It won’t make them any money, but it’s what good citizens and sustainable businesses do.  

Gustav: Global Warming to Blow RNCC Off the Front Pages?

Few events have proven the folly of letting people who hate government run government like Hurricane Katrina. Everyone predicted the flooding of New Orleans was one of the “three likeliest, most castastrophic disasters” along with a terrorist attack on NYC (Bin Laden determined to strike US) and a San Francisco earthquake, yet the Republican Party’s focus on hating government has already crossed off 2/3 of the worst case list.

Is Karma getting getting involved in the news cycle?

NEW ORLEANS (AP) – On the eve of Hurricane Katrina’s third anniversary, a nervous New Orleans watched Wednesday as another storm threatened to test everything the city has rebuilt, and officials made plans to evacuate people, pets and hospitals in an attempt to avoid a Katrina-style chaos.

Forecasters warned that Gustav could grow into a dangerous Category 3 hurricane in the next several days and hit somewhere along a swath of the Gulf Coast from the Florida Panhandle to Texas – with New Orleans smack in the middle.

Taking no chances, city officials began preliminary planning to evacuate and lock down the city in hopes of avoiding the catastrophe that followed the 2005 storm. Mayor Ray Nagin left the Democratic National Convention in Denver to return home for the preparations.

This is looking to hit on the eve of the GOP Convention. Yet I doubt Republicans will change the program to talk about global warming and effective government and protecting America. And speaking of the RNCC, are any obstructionist legislators planning to go to the convention while still holding the state hostage to the tyranny of the minority?

Down the Blackwater Wormhole

Disclosure: I work for the Courage Campaign

There’s a protest from 3-5pm today at Blackwater’s new Otay Mesa facility, and tomorrow Jeremy Scahill will be doing a special Courage Campaign Conversation tomorrow afternoon at 4pm.

In a little noticed vote yesterday, the Merida Initiative passed easily through the House of Representatives 311-106. It provides $1.6 billion with an emphasis on training and equipment to fight drug cartels in Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America, because as Rep. Brian Bilbray explained:

“Either we can go after these cartels in Ensenada, or we can fight them in Escondido,” said Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Carlsbad), who voted for the plan. “I’d prefer that we move now and take care of this problem south of the border. The drug wars in Mexico and in other regions have grown horrendously violent, and their destructive ways must be quashed.”

It’s tough to directly take issue with any of that, but where does it lead? Potentially to some unpleasant places. In September, the Defense Department opened up five year contracts in support of counter-narcoterrorism efforts to five private companies, including Blackwater USA. “The indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract could be worth up to $15 billion for the awardees.” The Army Times analyzed the content of the contracts, describing:

a series of task orders covering a wide range of products and services. These could include anti-drug technologies and equipment, special vehicles and aircraft, communications, security training, pilot training, geographic information systems, and in-field support.

Now back up for a second and compare that to the State Department description of the Merida Initiative:

   *  Non-intrusive inspection equipment, ion scanners and canine units for Mexico and Central America to interdict trafficked drugs, arms, cash and persons.

   * Technologies to improve and secure communications systems that collect criminal information in Mexico.

   * Technical advice and training to strengthen the institutions of justice – vetting for the new police force, case management software to track investigations through the system, new offices of citizen complaints and professional responsibility, and witness protection programs to Mexico.

   * Helicopters and surveillance aircraft to support interdiction activities and rapid response of law enforcement agencies to Mexico.

   * Equipment, training and community action programs in Central American countries to implement anti-gang measures and expand the reach of these measures.

Quite a bit of overlap. However, in a May 22 press release from Blackwater, it asserted

What it isn’t. Critics of the project have used blatant fabrications —       claiming that the facility will be used for border security or immigration purposes — to build support for their opposition of the facility. The proposed facility will be used for training alone…

This might be comforting if there was any reason at all actually trust Blackwater’s integrity. As just one example, Post-Katrina investigations by expert Jeremy Scahill discovered that Blackwater deployed to New Orleans without a government contract. They just showed up, fully armed, and went to work of their own accord. Leaving aside local San Diego concerns (where private firefighters are already being used to combat wildfires), Blackwater’s contempt for law and oversight in New Orleans is hardly an isolated incident. When Blackwater mercenaries killed 17 civilians in Baghdad’s Nusoor Square,

the first U.S. soldiers to arrive on the scene have told military investigators that they found no evidence the contractors were fired upon, a source familiar with a preliminary U.S. military report told CNN.

The soldiers found evidence suggesting the guards fired on cars that were trying to leave, and found that weapon casings on the scene matched only those used by U.S. military and contractors.

Yet there have been no successful prosecutions and Blackwater’s contracts with the U.S. government continue to grow and it’s existing Iraq contracts renewed. Why? Because every time a government function is outsourced, the capacity (at least short term) for the government to retake that responsibility is lost. Which means that without dramatic top-down action (the Stop Outsourcing Security Act would be a good start), every step forward by Blackwater is one that’s exceptionally difficult to take back.

Which circles back to San Diego in a number of ways. If Blackwater establishes itself locally, it’s exceptionally difficult to push them out again. With a local base of operations, not only are they positioned for “narcoterrorism” contracting and unauthorized deployments on the streets of downtown San Diego, but it’s a base of marketing operations for what Blackwater itself describes as a private CIA offering “surveillance and countersurveillance, deployed intelligence collection, and rapid safeguarding of employees or other key assets.”  In a land of Minutemen and giant contracts for virtual border fences that “failed to perform as expected,” outside-the-law private intelligence organizations are unlikely to help anything.

Activists are keeping up the fight in San Diego, but this is not a local issue. The Bush Administration and its allies have been trying to sell off the entire government without any concern for functionality or accountability, and the front lines of resistance have extended to San Diego. There’s a protest from 3-5pm today at Blackwater’s new Otay Mesa facility, and tomorrow Jeremy Scahill will be doing a special Courage Campaign Conversation tomorrow afternoon at 4pm.

Two small but important steps to avoid the Blackwater wormhole.

NOLA at San Jose

Saturday night at Fiona Ma’s karaoke hospitality suite, Dante dedicated The House of the Rising Sun to (still) Senator David Vitter.  That was the first reference I heard all weekend to New Orleans, after a long day and a half of speeches that did give a lot of attention to national issues like Iraq and the crashing economy.

I hadn’t been listening for it, particularly, but I was struck that New Orleans wasn’t a bigger topic – that this particular national disgrace had somehow gotten buried under all the others.  It seemed like something we “just don’t talk about” – like a problem for which nobody has any answers and which we all just wish would go away.  And it’s going away; for a lot of the city’s former residents, of course, it’s gone.  But we must remember, so that it doesn’t happen again (and by “it,” of course, I mean not a hurricane, but criminal lack of preparedness and failure to react, respond and recover); we must remember, to finally make whole the lives of our fellow Americans whose homes were taken from them, flattened, and turned over to wealthy developers for more profitable enterprises.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen, speaking Sunday morning, was (to the best of my knowledge) the first speaker to bring up New Orleans; when I thanked her for doing so as she made her way through the convention floor she said she had been to New Orleans recently for a convention and gone out to see the Ninth Ward.  Kudos to Debra Bowen, whose job has nothing to do with disaster relief, nothing to do with the Gulf Coast, for caring enough about the right issues to bring that issue forward in her speech.

Art Torres briefly mentioned New Orleans a little later, and finally former President Bill Clinton served up some good words on the topic; I was happy to hear this as well.

In a political environment filled with critical issues – Iraq, global warming, administration assaults on the Constitution, torture, media consolidation, election integrity, a ruinous economy, just to name a few – we must somehow make room to give some attention to New Orleans, and I’m happy to report that the CDP did so last weekend.  It’s not enough, of course – New Orleans needs more than just attention – but I’m glad to know that we haven’t completely forgotten it.

Blogosphere –Opportunity to give my people the representation deserved.

In the midst of all the hoopla over bitter Vitter, transplant Jindal and freezer king Jefferson, do not lose hope, my people!

Cross posted with dKos, Daily Kingfish

  I am Gilda Reed and I am running for the U.S. House of Representatives in Louisiana’s 1st District to give my people the representation they deserve.  All of us are Katrina survivors.  We must have a Democrat who feels the pulse of the people.  Republicans have held the seat for 30 years and it is time for a change.  Government is supposed to be of the people, by the people and for the people—not a government created by the rich to protect their own interests.  Over 90% of our Congress members are millionaires.  I have no ill will for rich folks and can properly represent them.  However, I do not know too many who have walked a mile in the shoes of my constituents.  How can a person empathize when he/she is so far removed from our wants, needs and desires?  A few courtesy visits, handshakes and empty rhetoric are not what we need.  My people need me, one of their own, to fight for them.

Am I up to the task?  You bet I am. 

Besides being a lifelong resident of District 1, I am the dedicated mother of 7 children, including 2 adopted with special needs, the grandmother of 11, and the teacher of thousands of university students.  With a polio disability, I raised my large family and earned a Ph.D. in Applied Biological Psychology at the same time.  Then I went on to teach more classes at the University of New Orleans at 1 time than any of my colleagues.  During Katrina, I did not miss a beat and recorded all lectures for the semester so that my students could hear what they would have heard if there were buildings to house them.  To this day, I am still fighting for the rights of my adopted children with disabilities.  So I am accustomed to weathering adversity.  Washington will be a piece of cake compared to all of this.

Why would a happy, squeaky-clean wife of 40 years, mother, grandmother and teacher jump into the shark-infested waters of politics?  I am tired of whining.  Every semester I teach my students that if they do not like something, they should get off their rear ends and DO something to make a change.  I am only practicing what I teach.  Our senior citizens need a break, our children need a break, our working middle class needs a break, our small business owners need a break.  The Iraq War must end.  Quality health care must be available for all Americans.  Illegal immigration must halt.  Erosion of our rights afforded by the Constitution must stop.  Fiscal responsibility must return.  World respect must be re-earned.

There is a small problem with this tall order.  Money.  Name recognition and fighting a wealthy, well-oiled machine takes plenty of it.  So many of my constituents are burdened and numb, so I must reach out beyond my district and state for support.  If you believe in a true democracy, if you want to help a struggling corner of America to return to normalcy, if you want to help dethrone a Republican—please donate to the Gilda Reed Campaign.  I plan to win.  Given all the news of late and the hypocrisy that screams out, it is time for an honorable person above the fray to become elected.  Please be part of the victory that is due my people. 

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Gilda Reed Campaign
P.O. Box 73186
Metairie, LA  70033-3186