Sunday, June 27, 2010

Blue Dogging the oil spill


Gene Taylor, proud Blue Dog Democratic Congressman since 1989

Blue Dog Democrat Gene Taylor, who represents the Mississippi Gulf Coast Congressional district that's about to be inundated with oil, gave a blustering but seemingly incoherent criticism of the emergency response on Saturday, as reported by Karen Nelson, Taylor views oil, calls response 'an effort in futility' Biloxi Sun-Herald 06/26/2010.

I'm really not sure what his point is in this criticism. Though he seemed to be directing the blame at President Obama:

"It was an effort in futility," Taylor said, within minutes of returning from the flight. "It's criminal what’s going on out there. This doesn't have to happen." ...

"They're paying all these boats to run around like headless chickens," Taylor said, as reporters gathered to hear his assessment of the Sound, between the barrier islands and the mainland. ...


There were dozens of boats of all sizes running around, some leaving trails through the sheen. Two boats among a group near Ship Island were pulling boom in a line, but not using it to round up oil. That was at 10 a.m.

Taylor slipped a note to a fellow passenger.

It said: "I'm having a Katrina flashback. I haven’t seen this much stupidity, wasted effort, money and wasted resources, since then."

Back on land in Gulfport, Taylor let loose.

"A lot of people are getting paid to say, 'look there’s oil' and not doing anything about it," Taylor said. "There shouldn't be a drop of oil in the Sound. There are enough boats running around.

"If the president can't find anyone who can do this job," he said, "let me do it."
This kind of blustering and bitching vaguely about the gubment screwing things up plays well in Mississippi politics. But how well is Gene Taylor actually able to judge the nature of the response? In this piece, he's quoted only as saying that he flew over and didn't understand what the boats he was seeing were doing. But how would anybody if they didn't have some detailed knowledge of what the resources were and what the priorities are?

Now, I'm certainly willing to believe that there could be a lot wrong with the actual response. And maybe Gene Taylor is basing his grumping on more than just flying over the water and coming back to show he's outraged over what's happening.

But it sounds more like panic to me. Like he flew out there and saw live what a mass of surface oil is headed toward the Mississippi Gulf Coast and sees there's no way that the relief operation is going to contain it all.

There's a geyser of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico. It's the biggest human-caused environmental disaster in history. Yes, it's ugly and it's going to get uglier. And if Members of Congress have actual criticisms of the emergency response, by all means they should make them, especially if it is something that can be immediately changed for the better.

But I don't see the use in someone like Taylor just blustering incoherently about how upset he is. One of the things I've seen in some of the sloppy TV reporting - I guess "sloppy" and "TV reporting" are almost redundant words these days in the US - is some guy in Louisiana or one of the other affected states saying that he's a shrimper or he has a boat and wants to use it but can't get approval.

Those bits have never impressed me for reasons I've discussed here before: an effectively emergency operations needs people and boats and equipment appropriate to the particular job, and having players without those qualifications out there getting in the way can really cause more harm than good. And Taylor's incoherent comments reinforce that caution. For instance, he says, "They're paying all these boats to run around like headless chickens." And the reporter gives her own observation in connection with that comment, describing what was happening at 10:00AM: "There were dozens of boats of all sizes running around, some leaving trails through the [oil] sheen. Two boats among a group near Ship Island were pulling boom in a line, but not using it to round up oil."

The Biloxi Sun-Herald is a McClatchy newspaper, where they are still expected to do good reporting. I took the reporter's observation as meaning that one could draw the conclusion that Taylor did if you simply observed from the air for a few minutes what was happening on the water without knowing specifically the assignments of the ships being observed. Obviously, the fact that boats were pulling boom in a line at that one moment doesn't mean they were just driving around aimlessly; a more likely assumption is that they were taking it to some other place to be used.

But just imagine what the scene would be like if you allowed boats of self-appointed cleanup crews and disaster tourists to cruise around out there however they wanted to. So maybe after another six months or so of the oil geyser, our star reporters will stop airing brain-dead whining about how Joe Blow wants to use his boat to help and the federal gubment won't let him.

In an expanded version of the article, Oil in Sound infuriates Taylor 06/26/2010, Nelson adds that Mississippi Republican Sen. Roger Wicker was also on the flight with Taylor, along with representatives from the state Department of Environmental Quality and BP. Wicker was more explicit in repeating Republican Party talking points:

After the flight, Wicker said he feels it's not too late for President Barack Obama to accept help from other countries that have offered the services of their large oil-skimming boats.

Wicker blamed bureaucracy and the president, but said, "Mississippi has been a champ from the beginning of this."

He also said he noticed BP has been slow to accept prevention plans from local governments.
In fact, the Obama administration has been accepting aid from other countries. Wicker's vague criticism, if it's true at all, is worded to sound like the administration is inexplicably turning down useful offers of foreign assistance. What is inexplicable is his comment that, "Mississippi has been a champ from the beginning of this." Here was the state's distinguished Republican Gov. Haley Barbour earlier this month (Barbour: Media doing more damage than oil spill Crooks and Liars 06/06/2010):

"Well, the truth is, Chris, we have had virtually no oil," Barbour told Fox News' Chris Wallace Sunday.

"We have had a few tar balls but we have tar balls every year as a natural product of the Gulf of Mexico. 50,000 to 750,000 barrels of oil seep in the Gulf of Mexico through the floor every year. So, tar balls are no big deal," said Barbour.

"The biggest negative impact for us has been the news coverage. There has been no distinction between Grand Isle and Venice and the places in Louisiana that we feel so terrible for that have had oil washing up on them," the governor complained.

"The average viewer to this show thinks that the whole coast from Florida to Texas is ankle-deep in oil," he said.

"Our tourist season has been hurt by the misperception of what is going on down here. The Mississippi Gulf Coast is beautiful. As I tell people, the coast is clear. Come on down!"
See also Barbour: 'The Mississippi Coast is Beautiful' 'Come on Down!' - Except for Those Thousands of Dead Fish by Heather Crooks and Liars 06/08/2010. I might be more inclined to think that "Mississippi has been a champ from the beginning of this" if the state's Governor hadn't been sounding like the mayor in the movie Jaws who refused to acknowledge there was a shark near their beach because it would hurt the tourist business.

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