Thursday, July 01, 2010

Two Mississippi disasters: the BP oil geyser and Haley Barbour

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a hack pretending to be a hick

Melissa Block interviewed Mississippi's Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, potential Republican Presidential canidate in 2012, on the BP disaster. Mississippi Governor 'Shocked' By Coast Guard's Gulf Spill Coordination NPR 06/29/2010.

Ole Haley appearing on FOX News Sunday on 06/10/2010 riduled the notion that Mississippi had any worries from the BP's oil geyser. The link is to the video of the interview. The transcript is here and Sam Stein reported on it in Haley Barbour: Oil? What Oil? Press Should Stop Scaring Tourists Huffington Post 06/10/2010. But to get the full effect you need to hear him saying it in his heavy accent. Barbour is a Washington power lawyer. But as a Mississippi politician, he affects a major cornpone accent and attitude, including often pronouncing the name of his state as "Missippi".

Here's what ole Haley was saying from the transcript, except that I've corrected the spelling and added emphasis marks to partially reflect his actual pronunciation:

Well, the truth is, Chris, we have had virtually no oil. If you were on the Missippi gulf coast any time in the last 48 days you didn't see any oil at all. We've had a few tar balls, but we've had - we have tar balls every year as a natural product of the Gulf of Mexico. Two hundred and fifty thousand to 750,000 barrels of oil seep into the Gulf of Mexico through the floor ev'ry year, so tar balls are no big deal.

In fact, I read that Pensacola or the Florida beaches, when they had tar balls yesterday, they didn't even close. They just sent people out to pick them up and throw them in the bag.

The biggest — 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. But the average viewer to this show thinks that the whole coast from Florida to Texas is ankle-deep in oil.

And of course, it's very, very bad for our tourist season. That's the real economic damage. Our first closure of fisheries in Mississippi waters came just earlier this week after about 45 days.

So it may be hard for the viewer to understand, but the worst thing for us has been how our tourist season has been hurt by the mis-perception of what's going on down here. The Missippi gulf coast is beautiful. As I tell people, the coast is clear, come on down.
Even last Friday, as large amounts of oil were just offshore and moving quickly toward the Mississippi Gulf Coast, ole Haley was sayin', "This shouldn't be a cause for alarm." (Karen Nelson, CLOSING IN: Oil now 3 miles from barrier islands Biloxi Sun-Herald 06/25/2010).

Three weeks after that ludicrous appearance on FOX News, ole Haley was sounding a bit different (Anita Lee and Margaret Baker, Mississippi officials slam Coast Guard as BP oil hits shores McClatchey Newspapers 06/27/2010):

Mississippi had largely escaped the onslaught of the Deepwater Horizon oil slick, even as shoreline in Louisiana, Alabama and Florida was washed by both thick gooey crude or thousands of tar balls.

But on Sunday, that respite ended.

"The amount of oil moving into Mississippi waters has greatly increased in the last several days, and the prevailing winds that cause the oil and its residue to move in our direction are predicted to continue, at least until the middle of the week,” Gov. Haley Barbour said in a statement. “We continue to press the federal Unified Command and BP to increase the amount of resources available to attack the oil beginning as far south as possible, through the passes, into the sound, and in the mouths of the bays"

Barbour, who once confidently predicted that the oil would skirt Mississippi, rushed back to the state on Friday from a fundraising tour he was making on behalf of Republican candidates. Sunday said the state was prepared to move alone if the federal government couldn't provide more resources.
The Biloxi Sun-Herald, which endorsed ole for election and re-election as Governor, raked him over the coals for his strange behavior in face of the oil disaster in this editorial last Saturday: A Crude Awakening: It’s time to stop daydreaming and face up to this nightmare 06/26/2010. They even addressed the distraction aspect of the pious gesture of official prayer days over the oil catastrophe:

We would give anything if a prayer or an advertisement could make this all go away.

But neither media bashing nor media buys will stop the oil or preserve our way of life.

That requires the unrelenting attention of everyone connected to mitigating this catastrophe, including all the governors of the Gulf region.
They were very explicit in condemning ole Haley's callous, irresponsible attitude toward the disaster:

What happened offshore at the 30-mile and 10-mile lines of defense? What happened to the assurances that oil would be spotted and stopped long before it threatened either the Sound or the sand? [See the FOX News interview linked above for a version of Haley's hot air over this.]

And why, with more than two months to gear-up for this possibility, were officials still scrambling for gear at the last minute?

Why did it take such a crude awakening to shatter the daydreams of Gov. Haley Barbour and others entrusted with the safety of South Mississippi?

Perhaps if he had gone to that “photo-op” with the president and other Gulf governors in Louisiana weeks ago Barbour would have developed a greater sense of the peril and addressed it with more urgency and vigor.

With the smallest coastline on the Gulf, Mississippi’s ecology should have been the most defensible.

Yet an underestimation of the potential threat, particularly by Barbour, has left us more vulnerable.
Given the volume of oil, even the most aggressive preparations and advocacy by Barbour and other state officials likely couldn't have prevented devastating consequences. But aggressive preparations and advocacy were not what ole Haley and his state administration provided during the first two months of the BP oil geyser:

Barbour’s focus has been more limited: he has spent much of his time being an advocate for the state’s tourism industry — and for the oil industry which threatens it. And, of course, he has been playing a very active role in Republican politics.

This is not to begrudge the governor his standing in the GOP. His political connections and how they might help Mississippi was one of the factors in his favor that twice won him this newspaper’s endorsement. However, his travels to distant places and engagement in political fundraising during these days of crisis on the Coast are questionable, even troubling. Barbour’s priority ought to be with his constituents in Mississippi.

No small part of Barbour’s responsibility is securing and sharing accurate and trustworthy information about all aspects of the oil spill and its threat to Mississippi. From BP’s inexcusable inaccuracy about the size of the spill to the hidden-from-view cleanup efforts for the last two weeks on Petit Bois Island, facts have been too hard to come by.

For those who have paid attention to Mississippi’s official response to the oil spill, it is clear that the governor set the tone that has permeated every pronouncement by those in authority, particularly Dr. Bill Walker, director of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources. Both Barbour and Walker have taken the media to task for doing its job, probably not the most effective use of their time and talents.

The frantic scramble for resources to defend the Coast this weekend is evidence of the too-little-too-late approach to this crisis.

Which brings me to his interview with Melissa Block on NPR. Ole Haley is now blaming the fedrul gubment (of course!), "Unified Command, BP, whomever," for not anticipating the magnitude of the problem. But ole Haley is still sticking to his talking points from the FOX News interview!

BLOCK: Governor Barbour, I'd like to talk to you a bit about your own response to the oil spill because you have been criticized for seeming to minimize how bad the problem is. You've accused the media of exaggerating how much oil is on the beaches and you've been urging tourists to come down. You said the coast is clear. The coast is no longer clear, I guess.

Gov. BARBOUR: Well, the people on the beach today in Mississippi and almost all the tourist areas, there hadn't been one drop of oil. We've had a small amount of oil. What we've tried to do is tell the public the truth. And the truth is that the national news media, particularly television, has given people the impression that the entire Mississippi Gulf Coast was ankle deep in oil.

The news media coverage did not differentiate from what was happening in Louisiana and what was not happening in Mississippi, Alabama, Florida. Even the president of the United States came down here and said exactly what I said. You know, the coast is beautiful, the beaches are pristine, the water is clear as a bell. And people shouldn't be canceling their vacations.

Yet because of the news coverage, millions, billions, perhaps, of dollars were lost by people in the tourism industry in my state, Alabama and Florida. That's not to minimize the size of this catastrophe, but it is to simply tell the truth.

BLOCK: Governor Barbour, I wonder if that's a fine line to walk. On the one hand you're worried about not having enough skimmers. You're worried about what might hit the beaches. At the same time, you're saying, come on down, the water's fine.

Gov. BARBOUR: Well, ma'am, it's not a fine line to walk. All you got to do is tell the truth. Just lay the facts out for people and people can make their own decision.
The facts on the day ole Haley was doing that interview were reported by Donna Melton of the Biloxi Sun-Herald in Oil hitting beaches by the ton 06/29/2010:

Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Team workers scoured the beaches in Harrison County [Mississippi], scooping more than a ton of contaminated sand mixed with tar patties, mats and balls into clear-plastic garbage bags.

Tar balls are weathered oil; patties are just like balls, but newer and with a more liquid consistency. Tar mats can be a combination of the two mixed with debris such as sediment or plant matter.

The state departments of Marine Resources, Environmental Quality and Health extended the beach advisory in Harrison County from the Gulfport Small Craft Harbor east to Azalea Avenue in Biloxi.

According to a jointly issued news release, the beach in this area had significant amounts of tar mats and tar patties. The heaviest concentrations were between White Avenue in Biloxi and Cowan Road in Gulfport.
Accompanying the article was this photo of the beach at Gulfport, on the day ole Haley was telling NPR, "You know, the coast is beautiful, the beaches are pristine, the water is clear as a bell."

The truth-telling Governor then went on to talk about how the BP oil catastrophe proves ... that the free market works, by Galt:

Well, look, in every part of the government there is a role for good regulation that is properly done. But the idea that more regulation is necessarily better, I think a very suspect idea. In the case of this well, I believe it will be shown that if the regular protocols had been followed, that this well wouldn't have blown out. We'll see what the facts are.

But I am comfortable that's what the facts are going to be. And that if there had been somebody from MMS on the well to make sure they had done it, well, maybe that wouldve made a difference. But I think right now every oil company in the world says, I don't want to pay $100 million a day to cut corners on drilling a well. And that's where I believe the market system works. Nobody's got more to lose in this deal than BP.
Mississippi, still the poorest state in the Union, needs the very best advocacy and representation from its public officials. Haley Barbour certainly hasn't provided it. But Haley's a good ole boy. And he shore has a downhome accent, don't he?

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