Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Louisiana Just Can’t Catch A Break

Just when you thought things were starting to look up in terms of the oil spill in the South another disaster strikes. That may sound a little dramatic as we don’t yet know the reach of this spill, but it’s really not too far off the mark. It is highly unlikely that this spill will ever reach the catastrophic proportions that the April 20th Deepwater Horizon spill reached, and a Jefferson Parish Councilman has already said he believes that the spill can be stopped today. However, the fact that there is another spill so soon after that one and so close to the origin of that spill is disturbing.

It was reported by the AP that a tugboat ran into a wellhead in a bay by Mud Lake. Oil is now being emitted into the water and is visible above the surface. This occurred to the north of a bay where officials have been working steadily to contain the spilling oil from the BP tragedy.

This area has been described as “ecologically sensitive” and although no one is sure yet how much oil is being ejected into the water, there are reports of a visible sheen in the lake.

Oil is such a crucial resource to the United States and we have lost so much of this resource within our own borders. We already didn’t like being so dependent on foreign oil, and it seems like these constant spills keep pushing us back to the oil in the Middle East.

The way I see it one of two things needs to happen here. Either we need to have more competent rig workers and boat captains and there needs to be a higher emphasis placed on personal responsibility, or we can’t keep drilling deep-sea oil wells. If we aren’t capable of drilling out in the water without causing environmentally detrimental spills then we can’t keep drilling there.

We really need more stringent regulations on our oilrigs and more constant monitoring that these safety regulations are enforced. People keep saying that it was under President Bush that regulations were slackened. But the way I see it is that he has been out of office for a year and a half and perhaps Obama should have paid closer attention to these issues. After all it has been under Obama that the worst spill in history occurred. But now is the time for increased monitoring to make sure another spill doesn’t occur. It’s too late to go back and prevent the ones that have been, now it’s time to look to the future and the preservation of our environment.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Racism and the Shirley Sherrod Debacle

For some reason in the United States things always have to go back to race, I’m not entirely sure why. I know that we don’t all live in peace and harmony the way we’re supposed to but it seems like regardless of race, religion or gender there is someone who is trying to keep you down and repress your voice. You would think that after electing the first African American President things could simmer down. But, this is not the case.

I see it as amazing that the 2008 Democratic Primaries came down to a woman and an African American man, and even more amazing that Barack Obama was elected into the country’s highest office. But there is a time that I think we need to move past the color of his skin and instead just focus on what he is doing as President, which is astronomically more important.

The issue of Shirley Sherrod brought this matter to light for me. The fact that Ms. Sherrod was forced to resign from office is appalling. Granted the first part of the video shown appeared to convey a racist streak, but the latter part of the video, which was not shown initially for one reason or another, shows an understanding that judging someone based on skin tone would be both unprofessional and morally repugnant.

The fact of the matter is that people are so quick to jump to conclusions of racism before all the facts have even been examined. It is so engrained in our culture and it is nearly impossible to ignore. While I would like to think we are an enlightened nation I can’t help but look to what other countries have done and feel we are not up to speed. (So many countries besides our own have had female heads of state, something this country might benefit from.)

While the underlying issue is the Sherrod escapade is race, the issue I find so disconcerting is the negligence on the part of the American journalists. As someone who has a BA in Communications with a concentration in Journalism I was taught all the basics on what to do and what not to do to get a story. If a video such as the Sherrod video surfaced, why would a journalist not do as much research as possible at find out all the details behind the video, like if there was a second half to it?

Herein lies the issue with bloggers as “citizen journalists.” No comparison can be made to a citizen journalist and a formally trained one backed by a paper or news channel. Journalists have a far greater bank of resources at their disposable, most notably money to research their stories. For this reason I can’t begin to express my disappointment at the news media who got the story so wrong that it cost a woman her job, only for the truth to come out and Sherrod to be offered her job back the following day. This shows a complete lack of responsibility on the part of journalists, specifically those “hacks” at FOX.

Havana Here We Come?

Before I get into the issue of travel to Cuba I think it’s necessary to provide a short history lesson. Cuba has a long history of Imperial rule enforced by one nation or another. First Cuba was a Spanish colony. Then, after the Spanish-American War, Cubans were under the rule of the United States through various Laws and Acts, most notably the Platt Amendment. This Amendment gave the United States the authority to intervene in any foreign or domestic situations that they saw fit. It also gave them access to certain military bases and territories, such as the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.

After Fidel Castro took control of the island nation in the 1959 Revolution, the United States almost instantly feared the new leadership. The US has a longstanding history of interfering in foreign affairs of Latin American nations, where they often have no business being. The United States was actually behind the instigation of Fulgencio Batista, Fidel’s predecessor, as President of Cuba.

For all these reasons, the United States’ long–standing control over the Island, Fidel decided he wanted nothing to do with the US. One of the main reasons behind the embargo between the two countries was that Castro wanted the US refineries in Cuba to process Soviet oil. As this was the height of the Cold War this did not go over well with US authorities.

Now to get to the issue with US travel to Cuba. At the same time that the trade embargo passed there was a hold placed on travel as well. Since its inception certain groups of people have been fighting to change this. Havana could benefit from US tourism. There was a strong US presence in Havana before the Revolution and many wish for the right to return.

Currently there is a movement by various interest groups and some Cuban-Americans alike to get this travel ban lifted. They have done so by backing a congressional bill that would also work towards more relaxed regulations on agriculture sales between our island neighbor and ourselves.

In the US there is still a strong anti-Castro sentiment, especially among most Cuban-Americans so there is naturally going to be a great deal of opposition to any such bill and many will go to great lengths so see that it is never passed. However the cleverness of this bill is that it combined travel and agriculture into one, which allowed for many farm-state lawmakers to be won over. Selling to Cuba could be very lucrative for farmers and thus in this regard many welcome such a bill and it passed the House Agriculture Committee back in June.

It would be monumental for such a bill to pass. If we could restore travel to the island and agriculture sales then perhaps we could work towards a new relationship with the island and her leaders. After all the Cold War has been over for quite some time and it is time to look towards the future, instead of constantly looking to the past.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Dead Penguins v. Gulf Spill: What Can We Do?

Today I was reading through online news sites and I came across a story about dead penguins washing up on the shore of Brazil. This got my mind turning towards the death and destruction of wildlife in the Gulf region of the United States. Now I consider myself a friend to the animals (I don’t wear fur or condone animal testing – but I do eat meat) and I always seem to find myself drawn to stories about nature and animals in need. The main idea of the article is that scientists believe it is most likely overfishing that is leading to the death of the penguins. The fish and squid they feed on are becoming scarce.

My concerns here are two-fold. If it is indeed overfishing that is killing these flightless birds, then what is going to happen to the remaining wildlife in the Gulf, those animals that have not been killed by the spill? This region was already heavily relied upon as a source of great quantities of seafood for the United States and the rest of the world. What is to happen now when there isn’t enough seafood to go around, when people can no longer make their living in the trade they knew and worked so hard to build? If certain areas are deemed safe for fishing but others are not, then wont there be a situation of not enough food here for the wildlife? What is going to happen now if fish are affected by the spill and are deemed unsafe for human consumption? Further, what is going to happen to the other animals whose main source of nourishment are these fish that have been affected?

I was doing some reading on the estimated death tolls for wildlife in the Gulf region since the spill and found the numbers to be nauseating. The Fish and Wildlife Service webpage has created a list of all the dead wildlife found in the five Gulf States (Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas) as well as those collected on the water since the spill. The website has listed 62 dead mammals, which includes dolphins, 478 dead sea turtles and 2,333 collected dead birds since the spill occurred three months ago.

These numbers disturbed me beyond belief. I had known that the devastation was widespread but these numbers truly appear staggering when listed together. This leads into my second concern about the news story on the dead penguins washing ashore. If it is over fishing that is causing the death of these penguins than is there something that can be done to fish in different areas and leave more fish for the animals to consume? Or, since the oceans belong to everybody in the world, is this now not even a possibility due to the serious blow that the Gulf of Mexico has suffered?

Something else that concerns me is the lack of focus that people seem to be able to devote to one serious issue at a time. While I am thoroughly upset by the dead penguins I still think that the focus right now should be the oil crisis. I understand that the United States is not the center of the world and that’s why Americans get a bad rep from the rest of the world, but this is being called the worst spill in history and this disaster will affect people everywhere. This deserves widespread attention.

Not only are there endless stories about what is happening to the fishing industry, but I often read articles about the oil that has washed up on the beaches in the Gulf States and how this effecting the morale of those who live there. Yet we can’t “otherise” this spill. It is effecting everyone and I do think that focus needs to be spent figuring out how to appropriately clean the area. Serious attention also needs to be placed on ensuring that a spill like this never occurs again because humans have caused this terrible disaster to the environment and we need to learn that we have limited resources here, we can’t allow for such quick destruction of what little we have to work with.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

It's Over!

After months of a constant eruption from below the waters of the Gulf the steady stream of oil that has been a fixture down South has ceased. While it is amazing and wonderful that the leak was finally plugged up, a full-fledged celebration would seem in poor taste.

This spill, a spill that released hundreds of millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, so say some estimates, has threatened the way of life for many living in the Gulf region. The effects of this spill are catastrophic and there is no way of knowing how long it will take for the area to recover from such devastation.

Yet officials still need to keep a close eye on the well and make sure that there are no ruptures in any other parts of the well. That could bring about a whole new explosion and more oil leakage.

The cap that has been placed over the well was hotly debated at first. Many were not sure if the cap was a good idea or if it would lead to excessive pressure causing for further explosions. But ultimately the cap is in place and the leak has ceased – for now. The next few days and weeks will show whether or not the leak is done for good.

Seafood from the Gulf

Summer is usually the time for sunshine filled trips to the beach and out-door cookouts, but this year there is a dark cloud hovering over the summer holiday. Unless you have been living under a rock for the past two and half months you should at least be familiar with the BP oil spill that began back in late April. Even now in mid-July oil continues to gush into the waters off the Gulf Coast making this spill one of the most devastating in history.

And while almost everyone has heard of the spill, not everyone fully comprehends the gargantuan effect that this disaster is having on the ecosystem in the South. It is not just the wildlife that is suffering from this catastrophe. All those whose livelihood is dependent in some way or another on the seafood industry are in jeopardy of losing their source of revenue.

The latest news as reported by The New York Times is that the waterways connected to the Gulf, specifically Lake Pontchartrain, are now in danger of becoming engulfed in oil. This would be particularly devastating to the seafood industry as it is such a rich supplier for the country. Naturally, people don’t want to eat anything that could be contaminated or dangerous. While regulations have been placed to halt fishing in areas known to be contaminated, and testing of fish is more extensive than ever before, people still have reservations about gulf seafood. And why shouldn’t they when the news is dominated by how dangerous and extensive the spill is?

There has already been one major casualty of the oil spill in the seafood industry of the South. P&J Oyster Company, the nations oldest oyster shucking company, which has been a Louisiana staple for over 130 years, has closed its doors. Oysters take a long time to mature to market size and since they are being so affected by the spill, and efforts to clean it, this company will remain closed for quite some time to come.

This may not be the forefront issue being discussed regarding the oil spill but it certainly is an important one, and one worth addressing. What would happen if the water becomes so polluted that all the wildlife die out and the ecosystem becomes so decayed that the damage cannot be reversed? What if even more seafood businesses in the South must be shut down, resulting in reverberations felt throughout the rest of the country? This has been a concern of many living along the eastern seaboard.

In an already downturned economy, can we afford for there to be another major industry virtually wiped out? This could be what is to come of fisherman and seafood restaurants in the South if this oil spill is not contained, and even if it is, is the damage that has been done reversible? How can confidence be restored in Gulf seafood when effects of the spill are still not completely known? I fear this is just further evidence of how ill prepared we are as a country to deal with the disasters that occur around us.