First Person Observation of Oil Leak Impact

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From an employee of a New Orleans community clinic, via reader Doug:

I wanted to write to tell you how appreciative (though not surprised, of course) I was to see that your boss made a trip down to the Gulf to see the complete disaster that has unfolded here. We, and especially our partners in the New Orleans East Vietnamese Community, have been doing a lot of community work to try to gauge the public health needs of this affected population. It is a disaster, of course, and as the oil washes up on our shores the phrase “Katrina-like” no longer is a hyperbole. Yesterday we participated in a large community outreach forum (health screenings, BP claims, and the deeply, deeply insultingly named “vessels of opportunity” training) on the Westbank, just across the parish line in Jefferson Parish. This is a community of fisherman and small business owners (many of whom do not speak English) who are of course the most vulnerable to the effects of this colossal blunder. During town halls and conversations with patients who visited our health screenings the three themes that are most pronounced are 1) Intense anger and worry about livelihoods; 2) BP’s willful ignorance when it comes to recognizing the reality of working with seasonal workers, who earn a year’s living in 4-5 months of fishing ; 3) The need to STOP the spill already. Congressman Joseph Cao’s office coordinated the event and he was on hand after taking morning meetings with Salazar and Napolitano. Their office has their hearts in the right place and the focus is rightly on putting pressure on BP to stop the spill and trying to protect people in the LA-2. That said, it felt at moments as if Congressman Cao was brainstorming in the responses to constituent questions, as he (and everyone else) clearly has not received satisfactory responses from BP concerning how claims will be handled and how the extenuating circumstances that will of course come up will be navigated. As present as ever is the need to protect the rights of citizens who will undeniably be subjected to the undeserved discrimination that comes with either not speaking English and/or coming from a lower socio-economic class. On this point, the citizens of New Orleans and the surrounding area are especially sensitive.

The last thing to share was the vibe from the Congressman’s office. I spoke with a senior staffer at the end of the day along with a few of my colleagues from Tulane Med. It was interesting to hear his more unfiltered remarks. Respecting the confines of that conversation, the theme that came though was an extreme dissatisfaction with the way this response has been managed by BP and their reactionary attitude as opposed to taking a progressive approach to the spill. It is clear to all on the ground that BP has massively failed to deploy the extent of their resources. You should have seen the pathetic performance by the BP claims representative during the town hall. He didn’t work for BP directly but rather for a firm (Eastco?) that is handling their claims. The guy could not have been more overmatched and spent the entirety of the conversation trying to get to the exit. Questions of green energy in Louisiana, the unthinkable ecological effects of dredging, and the true future of the Gulf’s economy (a post-oil economy?) are not yet the focus. The Congressman’s office, like the rest of us, remains very, very in the dark.

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  1. Justin

    I think having a triangle with the vertices representing the people, corporations, and government showing risk matrices (especially consequences when a vertex screws up) would help people recognize the correct checks and balances, rather than those that generally favor corporate malfeasance.

    I just hope we use this as a teaching opportunity to describe why regulation, disclosure, and real tort law consequence are vital to maintain the balance between the 3 power bases.

    1. DownSouth


      Very insightful observation.

      When John Locke asked why men would fear violence from one another but not fear the violence of the Leviathan, do you think he ever envisioned the modern-day corporation?

      To ignore the danger posed by government, Locke said, would be to think men are “so foolish that they take care to avoid what mischiefs may be done them by polecats or foxes, but are content, nay, think it safety, to be devoured by lions.”

      So if our fellow human beings = polecats or foxes, and governments = lions, then what would be an appropriate metaphor for the modern-day corporation?

    1. NOTaREALmerican

      Don’t they mostly vote for the fascist wing of the Republicrat party down there?

      Jeeeez, What do the peasants expect?

  2. Jeffrey

    B.P. Should give the suffering community lots of money– until they figure out how to get their livlihoods back. The have billions and billions of dollars and their arrogance caused this catastrophe. Why does this remind me of the arrogance of Wall Street!

  3. Patriot

    If BP is hiring a firm to take care of the claims, it sounds like they are taking a page from the insurance industry.

    My professional work often brings me into contact with insurance adjusters, claims specialists, “recovery” specialists and the like. Insurance companies have outsourced many of these tasks– for example, the actual investigation of the claim and the photographing of a damaged vehicle may be done by a sub-contractor. Good luck getting copies of those photos.

    You also see this same situation with COBRA continuation insurance. There is a “servicer” that takes the payments and then sends it off to the actual insurer. Naturally there are complications wherein one pays one’s premium and then discovers that the servicer has not sent the payment. I spoke with one operator who informed me that some insurance companies cancelled (!) coverage every month on subscribers and only brought it current when they received the payments. If a claim comes in during the window where the policy is cancelled, but before the insurer has processed the payment, guess what? Claim denied.

    It often seems that the insurance industry has embraced the subcontractor model as a way to duck responsibility for paying on claims. Although that may sound ridiculously conspiratorial to some, there is a basis in reality. Recently there was a civil lawsuit and perhaps a criminal investigation of an insurer for an internal policy of aiming for 100% denial of claims.

    The additional layers of complexity serve to deter people from filing claims.

    We also see similar behavior in the real estate finance world, with the securitization of mortgages/deeds of trust into pools, where the trustees (empowered by the pooling and servicing agreements ) of the pools are separate from the servicers, and also the investors. However, the reasons for the obfuscation seem less clear cut. It’s not about denying claims.

    Ask experienced auditors and underwriters why THEY think the the arrangements are so Byzantine. The answers might surprise you (or not, depending on your level of cynicism).

    1. Richard Kline

      So Patriot, it isn’t a conspiracy at all: the concept of peeling of organizational functions into contractors is _specifically_ designed to diffuse liability, ideally to shed it by the contractor onto the contractee. And of course because this is America, the corpocracy has had significant success in the courts in applying this. This trend goes back a generation to when environmental and discrimination judgments began to come down _heavily_ on bad corporate citizens. This is why we see more and more ‘consultants’ too, so that unpopular, legally questionable, or completely shyster actions can be ‘outsourced’ so that the party of actualy primary responsibility is buffered.

      We’re a sick society, and I don’t know what it’s going to take for us to get well. A heart transplant, at least . . . .

  4. Debra

    Thanks for putting up this personal testimonial about how the crisis is being handled.
    A few points that come up :
    One of the consequences of our current ideology that money is the MEASURE of ALL things, and that ALL “value” can be translated into the monetary equation (this is called idolatry, by the way) is the idea that throwing money at this tragedy will take care of it. Lots of money for the fishermen ? It may help (but it will probably never happen anyway), but… when Midas was sitting in all that gold it didn’t help HIM very much.
    It will NOT help the people, birds, sea animals currently suffering.
    There is no infrastructure to take care of this problem which has never before taken place on this scale. Money will not REPLACE imagination in problem solving… And it will not replace COOPERATION, which requires… trust in society.
    One of the major problems with a LEGALISTIC society is the time and energy spent determining (abstract) responsibility while… the CLOCK IS TICKING.
    And the illusion that determining responsibility is really DOING THINGS, and taking us somewhere. (It provides us with a convenient illusion of CONTROL, perhaps…)
    Is the insurance industry ducking responsibility for paying on claims ? The complexity serves to deter people from filing ?
    Right on for number 2, I believe. But number 1 ?
    There is an old saying, “out of sight, out of mind”. The SENSE of personal responsibility everywhere diminishes with the complexity we have put in place in our society. The subcontracter structure moves the responsible parties further out of sight IN EVERYONE’S MINDS. It’s a question of.. human psychology.
    More bureaucracy and middle men mean LESS SENSE of PERSONAL responsibility. A dilution effect, if you will.

    1. DownSouth


      The philosophy that “money is the MEASURE of ALL things” was a product of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason. The idea was conceived to have temporal concerns trump sacred concerns and thus put a stop to the religious wars that raged from 1546 to 1651, killing off a large chunk of the European population:

      By conservative estimates, the wars claimed the lives of 10 percent of the population of England, 15 percent in France, 30 percent in Germany, and more than 50 percent in Bohemia.
      –Michael Allen Gillespie, The Theological Origins of Modernity

      A respite in the killing was achieved, but it was ephemeral. As the 20th century proved, men were just as willing to spill blood for the new secular mythologies (communism and fascism) as they were for the old religious ones.

      There have been some successes along the way, however. The English Revolution of 1689, the American Revolution, Gandhi in India, Martin Luther King in the United States, and the overthrow of a number of authoritarian regimes beginning with Greece in 1974 and culminating with the overthrow of the Soviet Union in 1991. All these revolutions were to a some degree nonviolent.

      Just like the 16th/17th-century European theater and the early 20th-century world theater, there are two ideological blocks forming in the United States that want to rip America apart in a Chiliastic battle for the heart and soul of the nation. Here I’m talking about the New Left and the neocon/neoliberal right. The neocon/neoliberal right seems to have the upper hand as we speak, but this could change overnight.

      If we have learned anything from our experiences over the last couple of hundred years, it is that the only way out of the wilderness is through the use of nonviolent revolution, something that is anathema to both the neocon/neoliberal right and the New Left.

      1. i on the ball patriot

        Complexity is a deception …

        The core battle, in self and in aggregate society, is deception, in all of its forms, pitted against perception.

        The corporations are the government, the government is the corporations. It is not a triangular power base. It is a linear power base.

        The neocon/neoliberal right and the New Left are one. Co-opting and creating intentional divisiveness are always on going.

        All revolutions are the cleansing of the deceptions by those who have perceived them.

        Complexity, one of the current deceptions of choice, fostered by the most deceptive among us, the wealthy ruling elite, is cleansed with simplicity. Reducing the palette of the shades of gray sufficiently – in all areas of human interaction, not just finance – is what is required for balance.

        A complexity jubilee is called for. The only peaceful way to attain it is through election boycotts as a vote of no confidence in existing corrupt governments to form new governments that are responsive to the will of the people.

        When the student is ready the master will appear. Alas, the student now wastes his powers of perception watching American Idol and participating in duopoly theater.

        No balls, no brains, no freedom. The student is not yet ready and soon may be unfit for the class room.

        Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

      2. Debra

        Thanks for taking the time to respond in detail to what I wrote.
        I think, however, that you have taken quite a shortcut in your analysis of the Enlightenment.
        Many Enlightenment thinkers were absolutely NOT irreligious people. As major intellectuals, they took the time to construct their PERSONAL belief system, which included God or a transcendant equivalent in almost all cases.
        And right up until the 20th century our (founding) fathers, EVEN IF THEY DID NOT AGREE with what was written in the Bible.. had read it, and knew it.
        Only in the 20th century have we reached the point where secularization has created a population that is woefully ignorant of our religious heritage WHICH IS THE BASIS for.. ALL of our major utopies, including… the nation state republics, and…. communism, of course.
        We have become an… anhistoric society, for the most part.
        With a memory that does not extend beyond 50 years at best, if it goes back that far.
        As in every ideal, there are… good points, and bad points in our religious heritage. I would like to make it clear that I am defending… our MEMORY of it. The only way to not get sucked up in an endless repetition of the past is… to have an idea of what the past WAS.

        1. DownSouth


          A hearty thumbs up to everything you say.

          I didn’t mean to imply that all Enlightenment thinkers were secularists (even though many of course were).

          But would you agree that the ones who were religious were religious in the tradition of Erasmus?

          Erasmus begins (in “A Warrior Shielding: A Discussion of Free Will Against the Enslaved Will by Martin Luther”) by defending his skepticism. He asserts that Luther has mischaracterized him as a skeptic who calls basic Christian doctrine into question when in fact he only suggests suspending judgment about obscure matters of interpretation on more peripheral issues. For Erasmus a skeptic is not someone who does not care what is true or false, but Is rather someone who does not leap to conclusions or fight to death for his own opinion. Luther, by contrast, acts as if he were God himself, asserting as certain what can at best be probable. Erasmus here again draws on the ancient debate and particularly on Carneades’ famous concept of the probable as a sensible alternative to Luther’s impossible, “Stoic” demand for certainty.


          Erasmus thus derides Luther’s claim to certain knowledge as hubristic and argues that such claims to divine knowledge put civilization at risk…. This view in his opinion can only lead to disaster.

          –Michael Allen Gillespie, The Theological Origins of Modernity

          This tradition of skepticism can be traced from the ancients, to Erasmus, to the Enlightenment, to Gandhi (renunciation of any claim to absolute truth), to Hannah Arendt (pitfalls of Robespierre’s “terror of virtue” and its Bolshevik epigones), to Havel:

          At the basis of this world are values which are simply there, perennially, before we ever speak of them, before we reflect upon them and inquire about them. It owes its internal coherence to something…[that] firmly grounds this world, bestows upon it its order and measure, and is the hidden source of all the rules, customs, commandments, prohibitions….. Any attempt to spurn it, master it, or replace it with something else, appears, within the framework of the natural world, as an expression of hubris for which humans must pay a heavy price.
          –Vaclav Havel, “Politics and Conscience”

  5. Hattip

    Quoting a “community organizer”? (Lib-apeak for Communist agitator)

    It is the Obama administration that is gumming this up.

    Curious who you omit that quite rational a real complaints of the Governor of LA.

    What a viper pit of Marxism this site is.

    1. Skippy

      Concur, the republican (small r/Corporatist big C) is gumming it up.

      Marxist[?] nay, more like problem solving out side failed theologies, but when one commits to a cult, it can be difficult to see any thing but the words they have accepted as infallible.

      Skippy…even at deaths door.

    2. aet

      Nice troll.
      Anything of substance to add to your insults and vituperation?
      Are all urban sewer systems socialist abominations?
      Corporatism = socialism.

      1. aet

        My comment was directed at Hattip.
        Corporations = explicit limitation of liability = somebody else pays = socialism.
        Clearer now?
        We all live on the same planet.
        Calling other people “bad names” does not equal political debate.

        1. aet

          A city, a state, a county, a university = corprations,
          therefore = socialist.

          Get over it, already. You are not alone, never have been, and never will be.

    3. patriotic losers

      Funny thing is, you just know hattip is one of those patriotic dupes who got crushed in this depression because ‘America is the best place in the world (to invest).’ Wonder why all us Marxists made out great in this crash and the free-market Americans like hattip lost their shirts. Maybe cause they’re just resentful loser dumbshits.

      1. chad

        “Wonder why all us Marxists made out great in this crash and the free-market Americans like hattip lost their shirts”


        you may want to lay off the drugs for a while.

    4. NOTaREALmerican

      You have no idea how Marxist we all are here. I ACTUALLY am a card carrying member of the ACLU, for almost 8 years now. Like to see anybody top THAT one!

  6. patriotic loser

    Any Marxist worth his salt was sitting tight in Treasuries and Bunds when the crash hit. The Chinese redhats? Ka-ching! The Russian nomenklatura? Paragons of prudence, at least with their personal offshore accounts. We discerning Marxists saw it coming a mile away. The varicose-veined american free-market individualists waving signs on behalf of their betters? Crushed. Cracks me up.

  7. mw

    If the phrase ‘the government of the people, by the people for the people’ still had any traction, the Federal government would have already established a local aide offices in the affected States, assisting the damage claims from individuals and small businesses to directly deal with the BP. If individuals dealt with BP reps or their cronies, they don’t stand a chance, particularly if many of them are the new arrivals since the Vietnam war.

    Did the BP’s preliminary research for the drill site take into consideration the vulnerable and not so eloquent local communities? Mayber this was far more weighty factor than the ‘what if’ scenarios of potential disasters.

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