It’s Not V-J Day

Osama Bin Laden is dead.

I didn’t think the US would end up finding him. And if we did, I thought, it would have been long enough from the September 11th attacks for it to be considered next to irrelevant. I was almost asleep on Sunday night with half opened eyes when I overheard of someone’s death on CNN. As it turned out, under Obama’s orders and through a black-ops mission, the United States killed OBL.

It’s been nearly ten years since the 9/11 attacks but the death of the man who shook with mirth over the 9/11 attacks is hardly irrelevant. The argument that it’s easy to kill people and not an idea is only partially true. After all, if it were so easy it wouldn’t have taken almost ten years to kill the guy.

Unpredictability lay ahead for anyone tasked with entering the OBL’s compound (located in the middle of a Pakistani city) and ultimately making the attempt to kill the most wanted man on Earth. Like most I would have thought he’d be found or killed in the tribal areas of Waziristan. But for reasons not yet clear he moved to this “mansion” compound and lived there for at least five years. Between 9/11 and sometime after the Tora Bora campaign the U.S. government missed an opportunity to either capture or kill OBL.

During said time it would have been more idealistic to kill Bin Laden and cut down any momentum Al-Qaeda had. The 9/11 attacks were carried out, among several reasons, to attract more recruits to OBL’s network or “cause.” In this sense then, OBL’s death now while not irrelevant, means less today than it would have meant nine or so years ago. Someone dropped the ball on that. In fact, the Taliban had offered up OBL but was denied by the Bush administration.[1] Since that failure then, let us recall all the blunders that occurred years after that: the costly Bush-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, a terror attack in Madrid on March 11 2004[2], and London on July 7 2005— bombings whose culprits were inspired by Al Qaeda and cited Iraq as one of the reasons for their participation in the attack.[3] In the years since 9/11 OBL appeared to be a mere figurehead while more real threats formed in places such as Yemen and North Africa.[4] He was considered to be more symbolic than having any commanding power within the terror organization.

But on the contrary, following the raid on his compound evidence has been discovered revealing plans to attack America’s rail system[5] (Or for a more humorous observation of this point I suggest you visit this site). Though the notes discussing said plans were considered “ramblings” and not necessarily in any operational stage[6] they do suggest that OBL still had some operational purpose in the organization.

Blowback

When I saw the news and heard where OBL’s compound was actually located I had immediate doubt about our continued military support for Pakistan. OBL is, in actuality, a product of the American government’s covert support for Afghan fighters during its war with the Soviet Union.

Our involvement there, and our hasty abandonment after the war was over, led to the rise of the Taliban and extremists such as OBL. At this moment, the fact that neither Pakistan’s law enforcement or ISI alerted American intelligence to OBL being in Abottabbad means they were either incompetent or protecting OBL. This, and so many other events in recent events/history, should be an indication to our government that it should no longer provide military aid to Pakistan or ANY country/group. Period. Foreign governments will always claim they are America’s ally, and speak sweetly so long as we provide aid. In the long run it doesn’t pay to provide such aid when another country’s interests don’t exactly match up with our own. Immediately following 9/11 it seemed necessary, but the ISI has had its own interests at times, especially as how they relate to their conflicts with India and their support of militant organizations within (such as the Haqqani militant network and Lashkar-e-Taiba). Projections were set at about $3 billion in military aid to Pakistan for 2011[7]—was it worth it? I don’t really think so. Officials are merely providing diplomatically vague reactions that sound more like an updated facebook status: “It’s complicated.” It’s time to realize that so many of our military aid contributions have either seeded the growth of dictatorships, and despots (Iraq’s Saddam is a good example) or embroiled our country with foreign conflicts that are not in our national security interests. State and Defense department officials might want to make a cost/benefit analysis of doling out weapons and dollars when they only end up hurting us in the long run.

An excellent article, written by Reuters, describing the ‘complicated’ alliance between the U.S. and Pakistan, can be found here.

Withdrawal

With OBL dead America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, set to commence this summer, shouldn’t be doubted, or slowed down in any way. If the Taliban were willing to abandon its ties with Al Qaeda (unlikely to happen) then perhaps it would also alleviate some of our military burdens, and provide the US with reason to make a speedier withdrawal. It’s already the longest running war in our history costing the United States about $6 billion a month[8], and has claimed almost 3,000 of our service men and women.[9]

Considering the unsustainable costs of war in Iraq and Afghanistan it is clear that America should never go to war, or involve itself militarily unless it is attacked, or in response to a humanitarian crisis (as was the case recently in Libya). Launching the wars in Iraq/Afghanistan, and dropping bombs was simple but rebuilding a country, and maintaining order in a foreign land is not.

Point of Influence

There are no hard numbers on how many Al Qaeda operatives remain in the Afghan-Pakistan region, or abroad. Some estimate there might be around 200 or so but no one can prove that, and only make guesses. Certainly since Operation Enduing Freedom and the subsequent arrests/operations within Afghanistan and Pakistan (Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, etc.), Al-Qaeda’s strength and appeal has diminished.

Post-OBL there are two great threats facing America, one short-term, and the other long term.

Firstly, America faces the possible threat of retaliatory attacks from Al Qaeda operatives or radicals sympathetic to OBL’s cause. For some years some in Al Qaeda have spoken of having sought nuclear material to create a nuclear and/or “dirty” bomb. In one scenario a nuclear device would be used as a retaliatory attack after the death of OBL.[10] Safety from nuclear material being used by terrorists in the post-Cold War era has been a concern of several security experts since before 9/11. The threat of nuclear terrorism is real, and whether or not Al Qaeda’s claims to have one in possession are true or not the possibility of retaliatory assaults against us following the death of OBL, or Western targets is cause enough for us to remain vigilant.

Secondly, America’s overall long-term threats from terrorism reside more so in points of influence than physical threats. In other words, people such as Anwar al-Awlaki now pose threats by inciting attacks, and seeking to recruit new terrorists. Al-Awlaki, an American born cleric who speaks English, spoke with Maj.Nadal Hassan—an army psychiatrist accused of murdering 13 people[11] in Fort Hood, Texas—poses a different kind of threat. He has not actually been proven to have orchestrated an attack but rather call on for attacks, and accused of having ties to Al Qaeda.

Interestingly The New York Times made a point to note when and how al-Awlaki might have become radicalized:

“There are two conventional narratives of Mr. Awlaki’s path to jihad. The first is his own: He was a nonviolent moderate until the United States attacked Muslims openly in Afghanistan and Iraq, covertly in Pakistan and Yemen and even at home, by making targets of Muslims for raids and arrests. He merely followed the religious obligation to defend his faith, he said.

A contrasting version of Mr. Awlaki’s story, explored though never confirmed by the national Sept. 11 commission, maintains that he was a secret agent of Al Qaeda starting well before the attacks, when three of the hijackers turned up at his mosques.”[12]

As an English speaker, and someone familiar with Western culture he is capable of attracting followers and resentful Muslims within the U.S., and other places to launch attacks against their governments. On this subject it is prudent for American officials (and Americans in general) not to identify all Muslims as being terrorists. Quran burnings, House Homeland Security Hearings on Muslim cooperation after 9/11, and debates concerning the building of a cultural Islamic center in downtown Manhattan have only added to OBL’s (and al-Awlaki’s) narrative that America is at war with Islam. Negative attitude trends and the ostracizing of people who are Muslim continue as evident recently when an airline ejected two of its passengers merely because others felt uncomfortable having them on board with them.[13]

Though I agree that al-Awlaki, who does have connections to Al Qaeda, should be brought to authorities because of his involvement with Al Qaeda he shouldn’t be killed. Legally it’s tough to defend the execution-without trial of an American, despite his terrorist activities. Morally it is also difficult to justify the killing of someone who hasn’t been proven to do more than call for attacks, and be associated with Al Qaeda members.

That hasn’t stopped our government from trying to kill him within the last few days through drone strikes however.[14]

Hearts and Minds

While America should remain vigilant for threats from Al Qaeda it should also guard against internal prejudices against Muslims, and strive to respect everyone’s liberty while fighting what has been an asymmetrical war since 9/11. As stated before scapegoating an entire religious group, when most Muslims are hard working people pursuing happiness the same as any other, will only aid the enemy in their assertions that the US is at war with Islam. In fact, such broad paint brush strokes will ensure the likelihood of a domestic terror attack here in the US.

The death of OBL is a victory of sorts but it’s not V – J Day. When the war on Al Qaeda is won it won’t be marked by anyone’s death, or any singular event, but after US policy and character has won the hearts and minds of everyone here and abroad. It’s said to the point of being cliche, and yet is hardly understood. It means that America maintains the rights and liberties of all here in the U.S., strays from double standards in its diplomacy (especially in the Middle East, and Islamic countries), and fights its wars with care for innocent civilians, respect for other cultures, and advocate for people’s freedoms especially during this “Arab Spring.”

On that last point it’s important the United States not place its own interests over other people’s democratic interests. Maintaining a relationship with the government of Yemen, for example, however crucial it might be, should never require us to defend or fund its leaders when they are killing or imprisoning peaceful reform/democracy advocates. In doing that there and anywhere we once again give ground to people like Awlaki who argue that U.S. policies support puppet governments and not the will of the people. On the other hand if America makes it a point to defend the democratic rights of each individual in any country when its people calls for freedom then the success of OBL’s death will be amplified.


[1] Buncombe, Andrew. The Independent. “Bush rejects Taliban offer to surrender Bin Laden,” October 15, 2001. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/bush-rejects-taliban-offer-to-surrender-bin-laden-631436.html

[2] Hamilos, Paul. The Guardian. “The worst Islamic attack in European  history,” October 31, 2007. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/oct/31/spain

[3] BBC News. “London bomber aired on TV,” September 2, 2005.  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/4206708.stm

[4] Pelofsky, Jeremy. Reuters. “Threat remains after Bin Laden killed by US forces,” May 2, 2011. http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/02/us-binladen-threat-idUSTRE74111U20110502?feedType=RSS&feedName=topNews&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+reuters%2FtopNews+%28News+%2F+US+%2F+Top+News%29&utm_content=Google+Feedfetcher

[5] Entous, Adam. The Wall Street Journal. “Al Qaeda Sought to Target US Train Network,” May 6, 2011. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703992704576305691763033156.html?mod=WSJ_hp_mostpop_read

[6] Ibid.

[7] DeYoung, Karen. The Washington Post. “U.S. to offer more support to Pakistan,” January 8, 2011.  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/07/AR2011010706528.html

[8] http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RL33110.pdf

[9] http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/war.casualties/index.html

[10] Howe, Kevin. The Monterey Herald. “Reprisal attack by al-Qaida likely, says expert,” May 3, 2011. http://www.montereyherald.com/local/ci_17980927?nclick_check=1

[11] Reuters. “Preacher contacted by Fort Hood suspect on run in Yemen,” November 11, 2009. http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/11/11/us-texas-shooting-yemen-idUSTRE5AA2XW20091111

[12] http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/people/a/anwar_al_awlaki/index.html

[13] CNN. “Muslim group: two imams pulled from plane bound for North Carolina,” May 7, 2011. http://www.cnn.com/2011/TRAVEL/05/07/muslims.kicked.off.plane/index.html?hpt=T2

[14] Starr, Barbara. CNN. “Al-Awlaki targeted by U.S. military drone in Yemen,” May 6, 2011. http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/meast/05/06/yemen.drone.strike/index.html?eref=mrss_igoogle_cnn

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Liberty or Security: Park 51 and the King hearings in post-9/11 America, Pt.1

Opponents of Park 51 gathered on the ninth anniversary of 9/11 to protest the building of Park 51.

It was a warm day. It was still summer after all, and it was a beautiful day in New York City. The temperatures were in the 70’s, officers helped tourists find their destinations, and most pedestrians wore short sleeve shirts, and shorts.

But the streets of downtown Manhattan were unusually full of people, and police were on the corner of almost every block.

It was September 11. 2010.

On the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks several groups organized and converged not far from 51 Park Place. The goal of the demonstrations was to protest the building of Park 51, a planned Islamic cultural community center that would include prayer space for Muslims, seeing such construction as an insult to the victims of 9/11.

Those against building Park 51 carried signs reading, “Sharia” and “No Victory Mosque.” One that attended the gathering, Maria Baldary, 58, said, “It’s just too close.”

John Molloy, 63, who had lost several co-workers on 9/11, called Islam a “supremacist religion.”

The next day wasn’t as fair.

Park 51 supporters stepped outside St. Peter's Church for a "Liberty Walk."

It was cooler, and it was dreary with rain expected during the Liberty Walk, “an interfaith rally for religious freedom.” The gathering, at St. Peter’s Church, and subsequent walk from there to Church Street was put together in defense of Muslims wanting to build Park 51. One supporter, who would only refer to himself as Tim out of privacy concerns, said that blocking construction of the center would “set a precedent.” Peter Swiderski, 49,  who is Mayor of Hastings on Hudson, said that “political partisanship, fear, prejudice” were motivating the opposition.

When I went to the city in those days, and analyzed/observed the people’s reactions, comments, and media coverage my original intention was to focus on the complex emotions, and attitudes behind both sides of that issue. But everyone else was doing the same thing, and I felt like there was more to the issue than the building of a religious community center that was neither a mosque, or at Ground Zero. Passions were deep on either side.

Then, after Representative Peter King (R-NY) was re-elected, he announced he would use his position as Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security to open an inquiry on the “radicalization” of the Muslim community.[1] King, coincidentally, had opposed building the community center as well.[2] King, who has been a congressman since the 80′s, is a Long Islander with one of his offices based in Massapequa.

Supporters of Park 51 claim that opponents are xenophobic, and ignorant. Supporters of today’s hearings accuse opponents for being politically correct for wanting to expand the hearings to include all terror groups, and not the ones they say pose the biggest threat to the United States.

What I have observed is a correlation of thinking, emotions, and motivations on the part of those on both sides of these two issues. In the posts that follow I want to explore the depth of emotion as it pertained to Park 51.

Who is behind the opposition? What are their motives?

Is there prejudice on this issue? There has been a history of prejudice in the US since it’s founding; something which I would also like to touch upon. Are there any similarities between what we saw last year up to now and flashpoints during mass migrations, and war?

Does King’s assertion that Muslims are ‘self-radicalizing’ have any merit? Should his hearings include other domestic terror threats?

Finally, on the point of radicalization, what makes Europe so much more susceptible to threats from radicalized Muslims? What has spared the US from incidents such as the 2007 London bombings, 2004 Madrid bombings, and 2005 riots in France (not necessarily carried out by Muslims, but still relevant to these points)?

Though the issues are separate there are trends of similarity that are undeniable.


[1] Hernandez, Raymond. The New York Times, “Muslim ‘Radicalization’ Is Focus of Planned Inquiry,” December 17, 2010, pp.A34.

[2] Ibid.

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How Things Might End For Qaddafi

As more people turn out in several Middle East countries calling for change, and the ouster of their leaders pressure is building on Libya’s government. Libya, whose political turmoil is worsening each day, might see an end to it’s movement dissimilar from Egypt’s recent revolution.

In response to ongoing violence in Libya the United States is moving its warships closer to the region “in case they are needed.”[1] Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates has warned officials about the option of even imposing a no-flight zone over Libya to prevent air assaults on civilians.[2]

“A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses. That’s the way you do a no-fly zone. And then you can fly planes around the country and not worry about our guys being shot down. But that’s the way it starts,” Gates said.[3]

While officials debate the potential use of force to aid rebels with airstrikes against Qaddafi in what now appears as a civil war about 150,000 Libyans have fled to Libya’s border with Tunisia.[4] “Staff members with the U.N. refugee agency described the water and sanitation situation as precarious.”[5] UN World Food Program (WFP) Executive Director Josette Sheeran is calling for humanitarian aid “especially to western Libya.”[6] She made the statement after visiting the border.[7]

Although the opposition has been winning some battles against Qaddafi’s forces “rebels have not been able to shake the colonel’s hold on power.”[8] Meanwhile Qaddafi has vowed to fight “to the last man and the last woman.”[9]

If things continue along this pattern, without foreign intervention, it makes it more likely than not that there will be a terrible humanitarian catastrophe that escalates from the point Libya is at now. Gates is right to caution on any use of force to aid the rebellion. Any possible military action against Qaddafi’s regime should be given serious consideration given both Qaddafi’s unpredictability and willingness to kill his own people in mass. However, time is of the essence right now and the situation will inevitably worsen if it becomes apparent that no country is willing to use its military to topple Qaddafi. In his case it could be something that would embolden him.

Considering Gate’s own warnings, President Obama might make the choice of launching air strikes against Qaddafi’s air force in order to impose a viable no-flight zone, but only if he receives military strategy options which he feels America can deal with. On the other hand, this alone might not be enough. The US is in contact with rebel groups in Libya[10] but according to Reuters, “One major problem is that while Libyan opposition groups have demonstrated they are capable of organizing themselves to confront Gaddafi, they are “not coalescing,” a senior U.S. national security official told Reuters…”[11]

If the President does take military action against Qaddafi’s regime it should be done in concert with other nations and with a possible ok from the United Nations. This would be best for two reasons:

1.       Amidst two ongoing wars America cannot afford to do this alone. In scope an air operation would probably be big, and with our forces spread as thin as they are we could use the help. Foreign aid organizations and UN staff would probably be needed in Libya to help refugees, the sick, and injured, so an international coalition would be better than a US-only operation.

2.       In the face of inevitable criticisms, and accusations of Western desires for justifying invasion[12] it’s better to gather an international group of partners, all of whom would share an equal burden of responsibility to help Libyans from a clearly unstable individual who has no qualms about murdering innocent people.

There is still some time to see if Qaddafi folds and decides to leave for Caracas, however improbable it appears right now. Chavez seems to be his only friend, and the only leader that might possibly welcome him into his country for safe haven. Venezuela and Libya have agreed to potentially plan a “negotiated solution.”[13] International pressure, threats of prosecution for crimes against humanity,[14] the freezing of assets, the assurance of a long protracted rebellion, and threat of military action could be enough to dissuade Qaddafi from continuing his rule, and Chavez might make the invitation.

Though a military intervention might be necessary it should be done when it becomes absolutely apparent to the world community that it is the only option left to stop what is happening in Libya. It should be carried out in a way that is not insulting to international institutions, or the concerns of dissenting voices—this in light of Bush’s ‘coalition of the willing’ during the 2003 Iraq war. Finally, it should be done with respect to the fact that ordinary citizens in Libya were the ones driving the movement toward liberation, as have others throughout the region.


[1] Ryan, Missy. Reuters. “US moves warships closer to Libya, freezes assets,” February 28, 2011. http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/01/us-libya-usa-idUSTRE71K6D520110301

[2] Sanger, David E. The New York Times, “Gates Warns of Risks of a No-Flight Zone,” March 3, 2011, pp.A12.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Watson, Ivan. CNN, “Nearly 150,00 flee Libya; UN reports crisis along borders,” March 1, 2011. http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/africa/03/01/libya.refugees/index.html?hpt=T2

[5] Ibid.

[6] Aloisi, Silvia. Reuters, “WFP calls for urgent Libya humanitarian aid,” March 2, 2011. http://af.reuters.com/article/libyaNews/idAFLDE72125H20110302

[7] Ibid.

[8] Fahim, Kareem. The New York Times, “Rebels in Libya Win Battle but Fail to Loosen Qaddafi’s Grip,” March 3, 2011, pp.A1.

[9] Kirkpatrick, David D. The New York Times, “Qaddafi Vows to Fight to the ‘Last Man,’” March 2, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/03/world/africa/03qaddafi.html?adxnnl=1&partner=rss&emc=rss&src=ig&adxnnlx=1299124941-lKEF+D63gnmoLCQVkwbtPg

[10] Ryan, Missy. Reuters. “US moves warships closer to Libya, freezes assets,” February 28, 2011.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Shoichet, Catherine E. CNN, “Chavez: U.S. distorting situation in Libya ‘to justify an invasion,’” March 1, 2011. http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/africa/03/01/libya.venezuela.chavez/index.html?hpt=T2

[13] Daniel, Frank Jack. Reuters, “Libya government accepts Chavez plan, Venezuela says,” March 3, 2011. http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/03/us-libya-venezuela-idUSTRE7224IY20110303?feedType=RSS&feedName=topNews&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+reuters%2FtopNews+%28News+%2F+US+%2F+Top+News%29&utm_content=Google+Feedfetcher

[14] Schubert, Atika. CNN, “Gadhafi faces investigation for crimes against humanity,” March 3, 2011. http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/meast/03/03/libya.war.crimes/index.html?eref=mrss_igoogle_cnn

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Qaddafi Isolated By International Community, Rebels Preparing to Enter Capital

Amidst ongoing violence against protesters in Libya, the security council of the UN has placed sanctions on Col. Moammar el-Qaddafi and referred the attacks to the ICC. [1]

Libya is now the latest country to be engulfed in protests calling for its leader’s ouster. Though several parts of the country are now under the control of rebels, and army defectors,[2] Tripoli remains under control of Qaddafi’s forces. While there is a possibility that there will be enough defectors, and people turning against Qadaffi to end this soon he still has a significant force of loyalists. Rebel forces are outside the capital city of Tripoli and preparing for an offensive, said Brig. Gen. Ahmed Gatrani.[3] If rebel forces fail to help opponents of the regime in Tripoli, and oust Qaddafi it seems uncertain Libyans can be liberated on their own.

“…regime opponents in Tripoli are grappling with the realization that dislodging Gaddafi and his loyalists from the capital is going to be far tougher than it was in the string of towns and cities in the east overrun by protesters within days of a mass uprising Feb. 17.”[4]

The hope is that there will be enough people against Qaddafi to ensure his downfall.

Regardless, people in Tripoli are besieged, terrorized, and now hungry. Clashes between rebel forces and Qaddafi’s loyalists are only going to worsen the situation if it drags.

Qaddafi has been viewed as an unstable person, and rightly so. His forces have opened fire on unarmed civilians,[5] he has hired mercenaries from outside the country to kill protesters,[6]and he has ordered fighter pilots to bomb his own people.[7]

Though sanctions can help in preventing Qaddafi from doing certain things such as hiring more mercenaries, and stopping him from leaving the country (even if no one wants him except Hugo Chavez perhaps) it might not be enough to completely turn the tide against him. It’s preferable, of course that the people of Libya oust their dictator just as Tunisia, and Egypt did, but in the event that they don’t perhaps an outside military intervention, composed of several countries, might be necessary. Without one there could be further unimaginable suffering for those in Tripoli, and anyone caught between opponents and supporters of Qaddafi.

What he has done on the ground in these recent weeks, and his declaration of only going out as a martyr[8]all signal a mentally unstable person capable of fighting to the death, and taking many others along with him.

 

 


[1] Wyatt, Edward. The New York Times, “Security Council Calls for War Crimes Inquiry in Libya,” February 27, 2011., pp.A14.

[2] Fadel, Leila. The Washington Post, “Rebel army may be formed as Tripoli fails to oust Gadaffi,” February 26, 2011. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/26/AR2011022602622.html?hpid=topnews

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Kirkpatrick, David D. The New York Times, “Long Bread Lines and Barricades in Libya’s Capital,” February 27, 2011, pp.A1.

[6] Baldauf, Scott. The Christian Science Monitor, “Qaddafi’s ties to rebel groups scrutinized as ‘African mercenaries patrol Libya,” February 23, 2011. http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2011/0223/Qaddafi-s-ties-to-rebel-groups-scrutinized-as-African-mercenaries-patrol-Libya

[7] Sandels, Alexandra. The Los Angeles Times, “LIBYA: Government asks Malta to return defector’s fighter jets,” February 25, 2011. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/babylonbeyond/2011/02/libya-government-urges-malta-to-return-defected-pilots-fighter-jets.html

[8] CBS News, “Qaddafi: I will fight protesters, die a martyr,” February 22, 2011. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/02/22/501364/main20034785.shtml

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Home Sweet Home

 

Several months have passed since my trip to Louisiana. While enough time has passed since the oil spill to make it an old news story it isn’t an unimportant one. Several very important reports highlighting preventable causes to the spill, as well as to the effects of it, have emerged recently.

________________________________________________________________

I returned from my trip to Louisiana on Saturday July 24, 2010. I was driven home from the severely crowded JFK airport. It was close to 90° outside, and even with the air conditioner on inside the car the merciless sun baked anything it shined upon. I imagined some Long Islanders at the beach: women tanning in their bikinis, and men drinking a beer while their skin turned red. A hellish traffic jam ensued eastbound along the Southern State Parkway. Car after car, motionless for minutes at a time with frustrated travelers longing to reach their destinations, lined the entire parkway. It’s no wonder, I thought, how we reached this point of endangering our only world through the pollution caused by, what is for many of us, our only means of travel while, on the contrary, remaining wary of converting our vehicles from fossil fuels to a new alternative energy source.

Thinking about it I almost laughed at how silly it is to own a car full of gas and still not be able to reach one’s destination because of the congestion on our roads. Not to suggest that fuel had anything to do with our traffic woes, I considered the importance of the gasoline that powers our cars, and the oil that was used to make it.

As I write this I am recalling my interview with Roger Camardelle the day prior to my return home.

“You can’t operate all the time and not have a mishap,” Camardelle said of the BP oil spill. Thinking about that now it only reinforces the fact that drilling for oil in our surrounding oceans, and any of Earth’s oceans, leaves it vulnerable to another disaster like the one we watched from April to July. People are prone not only to human error, but miscalculations and in the case of BP and our government, I believe, neglect.

As if to remind me of what effects the spill had on other places in the country I walked in the store the next day and saw a sign reassuring customers it was not selling seafood harvested from the Gulf region.

Long Island, commonly known among residents for its own fishing, still benefits from its waters. In 2003, in fact, recreational boating “contributed $728 million to labor income.”[1]

I imagine Captree’s waters tainted, Long Beach’s sand ruined with tar balls, and Jones Beach’s water un-swimmable. Though such scenarios are unlikely we do depend on seafood to some degree, as do those in NOLA, Grand Isle, and elsewhere.

However, for many Gulf residents oil industry related work is just as much a livelihood as fishing. And so, on this point I believe it’s relevant to mention that throughout the Gulf oil spill, and especially afterward, President Obama, and other elected officials calling for development of alternative energy systems, has frankly not done enough to champion that effort. Moreover, part of why they have failed to bring viable and tough climate change legislation is that they have not stated the most urgent reasons for why America needs such reform:

1.       Climate change is a real danger to us here, and around the globe (and if you still don’t think so then I suggest you take a look at all the vast evidence that points at it being so).

2.       Our dependence on oil, even domestic petroleum, is vulnerable to “mishaps” which at any moment can cause the same sort of disaster we saw this past summer.

3.       Dependence on foreign oil opens us as Americans to future wars in the Middle East (consider Iraq as an example), diplomatic/public relations dilemmas with adversarial leaders, questionable governments, and dictatorial regimes (Hugo Chavez, the Saudi Kingdom), and possible funding of international terrorist organizations with America as its target.

4.       In light of both the environmental disaster this past summer, and our near-economic depression two years ago, America could employ millions of workers in building “green” vehicles, developing alternative energy systems (windmills, solar panels), and maintaining those new systems. The benefits for our economy, its entrepreneurs, and workers are obvious.

A Real Danger

On the first point I made climate change, and its harm to this planet’s inhabitants is quite real

whether one believes it or not. I won’t tell deniers and skeptics to watch An Inconvenient Truth but I would let them know that Dr. Charles David Keeling—who discovered increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere—replied to them saying that the real falsehood was that “natural resources and the ability of the earth’s habitable regions to absorb the impacts of human activities are limitless.”[2] His original remarks can be found in his essay “Rewards And Penalties Of Monitoring The Earth.”[3]

In a horrible irony, “the melting of ice in the Arctic through climate change has opened up a region that was once inaccessible” for oil drilling.[4] There is talk of ice-free summers in the Arctic Ocean within 20 to 30 years.[5] The melting ice in the arctic forced one polar bear to go swimming for a remarkable nine days in search of “new ice flows.” [6]

This isn’t normal.

Adding evidence to this point two studies published in the journal Nature are suggesting humans are contributing to climate change effects creating more precipitation, and increasing the likelihood of flooding in various parts of the world.[7] In the cold winter I often hear that annoying question: “Where’s that global warming they keep talking about?”

Tuesday December 28, 2010

 

It’s why I like calling it climate change. It’s hard for me to believe these recent winter storms were not part of our effects on increased annual  precipitation.

I also think people instinctively hate being told that they’re doing something wrong.

Mishaps

In addition to ignoring the increasing threat of climate change on our only world there is the ever-present danger of oil spills in our nation’s waters. There is some reason to believe that some of this danger can be attributed to sleazy characters within the Interior Department. In a 2008 New York Times article Charlie Savage describes “allegations of financial self-dealing, accepting gifts from energy companies, cocaine use and sexual misconduct.”[8] The department’s inspector general, Earl E. Devaney, found “wrong doing”[9] by employees of the Minerals Management Service (MMS). MMS oversees resource management in the U.S. and its waters. It has since been renamed  the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement. “A culture of ethical failure” pervades the agency, Mr.Devaney wrote.[10] This occurred “for much of the Bush administration’s watch.[11] The article went on to describe  a sort royalty in kind program where government employees received gifts which included “golf, ski and paintball outings; meals and drinks; and tickets to a Toby Keith concert, a Houston Texans football game and a Colorado Rockies baseball game.”[12] There were also reports of sexual relationships amongst government employees and oil/gas company representatives.[13]

It’s disturbing to know that oil mishaps can occur because of human error, as well as systematic human character failures within watchdog/regulation departments.

Inspections, one of the ways that the government ensures that our oil rigs are following its safety protocols, have also been put in question.

According to the Wall Street Journal “surprise inspections of deepwater drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico dwindled to about three a year over the past decade, even as exploratory drilling far from shore increased…”[14] More disturbing “since 2004 federal authorities haven’t made a single inspection on any of the 50 or so deepwater natural gas and oil production platforms in the Gulf, despite a law requiring periodic unannounced inspections.”[15] The last unannounced visit to the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which is owned and operated by Transocean, was in October 2006—about four years before its fatal explosion.[16]

In light of the BP oil disaster, and evidence of danger on other oil rigs the Obama administration placed a limited ban on further deepwater oil drilling. Interestingly in March 2010, Obama said that he would begin opening “vast expanses of water along the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska to oil and natural gas drilling.”[17] From a logical point of view it did seem reasonable that in order to wean the country from oil it would require “tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development”[18] in order to prevent a price shock to American consumers. Following the oil disaster Obama distanced himself somewhat from this idea.

However, the dangers inherit in oil exploration have been evident for some time now.

 

“Since the early 2000s, reports from industry and academia warned of the increasing risk of deepwater blowouts, the fallibility of blowout preventers, and the difficulty of stopping a deepwater spill after it started—a special concern given that deepwater wells, because they’re under such high pressure, can spout as much as 100,000 barrels a day.” [19]

 

In BP’s case it would seem that they had “cut corners” in its drilling process,[20] according to experts and investigators. Robert Bea, an expert in technological disasters and offshore engineering at the University of California, said, “We can expect more of these in the future.”[21]

 

Many Strings Attached

In the past few weeks American officials have been contending with the people’s hunger for freedom in the Middle East, and America’s hunger for fuel in oil-rich countries. Following Tunisia’s mass protests calling for democracy and greater economic opportunities Egyptians soon followed with calls for the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. During that 18-day episode there was concern amongst American policy analysts that violent protests could disrupt oil delivery operations that pass through the Suez Canal. Following Mubarak’s resignation investors breathed a sigh of relief that things would be normal once again.[22]

At this moment, however, violent crackdowns on protesters in Libya, an OPEC member country, have raised more concerns about oil production there. Oil prices rose, and stocks fell.[23] This comes on the heels of reports from the Financial Times that about half of Libya’s oil production has been shut down.[24] Further exacerbating people’s worries are insider reports that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi intends to sabotage his oil facilities.[25] Economists are now saying that violence in Libya, and other Middle Eastern countries, is likely to slow growth in the American economy.[26] As James Phillips wrote in the wake of the 1979 oil crisis, “In a very real sense, the West’s addiction to Persian Gulf crude has become the Achilles’ heel of its national security/foreign policy and a potentially disruptive influence on its economy.”[27]

One only needs to look at a map to see the ties between oil rich countries, and the American economy. From the oil crises of the 1970’s, to America’s wars with Iraq, and Hugo Chavez’s administration in Venezuela the U.S. has had to worry itself unnecessarily with its energy woes. Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter,[28]has enjoyed friendly relations with America for a long time because of its oil wealth. Though it remains to be seen how the recent calls for democracy, and economic reforms might affect the Saudi Kingdom America should never be on the wrong side of history because of its oil addiction. Similarly America ought not to be wasting its wealth (in defense expenditures, diplomatic/economic spats, and full scale military operations) or prestige with these sorts when better and more stabilizing solutions stand to our benefit.

 

A New Workforce

Finally then, in light of the effect of fossil fuel emissions effects on the environment, the inevitable repetition of oil spills in our future, and the harmful and sometimes immoral ties that bind America to oil-rich regimes perhaps it is more than past time American politicians be honest with their constituencies and admit that we can’t go on like this forever.

In fact, things can be better than this. There are untapped resources in wind and solar energy, and there is still much research that can be made for cleaner, more efficient cars that don’t run on gas. During hard dayss like these it should seem sensible to use this time now to grow jobs in an alternative/clean energy sector.

Why hasn’t our government’s leaders not taken this up as its cause? For those, from any

political party, that claim to be standing for American job growth it seems insulting that they delay, denounce, and deny opportunity for employment to American workers. Especially now as the American economy is recovering, at a snail’s pace, our government could open up a new market that would inevitably need employees to build it.

If China was recently named the second-largest economy in the world[29] and it is beating the United States in its investment of the green energy market[30] it’s something that could, in time, make America #2 in the global economy. Having said that, though Obama has often alluded to this I don’t believe he has done it enough to convince American voters, and he has certainly not willed the courage to take it to issue with his political opponents. After the recent State of the Union address President Obama toured a factory in Wisconsin that has made renewable energy a profitable business for itself.[31] Yet it still remains unclear how he intends to confront congress on progress with regards to this issue. Republicans recently mocked the E.P.A. chief and raised “doubts about the legal, scientific and economic basis of rules proposed by the agency.”[32]Democrats, however, have also joined Republicans in criticizing Obama’s energy budget which included plans to raise research funding for clean energy projects.[33]Now it would seem the Obama administration is stepping back and issuing revised air pollution rules “that will make it easier for operators of thousands of industrial boilers and incinerators to meet federal air quality standards.”[34]So it remains to be seen if Obama will stick to his morals, and force congress to come to terms with our environmental realities or if he, like his predecessors, will surrender to his political realities. Doing this would require speaking candidly with the American people about the unsustainable costs of having oil as our economy’s lifeblood, as well as how very real a threat climate change is for our future. It would also take convincing average Americans that it would benefit them and their children in the long run for our government, and America’s businesses to invest in “green” energy and pass cap and trade legislation.

Barring that, what we will have are more oil spills, more headaches at the gas pump, higher food prices, and a more dangerous planet. So far everything points to that scenario. Following the plugging of the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico it was evident that the effects of marine life could be quite catastrophic. Now it’s being reported that baby dolphins are washing up on the shores of Alabama and Mississippi.[35] While the oil spill has not been declared as the cause for these deaths, it’s certainly an obvious possibility. Corexit 9500, the dispersant put to massive use in the Gulf oil disaster, is also a possible culprit. That dispersant is known to be “catastrophic for the phytoplankton, zooplankton, and larvae.”[36]The outcome of this on overall health within Gulf waters also remains to be seen. Despite some rosy claims from the White House that the oil had vanished scientists reported finding a “22-mile plume of oil droplets from BP’s rogue well in the depths of the Gulf of Mexico.”[37]Meanwhile BP is crying about proposed settlements for damage claims being too generous.[38]

Following my experience I believe that our oil drilling operations around this earth are, indeed, prone to a “mishap” and that if anything we are past time to consider how to have an economy that doesn’t depend upon oil. Opponents mock electric cars, and solar-powered vehicles by claiming they still use up water, another limited resource, and that they’re not as efficient. The technology is there, however, and all that’s needed is further incentive for innovators and entrepreneurs to develop  affordable, clean-energy powered vehicles that aren’t dependent on oil from unfriendly/questionable countries. Those who challenge the urgency of this issue by claiming we only need to develop domestic oil drilling operations should remember the Ixtoc 1 oil spill of 1979 which spilled about 3 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico,[39]the Exxon-Valdeez spill of 1989, and last year’s oil spill courtesy of British Petroleum.

As I see it, Earth is our only home, and we should make damn sure it is inhabitable for future generations.

Mandy Joye, a biochemist at the University of Georgia, said it quite well:

“The Deepwater Horizon incident is a consequence of our global addiction to oil… Incidents like this are inevitable as we drill in deeper and deeper waters… If this isn’t a call to green power, I don’t know what is.”[40]

 

 


[1] Branca, Barbara. Tanski, Jay. “Recreational Boating is Big Business.” http://www.seagrant.sunysb.edu/nysportfishing/articles/RecBoatingBiz.pdf

[2] Gillis, Justin. The New York Times, “A Scientist, His Work and a Climate Reckoning,” December 21, 2010, p.A1. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/22/science/earth/22carbon.html?pagewanted=1&sq=gore%20climate%20change&st=cse&scp=44

[3] http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.energy.23.1.25?journalCode=energy.2

[4] Whiteman, Hillary, “Russia presents vision of Arctic wealth,” September 22, 2010.

http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/europe/09/22/russia.arctic.resources/index.html?iref=allsearch

[5] Ibid.

[6]Hastings, Rob, The Independent, “Melting sea ice forces polar bear to swim for nine days,” January 26, 2011.

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/melting-sea-ice-forces-polar-bear-to-swim-for-nine-days-2194481.html

[7] Schiermeier, Quirin. Nautre, February 16, 2011. http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110216/full/470316a.html

[8] Savage, Charlie. The New York Times, “Sex, Drug Use, and Graft Cited in Interior Department,” September 11, 2008.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Gold, Russel. The Wall Street Journal, “Inspectors Rarely Surprised Oil Rigs,” October 11, 2010.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Broder, John M., The New York Times, “Obama to Open Offshore Areas to Oil Drilling for First Time,” March 31, 2010.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Bourne, Jr., Joel K., National Geographic, “The Deep Dilemma,” October 2010, pp.44.

[20] Bourne, Jr., Joel K., National Geographic, “The Deep Dilemma,” October 2010, pp.45.

[21] Bourne, Jr., Joel K., National Geographic, “The Deep Dilemma,” October 2010, pp.52

[22] Powell, Barbara. Bloomberg, “Gasoline Fluctuates, Crude Oil Declines as Mubarak Resigns,” February 11, 2011. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-02-11/gasoline-gains-on-speculation-warmer-weather-will-boost-demand.html

[23] Angela, Moon. Reuters, “US STOCKS-Futures down as oil prices rally on Libyan turmoil,” February 24, 2011. http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/02/24/markets-stocks-idUSN2423863620110224

[24] Madrigal, Alexis. The Atlantic, “At Least Half of Libyan Oil Production Shut Down,” February 23, 2011. http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/02/at-least-half-of-libyan-oil-production-shut-down/71618/

[25] Baer, Robert. Time, “Gaddafi’s Next Move: Sabotage Libya’s Oil and Sow Chaos?” February 22, 2011. http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2052961,00.html

[26] Rich, Motoko. The New York Times, “Rising Oil Prices Pose the Latest Threat to U.S. Economy,” February 24, 2011, pp. A1.

[27] Phillips, James. Backgrounder (the Heritage Foundation), “The Iranian Oil Crisis,” February 28, 1979. http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/1979/02/the-iranian-oil-crisis

[28] https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2176rank.html?countryName=Libya&countryCode=ly&regionCode=af&rank=15#ly

[29] Bloomberg News, “China Overtakes Japan as World’s Second-Biggest Economy,” August 16, 2010. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-08-16/china-economy-passes-japan-s-in-second-quarter-capping-three-decade-rise.html

[30] McGowan, Elizabeth. “Military v. Climate Security: U.S. and China Worlds Apart.” Solve Climate News, January 11, 2011. http://solveclimatenews.com/news/20110111/military-v-climate-security-us-and-china-worlds-apart

[31] Conroy, Scott, “Obama Touts Economic Competiveness in Wisconsin,” January 27, 2011. http://realclearpolitics.blogs.time.com/2011/01/27/obama-touts-economic-competitiveness-in-wisconsin/

[32] Broder, John M. The New York Times, “Republicans Assail E.P.A. Chief on Greenhouse Gas Limits,” Feburuary 9, 2011, pp.A16.

[33] Doggett, Tom. Reuters, “Lawmakers blast Obama’s energy budget,” February 16, 2011. http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/02/16/us-usa-energy-budget-idUSTRE71F5BA20110216

[34] Broder, John M. The New York Times, “E.P.A. Issues Scaled-Back Emission Rules for Boilers,” February 23, 2011, pp.A18.

[35] Kuo, Vivian. CNN, “Deaths of Baby dolphins worry scientists,” February 24, 2011. http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/02/24/gulf.dolphins/index.html?iref=allsearch

[36] Bourne, Jr., Joel K., National Geographic, “The Deep Dilemma,” October 2010, pp.52

[37] Goldenberg, Suzanne. Guardian, “BP oil spill: scientists find giant plume of droplets ‘missed’ by official account,” August 19, 2010. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/aug/19/bp-oil-spill-scientists-plume?INTCMP=SRCH

[38] Schwartz, John. The New York Times, “BP Says Settlement Terms in Spill Are Too Generous,” February 17, 2011, pp.A19.

[39] Bourne, Jr., Joel K., National Geographic, “The Deep Dilemma,” October 2010, pp.42-43

[40] Bourne, Jr., Joel K., National Geographic, “The Deep Dilemma,” October 2010, pp.43

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Flickr and YouTube sites

I have been taking my time as far as posting my next entry on my trip to Grand Isle and my overall opinion concerning oil exploration along America’s coasts. However, I have created both a youtube and flickr account where you can view videos and photos related to my stories. I have not posted all my photos just yet as there is a limit to how much I can post, but I will continue uploading more. I will be doing the same for future stories.

My flickr photos can be viewed at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/h-araya/

My youtube channel is accessible at: http://www.youtube.com/user/HermanAraya

Enjoy! More posts coming soon…

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From Grand Isle Up to NOLA

I arrived on time at Camardelle’s Seafood on the morning of July 23. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries (LDWF) was giving media boat tours for journalists. Bo Boehringer, press secretary of the LDWF sent this email message just before my trip to Louisiana:

“Due to the number of requests we receive, and limited boat resources, a pool media boat arrangement is in place with the cooperation of the US Fish & Wildlife Service.”

However, when I arrived there I only saw LDWF trucks parked outside, and no one waiting for those attending the media boat tour. I called LDWF and was told that because of tropical storm Bonnie the 10 am media boat arrangement had been cancelled. LDWF was evacuating its workers and equipment.

It was a brutal 86 degrees. Rather than stand around in the heat I figured I’d make the best of my remaining time in Grand Isle and speak to someone.

I crossed the street to the side of “Camardelle’s Live Bait.” It seemed empty and lifeless so I walked further up only to meet Roger Camardelle, the owner of the camp ground and its boat stalls.

Camardelle, 78, sat comfortably in the shade on a bench swing and armed with a green fly-swatter. Camardelle, now retired, worked as a fisherman and bus driver.

Roger Camardelle, 78, is the owner of the camp grounds and boat stalls. They were shut down following the BP oil spill.

Since the Gulf oil spill Camardelle’s camp grounds have been shut down, and shrimping has been closed off.

Only about a month prior President Obama visited this area to meet with small business owners affected by the spill. Though Camardelle did not meet him he did see Obama “from a distance.”

“I think when he goes places he says things people want to hear,” Camardelle said. He believes that when Obama is in Washington his story changes.

“You can’t operate all the time and not have a mishap,” Camardelle said. Despite the spill, and potential dangers of similar deepwater oil operations Camardelle opposed the oil drilling moratorium. Many oil industry jobs are created in states such as Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi, Camardelle said.

“This moratorium is gonna hurt a lot of people,” he said. “I hope they abandon the moratorium and let those people work.” Camardelle suggested that perhaps the leak would not have occurred had there been more than one blowout preventer at the Deepwater Horizon.

Camardelle attributed much of the fault to the government.

“I think the government failed on a lot of things but they don’t wanna take blame for nothing. Always point the finger at someone else,” he said. “It’s all about money,” Camardelle said on future reforms that might affect the oil industry.

With Bonnie approaching that weekend I asked Camardelle what he thought about it.

“It’s got everybody a little bit nervous,” he said but referred to Bonnie as a “little disturbance” that was keeping people on their toes.

From Camardelle’s seafood I walked over a bridge that overlooked the waters around Grand Isle. At this bridge I discovered an abandoned tackle box some fisherman had left there. Though there was a slight chance that someone had merely forgotten it I believed that whoever left it was discouraged by the oil spill and purposefully abandoned it there.

A knife probably used to cut the fishing lines was left there, as well as baits and lures. Pieces of fish bait were also left around the wooden platform of the bridge.

In a nearby neighborhood I met several Louisiana residents.

Siam Jackson, 51, arrived in Grand Isle on July 22 with his wife Trudy Moran. Moran, 47, and Jackson, who reside in Gonzalez, Louisiana, were attending the Island Aid Concert to donate money and show some support for community residents.

Jackson also believed the government erred in putting forward the moratorium on deepwater oil drilling.

“They need to lift it,” he said. “This is oil country.”

Henry Martin, 61, a retiree of the oil industry, said he saw the disaster as serving a purpose, or an agenda to go green.

“Just because BP is a bad actor doesn’t mean everybody is,” Martin said. He also added that the government failed in its duties. “They were the sheriff and they didn’t do their job.” Martin also believed that MMS (Minerals Management Service) and the US Department of the Interior “should be held accountable.”

Martin said he believed the cleanup effort was improving but understood that some things such as fishing would not come back over night. Martin acknowledged that there were “different lenses” for the fishermen and shrimpers who make a living on fishing.

“A big disaster of it comes in,” Martin said.

“I just hope our luck hangs on,” Jackson said.

From top to bottom: Henry Martin, and his wife; Siam Jackson, and his wife, Trudy Moran.

I found my time amongst Jackson, Martin, and their wives most positive. Just before I interviewed them Jackson had noticed the sweat trickling down from my brow, and gave me a bottle of water fresh out from their cooler. In all honesty without that refreshing water I might not have had enough energy for the rest of that day.

Their humor, smiles, and generosity were true southern hospitality.

Yet for all the hospitality and beauty of Grand Isle I must confess that because of the BP oil spill, and its effects on the community, my time there was a downer. I looked forward to seeing New Orleans, and visiting the bars along Bourbon Street.

__________________________________________________________________________

I boarded the trolley on Canal St. As a New Yorker that is used to burning cash for his rides around New York City it was an unexpected pleasure to pay merely one dollar and take the trolley all the way down to Bourbon St.

At Bourbon St I went straight for an oyster bar that looked good enough for my appetite (I was insanely hungry and curious to try NOLA’s renowned oyster cuisine). There I visited Pier 424, a Seafood Market restaurant located right on Bourbon St. As soon as I saw the menu I ordered the Royale Oysters, which are fresh oysters baked and topped with crabmeat stuffing.

The waitress that served me let me know beforehand that the oysters they were serving were smaller than those normally served. I asked her if it was a result of the oil spill, and she confirmed that it was.

Nevertheless, I was happy when I was brought the oysters, and I could tell they were delicious despite their size. I savored each bite with the small fork I used to pinch each one. They were absolutely delightful, and afterward I washed them down with a nice glass of Bacardi Rum, and coke.

Oysters with Crabmeat

I continued down Bourbon St checking out one of its souvenir shops, avoiding the naughty establishments (there are quite a few x-rated places there), and observing street entertainers that appeared as steel statues. Horse carriages periodically passed around the corners as I walked down the street. I definitely enjoyed the party atmosphere of the French Quarter in New Orleans. It did not disappoint. Everywhere I went there was something to see, or some different food to try out.

I made my way to one bar where a band was playing live, all be it, Jackson 5, and Michael Jackson music. “Voodoo Blues,” “the Cat’s Meow”—there were plenty of entertaining bars, and restaurants I would have loved to have checked out. The last bar I visited had a blues band playing live music as well. I enjoyed my last few glasses of rum and coke while speaking with the bartender there.

At that bar one patron got up to the band members and sang “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).” I have to admit she did a pretty good job of it and got other people in the bar rocking to the beat.

That was my experience there in New Orleans. When I left the bar outside I imagined people on the balconies during Mardis Gras, and the ridiculous noise that must emanate from those streets. Perhaps I’ll come back again someday.

I enjoyed my time for the remainder of the night before paying another dollar to return aboard the trolley. I arrived at my place of stay a bit tired but satisfied with having visited another American city, and seen what people only hear about when they watched the news.

I lay down in bed, closed my eyes, and rested for the next day’s early morning flight.

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Another Point of View

I would be a liar to suggest to anyone that I didn’t already have an opinion about the BP oil spill before my trip to Grand Isle. In fact, it was hard not to have my view reinforced after I walked on the beach and saw the extent of damage done to it because of BP’s negligence and the government’s failure in oversight. However, the more I spoke with residents of the community the more I heard of their opposition to the White House’s moratorium on deep-water offshore drilling. When those you are speaking with are of the community it’s impossible not to listen.

On July 22 and July 23 I met several such people.

William Long, 66, a retired obstetrician/GYN has owned his camp for 12 years. He told me that he has fished in Grand Isle since 1968, and normally fished 4-5 days in a week. The oil spill, though, banned fishing for several months.

“I fished for the first time Tuesday,” Long said. Speaking on the level of importance the oil disaster has had on residents he said, “This community is 85% fishing and shrimping.”

William Long, a resident of Grand Isle, believes the lack of drilling along inshore areas has led to risky drilling in "ultra deep areas."

Although he said his friends and family have been ok during this time he acknowledged that the oil disaster “has affected them adversely…”

Despite the oil spill and backlash against BP Long said he believed BP has made a good effort in supporting those affected. When asked about people’s criticism of BP’s system of paying claims to businesses and people working in the fishing industry, as well as the clean-up Long said, “It takes a while.” He referenced the tax records used for claims, and the “tremendous potential for fraud.” Long downplayed the presence of oil on the beaches.

“There’s been very little oil here,” he said. Long said the oil seen in Grand Isle was dime sized, and golf ball sized.

On oil drilling Long blamed those who opposed Bush’s desire for oil drilling in Alaska, and other “inshore” sites, to America’s continuing need to drill in offshore zones. If oil companies were permitted to drill in “relatively shallow waters” they would not have to drill in “ultra deep areas,” he said. Long said that states such as Florida, California, and Virginia have areas of oil but are not extracting it to its potential because of any potential environmental impact.

Long believes the Obama administration has used the oil spill as an excuse for their agenda. President Obama has been calling for the use of alternative and cleaner energies, and cited the BP oil disaster as one of the reasons for it.

“I’m very much opposed to this ban on deep-water, offshore drilling,” Long said. “This administration is radical. Ultra-radical.” He was also concerned about the administration’s effect on the community and the country at a time of economic recession, though he termed it more as a “depression.” He later added, “The people right now running the country are absolutely frightening to me.”

Not far from Long’s residence are “Pirate Island Daiquiri” and “Nez Coupe Souvenirs and Tackle.” The two businesses stand across from each other on opposite ends of the street, but their owner has found that the oil spill has affected their business in the area “tremendously.”

Frank Besson, 61, has lived in Grand Isle all of his life. Every time someone said this to me I imagined that person being born, then living through their childhood, high school, and married years in the same town.

“People are just not coming,” Besson said. “All you got are workers on Grand Isle,” he said referring to the clean-up workers. When asked about the financial effects of the oil spill on his businesses he said that Pirate Island Daiquiri has seen its business decrease about 55%. Nez Coupe Souvenirs and Tackle has gone down 95% about in business, Besson said.

Pirate Island Daiquri

Nez Coupe Souvenirs and Tackle

Besson, who worked in the oil field for 25 years with Exxon and Conoco, said, “BP took chances and they lost,” he said. “They were trying to save a dollar and they end up spending millions of dollars.”

By the time the numbers are all compiled, I imagined, it will be more than millions.

Despite the spill Besson disagreed with the moratorium on deep-water oil drilling. He believes “they should have never stopped it,” and that rules should have simply been followed. Besson said he believes that both MMS (Minerals Management Service) and BP failed in their duties, and that MMS ought to “get their ass in gear.”

He likened the effects of a moratorium to a chain reaction that would leave people out of work, and be felt for months and beyond.

During that week, the tarpon rodeo week, people would “come down to fish and have a good time,” Besson said. Streets would be bumper to bumper, and his business would usually do fantastic all summer long. Due to the spill, though, the rodeo was cancelled and replaced with an Island Aid Festival. Despite the presence of BP workers in Grand Isle he has not seen much business.

“They’re not spending no money.”

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Mourning

A small poster attached on the wall of my room at the inn named them all:

Common Saltwater Fish of Louisiana

Redfish. Spotted Seatrout. Atlantic Croaker. Black Drum. Spanish Mackerel. King Mackerel. Red Snapper. Tarpon… and so on.

But if not for the oil spill there would have been crowds of people here at the beach, or at the docks fishing, enjoying the sun, beautiful waters, and southern comforts.

The morning of July 20, following breakfast, and a quick face wash I stepped out towards the back of the Inn, and onto Grand Isle beach.  It was a gorgeous day, somewhere above 82 or so degrees with a slight breeze coming off the Gulf of Mexico. On any given summer there would be families there on the sand, perhaps children running through the water at the shore, and whatever else a visitor might do to enjoy the ease and comfort of the beach life. This was not, however, any given summer.

British Petroleum clean-up crews had camps set up on the beach, and in sight as soon as you set foot on the sand. Oil boons lined the sand from west to east all the way down the beach, and nets prevented anyone from crossing a certain point.  Patrol vehicles periodically drove down the beach, and a chopper flew overhead every so often.

Grand Isle beach.

BP clean-up crew on break.

Oil booms.

The entire scene was like a really bad dream. I spotted an empty camp area where only one worker was seated, on break perhaps, drinking water. I asked him if he might give a word or two about what had happened, but not surprisingly he said he did not feel comfortable commenting.

Grand Isle’s beach was divided into zones, I noticed as I continued walking down the beach. Workers could be seen bagging some material taken from the shore line, and though it could have simply been oil, or tar balls, it might have also been dead animals which succumbed to the oil’s toxic properties.

I wanted to enjoy the walk, and listen to the sounds of the waves breaking up on one another, and then rushing up on the sand. The sky was clear, and the sun’s heat made a jump in the water sound appealing. But every point on that beach was marked, and divided by BP’s clean-up effort, and the sounds of the ocean were rivaled by the spin of the chopper blades as it flew over. And despite how nice the water looked I knew there were still hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil floating somewhere in the ocean damaging its quality, and overall marine life in ways we cannot yet realize.

An entire ecosystem defiled.

The beach, divided into several zones, was only made up of clean-up crews, bulldozers, and dumptrucks.

I continued walking along the beach, snapping photographs of the boons, and workers. The only people on the beach that day, other than me, were the clean-up workers. Behind the house, and just next to the beach, however, one woman was seen tanning. Further down a resident was feeding several birds with small pieces of bread.

If this had been Jones Beach, or Long Beach in New York I would have been very upset. They are places I take pleasure walking through to have a bit of peaceful solitude. These images of strange people walking around with collection bags, driving in cats or bulldozers to move the sand, and endless oil boons would have robbed that sweet solitude away from me, or anyone.

Grand Isle water tower...

Kev Loves Nat

After a little over an hour of walking on the beach I walked back up to the street and headed back to the inn.

The houses in Grand Isle and some of its businesses are all built on large, well-built beams meant to sustain someone’s property high above the ground in case of flooding. Most of the houses in Grand Isle have names; another interesting thing I discovered during my walk. Some of these names include: the Mother Ship, the Deep South, the Chinook, and the Oh Henry! My personal favorite was the Point of View.

Houses in Grand Isle have names. This house is named the 'Point of View.'

An unofficial memorial to those things lost during the Gulf oil spill.

It was near a house called Toy that I found a graveyard. This graveyard, though, was not meant to house the dead, but built more as a memorial to those precious things that had been lost because of the BP oil spill. Handmade crosses with the words or names of these dearly held jewels of Grand Isle were all standing out along this person’s lawn.

Flying a kite, speckled Trout, seafood gumbo, sandcastles, dolphins, redfish rodeo, shrimp boats, Wahoo, sand between my toes, beach sunsets, fishing, shrimping, and many other cherished pastimes were given a place of remembrance. Behind all of these crosses was a huge cross made out of crab cages standing about eight feet high off the ground. Perhaps the most powerful one of these crosses was the one marked Our Soul. It came to me that the owner of this property actually went to great length to create this memorial. He or she spent much creativity, time, effort, and sweat to place each one of the crosses and write in the names of those things lost. Obviously this person cared deeply about the community, its environment, and future. Twice during my trip I tried to contact the owner of the property but with no success. Considering the devotion evident in the work, though, I would say this person is someone who has probably lived in Grand Isle for a very long time.

A giant cross made out of crab cages.

The time here in Grand Isle was beginning to resemble what Captain Greg Henry had referred to as a “mourning period.”

On the way back there were several other such signs, remembrances, and expressions of frustration. “Shame on you BP,” “BP, We want our beach back,” “3 Generations of Fishermen Are Gone,” and still more. For these people, the environment, and marine life are not just pastimes, but livelihoods. Honest livelihoods.

Sunset.

That night at Rome’s Nightclub I met one such fisherman riding out the hard times.

Tommy Pellegrin, 46, of Morgan City, Louisiana had not fished since April. He has fished his whole life and made a living doing so.

“That’s all I ever did since I got out of school,” he said with a smile. He had clear blue eyes, was wearing a hat, and held his drink in his hand while he spoke. There was a sense that while he wanted to tell his story he was also disconcerted over even having to tell it.

As a result of the oil spill Pellegrin was rendered to skimming and being paid by BP. It was not the same amount of money he would have gotten paid for fishing and shrimping but Pellegrin said it was “close.”

On some very fortunate occasions Pellegrin might have made $7,000 shrimping in two nights. He normally made an average of about $4,200 every 2 weeks.

Pellegrin was “taking it day by day; trying to make ends meet,” he said. “I wanna look for what I want.” He and those in sport fishing, he said, are “crossing our fingers” for safe fishing.”

Pellegrin called the overall response by the government “hectic” at first, but believes they had done a “pretty good job” however slow it might have been. He was not completely against more offshore drilling so long as oil companies “get that shi* straight” (in reference  to preventing/responding to oil leaks and spills; and that they “abide by the book.”

Eileen Ransbottom, 44, works at Rome’s Nightclub. As a Louisiana resident, and bartender at the Nightclub she has met many people affected by the oil spill.

“It’s hurtin’ all the way in New Orleans,” she said. “They’re all feeling it,” she said of the various parishes in Louisiana.

Normally, Ransbottom said, Grand Isle would be packed full of people attending the tarpon rodeo, an international fishing tournament.

“Usually you can’t even drive in the street,” she said. Ransbottom compared the community’s situation to one of desertion, and said it was “not like it normally would be.” In my observations of the BP clean-up workers simply being in the community I considered, perhaps that in some way they might have been making some money for the businesses in the community.

“It don’t make up for it” though, Ransbottom said. “A lot of people can’t make their mortgage payments.” She twice mentioned that she didn’t believe the oyster reefs were going to come back for decades. Oysters and shrimp are two of the most profitable staples of Louisiana seafood, and without them even for some years could do damage to a lot of families some of whose income is solely based on them.
Ransbottom was upset and skeptical over the oil spill, and future off shore drilling. However she did not believe that the White House should have ordered the moratorium on future deepwater offshore drilling. Instead Ransbottom said the government ought to hire more inspectors, and be “damn sure” about the safety of those who are being allowed to drill.

In two words Ransbottom summed up her opinion of the response by BP and the government: “It sucks.”

She didn’t talk about the crisis in terms of years but decades and generations for a place that is considered “sportsman’s paradise.”

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Riding It Out

The clock beside my bed read 3:39 a.m. on July 19. A speck of sand was in the corner of my eye, and as I took it out I yawned like a dog. I stretched my arms out tiredly. A bone cracked somewhere, and out my window it was as black as night.

I would not have woken up if not for the early flight from JFK to New Orleans just that morning. Within fifteen minutes I was showered, dressed, and eating a bowl of cheerios. I was to stay in Louisiana until the 24th, spending five of those days in Grand Isle—one of several areas in the southern United States affected by the BP oil spill.

Indeed, it was the 89th day of the crisis, and though progress was finally made on capping the leaking well, and strategizing further steps to prevent future leaks at the site it was uncertain what long term effects there might be on the ocean. It was in the second month of the oil leak that I decided on going to Louisiana to see for myself the full extent of something we only see on television and in the newspapers. We might ‘feel bad’ or ‘upset’ but I wanted to experience it, see it, and be able to write about it.

My flight arrived at about a quarter to 9 in the morning. Louisiana’s time was an hour behind New York Time.

I walked through Louis Armstrong Airport hearing jazz music, and as I skipped by with my luggage I continued humming the tune that has since evaded my memory.

From the airport I rode a taxi to Pontchartrain Blvd. where I would be meeting Captain Greg Henry. Along my ride there I asked “Gary” the cab driver about how things have been in New Orleans since the spill. People were worried, of course, he said to me, and to some extent it did have an effect on business. Out of the car window I unexpectedly saw palm trees being touched by the morning sun and briefly swaying with the breeze.

I kept Gary’s card for the future in the event that I’d need a ride back from Grand Isle to New Orleans.

During the few minutes I waited for Henry I observed the high walls around Pontchartrain Blvd. Though I was not ignorant of Katrina I at first believed these to be sound barriers.

Pontchartrain Boulevard, New Orleans

Henry arrived at the Wasabi parking lot. We had barely met when an acquaintance of his was driving on by. Henry stopped him, and as they spoke I overheard him asking about details concerning how to essentially have your catch tested/examined by some types of inspectors. Apparently several fishermen and charter captains were seeking information on when and where they were able to go fishing, and how to prove its safe to eat.

Pontchartrain Point Cafe

Local New Orleans newspapers.

Henry, 55, helped me with the luggage before we drove off and told me that the parking lot where he picked me up from was the highest point after Katrina. Floodwaters were so high in the aftermath of Katrina that there were only so many places to find safe ground. The high walls I saw, Henry explained, were part of the barriers and levee system still being built against future flood threats.

As we drove around he pointed out to me some abandoned houses, and others still in disrepair from Katrina’s wrath. Stains marked the height of floodwaters during those days

In a word Henry described the BP oil spill as “heartbreaking.” He has been fishing for 35 years and chartering for 15. He has lived in the water for 30 years, but has lived in New Orleans his whole life. He mentioned hearing of a charter captain committing suicide only the week prior and admitted seeing a therapist to cope with anxieties during this time.

“This is like a mourning period,” he said to me. “It really plays on people’s minds.” Aware of suicides and the toll the spill had taken on others, he said he would never take his own life or even think of it. Nonetheless, he said he understood how traumatic it can be for some with families to suddenly be unable to provide.

Henry has four sisters and one brother. Both of his parents are now in their 80s. “Carefree,” Henry said of himself, he spends a lot of time with his parents. He became a little serious as he spoke of them.

“It’s ok to cry…” he said. “They didn’t do the best job in the world, but they did the best they could…”

Since April 20 Henry had only held one charter. Though he had the option of getting paid to help out in oil skimming he found it too saddening, and decided against it. The main fish Henry goes after are Trout, Flounder, and Red Fish. He spoke to me a lot about fishing, in fact. He discussed how he enjoyed eating his seafood, how he caught his fish, and how adamant he was of his respect for the oceans, rivers, lakes, and marshes. On several occasions, he said, he has caught people from other boats tossing a beer can into the water. Henry would take a net, during such moments; grab the can from the water, catch up to the littering boat, and have a friendly confrontation. He’d tell the litterer of the other boat that he dropped his can, tell him he would be taking a photo of their boat, and then copy down their number, which I would assume is the equivalent of a license plate number. Henry says he probably got negative feelings from such people, but he cared very deeply about preserving the beauty of the seas. In addition, Henry also enjoyed spending time out in Louisiana’s marshes.

Louisiana marshland.

“I’m in love with my marsh,” Henry said.

During one part of the ride Henry talked about how great it felt to fish in the marshes. There are some places where the grass stood four feet high on two sides like a tunnel. When going kayak fishing that grass can appear gigantic. If there were one blade of grass in the marsh seen moving, Henry said, one can be almost certain it was a red fish in the water going after food near the marsh floor. In the morning the light of the sunrise came through the marsh, the grass, and reflected wonderfully on the water.

Henry depicted red fish as more orange than red, and usually has one red dot but sometimes as much as six red dots. I looked over photos Henry showed me of fish he caught during some of his charter rides. With an obvious love for the ocean wildlife Henry expressed more concern and worry about the dispersants used to eliminate oil from the water than the oil spill itself. People simply didn’t know the effects of it on the marsh grasses or fish, he said. Henry also believed the oil drilling moratorium, a source of contention between the White House and oil industry lobbyists, was not good for our economy.

“I’m enjoying this ride,” Henry said. “I haven’t seen this area in a long time.”

Signs advertising nearby crab shops.

Along the way to Grand Isle there were both unique and odd things I saw outside the car window. Near Houma, Louisiana, for example there was a small place that sold frog legs (I didn’t stop to try them). There were also marshes, and sugar cane fields that stretched out far and wide. On the highway near Port Fourchon an old, rusted pickup truck was spotted almost completely submerged in water. Finally, as we neared Grand Isle there was a sign reading ‘Louisiana Nightmare.’

At the sight of several boats, and skimmers seen operating in the area’s waters Henry became saddened and noticeably upset.

“This is it dude,” he said with a horrible sense of finality. “…this is so sad.” A helicopter seen patrolling the waters moved across from one swath of the Gulf to the other, while a Coast Guard ship was also seen conducting its own business. Further on arriving into the actual town of Grand Isle there were several signs assigning blame for the spill on BP and the federal government.

“Redfish Lane!” Henry yelled excitedly as he saw a street sign named after his favorite fish.

When we finally arrived at the Inn that I was staying at I left my luggage, and picked up my keys. Several military vehicles were parked just outside, and when we had arrived and entire bus full of clean-up crew workers walked up over a sand dune and towards the coast where I presume they were to begin their shift cleaning the coastline.

Henry wanted to post flyers advertising the sale of a charter boat, so we headed down all the way towards the end of the island. It was there where we saw the skimmers up close and personal, as well as several BP oil cleanup workers on break. The docks seemed strange except for the presence of these clean-up crews where there would normally be fishermen returning with their catch. It was an utterly depressing sight.

Grand Isle docks.

Oil skimming.

A U.S. Coast Guard ship presumably aiding clean-up efforts in Grand Isle.

After some brief grocery shopping, and picking up the local newspapers I returned to the Inn to unload my things and take a shower. It was in the high 80s and I was hot, sweaty, and in need of a nap.

Sometime after 7 pm I walked down the road to find some grub. A local restaurant was nearby called the Starfish Restaurant. I went in and ordered the seafood gumbo, burger and fries, and a large glass of orange juice. I was unbelievably hungry, and curious to try the seafood gumbo. A painting of a man sailing his ship in the ocean hung on the wall beside my table. It reminded me of John Maesfield’s poem, “Sea fever.”

Seafood Gumbo!

It was my first time having seafood (or anything) gumbo. I found it to be absolutely delicious. While I ate I observed the people intently listening to CNN’s reporting on the oil spill response and BP’s performance in capping the leaking well. Andreson Cooper was reporting on something called the ‘static kill option.’ Patrons joked and commented on both the coverage and character of BP. But in the end one could tell they understood and appreciated the gravity and seriousness of the crisis.

Outside the seafood place a Department of Health bulletin was posted on board offering people affected by the oil spill counseling.

I headed back in the direction of the Inn to the sound of some crickets, and possibly frogs that were in small ponds near the side of the road. “Rome’s Lounge” was open with its lights flickering in the distance, so I walked in hoping to get a sense of the town’s humor and worries. It was not packed at all, and barely anyone was there. It’s a decent lounge, but perhaps since it was Monday night, I thought, it’s not going to be busy. Everyone at the bar that night asked for a Bud-Light. While I waited for my drink I read a sign at the bar:

Throw a punch

Pack your lunch

You’re going to jail.

I listened then to several men speaking with the bartender.

“This oil spill’s fuc*ed everything up,” one customer commented. They had a good sense of humor, but were impatient with what was happening, and the uncertainty of the community’s future. There was almost no reason to hope.

I finished my second round, and called it a night.

Tomorrow was another day.

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