Friday, June 18, 2010

Silent Majority: Why Don’t the Smart Southerners Speak Up?

Ron Ault
June 17, 2010
I happened to catch Congressman Stupack’s hearing into the causes of BP’s “accident” today. Then I watched the CNN coverage with Gulf Coast residents’ responding from a local diner in Metairie, Louisiana. I kept thinking “I sure hope there is a ’silent majority‘ of Americans out there, otherwise we are in deep do-do.”

I know the media sometimes deliberately picks the absolute dumbest “bubba” they can find to interview on the air to make inflammatory remarks, but come on…this guy sounded just like a Sarah Palin Tea Party nut case.

The man chosen by the media to be the public representative of the entire region’s views was a perfect example of the old adage “a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.” He was lamenting the “fact” that the oil spill was worse than Hurricane Katrina. Duh! Thousands of human beings died in Katrina, dude, many after the storm passed because there was no planning or logistics prepositioned to get immediate assistance and supplies to the survivors! It took five days to get drinking water to the Superdome after the storm passed. There is a big difference in the federal response to this man-made disaster.

But, CNN chose to spotlight this guy who accused President Obama of caving in to unions because he won’t waive the Jones Act and allow foreign vessels to come in and clean up the spill…Where do these people get this from? He must be watching “fair and balanced” Fox TV. Did he think a onetime cleanup was going to fix the millions of gallons of oils still spewing from the well? Did he think that there are millions of foreign built vessels lined up, just waiting to come in and clean up the oil? This guy was saying that under former President Bush’s leadership the Jones Act was waived for the oil industry. Yes, that is the one thing this guy said that was a fact. George W. Bush did that.

Does anyone out there know anything about the Jones Act? Ignorance is bliss but once in a while the networks should do a little bit of fact checking before they broadcast what they heard someone else say. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but broadcasters have an obligation to at least refrain from spreading mis-information, especially if the source is a man-on-the-street.

“Ditto heads” simply repeating what shock jocks Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck say on a national TV interview gives an entire region a bad name. The Jones Act is an 80-year-old law designed to insure that America has a shipbuilding industry and a merchant marine to build and crew Navy ships in time of war. It requires that vessels engaged in US, port-to-port trade, be built and assembled entirely in US Shipyards, crewed by US crews and owned by US citizens.

Bush gave his friends in the oil and gas industry a pass from the requirements of the Jones Act. That is why the Deepwater Horizon wasn’t built in a shipyard in Louisiana or Mississippi. The drilling platform was built in South Korean-owned by Transocean, a Swiss company, not an American Company that would observe U.S. law…And that is why British Petroleum could “drill baby, drill” with little or no oversight.

Jones Act waivers, once given, are difficult—if not impossible to retrieve. President Obama had little to do with anything associated with the Deepwater Horizon disaster except to try to hold BP accountable. The Jones Act does permit foreign vessels to operate in coastwise trade if there are insufficient US domestic vessels available for the needs. There is no need to grant additional waivers under the Jones Act. They already exist, but “Fair and Balanced” Fox TV and CNN didn’t tell you that, did they?

Not one Gulf Coast job was generated in the building of the Deep Water Horizon even though the largest private employers in Mississippi and Louisiana are the Ingalls Shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi and the Avondale Shipyard just outside New Orleans, Louisiana. Both shipyards (and many more Gulf Coast shipbuilding facilities) could have easily built this rig, but why give American folks jobs when you can build it cheaper in South Korea as long as you don’t have to follow US Jones Act laws? Cheaper, faster, cut corners to save money. Isn’t that BP’s track record in this disaster. Save money even if it costs lives, ruins the environment and kills American jobs?

The people on the Gulf Coast don’t know what they want President Obama to do about BP’s mess. They criticize him for not showing up on day one after the explosion. They criticize him for not meeting with every man, woman and child in the area when he does come down to the Gulf Coast to survey what the Coast Guard and BP crews are doing about the tar balls and oil washing up on the beaches and in the marshes. They criticize him for not getting money to reimburse residents who have lost their jobs and livelihood in the region fast enough. Then they accuse him of an illegal “shakedown” for making BP put up a 20 Billion dollar “slush fund,” as Congressman Joe Barton put in the congressional hearing as he apologized to BP saying he was “ashamed.” (And, Joe Barton should be ashamed!)

You hear these folks (and the Tea Partiers) say that they are opposed to the President’s policies and they are going to “take our country back” in the next election….That’s an incomplete sentence. Who are these folks going to take the country back from? There are some in the South who are still fighting the Civil War and still sore about desegregation.

What they are really saying is, no matter what President Obama does or doesn’t do, they are not going to support him. Obama didn’t carry the states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama in the 2008 Presidential election and it would be difficult for him to have much support there today no matter what he does about the oil in the Gulf.

Boy, I sure hope that there is a big, silent majority of Americans that are out there thoughtful and making intelligent decisions, and not a majority of “ditto heads” blindly following the talk radio hate jocks and the flame throwing race baiters.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Challenges are Opportunities to Succeed

Ron Ault
June1, 2010
The Deepwater Horizon disaster spewing raw crude oil into the crystal clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico points out the problem with allowing private enterprise lead in developing cutting edge technology in energy or any other critical commodity. As we have seen, a massive failure can bring a nation to its knees and arouse public opinion on a grand scale. The BP spill is to the oil industry what Chernobyl was to Russia’s nuclear energy program. Chernobyl, with the catastrophic pile meltdown and fire that killed hundreds and sickened thousands over a generation came about a decade after our own near miss nuclear disaster at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania. The major difference between the U.S. experience and Russia’s is that the reactor containment at Three Mile Island worked.

The Deepwater Horizon was built in a South Korean shipyard. It was owned and operated by Transocean, a Swiss company. Are bells going off anywhere? Are the warning lights flashing, America? The Jones Act is an 80-year-old law that requires ships engaged in commerce in the US coastal trade to be built in the US, owned by US owners and have US crews. This is the US Merchant Marine. In hearings into the cause of the explosions and fire aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, Congressman Gene Taylor specifically asked the Obama Administration to invoke the Jones Act for all the oil and gas drilling in the Gulf.

The other two corporate entities implicated in the Gulf disaster were Haliburton, now headquartered in Dubai; and BP, incorporated in the UK and headquartered in London.

We have a shortage of naval shipbuilding work to keep our six major U.S. shipyards in business. There is a discussion about Avondale Shipyard of New Orleans— one of only six major US Shipyards, being sold or closed, Avondale and its sister shipyard, Ingalls, located some 120 miles away in Pascagoula, Mississippi, are the two largest private employers in Louisiana and Mississippi. Both yards are capable of building complex combat vessels for the U.S. Navy, and that has been their forte.

Avondale has built commercial ships, including double hulled oil tankers for the US Alaskan oil trade after the Exxon Valdez disaster in Prince William Sound. No one has designed and built deep water equipment for a disaster like the BP Deepwater Horizon. Why not? Why doesn’t the US government develop the design and build the safety equipment necessary to cap runaway oil well in deepwater? No one can argue we don’t need it. We could put thousands of the people who live in the area being slimed by the oil spill tomorrow morning to work building this equipment. The people directly affected would have a stake in the development and construction of the equipment that would protect their very way of life and their quality of life.

With BP’s oil billowing into the waters of the Gulf, whose job is it to staunch the flow? Americans and the press are badgering the federal government to “do something” about it, but the federal government doesn’t have the technology because it hasn’t ever focused on a problem of this dimension. Until now, it was the domain of private industry. Well, that hasn’t worked out so well now, has it?

If we want bold decisive action to plug the hole and stop the oil spewing into the Gulf- this is it! Turn American ingenuity loose and give American shipbuilders the job of designing and building the deep water disaster response for this and similar drilling disasters just waiting to happen in our costal waters. Saying this will never happen again is sticking our head in the sand and ignoring the facts that say otherwise. This challenge is an opportunity for success, let’s get started!