Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has declared a state of emergency because of the oil continuing to spill from one of the pipelines that was connected to the Deepwater Horizon rig before it exploded, caught fire, and sank into waters more than a mile deep. The resulting slick, already more than a hundred miles long and forty miles wide, is predicted to dwarf the spill from the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska that happened more than two decades ago. There are already reports that the oil is starting to collect on the shores at the mouth of the Mississippi River.
President Barack Obama has vowed to use every resource available including the military. The Obama administration has assembled top officials from Homeland Security, the Coast Guard, the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency and announced an aggressive effort to fight the spill.
Mr. Jindal has requested federal assistance for the Louisiana state fishermen, asking the Secretary of Commerce to declare a commercial fisheries failure in order to clear the way for the fisherman to receive something akin to welfare. This is the same Bobby Jindal who became the primary proof that the Republican Party was all inclusive and not just a white boy’s and girl’s club. Mr. Jindal was selected to give the Republican Party’s response to Mr. Obama’s first congressional address. In his response, Mr. Jindal criticized Mr. Obama saying that the proper role of the federal government was not to become larger. Mr. Jindal stressed that the federal government should refrain from unnecessary spending. As an example, Mr. Jindal ridiculed the government for spending precious federal dollars on the study of volcanoes. Why do people in Louisiana need to help contribute for the preparation of a disaster elsewhere?
Today Mr. Jindal is displaying a full reversal. As arguably the greatest oil spill starts to poison Louisiana’s fragile ecosystem along the gulf, Mr. Jindal wants help from the same federal government he ridiculed just a year ago as out of touch with good national fiscal responsibility.
Now that Mr. Jindal needs help for his state, he understands the importance of having a government in a position to help. Gone is all that talk about independence for the people and all those dumb ideas about how government should not be in people’s way. Mr. Jindal wants to take advantage of a government that stands capable to help any state despite the fact. There are a bunch of people in others states that could say why should people outside Louisiana care about Louisiana’s coast? Thankfully, a lot of people understand the concept of government, which is nothing but a collection of people, coming to the aid of our own.
Mr. Jindal’s behavior is similar to the behavior exhibited by many conservatives who suddenly find their feet in other people’s shoes. People who previously spent their lives admonishing others for accepting welfare would have a different opinion when they find themselves in need of help because of circumstances beyond their control. There are people who will proudly wave around signs telling the government not to expand healthcare coverage and to keep its hands off of their Medicare. Some people are too quick to say that we don’t need to help anybody when they have all of the security they could want. But as soon as they lose their job and have exhausted their resources and have used every bootstrap they could find to no avail, people have a totally different understanding of what it means to be in need and why it is so important to have people who have a more inclusive sense of social responsibility.
There is little doubt that if the oil spill happened elsewhere, say it happened in the Pacific off the coast of California, Mr. Jindal would be singing a totally different, compassionless tune. More than likely he would continue the staunchly conservative stand where people believe that our federal government shouldn’t be a government for the people. If it was California that was in trouble, Mr. Jindal would probably do another one of his too bad so sad speeches, but the government of the people, by the people, and for the people isn’t meant to save anybody.
The question is that now that Mr. Jindal knows first hand what it feels like to be in need and have no choice but to rely on the federal government for assistance, you would think that he would have more compassion for people who are less fortunate. But then again, people who lead our governments, whether they be at the local, state, national, global, or anything in-between, above, or below any one of these levels, should come with the foresight and compassion necessary to think about things from a more socially responsible perspective. A state governor should already come prepackaged with a heightened sense of consideration for others.
The Hurricane of 1900 made landfall on the city of Galveston, Texas on September 8, 1900. It had estimated winds of 135 mph at landfall, making it a Category 4 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. The estimated loss of life with most cited in official reports is eight thousand give or take a couple thousand. The death toll gives this storm the third highest number of casualties of any Atlantic hurricane and is to date the deadliest natural disaster ever to strike the United States. On September 4, the Galveston office of the U.S. Weather Bureau began receiving warnings from the central office in Washington, D.C. that a tropical storm had moved northward over Cuba. Back then, the Weather Bureau forecasters had no way of knowing where the storm was or where it was going. It was through the study of weather and atmospheric phenomenon that hurricane prediction techniques could be developed so that the accuracy of storm path forecasting can be estimated days in advance. Sure, some people probably thought it was stupid to spend good money trying to predict something that defies prediction. A hundred years makes a big difference.
In a speech full of criticism for the stimulus plan, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal singled out volcano monitoring as an example of government spending running amok. Mr. Jindal said that instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, deriding the $140 million appropriated to the U.S. Geological Survey as little more than pork in the stimulus package that tops three quarters of a trillion dollars. That probably doesn’t sound very prudent to people who live down in Galveston, Texas. But to those who live a little closer to the threat of flowing lava, it was a poor example to use.
There are five volcano observatories in the country. They are in Alaska, Yellowstone National Park, Washington, Hawaii, and Long Valley, California. Each has a series of seismic networks and other equipment for the specific purpose of monitoring a number of volcanoes in their vicinity. If a volcano is showing signs of activity, it could be the first signs of an eruption. So scientists follow that up by looking at other data from webcams, radar data and satellite imagery; fly overs from airplanes and etcetera. They pull all of that information together to give people the best information about what’s likely to happen so that people can plan. Sort of like what happens with pending hurricanes these days. Unfortunately, when it comes to monitoring volcanoes, we are more likely closer to the capabilities of weather forecasters in 1900 than weather forecasters of today.
It’s pretty obvious that people who live close to a volcano will be worried about flowing lava and mud. People who live further away can be affected by ash fall, which can typically travel distances measured in hundreds of miles. But many of us have little appreciation for our susceptibility to a full scale eruption from the Yellowstone Supervolcano. Hundreds of millennia ago, scientists believe that the Lava Creek eruption ejected well over two hundred cubic miles of rock and dust into the sky. That’s enough volume to fill a space twenty miles long, ten miles wide, and more than a mile high. Geologists are closely monitoring the rise and fall of the Yellowstone Plateau, which averages movement of plus/minus a little more than half an inch on a yearly basis depending on changes in magma chamber pressure. However, the upward movement of the Yellowstone caldera floor, almost three inches per year in recent years, is more than three times greater than ever observed since such measurements began in 1923. The Yellowstone Volcano Observatory maintains that they see no evidence that another cataclysmic eruption will occur at Yellowstone in the foreseeable future. But the issue is worth monitoring, hence the need for more investment in volcano monitoring.
Not all of the money is devoted to just volcano monitoring. A lot of the money will go towards the maintenance and modernization of monitoring networks and other equipment. Quite possibly the investment may lead to lives being saved. If an evacuation due to eruption is ever needed, civil authorities will call it, but these scientist will do their best to give those authorities the best information so that people can get out of harm’s way. All of this for the low, low price of $140 million. Such spending is like insurance and is worth about one fifth of one percent of the stimulus package. And compared to the investment of $125 billion investment in financial institutions late last year, it’s a relative bargain.
In typical political fashion the Republican Party wants to attack science. These are the same people who wanted to cut stem cell research regardless of the potential for understanding how such cells work. Stem cell research could theoretically lead to procedures that could lead to nerve regeneration, helping the blind to see, the paralyzed to walk, the deaf to hear, and the cure for a whole host of diseases. But who cares about that kind of thing. It’s just pork. Yes it’s nice that we have developed our understanding of hurricanes and such. But we really don’t need to understand much else of our world.
I will confess. Last night, when I saw President Barack Obama enter the chambers of the United States Congress, I had a sense of pride that I don’t often feel. I expected a great deal of applause and a great deal of bipartisanship. But I was overwhelmed by my emotions. I had to fight back tears of relief. It’s been a long time since I could fathom any sense of admiration for the man called POTUS. I had not realized how long it had been.
I watched the address on MSNBC. At the bottom of the television display there was a couple of meters that showed how people were reacting to the speech, one for the people who voted Republican, the other for people who voted for the Democrat in the general election for the President. They wavered up and down a little. But they were very comfortably in the favorable side of things. I watched as Ms. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Joe Biden looked down at Mr. Obama with an obvious sense of joyous pride plastered across their faces. I watched Michelle Obama look down at her husband with what looked like the most genuine admiration. A look that said, hey honey you did it! His glance back looked as if he was correcting her saying I think you mean we did it!
In the coming days I hope to do a bit more detailed analysis of Mr. Obama’s speech. Right now I have to say that generally speaking I received the speech favorably. If I found anything irritating was the compulsion of people to stand up and clap at anything that sounded favorable. There were a lot of heavenly things to hear but the devil is in the implementation of the details. There are a lot of people who clapped for the President with scowls on their faces and contempt in each smack of the hands as if it took every ounce of their strength to stand their and applaud.
After Mr. Obama gave his address, he was eventually followed by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal who many see as the number one contender for the Republican Party’s return to residency in the White House.
Mr. Jindal’s speech sounded like a campaign for political office where he talked about his personal history. He told the story of how his father had to work any job he could find to support his family when the future Governor was born. It was a great story of how personal perseverance can overcome certain obstacles. If the Republican Party is known for any single philosophy it is the belief that hard work can do anything. In fact, Mr. Jindal’s theme for the Republican Party’s response to Mr. Obama’s speech could be summed up as Americans can do anything.
Mr. Jindal went on and eventually got to another story about the efforts of Sheriff Harry Lee who was trying to get help to the people of Jefferson parish in the hours and days after hurricane Katrina. Mr. Lee had assembled volunteers to come with their boats to rescue people who were trapped by the floodwaters. The boats were ready to go into the maelstrom, but some bureaucrat showed up and told the sheriff that no one could go out unless they had proof of insurance and registration. The sheriff told the boaters to ignore the bureaucrats and go start rescuing people.
Mr. Jindal went on to explain his lesson in this experience. He went on to say that the strength of America is not found in our government but in the hearts and spirit of our citizens. It was this spirit that got Louisiana through the hurricanes and this spirit will get our nation through the storms we face today.
The irony of Mr. Jindal’s example would have been funny it if wasn’t so serious. Mr. Jindal wants to use the story of a sheriff doing what he could to get help to people despite the best efforts of bureaucrats to stick to rules and procedure instead of helping people. It bears a stark resemblance to the stimulus package where Republicans want to stop an effort to help jump start the economy until we have the best plan available. Mr. Jindal and the rest of the Republicans look remarkably like bureaucrats while Mr. Obama looks like a frustrated sheriff.
It was our Republican Party led government that had no problem stepping up to the plate to create an operating environment with more benefits to corporate America. When Americans were paying four dollars a gallon for gasoline, petrochemicals were earning a billion dollars a week thanks to the energy policies of a government led by two oil men. And when banks and financial institutions started to bite the dust it was a Republican led government that moved with relative lightening speed to shore up these companies coffers enough to allow them to keep the promise made to executives and handout billions of dollars in retention incentives, also known as bonuses.
Mr. Jindal continued to say that the Republicans went along with earmarks and big government spending in Washington. Went along with whom? It was the Republicans who controlled America’s purse strings with a complete government trifecta that included control of the oval office, the House of Representatives, and the Senate. Now that the average American needs help, Mr. Jindal thinks it’s prudent to say enough is enough.
As Mr. Jindal said Americans can do anything. I’d have to agree. This country can do anything when we put our collective mind to it. But instead of putting our collective mind into something that benefits the entire community, our focus is to put our minds to something that will generate profit for a few while the larger segment of the whole continues to do without.