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David Helvarg

David Helvarg

Posted: October 18, 2010 06:35 PM

Sex, Oil and Videotape

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So a guy goes into his neighborhood bar and in a dark booth in the back spots Senator Mary Landreiu of Louisiana with President Obama and some secret service agents. "Mr. President, Senator, what are you doing here?" he asks.

"The President's agreed to reopen deep water drilling in the Gulf, even though we haven't yet figured out what went wrong with that BP rig" Landreiu tells him.

"And the Senator's been telling me how her colleague David Vitter's favorite prostitute has been talking again and we might have to knock her off like we did the D.C. Madam," Obama confesses.

"But Mr. President, why on earth would you kill a prostitute?" the man asks, now totally shocked.

"See," Landreiu smiles at the President. "I told you he wouldn't care about our oil deal."

Talk about distractions, for the last week I've had two images of 26- and 21-inch pipes etched into my mind forever. One was the escape tube drilled through solid rock that gave new life to 33 Chilean miners who'd been trapped underground in the San Jose Cooper mine for over two months. The other is of that broken BP wellhead pipe that spewed oil and gas into the Gulf of Mexico for five months this spring and summer that we all watched live on an underwater camera, the most compellingly awful video since the towers fell on 9/11. Recently, the government put out an "oil budget" that said the oil's mostly gone away. Their own spill commission then put out a report saying the oil budget, like the federal budget, was full of deficits.

Of course. the biggest pipeline that continues spewing is the one we don't see that pumps money from the oil companies, who now make up the largest industrial combine in human history, into the pockets of local, state and federal politicians who despite some ideological differences share a common commitment to non-partisan greed.

There's also the daily grease of politics such as the campaign to kill California's climate change policy through Proposition 23 (backed by two Texas oil companies) that would forbid any funding for clean energy projects until there were three consecutive years in which the state could keep unemployment around five percent and fit five wind turbines on the head of a pin.

In the U.S. Senate they helped turn a climate bill into a coal subsidy bill and then killed it anyway, just because they could. In the New Yorker's October 11th issue in an article titled "As the World Burns" reporter Ryan Lizza explained the whole process in eviscerating detail, including the White House's lack of engagement. It reminded me of a 1998 story I did in Penthouse titled 'While the World Burns' about the Clinton/Gore administration's climate change failures except that publication had naked ladies instead of cartoons.

When I covered the Earth Summit in 1992 then Senator Al Gore complained that the (first) Bush Administration's pledge to reduce Carbon Dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000 wasn't ambitious enough to meet the threat posed by greenhouse gases. Today's failed Senate bill aimed at returning to 2000 levels by 2017. So how'd you like the summer? Pretty toasty, huh? 113 degrees in L.A. and Moscow smoked out by forest fires.

What was also striking about the Senate bill was how the pols felt compelled to win agreement from the oil, coal and nuclear industries before even considering moving forward on it. By that logic, of course, you couldn't pass an organized crime bill without approval from key stakeholders like the Mafia, Hell's Angels and cartel money launderers. Of course, OC can't compete with BP, Shell or Exxon when it comes to exerting a little muscle. Just ask Ken Saro-Wiwa of Nigeria. Unfortunately, you'll need a Ouija board.

And finally, there's this latest deal to reopen the Gulf of Mexico to deepwater drilling, months before the studies on what went wrong or what the impacts are have been completed but just weeks before the mid-term elections. Shill, baby, shill. This one smells worse than the petroleum stench that burned my sinuses when I was on and over the water near the BP eruption this summer and watched more than 100 dolphins and a whale trapped and dying in oil slicks that were toxic enough to kill any life form with the possible exception of Dick Cheney. And even he was probably shocked by the terrible waste of oil.

I ran into author/activist Bill McKibben the other day and congratulated him on his 350.org climate group's more than 7,000 worldwide protest actions on 10/10/10 (a date chosen I suspect because the petroleum lobby already claimed 6/6/6).

We agreed that given the present state of our dysfunctional political system, necessary energy policy will probably have to come from the bottom-up. And that's a thin reed of hope in an oil-covered swamp. See you at the Rally for Sanity.