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Rebecca Sive Headshot

From BP Massacre to BP Massacred: Let's Move

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Hey, I know it's an easy hit right about now to wonder where the hustle is in President Obama's reaction to the BP Massacre. BP is massacring fish, birds, a culture, people's livelihoods: You name it. (Where is this President's Gulf War Room?).

And, yeah, I know it's also an easy hit to talk about Huey Long, when you're talking Louisiana history or politics, but here's the thing.

When Huey Long named himself the Kingfish (after an Amos and Andy character, the character who led the show's mythical Mystic Knights of the Sea!), he did so because he wanted to lead Louisiana's "ordinary" people; lead them, in order to make things right for them, to make things right for the very parents and grandparents of the Gulf Coast shrimpers and oystermen now losing their (mystic sea) world.

Who did the Kingfish battle first? Well, none other than a BP relative. That's right: The Kingfish took-on Standard Oil.

Why? Because the Kingfish saw the evil in this cabal from (its) git go. Yes, the Kingfish was loud, abrasive, and dictatorial, but he was also right--right for the people of Louisiana, and, it now appears, right for the rest of us Americans, too.

Later in his career, as Governor of Louisiana, the Kingfish taxed Standard Oil to "finance his free textbook program, provoking the wrath of Standard Oil, which launched an unsuccessful attempt to remove him from office."

Of course, it's true that, in all this, Huey Long desperately wanted to be somebody. But, so does Barack Obama. However, unlike Huey Long, our President hasn't taken on a moniker betraying his ambition.

Maybe he should, and, thereby, hold himself publicly accountable to doing what somebodies of the Kingfish kind do (for the rest of us).

Say, the President named himself the Kingfish, too; say, he became our knight (in shining armor) of the mystic (Gulf) seas. That would surely be wonderful, (and, for sure, I'm no believer in kings).

Here's what the Louisiana Kingfish would then recommend to the President Kingfish.

First: Stop focusing on esoteric policy proposals that haven't happened for a hundred years.

Second: Focus on policy proposals for today, for the needs of right now , for those "ordinary people" you're wont to talk about.

How: Well, if you really want to be a somebody, for the rest of us, keep taking on the same biggest somebody around I did--BP-- keep, keep taking them on--until you get things right for the rest of us, the rest of us who don't have a shot at Mt. Rushmore, but who should have a shot at a decent life in this America, on our Gulf Coast, in our South Dakota, wherever--right now--not in the far-off future when some Congress might pass an energy bill that you want to sign.

In his later years, Huey Long's Kingfish cry was: "share our wealth, every man a king."

Why? Well, because he believed that, in those Great Depression years, just like in these Great Recession years, capitalism had run amok, had mucked-up our American world.

Well, here we are 85 years later, and one of the biggest capitalist cabals on the face of the planet is mucking-up our American world, literally.

The Kingfish recognized that to "share our wealth, [make] every man [and woman] a king, first, we had to recognize the country-wide web of despair BP could (and had) woven.

Now, we're realizing this, as we learn about the closing of century-old Louisiana businesses and losses of everyday jobs, not to mention the destruction of the Gulf, due to the BP Massacre.

Here's how the Kingfish put it:

The same mill that grinds out the extra rich is the same mill that will grind out the extra poor, because, in order that the extra rich can become so affluent, they must necessarily take more of what ordinarily would belong to the average man.

In recent NBC coverage of the BP Massacre, Kindra Arnesen, the wife of a Gulf Coast shrimper who went on-camera to criticize BP, was asked why she was the only person willing to speak on-camera: Her response: Everyone else is afraid, because "You're messing with the king." (BP)

What if, instead of BP, the Kingfish of today's Louisiana were Barack Obama? Would she have said that? And would she, in 2010, be saying this at all, if the original Kingfish had prevailed during the Great Depression, so that every (American) man would now be a king (and every woman now a queen)--not just the rich folks running BP?

Here's what the Kingfish proposed be done back in the Depression day, to share the wealth.

· Cap personal fortunes at $50 million each (equivalent to about $750 million today)
· Limit annual income to one million dollars each (about $12 million today)
· Limit inheritances to five million dollars each (about $60 million today)
· Guarantee every family an annual income of $2,000 (or one-third the national average)
· Free college education and vocational training
· Old-age pensions for all persons over 60
· Veterans benefits and healthcare
· A 30 hour work week
· A four week vacation for every worker
· Greater regulation of commodity production to stabilize prices

I commend this proposal to you, Mr. President, as you dialogue with BP (king) Tony Hayward and his not-so-mystic knights. Then, Mr. President, contemplate the beheading of the king Ms. Arnesen named, beheading legally, if not literally. If there's a(nother) massacre, let it be of BP.

And Mr. President, contemplate this, too: Had the Kingfish's Share Our Wealth program been adopted, it might have precluded your BP Massacre. Why? Well, because, then, there just wouldn't have been enough money around to make it possible for BP to get its way today with our government and our environment--to skirt environmental laws; pay off public officials; fill jobs that only desperate people would take, not desperate for any reason other than their inability to find a less dangerous job that pays a decent wage.

The Louisiana Kingfish had his flaws, to be sure. They've been written about for years. And it's easy to see the Kingfish in the rhetorical stylings of James Carville, and to make fun of it all. But, as I said at the outset, that's not the thing.

The BP Massacre is the biggest environmental disaster America faces, in part because it is an outcome of the biggest economic disaster we've faced in over half a century--the accumulation of kingly wealth and power by a tiny group of people, while the vast majority of Americans eke out a (powerless) living as best they can, including going to work on oil rigs they know are life-threatening.

Mr. President, I repeat: Please, please keep the Share our Wealth proposal handy. It will be instructive as to what needs to be done next, so that the BP Massacre becomes BP Massacred.