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"Americans learn only from catastrophes and not from experience."  

Recent headline? A remark heard this past week? No. This little nugget of truth was stated by Theodore Roosevelt about the time he was appointed to Assistant Secretary of the Navy by President McKinley in 1897.

With all the speechifying of late referencing the founding fathers and the Constitution, the lamenting of its abuse by this or that radical wing, I was working on a more 'historical' article attempting to learn just where and when we seemed to change course into this path of corruption.  Recent events, however, compelled me to move that particular investigation to the back burner for a future column.  

For those who were listening, we received our first rumblings of an energy crisis back in the Seventies, forty years ago. States clamored to enforce 55mph speed limits to force conservation and lines to hoard gasoline in five gallon cans were commonplace. Fear was at high pitch. With time, the oil prices leveled out, things got back to a semblance of normalcy and we soon forgot. Campaigns to increase speed limits brought us back to the 70mph mark. Then, came 1989.

On March 24, 1989, on a remote stretch of the Alaskan coast, Prince William Sound, the huge oil tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef dumping 250,000 barrels of crude oil into the sea. Covering 1,300 square miles of ocean waters, it was said to be the worst man-made environmental disaster in history. TV screens world-wide paraded pictures of oil-soaked wildlife and hundreds of volunteers attempting to clean them up. Untold numbers were lost. Environmental groups screamed and government promised full attention to the energy problem. But Alaska was an unknown coast for the most part. Other than fisherman, the ordinary man on the street 2000 miles away soon forgot and turned their attention to other things. The nation had more pressing problems.  

Twenty years later, Exxon Valdez has a competitor, a competitor feared to surpass the numbers of the Valdez disaster. This time, eleven workman lost their lives. And this time, it's closer to home and the impacts will be felt by millions of people as well as the untold wildlife. The Gulf of Mexico borders a good share of five states in the southeast. The Louisiana coast, projected to be hardest hit, is still struggling to recover from Katrina nearly five years later. The already depressed economy of Mississippi and Alabama braces itself for another blow as spring shrimp farms and oyster beds are at peril. Texas watches its shores for signs of oil. The over-fished waters of the Gulf now stand to be severely decimated of marine life, a primary food source. Florida's world-famous and hurricane-battered Gulfcoast beaches are again threatened as yet another hurricane season begins June 1st. That is critical for a state whose largest industry is tourism and seafood. Not to mention critical citrus loss due to record freezes this past winter. And, still the Naysayers argue over the safety of off-shore drilling, the need for alternative energy and the legitimacy of Global Warming.

At the same time up in the mountains of West Virginia, two more coal miners lost their lives in a mine cave in to add to the tragedy of a couple of weeks prior where thirty were killed, or later died, in a mine explosion caused by less than efficient purging of gasses and dust by the ventilation systems. The corporations who own these mines have a history of safety violations, and yet, still they operate. The power plants need the coal for energy demand? Is this part of the price to pay for insatiable energy consumption? Most of these men were family men with small children. Wouldn't you say their 'sacrifice' should have more impact than our being soothed for our demand for comfort and entertainment? Why is it so difficult to move people to 'sacrifice' a little at home? Is it because we are not personally touched by these tragedies? Now, charges abound about suspicion of bribery of the government inspectors. Is there no limit what folks in high places will do for money?

At the onset of this recent disaster in the Gulf, British Petroleum assured the people they had the situation under control and containment efforts were already in progress. They would accept total responsibility for the cost of the mess. Now, we know that they lied from the get-go. Instead of the 42,000 gallons spewing continuously out of the deep water well, we learn that the figure is closer to 210,000. We've learned that, in fact, they don't have the means to immediately cap the well. It's a mile under the surface and was installed without the automatic shut-off mechanism demanded by other countries participating in off-shore deep water drilling in the western hemisphere. Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina all enforce this regulation. British Petroleum, however, wasn't required to do so in our off shore waters. The mechanism is very expensive and BP chose not to dip into their profits. (6 Billion dollars garnered in just the first quarter of this year.) Why don't we have this regulation? The "Drill, Baby, Drill" crowd insists that accidents aren't possible with today's technology. Regulation is a dirty word that means government take over! Personally, I'd bet my reputation that some Congresspersons have had their pockets lined nicely to block any such regulation, just as they are doing now to stall Wall Street bank regulations.

The bigger question that goes unanswered here is why in forty years has nothing, absolutely nothing, been done to head off this crisis? Why are continual warnings and actions tagged with labels like the 'radical environmentalists' or the 'green machine' antics? Why do I carry around the label, "Tree Hugger" as if I were some lunatic fanatic as I watch my state being buried in asphalt?

Money! Government spending! Deficits and Debts! Those are the hues and cries from the people and the politicians. Taxes rising out of sight is the threat even though we pay lower taxes than any other modern democracy. We pay the least for fuel and consume the most. We build our empire and spend trillions on war to protect our oil. We have the largest military and the largest defense budget in the world, but we aren't allowed to use the military to defend and protect our OWN borders when immigration abuse and illegal drugs pour in daily. No, we build a chain link fence and spend millions doing it. Why? Because we don't want to work for wages less than the corporations are willing to pay when they can just as easily outsource overseas, and the people don't want to pay a decent wage to those who tend to their services. Then, we harass and impugn those who are perfectly willing to come in and do it for peanuts. A peanut, to them, is better than a stone. They can't depend on their government for an entitlement check.

We complain about the cost of an energy policy, but already there are eighteen government agencies on the job investigating and supervising  the mess in the Gulf. There will be millions of dollars in subsidies paid to the thousands of 'watermen' who will lose their product and likely their businesses. The tax base will shrink yet, again. Food prices will soar, again. Oil prices will soar, again. Energy costs will soar, again. On and on until we spend MORE money fixing the messes than what it would have cost to fix the problem over forty years. Had we attended to it with haste after the Exxon Valdez, there would already be thousands of jobs in the resulting fields! I guess we can all cry into our iPhones and the progress toys that we seem to want more.

Yet, still, nothing is done to stop it. Don't you wonder why? If the immigrants are 'stealing' all the American jobs, why doesn't someone in our illustrious Houses of Congress DO something about fixing immigration? Why, in forty years, have we not come up with an alternative energy source? Smaller nations than we are decades ahead of us. Yet, we are told we are the powerful world leader? Why? Same with healthcare or any other plethora of problems that NEVER get solved. WHY? Every politician campaigning over the last fifty years could almost exchange speeches and they'd still be relevant because nothing EVER really changes. Am I the only one demanding to know why? Or do we all know why and continue to turn our head in another direction? It's a sad state of affairs.

I'm going to close with another quote from Teddy Roosevelt. Perhaps, it goes back a lot further than the forty years we can relate to. Upon his graduation from Harvard in 1880, Roosevelt stated, "It's a dreadful misfortune for a man interested in a political position to grow to feel that his whole livelihood and whole happiness depend on his staying in office.  Such a feeling prevents him from being of real service to the people while in office, and always puts him under the heaviest strain of pressure to barter his convictions for the sake of holding that office as a career. A man should have another occupation to which he can resort if at any time he is thrown out of office, or will risk being thrown out unless he is willing to stay at a cost to his conscience. There is also the lack of continuous activity on the part of the good citizens themselves. A vote is like a rifle. Its usefulness depends upon the character of the user. The mere possession of the vote will no more benefit men and women not sufficiently knowledgeable on how to use it than the possession of rifles will turn untrained recruits into soldiers.”

Approaching a time of more constant political rhetoric in an election year, the disasters continuing to happen around us, the state of affairs, I truly hope that everyone takes time to really think and study before they cast a ballot. The average span of an Empire led me to some wonderful sites in my research and it varies. But averages fall between 200 and 500 years. All great and powerful empires have eventually met their demise. An obsession with power is a dreadful disease to affect a nation. The taking for granted of a planet and its resources can prove lethal. I hope I was able to plant a seed of thought food.  

Susan Haley

          

 **Susan Haley is the published author of three books, several articles on networking, an award-winning poet, contract copy editor, and book reviewer for AME Marketing. She is a columnist for The Florida Writer the official magazine of the Florida Writers Association, and serves as Facilitator for the Sarasota County Chapter. She is a frequent contributor to the Fox and Quill and the Infinite Writer e-zines and the political columnist for Fabulously 40 and Beyond out of San Diego.  

The audio version of her novel Rainy Day People was awarded in the 2008 Indie Excellence National Book Awards. She also contributes a variety of editorials and excerpts of her work to various newsletters and local papers, and is Founder and Designer of a Spiritual website dedicated to Nature. www.sucarha.com Her third book, Amber Returns to Maine and Other Songs of the Soul was released in March 2010. All are available on Amazon.com.

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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Lois Stern & Patty Kovacs wrote May 1, 2010
    • Susan, you never cease to amaze me! Your grasp of facts, attention to detail set in memory, and willingness to voice your passions - critiques be darned - make you a refreshing, thoughtful voice for troubled times.

      Bless you!

      Lois W. Stern



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Mztracy wrote May 2, 2010
    • Susan gr8 blog!!  

      Annie, I could not agree with you more. estatic



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Veggie wrote May 2, 2010
    • heart



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Midnightmom wrote May 2, 2010
    • I remember the first oil crisis of the seventies. I had just turned 16 and was so excited to become a driver. Then the price went up, Ha! - 38 cents a gallon! And, the rationing, and the realization of pollution. Remembering back then the city of Denver, Colorado was more polluted then than it is now. They are at least doing something , if not enough, in controlling pollution.  

      Who is going to give up their car first? Can you imagine travelling to work without your car? Or, how about a vacation?  

      From what you wrote, the most horrible hindsight is the lack of enforcing the automatic shut-off valve. I can’t even comprehend what could have been saved if this one simple thing would have been taken care of. What is the cost going to be now? It is always more costly to fix something than it is to do it right the first time. Worse, there is going to be no fixing the life and environment that this oil spill will ruin.

      Our borders; is there any one of our leaders, including the president, that is going to do anything about it? Arizona is trying. We all know that it is the corporations who get the cheap labor that will rule the action on this one. It all comes down to money - even the latest oil spill. I wonder if this time they will learn prevention is cheaper?

      If Americans don’t start manufacturing their own products there is not going to be enough money for everyone to survive. The service industry and the tech industry cannot support everyone or everything we need. And, if we ever do get manufacturing back we will get more pollution back, too. When I think about it, and realize pollution was worse in the 70’s where I live, I think it has a lot to do with environmental regulation, but also all of the manufacturing that has moved overseas. Look at China? Doesn’t that give us a little hindsight?



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