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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

ProPublica publishes major investigation on "spillionaires"

Posted By on Wed, Apr 13, 2011 at 3:17 PM

ProPublica's investigation tracking where the BP cleanup money was spent is out today. Summary: It's a well-reported, good read unless your name is Craig Taffaro.

And yet ... I've got big problems with it, starting with the first paragraph:

The oil spill that was once expected to bring economic ruin to the Gulf Coast appears to have delivered something entirely different: a gusher of money.

1. It wasn't a "spill." Tipping over a glass of water is a spill. A fire hydrant shooting into the air 24 hours a day for nearly five months isn't a "spill."

2. "Once expected to bring economic ruin"? It did bring economic ruin to a hell of a lot of people.

3. "A gusher of money"? Again, for whom? We've poured a "gusher of money" into Iraq (and continue to do so) — but who's getting it: defense contractors or soldiers?

More carping under the jump ... and why I hate, hate, hate the term "spillionaire."

Here's the real story, and it comes five paragraphs in, after all the talk of spillionaires and economic bounty and gushers of money:

Documents show that local companies with ties to insiders garnered lucrative cleanup contracts and then charged BP for every imaginable expense. The prime cleanup company, which had a history of bad debts and no oil-spill experience, submitted bills with little documentation or none at all. A subcontractor charged BP $15,400 per month to rent a generator that usually cost $1,500 a month. A company owned in part by the St. Bernard Parish sheriff charged more than $1 million a month for land it had been renting for less than $1,700 a month. Assignments for individual fishermen followed the same pattern, with insiders and supporters earning big checks.

So the well-connected and political insiders slurped up the gravy, while individual fishermen and other non-connected people got the shaft. This isn't new, of course; it's the shock doctrine at work and we've seen it post-9/11 and post-Katrina. And reporter Kim Barker does a fine job laying out the details of who got what and why.

But still: all this more granular detail comes after "spillionaires." We all know what "spillionaire" is (besides being a Brangelina-style media cutesyism) — it's a fulcrum to drive between the have-nots and the other have-nots. After Katrina and the federal levee failures, how many stories did we hear about "Katrinaires" who blew their FEMA money on whores or strip clubs or flat-panel TVs? And how quickly did it take the Blowhard-American sector of the media to decide that those cases represented the whole of Louisianans who (rightly) received federal aid?

Anyway: here come the spillionaires ...

Many fishermen fretted that businesses that were suffering from the recession, not the spill, were getting BP money. A hairdresser at Dorene's hair salon received $8,000 for her emergency claim. Waitresses at the World of Wings Café and Wingery received between $5,000 and $7,000; the restaurant's owner got $50,000. A valet car parker at a five-star hotel in New Orleans that was 98 percent full received $1,000.

Felesia Carter, a manager at St. Bernard's only off-track betting parlor, said she heard customers talking about how they were gambling away claims money. ...

Attached to the story are also some supporting documents, including an invoice for T-shirts and golf shirts for St. Bernard Parish and overtime pay for picking up dog food.

Yes, those things are probably wrong. Probably wrong, wrong, wrong. But who wants to bet we're going to be hearing about Dorene's hair salon and dog-food overtime and the St. Bernard OTB used as examples of how BP was the real victim in this cock-up?

So a hotel valet got $1,000 of BP money. That, too, is probably wrong. But it's also 1/16,000,000 of what BP has paid out, according to the numbers in the article. One 16-millionth. Am I expected to give a damn about 1/16,000,000 of the boodle — much less let it stand as an example of how we're all corrupt as hell down here in the Louisibanana Republic?

That's like focusing on the person who uses $20 of public assistance money to buy crack — while ignoring the fact that the Pentagon still can't account for $8,700,000,000 that was somehow "lost" in Iraq.

Yeah, there were (and are) inequities in the BP distribution of money, and ProPublica does a pretty good job of laying out cases against some very interesting suspects. I'm just afraid this article gives the media, America, whomever, the permission to focus on Dorene's hair salon and not the tens of thousands of Gulf Coast residents whose ability to make a living was taken from them and whose health may be at risk.

It's the one-year anniversary of the greatest environmental disaster in U.S. history, and I'm terribly afraid that — as so often happens — the victims are going to be painted as the villains. Impossible? Just ask the 9/11 widows or the Katrina "parasites". At least no one has blamed the people of Plaquemines yet. Oh, wait: yes, they have.

Meanwhile, articles like this one don't help.

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