Clean-up effort is damaging the Gulf

Vast numbers of vehicles and volunteers, chemical dispersants and quick fixes are causing lasting da

The environmental damage of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been well documented. Every news report on the subject is accompanied by heart-rending images of pelicans and other native creatures struggling to move under the weight of the oil slick that suffocates them. And we are now familiar with the oil-drenched landscape of the Louisiana marshes in a way that we could never have been while they were still pristine.

But it emerges that the clean-up techniques being deployed to try to combat the effects of the oil could be causing more harm than good. Earlier on in the clean-up effort, doubts were raised about the toxic nature of the chemical agents being sprayed in the area, especially in the case of an untried deepwater technique in which chemical dispersants were released underwater.

Scientists and fishermen alike were concerned that the vast quantities of the chemical Corexit 9500 pumped to the seabed could only damage the sealife of the region, as well as consitutiting a health risk to the thousands of volunteers working to clear the oil from the area.

However, the Associated Press now reports that there are further problems being caused by the clean-up effort, which has assembled 5,600 vessels in the area. The reporter Cain Burdeau observes:

Hordes of helicopters, bulldozers, army trucks, ATVs, barges, dredges, airboats, workboats, clean-up crews, media, scientists and volunteers have descended on the beaches, blue waters and golden marshes of the Gulf Coast.

As well as the harmful level of traffic and the chemical dispersants, the report highlights the "untested sand islands" now being erected on the orders of the Louisiana state governor, Bobby Jindal. However, besides preventing the oil slicks from reaching the shore, these barriers can also "interrupt shrimp and fish migrations as well as tidal flows; the work can even undermine what little is left of Louisiana's gooey and sediment-layered shoreline", according to the report.

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has become more than a terrible ecological disaster; it is now a political problem of the highest magnitude. And it would seem that, in the rush to be seen to be "doing something", federal and state agencies alike are potentially causing severe long-term damage to the area.

Nonetheless, with the US midterm elections looming, short-term action, with its reassuring accompaniment of short-term political gain, remains the favoured course of action.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

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Four times Owen Smith has made sexist comments

The Labour MP for Pontypridd and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership rival has been accused of misogynist remarks. Again.

2016

Wanting to “smash” Theresa May “back on her heels”

During a speech at a campaign event, Owen Smith blithely deployed some aggressive imagery about attacking the new Prime Minister. In doing so, he included the tired sexist trope beloved of the right wing press about Theresa May’s shoes – her “kitten heels” have long been a fascination of certain tabloids:

“I’ll be honest with you, it pained me that we didn’t have the strength and the power and the vitality to smash her back on her heels and argue that these our values, these are our people, this is our language that they are seeking to steal.”

When called out on his comments by Sky’s Sophy Ridge, Smith doubled down:

“They love a bit of rhetoric, don’t they? We need a bit more robust rhetoric in our politics, I’m very much in favour of that. You’ll be getting that from me, and I absolutely stand by those comments. It’s rhetoric, of course. I don’t literally want to smash Theresa May back, just to be clear. I’m not advocating violence in any way, shape or form.”

Your mole dug around to see whether this is a common phrase, but all it could find was “set back on one’s heels”, which simply means to be shocked by something. Nothing to do with “smashing”, and anyway, Smith, or somebody on his team, should be aware that invoking May’s “heels” is lazy sexism at best, and calling on your party to “smash” a woman (particularly when you’ve been in trouble for comments about violence against women before – see below) is more than casual misogyny.

Arguing that misogyny in Labour didn’t exist before Jeremy Corbyn

Smith recently told BBC News that the party’s nastier side only appeared nine months ago:

“I think Jeremy should take a little more responsibility for what’s going on in the Labour party. After all, we didn’t have this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism in the Labour party before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.”

Luckily for Smith, he had never experienced misogyny in his party until the moment it became politically useful to him… Or perhaps, not being the prime target, he simply wasn’t paying enough attention before then?

2015

Telling Leanne Wood she was only invited on TV because of her “gender”

Before a general election TV debate for ITV Wales last year, Smith was caught on camera telling the Plaid Cymru leader that she only appeared on Question Time because she is a woman:

Wood: “Have you ever done Question Time, Owen?”

Smith: “Nope, they keep putting you on instead.”

Wood: “I think with party balance there’d be other people they’d be putting on instead of you, wouldn’t they, rather than me?”

Smith: “I think it helps. I think your gender helps as well.”

Wood: “Yeah.”

2010

Comparing the Lib Dems’ experience of coalition to domestic violence

In a tasteless analogy, Smith wrote this for WalesHome in the first year of the Tory/Lib Dem coalition:

“The Lib Dem dowry of a maybe-referendum on AV [the alternative vote system] will seem neither adequate reward nor sufficient defence when the Tories confess their taste for domestic violence on our schools, hospitals and welfare provision.

“Surely, the Liberals will file for divorce as soon as the bruises start to show through the make-up?”

But never fear! He did eventually issue a non-apology for his offensive comments, with the classic use of “if”:

“I apologise if anyone has been offended by the metaphorical reference in this article, which I will now be editing. The reference was in a phrase describing today's Tory and Liberal cuts to domestic spending on schools and welfare as metaphorical ‘domestic violence’.”

***

A one-off sexist gaffe is bad enough in a wannabe future Labour leader. But your mole sniffs a worrying pattern in this list that suggests Smith doesn’t have a huge amount of respect for women, when it comes to political rhetoric at least. And it won’t do him any electoral favours either – it makes his condemnation of Corbynite nastiness ring rather hollow.

I'm a mole, innit.