Jason Coppola | Seas of Denial

“These are difficult times,” Tiokasin Ghosthorse of the Lakota Nation from Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, told me. “These are difficult times, and I consider it a great honor to be alive during these times.”

His words resonated for me as headlines across the news spectrum went from “Oil continues to spew into the Gulf of Mexico” to “Israeli raid kills peace activists in the Mediterranean.” To me, these events are not unrelated and may come to mark a tipping point of global reflection: a moment when the world community – with the exception of a powerful few and their loyal supporters – shakes off its concerted illusions and realize that our way of life just doesn’t make sense.

Those powerful few, including but not limited to the oligarchs at BP, Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his American supporters – including most of our corporate media – personify a way of thinking cut off from any natural relationship to a whole. Their statements are a product of our modern culture of greed and self-importance, which, having been “unregulated” for so many years now, needs to find ever more self-deceptive ways to rationalizing its behavior. Denial has become the means of sustaining an unsustainable system.

Gulf of Mexico

With respect to the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, Governor of the state of Mississippi Haley Barbour recently claimed:

“The truth is, we have had virtually no oil. If you were on the Mississippi Gulf coast anytime in the last 48 days you didn’t see any oil at all. We have had a few tar balls but we have had tar balls every year, as a natural product of the Gulf of Mexico. 250,000 to 750,000 barrels of oil seep into the Gulf of Mexico through the floor every year. So, tar balls are no big deal. In fact, I read that Pensacola or the Florida beaches when they have tar balls yesterday didn’t even close. They just sent people out to pick them up and throw them in the bag…

“The biggest negative impact for us has been the news coverage… There has been no distinction between Grand Isle and Venice and all the places in Louisiana that we feel so terrible for that have had oil washing up on them. But to the average viewer [of] this show thinks that the whole coast from Florida to Texas is ankle-deep in oil. And of course, it’s very, very bad for our tourist season. That is the real economic damage. Our first closure of fisheries in Mississippi waters came just earlier this week after about 45 days. So it may be hard for the viewer to understand, but the worst thing for us has been how our tourist season has been hurt by the misperception of what is going on down here. The Mississippi gulf coast is beautiful. As I tell people, the coast is clear. Come on down!”

As Barbour spoke, the world was seeing photos (which BP executives were trying to censor) from East Grand Terre Island on the Louisiana Gulf Coast of endangered Brown Pelicans – their bodies covered in thick brown oil – dying what must be a slow and very painful death.

Afterward, the Biloxi Sun Herald reported, “Oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster hit Mississippi shores for the first time Tuesday, covering about two miles of Petit Bois Island’s beach. A larger glob crept close to Dauphin Island in Alabama, and the edge of the main slick has moved to within about 35 miles of Mississippi, about half the distance it was last week… Gov. Haley Barbour said the ‘caramel-colored’ strand of oil that hit Petit Bois was about a yard wide and two miles long and had escaped detection because it was floating a couple of feet below the surface.”

The denial of the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history was startling, even for someone as deep into Big Oil money as Barbour. According to climateprogress.org, “Barbour has long been at the intersection of special interest lobbying, elections, and campaign cash. He represents cash and carry politics at its worst.” His gubernatorial campaigns have received healthy contributions from the oil, gas and utility industries, certainly not unique for a man in his position. His own firm garnered millions in profits thanks to these energy industries.

Again, he is not unique. We all benefit from a system in which we in the US – 5% of the world’s population – consume 25% of the world’s energy resources. Do we acknowledge this position of privilege?

As for BP, “out of sight-out of mind” seems to be the preferred method for sustaining confusion. Not only has BP been trying to hide the photos of dead marine life, they have gone so far to purchase top internet search engine words, which redirect people from reality-based news on the disaster to BP’s own website where BP explains what a great job they are doing.

No one today can possibly have any idea just how devastating the consequences of this leak will be, as most of the oil and methane gas still drifts – poisoning micro-organisms and depleting the oxygen levels which sustain ocean life – deep under the sea. Though, like our own denial, it’s certainly creeping toward us.

The Mediterranean

At about the same time as Barbour was making his comments, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, with respect to the deadly assault on the Free Gaza Movement’s humanitarian aid flotilla, “And we do let civilian goods get into Gaza…There’s no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Each week an average of 10,000 tons of goods enter Gaza. There’s no shortage of food. There’s no shortage of medicine. There’s no shortage of other goods. So our naval personnel had no choice but to board these vessels.”

As Netanyahu spoke, the civilian population of Gaza (65 percent of whom are under 18 years of age) were living under grim conditions – although photos of these conditions are difficult to come by because one of the goods Israel restricts Gaza’s access to is journalists. According to the American Near East Relief Association (ANERA), newborns in Gaza are at risk of being poisoned by Gazan water, 95 percent of which fails World Health Organization standards. Children under five years old have an almost 50/50 chance of anemia. And every day in Gaza, 75 million liters of untreated sewerage are pumped into the Mediterranean Sea because piping and spare parts are not permitted through the blockade.

The denial of the human suffering of one and a half million people living in one of the most densely populated places on earth is also startling, particularly as it goes on with the support of the US government and money from every US tax payer.

That taxpayer is kept in a blissful trance by a corporate media just too eager to broadcast the Israeli government line, as FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting) reports:

“But there is a larger issue here. What exactly is the humanitarian crisis that the flotilla was actually addressing? There is none. No one is starving in Gaza. The Gazans have been supplied with food and social services by the U.N. for 60 years in part with American tax money.”

—Charles Krauthammer, Fox News (5/31/10)

“I just had an expert on, a congressman, Mike Pence, from Indiana, who is an expert on this issue as well. He said, look it, there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. People are eating in Gaza. There is medical aid. You are talking about paper, crayons and olive trees, and placing basically your volunteers in a potential situation where they could be hurt or even killed.”

—CNN’s Drew Griffin, interviewing Free Gaza’s Greta Berlin (6/2/10)

“If you walk down Gaza City’s main thoroughfare – Salah al-Din Street – grocery stores are stocked wall-to-wall with everything from fresh Israeli yogurts and hummus to Cocoa Puffs smuggled in from Egypt. Pharmacies look as well-supplied as a typical Rite Aid in the United States… Gazans readily admit they are not going hungry.”

—Janine Zacharia, Washington Post news article (6/3/10)

Tiokasin Ghosthorse is the host of the radio program “First Voices Indigenous Radio.” Ghosthorse – as a direct descendent of victims of the Wounded Knee massacre, no stranger to American denial – had more to say: “This is the hardest time to live, but it is also the greatest honor to be alive now, and to be allowed to see this time. There is no other time like now. We should be thankful, for creation did not make weak spirits to live during this time. The old ones say ‘this is the time when the strongest spirits will live through and those who are empty shells, those who have lost the connection will not survive.’ We have become masters of survival -we will survive- it is our prophecy to do so.”

And having spent time on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, I am only beginning to understand the word ‘survive.’

So as more human waste is pumped into the Mediterranean Sea, and oil continues to gush into the Gulf of Mexico, it seems clearer by the barrel that it is time to stop following those who keep asking us to look away, so that we don’t all become ’empty shells.’