BP's 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico disrupted business all along the coastline. Through the end of July, the oil giant paid more than $13 billion to compensate people, businesses and communities affected. The company is disputing some of those claims in court battles that could drag on for years.
But there's another group of people who lost money after the spill and never received compensation. That's because their claims are tied to a six-month government moratorium on drilling put in place after the spill.
Among them is Patrick Roy of Patterson, La. He owns Coastal Rental Equipment, which rented equipment to the offshore oil and gas industry.
"This has been my dream since I can remember as a child — wanting to own my own business," says Roy. After the spill, business was OK, but then the moratorium was enacted while the government overhauled offshore drilling regulations. That's when his business collapsed.
"It's unfortunate that I have to shut it down — give up a dream because of something that happened offshore that I had no control over," says Roy. He tried to file a claim with BP, like thousands of other business owners in the Gulf, but his did not qualify because the losses were tied to the moratorium.
In a statement to NPR, BP spokesman Geoff Morrell says, "BP should not be required to pay for alleged losses caused by the U.S. government's independent decisions to enact a drilling moratorium and to delay issuing drilling permits. BP had no role whatsoever in either decision."
With no customers and no money, Roy shut down his business. His equipment was sold to a competitor for a tenth of what he paid for it. Now he's back working for someone else and faces a lifetime of paying off debts because he doesn't want to declare bankruptcy.
"I have two beautiful little boys and my wife ended [up] leaving me because of all this," says Roy, "You know, business is one thing but losing family, that hurts,"
New Orleans attorney James Garner estimates there are several thousand claims like Roy's. His firm is representing people filing some of them. Garner says the drilling moratorium was a reasonable step for the government to take after the accident at BP's Macondo well, and he draws a direct line from the spill to losses businesses suffered during the moratorium.
"BP cannot get away from the argument that without the Macondo explosion the moratorium doesn't happen," says Garner.
Chapman University law professor John Eastman is one legal expert who doesn't think that argument will stand in court. He echoes the oil industry's argument that the government's drilling moratorium was unnecessary and it hurt the region economically.
"That was the government's action not a result of the spill. And we ought to hold our government accountable for that, not people who had no responsibility for it," says Eastman.
But those hurt by the drilling ban can't sue the government. Eastman suggests they encourage Congress to pass a compensation plan. Meantime, the question of whether BP must pay for moratorium claims goes before a federal court in New Orleans next summer, five years after the spill.
Some small businesses can't wait that long. "Frankly, big companies like BP depend on that," says Montré D. Carodine, professor at The University of Alabama School of Law. She says a lot of times companies with deep pockets will intentionally drag legal proceedings out to wear down claimants.
Back in Louisiana, Patrick Roy says he's still pursuing compensation from BP. But if it comes it'll be too late for his business. Currently he's trying to sell the building where his rental company was located, hoping he'll get enough to pay off some of his creditors.
In the mid-1950s, Alton Yates was preparing to graduate from high school. His mother had recently passed away, and his father was struggling to raise seven kids on his own.
"I knew that as soon as I finished high school I was going to have to help with taking care of the family," Yates tells his daughter, Toni, on a visit to StoryCorps in Jacksonville, Fla.
Most of the jobs available to him wouldn't pay well, so he decided to join the Air Force. They were looking for volunteers to help test the effects of space travel on the human body.
"I became one of the human guinea pigs who rode high speed rocket sleds," Yates says.
It may sound like fun, but it was not easy work by any means.
"When the sled took off, it was almost as if everything in your body was being forced out through your back. And then when it stopped, it was like driving an automobile at a hundred miles an hour and running into a stone wall," Yates tells his daughter.
He did this more than 65 times.
"Did your dad know what you were doing?" Toni asks.
"He didn't know initially, but Ebony magazine published an article that showed pictures of some of these rocket sleds that I had been riding. When my dad got a copy of that magazine, he took that thing everywhere he went," Alton says. "I think just to make my father proud of me was something that I always wanted to do."
Audio produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo and Jud Esty-Kendall.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chair of the House Budget Committee, used to have a habit of describing the American people in two categories. There were the "makers" - people paying taxes - and "takers" - people getting government benefits.
Today, Ryan says he was wrong, and that the country needs to overhaul how we think about poverty. In his new book, The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea, he offers ways to redirect federal spending to fighting poverty.
His plan would merge up to 11 existing benefit programs, allow local charities and welfare offices to customize aid and add measures to improve accountability. "With aid and support come some expectations," he says. "In far too many ways in our communities, we have isolated the poor, we have marginalized the poor, and we have to reintegrate people in our communities."
Ryan discussed how he's rethinking poverty, and his idea to create "Opportunity Grants" with NPR's Steve Inskeep.
On rethinking "makers" and "takers"
In my opinion it was sort of a callous generalization. This man, a Democrat from the Democratic tent at the county 4-H fair said 'So who are the takers? The veteran who comes back from war who gets health care? Or the senior who paid her taxes all these years and is on Medicare?'
And what I realized was it was disparaging people where I really didn't mean to do that.
On whether the GOP has been talking - or thinking - about poverty the wrong way
I'd say ... this isn't just Republicans. I think Republicans and Democrats have been thinking about it the wrong way. And the reason I say this is, look at the results. I do believe we need some fresh thinking on fighting poverty. That's why I put out in July a very comprehensive plan, not to suggest that I've got it all figured out but to get the conversation going, to advance it to a problem-solving mode. I spent a lot of time with Catholic Charities or Lutheran Social Services going around the country and meeting with various groups. People who are really on the front lines fighting poverty, soul-to-soul, eye-to-eye, person-to-person. And so it has caused me to rethink the federal role in all this. And the way I basically see it is the federal government should not be dictating the front lines in the war on poverty, it should be mining the supply lines. What the federal government really brings to the table are resources. What local communities bring are the human touch.
On creating "Opportunity Grants" idea to address poverty
What I propose with opportunity grants is to take 11 different programs, which don't really work in conjunction with one another, and bring them together so you combine 11 funding streams to go to the states or localities.
Now what this looks like at the end of the day, is a group - let's say it's Catholic Charities that does this very very well or your local welfare agency - will customize the aid to a person's needs. This lady may need daycare, and she may need job training. This guy over here, he may need addiction counseling and he may need a GED. And so you put together a plan. They have a case manager that's assigned to them, so it's one person, one-stop shopping. You don't have a person going around, signing up for different benefits with different government agencies with different cutoffs where none of this is harmonized and there's no responsibility or accountability involved.
The alternative is the status quo. And the status quo is everybody is treated the same, and these benefits are not actually moving people out of poverty.
On whether extra hurdles imply people in poverty aren't trying hard enough
What I'm implying is you have to have accountability. It's not a one way street. With aid and support come some expectations. And I think hard working tax payers have every right to expect that their money that is going to this person is going to go to a good effect, and that it's something that's not endless.
On criticism that the plan focuses too much on personal problems rather than larger economic issues
In one poverty plan, you're not going to take down the entire macroeconomic policy world. The argument I make in this book is that we have to go toward more of a culture of inclusion. And, specifically with respect to people who are fighting poverty, I would argue, inadvertently, that we have marginalized the poor in many ways.
On criticism that phrases he has used, such as "the culture of the inner city," are racist
That's just ridiculous. There wasn't race in those comments, and race had nothing to do with it. What I was trying to talk about is the culture of work, is work ethic. And to try and reinvigorate and reintegrate people in work. In far too many ways in our communities we have isolated the poor, we have marginalized the poor, and we have to reintegrate people in our communities.
On whether he has a shot at the presidency in 2016
I believe so, but I'm going to do all this consideration back in 2015, not right now. Right now, I want our party to be an ideas party.
New York City is launching the latest salvo in its never-ending war on rats.
City officials are ramping up efforts to teach regular New Yorkers how to make their streets, businesses and gardens less hospitable to rodents — in other words, to see their neighborhood the way a health inspector would.
When Caroline Bragdon, a rat expert with the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, walks through the East Village, she's not looking at the people or the storefronts. Her eyes point down, at the place where the sidewalk meets the buildings and the street. "If you look really carefully, you can even see their hairs," Bragdon says, pointing to a little hole in the sidewalk next to a sewer grate. "When we see something like this, what we say to each other is 'This catch basin is hot.' You know, 'This is ratty.' "
By that measure, this is one of the hottest neighborhoods in New York City. And it's one of the testing grounds for the city's new "rat reservoir pilot" — an initiative to try to reduce the rat population in neighborhoods with chronic infestations. Part of the plan is to hire extra exterminators and to seal up holes in sidewalks, parks and other public infrastructure. Rats can squeeze through the tiniest opening "in doors, in windows, in sidewalk curbs, in any building infrastructure," says Bragdon. "Rats only need a hole or a gap the size of a quarter to enter."
It's not enough just to poison the rats and collapse their burrows, Bragdon says. The city still does that, too. But she says the rats often come back — unless you can remove the conditions that attracted them in the first place.
"People complain about the city's rats coming in to their property," Bragdon says, "but if you don't pest-proof your doors, it's like leaving your door open."
So another part of the city's new initiative to educate regular New Yorkers on the finer points of rat behavior. It's a class known as the Rat Academy, a free, two-hour course on how to make your business, apartment building or community garden less attractive to rodents. The city holds Rat Academies periodically for landlords or anyone else who asks. Earlier this month, Bragdon taught a class for community gardeners in the East Village.
"We have a terrible rat infestation this year," says Brooke Demos, the co-president of a community garden on Avenue B. "The actual rats, the droppings, the dead rats, the decomposing rats. We smell the decomposing rats and have to find them underneath thick vegetation."
The rat problem is also on the upswing at another garden on Fifth Street. Longtime gardener Analee Sinclair thinks on the main problem is people who feed the pigeons. "So they'll throw a big pile of rice down somewhere in the garden or outside the garden," says Sinclair. "And that's saying free food for all rats, come and get it."
Seventy years ago, the great journalist Joseph Mitchell wrote in The New Yorker that "some authorities believe that in the five boroughs there is a rat for every human being." If anything, experts today say there are probably more.
Rats are basically nocturnal. On a recent tour of the East Village, Bragdon doesn't spot any lives ones — but she did see a dead rat next to a construction site on Houston Street.
"You have the bait station here, and the dead rat over there," Bragdon says. "At least we got one."
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recently talked about the militants associated with the Islamic State, the group also known as ISIL or ISIS. He made them sound 10 feet tall.
"ISIL is as sophisticated and well-funded as any group we have seen," he said. "They are beyond just a terrorist group. They marry ideology [and] a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess; they are tremendously well-funded. This is beyond anything we've seen."
Audrey Kurth Cronin, a professor at George Mason University and an expert on terrorism, is more sanguine. "When we talk about ISIS being completely unprecedented in all these dimensions, I think we're overstating the case a bit," she says. "It is definitely dangerous. But it's not the first group to hold territory. It's not the only group that has directly threatened or actually killed Americans.
"Terrorist attacks haven't been necessarily correlated with the amount of resources that a group is able to hold," she says. "And a lot of the Westerners they have been attracting, so far at least, have had their hands full fighting in Iraq and Syria."
More than 140 American passport holders are thought to have left the U.S. to join that fight in Syria. The fear is that some of them might return to the U.S. as terrorists. Already, at least three Americans have died on the battlefield there.
That's significant, Cronin says. If the group's intention is to send Westerners back home to attack, they don't seem to be reserving them for that kind of mission. Instead, establishing a Muslim state in Iraq and Syria appears to be a higher priority.
"There are some people who argue that the fact that ISIS has a home address and that ISIS wants to develop a caliphate makes them less able and less likely to be able to attack the United States," she says. "You know, when you think about the fact that they have a lot of resources, it's very expensive to govern."
Bruce Hoffman, the head of the security studies department at Georgetown University, says the group can't be dismissed as a local group with local goals.
"The question is, as we escalate, what will they do?" he says. "Will they escalate as well? And what will they see as escalation? Somewhere in their calculus has to be attacks against American interests somewhere."
Intelligence officials say that the group doesn't appear to have the infrastructure necessary to launch a large-scale attack in the U.S. More likely is that ISIS will see an opportunity — either in the Middle East or Europe — and take advantage.
An attack wouldn't need to be spectacular: think of the Boston Marathon bombing. A local teenager, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, has been charged in attack in which three people died and hundreds were injured. In the end, it took only a handful of crude bombs to bring the city of Boston to a virtual standstill for days.
Hoffman says ISIS is likely to choose a simple attack that's easier to pull off. "No terrorist group likes to fail," he says. "They hope to marshal as much of the factors as possible in their favor to ensure their success. And in that sense certainly ISIS casting its gaze on the United States and imminently attempting to carry out an attack, I think, definitely would be a stretch — or one hopes it would be a stretch."
President Obama told reporters at the White House yesterday that he had asked officials to prepare a range of U.S. military options for confronting ISIS, but he said the strategy was still in the planning stages. Cronin worries the U.S. is making ISIS into something that is bigger than it really is.
"To some extent, ISIS's next moves depend on how we react," she says. "And if we're talking about what an enormous threat they are and lionizing them, that ultimately, even if unintentionally, helps them."