When I read about the Gulf oil spill, the 1984 Wendy’s restaurant chain commercial comes to mind: “Where’s the beef?” It showed actress Clara Peller examining a tiny hamburger on a giant bun wondering what she got for her money. 

The phrase quickly went viral. Former Vice President Walter Mondale used the line successfully to ridicule his Democratic primary opponent Sen. Gary Hart that year. (And you see how far it got him!)

Today, ads run daily on radio and television telling us how BP is spending millions to clean up the Gulf and make those people who lost their livelihoods to the spill whole again. But reality is a lot different than the sizzle of an ad campaign—beef or no beef. In all tragedies, such as the largest oil spill in history, there are winners and losers—many wondering what happened to the beef in their insurance claims; many wanting even more; and some so frustrated they give up and quit trying to find it.

The BP advertisements brag of how much money has been given out in claims, yet it is a tiny fraction of what is truly owed those who have been harmed. Ed Leefeldt’s story, which begins on page 32, examines the claims process in a largely cash economy along the coast and how fraudsters and blood-sucking attorneys all want a piece of the supposed $20 billion pie BP is setting up and turning over to the federal government to administer.

But how does a boat dealer in Houston convince the federal government that his sales are down along the Gulf shore when the spill doesn’t touch his shoreline?

How does the local strip club on the Gulf Coast pier explain that, since there are fewer fishermen now on the waterfront, more than just tips and G-strings are feeling the tug of a dying business? What about the hairstylist who loses all of those vacation clients? And the same for the restaurant owner looking at empty tables?

The public has fled the coast, fearing the spill will destroy their vacations. Whether those fears are justified isn’t the issue. They exist, and the public has turned away. Despite all of the bad publicity, BP is making a real effort to pay legitimate claims, even if the money flows about as quickly as the viscosity of your engine’s warm weather oil (that is not mixed with seawater, of course).

Now comes word that our government has been lying to us about the extent of the tragedy. The oil spill was much worse than federal officials were willing to first admit. Only after a federal investigation did it become clear that the spill was much worse than we were told. And where did all of that oil go? Is there anyone out there we can trust to give us a truthful answer? The government? A giant corporation that just wants to get its life back? When and where does the spin end?

The very rich, young and handsome President John Kennedy once said, “Life is not fair,” and it sure isn’t along the Gulf Coast. But is it corrupt? Does it play into the hands of the haves but not the have-nots? (Or vice versa?) As Ed explains, it’s all a lot more complicated than that.

So where is the beef with insurance claims? It appears now—unlike 26 years ago when Clara Peller was asking the question—just about everyone along the Gulf Coast has a big beef with BP and the federal government. Or did they just shrink the bun?