Back in the good old days of the Soviet Union, America’s press would report sneeringly about the Russian press, and how it simply didn’t report any kinds of disasters – mining accidents, plane crashes, the everyday matter-of-fact problems of complex technological societies. And, to quote Pravda, the USSR’s paper of record, run by the government, which ran everything else too, it was all “true” – they simply didn’t report bad news since bad news pointed a finger right at themselves. So what you didn’t know about was better for them. This gave rise to the samizdat, a kind of underground news network, as well as literature.
Today, in an America which for the most part vociferously proclaims itself against “socialism” – even the rather limp not-really-socialism of our European friends – we have curiously mutated into the same kind of arrangement. Here, in our time, it is the corporations which own America and its government, fulfilling Mussolini’s definition of fascism. Naturally they also own the press, and other elements of the mass media, especially television. And so, while eager to report minor distractions which will garner a large quick audience, and hence advertising revenue – things like hoaxes of children being lofted skyward by balloons, or Los Angeles car-chases involving famous celebrities, or anything to do with the marital or medical or legal travails of the same celebs – the same media is highly averse to reporting such things as mining accidents, any dysfunctions caused by corporate actions, or most spectacularly at this moment, on the truly major catastrophe that has been unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico for the past month.
Were it not for the plain inability of British Petroleum and its allies in the oil business – which would include our great military-industrial complex, and its governmental faces in the form of the MMS, EPA and others – to actually hide from public view the vast lake of oil which has gushed forth from BP’s Deepwater Horizon well, it is clear we would hear almost nothing about this disaster. Just like in the good old USSR. The corporate “truth” is that BP is “doing everything it can to solve this problem.” It is saying that the accident has resulted in 5,000 barrels a day of oil being leaked into the Gulf. The real figures are more in the realm of 60,000 to 100,000 a day. Oh, small difference. A spokesman for BP asserted, “the Gulf will recuperate,” as if it were just a little minor incident.
Along with the river of oil, what comes leaking out via our samizdat, the internet, are the pieces of a perfectly typical example of the wonders of Free Market Capitalism, in which the highest value is to make as much money as you can, and buying the regulatory agencies governing a particular business is considered smart, enhancing “profits.” Hence British Petroleum-USA branch, chose, as it turns out, regulations having been loosened, to skip a few modestly costly standard procedures in installing their well, never mind that it was at a depth at which they’d not worked before, and surely the risks were higher, not lower. But they, and the sub-contractors they worked with, chose to by-pass some time-consuming and extra cost processes which would normally have been done in any other such deep-sea well. A few days prior to the accident some BP executives went out to the platform to celebrate the imminent on-line status of this well, a true gusher of money.
By short-changing the procedures (involving Halliburton, of Cheney-fame, and Transocean, a Houston-based company which claims to be Swiss), 11 people were killed instantly (murder) when a gas bubble rammed up uncontrolled through BP’s drilling pipe, and exploded, setting the platform on fire and consequently causing it to sink, breaking the oil-carrying pipeline to which it was connected. At the sea floor, one mile beneath the surface, at the cap of the well, the BOP malfunctioned, and an uncontrolled river of oil and gas began to rush out. BP had not planned for a worst-case scenario, much less any scenario except sitting back and collecting the money, and simply had, and as yet has, no means to stop the flow. Instead it first attempted, and continues to do so, to control the flow of public relations. It minimized the accident, minimized the amount of the alleged leakage, and was concerned primarily about its “image.” It said it was “doing everything it could.”
It costs hundreds of millions of dollars to drill a well a mile beneath the sea’s surface, and then plunging 12,000 feet further. The conditions are hostile, the pressures intense. It is done in effect long-distance, with robots. It is dangerous and risky work, akin to working in outer space. It is a major investment, as BP would be the first to tell you, to do so. But the rewards are, when successful, enormous. BP’s profits in only the 3rd quarter of last year were almost 5 billion dollars, and last year, with the global economic constriction, was a bad year.
The US Navy apparently has at hand several emergency tools to deal with deep-water crises,such as a nuclear submarine or something similar going down. They have several methods by which a very large heavy cement cover can be placed over the dangerous object. This might be applicable in this instance, but apparently BP declines such a solution. Capitalists that they are they don’t really want to lose their well and its profits. So rather than permanently blocking it they have tried now a sequence of failed “solutions,” ones which, had they functioned, would have allowed them to recoup the well. One month and a catastrophic amount of oil released into the Gulf and they are finally going to attempt a “top kill” which would block the well. In this case they are living out Marx’s maxim that if you give a capitalist a long enough rope they will hang themselves. BP, and with them, the entire oil industry, are now dangling at the end of a hang-man’s knot devised from their own greed.
And with them is perhaps the Obama administration, which in keeping with its behavior in bailing out Wall Street and the auto industry, in killing the single-payer option in its health-care reform, in maintaining Bush’s executive powers, and which has been all too accommodating to the word of British Petroleum in this past month – accepting totally false figures as to the scale of the oil flow, letting them take save-the-well measures that failed rather than demanding they immediately take whatever severe measures were needed to cap the well. As the rising swell of anger across the nation indicates, the Obama administration has been politically tone-deaf in all these cases, pussy-footing with the very powers which have produced the problems to begin with rather than coming down hard against them. Clearly those within the administration, from Geithner to Gates to Rahm Emanuel are corporate “centrists” which in any other country would place them firmly on the Right.
Already alienated from his “base” with his policies on Wall Street, Afghanistan, and the health-care reform, should Obama not take a hard stance with this latest corporate disaster, it will most likely be the last nail in his political coffin so far as the American liberal/left is concerned.
Corporate America’s behavior in the Deepwater Horizon blow-out has been, as in many other instances from Wall Street to Main Street, criminally negligent or utterly criminal in intent. Failure of the Federal Government to call them to account will signal the complete take-over of corporate criminality of the public commons of America. It is Obama’s let’s-not-look-back mantra of Rodney King’s Why-Can’t-We-All-Just-Get-Along song which is at fault: failure to bring to account those who broke the law, be it with the Patriot Act or with BP’s “economizing,” begets the situation in which the Nation now finds itself.
Getting up this morning, May 25 (Korea date) and scanning the NY Times “comments” to Krugman and Douthat, I see again I got censored. Here’s what I wrote that wasn’t evidently fit to print:
Well, Mr Obama better find his inner FDR and a lot more than that. His slo-mo response to the Gulf spill is not playing well to his supposed base (which among others included my vote), nor is the Afghan war, nor was the Bank bailout. He’s been licking the wrong boots. To use the newly popular word du jour, if he doesn’t make a fast PIVOT and make a few divots in the skulls of BP CEOs, Goldman Sachs honchos and all the rest, he can write himself off. The right may be angry. But increasingly so is the so-called Left here in America. And at Obama, whose Rodney King imitation has grown wearily tiresome. It may be his temperament to be calm and collected, but he better change that or he’ll be down for the count much too soon.
As a life-long radical (of a left persuasion) it is nice to see Mr Douthat admitting that purism of the Rand Paul kind can leave you out on a limb. I was never under any illusions in that regard, and running for political office never entered my mind. Basically Mr Douthat is saying that the likes of Mr Paul, or the Mad Hatters of the Tea-Party don’t bother to think things out. They want a big fence along the border but no police-state. Or they want a police-state for some, but not for them. Or they want a muscular military but no taxes. Etc. etc. I.e., they want inherent contradictions, which is what makes them so angry. The anger should though be directed where it belongs: at themselves for failing to do the most elementary bit of thinking and being honest. Medicaid is a governmental program. Really ! It’s damned “socialist” almost. Hurts, no?