Many news reports about the Gulf oil catastrophe refer to it as a “spill.” Wrong. A spill is a minor “oops” — one accidentally spills milk, for example, and from childhood, we’re taught the old aphorism: “Don’t cry over spilt milk.” What’s in the Gulf isn’t milk and it wasn’t spilt. The explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon well was the inevitable result of deliberate decisions made by avaricious corporate executives, laissez faire politicians and obsequious regulators.
As the ruinous Gulf oil blowout spreads onto land, over wildlife, across the ocean floor and into people’s lives, it raises a fundamental question for all of us Americans: Who the hell’s in charge here? What we’re witnessing is not merely a human and environmental horror, but also an appalling deterioration in our nation’s governance. Just as we saw in Wall Street’s devastating economic disaster and in Massey Energy’s murderous explosion inside its Upper Big Branch coal mine, the nastiness in the Gulf is baring an ugly truth that We the People must finally face: We are living under de facto corporate rule that has rendered our government impotent.
Thirty years of laissez-faire, ideological nonsense (pushed upon us with a vengeance in the past decade) has transformed government into a subsidiary of corporate power. Wall Street, Massey, BP and its partners — all were allowed to become their own “regulators” and officially encouraged to put their short-term profit interests over the public interest.
Let’s not forget that on April 2, barely two weeks before Deepwater Horizon blew and 11 people perished on the spot, the public’s No. 1 official, Barack Obama, trumpeted his support for more deepwater oil drilling, blithely regurgitating Big Oil’s big lie: “Oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills.” He and his advisors had not bothered to check the truth of that — they simply took the industry’s word. That’s not governing, it’s aiding and abetting profiteers, and it’s a pathetic performance.
But that was only the start of Washington’s oily confession that it has surrendered control to corporate arrogance and avarice. With an unprecedented volume of crude gushing from the well and the magnitude of the disaster multiplying geometrically by the day, who was in charge of coping with that? Not the White House, not the interior secretary, not the EPA. As we saw when Wall Street’s greed exploded our economy, the polluting scoundrels were left in charge!
While BP’s dapper CEO issued patently ridiculous statements (such as, “Everything we can see at the moment suggests that the overall environmental impact of this will be very, very modest.”), our government blindly went along with BP’s false assertion that only some 5,000 barrels a day were pouring from the well, when independent experts were shouting at the White House that the correct volume was up to 19 times that much.
Finally, almost a month after the blowout, Obama ordered a moratorium on drilling new offshore wells and on granting environmental waivers to the oil giants. Bravo, Mr. President! But ... his moratorium was simply ignored. Days after his order, oil companies were handed at least seven more drilling permits and five waivers.
Last week, with 63 percent of the public disapproving of his meek deference to BP, the president of the United States of America was reduced to convening a press conference to insist that he was “engaged” and, behind the scenes, was “monitoring” BP’s efforts.
Wow, monitoring! Excuse me, but who’s the president here? Obama should personally take charge — cancel all of his social and political events, convene an emergency response team of the best scientific minds in the world, announce a clear plan of clean-up actions, install all relevant Cabinet officials in a Gulf Coast command center to direct the actions, make daily reports on progress to the public, fire a mess of failed regulators and go to Congress with sweeping legislation to replace America’s oil dependency with a crash program of conservation and renewable energy sources.
Oh, he should also wring a few corporate necks. Instead of monitoring these criminals, prosecute them — and put the public back in charge of our government.
Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.