Saturday, May 29, 2010

(Don't) Question Authority

Uber-conventional media hack Joe Klein asks "Who's To Blame For The Gulf Oil Spill?" What a stupid question. As if there is a list of people you could draw up and point to as being at fault as a result of some nefarious purpose. And Klein's answer is as dumb as his question: Gulf Oil Blame Game

The Republican Party seemed an especially fat target for Mother Earth's satiric vengeance. It was, after all, the party that had branded itself with the slogan "Drill, baby, drill" during the 2008 presidential campaign, a party that busily denied the mass of scientific evidence about global carbon pollution. Rush Limbaugh first speculated that the spill might have been the work of environmental terrorists but then settled on this remarkable formulation: "The ocean will take care of this on its own." The oil was "natural. It's as natural as the ocean water is." Thus Rush upended several millenniums of "oil and water" adages. Less foolish but no less feckless was Rand Paul — the Tea Party's Kentucky tribune and hero to high school libertarians everywhere — who dismissed the disaster with a blithe "Accidents happen." This echoed Donald Rumsfeld's famous line after the anarchic looting broke out in Baghdad: "Stuff happens." But this sort of stuff is more likely to happen when government refuses to plan and regulate for worst-case scenarios.

The more predictable Republican response to an event so inconvenient to the party's ideology was to blame Barack Obama. Sarah Palin accused Obama of being in bed with Big Oil — an accusation that, like oil itself, was rich and crude, given her own and her party's close ties to the petroleum industry. Sean Hannity called the spill "Obama's Katrina," but it was actually George W. Bush's second Katrina. Vice President Dick Cheney, fresh from his days at Halliburton, had presided over the weakening of drilling regulations, including the exclusion of remote-shut-off switches (commonly used in the North Sea oil fields), which might have prevented the disaster. The Bush Administration's petro-bias and antigovernment sensibility soiled the Minerals Management Service (MMS), the agency charged with regulating offshore drilling.

BushCheneyBurton, Sarah Palin, and Rush Limbaugh? It's the Unholy Trintity! Never mind that BushCheneyBurton have been out of office since Jan. 2009, Palin was a hard-ass on oil companies in Alaska, and Limbaugh has as much personal control over BP and the federal government as I do. Also, never mind that there's are exponential differences between drilling in shallow water versus drilling a mile down. This is not a rebuke of "Drill, Baby, Drill." If BP had been drilling in shallow water, that damned hole would have been plugged weeks ago.

How about trying this on for size, Joe? Maybe I can't assign blame as happily as you do, but I think this explanation comes closer to the truth:
The United States is the most technologically and socially advanced nation on the planet. For many decades, its energy needs have been supplied by fossil fuels. While alternatives exist, none can match the power and efficiency of a barrel of oil or a chunk of coal. The United States also has vast untapped reserves of oil, both on land and close to shore. BP undoubtedly flew/sailed over millions of barrels of untapped reserves in order to get to its doomed rig.

However, there are certain elements in US society that don't like the idea of actually seeing oil wells, so drilling has been pushed far off-shore, where oil companies drill a mile deep into the ocean to extract oil that they could just as easily reach on land. As disaster and error are as much a part of the human condition as tragedy and comedy, an accident is inevitable. It becomes doubly inevitable when you have corporate malfeasance as has been on display by BP, which was cavalier about the inherent dangers in deep water drilling and then had no plan in place for dealing with the inevitable accident.

The one entity that was supposed to have a plan in place was the federal government, but it didn't implement those plans. It didn't even have the oil booms it would need to keep oil off-shore. And, when a Republican governor asked the Army Corps of Engineers, which ought to have zero-credibility in any matters related to Louisiana, for permission to build sand berms, the Corps engaged in a deliberative environmental review, never mind that the berms were intended to prevent an even worse environmental disaster.

And, of course, the federal government has also claimed to itself increasingly exclusive power to regulate every aspect of the economy, yet has also been oddly passive in the face of what it admits is a disaster. Everyone wants to help, but no one seems to know what to do. The same political figures who rode "George Bush hates white people" into congressional majorities and then the White House are even slower and more flat-footed than Michael Brown, who at least was on the ground in Louisiana when Hurricane Katrina hit shore. Wisdom and leadership do not come standard issue when there is a (D) after your name, no matter how many Time columnists would like to believe otherwise.
An oil spill somewhere in the world is inevitable so long as we are drilling for the stuff. And, we will keep drilling for it, so long as the world is powered by oil. Seeing oil spills as "Mother Earth's satiric vengeance" may be good as a progressive rallying cry, but it doesn't address the fact that the elites who are at the helms of our government and our corporation seem to lack even the most basic problem-solving skills, although their blame-casting skills are well-honed.

11 men are dead and the Gulf of Mexico is filling with oil, and all anyone seems to want to do is either make fun of Sarah Palin, or castigate Barack Obama, as if that does a damn bit of difference. Disaster has been politicized to no good end.

1 comment:

  1. Psota, noted and linked at Saber Point.

    In order to attract more readers, I suggest making your blog post titles more amenable to Google search engines. Your title should reference the actual subject matter, e.g., "Drill Baby Drill?" or "the BP Oil Rig Disaster: Who's to Blame?"

    Your blog is excellent and I'd like to see it read more widely.