A Gusher of Light Sweet Terror / Updated
[Editor's note: Dan Casey a writer at the Roanoke Times linked to this piece yesterday and said some nice things while offering a bit of criticism. I updated this post by responding to him at the bottom of this page. Bob Higgins]
“We need to be realistic about operating in a mile of water”
Tony Hayward, the cherubic little weasel who serves as the front man for British Petroleum, BP, Beyond Pathetic or whatever they are calling their ‘brand’ this week, made the statement above, on camera to reporters while standing on an oil fouled Louisiana beach a couple of weeks ago.
Earlier that day I had a fairly heated argument with an elderly acquaintance who recently became enraptured by the ‘Teabaggers.’ This giddy political infatuation has had the gruesome effect of making him more of a pain in the ass than he was previously. At one point in the ‘discussion’ he asked me why BP was drilling at 5000 feet below the surface and I told him that most of the ‘easy oil’ has been used up and drilling is increasingly taking place in ever riskier and more technologically challenging sites.
His angry retort was ‘Bullshit, the tree huggers won’t let them drill in shallow water.’
I tried to point out that there are nearly 4000 active oil platforms in the Gulf at depths ranging from a few feet to more than two miles but it was like talking to a wall… or a Teabagger; I gave up and drank my beer.
“The nine most terrifying words in the English language are:
‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
Ronald Reagan used the line above at campaign stops from coast to coast during the 1980 election and all the yokels got a big kick out of it. By yokels I mean the thirty percent of the electorate that believes in free markets, creationism, drill baby drill and the Tooth Fairy.
Yokels, the people who appeared as ‘hard hats,’ the ‘silent majority’ who supported the war in Vietnam and Nixon’s ‘peace with honor,’ then morphed into anti government Reaganites, who stood and saluted when they heard the quote above. It was the same crowd, following the same ‘message’ of ‘get big gubament off our backs’ that became backers of the Cheney/Bush administration and today get all gooey eyed in the presence of knuckleheads like Sarah Palin, Glen Beck, Michelle Bachman and other purveyors of far right quackery.
You know them … yokels.
For more than thirty years I’ve watched the antics of this crowd of semi literate, anti social yahoos as they resisted every social program, every attempt by government to regulate the excesses of business, fought against civil rights and equal rights for women against every scientific step forward, and created a dangerously toxic atmosphere of nativist intolerance, jingoistic American exceptionalism and anti intellectualism that today clouds every corner of our public discourse from the halls of congress to the corner tavern.
After the OPEC blockade of 73-74 many people awoke to the realities and dangers of our near total dependence on oil and fossil fuels and turned their thoughts and efforts toward renewable energy solutions like solar, wind and geothermal. Visionaries of the time even spoke of tidal and wave energy as future sources; this was thirty five years ago.
Upon taking up residence in the White House Jimmy Carter installed solar panels on the roof, spoke out on behalf of a national energy policy, expanded the strategic petroleum reserve and began to lead the dialogue on America’s renewable energy future. I began to hope that we were finally boarding the right train.
And then the yokels, led by their noses by the oil driven and money hungry business community and an out of control defense establishment elected Ronald Reagan.
“Trees cause more pollution than automobiles,” declared Reagan; then, in a classic example of leading from the front, he had the solar panels removed from his roof. It was a clear statement that would set the tone for future energy policy and place control of the game in the hands of the energy moguls.
Control of the nation’s energy ‘policy’ by corporations solidified with the election of the Cheney/Bush administration, a time when the oiligarchs of ‘Cheney’s ‘Energy Task Force‘ were practically installed in offices down the hall from the Co-President from Halliburton.
And then along came al Qaeda.
A glance through the headlines of the last month or any equal period in the last decade should reveal an enemy far more sinister and dangerous than anyone fitting some stereotypical profile of the swarthy Middle Eastern zealot with bombs in his shoes, anthrax laced baby powder or incendiary skivvies.
No terrorist or terrorist organization has ever dreamed and certainly never succeeded in wreaking the financial havoc on this country, and the world at large, as have the bankers and brokers of our ‘business’ community. (For those old and unlucky enough to remember 1929; this was their second shot at our destruction) The harm caused by their carefully crafted schemes to enrich themselves at the expense of citizens, taxpayers, and their own shareholders and customers exceed by orders of magnitude anything conjured up by the most fanciful “terror movie of the week” screenwriter.
No terrorist in memory has managed to pull off the environmental damage and potential suffering of BP’s epic fouling of one of the world’s most productive, beautiful and important bodies of water in a toxic spill caused by a sordid combination of institutional negligence, criminal penny pinching, regulatory corruption, and felonious irresponsibility.
“But the terrorists killed almost 3000 of our citizens on 9/11,” you may say.
How many people died and are still dying due to Union Carbide’s crimes in Bhopal. How many died and are still dying in Nigeria, in Ecuador and dozens of other locations on nearly every continent due to the criminal behavior of large corporations.
The unholy collusion between insurance companies, their lobbyists, the US Chamber of Commerce and the resulting lack of health insurance for forty million of our people kills an estimated 45,000 people every year and I have seen no “War on Insurance Companies.”
Faisal Shahzad, the “wanna bomber” whose almost comically bungled attempt to plant a car bomb in Times Square fizzled in every way, occupied the bubble heads of cable news for weeks. In terms of actual destruction his caper was a big zilch but it completely upstaged the gushing toxic plume that even then was spreading inexorably through the Gulf of Mexico and now threatens the lives and livelihoods of tens of millions and the ecosystem of most of our southern coast.
I would like someone to spend a day on a research project for which there will be no reward but my profound gratitude:
- Take out a sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle creating two columns. Label one column ‘Terrorists’ and the other ‘Corporations.’
- Now using Google and the Internet and beginning with the year 1950 or 1984 (Bhopal) or any date of your choosing, list all the acts, events, ‘accidents’ and crimes historically attributed to corporations or terrorists and enter them on your paper in the appropriate column.
I’ve done this as a thought experiment (I’m too lazy and disorganized to write the list) and when I have, the same pattern always emerges. Large corporations are more dangerous, by far, than al Qaeda or any other non state terrorist groups that you can name… in the aggregate.
This brings to mind the often misquoted line from the bandit in the Huston/ Bogart classic ‘Treasure of the Sierra Madre: ”We don’t need no badges.’
Real life villains don’t always fit the visual bill as if sent over from the casting department. The real villains aren’t necessarily swarthy, shifty eyed guys wearing turbans or sombreros, swinging from monkey bars with AK’s in their teeth, draped with bandoleers of bullets. Most of the really, really bad guys look like Tony Hayward, like shitweasels with silk neckties, Gucci shoes and MBAs.
Terrorists, who needs them? Corporations are doing a better, far more efficient job of destroying the world, its economy, its ecology and its people than a bunch of ‘stinking’ terrorists.
If there’s a weakness in Bob’s thesis, it’s this: though they are organized around greed, corporations are the lifeblood of millions of productive workers and their families around the world. You can’t seriously argue the central intent of corporate action is to kill, poison and injure. Rather, those are unfortunate byproducts of sociopaths who climb up the corporate ladders. Terrorism isn’t a byproduct.
Thanks for your kind words. I read and respect your work and appreciate the praise.
However I need to address your last paragraph:
I didn’t make the claim that corporations are organized around greed but they are organized primarily in the interest of deriving profit from their enterprise so the difference may be slight. Nearly all business runs on the profit motive.
I don’t believe that I argued that the “central intent of corporate action is to kill, poison and injure but when the profit motive evolves into rampant “greed” and causes corporate inattention to public welfare and worker safety and the result is to “kill, poison and injure I’m not going to quibble about intent.
Intent in this sense may help prosecutors determine what criminal charges should be filed, or aid a judge and jury in passing sentence but intent means nothing to the 11 dead, the injured and the suffering creatures, both human and otherwise in the 10,000 square miles so far affected.
No, terrorism isn’t a byproduct. Terrorism is a tactic deliberately employed in war throughout history. Terrorism is a tactic that has been used against us by our enemies and by us against our enemies.
I didn’t claim that BP was a a terrorist corporation, I claimed that their insatiable thirst for profit at the expense of safety makes them and other corporations of their ilk far more dangerous then non state terrorists.
These corporations that have so much control over our elections and other public affairs that I believe them to be far more dangerous to our country and our world then any al Qaeda, Hamas, or Shining Path.
I won’t quibble with your last sentence however, anytime someone calls something I’ve written “passionate, well-crafted and fun to read,” it’s time to shut up and listen.