Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A little old-fashioned outrage

My plan was to have this post be about the recent SCOTUS ruling in US v. Comstock, which found that the government does in fact have the right to hold indefinitely “sexually dangerous” inmates already in custody, even after their sentences have expired: the so-called Adam Walsh Act. I found it interesting that, based on what I know now, at least, I would have dissented from this decision, and that my colleagues in this opposition, apart from the four sex offenders who brought the case, would have been Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, and whoever wrote the editorial on the case for the Wall Street Journal. (I should note that my argument would have been different than any expressed by any of these folks.) I’m not sure which of those potential allies scares me the most, although I’m pretty sure it’s not the guys who did their time for possession of child pornography but weren’t released because some political appointee Attorney General was trying to look “tough on crime.”

But a headline caught my eye yesterday, and I recognized the fact that I have written a half-dozen blog pieces in the last five weeks, precisely none of them about what may be the most significant single event not merely of the year, but in decades. True, part of the reason is that the story is huge and ever-changing, so it’s hard to wrap one’s head around. But ultimately I do need to talk about what is the most significant story of the last month—yes, more so than Rand Paul’s “libertarian Tourettes” (to borrow a phrase from an old friend), more so than the demise of the widower of a minor movie star (that’s news? really?), more so even than the much-hyped finale of a television show I never watched. What is transpiring in the Gulf of Mexico right now could literally change the world permanently. And we concentrate on what? Fergie’s selling access to her ex? Yes, indeed… WHERE IS THE OUTRAGE?.

Where is the outrage that BP sold this project to the authorities based on assurances that something like this wouldn’t happen, or—in the extremely unlikely event that it did—that it would be promptly contained?

Where is the outrage that no one in the US government expressed a little skepticism at BP’s grandiose claims?

Where is the outrage that the Mineral Management Service people who were supposed to be ensuring safety at oil rigs were in fact getting all manner of gifts—everything from crawfish boils to bowl game tickets to jobs in the industry—from the people they were supposed to be monitoring? We’ll leave aside the sex, the snorting coke off toaster ovens, etc., that seems to have characterized the MMS’s relationship with the oil industry during the Bush administration. (Nice apophasis, huh?) There’s even a report that the new Inspector General’s report to be released later this week will reveal that “Federal regulators responsible for oversight of drilling in the Gulf of Mexico allowed industry officials several years ago to fill in their own inspection reports in pencil—and then turned them over to the regulators, who traced over them in pen before submitting the reports to the agency.” Wow.

Where is the outrage that, when there was a squabble between BP and Transocean representatives shortly before the disaster, BP’s desire for speed and their “we’re paying the bills” argument trumped Transocean’s safer approach?

Where is the outrage that minions of Transocean allegedly rounded up survivors, and wouldn’t allow them to talk to their families, even to assure them of their survival, until they’d signed waivers proclaiming themselves unhurt and Transocean not responsible. (Interesting that “not responsible” and “irresponsible” don’t mean the same thing here… I think we can agree that Transocean’s actions tended more to the latter than to the former.) Come to think of it, screw the outrage, where the hell are the indictments for kidnapping?

Where is the outrage that Texas Governor Rick Perry’s initial response wasn’t to express sympathy to the families of the eleven men killed in the explosion, but to describe the events as an “act of God,” to make excuses for the corporations involved, and indeed to encourage more drilling operations? This was a completely man-made disaster, an “accident” in the sense that someone who runs a red light in his car creates an “accident,” but what happened in the Gulf was completely preventable. Come to think of it, though, the only God Perry actually worships is his Lord and Master, the Big Corporation… and if it happens to be a big oil company, so much the better. So, you see, in Perry’s world, this really was an Act of God.

Where is the outrage that a week after the explosion, we were being assured not merely by BP but by the government that the spill was in fact much less serious than initially feared—when in fact it was at least 20 times worse than it was being portrayed?

Where is the outrage that, according to prominent scientists, NOAA responded very slowly, failed to conduct adequate scientific analysis of the damage, and allowed BP to consistently and brazenly under-represent the significance of the ongoing spill?

Where is the outrage that BP actively sought to thwart scientists from determining the true severity of the leak?

Where is the outrage that BP had already repeatedly violated numerous environmental laws, actually being convicted of two felonies, yet was allowed to continue to do business as usual?

Where is the outrage that Transocean is trying to invoke some obscure 159-year-old law to try to wriggle out of its responsibilities in repairing the damage caused by this disaster.

Where is the outrage that the representatives of BP, Transocean and Halliburton all pointed their fingers at each other at Congressional hearings instead of taking any responsibility for what happened? Where are the firings or the falling-on-swords of the people who made the risky choices that led to the disaster? And where were the Congressional interrogators asking the most basic of questions, like, “so, you all disagree about whose fault this was, but you’re all agreed that if someone hadn’t prioritized greed and convenience over safety, you wouldn’t have caused billions of dollars of short-term damage and possibly permanently destroyed an entire ecosystem? ‘Yes’ or ‘no,’ please.”? (N.B.: exemption to Senator Bernie Sanders on this one… sometimes I wish the family homestead in New Hampshire was about eight miles further west…)

Where is the outrage that the likes of Senator Lisa Murkowski—who would have a legitimate chance of being named Stupidest Political Figure in the State most places, just not in Alaska—want to limit BP’s liability to $75 million, roughly three days’ profit. Where is the outrage, in particular, of the Tea Party at the $10+ billion expense tag Sen. Murkowski would present the American taxpayer for someone else’s screw-up?

Where is the outrage at the utter audacity that even as there was (and is) a gusher on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, BP representatives were trying to convince the Canadian government that their existing laws—requiring relief wells to be drilled essentially simultaneously with exploratory wells—are too restrictive and too expensive. The pessimists—some might say “realists”—are now suggesting that it may not be until a relief well is drilled that the situation in the Gulf has even a chance to get better instead of worse. This is a process which could take weeks or even months. While we’re on the subject, where is the outrage that we don’t have that law?

Where is the outrage that the dispersant BP insists on using—despite directives from the EPA—is both less effective and more toxic than alternatives. Anybody wanna bet it’s maybe a couple bucks cheaper?

Where is the outrage that the Obama administration claims to have issued a moratorium on drilling, but continues to pass out environmental waivers like they were comp tickets to a bad musical? Do they need a vocabulary lesson? Cuz that’s not what “moratorium” means, guys. Sarah Palin’s complaint that Obama is too linked to the oil companies is remarkably disingenuous, considering the source. Still, while oil company largess tends to be visited disproportionately on Republicans, the nearly $900,000 they funneled into the Obama campaign’s coffers represents a fair amount of money in my neighborhood. The difference between the two parties with respect to Big Oil is that the Republicans are completely bought and paid for, and the Democrats would just like to be.

Interestingly, when I posted the “Where’s the outrage” link on my Facebook page yesterday, the responses from three of my recent students were swift, engaged, and specific: comments on previous oil spills around the world, an analysis of the Gulf spill’s effects on oxygen levels, a clear articulation of the real severity of what is currently happening. Oh, yes, and this: “I think people forgot how to get upset after Vietnam.” Of course, coming off a semester of teaching a topics course on the Vietnam War and the American Theatre, I’ve been thinking that for a while. The Catonsville 9 calmly waited for the police to arrive so that they could be arrested: indeed, their arrest and conviction was part of their plan. The Kent State travesty wouldn’t have happened, at least in the way it did, had not a group of students been willing to go face-to-face with armed National Guardsmen. 668 protesters were arrested and over 1000 were injured, just in Chicago the week of the 1968 Democratic Convention. It would be difficult to get that many people today to take a shortened lunch break for a cause. Because it isn’t cool? Maybe. Because Kids These Days are spoiled, entitled, egocentric? Maybe. Because people just don’t care as much? Maybe.

But I know two things:
1). When They Make Me Tsar, BP CEO Tony Hayward will make good on his pledge to “clean every drop of oil off the shore.” With his tongue.
2). Where is the outrage? Right here.

1 comment:

manjushri924 said...

And now there's this. In the words of a commenter, "how stupid do they think we are?"