Friday, October 08, 2010

making sense of Macondo II

--climate happenings are at the data bank--

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The empirical data are clear: the Macondo well blowout, Deepwater Horizon explosion, oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, or whatever you call it, is the biggest environmental disaster in the history of the United States. It is also the largest marine oil spill in the history of human civilization.

And it wasn’t an accident. It was corruption. The explosion happened because a gas bubble got into the drill pipe, igniting and shooting up to the rig. The fiery bubble shot up because a blowup preventer (BOP) failed. The BOP failed because it hadn’t been fitted with an acoustically-activated trigger that would seal the pipe should the BOP ever go on the fritz. And the BOP hadn’t been fitted with this trigger because U.S. regulations didn’t require its installation – although common sense would have dictated it (backup safety devices are generally a good idea) and regulations elsewhere, say, for drilling in European waters, require it.

The Minerals Management Service (MRM) didn’t require it because this regulatory branch of the Department of the Interior was staffed by Bush-clones from the very companies they were tasked to regulate. The regulators-to-be received kickbacks and gifts from the to-be-regulated. The same guys were sometimes regulators and regulated: a revolving door linked agency and industry. Corporate lobbyists were appointed as agency directors, and ex-agency directors went to work for the oil companies. Licenses were up for grabs, rules were waived, corners were cut; it was drill baby drill, Wild West, and Republican oil craze all in one.

After the oil gushed from the well, MRM’s corruption caught federal attention. The Obama administration restructured and partly re-staffed the agency. Some people were let go, and the MMR was renamed as Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement.

And no one went to jail. The Democrats cannot take on the Republicans, since both parties are dialing for the same corporate dollars. Presumably for the same reason that no Republicans were tried in 2009 and 2010 for war crimes and environmental crimes committed under the Bush regime, all former Republican appointees at MRM were given a pass. Corruption is so endemic in America, and the multinationals-GOP alliance has become so in-your-face, that no one goes to prison for bribes now. (With good timing, P. Krugman wrote on another GOP-corporate fusion this week.)

I don't like calling for Americans to go to jail. The USA is already Prison Planet, as The Economist reported this summer under the subtitle, “Never in the civilized world have so many been locked up for so little.” The US prison population in state and federal prisons and local jails rose from 0.5 million inmates in 1980 to nearly 2.5 million inmates in 2009, even though the number of violent crimes did not rise at all. The US has 748 inmates per 100,000 population, more than any other country. Russia has 600, Brazil 240, Iran 220, Britain 150, China 130, Canada 120, France 95, Germany 80, and Japan 65. Most people are locked up for activities not considered deserving of punishment in enlightened societies, such as recreational drugs and commercial sex. Other inmates are locked up because exploding legal bills forced them to change their pleas to guilty.

In contrast to the countless non-criminals behind U.S. bars, and as the deregulation responsible for the Gulf oil spill illustrates, the Republican tools owned by predatory corporations do harm to society, economy, and environment. In a more progressive society, these Republicans would now rot in jail. In the American Disenlightenment, such clowns run free.

Seventy-four months left.


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