Saturday, May 15, 2010

Gulf Oil Spill Proves the Idiocy of Unfettered Deregulation

Gulf Oil Spill Proves the Idiocy of Unfettered Deregulation

By Robert Scheer, Truthdig
Posted on May 12, 2010

This story first appeared on Truthdig.

“Drill, baby, drill!” Those were the words that Sarah Palin used to electrify the 2008 Republican National Convention. But while she popularized that environment-be-damned slogan, it had already defined the eight years of oil-drilling policy that prevailed during the presidency of George W. Bush.

Those red state voters of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana whose livelihood is now threatened by the idiocy of that unfettered deregulatory stance might well be having second thoughts. So, too, those Democratic Party opportunists who had prevailed on President Barack Obama to one-up the GOP by vastly increasing the scope of offshore drilling.

Not so Palin, who last week took to Twitter to defend such inanities, blaming the oil spill problem not on lax regulation but rather on those damn foreigners. Ignoring the fact that her target alien company, British Petroleum, had employed her own husband, Palin tweeted: “Gulf: learn from Alaska’s lesson w/foreign oil co’s: don’t naively trust—VERIFY.”

Great, except that it is beyond the power of any one state to adequately verify what is going on deep down offshore, and as Tuesday’s Senate testimony of top executives from the three companies implicated in this spill made clear, there is plenty of blame for the Brits to share with their good ol’ American counterparts. What could be more American than Dick Cheney’s former company, Halliburton, which constructed the well? Or Transocean, which operated the rig and is a homegrown product of the Southwestern energy industry?

But they are all three exactly the same: multinational corporations that couldn’t care less about the countries where their home offices happen to be based. Recall Halliburton’s controversial corporate relocation to Dubai three years ago and Transocean’s registration in the Cayman Islands. What they are loyal to is the bottom line and the executive bonuses that it portends. They fly the flag of a particular nation only for convenience, and it is their threat to shift their base of operations that is used to effectively thwart government regulation.

As her recent tweet confirms, Palin admits verification is necessary, and in a Facebook posting, she bases that on her state’s experience with the Exxon Valdez disaster. In the case of the Gulf oil spill, verification was the responsibility of the U.S. Department of Interior’s Mineral Management Service. That’s the same pathetic industry-whipped outfit whose personnel were literally in bed with representatives of various companies they were supposed to be regulating.

But far beyond such racy incentives to look the other way, the MMS, over the last decade of deregulation mania, had been encouraged to become a handmaiden of the industry rather than its supervisor in any meaningful sense of that term. That is the inescapable conclusion of a devastating Wall Street Journal report last week that concluded, “The small U.S agency that oversees offshore drilling doesn’t write or implement most safety regulations, having gradually shifted such responsibilities to the oil industry itself for more than a decade.”

That was a Republican-led decade in which regulation became a dirty word, and as with the financial meltdown, we are now witnessing, in the oil spill catastrophe, the dire consequences of radical free-market ideology run amok. If offshore drilling is required for our economic well-being, a questionable enough proposition given the inherent risks, it is a cause that will be set back dramatically by the current disaster.

The Obama administration, which was about to launch a vast expansion of such efforts, has had to pull back, and there are few in either party who will now question that a much more prudent course is in order. Hence the administration’s recent decision to revamp the MMS by splitting its regulator function from its other role of collecting tax revenue from the oil companies it was supposed to be regulating.

After noting that the safety record of U.S. offshore drilling “compares unfavorably” to that of other nations, the WSJ observed that the key focus of the MMS was not safety enforcement, but rather maximizing oil production from which the government took a share of the profits. Hopefully that built-in and glaring, but heretofore largely unnoticed, contradiction between the government as a regulator and as a partner in oil profits will now be ended.

So, too, the illusion, as with the radical deregulation of the financial industry, that unbridled corporate greed can also provide for the common good. Greed needs a timeout with adult supervision for these out-of-control conglomerates messing with every aspect of our lives. But that won’t happen until government regulation of multinational corporations is made respectable once again with adequately funded agencies pursuing an uncompromised public interest agenda.

Robert Scheer is Editor in Chief of Truthdig, where he publishes a weekly column, and author of a new book, The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America.

What If BP Were A Human Being?

By Bruce Dixon, Black Agenda Report
Posted on May 12, 2010, Printed on May 15, 2010

The third largest oil company in the world, BP was born in 1909 as the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, and was partly owned by the British government. Its headquarters offices are in the UK.. So if it were a flesh and blood person, far and away the wealthiest person on earth, and a British subject. Assuming that our imaginary human BP got into the oil business at the youthful age of say, 20, and stayed at it for just over a century, BP the human being would be closing in on his 121st birthday.

Damned few of us will see triple digits, and none of us that reach even our 60s and 70s retain the level of energy, or often of interest that we possessed only a couple decades before. A normal 120 year old human will have more than a few ailments and bodily systems on the brink of failure. But not our human BP. If BP were a person, it would be immensely, almost inconceivably wealthy AND perhaps immortal.

In the 1930s, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company became the Ango-Iranian Oil Company. In the 1970s it swallowed Standard Oil of Ohio, in the 1980s it merged with Amoco, formerly Standard Oil of Indiana, and in the 21st century it bought Arco and other oil companies. Along the way, BP has utilized all these and other brands, like Conoco, at its convenience. Most recently, BO the corporation has rebranded itself, declaing that BP now stood for "Beyond Petroleum."

Among flesh and blood humans, there are no precise analogs to what corporations do when they buy and sell each other. The acts of matrimony and cannibalism perhaps comes closest, with consenting or non-consenting spouses and/or victims, along with assumption of the spouse and/or victim's assets. Among humans, marriage is a reason to change one's name too. Another reason to change one's name is simply to escape one's old record and reputation. Among humans, that's called assuming an alias. So our immortal, immensely wealthy human BP may have been married several times, perhaps several times at once, could be a cannibal, albeit with sometimes willing victims, and operates under several aliases.

You don't have to look too long and hard to understand why a flesh and blood BP would need aliases. The objective of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company was to monopolize the rich oil resources of what is now Iran. Among the many illegal acts it committed toward that end was a £5,000 bribe to future British PM Winston Churchill back in 1923 to lobby for its interests A secular nationalist and democratically elected Iranian government kicked BP out in the early 1950s. BP turned its lobbying to Washington DC, and in 1953, helped persuade the U.S. to overthrow the Democratic Iranian government and installed its puppet, the Shah, popularly known as the Crowned Cannibal. The Shah, in the course of killing millions and stealing billions, invited BP back, and it stayed until 1979, when the Shah was overthrown.

In a century of doing business, BP has been implicated in bribery of public officials, grand theft, fomenting unjust wars, of murder, torture, plunder, environmental destruction, and money laundering in and between scores of countries on every continent except Antarctica. If BP were a person it would be a career criminal, a pathological liar and an international serial killer with a rap sheet several times the size of the Chicago Yellow Pages.

Given his (we're reasonably sure a human BP would not be a woman) global reach and proclivity to corrupt public officials around the world, and past record, BP the human being would be a flight risk. It would be indicted for murder, or at least negligent homicide in the deaths of the last eleven oil workers to die when its rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. U.S. law doesn't have death penalties for corporations, but the federal government, and most or all of the first wave of Gulf Coast states where the oil slick wil wash up do. We're talking Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

The assets of corporations are protected against lawsuits of all kinds. BP and other oil industry giants long ago paid for the insertion of provisions into the U.S. federal code that limit their liability in the case of oil spills to a mere $75 million dollars. But there are no limits on the liability that individually held wealth can occur. A human BP, even though 120 years old and immensely wealthy, could see all his assets around the world frozen, would be imprisoned without bail, and might be on trial for his life.

But of course the real BP is a corporation, and death penalties, like laws in general are for humans, not corporations.

In the single instance of the blown rig at Deepwater Horizon, BP had a deal with the U.S. federal government that excused it from paying any royalties, and subcontracted the building and operation of the rig to Halliburton, Cameron and other corporations. If they too were human beings like our hypothetical human BP, we could add "conspiracy to commit" and "conspiracy to conceal" in front of all the previously mentioned offenses, and the lot of them along with many of their favorite government officials could be rounded up.

When it suits their purposes, employees and mouthpieces of various transnational firms hasten to assure us that "corporations are people too." In a sense this is certainly true. Despite what some bible thumping fundamentalists will tell you, corporations were not ordained by the Almighty. Corporations are legal fictions. They are artificial shields under which we agree to allow a handful of extremely wealthy people to rule over the rest us, and plunder the planet and its people at will, just as centuries ago most of the humans who mattered agreed that kings, queens and nobly born, the "people of quality" had the god given right to ride roughshod over humanity.

Ultimately, people woke up, rose up, and revoked those privileges. How long will it be before we revoke the lawless privileges of corporations, before we limit their immunity, curtail their immortality, and rein in their immorality?. How long can we, and the planet on which we depend for life itself, wait? Is there every a line that cannot be crossed? Where is it? What will it take?

Bruce Dixon is editor of The Black Commentator.

What are oil dispersants?

By the CNN Wire Staff

Dispersants are a common product used to clean and control oil spills in the ocean
They are chemicals, but less harmful than the toxic oil, Coast Guard and EPA say
BP will try using dispersants underwater to break up oil gushing into Gulf of Mexico

(CNN) -- The U.S. Coast Guard and Environmental Protection Agency on Saturday authorized BP to use chemical dispersants underwater to help break up the oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico.

BP and other authorities have already used more than 436,000 gallons of dispersants on the ocean's surface, but the Coast Guard says using it underwater could be even more effective.

CNN takes a look at what dispersants are, how they work and what other effects they may have on humans and the environment.

What are dispersants?

Dispersants are a common product used to clean and control oil spills in the ocean.

They are special fluid chemicals that bond to the oil molecules and separate them from water molecules, thus breaking up the oil. The result is tiny oil droplets that can biodegrade more quickly than a mass of oil.

Though they are chemicals, they are generally less harmful than the highly toxic oil, the Coast Guard and EPA say.

How are dispersants used?

Dispersants are usually used on the surface of the ocean and distributed by aircraft flying over an oil spill. BP said this week it has made more than 120 such flights to spread dispersant in the Gulf of Mexico.

Using it underwater is a new idea, and BP says it hopes to inject the dispersants directly into the oil flow at a point close to the main leak on the seabed. The technique could help break up and disperse the oil before it reaches the surface, BP says.

Are dispersants harmful to the environment?

Experts say dispersants, while toxic, are much less toxic than oil. Using them on an oil spill produces the "lesser of two difficult environmental outcomes," says EPA administrator Lisa Jackson.

But some experts, including Ken Rosenberg of Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology, say dispersants still pose a problem for the environment.

"Almost certainly it's going to have major effects down in the water to the marine life and, ultimately, this is the same marine life on which the birds and animals on the surface are dependent," Rosenberg told CNN.

Scientists have warned that fish eggs and larvae, shrimp, coral and oysters are potentially most at risk from dispersants. The chemicals can also contaminate the skin of ocean-farmed fish if their cages are near where dispersants are used, according to the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation, a nonprofit group that offers technical guidance on cleaning up spills.

Do dispersants pose any harm to humans?

The dispersant being used by BP is made by the Nalco Holding Co. based in Naperville, Illinois. The company would not discuss the exact chemical makeup of the dispersant, Corexit 9500, in part because the formula is a trade secret.

Corexit 9500 comes with a warning that it can cause irritation to the eyes, skin and respiratory tract with prolonged contact. Toxicologists and environmental scientists say, however, that dispersants are unlikely to cause immediate harm to people.

Charlie Henry, scientific support coordinator with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has said the dispersants being used in the Gulf show "fairly low toxicity."

CNN's Caleb Hellerman contributed to this report.

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