President Obama claims to have learned a lesson from the disastrous blowout of British Petroleum drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico: a “cozy relationship” between the agency that regulates oil drilling, the Minerals Management Service, and the oil industry, he charges, allowed companies to drill in vulnerable offshore areas without properly assessing the risks to the ocean and its ecology.
He’s only just figuring this out?
Hell, we already had an example of the problem of “cozy relations” between regulators and industry. The bank crisis that produced the current recession was the financial equivalent of a much bigger oil-well blowout than the Deepwater Horizon rig. It was a catastrophic blowout of the entire global financial system—and it was precipitated by an identical “cozy relationship” between US bank regulators and the banking industry that they were supposed to be regulating. That financial blowout has left almost one in five US workers without jobs now for two years, with no end in sight. And like the giant hidden plumes of oil spreading out in deep layers of the Gulf and heading for the Gulf Stream, it also spread to Europe and beyond, hobbling economies around the world.
But that’s only the beginning. If a “cozy relationship” between regulators and the industries they are supposed to be regulating is a bad thing when it comes to the oil industry, is this because the oil industry is particularly evil and corrupt or is it the principle of the thing? Of course not. As corrupt as the oil industry is, no one could say that industry is unique in its efforts to skirt rules, buy legislators, manipulate prices or poison the public.
So why is the president only talking about this one “cozy relationship”?
What about the drug industry and the Food and Drug Administration?
What about the airline industry and the Federal Aviation Administration?
What about the media and telecom industries and the Federal Communications Commission?
What about agribusiness and the Agriculture Department?
What about the National Transportation Safety Administration and Environmental Protection Industry and the auto industry?
What about the chemical industry (and the oil companies!) and the EPA?
What about the medical-industrial complex and the Department of Health and Human Services or the FDA or the Medicare administration?
What about the nuclear industry and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission?
What about military contractors and the Department of Defense? (sic)
The list of federal regulators that have “cozy relationships” with the industries they are supposed to be riding herd on goes on and on.
Clearly this president isn’t serious in condemning the “cozy relationship” between this one industry, the oil companies, and its regulator, the MMS, which he now says he wants to have broken up into two parts—a regulatory arm and a revenue-collection arm.
If he were, he’d be breaking up most of the federal agencies and departments into two parts—one a hard-nosed regulator to protect the public, the environment and the economy, and one, if needed, that might promote the activities and development of a particular industry.
He’s not even suggesting doing that, and in fact, has not suggested that there is any problem at all with the regulation of the rest of the nation’s industries, although all the available evidence is dramatically to the contrary: that the whole regulator apparatus of the United States government has been hijacked by corporate interests.
We’ve had the equivalent of huge wild-well gushers in most industries just in the past two years, including: massive outbreaks of contamination in the nation’s food supply, the bailiwick of the USDA; a wholesale failure of the auto industry to produce fuel-efficient vehicles, not to mention a deluge of safety problems (EPA and NTSA); monopoly practices and price gouging in the media/telecom industry (FCC); continuing concentration in the banking industry and a continuing refusal to address the bankruptcy crisis (Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Comptroller’s Office, Treasury Dept.); ongoing destruction of croplands and old-growth forests (Interior Department and Bureau of Land Management), and corrupt bidding processes for military weapons. And that’s hardly the complete list.
If the president were honest and not just a charlatan, and if he were half the scholar he is portrayed as, he would be saying that this thoroughly predictable (and predicted) disaster in the Gulf of Mexico was the last straw, and that he would begin a wholesale assault on the subversion of the nation’s industry regulation regime.
Instead, he stands exposed as just another political charlatan. His call for “reform” of the Minerals Management Service is simply an attempt by yet another slick politician, when faced by popular anger over one industry’s appalling behavior, to pretend to be doing something.
We can predict that it will all be for show, and that once the BP well is finally shut down and the national attention has shifted to the next sports or movie star scandal, the oil industry will be allowed to go back to business as usual, putting coastal wetlands and the Arctic Ocean further at risk of even greater despoliation, all so that American car companies can continue to crank out gas-guzzling SUVs and power plants can continue to pour massive quantities of carbon into the atmosphere unimpeded.
Dave Lindorff, a Philadelphia-area journalist, is the founder of the ThisCantBeHappening e-newspaper. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work, and that of fellow journalists John Grant, Linn Washington and Charles M. Young, is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net
ThisCantBeHappening.net is a new e-newspaper produced by a four-man news collective composed of journalists John Grant, Dave Lindorff, Linn Washington, and Charles M. Young. It will be featuring original articles on politics, economics, the environment, the courts, race issues, the wars and culture. Check it out at www.thiscantbehappening.net