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No, We Can't?
| Political Waves

"Accidents happen," said Kentucky primary winner Rand Paul, defending British Petroleum's ecological holocaust in the Gulf. Son of Libertarian Senator Ron Paul, Rand took the president to task for being too tough on BP and holding them accountable for their actions. Libertarian disdain of government interference in the private sector, given our troubled times, seems too radical to garner mainstream approval. Growing demand for government intervention in the Gulf makes Paul's position on property rights -- code words for business interests -- another voice for corporate extremism. Yes, accidents happen. And so does criminal neglect.

While this is not a crisis Obama expected, neither is it his Katrina. Katrina was localized, and while allowing New Orleans to drown in apathy, racism and cronyism was shocking and immoral, the Gulf spill is about more than a city. It's about a planetary ecosystem. That's not Katrina, that's Armageddon. This isn't Obama's Waterloo, but Corporate America's. The preventable disaster was no unforeseeable accident. It was a calculated risk, a treasure hunt with no plan of action should it go badly. Even now, BP exhibits not the slightest genuine remorse for what it has unleashed. The blowout was the result of reckless endangerment.

I suspected early on that the lethargic attempts to tame this spill had everything to do with continuing to exploit the blowout rather than eliminate it. Over a month later, a frustrated Obama has reportedly snapped, "Plug the damn hole!" Perhaps such a solution is naive. Perhaps BP is in over its head. It's glaringly apparent that BP has exhausted its best engineering ideas, created roadblocks to local solutions and become not just the source of this horror but its enabler. BP refuses to share information on the extent of the spill in order to limit its liability, even as Democrats struggle to crack Republican obstruction to raising the liability cap. Growing cries for the government to seize the operation, similar to those that demanded it take control of the big banks, may be naive as well. The government is too broken to attend to this emergency, due not only to lack of technological know-how, but also to generations of corporate control.

We take pride in our democratic principles in this nation. We jealously guard our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Rule of law defines us, and we wrangle over the concept passionately, as when Bush sidestepped law with FISA and the suspension of habeas corpus. Even as new laws were being passed in Congress, Dubya issued hundreds of signing statements that eliminated his need to follow them. It's no surprise that most politicians are lawyers; they need to be, practiced at snarling what is seldom simple to begin with into a tangle of hidden safety nets known only to themselves. It isn't rule of law that runs this nation but exceptions to laws, called loopholes.

Because these loopholes are a precarious place to put so much trust, big business secures its position by buying off politicians who have the power to close them. In recent decades, predatory capitalism built on politically protected exceptions to the law has ensnared the American economy. Year-by-year giant enterprises have grown more complex and smug, sidestepping regulations designed to control them. Exxon, BP and Halliburton, Goldman-Sachs, WellPoint, Monsanto and other giants are now too big to fail -- and too big to be held accountable, protected by legal loopholes and political cover.

After the BP explosion, the White House immediately suspended new drilling, ordering a federal review into offshore oil and gas safety issues, to be completed this week. Americans expected the curtailing of permits, but -- loophole -- that only applied to new projects. Old projects continue as planned, including proposed exploratory drilling in Alaska's fragile Chukchi Sea. Additionally, Obama established, by executive order, a bi-partisan committee to investigate the spill, warning that it must not impede "any ongoing or anticipated civil or criminal investigation." But it will take an outraged citizenry to demand such an outcome.

Bush and Cheney -- oilmen both -- replaced the Department of Justice policy of corporate criminal prosecution with a 'deferred prosecution agreement' that defaults to civil suits, imposing fines for transgressions rather than jail time. BP is one of the 'serial offenders' that took full advantage of Bush's DoJ policy to get out of serious legal jeopardy. In Corporate America, money controls and resolves everything.

Factor that in, as you wonder where BP's arrogance comes from. Last week, after BP sprayed more than 700,000 gallons of a Nalco dispersal agent, producing a deep toxic cloud that decimated sea life, the EPA gave the company 72 hours to suspend use of the Nalco agent or describe in detail why other dispersants fail to meet environmental standards. BP refused to stop using the Nalco dispersant or to describe other products on grounds that "releasing its full evaluation of alternatives would violate its legal right to keep confidential business information private." Loophole to the rescue, leaving Obama's agencies in search of another to counter it.

Establishment politics has become the stronghold of corporatism. This didn't happen overnight. While both parties are complicit, Reagan began the push to restore unfettered capitalism, and Democrats have been playing defense ever since. With each succeeding administration, ideology has been served by converting presidential appointments into 'burrowers' -- civil service employees. Bush was particularly adept at this, beginning conversions early in his tenure. Some of his ideologues remain in the Department of the Interior and the Minerals Management Service, handing out drilling permits and waiving environmental impact reviews.

Obama's Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, hired a former BP executive as his deputy, claiming he needed her expertise. Private industry and government quickly inbreed without independent regulatory agencies. Indeed, the Texas laboratory that the government hired to analyze the impact of the Gulf spill is also employed by BP. Is there such a thing as conflict of interest, anymore?

Over a year ago, the Inspector General's Office reported that the Department of Interior "has never had and currently operates without a scientific integrity policy.'' Salazar's fault? Obama's? Thanks to decades of conservative pressure, government regulations and disaster planning that might have prevented or mitigated the Gulf emergency were long since lost to privatization, leaving the crooks in charge of the crime scene.

When the Coast Guard removes reporters from beaches at BP's orders, it is because BP's authority over the clean-up process has been deemed necessary. Only big oil employees can fix what big oil breaks, much as only big bankers can remediate the rules they bent to shake the world market and empty our pockets. Meanwhile, the Congressional system puts its members on the block to be bought, and we have to wonder about the Judicial branch as well. With commerce as king and the Almighty Dollar as God, we got just what we paid for.

Obama's battles in the first eighteen months have revealed that conglomerates control us, privatization has left us vulnerable, and the rule of law has failed us. A perfect storm of corporate negligence has the entire nation's attention, and what comes next depends on the will of the people. The notion that what's good for the private sector is good for America is only valid until we decide it isn't. We're staring our dysfunction squarely in the eye now, a shift of public awareness we've been waiting for. "No, we can't" -- the mantra of the business class -- isn't an option we can live with anymore.

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