Gusher in the Gulf Has Officials DancingMay 19th, 2010

I caught parts of Joseph Lieberman’s senate committee hearing on the oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico. His witnesses were cabinet secretary Janet Napolitano and an emergency response officer from the Coast Guard. Napolitano offered no apology on behalf of the government for the calamity. Neither did Lieberman or his Republican counterpart, Susan Collins.

Lieberman, who referred repeatedly to the “Minerals and Mining Service,” doesn’t even know the name of the agency he’s supposed to be overseeing. It’s as if these people had deliberately turned their backs on the most dangerous enterprise in human history. Was this because they couldn’t bear to face the patent risk of catastrophe, or was it just that they’d sold out to rich folks? Today, they say they’re ready to do something, now that it’s too late.

In some cultures public officers would have resigned already and maybe made a discreet exit from this life. Here they survive somehow and prosper. Lieberman, who scans the distant eastern horizon endlessly for signs of danger, had his contemplations interrupted by this very local event. Now that the gusher has their attention, will Lieberman or Collins or Barack Obama grasp the manifest madness of for-profit offshore oil recovery?

Don’t hold your breath. We know that when people organize to make money, they’ll do just about anything to make the greatest possible amount of it. If they’re rich enough and powerful enough, they can and will risk all humanity for the right sum. That’s what the oil industry has done, with the connivance of the federal government. Oh, well.

So Lieberman and his witnesses perform an elaborate dance. He may now be prepared to question the agency whose name he does not know, but government dares not make a move that will disrupt the flow of oil, even if continuing the flow means the end of mankind. BP and the oil industry have Lieberman and the rest of us by the short hairs, just as too-big-to-fail bankers do. If they stop what they’re doing, the consumer economy, as we know it, skids to a halt. Some of us worry that that’s going to happen anyway, and so it seems we might be better off to know when and by what means than to wait for the capitulation.

If only there could be an interrogation of some kind, but that tactic is reserved for brown-skinned plotters, not white guys in suits. Lieberman could have had his committee use a lawyer who knows something about oil spills to ask the questions instead of grandstanding and getting nothing of value. We waited for somebody to ask what sort of government it is that would allow this to happen. If there is an activity in which the federal government should be fully immersed, it’s offshore drilling. Where was the notoriously corrupt agency that “regulates” offshore drilling? Napolitano’s not saying. Lieberman’s not saying.

Another question we might like to hear asked is what will happen to all that oil. ‘Crats don’t know. ‘Pubs don’t know. And they don’t want to know either. Lieberman’s committee unanimously facilitated the oil industry and its agents in government, including the president himself, in a joint effort to minimize the seriousness of the situation in the Gulf of Mexico.

You may have noticed that the media censored news of this event for weeks. Like the government, they took BP at its word. They could have dropped a video camera into the water or demanded precise estimates of the discharge from the government, but they didn’t. Instead, they interviewed tearful shrimpers. They didn’t suggest (and still don’t) that the government act unilaterally. They didn’t fault lax enforcement. They didn’t resurrect the scandals of a couple of years ago, when big oil was found to have corrupted the Minerals Management Service. They didn’t seem to want to take on a big, powerful company and frequent advertiser.

You can, like Lieberman, choose to be afraid of what probably won’t happen, like being killed by an Iranian, or what probably will: a catastrophe caused by corruption. The gusher in the Gulf is such an event, the worst ever, and it’s a direct result of the corruption of federal officials by the oil industry. Not just a few government officials. All of them. The states should band together, to the extent legally permissible, to foreclose the federal government. Take it into receivership. Two-thirds can call a constitutional convention to take away the powers of the reckless, greedy despots and courtesans who poisoned our waters and ruined our children’s future.