For fear that someone might want to get high by deliberately inhaling some potentially fatal fume, neither I nor any adult can in the United States today, without asking a retail clerk to unlock the case, pull my choice of many aerosol products from the shelf. Ostensibly, if the inhalant don't kill ya, the damage it will do to brain and liver cells will prompt you to wish for an early demise . . . if you have sufficient unpolluted brain cells to compose that wish.
But the way I feel this morning, after catching Republican senators argue vehemently against raising the current liability ceiling protecting oil drilling companies . . .
Well, I'll return to that in a moment.
How many, I wonder, are aware that, unless it can be proven in a case at law there was willful negligence or criminal intent by the oil driller, the sum they can be held to answer for is $75 million. Let me restate that, as many might misread it: $75 MILLION!!!
Not implying they actually do remember, only that those old enough to recall, might remember that Exxon -- back when it was sans Mobil -- assured the country and the world it would pay the full costs to cover the damage its oil tanker, the Valdez, caused when in March of 1989 it split a seam and doused Alaska's theretofore pristine Prince William Sound with brown goo. To this day, more than two decades after it had made much of its promises, the company is still fighting bucket and sponge some of the remaining claims.
Save for being totally wiped out on fumes, what in this life would lead any sentient human to think British Petroleum will respond differently? What, because they said they would? Listen, the company -- talking about BP now -- told a senate committee it would pay all "'legitimate' claims without delay." That adjective -- "legitimate" --is a loophole Bill Clinton, in his wildest not inhaling "It all depends on what the definition of 'is' is" dreams wouldn't dare to dream about.You don't have to be an Alan Dershowitz or Ken Starr to see the lucrative potential for the legal profession in defining what that might mean.
From Big Easy waitresses and waiters and restaurant cooks who have been or will be laid off because there are no tourists filling the restaurants where they work, to fishermen who can no longer -- and will not again in their lifetimes -- fish the waters that may never again in any of our lifetimes contain fish, all have a claim against BP that most the rest of us would see as extremely legitimate. But ah . . . you know, there's that one little matter of the $75 million cap that's in the law, the legal matter of what the legal definition of "legitimate" is, and how you can bet the family jewels that BP's attorneys will pound the table that anything beyond $75 million just isn't legitimate, though their eyes will well with crocodile tears how they wish they weren't so constrained, that they'd "like to be able to pay more . . . but the law set those limits." (Point of fact: Federal law doesn't say they cannot pay beyond $75 million, only that they cannot be forced to cough up a dime more.)
And that brings me back to those Republican senators.
Democrats have tried to introduce bills that would raise the damages cap to $10 BILLION. What Republicans have done is to preclude the bill's introduction via "unanimous consent," thereby enabling just a single senator to thwart any such effort. Two Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and James "climate change is a liberal hoax" Inhofe of Oklahoma, have shattered all conservative pretense to "the government should not be involved in any 'bailout' credibility" by objecting to the "unanimous consent" courtesy by which most senate work proceeds. But here's the moment that provoked the allusions I raised to getting high on aerosol can contents: The Republican argument against raising the cap hinges on the incomprehensible proposal that by insisting a company bear full liability for damages it causes, it will squeeze out of the drilling business smaller companies that would not be able to pay for the damages they caused, and would in fact thus reduce responsible behavior. And . . . (I'm sputtering here, looking, searching, scanning my brain's every corner for the dots I know the GOP wants me to connect) . . . by keeping out of the deep, offshore depths where very serious damage can occur those who cannot pay for the damages they might causeis bad policy . . . why?
Understand that the large companies, companies such as Exxon-Mobil and British Petroleum, self-insure. Others like Marathon and Phillips and Conoco obtain insurance. And Lloyds of London did confirm that raising the liability limits would force the smaller firms from the offshore OCS (Outer Continental Shelf)drilling business. But think . . . for just a moment . . . on the logic, or the lack of same, in the GOP argument, and what that says about both personal and corporate responsibility, and about the conservative opposition to federal government bailouts.
One way or another, and to one extent or another, someone is going to pay for the damages, many of which will never be fully recoverable. (Exactly how will any human enterprise or entity restore the ecological integrity of vast swaths of area that will have been despoiled for perhaps an entire geological epoch?) Forgetting for a second, which we must -- save for rhetorical purposes-- never do, about oil-soiled pelicans and oil-soaked marshes, there are those whose economic lives have been destroyed utterly, and those whose economic lives have been severely interrupted for an incalculable period. Individuals and individual businesses are going to go bankrupt. An entire region's already decimated economy will be further savaged, perhaps to the unrecoverable. The burden on state and local governments, already at an unburdenable state, will be further weighted down with unemployment and welfare claims it simply won't be able to pay. And if not demanding that those responsible for the economic and ecological devastation pay, then who? That's a question the answer to which is all too plain: US, as in all of us through the US government.
Those are truths that Republicans know just as well as do the rest of us. Just as they knew the federal government wasn't going to bail on the absolute necessity the nation's financial construct not be permitted to collapse like the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis . . . So, why do they make the -- highly offensive, extraordinarily disingenuous, completely hypocritical --arguments they do? Two reasons and two reasons only.
The first premier reason commenced at the formation of the party itself. It was to business; or rather to the elites that ran entire industries. In the midst of a Civil War that was devouring a nation that was in fact more youthful than Mr. Lincoln's "fourscore and seven years," the Lincoln administration agreed to fund the construction of a project, the continental railroad, that would make the Big Four of Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, Collis Huntington, and Charles Crocker, wealthy and more powerful than they or any other Americans could conceive.
The only things about Republican philosophy or sycophancy that have changed is the disproportionately increased measure of its devotion to the cause and to the beneficiaries of the cause. The blinded vision was that only those at the apex of business could and should legitimately run anything, that any form of government regulation was an unwarranted, illegitimate intrusion into whatever private enterprise might seek to do, and that the objective of the party was to eliminate where it could government intervention, and to diminish to irrelevancy the relevant government agencies where it could not.
Iconic of this effort was Bush administration's Monica Goodling, the graduate of Pat Robertson's uncredentialed Regent University Law School, who fired nine US attorneys as not being sufficiently "Bushies," of Bush's Treasury Secretary John Snow whose prior stint as head of CSX (Chessie Railroad, Chesapeake RR), sent the conglomerate's share values into the toilet, and who can forget FEMA's "Heckova job Brownie," Michael D. Brown.
None of the miasma-producers of the Bush years were aberrations. They were GOP mantra wrought to human flesh and bone. As Thomas Frank cites in his book, The Wrecking Crew, the US Chamber of Commerce demands "inefficiency in government," of "keeping government shorthanded and ineffective" so as to be unable to solve the problems it confronts, thus ever pushing forward the contracting out of services to the private sector model.
Or as E. J. Dionne, Jr. wrote in today's Washington Post, ". . . we have disempowered [sic] government and handed vast responsibilities over to a private sector that will never see protecting the public interest as its primary task." And of course there's Grover Norquist's unrelenting quest to shrink the government to where "it can be drowned in a bathtub."Folks, the folks, as well as every other creature in the Gulf, sure as hell is drowning. The sanitizing difficulty here, however, is there is no drain to run the brown goo down.
The second reason Republicans make the arguments they do is because they can: your dumb-as-dirt brother-in-law or Tea Bagging neighbor not only buy the bull-excreta, they volunteer to help shovel it. Once again, mull the absurdity of the idea that one can obtain corporate responsibility for the damages it causes bydemanding corporations not be required to pay for the damages when they occur.
Kinda makes you want to reach for that spray can, to take a whiff, doesn't it?