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Tomgram: Nick Turse, BP and the Pentagon's Dirty Little Secret

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[Note to TomDispatch Readers:Atop my last post I urged readers to pre-order my new book, The American Way of War: How Bush's Wars Became Obama's , due out in a few days, and I made an offer as well: anyone willing to contribute$75 or more to TomDispatch to keep this site chugging along would get a signed copy of the book with my deepest thanks. Let me admit to my amazement that so many were so generous! A deep bow to those of you who have already contributed, and a small warning -- be patient. A box of my books will soon be in the mail to me, but you may have to wait a couple of weeks to get your books. In the meantime, so many thanks! Tom]

It couldn't be worse, could it? In the Gulf, BP now claims to be retrieving 15,000 barrels of oil a day from the busted pipe 5,000 feet down. That's three times the total amount of oil it claimed, bare weeks ago, was coming out of that pipe. A government panel of experts now suggests that the real figure could be up to 60,000 barrels or 2.5 million gallons a day, the equivalent of an Exxon Valdez spill every four days -- and some independent experts think the figure could actually be closer to 100,000 barrels a day.

In the meantime, we just learned from the Los Angeles Times that -- go figure -- the "primary responsibility for safety and other inspections" on the oil rig that blew in the Gulf "rested not with the U.S. government but with the Republic of the Marshall Islands," and that those impoverished islands had outsourced their responsibilities to private companies. Go BP! We also learned that the relief wells sure to staunch the flow of oil by "early August" could take far longer, fail, or even make matters significantly worse; that BP cut every corner in the book to save money when drilling its well; and, oh, that evidently even the heavens are angry at the oil giant, since on Tuesday a lightning strike put its sole drill/retrieval ship in the Gulf out of action for hours, leaving all that oil pouring into the water unimpeded. However bad the bad news is, each new dawn it only seems to get worse, as does the "collateral damage," whether to pelicans or the Gulf's beaches and wetlands.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, that war equivalent of BP's Gulf disaster, things are similarly trending downward at a startling pace as the news from there grows ever grimmer. The model American offensive in the southern town of Marja, declared a "success" in early May, has faltered badly and has been labeled by Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal a "bleeding ulcer"; the "government in a box" that he claimed the U.S. would merrily roll out after U.S. and Afghan troops decisively shoved the Taliban aside, is still in absentia, and the Taliban remain all too present; Afghan President Hamid Karzai now openly indicates that he thinks the Americans can't win in his country and he's planning accordingly; the much ballyhooed American "offensive" in Afghanistan's second largest city, Kandahar, has once again been delayed; corruption increases; American and NATO death tolls grow worse by the month as support for the war in the U.S. sinks; the "collateral damage" only increases; and this week, in a piece in the New York Times, we were told things are so bad that a serious drawdown of forces in 2011 is considered unlikely. Go figure (again)!

And oh, the heavens are evidently not so happy with our Afghan operations either, since Centcom commander General David Petraeus fainted while under what one commentator called "withering" questioning about drawdown schedules for U.S. troops in a Senate hearing room Tuesday.

To make matters more complicated, as Nick Turse,TomDispatch regular and author of The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, points out, America's two distant disasters are not only out of control and seemingly unstaunchable, but more intimately connected than we might imagine. The American disaster in Afghanistan runs, in significant part, on BP-produced fuel, and government payments for that fuel are bolstering BP while it lives through its purgatory in the Gulf.

In addition, lest the American people learn the absolute worst, BP, evidently working hand-in-hand with the government, has put great effort into avoiding unnecessarily ugly photos, potentially negative stories, and unwanted information from the Gulf, by adopting methods of news control pioneered by the Pentagon in Iraq and Afghanistan. These include the "embedding" of reporters with government minders on public beaches, in the water, and in the air. It has even evidently become the norm in the Gulf now for officials to speak of reporters covering the scene as "media embeds." In this way do our disparate disasters merge in corporate and government hands. Tom

Kick Ass or Buy Gas?
How Taxpayers Are Subsidizing BP's Disaster Through the Pentagon
By Nick Turse

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Residents of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama,and Florida are livid with BP in the wake of the massive, never-ending oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico -- and Barack Obama says they ought to be. But there's one aspect of the BP story that most of those angry residents of the Gulf states aren't aware of. And the president hasn't had a thing to say about it.

Even as the tar balls hit Gulf beaches, their tax dollars are subsidizing BP and so far, President Obama has not shown the slightest indication that he plans to stop their flow into BP coffers, despite the recent call of Public Citizen, a watchdog group, to end the nation's business dealings with company. In fact, the Department of Defense, which has a longstanding, multi-billion dollar business relationship with BP, tells TomDispatch that it has no plans to sever current business ties or curtail future contracts with the oil giant.

Talking Tough

In recent weeks, against a news backdrop of oil-soaked pelicans, President Obama has been talking tough. "We've ordered BP to pay economic injury claims, and we will make sure they deliver," he announced on June 1st. Days later, he rebuked the oil giant for considering plans to pay out large dividends to shareholders and for spending tens of millions of dollars on an advertising campaign to repair the company's tarnished image.

"My understanding is that BP had contracted for $50 million worth of TV advertising to manage their image in the course of this disaster," the president said. "Now, I don't have a problem with BP fulfilling its legal obligations. What I don't want to hear is that they're spending that kind of money on shareholders and spending that kind of money on TV advertising, [but] they're nickel-and-diming fishermen or small businesses here in the Gulf who are having a hard time."

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As part of his ongoing attempt to deal with flak from critics who claim that his reaction to the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has been far too measured and that his administration has mishandled its response to the disaster, Obama told NBC "Today Show" host Matt Lauer: "I don't sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar. We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers, so I know whose ass to kick."

While the president has been on the verbal warpath, the U.S. military has -- with little notice -- continued to carry on a major business partnership with BP, despite the company's disastrous environmental record.

Repeat Offenders

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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Fining them will never stop them, and the presiden... by Linda Ferland on Thursday, Jun 17, 2010 at 2:40:03 PM
Tom, Didn't BP resort to threatening reporters wi... by Recce1 on Saturday, Jun 19, 2010 at 12:51:45 AM