Corporate persons aren't like you and I. They have eternal life and legal immunity. No death, no taxes, no joy or pain or moral feeling. No sweat and no tears. When they move their mouths, out come dollars, and we call those dollars speech. But when they stub their toe and bleed, out comes thick black goo in a gusher that could turn the ocean into a dead black pit, and we call that goo petroleum.
Candidate Obama said he would free us from "the tyranny of oil." President Obama said Drill Baby Drill. Bush pretended he hadn't been warned about Katrina, or anything else. But we were all warned, Bush, Obama, the Secret Cheney Task Force, Joe Biden, and every one of us about the Spill Baby Spill. Katrina herself, and her sister Rita, caused nine major oil spills. Who could possibly have imagined there could ever be another one? And we were warned. I urge everyone to go back and read a book named for an Obama utterance: Antonia Juhasz's "The Tyranny of Oil: The World's Most Powerful Industry and What We Must Do to Stop It."
In this book you'll find the history of how we came to a place where struggling for the separation of oil and state appears more difficult than shot putting Dick Cheney. And here you'll find, in chapters 5 through 7, a portrait of how Big Oil slimes itself through the Capitol, White House, and government agencies, and what that means for the likelihood of "accidents." Juhasz writes:
"A massive explosion rocked BP's Texas City refinery on March 23, 2005. It was the worst workplace accident in the nation in 15 years. . . . The U.S. Chemical Safety Board . . . warned that such dangerous operations were not limited to the Texas City refinery or to BP, but could be industry wide. . . . A subsequent investigation . . . found a pervasive 'complacency toward serious safety risks'."
You don't say? Anything else? Well . . .
"Given the size and scale of [offshore drilling] facilities, even a minor incident can have catastrophic impacts. Accidents, spills, leaks, fires, explosions, and blowouts are far too frequent occurrences that have led to the deaths of hundreds of workers. Many of the platforms operating off the United States and in international waters were built in the 1960s. . . . Even with new facilities, however, deadly and dangerous accidents are frequent. . . . [M]ore than 70 incidents on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf resulted in oil spills between 1980 and 1999."
You're kidding? And why is nothing done? Juhasz describes the bottomless and indeterminate flow of Big Oil cash into political parties and candidacies, and the vastly greater funding of lobbying efforts, much of it laundered through that best friend of corporate persons, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
If you turn on a television you'll never suspect that we, the people, own the air waves. Nor will it occur to you that we own the oil on public land and under public waters, that we give it away, that we subsidize the greedy beasts (excuse me, persons) that consume it, and that we neglect to even tax them. This is what money buys. BP's even trying to buy off victims for $5,000 each.
Juhasz, who has herself commented on the recent spill, points out in her book that we were warned about off-shore drilling, not just during the 2008 campaign during which some people pretended to oppose it, but also way back on a moment cited as the birth of the environmental movement: 10:45 a.m. on Tuesday, January 28, 1969. That's when an offshore oil rig off the coast of Santa Barbara, Calif., began spilling oil into the sea. Later that year the first Earth Day was held and the National Environmental Policy Act was passed and signed, creating the EPA -- an institution we did not always refer to as the Environmental Pollution Agency.
Will a similar response greet the latest spill? Will it require a citizenry off its rears and in the streets? Will it require a better communications system? Will it fall short as long as Congress does whatever the president tells it to do? Perhaps, but Juhasz offers several useful steps to pursue:
1. Re-bust the Standard Oil trust, which has effectively
reconstituted its monopoly. We know it can be done, because we did it
2. Get the money out of the elections. This will now require amending the Constitution, but that's being pursued at http://freespeechforpeople.org and http://movetoamend.org
3. Stop subsidizing the bastards and tax them.
4. Regulate what they are doing.
5. Shut down secret oils futures markets.
6. Keep gasoline prices high, but direct the funds into renewable energy, not just corporate profits.
7. Reduce consumption.
8. Take public control of our resources.
9. Stop fighting oil-consuming wars for oil.
I would add another: allow unionizing in any dangerous operations so that workers can object to dangers without losing their jobs. Do this in coal mines and nuclear plants as well.
And what about the whole idea that corporations are persons whose money is speech? Well, check out this resolution that has now been passed by Hawaii and Oregon calling for a constitutional amendment. Something's brewing in some coastal states. Perhaps they'll call for a constitutional convention next.
Will activism outpace the corporate advance? Check out the latest figures on how much the sickness industry spent to prevent better healthcare legislation. Meanwhile, the Greedy Old Party wants all money limits lifted for something already more damaging than corporations: political parties.
Beginnings of rumblings of minor tweaks to the system are coming from Capitol Hill, which has the Chamber of Commerce furious. The Wisconsin Senate and other state legislatures have already passed a similar reform requiring disclosure of which corporate persons are funding our indoctrination. There's a similar bill in Minnesota. But will this reform cover the new lack of rules for parties when/if the Republicans get it? (The most I can say is: it's a step. People did notice the effect on National Public Radio when it began announcing Wal-Mart's sponsorship, but they didn't stop listening.)
Nonetheless, with money limits lifted, new organizations are being formed specifically to elect candidates with corporate money. And the nominate-and-confirm-a-better-Supreme-Court-justice quick fix may be more difficult, given the corporate persons' right to spend unlimited money on Supreme Court nominees. Plus, the first step in reform may not come before the next two steps backwards. The Supreme Court could allow all financial "donors" and petition signers anonymity.
The root problem, of course, is too much silence and anonymity from those of us who give a damn about our children's future. We are going to need to get active and populist before the black goo oozes into the Chesapeake and up the Potomac for good.