Over the past five months, Gulf Coast residents have been treated to a number of decisions with direct impact on their lives. They weren’t asked to give input at the time these decisions were made. They weren’t asked how they thought it might affect their future. The decisions occurred above their heads and most times, without their knowledge, but they are the ones now paying the price. This post is the third of three parts having to do with these decisions. Part one addressed British Petroleum’s use of the dispersant, Corexit while two took issue with Bobby Jindal, the Shaw Group and their sand berms. Part three will be concerned with the federal government’s response to the spill, including the amount of control ceded, and protection given to British Petroleum. All three will address the issue of the courage necessary to change course in the Gulf, the importance of doing so and who will be affected. All three decisions to be looked at had to do with money and politics, and changing course now will affect the back accounts and political standing of the people in charge, but change must happen.
What is going on in the Gulf of Mexico is not working.
On October 1st, Thad Allen, National Incident Commander will step down from his post, thus ending one of the biggest illusions of this whole oil spill, that the Obama administration was in charge of the response. For the past five months, the American public in general and Gulf Coast residents in particular have been held hostage by the dictates of a foreign corporation while the government’s two figureheads, Thad Allen and President Obama talked tough about responses and made threats against British Petroleum. We listened as the EPA gave orders that were either ignored or largely circumvented by the oil company and rubber stamped by Thad Allen. At times, the Coast Guard was even complicit in the unethical behavior of the company. We watched as the FDA declared the seafood to be safe. We watched as the NOAA released numbers indicating the oil was gone.
These actions by our government leads one to question whether they worked in the Gulf to protect the people, or to protect the oil company.
From the beginning, when the Deepwater Horizon exploded, the damage being caused was minimized. We were told that only 5000 barrels per day were leaking into the gulf when it turned out to be between 50 and 60,000. We were told that Corexit was safe as dish soap when it turns out that cleanup workers at the Exxon Valdez suffered health effects stemming from the mix of crude oil and the dispersant. In early August the NOAA released their oil spill numbers that claimed 79% of the oil was gone, trumpeted to early morning television shows when in fact, the oil report said the opposite, wasn’t supposed to be publicly released and had never been reviewed by the scientists they claimed helped to author the report. All over the Gulf Coast, British Petroleum had been denying reporters access to the Gulf, were hiring off duty police officers to keep the press away and in several occasions taking the footage shot by photographers of spilled oil and dying wildlife. Thad Allen initially denied these reports, but then released the much ballyhooed 60 yard boom rule where all reporters had to stay sixty yards from any boom due to fictional reports of the press disrupting cleanup activities. BP started buying up scientists and the government followed suit, for the stated reason of legal defense or prosecution, but with the intended purpose of silencing them and their findings. The EPA ordered BP to stop using Corexit as too toxic and ineffective. BP said no. The EPA backed down while the Coast Guard said BP could only use it when approved, and then they approved it every time they were asked. Most recently, independent scientists who are coming to radically difficult conclusions about the remaining oil, the safety of the water and seafood are being allegedly harassed by the federal oil spill commission.
All of this has led to a tremendous amount of doubt in the public, stuck trying to choose between the words of the oil company that fouled their waters, the government that has been caught repeatedly spinning information and the independent scientists who are questioned in the press by the oil company and the government.
This doubt, this confusion, it all works in favor of the parties who refuse to release their information, their data, their numbers and that would be BP and the Obama Administration, because as the independent scientists give out their facts and figures to prove why their findings are true: oil on the Gulf floor, shifting oil plumes, etc… confusion and spin is all the government has left. They need to keep the waters muddied so they can hold onto their numbers, desperately trying to maintain a claim over any sort of validity.
And all for obvious and not so obvious reasons as it will come as little surprise to anyone that good news in the Gulf of Mexico is good news for the Gulf’s politicians and this is even better news for the federal government as a whole. Like British Petroleum, the government wants to ease the Gulf and its problems from the collective American conscience or at the very least, believe that it is quickly on the mend. This is why despite the tough initial rhetoric from Barack Obama, the actions of the government continue to help the oil company.
The two are linked, financially and politically.
In fiscal year, 2009, British Petroleum was the top supplier of oil to the US military, receiving contracts in excess of $2.2 billion dollars. This year, they have received over $1.1 billion from seventeen different contracts with the DLA, (Defense Logistics Agency) and have even been awarded contracts since the Deepwater Horizon exploded. Mimi Schirmacher, a DLA spokesperson has gone on record saying the DLA has no plans to change these contracts or change the way they are awarded.
In the US, the retirement account pensions for 42 separate states hold shares in British Petroleum Stock and since the oil spill, they have been losing money, a lot of money. In June, well before BP’s stock had hit its lowest stock price mid-July, these pensions had already lost $1.4 billion dollars. This loss is in addition to the previous year’s loss which occurred due to the recession. British Petroleum’s recovery will get this money back so the federal government has a vested interest in ensuring that British Petroleum does not fail. This is why assets aren’t seized. This is why Obama’s tough rhetoric is empty. This is the oil company version of the bank’s “too big to fail.”
Blackrock corporation is the largest shareholder of British Petroleum stock and they have many links to the US government as well. During the banking crisis, they took over $130 billion dollars in toxic assets that the US government had assumed during the too big to fail banking crisis. Blackrock CEO, Larry Fink is oft considered the go-to guy for financial answers by the feds, consulted frequently and his company holds as money management clients the New York Fed, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. When British Petroleum loses money, Blackrock loses money and this cannot be considered good for the federal government.
Politically, the pressure is also on. Gulf Coast politicians like Bobby Jindal have been blasting away in the press at the Obama administration’s competency during the cleanup and his voice is only one of many across the Gulf Coast, from Texas to Florida…and just in case any of us forgot, elections are coming. Barack Obama needs good news. Good news means votes. Lack of progress means much criticism in states like Louisiana and Florida, states where the Democrats sometimes win elections. Open fisheries mean votes for congressional elections. FDA approval of seafood? Votes. EPA reports the air is safe, the water is safe and the people are safe? Votes. The NOAA says that 79% of the oil is gone? This progress is huge, this progress is a campaign advertisement.
Money and politics, politics and money…same – same.
And now we are finding out it isn’t just the residents in the Gulf who are paying attention to the Fed’s tricky balance.
So is British Petroleum.
If the government was as hard-lined as they want people to believe, British Petroleum would have been far less likely to demand more oil leases in the Gulf and then suggest the $20 billion escrow account for reparation would be in jeopardy without them. British Petroleum has done pretty much as it wished in the Gulf of Mexico from the beginning. They used prison labor to clean up beaches. There are many allegations cleanup workers didn’t have respirators. They used a more toxic and dangerous dispersant that helped submerge the oil, rather than remove it. They controlled the press. They controlled the story and the Obama administration let them do it all and in many occasions, assisted, thus leading to confusion, bad information and a loss of credibility.
This credibility is only one of the things that must change in the Gulf of Mexico.
As things stand now, the government’s numbers and estimates and projections have frequently been so far off base that it is difficult to readily accept much of what they say. For example, right now the US government is in possession of the damaged blow-out preventer from the Macondo Well. I find it difficult to believe that I am the only one who would question the results of their tests on the preventer, especially if it points the blame away from BP. The government has sewn this doubt over the past five months, and it is time for them to start on a new path, one that may be more painful, but at least it will be honest.
To restore this credibility, the government must release their science and explain their numbers. If they know that their number do not add up, then they need to admit that now; they need to admit their mistakes, in detail and maybe even apologize so this can all move forward. They must release the scientists to research what they wish, and have the funding of British Petroleum and the federal government to do it. Information and data right now are not the enemy; the enemies of justice and ethics in the Gulf of Mexico are those who withhold information to suit their own agendas.
The federal government must assume control of the cleanup.
British Petroleum has stated on several occasions that their company wouldn’t be using dispersants anymore, but their contractors, if they are, should stop. This is a typical loophole of the practices in the Gulf. If BP won’t guarantee their contractors have stopped, then it is time for BP to be stopped. Kick them to the sidelines and bill them for everything. The Obama administration needs to marry itself to this cleanup. No wiggle room, no fall guy, no we didn’t know’s. Own it, and then do it right.
Charge British Petroleum in criminal court.
Want to help ensure that nobody unleashes another catastraphuk like this again? Put those responsible in prison. Eleven men died out there, and many more indirectly by way of suicide, accident or what have you, put BP in prison. If all the investigations and court hearings result only in fines these companies can absorb or just pass onto the public in increased prices, no message has been learned. None. I believe that future CEO’s would be much more careful about the practices of their companies if in response to the greatest environmental disaster ever, the CEO and those responsible of said company didn’t just get transitioned to a new job in Russia that allows him to lose, nothing.
Free the information, now.
It’s okay Barack, we’re adults. We can take it. Tell us just how fucked up all this is now. Don’t spin, don’t distort, release the information and be honest, despite the political cost. It’s okay.
It’s not only the emperor who would appreciate being told about the new clothes.
So would your constituents.
Votes, or not.
Justice and dignity demand at least this much.
For five months we have watched all the events in the Gulf of Mexico: the dodges of responsibility, the fish kills, the oil, the false Feinbergian promises. We have watched the poisoning of an ecosystem and people in authority making decisions far over the heads of those affected directly by these decisions. In question is who rules the water, British Petroleum or the United States Government? The company our government does so much business with, or the officials we elect? We have watched the bullshit, we have experienced the doubt.
Obama, you ran on a campaign of hope.
So how about bringing some if it to the Gulf of Mexico, a place where it indeed is, time for change.
Have a nice day.
One thought on “Changing Course in the Gulf: Bad Lessons in Money and Politics Pt. 3 – The Obama Administration and Business as Usual”
There is a letter campaign to revoke BP’s Corporate Charter in the US. I am participating. http://salsa.wiredforchange.com/o/1488/p/salsa/web/common/public/content?content_item_KEY=4023