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America! The Once Could-Do Nation!

but, eh, not now

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, May 26, 2010.

The most annoying thing about BP's inability to correct their horrific disaster in the Gulf is not the cultural heritage of shrimpers or other job loss or even the decimation of the wetlands, awful as they are, or even the physical suffering and death of millions of animals atop the eleven initial vaporizations of workers in the initial holocaust. Nor is the inevitable illumination given to the criminal shortcuts taken and dangerously implemented with knowing approval of corporate leadership. That's all boilerplate for industrial disasters here and elsewhere. What's most annoying are the media lap fluffers of what Republicans like to think of as the hairy chested American Hero class, who are trying at this point to blame this monumental display of incompetence and accompanying bloviation to be a failure of government, and this because the GOP underfunded when it didn't eliminate oversight agencies during the Dubya Years.

Rush Limbaugh, whose carcass could power the entire nation for three days if turned over to the try pots and flensing irons to be boiled of its oil, thinks this is the fault of environmentalists and wants to bill the Sierra Club. In fact, the BP spill is following the pattern of the recent mine disaster in West Virginia. In both cases, underfunded watchdog agencies, having no real ability or clout, ended up in bed with the industry and hoped for the best. Obama, to his credit, said right out that this extended into his administration.

Making it worse now is revelation that those rescued from the burning rig were forced to sign waivers before they could get ashore. This to relieve various entities, primarily their employers, from any responsibility for the disaster. Call me a soft-hearted communist if you must, but that strikes me as something that must or should be very illegal. The only thing more brazen would be bank robbers getting signed releases from those held at gunpoint during a robbery that they are not responsible for anybody being shot. That would be the fault of whoever pushed the alarm, don't you see, thus involving the government in the form of police.

All of this has illuminated a portion of our national mythology beloved by those least familiar with history, which might be a requirement for its belief. Our self image of massive industrial competence - with hairy-chested heroes in the Red Adair mode - turns out to be a Potemkin village constructed by the oil companies. As the sole source of information about much of our oil issues, they don't reveal the numerous other spills and disasters unless under the eye of a vigilant and independent media. It turns out that this illustrative example of the lack of due or even remote diligence by BP and associates isn't even the worst spill in the last quarter century.

A former president of Shell Oil, John Hoffmeister, was on NBC last night, and was discussing the options BP had to stem the flow. Brian Williams wanted to know if the best minds were on it, and seemed primed to mostly reassure those viewers too stupid to wonder why, if that was so, they weren't they in on the construction. Hoffmeister did his bit, and said that while the problem wouldn't be solved till the two relief wells were drilled - correctly, it is hoped - to relieve the pressure, that firing down cement and what is called heavy industry mud would stem the flow. As of this writing, we don't know if BP has decided to go ahead and do that.

What caught my attention was Hoffmeister's tale within what was then the Persian Gulf and today is called the Arabian Gulf to indicate displeasure with the Shiite mullahs in Tehran. In the early 1990's, he said, an even worse spill was cleaned up by four or five supertankers, whose powerful pumps were able to fill their holds with the spilled oil, or much of it, before it became the horror that ours in the Gulf already is. What seems silly at first isn't when you recall these are among the biggest ships ever built, and surrounding the leak source and filling their tanks they could both save the environment much destruction as well as the oil for use. Why not in the Gulf of Mexico? In the five weeks since the disaster, this wasn't an option?

I suspect it was, and that an inability to admit failure of both their efforts and of the mythology long constructed has been responsible. Believing the myth doesn't excuse it..