Bars for BP

As oil continues to gush out of the wellhead more than five thousand feet below the location where the Deepwater Horizon floating drilling platform exploded April 20th, the nation is working fervently to deal with the worst oil spill in US history. There are still many unknowns about the disaster, but some important details are being revealed; BP and Transocean Ltd. drastically underestimated the risk and consequences of an oil spill on the rig, BP chose profits over safety and did not install any remotely operated shut-off switch in case of disaster, the regulatory agency responsible for oversight failed in its job and BP has a history of breaking the law by failing to file and maintain crucial safety and engineering documents. The result is that eleven workers lost their lives, four were seriously injured and the Gulf of Mexico is now experiencing a devastating disaster that will impact the region for decades if not permanently.
Although BP and its partner Transocean Ltd. were drilling offshore of one of the richest marine fisheries on the continent and the source of employment for much of the residents of the Southern US, the oil companies did not see the risk of an oil spill to be of much consequence. In a report to the Minerals Management Service that oversees offshore drilling BP stated, “unlikely that an accidental surface or subsurface oil spill would occur from the proposed activities.” This despite multiple spills and fires specifically on the Deepwater Horizon. The Coast Guard had issued citations for those spills eighteen times in the short nine years the Deepwater Horizon was in operation and the drilling rig was involved in a 2008 incident where it almost sank. Clearly BP was irresponsibly cavalier about the operation of the Deepwater Horizon and the risk of a spill.
The consequences of this spill are made much greater because the complexity of the drilling location and the fact that BP chose not to install a remotely operated shutoff valve called a backup blowout preventer. The deadman switch system BP has stated had installed on the wellhead did not function properly. Without a backup system, the wellhead is spewing oil into the Gulf at an estimated rate of between 1,000 and 100,000,000 gallons of oil a day. Although backup blowout preventers are required by most countries that allow offshore oil drilling, was not installed on the Deepwater Horizon to keep costs down and profits high.
Backup blowout preventers are not required by the US because the the Minerals Management Service (MMS) is weak and has been systematically corrupted by the oil industry it is supposed to oversee. A 2008 investigation of the MMS Denver offices revealed the oil industry was in bed with the agency, literally. The report details drug fueled sex parties with extravagant gifts and tickets to sporting events and travel. Federal employees were improperly paid by oil companies and awarded themselves government contracts for hundreds of thousands of dollars. A 2006 investigation revealed that companies like BP that drill in the Gulf of Mexico negotiated leases that allow them to avoid paying billions of dollars in royalty payments and prevented the Interior Department from auditing them. The oversight of the oil and gas industry has been corrupted through industry efforts in the same way the mining industry has weakened their regulatory agencies. The results are the same; dead workers.
But in the Deepwater Horizon disaster, there is also a massive oil spill to contend with. According to a recent former BP employee and whistleblower, the Deepwater Horizon’s explosion isn’t the only BP deep water drilling operation that has significant issues. According to the whistleblower and the early results of the resulting investigations is a pattern of misconduct and illegal activity. If substantiated, the evidence will show BP has failed to maintain safety and engineering documents that are intended to provide a document trail for the proper construction, maintenance and operation of the BP Atlantis, the Deepwater Horizon’s sister rig. The result brings into question the construction of the well as well as the operation of the well and may have something to do with the explosion, sinking and oil spill we are now facing.
From one disaster I propose we look back to another disaster to structure our response. Although there are many important lessons to be learned from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill that still impacts Alaska, the disaster I am referring to is the January 21st, 2010 decision by the US Supreme court, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. This landmark ruling greatly expanding the definition and scope of corporate personhood effectively blurring the line between flesh and blood people and corporate entities. Since the Supreme Court has so narrowed the difference between a corporal person and a corporate person, I propose that our legal response should likewise be narrowed. If the difference between a person and a corporation is almost indiscernible, the corporate headquarters of BP, its refineries and its service stations across the country should be arrested and jailed for the deaths of the eleven workers and for the ongoing oil disaster.
The privilege of being a person in the United States comes with the responsibility of consequence when people break the law. When Major Nidal Malik Hasan was identified as the accused perpetrator in the 2009 shooting deaths of 13 people at Fort Hood Army Base, he was taken into custody where he remains awaiting trial. I see no reason to treat BP and its corporate business operations differently. Obviously the process of putting a service station, much less the hundreds of refineries and administrative building that make up corporate BP, behind bars in our already overcapacity prison system would be impossible. But why we can’t bring the bars to BP? In response to the disaster that is impacting the lives of the residents of the Gulf of Mexico as well as the lives of the families of those slain on the Deepwater Horizon, citizens should demand that their local District Attorneys arrest and take into custody the person responsible; corporate BP.
Deepwater Horizon on Fire
Deepwater Horizon on Fire

As oil continues to gush out of the wellhead more than five thousand feet below the location where the Deepwater Horizon floating drilling platform exploded April 20th, the nation is working fervently to deal with the worst oil spill in US history. There are still many unknowns about the disaster, but some important details are being revealed; BP and Transocean Ltd. drastically underestimated the risk and consequences of an oil spill on the rig, BP chose profits over safety and did not install any remotely operated shut-off switch in case of disaster, the regulatory agency responsible for oversight failed in its job and BP has a history of breaking the law by failing to file and maintain crucial safety and engineering documents. The result is that eleven workers lost their lives, four were seriously injured and the Gulf of Mexico is now experiencing a devastating disaster that will impact the region for decades if not permanently.

Although BP and its partner Transocean Ltd. were drilling offshore of one of the richest marine fisheries on the continent and the source of employment for much of the residents of the Southern US, the oil companies did not see the risk of an oil spill to be of much consequence. In a report to the Minerals Management Service that oversees offshore drilling BP stated, “unlikely that an accidental surface or subsurface oil spill would occur from the proposed activities.” This despite multiple spills and fires specifically on the Deepwater Horizon. The Coast Guard had issued citations for those spills eighteen times in the short nine years the Deepwater Horizon was in operation and the drilling rig was involved in a 2008 incident where it almost sank. Clearly BP was irresponsibly cavalier about the operation of the Deepwater Horizon and the risk of a spill.

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

The consequences of this spill are made much greater because the complexity of the drilling location and the fact that BP chose not to install a remotely operated shutoff valve called a backup blowout preventer. The deadman switch system BP has stated had installed on the wellhead did not function properly. Without a backup system, the wellhead is spewing oil into the Gulf at an estimated rate of between 5,000 and 1,100,000 gallons of oil a day. Although backup blowout preventers are required by most countries that allow offshore oil drilling, was not installed on the Deepwater Horizon to keep costs down and profits high.

Backup blowout preventers are not required by the US because the the Minerals Management Service is weak and has been systematically corrupted by the oil industry it is supposed to oversee. A 2008 investigation of the Minerals Management Service Denver offices revealed the oil industry was in bed with the agency, literally. The report details drug fueled sex parties with extravagant gifts and tickets to sporting events and travel. Federal employees were improperly paid by oil companies and awarded themselves government contracts for hundreds of thousands of dollars. A 2006 investigation revealed that companies like BP that drill in the Gulf of Mexico negotiated leases that allow them to avoid paying billions of dollars in royalty payments and prevented the Interior Department from auditing them. The oversight of the oil and gas industry has been corrupted through industry efforts in the same way the mining industry has weakened their regulatory agencies. The results are the same; dead workers.

BP has Blood and Oil on its hands
BP has Blood and Oil on its hands

But in the Deepwater Horizon disaster, there is also a massive oil spill to contend with. According to a recent former BP employee and whistleblower, the Deepwater Horizon’s explosion isn’t the only BP deep water drilling operation that has significant issues. According to the whistleblower and the early results of the resulting investigations is a pattern of misconduct and illegal activity. If substantiated, the evidence will show BP has failed to maintain safety and engineering documents that are intended to provide a document trail for the proper construction, maintenance and operation of the BP Atlantis, the Deepwater Horizon’s sister rig. The result brings into question the construction of the well as well as the operation of the well and may have something to do with the explosion, sinking and oil spill we are now facing.

From one disaster I propose we look back to another disaster to structure our response. Although there are many important lessons to be learned from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill that still impacts Alaska, the disaster I am referring to is the January 21st, 2010 decision by the US Supreme court, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. This landmark ruling greatly expanding the definition and scope of corporate personhood effectively blurring the line between flesh and blood people and corporate entities. Since the Supreme Court has so narrowed the difference between a corporal person and a corporate person, I propose that our legal response should likewise be narrowed. If the difference between a person and a corporation is almost indiscernible, the corporate headquarters of BP, its refineries and its service stations across the country should be arrested and jailed for the deaths of the eleven workers and for the ongoing oil disaster.

The Corporate Flag
The Corporate Flag

The privilege of being a person in the United States comes with the responsibility of consequence when people break the law. When Major Nidal Malik Hasan was identified as the accused perpetrator and the sole person in the 2009 shooting deaths of 13 people at Fort Hood Army Base, he was taken into custody where he remains awaiting trial. I see no reason to treat BP and its corporate business operations differently. Obviously the process of putting a service station, much less the hundreds of refineries and administrative building that make up the corporate person of BP behind bars in our already overtaxed prison system would be impossible. But why we can’t bring the bars to BP? I am sure that bars can easily be affixed to the doors and windows of the buildings of BP rendering them incarcerated. In response to the disaster that is impacting the lives of the residents of the Gulf of Mexico as well as the lives of the families of those slain on the Deepwater Horizon, citizens should demand that their local District Attorneys arrest and take into custody the person responsible; corporate BP.

Medieval Minds and the Plutocratic Plague

Medieval Flagellants
Medieval Flagellants

At the Republican caucus retreat, President Obama showed us the potential of a real-world, unscripted partisan showdown before an unblinking camera. Proving the democratic potential, FoxNews blinked and cut away from the event. That’s how important fakery and deceit are to its mission, and to the success the Right.

It takes more than a willingness to lie to convince Americans that health care reform is a communist plot or that Obama is an illegal alien. It takes contemporary political media more welcoming of artifice than truth. And, it takes money.

That brings us to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision. (The term “Supreme Court” has always given me pause, since too often the adjective “supreme” is taken to modify its wisdom and judgment rather than its standing among the many courts.) In this case, the Court, ignoring precedent, common sense and the law, said corporations can spend unlimited amounts to influence American election outcomes. The decision, Frank Rich writes today, gives “corporate interests an even greater stranglehold over a government they already regard as a partially owned onshore subsidiary.”

No one disputes that right wing spending over the last 40 years has warped our political opinion environment. Their think tanks, television networks, publishers, hate-radio hosts and front groups dominate the message environment. But our reaction too often reminds me of Medieval Europeans’ reaction to the Plague. To find a place for the Black Death in their worldview, only God could be responsible. He must be mad at them. Out of such nonsense were the Flagellants born, a 14th Century group that marched around barefoot whipping themselves with scourges in hopes of warding off Death.

Before we ridicule the Flagellants, however, we ought to check our own duffel of delusions. It’s just as nutty to believe that all forms of communications are equal, that all people are possessed of pure reason, that ideas can and are judged fairly and equally by an informed citizenry who possess free and equal voices and access to information. These beliefs don’t just inhibit discovery of a cure, they help spread today’s plutocratic plague.

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Alito’s Betrayal and Foreign Corporate Money in U.S. Elections

Watch U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito publicly demonstrate his partisan disgust with President Obama. Alito grimaces and mouths “not true” when Obama voices his on-target criticism of the Court’s decision to allow corporations to spend unlimited sums to influence our elections. Alito’s behavior betrays fundamental principles of judicial conduct.

Many on the right are panicking about a deep flaw (among many) in the Supreme Court’s opinion allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts to influence election outcomes. Americans of all political stripes are outraged at the Court’s embrace of institutional corruption and the possible influence of foreign corporations in our politics. Some are arguing the Court hasn’t opened the door to foreign influence. But since many corporations have a great number of foreign shareholders, and many foreign companies have American subsidiaries, they can’t explain how the spending will be banned.

The opinion creates a deep rift between authoritarian and libertarian Republicans, a rift big enough to hurt the GOP in 2010 and beyond. Authoritarian Republicans have an old Calvinist belief that God intends those with authority to be in authority. It’s no longer just a religious belief, having long ago become a principle of secular authoritarians. Power is a sign that one is among the Elect. Earthbound democracy is of little concern, although they do get annoyed when democracy  interferes with their righteous plans. Dick Cheney’s demonstrated impatience with democracy — his snarling annoyance at debates, his secrecy, his drive for executive power — will give you the idea.

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Conservatives and Independents Agree: Limit Corporate Political Spending

Teddy Roosevelt Takes on Corporations
Teddy Roosevelt Takes on Corporations

I was interviewed by Scott Braddock on his popular Dallas-KRLD radio show today regarding the unchaining of corporate influence on American elections. You can listen to the interview here. I urge you to do so, not to hear me, but to hear many of the conservative/independent callers who agree with us. Their agreement has important implications for the 2010 election here — to say nothing of the power of broad-based alliance to undo the havoc unleashed by the court.

Also, Gallup did a poll for the First Amendment Center. Seventy-six percent of Americans agree that corporate political spending must be limited. You won’t realize this from the lead Gallup puts on its introduction. It says:

Americans’ broad views about corporate spending in elections generally accord with the Supreme Court’s decision Thursday that abolished some decades-old restrictions on corporate political activity.

Uh, it’s a mystery how they get that conclusion from their finding that 76 percent of Americans want to limit corporate spending while the court abolished all limits. It’s true that Americans cherish the First Amendment. When asked whether political contributions are equivalent to speech, 57 percent say yes. I believe this apparent contradiction is reconciled by the common-sense observation that corporations’ unlimited political power has the effect of abridging the First Amendment rights of real people. I think Americans understand this at the gut level.

When Foreigners Own America

Dubai
Dubai

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that corporations can spend unlimited sums to influence American politics. Most big corporations have many foreign investors. Some are just foreign companies. Under the ruling, a Saudi company can give directly to a third-party group here and spend billions to get what it wants. I don’t mean to pick on the Saudis. Canada can do it, too. This is different than buying a controlling interest in American companies. This is buying a controlling interest in the State.

The Court’s 5-4 majority opinion leaves foreign influence unaddressed, although it seems to recognize that the First Amendment guarantees foreign nationals the right to spend money to influence American elections. It also leaves the door open for an attack on its opinion. This may be the Achilles Heel of the opinion.

We need not reach the question whether the Government has a compelling interest in preventing foreign individuals or associations from influencing our Nation’s political process. (p. 46-47)

You don’t? Corporations are chartered, specifically, to return profits to shareholders. They do not respect national boundaries because their duty to shareholders says they shouldn’t. This is the amoral logic that got GM and Ford in trouble when they continued building the war machine for Nazi Germany. When their only moral imperative is to make money, it’s difficult for these odd entities the Court calls “persons” to make ethical decisions as a flesh-and-blood person would. Which is just another thing wrong with the reasoning of the court: it refuses to recognize this difference between human beings and corporations.

Journalist Brent Budowsky, among others, has already suggested passage of the American Elections for Americans Only Act of 2010. Budowsky writes:

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Glenn Greenwald: Smart Guy, but Wrong on Court’s “Citizens United” Decision

brainGlenn Greenwald is an insightful writer. He is right about many things. He is wrong about the Citizens United decision, which he defends on First Amendment grounds.

Because we share first names I’m going to refer to him as Mr. Greenwald, for clarity and to signal my deep respect for his work.

I am not going to argue about whether corporations are persons, though I don’t think the Framers had corporations in mind when they wrote the First Amendment. I’m going to argue that the Supreme Court’s ruling has the practical effect of abridging my First Amendment rights and yours.

Mr. Greenwald says outcomes don’t matter. A principle is a principle, and it shouldn’t be judged on its outcomes, which will sometimes be good and sometimes be bad. I thought the American pragmatist philosophers (Pierce, James, Dewey, et al) dispensed with the notion of essential truths existing above and beyond earthly outcomes. Truths can only be judged by their consequences.

For instance, extending the right to free speech to someone in solitary confinement has no meaning, but you don’t know that if you don’t look to outcomes. With no one to hear him, the right is meaningless.

We can and should adapt to changing circumstances, not by abridging constitutional guarantees, but by looking to consequences to make certain those guarantees are fully protected.  In the context of today’s costly mass communications, the Court’s ruling gives corporations an ability to be heard that is beyond the means of average citizens. It handed new powers to corporations, powers that have the effect of curtailing my freedom of speech and yours. To be sure, the wealthy already had this power. The court greatly increased it. Still, the Court’s over-reach gives us the opportunity to correct past inequalities and errors.

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Where’s the Movement?

berlinwallIntro
In forming his administration, President Obama abandoned the movement that had begun during his campaign for deal-making and a pragmatism that hasn’t worked. That movement is still possible and needed now. Here is a look at what is required, and how a version of it is forming in California.

We begin with this week’s triple whammy.

Freedom vs. The Public Option

Which would you prefer, consumer choice or freedom? Extended coverage or freedom? Bending the cost curve or freedom?

John Boehner, House Minority Leader, speaking of health care, said recently, “This bill is the greatest threat to freedom that I have seen in the 19 years I have been here in Washington….It’s going to lead to a government takeover of our health care system, with tens of thousands of new bureaucrats right down the street, making these decisions [choose your doctor, buy your own health insurance] for you.”

This is exactly what Frank Luntz advised conservatives to say. They have repeated it and repeated it. Why has it worked to rally conservative populists against their interests? The most effective framing is more than mere language, more than spin or salesmanship. It has worked because conservatives really believe that the issue is freedom. It fits the conservative moral system. It fits how conservatives see the world.

The Democrats have helped the conservatives. Their pathetic attempt to make any deal to get 60 votes convinced even Massachusetts voters that government under the Democrats was corrupt and oppressive, not just inept, but immoral.

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Supreme Court: Moloch Unchained

Moloch Unchained
Moloch Unchained

History might be written by the winners, but our most profound, long-lived legends and stories are created by the folk. That’s why the stories, songs and poems are not called Elite Lore. Many of them are cautionary tales about the blindness, cruelty, hubris and dehumanizing excesses of authority.

The Framers, aware of this creative power, protected the people’s voices with the principle of free speech. The folk have never achieved political ascendency, of course. It seems rather obvious to say that authentic popular democracy has nowhere been achieved.

After a brief flourishing of grassroots, popular literature in the 19th Century, the high costs of mass communications handed the elite some ability to keep the gates of culture and mediate or censor popular tales. I say “some ability” because a remarkable thing about human creativity is its radical persistence and resistance to authority. It was Joshua’s music that brought down the walls of Jericho. African-American creative traditions of resistance, made necessary by failure of the Framers to abolish slavery, are the ghosts in the machine of popular culture.

The Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission greatly strengthens the authoritarian domination of the people’s speech, reversing the intent of the Framer’s free speech principle. By freeing unaccountable, global corporations to use their nearly unlimited resources to dominate the political sphere, the authoritarian Court has sacrificed free speech on the altar of greed. They would have us believe that it is the powerful and nearly irresistible voices of the rulers that need liberating.

Moloch is unchained.

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American Business Leaders Condemn Supreme Court, Call on Congress to End Corporate Bribery

powell-1Forty-one business leaders have signed letters to members of Congress condemning the U.S. Supreme Court decision to allow corporations — even foreign corporations — to spend unlimited amounts to influence American political campaigns.

It’s an important first step, and a great sign that opposition to the Court’s anti-democratic action spans the political spectrum. It’s not left versus right or Republican versus Democrat. It’s people who believe in democracy versus those who are content with the coup by authoritarian, unaccountable corporations.

The letters — printed in full below the fold, with the list of signers — say the decision further corrupts an already broken system. The business leaders urge Congress to pass the Fair Elections Act, which allows candidates for federal office to receive limited public funds for their campaigns if they limit individual contribution amounts and meet a threshold of small-dollar donors from their community.

The high cost of campaigns has forced candidates and officeholders to spend most of their time raising money, and the rest of the time returning favors for that money. While I believe there are many public-spirited contributors in politics who never ask for anything in return for their money, most big contributors — especially corporate leaders — demand certain, uh, considerations in return for their money. It’s institutional corruption, and the Supreme Court just made it worse.

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Supreme Court Ruling Voids Marketplace, Economic Dominance Can Be Purchased from Government

Feudal Serf
Feudal Serf

My friend Dave Johnson, founder of Seeing the Forest, a fellow of the Campaign for America’s Future and the Commonweal Institute, penned this piece, “Supreme Court Shifts Business Playing Field Away From Marketplace.” Dave makes the point that the U.S. Supreme Court has undermined the marketplace with its ruling that corporations can spend unlimited sums to hire the governments of their choice. DogCanyon reprints the piece with Dave’s permission.

By Dave Johnson

The Supreme Court ruling allowing corporations to use their vast resources to directly influence the political process shifts the business playing field away from competing in the marketplace with products and services, to purchasing government/legal/reguatory advantages, subsidies and monopolies.

The marketplace is now irrelevant – only company size matters. It is just more efficient to beat your competitors by buying legislation than it is by competing in the marketplace. When you can purchase $1 billion in tax breaks, subsidies, mandates, contracts, whatever by spending a few million on candidates/influence, etc. it just makes more sense to do so. The return on investment is just so much higher than building factories, spending on research, paying employees, and other tedious, time-consuming, capital-intensive work.

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