Home > Uncategorized > The Eve of Destruction: Excellent post on how Government and statist corporations like BP are stifling community responses to the unfolding Gulf disaster

The Eve of Destruction: Excellent post on how Government and statist corporations like BP are stifling community responses to the unfolding Gulf disaster

Yes, another BP post! Another Avatar post, too!

Following a trail of crumbs, I have just chanced upon an insightful post at the “On ALLiance” group blog of left libertarians. The post, a reader submission on June 13 by “Keith” is entitled “BPUSA” and hits squarely on the head a couple of nails that have been bothering me. I cross-post it in it entirety below (emphasis added).

I would note that while I agree that we face very serious problems, I would not attribute the weakened state of our communities to deliberate acts of scheming individuals – but rather, individuals in many institutions acting in accordance with the incentives that they face within their respective institutions. Nevertheless, I agree with and strongly support the call to action.


By Keith

The BP Deepwater Horizon oil gusher demonstrates the necessity of building civil society within American communities.  In fact if anything it demonstrates how community agency, the capacity to act for collective purposes, has been eroded due to a persistent effort to erode civil society and create dependency upon state and corporate actors.  This is done through a number of mechanisms: (1) subsuming mutual aid and not-for-profit actors into government welfare; (2) slowly chipping away at the capacity of welfare and social service agencies through diminished funding, increased bureaucracy, and enhanced regulation that undermines the core mission of the agency and; (3) finally by transferring such services over to corporate actors who seek to maximize profit by distributing material (not social) goods that fail to offer a semblance of empowerment nor promises to build individual capacity for transformative change. The purposeful erosion of civil society leaves communities extremely vulnerable in times of crises, as the Deepwater Horizon disaster demonstrates.

Gulf coastal communities were assured by BP and the United States government that the effects of the spill were being mitigated through public-private partnerships without actively engaging the local level communities or regional working groups.  As a recent Rolling Stone article notes, these actors are attempting to protect their own interests to the detriment of an entire ecosystem. BP, the criminal perpetrator, is in essence being empowered to act as judge, jury, and I dare say executioner.

When the Deepwater Horizon originally sank, BP, with support from the Obama Administration, low-balled the estimated flow rate gushing from the well.  Initially the flow was placed at 1000 barrels a day; it is now looking more like 100,000 barrels of oil per day, equivalent to an Exxon-Valdez oil spill every 8 days [actually this is every three days] , a shocking figure by anyone’s standards – it should also be noted that little attention has been paid to the nitrogen-rich liquid natural gas leaking into the deep ocean waters which may be even worse than the oil itself.

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has estimated the worst from the very start; their own models planned for the worst.  But why then did the Obama Administration actively seek to keep these estimates tamped down.  There can only be two reasons for this.  First, the Obama Administration desired to limit the political fall out.  Perhaps this means they did not want to worry the Gulf residents (unlikely), or perhaps they wanted to play it safe and attempt to reduce media interest in an attempt to craft the initial message that would (hopefully) dominate the media discourse.  Second, the Obama Administration, a major benefactor of BP political campaign contributions, is going to bat for BP. [Also, Obama was trying to craft a climate deal that required support by big oil, in exchange for expanded offshore drilling.]

Either which way, by limiting the information flow to the media and then to the Gulf communities, they severely reduced the capacity for communities to understand the problem, mobilize resources relative to the catastrophe, and become actively engaged side by side with the government and BP to save their communities.  BP themselves bragged about their ability to detect flow rates in an in-house magazine they produce. It is criminal that communities were, in essence, denied their rightful opportunity to prepare far in advance of the oil coming ashore.

But it is critical to understand that this is how these two entities are currently structured. BP is tasked with maximizing profit and ensuring a solid return on investment to their shareholders (brown pelicans and rural fishermen be damned, they don’t own BP stock).  From a community empowerment perspective, the U.S. government, itself a top-down, hierarchical organization much like BP, also seeks to demonstrate a return on investment to its shareholders (campaign financiers, the businesses they regulate, and the businesses government officials hope will cut them a fat salary when they exit public life to enter the private sector in a cyclical process known as the revolving door).  What’s worse is that the opposition Republicans, instead of feeling the pain wrought by irresponsible regulation, subsidy, liability caps, and corporate malfeasance, has called for a federal bailout, increased oil drilling, and unfettered access to the even riskier drilling ventures; in other words, we have no good option in terms of political representation.  We get a choice of two parties, each representing the same interest, but one being far more crass in its support of destructive business practices.

[Quick aside. What would happen if you killed a large number of endangered animals? Do you think BP faces similar penalties? Who then do these legal processes protect?]

We are seeing a massive failure of state-centralized governance before our very eyes.  This is what happens when we put all of our collective eggs in a solitary basket, and don’t build multiple institutions of governance for collective action. Communities have been trained to rely on singular institutions for their critical goods and services. Should the singular entity (the state-corporate partners know as BPUSA) fail, we have no other choice because, well… these profit-seeking actors diminished our choices and community capacity to address crises have thusly been destroyed. Communities simply need more options.

It is obvious that the elite-led mentality of our governance structure has inhibited community’s capacity to provide for themselves when both the titans of industry and the government has failed them.  State governments in the Gulf have been further hamstrung not because of capacity to prepare for the spill, but to give the illusion that the federal government was not “granting them permits,” for example, to perform immediate stop gap measures, never mind you these “conservative” government’s supposed belief in “states’ rights” which should have prodded them to take their Confederate rebel mentality to buck the federales and win over the hearts and minds of their people; when politics comes into the fray, the vast majority of politicians will let their constituencies suffer gravely in order to further their own political ambitions.

Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal skillfully demonstrated his destructive political acumen, pleaded desperately with the media to have the Obama Administration sign off on permits to allow the state to dump sand berms at the entryways to fragile wetlands. Why, if Jindal knew his cause was just and time was of the essence, did he not use his executive authority and his Confederate-derived states’ rights mentality to not only demonstrate his adept handling of the situation to save his people, but to also give Obama a nice political jab?  Because in the end, for Jindal, he wants to build a narrative of the destructive, oppressive, federal government through demonstrable evidence, forgetting that in this instance federal actions were more about ineptitude than oppressiveness.  But we cannot fault Jindal for living up to the rhetorical standards of the American right: incoherence and inconsistency reign king.

By the way, Jindal had the resources for the sand berms at his immediate disposal. Jindal simply decided he “needed” to wait on the Obama Administration. Odd that Jindal would trust in the process considering Jindal has long criticized the Obama-led government as inept.

Then there is the governor of Mississippi.  Governor Haley Barbour, in an effort to save the state’s tourism industry (I know you are asking “Mississippi has a tourism industry?!”) downplayed the oil coming ashore as “natural.” For Barbour, tar balls are just a trivial side effect of offshore oil drilling – again, never mind a tacit acknowledgement of the destructive side of our economic system where tar balls become a natural feature of our landscape.  Barbour would rather protect the special interest of the notoriously anti working class tourist industry than mobilize the working class themselves to save the local ecosystem.

See a pattern?

Instead of preparing Mississippi citizens for the worst, in order to engage and activate the civic infrastructure, Barbour is hamstringing civilian response efforts by essentially telling people to carry on as they normally would.  God forbid Barbour truly lead and ask the citizens of Mississippi to march to the coast, assist in clean up efforts, and prepare to pitchfork BP executives until they open their fat wallets and liquidate their assets to the people of the great state of Mississippi.

You see, civic engagement is simply not in the best interest of the status quo, even if it means disaster. Political hacks want communities to come to them for their critical needs in order to reinforce their importance.

And the feds, being the good community actors they are, have decided they better make sure that the scant BP financed clean-up crews don’t have any “illegal” immigrants in their midst. Clearly the government believes they must both be choosy, and are duty-led to drum up further anti-immigrant fervor in a crisis situation.  A political two-fer!

Then there is the Coast Guard, supposedly tasked to protect American assets (”our” assets) on the open seas.  The Coast Guard has limited civilian and media access to areas in the Gulf impacted by the Deepwater Horizon gusher.  People wish to see the damage with their own eyes, and damned if in the face of the looming catastrophe they shouldn’t have that right to do so.  But the Obama Administration, which is supposedly seeking someone’s ass to kick at BP, has decided to throw their executive weight behind preventing investigative journalism and civil protest as opposed to forcing BP to shift the bulk of it’s operations to the Gulf response effort.  Read this article posted on HuffingtonPost: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/riki-ott/from-the-ground-bp-censor_b_608724.html

What this has done is rightfully created mistrust in both the government and business.  The state has created the corporation through state charter.  With the corporate-state partnership, the corporation now receives the rights of a human being with virtually none of the risk or liabilities; the state is all too willing to proliferate this relationship too. Again, the opposition political party’s own minority leader, John Boehner, stood side by side with the president of the Chamber of Commerce, expressing their shared sense of outrage that BP might be liable, and that the government should be on the hook for the cleanup costs.

And here we were told by the Chamber that they wanted government OUT of the business of business.  Read more here: http://thinkprogress.org/2010/06/10/boehner-spill/

On one hand, when people cry out for critical social services – their only avenue being the government due to restrictive regulations preventing mutual aid type agencies – they are told that now is not the time due to severe economic situations (or the Democratic supermajority is not “super” enough).  On the other, when the government wants to bail out the banks, launch trillion dollar wars, or use our tax dollars to clean up after BP (who makes tens of billions in profits a year), all of a sudden the government can marshal its forces to meet these challenges.  The more reasonable amongst us are labeled as unreasonable or irrational when we point out that this spending orgy – resulting in irresponsible business practices and, worst of all, the death of millions of innocents – could simply be redirected toward crumbling U.S. infrastructure or, and I might sound crazy here, putting a massive collective effort toward stopping an impending, unprecedented environmental disaster.  No, you see, we have to find some guy in a cave and build a nation or two, modeled off this nation’s likeness (good luck with that Afghanistan!).

Have no doubt that we are facing critical times.  Government, which demands to be the end arbiter for rapid-response efforts, is failing us time and time again.  Corporations stand behind government to shield themselves from liability while profiting along the way (Naomi Klein wrote about this process in her book The Shock Doctrine). Government then downplays all disasters to protect the corporate interests while also downplaying the necessity to deploy the resources necessary to protect communities from catastrophic events.  Communities are then ill equipped to wage effective disaster responses or stop the absentee corporate business practices that cause the disasters in the first place.  This is a cycle that is increasingly playing out with global climate change, state-centralization of police power, and the growth of the corporate-state partnership. Communities, particularly rural and resource-constrained types, are suffering most and will continue to do so, so long as elite brokers have something to gain.

The state and corporate titans have done their fair share to blind local and regional communities to the realities of their destructive practices for the sake of the all-mighty dollar.  In doing so, it has now become common practice for communities, even in disaster situations, to have to vet their response efforts through cumbersome bureaucracies that are detached from the ground-level realities.  More troubling still is that local level communities seem to acquiesce to these power structures, presuming that it is in their best interest or that they could get punished for breaking the chain of command. In disaster scenarios, we know that a rapid response is the best remedy to ensure that chaos is mitigated, order restored, and peoples’ livelihoods are saved; time is of the essence.  We must engage communities to work collectively on the critical issues of our time, lest we face repeats of the Katrina, Haiti, and Gulf crises.

Don’t get me wrong, here. This disaster and the results are not solely the government’s blame. In the end, the criminal is BP. But the resulting disaster response should be simple and accountability should be clear. The problem is that reactions are slow, people are being lied to, authorities are dominating the response (and badly) and the government has led us to the position that we can’t do much about it.

Communities must work to build active capacity.  Communities must

challenge the rights of corporate and state actors over local autonomy.  We must have multiple institutions of governance for just such instances where the “patriarchs” fail us.  There is no valid reason, as NPR reported the other day, why the Coast Guard should prevent inland fisheries from setting up their own booms to prevent the flow of BP’s oil into their bays.  Not only should communities challenge the Coast Guard’s order, but they should, figuratively, deploy the booms when reason seems to dictate it is in their best interest. This is where civil disobedience is needed most.

Communities should not acquiesce when it means destruction.  It is long past time we challenge these obviously destructive state-corporate partnerships and build our own local capacity to work collectively.  Indeed it may be a necessity for communities to thrive.  The all too real and disturbing question to me is will we be allowed to do so, and will communities be willing to challenge such impediments?

h/t suburnanarchist http://suburbananarchist.tumblr.com/day/2010/06/13 11:42 pm

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