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This is Not Pretty June 24, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Ethics, politics.
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Two columns by Robert Herbert in the NY Times get to the heart of our current dilemma:

If a bank is too big to fail, it’s way too big to exist. If an oil well is too far beneath the sea to be plugged when something goes wrong, it’s too deep to be drilled in the first place.When are we going to stop behaving so stupidly? We nearly wrecked the economy and we’re all but buried in debt. But we can’t break up the biggest banks, and we can’t raise taxes. Now we’re fouling the magnificent Gulf of Mexico and ruining entire communities along the southern Louisiana Coast.

And, by the way, we’re still fighting a futile war in Afghanistan that we’ve been fighting with nonstop futility for nearly a decade…

For a nation that can’t stop bragging about how great and powerful it is, we’ve become shockingly helpless in the face of the many challenges confronting us. Our can-do spirit was put on hold many moons ago, and here we are now unable to defeat the Taliban, or rein in the likes of BP and the biggest banks, or stop the oil gushing furiously from the bowels of earth like a warning from Hades about the hubris and ignorance that is threatening to destroy us

And Herbert doesn’t even mention global warming, which is the biggest threat to our well-being that we refuse to confront. It is quite stunning how in a few decades we have gone from a country with vast economic, technological, and military prowess to a country seemingly unable to tie its shoes.

Herbert diagnosed part of explanation for this condition  in an earlier Times Op-Ed piece:

“Where I was wrong,” said President Obama at his press conference on Thursday, “was in my belief that the oil companies had their act together when it came to worst-case scenarios.”

With all due respect to the president, who is a very smart man, how is it possible for anyone with any reasonable awareness of the nonstop carnage that has accompanied the entire history of giant corporations to believe that the oil companies, which are among the most rapacious players on the planet, somehow “had their act together” with regard to worst-case scenarios.

These are not Little Lord Fauntleroys who can be trusted to abide by some fanciful honor system. These are greedy merchant armies drilling blindly at depths a mile and more beneath the seas while at the same time doing all they can to stifle the government oversight that is necessary to protect human lives and preserve the integrity of the environment.

President Obama knows that. He knows — or should know — that the biggest, most powerful companies do not have the best interests of the American people in mind when they are closing in on the kinds of profits that ancient kingdoms could only envy. BP’s profits are counted in the billions annually. They are like stacks and stacks of gold glittering beneath a brilliant sun. You don’t want to know what people will do for that kind of money. […]

The oil companies and other giant corporations have a stranglehold on American policies and behavior, and are choking off the prospects of a viable social and economic future for working people and their families.

President Obama spoke critically a couple of weeks ago about the “cozy relationship” between the oil companies and the federal government. It’s not just a cozy relationship. It’s an unholy alliance. And that alliance includes not just the oil companies but the entire spectrum of giant corporations that have used vast wealth to turn democratically elected officials into handmaidens, thus undermining not just the day-to-day interests of the people but the very essence of democracy itself.

Our excessive reliance on big business to solve problems and self-regulate is beyond bizarre, when you think of the fundamental norms that govern our business class.

As economist Robert Reich writes:

1 Why hasn’t BP moved more of its rigs and tankers to the site? Because BP’s first responsibility is to maximize shareholder value, and moving more rigs and tankers would be too expensive. […]

2. Why isn’t BP leveling with the American people about how many barrels of oil is gushing into the Gulf? Because BP’s first responsibility is to its shareholders, and a bigger leak means more liability. […]

3 Why isn’t BP acknowledging a huge plume of oil developing deep under water? Ditto. On Tuesday, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers reported subsurface oil as far as 142 miles from the leaking Gulf well, the first clear confirmation of such a plume. On Wednesday, BP rejected the report, insisting that it has not found any significant concentration of crude under the surface. “We haven’t found any large concentrations of oil under the sea. To my knowledge, no one has,” BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said on NBC’s TODAY show.

Notice the common theme here. It is a fundamental foundation of contemporary “business ethics” that corporations have no responsibility other than to maximize shareholder profit. What then is the basis for believing their actions will serve the community? To the extent the business community believes this (and they do, just ask them) they are entirely undeserving of our trust or support.

As Joel Bakin puts it in his legendary documentary The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders, corporations are psychopaths: thoroughly self-interested, manipulative, shallow in their relationships, and incapable of remorse or empathy.

We have turned our well-being over to psychopaths. And then we are surprised when things turn out badly?

Corporations are psychopaths; Americans are delusional.  This is not a pretty sight.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

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The Ironies of Capitalism June 8, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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The oil spill disaster in the Gulf is bound to make it more difficult to secure offshore drilling permits. In the future, eEnvironmental assessments will take much longer and require more rigor and thus will be much more costly.

I don’t know much about the oil drilling business, but I suspect this means it will probably not be cost effective for small and mid-size oil companies to explore for and drill new oil fields.

So, the big oil companies will have managed through their own carelessness to exclude competition.

The people who caused the accident will reap the rewards.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

They Just Never Go Away May 5, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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Republicans are hard at work trying to blame Obama for the Gulf Oil spill. But there is evidence that the real culprit may be our old friend Dick Cheney. (Remember him?)

Political philosopher William Galston presents the case:

Apparently, late in the Clinton Administration, the Interior Department’s Mineral Management Service (MMS) wanted an automatic shut off switch installed on deep oil drilling platforms that was essential in preventing underwater spills. But the oil industry opposed this regulation because of the cost of installing this device. And in 2003 the Interior Department relented.

But as Galston reports:

After the Bush administration took office, the MMS became a cesspool of corruption and conflicts of interest. In September 2008, Earl Devaney, Interior’s Inspector General, delivered a report to Secretary Dirk Kempthorne that has to be read to be believed. One section, headlined “A Culture of Ethical Failure,” documented the belief among numerous MMS staff that they were “exempt from the rules that govern all other employees of the Federal Government.”…On at least 135 occasions, they accepted gifts and gratuities from oil and gas companies with whom they worked.

Galston is curious:

So here’s my question: what is responsible for the [Mineral Management Service’s] change of heart between 2000 and 2003 on the crucial issue of requiring a remote control switch for offshore rigs? What we do know is that unfettered oil drilling was to Dick Cheney’s domestic concerns what the invasion of Iraq was to his foreign policy—a core objective, implacably pursued regardless of the risks. Is there a connection between his infamous secret energy task force and the corrupt mindset that came to dominate a key program within MMS? Would $500,000 per rig have been regarded as an unacceptably expensive insurance policy if a drill-baby-drill administration hadn’t placed its thumb so heavily on the scale?

Halliburton, the company run by Cheney prior to his selection as Bush’s VP, was responsible for the drilling procedure called “cementing” which is known to be a leading cause of well blowouts and had been completed just prior to the recent explosion.

It is worth asking whether a conflict of interest played a role in this disaster.

How many years will it take to free us from the consequences of the worst Presidential Administration in U.S. history?

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

Behind the Oil Spill Disaster April 29, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts.
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The British Petroleum oil rig that blew up last week, killing 11 workers, is now spreading oil over a massive area in the Gulf of Mexico… “Drill Baby Drill”,one of the campaign slogans from McCain’s presidential campaign, is not looking quite so catchy. It’s too bad Obama caved into oil interests recently and authorized more off shore drilling.

This comes on the heels of the Massey Coal Mine explosion that killed 29 miners a few weeks ago.

What do these two events have in common? Both British Petroleum and Massey Coal were nonunion work sites.

As economist Teresa Ghilarducci writes:

In 2009, four years after a BP explosion in a Texas refinery that killed 15 workers and injured 170, the Occupational Safety and Health administration imposed the largest fine in its history—$87-million on British Petroleum. BP also paid billions in criminal charges and civil claims for the accident: $50-million in criminal fines for violating the Clean Air Act and over 4,000 claims from a $2.1-billion claims fund.

Why does this company still operate in this country? How many more workers does it have to kill?

In my economics classes, I teach the economics of health and safety. The two-minute version has the same conclusion as the two lecture version: If it is cheaper for the company to kill workers than it is to safeguard the workplace so they are not killed, workers will be killed. Unions and hefty government fines would raise the price of killing workers. Both Massey and BP work sites were nonunion. And the rate of unionization in this nation is at a all time low: 7.2 percent.

No other developed nation has a weaker labor movement than the United States and this country kills more workers per year than most.

Even these numbers are suspect. And the United States, unlike other rich countries, does not count fatalities due to occupational disease as a fatality. Seven countries impose safety obligations upon either directors or senior managers of companies—Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, Japan, Canada, and Australia—while the United Sates imposes none.

The U.S. Department of Labor classifies on-the-job fatalities as misdemeanors, even if the employer was negligent by willfully failing to follow OSHA safety standards. The maximum civil penalty OSHA can levy for a safety violation is $70,000,  and the maximum prison sentence for a willful violation of a safety standard that leads to a worker’s death is six months. Six months.

Check out Fair Warning for direct commentary on corporate health and safety practices.

These workplace fatalities are not accidents of nature; they are caused by the Congress’s and the president’s failure to regulate and protect workers who attempt to unionize

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com