By Dr. Mike Robichaux
The current crisis off the Louisiana coast may be the largest disaster to ever hit our state. The true impact of this tragedy will not be known for years. It has the potential to significantly alter our coastal communities in ways that hurricanes and flooding alone could never do. There are several points I would like to make regarding this catastrophe.
The first point is with regard to off shore drilling: We can safely drill for oil in 5,000 feet of water or in 10,000 feet of water, whatever the circumstances, if proper engineering standards are used in the process. We cannot safely drill in 50 feet of water if we do not follow the rules and regulations that have been established for these activities.
Engineers have designed “failsafe” measures that can prevent the problems we are experiencing. Such measures were supposedly in place while this well was being drilled. Unfortunately, many of the oil and gas corporations have the political clout to circumvent regulations and have done so with impunity in the past. The U.S. Mineral Management Service, whose mission is to monitor offshore drilling, has apparently not implemented the proper oversight. Would better supervision on their part have prevented this tragedy? Available evidence indicates that it is likely that this catastrophe could have been avoided if regulations had been followed.
The second point concerns the role of U.S. and multi-national corporations: In recent years U.S. industries have gained such political clout as to be largely immune from regulations. In many cases, existing regulations aren’t followed and tragedies result.
The banking industry has brought our nation to its knees through exemptions it had been granted in the past. Our nation’s coal miners work in environments that are blatantly unsafe. Regulatory agencies are unable or unwilling to enforce their own regulations and legislators are too cowardly to insist that the do so. Wealthy and politically connected owners bully their way around the system and the lives and health of American workers are constantly threatened by this abandonment of oversight.
The Oil and Gas Industry is now under the spotlight. Seven years ago we went to war in Iraq to benefit this industry. We have spent over $750 BILLION so far in that conflict. Approximately 4,500 American deaths and over 30,000 SERIOUS injuries add to the cost. Clearly, the blood of our children has been shed to enrich this industry.
In a scenario similar to that encountered with coal mining, state legislators and the governor are screaming about closing offshore drilling while safety studies are being performed. The irony of this situation is that the governor and these same legislators are the very people whose anti-regulation policies created this problem in the first place. Who is joining them and supporting them in this matter? The Oil and Gas industry is being portrayed as being the good guys trying to save the jobs of thousands of Louisiana oilfield workers when they are actually the party responsible for all of these problems.
These large corporations never rest in their efforts to enhance their profitability at our expense. In the current legislative session they sought to improve their already favorable legal positions by eliminating environmental law clinics throughout the nation. These clinics provide legal services to individuals who are typically the victims of corporate misdeeds. One such bill, introduced by a floor leader for Governor Jindal, was before the state legislature when this catastrophe occurred. The bill was pulled after the oil spill was publicized, but you can expect its resurgence in the future. You might find it of interest that BP was part of the group trying to eliminate these clinics.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that corporations have the same rights as individuals. Corporations will now be able to use their financial clout as never before to further control our government and our lives. This single ruling may have more impact on our nation than a dozen oil spills.
The true irony here is that WE are responsible for these tragedies. We have allowed ourselves to be deceived by people who have absolutely no interest in our well-being. WE are our own worse enemies in this respect.
For eight long and painful years Big Business was allowed to run our nation. Every stupid and destructive activity that had been championed by right wing lunatics was implemented and we were brought to the brink of destruction by these activities. We were lied to and deluded into going to war against a country that had never threatened us and at the same time, tax cuts were implemented that largely supported the wealthy. Going to war has always resulted in higher taxes. Not for this bunch. Their plans were foolish; the outcomes of their schemes predictable and highly destructive. President Bush inherited a budget surplus that would likely have eliminated our entire national debt. In a few years he managed to plunge us into debt that was greater than anything ever seen before in the world.
While it is impossible to correct the fiscal, economic and social damage done to our nation overnight, it is critical that we recognize those who do support our nation and differentiate them from those who would destroy our Republic and enslave its population.
President Franklin Roosevelt, who led the U.S. through the great depression and World War II, was a member of the Democratic Party. Roosevelt warned our nation of the evils of corporate power. In a message to the nation regarding the need for anti-trust laws (laws that were initially passed under his Republican cousin, Theodore Roosevelt), Roosevelt made the following comment:
“The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.”
President Dwight Eisenhower, who had commanded the allied armies in the European Theatre during WWII, was, like Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican. He too was open about the threat from within posed by too much corporate power. In his last speech to the country he loved and served with great distinction, he issued the following warning:
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”
Both Roosevelts, as well as Eisenhower, understood that American industry and ingenuity were responsible for our remarkable successes throughout the world. They also recognized that, given the opportunity, the same corporations that assured our successes could strangle us, and, using their wealth and political influence, destroy our way of life.
Congress is making progress in curtailing some of the unacceptable behavior of the financial industry. The Oil and Gas Industry also needs to be brought under control, allowing for profits but with stringent and reasonable regulatory oversight.
Dr. Mike Robichaux is an Otolaryngologist practicing in Raceland. He is a former member of the Louisiana Senate where he was a championed protection of Louisiana's environment and the interests of working people.