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The System ain’t working!

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Thursday, June 10th, 2010

Grand Isle, Louisiana



If one lesson can be learned from both the Gulf Oil spill and the Wall Street financial bailout debacle, it’s that oversight by competent regulators is critical to protect the public. At every level of the governmental process, elected officials and both state and federal agencies either stood by and took no action at all, or worse, turned the regulatory process over to those private companies that caused all the damage.

The current and ongoing oil spill disaster points once again to the fact that there is a wretched epic of “regulatory” failure and our knowledge of the fact that literally nothing has changed in the attitude or actions of these governmental derelicts is the most graphic proof yet of the absolute, irrecoverable failure of this political system.

So where does the fault lie?  There is plenty of blame to aim at both major political parties.  The Demodon’ts and the Republican’ts have both shown, time and time again, an inability to put teeth into a system of public protection. Their mantra has been “free enterprise” and “get the government off our backs.”

We all want a “leave us alone” mentality, that is, until Katrina, Wall Street rip-offs, insurance fraud, 9/11 and Gulf oil spills.  Just like there are no atheists in foxholes, we turn from free enterprise capitalists to socialists when disaster strikes.  But then we presume that the government can put things right because it is so big and powerful. Yeah, right!  Like FEMA, the Corps of Engineers, the dysfunctional Office of Homeland Security, and the SEC regulators that let Wall Street run wild.

In the current oil spill crisis, our politicos along the Gulf Coast can’t seem to get enough face time as they pontificate over the importance of the coastal wetlands, and how the economy, culture and the future of this vast area are at stake. Yet congressional oversight panels in Washington, charged with seeing that strong environmental protections are in place, have failed to both properly monitor and establish strong regulations to limit the risk of such a catastrophic spill.

And here is the sad note.  These same oversight panels include a number of Gulf Coast congressman and senators, who now are screaming for BP blood, but who for years turned a blind eye to strong regulation and readily accepted campaign contributions from BP and other national and international conglomerates these elected officials were supposed to be regulating.

We have read the numerous lurid reports about how Department of Interior employees, working in the Minerals Management service, turned the whole regulatory effort over to the oil companies in the Gulf.  And all the while, these federal employees were accepting gifts, trips, and carrying on “personal relationships” with oil company executives that undermined any credible effort to fairly regulate these companies that were regularly compromising on numerous safely standards. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has been quoted time and time again that he is “˜keeping his foot on BP to perform.”Â  He needs to start using the same foot to kick out and clean house in his own backyard.

There are the environmental groups that are busy protecting us against BP’s shenanigans, right?  Well, maybe not. The largest environmental group acting throughout the Gulf Coast is the Nature Conservancy. This national organization has long positioned itself as the leader of a nonconfrontational arm of the environmental movement, and raised millions of dollars annually. So who is one of its business partners?  Who else but BP!  As the Washington Post points out:  “The Conservancy has given BP a seat on its International Leadership Council, and has accepted nearly $10 million in cash and land contributions from BP and affiliated corporations.”

So it would seem that the only recourse for public protection from BP’s antics is the federal courts.  Since the damages took place in numerous gulf Coast states, the legal confrontations and demand for compensation will take place at federal courthouses with in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that includes Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.  Fair federal judges doing their thing to protect the public, right?  Hold on there for a moment.

More than half of all federal judges in this district that will hear these spill-related lawsuits have (I kid you not) financial connections to BP and the other related oil companies involved in the rig spill disaster. Thirty seven of the 64 federal judges have a variety of financial interest in the oil industry.  Many have a direct economic interest through ownership of stocks and bonds, as well as relatives who are on oil company’s payrolls.  Others are wined and dined along with receiving full expenses for being “distinguished lecturers” at conferences regularly hosted by the oil industry.  BP and other companies involved in the spill are large contributors to such conferences.

So it’s you and me baby, against the elected officials, the regulators, the environmentalists, and the judges.  Driven by campaign contributions, gifts, and hush money, the system, some might say, just sucks.  And like balladeer Leonard Cohen poignantly sings in his hit song, “Everybody knows:”

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the South.  You can read all is past columns and see continuing updates at www.jimbrownla.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am central time on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownla.com.

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