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Image from my friend, Mark Eifert of Portland Or.

Perhaps it is an unpoetic justice that the residue of ancient life, geologically folded and folded again, once uplifted and verdant, and then thrust downward, submerged, cooked by extreme pressures and heat, and some 18,000 feet beneath sea level off the coasts of Louisiana and Alabama, now, courtesy of the greed-induced hubris of a transnational corporation, British Petroleum, works to destroy the life-forms of the Gulf of Mexico.  Thirty million years old, this oil deposit is, to the measurements presently available, the second largest in the world.  A true bonanza of “black gold.”  In its eagerness to tap this, BP drilled deeper than ever before, to a depth of 5,000+ feet, a mile, to the Gulf’s floor, and then another 13,000 feet to the deposit.  It did so, assuring a corrupted (by BP and other oil industry giants) Minerals Management Service of the US Federal Government, that the chances of any spills were extremely tiny, it’s equipment was cutting edge/state-of-the-art, and that in any event they had the means and expertise to take care of any unforeseen problems.  They obtained, in exchange for some tickets to sports events, some sexual favors, some drugs, and probably some money, a waiver on any environmental impact report.  There wouldn’t be any, so they claimed.  And the corrupted agency consented.

British Petroleum oil coated aviary casualty

As it happened, there was “a problem.”   On the immediate level  the problem was that BP, well known in the industry for problems owing to corner cutting in the pursuit of profits, acted in its normal fashion, economizing, in haste to bring the Deepwater Horizon well on-line, and into profit-making.  A few days before the Deepwater Horizon blow-out a gaggle of BP executives had helicoptered out to the drilling rig to party, celebrating the imminent on-line status of the well and the fat profits to come.  On board though there had been disagreements between the rig owners, Transocean (a company allegedly Swiss, with its central offices there as a tax dodge, but actually Texan, with most of its employees American, and its offices and most of its employees in Houston), about procedures to use, and BP, which was leasing the rig, had the final word.  They’d skip on a process of using “heavy mud” and instead go to thinner sea water, this despite clear signals in the previous days that various things were seriously amiss.  Also they skipped a test of the concrete used to cap the well, a job out-sourced to Halliburton, known in Iraq for many dubious practices.   Leasing a drilling rig costs a half million dollars a day, and as in the old mantra of capitalism, time is money.  Cut it short said the BP supervisor.   Meantime, legally, with the consent of the Federal Government’s porn-watching regulatory agency, the Minerals Management Service (MMS), they’d skipped on a parallel well, standard in other parts of the world as a back-up in case something goes wrong, and they’d skipped on a fail-safe last chance choke valve costing a half million dollars.  After all, for a corporation, profit is king.  Expenses like those they faced here seemed too much, and besides, they were all too sure their technology worked, even if they’d never done so at such depths and the pressures involved.  And they were partying.   The initial price was 11 workers killed on the platform at the time of the blow-out.

As is known in the oil industry, BP has a long history of cutting corners and making messes.  Only recently, in 2005, one of their refineries in Texas City, Texas, with numerous citations for safety violations, blew up at the loss of 15 lives.   Their pipe-line in Alaska, untended for 15 years, rusted and corroded, and with, again, numerous citations against it, ruptured and spilled 6,400 barrels on the delicate tundra of Prudhoe  Bay.

[For updates on the real situation, including a worst-case (beginning to look to be the probable case) scenario, see TheOilDrum. There some oil business people believe the well itself is now compromised and will in due time rupture, and that the entire field which was being drilled will be released, and perhaps the sea-floor will collapse – oily tsunami anyone?]

BP pipeline in Alaska

British Petroleum is the 4th largest corporation in the world (some stats say the 7th), and the 3rd biggest energy corporation – which, logically, makes 2 of the other largest ones also energy corporations.  It made 17 billion dollars in profits last year (Exxon made 19).   Little wonder they are able to buy and corrupt such countries as Nigeria and Ecuador, where reckless practices have poisoned the environment.  Or that they can buy the American Congress, to re-write the law and to let up on regulation and oversight.

Niger DeltaEcuador

The Deepwater Horizon disaster has unfolded, like a dense sheet of oil, slowly, grudgingly being revealed by British Petroleum, apparently with the collusion of United States agencies lending a hand in hiding the larger and uglier truths: assisting in blocking reporters from the media have been the Coast Guard, the Homeland Security Agency, local police agencies – all supposedly in service to the public, but instead acting to protect a giant private corporation.  BP was a major political contributor to both parties in recent past elections, and maintains a powerful lobbying force in Washington.   But as the oils slip not into hidden backwoods bayous along the Louisiana coast, difficult to access except to the locals, but onto the pristine vacation beaches of Alabama and now the Florida panhandle, and as the loop current brings it to Key West, and later up the Atlantic Coast of Florida, it has become  harder and harder for BP and its governmental partners to mask the enormity of their errors.  And a sullen cloud seems to have descended across America, a turgid shock wave of recognition that this catastrophe, the edges of which remain invisible, are intimately connected to economic collapse of 2008.  And that perhaps our government, our “system,” is longer “ours” but has been seized by those economic and corporate interests which produced these traumas.  On both the Right and Left there seems an unsettled sense that control of our fates has passed into the hands of a vague force – the “elites,” the “corporations,” the financial sector, some diabolic confluence of them all tied in with the military-industrial-media complex.  In the political center there seems confusion – all the assumptions of an orderly middle-class world suddenly shattered: the 401K that disappeared; the mortgage that can’t be paid; the job ended; the house lost.   All the comfortable assurances which our social-political-economic world seemed to offer have all suddenly been placed in doubt: what will the health insurance pay?  Will it even be there?  Social Security?  For many it seems as if the rug has been pulled from beneath them and all the parameters by which they measured have been summarily changed,  and for the worse.

As the swell of anger rises, and the apathy of many is shaken by their new economic realities – the loss of job, home, or perhaps only the seeming threat of such as friends and family lose theirs – America will doubtless fragment further as the internal stresses work their way through the body politic.  We can already see it in the curious silence of the Tea-party folks who only months ago were chanting “Drill Baby Drill” and who now seem to have nothing to say.  We can see it in the stalwart anti-government elements of the Right suddenly complaining that government isn’t big enough to instantly plug the BP well-hole, or manage the immense damages being inflicted on the Gulf.  We can see it in the hesitations of the Obama administration, seemingly lost in the on-rush of calamities, sprinting from one to the other while trying to appear calm and under control.  And we can see it in our historical myopia in which we fail to see that for a long time we have constructed this whole system as a trap for ourselves, and as often happens in history, we are sleep-walking our way to the end.

Since World War 2 America got itself hooked on an imaginary vision of itself, something coming out of earlier times when the government opened up new lands (taken by force from the natives) and set up “Land Rushes” with a deal of 40 acres out in Iowa or Nebraska or Oklahoma, if you stayed on the land and built it up.  Just gallop out, stake it out, and it’s yours.  A lot of people got very rich doing so, and others very poor.  Similar government deals made railroad barons, with swaths of land adjacent their tracks similarly rich.  It’s been going on the same way since – with agri-biz, with water, with the military-industrial complex, with oil.

Oil was discovered in Pennsylvania in Titusville, and coupled with the already on going matter of industrialization that had kicked in seriously in the early to mid 1800’s, it sent America and the world off on an energy jag that hasn’t let up since, though peak oil is going to force a withdrawal pattern, like it or not.  In America this combo led to “the American Dream” in which one wasn’t a “man” if you didn’t have “wheels” and the promise was you got a house with a patch of lawn around it.  Naturally to have this, you had a job.  So it went, and most Americans bought this dream, got a job, a mortgage, a set of wheels (or more), a house with a two car garage, and along with it all the other accouterments of a nice “middle class” life.  Health and life insurance, Social Security, and all the rest.  Set for life out in the ‘burbs.   This was our collective dream, or so our politicians and cultural pundits told us.

This was our myth, “the American Way of Life,”  and all the other national clichés: Number One, and so on.  It was energized by that good old American individualism, “self-sufficiency,” free enterprise, that “can-do” entrepreneurial instinct (amazing how we wrapped ourselves around that French word), and all the other mental snake-oil of the stories we told ourselves.  Of course it was all like an old frontier “tall story,” a package of whopping lies we liked to think represented us.

US:  less than 5% of the global population consuming about 25% of global resources.

Because of our ingenuity, go-get-‘em individualism and all?    Well, maybe a bit.  But a lot more because we grabbed by hook or crook a large part of a whole continent, and more or less wiped out the original inhabitants and then “gave” it to ourselves.   And we used at the outset slave labor to build it up for several hundred years, and when we finally made the slaves “legally” equal we relegated them to a sub-citizen standard, which is still, despite a half-black President and numerous very wealthy sports and entertainment stars of dark skin, still the case.   And early on we tilted the playing deck so that some got very rich, much owing to governmental largesse, as with the railroad barons of the late 1800’s (who, incidentally, used “cheap” Chinese labor for building their lines) who were given large swathes of land, and then oil and mining barons who were given the value of what lay under the land for a pittance of its value, a practice which continues to this oil-soaked day.

Louisiana bayou

But, not content to parcel out the wealth of our part of a continent, we rigged the rules, and with the Monroe doctrine laid claim to some kind of rights south of the border.  Rights usually enforced with military intervention, usually asserted in the name of “national interests,” meaning some American corporation needed some muscle to enforce its exploitative actions on the local natives.  This is on-going, though somewhere around Barbary Pirates times was extended to include the whole globe.  Now, for our “national interests” we are encamped in Iraq, Afghanistan and more places than most Americans can remember or list – countries most never even heard of and certainly the names of which they could not pronounce.

In the name of “the American Way of Life,” which our current President, as all Presidents must, asserts we will not give up or change, we thus now have a military which consumes half the Federal budget, and consumes about half the oil which America uses.  Facing a massive national deficit, however, when it comes time to pruning expenses, our glorious military is virtually never mentioned as a candidate for some real cost cutting.  America spends more annually on its military than all the rest of the world does on its, with much of that other half being of our “allies” and only a small fraction – about a fifth of our expenditures – by our erstwhile potential enemies (China and Russia).

In turn our foreign policy is largely based on securing a supply of oil to feed to our military, a rather circular arrangement in which the wars we indulge in, for whatever fanciful reasons our leaders claim, are, as Alan Greenspan blurted out, really about oil.  Iraq.  Or perhaps other resources.

Besotted by our own myths, we have taken a spiral toward auto-destruction (pun not quite intended), such that our behavior now apes that of another of our old stories, that of the oral folk tales transcribed by Joel Chandler Harris as the Uncle Remus stories.  The one that tells our story is that of Bre’r rabbit and the tar baby.  Whether we, as the rabbit, will be such good cons as to get a chance to be tossed into the briar patch, is looking doubtful.  So far, we’re best at conning ourselves.

For an in-depth story on Deepwater Horizon disaster and the current administration’s part in it, see this article from Rolling Stone. For more on the Gulf situation see Cinemaelectronica.  Or see the Shell PR item for a sense of the scale at which these operations are done.

18 Comments

  1. Mr. X called it; “chickens coming to roost”.

    Others say “blowback” or “collapse”.

    Interesting times.

  2. Thank you, Jon.

    There’s a good article which sums up the recent (terrifying) arguments at The Oil Drum here.

    • Yes, I’d read that and then when I went to link couldn’t find it so glad you did. Love your blog, though like most poetry art etc I don’t really know why.

  3. Seen this? http://www.shell.com/home/content/aboutshell/our_strategy/major_projects_2/perdido/overview/

    Thank you for your words, Jon. It’s grim, much of what you write, but it’s the truth of the world we inhabit, I’m shamed to say.

  4. nice piece of work..the reasoning,the rationales are incontestable.we have created a monster&few wish to consider the necessary changes..no peace dividend,no peace;enviroment&economy fk’d,and absolutely unsustainable-when will we wake up?much too late,i fear..i am humbled&shamed by our behavior. i do appreciate credible confirmations…sad&mad tommy

  5. it would be nice if it were just a question of redistributing wealth and saving the environment. but unfortunately something also needs to be done about the general shrinkage of the modern human. not only are the folks in charge incompetent, they’re also having a miserable uninteresting time. when one is always stuffed, food never tastes good, when one finds most big humans among those who are officially labelled as failures, there’s good reason to worry.

  6. Yes, we’re in deep doo-doo. Living here in Thailand now, and having lived other places in the far east, it’s interesting to see the effects of American marketing and capitalism on these cultures.

    I can’t quite figure out the Thais’ reaction to all the American-style marketing here. A part of me fears they will succumb to the moral desert the US has become, and another part thinks it doesn’t touch them at all. Of course you know, Thai thinking and American thinking is, uh, about half a planet apart. Time will tell.

    As far as all this abstract, systematic thinking about the problems in the US I see in the NYT et al, I think that’s our problem itself. You just do what you need to do to help people. It’s quite simple and not rocket science. You don’t try to figure out how everything fits into some great scheme and argue about it. You just do what you need to do to help people and solve any problems as they come along. But I’m afraid too many in the US are too full of themselves to actually be able to step back and take that perspective. Not to mention too many too rich without compassion for the sufferings of others, who shamelessly game the system to promote their own selfish materialism.

    But you know, the sun rises, the sun sets, it’s been doing it without beginning.

  7. I wonder if there’s enough oil there to circle the globe. This really may be the beginning of the end.

  8. I enjoy your posts and this is an outstanding piece Jon!  Not knowing your history and blindly buying into myths has dire consequences.  You are correct, we are sleep walking toward our own demise.   We have been sold a bill of goods, mindlessly bought into the lie and now are tramautized.  Is there any hope for us if the current levels of outlandish greed, hubris and corruption on display fail to jolt us (as a people) from our slumber?  I refuse to give up, but at no time in my 42 years on this planet have i felt more disgusted and disenfranchised and so helpless to do anything about it.  Thanks for speaking truth to power…keep up the good fight

  9. I think we may have just run out of luck, thank you for your thoughtful article.

  10. SmokeSellers.com
    AfghanistanPetroleum.com
    Peter Torbay revealed the $T in resources almost a year ago, in correspondence to the McClatchy, NY Times, Murdoch, London Times and Ottawa Globe, pre-publication to his ‘Diminution and Development’ book that traces the whole dark story back to 1997. NOT ONE WORD in the media, got his book contract cancelled! Read it on Scribd at:

    • Thanks. I just downloaded, skimmed a moment, and on long flight coming up I’ll read. I can’t mention name or topic, but it seems our free press is more a sham than not – a friend of mine had a book, publisher signed, scheduled to go to press, final galleys done, yanked by any and all publishers because…

  11. Wonderful writing and all too true. Thank you for putting into words what I sometimes can only feel, and then only for a short while before the mind shrivels in horror.

    I posted a link to your blogs over at LATOC, I hope you will get new readers soon :)

    http://www.doomers.us/forum2/index.php/topic,70737.0.html

    Please, if you have not yet heard of it, go over to http://www.thezeitgeistmovement.com and have a look. They may have the only chance of a solution to this mess.

  12. Ur article is very similar to what I feel about the tangled mess we’ve gotten ourselves into but, it is important to realize we are all connected, maybe that is the lesson, re: Maureen Dowd’s article on the lacking morals of elite children. When one is only in love with making money, which means long hours away from family. Their family will feel lost and inverted, There will come a point when even the wealthy will have to realize that greed will start to affect their own families when there is no safe water for their children to drink, or not being able to go into the open air without respiration masks. Or that blood diseases that are from toxic conditions (aids) begin to hit home.To me the idea of elite does not exist, as a Buddhist I believe we are arrogant to think we are ruining the environment , that is not true ,instead we are killing off ourselves and after we are gone nature will evolve and grow to another level, if not on this planet,
    then somewhere else, a planetary stasis will occur.I feel optimistic that sometimes we need a collective,existential thump on the head, this is such a time to respect our
    inter dependence, there fore I concur with Leon Breaux, we must keep it simple and help people in the gulf in a hands on way. , call and ask what’s needed, keep it simple.what about locating and contacting, smaller animal rescue orgs in need of supplies, send them supplies directly so ur money won’t go to operation costs like it does in a bigger organization. Send th family of the Boat fisherman that committed suicide.

    p.s. Am graphic designer I am bugged by an small typed omission in ur well written article and is important enough to correct – u wrote And a sullen cloud seems to have descended across America, a turgid shock wave of recognition that this catastrophe, the edges of which remain invisible, are intimately connected to economic collapse of 2008. And that perhaps our government, our “system,” u wrote{IS LONGER} “ours” Should be
    {NO LONGER}.
    Peace Mike

  13. ps. Ok..ok.. I made a mistake as well – send the family of the Boat fisherman that committed suicide a note of sympathy.

  14. I feel a bit amiss in that I was responding to one of Jon Jost’s comments on a NYT article and charged in here and made a comment after only skimming briefly what he had written.

    Now having read it, I appreciate it. I see what I seem to be seeing more and more from people lately, and what I have found myself after years of looking for the real information about what’s going with our policies, corporations, our food supply and agribusiness, our military, the CIA, the Fed, military contractors, weapons manufacturers, etc.

    Now I think I’m over the initial shock and am settling into the reality of it. It seems to me pretty much without question that many things in our society are not controlled by the people we elect to control them, nor even the people who have bought them off. Someone else we never see is actually pulling a lot of the strings, generally finacial ones, and it seems to me they are old, extraordinarily rich families, likely European, and they are actively trying to bring the US population under greater submission. Personally, I don’t think this is conspiracy; it seems to me the pattern that the events we see fit into time and time again. Isn’t it our genetic heritage for someone powerful at the top to take control? But as well, there’s a more egalitarian heritage.

    In any event, I think one of the tools these guys and their executives use against us is obfuscation by complication. In other words, they blow a lot of smoke. Some of the smoke looks pretty good at times, with all the trappings of legitimacy. They just want to find out what we, the little people, will believe, and then use it against us. Business as usual. So what I’m saying is, don’t believe the hype. These guys couldn’t go on if we didn’t buy into their ideas, the hopes they create for us and then use against us. Sure, it’s cold, but from where they sit, it’s just another day.

    I just want to add that the world isn’t going to end, that things will change… I don’t mean that as false optimism. The only thing you really have that can ever be free is your own mind. Don’t let them get to that to.

    I agree, emapeal, we need to take another, better perspective. The one we’ve taken clearly hasn’t worked, as it allowed us to buy into all these lies.

    Well, that’s quite long enough, I think. Thanks, Jon Jost, for the not-so-pretty truth.

  15. So good that you are still working at the big things- people, war and this world. I remember you from so long ago in Chicago- I was David Root’s friend. I now live in Wisconsin where the I garden. Korea must be very interesting.
    tom o

    • Well I wish I had a garden, but I guess it would demand, as it once did long ago in Montana (4 yrs, 1972-76) a bit more stability. We’re in Madrid now, and off for my fourth visit to the Prado to luxuriate in the pains of Goya and others. Back to Korea in another 5 weeks or so. Chicago was a long long time ago, no? Jiggle my memory. best


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