I am shocked at what I hear about BP on the news. Don’t get me wrong, I am not shocked to hear that they knew the oil spill was much, much larger than they first said. I am not shocked to hear that they could be using four times as many boats to help the cleanup effort but aren’t because it is too expensive. I am not shocked to learn that they were knowingly operating under unsafe conditions or that they are trying to cheat the people that they hurt out of compensation. What I am shocked about is that everyone else seems to find this surprising.
I am guessing that there isn’t a single person in the United States that doesn’t know about the effects of the oil spill. If you turn on CNN, MSNBC, or even (gag) Fox "news", the coverage is basically streaming footage of the oil soaked pelicans, the pools of dirty ocean water, tar balls and interviews with fishermen and women who no longer have a source of income. It is all very poignant and disturbing and I am glad that they are showing it but I still think that there is a very large part of the story that they are leaving out.
There is an old expression about journalism that says, "if it bleeds, it reads". In other words, heartstring tugging footage or violent scary stories generate more interest that a report that focuses on things like statistics and in-depth analysis of an issue. Media today is centered a lot more on revenue than it ever was before so I get why it’s happening. However, people should know that things like the oil spill (and Haiti and Katrina and the Tsunami and many others for that matter) all have a common thread, they are caused by neoliberalism and greed. In other words, our profit driven system of social and economic policy (i.e. capitalism!) is to blame.
In the eighties, the whole idea of neoliberalism and free market economics began to emerge. This meant that governments (and the US was definitely in the forefront of this) began to take a hands-off stance on big business. The free market policy has a good sounding name, especially in the US where we love the word freedom almost as much as we love McDonalds and SUVs, but what it basically means that trade and commerce are free of government regulation. This means that companies like BP can run a company that endangers its workers and the environment without being shut down.
I suppose there are some of you (out of the millions and millions of people that read my blog everyday) that are saying "Wait a minute, what do you mean they are allowed to run them that way? Didn’t you see on CNN where it said that BP violated like 800 safety codes? If they violated them, obviously there are regulations in place. And haven’t you heard that the government is going to make them pay for they did? Obviously they aren’t just being allowed to walk away from this mess that they made."
You’d be right in a sense, but think about it for a minute. They did violate safety codes, it is documented that they were told this…but the operation was still running. That’s the thing, there aren’t nearly enough regulations in place and the ones that exist aren’t enforced that much. In other words, they get a slap on the wrist if they violate the regulations and there are a bunch of other ways that they should be regulated but they aren't.
Last year BP was fined $87 million dollar for having "willing" errors in safety violations. $87 million sounds like A LOT of money but last year alone BP had a profit margin of 14 BILLION dollars. Billion! So $87 million is only 0.6% of their profits!So, for knowingly operating in hazardous, life-threatening conditions, for every hundred dollars that BP made, they had to pay sixty cents
Paying a little fine must have seemed like a pretty inexpensive fix compared to what it would have cost to fix the safety problems. I mean, there was also the lives that were lost when the rig exploded, the livelihoods that were lost by ruining the economy of the gulf, not to mention the poisoning of an enormous ecosystem but those loses don’t come out of the BP pocketbook so those don’t really count right?
One way that it is justified is that it creates jobs, even though the system also advocates cutting any and every job possible if it means that the profit rate could be increased even more. Another reason people say it’s good is because it fosters business growth, which I guess means that we should let big businesses operate dangerously without punishing them so that they can get even bigger and have even more money to pay fines instead of fixing problems.
Either way, for every person in America and around the world that isn't a multimillionaire we are letting ourselves get screwed by rich people so that they can make more money. Right now, The wealth of the top one percent of US households exceeds the combined household wealth of the bottom 95 percent. That means that if 95% of the people in the United States put all of our money together, it would still be less than the richest one percent! And not by a little, the top one percent have more than fifty percent of the wealth in this country. They are the ones that are making the money out of ruining the environment. They are the ones that willing put workers' health and homes in danger in order to add to their billion dollar a year profit margins. And we let them, cause someone who was really eff-ing smart put the word "free" in front of trade and convinced the American public that it was our patriotic duty to support this insanity.
And as for BP and the government making sure that the lives of the people in the gulf are restored to what they were before the oil spill? Well I’ll believe that might have even a tiny possibility of happening as soon as the victims from hurricane Katrina aren’t still living next to ruined houses in the "temporary" FEMA trailers that they were given five years ago.