Monday, May 3, 2010

Greed is indeed god!

I think the verdict is in, Matt Taibbi-- greed is indeed god! And we don't need a symbolic slap on the hand to Goldman Sachs to prove it. In fact, it seems stupidly naive to even ask that question. As we read about the congressional questioning of Goldman Chief Financial Officer David Viniar one cannot help but be struck by the sheer hubris of the business elite. With full knowledge of the anger of American public about the bank bailouts (I mean who could bury their heads that deep in the sand?) and the connection they had, not only to real people losing value on the homes they sank their lives into, but in setting up buyers knowing they had bad loans. But that was not enough! They then profited from these loses, Viniar replies when asked about the email which discusses the deceptive products they were selling "I think that is very unfortunate to have on e-mail." (  and it is only when the congressman pushes the issue that the businessman finally admits it was "unfortunate as well" that they knew they were selling a "piece of crap" and sold it anyway.

But the Goldman Sachs investigation is just the first layer of the multi-layered onion of greed and while there might be some meaningless gesture of consequences for our viewing pleasure (they'll want us to believe it's a public flogging with a cat o'nine tails but make no mistake about who is really in charge here...) the banks are likely to only cut loose those who have not played their game by their rules-- witness AIM. But make no mistake, this is not an isolated incident of businesses that have run amuck with the deregulation of the business industry that, I will add, began with the Reagan revolution. Lest we forget the failure of the Savings & Loans in the 80s and then the explosion and subsequent collapse in the 90s. But just in the past few months... MONTHS! we have seen 29 miners die as a result of carelessness on the part of the coal mining industry. In the weeks since the disaster it has been widely reported that the company of the mine, Massey Energy Co had been cited for safety violations which they ignored with impunity. (Businesses can do this when they know that the government will not do anything with any consequence to them.)

photo courtesy of: 
And now we have the oil industry having it's heydey and showing us all what the laissez faire free market can do for us. Although we are still at the beginning of understanding what this will cost all of us, make no mistake that it will cost. The fishing industry is already shut down and it won't be long before we see the prices rise for seafood at the market. The environment itself will simply be devastated. Birds, the species we see effected first (since they are land creatures), soak up the oil, however light colored it might be (one politician trying to marginalize the damage said it just looked like tea and wasn't nearly as bad as the media was trying to make it look) and prohibits their ability to fly- and feed themselves but just in case they don't starve to death or find themselves eaten by predators, they will probably die from poisoning as they attempt to clean themselves of their oily bath.
Many of the larger species in the ocean will manage to save themselves-- Dolphins are certainly a likely enough creature to sense the danger but even they will struggle with the oil laced waters. The bulk of sealife that will be lost will be the smaller inhabitants, the turtles, the squid, the plantlife etc. -anything that can't escape the suffocating layers of crude. And as the region is depleted of  food -larger sea life that may have initially escaped the actual spill, will feel the effects with the lack of food. 

Even if we didn't depend on fish as a source of food, the devastation of what has been done here will deeply effect the quality of the lives of the people in the areas along the coast. People will lose their livelihoods and their homes.
 In Key West, an island 2 miles wide and 4 miles long-- not a soul there does not depend on the ocean for their livelihood. Even the police are paid via the taxes of the tourist industry and snowbirds that come there because of it's magical ambiance. How will the owner of this little bar fare when the docks are greasy and oiled, empty of life because no one can paddle out into the shallow waters to view the sealife that live in nearby Mango groves? How do people who live on such a small piece of land keep from having their lives polluted from the gulf carried stream of tea colored fuel? The natives all along the coast may not even be able to stay in their homes if the fumes that emanate from the oil are too strong. There will be no tourism- this affects the hotel industry, restaurant businesses, souvenir shops, boating industries (fishing, snorkeling, sunset sailing trips, etc.)-- so many independently owned businesses on coastal properties that dependent on the vacationer from the north- even the airlines will be effected. Initially it will simply be the mess but even after the largest of the cleanup effort is done and the beaches are sort of inhabitable again (and I will add here that there are still reports of oil at Prince William Sound- over 20 years ago), the coral reefs which are already fragile ecosystems because of our incredible misuse of our planet, will be destroyed.  If- well, really it should be WHEN- we lose so much of our ocean's ecosystem just off the coast of our country, we cannot even begin to calculate how this will change the way we, all of us, live our lives.  

But here we face the schizophrenia that is the United States. In the 1970s there was a very clear message given to the American public that we were too dependent on oil and that we were damaging our environment with the lifestyle we were living (and at that time we were using far less oil than we are now). There was some acknowledgement of the seriousness of the matter and some environmental regulations were put in place. Yet there was no serious effort to change our dependence on oil and in fact a laissez faire attitude toward the very idea of curbing our need for fast burning fuels was encouraged. We elected officials who chipped away at the regulations that were set in place and when that wasn't enough, we allowed these same elected officials ("elected" means that we voted for them. We put them there!) to put regulators in place who were either in favor of ignoring the rules or were so inept that they didn't know rules were broken when they were waved under their noses. And when that didn't work, we the people via our government gave the companies a superficial fine that made us all feel better. We the people of the U.S. of America bully countries who might stand in the way of our right to the black gold in all parts of the world and we all gambled with our ecosystem to feed our addiction. We go to war for oil. We kill babies for oil. We are no better than the crackheads in the hood who rob and steal from their neighbors and their families to feed their addiction to cocaine. 
So here we are: 

cleaning up a mess that embodies the American spirit-a shiny poison that will quickly, then slowly, kill everything it touches. 

 We have to rethink the way we do business.  Americans do not want to pay more for gas and oil and if what I pay at the pump merely goes to pad the pocket of a wealthy oil baron then I will protest as loud as any teapartier about the price I'm paying to run my rusty little toyota. I will not pay higher taxes for gas if the government is not going to rigorously regulate these companies. 

But perhaps, I am still thinking too superficially about the problem we face. If the JOE (written about in "Death and Politics at the End of the World" April 23 on this blog) is any indication, and I believe it is, we are at Critical Mass. We cannot keep on with Business As Usual and we can't just tiptoe along making little changes here and little changes there (how is that hopey changey thing going?). Trying to tighten up regulation on an industry that is straining now to produce the oil we need will not do enough to protect us from More of the Same. We are either going to have to keep drilling for oil off our shores and risk this or we are going to have to start more wars to keep other countries from horning in on the energy we need (China now uses more fossil fuels than we do)

OR. . . 

WE make radical changes NOW. And it begins with realizing that there is no will among our politicians to really change things. So stop voting for the politician who makes the best commercials. We need substantive politicians who understand the consequences of BAU. Many of us support non-profit organization we assume are watch dogging for us. Many of these groups take money from the corporations they are supposedly opposing and are often ignoring the very practices they are taking on. So stop giving them money. And the businessmen-- well the businessmen will stand before congress and say, "I think that is very unfortunate to have on e-mail." but we must force the politicians we vote for who promise us change to view these criminals with the same eye to retribution they do muslim terrorists. Torture them if necessary for god's sake! (okay, okay, I don't really think we should torture them... I think...) And we're all going to have to be prepared to change our lifestyle-- we will have to pay more for food and fuel but we should insist that if we're going topay more that that money go toward clean energy (and REAL clean energy- not "clean" coal)

We must wake up. We must push aside our morning self-loathing and decide we have to do things differently. Today.

For another article on the severity of this crisis see:


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