Perpetuating the Bailout Culture

Kentucky GOP/Tea Party Senate candidate Rand Paul has had a rough couple of days.  On Wednesday he went on NPR and MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” and criticized the provision in the 1964 Civil Rights Act that makes it illegal for private business to discriminate on the basis of race.  Today Dr. Paul declared the Obama Administration’s criticism of BP for their actions leading up to last month’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and subsequent incompetence in attempting to stem the leak as “un-American.”  It’s not BP’s fault, he implied, and said “accidents happen.”

True, accidents happen.  But it’s also true that many—if not most—accidents can be prevented, as certainly this one could have.  Had there been proper oversight, had regulators not simply taken BP’s word for it that their operations in the deep waters of the Gulf were perfectly safe, and that they knew exactly what to do in the highly unlikely event that there was a spill and could easily clean it up, we would not be seeing the catastrophe we’re seeing now.

And yes, it is absolutely BP’s fault, because they skirted safety regulations, cut corners in testing, lied about their ability to contain a spill,  and in partnership with Transocean (the doomed rig’s operator) and Haliburton (the installer of the “fail safe” blowout preventer) had they not skipped the step of filling the drill site with mud to prevent such leaks, and covered up and lied about defects and test failures in the blowout preventer, then this particular spill would never have happened.

But this compulsive need by Paul and many of his Republican contemporaries to exonerate Big Oil from any wrongdoing is what is really troubling to me.  And the desire to protect these corporate entities from accountability is what is bringing this country to its knees.

Last week, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) blocked a measure in the Senate that would have increased the liability cap on oil companies from $75 million to $10 billion.  Earlier this week it was Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) that stood in the way of ensuring that BP and all other firms are held financially responsible for the repercussions of their failures.  It’s OK, they said; BP promised they’d clean it up and pay costs.  We should just take them at their word, like we did when they promised us this technology was perfectly safe.

The result of this unwillingness to place accountability and responsibility where it belongs is what is going to end up costing the American taxpayer tens of billions of dollars to clean up this mess.  Face it:  BP didn’t get hurt (much) by this accident.  But 11 people died on that rig, the Louisiana coastline is beginning to see gobs of oil staining its shore, fisheries have been closed down because of the massive oil slick putting countless fishermen out of work, creating a ripple effect that will devastate an already depressed local economy.  And the smell that has to be endured by all that live in the Gulf region, lowering their quality of life.

And that doesn’t account for the sea life and marsh lands that will be destroyed.  But it’s not BP’s fault, and they shouldn’t be criticized.  It’s “un-American.”

This is the same attitude that led to the banking collapse in 2008.  No regulation, no accountability; bankers and Wall St. execs are free to do whatever they damn well please with no regard to the potential consequences their actions will have on the rest of America.  Even now Republicans are loath to put rules into place that will ensure such a monumental collapse will never happen again.  We shouldn’t hamper private industry from doing whatever it wants in pursuit of profit.  And when they fail and bring the entire economy to the brink of complete collapse, ruining the lives of tens of millions of people across the country, it’s ok.  The government will be there to prop them up and make sure they don’t lose any of their fortune.

It was Republicans that insisted the deregulatory policies that led to the energy crisis in California, which led to the fraudulent and corrupt business practices at Enron, and which ultimately led to the collapse of that company and their accounting firm, Arthur Andersen.

It was the Republicans who were against regulating health insurance companies, out of fear that actually making them make good on claims and provide for the health care needs of their customers would have an adverse effect on their bottom lines.  Never mind the billions of dollars in profits they make.

It is Republican policies, greed, and disregard for their constituents who are not Wall St. or Big Oil execs that perpetuate the need for the government to step in and bail these companies out to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars.

“Trickle down economics” doesn’t work!  It never has, and it never will!  And allowing businesses to operate without any kind of rules or regulations always leads to disaster.  And who ends up paying?  The taxpayer does.  So why are Repubs and their Tea Party compatriots complaining so much?  This is exactly the way they wanted things!  They got precisely what they wanted!

Maybe they should be a bit more careful about what they wish for.

So what’s next, Dr. Paul?  Should we not allow the government to make sure that the medications we take won’t kill us?  Should we not allow the government to monitor whether or not the food we eat is poisoned?  Should the government not be allowed to prevent manufacturers from spewing noxious gases into the air we breathe?  Toxic chemicals from getting into the water we drink?  Should there be no rules against businesses lying to or misleading their customers and stealing their money?  Do private businesses always do the ethical thing, and do they never put the general public at risk?  And how do you propose to stop them when they do if there are no laws to stop them?  If government can’t act to protect its citizens, then how do we know that we can stay safe?

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