Who's in charge? 

Debt, disaster and conflict raise troubling question

There's no doubt Americans are very unstable and uneasy right now. Voters are angry, disappointed and outraged with the current state of affairs in the nation depending on what used to be called their "political persuasion." The energy of the left has been dissipated by a series of less-than-spectacular efforts on behalf of their "change and hope" candidates. The right is fuming, but turning to their traditional Republican allies seems a losing proposition after the failures of the Bush era. And the middle, well, the middle has every reason to wonder, in confusion, uncertainty and growing angst, just who is running America these days.

Nothing gives voice to the question like the on-going BP oil well disaster. After nearly a month, crude oil continues to spurt into the once-rich Gulf waters with volcanic force. Joining the millions of barrels already discharged are an estimated 700,000 gallons of dispersant that have been pumped into the gushing deep-sea plume and sprayed over the surface slicks. In the meantime, despite what one of the world's largest multinational energy corporations claims is the best it can do, miles of fragile marshland and once-clean beaches are now being inundated with sticky, toxic, stinking goo. The larger mass swirls at sea, slowly but inexorably moving into the current that will carry it around Florida and up the eastern seaboard, polluting, crippling and killing everything in its path.

As a horrified nation and world watch the out-of-control scenario, a political disaster for President Obama and the Democrat-controlled Congress is likewise unfolding. So far the ineffectual and uncoordinated attempts of the Obama administration have accomplished little. Flyovers by high-level cabinet officials, pronouncements that costs will be covered and endless finger-pointing brings little comfort as the environmental destruction widens. The president yelled "plug the damn hole" in frustration at a recent meeting, but so far, all that's getting plugged are his public approval ratings.

Although Obama promised the nation that he had instituted a moratorium on new off-shore drilling, someone apparently failed to get that message to the federal Minerals Management Service (MMS). Not only has the agency continued to issue permits, but it's doing so with minimal environmental analysis—just like the "categorical exclusion" granted to BP's deep-sea well.

Neither the oil company nor the federal government seems capable of controlling deep-sea blowouts. The corporations do, however, appear very effective at controlling federal regulatory agencies as new reports of lavish corporate-sponsored trips and other perks to agency personnel emerge daily. The retirement of the MMS chief has already been announced. New calls demand the resignation of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, as his own close ties to the oil industry come to light. Although blustering with typical political blather (he was a senator, after all) about "pushing aside" BP, the reality is that Salazar and the federal agencies he oversees admit they don't have the expertise to deal with the disaster. Even worse, neither Salazar nor the EPA even have the power to stop BP's use of the dispersant, about whose toxic effects little is known and which likely pose long-term damage to the environment and aquatic life. "Impotent" is the word being used more and more as the disaster continues.

But if the multinational energy corporations are in charge of their chunk of America and our government, the military-industrial complex is having its own show of force half a world away. After much saber rattling in the Middle East, hawkish and threatening Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has now focused on the recent conflict between North and South Korea for her own show of force.

Siding with South Korea over an incident in which a North Korean submarine is blamed for sinking one of the South's warships, Clinton has pledged the full support of the United States to "punish" the North. Tensions are high following her pronouncements and already North Korea has broken all ties with the South. Just to make sure those tensions keep rising to a white-hot flashpoint, joint anti-submarine military exercises by the United States and South Korea are planned for the immediate future.

As North Korea puts its military on high alert and readies for the looming confrontation, Americans have every right to ask: "What's in it for us?" The answer, in a nutshell, is "nothing." It's been 60 years since Americans died on the Korean Peninsula and we still have 26,000 military personnel staged there, sucking down the Treasury to maintain the rusted remnants of the Cold War machine. But that war, against Communism, has been over since the dissolution of the Soviet Union more than 20 years ago. So why are we once again willing to put Americans in harm's way between two feuding branches of the same nation on the other side of the globe?

Here, as with the oil spill, it appears the interests of mega-corporations take precedence over sensible governance of our own beleaguered nation. Real homeland security would concentrate on the very real damage being done to our homeland by a blown-out deep-sea oil well. But instead, following in the sorry tracks of George W. Bush, Clinton and Obama threaten to wage war on "axis of evil" nations to benefit no one but the profits of those who make the machines of war.

Thomas Jefferson warned us almost two centuries ago, writing: "I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country."

President Dwight D. Eisenhower likewise warned us more than half a century ago: "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."

Sadly, it appears we have forgotten those warnings. Now, as we plunge deeper into debt, conflict and destruction, citizens have every reason to ask: "Who is running America?"

Helena's George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at opinion@missoulanews.com.

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