Oct 252013
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From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  September 2013:
(Actually published on October 8,  2013)
By Josphat Ngonyo

Hunters, many of them foreigners, have been the plague of animals in Africa, their depredations often facilitated by lax rules and corrupt governments.

Trophy hunters, a persistent type of human degenerate, many of them rich foreigners, have been the plague of besieged animals in Africa, their depredations often facilitated by lax rules and corrupt governments.

It is now official that cropping,  defined as “harvesting of [wild] animals for a range of products,”  including meat,  horns,  and hides, may be re-introduced to Kenya through the newly proposed Wildlife Conservation & Management Bill,  2013.   Continue reading »

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Mar 092012
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Meanwhile, we sure could use a more aggressive response by the HSUS and the other biggies in the animal defense network. 

Hog-Dogging is a big-time thrill among many rural communities, but the exploitation of feral pigs for “entertainment” and business purposes, as this revolting, utterly disgraceful report by ABC shows, expands virtually unopposed. If feral pigs, or any animal, is to be “controlled” (most of the time this is done because of business interests pressing politicians, especially ranching concerns), let it be done humanely. (NB: This report is revolting not only for its contents but because ABC and its asshole producers and news presenter—Terry Moran—have chosen to celebrate what they describe instead of condemning it.)
Seen as “normal” in U.S., “bully breed” attacks on wildlife raise concern in U.K.


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NOTE: We’re not sure that contacting ABC will do anything to make them change their ways.  True civilized behavior and compassion cannot be taught.  But these people are essentially whores, mercenaries, so some noise may cause them to rethink their policy of cynical indifference to these issues, or worse, as Terry Moron does, laugh at the victimization of animals. Continue reading »

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 Posted by at 2:55 pm
Nov 052010
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Animal Liberation, Human Liberation and the Future of the Left

“Animal liberation may sound more like a parody of other liberation movements than a serious objective.” Peter Singer

“Animal liberation is the ultimate freedom movement, the `final frontier.’” —Robin Webb, British ALF Press Officer
IT SEEMS LOST on most of the global anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist Left that there is a new liberation movement on the planet —animal liberation— that is of immense ethical and political significance. But because animal liberation challenges the anthropocentric, speciesist, and humanist dogmas that are so deeply entrenched in socialist and anarchist thinking and traditions, Leftists are more likely to mock than engage it.
     For the last three decades, the animal liberation movement (ALM) has been one of the most dynamic and important political forces on the planet. Where “new social movements” such as Black Liberation, Native American, feminism, chicano/a, and various forms of Green and identity politics have laid dormant or become co-opted, the animal liberation movement has kept radical resistance alive and has steadily grown in numbers and strength.
     Unlike animal welfare approaches that lobby for the amelioration of animal suffering, the ALM demands the total abolition of all forms of animal exploitation. Seeking empty cages not bigger cages, the ALM is the major anti-slavery and abolitionist movement of the present day, one with strong parallels to its 19th century predecessor struggling to end the slavery of African-Americans in the US. As a major expression of the worldwide ALM, the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) has cost exploitation industries hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage and has decommissioned numerous animal exploiters through raids and sabotage. The FBI has demonized the ALF (along with the Earth Liberation Front [ELF]) as the top “domestic terrorist” group in the US, and the ALM in general is a principal target of draconian “anti-terrorist” legislation in US and the UK.
     Operating on a global level —from the UK, US, and Germany to France, Norway, and Russia— the ALM attacks not only the ideologies of capitalism that promote growth, profit, and commodification, but the property system itself with hammers and Molotov cocktails. Fully aware of the realities of the corporate-state complex, the ALM breaks with the fictions of representative democracy to undertake illegal direct action for animals held captive in fur farms, factory farms, experimental laboratories, and other gruesome hell holes where billions of animals die each year.
     Since the fates of all species on this planet are intricately interrelated, the exploitation of animals cannot but have a major impact on the human world itself.[1] When human beings exterminate animals, they devastate habitats and ecosystems necessary for their own lives. When they butcher farmed animals by the billions, they ravage rainforests, turn grasslands into deserts, exacerbate global warming, and spew toxic wastes into the environment. When they construct a global system of factory farming that requires prodigious amounts of land, water, energy, and crops, they squander vital resources and aggravate the problem of world hunger. When humans are violent toward animals, they often are violent toward one another, a tragic truism validated time and time again by serial killers who grow up abusing animals and violent men who beat the women, children, and animals of their home. The connections go far deeper, as evident if one examines the scholarship on the conceptual and technological relations between the domestication of animals at the dawn of agricultural society and the emergence of patriarchy, state power, slavery, and hierarchy and domination of all kinds.

In countless ways, the exploitation of animals rebounds to create crises within the human world itself. The vicious circle of violence and destruction can end only if and when the human species learns to form harmonious relations —non-hierarchical and non-exploitative— with other animal species and the natural world. Human, animal, and earth liberation are interrelated projects that must be fought for as one.
This essay asserts the need for more expansive visions and politics on both sides of the human/animal liberation equation, as it calls for new forms of dialogue, learning, and strategic alliances. Each movement has much to learn from the other. In addition to gaining new insights into the dynamics of hierarchy, domination, and environmental destruction from animal rights perspectives, Leftists should grasp the gross inconsistency of advocating values such as peace, non-violence, compassion, justice, and equality while exploiting animals in their everyday lives, promoting speciesist ideologies, and ignoring the ongoing holocaust against other species that gravely threatens the entire planet. Conversely, the animal rights community generally (apart from the ALM) is politically naive, single-issue oriented, and devoid of a systemic anti-capitalist theory and politics necessary for the true illumination and elimination of animal exploitation, areas where it can profit great from discussions with the Left.
     Thus, I attempt to demonstrate the importance of rethinking human and animal liberation movements in light of each other, suggesting ways this might proceed. The domination of humans, animals, and the earth stem from the same power pathology of hierarchy and instrumentalism, such as can only be fully revealed and transformed by a multiperspectival theory and alliance politics broader and deeper than anything yet created. I begin with some basic historical and sociological background of the AAM, and show how the Left traditionally has responded to animal advocacy issues. I then engage the views of Takis Fotopoulos, the founder of Inclusive Democracy, and conclude with a call for mutual dialogue and learning among animal and human liberationists.
     The Diversity of the Animal Advocacy Movement
The ALM is only part, by far still the smallest part, of a growing social movement for the protection of animals I call the animal advocacy movement (AAM). The AAM has three major different (and sharply conflicting) tendencies: animal welfare, animal rights, and animal liberation. The AAM movement had humble welfarist beginnings in the early 19th century with the founding of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) in Britain and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) in the US.[2] Welfare organizations thereafter spread widely throughout these and other Western countries, addressing virtually every form of animal abuse. The goal of welfare organizations, however, has never been eliminating the institutions that exploit animals – be they research laboratories, factory farms, slaughterhouses, fur farms, or circuses and rodeos – but rather reducing or ameliorating animal suffering within such violent and repressive structures. Welfarists acknowledge that animals have interests, but they believe these can be legitimately sacrificed or traded away if there is some overridingly compelling human interest at stake (which invariably is never too trivial to defend against substantive animal interests). Welfarists simply believe that animals should not be caused “unnecessary” pain, and hold that any harm or death inflicted on them must be done “humanely.”[3]

In bold contrast, animal rights advocates reject the utilitarian premises of welfarism that allows the happiness, freedom, and lives of animals to be sacrificed to some alleged greater human need or purpose. The philosophy of animal rights did not emerge in significant form until the publication of Tom Regan’s seminal work, The Case for Animal Rights (1983). According to Regan and other animal rights theorists, a basic moral equality exists among human and nonhuman animals in that they are sentient, and therefore have significant interests and preferences (such as not to feel pain) that should be protected and respected. Moreover, Regan argues, many animal species (chimpanzees, dolphins, cats, dogs, etc.) are akin to humans by having the type of cognitive characteristics that make them “subjects of a life,” whereby they have complex mental abilities that include memory, self-consciousness, and the ability to conceive of a future. Arguments that only humans have rights because they are the only animals that have reason and language, besides being factually wrong, are completely irrelevant as sentience is a necessary and sufficient condition for having rights.

Sharply opposed to the welfarist philosophies of the mainstream AAM and utilitarian philosophers like Peter Singer, proponents of animal rights argue that the intrinsic value and basic rights of animals cannot be trumped by any appeal to an alleged greater (human) good. Animals’ interests cannot be sacrificed no matter what good consequence may result (such as an alleged advance in medical knowledge). Just as most people believe that it is immoral to sacrifice a human individual to a “greater good” if it improves the overall social welfare, so animal rights proponents persuasively apply the same reasoning to animals. If animals have rights, it is no more valid to use them in medical experimentation than it is to use human beings; for the scientific cause can just as well – in truth, far better – be advanced through human experimentation, but ethics and human rights forbids it.
     The position of animal rights is an abolitionist position that demands the end to all instances and institutions of animal exploitation, not merely reducing suffering; like its 19th century predecessor, it demands the eradication of slavery, not better treatment of the slaves. Yet, although opposed to welfarism in its embrace of egalitarianism, rights, and abolitionism, most animal rights advocates are one with welfarists in advocating strictly legal forms of change through education and legislation. Like welfarists, animal rights advocates typically accept the legitimacy of capitalist economic, political, and legal institutions, and rarely possess the larger social/political/economic context required to understand the inherently exploitative logic of capital and the structural relationship between market and state.
     The adherence to bourgeois ideology that justice can be achieved by working through the pre-approved channels of the state, which is utterly corrupt and dominated by corporate interests, separates animal liberationists from rights and welfare proponents.[4] Sometimes grounding their positions in rights philosophy, and sometimes rejecting or avoiding philosophical foundations for emphases on practical action, the ALM nonetheless seeks total liberation of animals through direct attacks on animal exploiters. Unique in its broad, critical vision, the ALM rejects capitalism, imperialism, and oppression and hierarchy of all kinds. Unlike the single-issue focus of the welfare and rights camps, the ALM supports all human struggles for liberation and sees the oppression of humans, animals, and earth as stemming from the same core causes and dynamics. The ALM is predominantly anarchist in ideology, temperament, and organization. Believing that the state is a tool of corporate interests and that the law is the opiate of the people, the ALM seeks empowerment and results through illegal direct action, such as rescue raids, break-ins, and sabotage. One major form of the ALM is the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), which emerged in England in 1976, spread to the US by 1980, and therefore became a global movement active in over 20 countries. Whereas some elements of the ALM advocate violence against animal exploiters, the ALF adopts a non-violent credo that attacks the property but never causes injury to human life.[5]

Thus, the main division within the AAM is not between welfare and rights, as commonly argued, but rather between statist and non-statist approaches. Only the radical elements in the ALM challenge the myths of representative democracy, as they explore direct action and live in anarchist cultures. Clearly, the ALM is closest to the concerns of ID and other radical Left approaches, although it too has significant political limitations (see below).
     But the pluralism of the AAM movement is not only a matter of competing welfare, rights, and liberation perspectives. Its social composition cuts across lines of class, gender, religion, age, and politics. Republicans, Democrats, Leftists, anarchists, feminists, anti-humanists, anarcho-primitivists, Greens, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, and others comprise the complexity and diversity of the AAM. Unlike the issue of class struggle and labor justice, one can advocate compassion for animals from any political position, such as is clear from the influential books and articles of Matthew Scully, former speechwriter for George W. Bush.[6] However repugnant one might find Scully’s past or current political stands, his work has had a significant influence on wide range of people, such as republican elites, who otherwise would never had been sensitized to the wide spectrum of appalling cruelties to animals.
Such political diversity is both a virtue and vice. While it maximizes the influence of the AAM within the public realm, and thereby creates new legislative opportunities for animal welfare policies, there is nevertheless a lack of philosophical and political coherence, splintering the “movement” into competing and conflicting fragments. Overwhelmingly reformist and single-issue oriented (in addition to being largely white and middle/upper class), the AAM lacks a systemic social critique that grasps capital logic as a key determining force of animal exploitation and recognizes the state as a corporate-dominated structure resistant to significant social change. While there is no “animal advocacy movement” in the singular that one can build bridges with in the struggle against capitalism, there are nonetheless progressive elements within the ALM camp that understand the nature of capitalism and the state and are open to, and often experienced in, radical alliance politics. The ALM, thereby, is a potentially important force of social change, not only in relation to its struggle against animal exploitation and capitalist industries but also as an element of and catalyst to human and earth liberation struggles.
Toward A Sociology of the ALM
“We’re very dangerous philosophically. Part of the danger is that we don’t buy into the illusion that property is worth more than life … we bring that insane priority into the light, which is something the system cannot survive.”—David Barbarash, former spokesman for the ALF
“We’re a new breed of activism. We’re not your parents’ Humane Society. We’re not Friends of Animals. We’re not Earthsave. We’re not Greenpeace. We come with a new philosophy. We hold the radical line. We will not compromise. We will not apologize, and we will not relent.”—Kevin Jonas, founder of SHAC USA
Despite a large volume of literature on animal rights and animal liberation, and its growing political prominence, humanist and Left scholars have ignored the sociological meaning and import of animal rights/liberation struggles.[7] In this section, I seek to rectify this speciesist oversight and gross omission with a broad sociological contextualization of the animal rights/liberation struggles of the last three decades.
     In the context of recent social history, one might see the ALM, first, as a “new social movement” with roots in the struggles of the 1960s and 1970s. Often described as “post-class” and “post-materialist,” new social movements seek not higher wages but rather the end of hierarchies and new relations with the natural world.     Once the labor movement was co-opted and contained after World War II, the dynamics of social struggle shifted from the capital-labor relation to broader issues of justice, freedom, and identity politics. People of color, students, feminists, gays and lesbians, peace and anti-nuclear activists, and environmentalists fought for new kinds of issues. The contemporary animal rights/liberation movements were born in the social milieu generated by the movements of the 1960s and 1970s, and form an important part of movements for progressive change. This is a consequence of their critique of hierarchy, instrumentalism, and the domination of nature in the form of nonhuman species, their contribution to environmentalism, and their role in advancing the ethic of nonviolence.
New social movements play out in a postindustrial capitalist society where the primary economic dynamics no longer involve processing of physical materials but rather consumerism, entertainment, mass media, and information. Transnational corporations such as Microsoft, Monsanto, and Novartis demonstrate the importance of science and research for the postindustrial economy. Although not recognized as such, a second way of viewing the ALM is to recognize that it is part of the contemporary anti-capitalist and anti/alter-globalization movement that attacks the corporate-dominated “globalization form above” from democratic visions manifest in the struggle for “globalization from below.”[8]
     To the extent that postindustrial capital is anchored in a global science/knowledge complex, and this is driven by animal experimentation, animal liberation challenges global capitalism, in the form of what I will call the Global Vivisection Complex (GVC). More specifically, I will identify this new oppositional force the direct action anti-vivisection movement (DAAVM). This movement has emerged as a serious threat to biomedical research industries. In the UK, for example, pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical research industries are the third largest contributor to the economy; an attack on this science complex is an attack on the UK state and global capital in general. To date, the ALM in the UK and US has shut down numerous animal breeders, stopped construction of a number of major research centers, and forced HLS off the New York Stock Exchange. Clearly, the ALM is a major social force and political force. If the Left does not yet recognize this, transnational research capital and the UK and US governments certainly do, for they have demonized the ALM as a top domestic terrorist threat and are constructing police states to wage war against it.
     The GVC is a matrix of power-knowledge reflecting the centrality of science in postindustrial society. It is comprised of pharmaceutical industries, biotechnology industries, medical research industries, universities, and testing laboratories. All these institutions use animals to test and market their drugs; animals are the gas and oil without which corporate science machines cannot function. As corporations like Huntingdon Life Sciences and Chiron are global in scope and have clients throughout the world, animal liberation groups such as the ALF and Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty (SHAC) are also global in their resistance. A seemingly local group like Stop Newchurch Guinea Pigs (NSGP), which waged aggressive war in an English village against a family who breed guinea pigs for research in England, is also part of the anti-globalization movement because the family they attacked —and ultimately shut down— supplied animals to the GVC. Whatever the political views of anti-vivisectionist —whether libertarian, free market, socialist, or anarchist— they are monkeywrenching globalization from above. The DAAVM disrupts corporate supply chains, thwarts their laboratory procedures, and liberates their captive slaves.
     Besides the economic threat of the DAAVM, it also poses a strong philosophical and ideological threat by attacking the ideological legitimacy of animal-based “science.” The powerful, fact-based assault on the legitimacy of vivisection mounted by the DAAVM and animal rights movements is an assault on the authority of Science itself, an attack on the modern Church of Reason. The anti-vivisection movement exposes the fallacies of vivisection and reveals how science serves the interests of corporations such that objectivity is something to be bought and sold (e.g., junk science and falsified data to dispute global warming was funded by energy corporations such as Exxon-Mobil).
     Like the Christian church in its hey day, the popes and priests of Science are compelled to defend their authority and power by attacking and discrediting their opponents (in academia and elsewhere). Science exerts a strong influence over government and has the power to create new laws and enforce its interests. Thus, due to intense pressure from Science, the DAAVM in the UK and US has come under fierce attack by the corporate-state complex. Both UK and US governments have placed severe limitations on free speech rights and, ultimately, have criminalized dissent, such as evident in UK laws against “glorification of terrorism” and the repressive measures if the USA PATRIOT Act. Both states have applied draconian “anti-terrorist” laws against animal liberationists and imposed harsh jail sentences for “harassment” or sabotage actions.
     Thus, the DAAVM is facing the wrath of the secular church; just as Galileo said that the earth moves around the sun, so anti-vivisectionists say that research performed on one species does not apply to research performed on another, and the ALM as a whole assert that humans belong to the earth, and the earth does not belong to them. As the peace movements exposed the madness of the military-industrial complex, the anti-nuclear movement emphasized the destructive potential of nuclear power; and the environmental movement showed the ecological consequences of a growth economy, so the ARM brings to light the barbarism of enlightenment and fallacies of biomedical research.
     If the ALM can be seen as a new social movement, and as an anti-capitalist and alter- globalization movement, it can also be viewed in a third way I have emphasized, namely that it is a contemporary anti-slavery and abolitionist movement.[9] Just as nineteenth century abolitionists sought to awaken people to the greatest moral issue of the day involving the slavery of millions of people in a society created around the notion of universal rights, so the new abolitionists of the 21st century endeavor to enlighten people about the enormity and importance of animal suffering and oppression. As black slavery earlier raised fundamental questions about the meaning of American “democracy” and modern values, so current discussion regarding animal slavery provokes critical examination into a human psyche damaged by violence, arrogance, and alienation, and the urgent need for a new ethics and sensibility rooted in respect for all life.
     Animals in experimental laboratories, factory farms, fur farms, leather factories, zoos, circuses, rodeos, and other exploitative institutions are the major slave and proletariat force of contemporary capitalist society. Each year, throughout the globe, they are confined, exploited, and killed —“murdered” is not an inappropriate term— by the billions. The raw materials of the human economy (a far greater and more general domination system than capitalism), animals are exploited for their fur, flesh, and bodily fluids. Stolen from the wild, bred and raised in captivity, held in cages and chains against their will and without their consent, animals literally are slaves, and thereby integral elements of the contemporary capitalist slave economy (which in its starkest form also includes human sweatshops and sex trades).
     Abolitionists often view welfarism as a dangerous ruse and roadblock to moral progress, and often ground their position in the philosophy of rights. 19th century abolitionists were not addressing the slave master’s “obligation” to be kind to the slaves, to feed and clothe them well, or to work them with adequate rest. Rather, they demanded the total and unqualified eradication of the master-slave relation, the freeing of the slave from all forms of bondage. Similarly, the new abolitionists reject reforms of the institutions and practices of animal slavery as grossly inadequate and they pursue the complete emancipation of animals from all forms of human exploitation, subjugation, and domination.
Animal Liberation and the Left
“Auschwitz begins whenever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: they’re only animals.”—
Theodor Adorno
     “In relation to [animals], all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka.”—
Isaac Bashevis Singer
Animal liberation is the next necessary and logical development in moral evolution and political struggle. Animal liberation builds on the most progressive ethical and political advances human beings have made in the last 200 years and carries them to their logical conclusions. It takes the struggle for rights, equality, and nonviolence to the next level, beyond the artificial moral and legal boundaries of humanism, in order to challenge all prejudices and hierarchies including speciesism. Martin Luther King’s paradigmatic humanist vision of a “worldhouse” devoid of violence and divisions, however laudable, remains a blood-soaked slaughterhouse until the values of peace and equality are extended to all animal species.

Animal liberation requires that the Left transcend the comfortable boundaries of humanism in order to make a qualitative leap in ethical consideration, thereby moving the moral bar from reason and language to sentience and subjectivity. Just as the Left once had to confront ecology, and emerged a far superior theory and politics, so it now has to engage animal rights. As the confrontation with ecology infinitely deepened and enriched Leftist theory and politics, so should the encounter with animal rights and liberation.
     Speciesism is the belief that nonhuman species exist to serve the needs of the human species, that animals are in various senses inferior to human beings, and therefore that one can favor human over nonhuman interests according to species status alone.7 Like racism or sexism, speciesism creates a false dualistic division between one group and another in order to arrange the differences hierarchically and justify the domination of the “superior” over the “inferior.” Just as society has discerned that it is prejudiced, illogical, and unacceptable for whites to devalue people of color and for men to diminish women, so it is beginning to learn how utterly arbitrary and irrational it is for human animals to position themselves over nonhuman animals because of species differences. Among animals who are all sentient subjects of a life, these differences —humanity’s false and arrogant claim to be the sole bearer of reason and language— are no more ethically relevant than differences of gender or skin color, yet in the unevolved psychology of the human primate they have decisive bearing. The theory —speciesism— informs the practice —unspeakably cruel forms of domination, violence, and killing.

The prejudice and discriminatory attitude of speciesism is as much a part of the Left as the general population and its most regressive elements, calling into question the “radical,” “oppositional,” or “progressive” nature of Left positions and politics. While condemning violence and professing rights for all, the Left fails to take into account the weighty needs and interests of billions of oppressed animals. Although priding themselves on holistic and systemic critiques of global capitalism, Leftists fail to grasp the profound interconnections among human, animal, and earth liberation struggles and the need to conceived and fight for all as one struggle against domination, exploitation, and hierarchy.
     From the perspective of ecology and animal rights, Marxists and other social “radicals” have been extremely reactionary forces. In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels lumped animal welfarists into the same petite-bourgeoisie or reactionary category with charity organizers, temperance fanatics, and naïve reformists, failing to see that the animal welfare movement in the US, for instance, was a key politicizing cause for women whose struggle to reduce cruelty to animals was inseparable from their struggle against male violence and the exploitation of children.[10] In works such as his 1844 Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, Karl Marx advanced a naturalistic theory of human life, but like the dominant Western tradition he posited a sharp dualism between human and nonhuman animals, arguing that only human beings have consciousness and a complex social world.    
   Denying to animals the emotional, social, and psychological complexity of their actual lives, Marx argued that whereas animals have an immediate and merely instinctual relation to productive activity the earth, human labor is mediated by free will and intelligence. If Marxism and other Left traditions have proudly grounded their theories in science, social radicals need to realize that science – specifically, the discipline of “cognitive ethology” which studies the complexity of animal emotions, thought, and communications – has completely eclipsed their fallacious, regressive, speciesist concepts of nonhuman animals as devoid of complex forms of consciousness and social life.[11]

While there is lively debate over whether or not Marx had an environmental consciousness, there is no question he was a speciesist and the product of an obsolete anthropocentric/dominionist paradigm that continues to mar progressive social theory and politics. The spectacle of Left speciesism is evident in the lack of articles – often due to a blatant refusal to consider animal rights issues —on animal exploitation in progressive journals, magazines, and online sites. In one case, for example, The Nation wrote a scathing essay that condemned the treatment of workers at a factory farm, but amazingly said nothing about the exploitation of thousands of chickens imprisoned in the hell of battery cages. In bold contrast, Gale Eisnitz’s powerful work, Slaughterhouse, documents the exploitation of animals and humans alike on the killing floors of slaughterhouses, as she shows the dehumanization of humans in and through routinized violence to animals.[12]
     As symptomatic of the prejudice, ignorance, provincialism, and non-holistic theorizing that is rife through the Left, consider the case of Michael Albert, a noted Marxist theorist and co-founder of Z Magazine and Z Net. In a recent interview with the animal rights and environmental magazine Satya, Albert confessed: “When I talk about social movements to make the world better, animal rights does not come into my mind. I honestly don’t see animal rights in anything like the way I see women’s movements, Latino movements, youth movements, and so on … a large-scale discussion of animal rights and ensuing action is probably more than needed … but it just honestly doesn’t strike me as being remotely as urgent as preventing war in Iraq or winning a 30-hour work week.”

While I do not expect a human supremacist like Albert to see animal and human suffering as even roughly comparable, I cannot fathom privileging a work reduction for humans who live relatively comfortable lives to ameliorating the obscene suffering of tens of billion of animals who are confined, tortured, and killed each year in the most unspeakable ways. But human and animal rights and liberation causes are not a zero-sum game, such that gains for animals require losses for humans. Like most within the Left, Albert lacks the holistic vision to grasp the profound connections between animal abuse and human suffering.
LEFT BELOW: Senior Editor Anthony Marr tabling against animal abuse.
       The problem with such myopic Leftism stems not only from Karl Marx himself, but the traditions that spawned him – modern humanism, mechanistic science, industrialism, and the Enlightenment. To be sure, the move from a God-centered to a human-centered world, from the crusades of a bloodthirsty Christianity to the critical thinking and autonomy ethos of the Enlightenment, were massive historical gains, and animal rights builds on them. But modern social theory and science perpetuated one of worst aspects of Christianity (in the standard interpretation that understands dominion as domination), namely the view that animals are mere resources for human use. Indeed, the situation for animals worsened considerably under the impact of modern sciences and technologies that spawned vivisection, genetic engineering, cloning, factory farms, and slaughterhouses. Darwinism was an important influence on Marx and subsequent radical thought, but no one retained Darwin’s emphasis on the intelligence of animal life, the evolutionary continuity from nonhuman to human life, and the basic equality among all species.

Social ecologists and “eco-humanists” such as Murray Bookchin condemn the industrialization of animal abuse and killing but never challenge the alleged right to use animals for human purposes. Oblivious to scientific studies that document reason, language, culture, and technology among various animal species, Bookchin rehearses the Cartesian-Marxist mechanistic view of animals as dumb creatures devoid of reason and language. Animals therefore belong to “first nature,” rather than the effervescently creative “second nature” world of human culture.
Like the Left in general, social ecologists fail to theorize the impact of animal exploitation on the environment and human society and psychology. They ultimately espouse the same welfarist views that permit and sanctify some of the most unspeakable forms of violence against animals within current capitalist social relations, speaking in the same language of “humane treatment” of animal slaves used by vivisectors, managers of factory farms and slaughterhouses operators, fur farmers, and bosses of rodeos and circuses.
     The Left traditionally has been behind the curve in its ability to understand and address forms of oppression not directly related to economics. It took decades for the Left to recognize racism, sexism, nationalism, religion, culture and everyday life, ideology and media, ecology, and other issues into its anti-capitalist framework, and did so only under the pressure of various liberation movements. The tendency of the Marxist Left, in particular, has been to relegate issues such as gender, race, and culture to “questions” to be addressed, if at all, only after the goals of the class struggle are achieved. Such exclusionist and reductionist politics prompted Rosa Luxemburg, for one, to defend the importance of culture and everyday life by exclaiming, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be a part of your revolution!”
     Neo-Marxists, such as Frankfurt School theorists, grasped the importance of politics, culture, and ideology as important issues related but not reducible to economics and class, and after the 1960s Leftists finally understood ecology as more than a “bourgeois issue” or “diversion” from social struggles. In The Dialectic of Enlightenment, Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno developed important insights into the relationship between the domination of humans over nature and over one another, and sometimes sympathetically evoked images of animals in captivity as important symbols of human arrogance and alienation from nature. Most notably, Herbert Marcuse emphasized the importance of a “new sensibility” grounded in non-exploitative attitudes and relations toward the natural world.
     Although since the 1970s the Left has begun to seriously address the “nature question,” they have universally failed to grasp that the “animal question” that lies at the core of social and ecological issues.[13] To make the point about the interrelationships here in a simple but crucial way, consider that no society can achieve ecological sustainability if its dominant mode of food production is factory farming. The industrialized system of confining and fattening animals for human food consumption, pioneered in the US after World War II and exported globally, is a main cause of water pollution (due to fertilizers, chemicals, and massive amounts of animal waste) and a key contributor to rainforest destruction, desertification, global warming, in addition to being a highly inefficient use of water, land, and crops.[14]

        Critiques of human arrogance over and alienation from nature, calls for a “re-harmonization” of society with ecology, and emphases on a “new ethics” that focus solely on the physical world apart from the millions of animal species it contains are speciesist, myopic, and inadequate. It’s as if everyone can get on board with respecting rivers and mountains but still want to eat, experiment on, wear, and be entertained by animals. Left ecological concerns stem not from any kind of deep respect for the natural world, but rather from a position of “enlightened anthropocentrism” (a clear oxymoron) that understands how important a sustainable environment is for human existence. It is a more difficult matter to understand the crucial role animals play in sustaining ecosystems and how animal exploitation often has dramatic environmental consequences, let alone more complex issues such as relationships between violence toward animals and violence to other human beings. Moreover, it is far easier to “respect nature” through recycling, planting trees, or driving hybrid cars than it is to respect animals by becoming a vegan who stops eating and wearing animal bodies and products. Much more so than a shift in how one views the inorganic world, it is far more difficult, complex, and profound —for both philosophical and practical reason— to revolutionize one’s views toward animals and adopt ethical veganism.

In short, the modern “radical” tradition —whether, Marxist, socialist, anarchist, or other “Left” positions that include anti-racism and feminism— stands in continuity with the entire Western heritage of anthropocentrism, and in no way can be seen as a liberating philosophy from the standpoint of the environment and other species on this planet. Current Left thought is merely Stalinism toward animals.

A truly revolutionary social theory and movement will not just emancipate members of one species, but rather all species and the earth itself. A future revolutionary movement worthy of its name will grasp the ancient conceptual roots of hierarchy and domination, such as emerge in the animal husbandry practices of the first agricultural societies, and incorporate a new ethics of nature – environmental ethics and animal rights – that overcomes instrumentalism and hierarchical thinking in every pernicious form.[15]
ID and Animal Liberation
“As Long as Men Massacre Animals, They will Kill Each Other.”—Pythagoras
  “Many activists do not understand the revolutionary nature of this movement. We are fighting a major war, defending animals and our very planet from human greed and destruction.”—David Barbarash, former ALF Press Officer
As the AAM is not a monolithic entity, but rather has statist and non-statist branches, conservative and radical dimensions, Left critiques must not be overly general but rather specific to different tendencies. The issue of animal rights/liberation is important for ID and other radical orientations in that it: (1) advances a provocative critique of humanism and speciesism which are core components of Left ideology; (2) demands a broader thinking of “ecology” and “the nature question”; and (3) allows a richer and more holistic analysis of the origins and dynamics of hierarchy and domination.

As I have pointed out, the animal welfare and rights camps seek change in and through the pre-approved channels of the political and legal system, and do so from an unshakeable conviction that representative democracy works and ultimately responds to he voices of reason, compassion, and justice over the roar of vested interests, large corporations, and (even they recognize it) the structural demands of economic growth and profit. These legalist orientations, which comprise the vast bulk of animal advocacy organizations (many of them huge bureaucracies and money making machines), often win gains and “victories” for animals, yet they also legitimate and strengthen statist myths of “democracy.”[16]

Welfare and rights legalists have reduced animal suffering in a myriad of ways, ranging from adopting cats and dogs to good homes and running animal sanctuaries to ameliorating the misery of factory farmed animals. The plight of animals in factory farms and slaughterhouses, in truth, is so severe, that any reduction in the hell they endure is laudable and worthy of support. While irrelevant to an abolitionist purist or a social revolutionary movement, the increase of a battery cage size by a few inches means a lot to the half dozen chickens confined within a torturously small wire prison. At the same time, however, welfare tactics do not challenge the property and commodity status of animals, and enable factory farms and slaughterhouses to put a “humane farming” stamp of approval on their murdered victims. They thereby legitimate animal laughter and alleviate consumer guilt, perhaps even enabling more confinement and killing in the long run.
     Welfare and rights approaches in the AAM are largely apolitical beyond their own causes, although ideological orientations can fall anywhere on the scale from far right to far left. In most cases, legalists (1) do not have a grasp of social movement history (with which one can contextualize the significance of animal advocacy); (2) lack critiques of the logic and dynamics of global capitalism and neoliberalism; and (3) fail to see the relation between capitalism and animal exploitation. They thereby proceed without a systemic vision and political critique of the society and global system that exploits animals through industrialized systems of mass production and death.

Holistic and structural critiques of capitalism as an irrational growth system driven to exploitation and environmental destruction are a hallmark of approaches such as social ecology and Inclusive Democracy, and are crucial for the theoretical growth of the AAM. Lacking a sophisticated social and historical analysis, much of the AAM is guilty of all charges leveled above. It is well-deserving of the ID critique that it is a reformist, single issue movement whose demands —which potentially are radical to the extent that animal rights demands and affects an economy rooted to a significant degree in animal slavery— are easily contained within a totalizing global system that exploits all life and the earth for imperatives of profit, accumulation, growth, and domination.
     In bold contrast to the limitations of the AAM and all other reformist causes, Takis Fotopoulos advances a broad view of human dynamics and social institutions, their impact on the earth, and the resulting consequences for society itself. Combining anti-capitalist, radical democracy, and ecological concerns in the concept of “ecological democracy,” Fotopoulos defines this notion as “the institutional framework which aims at the elimination of any human attempt to dominate the natural world, in other words, as the system which aims to reintegrate humans and nature. This implies transcending the present ‘instrumentalist’ view of Nature, in which Nature is seen as an instrument for growth, within a process of endless concentration of power.”[17]

Fotopoulos and other ID theorists offer an important analysis and critique of global capitalism and the triumph over social democracy and other political systems other than neoliberalism. As true of social ecology and Left theory in general, however, the dynamics and consequences of human exploitation of animals throughout history is entirely missing from the ID theory of nature and ecology and critique of instrumentalism.
     Where the ID critique can take easy aim at the statist orientation of the AAM, the framework has to shift in its approach to the ALM, for here there are some important commonalities. First, the rhetoric and direct action tactics of the ALM show that, like ID, it understands that the state is a political extension of the capitalist economy and therefore “representative democracy” is a myth and smokescreen whereby capitalism mollifies and co-opts its opposition. Bypassing appeals to politicians in the pocket of animal exploitation industries, and disregarding both the pragmatic efficacy and ethical legitimacy of existing laws, the ALM applies direct pressure against animal exploiters to undermine or end their operations and free as many animals as possible. Thus, second, from writings and communiqués, it is clear that the ALM, like ID, is anti-capitalist and has a systematic (or at least holistic) analysis of hierarchy and oppression. Third, the ALM rejects single-issue politics in favor of supporting and often forming alliances with human and environmental movements. Fourth, the anti-capitalist ideology of the ALM is, specifically, anarchist in nature. Not only are animal liberationists anarchist in their social and political outlook, they are also anarchist in their organization and tactics. The small cells that ALF activists, for example, build with one another —such that one cell is unknown to all others and thereby resistant to police penetration— are akin to anarchist affinity groups in their mutual aid, solidarity, and consciousness building.
     The project to emancipate animals is integrally related to the struggle to emancipate humans and the battle for a viable natural world. To the extent that animal liberationists grasp the big picture that links animal and human rights struggles as one, and seeks to uncover the roots of oppression and tyranny of the Earth, they can be viewed as a profound new liberation movement that has a crucial place in the planetary struggles against injustice, oppression, exploitation, war, violence, capitalist neo-liberalism, and the destruction of the natural world and biodiversity.[18]

Radical animal rights/liberation activists are also active in online learning communities and information sites, such as Infoshop and Indymedia, whereby radical cultures are forming on a global level. The communities envisioned by Fotopoulos and other past and present anarchists is today largely unfolding online, as well as in events such as the protests communicated to and attended by global communities and “Liberation Fests” that feature militant speakers such as Black panthers, Native Americans, and animal and earth liberation proponents, as well as hard core music that acts as a energizing, unifying, and politicizing force. Many animal liberationists are knowledgeable of social issues, involved in human liberation struggles, politically radical and astute, and supportive of alliance politics. Crucial and novel forms of thinking, struggle, and alliances are unfolding, all without notice of much of the Left.[19]

In conditions where other social movements are institutionalized, disempowered, reformist, or co-opted, animal liberationists are key contemporary forces of resistance. They defy corporate power, state domination, and ideological hegemony. They resist the normalization and roboticization of citizens through disinformation systems (from FOX News to MSNBC), media-induced passivity, and cultural narcotics in weapons of mass distraction and endless forms of spectacle and entertainment. They literally attack institutions of domination and exploitation —not just their ideologies or concepts— with bricks, sledge hammers, and Molotov cocktails. Their militancy and courage deserves recognition, respect, and support. It is worth pointing out that where today’s radicals are mostly engaged in theory and philosophizing, the ALM is taking action against capitalism and in defense of life, often at great risk of their own personal freedom should they be caught for illegal raids or sabotage strikes.

Yet, for whatever parallels we can identify between the ALM and ID, Fotopoulos is critical of the ALM to the degree that it lacks a detailed and concrete systemic critique of global capitalism and its various hierarchical systems of power, and positive and workable strategies for radical social transformation that dismantles the state and market system in favor of direct democracy. As Fotopoulos remarks on the limitations of the ALM from his standpoint, “The development of an alternative consciousness towards animals could only be part of an antisystemic consciousness which has to become hegemonic (at the local/ regional/ national/ transnational level) before new institutions implementing an ecological democracy, as part of an ID, begins to be built. In other words, the strategy for an ecological democracy should be part of the transitional ID strategy in which direct action, although it does play a more significant role than the traditional tactics of the Left (demonstrations, etc.), still it is also in effect a defensive tactics. What we need most, in contrast, is an aggressive tactics of building alternative institutions within the present system (which would include institutions of ecological democracy) that would make the antisystemic consciousness hegemonic.”
     Fotopoulos’ statement possibly devalues the importance of single issue causes such as saving species such as whales and chimpanzees from extinction, of defending the earth and struggling to preserve various land and sea animals from total extinction. Whether connected or not, it is important that radical struggles for social justice, animal rights, and ecology all unfold in as many forms as possible in this ominous era of global warming, species extinction, rainforest destruction, and rapid ecological disintegration, all results of increasingly authoritarian and exploitative social systems. Fotopoulos is entirely correct, however, in his main point. Sabotage actions —while important and rare forms of bold resistance today, saving countless thousands of animal lives and shutting down numerous exploitative operations— are rearguard, defensive, and incapable of stopping the larger juggernaut of capitalist domination and omnicide. Many of the ALM would admit as much. Positive visions for radical change, along with the concrete struggles and transitional social forms to put them in place, are urgently needed, although some theorists and activists within the ALM are contributing to this project in notable ways.
     Moreover, the general thrust of Fotopoulos’ critique of the reformist tendencies dominating the AAM, such that animal friendly neocons like Matthew Scully are hailed as heroes, is correct: “Unless an antisystemic animal liberation current develops out of the present broad movement soon, the entire movement could easily end up as a kind of “painless” (for the elites) lobby that could even condemn direct action in the future, so that it could gain some “respectability” among the middle classes.” Unfortunately, these words already ring true in the pathetic spectacle of mainstream groups like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) applauding the FBI witchhunt on the ALM and expressing its hope to see “the end of the ALF and ELF forever,” so that the flames of radicalism are extinguished within the vacuum of reformist, compromising, single-issue, touchy-feely, puppy-hugging politics.[20]
     But, as I have been arguing, the insights, learning, and changes need to come from both sides, and the animal standpoint can be highly productive for radical social politics. The animal perspective can deepen the ecological component of ID, as well as its understanding of the profound interconnections between domination of animals and domination of humans. The goal of ecological democracy cannot be achieved without working to eliminate the worst forms of animal exploitation such as occur in the global operations of factory farming. It cannot be realized without a profound critique and transformation of instrumentalism, such as which emerged as form of power over animals than over humans.
     The best approach to theorizing hierarchy in its origins, development, and multifaceted, overlapping forms is through a multiperspectival, non-reductionist approach that sees what is unique to and common among various modes of domination. There are a plurality of modes and mechanisms of power that have evolved throughout history, and different accounts provide different insights into the workings of power and domination. According to feminist standpoint theory, each oppressed group has an important perspective or insight into the nature of society.[21] People of color, for instance, can illuminate colonialism and the pathology of racism, while women can reveal the logic of patriarchy that has buttressed so many different modes of social power throughout history. While animals cannot speak about their sufferings, it is only from the animal standpoint —the standpoint of animal exploitation— that one can grasp the nature of speciesism, glean key facets of the pathology of human violence, and illuminate important aspects of misothery (hatred of nature) and the social and environmental crisis society now faces.
     The animal perspective offers crucial insights into the nature of power and domination. Any theory such as social ecology or ID that claims to understand the origin, development, and dynamics of hierarchy profits considerably from taking into account the wide body of literature revealing deep connections between the domination of humans over animals and the domination of humans over one another. Any critique of “instrumentalism” as a profound psychological root of hierarchy, domination, and violence must analyze the roots of this in the domination of animals that begins in the transition from hunting and gathering cultures to agricultural society. Instrumentalism emerges as speciesism and forms a key part of anthropocentrism more generally.
     In many cases, technological, ideological, and social forms of hierarchy and oppression of human over human began with the domestication, domination, and enslavement of humans over animals. In her compelling book, The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery, Marjorie Spiegel shows that the exploitation of animals provided a model, metaphors, and technologies and practices for the dehumanization and enslavement of blacks.[22] From castration and chaining to branding and ear cropping, whites drew on a long history of subjugating animals to oppress blacks. Once perceived as beasts, blacks were treated accordingly. In addition, by denigrating people of color as “beasts of burden,” an animal metaphor and exploitative tradition facilitated and legitimated the institution of slavery. The denigration of any people as a type of animal is a prelude to violence and genocide. Many anthropologists believe that the cruel forms of domesticating animals at the dawn of agricultural society ten thousand years ago created the conceptual model for hierarchy, statism, and the exploitation treatment of other human beings, as they implanted violence into the heart of human culture. From this perspective, slavery and the sexual subjugation of women is but the extension of animal domestication to humans. James Patterson, author of Eternal Treblinka Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust, reveals the common roots of Nazi genocide and the industrialized enslavement and slaughter on non-human animals.” Patterson, Jim Mason, and numerous other writers concur that the exploitation of animals is central to understanding the cause and solution to the crisis haunting the human community and its troubled relationship to the natural world.
Award-winning writer, noted speaker, public intellectual, and seasoned activist, Steven Best engages the issues of the day such as animal rights, ecological crisis, biotechnology, liberation politics, terrorism, mass media, globalization, and capitalist domination. Best has published 10 books, over 100 articles and reviews, spoken in over a dozen countries, interviewed with media throughout the world, appeared in numerous documentaries, and was voted by VegNews as one of the nations “25 Most Fascinating Vegetarians.” He has come under fire for his uncompromising advocacy of “total liberation” (humans, animals, and the earth) and has been banned from the UK for the power of his thoughts. From the US to Norway, from Sweden to France, from Germany to South Africa, Best shows what philosophy means in a world in crisis.
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Everyone should understand by now that, regardless of what party is in office, it is corporate power that runs and staffs this nation’s highest offices, and that American presidents are essentially shills for the untouchable plutocracy.

By Tom Eley 
14 May 2010  [print_link]

As more details emerge about the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon, which killed 11 workers and spilled millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, it has become clear that the single-minded drive for profit and a total lack of regulation created the disaster.

In the immediate aftermath of the explosion, oil giant BP, rig operator Transocean and the Obama administration all took the position that the disaster was an unforeseeable event. Interviews with workers, information gathered by researchers and testimony given to Congressional and Coast Guard hearings prove, however, that there was in fact ample warning that a disaster was possible, even likely. But BP and its partners, Transocean and Halliburton, disregarded these warnings.

They could do so with impunity. There exists no regulatory body in the oil industry to defend the safety interests of workers and the environment, the Mineral Management Service (MMS) of the Department of the Interior having long ago ceded all meaningful regulatory control to the industry itself.
At hearings in Louisiana held by the MMS and the US Coast Guard, the head of MMS’s Louisiana engineering operations, Frank Patton, who had given BP authorization to begin drilling at the Deepwater Horizon site, admitted that he had performed no inquiry and had been given no assurance that the rig’s blowout preventer would function in the event of a spill. He also admitted that he had certified “hundreds” of oil rigs without verifying the efficacy of their blowout preventers. These rigs presumably continue to operate in Gulf waters—a handful in deeper water than the Deepwater Horizon.

Buildup to disaster

Evidence revealed in Congressional testimony, press accounts and gathered by University of California professor Robert Bea has provided a detailed picture of the weeks and hours leading up to the explosion.  Deepwater Horizon was not an extractive oil rig, but an exploratory rig. When it exploded on April 20 it was in the process of completing its exploration by capping the well it had bored some three miles below the ocean floor, before moving on to another exploration site. This required the rig to plug the oil well and separate its riser piping from the wellhead to the rig. A separate rig would later have come to access the sealed wellhead.

Deepwater Horizon’s exploratory drilling had been troubled by unusually frequent and forceful contact with explosive natural gas deposits, known in the industry as “kicks,” workers say. Only weeks before the fatal explosion, so much gas forced its way up the well bore and onto the rig platform that an emergency freeze was placed on many activities aboard the rig in order to avoid triggering an explosion.

According to one worker’s account, submitted to Bea, “at one point during the previous several weeks, so much [gas] came belching up to the surface that a loudspeaker announcement called for a halt to all ‘hot work,’ meaning any smoking, welding, cooking or any other use of fire. Smaller belches, or ‘kicks,’ had stalled work as the job was winding down.”

“As the job unfolded … the workers did have intermittent trouble with pockets of natural gas,” another rig employee reported to Bea. “Highly flammable, the gas was forcing its way up the drill pipes. This was something BP had not foreseen as a serious problem, declaring a year earlier that gas was likely to pose only a ‘negligible’ risk. The government warned the company that gas buildup was a real concern and that BP should ‘exercise caution.’”

The day of the explosion, engineers reportedly argued over whether or not to remove dense drilling mud from the well bore, replacing it with much lighter sea water. Normally this step is taken only after a second cement plug is hardened in the piping, a process that takes several hours. Until this plug is fully installed, heavy mud is the first line of defense against kicks and “blowouts,” when oil and natural surge up the bore to the rig platform.

The decision was taken to replace the mud before plugging the well, even thought this would increase the chances of an explosion—and even though the operation failed a critical pressure test the same day, BP and Transocean executives admitted to the House Energy Committee. This clearly reckless decision to press forward was very likely done to protect BP’s profit interests, both because it paid rig owner Transocean an estimated $500,000 per day for use of Deepwater Horizon and its crew, and because it was anxious to bring the new well into active production.

A worker told the Wall Street Journal that the crew was in fact preparing to drop the cement plug down the riser—standard procedure—when the order came to instead pump out the mud. “Usually we set the cement plug at that point and let it set for six hours, then displace the well,” he said. The worker told the Journal that this dangerous step was first cleared with the MMS. The MMS refused comment.

It is likely that this decision combined with the failure of two other lines of defense: cement outside the well bore’s piping under the ocean floor, which is designed to prevent natural gas from moving up the bore and the riser to the rig; and the blowout preventer, a massive piece of equipment that sits on the ocean floor and is equipped with powerful hydraulic shears whose task is to sever piping in the event of a blowout.

Halliburton, which contracted for the cement and mudding work on the rig, had deployed a new chemical cement that it said would be resistant to structural damage caused by methane hydrates, which were present in the undersea rock in high quantities. But Bea, an expert with decades of experience in oil extraction engineering, said that when he saw the formula for Halliburton’s cement, he said “Uh oh.”

Bea told the Times-Picayune that Halliburton had produced “many excellent papers” that claim “because of the chemicals they’ve added, they think the cement can cure rapidly.” But Bea explained that the same chemicals they added likely gave off too much heat, thus thawing gases lodged in the rocks from their methane hydrate form and sending them up the bore and riser.

When the cement failed, gas began to force its way up the riser. At this point, concrete well plugs in the pipe should have blocked the gas. But contrary to normal practice, the final plug had not been installed, and the salt water was not heavy enough to stop the high pressure gas from rising.

On the evening of April 20, a geyser of seawater erupted onto the rig, shooting 240 feet into the air. This was soon followed by the eruption of a slushy combination of mud, gas and water. At this point workers knew they were in danger because the mud could only have come from 10,000 feet down, Bea said. On the rig, the gas component of the slushy material quickly transitioned into a fully gaseous state and then ignited into a series of explosions and then a firestorm. Workers immediately attempted to activate the blowout preventer, but it too failed.

Ironically, at the moment of the explosion a number of BP officials, recently helicoptered to the rig, had gathered for a celebration with rig staff marking seven years of a “spotless” safety record. Those at the party were thrown violently to the floor by the force of the explosion.

Bea, who headed up an independent team of scientists that investigated failure of levees during Hurricane Katrina, compared the two events. “BP fell into the same damn trap, and they were not engineering; they were ‘imagineering,’” he told the Times-Picayune. “Risk analysis continues to mislead us because we’re only looking at part of the risk. The same trail of tears led to Katrina, to the Massey Big Branch (coal) mine disaster, and it’s showing up here again.”

“For me, the tragedy of Katrina was floating bodies and the homes and businesses that were destroyed,” Bea said. “This time, it’s different. Certainly the people on the rig were killed and the pieces of equipment were destroyed, but like Katrina, there’s another non-voting population getting hurt this time and it is those marine animals that are our equivalents.”

A collapse in regulation

The series of mechanical failures and human errors that conspired to produce the disaster aboard the Deepwater Horizon were not random accidents, as the Obama administration and much of the media seek to portray them. They arose from the deregulation of the oil industry that has advanced for decades under both Republican and Democratic administrations. These conditions made a major spill inevitable— if not on the Deepwater Horizon, then on some other rig. Indeed, thousands of oil rigs operating under precisely the same regulatory environment that produced the Deepwater Horizon disaster continue to extract oil even today.

The Deepwater Horizon, it has become clear, was operated in the total absence of real government regulation. This is most evident in relationship to the rig’s blowout preventer, its final line of defense.

At hearings in Louisiana held by the MMS and the US Coast Guard, the head of MMS’s Louisiana engineering operations, Frank Patton, who had given BP authorization to begin drilling at the Deepwater Horizon site, admitted that he had performed no inquiry and had been given no assurance that the rig’s blowout preventer would function in the event of a spill. He also admitted that he had certified “hundreds” of oil rigs without verifying the efficacy of their blowout preventers. These rigs presumably continue to operate in Gulf waters—a handful in deeper water than the Deepwater Horizon.

At House Energy Committee hearings held Wednesday, the head of Transocean, Steven Newman, confirmed that one of the Deepwater Horizon’s shear rams, devices used in blowout preventers to sever pipes, was altered in 2005 at the request of BP and with the approval of the MMS. It was modified for testing, but in the process was likely rendered useless for a real emergency.

The MMS was also aware years ago that shear rams are likely to fail in emergencies, even when functional. A 2002 study by Per Holand, a Norwegian engineer, found that shear rams are not powerful enough to cut through joints in piping, which account for about 10 percent of total surface area in a blowout preventer’s piping. None of Holand’s resulting proposals were acted upon.

Another 2002 study conducted by the MMS revealed that in laboratory testing of one manufacturer’s shear rams half failed. Seven other makers refused to have their shear rams tested.

Yet another report commissioned by the MMS in 2004 questioned whether shear rams could even function under immense oceanic pressures such as those experienced by the Deepwater Horizon. The devices were literally untested in deep sea conditions. The study authors called this a “grim snapshot of the lack of preparedness in the industry to shear and seal a well with the last line of defense against a blowout” in deep water. In spite of the study, no standards were put in place.

In a 2000 safety alert the MMS “urged” deep sea oil rigs to include a backup device used to activate blowout preventers in the event of an explosion. The device, known as a “deadman,” was included on the Deepwater Horizon. But, according to testimony given to the House Energy Committee, the device’s battery was likely dead. The MMS, it has been revealed, does not inspect—let alone enforce—the use of blowout preventers.   Other oil producing nations, including Norway, Canada and Brazil, require a second backup device that can be activated by sound. It is not required on US rigs.

It has also been revealed that the number of drill site inspections carried out by the MMS dropped by over 40 percent between 2005 and 2009, even as the number of drill rigs operating in US waters rapidly increased. Penalties issued by MMS for regulatory violations fell from 66 in 2000 to 20 last year. By all accounts, regulation depends almost entirely on industry “self-enforcement.”

The gutting of regulation continued into the Obama administration. Under Obama, the MMS intervened in a court case last summer to allow BP to proceed with exploration and extraction at its Deepwater Horizon site without submitting a legally required environmental impact study. Obama promoted a vast expansion of offshore and deep sea drilling, declaring the industry to be safe, without having addressed any of the outstanding safety issues.

Yet, like the more immediate causes of the explosion and sinking on the Deepwater Horizon, none of these regulatory decisions were mere “mistakes.” Regulation in the oil industry—as in every other US industry, including the financial system—has been reduced to its present state by a series of conscious political decisions enacted at every level of government by both Republicans and Democrats.

This political shift, in turn, has arisen from the demands of the US corporate and financial elite, who have sought to dismantle every obstacle to their personal enrichment—regardless the costs for their workers and the health of the planet.

TOM ELEY is a senior analyst with the World Socialist Web Site.


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May 112010
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As one ecosystem after another collapses from hyperexploitation, and after one species after another is driven to extinction, when and where will humans draw the line to their incessant depredations? But first, what is allowing this criminal state of affairs to continue?


{The once proud Deepwater Horizon. Measuring over a block long by 78 m wide, the platform was a giant among giants. But cheapness and enormous carelessness toward the environment, condoned by the US government, doomed it to become the most horrific ecoindustrial accident in history. Note the platform was optimistically rated to perform up to 8,000 ft below the surface. At 5,000 ft, the unstoppable spill has presented the industry with an embarrassing lesson. } —>>>

THERE IS NO VERBAL HYPERBOLE sufficient to express the magnitude of the environmental catastrophe now known as Deepwater Horizon. It is nothing short of an Armageddon of Oil. Assuming we even survive this one, we must immediately mobilize a crash program for truly renewable alternative energy resources.

Action Page: http://www.peaceteam.net/action/pnum1043.php

Despite the gusher of lies we’ve heard trying to minimize the planetary scale disaster now in progress in the Gulf, the terrifying truth is available for those who will hear it. First they told us the “leak” was only 1,000 barrels a day, when in fact it is at least 5 times that much. Of course it’s hard to pretend an oil slick the size of New Jersey isn’t there. And it could easily blow out to 50,000 barrels a day (2,000,000 gallons) in a heartbeat, according to a “not for public” NOAA emergency report.

This is not just a leak, it’s a monster underwater oil geyser, under upwards of 100,000 pounds per square inch of pressure, enough force to lift 50 tons with your thumb. And unless it is somehow stopped, it may spell the end of all marine life on the planet. We are not talking about just one Exxon Valdez size tanker spill, we are talking about one of largest oil fields ever discovered completely venting its entire contents into the ocean, thousands and thousands of tankers. It’s THAT cataclysmic.

But assuming we miraculously dodge the literal end of the world this one time, we need to finally do what should have been done 20 years ago, and throw everything we’ve got into a crash program for alternative renewable energy, and stop burning fossil fuels before they kill us all.

Action Page: http://www.peaceteam.net/action/pnum1043.php

And after you submit the action page, please consider picking up one of the timely “350 ppm or catastrophe” caps from the return page, emphasizing the urgency of immediately reducing worldwide carbon dioxide emissions. It is not as if we have not had every warning already. Or you can get one directly from this page.

350 PPM Or Catastrophe Caps:


It should have been done twenty years ago. Stop all new oil exploration. Forget about insanely expensive nuclear plants. End immediately the lunatic military occupations that have cost us trillions. And put everything we’ve got into an all out push to develop and bring on line truly renewable alternative energy sources. The burning of fossil fuels was already slowly killing the planet, causing inexorable rises in greenhouse gas levels that have done nothing but accelerate, despite the rampant disinformation campaign waged by oil industry toadies pretending to be real scientists. Now unless we find some way to stop the venting of the entire contents of a gigantic oil field in the Gulf, under 100,000 pounds per square inch of pressure, we may be looking at the end of all marine life on this planet. We have literally punched a hole into hell.

Please add whatever personal comments of your own you like, and emphasize it is time for our politicians to stop serving only oil company and nuclear lobbyists paying the off to continue to pursue bad energy policy, but to start doing something to save our country and our world instead.

And here is the Facebook link for the Crash Alternative Energy action page further above.

[Facebook] Action Page: http://apps.facebook.com/fb_voices/action.php?qnum=pnum1043

And this is the Twitter reply for this same action:

@cxs #p1043

Please take action NOW, so we can win all victories that are supposed to be ours, and forward this alert as widely as possible. If you would like to get alerts like these, you can do so at





Peter Maass on “Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil”



Author Peter Maass writes about how oil has resulted in devastation around the world in his new book, Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil. Maass spent eight years traveling the globe to discover the costs of oil production to the planet. Peter Maass is an award-winning investigative journalist and author and a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine. He joins us now from Boston. [includes rush transcript]
Peter Maass, Peter Maass is an award-winning investigative journalist and author. He is a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine, and his latest book is called Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil.
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AMY GOODMAN: BP’s initial attempt to stop the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has failed. Over the weekend, the company placed a giant four-story containment box over the spill, but the box kept getting clogged with ice crystals. An estimated 3.5 million gallons of oil have spilled since April 20th.
Well, author Peter Maass writes about how oil has resulted in devastation around the world in his new book, Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil. Maass spent eight years traveling the globe to discover the costs of oil production to the planet. He’s an award-winning investigative journalist and author and a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine. He’s joining us now from Boston.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Peter Maass. Talk about BP in the global context.
PETER MAASS: Well, BP is, of course, one of the largest shareholder-owned companies in the world, and it’s had actually—even though its slogan it tried to reengineer to meaning “Beyond Petroleum,” it’s actually had one of the more checkered, in recent history, records, particularly on the environment. There was a very large explosion at one of its refineries in Texas City about a couple years ago. It also has spilled a fair amount of oil in Alaska. And so, even though it’s tried to foment this image of being the greenest of oil companies, actually it’s had a significantly more difficult, troubled career in terms of environmental problems than some of the other companies that we know even as well or better, such as Exxon and Chevron.
AMY GOODMAN: And what about this latest attempt to cap the explosion, the leak, that has failed on the part of BP?
PETER MAASS: Well, this is somewhat a reflection of the new territory, quite literally, that BP and other oil companies are in these days, because the kind of era of what’s called easy oil—that is, oil that’s close to the surface, that’s on the ground rather than under the water—that era is pretty much over. And so all these oil companies, particularly the Western shareholder ones that don’t kind of own reserves themselves, because they’re not state-owned companies, they don’t have kind of, you know, natural territory that is theirs, they have to go into places that they didn’t use to go into. They have to go far offshore. They have to go off into far reaches of Siberia or the Sakhalin Peninsula or whatever. They have to go very deep, very far into new areas using new technologies that really haven’t kind of been proven, because these are the first times that they’ve been used.
And so, when you have a big accident, you’re basically dealing with it for the first time in an incredibly challenging environment out there in the Gulf of Mexico at a depth of 5,000 feet. So each time you have an accident, you have to try a solution for the first time. And so, in this case, for example, the solution isn’t working. They’re going to keep trying to work on it. But it just shows kind of how much they have to deal with in the way of new challenges and the dangers, therefore, that exist when you have to go into new terrains—deep water, for example—and get oil, because the easy oil is pretty much gone, as far as these companies are concerned.
AMY GOODMAN: When President Obama announced the giving out of permits for offshore oil drilling, where he got a tremendous amount of criticism from environmentalists and others who live along the coast where this drilling would take place, he said that new technology, you know, prevents the kind of spills that, well, we saw a few weeks after he made this announcement. Now the Center for Biological Diversity reports that the Obama administration is continuing to exempt new offshore drilling operations from environmental review despite the Gulf disaster. Since the disaster began on April 20th, the Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service has approved twenty-seven new offshore drilling permits. All but one of the projects were granted the same environmental review exemption used to approve BP drilling. Your response, Peter Maass?
PETER MAASS: Well, you know, this, in a way, isn’t too surprising, because in so many areas when oil extraction is concerned, the Obama administration really is not much different from the Bush administration, which wasn’t that much different from the administrations that preceded it, because the first priority is to get oil, to get control of it, to have it at reasonable prices. And this is something that crosses over Democratic and Republican administrations. So one shouldn’t really be that surprised that the Obama administration isn’t terribly different than the Bush administration. I mean, there are dictators all over the world who possess a lot of oil whom the Bush administration dealt quite closely with, and the Bush administration was criticized rightly for that, whether it’s Teodoro Obiang in Equatorial Guinea, whether it’s Nursultan Nazarbayev in Kazakhstan. But you have a new administration, and you have different rhetoric, but you have actually the same policies in place.
So, you know, the lack of a clear break between the Obama administration and the Bush administration, though there are improvements, isn’t terribly surprising, because when you kind of get down to it, American consumers do want to have their gasoline. They want to have their gasoline at the cheapest price possible. And so for, you know, administration after administration, it has meant getting the oil wherever it is. And there was a brief moment, of course—we’re all kind of somewhat famously aware of it—when Jimmy Carter put solar panels up on the White House roof and was going to try to direct the country into a somewhat different energy future, but of course that all changed. Reagan became president, the solar panels were taken down, and thirty years later we find ourselves at this position where we still—when I say “we,” I mean American consumers—still want their gasoline, still want their cars, and aren’t ready to make the investments that are necessary, the changes that are necessary. And so, in some ways, the Obama administration certainly isn’t leading us to a new direction, but neither are they really being encouraged to lead us in a new direction by a kind of large population in America.
AMY GOODMAN: You begin your book Crude World with J. Paul Getty’s quote, “The meek shall inherit the Earth, but not the mineral rights.” Peter Maass?
PETER MAASS: This is something that, you know, kind of in one way, it seems obvious; in another way, not. So we have this idea that countries that have oil, lots of oil, are lucky, kind of Beverly Hillbillies style. If you find oil in your backyard, you’re rich, and everything goes quite well. The reason I put that quote at the beginning of my book is because what happens, or what tends to happen, in most countries that have a lot of oil is that they don’t become rich because of it. Some people become rich, but not the population at large. They don’t tend to become more democratic as a result of it. In fact, they tend to become more authoritarian as a result of it. And they also tend to suffer environmentally as a result of it. The United States, as we’re seeing now in the Gulf of Mexico, is having a new experience with the environmental costs of extraction.
So the kind of bottom line here is that the people who should benefit from oil, for example, in the Niger Delta in Nigeria, which is where most of Nigeria’s oil is located and where I went for this book, the people who actually live atop the oil, who should be the ones to benefit most directly, actually are the ones who suffer the most, because there’s an environmental disaster in the Niger Delta, which kind of dwarfs what Louisiana is now facing. They’re also kind of facing deprivation of political rights in the Niger Delta. There’s a war going on in the Niger Delta over who controls the oil itself. And so, the upshot is that rather than becoming richer, individuals tend to become poorer in these countries. When I say “individuals,” I’m just specifically referring to those who don’t usually have access to political power.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, then come back to this discussion, also hear about a court case involving Chevron and a documentary filmmaker. Chevron has just won the right to take the outtakes of his film. Peter Maass, we want you to stay with us and also weigh in on this. Peter Maass is an award-winning investigative journalist and author. His latest book is called Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the latest twist in the multi-billion-dollar lawsuit against the oil giant Chevron. Last week a federal court in Manhattan ordered a documentary filmmaker to hand over to Chevron hundreds of hours of footage. Joseph Berlinger’s award-winning film, Crude: The Real Price of Oil, chronicles the struggle of indigenous Ecuadorians against ChevronTexaco’s oil contamination of their land. It focuses on the seventeen-year legal battle between Chevron and 30,000 Ecuadorians who say their land, rivers, wells, livestock and bodies were poisoned by decades of reckless oil drilling in the rainforest. Chevron has sought Berlinger’s outtakes to help defend itself against an Ecuadorian lawsuit seeking $27 billion in environmental damages.
On Thursday, Judge Lewis Kaplan of the district court in Manhattan ruled in favor of Chevron’s request to view the 600 hours of outtakes from Crude. The decision has raised concerns over both the outcome of the Ecuadorian lawsuit as well as the future of protections and privileges granted to journalists.
Chevron spokesman Kent Robertson welcomed the ruling and told the press that Berlinger might have unwittingly captured misconduct by the court in Ecuador and the plaintiff’s legal team. He added, quote, “Given the level of opposition to Chevron gaining access to the outtakes, we have to believe there is…damning content that was left on the cutting room floor. It’s in the interest of justice that these events are known more broadly.” But the director and producer of Crude, Joe Berlinger, says there is no smoking gun and has vowed to appeal the ruling.
I’m joined now by Joe Berlinger.
Joe, welcome to Democracy Now! Explain your response to this decision against you.
JOE BERLINGER: Hey there, Amy. How are you? It’s actually Berlinger, just so you know.
You know, the idea that there must be some smoking gun as why we’re opposing it is just a complete disregard for any belief in the First Amendment. You know, I am a journalist. I am covered by a journalist privilege, we hope. And there’s a certain—and unfortunately federal law does allow for the piercing of journalist privilege, but only when you show relevance and, you know, specific footage. This is a broad request to turn over my entire files. It’d be like inviting someone to rummage through your underwear drawer to find something incriminating. You know, we are shocked by the judge’s decision, at the broadness of the request. You know, anything that’s in the film, you know, there’s tremendous—I believe Crude shows both sides of the situation, and there’s a lot in the film that they could have used to go on a more narrow request, but they’ve not done that. They’ve simply asked for the entire footage to be turned over to go on a fishing expedition.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to some of the clips of your film, this excerpt featuring the two Chevron fighting lawyers you profile, American attorney Steven Danziger and Ecuadorian lawyer Pablo Fajardo.
• PABLO FAJARDO: [translated] When I began working on this case, I didn’t have any professional experience litigating cases. I have never felt inferior to any of the Texaco lawyers, because when I say something, they have to think a thousand times to come up with a lie in order to counter my truth. They have to think much harder than me. I know I always tell the truth, and if I have to die for it, then I will, with pleasure. 

STEVEN DANZIGER: This is about fighting hundreds of years of history, you know, in Latin America, and it’s about fighting one of the most powerful companies in the world, with people who have literally no resources and are some of the most marginalized people on earth. So, you know, it’s a completely unequal battle. The fact we’re in the game is a huge victory. You know, the fact we’re having a trial is a miracle. It’s historic. This is becoming, like we always envisioned, a true national issue. It’s about a nation that got completely screwed over by an American company and about a continent, to take it out a little further, that has really never been treated with a whole lot of respect by American corporate power. And it’s always been seen—from United Fruit in Guatemala and the CIA doing a coup there in 1954, you know, to Nicaragua with Somoza supported by the Marines, you know, for several decades, it’s always been a place that’s been seen sort of as the backyard of the United States. And like, it’s changing now, you know, and we’re riding that wave of change. 

PABLO FAJARDO: [translated] We don’t defend Petroecuador. They’ve done plenty of bad things. We hope to have another trial against Petroecuador so that they are held accountable for their actions. What we have to do is—each one is responsible for themselves. Texaco did terrible things. Texaco has to answer for itself. Petroecuador does things they have to answer. What they want is to say everything is Petro’s fault, so that they are free from responsibility. We will not allow that.
AMY GOODMAN: Excerpts from the film Crude, ending on the Ecuadorian attorney Pablo Fajardo responding to Chevron’s attempts to blame Petroecuador for the pollution. Explain this further.
JOE BERLINGER: Well, you know, this is a long case that’s been going on for seventeen years. Basically, Texaco is accused, from the late ’60s to the early ’90s, when they left the country, of, you know, massive environmental damage. The lawsuit was filed in ’93 in a New York court. After nine years of struggling in the US, the case was finally thrown out and remanded to Ecuador. So the case was refiled and finally got on its feet in 2003, 2004, around the time I started my film. One of the things the plaintiffs allege is that the system of oil production that was created by Texaco was then turned over to Petroecuador, and so any damage that Petroecuador has done is also—is also Texaco’s fault. In the meantime, Texaco and Chevron merged, and so Chevron now has inherited this lawsuit. But because it’s taken so long for the lawsuit to get off the ground, it’s easy for Chevron to now point the finger at Petroecuador and say all the pollution is Petroecuador’s, but in fact, according to the plaintiffs, this lawsuit was filed back in ’93.
AMY GOODMAN: This is another clip from the film Crude. Here, a resident of San Carlos, Ecuador, Maria Garofalo, describes how the contamination in the water has impacted her family’s ability to survive.
• MARIA GAROFALO: [translated] The water is contaminated. The air is contaminated. That’s why I can’t have my daughter here together with the family. For me, it’s quite sad. First, I had the problem, and now my daughter, who’s so young to have a disease such as cancer. We are people who don’t have the means to pay for our daughter’s treatment. My daughter is eighteen years old. For each treatment that I have and each treatment my daughter has, I need $500. Where am I going to get $500 every fifteen to twenty days for every appointment she has? 

I bought chickens to raise in hopes of making some money to pay for my daughter’s treatment. Now we don’t have anything because everything has just died. All the animals are dying from contamination because they run to the stream and drink the water. The animals drink that water and die, and there is nothing you can do about it. That’s why we say there is no life here for the animals, and it’s even worse for us humans. 

SARA McMILLEN: Chevron takes those kinds of allegations very seriously, so that was one of my mandates, was to investigate the health allegations. So we’ve hired external epidemiologists, as well as our internal epidemiologists, health risk assessors, to look at all of the data to investigate this. And what we found is that there’s absolutely no evidence that there’s an increase in cancer death rate.
AMY GOODMAN: That excerpt from the film Crude, ending with Chevron chief environmental scientist Sara McMillen. Your response to that, Joe Berlinger?
JOE BERLINGER: Well, you know, I mean, the style of the film is to show both sides, and the film is actually rather neutral with regard to the lawsuit. Obviously, I am extremely sympathetic to the plight of the indigenous people there. The people in that region have suffered tremendous environmental damage and tremendous health effects. And this lawsuit has been characterized by an extremely lengthy process. Chevron has flooded the court with paper. They are the ones who wanted to try this thing in Ecuador to get it out of the US court system, and at the time they testified as to the fairness and efficiency of the Ecuadorian court system. Now that it’s not going their way, they are claiming that the process is unfair, not transparent and has become politicized. I mean, this is a football that has been tossed back and forth for, you know, two generations, and there’s no end in sight. And I think one of the themes of the film, actually, is that, you know, the inadequacy of the lawsuit mechanism to address these kinds of large-scale environmental and humanitarian crises. You know, by the time this thing gets resolved, three generations of people will be suffering the ill effects of oil production. And there’s got to be, you know, just like they’re trying to, you know, clean up the Gulf, and just like when, in Haiti, people have done everything possible to try to bring some relief, you know, we shouldn’t just rely on a lawsuit to assume that these things will get cleaned up. There is misery down there that needs to be addressed.
AMY GOODMAN: Peter Maass, can you put what happened with Chevron and Joe Berlinger and his film Crude into the broader context of the power of the oil companies? Did this ruling surprise you, that this filmmaker has to hand over all of his outtakes to Chevron?
PETER MAASS: The ruling surprised me, as I think it surprised most journalists, because one attempts to keep the shield law in place in terms of protections of journalists, and, you know, this is something that is kind of a constant problem, as well. A reporter for the New York Times was sued, or I should say the courts came at him a couple weeks ago, James Risen, to get him to reveal sources involved with some of his reporting. So this is a constant problem that happens, and it happens to have struck Joe Berlinger, a documentarian, in this case. And hopefully it will come out on his side. I expect so.
But, you know, overall, the thing that I kind of am focusing on, in a sense, is more globally in the sense of these oil companies and the problem of oil. It’s not just the problems of the past, which need to be atoned for, in terms of what happened in Ecuador while Texaco was there, but you have the same kind of problems happening now, not just in Ecuador, but in other countries. And it’s not just BP, it’s not just Exxon, that is involved in oil pollution. There are also state-owned companies, and it’s happening drip by drip every day in almost every country where oil is extracted. So if we just focus on what’s happening in the Gulf of Mexico—and we need to focus on that—that’s not enough. We need to also focus on the fact that there is oil pollution happening all over the globe, in some countries worse than others. And if we just, every thirty years, when it happens to wash up on our shores, pay attention, then we’re never going to kind of come to the point that we need to come at, which is understanding that we have to get off of oil, because it is really damaging the environment and the countries and the cultures that provide it to us.
AMY GOODMAN: Peter Maass, finally, we only have thirty seconds, but you write a good deal about Saudi Arabia and oil there. Could you summarize?
PETER MAASS: Well, thirty seconds is not a lot to summarize anything about Saudi Arabia, but certainly one of the key problems with Saudi Arabia is in terms of the amounts of money that have gone into that country that have been used, as a result, for purposes, political purposes, that have not terribly worked out well for the rest of the world, in terms of funding of violent jihadi forces.
But also, there’s another issue, which is kind of unrelated to that, which is very troubling in Saudi Arabia, which is how much oil does Saudi Arabia really have? I mean, there’s this whole kind of issue of peak oil. Are we there yet? Are we beyond peak oil? And Saudi Arabia, as a dictatorial country, does not disclose how much oil it has, so there’s a big question over really kind of like, well, how much more in the way of supplies are there. And the people who have it, in the case of Saudi Arabia, about a quarter of the world’s reserves, aren’t letting anybody else know. So there’s kind of two very serious unrelated problems that come together in Saudi Arabia.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for being with us, Peter Maass, award-winning investigative journalist and author. His latest book is called Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil. And Joe Berlinger, award-winning filmmaker, journalist, photographer, director of Crude: The Real Price of Oil.
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BP Funnels Millions into Lobbying to Influence Regulation and Re-Brand Image

On British Petroleum’s successful campaign to be seen as an ecofriendly company, and the oil industry’s real record of intensive lobbying to block regulation




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AMY GOODMAN: Our guest, Tyson Slocum, Director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program. He says BP has one of the worst safety records of any oil company operating in America. Joining us from Washington, D.C. before we go down to Louisiana. Tyson, explain why corporate crime isn’t dealt with the same way as common crime, especially when we’re talking about the deaths of workers.

TYSON SLOCUM: I think we have a very weak legal system that inadequately holds corporations accountable. And that, I think, that shows the incredible power that large multinational corporations exercise over our democracy everyday. Last year the Supreme Court in the Citizens United case took it to a very radical step enshrining corporations with the rights of people under the constitutional protections of First Amendment speech rights. but, the Department of Labor has a number of statutes requiring all sorts of regulations for employers to try to protect workers, but the fines and sanctions for failure to adhere to those laws and regulations are incredibly weak. And again, when you’re dealing with a company like BP that makes billions and billions of dollars in profits every quarter, fining them $20 million here, $50 million there just simply is a cost of doing business for the company; and so we as a society need to think about when we’re faced with a corporation like BP that, over the past couple of years, has shown willful disregard for U.S. laws and regulations, fifteen people died at a BP refinery explosion where the company was found to have committed hundreds of violations of workplace safety laws, we have to have permanent sanctions against corporate criminals like this. Weather that’s making managers and top executives criminally responsible for that misconduct or sanctioning the company by revoking its corporate charter or other types of permanent harm to the company. Because, simply issuing a fine is just a slap on the wrist for a giant multinational energy corporation like BP. And if an investigation determines that this tragic oil spill and the deaths of eleven workers from the explosion on April 20th in the Gulf was due to negligence on the part of BP, we cannot tolerate just another fine and another slap on the wrist.


TYSON SLOCUM: We’ve got to take sanctions against this company.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think the CEO, Tony Hayward, should go to prison?

TYSON SLOCUM: Well, I think that we need to have an investigation to determine if BP was negligent. And if it turns out that BP was negligent and that the CEO was aware of decisions that were made by top management that led to that negligence, then, yes, absolutely. Executives should go to prison if they’re found guilty of negligence that resulted in the deaths of workers.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, ever since BP’s deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank several weeks ago, BP and Transocean have been hit by a spate of lawsuits. We’re joined now from New Orleans by an attorney representing several workers who survived the blast, as well, he is representing Natalie Roshto, the wife of one of the eleven workers who were initially missing now presumed dead. twenty-three-year-old Shane Roshto was a floorhand working on the drill floor when the explosions occurred. Just a day after the explosion, Scott Bickford filed the first lawsuit on behalf of Natalie Roshto against BP, Transocean, and Halliburton accusing them of negligence and violating numerous statutes and regulations. We did invite BP on the broadcast, but they declined to come on. Scott Bickford, welcome to DEMOCRACY NOW! Please explain your siut.

SCOTT BICKFORD: Good morning. The suit that we have filed for Natalie Roshto is for the death of her husband and it’s on behalf of her and her three-year-old son at this point. We’ve alleged BP and Transocean’s negligence as well as allegations of Halliburton’s negligence. We’ve done further investigations to identify the drilling contractor on the rig at the time, to identify people who manufacture certain, various equipment on the time and we’ll go ahead and amend and add those parties as the suit progresses.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us about Natalie Roshto and about her husband who is now, of course, presumed dead?

SCOTT BICKFORD: They were from- they are from Liberty, Mississippi. Natalie and her three-year-old son still live there. Shane had been working as a floorhand on the rigs for about three years. He went out there to earn a very good living for his family. Rig workers make anywhere from $70,000 to $100,000 a year doing this work. They had been married just about three years. He was a very dedicated worker. He was the guy that had his wedding date and his son’s birth date written inside his hard hat.

AMY GOODMAN: And when was the last that Natalie heard from Shane?

SCOTT BICKFORD: Actually, the morning of the incident.

AMY GOODMAN: What did she hear?

SCOTT BICKFORD: They had just talked. It wasn’t anything about the rig or, as you know this happened around 9:30 at night. He was on the drill floor when it happened along with ten other individuals. Those are the individuals- all of the individuals that haven’t been found. There were people in adjacent rooms to the drill floor where steel doors were actually blown off due to the initial explosion and they survived. However, there have never- they have not been able to find any trace of the eleven men that were actually on the drill floor itself.

AMY GOODMAN: Had Natalie- had Shane himself been afraid? Did Natalie see this as a dangerous job for her husband?

SCOTT BICKFORD: I everyone sees working offshore as a dangerous job and every year there are a number of injuries and deaths from offshore workers. It’s gotten better out there from when it was when it first started practicing law some twenty-six years ago, however you still see a number of injuries either from helicopter crashes or from actual work on the rigs. And, you know, everyone who goes out there has a little bit of anticipation that you know, they’re working in a dangerous environment. Particularly the environment that Shane it was working in because he is doing exploratory drilling. He’s done on a projection platform that’s sitting out there just producing oil out of an already-drilled well. He is on the forefront of actually going out and punching holes at 5,000 feet, which requires a tremendous amount of technology, a tremendous amount of manpower. And there are a lot of dangers in those operations.

AMY GOODMAN: Scott Bickford, you’re suing BP, Transocean, and Halliburton on behalf of Shane Roshto. Explain each corporation and what you feel is their responsibility.

SCOTT BICKFORD: Well, as your prior guest stated, Transocean owns the rig, it was then leased by BP to do drilling. Halliburton is the contractor that actually cements the well, and when a well is drilled, very simply, a drill pipe is put down into the ground and someone like Halliburton comes in and fills that pipe with cement, pushing the cement down through the pipe so it comes out of the bottom of the pipe and gurgles up around the outside. When it gurgles up around the outside, the actual hole is cemented or cased so that the hole won’t collapse. If in fact the cementing job is done improperly for any reason, there’s the possibility that the hole collapses, there’s a possibility that the- that gases in cavities that they’re drilling through come into the pipe and come up through the pipe and they collapse. There are some reports that part of the drilling column that they actually drilled had collapsed and they actually had to drill a parallel column next to it and that may have occurred because of poor cementing operations. So Halliburton’s primary job in this thing was to cement and enforce the well so it wouldn’t collapse. This well was drilled both as an exploratory well and then this rig did something it doesn’t normally do, it added what’s called a production liner to the well. In other words, it prepped this particular hole to actually produce, and this rig was set to move off the hole in two days and go on to another- drill another exploratory well. They wouldn’t brought another production rig over it at the time. And then started producing it. But, this was an exploration well which was asked for some reason to finish production operations on this well and there is some inference that the company itself had lost some drilling pipe in a prior well up to $25 million worth of drilling pipe. And one of the reasons this rig stayed on this particular well to complete the production operations was to save money because they had lost money on a prior exploratory well. That, again, is something that needs to be looked into.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to follow that up with Tyson Slocum. Scott Bickford, the Attorney is in New Orleans/ Tyson Slocum, with Public Citizen is in Washington, D.C.. Tyson, two members of Congress, Congressmember Henry Waxman and Bart Stupak, have called on Halliburton to provide all documents relating to the possibility or risk of an explosion or blowout at the deepwater Horizon rig. They’re calling on Halliburton to do this. Can you explain further their demands? It’s by May 7th, they want this information. The status of the adequacy, the quality monitoring and inspection of the cementing work.

TYSON SLOCUM: For Halliburton, this cementing of these offshore wells is a major component of its oil services business. About fifteen to seventeen percent of its annual revenues come from this specific type of contract in.—about 15-17 of its annual revenues come from this specific type of contracting. They’re one of the largest contractors operating in the Gulf and around the world doing this and I think it’s clear that there was a problem with this particular cementing that it did not case the well properly and that allowed gas to escape which caused the blowout and enveloped the rig in gas which was then ignited and sparked the fire that killed the eleven workers. And so I think what Congress is trying to get at here is they want to know more about Halliburton’s cementing operations and I think we need not only Congress to look at this, but the Department of Interior needs to temporarily suspend the ability of Halliburton to continue doing this type of cementing contacting on offshore drills until we’ve got a full investigation- every step-by-step process of the way that this company operates to ensure that they’re complying with all safety regulations.

And that really brings us to another big point here, Amy, is that, you know, over the last decade, the Department of Interior, which oversees these offshore oil rigs, has not been doing a good enough job of overseeing the very powerful oil industry. We’re in an era where government regulations are being rolled back. Just in September of 2009, BP submitted comments on a proposed rule-making by the Department of Interior to mandate additional safety requirements on these deep water rigs and BP, in those September 2009 comments, said, ‘We don’t need additional regulatory oversight, we have our own internal voluntary safety standards which are adequate.’ And I think, no matter what the outcome of this investigation, I think that we can all conclude here that we can no longer just trust large multinational corporations to do voluntary measures to protect the public. We have to have strong government oversight over these very, very powerful corporations.

And a decade ago, the Department of Interior after a similar type of near blowout on an offshore oil platform, issued an emergency guidance calling for an emergency backup blowout prevention valve that would be on the sea floor in the event that you had a rig blowout like we’ve had here in the Gulf; because we had the first tragedy, Amy, of the explosion that killed the eleven workers, and that’s probably the worst part of this whole thing. Now the current tragedy is that oil is seeping out of the ocean floor because the rig has been destroyed and we don’t have any mechanism so far to stop that flow of oil that is just going directly into the Gulf that is threatening coastal ecosystems. Two countries that have extensive offshore oil drilling operations, Norway and Brazil, mandate that oil companies doing that offshore drilling have this emergency backup valve that can shut off the flow of oil in the event of a blowout. In the United States, we don’t have those requirements and BP did not have an emergency backup system because it was too expensive and they’re looking to cut costs. So once again, we’ve got a situation where BP, in pursuit of bigger profits, chose not to have a demonstrated technology available that would stop the flow of oil. And now, unfortunately, a lot of people on the Gulf are paying the price.

AMY GOODMAN: Halliburton has said it’s premature and irresponsible to speculate on any specific causal issues. Interestingly, it was accused of performing a poor cement job in the case of a major blowout in the Timor Sea, that’s off East Timor, last August. An investigation there is under way. As you’re talking about the standards in the United States versus other countries, Tyson Slocum, when it comes to dealing with blowout prevention?

TYSON SLOCUM: Yeah, I mean the United States has weaker standards compared to at least two other countries that have extensive offshore operations. And that’s Norway, which a lot of Americans may not realize is actually a huge oil producer and oil exporter, and Brazil, which has huge offshore oil resources. In both of those countries, they require that oil companies have to have this remote-controlled blowout valve. And so basically, the way it works is it’s triggered acoustically. And so you’ve got a ship on the surface of the ocean, that after a blowout could send an acoustic signal down 5,000 feet down to the sea floor, and you could have that emergency backup valve shut off that flow of oil. These valves cost about $500,000. BP believed that that was too expensive, and so they elected not to install that technology. But a number of experts have weighed-in and said it could definitely help. Of course, Amy, there’s never a guarantee that a backup system is going to work with a catastrophic blowout like we’ve seen. But it’s clear that in two other countries, they require this because they believe it is a prudent measure to help prevent the flow of oil after a blowout.

In the United States we currently don’t have that and I think that Congress, one of the things that they need to do in the aftermath of this blowout is require all deep water wells to have this technology. We have to remember, Amy, that this type of drilling is a lot different than we’ve seen from a generation ago. They are drilling deeper and deeper, and that means that there’s more and more pressure and it’s a much more dangerous activity. They are operating and 5,000 feet of water and the drill, from the floor of the ocean, is going another 18,000-20,000 feet down. These are massive operations that were not happening a decade or more ago and we have a lot more risks. And the regulatory oversight needs to catch up to those risks and we have to mandate that these companies comply with stronger protections both for their workers and the environment.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined from San Francisco by Antonia Juhasz, the author of “The Tyranny of Oil: The World’s Most Powerful Industry and What We Must Do to Stop It.” She is director of the Chevron Program a Global Exchange. She’s been looking at the millions of dollars BP spends on lobbying. Welcome to DEMOCRACY NOW! Antonia Juhasz. You write in The Observer that ‘the explosion of BP Transocean’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig is neither surprising nor unexpected.’ Why?

ANTONIA JUHASZ: Well, for a lot of the reasons that Tyson has cited, this company, in particular, has an egregious record of cost-cutting. The finding that Tyson had referenced to the 2005 Texas City explosion, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board found basically a long history of egregious mismanagement, egregious cost-cutting, and an egregious rejection to the concept of security. BP, while it was experiencing its highest profits in its own history, in ‘99 and 2005, cut spending twenty-five percent across all of its U.S. refineries, it operates five. The Chemical Safety Board found this cost-cutting and a lack of attention to security as the cause of that tragic explosion in 2005. That explosion was, at its time, the largest workplace accident in the United States in 15 years. Now- that was fifteen workers died. Now we have eleven workers presumed dead. But certainly the magnitude of this explosion is certainly going to top that 2005 explosion and it’s the same company.

But I think, beyond the lack of surprise that, unfortunately that the next great major U.S. oil industry incident involved BP, was the lack of surprise, unfortunately, that it took place in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico and involved offshore drilling- and that it involved this industry. Essentially, we have the largest, wealthiest industry in the world. In 2009, for the first time, seven of the ten largest corporations on the planet were oil companies. They have used their wealth, including BP, to lobby aggressively, spend on campaigns aggressively, push the boundaries of what’s technologically feasible to get oil and to use their money to gain access to places I think they shouldn’t even be and to reduce the regulatory oversight over those operations. So we have them simultaneously working in places they shouldn’t be working under less regulatory oversight than should be in place; and that has everything to do with the money available to this industry which isn’t available to others.

AMY GOODMAN: Antonia Juhasz, talk about the lobbying money that is being spent by BP in Washington.

ANTONIA JUHASZ: BP spent $16.5 million lobbying last year. That made it among the top twenty lobbyists in the United States. That was $6.5 million more than it spent in 2008, which was its previous record. It is following the trend of the oil industry as a whole which has significantly increased its lobbying, essentially since the Obama administration came in, or since the Democrats took over the House and Senate. Under the Bush administration, you essentially had an oil government, an industry that was filled with oil industry executives, lawyers, lobbyists, people on their way in and out of the administration, to the oil industry. And essentially the industry was able to legislate and not lobby, which they did for eight years under Bush. When the Democrats and then Obama took over, the industry was forced to revert to the more standard method of lobbying to get what it wants. And while this administration is most certainly not an oil administration, it is far from immune to the just massive, massive dollars that are being poured in to lobbying by this industry. I think we evidenced that most directly when Obama continued the process that Bush began of opening up our offshore waters to more drilling. Thank goodness Obama has pulled back on that and said we’re going to wait and see to the cause of this accident.

But this industry spends really enormous- unprecedented amounts of money on lobbying. But that, now, may yet pale when we look at how much, for example, BP spent on campaigns in 2008. A mere $500,000, sounds like nothing compared to its lobbying. Well, now with Citizens United, those relatively small campaign investments, relative to lobbying investments, now, of course, can equal the lobbying investments. And so this is a critical moment as Citizens United takes effect, and while we think we’ve seen the power of this industry to influence public policy, we have no idea what it’s going to be like now that they can open the floodgates. Literally, this is an industry that has too much cash, it does not know what to do with its cash on hand. That’s one of the reasons why it spends $1,000,000 a day drilling for oil in places where only two out of ten of the holes they drill even yield oil. They have enough wealth to push and get as much oil as they can. Once that money starts going into campaigns, we’re really at a critical juncture where we have to rein in the industry immediately before that flood of cash really hits our political spectrum.

AMY GOODMAN: Antonia, I asked you about specifically the money BP spends on lobbying, but overall how much it is spending on its PR campaign, the whole rebranding of BP from British Petroleum to, what? ‘Beyond Petroleum,’ its whole- what many call ‘green washing?’

ANTONIA JUHASZ: Yes, most certainly, green washing. That switch to ‘Beyond Petroleum’ I believe in 2005. It truly is simply a PR green wash. At very best, using very generous estimates on my part, I found that BP spent, at best, four percent of its total capital and exploratory budget on anything remotely resembling green, alternative energy. Now, four percent is real money when you look at BP’s budget, but it hardly qualifies the company to be ‘Beyond Petroleum’ when everything else that it’s doing is in the petroleum sector and the most aggressive modes of production. Whether it’s the Tar Sands, offshore, you’re really breaking the boundaries of the damages that can be caused caused from oil production. And that four percent, by the way, was a high point. BP has since cut its alternative energy investments significantly, it even closed its headquarters in London. It’s really pulling itself back in like the rest of the oil industry is to move more aggressively into oil, the place where they can ultimately make the most money. Again, you know, oil, of course, reached a high of $150 a barrel, fell significantly down, but it’s on its way back up. The company I pay the closest attention to, for example, Chevron, like most of the industry, its profits fell significantly last year as the price of a barrel of oil fell. Well, this first quarter of 2010, Chevron doubled its profits from the first quarter of 2009. I imagine BP is in the same circumstance. They’re on the way- they’re on their way back up, but they’re doing that by really focusing in oil, not on alternative energy. So it is pure green washing. To think of this company as anything other that an oil company and to think of it as anything other than a dirty oil company.

AMY GOODMAN: A 2007 customer survey found that BP by far had the most environmentally friendly image of any major oil company. That year, the ‘Beyond Petroleum’ campaign also won the gold award from the American Marketing Association. Antonia Juhasz.

ANTONIA JUHASZ: They do a great job of marketing. They spend a lot of money on marketing. And, to be fair, that public perception is right. Of all the oil companies, BP spends the most on alternative energy- or at least has over the past couple years. That four percent, sadly, was the best. Most of the other companies spent three percent, two percent, zero in the case of Exxon until very recently. So, you know, at four percent, this was the best company. That four percent is pennies, it’s pure green washing. The problem is that the public is increasingly perceiving this green washing as a real marker, a hallmark on where they think the industry is going. And it’s logical to think that if oil is running out and you’re an oil company, it makes sense that you would try and stay in business by moving into alternative energy. That just simply is not the case for any industry- or any company. And the reason why they want us to think that they are green companies isn’t actually so that we’ll keep purchasing their gasoline. The real reason is so that we will think of them in warm and fuzzy ways and not think of them as companies that need desperately to have a heavy hand of regulation. They want to keep us from pressuring our elected officials, from saying we won’t vote for you, we won’t support you, we won’t do the things you need to do to stay in office unless you take a heavy-handed regulatory approach to this industry. If we think of them in warm, fuzzy ways and that they are about solar and wind, then we’re less likely, in all the issues that we’re so concerned about all the time, to focus in on this industry and say it must be regulated. It is not to be trusted. And hopefully, the positive side of this horrific tragedy will be that the public will see that this is simply an industry not to be trusted. It must, instead, be regulated.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Tyson Slocum, the issue of President Obama’s policy that President Bush did not succeed in doing: opening the coast to offshore drilling. The announcement coming just before this explosion in the Gulf Coast and what this means?

TYSON SLOCUM: Public citizen, along with a lot of other groups, were sharply critical last month when President Obama announced that he was going to lift the moratorium and open up new areas on the eastern United States in the eastern Gulf of Mexico to new drilling. That was a ban put in place by a Republican President, Ronald Reagan. And we warned that this would have environmental consequences. I think one result of this tragedy in the Gulf is that plans to open up new drilling on the east coast of the United States is dead on arrival. There’s no way that Republicans or Democrats, in pristine coastal areas like the Carolinas, are going to support offshore drilling when they see the devastation that is going to be occurring and already is occurring already on the Gulf. It really underscores the fallacy that we can “Drill, Baby, Drill” our way to energy independence or “Drill, Baby, Drill” our way off of foreign oil. The fact is is that this shows that domestic oil production poses significant economic harm, significant problems with the ecosystem and workplace safety. That if we really want to become energy independent and sustainable, we’ve got to get off fossil fuels, period. We just had that mining accident with Massey Energy and West Virginia and that’s one of a series of deaths that’s occured. Our continued dependence on coal and oil present too many harms to workers, too many harms to the climate and to our local ecosystems, and this should be a wake-up call that our dependence on these fossil fuels is just more harm than good and we’ve got to make that transition to cleaner, renewable, sustainable energy.

AMY GOODMAN: Tyson Slocum, I want to thank you for being with us, Director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program. Also, Antonia Juhasz, thank you as well, author of “The Tyranny of Oil: The World’s Most Powerful Industry and What We Must Do to Stop It.” She’s Director of the Chevron program at Global Exchange. And thank you very much to Attorney Bickford, joining us from New Orleans, who has brought suit on behalf of Shane Roshto who died in the explosion. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, the war and peace report. We’ll be back in a minute.

Antonia Juhasz is a policy-analyst, author and activist living in San Francisco. She is a Fellow at Oil Change International and Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies. Juhasz is author of The Bu$h Agenda: Invading the World, One Economy at a Time. Juhasz’s new book, The Tyranny of Oil: the World’s Most Powerful Industry, and What we Must do to Stop It, will be released by HarperCollins Publishers in September 2008. Juhasz is an expert on all aspects of international trade and finance policy with a Masters Degree in Public Policy from Georgetown University, a Bachelors Degree in Public Policy from Brown University, experience as a Legislative Assistant to two United States Members of Congress, and over ten years of work in the field. She is a passionate writer and speaker who conveys complex information in a manner that is both accessible and motivational to others.


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