Monday, June 21, 2010

You Bet Your BP!

Well, what's a gigantic, multinational oil company to do, anyway? You spend years, if not decades, building up a following with people who can impact your bottom line... you donate millions in thinly-disguised bribes to Congressional airheads... you exert influence in such a way that regulations are ignored and regulatory agencies become flaccid lap dogs... you support vast propaganda campaigns designed to reassure the public that all you do is right and good, and your opponents and skeptics are motivated by evil intent, or at least neurosis, paranoia, and hysteria... you ignore safety rules in order to keep your board of directors and stockholders happy... you market your wares, offer free doughnuts and coffee... and then what happens? Out of nowhere, a bunch of incompetent fools on some offshore drilling rig manage to blow a hole in the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, and there go a few years worth of profits. It seems like you just can't win...

Of course, as it turns out, when it comes to BP's policies regarding safety and environmental regulations, the term “criminal negligence” hardly covers it. This is a company operating in the best carpetbagging tradition – moving into a third-world area and exploiting it for all it's worth. (Oh – you don't consider the Gulf of Mexico “third world”? You need some re-education, my friend.) They cut corners in order to increase profits – but hey, everyone else does the exact same thing. The difference is that, for most of them, screwing up doesn't have the same environmental impact as a very large meteor striking the Earth during rush hour. And sure, they were good at getting oil out of a mile-deep hole in the ocean – not too shabby a technological accomplishment, you must admit – but there is something lacking in their ability to handle the situation when that mile-deep hole blows itself up. This is something no one planned for because, frankly, there was no payoff in planning for it. No one spends much time on worst-case scenarios unless there is money in doing so... and in this case, there wasn't. So their behavior is perfectly understandable... as is the behavior of Congress and the Obama administration, nearly all of whom have been bought off, long ago, by BP and like outfits.

But here's where it gets awkward. Here you have an environmental catastrophe that makes the Exxon Valdez look like farting in someone's swimming pool... and yet everyone who could possibly do anything about it, in the way of sanctions, is on the payroll of the offending company. This is, you might say, the down side of fascism. If you allow business and international finance to run the country, then you have to put up with whatever mistakes they make, no matter how much those mistakes harm your constituents – you know, those “little people” who still, inexplicably, have the power to vote you out of office. And the irony is, you bought a lot of those “little people" votes with the money given to you by outfits like BP. So the perfidy comes full circle and, in a sense, all are guilty. I mean, let's say you're a fisherman working off the Louisiana coast – an honest living, but at the same time you voted the latest corrupt, collectivist scoundrel into office (not that you had much of a choice, especially in Louisiana)... and he has most definitely not been working in your best interests. So now you find out what the consequences are of having this clown in Washington as your representative... except now it's too late. But how many people are going to connect those dots? Precious few, I imagine. To them, it's all a matter of fate – but at least they have someone to blame it on – not only a name (BP) but a face (Tony Hayward).

And here's the thing about Tony Hayward -- he did not come off very well at all when he was confronted, in Congressional committee, by the very people he thought he had in his back pocket. And is this because he's just another clueless elitist? No – because they all are. His problem is that he doesn't have “the look” -- you know, that look that all the domestic corporate moguls who have been up on Capitol Hill over the last couple of years have – that look that you, basically, have to have if you're going to ascend to the upper stratosphere of American business. What this look consists of is the following: You have to be tall and mesomorphic, with a vaguely athletic build... have a square, symmetrical face, a lantern jaw, those kind of scary “make my day” eyes... and either “great hair” -- white, full-bodied, and perfectly styled... or be perfectly, shiningly bald. Your skin has to be either a healthy pink or deeply tanned; too olive and you look “ethnic”, and that's a no-no. (Needless to say, being black or Oriental is completely out of the question.) And of course, perfect attire is an absolute must. And no jewelry! (Even wedding bands are considered somewhat sketchy. They might reflect a willingness to compromise.) Nothing else will do, and you'll notice that every one of the characters who have testified before Congress since the economic meltdown began fit this description. And – oh yes – no lips. Lips are way too feminine, and we're talking about guys with a surfeit of testosterone here – that's what got them to the top. Oh, they had to be moderately intelligent, I suppose... and have considerable family and/or money connections... but what counts, in the end, is testosterone, and evidences thereof. So nothing has changed since the caveman era, basically – except they're now wearing power suits instead of bear skins.

But here's the problem with Tony. He didn't fit any of those descriptors. For one thing, his face is way too small for his head – he looks like an extra in “Lord of the Rings” (“wizened Shire resident, uncredited”). His skin is blotchy, his eyes bug out, and his hair – while “good” -- is much too “big” -- almost reaching the televangelist level. This is not at all right. These handicaps are what are responsible for his abject failure, not only before Congress but before the American people. I mean – think of what you can get away with if you have the right look in this country – think about O.J., or Bill Clinton... or even Michael Jackson (“bizarre” counts as a right look, at least on the subculture level). And as much as our politicians try, they seldom if ever are able to pull off the exact right look. Oh, you will have the common-enough phenomenon of great hair... the very occasional well-fitting suit... and so forth. But they generally can't pull it off; it's just not in their nature. They rely way too much on being charismatic in a non-threatening way... in being one of “the folks” -- which means, being a bit unkempt and rumpled. But they are commonly confronted, in committee, by the best-dressed, most expensively groomed people on the planet (outside of Hollywood, that is) – namely, the American CEO. These guys got where they are by making an impression... and by a few other tricks as well, but the impression part is always paramount. There is a hilarious scene in “American Psycho” where a bunch of up-and-coming yuppie businessmen in Manhattan are having a competition to see who has the “best” calling card. Yeah – that's what it's really about about. Substance? Forget about it. It's all about style... that and ruthless ambition. I mean, look at Lloyd Blankfein. He looks like Harpo Marx without the blond wig. But he goes up on Capitol Hill to be “interrogated” and goes home with a few dozen Congressmen's balls in a 6-pack cooler. That's dominance, my friends. And he is the perfect American type... whereas Tony simply isn't. So it looks like he's being replaced on the firing line by... guess what... an American! Now the playing field has been leveled again, and so we can expect a fair fight. I mean, the oil moguls will win, because they always win... but at least this time the winner will look like an American.

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