Bipartisan Kool-Aid Threatens Media Ecosystem
BY IAN MURPHY
It’s all relative
While it’s borderline retarded to call the BP disaster “Obama’s Katrina,” like comparing apples and a bunch of dead black people, it’s not entirely unfair of Sarah Palin to bring up Obama’s ties to the unsafe oil giant.
As emotionally satisfying as it is to pin this black eco-death on Palin’s moronic “Drill, baby, drill!” ethos, it’s totally meaningless, because, you know, she is meaningless.
The partisan slick talk in the Gulf is killing objectivity — an already threatened species in the media marshlands. The relativism and blame-gaming obscures one very basic truism in American politics: fossil fuels are still a bipartisan issue. Seeing the established “left” and the “right’ snipe at each other over the web and TV is to watch the American people being lied to through omission.
As usual, the argument on the “right” deserves almost no discussion, because it is completely ridiculous. However, comparing Obama’s Gulf Gusher performance to Bush’s criminally negligent inertia during hurricane Katrina is very useful to the “left.” Palin and her ilk are playing the fool. Well, maybe they’re not playing, but they do make a handy prop, for establishment Democrats. Obama’s very real ties to BP are easy to parry when spoken from the mouths of fascist idiots.
How much steam would be coming from your ears if this happened during Bush? More? Less? It’s quite possible that Haliburton’s involvement with the Deepwater Horizon would make your head explode, killing eleven people. Now, imagine that Bush received more campaign cash from BP than any other candidate. Would that trouble you about W.? As the proverbial stopped clock Sarah Palin pointed out recently, in Obama’s case this isn’t a hypothetical. It’s true, but not entirely damaging. This fact lacks the sexy legs of a bona fide media scandal, and it’s being promoted by the town idiot.
Now, imagine that the co-chair of Bush’s transition team co-founded the lobbying firm that represents BP America. In Obama’s case, this isn’t a hypothetical either. John Podesta, former Clinton Chief of Staff, co-founded the Podesta Group with his brother Tony in ’88. John hasn’t been lobbying, for his old firm, since he took his most recent gig as the President of the Center for American Progress (CAP).
The one party system
If the president had mandated the use of safety shut-offs in offshore drilling before the BP spill, his hands wouldn’t be coated in its bloody oil. But he didn’t. And they are. So leave it to MSNBC and the Center for American Progress to break out the soap and sponges to clean ‘em up prettier than a recently deceased Louisiana catfish.
Referring to BP’s Deepwater Horizon explosion, CAP’s Senior Fellow and climate blogger Dr. Joe Romm told Keith Olbermann on “Countdown” a few weeks back:
For eight years, this country was led by two oil guys, two fossil fuel guys. They looked the other way.
Yes. The Halliburton admin wins big shame in the blame game, for its dangerous deregulation, but we’re up to our mid-thighs in Obama’s first term and it’s starting to feel a little dirty. And not in a good way. Watching Olbermann frame this mess as a strictly Republican crime—opening the interview with Palin’s infamous “Drill, baby, drill!” convention clip—should disturb those lonely Americans still striving for objectivity or its pretense. All reasonable people delight in seeing Palin proverbially tarred, but not every national tragedy rests on those simple shoulder pads.
BP spent nearly $16 million on lobbying last year alone, and as expected, Tony Podesta visited the White House eight times in a six month period. He’s also popped in on behalf of Romm’s former employer, Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE), a group which authored a report in January of this year entitled: Eastern Gulf of Mexico Oil and Gas Exploration and Military Readiness. By March, Obama publicly announced his approval for drilling off Florida’s west coast in a hangar at Andrews Air Force Base. (It was pitched as a way to build Republican support for climate change legislation, sans laughter.)
To be fair, balanced and other newsy-sounding slogans, Romm has no current ties with SAFE. But he did when the evil oil men ran the world (out in the open). Joe’s a respected doctor of physics, a Clinton DoE geek and a generally nice guy, so he probably never was invited to Cheney’s secret oil orgies. And John’s checks are no longer signed by the Podesta Group. But they were before and after he served as Clinton’s Chief of Staff. That revolving door may yet spin again, but for now, the firm’s mammoth list of mostly pharmaceutical, fossil fuel and military clients is in the expert hands of John’s brother Tony. Well before the BP spill, I asked John about this apparent conflict of interest by email (for my forthcoming book about the end of civilization) and we had a fun back-and-forth:
Murphy: …what do you say to cynics, like me, who see this as a little suspect?
Podesta: I’m not my brother and he’s not me. I have had no relationship with the firm since founding CAP. I don’t think it would be fair to ascribe his views or clients to me given my and CAP’s strong public (and private for that matter) posture in favor of clean energy, low-carbon solutions. It would be akin to suggesting that the less than favorable views of organized labor held by Fred Hiatt, the editorial page editor of the Washington Post are shared by his brother Jon Hiatt, the General Counsel of the AFL-CIO. We can still have Thanksgiving dinner together as I am sure Fred and Jon do.
Murphy: I’m truly honored you took the time to offer that eloquent response, Mr. Podesta. And I hate to pick nits, but that comparison would only be apt if the Hiatt brothers founded an organization together, and one stayed on to benefit financially from the other brother’s policy positions and influence…
American politics “sucks,” as you’ve said…
…You must feel conflicted at Thanksgiving dinner, and as you’re an art lover, I offer you my crudely-rendered advice for broaching this all-important subject with your brother. I hope you like it, and may the force be with you.
Emails to John & Tony to confirm the drawing’s impact on their rocky bromance were not returned. Maybe they don’t talk outside of family gatherings. Maybe they’re smoking cigars, rolling in money and laughing at my doodling naif routine, at this very moment, in their secret White House tree-fort. It’s hard to say. During the same six month period that Tony went to Obama’s crib eight times, John was there a reported seventeen. (The Podesta Group also represents Wal-Mart, one of CAP’s benefactors, so I imagine they at least bump into each other at the occasional illegal immigrant labor and/or sexual discrimination seminar.)
Aside from Wal-Mart and the the usual Democracy Alliance fortunes—Pritzkers, Soros, Daddy Warbucks, etc.—the rest of CAP’s contributors are undisclosed. Soros invested $811 million in Petroleo Brasileiro, so they can “Broca, bebê, broca!” in the South Atlantic. And until Berkshire Hathaway completes its takeover of the Pritzker fossil-fueled investment arm the Marmon Group in 2014, anything those hotel oligarchs touch is covered in crude—left, right and straight down the triangulated center. (But even the foulest money can fertilize flowers, so let’s leave a more thorough exploration—ahem—of dirty cash, for another time.)
Please, come crawl out your window
It’s funny, because on the one side you have your obvious Freedom Works, Dick Armey, Koch brother, Palin-type demagogues, who are trying to push public debate toward the right by manufacturing and encouraging the most extreme, and factually inaccurate, anti-Obama propaganda you can imagine. (This technique is called the Overton Window, a political theory which states that by presenting the most radical ideas, say, purporting the existence of a “Death panel,” you make your true and slightly less extreme goals, say, crushing the public option, seems acceptable by contrast.) And on the other side, you have people like Podesta, Romm and Olbermann, who also feed those manufactured, fanatical social memes, for strikingly similar political reasons.
That’s the oily crux of the thing: the neoliberals highlight the crazies on the right, because they’re the only ones who can make CAP’s retread Republican policy positions seem “progressive” by comparison. It’s sloppy misdirection, really, like standing next to Rush Limbaugh to look thin. Obama and CAP are serving us conservative leftovers and calling it progressive pie on MSNBC. (Did I mention the Podesta Group lobbies for NBC Universal? Does it matter?)
Just sayin’: the Deepwater Horizon came online in 2001. This would mean the bad judgment to allow the offshore well happened when John Podesta was serving as Clinton’s Chief of Staff, Romm was in the DoE, Palin was shooting wolves from the obscurity of helicopters in Alaska and Olbermann was measuring his massive head in a mirror at ESPN.
Move to the Center, for American Progress
First, ponder the three major industries the Podesta Group represents: military (Raytheon, Lockheed, General Dynamics, etc.), pharmaceutical (Amgen, Amylin, Cubist, etc.) and energy (BP America, Duke, Sunoco, etc.). Podesta’s “cleaner” energy clients include American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) and some biofuel projects. (You may remember when one of ACCCE’s subcontractors got busted sending bogus letters opposing climate legislation to congress last summer.) The Podesta Group also represents health insurance giant Farmers, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Credit Suisse and the government of Egypt.
Now, ask yourself, what sucks about our healthcare reform? It was a giveaway to the drug and insurance companies, there’s no public option and it will likely raise costs while bolstering the industry’s bottom line. Sound familiar? If you said it sounds like the Dole Compromise from the ’90s, give yourself a biscuit.
What is going on in Afghanistan? We’re playing imperialists and spending billions on military hardware, which in large part is completely useless, for fighting extremist guerrillas and nation building. That’s American, all right, but CAP’s endorsement of the escalation hardly makes the plan progressive by any stretch of the imagination.
The shameless crooks on Wall St.? On January 16th of ’09, while John Podesta was co-chairing Obama’s transition team and co-picking the Randian ringworms who crashed the economy to help fix it, Bank of America was guaranteed $118 billion in bailouts in addition to the $25 billion from TARP (and the other $5 billion that was funneled to BoA through the American International Group). And don’t get me started on the toothless Wall St. reform.
CAP’s environmental policy? Cap-and trade was originally conceived as a conservative, market-based approach to controlling carbon emissions in the ’80s. It seems rather naïve to think that carbon trading will do a damn thing but create another greedy bubble of make-believe money. Some very credible climate scientists, like NASA’s Dr. James Hansen, say that Kyoto has shown the cap-and-trade model to be a demonstrable failure. European emissions weren’t reduced, they just moved to less developed nations, where corruption and carbon accounting tricks abound. Some get rich trading and the net environmental impact is nil. I asked Romm about Hansen’s take on cap-and-trade (also well before the spill):
He is my hero on the science. We agree on the dire need for action. He is not an expert on energy or policy, so we disagree a bit on that and I have blogged a couple times on that. But I direct 99% of my critiques to those who oppose the necessary action.
And Hansen responded:
It is useful, I think, to have a scientist’s objective assessment about what is needed to address the climate matter. I try to focus on empirical quantitative evidence, rather than politics.
Objectivity? No, these are triangulated times. Truth is relative. Not since Heritage stocked Reagan’s cabinet, have we seen a think tank as influential as CAP. It just so happens that all their policy positions more-or-less jive with the interests of large and dirty corporate persons represented by the Podesta Group. As Obama pitched it at Edwards Airforce base, the move to drill offshore was done to woo Republican support. So the same kind of “compromise” we saw with health care is already underway with climate change. We’re being sold a bill of “progressive” goods in this country. It’s a regressive progress, which only looks progressive when it’s sitting next to a fascist vegetable like Sarah Palin.
That’s the most painful bit about watching Olbermann and Romm blithely ignore the current administration’s role in screwing Mother Nature. They may fancy a magic land, where simply barking “Drill, baby, drill!” at a frothing crowd of morons makes one accountable for what will be our nation’s worst ecological disaster since Drunky McExxon took the Valdez out for a spin, but Palin has little influence other than that afforded her as MSNBC’s and CAP’s straw-troll. But MSNBC’s right about Palin: her energy policy is terrible, stupid and dangerous; it’s nearly identical to the president’s.