The Disaster in the Gulf May Only be the Beginning…

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The Wrecking CrewWe have yet to calculate the full extent of the damage in the gulf, but it’s looking like it may be the worst environmental disaster ever.  Unfortunately, I’m afraid this is only the beginning…

A couple of years ago, I read a book called The Wrecking Crew by Wall Street Journal columnist Thomas Frank (also the author of the great book, What’s the Matter with Kansas).  He gets deep on the how the Bush Administration systematically broke down and sold off large portions of our government’s functions to the private sector.  I can’t totally do it justice – you gotta read the book – but the gist of it is that conservatives don’t really believe that government should do much of anything.  Ever since the Reagan Revolution, they’ve been cutting budgets and replacing life long civil servants with people who don’t believe in the laws they were hired to enforce.

That’s how you end up with regulators on coke binges and sex romps with the oil industry – they’re all buddies and they all used to work together!

I think the conservative logic went sort of like this:  “We believe in the unfettered free market… but it’s pretty hard to actually shut the government down – first sign of a few kids dying or, I dunno, some huge oil spill, and everyone will get mad at us.  Why don’t we just hire people from the industry they regulate!  As long as they don’t believe in the laws they’re supposed to enforce, we can effectively end regulation!  And here’s the best part:   When something goes wrong, we get to blame government for screwing up!  Genius!”  (cue the clinking of scotch glasses and the lighting of cigars).

Washington (and the Federal Government everywhere) is supposed to have two types of employees – political types that change during every administration, and lifers, who keep the system running.  The lifers are supposed to remain fairly apolitical, because our government can’t handle dramatic turnover every four years.

However, as Frank’s book details, the Bush administration broke this convention, and installed unqualified or destructive conservative true believers everywhere they could.  Now we have land mines spread throughout our vast bureaucracy… and they’ll take a long time to uncover.  I wish Obama had caught the regulatory mistakes that led to this disaster – but I’m not surprised he didn’t.  Read this book, and you’ll understand the magnitude of the problem, and also, how hard it will be to reverse course.  We only discovered this Department of the Interior thing because a rig exploded.  The next disaster could be some horrible workplace accident caused by a health inspection that never actually happened, or some lethal side effect of a drug that skipped key tests five years ago.

It’s going to take a lot longer than a year and a half to undo eight years of damage, and just like the oil spill, it may take even longer to measure the full consequences.