Thursday, May 29, 2014

“Perhaps there’s something that we’re not aware of underground”

The little guy gets it in the neck . . . again . . . this time in Texas

Actually we’re very much aware, but fracting operators just won’t tell us what their chemical cocktail is. According to them, it’s a ‘trade secret,’ even though governments (local, state and federal) demand the information and citizens beg to know, as tap-water catches fire, their children are sickened, cancer-rates jump and the ground shakes beneath their feet. All that jumping and shaking is bound to rattle those who have to live with it. But the Chairman lives in Austin, a three-hour drive away from the mess.

Barry Smitherman, who uttered the amazingly ignorant statement that titles this article is the Texas Railroad Commission Chairman. You be the judge of whether he was answering or kissing-off complaints from residents of Azle, Texas. They’d frantically appealed to the tone-deaf chairman about earthquakes that followed fracking in their area.

If you wonder what they were doing at a railroad commission and if they’d somehow lost their way, understand that the Texas Railroad Commission doesn’t regulate the railroads. In some weird sort of Lone Star logic, it oversees the Texas oil and gas industry. Truth in advertising is apparently gone missing in Texas.

Not to sell Smitherman short (as if that were possible), he’s an educated man with multiple degrees from Texas A&M University, University of Texas School of Law and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. The point is that at a corporate and political level, what we know to be true is consistently ignored in Government, the Courts and the Press, favoring the more urgent service of power and profit. Barry’s inaction belies the educated man he is and he ought to check out his job-description. His responsibility is to control the oil and gas industries, not grease their skids. A class-action suit for dereliction of duty would be refreshing, but don’t hold your breath. Somewhere, someday it will happen.

Rather than hunker down in grumpy frustration over stuff like this, I’ve come to see the American political and corporate scene as charmingly two sides of the same coin. Mostly it’s comedy—far too often tragi-comedy, but comedy nonetheless. The real pinch comes when I watch our freshwater aquifers, perhaps the nation’s most precious resource, poisoned by trade secret and fail to head for the street, pitchfork in hand. Recent history more than suggests that the courts are of no use at all, government is helpless, as well as paid-off and those of us who live elsewhere simply don’t give a shit.

Pitchforks are in short supply as well, since the advent of our new and bright and shiny consumerist society.

There’s a rare societal force working against us, one I’ve not witnessed in a long and active life. Simply stated, every aspect of American life today is under such mindless control and beyond our reach that nothing stands out sufficiently to grab up granddaddy’s pitchfork.

Granddads who remember other times have mostly passed from the scene and their handed-down memories of American life before its ruination are fast fading. The quiet old dude who sat in the corner with his cane, grandkids on his lap and a glass of lemonade is as long-gone as the Packard automobile. Packard, by the way, had a great motto:
“Ask the man who owns one.”
There are fewer and fewer old farts to ask about the past ownership of either Packards or this fine nation—and soon there will be none. You won’t find them on Facebook or Twitter, they’re as faded as the butt-sprung old and tattered chair in the corner.

I know. I’m among them, having lived in part or all of nine decades. It stuns me to ponder that, face it in the shaving-mirror each morning and watch my reflected image drift off like condensation. Someone bring me a glass of lemonade.

But there’re two distinct types of threats: those that are personal and affect only individual lives and nations and those that threaten us as a human species. It’s vital to recognize the difference.

The banks, Wall Street, poverty, ill health, family crises, unequal wealth distribution, useless wars, even the Internet and the collapse of the economy belong among the former. We’ve been there before, succumbed to and then overcame what seemed like monumental obstacles. We’ll find ourselves there again, as these things are cyclical and being Americans, we’re at our best with our backs against the wall. If you read much of what I write, you’ll find that phrase a fairly constant theme, because I’ve lived through all those situations and know it to be true.

The other threat is existential and dangerous as hell by comparison, because it’s historically unknown territory for you and me. We’ve never been in this circumstance (nor has the world at large), which makes it a proper candidate for pitchforks in the streets if only we can see it for what it is. Worse, we don’t fully comprehend the urgency because the endpoint isn’t this month, year or even decade. So we dismiss those who try to warn us as pessimists, troublemakers or fools, standing in the way of prosperity.

Prosperity, even though it’s become somewhat hollow for most of us, seems to be the nation’s lingering hope, shimmering out there like a mirage in the desert—that, along with growth, our magic and foolish national mantra. But if I prosper as you decline, we’re both the poorer for it. If I grow at your expense, each of our lives and futures are unsustainable.

Trying to name the beast, we blew it, stumbled when we should have run and came up empty:
environmental damage hardly stirs the soul, much less grabs our attention; global warming is as feckless as climate change rather than a call to action—what the hell, we’re trying to pay the mortgage and get our kids started in life and who can blame us for that? Industrial agriculture sounds like a breakthrough, even though it absolutely controls who will eat and who will serve, as well as accelerating the extinction of species and the spread of antibiotic-resistant disease. Groundwater contamination is something that happens elsewhere, so long as our tap runs clear and the morning shower is good and hot.

Freshwater aquifers are mostly beyond our understanding, the unseen and connected oceans below the ‘spacious skies and amber waves of grain’ that underpin American survival. Energy security is ours at last and sounds great, but for the sliced-off mountaintops, earthquakes where none have ever been recorded, tar sands, fracted gas and leaky pipelines that bring it to market. Reducing world population is so racist it’s unspoken of at any level, no matter that it’s the key to all the others and corporate profit is its driver.

These are existential matters, folks and unsolved will end the human experiment on the planet. Backs to the wall won’t do a damned thing to bring these threats into balance. The human political comedy, a real thigh-slapper.

Getting back to Barry Smitherman, his blind unwillingness to act on fact and reason speaks for us all and he should be a poster-boy for our intellectual retreat. (Begging your pardon, I just used an old-timey term. We have no posters, nor poster-boys these days, so he’ll have to go viral on Youtube). It’s popular these days to quote Thomas Jefferson in a pinch and I will, because I’m properly pinched. Jefferson said,
“It is error alone that needs the support of government.
Truth can stand by itself.”

Error alone. But truth today, as evidenced by Barry Smitherman and others like him, stands on very shaky legs. Now where the hell’s my lemonade?

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