Gimme Shelter

As President Obama was about to address a Memorial Day audience gathered at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Illinois, a torrential downpour began to soak those assembled. Recognizing the potential danger of lightening strikes, he urged the crowd to seek shelter. Yet, for his administration, the citizens of the United States, and, indeed, all of the inhabitants of the planet, there appear to be very few safe havens from the threatening political storms, some of which are directly attributable to a metaphorical seeding of the clouds by the Obama administration.

Even as he was paying tribute to those who have died in past wars, Obama was overseeing the ramping up of the war in Afghanistan. Not only were US casualties approaching their highest monthly level in Afghanistan, but the immediate costs for both the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq reached one trillion dollars, not counting the addition of a new supplemental of 33 billion for Afghanistan recently passed by the US Senate. Although Obama had promised not to use supplemental requests for prosecuting the war, as the Bush Administration had, the inexorable demands of military and imperial objectives undermined those previous pledges.

Obama’s commitment to expanding military operations in the Middle East and the Caspian Basin further contradicts his rhetorical appeals to multilateralism. According to the recent leaks of a secret directive signed last fall by General Petraeus, clandestine efforts by US Special Forces are blanketing the region and extending into the Horn of Africa. In addition, continuing drone attacks, overseen by the CIA and private contractors, especially in Pakistan, are creating more antagonism towards the US.

Other reputed efforts by the Obama Administration towards seeking diplomatic resolution of specific issues were cancelled out by self-serving moves. For example, concerns over the Iranian nuclear program were further complicated after Brazil and Turkey negotiated a transfer of nuclear material out of Iran. Immediately, Washington sought to derail that political initiative by floating more delusional plans for sanctions.

Even in the face of worldwide condemnation of Israel’s unprovoked attack in international waters on a humanitarian flotilla of aid to beleaguered Gaza residents, the US representatives in the UN attempted to mute the criticism and marginalize the universal demand to end the Israeli blockade. It is only a matter of time before the “special relationship” with an intransigent Israel will come to a cataclysmic ending, perhaps with another unilateral and self-destructive Israeli military operation.

If these military and geopolitical storms are not reason enough to seek shelter, the ongoing environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico should reveal how thoroughly compromised the Obama Administration is when it comes to corporate criminals like British Petroleum. Obama’s reckless policy for offshore drilling, announced in the early spring, punctuated by his now heavily quoted reference to the security of new drilling technologies, is not just haunting his administration but destroying the ecology of a growing area in the Gulf region. Perhaps, Obama’s hesitancy to take over operations from BP is related to that companies massive billion dollar contracts with the Pentagon.

Since the explosion of the British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, we have been treated to a case study in both the endemic corporate corruption of US politics and the inherent environmental catastrophes of the fossil fuel economy. The spread of toxicity, whether from oil, chemical dispersants, or corporate lobbyists and their willing handmaidens in Washington, DC, is so evident that even President Obama has been forced to ramp up his rhetoric about “cozy relationships” and conflicts of interest.

Yet, how can one take seriously a president and his administration when they continue all of the worst practices of corporate toadying? Examples abound from capitulating to Big Pharma and Big Insurance in the health care debate to doing the bidding of Wall Street in their desire to maintain hedge funds and derivatives, the key components of casino capitalism. Tinkering with banking regulations will hardly end such corporate corruption when the Treasury departments of the administrations of both Republicans and Democrats are filled with devoted banksters.

Beyond the Treasury Department each recent administration has put into key positions little more than political foxes guarding the consumer hen houses. Departments of Interior are especially notorious for protecting the interests of oil and major cattle growers. Obama’s Department of Interior with Ken Salazar, a Colorado cattleman, as head honcho and Sylvia Baca, a former BP flack, as Deputy Assistant Secretary for land and minerals management, are only the most current representatives of such notorious conflict of interests.

If one needed a more compelling argument against the fossil-fuel economy and its reliance on drilling for oil, the BP/Halliburton disaster in the Gulf of Mexico provides the tragic indictment. Yet, the handwringing and grandstanding by the DC policy-makers has allowed BP to continue their cover-up of the extent of the spill and enable their misguided efforts to contain their potential litigation costs. Of course, one should not expect the political accomplices of the corporate fossil-fuel corporations to take fundamental steps to stop this immediate environmental catastrophe and reverse the insanity associated with this industry.

The fact is that we are addicted both to oil and war in ways that are so entrenched that challenging these addictions will require pulling the plugs (ala The Matrix) than adopting a gradual 12-step program. It is too late for such a limited response and, yet, we are probably not capable of making a choice to shun completely the fossil-fuel economy, even though it has been revealed time and again to be an ecocide economy whether in the Gulf, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, etc. The political hacks will never challenge in a radical way the oil and military-industrial complex, especially since they sup at the trough.

Our own complicity as the mini-me’s of the corporate state and the oil and military-industrial complex means that we will probably temporize about the latest environmental disaster, as long as we are not immediately inconvenienced, and find ways of putting up with the continual wars that have plagued the American Empire since World War II. Although the end of the fossil-fuel economy certainly is predictable, the collapse of human civilization as a consequence is still an open question.

On the other hand, as the Rolling Stones song goes: “Oh, a storm is threat’ning/My very life today/If I don’t get some shelter/Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away.”

Francis Shor is the author of Dying Empire: US Imperialism and Global Resistance.  A website for the book can be found at