Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Oroville Dam: Another market driven disaster. Profits before People

Oroville Dam and spillway
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

As is always the case, it is after terrible accidents happen that the public finds out details about what caused them.  Most of the worst disasters, Katrina for example, are not freaks of nature but market driven disasters.

It appears we might have dodged a bullet here in California as the tallest dam in the US, the 770 foot Oroville dam, was in danger of rupture due to heavy rains. The lake behind the dam was overflowing and the water began to erode a part of the hillside that was a natural (unpaved) spillway.  The danger is that if the erosion spread it could cause a rupture in the dam itself spilling billions of gallons of water in a 30-foot high wave downstream.  Over the past weekend, evacuation orders were issued to 200,000 residents.

Now it comes to light that as far back as 2005, under Republican Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, environmental groups and some local government officials warned that the dam’s integrity could be jeopardized and “catastrophic flooding” could result if the natural hillside spillway wasn’t reinforced with concrete or huge boulders that we sometime see at these dam sites. This would help protect against erosion when the dam overflowed which is what we are witnessing now.

So were this catastrophe to have occurred (and the dam could still burst) and people killed, what would have been described as an accident is in actuality, a market driven disaster.  I say this because what is happening here is nothing new-----it’s about money, the allocation of capital. The only time the working class gets to make a decision about allocation is when they let us vote on bonds and we vote yes to borrow back our own money (with interest) to build a hospital.

The BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 that cost 11 workers their lives has caused untold damage to the environment. We will never fully know how much damage, we might get a glimpse as Bluefin Tuna and other marine life are washing ashore with two sets of genitals and other deformities.  We can be sure the ocean floor is covered with oil and whatever chemicals that they use to help the oil dissipate but this likelihood will not be in a public service announcement during a playoff game.

This BP spill was man made. We found out afterwards, that not only was the oil industry allowed to write their own rules for deep water drilling, but the extent of the environmental damage was hidden from us. I wrote back then:
The New York Times pointed out earlier in 2010 that an Interior Dept. investigation revealed that “Federal regulators responsible for oversight of drilling in the Gulf of Mexico allowed industry officials several years ago to fill in their own inspection reports in pencil — and then turned them over to the regulators, who traced over them in pen before submitting the reports to the agency, according to an inspector general’s report to be released this week. The report said that investigators "could not discern if any fraudulent alterations were present on these forms."

West, Texas. Who stores volatile fertilizer next to a school?
Two days after the Boston bombing that was covered extensively in the mainstream media and to this day a reminder as to why we should keep Muslims out, and constantly worry about the hundreds of thousands of people that die every year from terrorist attacks (oops, sorry, that is opoid addiction) there was an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas. I wrote at the time:
“…..this was no an accident but also an act of terror.  So far no one had been arrested or imprisoned for this crime.  But there are plenty of culprits.  As Peter Dreier and Donald Cohen pointed out:“The chemical industry has been one of the most effective lobby groups in this regard. In the 1970s, for example, the industry lobbied Congress to prohibit OSHA from regularly inspecting workplaces with fewer than 10 employees in industries with low reported injury rates. Fertilizer plants are included on the list of exempted industries. This may be why OSHA hadn't inspected the West Fertilizer plant since 1985. If they put profit before people, and allow greed or indifference to put lives at risk, they should be punished.

Business Week once described the infrastructure problem in the US as the “Third Deficit”, I assume after the trade and federal deficits. An Associated Press review of Records from the National Bridge Inventory discovered that 7,795 bridges across the US have been classified as “fracture critical” and "structurally deficient," Readers will remember the bridge that collapsed in Milwaukee with fatalities. Since then, “Wisconisn  State transportation officials have placed about 60 Wisconsin bridges in danger categories that indicate the structures have designs that make them more vulnerable to failure and are deteriorating.”  Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 9-15-13

There was the chemical spill in the Sacramento River that killed everything in the river for 45 miles in the early 1990’s. I once read in the WSJ I believe how workers had complained about the way the cars were loaded but who listens to those that do the work? Profits, the bottom line, is paramount. Of course, after the fact the truth, or some of it, comes out.  The New York Times reported afterwards that these deadly chemicals were, “….being hauled in a tank car that the National Transportation Safety Board has repeatedly said is too flimsy to haul hazardous materials.” Ah, the NYT. A worker’s word before the fact worthless. The NYT after----priceless. That’s why whistlebowers should be protected. Thank you Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden and others.

There was the chemical spill in the river in West Virginia that poisoned people's water supply in nine counties, and as I write, the children of Flint Michigan have been poisoned because the politicians, serving the interests of the 1% chose to save money, not by cutting defense spending and ending predatory corporate wars, taxing the rich etc., but by providing inadequate drinking water for an entire town.

There are simply too many of these catastrophes to mention but we all understand that this goes on and it will not stop as long as there is no political voice for workers and middle class people and that voice is not backed up by a united direct action movement that can stop this economy from functioning. It is only when profit and capital accumulation is halted, that the ruling class listens. 

I don’t have a fetish about workers,; we can be brutal and hateful. But we can also show great solidarity and compassion, we are just like other animals in that way. The ideology of capitalism is dominant in society, and what does that ideology consist of? It consists of selfishness, individualism, competition for the necessities of life despite the fact that there is enough labor power and natural wealth to ensure that no human being goes hungry, is poor and can develop to their full potential. Capitalism encourages this thinking but it is against our better instincts which is what makes us sick, causes,  depression, alienation and isolation, not to mention wars and devastation as capitalists fight to “our” death for control over the world’s resources and wealth.

Human society has advanced through collective struggle and cooperation, not individualism in the sense that we are in never ending competition with each other for the basics of life.

I saw a headline about Bill Gates and how he might become the world’s first trillionaire. This was reported in a favorable way. This is success in their world.  No one ever got rich working. They get rich getting others to work and plundering both human and natural resources. No one “pulls themselves up by their own bootstraps” no one. No billionaire is “self made”. This is propaganda of language. We all get a little help from somewhere, and the richest get the most.

Workers care about the world in which we live. We care about the natural beauty we have in California as much as an Afghani or an Egyptian or any other inhabitant of the world cares about theirs. But it’s hard to pay much attention to it when you or your children are dying of starvation.

American workers have to not close our minds to the propaganda even if we feel at any point in time that we cannot do anything about it.; anger is good, and organized anger is even better. We shouldn’t glorify the idea that one human being can accumulate $80 billion like Gates, he never worked for that. It came from exploitation. We should be disgusted by it. We should question the society we live in and condemn it. The Oroville Dam is just the tip of the iceberg. Human beings made conscious decisions that led to that, that led to the West Texas explosion, the California spill, the destruction that Katrina caused that was far greater than September 11th but not as useful as it was a crisis made possible by domestic failures, political choices again. And it is not workers that make these choices. It is member of the 1%, the capitalist class and its elected representatives in their two parties. They make these choices consciously and the bottom line above all else is money, money in their bank accounts. The most devastating choices they make for humanity are their wars.

It is up to us to rid ourselves of the clique that govern society, we certainly don’t govern it, but we can. Society needs new managers.

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