On Wednesday, January 4th, the Leesburg Daily Commercial exposed its readers to the toxic corporate propaganda of Jay Ambrose, providing a frighteningly clear insight into the agenda and priorities of the right. This was the kind of opinion piece that inspired the creation of this website – a truly shocking case of special pleading for the forces of greed and short-term profiteering, with no more concern for the long-term public good than for the requirements of persuasive argumentation. Moreover, the coupling of yet another miserable musing from Cal Thomas with Ambrose’s article constituted an equally perfect illustration of the Leesburg Daily Commercial‘s conception of editorial balance. Readers of the newspaper must be under no illusions: the Leesburg Daily Commercial is not on our side; it is an organ of the corporate oligarchy that is intent on sucking all the value out of our country and leaving the rest of us to rot.
We have noted before that the corporate oligarchy is not monolithic but contains fault lines that need to be more widely recognized by an American people just starting to fight back. Within that superstructure, Jay Ambrose epitomizes the traditionally Republican obeisance to the wishes of the big oil and gas companies, but takes his advocacy to such extremes that he risks degenerating into parody, potentially exposing his friends to counter-productive ridicule. Ambrose is so completely besotted that he confuses the interests of the oil and gas companies with the interest of the nation as a whole, forgetting that those three little words at the beginning of the United States Constitution say, “We the People,” not “We the Corporations.” I’m not sure how much time he would need to spend swimming in the oil-polluted waters of the Gulf of Mexico, or drinking contaminated groundwater from a well near a natural-gas fracking site, to perceive that these two interests might not actually be synonymous. But, of course, he – like the executives of these companies – will never be directly exposed to the costs that corporations happily impose on society and posterity while squirreling away huge profits for themselves. (Their children might be, but apparently they aren’t thinking about them, either.)
Thus, we are treated by Ambrose to the usual right-wing fantasy in which the United States becomes the world’s leading oil producer by tapping into the buried treasures that allegedly lie right beneath our feet, and exploits “mammoth oil and gas reserves” through the “easy, inexpensive” technology known as fracking. As usual, the infernal federal government is the villain in the piece, placing needless, burdensome regulations and socialistic “central planning” in the way of progress, denying us all the economic glory that could so easily be ours. The EPA’s concerns about the safety of fracking are mere “hyper-environmentalist flap-doodle,” Ambrose tells us, citing “a number of analysts” (strangely unidentified) who find only “some contamination that was not dangerous and almost certainly was from sources other than fracking.” [Emphasis added.] Meanwhile, we are told that there is no point even attempting to deal with climate change since the Chinese and Indians will not be helping us in that endeavor and therefore “nothing the United States does will have any impact.” Apparently it is a fool’s errand to attempt to “bribe new technologies into effectiveness”; fossil fuels will – in addition to making us all rich – “give inventors space to do their thing,” with the natural gas produced by fracking reducing our carbon emissions in the meantime.
One really doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the intellectual and moral failures on display here. If the Leesburg Daily Commercial had any integrity at all, it would either never publish such one-sided dross or would insist on publishing a counterpoint instead of a supportive prop. So let us attempt to redress that pernicious imbalance by presenting a few facts that Ambrose neglected to mention.
To start with, the EPA’s concerns about fracking are amply justified, and the federal government has in fact been far too slow to react to the gravity of the situation. Fracking pumps drilling muds at very high pressures into gas-containing shale formations, fracturing the rock and releasing the gas. It requires huge quantities of water-based drilling mud, which must be disposed of after use. Far from being over-regulated, the drilling industry was exempted from the Safe Water Drinking Act by the Energy Policy Act of 2005. (Remember who controlled the supposedly hostile federal government back then?) This unregulated disposal of contaminated waters has devastated creek ecosystems in West Virginia and is damaging water wells in the many states to which fracking has metastasized. The pressure of the drilling operation has led to earthquakes in Arkansas, prompting a moratorium. But the big secret about fracking that corporate toadies like Jay Ambrose will never reveal is that the gas produced does not ultimately lower our carbon footprint. A Cornell University study found that shale gas has a higher greenhouse-gas footprint than oil or even coal due to the release of methane – a potent greenhouse gas – during drilling. Flap-doodle, indeed. (For more details that you won’t get from Jay Ambrose or the gas industry, watch the movie Gasland.)
Similarly, placing faith in oil shale as America’s energy savior is equally ignorant. The oil in these deposits is contained in waxy kerogens that must be heated to 500 degrees and treated with hydrogen to yield usable fuels. This process is tremendously energy-intensive and requires huge amounts of water – an already precious resource in most of the western areas that contain these deposits. Processing vast quantities of shale would release toxic heavy metals and sulfates, leading to groundwater contamination and a massive land-reclamation problem. All of this is part of the reason why the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to Gulf refineries is so controversial. Apart from the issues presented by initial construction and possible subsequent spills from the pipeline, the project encourages an approach to energy production that is fundamentally unsound. Short-term profits for the extractive industries involved ought not to blind a rational society to the larger costs that will be imposed on us all.
The issue of climate change exposes the sheer hypocrisy of the radical right as well as any. The argument that American action will make no difference and should therefore not be undertaken stands in marked contrast to their persistent claim that we should drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, even though doing so will have no perceivable impact on oil prices. (The amount of recoverable oil is no more than 1.2% of projected world oil consumption in 2030.) Clearly, they are quite willing to do something that will yield a tangible profit for private companies, but unwilling to do anything that will yield long-term benefits for the general public. Moreover, it is quite startling to observe our flag-waving patriots, who regularly crow about the greatness of this shining city on a hill, become suddenly defeatist about the prospects for successful collective endeavors. If we want to spend billions of dollars on space exploration, thereby lining the pockets of aerospace contractors, that’s one thing; but if we want to invest in alternative energy sources, threatening the record profits of the oil companies, that’s quite another. The recent fracas about the Obama Administration’s support of Solyndra illustrates this perfectly: if the boondoggle had involved an expensive fighter jet, Fox News would have had absolutely nothing to say about it. The right’s sponsors in corporate America have no problem with government spending, so long as that spending benefits them – which it very frequently does.
And this leads us to Ambrose’s final plea on behalf of his beloved corporations. In a rant worthy of Russ Sloan, Ambrose opines that America’s corporations are not creating jobs because they are stifled by regulations and worried about the ballooning federal debt, which threatens to engulf us all in a great calamity similar to that befalling the Greeks. The solution, of course, is to slash regulations and cut spending, while simultaneously cutting taxes on corporations to unleash their potential. I’m not going to waste any time here on the tired old supply-side myth, as we’ve covered that elsewhere, but I do want to address the depravity of the lies to which the Leesburg Daily Commercial continues to expose us. America’s corporations are currently sitting on a treasure-trove of profits amassed overseas by their foreign subsidiaries. A serious lobbying effort is currently underway in Congress to enact a corporate tax holiday that would allow them to repatriate these profits – estimated at close to $2 trillion – at a drastically reduced rate of tax. This has happened before, and it would not surprise me one bit to see it happen again, possibly as part of the Republicans’ hostage-taking in the lame-duck session that will follow the 2012 elections. But whatever happens on that front, America’s biggest corporations pay nothing like the 35% rate that their kept-men complain about, as the case of General Electric should have made abundantly clear to any conscious citizen.
Businesses are not investing because there is a lack of aggregate demand in the economy following the collapse of a massive bubble. That bubble was largely the result of a lack of regulation, purchased by the corporations from their agents in the political branches. The federal government gave corporate America everything it wanted, and it thanked the taxpayers by pushing the economy to the brink of disaster. If the systematic (and conspicuously unpunished) criminality of the financial sector were not enough to get our attention, BP’s misadventures in the Gulf of Mexico – now conveniently forgotten – provided another painfully clear example of what happens when powerful corporations pursue their own interests safe in the knowledge that they have converted their ostensible regulators to their cause. Now that we have seen what they can do when they are left to their own devices, why on earth would we want to let them play without adult supervision? And why on earth would we want to listen to Jay Ambrose?