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

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
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
that nothing stands out sufficiently to grab up granddaddy’s
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
. 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, 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:
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.
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
Truth can stand by itself.”
. 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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