Terri Schiavo and the BP disaster

In March of 2005, the nation was consumed with the life and death of Terri Schiavo. Fifteen years earlier, Schiavo had been diagnosed PVS (persistent vegetative state), and now her husband by Jim wanted to take her off of Longworth life support. Terri’s parents columnist opposed that decision, and lengthy court battles ensued.

By January 2005, Terri’s mom and dad were just about out of options to block their son-in-law’s actions, when Congress stepped in. Determined to inject themselves into a private matter, a bevy of right-wing nuts launched a campaign to keep Terri alive at all cost. Not surprisingly, Congress held hearings, called witnesses and whipped the public into a (pardon the expression) feeding frenzy with partisan rhetoric. And so, by early March, President Bush signed legislation designed to maintain Schaivo in a vegetative state. Keep in mind, these were the same politicians who preached against big government, Big Brother and infringements of our personal freedoms by the federal bureaucracy. Nevertheless, Congress spent all of its time and attention on the Schiavo case, continuing to fight any attempt to take this woman off life support. Despite those efforts, however, the courts allowed Terri’s husband to authorize removal of all life-sustaining apparatus. Terri Schaivo died on March 31, 2005.

The national obsession with all things Schiavo didn’t end there, nor did the political maneuvering. A memo surfaced from Florida

Sen. Mel Martinez’s legal counsel which stated that the Schiavo case would help shore up the GOP base for the 2006 election. Congress and the president had overstepped their role, and crossed the lines of decency in the process. But as tragic as Schaivo’s death was, the insane political fight over her life set the stage for an even bigger tragedy in years to come.

On March 23, 2005, an explOsiOn Occurred at Bp’s texas city refinery killing 15 peOple and injuring anOther 170. But the explOsiOn was Muffled By the schiavO firestOrM that saMe MOnth.

On March 23, 2005, an explosion occurred at BP’s Texas City refinery killing 15 people and injuring another 170. But the explosion was muffled by the Schiavo firestorm that same month. Had the right-wingers been tending to the job we elected them to do, they would have understood the long-term ramifications of a report by the Federal Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), stating that BP had failed to implement safety improvements which had been required prior to the blast. For example, between 1994 and 2004, no less than eight incidents occurred involving improper emission of flammable vapors. BP never took corrective action. In February 2008, BP was charged with a federal environmental crime, and paid a paltry fine of $50 million dollars.

Then, last year, OSHA fined BP another $87 million dollars for failing to correct hazards that led to the Texas City explosion.

Now, less than a year later, BP is responsible for yet another explosion, this one resulting in loss of life, loss of entire industries and the pollution of over one-third of the Gulf of Mexico.

And so, for those who think politics is just a game and that partisan rhetoric never really hurts anyone, think again. Had Congress been paying attention to the Texas City explosion instead of launching a 24/7 fight to maintain a feeding tube, then BP would have been more closely regulated and their oil rigs more closely watched going forward. The irony is inescapable. The right-wingers who once failed to deal with BP’s failures are now criticizing Barack Obama for an oil spill they could have prevented five years ago.

Diversionary debates are nothing new in this country. Just look at how watered down the healthcare reform bill became following charges by partisan idiots who said Obama was going to create “death panels.” Unfortunately there is no process in place to police irresponsible rhetoric by either party, which means we will continue to suffer the consequences of their hype and negligence. In the end we can’t seem to stop politicians who gush bull, any more than we can stop faulty rigs that gush crude. If only we could cap the wells and trade the politicians. That would be a great energy policy.

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).