Guest Post: On the Government Cover-Up of Gulf Dolphin Deaths

Yves here. This post may strike readers as off topic, but it sits at the locus of several Naked Capitalism topics of interest: the Deepwater Horizon blowout and its aftermath, animals (particularly dolphins, which are more altruistic than people and quite likely as smart), Obama administration duplicity, and reading between the lines of media reports.

By a retired physician who worked several years in the medical communications and pharmaceutical industry who writes as Francois T

From a Reuters story yesterday, “Government tightens lid on dolphin death probe”:

The U.S. government is keeping a tight lid on its probe into scores of unexplained dolphin deaths along the Gulf Coast, possibly connected to last year’s BP oil spill, causing tension with some independent marine scientists.

Wildlife biologists contracted by the National Marine Fisheries Service to document spikes in dolphin mortality and to collect specimens and tissue samples for the agency were quietly ordered late last month to keep their findings confidential.

The gag order was contained in an agency letter informing outside scientists that its review of the dolphin die-off, classified as an “unusual mortality event (UME),” had been folded into a federal criminal investigation launched last summer into the oil spill.

Cough! Cough! Given the OUTSTANDING record of the Obama administration in the “Get Tough with’em Korporations, Barack!”, are we supposed to believe this grade-AAA bullshit? Continuing:

“Because of the seriousness of the legal case, [You mean, it would get real serious if you don’t choke the flow of information?] no data or findings may be released, presented or discussed outside the UME investigative team without prior approval,” the letter, obtained by Reuters, stated.

Inquiring minds wants to know WHOSE approval are we talking about here. A “lawyer” maybe? They’re so damn cognizant of scientific facts, aren’t they? Or maybe a politrouk komissar from the White House, one of those poleznye idioty so dear to Lenin’s disciples!

A number of scientists said they have been personally rebuked by federal officials for “speaking out of turn” to the media about efforts to determine the cause of some 200 dolphin deaths this year, and about 90 others last year, in the Gulf.

Oh! They must take turn to exercise their 1st amendment rights? Oh wait! This is the Obama admin we’re talking about here, the über-champion of civil rights. I almost forgot.

Moreover, they said collected samples and specimens are being turned over to the government for analysis under a protocol that will leave independent scientists in the dark about the efficacy and outcome of any laboratory tests.

Some researchers designated as official “partners” in the agency’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network complained such constraints undermine the transparency of a process normally open to review by the scientific community.

“It throws accountability right out the window,” one biologist involved in tracking dolphin deaths for more than 20 years told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “We are confused and … we are angry because they claim they want teamwork, but at the same time they are leaving the marine experts out of the loop completely.”

Huh? “Accountabiwhat?” Well Professor! Haven’t you got the memo yet? For this administration, the definition of “teamwork” is “a lot of people following our orders”. And remember, those inconvenient independent scientists were kept as far away from the leak in its early weeks. Precedents not looking too favorable, are they?
Some question why the Marine Fisheries Service, a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, has taken so long to get samples into laboratories.

“It is surprising that it has been almost a full year since the spill, and they still haven’t selected labs for this kind of work,” said Ruth Carmichael, who studies marine mammals at the independent Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama.

“I can only hope that this process is a good thing. I just don’t know. This is an unfortunate situation.”

NOAA officials expressed sympathy but insisted the control and confidentiality measures were necessary.

The same NOAA who took its darn sweet time in sending submersibles look for oil plumes? The same NOAA that tried to lie to the American public about the flow rate of the spill for the first 2 weeks of this tragedy? I’m sure they’re VERY sympathetic.

“We are treating the evidence, which are the dolphin samples, like a murder case,” said Dr. Erin Fougeres, a marine biologist with the Fisheries Service. “The chain of custody is being closely watched. Every dolphin sample is considered evidence in the BP case now.”

Again, is this remotely credible? Does the go-vermin plan to criminally sue BP for animal cruelty? Puhleeeeze!

Blair Mase, a marine mammal scientist for NOAA, said lab results would go directly back to the Fisheries Service in about two to three months…

As of this week, scientists have counted nearly 200 bottlenose dolphin carcasses found since mid-January along the shores of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, about half of them newly born or stillborn infants.

That tally, about 14 times the numbers averaged during that time of year between 2002 and 2007, coincides with the first dolphin calving season in the northern Gulf since BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded last April.

That is a rather potent indication that something’s very wrong. We wonder if an eventual jury wouldn’t be tempted to find this obvious fact more persuasive than a mind-numbing analysis of hundreds of samples performed by the party who will prosecute BP and without independent review. Hmmm! If I were a BP lawyer…

The blast killed 11 workers and ruptured a wellhead on the sea floor, dumping an estimated 5 million barrels (206 million gallons) of oil into the Gulf over more than three months.

Wasn’t there also this stuff…Corexit? The dispersant that would help dilute the oil so fast, far and wide that toxicity would be far lower than without it? Corexit, that was approved by the government despite strenuous objections from several of their own scientists. Hmmm! If I were a BP lawyer…

Nearly 90 dead dolphins, most of them adults, washed up along the Gulf Coast last year in the weeks and months following the blowout.

The latest spike in deaths, and high concentration of premature infants among them, has led some experts to speculate that oil ingested or inhaled by dolphins during the spill has taken a belated toll on the animals, possibly leading to a wave of dolphin miscarriages.

But most of the specimens collected bear no obvious signs of oil contamination, making lab analysis crucial to understanding what caused the deaths.

If there are no obvious signs, that may bring us back to the Corexit…

Mase said the carcasses also are considered potential evidence in the natural resources damage assessment being conducted in conjunction with civil litigation pursued against BP by the government simultaneously with the criminal probe.

It remains to be seen what will be the DOJ conduct (read: once they get their instructions from the WH) when the analysis of these dolphins remains are done. We still fail to see how this could contribute to an eventual, albeit improbable criminal case against BP. Legal eagles are welcome to chime in here. In any case, optimism is misplaced until proven otherwise. We don’t even know how serious the administration will be in the CIVIL case against BP. Will they go Henry Waxman or Joe Barton on them?

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  1. kingbadger

    This post is all rather red-faced and done in an over-the-top style; I can’t read it except to count stuff. Ten exclamation marks, two “hmmms,” two coughs (I hope you get well soon), two “Ohs,” and over ten rhetorical questions (did I lose count?). It calms down at the end. It would have been better if it was all written in the manner of the last paragraph. Dolphins still rock though.

    1. DownSouth

      Are you sure your name isn’t Dan Duncan?

      When you search for something substantive to attack, you come up empty-handed, so you attack the form.

      It’s typical of troll argumentation, which we’re seeing more and more of all the time. If you can’t dispute the facts, then just baffle ‘em with bullshit.

    2. Francois T

      Gee! Sorry if it became obvious that I have a human side. Turns out it served my patients well.

      Have you already lost your capacity for outrage and indignation?

  2. Max424

    YS: “dolphins…are more altruistic than people and quite likely as smart…”


    Whales — same deal. A bittersweet NYT piece here (for those who haven’t read it) on the gray whale; a deep water mammalian tribe that seems to be willing to forgive and forget, despite knowing in their beating whale hearts and brilliant whale brains that our species tried to hunt their species to extinction.

  3. Max424

    re: the Gulf spill and duplicity

    On Day 20 of the Gulf Spill, knowing “they” were using massive amounts of Corexit, and knowing “they” were going to keep on using massive amounts of Corexit, I put the over/under on American dead from oil spill related ailments at 58,195 (names on the Vietnam Wall).

    I would have made a lousy bookie: the over is going to be shattered.

  4. issacread

    Keep counting deadhead! The last paragraph is just the glazing to hold in the pane. If you prefer putty to glass, well, fine. Just remember scientific objectivity presumes the search for truth. When the opposite becomes obvious, then what?

  5. IdahoSpud

    US Attorney General Eric Holder’s most useful moment will arrive when they harvest his organs.

  6. Maju

    I am glad you dedicate some time to this “American Fukushima” that is the DWH catastrophe. The dolphin deaths are just a (highly symptomatic) aspect of this crime against humankind and nature that is not just the accident but how it has been mismanaged by means of cover-up techniques with the sole aim of minimizing payments (and a pretense of keeping the tourism industry alive).

    But people is also dying: children who bathed in the corexit-poisoned waters (declared safe by the authorities), cleanup workers who were forbidden to wear masks, and in general residents of the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, nearly all of which are already poisoned.

    All this has almost not been paid any attention by the supposedly free media of the USA. You can read about it at specialized sites such as Project Gulf Impact or Florida Oil Spill Law. You should read them in depth if you feel you do not know enough about this industrial crime and institutional cover-up.

    I’ve been reporting now and then on this story at my blogs because even if I live at an ocean of distance, in Europe (not safe distance anyhow because the Gulf Stream dies over here), I find both the scale of the catastrophe, criminality and propaganda cover-up operation astonishing, outraging… But what I have found most astonishing is that there have been no demos of any sort at New Orleans, Biloxi, Pensacola, Tallahassee… people, citizens of the most powerful state on Earth, are being institutionally poisoned and murdered and there is only a very weak reaction. One can just think of the Holocaust and how millions were gassed and thrown to the ovens with almost no reaction… not even by themselves in many cases.

    In this sense I want to underline what is maybe one of the first activist initiatives in regard to this massacre: Cherri Foytlin, mother of five, is walking to Washington D.C. to try to have Obama and the politicians there pay some real attention to the plea of the people of the Gulf, victims of their own government. This is the kind of initiative that would certainly have the attention of the media (remember Fat Man Walking?) if there would not be a pact of silence around the Gulf Disaster.

    But individual (and also, better, organized) people can make a difference: Cherri can and we can too.

    1. DownSouth

      Maju said:

      …this “American Fukushima”…

      …I find both the scale of the catastrophe, criminality and propaganda cover-up operation astonishing, outraging…

      Thank you Maju. The gold standard for propaganda was set by Obama in the BP cover-up, and now we’re seeing it rolled out globally.

      According to the latest from CNN, water in the basement of one of the reactors at Fukushima has been measured with radiation levels 10,000,000 times normal, and the radiation level in offshore seawater has increased 50% in the last couple of days. And yet, the official word from the Japanese nuclear agency is “there’s no danger to health” and “things weren’t getting worse.”

  7. Blunt


    Perhaps you’ve been in Europe for much too long to understand the American scene.

    Yes, one would think that Gulf Coast citizens would be organized, marching, fomenting, screaming bloody murder over the massacre of the Gulf and shores of the states directly affected.

    Instead what you find is four Repug governors, one a possibility for a Presidential run in 2012 and a silent acceptance of whatever crap is being laid out for the taking. (Which is precious little as the DWH story reached it’s use-by date for the USA “press” about two weeks after the well as shut off, or mostly shut off.

    We are a nation that doesn’t care for history except as a story told for propaganda purposes and edited selectively for strictly such a use.

    We are a nation that believes so fervently in “personal responsibility” that most of us probably believe that we are responsible for DWH and the bottle-nose miscarriages.

    We are a nation of “rugged individuals” each of us having given birth to ourselves and raised ourselves without any outside agency (such as parents, communities, etc) having any part in the doing.

    That’s why we cannot and will not organize: we are all Galtian superwomen and supermen.

    1. grumpyoldvet

      William J Fulbright (US Senator)

      American never quite remember what others never forget

    2. bmeisen

      I agree with you – American culture values themes like rugged individualism and personal responsibility. Americans are characterized by the belief that it’s good to be self-reliant, to take personal responsibility for your life, that you’ve got to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, that relying on government is a sign of weakness, that education is a personal choice, that our prosperity is the result of free individuals creating wealth, that individuals who become wealthy deserve their wealth, even to the extent that the winner derserves all.

      My observation, hardly original, is that culture determines a substantial portion of what we do and think as individuals, i.e. no matter how individualistic we may think we are, it’s the group, the culture that determines what we do. American culture is telling us to be individuals. Aside from suicide – supposedly the most individualistic of acts and yet notoriously culturally determined – the best example that I can think of is the choice by some kids to take a year off between high school and college. The narrative is that you do it to find out who you are and what you want to do with your life. You even assert your individualism by doing so, going against the grain so to speak, taking an educational breather while your peers are forging onward with the culturally approved pattern. It turns out that taking a year off before college is typically American.

    3. Patricia

      Blunt, you are only partially correct. Americans are, as a group, more like the usual type of human than that minority who are Galtian personal-responsibility rugged-individualist fanatics.

      The primary problem is that, for a long time, we have not been receiving accurate news. Instead, we have been told endless lies and the truth that does occasionally appear has been re-explained as lies by the PsTB. The “news” belies our own experience but we have tended, over the years, to assume that it is our own experience that cannot be trusted rather than the news-as-broadcasted.

      Secrecy has become paramount in our gov’t and business; therefore much doesn’t even need to be lied about, since it is never revealed.

      We accepted these lies-against-experience because we’ve grown up in a peaceful comfortable context and made certain assumptions about the general safety of our government and financial institutions and laws. Over the last 5 years, the corrupt have given up their carefulness, having become openly arrogant and unapologetic in their idiotic power-mongering. So here it is, all over the place, from every direction. Americans are noticing and there are all kinds of responses, along the lines of the stages of grief/loss.

      It takes a while for people to make a complete paradigm shift. Look how long it took the Egyptian people to rise up against Mubarak. The paradigm shift is occurring here but it is slow, as it is for humans. Of course, as with any group of people, only a percentage will rise up even in the face of the obvious, unless they have all hungry and homeless.

      This is how it is with humans.

      1. DownSouth

        Patricia said: “We accepted these lies-against-experience because we’ve grown up in a peaceful comfortable context and made certain assumptions about the general safety of our government and financial institutions and laws.”

        That may explain some of it, but I think it’s a little bit more fundamental than that. The tendency to accept lies over experience is at least partially due to our cultural programming. There is a deliberate and well orchestrated campaign underway to alter this cultural programming such that lies will triumph over experience. See my response to Dan Duncan below.

        A careful study of the history of political and economic life proves conclusively that the educators, as all other middle-class moralists, underestimate the conflict of interest in political and eocnomic relations, and attribute to disinterested ignorance what ought usually to be attributed to interested intelligence.
        ▬Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man & Immoral Society

        1. Patricia

          DownSouth, you are right that it is an additional dimension, and I’m supposing there are more factors than these, too.

          Our educational system, religious leaders, et al have perpetuated the “comfortable view”, teaching superficial bald answers to difficult questions, which has only encouraged our natural human vice for over-categorizing and also helps us evade the courage required to dispel destructive situations.

          They also insist on a kind of emotional distance to real wrong, such that if we become distressed and upset, we are instantly discredited along with the ideas we are protesting, (as does people like kingbadger and DDuncan). Whereas distress/anger is a fundamental activator to necessary acts of courage.

          But mostly, I have become tired of people everywhere complaining about the fat asses and stupid brains of Americans. The “Thank God, I am not as one of them” smells mildly similar to the kind of blaming that goes on in mortgage foreclosure. Moreover, that kind of blaming does not allow us to learn a dang thing about what’s actually going on, so that we can take intelligent steps forward.

          Thanks for responding. I always appreciate your comments here.

    4. nonclassical

      Too funny, Blunt..

      and too true. BTW, I accompanied N.O.A.A. to Antarctica on experimentations involving global warming and dioxin levels
      inherent, spilling from Amazon into Antarctica. N.O.A.A. is an ethical group, but scientists who accompany ships commonly operate on government grants, reduced each year it seems-so, they sell their “studies” to several different governments to pay expenses, and to provide similar background-documentation-“layers of involvement”, quite cheaply really, in order to survive themselves..

      FYI, dioxin levels in seal livers in Antarctica are concerning. Dioxins have been used as defoliants in South America by American interests since 70’s, largely to allow
      McDonald’s to grow beef to send back to Americans…you see,
      “debtor nations” get double their debt credit for buying-taking chemicals illegal for use in states after birth defects in midwest, 70’s-80’s..

  8. Sufferin' Succotash

    The Objectivist pseudo-Nietzschean DC Comics self-image is really a handy way of rationalizing social passivity and capitulation to whoever is wielding the most money and power at the moment.
    It’s useful to note who’s been the most active in promoting all the blather about rugged individualism.

  9. Dan Duncan

    The author of the post worked in communications? Really?!

    The BP Spill is potentially still wreaking havoc. We deserve to know what’s happening.

    As to being “on point”, the BP Spill represents a huge gap in the Libertarian philosophy. Libertarians need to reconcile the callous disregard exhibited by this private entity with the Libertarian call for even LESS regulation. [And I write the previous sentence as someone with definite Libertarian leanings.]

    On the flip side, of course, is that the government had plenty of authority to regulate BP, and it failed. Additionally, it is the government that is now (possibly) covering up information that needs to be disseminated to its citizenry. Whereas the BP Spill might make a Libertarian question his beliefs, the actions of the government in this sad case only serve to loop back and reinforce the natural Libertarian distrust of a larger, more powerful government.

    The issues involved here are very important. But the treatment exhibited in the Francois T post does the entire debate a disservice. The hyperventilating tone makes it seem as if it were written with the aid of a paper-bag inhaler. It marginalizes the Left’s treatment of the dolphin deaths as irrational, self-righteous and not to be taken seriously….

    And this is a shame, because the deaths of these animals need to be taken seriously.

    1. Mickey Marzick in Akron, Ohio


      “the BP Spill represents a huge gap in the Libertarian philosophy. Libertarians need to reconcile the callous disregard exhibited by this private entity with the Libertarian call for even LESS regulation. [And I write the previous sentence as someone with definite Libertarian leanings.]”

      Mirabile dictu! Say it ain’t so… But I have to ask:

      To what extent has the cumulative effect of less regulation for well nigh 30 years resulted in a situation whereby the expertise to regulate and/or address environmental degradation has simply been “allowed” to lapse? That the Federal government as well as state bodies are now dependent on the private sector for the “expertise” to address any disaster? And given the latter’s callous disregard for “disaster revovery” as the one in a million chance, it too is lacking this expertise and has been “dumbed down” over time in conjunction with the government. Witness Katrina, the financial crisis, DWH in the Gulf, and the nuclear disaster in Japan. In all four cases the “government response” as well as that of the private sector has been lame – too little and too late. Could it be that the “expertise” itself is lacking or so beholden to its paymasters that it has been compromised to the point of insignifcance?

      Who’s in charge? No one was the reply…

      Is this a coincidence or the cumulative effects of the libertarian deregulation mantra pervading politics for the past 30 years?

      To what extent has it only fueled the antigovernment libertarian argument for less regulation because the government is incompetent in a vicious self-fulfilling feedback loop?

      Finally, who stands to gain the most from this antigovernment deregulatory environment? Are you suggesting that there is such a thing as the “public interest” that supersedes individual profit maximizing behavior?

      What is the libertarian response to the rapacious global corporation?

      1. DownSouth

        The conception that what society needs and, if intelligent enough, will be able to secure, is “trained and experienced specialists” to perform the “expert functions” of government, betrays an additional class prejudice, the prejudice of the intellectual, who is so much the rationalist, that he imagines the evils of government can be eliminated by the expert knowledge of specialists. Any kind of government must of course avail itself of the specialized knowledge of experts. But the idea that such expert knowledge can ever guarantee the impartiality and justice of a state is to overestimate the impartiality of reason in general and the reason of experts in particular. Politics are given their general direction by the pressure of interest of the groups which control them; the expert is quite capable of giving any previously determined tendency both rational justification and efficient detailed application. Such is the inclination of the human mind for beginning with assumptions which have been determined by other than rational considerations, and building a superstructure of rationally acceptable judgments upon them, that all this can be done without any conscious dishonesty.
        ▬Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man & Immoral Society

    2. DownSouth

      Dan Duncan,

      Clearly your intent is to murder science.

      This isn’t the first time this has happened. It happened in ancient Classical civilization too.

      And you are in very good company, because the principle assassin of science in ancient Classical civilization was none other than Plato. As Carroll Quigley explains in The Evolution of Civilizations:

      At that time the chief enemies of science were the rationalists. These men, with all the prestige of Pythagoras and Plato behind them, argued that the human senses are not dependable but are erroneous and misleading and that, accordingly, the truth must be sought without using the senses and observation, and by the use of reason and logic alone.

      This dismissive attitude towards the material world and what our senses tell us about it eventually triumphed in Classical civilization. As Quigley goes on to explain:

      [T]he dualistic late Classical ideology regarded the world and the flesh as evil and felt that the spirit could achieve full spirituality only by freeing itself from the body, from the world, and from contact with one’s fellow man and that such spiritual achievement was a consequence of the individual’s own activity alone, without cooperation with his fellow men. This attitude appeared very clearly in Persian thinking about 600 B.C., came into Classical antiquity through the Pythagorean rationalists, and was given a clear, explicit, and influential statement in Plato’s “Phaedo” about 385 B.C. Although quite incompatible with the Classical outlook, these ideas became increasingly influential and became the generally accepted philosophic outlook after the third century of our era.

      Your haughty, disdainful and supercilious demeanor is also very Platonic, or maybe we should say Neo-Platonic. Here’s Quigley again:

      [Western civilization embraces] a social process that is superficially competitive but fundamentally cooperative, or, viewed in another way, a situation in which individuals compete and even struggle together for a higher social end (the consensus). This is a dialectic process and is one of the heritages from Classical antiquity, where this idea of the emergence of truth from pluralistic debate in the market place is found in the earlier dialogues of Plato and of other thinkers. It is worthy of note that Plato, while retaining the form of the dialogue, really abandoned its function in his later writings (the “Republic” and those following) by using Socrates as the spokesman of his own ideas that contain the whole truth, while the other speakers contribute nothing to the final achievement since their ideas are erroneous and must be corrected by Socrates.

    3. Francois T

      Communications is a rather broad topic.
      Also, it should be obvious that I didn’t write this post as a paid professional, but as an outraged human being who is sick and tired of witnessing the powers that be acting like they know everything and can do whatever the hell they please.

      Plus, there are some logical inconsistencies in NOAA’s behavior that requires an explanation.

      Call it a pamphlet if you absolutely need to characterize my post.

  10. nonclassical


    your philosophical treatise is exceptionally well documented. Socrates disciples did stray from his examples
    of real world observation.

    Unfortunately the “dialectic” is completely missing in fundamentalist argument today. A return to Socrates methodology (seeking truth) would be welcome.

    Elimination of “dualism” can be acheived through eastern
    philosophical method involving consideration of “inductive”,
    rather than “deductive” method. “Inductive” method attempts
    to eliminate original duality; that between the observor and the observed.

    Your commentaries are always appreciated.

    1. DownSouth

      The fundamentalist position on biblical interpretation, with its emphasis on the explicit, complete, final, and authoritarian nature of Scripture, is a very late, minority view quite out of step with the Western tradition.
      ▬Carroll Quigley, The Evolution of Civilizations

      Fundamentalism in religion and politics has become a much greater force now than what it was in 1961 when Quigley wrote that passage.

      The United States had a grab at the golden ring of Western civilization at the time of the American Revolution, but missed it. The sad story is related by Hannah Arendt in the sixth chapter of On Revolution, “The Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasure.”

      Astonishingly, Thomas Jefferson was the only Founding Father who came to realize that the golden opportunity had been missed and was to express profound regrets of the failure. And most regrettably, it wasn’t until 1816 that Jefferson was to write of this, or, as Arendt put it, “the point of the matter is that the whole idea seems to have occurred to him only at a time when he himself was retired from public life and when he had withdrawn from the affairs of state.”

      Arendt goes on to explain Jefferson’s correspondence in the latter years of his life:

      The only remedies against the misuse of public power by private individuals lie in the public realm itself, in the light which exhibits each deed enacted within its boundaries, in the very visibility to which it exposes all those who enter it. Jefferson, though the secret vote was still unknown at the time, had at least a foreboding of how dangerous it might be to allow the people a share in public power without providing them at the same time with more public space than the ballot box and with more opportunity to make their voices heard in public than election day. What he perceived to be the mortal danger to the republic was that the Constitution had given all power to the citizens, without giving them the opportunity of being republicans and of acting as citizens. In other words, the danger was that all power had been given to the people in their private capacity and that there was no space established for them in their capacity of being citizens. When, at the end of his life, he summed up what to him clearly was the gist of private and public morality, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself, and your country more than yourself,” he knew that this maxim remained an empty exhortation unless the ‘country’ could be made as present to the ‘love’ of its citizens as the ‘neighbour’ was to the love of his fellow men. For just as there could not be much substance to neighbourly love if one’s neighbour should make a brief apparition once every two years, so there could not be much substance to the admonition to love one’s country more than oneself unless the country was a living presence in the midst of its citizens.

      Hence, according to Jefferson, it was the very principle of republican government to demand ‘the subdivision of the counties into wards’, namely, the creation of ‘small republics’ through which ‘every man in the State’ could become ‘an acting member of the Common government, transacting in person a great portion of its rights and duties, subordinate indeed, yet important, and entirely within his competence’. It was ‘these little republics [that] would be the main strength of the great one’; for inasmuch as the republican government of the Union was based on the assumption that the scat of power was in the people, the very condition for its proper functioning lay in a scheme ‘to divide [government] among the many, distributing to every one exactly the functions he [was] competent to’. Without this, the very principle of republican government could never be actualized, and the government of the United States would be republican in name only.

      Thinking in terms of the safety of the republic, the question was how to prevent ‘the degeneracy of our government’, and Jefferson called every government degenerate in which all powers were concentrated ‘in the hands of the one, the few, the well-born or the many’. Hence, the ward system was not meant to strengthen the power of the many but the power of ‘every one’ within the limits of his competence; and only by breaking up ‘the many’ into assemblies where every one could count and be counted upon ‘shall we be as republican as a large society can be’. In terms of the safety of the citizens of the republic, the question was how to make everybody feel ‘that he is a participator in the government of affairs, not merely at an election one day in the year, but every day; when there shall not be a man in the State who will not be a member of some one of its councils, great or small, he will let the heart be torn out of his body sooner than his power wrested from him by a Caesar or a Bonaparte’…..

      [T]he afterthought in which he clarified and gave substance to his most cherished recollections from the Revolution in fact concerned a new form of government rather than a mere reform of it or a mere supplement to the existing institutions.

      1. Pat

        Did Jefferson have any suggestions on how to fix the problem? Constitutional amendments for example?

        1. DownSouth

          The answer to your question I believe is no. Jefferson evidently came to the realization late in his life that once the dirty deed had been done, it had been done, and undoing it was going to be no easy undertaking.

          Here’s Arendt again:

          On the American scene, no one has perceived this seeming inevitable flaw in the structure of the republic with greater clarity and more passionate preoccupation than Jefferson. His occasional, and sometimes violent, antagonism against the Constitution and particularly against those who ‘look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched’, was motivated by a feeling of outrage about the injustice that only his generation should have it in their power ‘to begin the world over again’; for him, as for Paine, it was plain ‘vanity and presumption [to govern] beyond the grave’; it was, moreover, the ‘most ridiculous and insolent of all tyrannies’. When he said, ‘We have not yet so far perfected our constitutions as to venture to make them unchangeable’, he added at once, clearly in fear of such possible perfection, ‘Can they be made unchangeable? I think not’; for, in conclusion: ‘Nothing is unchangeable but the inherent and unalienable rights of man’, among which he counted the rights of rebellion and revolution. When the news of Shay’s rebellion in Massachusetts reached him while he was in Paris, he was not in the least alarmed, although he conceded that its motives were ‘founded in ignorance’, but greeted it with enthusiasm: ‘God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion.’ The very fact that the people had taken it upon themselves to rise and act was enough for him, regardless of the rights or wrongs of their case. For ‘the tree of liberty must be refreshed, from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It6 is its natural nature.’


          No doubt only great perplexity and real calamity can explain that Jefferson—-so conscious of his common sense and so famous for his practical turn of mind—-should have proposed these schemes of recurring revolutions. Even in their least extreme form, recommended as the remedy against ‘the endless circle of oppression, rebellion, reformation’, they would either have thrown the whole body politic out of gear periodically or, more likely, have debased the act of foundation to a mere routine performance, in which case even the memory of what he most ardently wished to save—-‘to the end of time, if anything human can so endure’—-would have been lost. But the reason Jefferson, throughout his long life, was carried away by such impracticabilities was that he knew, however dimly, that the Revolution, while it had given freedom to the people, had failed to provide a space where this freedom could be exercised. Only the representatives of the people, not the people themselves, had an opportunity to engage in those activities of ‘expressing, discussing, and deciding’ which in a positive sense are the activities of freedom. And since the state and federal governments, the proudest results of revolution, through sheer weight of their proper business were bound to overshadow in political importance the townships and their meeting halls—-until what Emerson still considered to be ‘the unit of the Republic’ and ‘the school of the people’ in political matters had withered away—-one might even come to the conclusion that there was less opportunity for the exercise of public freedom and the enjoyment of public happiness in the republic of the United States than there had existed in the colonies of British America. Lewis Mumford recently pointed out how the political importance of the township was never grasped by the founders, and that the failure to incorporate it into either the federal or the state constitutions was ‘one of the tragic oversights of post-revolutionary political development’. Only Jefferson among the founders had a clear premonition of this tragedy, for his greatest fear was indeed lest ‘the abstract political system of democracy lacked concrete organs’.

    2. JTFaraday

      “your philosophical treatise is exceptionally well documented. Socrates disciples did stray from his examples
      of real world observation.”

      Except that doesn’t really adequately describe Dan Duncan, who observes that BP was negligent, but then rushes on ahead to selectively incorporate into the libertarian ideology with which he has chosen to identify himself, solely anti-government confirming observations that prove he was right in choosing to be an anti-government libertarian while neglecting completely to recall that it was libertarians who fought regulation tooth and nail. BP and the libertarian role is left behind to selectively zero in on “real world observations” of the government alone.

      I’m not sure it adequately describes neoplatonism either, which seems to have completely departed planet earth until you consider that theories like that which has become known as “the great chain of being” leaned heavily on the naturalistic observations of Aristotle, rendering its far-out truth ostensibly readily observable in nature.

      So, yeah, Dan. The government is bad, and that government is BP (and GS and Xe and etc).

      1. DownSouth

        I think it describes Dan perfectly.

        As Quigley explains, the scientific “method has three parts which we might call (1) gathering evidence, (2) making a hypothesis, and (3) testing the hypothesis.” As Quigley goes on to elaborate:

        The first of these, “gathering evidence,” refers to collecting all the observations relevant to the topic being studied. The important point here is that we must have all the evidence, for, obviously, omission of a few observations, or even one vital case, might make a considerable change in our final conclusions. (emphasis Quigley’s)

        Dan fails to follow scientific method beginning with step (1). As you correctly observe, he “rushes on ahead to selectively incorporate…solely anti-government confirming observations that prove he was right…while neglecting completely to recall that it was libertarians who fought regulation tooth and nail.”

        So if Dan isn’t using the scientific method, what method is he using? What he’s using is called “rationality .” Here’s the evolutionary psychologist Jonathan Haidt explaining how humans typically use rationality, or reason, in The Happiness Hypothesis:

        Modern theories about rational choice and information processing don’t adequately explain weakness of the will… The image that I came up with…was that I was a rider on the back of an elephant. I’m holding the reins in my hands, and by pulling one way or the other I can tell the elephant to turn, to stop, or to go. I can direct things, but only when the elephant doesn’t have desires of his own. When the elephant really wants to do something, I’m no match for him.


        I have found that people are skilled at finding reasons t support their gut feelings. The rider acts like a lawyer whom the elephant has hired to represent it in the court of public opinion.

        One of the reasons people are often contemptuous of lawyers is they fight for a client’s interest, not for the truth. To be a good lawyer, it often helps to be a good liar. Although many lawyers won’t tell a direct lie, most will do what they can to hide inconvenient facts while weaving a plausible alternative story for the judge and jury, a story that they sometimes know is not true. Our inner lawyer works in the same way, but, somehow, we actually believe the stories he makes up.


        Over and over again, studies show that people set out on a cognitive mission to bring back reasons to support their preferred belief or action. And because we are usually successful in this mission, we end up with the illusion of objectivity.


        [Benjamin] Franklin concluded: “So convenient a thing is it to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.”

        As Quigley observes:

        It was this recourse to rational processes independent of observation that led the ancient rationalists to assume the theories violating Occam’s razor that became established as ‘Aristotelian’ and dominated men’s ideas of the universe until, almost two thousand years later, they were refuted by Galileo and others who reestablished observation and Occam’s razor in scientific procedure.

        Bias is so powerful, however, that it even sneaks into the endeavors of those sincerely interested in finding truth. That’s why in Western civilization there’s a corollary process that goes hand in glove with the scientific method. Quigley explains:

        The same idea about the social (and dialectic) unfolding of truth is at the foundation of Western science. It assumes that science is never static or fully achieved, but pursues a constantly receding goal to which we approach closer and closer from the competition-cooperation of individual scientists, each of whom offers his experiments and theories to be critically reexamined and debated by his fellow scientists in a joint effort to reach a higher (and temporary) consensus.

  11. Paul Tioxon

    It is not entirely surprising to me that the people who have benefited handsomely from the so called American Revolution and the freedom and rights it supposedly founded are now mortally wounded at the exposure to the truth of naked power being used agressively against them. In contradiction to their personal success in being credentialed with advanced university degrees and affluent compensation, there is the societal betrayal of a government in service to neo-liberal capitalism and regulatory capture of industries they were meant contain abusive, dangerous and criminal acts.

    It is obvious that the United States of America was founded to provide our wealthy founding fathers with the one power that THEY felt diminished without. The economic system of the American colonies did not derive the same benefits as the home island, England. The nation state of England taxed the colonists and used the funding not to subsidized the business interests of the American landed gentry and the urban mercantilists, but instead extracted monies and used it to further the business interests of others in the Empire, in East India Companies etc. Once the US Government was established and taxation was enacted, a base of small business owners, small farmers, and others were the platform upon which the public treasuries could raise foreign capital, and provide the debt service. It was imperative for the American White Protestant Land Owners with liquid net worth to have this system to develop the public infrastructure and not pay for it all by themselves. Postal roads and stations were built, as part of the Constitutional mandate to establish a US Postal service. The building of roads, canals, and eventually railroads that served the business interests of the wealthy was frequently paid for with debt issued by state governments. This system would be impossible without a tax base that they could control for their own personal enrichment. Hence the need to break from the Empire and establish a more perfect union, that could have tax authority. The development of the nation state as we see it today, co evolved with capitalism, as we know it today, since the establishment of the inter state system from the treaty of Westphalia in 1648. That treaty provided the legal formulation for the concept of sovereign power, of a proscribed geographic area, bounded politically, economically and militarally distinct from other such entities, the nation state.

    The fact that the naked use of state power in service of private capital, in BP or the Atomic Power industry is not shocking, it is just no longer able to be disguised as something else or hidden altogether. Obama never was elected as some sort of left wing marxist triumphalist, he is a product of the the society we all live in, a democratically controlled republic, within a global capitalist economic system. The fact that over and over again, his administration is definitely coming down on the side of various business interest is not what distinguishes him from the competition. It is how he supports policies that in addition to enriching the wealthy at the public’s expense, he also works towards and achieves policies that benefit the larger middle class, from which he came from. I only expect that the Obama administration will not devolve into the anti terrorist police state that was being erected by the militant right wing branch of capitalism, as it sees the profits fall and the pie get smaller.

  12. Jimbob

    Endless streams of propaganda and cover-ups as necessary.
    There is an Alien in the WhiteHouse.
    What else might be copied from Lenin’s playbook? Lets see…destroy the middle class and make them dependent….corrupt the currency and the economy….hold the richest 1% close and cause them to feel gratitude. And dependent. Suspend the rule of law by ignoring the crimes of the powerful. Etc, etc.
    Campaign 2012 should be lots of fun.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      That was also included this week, in the guest post on the Triangle Shirtwaist fire.

      But if dolphins are “non-human persons” as one philosopher who has studied them contends, I think it’s OK to be upset about their deaths too. This isn’t an “either-or”. And whatever is killing those dolphins can’t be good for people.

  13. Artaud the Schizo

    Gregory Bateson’s work is perhaps relevant to what is happening in the Gulf, with respect to BP’s cover up, aided by corrupt politicians from Obie on down, as well as the compliant media, who are now literally nothing more than government/corporate stenographers, etc (nothing new here)

    Bateson was a British anthropologist, cyberneticist, systems theorist, and linguist, among other things.

    In a 1967 essay, “Style, Grace and Information in Primitive Art,” Bateson wrote that “mere purposive rationality unaided by such phenomena as art, religion, dream, and the like is necessarily pathogenic and destructive of life,” that “unaided consciousness must always involve man in the sort of stupidity of which evolution was guilty when she urged upon the dinosaurs the common-sense values of an armaments race,” and finally, that “unaided consciousness must always tend toward hate”.

    Bateson: “The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think”

  14. herman sniffles

    I think it’s wrong to apply the term “non-human persons” to dolphins. It should be saved for folks like Tim Geithner and Rahm Emanuel, and others in our society who lack the basic compassion and moral sense suggested by related words like “humanism” and “humane.” To the extent that dolphins have any affinity to our species, I would consider them “super-human.” But since they apparently evolved from an odd four-legged horse-like animal that returned to the sea, they aren’t really human at all, thank god, if she exists.

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