Despite Woody Guthrie's wishful thinking, this land -- "from California to the New York island" -- is not mine and it's not yours. It belongs to giant multi-national corporations, who've used America's vast natural resources to make a tiny percentage of the population obscenely wealthy.
Everyone is justifiably outraged by the current spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and the Obama Administration's frequently muddled response is deserving of criticism as well. Today's New York Times has a story that makes clear that "a hodgepodge of oversight agencies granted exceptions to rules, allowed risks to accumulate and made a disaster more likely on the rig." Most of these regulatory failures at the Deepwater Horizon rig -- owned by Transocean and leased by BP -- took place while Obama has been president, but these missteps are part of a much bigger issue: the overall weakening of government regulation over the past three decades.
While we should all be holding BP's feet to the fire -- insisting that they "make this right" as the company CEO says somberly in a new TV ad that's received widespread criticism -- this whole episode is just one example of the devastation that corporations have wrought upon the planet. Industry has been allowed to remove resources, destroy ecosystems and dump pollutants as governments colluded via campaign contributions and revolving-door jobs -- if not, in some cases, outright bribery. Air, water and land are all filled with the toxic byproducts of unbridled capitalism.
In some places -- the old Soviet Union or today's China, for example -- the average person can only stand by and watch, but in the United States we, the people, are culpable. Americans exercise their will at the ballot box locally, regionally and nationally, and we have a (theoretically) free press and now, the Internet, to provide vast quantities of information. Yet, we sit by and watch as corporations continue to level mountains, denude forests, poison waterways, darken the skies and render lifeless the oceans -- all for profit.
With apologies to Woody: This land is their land, from the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters. This land is here to make them rich.