David Gewirtz | BIO
Director, U.S. Strategic Perspective Institute
Two months ago on April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, killing 11 workers and sinking into the sea. In its place is what is rapidly becoming the worst man-made natural disaster in American history.
In towns all around the initial spill zone - which are also the same towns that suffered under Katrina's wrath - there is fear, sadness, and growing anger. Those who live there and those who are covering the ongoing story have reported just how disturbing the situation has become - and it still has no end in sight.
Outside the Gulf region, the situation is different. Virtually every American is aware of the disaster, but most don't feel it personally. They just sense, deep in the core of their being, that something is very, very wrong.
There is rage here.
We Americans have been abused again and again by those we trusted. First it was the banks. Now it's the oil companies. It's not that we had some wide-eyed innocence about how moral and ethical they were - this is business after all.
But we expected them to have a clue how to do their jobs. We expected the banks to be smart enough to know not to put the entire world's financial system at risk just for a few extra winnings at the gambling table. We expected the oil companies, who were engaging in acts of simply astounding engineering prowess, to have worked out contingency plans to mitigate the obvious risks of drilling holes in the ocean floor 5,000 feet down.
It's not even that mistakes were made or things went wrong. What's enraging Americans is the completely cavalier attitude these ultra-rich executives have shown in the face of their utter stupidity. Watching these executives give testimony, it feels like we're watching teenagers claim "I dunno" after they wrecked the family car in a joyride.
Except these people aren't teenagers and they're putting all of us in danger.
What's also enraging Americans are our politicians. Yes, of course, we all know that it costs a mint to run for office. We all know that politicians must kowtow to their "investors" in order to raise money for each run.
It's not that our politicians are politicians. It's that, once in a while, our politicians are expected to rise above their lowly occupation and be real leaders, real representatives. Once in a while, when the oil hits the fan, we expect our politicians to actually do their jobs as well.
That's why, when a Congressman like Joe Barton apologized to BP, it gets under our skin.
Disturbing new parallels to the Great Depression
The damage from this oil spill is epic and Americans know this. Americans have a disquieting sense than the situation is worse than they're being told, that it's worse than even BP and the politicians know. Most Americans don't know why they have a baaaaad feeling about it, but they do.
I know why.
There are deeply disturbing parallels between our time and the Great Depression. Sure, economists are reporting a rebound in the economy, but so did economists in the 1930s. In fact, what Congress is doing today and what American politicians did in the Great Depression are eerily similar.
As it turns out, the Great Depression wasn't one long slump. It was a series of deep recessions. Most economists agree that one of the main factors that pushed the deep recessions into a deep depression was that once the decline seemed to be improving (like it is today), Congress enacted a series of cost-cutting and deficit contracting policies that made it harder for Americans to get by.
At the time, these cost cuts seemed appropriate to keep expenses in check, but the lack of support pushed more Americans over the edge, and they took the economy with them.
Today, our Congress is behaving the same way, threatening to withhold extended unemployment benefits from millions of Americans in need.
A man-made natural disaster of biblical proportions
But it wasn't just two recessions back-to-back that caused the Great Depression. There was another factor, a man-made natural disaster of biblical proportions. Sound familiar?
Back in the 1930s, Midwestern farmers didn't know how important it was to rotate their crops, so they farmed and farmed and farmed. One year, when the rains didn't come, all their top-soil simply blew away, taking the hopes and dreams of millions of Americans with it.
The Dust-bowl lasted six years (for some areas, as long as ten), and caused enormous disruption in the lives of Americans, their ability to make a living, and their health and well-being.
Are you seeing this? A deep recession followed by a slight upswing, followed by oppressive economic policies, punctuated by a man-made disaster that destroyed a major region of the country and the income-producing ability of those who live there.
We are living this now
On some level, in some portion of our core awareness, Americans are starting to realize how much trouble we're really in.
The difference now, of course, is that we have mass media. We also have two-way media and Americans today are far more comfortable making themselves heard than Americans were back in the 1930s.
Make no mistake about it. There is rage in the hearts of Americans. It is burning hot and is seeking an outlet. Today's Americans will not go quietly into the night.
All in Washington, all on Wall Street, and all in corporate boardrooms throughout the country would do well to keep that in mind.
We Americans are not telling you to give up your cushy gigs. We're not telling you to give up your mansions or your limousines or your million-dollar bonuses.
We're just telling you to do your effin' jobs.
If you don't, that burning rage will surely bust out and the perfect storm will be upon us all.
Follow David on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz.
Editor’s note: David Gewirtz is Director of the U.S. Strategic Perspective Institute and Editor-in-Chief of the ZATZ magazines. He is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts and a top expert on saving and creating jobs. He is a member of FBI InfraGard, the Cyberterrorism Advisor for the International Association for Counterterrorism & Security Professionals, a columnist for The Journal of Counterterrorism and Homeland Security, and has been a guest commentator for the Nieman Watchdog of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. He is a faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley extension, a recipient of the Sigma Xi Research Award in Engineering and was a candidate for the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in Letters.