Two national calamities of unparalleled destruction—Wall Street's trillion dollar meltdown and the catastrophic BP oil spill with cataclysmic economic and environmental consequences—have brought into question the competence and probable collusion of regulators that failed to protect the public.
Fingering Republicans or Democrats for blame is pointless. Wall Street's collapse and need for bailouts and the ruinous Gulf oil blowout are the inevitable results of decades of bipartisan political pandering and regulatory coziness with captains of finance and the tycoons of petroleum.
Even as the ripple effects of Wall Street's greed and indifference to the public good still leave the country's economy staggering, managers of that mayhem are lobbying Congress to go easy on strict reforms.
And while the Gulf of Mexico chokes on 1.5 million gallons of crude oil spewing up from the broken BP drilling rig, feckless executives of the operator (BP America), owner (Transocean Ltd.) and the "blowout preventer" (Halliburton) each shifted blame to the other two.
The real culprits, however, are regulators who failed to regulate and successive presidents and congresses that bought into the con that Wall Street and Big Oil could be trusted to police themselves and to devise safeguards.
Initial congressional hearings revealed that the Securities and Exchange Commission ignored alerts from knowledgeable experts that a financial collapse was developing—while a number of SEC regulators were spending their days downloading Internet pornography on government computers.
Interior Department investigators found something worse—that regulators at the Minerals Management Service, which polices drilling, had attended oil industry-sponsored meetings featuring heavy drinking, drugs and sex with oil company employees.
When questioned this week about the Minerals Management Service mission to police drilling, an agency official told Coast Guard Capt. Hung Nguyen that it relies on blowout preventer designs created by the American Petroleum Institute and thereafter on company tests for reliability of safeguards.
"Manufactured by industry, installed by industry, with no government witnessing oversight of the installation or the construction, is that correct?" asked Capt. Nguyen. "Correct," replied the Minerals Management Service official.
At the very least, this is collusion leading to the effective crippling of Gulf tourism, maritime industries and fishing for decades, as well as incalculable lost tax revenues to state and federal governments, and cleanup costs to government and industry that'll make costs of the Wall Street collapse look like petty cash.
Has Washington learned its lesson about trusting Wall Street and Big Oil?
To prove it, President Obama must use an iron fist, not a kid glove, in dealing with these perfidious industries.