Reviewed by Jim McCarthy
Rachel Maddow is an uncontested star of MSNBC’s cable news and a powerhouse behind its ratings. In the opening pages of Blowout, she traces the history of ExxonMobil from the days of John D. Rockefeller setting the stage for the company’s ultimate existence as a caliphate of capitalism with global territories, international agreements, and outsized influence in the political and economic trajectory of nations. A footprint of capitalist theology appears early in the opening in remarks by Rockefeller:
This is not an evil tendency in business. It is merely the working out of a law of nature and a law of God.
Rockefeller was justifying the cutthroat tactics of businesses in competition, as well as the necessity to develop and devour natural resources. The book’s title is literally and symbolically outlined by its recounting of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, summarized in a fact-finding report:
It (deep water oil drilling) is an inherently risky business . . . . Notwithstanding those inherent risks, the accident . . . was avoidable.
Unfortunately, it is the rest of the planet and its population that must live with the results of such theocratic endeavors. From this philosophical and moral initiative, Maddow pursues and traces the emergence of several oil and gas entrepreneurs as they powered themselves and their corporate operations to lead and direct government policy and regulations to suit their interests.
In Sochi, Tillerson and Putin enjoyed a global opportunity to display friendship and diplomacy. Along the way to cementing that relationship, Ukraine was converted into a player pawn.
Ultimately, ExxonMobil comes under the leadership of Rex Tillerson, who forges even greater objectives for the future and finds Russia and Vladimir Putin to be willing allies. With the 2014 Winter Olympics hosted in Sochi, Tillerson and Putin enjoyed a global opportunity to display friendship and diplomacy. Along the way to cementing that relationship, Ukraine was converted into a player pawn creating kleptocrats like Dmitry Firtash who, most recently, is suspected of financing the surreptitious activities of Lev Parnas and perhaps Rudy Giuliani.
Ms. Maddow also carefully describes the wreckage to poor, developing nations with oil and gas natural resources and the way in which the global giants like ExxonMobil, often in cooperation with corrupt host governments, overlook the damage to indigenous peoples in pursuit of development and profit. As with Ukraine, this path of unfettered capitalism created political difficulties abroad, requiring not only diplomatic and military resources but also humanitarian aid. Thus, the American taxpayer was subsiding the oil and gas giants.
On the home front, the election of Donald Trump enhanced the prospects of the nation’s natural resource seekers now supported by a campaign promise to promote energy independence. The promise has been kept by way of regulatory rollback.
On the home front, the election of Donald Trump enhanced the prospects of the nation’s natural resource seekers now supported by a campaign promise to promote energy independence. The promise has been kept by way of regulatory rollback as well as withdrawal from proposed agreements on environmental improvements in oil and gas exploration. Perhaps the crowning moment for the industry was the appointment of Tillerson as Secretary of State. With a president whose election may have benefited from Russian intervention, what better diplomatic leader to rise to the forefront than Tillerson, who had been awarded the Order of Friendship by Putin in 2013? What could be more poignant?
Blowout is well-researched, as noted in its index. A closing section titled “Notes on Sources” offers deeper insight into some of the author’s narrative in the book’s chapters. The material may have been better utilized as amplification within the body of the work itself. As it stands, some of the source presentations prompt a revisit.
Maddow has an inimitable style of presentation, often coupled with either engaging research or historical context—sometimes both—to hold a viewer’s attention. Too, as with any TV personality, Maddow smiles, offers quips, hand gestures, and other devices sprinkled to enliven a presentation. This latter method of entertainment, alas, is also a feature of Blowout, and it detracts from the seriousness of the work’s topic, although in a minor way only.