Wednesday, June 02, 2010

And the Oil a river rising


(And the Oil Flows on Like a River Rising)

By Jack Random

It is not just the Gulf of Mexico.

I hoped but never really expected this president to be the architect of a second New Deal. I hoped but never expected Obama to pull our troops out of foreign wars in Iraq and Afghanistan before the end of his first term. I hoped but never expected this administration to champion the universal right to healthcare. I hoped but never expected the Obama White House to turn its back on the elite of Wall Street and the financial aristocracy. I hoped but never expected Obama to christen the age of clean energy and universal mass transit.

I realized long before the election that Obama was not an ideologue and if he fell on the left of the political spectrum it was more rhetorical than real. Barack Obama was and is a pragmatist in the Clinton mold of triangulation and compromise.

What I did expect was bureaucratic competence and efficiency. I expected every do nothing administrator from the Bush era, those who never believed in the jobs they were assigned to do, to be replaced post haste with serious and experienced individuals intent on fulfilling the mandates of their positions.

It should be obvious by now that nothing of the sort took place in the Department of Interior where the fox guarding the henhouse principle was in play for the Minerals Management Service. Nothing of the sort took place at the Mine Safety and Health Administration under a Department of Labor that failed to hold Massey Energy to code prior to the latest coal mining disaster (another 29 miners died).

It has become clear that the Obama administration rather than working to reform government has merely responded to crises. The lesson of the ongoing gulf catastrophe is that the stakes are far too high to simply wait for the inevitable. In that sense, the Deepwater Horizon disaster is comparable to both the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the wizardry on Wall Street that nearly toppled the towers of the financial empire.

In all three cases, the convergence of events that resulted in catastrophe and/or near catastrophe was absolutely predictable. The Army Corps of Engineers knew with absolute certainty that at some point a storm would topple the compromised levees protecting New Orleans. They either didn’t care because the likely victims were poor or the folks in charge gambled it would not happen on their watch. The same gamble took place on Wall Street where the CEO’s and high-stake rollers built their paper fortunes on fraud and deception knowing they were as phony as an accountant’s sympathy. They gambled it would not happen on their watch and even if it did they hedged their bets by investing in the same politicians that would consent to bail them out.

The experts in both government and the petroleum industry knew full well that a disaster was coming. A similar event happened off the shores of Australia as recently as last summer. Then as now there was no failsafe and no effective means of capping the leak (a euphemism for an open gash) or effectively mitigating the damage.

(Even now as the oil spews into the gulf in untold quantities a report from Esquire suggests that the Saudis effectively employed super tankers as vacuums to clean up a massive spill in the Gulf of Arabia circa 1994. If the Obama administration has not thoroughly investigated this report and applied its lessons as warranted, then it is guilty of negligence. If it has failed to act because of the economic costs then it is guilty of complicity in one of the most horrendous crimes against the environment in modern history.)

This administration may or may not have reacted quickly and decisively to this latest catastrophe. On that I will not stand in judgment. I do not have access to all relevant information but the fact is: They should have acted long before the crisis. There were numerous reports about the suspect agency collaborating with the very personnel they were supposed to hold accountable. In the Bush tradition, they were not regulators at all. They were in the pocket of the industry. They were cheerleaders skimming profits while they polished their resumes for jobs in the industry when their terms in government finally expired.

How many other agencies remain unchanged since the days of the anti-regulators? How many more Deepwater Horizons will we witness before the Obama administration decides it can move forward and clean house before a crisis hits?

Disappointed? Yes. I fear that this administration cares more about losing the friendship and loyal contributions of the industries and corporate institutions engaged in unlawful and egregious practices than it does about the working, tax paying, public-school-attending people that invested their hopes in him. I fear that Obama more resembles Lyndon Johnson in his fear of being blamed for losing a war than he does for the real interests of the nation. I fear he cares more about electoral politics than the long-term consequences of inaction.

We should have left Iraq lock stock and barrel years ago. The civil war between the Shiites and the Sunni (with the Kurds in the middle) awaits the day of our departure and nothing we can do will change that. The situation in Afghanistan is untenable. The Afghans like the Iraqis will ultimately hold sway with the Pakistanis serving as power brokers and us on the outside hoping for the best. We can debate what should have been done years ago until we’re exhausted from the exertion but the truth will remain it is far too late to salvage anything in the national interest.

We recently learned that the number of soldiers in Afghanistan for the first time exceeded the number in Iraq. We also passed a milestone in casualties: One thousand American soldiers have died in the Afghan War. (Number one thousand on the casualty list was Corporal Jacob Leicht. He was twenty-four years old and he was born on the fourth of July.) As in Iraq we have only a vague notion of how many Afghans have died in the war but we can be assured the number far exceeds any estimate the military will provide.

We elected Obama in part to clean up the mess that Bush left. We have a right to expect that much. We are growing impatient. We are beyond impatient. The damage to the Gulf of Mexico and indeed the vast interconnected ecosystem of the seven seas far exceeds a legacy any president might have earned.

We have only one expectation now: Stop the spill. Stop it now or spend every penny and every waking hour trying to stop it. Do not tell me the best minds in the world would allow this open gash in the gulf floor to spew oil without restraint for over six weeks no less another four months!

If that is the case and this is the very best we can do then this gamble was so completely reckless and ill-advised that everyone with a hand in it should be held criminally accountable. Let the dopers, dealers and swindlers out and put these corporate and bureaucratic crooks in jail for as long as the oil remains in Gulf waters and on Gulf shores.

Think that might speed up the process? You betcha!



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