Archive for the ‘BP Oil Spill’ Category

We’re Sorry BP

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

A running theme of my writing for the past month or so had been what I call the obvious Democratic strategy of drawing distinctions between themselves and Republicans. To that end, Congressman Joe Barton’s statement last week played right into their hands. 

Thanks to the deal President Obama inked with BP last week, the victims of the BP oil spill won’t have to go through what people whose businesses were ruined by the Exxon Valdez spill did: 20 years of litigation that ended with the Republican Supreme Court slashing the amount of compensation paid to them.

To most people, this would seem to be an unalloyed positive development. But not to many Republicans.

At a hearing that was meant to grill BP’s CEO Tony Hayward on the causes and remedies for the oil spill, Congressman Joe Barton spoke of  a “tragedy of the first proportion.”

Okay, so far so good. Anyone looking at the oil washing up on Gulf Coast shores could agree with that.

Except that Barton wasn’t referring to the spill itself, but rather to the settlement that BP had agreed to under pressure from the White House. He wrapped up his remarks by saying to BP’s CEO:

“I apologize. I do not want to live in a country where any time a citizen or a corporation does something that is legitimately wrong, is subject to some sort of political pressure that is, again, in my words — amounts to a shakedown, so I apologize.”

Well who cares what some Oil Patch Republican who is the largest recipient of oil money in the Congress says? Why is it relevant? Well, it’s relevant because this douchebag is the Ranking Republican on the Energy Committee. If the Republicans succeed in kicking out Nancy Pelosi, this guy will be the head of the committee that any legislation that involves energy needs to come out of.

In case anyone thought that he was an outlier, the “Republican Study Committee,” an organization whose membership includes 2/3 of the Republicans in the House, released a statement earlier in the day that called the pressure put on BP to create this fund “Chicago-style shakedown politics.”

Surprise! Rush Limbaugh was reading from the same playbook. He called the escrow account a “slush fund” and said that the money would probably be given to “ACORN type people or union activists.”

Michele Bachman (in the running for Dumbest member of Congress) called the fund to pay victims a “redistribution-of-wealth fund” and said:

“If I was the head of BP, I would let the signal get out there — ‘We’re not going to be chumps, and we’re not going to be fleeced.’ And they shouldn’t be. They shouldn’t have to be fleeced and make chumps to have to pay for perpetual unemployment and all the rest — they’ve got to be legitimate claims.”

Well fair enough, BP shouldn’t have to pay for illegitimate claims, but it makes you wonder about these people’s mindsets when they’re more worried about illegitimate claims than about the destruction of the ecosystem and the economy of the entire Gulf Coast for a period of years

But it’s all par for the course for Republicans. These people look at birds drowning in oil on our shores and shrug their shoulders, then they watch President Obama convince BP to voluntarily give up $5 billion a year for 4 years to compensate victims and call it “a tragedy of the first proportion.”

Like Tea Party Darling Rand Paul said (in an echo of Donald Rumsfeld), “accidents happen.”

Yeah, accidents happen when you work in an industry that has lax regulations and even more lax enforcement; accidents happen when you lead your competitors by a margin of 760 to 8, 2 or 1 on “egregious, willful” safety violations; and accidents happen when you’re behind on drilling a well and you encourage your employees to take shortcuts to save the company money.

Not to be outdone by Ron Paul in his defense of allowing corporations to abuse their power without the check of government, Sharron Angle, the Senate candidate in Nevada not only favors making Nevada the sole repository of nuclear waste in the country, but wants to abolish the Department of Energy, which regulates the storage of nuclear waste.

What could possibly go wrong?

If these guys have their way, the coastal waters of America would look like the coast of Nigeria, where some have estimated that they have endured the equivalant of the Exxon Valdeez oil spill every year for 50 years.

Like I said, there’s something to be said for drawing distinctions and the Republicans did a pretty good job at that this week. Americans would do well to think about this when they go to the ballot box this November. They might not like Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid, but would they rather have a guy who thinks we all owe BP an apology running the committee that sets the regulations for them? Would they rather have a guy who says that it’s un-American to hold BP accountable for their toxic oil spill? Would they rather replace Harry Reid with a woman who thinks, in the wake of the largest environmental history, that the EPA is unconstitutional?

The distinctions are out there. They’re just waiting for someone to make them. As Frank Rich wrote in this weeks NY Times:

While the greatest environmental disaster in our history is a trying juncture for Obama, it also provides him with a nearly unparalleled opening to make his and government’s case. The spill’s sole positive benefit has been to unambiguously expose the hard right, for all its populist pandering to the Tea Partiers, as a stalking horse for its most rapacious corporate patrons. If this president can speak lucidly of race to America, he can certainly explain how the antigovernment crusaders are often the paid toadies of bad actors like BP. Such big corporations are only too glad to replace big government with governance of their own, by their own, and for their own profit — while the “small people” are left to eat cake at their tea parties.

Rahm Emmanuel has long been  pilloried by the Right for his statement that you should ”never let a crisis go to waste.” Well, this debate is long overdue. If the BP Oil Spill and the Casino-Capitalism-enabled Great Recession don’t provoke that debate, then the Democrats’ prospects for this years elections are even dimmer than originally expected. And we as a country will have succeeded in doing exactly that.


Friday, June 18th, 2010

Caught a few minutes of this interview as I was flipping through the channels the other night. Guess we can add Bill O’Reilly to the list of gotcha journalists who ask Sarah trick questions like: if you have so much criticsm, what’s your solution?

This lady is a piece of work. Even keeping with her careful strategy of only appearing on the Republican propaganda channel and at rallies with adoring fans, this “energy expert” is still out of her league when asked anything that deviates from her narrow talking points. 

Can’t believe she was that close to becoming Vice President of the United States

The Speech and Way Forward

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Well the Oval Office speech was.… not what I expected.

I was hoping for a barnburner of a speech about how much the Gulf oil spill illustrates the urgent need for the US to transition to a renewable energy future now. Instead we got an update on the Gulf situation, a few new ideas that the president had in the works, a short (but (as always) well-written) pitch for the need for this transition, a nice little story about the Gulf Coast Blessing of the Fleet ceremony and a sermon on the need for prayers that a “hand may guide us through the storm”

I was watching on MSNBC and heard Keith Olberman, Chris Matthews and Howard Fineman proceed to tear the president a new one. The reviews from the pundits varied on what he should have done differently, but they were almost all critical of the speech. Roger Simon ‘s headline read: Obama promises a brighter day. (Details to come).” The Huffington Post’s coverage splashed “Junk Shot.” The Daily Beast had a whole section devoted to expert analysis and almost all of it was critical. Margaret Carlson said that he should have announced the firing of Ken Salazar, closed the MMS and pushed for a “real” energy bill. Former Bush strategist Mark McKinnon’s piece was titled “We Need Plans, Not Prayers.” Fox (not surprisingly) hit Obama for using the crisis to push his domestic agenda to take over the US economy (They really are like a broken record).

Not all of the commentary was negative. Peter Beinart said that Obama’s warlike imagery made it clear that “he’s seizing the crisis to push for major energy reform. Paul Begala must have been watching another speech, since his analysis was titled “Nothin’ but Net.”

While I initially shared in many of the criticisms last night and this morning, my opinion is a little different today. The more I thought about it, I realized that the White House message wasn’t meant for the entire country. Most of the speech was largely aimed at the people on the Gulf Coast, explaining the efforts that had been made, how he was going to hold BP accountable and make sure that all claims were paid. He also took a shot at the de-regulate-everything strategy that got us here and made a short but sweet pitch for renewable energy.

In retrospect, I can see that it might have seemed unseemly for the president to use this still-unresolved crisis to push hard for a comprehensive energy policy. There will be time for that, and Obama made clear that he would push for shifts to renewable energy “in the months ahead,” but the first priority is to stop the spill, accelerate the cleanup and make sure that the people who have been impacted by the spill are taken care of.

What was even more revealing was what the president neglected to say. As Politico noted today,

Obama never even uttered the words “carbon,” “greenhouse gases,” “global warming” or “cap and trade.” He used the word “climate” only once — and then only to acknowledge that the House last year passed a “a strong and comprehensive energy and climate bill.”

A careful reading shows that Obama has basically given up on the hopes for a House style comprehensive cap and trade bill passing the Senate this year. Reports indicate that he is focusing on smaller measures to setup a national renewable energy goal for the US, extend the fuel efficiency standards that are currently set to expire in 2017, provide increased incentives and regulations for energy efficient buildings and cars and boost R&D investments into solar and wind technology.

In the Senate, Republicans Richard Lugar, Lindsey Graham and Lisa Murkowski have all signed onto at least some of these ideas and the White house is reportedly also wooing Scott Brown to sign on to a smaller energy bill

Mike Allen said in Politico today that the White House is going for the “Triple Crown” of Health Care, Financial and Energy Reform in their first two years.

He reported that the White House

has told the Senate to aim to take up an energy bill the week of July 12, after the July 4 break (and after the scheduled final passage of Wall Street reform). Kagan confirmation will follow, ahead of the summer break, scheduled to begin Aug. 9. The plan is to conference the new Senate bill with the already-passed House bill IN A LAME-DUCK SESSION AFTER THE ELECTION, so House members don’t have to take another tough vote ahead of midterms.

Liberals have suggested that the lame duck conference committee would be another opportunity to add in a carbon tax, but it looks increasingly like cap and trade is going the way of the public option.

Obama followed up his speech with a marathon negotiating session with BP execs today. In a meeting that was scheduled for two hours, but lasted for four, the White House received significant concessions from the BP, who agreed to setup a $20 billion escrow fund to pay compensation for Gulf Coast residents. The final deal was sealed in a closed door meeting between Obama and BP’s Chairman.

The Gulf Coast spill has been nothing but trouble for this White House so far, but the White House hopes that this will be an inflection point in the crisis. The implicit message of the past few days is that Obama isn’t Theodore Roosevelt and won’t try to act like him. He is, however, a thoughtful, deliberate leader who realizes (perhaps belatedly) that his presidency will be judged on how he delivers for the Gulf Coast.

I hope he realizes now that the calmness with which he addressed the nation must be matched in the coming days with a sense of command and control that has been missing to date.

Time for Leadership, Mr. President

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Along with the rest of America, I have watched the ever present images of the oil leaking from this gusher with a mixture of disbelief, rage, sadness and a sense of hopelessness. Much has been made of President Obama’s responsibility for the spill and his reaction to it.

As far as his “responsibility” for the actual spill, I think that most American’s are wiling to give him a mulligan on this one. For decades, the people that have been tasked with regulating the oil industry have maintained a “cozy” relationship with the people they were supposed to be regulating. The organization tasked with regulating the oil companies, the Mineral Management Services (MMS) had a giant scandal break in 2008. Among the highlights:

Their alleged improprieties include rigging contracts, working part-time as private oil consultants, and having sexual relationships with – and accepting golf and ski trips and dinners from – oil company employees.

One office manager–while he weren’t busy accepting bribes from the oil companies he was supposed to be regulating– was busy shagging his employees, buying blow from them, snorting meth off of a toaster and getting blow jobs from a subordinate as he drove around the neighborhood.

That being said, as much as Bush’s regulators were in bed (literally) with the people that they were supposed to regulate, this was known before Obama came to office and Ken Salazar’s appointment as Interior Secretary was intended to clean up this mess. Obviously, they didn’t work fast enough to deal with those issues, they didn’t look into the shocking lack of technical progress in the methods of dealing with the deep water drilling spills, and they didn’t even review BP’s plan to deal with spills, which seems to be cut and pasted from an old document.

This is just another example of how in hock the government is to the big corporate interests that it is supposed to regulate. In the year and a half that Obama has been in power, it’s clear that it wasn’t a priority to make real change on this front. In fact, Obama’s approval of additional offshore drilling (as a way to gain support for his Climate Change bill) was obviously made without an understanding of how perilous the consequences of a deep water spill would be.

As far as the response, there is no question that Obama owns it and the results so far have been mixed at best. Much of the coverage has focused on whether the president has shown the requisite amount of rage over the spill. Maureen Dowd and James Carville savaged Obama, with Dowd ridiculing him as President Spock and decrying his inability to reflect Americans’ feelings. Carville made a particularly emotional appeal, calling the president’s response lackadaisical, and saying, “These people are crying, they’re begging for something down here, and it just looks like he’s not involved in this.”

Obama and his advisors took the bait, attempting to counteract these claims and showing how enraged the president was about the situation. This culminated with his interview with Matt Lauer where, in a response to a question about whether it was time to “kick some butt” and Obama responded by saying that he  was meeting with experts to find out “whose ass to kick.”

On Sunday, Fareed Zakari criticized the media’s focus on Obama’s emotion, decrying how the media has trivialized the political discussion.

Aside from the media sideshow about President Obama’s emotional response, there is the question of the actual emergency response to the crisis. Without exception, there seems to be agreement that the response has been lacking. Rachel Maddow has done some amazing reporting on the lack of technology to clean up spills as well as the lack of focus on the cleanup while everyone was focused on capping the well. Images of untended boom material that is sagging, untethered and clearly ineffective were difficult to watch and her reporting on the potential damage to the wetlands and it’s impact on the region shows how high the stakes are for the gulf region.

In an investigative piece today, the New York Times described the response as chaotic and fragmented and pointed out the inefficiencies at every level with regards to the cleanup. The Obama Administration’s response team would do well to read that article very carefully. 

The next few weeks will be pivotal. Now that we know that the flow of oil will most likely continue through the summer, it’s time to focus more intently on making sure that PB does a better job on the herculean task of managing the cleanup and efforts to minimize the impact on the gulf coast.  John Heilemann has encouraged Obama to consider turning these efforts into a massive jobs program funded by BP to clean up the Gulf and to create a new national volunteer service organization dedicated to the cause. Others have argued vociferously that we need to follow Saudi Arabia’s lead and comandeer oil tankers to siphon up the oil and haul it away. To date, both the government and BP have avoided answering questions about why this is not being done.

In the meantime, President Obama would do well to use this crisis as an opportunity to not only make sure major changes are made to deep water drilling regulation and response efforts, but also to reorient the country towards a new future and begin the process of weaning ourselves from dependence on foreign oil and fossil fuels.

You can pick your metaphor, but I like one I heard from a number of commentators last week. This is our Sputnik.

It’s our time to realize that political paralysis, government capture by the corporate interests and a public unwillingness to sacrifice individually for the common good has already put us behind the rest of the world in the development of green technology. We need to act now to correct this. It’s been over 35 years since the oil crisis of the 70’s and every president from Carter to Obama has talked about the need to wean ourselves off oil. In spite of the many crises and turning points that could have been a catalyst for this effort, we have failed to make the investments that most American’s agree we need.

The President needs to pivot tonight from crisis management to a broader vision on energy and then he needs to push for that vision. If Republicans and conservative Democrats block his initiatives, he should make this a central issue in the campaign going forward and continually bash them over the head with this issue to lay the groundwork for its passage in the new Congress.

This is a crucial test for this president. Whether it’s an effective cleanup response or a vision for a clean energy future, we need his leadership now more than ever.

Say What Again!!

Saturday, June 12th, 2010

Last week, Bill Maher said on Real Time:

“I thought when we elected a black president, we were going to get a black president. You know, this [BP oil spill] is where I want a real black president. I want him in a meeting with the BP CEOs, you know, where he lifts up his shirt where you can see the gun in his pants. That’s — we’ve got a ‘motherfuckin problem here?’ Shoot somebody in the foot.”

A typically outrageous  Bill Maher comment which prompted my conservative uncle to send me this ”how come it’s okay for him to say it but not for me” response from Grumpy Old Man Arnold Ahlert.

But it did get me thinking: maybe Obama might want to consider getting a little Medieval on Tony Hayward.

I gotta think the new attitude would give him at least a temporary bounce in the polls.

“Obama’s Katrina”

Saturday, June 12th, 2010

I keep flashing back to this John Stewart piece about how conservatives are always looking for the perfect analogy between something that goes wrong in the Obama Administration and something Bush screwed up.

“It’s like no matter what happens during the Obama Administration, there’s the perfect Bush fuckup” for conservatives to compare it to.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Release the Kagan
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

When it’s so painful to watch, you have to laugh every once in a while.

Drill Baby Drill Deja Vu

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

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Here’s to the Top Kill.

If not, we can always hope for the Junk Shot.