Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Day 58: We Needed a Populist And got an Elitist

President Obama’s first Oval Office address to the nation was disappointing on so many levels that one has to wonder, again, if he gets it at all, even after all those trips to the region. This is an address that was given for the benefit of regional Republican oil patch governors tittering about the economic impact to their states, claimants whose livelihoods are being decimated by BP, and BP itself. So much so that BP issued a statement associating itself with the President’s remarks:
“We share the President's goal of shutting off the well as quickly as possible, cleaning up the oil and mitigating the impact on the people and environment of the Gulf Coast. We look forward to meeting with President Obama tomorrow for a constructive discussion about how best to achieve these mutual goals.”
That’s what the Brits would sarcastically call “a vote of confidence” from the skunk who crashed the garden party. Where are the specifics of the government’s response? Here are some curios in the President’s report:
  • “Tomorrow (today), I will meet with the chairman of BP and inform him that he is to set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company's recklessness. And this fund will not be controlled by BP. In order to ensure that all legitimate claims are paid out in a fair and timely manner, the account must and will be administered by an independent, third party.”
Sounds good, right? But on closer inspection, the President sounds less the commander in chief than a supplicant chief attorney (not to be confused with Attorney General Eric Holder, who has made himself scarce since announcing an investigation of BP). Mr. Obama mentions the loaded, and loathed, legalism -- “legitimate” -- that is the albatross around the neck of every single BP utterance as to its liability. Then, in a lawyerly balancing act, the President uses another legal term --“recklessness”— to characterize BP’s actions in the totality of its response. Significantly, he does not call it criminal behavior, which probably accounts for BP’s chummy (relieved?) reply to the speech.

There is a sense that these carefully crafted words mask an agreement reached with BP a priori of the President’s meeting with its chairman of the board. Hardly a Trumanesque or Rooseveltian response to an outlaw corporation. President Obama’s rhetoric is far removed from Franklin Roosevelt’s crie de guerre against concentrated corporate power: “They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob. … They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred.”

The President’s speech didn’t quite measure up to FDR and Harry Truman (who summoned steel industrialists to the White House and read them the Riot Act). At best, it was a Clintonesque triangulation of the government-corporate partnership with a mild wrist-slap. The President, it seems, would rather convince corporate CEOs of the advantages of cooperation and compromise on the big issues, such as healthcare and financial reform, in ways that are advantageous to them rather than assume a confrontational populist posture a la Harry Truman.

This would explain President Obama’s curiously anti-progressive behavior, his much too easy concessions to corporations, e.g., ditching the public option; the backroom deals with Big Pharma and other industry sectors; and the White House’s arrogant public dissing of labor unions and netroots progressives for their sacrilegious support of Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter against corporate Democrat Blanche Lincoln. Interestingly, Big Dog Bubba Clinton made a lusty, Palin-like libidinous pitch on Lincoln’s behalf –- with an extra-long, extra-tight hug –- propelling blushing Blanche over the top.
  • “I have authorized the deployment of over 17,000 National Guard members along the coast. These servicemen and women are ready to help stop the oil from coming ashore, clean beaches, train response workers, or even help with processing claims –- and I urge the governors in the affected states to activate these troops as soon as possible.”
It’s day 58, Mr. President. Those of us on the outside looking in have been pleading from the very beginning for a more robust, muscular response to this disaster that involves our military. Weeks ago, Florida Senator Bill Nelson asked for military involvement in a letter to you. Why is the National Guard only now being deployed?
  • “In the coming days and weeks, these efforts should capture up to 90% of the oil leaking out of the well. This is until the company finishes drilling a relief well later in the summer that is expected to stop the leak completely.”
Really? Based on whose estimate? Because if it comes from BP it’s worth less than a barrel of crude. This is the corporation that has consistently and brazenly lied about the amount of oil spilled, its cleanup, the extent of the damage to the Gulf, and claimed falsely that its latest oil capping attempt would slow the volcanic eruption of oil to a “a trickle.”
  • “From the very beginning of this crisis, the federal government has been in charge of the largest environmental cleanup effort in our nation's history.”
Not good enough, Mr. President, not by a long shot. As RFK used to say, “we can do better,” and we must. For starters, our national interest is not aligned with the interests of BP or any profit-making entity, nor should it ever be. Secondly, the effort must match the enormity of the crisis; simply being the “largest” effort in our history when it amounts to plugging holes in a dike sounds like CYA.
  • “Now, a mobilization of this speed and magnitude will never be perfect, and new challenges will always arise. I saw and heard evidence of that during this trip. So if something isn't working, we want to hear about it. If there are problems in the operation, we will fix them.”
Okay, Mr. President. Here is the short list (not counting the compensation and claims issues that the escrow fund -- if BP agrees to it -- is supposed to fix):
  1. Serious health problems with cleanup workers that amounts to chemical poisoning. BP has not provided necessary protective equipment because the optics of hazmat suits looks bad for the corporate image. The syndrome now has a name -- “Toxicant-Induced Loss of Tolerance”-- and is far more widespread than reported cases, because workers need the BP temporary cleanup jobs to feed their families;
  2. The latest offer, from Sweden, to deploy tankers with the capacity to skim millions of gallons off the surface of the ocean, a proven technology, has been rebuffed. The official explanation for not using this technology is that the oil is too dispersed; how can that be if the slicks can be seen from space? Where are the resources from other countries, as well as other oil companies -- tankers, skimmers, etc. -- that are not funnelled through BP? I suspect the reason is economic, and is linked to liability -- out of sight, out of mind -- for BP; the same reason that motivates this criminal entity to cover up the results of its crime (dead animal carcasses) in the middle of the night, and forbid media access to blighted areas that are not sanitized of animal remains;
  3. Why are ideas from private entrepreneurs shoved down the BP black hole in a bait-and-switch scam in which bogus phone banks only pretend to take contact information? Where is the government oversight and control of this and multiple other BP scams to limit its liability and protect its investors?
The public is still awaiting a report from the “team led by Dr. Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and our nation's Secretary of Energy.” Nobel awards, blue ribbon panels, and commissions are no substitutes for effective action. Dr. Chu has so far distinguished himself as the most timidly retiring U.S. government scientist responding to a major technological challenge since J. Robert Oppenheimer actually retired from government after McCarthy accused him of being a communist.

The question, Mr. President, is not one of prayer. It’s one of survival; it’s whether there will be any fleet at all of fishermen to bless next year. Hail Mary is the last resort. Rendering unto Cesar what is Caesar’s –- executive action –- is the first. The night before your speech, Touchdown Jesus was zapped by a bolt of lightning, and burned to the ground. If you believe in the power of prayer, then someone may be trying to tell you something, Mr. President. And we, the people, are way ahead of you. Time to catch up. Quickly. Your presidency depends on it.


okbushmans said...

Thank you, Thank you, THANK YOU!!! I have listened to so much commentary on his speech from more liberal ideologues, who have actually said, "He is doing his best." My head could explode from this much "giving him the benefit of the doubt". Finally, someone actually dissecting his words and holding him to the same standard every politician should be held to, no matter the party. Again, THANK YOU!

Carlos said...

You're quite welcome. As far as I'm concerned (and I know I speak for most progressives), this is a national security issue, first and foremost. It's a crisis of the greatest magnitude that demands a response equal to it. Despite our political differences, the honorable among us love this country equally.