Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Lack of Fairy Dust

Obama's problem is that he can't make the oil spill better. so what exactly can he say that satisfies? He lacks the fairy dust to sprinkle on the wellhead to cap it and magically clean up the Gulf. Lacking fairy dust, or a magical wish pony, there is nothing that can be done that will make the situation suddenly better.

Think Progress: Exxon CEO: As an industry, ‘we are not well equipped’ to handle oil disasters.

ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson told Congress we must do everything possible to prevent offshore drilling disasters, because once they occur, there is not any way to stop the damage. By admitting the unavoidable risk of catastrophe, Tillerson exploded the myths — promoted by the oil industry and right-wing supporters — that offshore drilling is “environmentally safe,” and that the industry can handle these disasters when they occur. Tillerson made the shocking admission that the industry is “not well equipped to prevent any and all damage” under questioning from Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), the chair of the oversight subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, during a hearing that featured top executives from the five largest private oil companies:

There will be impacts as we are seeing. We have never represented anything different than that. That’s why the emphasis is always on preventing these things from occurring because when they happen we are not well equipped to deal with them. And that’s just a fact of the enormity of what we’re dealing with.

Watch it:

The only fail-safe way to prevent oil drilling disasters, in fact, is to stop drilling for oil — in other words, “The only winning move is not to play.” This is yet another reason this nation needs an energy policy that puts a cap on oil pollution and ends our toxic addiction.

mistermix: The Speech

I have to agree with James Fallows that, overall, Obama’s Oval Office address was a wasted opportunity to leverage an event (the spill) that could be used to justify changing the status quo.

That said, the status quo has a powerful protector: Congress, specifically the Senate. We just saw the worst financial meltdown since the Great Depression and all we’re getting is ever more watered down legislation. Sticking it to the banks is a political no-brainer in an election year, yet it isn’t happening.

Similarly, setting aside climate change, the politics of lessening our dependence on foreign oil and creating our own high-tech energy industry are also no-brainers. We don’t need to defend global warming to justify our need to get off the oil teat via energy reform legislation. Yet we get this strange passage in Obama’s speech:

[...] Last year, the House of Representatives acted on these principles by passing a strong and comprehensive energy and climate bill –- a bill that finally makes clean energy the profitable kind of energy for America’s businesses.

Now, there are costs associated with this transition. And there are some who believe that we can’t afford those costs right now. I say we can’t afford not to change how we produce and use energy -– because the long-term costs to our economy, our national security, and our environment are far greater.

So I’m happy to look at other ideas and approaches from either party -– as long they seriously tackle our addiction to fossil fuels.[...]

There’s not even a call for the Senate to take up the legislation. The bitter political reality is that Obama doesn’t have enough confidence in the Senate’s ability to pass anything to even suggest that they try. That’s why he’s specific on the small things the Executive Branch can do (restitution and MMS reform), and mushy on the big changes needed to keep us from drilling at 20,000 feet or propping up despots on the other side of the earth.

  • from the comments:


    What Obama should have said:

    Even though large tracts of the Gulf Coast and many old and famous fisheries have fallen into the grip of the oily sludge and all the odious hydrocarbons of crude oil, we shall not flag or fail.
    We shall go on to the end, we shall fight to protect the Louisiana Bayou,
    we shall fight on the ocean drilling platforms,
    we shall fight on the beaches,
    we shall fight to prevent the oil from landing on our shores,
    we shall fight for the wetlands,
    we shall never surrender.

    Linda Featheringill

    Ah dear.

    I thought it was good speech. Not an enjoyable one, but a good one.

    Obama didn’t promise anything? Perhaps because he isn’t sure how much he can deliver.

    He didn’t say that everything will be all right? Perhaps because it won’t.

    He didn’t threaten to go drop bombs on some other nation? Perhaps because that wouldn’t do any good.

    The main problem with the speech was its honesty. We have a big problem. It is going to get worse before it gets better. It is going to cost a BUNDLE.

    Reality sucks.

Kurtz (TPM): No Easy Way Out

When President Obama declared from the Oval Office that the Deepwater Horizon blowout "is the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced," he was giving this crisis historic stature and perhaps also missing the point (watch it here).

The Gulf is not a pristine environment. If your only exposure to the Gulf has been on the beaches of Florida, you might convince yourself that the Gulf is a deep blue aquatic wilderness. But as you travel west, the beaches give way to the marshes of the Mississippi delta, which are crisscrossed by oil and gas pipelines, manmade canals, and flood control levees. Further west, in Texas, the beaches reemerge, but shipping canals, giant refineries, and petrochemical factories persist. Over the horizon, in the Gulf itself, thousands of oil and gas wells pump night and day.

I grew up on the Louisiana coast. I've fished in the deep waters of the Gulf for red snapper and in its shallow bays for speckled trout. I've gone crabbing in its marshes. I've been through fierce hurricanes, and I've seen it as smooth and unruffled as a sheltered pond. My kids dipped their toes in the ocean for the first time there.

The Deepwater Horizon disaster is as organic a product of human processes in the Gulf as Hurricane Katrina was a product of natural processes. Shipping, flood control, and natural resource extraction have taken a nearly century-long toll on the coast. The Gulf has been abused, exploited, fouled and taken for granted for so long and with such consistency that the shock and horror over this one incident becomes in its own way a salve for our consciences.

Into this complicated landscape wades President Obama, the national political establishment, and the political press, little better equipped to understand it now than they were when Katrina hit. The President said that the spill wasn't like the other disasters we face, it's more like an "epidemic." He was closer to the truth when he referred to "our addiction to fossil fuels." The spill is more like the ruination an alcoholic leaves in his wake. You can clean up the mess, try to prevent it from happening again, and hope for the best. But as long as he's still drinking, disaster looms.

Lewis (Dkos): Oil and Gas Investor's Executive of the Year

Ryan Grim notes that legal responsibility for the Gulf oil disaster falls on four corporations: BP, Transocean, MOEX Offshore and Anadarko Corporation. They were asked to testify before the Senate today. The CEOs of two of them said they have scheduling conflicts.

Anadarko CEO James T. Hackett, however, does have time this week to be in Houston to accept Oil and Gas Investor's Executive of the Year award, handed out Tuesday.

"Last year this leading Houston-based company generated a 68 percent return to shareholders, while cutting costs and spending during the downturn," reads the announcement of Hackett's award. Cost cutting may have led to significant shareholder returns, but it also is believed to have contributed to the fatal explosion and blowout of the well.

And that pretty well sums up the industry. The man who runs one of the companies that helped cause the worst environmental disaster in American history is being rewarded by his industry. As its Executive of the Year. For the very same cost-cutting that likely caused the disaster. They are what they are.

DougJ: Having it both ways

The latest trend in Village philosophizing seems to be “hey, I’m not one of those shallow types that thinks Obama needs to pound the podium, but let me offer my own superficial, content-free analysis of things”. This David Ignatius piece is an instant classic along those lines:

Given all the idiotic advice President Obama has gotten about what to do about the BP oil spill, I thought his Oval Office address Tuesday night had it about right. Call to arms. Three-point plan. End our energy addiction. God bless America.

I don’t know what it means to look “presidential,” but I thought it helped that Obama looked pretty stressed and serious tonight.


I liked him better Tuesday night than I have in a while—tired, beat-up politically, but not playing to the crowd with easy put-downs of BP CEO Tony Hayward or profit-mongering Big Oil. There’s a glimmer of real leadership there, but not yet the bright beam.

Leadership is about looking stressed but serious, beat-up but not resorting to easy put downs. If George W. Bush had just looked more stressed but serious, Iraq would have gone just fine. And God forbid anyone saying anything mean about Tony.

What on earth could be purpose of these kinds of analyses? Why do people write them?

Jay Ackroyd: Partners
Deep in what only can be called the ideology of Washington, DC is the idea that the government's role with respect to large corporations is as a partner. Regulatory agencies do not demand compliance with the law. Rather they work with their business partners in some kind of mutual interest. Glenzilla:
MR. GREGORY: But this is a straightforward question. If you are in partnership with somebody -- and make no mistake, the government is in partnership with BP to get this problem solved -- does the, does the president of the United States trust the man on the other end who is leading this operation?

MR. AXELROD: Our, our mission here is to hold them accountable in, in every appropriate way, and that is what we're going to do. I, I'm not -- I don't consider them a, a, a partner, I don't consider them -- they're not social friends, they're not -- I'm not looking to make judgments about their soul. I just want to make sure that they do what they're required to do.
While Axelrod is pushing back against this idea here, much of our difficulties to date stem directly from the idea that the way to fix problems is to partner up with industry--the NSA with the telcos, HHS with the insurance and drug companies, MMS with the oil companies, Treasury and the banksters--to deliver "private sector" solutions. Of course, they say "free market," but this kind of thing is pretty much the opposite of a free market, and is, just by the way, a distance away from anyone would generally mean by "liberal" or "progressive." Large profit-making entities do not have the public interest at heart; they (at best) care about their shareholders' dividends. The notion that the relationship between them and the government should be accommodating, rather than adversarial is quite a radical shift away from the views of FDR or LBJ.

But this notion runs deep. It is so strong in Dancin' Dave that it is like a fish's awareness of water. He seems to be literally unable to understand what Axelrod means by accountability.
DougJ: First boyfriend

Daniel Gross on Obama’s speech:

President Obama’s Oval Office speech about the Gulf oil spill was almost enough to make you miss President George W. Bush. Maybe not the actual presidency of George W. Bush, but at least the platonic ideal of the presidency of George W. Bush—the MBA president, the chief executive as CEO.

A few weeks ago Atrios wrote:

There was something truly weird about the relationship between the DC press and the Bush administration that I never could quite understand. It’s like he was their president somehow, the one they grew up with before he regenerated into that weird guy with the funny name. And they keep rooting for his return. I don’t think the press is especially hostile to Obama, though they inevitably run with whatever right wing talking point comes through the puke funnel that day, but Bush…he was the one, their first boyfriend or something.

At the time, I thought he and others were overdoing it about the media love for Dubya. But missing the “the Platonic ideal” of the “MBA president”, dear FSM, it is a schoolgirl crush.

Sargent: New meme: Spill proves Obama isn't manly enough

So here's where we're headed next. The subtext of some of the criticism in the wake of last night's speech is subtle, but unmistakable: Obama's inability to halt the spill calls his manhood into question.

Here, for instance, is The Post's Michael Gerson:

The setting of the Oval Office creates an expectation of decisive executive action. It recalls memories of President Dwight Eisenhower dispatching federal troops to Little Rock or President John F. Kennedy announcing the naval "quarantine" of Cuba. This speech will not be confused with those precedents. Obama urges others to take action, kibitzes with corporate executives, shifts some government personnel and signals the start of a review process. A crisis is met with a study. The action verbs in this speech have somehow gone missing. It is all rather limp and weak.

Gerson, of course, worked for a president who swaggered decisively off the stage of history with some of the limpest approval ratings ever.

And here's Maureen Dowd, cattily mocking Obama because he recently acknowledged to Gulf residents that there are limits to his own power, which Dowd characterizes as so much whining:

"Even though I'm president of the United States, my power is not limitless," Obama, who has forced himself to ingest a load of gulf crab cakes, shrimp and crawfish tails, whinged to Grand Isle, La., residents on Friday. "So I can't dive down there and plug the hole. I can't suck it up with a straw."

See, Obama had to force himself to eat a plate of food in order to prove his heartiness. Get it?

Dowd's obsession with Obama's appetite (recall that she mocked him during the campaign for making a meal out of Nicorette) is unsettling enough on its own. But her characterization of this incident is instructive in another way.

If you watch video of the episode, you can clearly see that Obama is acknowledging the limits of his own power in a regretful way. He's apologizing to Gulf residents by candidly admitting that the situation is out of his control. But Dowd is subtly distorting the episode in order to suggest he's whining about how unfair it all is -- in order to suggest that he's a wuss. Sound familar?

The notion that the public sees macho swagger as "strength" and instinctively prefers it to a more cerebral, restrained and calm approach to leadership is pure fiction. Bush's swagger did nothing to rescue him from historic unpopularity. The McCain campaign not-so-subtly cast the 2008 race as a macho war hero versus a puffed up dandy (see Celebrity, TV ad), and we all know how that turned out.

Polls have shown again and again that majorities regards Obama as a "strong" leader, and I'm willing to bet Gerson and Dowd a pair of Plum Line lava lamps that the next three major national polls will all show the same.

Those polls will say this despite the fact that majorities also disappprove of his handling of the spill. That's because the public -- for very good reason -- is taking issue with the substance of his response, not the theatrics of it.

Regardless, you haven't heard the last of this line, I'm telllin' ya.
  • from the comments:

    Haven't heard the last of it? So-called "progressives" on liberal blogs have been pushing this meme for MONTHS.

    "Obama doesn't have the balls."
    "Obama is weak."
    "Obama is in bed with BP."
    "Obama bent over for BP/Tony Hayward."

    Let's not pretend this is some wingnut media meme that Republicans are pushing. This has been pushed by the extremes on the right and the left for months. The PUMAs are pissed and this is payback.

    Posted by: queenofbabble

DemfromCT (Dkos): Your Abbreviated Pundit Round-up

Wednesday oil spill edition.

NY Times:

Fifty-six days, millions of gallons of oil and countless hours of cable television second-guessing later, President Obama finally addressed the nation from the Oval Office on Tuesday night to declare war.

His enemies were oil industry lobbyists and corrupt regulators, foreign energy suppliers and conservative policy makers, and a stubborn gushing well at the bottom of the sea. And ultimately, he was fighting his own powerlessness, as a president castigated for failing to stop the nation’s worst-ever oil spill tried to turn disaster into opportunity.

Maureen Dowd:

Once more on Tuesday night, we were back to back-against-the-wall time. The president went for his fourth-quarter, Michael Jordan, down-to-the-wire, thrill shot in the Oval Office, his first such dramatic address to a nation sick about the slick.

You know the president is drowning — in oil this time — when he uses the Oval Office. And do words really matter when the picture of oil gushing out of the well continues to fill the screen?

Susan Page:

For President Obama, the Oval Office address Tuesday night was about more than the oil spill.

His ability to project more command, competency and compassion in response to the crisis in the Gulf of Mexico— and the eventual success of the administration's actions — will have repercussions for his ability to do anything else, from pushing legislation on energy and jobs to holding down Democratic losses in the midterm elections.

EJ Dionne:

The two philosophical points he made will, I suspect, be heard again and again this campaign year. When he criticized the mess at the Minerals Management Service, he said this: "Over the last decade, this agency has become emblematic of a failed philosophy that views all regulation with hostility -- a philosophy that says corporations should be allowed to play by their own rules and police themselves. At this agency, industry insiders were put in charge of industry oversight. Oil companies showered regulators with gifts and favors, and were essentially allowed to conduct their own safety inspections and write their own regulations."

This is an argument that needs to be pressed with some consistency. Democratic capitalism works because of the "democratic" part -- the use of government to achieve things capitalism can’t achieve on its own. There are some values the market doesn’t take into account and some valuable goods -- the environment in the gulf, for example -- that the market doesn’t price correctly, if at all.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

Yet what's happening on the left isn't the equivalent of the anti-incumbent anger on the right. Most progressives support Obama and want his agenda to succeed. And although Pelosi may have been bushwacked by a disability-rights group last week, she was celebrated by most of the conference attendees for her ability to forge a majority for hard votes.

At the same time, progressives have come to a realization. What we see, some 500 days into the Obama administration, is a president obstructed by a partisan Republican opposition, powerful entrenched corporate interests, and a minority of corrupt or conservative Democrats. The thinking is that if progressives organize independently and forge smart coalitions, building a mass movement for reform with a moral compass that can transcend left-right divisions, we may be able to push Obama beyond the limits of his own politics, overcome the timid incrementalism of the establishment Democratic Party and counter the forces of money and power that are true obstacles to change. As Arianna Huffington has said, "Hope is not enough. . . . We need a 'Hope 2.0' that depends not on what President Obama or other politicians say or do but on what we as progressives do."

Local opinion (Colorado):

It seems like everyone has their own idea about what should be done to fix the oil spill, and everyone has an opinion about how it's being handled so far.

Most people KJCT News 8 spoke with say they think the president is handling the situation about as best as he can. But almost everyone says the address should have happened much sooner.

Local opinion (Florida):

"We should have been fighting this thing 10 fold 3 months ago. The National Guard should have been called out months ago. The things that aren't working the booms should have been changed. The technology, he says he has called on all these scientists, good I'm glad, but it doesn't seem like there is a lot of teamwork," one man said.

Local opinion (Louisiana):

We went through Katrina. That was fine. We rebuilt," he said. "Now this -- this is not natural and it was done by BP."

Cepriano said he was unhappy with the government response, regardless of the president's tougher tone.

"Nothing's organized. None whatsoever ... they've got this really messed up," he said.

Obama delivered the speech after a tour of the Gulf Coast. An AP-GfK opinion polled showed 48 percent of Americans disapprove of his handling of the crisis, up 15 percentage points from a month ago. The spill is into its eight week.

Yglesias: Obama Punts on Climate

The most important thing to keep in mind about the sort of “major” presidential speech we saw last night is that they don’t matter. At all. They don’t move votes in Congress. They don’t move public opinion. The bully pulpit method of governance doesn’t work. And that’s about the best I can say about Obama’s speech—even if it had been much better, it wouldn’t have done much good.

But as long as someone speaks in public, he’s inviting you to analyze his words. And on that score, the evaluation just can’t be very good. I understand that the Senate isn’t going to pass a comprehensive climate/energy plan that puts a price on carbon. I get that. Nevertheless, the right thing to do is to pass such a bill. A discussion of energy policy should say so. A discussion of energy policy should mention climate change. There’s more to be said about the benefits of energy reform than its role in averting climate catastrophe. And there’s more to improved energy policy than carbon pricing. But climate change is really important. And putting a price on carbon is really key to getting a handle on it. If you’re talking about these issues, you should say that stuff. And Obama didn’t.

Yesterday, the EPA completed its analysis of the American Power Act and found that it’s a highly affordable way to reduce emissions from greenhouse gasses. That would have been worth mentioning. If you’re not going to talk about this stuff, then why talk? There’s nothing wrong with settling for less than you wanted, but it’s downright weird to not even discuss what really needs to be done.

In September 2008, just eight weeks before presidential election, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) boasted that former half-term Gov. Sarah Palin (R) "knows more about energy [policy] than probably anyone else in the United States of America." He was, for the record, entirely serious.

Of course, now that energy policy is up front and center, and the nation struggles with an environmental catastrophe, it's a good thing we can utilize Palin's expertise.

Last night on Fox News, Bill O'Reilly asked Palin if she knows how to stop the oil gushing into the Gulf. Instead of answering, she said, "Well, what the federal government should have done was accept the assistance of foreign countries, of entrepreneurial Americans who have had solutions they wanted presented.... The Dutch, they are known, and the Norwegian, they are known for dikes, for cleaning up water, and dealing with spills. They offered to help. And yet, no, they too, with the proverbial, can't even get a phone call back."

I'd swear she's getting dumber.

For the record, the government did accept the assistance of foreign countries, including skimmers and boom from Mexico, three sets of Koseq sweeping arms from the Dutch, and eight Norwegian skimming systems.

Palin is whining that the administration didn't do what the administration has already done.

Palin added that that "we haven't heard" that stopping the leak is the president's "top priority." Palin must not have been listening.

Where would be without this visionary who knows more about energy policy than probably anyone else in the United States of America?

Kleefeld (TPM): Bachmann Blasts 'Redistribution Of Wealth' Escrow Fund, Says BP Shouldn't Be 'Chumps'

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) is emerging as a fierce critic of the Obama administration's proposed escrow fund to handle damage claims against BP.

The Minnesota Independent reports that Bachmann spoke Tuesday to the Heritage Foundation, and badmouthed the idea. "The president just called for creating a fund that would be administered by outsiders, which would be more of a redistribution-of-wealth fund," said Bachmann. "And now it appears like we'll be looking at one more gateway for more government control, more money to government."

Also, David Weigel reports that Bachmann also said: "They have to lift the liability cap. But 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."

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