Monday, June 7, 2010

We Must Fight the Oil Spill with Decisive Ambiguity and Callowness

I got a letter from President Obama the other day. I thought I would share it here, in case I was the only one. Going off what you know is happening around the world and how these sorts of letters are written, you can guess the content pretty easily. You know, "RECENTLY I + POSITIVE VERB + LOCATION + BUSINESS + FOLKS + PROPER NOUNS + AFFIRMATION + THANKS." But I'm nothing if not generous, so here goes:
Yesterday, I visited Caminada Bay in Grand Isle, Louisiana -- one of the first places to feel the devastation wrought by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. While I was here, at Camerdelle's Live Bait shop, I met with a group of local residents and small business owners.
Obama went on to tell me about "folks like Floyd Lasseigne" and "Terry Vargas," with the homey specifics about their jobs and plight that would reassure any reader that, yes, they will be mentioned again many times during the 2010 campaign. These people are no longer in any immediate danger of suffering alone. We have deployed thousands of federal anecdotes their way. But that's not all:
And what I told these men and women is that I will stand with the people of the Gulf Coast until they are again made whole.

That is why, from the beginning, we have worked to deploy every tool at our disposal to respond to this crisis. Today, there are more than 20,000 people working around the clock to contain and clean up this spill. I have authorized 17,500 National Guard troops to participate in the response. More than 1,900 vessels are aiding in the containment and cleanup effort. We have convened hundreds of top scientists and engineers from around the world. This is the largest response to an environmental disaster of this kind in the history of our country.
The first thing I thought when reading that was, "Ah, I see: you're trying to stiff-arm away any Katrina comparisons by noting all the people who've been sent to the Gulf Coast." The second thing I thought was, "Really? This is the largest response to an environmental disaster? Oh, wait, to one of this kind? Okay." So you have that qualifier in the second statement, and of course the first statement has no time frame to it, so God only knows when those people began showing up. Subtracting the time factor from the response to a disaster renders much of the response meaningless. It forgives Katrina retroactively.

This oil spill has been going on since April 20th. It's now June. To a child, that span of time is an eternity, and anyone under 16 or so would be outraged at its protraction. Thankfully those people don't pay attention to the news, and those who do pay attention to the news — generally people over 20 — live busy enough lives that the span of 48 days seems fleeting. Forty-eight days is a staggering amount of time for an emergency such as this. That's an "I got pregnant and can now no longer hide it" duration. You can grow a mustache that would dwarf a 1970s relief pitcher's in that span of time. You can play one quarter of a baseball season.

As soon as one adds the element of time to Obama's statements, those facts and figures are dwarfed by the number 48. Within that context, Obama's statements move past empty pronouncements of action and perseverance and eclipse cloying parables about salt-of-the-earth folk suffering. Instead, they're mired in the inescapable fact that Obama has ceded direct action to address this crisis to the company that caused it, watching impotently as it tried three variations on the same failed solution to correct the problem according to their means and their own timetable. It's equivalent to allowing Blackwater investigators, Blackwater Prosecutors, Blackwater Judge Advocates and Blackwater Prisons to hunt down, arrest, try and punish Blackwater employees that murder a bunch of Iraqi officials because of lax Blackwater hiring requirements and an absence of Blackwater employee training and oversight. Why do I keep using the word Blackwater in this context? No reason.

Obama and his administration and the congress have explicitly not "worked to deploy every tool at [their] disposal to respond to this crisis." They've largely deployed one, BP, and said, "Well, you broke it, surely with the stringent engineering and training standards you apply, you are most qualified to fix it." This administration, especially as regards the HCR bills, has already demonstrated an almost complete capitulation to the standards, practices and aims of the private sector, but this current posture transcends even that. It's as if in response to Reagan's famous maxim that "government is not the solution; government is the problem" Obama has said, "No, government is actually irrelevant."

He closed the letter with more bromides, but just before the sunny goodbye, he included this fire-and-brimstone call for justice.
We have also ordered BP to pay economic injury claims, and this week, the federal government sent BP a preliminary bill for $69 million to pay back American taxpayers for some of the costs of the response so far.
The economic cost in terms of direct damage done to the Gulf Coast will be in the billions. The opportunity cost lost to people whose livelihoods were dependent on the Gulf will also be in the billions. This is unquestionably a multi-billion-dollar catastrophe and for some people represents the end of life as they know it. For that, we can be assured that BP will be sent a preliminary bill for $69 million, despite already earning billions in profits this year.

Sixty-nine million dollars is disgusting as regards both the company's assets and its crimes. As a link an anonymous commenter posted below notes, BP spent 1/4 that amount lobbying Washington last year. We should have sent a preliminary bill covered in question marks, like it was co-written by Matthew Lesko and The Riddler, then attached a picture of someone dragging his finger across his throat.

Sixty-nine million dollars is insulting just as a number. It's a pittance in this day and age, a trifle that invites contempt from companies whose weekly earnings dwarf it. I mentioned two baseball analogies above, and I didn't do it just because I love the game. I did so because I thought it was instructive, and because both related to a third that occurred to me the moment I read that number. Take the salaries this year for Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, shortstop Derek Jeter and first baseman Mark Teixeira. Forget the bonuses; take just the base salaries, and forget the catcher and second baseman. Now, combine their salaries and fine them $69 million. They'll still have $4 million left to share.

You can pay the preliminary fine for the BP oil spill with 3/5 of the 2010 Yankees infield.